Tag Archives: Eugene Peterson

The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson [Book Note]

Every once in a while a book comes along that just really meets you where you’re at. Back in February, in the lull of winter, I reached a seasonal time of questioning what my calling it. It’s a good thing, this reoccurring self examination that comes out of nowhere – a time of looking at the present moment and wondering, Is this the right place? It’s a good kind of wondering, the affirming kind that helps me not take things for granted.In the middle of this February, wintery season of wonder, came Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor. I’ve been a long time recipient of Peterson’s words and wisdom – a good friend got me hooked on his writing a few years back and I’ve since enjoyed a near streamlined path of savoring each book I come across that he’s written. As a minister, I consider myself blessed to have happened upon this guy’s work; aside from the Scriptures themselves, this guy’s work has been the most formational upon the way I’ve been seeing Scripture’s story come to active live expression within myself and world.

Book ending by book ending I would catch myself feeling fueled and energized, perhaps even understood or at the least finally taught a way of life that made sense and lined up with the Story in the Bible. The book closing moments would also bring along another question: What was this guys life like as he was molded in life – like I’m being molded right now? Who did he read? Who influenced his journey and helped him pay attention to God?

The Pastor: A Memoir is that story, that journey.

I devoured the book. It took me four days and I savored every moment of it – each moment I could slip away or stay up a little later than I first set out to. Each chapter was a signpost to my own life and history – people Eugene knew were people I knew, they just had different names. Experiences and doubts were the same way. Small memories that somehow seemed so influential were somehow also like my memories. There I was, paying attention to God with us, God with Eugene, God with me and my family.

One of my favorite small story notes was about the year Eugene’s mother decided not to follow the culture’s consumeristic plunge into the Holiday season. (A lady much ahead of her time, I imagined.) Eugene wrote about how he missed his old Christmas tree that year – a Douglas Fir.

“Douglas Firs are the best Christmas trees,” my dad always seemed to say. We’d go to the mountains of southern Idaho to find ours. …and again, like Peterson, like my own experiences.

The beauty in these similarities isn’t that I feel like I have all these things in common with Mr. Peterson – it’s that the small and ordinary events in life are the fingerprints of God. We all have experiences and questions and relationships that shape who we are and if we’re given the time and encouragement we’ll be able to see God’s work in the middle of such things – God calling, God saving, God restoring, God sending – and all of this in Jesus.

The Pastor: A Memoir is going to be one of those books, already profusely highlighted, that I read again and again to help me remember this calling I’ve received – a calling to walk with God, to pay attention and explore the Almighty in the most ordinary of life’s adventures,  and to walk beside others and help them do the same.

Vocative Vocation

Abraham bends down before Holy Trinity (angeli...
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About the not-famous artists in New York: “…their identity was vocational, a calling, not a job description.” (Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir.)

He continues: “A job is an assignment to do work that can be quantified and evaluated. …but a vocation is not a job in that sense. …I can’t be hired to be a pastor, for my primary responsibility is not to the people I serve but to the God I serve. …How do I stay attentive to and listening to the call that got me started in this way of life – not a call to make the church attractive and useful in the American scene, not a call to use my considerable gifts and fulfill myself, but a call like Abraham’s, ‘to set out for a place… not knowing where he was going,’ a call to deny myself and take up my cross and follow Jesus, a call like Jonah’s to ‘go at once to Nineveh,’ a city he detested, a call like Paul’s to ‘get up and enter the city and you will be told what to do?'” (p.165)

I agree with the rest of Peterson’s chapter also. He says that we seem to have a hard time in our culture knowing and living the difference between a job and a vocation. We have a hard time being like the artists he knew in New York, the not-famous ones, who were janitors, secretaries, and waitresses, but who were really painters, dancers, and musicians. It’s all a blur as to where we draw a bit of our identity, an answer to the questions, “Who are you and what has God wired within you?”

Some friends I and head over to Kansas City’s Crossroads district on First Fridays when we can. We meander most aimlessly through the art and the “not-art” as our friend Luke critiques. We surf the crowds, taking a moment to be curious when we see something that catches our attention. We wonder what made this art happen, what inspired the shapes and gashes, light and dark. We also, perhaps with a tinge of envy at the freedom of a vocation lived out, wonder what these people do for work because, “I’m sure not going to pay that for whatever this art seems to be.” I think the answer is that they’re artists, painters, singers and dancers. That seems to be all that matters to them – that no matter where else they’ll go or what they’ll do, they will be artists.

What’s my art, my vocation? What’s yours? Then again, I think this is plural: what are my vocations, my arts, my inner-wirings?

(I feel that speaking about vocation in this sense brings life to a word that seems to have been smudged together with “task-list,” as in, my vocations are a collection of these tasks and roles I am supposed to do instead of live out.)


Vocative Synonyms:

Synonyms: artfularticulateeasyeloquentfacile, fast-talking, flipfluentgarrulous, hot-air, insincere,loquaciousplausiblequickready, silver-tongued, slippery*, smooth operator, smooth-spoken, smooth-tongued, suavetalkative,urbane, vocal, vocative , voluble