Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Some Thoughts While Reading Eugene Peterson, Part 3

So I am sitting here reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson. In fact, the goal is to read through all his books this year. When you gain so much from them, you want to tell everyone to read his books as much as time and money afford. There is sanity in them. Strange. Not sanity as opposed to insanity only as much as opposed to inanity. There is a serious beauty here beyond grasp but that draws you nonetheless. His writing is doing a number of things.

First, it is becoming painfully clear that I have pretty much failed at all he is teaching me as a pastor. I am angry with myself and I am still craving to drink deeply from the very source that is causing me pain. Jesus did this also, you know. And I catch a whiff of the Christ when I read his rebukes of my ministry. He has been near him and learned from him. Just as it was painful for the woman caught in adultery and yet glorious to look into his eyes of grace, I love learning that I am wrong from him.

Second, I am seeing the full blown reality of so many edges and shadows I glimpsed previously. For years there have been ideas, thoughts and emotions fiddled with. Played with. But they all seemed so out of sync with the day's ways of doing. However, not at all confident I would be taken seriously, well, you know...

An example? Certainly. We tend to celebrate the electric and exciting. The big and the bold, which gets noticed and makes people say, "Yes! There is God moving!" We act as if God is not moving unless this is the case. Thus our desire and celebration of large crowds. And thus our lust for the event-driven ministry, which is something we can point to so easily. I have had this sneaky suspicion - which I have in turn failed to act in accordance with - this is not necessarily what God is after. Usually. Peterson has helped me see (to paraphrase his words) that God is not after our spasms of passion but our long line of obedience in the same direction. When we inordinately crave the stupendous and exciting and bombastic we have shown our unbelief in the work of the Holy Spirit, who works so often unseen by our eyes and is pleased to move through the regular, consistent, ordinary means of grace given by God for our good and His glory. No wonder our obedience of faith has careened into the retaining walls of consumer-driven retail religiosity. We simply do not believe - in all our talk of God-centeredness - he is enough and he will save people.

Last, I am enjoying his works because there are so few good writers in Christendom. And the ones we do have are Catholic usually. Why is this the case? Because we are happy with crappy writing as long as its "Christian." We write unoriginal books with sleepy sentences and mundane paragraphs. Our fiction is either the same story repeated again and again or it is ripped off from whatever is selling in the secular markets. Rarely is our prose good writing other than technically speaking. Every sentence by Eugene Peterson has a poetic ring to it. He chooses words like they matter. His sentences never feel throwaway. For us to be a people who are shaped by a book filled with poetry, our writings have no echo of it. Indeed, Peterson points out that the first words expressed by a human in Scripture are poetry (Genesis 2:23). Our doctrines are full and deep. But our writings are hollow.

And Peterson has turned me onto great writers. One is Annie Dillard who writes like no one. No one. She is singular. And I can hear an echo of her genius beauty in Peterson's own words.

It is actually frustrating for me to try and capture this with my own words. Most likely I've no business trying to use words to convey my love for his words and his appreciation for them. My wife, I have tried to use words to convey my love of them to her. As Patient as she is, it is always sounded weird to me till I read Peterson talk about words.

You know what? If you had told me a year ago I would be reading Eugene Peterson the way a drowning man clings to a life preserver, I would have thought you no prophet. Shows what I know.

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