Archives For Eugene Peterson

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1. Doing justice to our closest neighbors
Tala Strauss writes about water poverty among our Native American neighbors:

Reservations are often hidden from sight; the real injustices suffered by neighbors so close to home are often hard to see. Justice demands that Americans act to defend everybody’s right to water. The right of the Navajo to water access at home is one that all Americans need to work much harder to defend. The Navajo Water Project is a small step toward defending that right, but we have a very long way to go.

2. What’s a suburban church to do?
Brian Fikkert calls suburban churches to play a crucial backstage role in addressing local poverty, supporting those in urban areas who take center stage. I’m not sure it’s a message many suburban church leaders will want to hear, but what he says here desperately needs to be said:

Key things that suburban churches can offer in such partnerships include: prayer, financial support, words of encouragement to staff, providing jobs to residents of the community, serving on a board, linking community members to their social networks, and sometimes providing teams of mentors. Most of these are roles that are less visible, requiring large doses of servanthood and “dying to self.” But these roles are highly strategic… However, suburban churches need to be acutely aware of the power dynamics present in such partnerships. “Suggestions” from wealthy churches can pressure less wealthy partners to pursue strategies that may not be healthy. It is crucial to listen and submit in our partnerships. This doesn’t mean that suburban churches can’t ask hard questions. But it does mean that those conversations need to happen in the context of a long-term, trusting relationship in which the front-line ministry knows that the suburban church respects their opinions.

3. Eugene Peterson on relational vitality
Somewhere or other this week I stumbled upon a 2002 interview with Peterson in Congregations magazine. The conversation focuses largely on pastoral and congregational life, and this insight in particular stood out:

I don’t think pastors “burn out” because they work too hard. People who work hard often do so because they’re good at what they’re doing and they enjoy doing it. I think burnout comes from working with no relational gratification. Relationships become laborious and draining. Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated—and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.

4. Henri Nouwen on the art of retreat
Thanks to David Dark for pointing me to this audio clip of the Dutch priest and author, speaking at a retreat at Laity Lodge in 1980. I’ve always wondered what he sounded like.

[Image via www.navajowaterproject.org]

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1. On reading and living
Australian theologian Ben Myers (@FaithTheology) dispels the problematic notion that reading books and living life are separate undertakings:

I have often heard of a distinction – though I have never understood it – between reading books and something called real life experience. We are, apparently, supposed to believe that reading and living are two quite different things, as opposed to one another as girls and boys or night and day. There is, we are told, a moral dualism between reading and living. One of these activities is abstract, the other is concrete and practical. One is artificial, the other is true and real. One involves only the mind, the other involves the body. Personally I have never accepted that dualism. Not only because it is a heresy; and not only because it is opposed to the Old Testament, which views reading as the source of living (Psalm 1); but also because my experience has disproved it a thousand times. Ever since I was a boy I have experienced reading books not as the opposite of living but as a particularly grand and intensified form of it.

2. Holy Luck
What’s happening in October? Eugene Peterson has a book of poetry coming out, that’s what. John Wilson (@jwilson1812) discusses it on the most recent Books & Culture podcast, and he reads an excerpt from the introduction as well as two of the poems.

3. Inspiring bookstores
My mom, knowing how much I love books and bookstores, sent me this link to ten great bookstores from around the world – many of them jaw-dropping.

4. Work in the time of God’s patience
Gideon Strauss (@gideonstrauss) with some thoughts on a spirituality of work and the “problem” of good:

God’s grace sustains creation; God’s grace constrains evil; God’s grace enables redemption. It is because we live in the time of God’s patience (a phrase that Richard Mouw ascribes to his Mennonite friends) that rain nourishes the crops of both those who follow Jesus and those who don’t, artists can find and make beauty in God’s creation whether they follow Jesus or no, governments can act as God’s ministers by constraining evil whether they acknowledge the rule of God or not, and therapists can bring healing to broken relationships or nurses and doctors to broken bodies whether they acknowledge the healing power of God or not. God’s common grace (as Richard Mouw and others call it) – a grace that makes all human life, all creaturely existence possible – is as effective as God’s special grace, by which God brings people into a recognized and grateful relationship with himself.

5. The Vow
Another acoustic music video from Derek Webb (@derekwebb). If you haven’t pre-ordered his new album yet, which officially releases next Tuesday, you can do so here.

[Image: Alta Acqua bookstore in Venice, Italy via studentessamatta.com]

Every day I put love on the line. There is nothing I am less good at than love. I am far better in competition than in love. I am far better at responding to my instincts and ambitions to get ahead and make my mark than I am at figuring out how to love another. I am schooled and trained in acquisitive skills, in getting my own way. And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily – open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.”

– Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction

Failing in love

“I find that cultivating a sense of place as the exclusive and irreplaceable setting for following Jesus is even more difficult than persuading men and women of the truth of the message of Jesus. Why is it easier for me to believe in the holy (because God inspired it) truth of John 3:16 than the holy (because God made it) ground at 570 Apricot Lane where I live? …

God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in the messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, daily work, working with us as we are and not as we should be, and where we are… and not where we would like to be.”

– Eugene Peterson, in the foreword to Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (Brazos)

 

Cultivating a sense of place

In Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Eerdmans), the fourth in an excellent five-part “conversation in spiritual theology,” Eugene Peterson warns against the dangers of godtalk: taking rich theological and spiritual language and cheapening it for short-term ends, using it to manipulate or depersonalize rather than to love and serve in Jesus’ name. It’s not always obvious at first, but eventually, the twisting of language leads to the twisting of lives.

It’s easy to point to the ways others twist biblical language for their own ends, but it’s often painful, or at least inconvenient, to take an honest look at ourselves and the ways we do the very same thing. Christians my age, it seems to me, would do well to consider the kinds of language we use to talk about our concern for justice.

Do we talk about justice the way the Bible does, the way Jesus does, in the context of everything else he has to say about our depravity, our brokenness, and the basis of our hope? Or do we talk about it the way we want to, the way we wish the Bible did? Is it possible that when we observe what is wrong with the world — and we don’t have to look far — we use the language of justice by default when Jesus may be calling us to use a different, more costly kind of language that leads to a different, more costly — and ultimately more redemptive — way of life?

In his meditation on Jesus’ final words from the cross — in particular, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) — Peterson writes:

We live in a world seething in sin and awash in violence. We daily read and see the news of it in the media. We also come up against it, even though unreported in the police logs, many times a day in our homes and workplaces and neighborhoods. What I am contending for as a consequence of praying Jesus’ prayer from the cross is that forgiveness should become our first response to every person who demeans and hurts and takes our life. There certainly will be matters of justice for society to deal with along the way, and it may be important for us to participate in them. There are judges and prosecuting attorneys, police and juries, and there are many of us who pursue and uphold and cause of justice who are counted among them. But who else is there to say “Father, forgive them” but Christians who know how to pray that prayer with Jesus? However important justice is — and it is important — forgiveness is more important. The Christian at prayer, even as Jesus at prayer, is not first of all an impersonal agent of justice but a personal conveyor of forgiveness and a witness to the resurrection.

Such forgiveness is not soft sentimentality. It is hard-edged gospel. Such forgiveness is not a moral shrug of the shoulders. It is a white-hot flame of resurrection love forged in the furnace of the cross.

Assuming that the criminal crucified next to Jesus was receiving a just death sentence (he said as much himself), the sentence was not revoked in Jesus’ prayer. The criminal died for his crime. But forgiveness trumped justice. It always does (pp. 247-8, emphasis mine).

I hope we’ll continue to seek justice and to speak about it. But as recipients of God’s grace, which is the last thing any of us deserve, let’s remember to give forgiveness the last word.