The Pastor’s Pastor

eugene petersonTen years ago, Eugene Peterson was simply the man who wrote The Message paraphrase of the Bible. I had never read any other book by him, I had never known of his starting and pastoring a small church in Maryland, and I never would have imagined the impact that he eventually would have on me and my ministry.

My seminary experience was different from many of my friends and colleagues. I did not “do” seminary in the traditional residential way but instead completed my degree through a distance learning program which involved a few trips a year for intensive classes as well as my traveling up to south Maryland to take traditional classes. I petitioned to take classes outside of my program more than any other student I knew, and one of those classes was an independent study using some of the books of Eugene Peterson.

I honestly can’t remember when I learned of the expansive volume of books that Peterson had written. I imagine that it was when I went into the office of one of my fellow pastors. I’ve been known to simply stand before shelves of books in people’s offices, taking mental snapshots of what I see, comparing and contrasting what’s there, and slowly forming an idea in my head just how the person whose office I am standing in has had their theology and ministry formed by the writers represented on those shelves.

Regardless of how he got there, Peterson became a fixture on my radar. I started with one book, added another, then another, and another, and before I knew it, I had a healthy little portion of the catalogue of books he’s written. And by working the angles on my independent study during seminary, I was able to create a mechanism by which I was required to read some of those very same books.

“Learning from a pastor’s pastor,” that was what I called my independent study. The most significant book among the ones that I focused on was Peterson’s memoir, “The Pastor.” It was interesting to read through this memoir and hear the tales that described the formation of so many of the books that Peterson would write. It was even more fascinating to me since I hadn’t read most of them and it gave me a glimpse behind the curtain before I actually read them.

That book, “The Pastor,” has been the book that I have sent to friends upon their ordination to full-time vocational ministry. It impacted me enough, grounding me in my vocation rather than allowing me to be caught up in an occupation. Having grown up with a father who was a pastor, I was intrigued to read this memoir of a man who wasn’t too much older than my own father and to see just how he approached the vocation of pastor.

I remember when Peterson sat down with Bono, the lead singer of U2, to have a conversation about the Psalms. An unlikely pairing became a fascinating exercise in contemplative thought that was shared through every U2 fan who also happened to be a follower of Jesus. And it wasn’t showy or kitschy, in my opinion it was a little more than 20 minutes of nuggets shared by a pop icon and a spiritual mentor, an honest look at what has become one of my favorite books of the Bible. If you haven’t seen the video, I highly recommend that you click here and take the 22 minutes to watch it.

As I began to read more and more of Peterson, I adopted him as a spiritual mentor, just as I had with Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and a few others whose transcendent writings have always reminded me that what I do as a pastor and who I am as a pastor is far less defined by culture and people’s opinions and much more defined by the people who I lead and just how God needs me to be used to help them in their own formation. Peterson reminded me of the richness of the Bible, especially some of the books that are often overlooked by some of the superstar megachurch pastors that try to put  the sexy back into the Bible while some of us are wondering how they even thought it was supposed to be sexy to begin with.

Eugene Peterson was a dying breed. In reading his books and watching videos of him, there is nothing glamorous or flashy about him. His humility and quiet spirit seemed evident not only as I listened to him speak but as I read the words he had written. With every book, I pictured myself sitting in a cozy cabin in comfortable chairs nestled in front of a fire, while man who had lived a significant amount of life imparted wisdom upon me in a gentle yet passionate way.

Eugene Peterson will be missed, but the legacy that he has left through his books will allow his voice to continue to mold and shape generations of pastors. I am grateful for that shaping that has occurred in my own life and which continues to occur. I will continue to gift his memoir to others as they step into vocational ministry and I will continue to allow his words to focus me back on the call of God on my life.

Insider Outsider – A Book Review

insider outsiderIt’s never easy to hear criticism. It’s particularly hard to hear it when it’s something that you aren’t necessarily aware of just what it is that is being criticized. For some who pick up Bryan Loritts’ latest book “Insider Outsider,” it will be difficult to read, but difficult to read doesn’t mean bad and it certainly doesn’t mean unnecessary. In my opinion, if you are a white evangelical in America, Loritts’ book is a must read, no matter how hard it is to push through.

There’s a race issue in our country and from the vantage point of privilege, it’s difficult for those of us who consider ourselves to be white evangelicals to fully grasp just how significant this issue is. Just because we are 150 years from the Civil War and 50 years from the civil rights era does not mean that the steps taken and things achieved by both that war and that era have somehow miraculously vanquished every oppression, misstep, and sin committed against people of color. In fact, for whites to expect that throwing a law at something somehow makes it all better is just plain ignorant of us. In Loritts’ words, fairness doesn’t work, “if the system has been historically unfair to the point where we still feel its vibrations some centuries later.”

Loritts takes aim not at individuals but at the institution that has come to be known as white evangelicalism. For those of us who consider ourselves to be members of that institution, the connect point of the shots that Loritts takes may very well be our guts, and if he’s doing it right and speaking truthfully, that’s exactly where we need to be feeling it.

Loritts tells his own story outlining his experience with white evangelicalism. He talks of being invited in and being cautioned what to say or not to say. He shares of his experience of people responding to him differently depending on the context. He honestly describes the countless knocks that he’s gotten from both sides of the line, a line that in writing this book, I think Loritts is trying to eliminate.

In order for us to really achieve diversity in the Church, we need to be willing to submit ourselves to our black brothers and sisters and to make sacrifices in areas of power that have served us well. We can no longer invite our black brothers and sisters to come along with us and then conveniently throw them only the “scraps” from our table. Loritts writes, “Power and position are always synonymous. A powerless position is a token.” If we really want to seek out racial reconciliation, we need to invite our brothers and sisters to the table and give them an equal seat at that table.

“Insider Outsider” is an attempt by Loritts to dismantle not only the system that has been in place for centuries, but also an attempt to dismantle a system that he has found himself to be part of in some way, shape, or form over his years growing and learning as a pastor. And dismantle it will, if it is read with humility and a desire to listen and learn. Apart from those things, this book will fall on deaf ears and will only inflame those who are seeking to have their own viewpoints coddled and reinforced.

This isn’t an easy book to read, but it’s necessary for those of us who have been complicit to an issue which has not been completely resolved by the principalities and powers of our country. In fact, for any of us to legitimately believe that the issue is simply a political issue is for us to be guilty of the same idolatry that has been evident among white evangelical voters at the voting booth over the past few years.

As Loritts writes, “Love costs.” Anything that is worth it requires sacrifice, and even deep friendships, “have had to liquidate from their relational accounts the currency of love.” While we read in the Bible that love covers over a multitude of sins, we need to understand that love without actions supporting it is simply a clanging gong or banging cymbal.

“Insider Outsider” is a book that I would highly recommend to the right people. If the posture to which someone comes to this book is entitlement and defensiveness, all that they will leave with is disappointment and even anger. If the posture to which someone comes to this book is humility and the desire to be more Christlike, particularly in the area of relationships with our black brothers and sisters, then this book may be a dismantling of sorts. It may be painful, but what growth ever occurs without a significant amount of pain?

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Walking in the Shoes of Another

All the Colors We Will SeeWhat does the world look like if you are the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in Anchorage Alaska? How do you experience life differently when your husband who you met in South Africa is from Zimbabwe and together you raise your family in Charlotte?

Patrice Gopo gives us a memoir that speaks of her journey and her experiences. She tells of what it was like growing up in Alaska as one of the only black girls in her class and school. She tells of her journey towards discovering who she was and how she was different. She tells of how she initially resisted some of those differences in herself and how she finally began to embrace them.

They say that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes can give you a better understanding for someone. “All the Colors We Will See” is like a long walk down windy roads, following someone who has dealt with her own difference and come to grips with them. Gopo describes the emotions of seeing the Confederate flag hung on neighbors’ homes, on gas stations, and even what it was like when it was finally removed from the statehouse in South Carolina’s capital.

Gopo takes her readers through her childhood and what it was like when her parents decided that they could no longer make their marriage work. She takes us to Jamaica to visit the homeland of her parents. She draws her reader into those moments when she struggled with who she was and makes us understand just a little bit what it looks like from the other side.

Since my own awakening to the privileged upbringing and experience that I had, I have been drawn to stories like Gopo’s which help me to see beyond my own little world. “All the Colors We Will See” helps readers feel just a little bit of what growing up different feels like as Gopo describes things that many of us may take for granted.

What I appreciated about Gopo the most is the grace with which she writes. She never takes an accusatory tone for all of those times when she encountered those who diminished her difference in being black. Even the thoughtless words that escaped people’s mouths were met with grace and compassion by Gopo, a reaction with which I know I would struggle.

“All the Colors We Will See” is the story of a journey that has not been completed. Gopo gives us a window into that. For those who desire to see beyond themselves and try to understand just a fraction of what others may have faced or may be facing, Gopo’s account is worth exploring.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)