Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: The Pastor


Ever pick up a book and realize it's written directly to, and about, you? Ever have a book that comes along at just the right moment, perfectly matching your situation, essentially changing your life?

I'd been meaning to get to Eugene Peterson's memoir The Pastor ever since it came out, but had a large pile of unread books I was working through. Then Ron came in and dropped a copy on my desk. He had no idea I was about to enter into a long summer of introspection and assessment. He had no idea I was going to need a friendly voice to sit with me as I sat and pondered my ministry and my life this summer. He just knew I probably needed to get to this book sooner rather than later.

And so Peterson has been a voice speaking into my life all summer, whether sitting in the quiet of my living room, or flying with me on the way into Chicago, or sitting beside the Skykomish River waiting to catch a fish. And his truly has been a helpful, and necessary, voice.

Peterson has written a lot of books during his storied career as pastor, writer, and professor; now that he has laid most of those titles aside, he has chosen to look back over the last decades and find the places God was working, using them as signposts to the rest of us, clues to the ways God might be working still. He points out quickly that Pastor has never been an easy title, and is probably more confusing now than ever. "North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins."

Thankfully, Peterson chose another way, a non-comformist way; or, as Peterson would probably say, God led him through this vocation to another way, a way of life in which he learned to live as Pastor to a specific people in a specific place over a long period of time.

I liken it to a long walk through a dark wood. There is beauty and terror along the way, with no clear path, no obvious trail. But God has left markers along the way to keep us on the path. Peterson has gone ahead of us, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, but he's now teaching us how to live in this forest. No quick plans to bring the forest to submission, no designs on fame or fortune; instead, an attentiveness to God's provision in the moment, and his people traveling with us.

One of the most helpful pieces throughout this book is Peterson's attempt at reclaiming the role of Pastor, a role this world can't seem to figure out. Whereas often the role of pastor is co-opted into CEO, therapist (my personal temptation), or simply village dimwit (Rev. Lovejoy, anyone?), Peterson works hard at drawing healthier, more vibrant pictures of what it means to represent Christ, to serve a people, to become part of a place and witness to what God is doing there. It certainly challenged me to consider why I'm in Lakebay, and what, in the end, God is calling me to do here.

So I need to thank Ron for dropping it on my desk, I need to thank Peterson for writing it. . .and now that I'm finished, I think I need to read it again. And again. And again.

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