A Long Obedience

My day started with a stirring based on the passages I read in my devotions this morning and that will be another post I’ll be writing using a different version of this same picture.  I saw this morning that one of my guides along my ministry path passed away this morning.  Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message version of the Bible along with many other books passed away after entering hospice care a few days ago.  According to the message his family sent out, his last words were, “Let’s go.”  Sounds very much like the Peterson I learned so much from.

When I was first thinking of starting down this path to ministry, a mentor of mine gave me a book by Peterson called, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.  Peter told me that it was a book that shared beautifully and powerfully what a pastor is supposed to be and to do – prayer, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.  That has stuck with me through the nearly 20 years I have served as a pastor as I have wrestled with how all the responsibilities of being a pastor fit into those three angles.  Sometimes I do it well, sometimes not so much.

I read most of his other books as well – probably read more by Eugene Peterson than any other Christian author.  But the two books that probably affected me more than any of the others are his memoir, The Pastor and one of his first books, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  I wrote about The Pastor shortly after it came out and don’t need to reiterate it all here but in sum, it was a beautiful read because it helped me to see that Peterson wrestled with the same realities that I and every other pastor I know has wrestled with.  You can read my thoughts on it here.

The other book has probably had more of an influence on me than any other though – A Long Obedience is a reflection upon a small segment of the Psalms known as the Songs of Ascent and cover Psalms 120-134.  It was written nearly 40 years ago and the subtitle is even more true today than it was then.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.  As I have grown and changed in my faith, I have found this truth over and over.  We want the quick and the easy but that is not the path of Jesus.  The path of Jesus is an uphill climb much like the road up to Jerusalem that some believe the Songs of Ascent were written for.  The path of Jesus is a long obedience in a direction that sometimes feels like we know where it is headed and others the destination seems a long way off.  But discipleship is one step in front of the other, day by day, moment by moment, holy by holy, prayer by prayer, song by song, service by service.   One of my favorite lines in Long Obedience is a good word for each of us each day…

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.

Pastor Gene – thank you.  I am grateful that you have heard those well-deserved words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

A few links to more about Peterson…

Eugene Peterson Preached Just One Sermon
Eugene Peterson and Bono of U2 – talking about the Psalms
OnBeing – Eugene Peterson on The Bible, Poetry, and Active Imagiation

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