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“The Pastor; a Memoir” book review

“Story is a way of language in which everything and everyone is organically related,” writes Eugene Peterson in his most recent The Pastor, A Memoir “Every step an arrival”. Story is exactly how Peterson finds his voice in relating to any and all of us, whether on pastoral call or congregational laity.

Reading Peterson’s The Pastor this summer on sabbatical in Panama, I am moved to the heart of what it means to be pastor as call and pastoral as witness. Peterson fills this volume with classic style and prose reflecting The Message, as only he can do, while retelling stories of his childhood joys & conflicts, his mother as itinerant preacher and pastor, his father as butcher, relationships to aunts and uncles, his college years, various jobs, getting married, planting a church, starting a young family, receiving a call to pastoral ministry and the various lessons learned in the community of his congregation.

Apart from well crafted and elaborate story telling Peterson’s memoirs is filled with honesty, openly made mistakes and, as he puts it, “finding my way as a pastor.” He admits, “As I look back on a lifetime in the pastoral vocation what I remember most is a kind of messiness: a lot of stumbling around, fumbling the ball, losing my way, and then finding it again. It is amazing now that anything came of it.” His stories are mixed with emotional recollections, interesting characters in his congregation, conversations we can all relate to, grief, sorrows, lessons learned by helping the addicted and even learning to accept his pastoral call. His stories include a bit of messiness in the lessons he learned. He openly stumbles his way through his 30 plus years of pastoral vocation along the journey.

Peterson is real, yet, in his vulnerable recall of pastoral work, he lays a foundation for ministry as vocation, which works as a tutorial primer for anyone willing to listen. He guides the reader into how to humbly serve in the church, rather than seek popularity, desire a larger congregation “somewhere else”, or lose focus on our pastoral responsibility. He encourages a “long obedience in the same direction”, a humble work of grace, and learning to enjoy the messiness of ministry between Sundays. His stories teach us how to bridge the working culture together with Christ, the church and community with a simple focus on worship, family, baptism, Eucharist and community. I thoroughly enjoyed Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, and recommend it as a reminder of God’s calling.

One of the most compelling chapters, for me, is late in the book. Peterson writes of visiting a Benedictine Monastery with his wife once in New Mexico. Upon walking through the cemetery on the way to the chapel, they noticed an open grave site prepared for a casket. They asked the hosting monk what the site was prepared for, “Did a brother die?” The monk replied, “No, this grave site is for the next one.” They remind themselves that they are already dead. Peterson finishes this chapter with a reminder that the pastor’s role is to learn to not draw meaningless attention to oneself, rather than keep the focus of the church on the Lord. I am learning to die everyday here on sabbatical in Panama, and pray that this “learning to die” is a way for me to continue a life well lived into the next ministry calling that the Lord will place me.

I am fully God’s child, and learning to be dead to this world, only to be fully alive in Christ.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Leadership, Ministry Calling, Sabbath Rest

 

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Sabbath

I’m starting to figure out this “resting” part of sabbath. I don’t feel like writing anything else today…

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Sabbath Rest

 

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Still Learning to Unplug

so… this is really difficult to do… for me… and for us as a family.

One would think that 7 weeks off, in a foreign country, on the 10th floor of a fabulous beach condo would be an easy venture. On one level, it really is a beautiful adventure for us.
This is quite the adventure for us as a family. My wife and I are celebrating our 18th anniversary this month, my kids are 13 and 11 years old and we are making some of the most fantastic family memories of our lifetime. We have taken escapades to the beach together.
We walked for almost 2 hours down the beach and back, with nowhere to be in a hurry. We saw a loose herd of cows even walk through the gate in the fence at the beach and come out onto the sand to play in the waves lapping up on the sand. It was something we’ve never encountered.

We went to the zoo at El Valle de Anton to see the birds, frogs and ocelots. We were on our way to the market for our lunch when we met Becky who runs the Golden Frog B&B at the end of the road in El Valle. She asked where we are from and made a quick connection with us. She said, “Oh, I grew up riding my horses down 202 on Redmond Way some 40 years ago. I moved here to Panama 35 years ago, and bought this little bed & breakfast place 6 years ago. I love it here.” We are finding what a truly small world it is.
We drove to the Mira Flores observatory of the Panama Canal and spent a few hours learning about commerce, trade, and shipping. Some ships pay nearly $300,000 dollars to traverse the canal, which saves them nearly twice as much money in fuel from having to travel farther around the South American continent. One guy payed $0.36 to swim the canal in 1924 from one end to the other. Everyone pays a toll.

We have plans to visit much of the country, even to the Caribbean side of the Isthmus where they say Christopher Columbus landed to explore. One thing we are finding here is that the culture is very slow. Very slow. Much slower than anything we’re used to at home in the NW, which leads me to think, on another level, how difficult of a shift it is for our family to unplug… we aren’t used to this slow pace, or this inability to communicate with culture (in Spanish), or this exclusionary foreigner feeling we get when walking into a supermarket, or this constant ‘out of place’ sensation here.
It really takes some work to get used to living in a foreign country. Something we have noticed clearly now, numerous times, is the intuitive sense of being “inconvenient” to people here. When we ask for help with something, like finding an item in a grocery store… we get the similar reaction many times. A roll of the eyes, a quick exhale, a subtle shake of the head and then they walk past us directly to the item we’ve asked for, place it in our hands and walk away, all the while as if to say, “Are you kidding me, you don’t know how to find that? I bet you haven’t even looked for it yet have you.” It doesn’t happen every time, for there have truly been some who have rescued us from that desperate isolated feeling of “I’m feeling lost here”.
In this “learning to unplug” we are taking time to read, journal, pray, be silent and stay put each day too. The benefit of being foreigners in a slower country than our culture provides at home is this forced feeling of ‘slowing down’ to enjoy the relaxed pace of life too. It’s only been 14 days, but my kids each said today, “wow, time is going by faster than we thought it would.” Without all the creature comforts of home (Kris and I actually turned off our cell phones and left them at her parent’s house for the summer) hearing words like that from our kids is a good sign that we are still learning to unplug.
On the way out of town I pass by an aged blue truck (someone who knows trucks will be able to identify it and tell me what it is). It’s up on blocks, out in front of someone’s home, off the road, not even parked in the driveway. It’s like a metaphor each time we pass by. “Take time to unplug”, take the wheels off, get off the road, sit a while and just be present. Sure, this truck was made for more than this… to transport people and cargo, and to go places. But for a time, it’s okay to unplug, pull off the highway of life, unload your cargo and just be present with God. We are learning to do that very thing. May you come to find too, that God is interested in your lack of productivity for a while. It’s difficult, but we are learning how … together.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Sabbath Rest

 

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get ready… get set… Sabbath Rest

We landed in Panama City, were greeted by some friends of our friends in New York & Chicago, connected to the Covenant. Sally met us at the airport after customs and immigration and walked right up and said, “Hi, are you the Olson’s I’ve been reading about?”

We loaded her Land Cruiser (darn, I miss my rig from years ago), with all our huge luggage, travel guitar and backpacks with 7 weeks of gear, and drove to pick up her husband from work.

The driving here is so much fun… crazy driving takes on an entirely new meaning. I thought Boston, Mass was intense driving, but this is an entirely new compulsion of fear that I’ve experienced only a few times in my life.

Avoiding the vehicles taking rapid left u-turns from the right lane next to us, we made it to our host’s condo-style home at the 23rd floor of a sky-rise in the heart of Panama city.

We were shocked by the view, and we hadn’t seen the daylight yet.

We went to dinner with our hosts, for octopus, chicken and steak with Panamanian Guavabana fruit ice-cream cones delivered from a drive up open cabana on the corner of Calle D street.

This morning we rose to the blazing sun coming through the glass windows of the top floor of their amazing home. I grabbed a cup of Panamanian coffee, unlike anything Starbucks could ever provide… grabbed a new book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, and began reading into rest for 2 hours before my family decided to shake off the traveling fog of the day before.

God, thank you for new beginnings, new starts to life each day, new ways to see life and gather your perspective for the journey. Thank you that you’ve invited us along to participate in all that you are doing, Father. Thank you that we don’t have control of the adventures, the plans, the relationships in this world… for if we did, we’d truly make more of a mess of things than we already do. Amen.

In light of the fantastic evening with new friends and joy in new perspective for the days ahead…

we rented a car for a week, took off to meet the Panamerican Hwy west, traverse 2 1/2 hours through the townships and villages to our destination spot for 7 weeks, and are finally learning to rest. I can’t wait to take the car back and ride the public transport back to our temporary home with Panamanian friends on the bumpy road to adventure.

We greeted the gate guard, asked for the key to our new condo home for the summer and were ushered up the the 10th floor of peaceful rest, reading, relaxation and revitalization as we listen to the voice of God together as a family.

May you come to find this rest and joy in the love of the resurrected Jesus who longs for you to sabbath with him in the love of the Father as well. get ready… get set… Sabbath Rest.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Leadership, Sabbath Rest

 

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