Lunch with Pastor Pete
October 19, 2011 | 11am
Seattle Pacific University | Alexander Hall
//Eat this book//
… I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter in your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.
-Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (p. i). Kindle Edition.
//I know you’re a wee bit jealous
As a part of a course I’m taking at Seattle Pacific Seminary,”The Role of Scripture in Christian Formation,” we were blessed to share in table fellowship with Rev. Peterson and talk about Eat This Book, pastoral ministry and the imagination and posture we must cultivate to approach Scripture.
I can’t convey what it feels like, what it sounds like, what it looks like to sit with the Reverend Eugene Peterson in a small group with six students, one faculty, one staff and his wife, Jan over sandwiches, but I’ll try.
He never wanted to be a pastor. He went to seminary to become a professor. But God has a way of messing up our plans like that, someone once told me. [Actually, that someone said “God has a unique way of ruining lives. ;)” but you get the drift].
Vocational conversion is what Rev. Peterson called it. He was teaching the book of Revelation, filling in for a professor who was on sabbatical. But engaging in Scripture does strange things to people. Rev. Peterson began drawing connections [as the text often leads] and soon saw John of Patmos, the book’s author, as a pastor showing the contemporaneity of the Gospel to his congregation. Not only did Rev. Peterson see the congregational context of this particular book, but he saw the ways in which the congregation John served on Patmos dealt with the range of life experiences that he found in his own congregation of White Plains. Soon, the classroom felt too small, too constricting, for it was in the congregation where stuff happened–everything at once, as Rev. Peterson writes in The Pastor: random, unscheduled, accompanied too much of the time by undisciplined and trivializing small talk . It’s where life happened. The messy, noisy, muddy and beautiful.
And so this teacher-turned-pastor allowed Scripture to form him into what he was going to be when he grew up: a Pastor.
//On Defending the Bible or Living it
Being a pastor seemed contentious. In fact, he admitted that pastors had a way of making his blood boil. Pastors were caught up in the ‘battle for the Bible,’ arguing about theology and the rightness of one’s interpretation of Scripture as if it had nothing to do with a God of love. Simply put, they were mean. No one talked about the Bible being true. No one talked about living it; entering into it.
You can spend your life vocationally defending the Bible, Rev. Peterson admonishes. Or you can live it.
Q&A with the Reverend
Again, I’m going to say it: I can’t fully communicate the joy I experienced in hearing Rev. Peterson’s experiences, responses and even advice for us young theologians and pastors. On with the rest of our lunch.
How do you begin to do this work of ‘eating Scripture’ with youth?
You start with you. Rev. Peterson is quick to point out that we have a deathly association with learning. We have made learning such a fear-inducing activity by the environments we cultivate in school that the first question becomes: will this be on the exam? For others to see the life-giving nature of Scripture, we must live it.
On the role of Art
Most of what we live is invisible. In true Peterson fashion, the Reverend uses the metaphor of a tree. We see branches and leaves, but the complex root system that gives it life isn’t visible. What art does is connect the visible with the invisible. He continued, If you’re a good artist, you convey more than what the senses can give you. In nurturing your artistic imagination you find ways to connect the life giving stuff–the soul.
It’s late and I have to get up for an airport drop off and more of the #saf11 conference. But don’t worry–I’ll tell you all about the rest of lunch tomorrow. About how Rev. Peterson thinks that Samwise Gamgee is the real strength of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, how listening isn’t just about not talking and about how pastors need to train themselves to do nothing. And feel free to enjoy this photo of our class till I return.
Peterson, E. H. (2011). The pastor: A memoir. New York: HarperOne.