Tag Archives: Eugene Peterson

quotable blessings – Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant


Quarelling with God is a time honored biblical practice: Moses, Job, David, and St. Peter were all masters at it.  It is a practice in which men and women in ministry have much practice.  We get a lot of practice in this because we are dealing with God in some way or another most of the time (in theory), and God doesn’t behave as we expect.

Speaking of Jonah’s anger in Jonah 4 (and giving me timeless biblical help in my current life and pastorate):

Anger is most useful as a diagnostic tool.  When anger erupts in us, it is a signal that something is wrong.  Something isn’t working right.  There is evil or incompetence or stupidity lurking about.  Anger is our sixth sense for sniffing out wrong in the neighborhood.  Diagnostically it is virtually infallible, and we learn to trust it…  What anger fails to do, though, is tell us whether the wrong is outside or inside us.  We usually begin by assuming the wrong is outside us – our spouse or our child or our God has done something wrong, and we are angry.  That is what Jonah did.  He quarelled with God.  But when we track the anger carefully, we often find it leads to a wrong within us – wrong information, inadequate understanding, underdeveloped heart. 

Thanks for the help Mr. Eugene… not that I have any anger or know any angry people.  Finally, consider this TRUE description of ministry.  Recently, I sat with a friend in the PCA – Jay Thomas – and when I asked him what kind of ministry he prayed that he would one day participate in, he oddly answered “The messy kind.”  JT – you’ll like this.

A group of seminarians I was leading once asked me what I liked best about being a pastor.  I answered, “The mess.”  I had never said that before; I don’t think I had even thought it before.  The answer surprised me as much as it did them.  Sometimes a question does that, pulls an answer out of us that we didn’t know was there, but the moment we hear it we know immediately it is exactly true, more true than if we had had a week to formulate an answer.

Actually, I don’t like the mess at all.  I hate the mess.  I hate the uncertainty.  I hate not knowing how long this is going to last, hate the unanswered questions, the limbo of confused and indecisive lives, the tangle of motives and emotions.  What I love is the creativity.  And what I know is that I can never be involved in creativity except by entering the mess…

Creativity is not neat.  It is not orderly.  When we are being creative we don’t know what is going to happen next.  When we are being creative a great deal of what we do is wrong.  When we are being creative we are not efficient.  An artist makes attempt after attempt at the canvas…  A poet writes draft after draft of a poem, mercilessly excising cliches, feeling for the true rhythm, filling the wastebasket with crumpled paper, and eventually getting words together that tell the truth and tell it truthfully.  Lovers quarrel, hurt and get hurt, misunderstand and are misunderstood in their painstaking work of creating a marriage: apologize and then explain, listen and wait, rush forward and pull back, desire and sacrifice as love receives its slow incarnation in flesh and spirit.

Now that, my friends, is a beautiful, true, honest picture of all that God has taught a young pastor in the mess of life and churchplanting.  I love the mess.  I hate the mess.  I think I see the need of the gospel in the mess.  I know I have seen the creative power of the Spirit in the mess.  Bring it on, O God.  Show us that we are poor and needy, messy and in the right place for transformation. 

So to sum up this morning’s reading of The Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson (p.155-167): In the mess, I meet God.  But I often quarrel with him.   In the mess, I meet my anger and that of others… which helps diagnose the mess.  Then, the mess becomes the place of mercy – unprogrammed, unanticipated, unknown Creative mercy.  God is there.  Messy ministry is the better kind.

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my friend eugene

I have a friend.  I should stop this post with that.  

Sincerely, I have a friend who speaks to me things which I deserve to have spoken AT me.  Hard things has he said to me.  Honest assessments colliding with empathetic affections.  My friend is Mr. Eugene Peterson, who has come to speak with me about my life as a pastor.  How nice of him to write a whole book for an undeserving aquaintance-turned-friend as me.  Under the Unpredictable Plant – An exploration in vocational holiness is about me, to me.

I have found that I have not initially admired many of my closest friends.  Apparently, rough first impressions are a good sign for me.  As much as I long for honest assessment and compassion, I have a penchant toward judging the kinds of people whom I need most.   Mr. Eugene was one such person.  I have never read much of Eugene Peterson.  Committed to expositional preaching of reliable translations of Scripture (the ESV!!!), I have avoided his “translation” (yes, in quotes) – The Message.  It has never found its way to my study.  Sorry Eugene, please forgive me.  The first impression has passed.  I declare that I have neglected a supplemental literary gift.  My friend Eugene is a good writer; he has shown me.

I weigh his experience against my own: “Somewhere along the way, as  I searched out my origins… I saw that alongside and intertwined with being a pastor I was also a writer.  My vocation was bipolar.  I do not know how I knew so certainly, for it was to be many years before I was published, but the conviction deepened in me that writer was parallel to pastor in my vocation.  Not in competition with it, the writer and the pastor  fighting for equal time.  Not in submission to it, the writer being a servant to the pastor, writing down his message so that others could read it.  But partners, writer and pastor as vocational twins. 

Eugene, writes of himself, yet I read of myself for good reason.  It was in the chaos of being a young organizing pastor of a church plant that he felt convinced of his vocational bipolarity.  He gives word to my soul – “I felt beleagured.  I had been sent to organize a new church and so was a pastor without a congregation.  I was a writer, but unpublished.  There was no market for who I was, no job that fit my vocation.”

Why have I so seldomly blogged of late?!  Many reasons.  Why have I set aside my writing pursuits that brought joy and peace and purpose?!  Many good reasons.  And yet, listening to Eugene, I can now label what I have wordlessly felt  – I have bifurcated my vocational personality!  I love writing.  I believe God has called me to it.  Twice I have written 100 page manuscripts only to walk away confused as to why I am wanting to be what I am.  Eugene has reminded me. 

Of course, he has reminded me of much more.  His words have clarified my vocational calling to pastor God’s people as opposed to succoming to “religious careerism.”  His experiences penned have biographically sketched my first three months as the organizing pastor of West Valley PCA.  He has managed to convince me that the people to whom I have been called play a special role in my own spiritual formation.  They for me more than I for them.  “The congregation is the pastor’s place for developing vocational holiness.   It goes without saying that it is the place of ministry: we preach the Word and administer the sacraments, we give pastoral care and administer the community life, we teach and give spiritual direction.  But it is also the place in which we develop virtue, learn to love, advance in hope – become what we preach.  At the same time we proclaim the holy gospel, we develop a holy life… The congregation provides the rythems, the associations, the tasks, the limitations, the temptations – the conditions – for this growing up ‘in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph. 4:15).'”

Honest Eugene.  He could have told me earlier but I would not have heard him.  Yes, church planting has its glorious thrills – but so does every wild roller coaster that challenges our equilibrium and leaves us scampering away to vomit in private.  Eugene has interpreted for me the first 6 months of West Valley Presbyterian Church!  God is at work.  Congregationally.  Vocationally.  Missionally.  It is real.  It is gospel-rich.  But it has not been glamorous. 

That’s OK though – because my friend Eugene says that “parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography – taking photographs (skillfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that are without spot or wrinkle.”  Thank God that such a picture is erronous – not only are the spots and wrinkles there (I have seen them)… I need them to be there.  If I would honor Christ with vocational holiness – in the bipolar sense – I need them to be there.

Thanks Eugene.

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