Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

In a way, Eugene Peterson has been a pastor to me. I first read his books (and "The Message," his translation of the Bible) when I came to Seattle and joined my church 16, 17 years ago now. Peterson's words are tangled up with my own pastor's words and I'm sure mixed up at some point. I used to seek out "The Message" to use in Bible readings for the congregation or Sunday School. Because I associate Peterson's writing with my own translocation to the Northwest, I found it particularly fitting that in this, his memoir, he starts by drawing strong lines of attachment to his own place, western Montana (which I certainly count as Northwest enough to be "Northwest"). Peterson's words have always been part of the mental map of the Northwest for me, and now I find out that's because he is indeed part of the Northwest. I can't claim to have known this long ago, but I'd like to think that I may have felt it on an unconscious level.

The Pastor is not really about being a pastor; it's more about being part of a church. Peterson strikes an uncommon balance in that it's always clear that the church is distinct -- the church is The Church as opposed to the world -- but the church is not sealed off or even "above" the world it is called out from. Rather, the church is "for" the world it is called out from. Peterson may express this paradox better than any other current writer, to me at least.

So to learn about how the church should be the church, I suggest reading this man's memoir. It's not perfect, it could use some editing, but then again, so could this review. Another benefit is that you get some glimpses into what really matters for a writer writing -- and I even copied a page to put up on my bulletin board to glance over as I embark on this summer's writing project, high praise indeed because there's only so much room on that board. This book is worth the space on that board, and it's worth the time it took to read.

I may have never read a memoir that left the indelible impression, not so much of the author, but of the people and the God that he spent his life with. It's hard to call it a memoir because it is so other-focused in effect. A remarkable, quiet, and moving book.

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