From Psalm 46 (Msg)

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.

We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,

courageous in seastorm and earthquake,

Before the rush and roar of oceans,

the tremors that shift mountains.

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,

God of the Angel Armies protects us.

River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city,

this sacred haunt of the Most High.

God lives here, the streets are safe,

God at your service from crack of dawn.

Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten,

but Earth does anything he says.

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,

God of the Angel Armies protects us.

Attention, all! See the marvels of God!

He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,

Bans war from pole to pole,

breaks all the weapons across his knee.

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,

loving look at me, your High God,

above politics, above everything.”

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,

God of the Angel Armies protects us.

Conversation with Eugene Peterson & Correctives to Pastoral Job Descriptions

One of my favorite people is Eugene Peterson.  He’s up there with Howard Thurman, Gardner C. Taylor, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Henry Nouwen in terms of heroes.  In this video he talks about being a pastor.  If this is meaningful to you, you should certainly read Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor.

My First Response

This is from my meditation for today, from Eugene Peterson’s A Year With Jesus, which is a daily reading from the gospels, accompanied by a few sentences of explanation and a prayer.  I’ve been turning over the prayer today and thought I’d share it.

My goal, Savior Christ, is to believe in you so deeply and thoroughly that my first response in every crisis is faith in what you will do, trust in how you will bless.  But I have a long way to go.  Lead me from my fearful midget-faith to mature adulthood.  Amen.

Cross at CTS

Wangerin, Writing, and “…the shape of my days.”

I’m celebrating the work of writing and revising and wrestling with words.  This is partly because of National Novel Writing Month and partly because I need to think about writing more than I allow myself.

I came across a delightful conversation between Mark Neal and Walter Wangerin.  Walter Wangerin is a retired writing teacher and pastor and author of more than thirty books, a few of which I’ve read.  His writing is wide, deep, mystical and searching.

In the conversation, Wangerin talks about the five covenants of writing.  He says of beginning a project that he starts “with something that has possibility,” something he can pursue.  He says, I’m sure for those of us learning from his long record as a writer, communicator, and teacher, “In order to see truth or reality as clearly as you possibly can, you have to empty yourself. And that means emptying yourself of any preconceived interpretive factors.”

He discusses his views of technology and how it’s impacted his own way of writing.  Then Wangerin mentions a friend, Eugene Peterson and how he has ended book writing and taken up letter writing.  Wangerin says,

And his mind is my mind. I’m sure there are authors who do consider what they are sending out, even by email, to be of literary value. But I think letter writing has been profoundly undermined by email. Letter writing used to be a genre of its own that was just a delight. You didn’t have to go back and forth and revise it; you could allow your mind to wander and be shaped by the relationship you had with the person you were writing. And I am sorry that that has been diminished. Because email simply gets deleted.

Is that true in your world?  Do you think that your communications have changed, or, more pointedly, that your writing has lost value because of technology?  When talking about how many people can’t live without devices and gadgets to get things like writing done quickly, he says that “writing shouldn’t be easy or fast.”  And he offers advice to writers and the theme, if I can call it that, is nurturing one’s soul.

When answering one of the last questions in the interview, one having to do with a recent book, Letters From the Land of Cancer, Wangerin talks about what motivates him to keep writing.

But it takes somebody who knows how to write it so the commonality can be discovered and experienced. And that always is the sweet slip of the sea along my boat, the pleasure of that. Why would I stop that? I mean that’s why I’m telling you all this. Not just because it’s a thing I can do, but larger than that, it’s my identity. There are a number of things that make up what I would call myself. I would say all of them are relational. And certainly I am defined by my family, my heritage, just as in the Old Testament, nobody was an individual. But I’m also defined by this thing I can do. This is not a profession, this is a characteristic that reveals the soul, the core. I write, I am a writer. In fact, it has become the shape of my days, which is a pleasure.

To read the full conversation with Walter Wangerin, click here.

Eugene Peterson Writing About Writing

This is from Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor.  He’s talking about heuristic writing, writing as a conversation with scripture, with his conversation.  He’s talked about writing as conversation and as exploring, not explaining, not directing.  In this quote he refers to the “badlands” which was his name for a period of particularly challenging times in his pastoral work.

It was a way of writing that involved a good deal of listening, looking around, getting acquainted with the neighborhood.  Not writing what I knew but writing into what I didn’t know, edging into a mystery…

Heuristic writing–writing to explore and discover what I didn’t know.  Writing as a way of entering into language and letting language enter me, words connecting with words and creating what had previously been inarticulate or unnoticed or hidden.  Writing as a way of paying attention.  Writing as an act of prayer.  In the badlands the act of writing was assimilated into my pastoral vocation, revealing relationships, drawing into mysteries, training me imaginatively to enter the language world of scripture in which God “spoke and it came to be,” in which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  And it became a way of writing in which I was entering into the language world of my congregation, their crises and small talk, their questions and doubts, listening for and discerning the lived quality of the gospel in their lives.  Not just saying things.  Not just writing words.

I came across something that Truman Capote wrote, with a sneer, on the work of a popular novelist: “That’s not writing, it’s typing.”  About the same time, I read Emily Dickinson’s pronouncement, “Publication is no business of the poet.”  Capote exposed much of what I had been doing as “typing”–using words to manipulate or inform or amuse.  Dickinson rescued me from a lust to be published.

I began to understand the sacred qualities of language.  My work as a pastor was immersed in language… And I began to understand that the way I used language involved not just speaking it and writing it, but listening to it–listening to the words in scripture, but also listening to the words spoken to me by the people in my congregation.

Season of Lent, pt. 7, Easter

Today ends the Season of Lent and begins the Season of Easter.  Easter is the day we celebrate what one of my favorite pastors called “that great public victory,” when Jesus Christ rose from the grave and changed everything.  I imagine a lot of my colleagues across the world will be sensitive to, thinking about, listening to, and preaching from the Gospels.  A few will look back to Isaiah 53 as this time closes.

Certainly the themes in Isaiah have returned to Christians and other interested people over the last days of the Lenten Season.  This is one of those chapters in the Scriptures that should come back over and over in one way or another.  There are others, perhaps more triumphant verses as well, of course. Here is Eugene Peterson’s translation of the prophet’s words.

Isaiah 53 (The Message)

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?  The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.  He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.  One look at him and people turned away.  We looked down on him, thought he was scum.  But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.  We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.  But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!  He took the punishment, and that made us whole.  Through his bruises we get healed.  We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.  We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.  And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.  He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word.  Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence.  Justice miscarried, and he was led off—and did anyone really know what was happening?  He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people.  They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.  Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain.  The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.  And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.  Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.  Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins.  Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—the best of everything, the highest honors—Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest.  He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.