As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I’m listening to Eugene Peterson’s authorized biography. Here are some paraphrased excerpts from the book:

The temptation to be “an expert” is relentless. He began to notice a latent messianic complex, where he was drawn to locate the emotional problems of people and then “FIX THEM EFFICIENTLY.”

What kind of person do I want to be? Slow, personal, attuned to God and to the lives of people around me. Is it possible to transform from a competitive person to a contemplative person? A person who is able to genuinely be with people; walking with people patiently toward Jesus and not get in the way.    

Convert people’s stories into biblical stories. Imaginatively and personally immerse yourself in Scripture as autobiographical. Only the earthy and messy stories God tells can sufficiently speak to the intricacies and exigencies of the human soul and experience. NPR will tell you what the world thinks is happening, but only by imaginatively inhabiting the Word of God can a person become attuned to what is actually happening.

We feel pressure to gather a crowd and get famous. But you can’t be a real person in a crowd, and you’re not free to be a whole person while in the spot light. We must all decide whether or not we’re going to live phony lives or dinkum lives? Will we manage and manipulate people, or will we embrace messiness and truly meaningful relationships?

So many people live by fear. So many frantically chase the illusion of “safety.” Anxiety is the calling card of suburbia. People fleeing for fear of bad schools, rising crime rates, heterogenous neighbors. White suburbia is as heterophobic as it gets! There is a Satanic connection between the delusion of safety and homopride (extoling uniformity and sameness, and venerating safety).

When people want to learn to pray …simply guide them to the Psalms. The Psalms are brutally honest, and almost irreverent in their audacity. Sadly, false prophets (competitive, commodified, consumeristic American “churchy people”), have somehow made the Psalms to feel elegant, sanitized, decorous, and cautious. This is tragic. The Psalms are earthy and raw and rough; they are not genteel, they are not the prayers of ‘nice people.’ We must personally exercise these gritty prayers for ourselves. We must hear them! Really hear them! We must disabuse ourselves of the commodified cautious indoctrination of our cherished conservative culture.

I am so glad to be away from academia. There is too much noise, and policy, and bureaucracy, and peacocking, and hurry, and informationalism. The classroom has to be the most uncongenial, unpromising environment ever devised to shape minds and spirits, to cultivate wisdom, to nurture love and relationship. I suppose academia is ok for information and accreditation, but it sure does wipeout the imagination.

Quit being so busy. Learn quiet. Quit talking so much, and learn silence. Quit treating people like customers, or followers to be ‘influenced’, retained, ‘liked by,’ managed, and manipulated. Simply treat people with dignity as souls in formation. The primary and most powerful realities we are always dealing with are the Word of God and the image-bearers of God. The primary stance we must learn is to listen. There can be no language that works at all if someone is not listening. And since God is the primary voice in this world let us by all means attend to listening! We are not deficient in energy or motivation or knowledge, but we are not substantially attentive to the voice/Word of God, and being totally and personally present with the people we meet and share life with.

Living in the American consumeristic society requires immense grace and at least a little belligerence. What we need more than anything else is not encouragement, but discernment. Most of what passes for “encouragement” is just support to do the wrong thing (the things that cater to immediate gratification). Bona fide leadership and life requires a person to operate from the margins. It’s modest work. It’s not glamorous work. It’s behind the scenes, ignored, patient, servant work. Forget about being relevant, or efficient. Friends, you are living in exile and you better get used to it; the less people notice you the better. …How do you slip through the opposition and make your point? You do it by being lazy. Or, what looks like being lazy. For instance, reading a book that doesn’t have anything to do with your professional development, or going on a a long walk. My father was a butcher, and when he delivered meat to restaurants he would sit at the counter and have a cup of coffee and a piece of pie and “waste time.” But that time was critical for building relationships. You gotta wander around and “waste time.” To be ‘unbusy’ you gotta be disengaged from ego (both yours and others), and you gotta start dealing with souls. Souls cannot be hurried. You must scorn self-important “hero” influencers and leaders, and you must deride the consumerism and commodification running a muck in the world. Healthy souls require immense humility and self-awareness, and clinging to mercy like a drowning man grasps for a buoy. The strongest sign of authenticity is the inadequacy we feel most of the time. There are occasions when what’s pastorally needed isn’t necessarily what’s theologically preferred. And certainly, “Absolute purity” and airtight answers should not be the highest things on your priority list. The Bible explicitly, emphatically, regularly, and relentlessly offers us less clarity than we prefer or demand; or at least it doesn’t offer the kind of clarity we want. And matters of the soul require mysteriously developed dexterity and attentiveness, which cannot be served by unbending policies and edicts. We will necessarily need to ignore the world’s hysteria, and people’s shrill flash fires.