Favorite Quotes from “The Pastor” by Eugene Peterson

For the past 30 years (with the exception of the past 8 months) I have served as a pastor. First of all as a pastor to students at the University of South Carolina and after that pastor at 3 churches: 1 in Virginia, 1 in South Carolina and 1 in Tennessee. Prior to that I worked in the nuclear power industry. I graduated from Clemson University with a BS in Chemical Engineering and at that time (1975) the nuclear power industry was in a growth stage. Many nuclear engineering companies and utility companies were looking for Chem E’s to staff their plants or their design teams.

McGuire Power Plant - the actual plant I helped design

I was the engineer responsible for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste (not the high-level stuff they are battling with now in Japan). I knew nothing about electrical engineering or about civil engineering and did not try and tell those guys how to design their portion of the plant. But likewise they did not tell me how to deal with the chemical realities of low-level radioactive waste. They trusted me to know my field and to design well.

After 2 years in the nuclear industry, I heard (I believe) God’s call to the ministry, the call to be a pastor. Debbie and I packed our house, moved to Jackson, MS and I enrolled in the MDiv program at Reformed Theological Seminary. Four years later I graduated (it was a three year program but I had no background in the humanities and for 2 1/2 years I worked as an engineer) and answered (again) God’s call to be a pastor. This time it was back to my home town, Columbia, to be pastor to students for the PCA at the University of South Carolina.

USC Horseshoe, a place of incredible beauty

It was a wonderful time that resulted in friendships that last until today. The campus work in the Presbyterian Church in America was so new that about the only ones who sought to give me advise on how to do my work were either fellow campus ministers (a small number at the time) or my mentor Mark Lowery who really knew what he was talking about.

In 1998, for a variety of reasons, I decided to leave campus ministry and become the pastor of a local church (my friend and my former RUF intern at USC, Tom Cannon, has been quoted as saying: “RUF, what do we say about RUF? It is wonderful, we never leave the ministry of RUF”). This first call to a local pastorate was to Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Woodbridge, VA. This was a congregation which was very patient with a pastor who was still trying to figure out what it meant to be a pastor. After that I was pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC for almost 11 years and after that pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Murfeesboro, TN for 8 and 1/2 years.

All of these calls were wonderful experiences that had both blessings and difficulties. But one of the things that I noticed about the work of a pastor at a local church that was different from being the pastor to students was that everyone thought they had a better understanding of the work of a pastor than I did. I alway thought about how different this was from being in the nuclear industry. When I was responsible for designing systems for low-level radioactive waste disposal the rest of the engineers thought I knew what what I was talking about (or that I could learn what I needed to know by conferring with my colleagues in the field) but would never tell me how to “do my job”.

When I entered the ministry as the pastor of a local church, I found that everyone thought they knew what a “pastor” should be or do better than I did. For a long time I found myself thinking that I was unusual in thinking that this was an unusual experience, an odd situation. Lately, however, I have been reading the memoirs of Eugene Peterson (one of my favorite authors) entitled The Pastor and I have found out that my perceptions were not only mine but that of many who have served as pastors in the past 50 years in America.

The Pastor

So I have decided to keep a running  tab of my favorite quotes from Peterson’s book. Here is my first entry.

1. “North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistant…I love being an American. I love this place in which I have been placed – it’s language, its history, its energy. But I don’t love ‘the American way’, its culture and values. I don’t love the rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed. I don’t love the dehumanizing ways that turn men, women, and children into impersonal roles and causes and statistics. I don’t love the competitive spirit that treats others as rivals and even as enemies”.

2. “We also realized that we envied the authority that Dr. Hansen carried as a psychiatrist. We would have loved to experience that, but it didn’t seem likely. People in general, even when they don’t know what a psychiatrist does in detail, assume that he knows. Pastors have no comparable identity recognition. Virtually nobody knows what we do – not our congregations, not the community, very often not the professors who taught us, not even (and this is the most unsettling) the bishops and executives and superintendents who provide overall direction and council for our work.”

3.  “We are tired of letting people who were not pastors tell us what we should be doing or not doing as pastors. The sociologists and academics, the psychologists and business executives, the talk-show gurus and religious entrepreneurs had all had their say about us long enough”.

4. “How do I keep the immediacy and authority of God’s call in my ears when an entire culture, both secular and ecclesial, is give me a job description? How do I keep the calling, the vocation, of pastor from being drowned out by job descriptions, gussied up in glossy challenges and visions and strategies, clamoring incessantly for my attention”.

Well I am a little over half way through the book and these are some (of many!) outstanding quotes. I will post more as I make my way through this exceptional book.

Blogging, Working in the market place and being a pastor by calling

It has been a while since I have posted and now there are several in a short span of time. The reason (good reason!!) for this is that I have had a lot of work to do with my new job with Insight. The other reason is that I have debated about posting the next blog. The blog about Rico and baseball is non-threatening to all but the next one might be considered a post against those who recently asked for my resignation as pastor. That is not the case.

In the past month I have been reading a pretty  eye-opening book by Eugene Peterson entitled The Pastor, it is a memoir of his life’s calling as a pastor. As I read it I find myself saying over and over again, yes that is what I have thought for several years. Basically what Peterson is saying in this book is that American churches really don’t want a pastor. They want a PR person, a cheerleader, a church growth expert or something else.

In the month I have been reading this book I have been corresponding with at least one pastor who has left the ministry because he has said: “Yes, I am really called to be what the Bible says a pastor is suppose to be but the church today does not appear to want that person”.

I know that can sound pretty arrogant but in many ways it resonates with me. It might sound arrogant from my friend (who has graduated from seminary in the past 8 years) but when someone (like me!) who has been doing this for 30 years says the same thing it may be time for people to ask if Peterson (not me or my friend) is right.

The one thing I have come to understand in the past 9 months is that I am a pastor because that is who I am, not because that is what my “job description” says (or said).

So I will let folks digest this short blog first and then I will post the other one.

Rico Carty and the love of the game

In 1967 I had a crush on my best friend’s older sister. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever known and since the possibilities of real romance in my young adolescent life seemed pretty remote (non-existent to be exact) it seemed better to admire a beauty from afar. It turned out to be the most important “romance” of my life (with, of course, the exception of the one that introduced me to my wife of 36 years), not because of any results of the crush (though I see my best friend’s sister still from time to time and find her to be quite beautiful) but because of another love that resulted from hanging around with my best friend.

She was in love that summer. I don’t know if she still is but at least for that year and the next few years she was in love. She was dating a guy, whose name I forget – we never remember the names of our rivals – but she was not in love with him. She was in love with something he did. He played baseball

Her boy friend played American Legion ball. American Legion baseball was a couple of steps above Pony League and just one or two steps (depending on where you played) below minor league.

So at the beginning of the summer, as I hung out at my friends house, his sister would come up to us and say: “Hey you want to go and watch – we’ll call him Joe – Joe play tonight”. Sure we would say, my friend because he wanted to do anything other than hang around the house on a summer night and me just to be around his sister.

I had grown up playing little league baseball at Satchel Ford Road Elementary school. I really loved the game but was not very good at it. My coach, however, Mr. DuPre, took it seriously. Not primarily to win games but to teach young men how to play as best they could and how to respect the game. For me, however, my greatest fear was to strike out so I would make faces (soon known famously as the Fergie smile) to try and throw pitchers off their game. Once, in the middle of one of my at bats, Coach DuPre called time out and called me aside and told me in what can only be described as a coach’s voice – “I don’t care if you strike out every time, I am trying to teach you to play this game and to play this game you have to swing at the ball. I don’t want to see another Fergie smile! Is that clear”.

Well as best I can remember I struck out (Cliff Rivers was pitching I do remember that) and I struck out a few more times but then a few games later I swung at the ball and hit a foul ball. By Coach DuPre’s reaction you would have thought I hit a home run. Playing the game was never the same after that. I was sill not very good but I did occasionally get a hit, I eventually got to play second base and I came to understand why it was called a baseball game.

Well, back to my summer with my crush on my best friend’s sister. It soon became apparent that any affection with her would become a case of unrequited love. So I began to pay attention to the game. I began to try and follow the signs. I began to learn what a squeeze play was and a wheel play. As it became clear that I had about as much chance of getting a date with my best friend’s sister as hitting a home run, I settled down to learning about baseball.

I was really enjoying it and found it to be a pleasant aside to life until at some point in the summer of ’67 our church youth group (my best friend and of course his sister went to the same church) decided to take a week-end trip to Atlanta. I thought the highlight of the trip would have been the trip to Six-Flags Over Georgia. After all this was the first year it was opened. I was wrong. The highlight of the trip was the game at Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves play. My best friend’s sister, being the baseball expert in our youth group, insisted that we get seats behind right field so we could watch Rico Carty. I had no idea who Rico Carty was but being only in 9th grade I also had no say in the purchase of tickets. So behind right field we sat.

From the the very beginning I saw that Rico was no ordinary ball player. He acknowledged the crowd, tipped his hat often and showed his appreciation whenever we applauded a great play (and he made several incredible plays).

He was a master of the game to watch. To be honest I don’t know if the Braves lost or won that day. All that mattered was watching Rico play. What is truly amazing is that ’67 is the year Rico was struck down with TB. No one expected him to return to baseball but there he was in 1969, batting .342. 1970 was even better, Rico batted .366 and won the batting championship(the highest batting average since 1957 when Ted Williams batted .388). I was hooked. I was a Braves fan from then until this day.

When Debbie and I first got married we did not have a TV (something I have recommended to newly weds ever since) and she was not a baseball fan but she became one as we listened to Ernie Johnson do play-by-play for the Braves beginning soon after our wedding in 1975. She also did not drink coffee but that is now one the favorite passions that we share – coffee – but that is a different blog entry.

Ernie had been a pitcher for the Braves when they were in Boston and in Milwaukee and finishing his career with the Baltimore Orioles. He became a legend in Atlanta and much loved for his work with the Braves. He teamed up with Pete van Wieren for the radio broadcasts and Debbie and I listened almost every night as we lived as newlyweds in Charlotte, NC.

Skip Carey rounded out this crew and became friends we never met. We suffered through the lean years of the 70’s and 80’s and rejoiced in ’91 abd ’92 when they played but lost in the Series and were truly excited when they won the World Series in ’95 (even if it was against the Indians).

We remain, today, fans of the Braves. Though, like many our age, long for the days when you knew from one year to the next who was playing on which team and did not even consider the possibility of something called a strike. We still love the game and often listen on the radio here in Murfreesboro, TN.

So at the beginning of another baseball season (the best time of the year for me) we wait to see how the Braves will do. The announcers are not the same (though I have become use to Don Sutton) and the pitching staff does not include names like Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz, we still love the game.