The Pastor's Message

RECENTLY HAVING REACHED the inauspicious age of 42, no longer a kid but not yet feeling entirely grown up, I find myself in a decidedly reflective mood. I’ve been taking stock—spiritual, emotional, relational, vocational—as I stare with some trepidation at the unchartered future.

Obviously, my experiences of late, while not quite universal, are hardly unique. There are many terms used to describe this time of life, some less generous than others. (“Mid-life crisis” comes to mind.) “Betwixt and between” is how the Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner described folks like me, hunkered down in a “liminal phase”—on the threshold between one chapter of our life story and the next—in a kind of existential limbo. As we wrestle with ambiguity, some of us seek the counsel of wise elders, with the hope that they might steer us in the right direction.

Such was the case at a gathering I attended in New York City earlier this year, where a small(ish) group of young(ish) Christian “influencers”—pastors, writers, artists, and a host of American evangelicalism’s mover-shakers—were invited to two private, daylong sessions with the venerable author and theologian Eugene Peterson.

Best known for The Message—his “para-translation” of the Bible into modern English—Peterson is a scholar and prolific writer, authoring more than 30 books including A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Subversive Spirituality, and (my favorite) Run With the Horses.

In some evangelical circles, Peterson is a rock star. (With the gravitas of an elder statesman and elusive mystique of an artist who isn’t concerned with courting public notoriety, he is the Dylan to Billy Graham’s Springsteen.) A bespectacled, ginger-haired man with the plain-spokenness and genuine humility commonplace among Montanans, he is a practical sage and modern mystic—equal parts pastor, poet, and pioneer.

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