In this powerful talk, turned essay, Eugene Peterson helps us see the ways of Jesus from another angle. It’s probably an angle you’ve considered, and maybe even claim to understand, but Scripture can continue to offer depth and new meanings to us, especially in the wise teachings of Rev. Peterson. Allow yourself to read the article first before scanning through the classroom summary and exercises. It is always a challenge for me to select only one article to focus on for this assignment, but I’ll admit that this time was particularly hard to exclude any. Personally, I underlined and highlighted so much in this issue, that there wasn’t just one that stood out. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to attend the Renovaré International Conference in 2009 and hear these talks in person. This article, taken from a book by Eugene Peterson, is where the title of the conference and this issue of Conversations was formed. We’re happy to feature it and think the interview between one of the founding editors, Gary W. Moon, and Eugene Peterson is a real treasure.
The talk opened with Peterson sharing reflections from what he discovered when his wife, Jan, read “Winnie the Pooh” to him. He makes a wonderful analogy about the Christian life as he considered Pooh and his friends on their quest to discover the North Pole.
A lot of people tired of secularism, and a celebrity culture and consumer religion are attracted to ‘spirituality’ in increasing numbers in our part of the world.
Fresh expeditions for the ‘North Pole’ set out almost daily from most places in the country. . . .As I listened to Jan read the story that late autumn evening, I recognized many of the characters whom I love and admire so much, . . . [and] I want to show them both what and where the North Pole is. I want to lead them to Jesus.
The Jesus Way, Peterson tells us, is not the only way to live. There are lots of other ways that compete for our attention. In this article he shares three main points of the Jesus Way: It is human, conversational, and ordinary.
- The Jesus Way Is To Be Human: Jesus was entirely human except that he was without sin. God revealed himself to us in this way so it would be easy for us, who are human, to understand him. The simple part of knowing God is understanding the humanity of Jesus.
This takes a great deal of the guesswork out of knowing God. Do you want to know what God is like, the form in which God reveals himself? Look in the mirror; look at your friend; look at your spouse. Start here: a human being with eyes and ears, hands and feet, an appetite and curiosity. . . .
Do you see what this means, Jesus is not a principle or an idea or a truth—nothing abstract, nothing in general. When God revealed himself to us, he did it in a human body, an incarnation.
The hard part, Peterson says, is our struggle to make God in our image, instead of allowing ourselves to be conformed to his. “We have learned to name this reimagined replacement god as idolatry. It is without question the most popular religion in town. Some of these gods are made of wood and stone, gold, and silver. More often these days they are made of words and ideas, abstractions, and principles. But the common element that defines them as idols is that they are nonhuman, non-personal, and non-relational.”
- The Jesus Way Is Conversational: The Jesus way uses language that is both personal and participatory. Peterson says that “at least ninety percent of the words Jesus used that we have preserved for us can be understood by any ten-year old, whether he or she knows how to read or not.” The way that Jesus engaged and communicated to others invited them into the conversation and allowed meaning to be made from what they were learning about God, and themselves. “
Language in the Jesus Way is inherently conversational, dialogic, speaking and listening, words and silence, questions and response, command and assent. There is no way we can be part of this conversation as spectators or bystanders, detached and impersonal. God is speaking to you: enter the conversation.”
- The Jesus Way Is Ordinary: No one is “kept out” of the Jesus Way. It is a public way, a well-worn path that millions of people have walked—”there is no problem in finding companions along the way,” Peterson says. The easy part is that anyone can walk the Jesus way: children, elderly, uneducated, poor, rich. There are no pre-conditions or special abilities are necessary for following Jesus. The hard part, he warns, is the temptation to create an inner ring of spiritual elitism.
“Insider” stuff in matters of spirituality is an illusion of the devil. But I can assure you, once you give up on this illusion, you are soon compensated by admission into a much larger community of men and women who are experiencing the ways of love and forgiveness and grace, people you would have otherwise never known in personal detail.”
Peterson’s wisdom on ‘patient endurance’ is so helpful. He reminds the reader that just like nurturing a new life in pregnancy, it cannot be hurried. So too our spiritual formation cannot be formed with mass marketing or urgency or shortcuts. Patient endurance to be spiritually formed as we follow the living Christ is the crux of the ordinary journey.
- Have you been aware of trying to hurry the spiritual growth process? Share a vision you have for patient endurance regarding your faith. If this exercise is difficult to do for yourself, consider how you might vision this for your children or those new to the Jesus Way.
- Read Peterson’s words on spiritual elitism under his third point, “The Jesus Way Is Ordinary”; the “hard part” of the ordinariness of following Jesus. As you consider your spiritual journey, church involvement, and connection to the broader community of faith, what do his words stir up in you? In what ways have you experienced “insider” stuff with matters of spirituality?
- Peterson said, “Language in the Jesus Way is inherently conversational. . . . There is no way we can be . . . spectators or bystanders. . . . God is speaking to you: enter the conversation.” Do you get the sense that most believers experience God as conversational and personal?
- Spend some time reflecting on the invitations that God has directed your way the past year, month, day. What have you learned about God and yourself as you responded to these personal “bids for connection?” (John Gottman coined the term for communication among couples) Do you notice any themes in the ways that God relates to you?