They came to hear Dr. Eugene Peterson, this year’s speaker in Union Presbyterian Seminary Charlotte Campus’ Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series. The hour was drawing near. Chairs filled, and people still streamed into the room.
Eugene Peterson, making his way to the stage, first stopped to speak with some of the seminary staff and students he’d met over the course of his weekend visit. Just then a group of people came rushing in, obviously hurrying to make the event, eager to try and claim the few remaining seats and, in the process, almost ran over Eugene Peterson in their attempt to hear … Eugene Peterson. All of a sudden the person spearheading their strategic frontal seating assault stopped within a foot of Dr. Peterson, turned to his fellow soldiers, and said in a hushed and excited tone, “It’s Eugene Peterson!” And I think Dr. Peterson would have appreciated the irony of their goal-driven impatience, nearly knocking him over as he embodied his belief that the Jesus Way is always relational, personal, local and ordinary, something he demonstrated time and time again during his very busy three days with us.
Dr. Peterson spent Saturday morning attending a class, preaching in chapel, and then having lunch with students in the cafeteria. He graciously interrupted his meal to meet a 13-year-old burgeoning poet captivated by Peterson’s respect and love for words. He fielded questions in three different venues on topics ranging from the crisis in the Middle East to who is his favorite poet and how does he read poetry. (“David and aloud” was his answer.)
He listened intently to soon-to-be-pastors, used-to-be-pastors, newly-ordained-pastors, and darn-am-I-tired pastors. Responding to each with an acceptance, wisdom, grace, and genuine interest that brought his lectures to life, making incarnate his conviction that the Jesus way isn’t about us, it is about God, and that the ways and means must be appropriate to the ends. If we don’t do things the Jesus Way, we mess up the Jesus Truth and subsequently miss out on the Jesus Life.
His low key, powerpointless lectures were captivating, punctuated with the simple phrase that set up his hit-you-right-between-the-eyes parable-like points: “But here’s the thing … .”
But here’s the thing … congregation isn’t about us, it’s about God. God calls and forms this community present to what God is doing through worship. We bring ourselves to the Lord and let God do what he will. But here’s the thing … the Jesus Way is not about us, it’s about God. We’re not subject or orator. “We’re the tag end of a prepositional phrase.” Christ with us. Christ for us. Christ in us.
But here’s the thing … this is slow work that can’t be hurried. It is urgent work that can’t be procrastinated. “Patience and urgency are yoked in the Christian way. Impatience is antithetical to the Jesus Way.” But here’s the thing … resurrection isn’t about us. It is about God. Crucifixion is about us, but resurrection is about God. In resurrection there is nothing for us to do. Ours is a stance of utter receptivity to mystery: honor it, enter into it, submit to it.
But here’s the thing … the faster we move, the less we become. I hope the people rushing to get a seat, once they stopped and sat down, heard that. I know all of us were blessed not only by Dr. Peterson’s words but also with the gift of his patient, attentive, personal presence. Not only did we hear it, we, through his faithful prepositional participation in God’s work, witnessed the beautiful, powerful, gracious, transformative wisdom that comes when we live out that truth, in the Jesus way.
JILL DUFFIELD is associate pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church, Ft. Mill, S.C.