Perchance to Dream
The "said author" from the last post was Eugene Peterson. Peterson translated the Bible into contemporary English about fifteen years ago in the form of The Message Bible. It's good stuff - it really is. He's also written several books that I've truly enjoyed, many of them dealing with issues specific to being a pastor. You may not be a pastor (probably just cause to say, "Hallelujah!"), but you may have a pastor or know of one or make fun of one on t.v. or something.
Mr. Peterson addressed a large audience that morning and ended the time with some q&a. I posed a question about pastors being poets and artists and wondered if he felt there was an openness to that on the part of most pastors/preachers, etc. He agreed with me that pastors should be poets, but felt like there was NOT an openness to that. And unfortunately, he felt, after many years of advocating just such a mind/heart-set, that he had not made much of an impact on pastors. As we adjourned to lunch a few minutes later, I asked him what's the best thing a pastor can be doing. His answer - "Read poetry and read novels." Of all the things this learn-ed man of 75 years could have said, but he chose the answer, "Read poetry and read novels."
Now you may be wondering, or you may not but you know a pastor who might wonder, or you may make fun of a pastor who might be wondering, "Why read poetry and novels?" Allow Peterson to speak again: "Because they teach you the language of intimacy. Most everything else is either informational or motivational; nothing wrong necessarily with those, but they are NOT the language of faith." I'm considering starting a school for pastors, or maybe a weekend retreat for preachers, where we do nothing BUT read poetry and novels. But I'm afraid most pastors might consider it a waste of time. Come to think of it, most people who have a pastor or make fun of pastors, would probably consider that a waste of time - and there's the rub. But what a dream - gathering pastors from all over the lower 48 in a lodge somewhere with huge, open decks and lots of windows and giving them headlamps and travel mugs full of Henry's Blend and passing out copies of Peace Like a River or Gilead or Plainsong or The River Why or Of Mice and Men or big bundles of Rumi, Rilke or Bly or Oliver or Keats or Whyte or Levertov. When these pastors would ask what the agenda (common word among pastors) was for the weekend, I'd say, "Just go read. Take a break and then read some more. Get some sleep and read yet again." After they'd read a little, for most pastors are fairly passive at the first, they'd probably say, "How is this going to benefit me and growing my church (another common phrase among pastors)?" And I'd say, "Well, if you read Gilead, like I told you to, then you would have come across this passage: 'This is an important thing, which I have told many people and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?' Or maybe a little further down the page you should have read this: 'Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our own behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense.'"
Most of them would probably say, "What do I do with that stuff?" And I'd begin to cry. But there might be four or three or two - or maybe just one who would begin to cry as well and as he left, he'd pick up all the copies of Gilead that the others had left on the floor, and he'd take those copies back to his congregation and they'd spend Sunday nights reading aloud to each other and learning about intimacy and themselves and God. And after they finished Gilead, he'd pull out Oliver and they'd wrestle with the angel of poetry and not let go until it has blessed them, for they didn't "want to end up simply having visited this world." And that might be a pastor you might like to have. You wouldn't make fun of him though because you'd know he was a real pastor. And that's a rare thing.