We've all got a top shelf where we keep the most awesome things we've come across in our general rattlings about. I have a lot of top shelves. Movies, TV shows, recipes, tools. Most of them are figurative or emotional. I have one literal top shelf where I keep the books that have punched a hole in me. Here you can find Brennan Manning's "The Ragamuffin Gospel" and most of Donald Miller's books. But there is always a first.
A first book that opens your eyes to the world around you. That makes you say "I've been living in Plato's cave." It causes you to question everything and wonder how you've could have possibly live without knowing the information it contains. For me that book is "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" by Eugene Peterson.
The way I've always described Dr. Peterson's writing is that he just says things in a way that make sense to me. There are seven of his books on that top shelf (there'd be more if I'd read more). But the oldest is "Long Obedience." I carried it around in my backpack for almost two years. There's more highlighted in it than not. It was the book I had him sign when I had the privilege of meeting him (I hyperventilated.)
I have a community group that meets at my house every week. It's not necessarily associated with a church. It started because of a TV show (LOST), but when they show ended they kept coming back. Mostly we eat, laugh, watch stuff. But some weeks someone will linger a little longer to talk about the mess of their lives. (SIDEBAR: all our lives are a mess. You're not alone.) This happened last night. Hot mess.
When I got up this morning I couldn't get this passage from "Long Obedience" out of my head. You know who you are. Read this, and then come downtown so we can get a cup of coffee.
"Every day I put faith on the line. I have never seen God. In a world where nearly everything can be weighed, explained, quantified, subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control, I persist in making the center of my life a God whom no eye hath seen, nor ear hear, whose will no one can probe. That's a risk.
Every day I put hope on the line. I don't know one thing about the future. I don't know what the next hour will hold. There may be sickness, accident, personal or world catastrophe. Before this day is over I may have to deal with death, pain, loss, rejection...Still, despite my ignorance and surrounded by tinny optimists and cowardly pessimists, I say that God will accomplish his will, and I cheerfully persist in the living in the hope that nothing will separate me from Christ's love.
Every day I put love on the line. There is nothing I am less good at than love. I am far better in competition than in love. I am far better at responding to my instincts and ambitions to get ahead and make my mark than I am at figuring out how to love another. I am schooled and trained in acquisitive skills, in getting my own way. And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily--open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.
All this is hazardous work; I live on the edge of defeat all the time. I have never done any one of these things to my (or anyone else's) satisfaction."
--Peterson "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" 76-77.
3 months ago