a long obedience 1

I’m re-reading Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society for 2 Wednesday morning men’s studies that I’m leading, so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts here too. Since we’re meeting weekly and covering a chapter per week, that’s roughly what I’ll do here–one chapter per week (probably one installment per chapter, but perhaps more on occasion). Read along if you like. If you’re from my church, we have a few extra copies around the office.

Peterson (translator of The Message bible) is interested in making disciples over the long haul (as is obvious from the title) rather than “converts” in the short run. He differentiates between “tourists” and “pilgrims,” beginning with an observation: “One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption tha tanything worthwhile can be acquired at once.”

He continues: “It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate.” This is a long lost strength of the Methodist movement–Wesley’s insistence on not preaching for conversion in a place that lacked the organization for continuing the work of discipleship.

As an antedote to the “tourist mindset” of the present (“Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure.”), he offers the images of “disciple” and “pilgrim.”

Disciple says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ”

Pilgrim tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.”

In the season of Advent we are in a time of preparation. We are always on a journey, but in particular at this time of year, we are journeying toward the Christmas celebration. It is appropriate to search the scriptures and make use of what Peterson calls the dog-eared songbook, the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). He pictures them sung by Hebrew pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts–times to celebrate and renew covenant before returning to the life of day-to-day following God (“discipleship” is what the NT calls it). So, I’m searching these psalms too, with Peterson’s help, to assist my journey as a pilgrim-disciple. We’ll see where it goes.

I love the quote he uses to refer to the Songs of Ascents, from William Faulkner: “They are not monuments, but footprints. A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.'” Awesome.

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