Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Peterson Ch. 1: The Naked Noun (+ book review)

Posted by flyingbk on 04/11/2016


The first chapter of Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor is a short one titled “The Naked Noun.” It’s the appetizer for the main courses to follow. He writes:

A healthy noun doesn’t need adjectives. Adjectives clutter a noun that is robust. But if the noun is culture-damaged or culture-diseased, adjectives are necessary.
“Pastor” used to be that kind of noun – energetic and virile. I have always loved the sound of the word. From an early age, the word called to mind a person who was passionate for God and compassionate with people. And even though the pastors I knew did not embody those characteristics, the word itself held its own against its exemplars. Today still, when people ask me what I want to be called, I always say, “Pastor.”
In my last post, I alluded to the peculiar nature of my job, which simply begins with the nature of the noun itself. ‘Pastor’ evokes much more than, say, ‘engineer’ or ‘work in finance’ or even ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer.’ At times, while cobbling together an online dating profile, I opted for a different choice than ‘pastor’ for my occupation: ‘manager’ or ‘director’ or ‘teacher’ were my choices. I should’ve used ‘leader of men’; that would’ve been totally sweet. It’s a word with a cavalcade of baggage attached, for better or for worse, based on one’s experiences in the church and with religion.

At my current church, where I interact mainly with peers, there are a few who choose to always address me as ‘Pastor Bob.’ Most do not, and it doesn’t matter to me either way. But when I was a youth pastor, I insisted on my kids addressing me as ‘Pastor Bob’ or ‘P-Bob.’ To me, it was a way of teaching them respect, and the importance of obeying the biblical mandate of submitting to authority (including bad authority, which hopefully didn’t include me).

I have learned to embrace the name, and what the word calls to mind (I agree with Peterson regarding the passion and compassion). I want to live up to that name, and all the expectations that come with it. Peterson continues:
 The culture treats me so amiably! It encourages me to maintain my orthodox creed; it commends me for my evangelical practice; it praises me for my singular devotion. All it asks is that I accept its definition of my work as an encourager of the culture’s good will, as the priest who will sprinkle holy water on the culture’s good intentions. Many of these people are my friends. None, that I am aware of, is consciously malign. But if I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless. I can denounce evil and stupidity all I wish and will be tolerated in my denunciations as a court jester is tolerated. I can organize their splendid goodwill and they will let me do it, since it is only for weekends.
I love the holy water reference. As he writes, much of the culture’s benevolence is just that: full of good intentions. But the insidious temptation for a pastor is to blithely accept it and allow people to maintain that felicitous distance. It’s to give in to the Ned Flanders caricature of the happy but non-threatening and ultimately harmless man.
But a good pastor closes that distance. Like Jesus, he invades the lives of people and refuses to simply be nice. He challenges their preconceived notions of Christianity and exerts force in pulling them away from the poles of legalism and license, and the perils of the prosperity gospel (“If I do good and serve at church, God will bless me.”) and religion without relationship.
The essence of being a pastor begs for redefinition. To that end, I offer three adjectives to clarify the noun: unbusy, subversive, apocalyptic.
I look forward to unpacking these words in the weeks to come.

Yesterday, I took a full Sabbath day in which I took public transportation to Citi Field and watched a Mets game by myself. I love to do this about a couple times a year. I read on the entire subway ride (there and back to New Jersey), I jump around to various vantage points throughout the game, immerse myself in each pitch, but also have plenty of time to ponder the meaning of my life.



While on the 7 train, and right about the time of first pitch, I finished Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. I intentionally chose to read this book because I know I need to develop a better heart for the poor. One way to do so is simply to learn more about them, to better understand the circumstances they face. I guess you can say, mission accomplished. This book is a searing look at the plight of those who constantly get evicted and the financial, mental, relational toll it takes on them. It’s a book straight up my alley: half social science (with all the statistics and footnotes you could want), half well-written narrative (Desmond planted himself in inner-city Milwaukee and took great pains to get to know people and win their trust for his reporting). There are memorable characters whose stories break your heart. I feel like this book would make for a great 6th season of The Wire with the right mix of institutional failure, salty language, tattered relationships, crime and brokenness, and the one character whose perseverance makes you smile (hey Bubbles!).

I highly recommend it.



3 Responses to “Peterson Ch. 1: The Naked Noun (+ book review)”

  1. Empire said

    Hey Leader of Men, how biblical is submitting to bad authority and where is the line drawn? If you’re referring to 1Peter2:19, I’m not sold on whether it applies to bad authority in the context of a church. Why would God place an unjust and piss-poor ‘leader’ in charge of leading His people? I would think that submitting to bad authority in quiet suffering only serves to prolong the leader’s misunderstanding that he is in fact a good leader.

    • Empire said

      ^Let me amend, How does this apply in the context of a church in the MODERN ERA where congregants are generally more knowledgeable and have broader options to attend other churches with more competent leadership?

      • flyingbk said

        Hello Empire! Thanks for your comments and support. Hopefully I can answer well.

        First, there is certainly a line. 1 Peter 2 is not advocating for us to become gluttons for punishment. If a wife is in an abusive relationship, she does not have to stay. If we’re in a crippling relationship with a boss, it’s OK to leave. If your pastor is preaching heresy or exhibiting domineering ways, it’s certainly warranted to find another church.

        But to answer your question, “Why would God place an unjust leader in charge?” 1 Peter 2 and 3 is very helpful. The main theme here is that God actually does place unfair and even bad authority over us with the express purpose of spiritual growth. 1 Peter 3:9 states: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” You and I grow, or ‘inherit a blessing,’ when we suffer. We follow Jesus’ example of submitting to such horrible and debased leaders like Pontius Pilate and King Herod (when he certainly possessed the power to deal with them).

        Peter writes about the relationships of marriage, workers/slaves and their bosses, and government leaders. The ruler at the time of this letter was King Herod Agrippa, a ruthless persecutor and murderer of Christians. And yet, Peter tells his people to honor him, not to speak ill of him, to pay taxes, etc. That is quite the profound directive.

        Certainly, each situation of unfair and poor leadership requires discernment on behalf of the follower. But if you’re say, staying at your church, the Bible commands us to pray for, encourage, support, not speak ill of your leaders. And we must not discount that by submitting to leadership, even bad, promotes spiritual growth and makes us more like Jesus.

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