Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thoughts on A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Over the weekend I finished Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. My buddy Jon told me I should read the book since I have been in a season where I read the Psalms. So, even though I was reading a kajillion books at the same time, I decided to add this to the rotation. It was so good that I finished it prior to any of the others I was reading.

So, a quick overview of A Long Obedience: There are these Psalms (120-134) that are collectively called the Songs of Ascent. These were the songs that pilgrims making their way up into Zion for the feasts and festivals would sing as they ascended into Jerusalem. In a sense, they were the common songs of Israel. Peterson translates each of the Psalms into good old, modern American English and then applies them to good old, Modern American life.

His intent was to help his tribe (congregation) work out the things of this life. How do you mourn, worship, grow, or as the subtitle communicates, do "Discipleship in an instant society"?

So, that is it. This is Peterson's take on discipleship. I took my time and read the book chapter by chapter. Sometimes a week between readings, sometimes the next day. Each chapter is a like a little morsel of goodness. Each section is quite palatable and a good starting point for conversation and thought. It really is one of those books that makes you stop and think about what you do and why you are doing it.

If there is any picture that can help you understand what Peterson is communicating it would be this: discipleship is like a slow cooking oven and we live in a microwave society. Everything in our life we could ever want seems to be at our finger tips. Want food? Run to McDonalds. Need a new wardrobe? Run to Target. Need to get around town? Go to a car dealership. We can get everything we want in minutes for the most part.

But life is more of a slow process. You don't develop character with instantaneous purchases. You don't learn life lessons when you can always hit a reset key. You don't form who you are without living life, and doing some things the hard way. Oddly enough, and here is another musical break for ya, the Dixie Chicks sang about a similar premise in "The Long Way Around."

One of my favorite chapters in this book is called, "Blessing;" it is about Psalm 134, the final song of the ascents. As such it is the last true chapter of the book. The point of the chapter is simply this, true life starts with repentance and ends with praise. Our lives start when we realize there is something better and take part in that.

For those of us in the Christian tradition we might call it Kingdom living, or discipleship or any of the myriads of terms we have coined for regular participation in our faith. But the starting point of this is repentance. We start by saying, "The way I am doing things probably isn't the best way is it? Let's see what this Jesus fellow, and his buddies David, Paul, Moses, Esther and Mary can tell me about living a different life." And that is the beginning of praise. When we endure and see change in our lives, we turn around and become thankful.

I'll leave you with a story from this weekend. I was visiting Flavius and Gigi. Flav and I grabbed some time sitting on the deck under a beautiful moon reflecting on the lapping lake waters below. I was pretty silent, which some of you think is impossible, and Flav began pouring out his heart. I had asked him what he wanted to do with his life. And he responded along some of these same terms. He didn't really use all the Christian jargon that I might use, but he was simply communicating, "When I do the right things, when I help people, I have more and I feel better." And really that is a lot of what A Long Obedience is about. When we live into our true identity, beyond how we feel, then we really live a more fulfilled life.


  1. I've been meaning to read that book. Thanks for the recommendation. I love Peterson's books on pastoring. He reminds me of a living John Ames from Gilead.

    1. I will have to check out Ames. I am trying to diversify my reading lately, so that sounds awesome. Thanks for that. And, yeah, this book was quite good!

    2. The book is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It won the Pulitzer for fiction. It should be required reading in seminary.