Yesterday, a hero of mine passed away. Eugene Peterson was known to many for his translation of the Bible called, The Message. I was able to correspond with Eugene a couple of times over the last few years. We talked about writing and leadership. He said he looked forward to reading my book, The Sound of Reformation. His words of affirmation about the book are a humbling treasure. His writing and commentary meant a lot to me as a pastor over all the years of my ministry. He expanded my faith and helped me understand the power of honor and faithfulness.
In 1981 as a first-time pastor, I entered the Christian bookstore in Kalispell, Montana and bought a book by Eugene titled, Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work. At the time, I had no idea who the author was or that he grew up in Kalispell following his Pentecostal mother into logging camps to preach the Gospel to rough and tumble miners. As I read Eugene’s book, he was talking about things beyond my level of maturity at the time, but I held onto those truths throughout the years as my experience and maturity eventually found a place of understanding for his wisdom. I would end up reading many of the books Eugene would publish during his lifetime.
Men and women who carry a life of character and honor like that of Eugene Peterson do not have to be physically present in our lives to be a mentoring presence. Over the last 40 years, the Lord has used a number of people, some who have gone ahead and some who are still alive, to make significant deposits in my life that God has used to steer me toward my destiny.
This summer, Jan and I vacationed on Flathead Lake in northwest Montana near to where we planted our first church 38 years ago. Our lakeside cabin was not far from the Peterson home where Bono met Eugene a few years ago. On our morning walks, I felt I needed to keep walking past the Peterson home and not disturb Eugene. Some of our most important relationships are kept secure by honoring a person’s private space and not becoming another demanding presence in their life.
Last night, I read an account of Eugene’s passing. A family member said that during his final hours, “We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise. There may have even been a time or two when he accessed his Pentecostal roots and spoke in tongues as well.”
In his life and writing, Eugene Peterson helped me learn how to live and lead well. In his death, he modeled how to die well – a final journey of faith we will all make someday in the future.
Thank you, Eugene.