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It's hard to believe now, but Eugene Peterson says he used to feel like the uncontemplative pastor, caught up in the moment, fixated on the mission statement. The Sixties were a hard time for anyone to gain a footing, but starting out as a pastor near Baltimore, Peterson says he was consumed by distractions and at odds with advisors who spoke urgently of demographics, strategies, goals, and other words that don't appear in Scripture.

Peterson's inspiration to pursue a less-traveled path came in a lecture by Swedish surgeon and author Paul Tournier at John Hopkins Hospital. Reading Tournier's books, Peterson was struck by his words; seeing him speak, he was struck by the continuity. "I had the feeling that what he was saying and who he was were absolutely congruent," Peterson said, in a lecture hosted by Christian Century magazine in downtown Chicago. "He was the same man as he was in his books … There was no pretense."

Some 40 years and 20 books (including The Contemplative Pastor) later, Peterson is the antithesis of a frantic, insecure shepherd, and his address may well have given listeners a similar epiphany about integrity and wisdom. Few are as fit as Peterson to give an address called "The Contemplative Christian in America." It is not just a title; it is appositional to his name.

Do not let the word "contemplative" throw you off, Peterson admonished. He is not interested in an isolated life spent pondering high-minded concepts. Instead, the contemplative Christian life can be described by what he saw in Tournier—a life lived with "wholeness, honesty, without contrivance." One word that comes to mind is authenticity, but the one Peterson used over and over was congruence—the alignment of who you are and what you do, ...

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September 2003

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