Christianity Today once described Eugene Peterson this way: "If Eugene H. Peterson were not a Presbyterian, he might be a monk. … He is bearded, balding, and thin. He has a quiet, raspy voice that sounds as if it belongs to a man who has weathered many dark nights of the soul. … When he speaks, the coarse, gentle words seem to rise from a genuine depth."
This article, which debuted in Leadership a decade ago, was judged by many readers as "coarse, gentle words rising from a genuine depth." Eugene probes a common problem—the expectations people place on ministers—and doesn't stop until he reaches the essence of ministry.
Ann Tyler, in her novel Morgan's Passing, told the story of a middle-aged Baltimore man who passed through people's lives with astonishing aplomb and expertise in assuming roles and gratifying expectations.
The novel opens with Morgan's watching a puppet show on a church lawn on a Sunday afternoon. A few minutes into the show, a young man comes from behind the puppet stage and asks, "Is there a doctor here?" After thirty or forty seconds with no response from the audience, Morgan stands up, slowly and deliberately approaches the young man, and asks, "What is the trouble?"
The puppeteer's pregnant wife is in labor; a birth seems imminent. Morgan puts the young couple in the back of his station wagon and sets off for Johns Hopkins Hospital. Halfway there the husband says, "The baby is coming!"
After the excitement dies down, the couple asks for Dr. Morgan to thank him. But no one has ever heard of a Dr. Morgan. They are puzzled—and frustrated that they can't express their gratitude.
Several months later they are pushing their baby in a stroller and see Morgan walking on the other ...