God’s Speed: Slowing Down, Listening, and Learning

Matt Canlis, an Anglican pastor, has some good friends who appear with him in the video Godspeed. Some are rather famous: Eugene Peterson and N. T. Wright (whom he calls “Tom”). Others are not so well known, at least not outside Aberdeenshire, Scotland: Alan Torrance (with whom he started a “wee kinda group of men” to read the Bible together), Mr. and Mrs. French, and Colin Presly (who’s head elder of the church in his village). All of them have been Canlis’s teachers.

While Canlis was finishing up seminary, Peterson, one of his professors, gave him advice on becoming a pastor. “Go find a fishbowl,” he said, “where you can’t escape being known.”

Peterson knew, says Canlis in Godspeed,

if I really wanted to walk like Jesus, I had to slow down. I was like, “Eugene, I’m in. I’m sold, Where do I go to learn to become this kind of person, this pastor?” He smiled and he said, “You might have to go further than you think. You might have to leave America.” And I thought, “That’ll never happen.”

Of course, happen it did, and Canlis relocated to Scotland, where the people of St. Andrews, Pitlochry, and Methlick taught him how to be their pastor. You can watch the 35-minute film Godspeed, at Vimeo or at the Godspeed website, and hear for yourself the simple, soft-spoken lessons of the locals. For instance, there’s the kilt-wearing Torrance, whose wisdom comes from a first-hand understanding of the small-community environment that Jesus lived in and from reading the Bible with fresh eyes.

Of course, Peterson and Wright share their wisdom along the way, too, with Wright mentioning another resource for understanding the value of living a slower, village-paced life: Koduke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God. In his collection of essays, Koyama writes that when we allow God to lead us through the wilderness, “our speed is slowed down until gradually we come to the speed on which we walk—three miles an hour“:

I find that God goes ‘slowly’ in his educational process of man. ‘Forty years in the wilderness’ points to his basic educational philosophy. Forty years of national migration through the wilderness, three generations of the united monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon), nineteen kings of Israel (up to 722 BC) and twenty kings of Judah (up to 587 BC), the hosts of the prophets and priests, the experience of exile and restoration—isn’t this rather a slow and costly way for God to let his people know the covenant relationship between God and man?

Jesus Christ came. He walked towards the ‘full stop’. He lost his mobility. He was nailed down! He is not even at three miles an hour as we walk. He is not moving. ‘Full stop’! What can be slower than ‘full stop’—’nailed down’? At this point of ‘full stop’, the apostolic church proclaims that the love of God to man is ultimately and fully revealed. God walks ‘slowly’ because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet is is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.

(Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God, SCM, 1979)

[photo: “Forested Path 2,” by aetherspoon, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Listening Pastor

After 36 years, Leadership Magazine is calling it quits as a print magazine. The Winter 2016 issue is its last, as its parent company, Christianity Today International, is replacing it with a new section inside the pages of Christianity Today, and a future website, CTPastors.com.

Leadership is currently celebrating its history by counting down a series of “Top 40” articles, presented in chronological order, at the magazine’s site. Number 38, reprinted last week, is Eugene Peterson’s “The Unbusy Pastor,” originally published in the magazine’s second year.

It’s amazing to realize that Peterson has been writing about, and living out, his opposition to busyness for that long.

Two years ago I borrowed from Peterson’s article, using a quotation in a post I wrote about  listening. I’m reposting it below, because Peterson on listening is worth reading again . . . and again.

Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure

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“Get busy.”

That’s the mantra of many a boss.

“Look busy.”

That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.

Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.

Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.

Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.

The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.

I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.

Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.

Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.

(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)

[photo: “Railway Chit Chat,” by Brett Davies, used under a Creative Commons license]

Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure

9563583010_8d7fb48cc5_z

“Get busy.”

That’s the mantra of many a boss.

“Look busy.”

That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.

Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.

Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.

Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.

The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.

I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.

Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.

Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.

(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)

[photo: “Railway Chit Chat,” by Brett Davies, used under a Creative Commons license]