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Eugene Peterson Chronicles Memories In 'Pastor'

Eugene Peterson, the author of more than 30 books, including the best-seller The Message, is a poet, professor, scholar and pastor. But it's that last role that has defined and shaped his life in unimaginable ways, and it's the focus of his new book, The Pastor.

The book's subtitle is "Every step an arrival," and Peterson tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz the words are from a poem by Denise Levertov where she is talking about her vocation.

"She has a wonderful line in there about her dog going intently, haphazard from fire hydrant to bush to tree," Peterson says. "He knows where he's going. He couldn't articulate to you, but he knows he's got a nose for what he wants to do.

"When I read those lines, I though that's what I've been doing all my life. I never knew where I was headed and at some point I realized it was pastor."

In the book, Peterson described his introduction to congregations as a young apprentice working in his father's butcher shop in Montana. He recalls how his mother made him a white apron, just like his father's.

"I always thought of myself as Samuel wearing a priestly robe and my dad was a ... priestly kind of person," he says. "Everybody who came in that place was greeted by their first name. It was holy work for him."

Peterson says his father's demeanor made a great impression on him. He would treat prostitutes who came into his shop the same way he did everybody else: with respect.

"The brothel was just about two streets down from our shop. And there was always talk on the street about the whores," he says. "But when they came into our store, people knew their first name, they treated them with dignity.

"They were in a safe place. Later, that translated for me into a congregation. When you come into a sanctuary, it's a safe place."

Eugene H. Peterson is the author of more than 30 books, including <em>The Message, </em>a translation of the Bible into everyday vernacular.
/ HarperOne
Eugene H. Peterson is the author of more than 30 books, including The Message, a translation of the Bible into everyday vernacular.

Peterson, now 78, became famous with his book The Message, his translation of the Bible into modern language. The book has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and has been name-dropped by mega-pastors such as Rick Warren and even rock stars like Bono.

Peterson says he didn't set out to write his own version of the Bible. He was comfortable with biblical languages and had taught them in the seminary for three years. And he translated Galatians for his congregation. He recalls his efforts as "playful things for me."

"An editor called me up once and said, 'I've been reading Galatians for three years and I'm getting really tired of Galatians. And why don't you do the New Testament?'" Peterson tells Raz.

At first, he says, it was bad.

"But then I suddenly came to realize that I'm a pastor. This is a pastor's translation. I'm going to translate this the way I talk to my congregation. And when I really realized that: instead of trying to be a professor in the classroom, it became very easy. It just flowed."

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