on being with eugene peterson (part 3): on words20 Sep 2018
“We cannot be too careful about the words we use. We start out using them, and they end up using us.” – Eugene Peterson
so simple and yet so profound. i find this to be particularly true as i am in conversation with people about race, racism, white supremacy, and the like. as john powell says, race is both real and imagined. it was a category created to exclude and yet now we believe the words inscribe some sort of inherent identities that are not only valid but valuable. it just literally doesn’t make any sense, but here we are. these words that other people created are now using us. so, yea, we have to be careful with what words we choose to label ourselves (or others or experiences or phenomena or anything) at any given point in time. we never know when it might come back to haunt us…
which reminds me of three phrases/words that krista took time to explore with him: spiritual life, God, and christianity.
first this section of dialogue about ‘spiritual life’:
MS. TIPPETT: Once you wrote, “People ask, ‘How do you mature a spiritual life?’” And you said the one thing you do is you eliminate the word “spiritual.” “It’s your life that’s being matured. It’s not part of your life.”
But the word “spiritual,” much more than when you first became a pastor, is everywhere now. I want to know how you hear that, respond to it, what you think of it.
MR. PETERSON: I think it’s cheap. You’re taking something and putting a name on it, “spiritual,” which means it’s defined. The whole world is spiritual. The word “spirit” is wind. It’s breath. People are breathing all over the place. They’re all spiritual beings, but if you have a name for it, you can compartmentalize it. And that just wreaks havoc with the whole thing. That’s why I don’t like the word because it’s so easy to just say, “He’s such a spiritual person, she’s such a spiritual person.” Well, nonsense. You are too.
I guess that’s where I think the church has a place, which is maybe more important than it’s ever been. Done well, there’s no spirituality that you can define.
MS. TIPPETT: Because it is in everything you do?
MR. PETERSON: That’s right. If you don’t recognize that that’s possible, you just subtract a whole part of your life.
boom. there is nothing more to add to that.
then on God and christianity (and the usage of those terms and others):
MS. TIPPETT: …You’re 83. Actually this last exchange just kind of pointed out the complexity of dealing with words, even though they are so precious. I wonder if other words, if words themselves, even the word “God” become too small after 83 years of pondering and grappling with the immensity of the reality and who God might be. MR. PETERSON: They do become too small.
MS. TIPPETT: Does the word “God” feel too small to you at this point?
MR. PETERSON: Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: What do you do about that?
MR. PETERSON: I pretty much am very circumspect about using it.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. What about the word “Christianity”?
MR. PETERSON: Oh, that’s even worse. [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Say a little bit about that.
MR. PETERSON: Well, the people who use the word “Christianity” mostly are thinking of an institution. That’s hard to get rid of. Most of us have negative influences about the church, certain churches, experiences we’ve had. So why don’t we just eliminate the word? Of course that’s hard for people like me who is part of so-called Christianity.
words / writing / post-processing
197w / 11min / 10min