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on November 2, 1999
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
This is one of Eugene Peterson's earlier books, published about twenty years ago. During a lecture in May of 1999 in Vancouver, B.C. he remarked that many people had said to him that they loved the title, but hadn't quite gotten around to reading the book. This, of course, might be a sign that it's a bad book. Or it could be an indication that it simply doesn't deliver what some folks are looking for. I would suggest that it's a very good book indeed, but that you need a certain orientation in order to read it.
You need to love the Bible, for one thing. I don't mean love the Bible sentimentally. You need to be one who is willing to embrace the Bible for exactly what it is as it defines itself. It is not a promise book or a guide to "effective" living. Nor is it a book on how to keep out of hell. It is rather an immensely frank compilation of writings that point out God's presence in human history as a whole and God's presence in each person's life. It becomes God's word to us by virtue of its insistence upon God's "take" on reality at all points. That may not be so popular. In fact, I'm sure of it. It is certain that this reading of the Psalms of Ascent will not go down that well with the North American Christian who is looking for inspiration or solace or affirmation or any of the other self-gratifications we tend to require.
On the other hand, if you like to get to the bottom of things, Peterson's your man. Witness this excerpt:
"A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointments by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainment. There isn't a hint of that in Psalm 126."
These psalms chronicling the rhythm of yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem, a return to the presence of God, are handled with such grace by Peterson that one wonders how we've read them all these years without hearing the humble clumps of singing Jews walking along the dusty, gradual incline of the shephelah to the holy city. Speaking of the pilgrim path that we share with the Jews of the first millenium A.D., Long Obedience includes the following:
"A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace. Psalm 120 is the song of such a person, sick with the lies and crippled with the hate, a person doubled up in pain over what is going on in the world..."
Peterson is no enterprising preacher repackaging his sermons in volumes of garish luminosity for eager visibility in the local Christian consumer shop. He is at once an authentic pastor and a poetic, writing scholar. So hitch up your pants, turn your head sideways, spit, and step into the gracious grit of Eugene Peterson.
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VINE VOICEon December 27, 2003
Perhaps the best thing about this book is the premise it is written on -- that being a Christian means embarking on a journey, away from the world, toward the City of God. Not an original idea, but certainly one we can stand to be reminded of often, and one I'd love to see more books devoted to that.
Eugene Peterson finds in the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), a cycle of songs sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to worship, a wonderful parallel to the modern (and timeless) Christian pilgrimage. Each chapter is a meditation on one of the songs, and Peterson draws out the ways each of them show us an aspect of the Christian faith (Repentance, Providence, Worship) and how they relate to each other. (It is natural that the journey begins with repentance and ends with blessing; the rest of the sequence is just as intuitive.)
Eugene Peterson has a poet's heart and a theologian's training, but the former prevails. Others may be perturbed that he does not explain exactly why suffering exists in the world; I am grateful that instead he chooses to meditate upon the way that suffering is a central ingredient of human experience...."in suffering we enter the depths; we are at the heart of things, we are near to where Christ was on the cross."(134)
I enjoyed and appreciated this book not because it taught me a lot of new things, but because it caused me to slow down and reflect; to remember things I had learned, and see them with new eyes. Like the songs sung on the journey, it is not so much intended to impart new information, but to bring back into mind (and spirit) the old things, the ancient things -- the things that have the power to redeem us and heal us.
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on September 6, 1999
Eugene Peterson uses selections from the book of Psalms to examine old truths of the Christian walk in fresh and sometimes jarring ways. Each chapter explores topics such as "Perseverance" or "Joy" according to Peterson's sometimes peculiar (but thoughtfully appropriate) perceptions. Christians who have been walking for a while will appreciate a new and intelligent slant on "old" news. Those newer to the faith may find themselves somewhat frustrated by the lack of clear and basic theological information. This book works well for group discussions; chapters are relatively short and there is always something pertinent and provocative to talk about.
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on April 1, 2007
Peterson's work here is spectacular. In a society that wants everything fast--include the mature fruit of Christianity spent years in the making and gestating--one cannot biggy size this or get it while speeding through the window. There isn't even a toy surprise inside! However, these serious, thought provoking, careful reflections into the shape and heart of discipleship bear patient reading, perhaps only a page or two at a time, and then more patient reading, and thinking on--and then more. If you want a quick fix--this book ain't it (I'm by nurture a Southerner, so ain't is quite appropriate), but if you want something to sit for a spell with and chew on a while--read this book slowly and learn...you'll be the better for it.
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VINE VOICEon December 27, 2003
tvtv3 says in his review, "Eugene Peterson uses his own translation of the Bible, The Message, as the scriptural references for the entire book."
This is incorrect.
Quoted from the copyright page of the book: "Biblical quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, 1973, and are used by permission."
This book was written in 1980 - a long time before Mr. Peterson finished his own translation, The Message.
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on September 8, 2010
Peterson wrote A Long Obedience in the Same Direction thirty years ago and it's fifteen chapters are based on the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), Psalms that were most likely sung as Jewish pilgrims made their ascent to Jerusalem for their holy feast days.

Each chapter begins with one of the fifteen Psalms in The Message translation which provides the framework for the chapter. In fact, it was actually the work done during the writing of this book that, as Eugene says, "provided the impetus for embarking on the new translation".

This form is at times refreshing and at other times distracting. Refreshing because it reads a bit like an expository sermon, dealing with the text as it is written and in sequence, chapter by chapter. Distracting because, as far as a book on discipleship goes, it doesn't have a simple list of logical steps to follow. But, after all, when does discipleship ever work like that?
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on September 2, 2000
this book was my first experience with eugene peterson and it nearly blew me out of the water. it exposes so much of the lie that is in the american church. living the christian life is not easy. i used to feel so guilty because it was for me and all around was this lie that life would be easy if you just followed jesus. and also that following jesus was about me and my life. peterson takes us out of ourselves and frees us to experience true joy in this difficult endeavor of following god.
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on March 12, 2002
If you find yourself in need of a reminder of the basics of Christianity, or needing to learn them for the first time, then read this book. It makes a really good devotional book because it's based on Psalms 120-134...
The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of five is that it tends to get a little repetitive in spots. Otherwise it's a great book.
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on March 15, 2007
Peterson is not just a pretty good paraphraser of Scripture in his "The Message", he is a powerful interpreter of Scripture, too. "A Long Obedience . . ." (a phrase from Nietsche, of all people) is a real meat and potatoes feast for hungry souls desiring to feed on the Word. Summarizing a single theme within the general context of discipleship in each of the Psalms of Ascent, Peterson provides an uplifting devotional for those ready and able to be inspired by it. His writing in this book is more Lewis than Lucado, so readers must be prepared (by spiritual training and maturity, not just emotionally) to dive in to the depths to derive the full delight from Peterson's expositions. I spent most of summer, '06 in "A Long Obedience . . ." and highly recommend it to others.
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on December 25, 2013
That's the hard part, Right? I've gone through rededication, re-baptism, re-consecration many times in a long life, until finally in 2009 my life collapsed into utter ruin. After a long struggle with humiliation, false pride, and hopelessness, I was finally humble enough to try reaching out to (no definition) whatever that was that was out there asking:- Please help me, help me, I cannot live life on my own... And He came, the Great Shepherd, and rescued me. This time I knew my life literally depended on "getting it right"... this time...
After 4 years, I was not very happy with how things were going, I was ill and in a lot of crippling pain and was close to being completely invalid. On the internet I ran across a community of friendly folks who seemed mostly Christian and who maintained thoughtful discussion of issue of the day and gradually gave me space and validation to participate. One concerned and discerning person recommended this book as a powerful guide to a sustainable discipleship.
This book is not a fiction. This book is a wise guide to living an awake, aware, loving, giving life. Here is not theory and theology, but a scripturally based guide on how practically to submit to the re-formation of my life by God. Also what to look for as signs of God's work in me. For instance:- "Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it a Consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience."
I found it also useful as a guide to being enlightened by reading scripture for myself, not because I had to but because scripture is full of God's message to His created people on how to live. This a bedside book. A book to dip into daily to help keep refreshed on The Path. A reminder to not let this or that slip by without conscious review---Do I really want to foster That in my life?
There are 16 chapters, 2 through16 could be in almost any order because it is more like a catalogue of elements , not a chronological set of prescriptions. Joy, Repentance, Hope, Perseverance are some headings to the concise but thorough chapters.
There is a general tone of serenity and peace which I found helpful to calm my anxieties and fears. An en-courage-ing book.
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