The book that taught me to read like a pastor 

I had just finished reading Morgan’s Passing by Anne Tyler and hated it.

Morgan was no hero, I fumed. He was selfish from start to finish. His silly outfits. His affair. He was all about himself. Not about his wife. Not about his daughters. He was faithful to his feelings, not to his core relationships.

I was so mad, I called Eugene Peterson, the guy responsible for getting me to read Anne Tyler’s novels.

“I don’t get this book. It’s terrible!” I ranted.

Eugene laughed and said, “You have to learn to read like a pastor. Morgan is no hero. But he’s a member of my congregation. At least, people like him are. I read Tyler not for heroes to emulate, but to learn who my congregation is.”

Ah.

There is something wonderfully humbling about moments like that, when all of a sudden you see things completely differently and wonder how you never saw them that way before.

From that moment on, the musicians I’ve listened to and the characters in the movies and TV shows I’ve watched and books I’ve read no longer needed to be moral and upright. There is a place for exemplary characters, but I’ve discovered a place for the messy ones as well. I’ve needed to see them exposed for who they really are so that I could know how to love them and care for their souls, to pastor them.

By spending time with a congregation of fictional people, I’ve learned how to pastor the real people in my life.

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