When I sat down with Eugene Peterson to ask him what he did all day-what his life looked like and how its rhythms had been shaped by his study of spiritual theology-he turned the question around: What does your life look like these days?
That question and the attentiveness with which he waited for an answer shows that though he may not still be serving as the pastor of a Presbyterian church in suburban Baltimore, he's still a pastor at heart.
Peterson is the author of 35 books (all still in print) and translator of the bestselling The Message, the Bible in modern American English. With his gray beard and weathered face he looks like a grandfather from Montana, which he also is.
Peterson lives in a house that his father built in 1947. It began as a cabin on a mountain lake near Glacier Park, on land that was part of a larger parcel developed by Lutherans as a camp. Peterson's father, a butcher, retired to the cabin, where Peterson and his family, living in Maryland, came back to visit every summer for a month or two.
Place is important to Peterson: The Montana valley has become part of his psyche. He remembers as a child how he liked to roam with his bicycle and backpack, hunting for Indians and pretending to be the biblical David hunting bears.
He could tell his friends that the sidewalks they walked on in Kalispell had been built by his grandfather, an immigrant from Norway, who came with a wife and 10 children, and had two more children in America, including Peterson's mother.
Peterson grew up among many aunts and uncles, and it pleases him that his own three children, when they graduated from high school, returned to the Northwest. All now live within four hours of the enlarged and remodeled cabin, where Peterson and his wife live year round.
His sister and her husband live next door. "We like them. We get along together," Peterson says. He attends the same small Lutheran church his parents attended, so he's among his parents' friends and people with whom he went to school.
At his suburban church in Maryland, Peterson pastored people who "were rootless," lacking "generational continuity where they lived." So he spent a lot of time "thinking about, praying about how to make this a place where people feel relationally connected." Instead of offering non-stop activities, Peterson's church had a "quiet order of worship" that sought to draw people into the gospel story. When newcomers asked what activities his church offered, he'd speak of worship on Sunday, and "if you'd let me be your pastor I'd help you learn not to want so much activity."
Peterson sympathizes with pastors who complain about the demands people make: "In this American culture they feel very competitive. Pastors feel that people want action." He challenges them: "Do you want to be their pastor or their cheerleader? It's a desecration of the pastoral vocation to commodify it, to turn the church into a consumer place."
Peterson and his wife Jan live out the patient and deliberate lifestyle he taught to his congregation. "We like quiet, we like rhythm," he says. The rituals of daily life give "a quality of sacredness to it."
Weekdays are alike. He's an early riser, up at five or six. He makes a pot of coffee and prepares a thermos for his wife. He takes it to her and then goes up to his study. For the next hour and a half they are "by ourselves, separately in prayer, reading Scripture."
At 7:30 he gets dressed and takes "a lovely walk" a quarter-mile down the country road to where the newspaper tubes are. He walks past firs and Ponderosa pines, hearing and identifying birds-even if he can't see them-and often seeing white-tailed deer. Walking throughout the year, despite the weather, keeps him in touch with the seasons and the animals.
When Peterson gets back about 8:00, he and his wife prepare breakfast together. During the week they have oatmeal, but on Saturday he prepares breakfast-bacon and eggs, or pancakes. After breakfast he writes, working until 1:00 in his study. "I work as hard as I ever worked . . . very few interruptions. No email." (He writes and receives lots of letters, but "emails just pass on information I'm not interested in.")
They eat lunch and take a nap ("a liturgical nap," he says): "Then we either walk trails, or we cross-country ski, or we kayak or canoe. We're pretty much outside in the afternoon."
At about six Peterson builds a fire in the woodstove, and he and his wife begin preparations for supper. Then they read aloud for an hour and a half. They are currently rereading for the seventh time The Chronicles of Narnia. (The first three readings came as they read the novels to their children.) They read other novels and memoirs: George Elliot, Wallace Stegner, and Barbara Kingsolver. (They give every book 50 pages before deciding whether to continue.) When they're done reading, they finish dinner preparations, eat, and go to bed.
Their daily schedule changes for the Sabbath, which they have "always taken really seriously. . . . We're stepping back, keeping the day as empty as we can."
Peterson says that living intentionally isn't just for retired folks. Although everyone won't live in a mountain aerie, everyone makes choices about how to live. He points to his own children, who now live in the country and bake their own bread: "It's surprising how much they're living the same rituals. . . . That was not imposed on them. Their families are not hectic."
He sees similarities between the processes of building a church and raising children. Both tasks require a patience at odds with the busyness of American life: "Our church was slow, slow, slow going. It's been 47 years since its start. It's now the strongest, most stable church in the county." Parenting is similar: "If you're in a hurry, you make a lot of mistakes." Then he adds, with a gentle smile: "If you're patient, you make a lot of mistakes-but you have the space to correct them."
The Washington Post reported last month that Chinese hackers had targeted the Save Darfur Coalition with a "spear phishing" campaign. Spear phishing is a security attack launched against a particular organization using personal information often found on a company's website to launch the attack. In the case of the Save Darfur Coalition, experts believe the Chinese government wanted to monitor internal plans and emails.
Govexec.com describes how a spear phishing attack works: "Your Human Resources department sends you an e-mail asking for your home address-again. And, oh, by the way, please verify your user name and password, too. 'Gee,' you think, 'can't they keep their records straight?' You hastily type a reply and send it off. What you don't know is that wasn't your trusted HR rep seeking your personal information."
Spear phishing is personal. The letter seems to come from a legitimate source and asks for legitimate information. When someone falls for the bogus email, the hacker can use the information provided to access one account and from there hack into the system at large.
At this point the most effective defense against spear phishing is education. Govexec.com suggests managers send out spear phishing traps to see which employees respond-and give those people more training to spot bogus emails.