Peterson: Not a job for ‘hackers’

Eugene Peterson recounts what he learned about being a pastor in his father’s butcher shop.

I also learned that a beef carcass has a will of its own — it is not just an inert mass of meat and gristle and bone but has character and joints, texture and grain. Carving a quarter of beef into roasts and steaks was not a matter of imposing my knife-fortified will on dumb matter but respectfully and reverently entering into the reality of the material.

“Hackers” was my father’s contemptuous label for butchers who ignorantly imposed their wills on the meat. They didn’t take into account the subtle differences between pork and beef. They used knives and cleavers inappropriately and didn’t keep them sharp. They were bullies forcing their wills on slabs of bacon and hindquarters of beef. The results were unattractive and uneconomical. They commonly left a mess behind that the rest of us had to clean up.

Not so much by words but by example, I internalized a respect for the material at hand. The material can be a pork loin, or a mahogany plank, or a lump of clay, of the will of God, or a soul, but when the work is done well, there is a kind of submission to the will of the conditions at hand, a cultivation of what I would later learn to call humility. It is a noticeable feature in all skilled workers — woodworkers, potters, poets, pray-ers, and pastors. I learned it in the butcher shop. (pp. 36-37, The Pastor)


2 thoughts on “Peterson: Not a job for ‘hackers’

  1. sounds just like Chuang Tzu:

    “A good cook goes through a knife in a year,
    Because he cuts.
    An average cook goes through a knife in a month,
    Because he hacks.

    “I have used this knife for nineteen years.
    It has butchered thousands of oxen,
    But the blade is still like it’s newly sharpened.

    1. The zen masters were all poets of a kind, so I am not surprised that they sound like Eugene Peterson (and Wendell Berry, too).

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