Beauty in the Ordinary: A New Way to Do Lent

Back in the day, I was deeply affected by a dynamic preacher and gifted pastor, the late Rev. Samuel Johnson Lindamood, Jr., often affectionately referred to as “Big Sam.” His ministry in Arizona and California churches nurtured and transformed generations of people.

Big Sam wrote a series of meditations in the late 1980s for those who needed a less conventional, more practical approach to Lenten reflection. Here’s what he said about it: In a culture consumed with consuming, it seems that more is never enough. The eyes search for new and exciting sights, the appetite longs for more and varied tastes…Lent offers a time to overcome our consumerism, to give up something as a discipline—not a popular idea, but an important one. Lent offers a time also of taking something on, some new and different commitment, perhaps. And, finally, Lent offers a time of meditation and reflection. This book is for meditation and reflection during the forty days of Lent, once per day. Perhaps someone ‘taking it on’ will be better able ‘to give up something’ or deepen their commitment.

I originally edited and distributed an unillustrated version of these reflections to Big Sam’s many friends and followers. But I’ve always been convinced that this way of engaging the Lenten season had a much wider potential audience—especially for those who wanted to take Lent seriously, but found existing resources alienating or irrelevant.

Beauty in the Ordinary is a thoughtfully illustrated version of Big Sam’s meditations. It’s my attempt to honor “Big Sam” as the 25th anniversary of his death approaches. Daily meditations blended with Bible passages and impactful readings from some of his favorite books—from The Velveteen Rabbit to The Confessions of Saint Augustine—will inspire you to engage Lent in a different way this year. And you can use the book any other time, too.

Lent presents an opportunity to take stock of one’s life. It’s a time of reflection and restructuring. Beauty in the Ordinary holds tremendous value for the 2021 season of Lent… and well beyond. The book’s stunning photography makes it perfect to rest on your coffee table after you’ve finished reading it.

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Praise for Beauty in the Ordinary

Beauty in the Ordinary is a gift you can give to others or yourself. If you invest even a few minutes to read a selection and savor the beauty of the photography, you will find your soul renewed, your eyes opened, and your heart enlarged. You’ll catch your breath, and the beauty you experience in the book will help you find more beauty around and within you. This book is a treasure: profound, delightful, insightful.

Brian D. McLaren, author of Faith After Doubt

For many Lent is the most depressing season of the church year. It seems mostly to consist of litanies of penitence and the sacrifice of chocolate, coffee, cheese, or, some other innocent pleasure. In this wonderful collection of Lenten reflections, the late Rev. Samuel Johnson Lindamood calls the reader from such misery to the possibility of self-knowledge, compassion, love and hope. Lent is not here a dreary series of chest beatings and cries of mea culpa, but an opportunity to learn to love oneself, one’s God, and God’s world. Through citations of spiritual writers, secular saints, and Holy Scriptures Lindamood locates our struggle to be human in humanity’s common quest for wholeness. Sit with these reflections, your pen and your journal, and be reborn.

— John E. Phelan, Jr., Emeritus President and Dean, North Park Theological Seminary

Beauty in the Ordinary opens doors into the colorful, complicated textures of human life – its sorrows, hardships, joys, and challenges. Light shines through these open doors to illumine beauty and to invite readers into deep thinking and joyful musing.

— Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, Emeritus Professor and School of Theology Dean, Boston University

The reader of this creative and engaging collection will find a wealth of beauty, both visual and verbal, in its pages. It is the kind of material that entices and keeps the reader involved, on a daily basis—a great gift, particularly in our present moment.”

— Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill Dean, Marsh Chapel Professor, New Testament and Pastoral Theology, Boston University

Beauty in the Ordinary feels just like I remember Sam himself: loving, warm, beautiful, unconventional, thought-provoking, and steady as a rock.

— Gay Lane, Principal, Douglas C. Lane & Associates, New York, NY

I’ve never read anything quite like this book. Refreshingly contemporary yet rich in timeless wisdom, Beauty in the Ordinary addresses life’s most profound themes with Sam Lindamood’s characteristic wit, delightful sense of humor, childlike curiosity, and humility. Highly recommended for anyone seeking a fresh perspective on the spiritual life.

— Dr. Dave Rohr, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Mind and Culture, Boston, MA

Reflecting on the Scientific Study of Religion After Nearly a Decade of Religion, Brain & Behavior

A decade ago, Religion, Brain & Behavior (RBB) was still a dream in the minds of its founding editors, neuroscientist Patrick McNamara, anthropologist Richard Sosis, and philosopher of religion Wesley J. Wildman. No journal dedicated to the cognitive, evolutionary, and neurological study of religion existed at the time, and the editorial team had considerable difficulty finding a publisher who would buy into the idea.[1] Eventually, Taylor and Francis agreed to publish RBB, and the first issue came out in April 2011, adorned then as today with William Blake’s “Web of Religion,” a painting that captures “the restless, promethean nature of religion,” in the words of RBB’s first editorial.[2] Today, out of 594 religious studies journals, RBB has the second highest CiteScore, a metric that ranks journals by the number of citations articles receive on average each year. With my curiosity piqued by this dramatic ascendancy, I asked to interview the current editors—Sosis, Wildman, philosopher and sociologist Joseph Bulbulia, and neuroscientist Uffe Schjoedt—about RBB and the scientific study of religion more generally.

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An Interview with Taylor Thomas about Naturalizing Grace

Taylor Thomas is a PhD student in theology, ethics, and philosophy at Boston University School of Theology and a Lindamood Fellow at the Center for Mind and Culture. Below is Dave Rohr’s interview with Taylor regarding her recent publication of “Hope in Imperfection: Toward a Naturalized Theology of Grace” in the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy.

Dave Rohr:

So my first question is, were you raised religious? And, if so, how did you come to be embrace philosophical naturalism?

Taylor Thomas:

I was raised Southern Baptist, as deeply Southern Baptist as you can get, with a little bit of Pentecostal and nondenominational holiness tossed in there every other Sunday. And then when I got to college, I did the normal take a few philosophy and religion courses and question everything, you know, God is dead, etc. And when I got to Boston University, I met up with Wesley Wildman and he introduced me to religious naturalism and I kinda felt at home there. Continue reading

American Aesthetics: Theory and Practice

Recently published by SUNY Press, American Aesthetics: Theory and Practice explores the distinctive contribution to philosophical aesthetics made by the American philosophical tradition, including especially philosophical pragmatism and process philosophy. What follows is an abridged transcription, lightly edited to increase clarity, of David Rohr’s interviews with the volume’s editors, Walter Gulick and Gary Slater. An abridged video of the interviews can also be viewed below.

Dave Rohr:

So I’m here with Dr. Walter Gulick, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Montana State University, Billings, and we’re here to discuss this volume that just came out, American Aesthetics: Theory and Practice, which he edited with Gary Slater. So thank you so much for being here and being a part of this interview. I want to start with a very broad question. A lot of people who see this interview might not have any background for understanding what this book is all about. So, could you say a little bit about your understanding of philosophical aesthetics? What’s its purpose? How does it relate to art, art creation, and going to museums and whatnot?

Walter Gulick:

Well, the basic idea behind the book is that there’s a very rich tradition within American pragmatism primarily, and to some extent process thought, that has been overshadowed by a lot of recent, more analytic approaches to aesthetics. There’s a sense of reclaiming the importance of the American aesthetic tradition for a number of reasons. One is that it’s a very comprehensive kind of approach where it looks at aesthetics, not just narrowly as about beauty as is so often done, but sees it as embedded in perception as such, and particularly in perception as it becomes more clarified. So for me, notions like coherence, for instance, a very basic notion to philosophy and to argumentation is basically an aesthetic kind of evidence. It’s based on a feeling of completeness and comprehensiveness and so forth. And there are lots of ideas like that that I think are essentially aesthetic in their character that get set aside when aesthetics is looked at only as a study of the arts and so forth. Now this book, American Aesthetics, is primarily about how aesthetics relates to the arts, but not entirely. For instance, there are three essays by Thomas Leddy, David Strong, and Robert Corrington that looked at aesthetics as connected to how we live our lives. I love that kind of approach. But there are sections that are about theoretical approaches to aesthetics. So we had people like Wesley Wildman, for instance, Robert Neville or Randy [Auxier) or Nicholas Gaskill or Gary Slater who are setting forth a broader theoretical approach to aesthetics. But they’re also, and this I think is very important about the book, there’s also an emphasis upon how it’s all practice.

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Biological Mutualism

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection portrays nature as red in tooth and claw, with fierce competition between and within species determining that only the fittest survive and reproduce. Or does it? Although the preceding interpretation predominated late into the twentieth century, in recent decades biologists have begun to appreciate that cooperation is how many species remain competitive and that mutualism between species is as successful an evolutionary strategy as parasitism.

Unlike parasitism where an organism like a tick or tapeworm exploits another organism, mutualism refers to an interspecies relationship that benefits both species. For example, almost half of land plants depend upon fungi to supply their roots with water and minerals, the fungi in turn receiving sugars from the plant’s roots. Many bird species share mutualistic relations with large animals like water buffalo and crocodiles, making easy meals from ticks and other parasites that prey upon the larger animals. Fruiting plants and the animals who consume their fruit also relate mutualistically: the animals receive sugar-rich nutrition while the plants’ seeds are carried far and wide, increasing their chances of reproducing.

In a new article in Theology and Science Stephen Scaringe and Wesley Wildman argue that the recent recognition of widespread mutualism and symbiosis between biological species is a harbinger of a deeper realization with profound theological significance: “at a fundamental level, there are no separate life forms … living organisms only come into existence contingent or dependent on other species and organisms, and every living entity is perpetually dependent for its continued existence on other life forms, which in turn only exist contingently on other life forms.” Recognition of our inextricable interconnectedness with other organisms can be destabilizing, upsetting our clear-cut personal and collective identities. Destabilizing or not, Scaringe and Wildman predict that the continued growth of biological and ecological understanding will soon render this conclusion inescapable.

Anticipating the widespread acceptance of the conception of life as mutually constituted and contingently existent, Scaringe and Wildman reflect on the theological implications of this dawning awareness. In particular, they suggest that this conception of life demands a thorough rethinking of the idea of free will, problematizes conceptions of salvation that depend upon a clear distinction between persons and their bodies, and challenges conceptions of humanity as exercising divinely given dominion over the rest of nature. If Scaringe and Wildman are correct that the idea of life as mutually constituted is destined to prevail, we can hope that this idea will lead, not only to a more profoundly relational metaphysics, but also to a humbler, more caring way of relating to the organisms and ecosystems that sustain all human persons, societies, and civilizations.

Theology Without Walls: A Milestone in Transreligious Theology

For those of you are tracking the transreligious theology movement, a new milestone has been reached with the publication of Theology Without Walls: The Transreligious Imperative (New York: Routledge, 2019). Jerry Martin, the hero of this fledgling movement, edited the volume, incorporating inspirational essays from many of the movement’s leading lights.

Cover for Theology Without Walls

Here’s what the Routledge site has to say about the book:

“Thinking about ultimate reality is becoming increasingly transreligious. This transreligious turn follows inevitably from the discovery of divine truths in multiple traditions. Global communications bring the full range of religious ideas and practices to anyone with access to the internet. Moreover, the growth of the “nones” and those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” creates a pressing need for theological thinking not bound by prescribed doctrines and fixed rituals. This book responds to this vital need.

“The chapters in this volume each examine the claim that if the aim of theology is to know and articulate all we can about the divine reality, and if revelations, enlightenments, and insights into that reality are not limited to a single tradition, then what is called for is a theology without confessional restrictions. In other words, a Theology Without Walls. To ground the project in examples, the volume provides emerging models of transreligious inquiry. It also includes sympathetic critics who raise valid concerns that such a theology must face.

“This is a book that will be of urgent interest to theologians, religious studies scholars, and philosophers of religion. It will be especially suitable for those interested in comparative theology, inter-religious and interfaith understanding, new trends in constructive theology, normative religious studies, and global philosophy of religion.”

The table of contents is in the book’s promotional flyer.

TWW flyer

Human Simulation released by Springer

Some of you are aware that my research efforts in recent years have included trying to make computational modeling and simulation useful for the humanities disciplines, the arts, the interpretative social sciences – in other words, the less tangible parts of the university, which are my usual habitation. A few of us got together to build computer simulations with such intellectuals, which was a blast. We present both these people’s simulations and their experiences of building them in a book. The latter is especially fascinating because building a computer simulation related to their field of expertise was a novel experiences for these scholars. That book has just appeared, and it marks a key point in the emerging specialization of human simulation.

Human Simulation cover

The website for the book describes the volume nicely:

This uniquely inspirational and practical book explores human simulation, which is the application of computational modeling and simulation to research subjects in the humanities disciplines. It delves into the fascinating process of collaboration among experts who usually don’t have much to do with one another – computer engineers and humanities scholars – from the perspective of the humanities scholars. It also explains the process of developing models and simulations in these interdisciplinary teams.

Each chapter takes the reader on a journey, presenting a specific theory about the human condition, a model of that theory, discussion of its implementation, analysis of its results, and an account of the collaborative experience. Contributing authors with different fields of expertise share how each model was validated, discuss relevant datasets, explain development strategies, and frankly discuss the ups and downs of the process of collaborative development. Readers are given access to the models and will also gain new perspectives from the authors’ findings, experiences, and recommendations. 

Today we are in the early phases of an information revolution, combining access to vast computing resources, large amounts of human data through social media, and an unprecedented richness of methods and tools to capture, analyze, explore, and test hypotheses and theories of all kinds. Thus, this book’s insights will be valuable not only to students and scholars of humanities subjects, but also to the general reader and researchers from other disciplines who are intrigued by the expansion of the information revolution all the way into the humanities departments of modern universities.

God Is… Released by Wipf & Stock

For those of you tracking my writings and wondering what my mystical philosophical theology sounds like from the pulpit, here is a book of sermons to answer that question (available on Amazon, too). I include below the back-cover information to give you a sense of what the book contains. Many thanks to Rev. Dr. Stephen Chapin Garner and Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville for their kind words about the book.

Your God is too small—way too small! What if God is not a human-like personal being but the God Beyond God of the Christian mystical traditions? What if God is the ultimate reality beyond all beings, including beyond all divine beings, indeed beyond all Being? It’s a mind-bending idea. Speaking of God as a human-like personal being is much easier but people who care about the deepest mystical understandings of God within our traditions need to make the effort to speak about the God Beyond God, despite the difficulties. This book makes the attempt to speak of the God Beyond God in the language of the sermon, using metaphor and potent imagery tuned to the existential intensities of human life. The God Beyond God is closer to us than our jugular veins, vividly present in every moment of our lives. These sermons are practical and moving, and they also resonate with the most rigorous theological understandings of ultimate reality. Their deconstruction of our convenient fantasies about a divine being make these sermons emotionally intense and perhaps not suitable for beginners in the journey of faith. But veteran believers can breathe deeply in the air of these meditations, relaxing into the bliss of engaging ultimate reality without delusions, without deflections, and without controlling the object of our worship.

God Is… is a gift. Not all sermon collections read well, because sermons are an interactive event between a pastor, a people, Scripture, and the Lord. Dr. Wildman’s sermon volume is that rare exception where the written word maintains the power and eloquence of what was first preached. There is a wonderfully poetic quality to his theology and biblical interpretation that encourages both reading and re-reading these messages.” —Stephen Chaplin Garner, Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church of New Canaan, CT; author, Getting in Character: The Art of First-Person Narrative Preaching

“When I heard Wildman give the first sermon of this book, in 1993, I was so moved by its fierce courage to say what most people only fear is true about God that I wept. Its original title was ‘God the Destroyer.’ The second sermon, then called ‘God the Friend,’ was just as shaking: who would imagine friendship so weirdly deep? Wildman is a naturalist, which is explained in these sermons, though not in so many words. But he is also a biblical preacher and a rhetorical genius, a Christian preacher in the great tradition. His fervent piety inspires as it breaks common symbols and symbolizes what most Christians barely grasp. These sermons are dangerous and oh so loving.” —Robert Cummings Neville, Dean emeritus of Marsh Chapel; author, Nurture in Time and Eternity and Seasons of the Christian Life

Effing the Ineffable Released by SUNY

The State University of New York Press recently released Effing the Ineffable: Existential Mumblings at the Limits of Language. This is the sixth volume in my Religious Philosophy series, and the fifth of six to appear. The last to appear, God willin’ and the crick don’ rise, is volume 3 on Science and Ultimate Reality.

The SUNY web page for the book describes the book as “A meditation on how religious language tries to limn the liminal, conceive the inconceivable, speak the unspeakable, and say the unsayable.” That’s about right. it goes on:

In Effing the Ineffable, Wesley J. Wildman confronts the human obsession with ultimate reality and our desire to conceive and speak of this reality through religious language, despite the seeming impossibility of doing so. Each chapter is a meditative essay on an aspect of life that, for most people, is fraught with special spiritual significance: dreaming, suffering, creating, slipping, balancing, eclipsing, loneliness, intensity, and bliss. These moments can inspire religious questioning and commitment, and, in extreme situations, drive us in search of ways to express what matters most to us. Drawing upon American pragmatist, Anglo-American analytic, and Continental traditions of philosophical theology, Wildman shows how, through direct description, religious symbolism, and phenomenological experience, the language games of religion become a means to attempt, and, in some sense, to accomplish this task.

Back to work!

In Our Own Image Released by Oxford

Oxford University Press recently released In Our Own Image: Anthropomorphism, Apophaticism, and Ultimacy. You can find out more about the book here. This is the second volume in my Religious Philosophy series, and the fourth of six to appear. The sixth volume, fifth to appear, is Effing the Ineffable, coming out with SUNY in mid-2018. That leaves just one more volume to get out the door: volume 3 on Science and Ultimate Reality.

Friends tell me they have been biding their time, waiting to see me write more directly on ultimate reality. In Our Own Image does that, in a comparative way, but also in a constructive theoretical way, working across disciplines and religious-philosophical traditions, as is usual within my home turf of transreligious philosophical theology and philosophy of religion. The Mystical Philosophy series is devoted to that task but supporters and critics no longer have to wonder what I think about ultimate reality.

Some of my books stay with me more than others. This one is like that. The insights documented in its pages strike me as stable – not a small thing – and potentially important for comparative philosophical analysis of conceptual models of ultimate reality.

I’m eager to get the final volume of the Religious Philosophy Series published so that I can move on to the Mystical Philosophy Series. But the Outreach Series is taking up a lot of time right now, with a string of books in the hopper. As usual in this business, everything is about time management and clear-headed goals. I’m pretty good at both of those things, but unfortunately they are not always in sync.

I hope a few people benefit from In Our Own Image. Theologians and philosophers are still getting used to the idea of transreligious theology, as well as radical multidisciplinary approaches to philosophy of religion and philosophical theology, I realize. But this is an accessible instance of these features and good opportunity to consider fundamental questions in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion.