The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Lifeby Parker J. Palmer
First published in 1980—and reissued here with a feisty new introductory essay—The Promise of Paradox launched Parker J. Palmer’s career as an author and his ongoing exploration of the contradictions that vex and enrich our lives. In this probing and heartfelt book, the distinguished writer, teacher, and activist examines some of the/i>
First published in 1980—and reissued here with a feisty new introductory essay—The Promise of Paradox launched Parker J. Palmer’s career as an author and his ongoing exploration of the contradictions that vex and enrich our lives. In this probing and heartfelt book, the distinguished writer, teacher, and activist examines some of the challenging questions at the core of Christian spirituality. How do we live with the apparent opposition between good and evil, scarcity and abundance, individuality and community, death and new life? We can hold them as paradoxes, not “either/ors,” allowing them to open our minds and hearts to new ways of seeing and being.
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Meet the Author
Parker J. Palmer, a highly respected writer, teacher, and activist, is founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His work speaks deeply to people in many walks of life, including education, medicine, religion, law, philanthropy, politics, and social change. Author of seven books, including the bestsellers The Courage to Teach (now in its tenth anniversary edition), Let Your Life Speak, and A Hidden Wholeness, his writing has been recognized with ten honorary doctorates and a number of national awards. Named one of the "most influential senior leaders" in higher education, he holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
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This book was much discussed while I was in Seminary, as it was then newly published and dealt with a topic that is antithetical to the initial response one has upon seeing its title. I was not ready to hear the arguments presented by Dr. Palmer in the early 1980’s. Thankfully, this book’s longevity (this is its third time in print by two different publishers) has allowed me the opportunity to sit with now what I could not address when I was younger. When the book was originally published, Henri Nouwen, a Catholic Priest whose writings have been very influential in my spiritual development, wrote the introduction. For this present edition, Dr. Palmer pens a lengthy introduction that is, in itself, an important essay about how the need for Paradox and community are, in many ways, in greater demand now than when the book was originally issued. The first chapter, “In the Belly of a Paradox,” compares and contrasts: Thomas Merton’s engagement with Taoism and Eastern thought in a Christian context, the Paradox of Marxist thought as it mirrors New Testament actions (particularly those actions found in the Book of Acts) and the paradoxes provided in “The Way of the Cross.” In Chapter 2, Dr. Palmer takes the Catholic Stations of the Cross discipline and examines it from his perspective of it being an internal paradox. He sees this discipline as bringing about five moments of confrontation of self: recognition (of the contradiction of the cross mirroring that of the contradiction in ourselves), resistance (the desire to resist living in the tension those contradictions in ourselves create), acceptance (living in the reality that there is power and life enriched found in such tension, affirmation (ability to celebrate that this “cross” is one’s own) & liberation (the realization that facing, fighting, accepting and affirming these contradictions frees us from the illusion of being independent from each other). Chapter’s three and four focus on community and how that culture brings the power of paradox to life. He argues that humans were created to be in relationship, the Christian Scriptures direct its adherents toward community and that the Western idea of “rugged individualism” leads to emptiness, poverty (of spirit and material wealth) and is impossible for the human race to sustain itself with it as a paradigm. Chapter five looks at what real, lasting and sustainable abundance is and how paradox and community are vital to that endeavor. The author states that paradox is not a linear concept, but one that travels “in a circle.” When one opens one’s self to the tension brought about by listening and attending what is found when one sits with two truths, seemingly in opposition, at the same moment, one discovers that both “truths” add depth to each other. Such an undertaking is frustrating, laborious, rewarding and enriching. Dr. Palmer offers no shortcuts toward finding the “blessing” of paradox; all who wish to taste its promise must, like Jacob did with the angel, wrestle with the paradox before its riches can be gained. This is not a long book but neither is it a book easily read in a short time. Attention has to be paid to the weighty words written on each page. The concepts offered are not difficult to understand, but they are such that their being applied will take energy, focus and commitment. Reading this small tome will cause the serious reader to examine their own paradoxes and find a measure of unknown Grace therein.