Parker J. Palmer is a writer, teacher, activist, and founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal. This sprightly volume is a reissue of his debut book in 1980 with an introduction by his old friend Henri J.M. Nouwen and a new essay by Palmer himself. In the latter, the author notes how odd it feels at 70 to reconnect with something he wrote when he was 40. He salutes the power of paradox in the Christian life but worries about those who deny its worth; he is referring to fundamentalists:
"I believe God wants us to be good, but above all God wants us to be alive: life, after all, is God's original gift to us. To try to put that gift back in the box so it can be retied and shelved is to stick your finger in the eye of the giver. And when Christians use their conception of 'goodness' to diminish or destroy other people's lives, either figuratively or literally as when they declare homosexuals unholy or use God to justify warfare against innocent civilians they stick fingers in both of God's eyes."
In the opening essay, Palmer follows the example of Thomas Merton and ponders Christian spirituality as a path that is amenable to paradox. Instead of fleeing from the tensions of the world and the polarities within our own souls, we would do well to live through these contradictions and to learn from them. He writes:
"Contradiction, paradox, the tension of opposites: these have always been at the heart of my experience, and I think I am not alone. I am tugged one way and then the other. My beliefs and my actions often seem at odds. My strengths are sometimes cancelled by my weaknesses. My self, and the world around me, seem more a study in dissonance than a harmony of the integrated whole."
Palmer writes cogently about the myths surrounding community and does a good job demarking the difference between true and false communities. A fine essay on a world of scarcity and a gospel of abundance strikes us as an evergreen work of insight. Palmer, as usual, proves to be a masterful cartographer of education with his essay "The Conversion of Knowledge."