Into the World--Guest Author Introduction

Dear Reader,
If you are a regular reader here you may remember about a year ago when Tracy Witham contributed a wonderful guest piece associated with my series on William James. You probably also know that Tracy is a consistent and insightful commenter here at Experimental Theology.

Some weeks ago Tracy asked me if he might share this space, allowing him to share some of his intellectual and theological work with you, a book he has been working on. I was very pleased to agree as the themes Tracy reflects on converge on my own interests in this blog. Consequently, in the coming weeks you'll see Tracy's installments come out on or around Friday of each week. To let you get to know our guest writer a bit I asked Tracy to introduce himself in this post to accompany the first installment of his book.

I'm looking forward to this series and the conversation that surrounds it.


Dear Reader,

It is a gracious and generous act of kindness on Richard's part to share this blog space with me--truly an act of hospitality! Many times I have wished that I could applaud his daring choice of topics, his insights, the playfulness he brings to difficult ideas, and his skill as an on-line teacher. And always I am amazed at the sheer speed with which he reads, assimilates, and writes about new topics. It is an honor and a privelege that I do not take lightly to be a guest writier on his blog.

Thoreau explained his experiment at Walden by writing some of the most famous words in American literature. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” I use that sentence as if it were Scripture; that is, I use it as a means to shed telling light on my soul and the souls of others.

My life—and I suspect yours too—is cluttered over with details that detract more than they contribute to an understanding of who I am. The exceptions are found where the facts inform my woods—my Waldens; those places where I have gone following deliberations which have aligned my life with the passions that illuminate my soul.

A minor character in A Few Good Men explained how he knew what to do without being told by saying, “I just followed the crowd at lunchtime.” It is possible to follow the crowd at lunchtime and breakfast-time and dinner too. And if one makes a habit of it, it just might be possible to discover, when one comes to die, that no real human life has emerged from one’s human being.

Don’t get me wrong. It is entirely possible to find delight in the crowd and to passionately choose others as one’s Walden. In fact, to say that that has not been possible for me entails that I am a deeply flawed Christian—though to be fair, that is a tautology. (I think I hear Nietzsche laughing, and I hope he can hear me laugh with him.)

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” These famous words fail to express the infinite tertium quid of Thoreau’s famous “sauntering” around the woods of Walden—an activity that can make all the rest of the difference for those of us who see life as rather more differentiated than Frost’s poem suggests. Twenty-five years ago I decided not to go to seminary, but to follow my nose into the thicket of questions surrounding faith. Some might say that I got lost. I say, "That has been my Walden."

I introduce myself, then, as an intellectual saunterer who, like Richard and you his readers, is passionate about exploring the Christian theological and religious landscape. That is a Walden we share, which means that there is already a sense in which you know me. Beyond that you can think of me as being a bit like the shepherd who—the story goes—threw a rock in a cave and discovered the Dead Sea scrolls. For I have wandered a bit and thrown a few rocks and happened upon something that I think will interest you.

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