Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Importance of "And"

Last month I posted articles directly related to new books by the noted authors / theologians Richard Rohr and Serene Jones. Each in their own way emphasized the importance of the word/term “and.”  
Rohr’s Emphasis on “And”
For many years now, and in many ways, the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr has emphasized the importance of “and.”
In 1986 Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. Concerning that name, he has said repeatedly that the most important word in the Center’s name is “and.”
In his new book, about which I wrote last month (here), as well in his book The Naked Now (2009), which I have just finished reading, Rohr writes about the importance of “and” by explaining the deep significance of paradox, nonduality, and “third eye” thinking.
In The Naked Now, Rohr has a lucid section in the 20th chapter titled “The Value of Paradox” (pp. 144~9). He writes,
Because paradox undermines dual thinking at its very root, the dualistic mind immediately attacks paradox as weak thinking or confusion, separate from hard logic. The modern phenomenon of fundamentalism shows an almost complete incapacity to deal with paradox (p. 144).
Rohr goes on then to assert, “The history of spirituality tells us that we must learn to accept paradoxes or we will never love anything or see it correctly” (ibid.)
“Dual thinking” sees things as either/or--so that is the reason Rohr emphasizes nonduality. 
At the very end of The Naked Now, Rohr makes 26 short statements about what he calls “The Shining Word ‘And.’” (You can also read those statements at this link.)
Jones’s Emphasis on “And”
While not as direct as Rohr, in her book Call It Grace, Serene Jones makes repeated emphasis on “and” by linking seemingly opposing concepts. Her book is divided into four “stations” (rather than parts), and the title of each is two (or three) words connected by “and.”
Jones emphasizes “Sin and Grace,” “Destiny and Freedom,” “Hatred and Forgiveness,” as well as “Redeeming Life and Death.” In addition, like both Luther and Calvin, she writes in the last chapter of her book, “We are saints and sinners, flawed and graced, the extremes always mingling in us” (p. 295, bolding added.)
Jones, a Protestant, like Rohr, a Catholic, adeptly recognizes and emphasizes the importance of “and.”
My Emphasis on “And”
As some of you know, my doctoral dissertation, completed more than 50 years ago, was titled “The Meaning of Paradox.” It was because of my early recognition of the importance of “both/and” thinking that I chose that topic--and this has been a key to my theological (and other) thought through the years.
Some of you also know that the 17th chapter of my recently published book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now is titled “Both/And Is Generally Better and More Nearly True than Either/Or.” (That chapter was written before I read Rohr enough to cite him in the chapter.)
There is so much we could understand more correctly--and so much mistaken thinking and action we could avoid--if we just learned to appreciate the importance of “and.”
In a more “popular” book, Jen Pollock Michel has just published Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World. A review of Michel’s book appears in the June 2019 issue of Christianity Today.
The reviewer concludes: “Surprised by Paradox asks us to reject an either-or approach to certain irreducible mysteries of Christian faith, assuming instead a posture of humility and wonder as we contemplate the fathomless riches of God and his grace.”


  1. The idea of both/and is certainly important, especially in the area of good/bad in the realm of ideas. Also, in our 62 years together, your focus of both/and has certainly kept our lives busy and interesting. However, now that we are in our 80's another choice looms more and more--the either/or. Yesterday both our daughters were here and I had the choice of either a delicious walk with them in Canterbury Park/or a delicious nap in my bed. I was sad to choose the nap but......

    1. Both are very real and need to be better understood. The word "generally" leaves a lot of gray area (which can turn militant). Post-modernism doesn't help - when each becomes right in one's own eyes.

      I see it is changed, but "Surprised by Joy" is a good illustration of the pain of life, and an outcome of hope and joy.

    2. Yes, in writing about both/and in the article, I was referring more to ideas than to actions, although "and" is often applicable to actions also. For example, our lives were busy and interesting partly because I was not content to be only a university faculty member. So for our last 24 years in Japan I was both a professor AND a pastor/preacher.

  2. In addition to the above, the only other comments I have received today are the follow substantial comments from local Thinking Friend Vern Barnet:

    "You and your readers no doubt could make a long list of paradoxical terms. I wonder what paradoxes you dealt with in your dissertation? I'd guess less paradoxes like Russell's Paradox or the Monty Hall Paradox and more like Tillich's three pairs of 'ontological elements,' individuation AND participation, dynamics AND form, and freedom AND destiny (the last, similar to Jones whom you cite).

    "Of course the great paradox in Christianity is the Incarnation (Jesus both God AND human), and, as we look forward to this Sunday's feast day tomorrow, the related paradox of the Trinity.

    "I'm not sure the name of Rohr's 1986 organization, Center for Action AND Contemplation, is a paradoxical, but it is inclusive, as was my own organization, founded in 1982, with a parallel name, the Center for Experience AND Study. What drives me crazy, Leroy, with nice people with good intent who want to support interfaith work, is their asserting that 'we are all basically alike.' This is so disrespectful of the importance of differences! So let's promote the paradox that both statements are true: We are all alike AND we are all different."

    1. Thanks, Vern, for your substantial comments.

      While in the first part of my dissertation I considered paradox from various angles, I didn't deal much with "philosophical" paradoxes. Since the subtitle was "A Study of the Use of the Word ‘Paradox’ in Contemporary Theological and Philosophical Writings with Special Reference to Søren Kierkegaard,” I dealt mostly with the paradoxes of Christian theology--and most specifically with the the paradox of Jesus Christ being "true God" and "true man."

      Perhaps there is nothing particularly paradoxical about the name of Rohr's organization, but holding together concepts that are often thought to be antithetical--such as action and contemplation--is not completely unrelated to paradoxical, or nondual, thinking.

      I like your concluding statements: you articulate there a good example of the importance of "and."

  3. What a tremendous thing to encourage us to think about, Leroy!

    “And” teaches us to be positive people, to say “yes,” as Rohr puts it. I love his list, and my favorites are:
    “’And’ teaches us to be patient,”
    “’And’ keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything,”
    “’And’ is the way of mercy.”

    I'm also partial to the name Provocateurs AND Peacemakers, a group I enjoy.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Fred -- and I hope others looked up Rohr's statement about "and" as you did.

  4. In the beginning God created the heaven AND the earth. AND the earth was without form, AND void; AND darkness was upon the face of the deep. AND the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. AND God said, Let there be light; AND there was light.

    Either/or has its place in logical analysis, but it is rather puny next to AND! As I recall, God did not create EITHER male OR female. AND is the word of creation.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Craig. I appreciate you commenting even though it was the night before your mother's memorial service, which I trust went well yesterday.