In light of the revised edition of Timothy Carson’s Liminal Reality and Transformational Power: Transition, Renewal and Hope, we were excited to host a Q&A session with him, to find out more!
1. What inspired you to write this book?
You might call this a deep curiosity fuelled by intuition and empirical research both. I have always had a sense of the ingredients that make up what we call liminal reality. Life itself is always unfolding, passing, changing, transforming. That dynamism is embedded in the nature of life itself, characterizing, defining it. This is found in personal experience, sacred texts, literature, research on crisis and loss, and the fog of war. It is so ubiquitous that it cannot be ignored. Which is why when people discover it, hear it described, something clicks, a light turns on and they say, “Yes, that’s the way it is.”
2. What does your writing process consist of?
Like most authors my writing is indeed a process, an often uneven process, one that gathers, considers, combines and redefines. If I were a chef I would say that a have a tradition of cooking upon which I rely, great menus to follow and upon which I improvise. I spend much time searching for the right ingredients and then preparing them, experimenting, adding, subtracting. At least half of the writing enterprise is intuitive and imaginative; things function on the subconscious level and not merely the rational. And I often end up in surprising destinations that I could not have anticipated when I began.
3. In layman’s terms, what are the main ideas that the book explores?
The book is about what happens when things change, when what we know disappears and we are faced with recreating ourselves in unknown territory. When all the balls are in the air, when the past foundations seem to have melted away, a whole new possibility appears, one that is defined more by a future toward we move than the past from which we have come. It is a dangerous time and a hopeful one. Whole societies pass through liminal crisis moments and individuals pass through prescribed and unscripted rites of passage all the time.
4. Which writers or academics do you think have had the greatest impact on you and why?
Because liminality is a universal experience its phenomena are embedded everywhere that people have written about their experience, whether it be fiction or non-fiction. It is impossible to read Dante, Cervantes, Saramago or T.S. Eliot and miss it. It drives J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling alike. So there is this. But there are also the researchers, the empiricists, those who have analysed the dynamics of liminality and identified its function, components and process. When you think of this level of discourse the name Victor Turner immediately rises to the surface. But there are others who have applied these insights to many disciplines and their names are legion. And I would be remiss to not credit Whitehead and the Process folks. That influence, along with the rise of the new physics, runs as a background soundtrack for me all the time.
5. Who do you think the book will appeal most to?
It really has a broad reach because the applications are broad. On the research level it has appeal to those who want a thorough distillation of the various aspects of liminality. And on this score writers from many disciplines have already appealed to my work in its first edition. But there is also the very theological dimension of this particular book which makes it attractive to the theologian, the theological student, the pastor, the study group that wants to dig deep into territory that is new and brings a different perspective to whatever it is they are considering – pastoral care, scriptural studies, the nature of church in society, the deep spiritual transformation of the psyche.
6. What are the most obscure notions the book explores and how has it developed as a revised edition?
The most obscure areas involve that which is most obscure – the intrapsychic dimensions of the person and its unconscious, neurological connections. Many who work in the area of ritual and the brain have identified the intimate relationship between passage, consciousness and transformation. Actual changes take place in the brain as a result of all this and in fact, the brain seems to be hard-wired for noetic experience and the integrative experience of social and person ritual. Like most contemplative experience, this is the most difficult to explore and describe.
Ask a mystic, a Teresa of Avila or Thomas Merton or the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing what this all means and they might just shrug their shoulders and smile an odd little smile. And maybe that is its power, the unnameable mystery.
7. Who are your favourite authors?
Like everyone my interests are cyclical in that I come back around to my favourite authors. For me Dostoyevsky and Camus just keep on giving. In the Bible I am more and more drawn to the Jewish wisdom literature. Right now the three authors who are residing on my reading desk are John Cleese, one who is always guaranteed to make me laugh out loud, Joan Chittister, the spiritual luminary and social activist who brings the wisdom of the winter of life, and a new author, Victoria Kelly, who has a new novel out by the title Mrs. Houdini. I haven’t seen such fine poetic prose in a long time.
8. We understand that you are an EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques Practitioner); is this something which has influenced your writing?
That’s a really interesting question because no one has asked it. I suppose the average reader of my work doesn’t know that I am an EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) practitioner and the EFT crowd doesn’t know I’m an author that has focused on liminality. EFT is a healing modality that falls under the energy psychology umbrella. It utilizes tapping on the body’s meridians (energy centers) while exposing traumatic or troubling emotions and memories. Some of EFT’s roots are ancient and others are as current as Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Restructuring and Quantum Physics.
I suppose I do draw on liminal categories to understand this work as well. So often people find themselves stuck inbetween … held in a kind of emotional/psychic limbo. EFT really works to clear these impasses. As a result, in liminal terms, they are ushered out of the liminal domain into a new free state of being. In religious terms we would say they have experienced liberation or redemption. If you are interested you could take a look at my EFT site www.athomewitheft.com
9. From your author questionnaire, you detail being very involved with your community; dealing with homelessness and the healing of warriors who suffer with moral injury. How would you describe this experience and how has it impacted your work?
It is a core conviction of mine that our faith should take us toward the wounds and brokenness of the world to participate in whatever healing we can. Most usually that means organizing many partners around a common cause. I would misguide you to say that I am a community organizer or activist and leader in that regard. But I have been on the front lines of developing a homeless shelter and resource center in my community. And much of my recent effort has been working with others to develop an outreach to veterans who suffer the invisible wounds of war. EFT is of special help here. And the categories of liminality are, in my mind, central to the healing of a whole generation of veterans who return to home partially, broken on the inside.
Our communities do not do well at reintegrating them. They bear inner wounds that take a village to heal. That’s why in the second edition of Liminal Reality I devote an entire chapter to just this, War and Liminality. War is the quintessential liminal state of being. For more information about what we are doing go to www.vetsallthewayhome.org.
10. Alongside having taken a diverse interest in the world of academia, we have learned that you also have a great array of hobbies- tell us all about these!
Yes, my personal escape hatches are many! I’m well-travelled and have spent a lot of time in Latin America. I love the arts scene and take in as much as is available. Music is a life passion – as an appreciator of course, but I play a variety of instruments as well. My two current instruments are the Tin Whistle and the Bass Guitar. Since I grew up as a brass play it is fun to branch out in these new directions. I have been a horseman, sailor and scuba diver. I do those infrequently now. In recent years I have volunteered in a raptor rehabilitation center working with federally protected birds of prey – eagles, hawks, owls.
But most recently I have returned to an earlier passion of life, motorcycle riding. With the reintroduction of the classic Indian motorcycle (the first motorcycle produced in the United States in 1901) I have picked up my own. I am riding it whenever the weather permits. And this summer I have some long tours in the making. To be honest I’m just an unreformed cowboy. The motorcycle is, after all, the urban horse.
Of course, I love writing. Two of my most recent projects are The Square Root of God:Mathematical Metaphors and Spiritual Tangents and Six Doors to the Seventh Dimension. If readers are willing to take a risk on Liminal Reality and Transformational Power they might dare to read these as well!
Timothy Carson is Senior Minister at the Broadway Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri, and holds the Doctor of Ministry, Master of Divinity and Bachelor of Education degrees.
Some recent reviews of the book are featured below:
“This text models how the pursuit of knowledge may be explored and enhanced as the history of scholarship intersects with present human narratives. Academics and pastors alike will find this study a definitive source for the depth issues surrounding liminality. It opens up new vistas as it discloses everything that pastoral epistemology can be.”
Dr Peggy Way, Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Theology, Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri
“Liminal Reality is insightful and thought-provoking. It helps us to deepen our understanding of the many liminal realities in our lives, and to think how such spaces can lead us to heal and transform ourselves and our world. I highly recommend it.”
Gabriella Lettini, Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Professor of Theological Ethics, Starr King School for the Ministry, Berkeley, CA