Scholars Interview with Dr. Bruce Tallman, Author of God’s Ecstatic Love
Dr. Bruce Tallman speaks about his latest publication, God’s Ecstatic Love
Dr. Bruce Tallman is an author, spiritual director, and marriage coach. As a full-time spiritual director since 2002, Dr. Tallman has worked with laity and clergy from every Christian denomination. He has published two books for spiritual directors (one of them, Finding Seekers: How to Develop a Spiritual Direction Practice from Beginning to Full-Time Employment, is a bestseller in the field). He is passionate about his mission, which is to help people grow in wisdom and love. In this interview, we discuss his latest publication, God’s Ecstatic Love.
Please read more on Dr. Bruce Tallman here:
About Dr. Bruce Tallman
Dr. Bruce Tallman is a full-time practitioner of spiritual direction since 2002 and has worked with laity and clergy from every Christian denomination. He has published two books for spiritual directors (one of them, Finding Seekers: How to Develop a Spiritual Direction Practice from Beginning to Full-Time Employment, is a bestseller in the field). He is passionate about his mission, which is to help people grow in wisdom and love.
He has had over 150 articles on spirituality published in the London Free Press and other newspapers and is an adjunct faculty for the Haden Institute for Spiritual Directors Training.
From 1988 to 2002 Dr. Tallman was the director of two adult religious education centers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Spiritual Direction / Counselling from the Graduate Theological Foundation, which is affiliated with the Gregorian Institute in Rome and Oxford University in England. Dr. Tallman has been married for many years to Grace (who works as a mental health counsellor) and together have three wonderful adult children and they are each other’s best friend and soulmate.
Dr. Tallman has served as a Board Member of Christian Spiritual Directors (CSD) since its inauguration.
Please listen to this important conversation here:
For those wish to watch the video of this conversation, please watch here:
Dr. Frank Kaufmann: Good morning and welcome to the Professor Interview Series. Today, we’re very fortunate to have with us, Dr. Bruce Tallman. Dr. Tallman is a full-time practitioner of spiritual direction since 2002 and has worked with laity and clergy from every Christian denomination. He has published two books for spiritual directors, one of them, Finding Seekers: How to Develop a Spiritual Direction Practice from Beginning to Full-Time Employment, is a best seller in the field. He is passionate about his mission, which is to help people grow in wisdom and love. He has over 150 articles on spirituality published in the London Free Press and other newspapers and is an adjunct faculty for the Haden Institute for Spiritual Directors Training. From 1988 until 2002, Dr. Tallman was the director of two religious education centers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Spiritual Direction/Counseling from the Graduate Theological Foundation, which is affiliated with a Gregorian Institute in Rome, and Oxford University in England. Dr. Tallman has been married for many years, his wife, Grace works as a mental health counselor, a mental health professional. Together they have three wonderful adult children. Bruce has served as Board Member of Christian Spiritual Directors since its inauguration. When I was speaking to Bruce prior to the call this morning or prior to the show, I learned that in his practice as spiritual director, he has prepared over 4000 young couples for marriage. So his counseling has also been counseling and direction for young people preparing for marriage. What a wonderful gift to the world and how enriching it must be to work with young people getting ready for married life. Please join me to welcome to the program this morning, Dr. Bruce Tallman.
Dr. Kaufmann: Dr. Tallman, thank you very much for joining us. This is an honor.
Dr. Bruce Tallman: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes. We’ve waited a bit of time so it’s something I’ve really looked forward to. Very grateful that you’re with us. You told me before we went live, but where are you exactly now?
Dr. Tallman: In London, Ontario, which is about two hours west of Toronto by car.
Dr. Kaufmann: Okay.
Dr. Tallman: So yes, we’re right in the middle of three of the great lakes.
Dr. Kaufmann: Beautiful. And do you get to the lakes?
Dr. Tallman: All the time.
Dr. Kaufmann: You’re a lucky man then. And is your environment rural or are you in the suburbs or city?
Dr. Tallman: Yes, London has about 400,000 people. We’re in a suburb.
Dr. Kaufmann: Well, it’s great that you could take the time to join us this morning. It’s really our blessing, our good luck.
Dr. Tallman: It’s my blessing too, believe me.
Dr. Kaufmann: Thank you. We’ve had a little time to get to know one another and I’ve learned about a life of enormous amount of service that constitutes your whole life and your daily life and the demands that come on you. We could discuss forever all kinds of things about the wonderful work you do, and maybe it’ll come up, but the main thing we’re here is to highlight and bring to the public attention your most recent publication: God’s Ecstatic Love. It’s bringing into the present a classical spiritual treatise.
Dr. Tallman: That’s right. Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: And in your case, I get the sense that it’s not done as a matter of arid academic undertaking. It grows out of your life.
Dr. Tallman: Exactly. So I grew up in Canada, in the United Church of Canada. I’m going to give you the whole notes of my spiritual journey because it’s pretty long and convoluted. My parents were heavily involved in the United Church of Canada, which is like the United Church of Christ in the States. And I attended until I was 13, and I was confirmed at 13. And as one United Church minister said, confirmation is like graduation from the church. So I stopped going. I guess I still believed in God. Anyway, a significant event happened when I was about 17 and that is that I had a personal interview with Reverend Billy Graham, a one-to-one meeting with him, and at the end of the meeting, this is just before one of his crusades, and he wouldn’t even use the term crusade anymore. It wouldn’t be politically correct. But anyway, at the end of the meeting, we both stood up and he shook my hand. He looked me in the eye and he said, Bruce, we’re expecting great things from you. I mean, he probably says that to every young man he meets, but this scared the daylights out of me. And I don’t know if you know the story of Jonah in the Bible where Jonah tries to run away from God. So I tried to run away from God. I had started university and I was in the sociology of religion class and I did an essay exposing how Billy Graham crusades emotionally manipulate people. And then I was in an anthropology class and we were studying the theory of evolution and so I kind of fancied myself to be an atheist for a while. And that went on for quite a while. When I graduated, I had two friends who received a grant from the Canadian government to do a study of Aztec Inca and Mayan ruins. And so they were given this grant to do the film work of these ancient religious sites, and they needed somebody who could do the still photography. So they took me along with them. And I should say that before this, I was working at a jail and as a counselor. And there were a lot of drugs floating around, and me and my roommate decided to try out some of these drugs. I mean, nothing heavy. And so when we were traveling all through Mexico and Central America and Latin America, we were constantly visiting these religious sites. The only thing left of these civilizations is the temples. I don’t know if most people know this, but in Mexico, there are pyramids that are bigger than the pyramids in Egypt. There was one that looked like a small mountain and vegetation had grown over it, but on top of it was a Catholic church, but this church was built on top of this pyramid. Anyway, we spent 11 months in Latin America. When we got back to Canada, I was interested in religion and the people who my roommate and I used to do drugs with were getting into heavier drugs, and I knew I didn’t want to go down that road. And I thought there must be some natural way to get high. Well, this was in the 1960s and I was a big fan of the Beatles and the Beatles were a big fan of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. And so I took transcendental meditation with the international meditation society, I learned yoga, I was teaching yoga and meditating. And that was good for me. But then I got into graduate school in psychology and I found I couldn’t get in. I was so busy. I was working full time and I was in graduate school and I was working on a master’s in psychology. And I just found that I couldn’t get into meditating anymore. I was just too uptight all the time and it seemed a lot of the professors were atheists. And so I switched to religious studies because I had met my wife and she was a fundamentalist evangelical Mennonite. And the first Christmas we were together, as a gift, she gave me a Bible. And I thought, what gift is this? I had never read the Bible and her parents didn’t want me to marry her because I wasn’t a born again Christian. So just to impress them, I took a course on the Old Testament and the professor was horrible. He plagiarized everything, I found out later, but as part of the course, you had to open the Bible and read it and do some writing on it. And so I opened it at Proverbs and I was blown away by the wisdom in Proverbs and the Psalms. The Bible ever since has been a daily Bible reading thing for me. Anyway, my wife, Grace and I started going to Protestant churches. We bounced around from one church to another. We moved from Winnipeg to Toronto so I could complete my master’s degree in religious studies. And when we were there, we found a church that was called the Toronto United Mennonite Church. And we thought, well, this will be perfect. It’ll be like a combination of the United Church of Canada and the Mennonite church. And what we found when we got there was that every second person in the congregation had a Ph.D., and God seemed to be an embarrassment. They were so liberal that God was almost never mentioned. The sermons, if you can call them that, were secular sermons about defensive guiding, things like that. But God was almost never mentioned. And so we got up one Sunday morning before going to church and we said to each other, if we hear another secular sermon, we’re leaving this church. And so that morning, the minister started his sermon with the words, “this is just another secular sermon”, and so that was it. So we’re out of that church. We tried the Baptist church, we tried the Nazarene church. We moved back to Winnipeg. We were bouncing around from one church to another and just down the road from where we live was a Catholic church. And so an interesting thing is while we were living in Toronto, Grace went to a book sale and she brought home a book called “Christ Among Us”. She didn’t know that it was a Catholic catechism. And so I started reading this book “Christ Among Us” and I thought, well, I agree with a lot of this theology. It’s very broad and open. So then I popped into this Catholic church and they had a program where you could learn about the Catholic faith and at Easter, you could join the church if you wanted to. So I thought, well, I’ll take this course. And it turned out that this course was using the same book “Christ Among Us”, this catechism. I’d already agreed with most of the teachings and so at Easter, I joined the church. And my wife was kind of shocked. Anyway, to make a long story short, I became Catholic. My priest knew I had a master’s in religious studies and he figured that okay, this guy’s a convert to Catholicism, before that he was a Protestant. He must know everything about the Bible. Well, actually in my religious studies, the only course I took on the Bible was this Old Testament course, and I didn’t know much about the Bible. But fortunately, the Diocese of London had started their own Bible study course called the Journey Bible Study, which became a worldwide course. I think 50,000 people around the world took this course. And so my priest put me in charge of this Journey Bible Study Program and he kept adding more and more stuff. I was already working full-time in social services and I had this almost full-time volunteer job with the church. And I started fantasizing about, wouldn’t it be nice if I had one paid job somewhere working for a diocese? And so I saw this ad where they were looking for a director of the Christian Renewal Center in the diocese of London, London – Ontario, not London – England. And so I applied and they hired me. And so I did adult religious education for 14 years for the diocese. In 1999, I started sensing a calling to be a spiritual director or spiritual counselor. And so I thought, well, I’ll just take a weekend course, a couple of workshops on how to be a spiritual director, and I’ll hang out my shingle and people will flock to me. That’s the naive idea I had about how this was going to work. Of course, it didn’t work that way. And somehow, I ended up in a doctorate ministry program in spiritual direction at the Graduate Theological Foundation, which is on the campus of Notre Dame University. And I managed to get through that.
Dr. Kaufmann: Notre Dame in the US?
Dr. Tallman: Yes. I graduated in 2003 with my doctorate in Ministry and Spiritual Direction. But before that, while I was still working for the diocese, I was building a spiritual direction practice and I had enough directees, people taking spiritual direction, that I figured I could leave my job with the diocese and do this full time. So in 2002, I left my job with the diocese. As of August 12th, I’m going to be starting my 21st year as a spiritual director. I now work mainly with clergy and some lay people. And as I was saying before we started the interview, Frank, I do a lot of marriage preparation and I’ve worked with thousands of couples preparing them for marriage, which is a great privilege and also a lot of fun because they’re in a really good space and it’s just fun to work with them. So that’s been my spiritual journey. I converted to Catholicism in 1983 with rose-colored glasses. Now those rose-colored glasses have been knocked off and I work a lot with Anglican Episcopalians. Well, we call them Anglican clergy. And I sometimes think about becoming an Anglican or maybe going back to my United Church roots, or just not going to church because I feel like sometimes people don’t just suffer for the church, they suffer from the church. Do you know Richard Rohr?
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes.
Dr. Tallman: So I no longer consider myself a Roman Catholic, I consider myself a Rohrman Catholic. Richard Rohrman Catholic. Anyway, I’ve been his disciple for 30 years and he’s what keeps me in the Catholic Church. I’m not in favor of not ordaining women as priests and bishops. I think we should ordain women as priests and bishops. There has been the clergy sex scandals. In Canada, recently in the past year, there’s been the discovery of all these graves at residential schools, and that was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I consider myself a fringe Roman Catholic. I’ve always been interested in Buddhism and after the trip through all these Latin American temples and religious sites, I’m interested in Hinduism and Maharshi. But I’m interested in Buddhism. I do Tai Chi every day and so that’s my spiritual journey.
Dr. Kaufmann: That’s fantastic. I’ll call you Bruce if that’s fine.
Dr. Tallman: Yes, definitely.
Dr. Kaufmann: Thank you. It’s most fascinating and I guess it has to be said, every biography must be genuinely fascinating. But this one, yours, is remarkable to listen to. And as I listened, I wondered. What allowed you to have a personal interview with Billy Graham?
Dr. Tallman: That’s a very good question. My dad was working for this businessman who was running this fairly large insurance company. And my dad’s boss was a Devoted Baptist. He was responsible for organizing Billy Graham to come to Winnipeg and give a crusade. I happened to be reading a book about Billy Graham at the time and my dad said, well, would you like to meet him? And so I said, sure, that’d be amazing. So my dad arranged it through his boss.
Dr. Kaufmann: Beautiful. So you were in your late teens or you were in late high school or something like that.
Dr. Tallman: Yes. 17.
Dr. Kaufmann: Oddly enough or believe it or not, I went to school with his son Franklin. I went to high school with him. And also, the school I went to was a classical evangelical Christian boys boarding school. And it was the preeminent Christian boy’s boarding school where Billy would send his sons. So I went to a number of the crusades and stuff. I think he more or less stands up. His biography holds.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: And God bless him for that. It’s not easy. If you’re religious, you’d say the devil is trying to get you every moment or something like that.
Dr. Tallman: Oh Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: He made it through. And then you said later on you wrote, was it an essay or a term paper or something, of Billy Graham’s, his manipulative schemes and tactics. Did that grow at all out of your encounter eye to eye or is it just because you had done it?
Dr. Tallman: Yes, like I said, I was trying to run away from God. He scared me by saying we’re expecting great things from you. I thought it was too much responsibility. So it grew out of that and we had to write some essays on religion for this sociology of religion class.
Dr. Kaufmann: I see. That was one of the things that needed to be negated, what had happened when he told you that or something like that.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: Got it. Interesting.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: What had you in central America or Mexico? Was it employment? I missed that part of it.
Dr. Tallman: We weren’t employed but we were given a grant by the federal government, I think it was some cultural branch of the government, to do a study of Aztec and Mayan and Inca ruins. And so we were traveling for 11 months. Every day, we were going to these ruins. These ruins were religious ruins. Religion was the center of these cultures for years and that really dawned on me. I remember when we first got to Mexico City and I climbed Teotihuacan. It’s this massive pyramid just outside of Mexico City. And I got up to the top of the pyramid. It was early in the morning. My friends wanted to film things before tourists started arriving. And I’m up there and I’m meditating. I’m in a state of peace and down below my friends, Don and John, are fighting. I could hear them fighting over how to do this film. They fought for the whole 11 months and they were always trying to get me on their side. I was always just trying to stay at arm’s length from this.
Dr. Kaufmann: You thought you’d be safe up on the pinnacle of that pyramid. That sounds wise.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: And you were involved in the filming and editing and narrative creation of it. Or what was your job?
Dr. Tallman: Just the stills. The still pictures.
Dr. Kaufmann: Okay, that’s what you were doing there.
Dr. Tallman: They were doing the movie film. I was doing the still films.
Dr. Kaufmann: Okay.
Dr. Tallman: Still photography, not film. Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: Do the fruits of that expedition exist or did it become a televised documentary?
Dr. Tallman: It was televised on the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is the national TV channel, on Sunday morning at about 7:00 AM. And so I don’t know if anybody ever watched it. I think they just took our film and archived it. I don’t even know if it’s possible to access it.
Dr. Kaufmann: Was it thrilling and exciting or was it great? Even if the hour was odd, was it exciting?
Dr. Tallman: The excitement was just visiting all these religious sites. Dawn, one of my friends, edited the whole thing and prepared it to be shown on TV.
Dr. Kaufmann: Now when you became Catholic, did your wife remain in her root tradition? Did she follow? Did you both become Catholics?
Dr. Tallman: Yes, she was Mennonite and we made an agreement. She was attending the Church of the Nazarene and they had this Bible study program. I was leading this Journey Catholic Bible Study Program. And I said, well, if you agree to take the Catholic Journey Bible Study Program, I will agree to take a Nazarene Bible Study Program with you. So we did that and Grace got to know Catholic teachings and realized that a lot of the stuff she had learned about Catholicism were inaccurate. And so four years later, she joined the Catholic church and finally, we could get our kids baptized because Mennonites don’t baptize children. They baptize adults. So our kids were baptized at the age of eight and five in the Catholic church, which is unusual. Usually, babies are baptized. Anyway, I think Grace just joined because she wanted us all to be able to go to church together and she had learned as a fundamentalist that the man was the head of the household and the wife should do what the man wants. So she joined for not the best reasons, but just so we could all go to church together.
Dr. Kaufmann: It was a little bit a manifesting of that biblical injunction as she understood it in part.
Dr. Tallman: Exactly. So then, we all went to church together until Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope, and that was the final straw for Grace. She left the Catholic Church when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict and she has never gone back. I still go to the Catholic church weekly, but when I joined, there were all kinds of things pointing in that direction that I should join this church, whereas she just joined so we could all go to church together. But because of the sex scandals and everything else, she became more and more disgusted with the Catholic church. So she then tried the Presbyterian Church and then tried the Unity Church, and now she pretty much doesn’t go at all. But she’s a very spiritual person. I mean, very deep, very compassionate. On top of being a crisis mental health counselor, she’s a grief counselor. Back when she was in the Catholic Church, she was a Catholic chaplain for a while at a veteran’s hospital here in London. And so it’s been a convoluted journey for her, but she just believes in compassion now. She believes in God, we pray together, but she’s not impressed with any Christian denomination.
Dr. Kaufmann: That’s very interesting. Unexpectedly, as we chat, it’s kind of the burden on contemporary and conscientious Christians to find the community that holds sufficiently acceptable or something like that. It’s an interesting biographical account of what must be part of the contemporary Christian experience.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes.
Dr. Tallman: If it wasn’t for the religious orders in the Catholic Church, I don’t know if I would still be Catholic. Like the Sisters of St. Joseph here in London are very strong, very progressive, and they’ve kept me in the church. Richard Rohr who’s a Franciscan has kept me in the church. I don’t know if you know Teilhard de Chardin. He was a Jesuit and he helped Catholicism, in particular, deal with the theory of evolution. And so it’s the religious order priests, Thomas Merton, who I’m sure you’re familiar with. These are the guys that have kept me Catholic. Those are the guys I study. There’s also Ilia Delio, who is a Franciscan, and Joan Chittister. These are women religious who also have helped me to stay in the church.
Dr. Kaufmann: Maybe it’s the case that each person that describes some affiliation of theirs, whether it’s political or an art community or even a religion, should not have to have that mean that I fully affirm the whole of the institution. I think that if we just heard or faced each other like that, people wouldn’t have to leave groups that much. All you need is a second sentence, I’m a Catholic, and the hearer should say that tradition and spiritual path helped that person find a place to do what he needed to do to become a good human being. That’s what that sentence means. And then the next thing should just be curiosity. What about it? What about the institution still sounds good or still affirms? I wish we were more conversational rather than a simple utterance, meaning I represent and defend everything you may have ever heard or felt about, this group or that. And especially politically these days, that’s a curse on us, that we are not allowed a second sentence. Everyone just paints you whole with a single identifier. It’s interesting because when we call ourselves something, it means that a lot of our lives had a place, had some words of guiding us through the uncertainty of trying to get through life properly. That’s what it should say or mean, and you should always have some gratitude for its help along the way. And that’s why in ideal situations, it would be harder to leave long-standing traditions or birth traditions or something like that.
Dr. Tallman: Yes. Culture has a tremendous effect on people. And also, I’m interested in Islam. I’m sure if you grew up in an Islamic culture, you’re probably going to end up being a Muslim because culture just has its shapes and there are many different varieties of Islam. I particularly like Sufism because the Sufis are the ecstatic lovers of God. That’s why I’m attracted to Sufism. I like Rumi and so on because they’re ecstatic lovers of God.
Dr. Kaufmann: It’s very true. I’ve done a lot of interfaith work over the course of my career and life, and there’s a subsection or branch or wing of interfaith pursuits that’s purely driven by the mystics.
Dr. Kaufmann: They naturally know each other well.
Dr. Tallman: Yes, and there’s probably a lot more similarity between a Muslim mystic, Buddhist mystic, and a Hindu mystic than there is between a Christian and a totally secular atheist. As one of my friends said, maybe atheists just worship God under a different name, maybe the name of justice, or humanitarianism.
Dr. Kaufmann: Well said. I believe that also.
Dr. Tallman: As Richard Rohr said, he wrote a book called The Universal Christ, I believe the universal Christ is everywhere. And you can find the universal Christ in every other major religion or in people that have no religion at all. As long as they’re being loving, kind, wise people, then God is in them because God is love and God is wisdom and God is peace and joy and all those wonderful qualities.
Dr. Kaufmann: It’s what might be called a cosmic incarnationalism or something like that, and it allows Christ to be embraceable by traditions that are not particularly Christian per se. It’s very good.
Dr. Tallman: If God is love, peace, joy, wisdom, wherever you find love, peace, joy, wisdom, you’re finding God. And if an atheist is a loving, wise, person, God is in that person whether they acknowledge there’s a God or not. I think the only difference between atheists and believers is that believers are walking towards the light without any blindfold on, whereas atheists maybe are walking towards the light but are wearing a blindfold. They don’t see God and everything. The goal of human life is to be divinized, to be full of God, in my opinion. It’s not just to be a good person. It’s much more than that. It’s to be a Saint.
Dr. Kaufmann: Exactly.
Dr. Tallman: And there are saints in every major world religion. These are holy men and women. I would say they’re participating in the Universal Christ, whether they acknowledge Christ as God or not. So I wrote my book, God’s ecstatic love, partly because I think there are people with a very narrow theology, it’s like they’re wearing blinders, but they’re very passionate about their narrow theology. And then other people have a very broad theology. It’s almost so broad, it’s almost like they don’t know what they believe and they’re not passionate at all. And Jesus said, the great commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Strength means will. So love God with all your passion, intellect, soul, and will. So I think I’m becoming more and more convinced that the world’s biggest problem isn’t climate change. What is needed is adult religious education where you’re open to learning from other religious traditions, you’re not anti-science, you’re not anti-intellectual, you’re spiritual, you’re rooted in whatever tradition you need to be rooted in. The Dalai Lama said if you dig 10 shallow wells, you’ll never hit the underground river. So get centered in one tradition, go deep into it, and you will come to the underground stream which connects all the other wells, all the other religions. I think the basis of interreligious dialogue is to start with the premise that God is mystery and God is ineffable. As St Augustine said, if you think you understand God, it’s not God you understand. So let’s start off with a little humility. It’s not like we have God in our back pocket. We know all about God and other people don’t. We all should start with mystery, God is a mystery, and be humble and open to learning from other traditions. And you can enrich your tradition by learning from other traditions.
Dr. Kaufmann: Absolutely.
Dr. Tallman: You don’t have to be enemies.
Dr. Kaufmann: Right. It always enriches your tradition the more you learn from others. It’s a beautiful paradox. It’s one of the sweetest of all paradoxes really.
Dr. Tallman: Yes, I agree.
Dr. Kaufmann: His holiness, the Dalai Lama, one of the beauties of him is how close to one he is between what he says and how he lives.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: It’s an enormously, huge accomplishment or inheritance on his part. And I was just going to say I hadn’t heard the quote of a dozen shallow wells. Because I know this story of a disgruntled Catholic coming to him and seeking to enter into the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. And the Dalai Lama absolutely refused him and asked him where he was from and sent him back to go continue in his tradition. Insufficient or shallow religious leaders would excitedly score the big plum, we got this guy and he came to the true faith, but the Dalai Lama just sent him right back home, which is so faithful to these aphorisms, like you just described about the shallow wells. He didn’t want to harm the chances of that particular fellow even though he knew his traditions are perfect for bringing people to their heights if they practiced right. It’s a nice story.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: How long is God’s Ecstatic Love and what’s the publisher again, please?
Dr. Tallman: The publisher is Apocryphile Press. It’s an independent press so it’s not a self-published book. But one of my previous books, Archetypes for Spiritual Direction, was Paula’s Press. And what I learned from the big presses is that you do 90% of the work and get 10% of the royalties. They do 10% of the work and get 90% of the royalty. So I wanted to go with an independent press and my previous book to this one, Finding Seekers, I also published with Apocryphile Press, and it’s a best seller in the field of spiritual direction. I think probably, maybe, a third to a half of all the spiritual directors in the world have read that book. But this new book, this is the cover. I don’t know if you can read that.
Dr. Kaufmann: It looks good on screen. Beautiful.
Dr. Tallman: The subtitle is Transform your life with a Spiritual Masterpiece. Now, the spiritual masterpiece is not my book. I think I wrote a good book, but the spiritual masterpiece is St. Francis de Sales’ treatise on the love of God. And so I’m doing a 21st-century commentary on it because it was published in 1616. In 2016, I happened to pick it up and start reading it and I thought, wow, somebody should do a 21st-century update on this book because there’s been a lot that’s happened. So exactly 400 years after it was published, I picked it up and I thought, well, in the past 400 years, there’s been a lot of changes like modern science and biblical criticism. We’ve had the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Russian Revolution, two world wars, the internet, there’s the new atheist, there are people now, a lot of people who are spiritual but not religious, there’s stuff that Francis de Sales couldn’t even imagine. So I thought this book needed an intellectual updating. But it’s also a devotional book and so it’s meant to appeal to people’s hearts and their minds. And pretty much everybody who reads it says that they feel like it increased their love of God and deepened their understanding of God and so on. My goal is to help people draw closer to God. That’s the reason I wrote it.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes, it’s very good.
Dr. Tallman: It’s considered to be one of the spiritual classics in Christianity, but on the level of the Cloud of the Unknown and the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis and the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius, nobody has really heard about the Treatise on the Love of God. So I thought that a 21st-century update would be good.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes, indeed.
Dr. Tallman: That’s why I wrote it.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes, I thank you for sending it to me and I really enjoyed reading it, and the spirit of it as well. Do you want to say a quick word about de Sales, just for the casual hero? Everyone can go look him up, but just tell us.
Dr. Tallman: So he was a Bishop in Switzerland and the Pope sent him there because Switzerland had become very Calvinist. John Calvin converted a lot of people from the Catholic Church to Calvinism. And so the pope sent Francis de Sales to Switzerland to try and win people back. And he did that mainly through his writing. He wrote a book called Introduction to the Devout Life. That was his first major work. And that book still sells today after hundreds of years. How many books do that? But it was a very gentle sweet book and it did bring people back to the faith. He was a Bishop, a mystic, and a saint, and eventually, came to be considered a doctor of the church, a doctor which means that he’s very sound theologically.
Dr. Kaufmann: Bruce, who was his Pope and where was he immediately before being sent to Geneva in response to a crisis situation?
Dr. Tallman: He was French. He and St Jane de Chantel formed a couple of religious orders. One of them was the precursor to the Sisters of St. Joseph. So he was in France and the Pope, I’m not sure which Pope it was actually, it’s slipping my mind right now, but I know that’s why he was sent to Switzerland. Because he was gaining a big following in France and it was part of the counter-reformation. The reformation was Protestantism breaking away from Catholicism, and then the counter-reformation was trying to win Catholics back to the church.
Dr. Kaufmann: But also, to improve one’s self for why that happened in the first place, to fix in part what the whole “rebellion” was about in a certain way. Was it more just to bring them back, do you think?
Dr. Tallman: I think the reformation probably was necessary because the Catholic church had maybe become too rigid and too law-governed. And Martin Luther was a Catholic monk. I think it’s important to remember that. He wanted to reform the church, he didn’t want to start a new church originally. But there was a lot of politics involved with Martin Luther and it just ended up being a breakaway movement. I love Protestantism. I think it’s very creative and I have Protestant directees, clergy that I work with, and my book was edited by seven clergypersons from six different denominations. Some of them were my directees, some were just personal friends. But when I wrote the book, I thought, well, I should get some theology from different traditions. And so I hope the book can appeal to any Christian or anybody wants to draw closer to God.
Dr. Kaufmann: I think it does do that. It doesn’t seem like it’s a denominational piece by any means so you’ve accomplished that. In a certain way, it would be called the Quadri Centennial or something like that, a celebration of this great spiritual work on its 400th anniversary. When did the book come out finally?
Dr. Tallman: It was 1616 when it was published.
Dr. Kaufmann: And yours?
Dr. Tallman: Well, I started working on it in 2016. My book was published in 2021.
Dr. Kaufmann: Okay, good.
Dr. Tallman: It took five years because my editors, these seven clergypersons, kept giving me feedback and I kept having to revamp the book. I think I revamped it about somewhere between seven and nine times.
Dr. Kaufmann: You asked for it, right?
Dr. Tallman: Yes, right. Be careful what you ask for. I think it is very ecumenical and I’ve had people say anybody on the right or the left could read this book and find value in it. I followed the same format as Francis de Sales’ treatise. His treatise is actually 12 mini books. They’re actually chapters but he calls them Book One, Book Two up to Twelve. So I followed the same format and the same chapter titles. 20% of the book is quotes from the original treatise but I used a translation that was before 1923. Anything before 1923 is in the public domain and you can quote as much as you want, and there are no copyright issues with that. After 1923, you’re running into copyright issues. So 20% of my book is quotes from the original treatise and it’s packed full of scripture quotes and my reflections based on all these different people I’ve studied. Richard Rohr comes into it a lot, The Universal Christ and so on. But yes, it’s been a real labor of love. It’s been a challenge.
Dr. Kaufmann: Both congratulations and thank you for that. You really endeavored to do something for many people in creating this book, and bore the weight of the demands and the pressure to do it. So people should be grateful to you and also should get it and read it because it isn’t just merely a book on religion or a past religious figure. It’s guidance for living day to day in our time, and for both small and big issues as well, which you bring into the book; the political challenges of the day.
Dr. Tallman: I didn’t want it to be so heavenly found that it was not earthly good so I include a lot about social justice in there. I mean the great commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then Christ said the second commandment is like the first, and that is love your neighbors as yourself. Well, you can’t love your neighbors as yourself if you’re not interested in social justice. And as the great Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, said, social justice is the proper distribution of love throughout society. So the book has a lot about social justice and loving your neighbor as well as loving God. And I hope it helps with church renewal because, I don’t know how it is in the States, but in Canada, a lot of churches are losing members. And particularly after the pandemic, a lot of people have decided I didn’t go to church during the pandemic, I don’t need to go to church anymore.
Dr. Kaufmann: I survived.
Dr. Tallman: I think if we lose churches, it’s going to be a great hollow point in our society. The culture has a Christian background and if we lose that, I don’t know what we’re going to replace with it.
Dr. Kaufmann: I agree with you. I think I think life will become more brutish.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: And also, the citizens will become more vulnerable without the churches. I think these are two real dangers and I’m really grateful that you’ve sought to awaken a core point, the core of it all, which is the love of God.
Yes, that is the core. As Jesus said, the great commandments are pretty much the essence of the faith. The law and the prophets hang upon these great commandments of loving God and loving others. Everything else is commentary by comparison.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes, that’s right.
Dr. Tallman: So this is what I think is 21st-century commentary on the greatest work of one of the greatest saints, Francis de Sales, on the greatest topic, How to love God. That’s what it’s about. So I appreciate you taking me on here, Frank. The core of Christianity, which is the historical background for our whole culture, is loving God. Christ said that the law and the prophets hang up upon these great commandments of loving God and loving others as you love yourself and everything else, in my opinion, is commentary. So we’ve got to go back to the basics here. Part of the reason I wrote the book is I don’t think I know too many people who are loving God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. I know very few people who I think would be classified as modern-day saints. So I think we need to discover the mystical tradition of Christianity, which as I said before, can relate to the mystical tradition of any other tradition if we start with the premise that God is ineffable and God is the great mystery, and let’s be humble here and realize we don’t know everything about God. Maybe these other people know a lot about God too.
Dr. Kaufmann: That’s very right. We have a couple of minutes. When you mentioned mystery, I was thinking you can know a lot about anything and preserve the mystery. So the statement, God is a mystery, shouldn’t function as don’t ask me, just believe me. It’s not fideism. So in a certain way, I’ve been married 50 years and I say, my wife is a mystery. You say, what, you don’t know anything about her? I know a lot.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: But she’s infinitely to be discovered. I think that’s what you call the ineffable.
Dr. Tallman: Exactly. The great thing about God being ineffable is there’s always more to learn.
Dr. Kaufmann: Even about our path, we can learn a lot. We can develop an intimate relationship and be quite familiar and yet, not know some of the things.
Dr. Tallman: Yes, that’s right. So Richard Rohr talks about always having a beginner’s mind.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes, that’s a beautiful phrase.
Dr. Tallman: So you’re open to awe and wonder and you’re a lifelong learner.
Dr. Kaufmann: Yes, I guess you might draw that from Jesus who said unless we are like children, that beginner’s mind.
Dr. Tallman: I think this is a commentary on the greatest work of one of the greatest saints, Francis de Sales, on the greatest topic, How to love God. That’s what the book is about and I hope it helps people and maybe brings about church renewal because in North America and Europe, I think Christianity has become toxic. In some cases, people have a very narrow theology so they may love God with all their heart, but they’re not using their minds a lot. And then other people are loving God with all their mind, but their heart isn’t really engaged and they don’t have any passion. So my goal was that this would help people have a passionate and intellectual faith, which is what adult religious education is all about. And like I said, I think that’s almost the greater need than climate change. We need to overcome fundamentalism is what I’m saying and adult religious education is a way to overcome fundamentalism.
Dr. Kaufmann: Right. People have to feel free to have intellectual courage even while embracing a profound and deep commitment to a life of faith. I think your book has a lot of that desire and purpose in it and it accomplishes it too. I think combining your passion with the treatise, that is as you say, a timeless classic.
Dr. Tallman: Yes.
Dr. Kaufmann: Well, this has been a very edifying conversation for me personally, and I’m sure will be for our listeners as well. Bruce, I hope we can talk again soon and wish a lot of blessings to your life and your work going forward.
Dr. Tallman: Thank you, Frank. I think you’re doing wonderful work.
Dr. Kaufmann: Thank you so much.
Dr. Tallman: You’re a real blessing and I just appreciate your friendly approach to these conversations. Because I’ve been on other podcasts where you feel like you’re under attack. That’s not your style at all. You have made me feel at home and welcome and I appreciate your approach and what you’re trying to do to help different traditions and understand each other. That’s so important.
Dr. Kaufmann: Thank you so much. Thanks.
Dr. Tallman: Thank you.
Dr. Kaufmann: I look forward to seeing you again sometime soon.
Dr. Tallman: Okay.
Dr. Kaufmann: Bye, thank you.
Dr. Tallman: Bye for now.
Scholars Interview with Dr. Bruce Tallman, Author of God’s Ecstatic Love — No Comments
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