Cover Image: Streams in the Wasteland

Streams in the Wasteland

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Member Reviews

“God does not save us from people but for people and into a people—the church. People are the entire point of the work of God in Christ, and if our spirituality is going to be deserving of the name Christian, then it will and must be oriented to people.”

Streams in the Wilderness is a beautiful walk through the lives and sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and the radical nature of their embodied faith. Andrew Ardnt has such a pastoral voice and a heart oriented towards people and community. I love the gentle way he writes without shying away from the countercultural truth of Jesus’ way.
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"If there is any hope, therefore, for the renewal of our culture, the Desert Fathers and Mothers remind us that it will not come through a church bent on protecting itself from the world. Nor will it come from a moralizing church spouting judgment on the world--and least of all from a church trying to 'take back' the culture from the world. All of these are but manifestations of the blockade and chief contributors to the desolation of our age." (from an uncorrected advance copy)

Arndt is a preacher who is trying to make the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers relevant for our time, their radical turning to simplicity, silence, and non-possessiveness in an age when the formerly threatened Church was finally being made secure by its alliance with Empire. Being a Christian is not about "protecting oneself from the world" at all, nor about gaining power and security, but about entering into a process of life as self-giving, constant offering, prayer. It's a good message to keep in mind during our own apocalyptic times.

The excerpts and reflections from ancient texts were good for pondering and reflection, and Arndt's commentary was homely, folksy and down-to-earth -- sometimes too much so for me. I think I'd rather just read the source material. But I did appreciate this introduction to a subject I hadn't known much about. 

There were repeated fulminatings against people who are looking for self-realization or to do their own thing, and exhortations to return to the church, which always knows best. I think this is a bit outdated. Humans have evolved, and we do need to individuate and become ourselves, beyond all institutions and rules. Even divorce may be necessary sometimes, gasp! Of course, we do need to return to community, to find our way back to healthy relationships. But Arndt's attitude to the "self-seekers" was too patronizing and one-sided, I think. He admits he's always been part of a church and found his deepest life meaning there, and it seems hard for him to imagine another way.
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Streams in the Wasteland was an excellent introduction to the lives and teachings of the Desert fathers and mothers. Arndt pairs the wisdom of the Desert fathers with scripture and compassion to create a biblically sound book of teachings for the modern-day Christian. His application through examples of his friends, family, and congregants provide concrete examples of what it looks like to live in this way. I appreciated his political neutrality with an emphasis on the empathy and love needed on either side of an issue. This book was a useful start in my learning about the Desert fathers and what it means to understand and apply those teachings.

However, I would advise more care be taken in the example of chronic fatigue syndrome and the implied correlation to simply fatigue, uncontentedness or accidie. Though I believe Arndt isn't invalidating the disease, due to it's placement in the monologue by mono, people with M.E/C.F.S have dealt with disbelief and stigma from their doctors and communities. I have M.E/C.F.S and would love to be able to work, or attend university, or serve my church in the way I used to. However, it is disabling and I am often housebound. I've had to reassess how I serve others and how/what practices I enact in my faith (in-person church, small group, etc. replaced with online or people coming to my house). It's also the reason I've decided to look into the teachings of the Desert fathers. I don't believe the author meant to do this, but an implication that the response to CFS is to work, and that the cause might just be accidie can be medically dangerous. 

I really appreciated this book and highly recommend it. The 3 parts, Into the Desert with God, Into the Desert with Others, and Into the Desert with the World, emphasize that the teachings of the Desert fathers and mothers were not about isolation and individual relationship with God, though that does have a time and a place, but require spiritual community and interaction and service to the larger world. This book is a sound introduction, and the references provide opportunities for further study.
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Andrew Arndt's Streams in the Wasteland is an excellent, if not entirely groundbreaking, reflection on the ways that the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers might have present significance to us in the present. Arndt does the not insignificant task of introducing his presumably mostly protestant audience with figures that aren't widely talked about of seminary or deeply Catholic or Orthodox corridors. He immediately makes them relevant to the daily lives of his audience though and through numerous citations of the Desert Writings he deftly weaves ancient wisdom into the context of our present situations. 

Arndt's book is also wholly pastoral in a way that many recent Christian theology/spirituality texts haven't been.  It' seems that every other book I read in the genre recently has either picked one side or another of the political spectrum. However, Arndt does not make that mistake and instead walks the very pastoral line of trying to focus on the root causes of our conflicts, especially as we emerge into a hopefully post-Covid world. Arndt's book ultimately is much like it's title in this regard; it's a stream in the desert of the divisiveness we see around us daily and is a call to not engage in conflict but instead in building community. 

I think this book is a less theologically heavy version of Belden Lane's Solace of Fierce Landscapes and should be a popular one upon it's publication later this year. I will strongly recommend it to members of my community and church. Thank you!
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