A Book Review: Worship as Community Drama, by Pierre Hegy

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Hegy, Pierrre. (2019) Worship as Community Drama. Eugene OR, USA: Wipf and Stock.

In this book, Pierre Hegy, a retired professor of Sociology at Adelphi University on Long Island, New York, USA, does a comparative case study of how worship comes to life in different Christian communities. The communities chosen are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but a Pentecostal church with many marks of being or becoming a ‘megachurch’, is provided for purposes of contrast. While he refers to a number of different theories and models for worship and faith development, which can sometimes be confusing, his main referent is an adaptation of the social interaction model of sociologist Randall Collins as developed in his work Interaction Ritual Chains.

While it is good to have a model to refer to for a comparative case study, I find his adaptation of Collins’ model problematic. In a description of Collins’ model (Wellman et al 2014: 652f.), there are four conditions in ritual interaction which can help to generate four outcomes. They are indicated in the table below:

Conditions in Ritual InteractionOutcomes from Ritual Interaction
– The assembly of participants
– Barriers excluding outsiders
– A mutual focus of attention

– A shared emotional mood


– Emotional energy
– Membership feelings/group
solidarity
– Symbols that represent the group
– Feelings of morality (idenitfying
with the group and its symbols,
being willing to defend them against
outsiders

Hegy adapts the model using the following designations, as presented by him (Hegy 2019: 17-22)

Processes of Ritual Action for
a Church Worship Context:
Description
Interaction Outcomes for a
Church Worship Context:
Analysis
– Basic information
– Description of the ritual
process
– Attitudes and emotions
– Closeness to others and to God
– What we learned: Leadership
and Growth
– Patterns of Relationship
– Moral Consensus
– Spiritual and Emotional
Energy

I have found it difficult, in spite of Hegy’s explanations, to find the parallels between Collins’ original model and Hegy’s adaptation. For one thing, I am unable to see how ‘basic information’, from Hegy’s ‘description’ corresponds to ‘the assembly of participants’ in Collins’ original conditions. For another, I do not see how one can measure an extremely subjective variable like ‘closeness to God’ in any meaningful way from observation. This is a basic error in methodical design, even from a qualitative viewpoint, and needs to be made more precise. As if these were not enough, I am confused about what the first element of Hegy’s analysis, ‘What We Learned: Leadership and Growth’, corresponds to in Collins’ original list of outcomes. The result? I believe it becomes reasonably clear throughout the remainder of this volume. Hegy’s model is, in and of itself, insufficient to provide adequate description and analysis of the dynamics of interaction in the churches and worship contexts about which he writes.

There is, without a doubt, a fascinating array of contexts: TV masses on Catholic television networks; pontifical masses from St Peter’s Basilica, and celebrations from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; four differing Catholic parishes in the US, of which one relies on lay leadership, and another has transformed its worship life by adapting and using elements from the African-American worship experience; and the archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Republic of Congo, which alone has an official, Vatican-approved, adaptation of the Roman Missal to incorporate African traditions, popularly known as the ‘Zairean Rite’. Hegy has certainly gathered sufficient ‘raw data’ to clearly describe elements of the worship experiences in these contexts, and makes some cogent comments concerning emerging issues in these contexts. However, when he needs to supplement his model with the survey work of the Willow Creek church; the dimensions of religiosity identified by Stark and Glock in their work American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment; James Fowler’s work in Stages of Faith; and finally, the contrast between the work of Aidan Kavanagh and the pronouncements of Pope Pius XII, it is clear that Hegy’s adaptation of Collins’ Interaction Ritual Model is clearly insufficient for the kind of analysis he believes he is doing.

In fact, the title of the book itself set up certain expectations in my mind of what it was going to be about, which were unfulfilled. Worship as Community Drama suggested that this would be a discussion of how the worship of a community could be an expression of drama, both the drama of Gospel played out in Word and Table, and of how the community’s situation in life (sitz-im-Leben) both could inform and be transformed by the liturgical experience. There are hints of this analysis in Hegy’s work, but only hints.

This is a pity, because it is obvious to me that he has gathered an impressive amount of data which would provide for good scholarly work. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if Pierre Hegy had taken a grounded theory approach (akin to Glaser and Strauss 1967) to his data. He could look at common patterns in his data which would lead to the emergence of categories, first substantive and then formal; he has a sufficient range of communities to satisfy the need for site spreading and to engage in constant comparison; following the development of a theory, the literature relating to ritual interaction, liturgical theology, and faith development would have informed his work, and he would know where his theoretical model would fit in sociology and theology.

As it is, this is a book which has interesting descriptions of the dimensions of Christian worship in different contexts, but is hampered by an ill-fitting theoretical model which itself is an inadequate adaptation of another theoretical model, and which needs to be supplemented by other models, because it is simply not up to the task for which the author wants to use it. As I’ve suggested, perhaps a researcher could start with the gathering of data and develop a theory from there. Now that would be interesting!

Works Cited

Glaser, B and Strauss, A (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory. New Brunswick NJ, USA/London: AldineTransaction.

Hegy, Pierrre. (2019) Worship as Community Drama. Eugene OR, USA: Wipf and Stock.

Wellman, J K, Jr., Corcoran, K E, and Stockly-Meyerdirk, K (2014, September). “God Is Like a Drug. . .”: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains
in American Megachurches. Sociological Forum 29/3: 650-672.

A Review: We Love You, But You’re Going to Hell: Christians and Homosexuality, Agree, Disagree, Take a Look, by Dr Kim O’Reilly (Elm Hill, 2018)

Why is this book worth reading? Because LGBT+ communities in the church is still a live issue –

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

When I read books like this one, I begin to think, ‘Do we need the same old message trotted out again?’

If I take even a cursory glance at the Amazon page, I can buy or access numerous books on the place of sexual and gender minority (SGM) persons within religion. Older books are bring updated, newer books are being added, new information concerning archaeological research is being shared – and some books are still proclaiming the old message that SGM persons, especially gay men, cannot be in the Church and ‘cling to their sinful desires’ (I still wonder why there is this disproportionate emphasis on gay men).

That is why books like this one still need to be published. This is still very much a ‘live issue’. With every story of a pastor or minister who has had a change of heart, or even a change of gender; with every televangelist who speaks a word of condemnation, however lovingly they may coach it; with every congregation, or denomination, which goes through painful conversations, arguments, even a schism – I am reminded, as we all should be, that sexuality in the church is still a ‘live issue’.

Indeed, it will NEVER be a dead issue. Just as we are reminded in the Torah and the Gospel that there will always be poverty and need (Deut. 15:11; Mark 14:7), there will always be minorities, including sexual and gender minorities. The existence of minorities is a litmus test for us who are in the cultural and religious majority. Do societies and churches have economic room for the poor, so they have enough to live – not the same as everyone else, but enough? Do we have room for people of differing ethnic and racial groups, so that everyone will have equality of opportunity and treatment, and that people’s unique backgrounds can be celebrated? And, in the case of SGM persons, do our societies and churches have room to allow everyone to express their unique identity, and to love whom they wish in a mature, honest way? Even now, there is lots of evidence that we fail miserably at this.

That is why we still need books like Dr O’Reilly’s. Even if we already know the arguments from scripture and sexuality studies which she brings out, even if we can make the legal arguments she makes concerning marriage equality, we have to remember that people of a different persuasion are still out there, some of whom wish to reverse the rights people have fought so hard to have recognized in law. Conversations still need to be had, and if Dr O’Reilly’s book can help those conversations to happen, then I say ‘Hallelujah’.

Nonetheless, there is one area Dr O’Reilly has not included which I believe merits inclusion. She would have done well to address the fact of the many nations in the world – my native nation of Canada included – which have enshrined marriage equality into law. None of these nations have, to date, fallen apart. There are no marauding armies of homosexual zealots seeking to ‘convert’ unsuspecting youths to take up a homosexual lifestyle. Any problems these nations experience have nothing to do with enshrining marriage equality. As it is, this book is very US-centered, and she may have intended it to be this way. However, taking a more international view would have strengthened her presentation.

This book is an important contribution to an ongoing debate which is not going away anytime soon. Other books will be published, re-iterating much of the same evidence, and hopefully adding new evidence and stories from people’s experiences. As long as this issue is not resolved, these and other publications like it will be needed.

A Review: Power of the Creed, by Mark Nauroth (Worldview Guys Media, 2019)

In this work, Mark Nauroth, co-founder of an enterprise called the ‘Worldview Guys Network’, writes an examination of the Nicene Creed which is intended to convince Christians of the inherent value of the Nicene Creed, the first Christian statement of faith hammered out after Christianity emerged from the persecution of the Roman Empire, and began its journey to becoming the official religion of the Empire.

It is clear he is reaching out to an audience which populates the evangelical churches of the United States because of his references to the ‘culture wars’ in which much of the evangelical church in the US has been engaged. He laments the fact that, in spite of the battles which American evangelicals seem to be winning (elections, Supreme Court appointments, etc), it does not seem that Americans are impressed with the seeming lack of Christian-ness they see in the evangelical movement. He basically admits as much in his introduction: ‘We win elections and court battles but lose souls in our neighborhoods because our lives don’t match up to what we say we believe or, more truthfully, to the Lord we claim to follow.’ (p.6 – I wonder how Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr would react to this?)

His solution to this is to go back to the Nicene Creed (in reality, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed; the first draft from the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 was amended by the Council of Constantinople in AD 381) as the touchstone by which all Christians need to measure their faith. Through the use of illustrations and personal anecdotes, which supplement the copious Scriptural references and quotes from the theologians of the early Christian movement (the early ‘Church Fathers’, with a few mothers referred to, as well), he demonstrates how the doctrines named in the Nicene Creed are a bedrock which can help the Christian grow in the life of faith, growing in the way of the Christ.

Some of the very things which indicate Mark Nauroth’s evangelical background are also the things which will ensure this book will be attractive or even relevant only to those of an evangelical persuasion. The masculine-dominant language in reference to the Deity will be an instant turn-off to those of feminist or progressive orientations. It is also clear that he has a conservative approach to Scripture. He appears to accept the Pauline authorship of letters like Ephesians and Colossians, and even of the Pastoral Letters. He also appears to treat the Gospel accounts as historically accurate recordings of the life of Jesus. These things will play well for some audiences but will be sour notes for others.

He avoids addressing the one aspect of this creed which is a point of separation between the Western and Eastern churches – the use of the filioque (‘and the Son’) to describe how the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds’ to the world via the Godhead, although this is not necessarily relevant to the purpose of his book. More interesting, though, is the dearth of references to theological work on the Trinity from any period except the patristic period. In the process, he has ignored a wealth of academic work in this area, such as Jürgen Moltmann (to name only one). To leave out the work of historical Christian scholarship in this area is a significant weakness, if not an act of deliberate exclusion. To conduct an examination of the Trinity using only the Bible and the early Fathers/Mothers of the church is to exclude a wealth of theological work from the length of Christian history, furthering the conservative premise that you only need the Bible and the early Fathers/Mothers to interpret the Creed. This is in danger of becoming another kind of one-dimensional fundamentalism which I don’t think is helpful in the 21st century world where we find ourselves.

This work will appeal to those in American evangelical circles and may provide an opportunity for evangelical Americans to engage with the larger church catholic (universal, not just Roman) in jointly discerning what it means to be Christian in this age. However, the mode of examination it uses is tailored for an evangelical audience, which is a style not easily embraced by mainline churches. Let us hope that this work and others like it will encourage evangelical Americans to take more seriously the ideal to follow the Christ whom they say they follow.

Stone Throwing? Don’t Even Think About It!

It has started.

One person makes an unfortunate decision to go out when they’re sick (it’s not clear if they knew they had symptoms of an illness), and they go to a few nightclubs. People have been exposed to Sars-COV-2, and according to the official statistics from the Korea Centers for Disease Control (KCDC), there have been 33 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far. It’s a localized outbreak, which is a cause for concern, since some of the steps taken toward relaxation of quarantine guidelines will likely have to be walked back.

This could have happened in any number of gathering places, and similar scenarios have occurred in other spots.

Does it really matter that these cases are associated with clubs found in the gay club district of Itaewon?

To some people, it does.

The conservative Christian daily newspaper, the Kookmin Ilbo (People’s Daily), has apparently made this event a major part of their news coverage, accentuating the names and locations of the clubs, and seemingly attempting publishing as much information about the source patient as possible, even to the point of naming the company this person worked for[1].

I can just imagine the fodder this will provide for some Sunday sermons this morning.

Well, since a media mouthpiece for the CCFs[2] in South Korea wants to play up this outbreak, and in the interest of accuracy, let us remind ourselves of where other significant localized outbreaks have occurred – and I’m not even talking about the role of Sincheonji in all this[3].

Let’s have a look in the records of the KCDC[4], shall we?

  • Onchun Presbyterian Church, Busan, where a localized outbreak began on February 24th – 39 cases have been officially linked here;
  • The Archdiocese of Daegu, the Roman Catholic Church in Korea, which sponsored a pilgrimage to Israel – 49 cases have been linked to this trip;
  • Myeongnyun Church, Seoul, to which at least 3 cases have been traced;
  • Geochang Church, which has had at least 10 cases;
  • Saengmyeongsaem Church, Suwon, which was first highlighted on March 4th – at least 10 cases;
  • Haeungae-gu Catholic Church, Busan, first highlighted on March 7th – at least 4 cases traced here;
  • Dong-an Church, Seoul, where an outbreak was first highlighted on March 9th – at least 20 cases;
  • Grace River Church, Seongnam, identified on March 9th – at least 72 cases from here;
  • Sangmyeongsu Church, Bucheon, identified on March 18th – 44 cases identified
  • Manmin Central Church, Seoul, first identified on March 25th – at least 43 cases traced here

That means about 2.7% of the total COVID-19 cases in Korea are non-Sincheonji church-related.

In spite of this, some churches just haven’t been taking it seriously, to the point of a church pastor being detained and his church fined for defying government orders and holding church services. Apparently, this pastor is also head of a group agitating for the resignation of President Moon Jae-In[5].

There have also been 14 cases of COVID-19 linked to a wine bar in Pyeongtaek. Do we now blame it all on ‘the demon alcohol’?

There were over 100 cases connected with a gym in Cheonan. Have people been railing over the evils of exercise?

No one’s sinless here, and no person, or church, or other group, has any reason to be smug. Concentrate on people’s health, by all means, but there is no justification to start a string of stories that suggest being gay is an automatic link to COVID-19, any more than being Christian, or being athletically active, or enjoying a glass of wine. That is simply walking down the lane of false news and conspiracy theories.

Church, you have no grounds for being accusatory or self-righteous. Put down the stones. Better yet, don’t even think about picking them up.

[1] If you find their homepage( http://www.kmib.co.kr/news/index.asp) and use Google Translate, you can get a good idea of what their coverage is like.

[2] Conservative Christian Forces

[3] I’ve already referred to this in a video blog (Bartlett, C (2020, April) ‘Even Gwynne Dyer Get Its Wrong Sometimes’. In On The Outside Looking In. Available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mC6Ubg3TWE&t=124s)

[4] Just go to their Press Release web page (https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030), the information’s there, just do a little reading.

 

[5] Lee, J G (2020, March 31) S. Korean churches continue to act as agents for COVID-19 transmission clusters. In HANKYOREH, English edition [online]. Retrieved 10 May 2020 from http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/935093.html.

Betrayal?

The jockeying for the moral high ground has started in Korea all over again – as if it ever stopped.

In the aftermath of the convincing electoral victory by the Democratic Party (DP) in the National Assembly elections in April[1], the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), one of South Korea’s main non-Catholic ecumenical groups, called on the incoming National Assembly to pass an anti-discrimination law which includes sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a standing policy of the NCCK, in line with its approach to sexual and gender minority persons in recent history[2]. There have been several attempts to pass such an ordinance in the National Assembly and assorted municipalities. While some municipal laws have passed successfully, others have not, or have been rescinded after they have been passed, and attempts at the National Assembly level have repeatedly been stymied by conservative politicians, often working in concert with conservative Christian forces (CCFs).

It’s fair to say that the most frustrating aspect of this ongoing conflict has been the confusing stances taken by Moon Jae-In, the president elected after the removal of Park Geun-hye from office. He was known for his work as a human rights lawyer before entering politics. However, he is also Roman Catholic, and when pushed by an opposing candidate in the 2017 presidential debate, he had to declare (in my view, almost sheepishly) his opposition to homosexuality[3]. He has had to, at times, seek the support of CCFs in Korea on various issues. Last autumn, he tried to tread a fine line with reigious leaders when he said that enacting marriage equality into law could not be done without ‘social consensus’, but that discrimination against sexual and gender minorities simply should not be condoned[4].

Now that the party of which he is a member appears to have a 60% majority (180 out a total 300 seats) in the upcoming National Assembly, they have the technical ability to pass laws without seeking consensus with the conservative minority, now represented almost exclusively by the United Future Party (UFP)[5].

This could include, potentially, an ordinance which guarantees equality before the law as defined in the Constitution to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The CCFs in Korea are far from done, though. On April 22nd, several para-church organizations protested and condemned this, likening the NCCK’s stance on an anti-discrimination law as being ‘no different from the betrayal of Judas Iscariot.[6]

I guess if you’re going to vent your sense of betrayal, you might as well invoke the ultimate example of betrayal in the Gospels, eh?

If we examine recent polling and census numbers, though, it seems to me that the CCFs of South Korea should make their complaint to Korean society in general, and with younger generations specifically.

Throughout its history, close to half the population of South Korea (the Republic, post World War II) has had no religious affiliation. After significant growth in Catholic and Protestant groups throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the proportion of people claiming no religious affiliation jumped by 10% between 2005 and 2015. Among age groups, all groups under 50 years old showed over 50% of Korean residents claiming no religion[7].

These numbers are generally confirmed by polling done through the KCC in 2017. An even more significant finding was found in a sub-poll of 1,000 non-Protestants, where it was found that less than 1 in 10 of respondents (9.5%) had a favorable impression of Protestant Christians. Among the reasons cited for this dislike, selfishness, a materialistic orientation, and an authoritarian streak were given often[8].

Could this mean that Protestants just – aren’t – liked – in South Korean society? Given that conservative Protestants seem to be the most vocal groups in the media and social discourse, could they be feeding the very dislike they’re experiencing?

In terms of perceptions of sexual and gender minority (SGM) persons in South Korea, there is a truly clear generational gap. In recent polling, it has been shown that acceptance of SGM persons is higher among younger generations[9]. There has been increasing acceptance of marriage equality, and one poll has shown that as many as 80-90% of Koreans are opposed to discrimination against SGM persons in employment[10].

This is not to say that the Democratic Party is a paragon of progressive virtue. In fact, the chance to gain the cooperation of the Green Party in the recent elections was ruined when the President of the DP made anti-SGM remarks at a press conference[11]. There are socially conservative lawmakers within the DP, and there’s no guarantee that all lawmakers would obey a three-line whip[12], so the support of minority and parties like the Justice Party will be needed.

Even having noted these factors, it seems to me the incoming, DP-led National Assembly has an opportunity to at least take a first step in clarifying the status of rights for SGM persons. An anti-discrimination law ensuring employment and housing rights for all citizens, and clearly identifying sexual orientation and gender identity as being included in this legislation, has a good chance of gaining broad support and passing.

Is the language of betrayal appropriate here? The NCCK’s standing policy concerning non-discrimination is a faithfully discerned policy, based in what it means to follow in the way of Jesus in this nation, in this age – how is this a betrayal of Christian norms? CCFs in South Korea have only recently had enough monetary and political power to influence social issues in this nation, and it seems as though they’re losing it again, due to a combination of increasing secularization and their own self-inflicted wounds. If CCFs want to bandy about terms like ‘betrayal’, they’ll need to apply it not only to liberal Christian organizations but to the younger generations of South Koreans for not dutifully following their direction. Something tells me that would only alienate younger people from the church more so than they may be today.

It is not an easy thing to follow the dictates of your conscience when those views become less commonly held. To insist on those views being enshrined in law, and to brand those who do not hold your view as turncoats and betrayers, is show a sense of entitlement. It seems to me that, to make the charge of betrayal stuck, the CCFs in this South Korea will have to accuse not just the NCCK, but more and more, the entire society. Are they willing to do this and risk alienating themselves further in Korean society?

It seems to me that the conservative Christian forces of South Korea need to sit down and have a good think about their entrenched positions on sexual/gender minority people in their midst. Otherwise, they will either turn society against them even more, or they will have to engage in some kind of political power play to construct some kind of theo-oligarchy, and something tells me that South Korean society, especially younger generations, won’t have much time for that.

[1] Min, C (2020, April 16) S. Korea’s Ruling Party Clinches Landslide Win In Parliamentary Elections. In TBS eFM News [online]. Accessed 18 April at http://tbs.seoul.kr/eFm/newsView.do?typ_800=N&idx_800=2391336&seq_800=.

[2] Park, J W (2020, 27/29 January) Protestant church group’s unwavering support for gay rights. In The Korea Times [online]. Accessed 1 May 2020 at https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/01/703_282505.html.

[3] Associated Press (2017, 26 April) South Korean presidential front runner Moon Jae-in says he opposes homosexuality. In South China Morning Post [online]. Accessed 30 April 2017 at https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/2090815/south-korean-presidential-front-runner-moon-jae-says-he-opposes.

[4] Shim, E (2019, 21 October) Moon Jae-in: Anti-LGBT discrimination not acceptable in South Korea. In UPI [online]. Accessed 10 April 2020 at https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2019/10/21/Moon-Jae-in-Anti-LGBT-discrimination-not-acceptable-in-South-Korea/1041571673042/.

[5] NB – even though there are regional and factional rivalries within major political parties, and they often change names like the average person changes their socks(!), the conservative-liberal divide is reasonably clear in South Korean politics.

[6] 지유석(lukewycliff) (2020, 22 April) 보수 개신교 단체, ‘NCCK’ 규탄 기습 시위… 그 이유는? (Conservative Protestant group protests against, condemns ‘NCCK’ … Why?). In OhMy News [online].

[7] Korea Statistical Information Service (1985/1995/2005/2015) 시도/연령/성별 종교인구 1985/1995/2005/2015. In KOSIS [online]. Accessed 8 May 2020 from the pages of http://kosis.kr/index/index.do.

[8] Kim H S (2017, 28 December). “종교인구 비율 46%로 하락…20대는 30%” (“The ratio of religious people in the population ratio fell to 46%… 30% among people in their 20s”). In Yonhap News Agency [online]. Accessed 7 May 2020 at https://www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20171228175500005.

[9] Pew Research Center (2013/2014). The Global Divide on Homosexuality. Washington DC: Pew Research Center.

[10] Ock, H J (2017, 8 June) 6 in 10 Koreans oppose same-sex marriage. In The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed 10 June 2017 at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170608000827.

[11] Nam, S Y (2020, 22 March) 녹색당, 비례연합정당 합류 제안에 “참여 않는다” 재확인 (Green Party Reaffirms “Not to Participate” in Proposal to Join Proportional Political Party). In 민종의 소리 (The Voice of the People) [online]. Accessed 7 May 2020 at https://www.vop.co.kr/A00001476701.html

[12] A tradition in parliamentary procedure which says that all members of a political party – leaders, ministers, and regular representatives – are required to vote in favor of a government law or motion.

A Review: Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong: Selected, set to music, and recorded by Paulette Meier

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Quaker plainsong? Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

This is an ambitious project of American folk musician Paulette Meier, who, when faced with the prospect of losing a salaried job, embarked on a spiritual and musical journey which led to a period as Artist in Residence at the Pendle Hill retreat center in Pennsylvania USA (not Lancashire, UK) and studies in Quaker history and theology. Then, during Quaker services, she would begin singing quotes from Society of Friends founder George Fox and other important luminaries. This led to collecting these songs and officially recording them – hence, this album project.

The quotes she puts to music could be called ‘Quaker theology in miniature’. She has distilled a group of sayings from the leading lights of what became the Society of Friends which magnificently expresses the essence of Quaker writing, speaking, and thinking on divinity, prayer, meditation, gender equality, and social justice. That in itself strengthens the potential for the use of this resource as a teaching tool, a means of making the Quaker faith accessible through music. Sheet music is included, so it seems clear that group/congregational usage of these selections is at least hoped for, if not outright encouraged. This seems especially clear when listening to ‘Seeds of War’, which is done as a round (thanks to some effective multitracking).

There are some aspects of these recordings, though, which leave me less than satisfied. While I do not have formal musical training or a complete command of musical terminology, I can name a couple of things in these recordings which cause me to respond, ‘But that doesn’t sound like plainsong!’ It’s kind of like the Oatmeal Crisp cereal commercials in Canada which featured the actor Nigel Bennett doing a Scottish character who ends each commercial by proclaiming, ‘It’s a bonny cereal – BUT IT’S NOT OATMEAL!’

First, her generous use of grace notes[1] in her singing takes away from the expected plainsong effect. This is not the quick slide sometimes used at the beginning of a singing phrase. This is the clear ornamentation of a sung note by starting a tone below the written note and going up to it. This liberal usage of grace notes, particularly when they are not written in the accompanying sheet music, is jarring to my ears and not something I have experienced, either as a singer or a listener, in plainsong. I gladly concede that many like this vocal technique – I simply do not believe it belongs in plainsong.

Second, while it is appropriate for her to sing in her natural range, which sounds alto, I also say that, for group, choir, or congregational usage, some of these pieces need to be transposed a few tones higher. As a tenor, I would actually find it difficult to sing most of these pieces using the exact ranges of notes as written on the accompanying sheet music. I’ve experienced these difficulties when singing in these ranges. In fact, in such situations, I’ve often gone between octaves in order to keep what I was singing in a range I could sing in! This seems to be a general malaise I’ve found in much group singing, but it seems as though some writers need to be reminded that we’re not all Leonard Cohen, and that not all songs need to be in the key of ‘X’ in order to people to sing them.

Having noted my concerns, I would encourage Ms Meier to continue working with classic texts of faith like these, and perhaps work with singing groups or choirs of mixed voices to find arrangements and settings which would work for group/congregational singing. Moreover, I would not in the least discourage people from buying this album. It is an inspiring musical collection of great nuggets of wisdom from the founding generation of speakers and thinkers in the Society of Friends – this by itself gives this project immense value, and is an example to the rest of us in non-chanting traditions that there are texts in our collections of theology and religious writings which would benefit from a musical arrangement and setting. She’s on to something, and we would do well to take note.

[1] For an explanation of grace notes, a good place to start is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_note.

‘Say It Ain’t So, Jean’*

*NB: This title is inspired by the saying ‘Say It ain’t So, Joe’, the title of a story written by Charley Owens in response to the accusations against ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, who, it was claimed, conspired with other members of the Chicago White Sox to commit intentional errors in the 1920 World Series so that the Philadelphia Athletics could emerge victorious (retrieved from “Black SoxTrial:1921”, found in the Law Library – American Law and Legal Information [online], retrieved 26 February 2020 from https://law.jrank.org/pages/2831/-Black-Sox-Trial-1921–Say-Ain-t-So-Joe.html).

It seems as though none of those we uphold as spiritual leaders and inspirations are above suspicion.

It is now public knowledge that the founder of the L’Arche / Faith and Light movements, Jean Vanier, engaged in what can be termed, at best, as manipulative sexual relationships with six women, both lay and members of religious orders, between 1975 and 1990[1]. This has rocked the religious world in general and the Catholic world in particular. I myself am still trying to process this, even weeks after the evidence has emerged. I’ve read his books, I’ve listened to him speak, both in person and in the media, and I even tried for a few years to work as a support worker for persons with intellectual disabilities. I concluded that I don’t have the gifts necessary for that work, so I’m not doing it anymore.

Nonetheless, I have great admiration for those who are able to do this work, and Jean Vanier has been the ultimate model of such a person – that is, until these recent revelations. If there is anything we can take hold of for hope, it is the fact that L’Arche International itself appears to have been unflinching in its willingness to have the allegations which were placed before them investigated, and has declared its solidarity with the women who have been victimized by Vanier. They have also made it clear, and correctly so, that the L’Arche movement and everything it stands for is greater than the sins of one person.[2]

However, that person is its founder. That founder, it is now clear, fell under the sway of a morally corrupt Dominican priest, Pere Thomas Phillippe, who appeared to give permission to Jean Vanier to use spiritual direction/accompaniment to find sexual gratification. They worked on continuing their relationship, as mentor and mentee, even during the time of Pere Thomas’ period of suspension from priestly ministry and spiritual direction, even when the Holy Office and the Dominican Order were cautioning about the discipline to which Pere Thomas had been subject[3]. These two men, a spiritual father and son, so to speak, are at the foundation of the L’Arche communities and the Faith and Light movement, like it or not.

In spite of all this, I can still say that I find the basic theological, pastoral, and social insights into the human condition offered by Jean Vanier, the same insights which underpin the foundational principles of L’Arche, are sound.

And yet…he refers to Pere Thomas Philippe, his mentor, and I cringe.[4]

That undercurrent, which we’re now all too aware of now, flows beneath all those praiseworthy sentiments, and threatens to sweep them all away. What we know now of Jean Vanier’s actions, having been given spiritual cover by the one who claimed the title of ‘mentor’, endangers the movement which he started. Have the L’Arche / Faith and Light movements been built on foundations of sand, which will be swept away by the shocking events which have come to light? This possibility is even more likely if more revelations of coercion / manipulation / abuse occur. L’Arche is rightly concerned about what effect the reactions to these events will have on the support for their organization, including financial support.

And yet…the underlying messages of dignity for all people; of moving from exclusion to inclusion, to being in true communion with others, especially those who do not have the wealth, resources, or abilities that the majority of society has; surely these are worth something, are they not, regardless of the sins of those who uttered them?

This is an issue which goes back to the earliest stages of the Christian church. After Christianity became a legal, and then the imperial, religion of the Roman Empire, a controversy arose around the consecration of a bishop, Caecilian of Carthage. Apparently, one of the bishops who consecrated Caecilian was identified as a ‘traditor’, who had basically capitulated to the civil authorities. As a result of the synod and theological work surrounding this case, we have the principle of ‘ex opera operato’, that the grace conferred through the celebration of a sacrament is legitimate by the correct form of the ritual and the intention of those to celebrate the sacrament (this is a thumbnail sketch, and I know Catholic theological explanations are much more complex than this)[5]. This might be a principle which we can draw some comfort from.

Knowing that doesn’t provide much comfort, does it? If we’re honest with ourselves, we can find our fair share of examples concerning the ‘great figures’ of our time whose personal exploits were questionable. Mohandas Ghandi had some very strange practices concerning sexuality, including having nude women lie with him so that he could confirm his commitment to celibacy[6]. John F Kennedy, a President greatly concerned with pursuing peace and social justice in his political career, had a very active sexual life outside of his marriage[7]. And it is now known that Martin Luther King Jr, the leader of the 1960s civil rights movement in the US, had engaged in some form of academic dishonesty in his doctoral thesis, and had marital affairs during his life[8].

Aw, hell, whom am I kidding? We’re all angry, hurt, confused, worried, and we don’t know what to do with all our feelings. Some of us may be wondering if we should be trusting anyone who might be held up as ‘exemplary’, for fear of the skeletons which may be hiding in their closet(s). However, before we give in to our disillusionment, we must demonstrate our willingness to act responsibly. We who are in positions of pastoral leadership and responsibility, ordered and lay, men especially so, need to check ourselves. We need to be doubly aware, infinitesimally aware, of the vulnerable parts of our psyches which could lead us into inappropriate conduct. We need to find trusted friends with whom we can exercise mutual responsibility. If we need to, we need to get professional help. Those responsibilities lies with us, and we need to take the initiative on them.

In the meantime, the only resource that will truly help us with this trauma is time. With time, we may be more able to understand Jean Vanier’s brokenness, his relationship with Pere Thomas Philippe, and come to terms with the fact that Jean used his position of authority inappropriately to deal with his brokenness. It’s too early to talk about forgiveness, and some may never be able to get to that space – and that is the way it needs to be. It’s no good for us to stay in shock and plead, ‘Say it ain’t so’. It is so. Hopefully, we will eventually be able to come to some kind of understanding of, while never being at peace with, both the good work and the goodness of Jean Vanier, and of the evil that he perpetuated. Let’s pray that someday, our primary focus will only be secondarily on him, while focusing primarily on the ministry he began, of being in community with those who have developmental disabilities.

[1] The results of their investigation are summarized in in L’Arche International (2020, 22 February), ‘Summary Report from L’Arche International’, retrieved 26 February 2020 from https://www.larche.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=139bf786-3bbc-45f5-882a-9f78bfbc99e9 (NB – this report will be available from the L’Arche International itself as well as many of the national and regional chapters of L’arche)).

[2] This can be seen in the statement issued by the leaders of L’Arche International in the wake of the report and the evidence it uncovered (Posner, S, and Cates-Carney, S, ‘To all members of L’Arche communities throughout the world’ (2020, February, L’Arche International [online], retrieved 26 February 2020 at https://www.larche.org/documents/10181/2539004/Letter-Federation_International-Leaders_2020-02-22_EN.pdf/20d33d55-72e0-4c51-8703-8ab6f0adb9b5)).

[3] See the letter by Fonatine, P, and Glass, E, addressed 2015, 15 March, available at the L’Arche International website: https://www.larche.org/documents/10181/1126084/2015_03_20_Letter_Pere_Thomas-PAF-EGS-EN.pdf/6274fdee-c3a4-48aa-8134-e7a92d840f35 (accessed 26 February 2020), and the documentary Religieuses abusées, l’autre scandale de l’église partie 1 (Abused Nuns, the Other Scandal of the Church, Part 1), a production of Arte France, aired on LCP (La Chaine Parlimentaire, L’Assemblie Nationale – The Parliamentary Channel, National Assembly (France)) 5 March 2019; accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIO85YJgCA8 on 23 March 2020.

[4] All of this can be evidenced during the 1979 Massey Lectures delivered by Jean Vanier, entitled Becoming Human; originally broadcast on Ideas (CBC Radio One) November 1998; retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-1998-cbc-massey-lectures-becoming-human-1.2946860 on 28 February 2020.

[5] My thumbnail sketch comes from Saunders, W P (2020) If a priest is in the state of mortal sin, can he still offer the Mass and perform the other sacraments? In Catholic Straight Answers [online]; accessed from https://catholicstraightanswers.com/if-a-priest-is-in-the-state-of-mortal-sin-can-he-still-offer-the-mass-and-perform-the-other-sacraments/ 28 February 2020.

[6] See Jack, I (2018, 1 October) How would Gandhi’s celibacy tests with naked women be seen today? In The Guardian [online]. Accessed from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/01/gandhi-celibacy-test-naked-women on 23 March 2020.

[7] See Sabato, L (2013, 16 October) John F. Kennedy’s Final Days Reveal A Man Who Craved Excitement. In Forbes [online]. Accessed from https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/10/16/john-f-kennedys-final-days-reveal-a-man-who-craved-excitement/#36c9ba6c71a9 on 23 March 2020.

[8] The latest controversies on these issues can be seen in Greenberg, D (2019, June 4), How to Make Sense of the Shocking New MLK Documents. In Politico [online]. Accessed from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/06/04/how-to-make-sense-of-the-shocking-new-mlk-documents-227042 on 23 March 2020.

A Book Review: Reborn Again, by Christopher VanHall

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

VanHall, Christopher. (2019) Reborn Again: Crucifying Christendom & Resurrecting A Radical.  Christopher Drury.

 

As I write this review, I can’t help but feel that I am writing less about the book Reborn Again by Christopher VanHall and the phenomenon of the book Reborn Again by Christopher VanHall. As I was reading, I began to think, ‘ANOTHER book about how a former fundamentalist who has left evangelical Christendom to embrace progressive Christianity? WHY?’

There have been several ‘former evangelical’ Christian persons who have, after personal and/or intellectual journeys, have come out (no pun intended!) as being progressive Christians. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Shane Clairborne, Peter Rollins, and Rachel Held Evans (of blessed memory) are perhaps the more prominent, but there are many examples of people who have progressed from a more conservative to a more progressive religious orientation who have documented their spiritual journeys in one or several books, articles, interviews, or podcasts – WHY DO WE NEED YET ANOTHER?!

Simply put, because no one journey is exactly the same. Some will resonate with a theological treatise. Others will identify with a thoughtfully reflective approach. Another type of person will be attracted to a fast-paced, high-octane ride through life, the universe, and everything, peppered throughout with rather salty lexical choices – which is my experience of this book.

I enjoyed the general approach VanHall took to each chapter, which I would characterize as an experience-theology-experience sandwich. He clearly demonstrates that our reflection on faith must first be based on action and events, and that our reflections need to lead us back into renewed and, where necessary, corrected action. It mirrors the action-reflection-action cycle that I and my classmates were always reminded of in seminary Field Education days. Consequently, he’s able to take us through the experiences of losing his grandfather, doing professional ministry in the evangelical megachurch culture, leaving that culture, creating a new spiritual home, and eventually realizing that trying to create this new home meant he had to leave his geographic home, or else potentially lose his dream of ministry. He also created pithy title names which will, no doubt, catch the attention of readers. These range from earlier ones like ‘Hypocrites’ and ‘Idols’ through to the concluding title, ‘Transfiguration’. This chapter is, I found, the most wonderful chapter in the book to read, as it left me with hope for his ongoing work.

I cannot help but think, though, that Christopher VanHall may end up alienating some of the very people he is trying to reach through this memoir. For one thing, his willingness to curse will simply turn off some who think that type of language has no place in a book about Christianity, no matter how open they may be to a new vision. For another, his willingness to jettison classic trappings of the faith, like the doctrine of the Trinity (pp. 75, 88), will be a step too far for others.

What rubs me the wrong way, though, is that his generally combative stance against all aspects of Christianity he doesn’t agree with does not end with standing against Biblical literalism and megachurch culture. He also takes a good swing at the trappings of what we call the ‘mainline’ church. This excerpt from the first chapter (‘Hypocrites’) sums up his critique of what is wrong in ‘progressive Christianity’:

…We progressives are flexible in examining theological views, but we are absolute in our commitment to nurturing tradition. Much of which is meaningless at best and triggering at worst for the average young adult in today’s society. Most millennials find little value in robes, altars, creeds, temples, and songs written 150 years ago. While the evangelical church has yet to accept the indisputable reality of scientific truths such as evolution. As a whole, those of us in the progressive mainline have yet to evolve in our approach to worship. (p. 24)

While there are many progressive-sounding persons and groups bound in ‘traditional church’ trappings which are unhelpful, I can also testify that there has been and still is renewal occurring in worship, church architecture, statements of faith, and hymnody. Lots of people in both mainline and progressive churches are working on new language, music, worship, and forms of community to go with new theology, and to make a broad-brushed statement that progressive Christianity is largely still stuck in the mid-19th century is simply unfair. VanHall himself is working on a new form of faith community, quite admirably, in his work with Greater Purpose Community Church in Santa Cruz, California (check it out on http://gpsantacruz.com/). Indeed, his approach at Greater Purpose will reach some who will not be attracted to progressive Christianity in other ways. However, the statement above leaves the impression (with me, at least) that he believes his approach to be the only worthwhile way to do this. Is that really the impression he wants to leave?

I hope not, because his memoir is otherwise an engaging recollection of a person who has worked through serious issues of faith; deconstructed and reconstructed his beliefs; translated those beliefs into action, often at serious personal cost to himself; and ends with the hopeful first steps taken in establishing an exciting new form of faith community. He has contributed in his own way, as many others have done and are doing, to the redefinition of how one can be Christian in the 21st century. We need more of these stories, told from as many differing perspectives as possible. One story, like one size, does not fit all. Christopher VanHall’s story is told well and needs to be out there. It’s just not the only story that needs to be told.

A Book Review: Perfect And Forgiven: Discovering Your Freedom From Shame, Guilt, and Sin, by Zach Moldano

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Moldano, Zach. (2019) Not Perfect Just And Forgiven: Discovering Your Freedom From Shame, Guilt, and Sin. Lubbock TX: Zachery Moldano. (NB – This is how the title appears on the book cover.)

 

I remember reading an extended quote in my final-year high school economics textbook. It was from Gerry Goodman, writing under his alias ‘Adam Smith’, in his classic tome The Money Game. He was writing about how one finds, or retains, their serenity when becoming a millionaire. I don’t have the exact quote, so I’ll do my best to gloss from memory.

He wrote that there are basically two methods for doing this. The first involves lying on a couch, talking about your mother and any other thoughts from your life, recounting your dreams, and having someone sitting behind you helping you understand what it means. Thus, you keep your serenity at the cost of however many sessions it takes you to find this serenity.

In the other method, you make your million and be serene. Thus, you can avoid the cost of however many sessions it takes for you to talk about your mother and interpret your dreams.

This quote came to mind as I was reading Not Perfect Just And Forgiven by Texas pastor Zach Goodman. This appears to be a book written for those who are wracked by guilt and uncertainty concerning their eternal salvation, and it seems to be written as that conservative evangelical equivalent to the therapy that Goodman/Smith describes. Farley’s thesis, simply put, is that being in Christ makes the believer perfect in God’s sight; therefore, the Christian can put aside their anxiety and get on with being the child of God they were always meant to be.

To me, that’s it – simply put. I realize that this is an important message for all Christians to hear, but the style of writing Goodman employs simply does not appeal to me. On many issues, I’m sure he and I would be in great agreement. However, I’m just not captured by his beginning each chapter with a Scripture verse and then going into what I experience as a ‘Rah! Rah! Sis-boom-bah!’ onslaught of ‘How Great You Are, How Great You Are’ (yes, the allusion to ‘How Great Thou Art’ is intentional). There is just no end to this constant avalanche of affirmation, and by the time I got about halfway through the book, it began to feel as though my brain was being whacked with a sledgehammer! By this point, this approach began to lose its effect, and I began reacting mentally with retorts like ‘And?…’ and ‘Your point being? – And I hope you have one!’ Moreover, it seems to me to contribute to the very thing that Moldano rails against, namely, the inordinate emphasis in the conservative evangelical world on sin.

His style of communication, and the sense that he furthers the very thing which he writes against, take away from the intended effect of that thesis. He needs to re-write this book or do a new version with a more nuanced approach. A bit of Scriptural exegesis (not heavy, but enough to show his credentials as a person of some theological education) would be helpful. References to people in the history of theology would show that he’s not just coming up with something ex tempore, literally ‘from his head’. A couple of guys named Luther and Calvin wrote a bit on the subject he deals with; he could quote some of their work. The contemporary work of theologians who start with blessing, rather than sin, as the starting point for creation and the individual, would have been very instructive. And, yes, one cannot deal with the light of the Gospel without spending some time in its shadow side. The reality of sin and evil need to explicitly stated and grappled with, and all types of sin/evil need to be included – individual, corporate, and systemic.

As it is, this is sadly a one-note drone in which the author simply has not developed the chops to shift the basic note even a half-step to give it some variety or elegance. I realize that there are those who are of a theological orientation similar to Pastor Moldano’s to whom this approach will be appealing. I and many others will not be one of them.

If you would like a different approach to dealing with this question, consider works like the classic Paul Tillich sermon, ‘You Are Accepted’. Many of the popular works by Marcus Borg and Rachel Held Evans (both of blessed memory) have worked on dealing with the issues of being formed by traditional religion and progressing through to new understandings. Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions Which Are Transforming The Faith deals with the greater theological questions which Pastor Moldano hints at, in engaging yet accessible ways. Pastor Moldano has not achieved this kind of variety in his writing yet, and it’s going to take more practice before he can get there. He needs to get there, if he wishes to reach an audience beyond those to whom he might immediately appeal.

To those who are concerned about their status regarding their state of separation from the Divine, I’d suggest starting with Tillich’s simple yet profound advice: ‘Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’

A Book Review – Coming In: Gays and Lesbians Reclaiming the Spiritual Journey, by Urs Mattman

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Mattmann, Urs. (2006) Coming In: Gays and lesbians reclaiming the spiritual journey (trans. Urs Mattmann). Glasgow (UK): Wild Goose Publications.

 

This review is an interesting one for me to write, mainly for the historical context within which it was written and published. Urs Mattmann originally wrote this work in German in 2002, with the English translation appearing, including an introduction by Richard Rohr OFM, in 2006. The year after its original publication came The Queer God, the second of two ground-breaking works by Marcella Althaus-Reid (the other being Indecent Theology (2000)) which are viewed by many as the ‘Ground Zero’ works of what is now known as ‘Queer Theology’. While the focus of this review is on the work Mattmann, the work of Althaus-Reid (who died in 2009) cannot be ignored. Consequently, some element of comparison between their work is inevitable (NB: while I have not read Indecent Theology, I have read reviews and research articles devoted to it, and I have read The Queer God).

Mattmann’s purpose in writing Coming In is stated very clearly in the first chapter, his introduction. His endeavor is to provide ‘a deep mystical perspective’ on being gay/lesbian and Christian. To that end, he is very explicit in giving a series of guided meditations and prayers at the end of every chapter, each one designed to strengthen the individual gay/lesbian Christian in the conviction that s/he is a child of God, one loved by the Divine in all his/her aspects, including sexuality; and a rightful member of the body of Christ. This is a markedly different starting point from Althaus-Reid’s iteration of Queer Theology, growing as it does out of Liberation Theology, which was both a point of inspiration and criticism in her work. As such, there are elements of political, sociological, literary, and economic analysis in her writing which simply don’t appear in Mattmann.

This is not to say Mattmann is above making radical suggestions – far from it. The radicality in his conclusions and prescriptions are rooted (no pun intended!) in this statement:

(E)nough time has been spent in puzzling over how the same-sex orientation came into being or developed. It is now crucial to explore and visualise the purpose for which homosexuality exists, the contribution it can make to a more human world, and how gays and lesbians can integrate and live their sexuality in realisation of the power of God that permeates everything. (from Chapter 3, ‘Homosexuality as Potential’, p.56)

Mattmann declares that it is in effect a waste of time trying to justify ‘why’ homosexuality exists. By inference, this includes eschewing the debate about ‘if’ homosexuality is acceptable or unacceptable from a ‘Biblical’ or theological standpoint. This is made explicit in that he does not use any ink/pixels to discuss the ‘clobber passages’ or to refute theological arguments against a gay/lesbian presence in the church. He puts his writing energies into elucidating topics like the spiritual gifts gay and lesbian persons have (Chapter 4), acknowledging how the wounds inflicted on homosexual persons can be transformed into gifts of healing (Chapter 6), and the inherent goodness of gay and lesbian sexuality (Chapter 7). This leads to the process for which he uses the already-existing label ‘Coming In’, which refers to the process of gay and lesbian persons understanding that they have a spiritual essence which must be tended to and cared for. Mattmann views this as the necessary corollary to ‘coming out’, the process of publicly declaring one’s identity as a sexual/gender minority. In the spiritual exercises he places at the end of each chapter, he is also very specific about framing homosexuality as a spiritual gift, and about relating the meditative aspects very much within the body – even to the point of inviting participants to sense the spiritual energy pulsing within their very genitals.

This willingness to not debate sexuality as ‘an issue’ is a marked contrast to what I often experience in many Christian SGM contexts. In areas where there are marked conservative views, such as the USA or South Korea, where I was until recently, there is a seemingly endless process where SGM Christians, almost of necessity, need to justify their existence to the majority Christian community. I’m of the personal conviction that a whole other conversation can be had as to whether SGM Christians, or Christians in general, can hold on to evangelical/charismatic expressions of faith in a 21st-century world, but that is, as I’ve said, another conversation. The fact is, there have been Christian communities in the United States which have been willing to dialogue with and embrace SGM person for over fifty years. What would it be like if more and more SGM-affirming Christian communities just said to the more conservative Christian communities, ‘We know who we are in the eyes of God – we’re just not going to participate in this conversation anymore’? What would that be like? Mattmann invited SGM Christians to consider this possibility back in 2002/6, and it’s worth considering for many members of this community.

That’s not to say this work is not without a problem – in fact, one very glaring problem. It’s not directly the result of Mattmann’s writing, but comes from the foreword by Richard Rohr, OFM, director of the Center of Contemplation and Action. It can be summed up in this sentence:

Once other believers can see that gay men and women are concerned about the values of faithfulness, and are willing to preserve the normative value of heterosexual marriage for the sake of human life’s continuation, many of their fears will be lessened. (from ‘Foreword’, by Richard Rohr, OFM, p. 10f.)

In today’s SGM environment, falling in line with heteronormativity is simply a non-starter, and this is no different for SGM Christians. In contrast, one of the non-negotiable foundations of queer theology is that one must encounter and take seriously sexual practices which are considered non-normative – in The Queer God, for example, Altahus-Reid considers the work of many classic and modern authors of erotica, including the Marquis de Sade. Moreover, as much as I admire a lot of Fr Rohr’s work, I cannot ignore the fact that he is still a spiritual leader in an organization which views variations from heterosexual marriage as moral disorders. For this work to be even considered by SGM Christians in this day and age, Mattmann has to expunge this foreword and replace it – no other alternative is acceptable.

This one problem with the text, because it is as serious as it is, is unfortunate, because Mattmann’s work, on the whole, is invaluable. Coming In is contemporary with the work of queer theologians like Marcella Althaus-Reid and provides an alternative lens through which to view LGBT+/queer theology and spirituality. It accesses the resources of the contemplative/mystical Christian tradition, values them, and employs them, as opposed to the unbridled, unrelenting questioning of Christian tradition I see in works like The Queer God. In fact, after reading The Queer God, I have begun to ask, ‘Should I take it that traditional theology (which often referred to as “T-theology”) is the mistake while the alternative vision offered by Althaus-Reid is “the true Gospel”?’ That is yet another conversation for another time! Nonetheless, if Mattmann were to revise/update his work, with a new foreword (please!!!), Coming In would provide an excellent counterweight to the works of writers like Althaus-Reid in any university/seminary course which seeks to introduce queer theology.