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
– Symbols that represent the group
– Feelings of morality (idenitfying
with the group and its symbols,
being willing to defend them against

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

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.

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.

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.

A Book Review – Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer, by Fran Pratt

(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:

Pratt, Fran. (2018) Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer. Outpost Press.


The Rev Fran Pratt has been on a faith journey which may be familiar to many Christians. She has gone from the charismatic experience of certitude within the Vineyard Fellowship to a place of doubt and uncertainty, where prayer did not come easily to her. She then found a place within a Reformed Church of America congregation in San Francisco where ordered prayer allowed her to re-experience Spirit back to a place of faith. The experience of ordered prayer became part of her regular spiritual practice (even to the point of buying a copy of the Book of Common Prayer), and now forms part of her ministry at Peace of Christ Church, a church in Texas which is part of the Alliance of Baptists.

She describes this experience poignantly, as a meditation, in the Introduction to this volume, subtitled ‘How Liturgy Saved My Life’. In fact, I found the Introduction the most fascinating part of this volume. This is a Christian who, like many others, has made a transition from certitude to doubt to faith. This journey, though, unlike many others, has not been marked primarily by shifts in theological principles or styles of Biblical hermeneutics (although I suspect these may have undergone change as well). Rather, it is a shift in spiritual practice, more specifically, in accessing the resources of corporate prayer which have been based in Scripture, the heritage of the church catholic, and the strains of wisdom found in modern writers through which the voice of God is heard anew, which has undergirded her faith journey.

I find this inspiration by the practice of prayer and worship to be uniquely refreshing and not unlike my own awakening to the liturgical heritage of the universal church which I experienced as I took the first steps in answering a call to ministry. The only point of caution I would raise concerns her perception of what prayer was like in her former charismatic Christian experience:

I’d absorbed the idea that the best, holiest kind of praying was done extemporaneously – no one ever said this out loud to me; rather it was communicated by emphasis and practice. You stood up and prayed whatever came to mind. Anything else was lesser, emptier, overly formal and rote. (p. iv)

As a person who has ministered and worshiped in places where the evangelical and charismatic strains of Christianity have held sway, I can say with some certainty that the testimonies and prayers which were held up as being ex tempore, or as the participants would say, ‘from the heart and not from a book’, had recognizable stock phrases and formulae (disclosure: I work as an English teacher, and oral discourse analysis formed part of my Master’s degree studies). In fact, in a search I did as part of preparing for this review, I discovered a doctoral thesis on evangelical Christian altar calls[1]. I believe that if we scratch the surface hard enough, there are structures which support and enable these supposedly ‘spontaneous’ utterances.

As worthwhile as these queries are, I must proceed to the ‘meat’ of the text – the prayer litanies which Pratt has written and offers to those preparing for Christian worship. She has organized them into groups – Litanies for ‘Looking Inward’, ‘Looking Outward’, ‘Coping’, ‘Church Rituals’, and ‘Communal Worship’. There are further litanies contained in Appendices focused on ‘Injustice’, ‘Advent’, and ‘Lent’. Tantalizingly, her ‘bonus litany’ is a litany ‘for the Heretics’.

While all of the litanies are meant to be used in a church context, some, especially within the ‘Coping’ section, may be especially appropriate in small group contexts. The ‘Communal Worship’ section appear to be quite appropriate to use as ‘gathering litanies’ for the community as it comes together for worship. The language, while leaning toward traditional formulations of the Divine, is gender inclusive. Though I am reading them as a reviewer and not within a public worship context, I find the most effective litanies are characterized by the following characteristics:

  • Repeated responses – It seems to me that the litanies which contain series of petitions with a single response would allow the individual worshipper to commune with Spirit at a deeper level. For example, in the ‘Litany for Stillness’ (p.12f.) we find:


That we often avoid quiet reflection,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That we often mistake stillness for sloth,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That we often become hoodwinked by our culture of excess,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That intentional stillness often requires great effort from us,

We confess to you, Oh God.


When we are running around, attending to our to-do lists,

It’s you we seek.

When we are looking for pleasure and consolation,

It’s you we seek.

When we are in need of affirmation and success,

It’s you we seek.

When we are avoiding our pain, or nursing our wounds,

It’s you we seek.


When trying to use communal prayer to help the individual experience Spirit, fewer words are often better.


  • Repeated forms – Where a series of thoughts are put together, the use of a chain of similarly constructed clauses or phrases can effectively emphasize and reinforce those thoughts, such as in the ‘Litany for the Earth’ (p.22f.):


Arouse in us a new compassion,

A new willingness to change,

A new excitement to foster community,

A new zeal for establishing the Peace of God,

A new understanding of the connectedness of all things,

A new appreciation of the gift of Earth.


  • Parallelsim – Echoing the Psalms and other poetic parts of the Scriptures, the repetition or mirroring of ideas can be effective. A simple example is found in the ‘Litany for Justice and Equality’ (p.33)


Our way is not of violence and empire, but in the power and beauty of the cross.

Our faith is not in politics, but in the transforming love of Christ.


The expression of our faith is at its most powerful when it enters the realm of the poetic. Echoing the poetry of Scripture can be a most profound tool of inspiration.

This works is not without its places for improvement, though. If there is anything which I find can use more work in Pratt’s craft of litany writing, it is the tendency to split sentences where it reads like a single thought has been ripped in half, making less sense as a consequence. This can happen in juxtaposition to some of the positive elements in Pratt’s litanies, for in the same ‘Litany for the Earth’. There is:

Even now we realize that our home

Is suffering,

Help us to become aware

Of the needs of humanity,

I find that this kind of splitting simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, does this problem render such a litany unusable? By no means! From my experience as a language teacher, I bring the MAD principle into my use of worship materials by other writers – Modify, Add, and Delete. I never treat worship materials as finished works. They are palettes for me to use in order to help create the forms of expression which (I hope) will bring the attendees to the services that I lead into a greater sense of the Holy.

The other area for improvement is in Pratt’s tentative steps toward language which fully affirms sexual and gender minorities. I see from the website of the congregation she serves that it appears to be genuinely affirming[2]. Can that not be more fully expressed in the worship materials she writes? She does hint at it in places, but I see a glaring omission of this respect in her litany written in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, Florida. She gets full marks for naming terrorism, and I can understand that this litany needs to be anonymized for general use. However, she identified it as being written in the aftermath of the Pulse Massacre. This litany as it stands does not address the reality that those who were killed and wounded were gunned down because they were LGBT or supported LGBT persons. As someone who ministers to persons who are members of the sexual and gender minorities communities, I don’t think skirting around this reality really honors the memory of the forty-nine angels of Pulse, nor does it honor the identity of the sexual/gender minority members and attendees she serves. This being noted, I’m again not going to say this resource is useless because of this error. There’s too much that is good here that should not be thrown away. The MAD principle applies here, as well.

In closing, then, I view Fran Pratt’s Call and Response as a valuable set of resources which can be used in a variety of congregational and group settings for local church worship and prayer. They are informed by the resources of the Universal Church – the Scriptures, the rhythm of the liturgy, and new wisdom. Wherever there are shortcomings, I encourage liturgists and worship leaders to add, delete, or modify as is appropriate to their local situation. I particularly recommend it to those who come from backgrounds which don’t emphasize the corporate nature of prayer. These are resources steeped in Scriptural allusions, carrying with them the best of the worship traditions of the Universal Church.

[1] Bryan, C D (2016 May). “Heads Bowed, Eyes Closed”: Analyzing The Discourse Of Online Evangelical Altar Calls. PhD Dissertation, Middle Tennessee State University.

[2] As noted in the website of Peace of Christ Church (peacewilco.com)