Advent Introspection



Every Christian liturgist around the world is turning their attention toward Advent.  This is the time of year Christians set aside to celebrate the expectation of the arrival of the Christ child. But before we hastily speed ahead into celebration I want to pause momentarily to ask if we are really living into the principles we celebrate?  Rather than give vain oblations and spiritual platitudes it seems wise to me to give space for introspection.  If the Christ child is worthy of celebrating, how have we embodied the principles of the Christ child since last advent?

For many scholars Jesus represents the perfect exemplar of the Christ mind. “Christ” in this sense is the technical term that defines Absolute Spiritual Truth. In this case wherever the Christ mind is healing follows – physical healing, or moral healing, or even intellectual healing – whatever the need, the Christ is the answer (Fox 1966). The birth of Jesus represents the arrival of healing in the world.  This is not a conversation about (nor does it seek to diminish the conversation of) the hypostatic union of Jesus nor about Divinity. This conversation centers an examination of Jesus on the power of His life work and message.  It challenges us to understand the Bible as a whole and to discover the thread of unified teachings running through its different texts (Holmes 2006). This way of discussing the Christ changes our way of engaging advent.

When we engage the birth of Jesus as the manifestation of the Christ mind, we are forced to investigate whether or not we are living into this idea of healing the world. Have we from last advent lived into the prophetic call of Christ to bring wholeness to the brokenness manifested in humanity and the systems created by humanity that foster brokenness?  Have we like Jesus fought to dismantle militarism, terrorism, and poverty?  Have we worked toward a justice narrative in all our spheres of influence and is there evidence of counter-cultural proactive engagement in speaking on behalf of those who have no voice?  The real vocation of the Christ mind is to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and let social misery be put on the agenda of those in power (Cornel West 2014).

Worship is the heart and pulse of the Christian church. In worship, we celebrate together God’s gracious gifts of creation and salvation and are strengthened to live in response. Worship always involves actions not merely words (Wilkey 2014).   As we plan our celebrations and worship opportunities this Advent I invite us to see if we are authentic in our worship. Do our actions line up with the messages of the season? Jesus lived life as a colonized person and as a minoritized person in a community that was under siege by an occupying army so he understood how poverty is created by an empire. Jesus understood racial profile, mass incarceration, state sponsored torture and the list goes on. He understood them not ideologically, but experientially and the experiences he had when he encountered these things healed them. All of them. In what ways are our celebrations healing our world?

The Birth of Jesus was the moment when Christians recognized that the Holy God had now emerged in human history in a self-conscious way. In the Birth of Jesus, Christians celebrated the recognition that the God now was revealed to be present. This birth was a sign that the infinite could be known in the finite, that the eternal could be met in that which is transitory (Spong 1998).  The first order of business of Jesus was to blur the lines of otherness, to follow Jesus in the Christ mind is to continue in that path. How is you spiritual community living out the radical welcome and hospitality that the Advent season means?


Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 



Works Cited

Cornel West, Christa Buschendorf. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston : Beacon Press.

Fox, Emmet. 1966. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: HarperOne.

Holmes, Ernest. 2006. The Hidden Power of The Bible. New York: Penguin Group.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

Wilkey, Glaucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Forgien Country or Homeland? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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Thanksgiving in World of Rage

IMG_4143The current sociopolitical cultural milieu is an atmosphere of fear and rage.  An environment of sexism, racism, poverty, and xenophobia birthed from imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy works to marginalize and disenfranchise the vast majority of people in society. Fear is our shared lovelessness and when fear is expressed it manifests as anger, abuse, disease, pain, greed, addiction, selfishness, obsession, corruption, violence, and war (Williamson 1992).  Rage in this moment is not pathological, it is an appropriate response to injustice.  It is a collective response to exploitation, oppression, and a politicized agenda to disinherit (hooks 1995).  Not even our religious spaces are unmarred by the evil of separatism and the brokenness of the human family. It is in this environment that our calendars invite us to commemorate Thanksgiving as a holiday.

Thanksgiving is problematic historically for all those who hold its celebration to accountability for its historical realities. I stand in solidarity with my siblings in acknowledging the horrible genocide committed against Indigenous People and simultaneously I feel drawn to acknowledge the Thanksgiving season and invite it to hold very different meaning for me this year.    I imagine that Thanksgiving could actually be the door to a shift in the way we engage the world around us. That along with rage we might also add to our repository of emotional intelligence gratitude.  If fear comes from visualizing the end based on the current landscape it is a rational response, but gratitude is equally rational when we also make room in the currency of our ideas for an outcome based on our highest human potential.  The gratitude I suggest is grounded in hope and carried by love.

Whether you celebrate winter solstice or the birth of the Christ mind -the Christ mind is the common thread of Divine love that is the core and essence of the created world, for Christians it is revealed in the person and work of Jesus (Williamson 1992)-  the best of our religious traditions hold the truth that light comes following the darkest hour. This year more than ever my own personal sense of gratitude is tied to the darkness around me, which stirs in me hope for the bright day that is already here, even though I am still in the reality of dark night.  Gratitude is not related to an expectancy of what we may receive tomorrow, it is the sharing of joy for what is already received (Goldsmith 1986).  Gratitude unlocks the frequency of abundance because it decenters the narrative of lack and allows us to focus in on the opulence of the Universe. Authentic gratitude is not the denial of reality, it is the choice to see the gifts that reality brings with it. We are presently in an era of opportunity and while the shadow side of humanity is daily highlighted in every mass media outlet, there is an undeniable brilliance resident in this epoch.  Every protestor, justice warrior, blogger, artist, preacher, and teacher is a gift to our shared humanity and no matter what realities we see, this is a reason for Thanksgiving.

We face trying times where humanity’s inner maladies are out-pictured in the widest and most far reaching realities of common space, but the principle teaching of my religious orientation informs me that God not only transcends, but is everywhere immanent in the Universe (Fox 1941). For me every tragedy carries a gift and every gift carries a tragedy. I will continue to experience and express rage because anything less than rage is disingenuous. Along with my rage I will continue to experience profound gratitude for this moment in time knowing that the light is here, because I am here. I invite you and your spiritual communities to engage Thanksgiving this year from this same place of GRATITUDE!


Peace Is Possible,

+ Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

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Works Cited

Fox, Emmet. 1941. Find and Use Your Inner Power. New York: HarperCollins.

Goldsmith, Joel S. 1986. Practicing the Presence. New York: HaperOne.

hooks, bell. 1995. Killing Rage:Ending Racism. New York : Henry Holt and Company.

Williamson, Marianne. 1992. A Return to Love: Reflections on Principles of A Course in Miracles. New York: HarperOne.


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What Are We Singing?

Choir RoomThe hymnody of the church has historically been a repository for doctrine and prophetic reflection. Music in the church has trained both our heads and our hearts in faith and courage throughout the ages. In the most classic sense of Christian liturgy the assembly sings to (and about) God knowing that in the assembly God is truly present gathering God’s people together in the unity of the faith. If the need of the moment calls for lament or rejoicing it has been in song the Church has come into one voice. Sacred music has been prophetic in that it publically critiqued the oppressive and exploitive behavior of the ruling class in their respective settings in life (Hendricks 2011). The hymn writer has been our prophet in that they have threatened cultures power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads (Pearce 2002).

What troubles me as of late with the entrance of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and Contemporary Gospel music into the sales market is that the song can be so easily misinformed. Its words may not be the true faith of the church; and its modes may too often be the powerful performance of a few experts, thereby barring participation of the assembly (Lathrup 1993). Music produced for consumption and with the motivation of commodification, in that its purpose is radio play and record sales, seems to lack the deep reflection and doctrinal substance that has been the hallmark of sacred music throughout history.  The problem with the commodification of sacred music is not that it is profitable, rather that it is profit driven and in our current cultural reality many times lacks any serious prophetic critique of cultural realities that stand against the true message of the Gospel.  There is no good news where there is a failure to acknowledge the realities that produce the need for good news. It seems that the Christian music of post modernity is forgetting the disreputable sunbaked Hebrew founder of Christianity and the lived realities of his station in life completely.

What we need is a resurgence of prophetic critique in the modern music of the church because it would seem our music has an overall unwillingness to critique or even acknowledge systemic injustice and unrighteousness. A prophetic critique can be defined as principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice (Hendricks 2011). Singing together to and about God means also having at the center of our music what is the heart and mind of God. Without a prophetic critique our modern writers fall guilty of the sin of Sir John Newton the famed author of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds’, who made his money from the sale of slaves to the New World (Thurman 1976).  Our modern writers sell us into slavery when they fail to give us the prophetic lyrics of liberation.

Every generation has its own sound and if you fail to capture and value that sound they will find other venues to host it.  As a constructive theologian with a liberative lens I am listening for the soundtrack of my work, and I must admit I am hard-pressed to find it in the church. Where are the hymnist who will dare to challenge the status quo – move beyond capitalism conflated as Christianity and write music that will push us to do the same? Who will offer a critique of separation and division caused by racism and the sin of xenophobia? Where are the writers who love Gospel grounded in resistance discourse; those terms, phrases, figures of speech that are common to subjugated people and calling them in some way to resist the oppression to which they have been subjected (Hendricks 2011)? Does anyone love us enough to provide the church with music written for the people by the people toward the end of deliverance of the people?  What are we singing?

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor




Works Cited

Hendricks, Obrey M. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible , the Church, and the Body Politic. MaryKnoll: Obris Books.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Pearce, Joseph Clinton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street press.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press.



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Who are these champions still standing?



They gathered to pray. They know that can get you killed. What an act of sheer faith and utter defiance.



The victims ranged in age from five to 72. Maybe the news story you read or heard about Sutherland Springs, Texas started in a similar way. Twenty-six dead. Killed while they were gathered in church, praying.

For those Christians who follow a liturgical calendar year, the shooting happened on All Saints, or All Soul’s, Sunday. One of the scripture readings for many Christians around the world that day who share a common lectionary was Revelation 7. The text is a vision of the faithful who have survived persecution and destruction, and are gathered to worship.

“Who were those champions still standing before the throne?” asked the pastor as he lit a candle and placed it upright on the altar. “Well, maybe one was…” and then he named a member of the congregation—not from the early Christian church of Revelation, but from our church—who died this past year. He lit a candle for each person, calling each by name and saying something about them, telling their story before we prayed.

Meanwhile, in Sutherland Springs, the shooter was entering the church. Twenty-six saints, gathered in prayer, dead.

Who are these champions?

Sutherland Springs is less than a half-hour’s drive from the small Christian college I attended. It is about two hours from the high school I went to in a Texas town even smaller than Sutherland Springs. This hit too close to home. But even for friends not from a small town in east Texas, it seems too much. Too many shootings, piling one on top of the other. Too many guns and too little control. From the lips of even those who are not religious, who are not consciously calling on any deity, come the words, “Dear God, what is happening to us?”

Who are these champions still standing?

Sunday night, in Sutherland Springs, they gathered to pray. They lit candles for their dead and asked Father God for healing for their devastated church and town. They gathered to pray. They know that can get you killed. What an act of sheer faith and utter defiance.

There are many names and images of God: Father, Mother, ground of all being, community, source of life. I have taken to addressing God as Abba-Papa-Mama-God when I pray. That’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I like the sound of it, the comfort of it. And I have no better name at this point in my life and faith journey.

Whatever you call God, we must call on something bigger than the tiny, fragile, finite life that we call our own. We must pray, not because we are deluded, lulled into a false sense of security. We have fewer and fewer delusions left. We must pray—and we must work—because it is who we are called to be in this world: the faithful, defiantly still standing and seeking healing for a broken world.

Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of South Africa, who knows about praying, said: “I certainly know that I would not be able to survive if it were not for the fact that I am being upheld by the prayers of so many people.” Tutu, a champion of the faith by any measure, also knows a great deal about defiance and working to heal a broken world. They are for him, as they must be for us, inseparable.

Who are these champions still standing?

“Lord, listen to your children praying. Lord, send your Spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Send us love, send us power, send us grace.”



Sources cited:

Lord, listen to your children praying. Lyrics and music by Ken Medeema,


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Rooted and Building Up

shutterstock_267941594Be rooted and built up, constantly growing and re-forming as you are being taught. Break open, leave behind, and discover what new thing is in store for you.

You may not have noticed it.
The 500-year anniversary of the spark that ignited the Reformation. Despite the huge impact on the Church and world, it may have slipped past you unnoticed.

Oh, St. James Cathedral was full and resplendent with worship and song on Oct. 29th, Reformation Sunday, led by Archbishop Sartain of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and Bishop Kirby Unti of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The occasion was also marked on our campus with an ecumenical worship service and tree planting on Oct. 25th.

Maybe you noticed the tree. Today, there is a new, 8-foot western red cedar on the Union Green, planted by SU President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., and Bishop Unti, and blessed and watered by all those attending. The tree is an evergreen in the cypress family. It could grow as high as 230 feet and 12 feet around. It could live 1,500 years—three times as long as the anniversary it was planted to commemorate. How fitting that is. The best way to mark what happened 500 years ago is to move forward, rooted and growing in faith and thanksgiving.

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Col. 2:6-7).

Preaching on this verse, Cathy Nilon, M.Div., called us to “see in new ways where the world needs healing.” Nilon, a Catholic and a 2016 graduate of STM, is a chaplain at Providence Mount St. Vincent. She works surrounded by healing, but also by death. Sometimes, the two are intertwined. Life and death, seemingly such absolutes, will not stay neatly in their places, but spill over, intertwine, one eternally giving way to the other. “God lifts beauty out of chaos,” Nilon added.

“This is how death and resurrection work,” Bishop Unti remarked. “All life is grounded in brokenness. It is only when the seed is broken that life comes forth. Our growth means that each stage of life is about having to leave behind what we have known so that we can discover the new that God has in store for us.”

Rev. Paul Kacynski is pastor of the Roots of the Table, a sapling-size Lutheran mission. He taught all those present the term “inosculation,” which is what happens when two trees touch. “If their branches or their roots or even their trunks touch for a long enough time, they begin to grow together. They become one tree,” Kacynski said. “Let’s continue to explore the ways that we touch. We have grown out of one church and we continue to grow together.”

In other words, be the tree. Be rooted and built up, constantly growing and re-forming as you are being taught. Continue to live your lives in faith, abounding in thanksgiving. Break open, leave behind and discover what new thing is in store for you and—by extension—God’s church and the world.

Martin Luther, 500 years ago, said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace… Hence a person is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him or her this grace.” Today, Pope Francis tells us, “As we move beyond those episodes in history that burden us, we pledge to witness together to God’s merciful grace, made visible in the crucified and risen Christ… Christ desires that we be one, so that the world may believe.”

The lesson of both Oct. 25th and 29th is not about a nostalgic view of the Protestant Reformation after all. The lesson is the conversion of heart within us all that is necessary for us to reform ourselves for the present and future.


Deborah Squires,
Worship & Liturgy graduate assistant
MAPS student, STM


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What Are We Preaching ?

2015-05-11 08.24.12Each week pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, and religious leaders of all types hold the attention of the faithful to deliver a sermon, homily, lecture, or speech. In many protestant traditions these sermonic moments have become the apex of the church experience. While in the Catholic tradition the Eucharist is the pinnacle of the corporate experience, the homily still holds weight in the way that speech making is central to the Western world. As is the case with many people of faith, I hear at least a hundred sermons per year as a part of one liturgical setting or another, and I am beginning to have a major concern about the content of sermons across the board. I have found that nearly all religious expressions originate in the pioneer work of a spiritual genius (Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha, etc.) who struggles in isolation for a time, amid the opposition of established modes of thought, until an army of lesser intellectuals scatters the new thought broadcast, and it becomes a permanent factor in human consciousness (Quimby 1895).  The more preaching I hear the more I am persuaded we have moved past the genius of the founders of our various religious expressions.

I am most familiar with the preaching of the Christian tradition which seems to have completely lost its original prophetic motif. By prophetic I mean the mode of preaching modeled by Jesus in the tradition of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, and Amos who boldly and publicly critiqued the oppressive and exploitative behaviors of the rulers and ruling class in their respective settings in life. Somehow much of what passes for preaching – at least in popular media–has forsaken an eschatological hope of justice in this world for an apocalyptic worldview expressed as a sense of powerlessness to effect meaningful positive change in an unjust social order. We are lacking a truly prophetic critic which holds a principled public critique and opposition to systemic injustice. (Hendricks 2011).

The global rise and popularity of fundamentalism and particularly Christian evangelicalism has shifted much preaching even in other traditions toward self-help emotionalism and messages of individual piety. These messages lack the moral and political judgement that a preacher is divinely compelled to proclaim, particularly to those in political authority. This surely is not the model that was set by Jesus for prognosticators of the message to follow. Jesus’ preaching notoriously challenged the aristocracy of his time and castigated the political infrastructure while always lifting the status of the marginalized and the oppressed. There was no lazy escapism in the preaching of Jesus. The primary concern of the recorded sermons of Jesus was creating a kindom where marginalization, disenfranchisement, and alienation would cease and equality, equity, and equanimity would rule the day.

The liturgical act of preaching is the exercise of communal speech and it gains its importance only as preachers are servants of the assembly (Lathrup 1993). What we desperately need today are preachers who will follow the model of Jesus and preach to the people from the people a culture of resistance.  Kelly Brown Douglas is a wonderful womanist theologian and preacher who defines the culture of resistance as one that fosters the struggle for life and wholeness and helps people resist notions and practices that dismiss their humanity (Douglas 1999).  The best of the Christian prophetic tradition follows closely and takes seriously not simply preaching about Jesus, but preaching what Jesus preached.  A careful examination of the topics of Jesus’ preaching will show that he preached a transcendent God before whom all persons are equal and this equality endows the well-being and ultimate salvation of each with equal value and significance.  What is normative in the preaching of Jesus is that every individual regardless of class, country, caste, race, or gender should have the opportunity to fulfill their potentialities (West 1982,2002).

The prophetic preacher seeks to paint a picture of a new world characterized by a preferable future. They paint the world with the toolkit of oral performance, imagination, and keen intellectual investigation (III 2015). The power of Spirit moves within the artist and with all their preparation a masterpiece is born. I challenge you to ask yourself and ask of your leader, what are we preaching?


Peace Is Possible,

donalson signature.jpg 

Bishop Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor



Works Cited

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Hendricks, Obrey M. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible , the Church, and the Body Politic. MaryKnoll: Obris Books.

III, Otis Moss. 2015. Blue Note Preaching in A Post-Soul World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Quimby, P.P. 1895. The Philosophy of P.P. Quimby. Boston: The Builders Press .

West, Cornell. 1982,2002. Prophesy Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity. Louisville: John Knox Press.




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The Liturgical Theology of Protest



Liturgical theology is the elucidation of the meaning of worship. When we talk about liturgy, it is always in the context of volunteer gatherings of diverse people in local communities enacting shared vision that has public and communal meaning, combating the deleterious effects of individualism (Lathrup 1993).Worship takes form in tradition. Culture provides context for all things human. Together they shape and reshape each other, offering resources of faith, consolation, and mission (Wilkey 2014). The present sociopolitical climate is reshaping our culture and therefore the idea and practice of worship. We are as individuals and as a collective what time, circumstance, and history have made of us (Baldwin 1983). As I attended a #BlackLivesMatter rally this summer it occurred to me that protests and rallies are literally liturgical worship spaces for a whole segment of the population. This new liturgical moment is grounded in a theology that privileges proximity and engages a hermeneutic of hunger. The hermeneutic of hunger suggests that spirituality is the answer to what oppression, illness, lack of education, and apathy inflict on human beings (Soelle 2001). The work of the people is literally arising from among the people as they gather around the shared commitment to changing the world for the better.


After an opening homily (speech) made by the organizer who served as worship leader for the day, there was an invitation to anyone who wanted to “speak out”. This invitation to witness, testify, or preach reminded me immediately of the stillness of the Quaker church waiting for Spirit to prompt the sermonizing for the day. It also reminded me of the Methodist/Baptist/Pentecostal traditions of the Black church; holding space for the Holy Spirit to move in the people. As a song arose spontaneously from among the people, the chants changed in the most undirected and congregational form. Protest singing carries an eschatological expectation of justice in this present world. All of the singing operated as what could be called a discursive formation of resistance and came from within the group representing both the particularities of the participants and the collective experience of the whole simultaneously (Hendricks 2011). Social scientists inform the conversation by qualifying religiosity as believing, belonging, and behaving; the phenomenon of protest rallies is certainly religious (Campbell 2010). This rally was undeniably liturgical, but I had yet to find out what the focus of worship was.

Just as I was about to abandon my thoughts, it became clear to me. “Love defeats hate,” they chanted, and it became clear what the worship moment was dedicated to. The next chant brought even more clarity: “Racism stops with me.” If it is true that in worship we celebrate together God’s gracious gifts of creation and salvation, and are strengthened to live in response to the Divine, then this liturgical moment had become true worship, bearing in mind that true worship always involves action not merely words (Wilkey 2014). The march was liturgy moving through the city as a gift of worship from the public to the commons. This was worship that was not at all authoritarian for it called each person to develop their powers of love for others as well as themselves and experience the solidarity of all living beings (Fromm 1978).

What if our temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship came alive with the energy of these protestors? What is germane to protest that draws people in such large numbers that is missing in the liturgies we experience weekly within our communities of faith? There is clearly a source of life so attractive to the masses that it moves them to attend marches and protest while our houses of worship seem to be experiencing decline. I invite you to ask yourself what lessons the liturgical theology of protest has for your context that might spark a new burst of energy and change the landscape of your worship.

Peace Is Possible,

donalson signature.jpg

+ Edward Donalson, III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 


Works Cited

Baldwin, James. 1983. Notes of A Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press.

Campbell, Robert Putnnam and David E. 2010. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York : Simon & Schuster.

Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.

Hendricks, Obrey M. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible , the Church, and the Body Politic. MaryKnoll: Obris Books.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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