The Call of Liturgist


The Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University

I recently attended two very different religious rituals one being a Lutheran ordination service and the other being a church launch of a new congregation which, I believe, is in the Baptist tradition. These services were radically different in style, format, length, and almost every other way imaginable. The sociocultural elements revealed the same polarities we see presently manifesting in every sector of our society. What struck me most after these two very different experiences was not the differences as much as the similarities. Underneath all of our religious traditions there is a fundamental need for humans to develop shared meaning making experiences.

In our commodified culture people are seldom experiencing intrinsic meaning in their careers. Jobs have become a way of earning livelihood and earning status.  People are finding little substantive community and it is increasingly difficult to find spaces to sort out shared goals and values (Anderson 1993). Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets fail miserably to deliver on the promise of community, even if they are community building tools.  In a profit-driven climate there seems to be little consideration for what is profitable for the common good.  Much of our culture has held financial gain as its number one priority, making profit margins our standard for success at the expense of human flourishing. We seem to have relinquished to the goal of human flourishing and self-actualization in favor of corporate greed and consumerism.

Having attended these two religious communities aware of these realities, I am reminded of the role of liturgy in society. Religious communities should not seek to leave their home cultures and establish settlements outside or live as island within them. Instead they should remain in and change them by subverting the culture to bring them closer to the image of the Divine (Volf 2011).  The best of our liturgical moments pushback against ideological hegemony in that it resists those systems of practices, meanings, and values which provide legitimacy to the dominant society’s institutional arrangements and interest (Yarber 2015).

I realized by attending these two very different liturgical moments we are called as liturgist of all faith traditions to create a 360-degree liturgical narrative.  Everyone learns differently and that makes a shared meaning making experience challenging. Because there are in our communities of faith people who make meaning intellectually and those who make meaning emotionally, the liturgy itself must speak to both head and heart. We must understand that we cannot be married to one way of communication (III 2015).  In the Christian context, the liturgy is effective not only when it makes meaning of the Divine and the life of the congregant but when it is upsetting through the power of the Gospel, humanity’s criteria of judgement, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration, and models of life, which are in contrast with the sacred worth of each individual (Frans Wijsen 2005).  The way we develop our liturgical moments must reflect both the people of the congregation and the times they are historically situated in, but also a countercultural critique of those times.

What if our worship planning teams began to ask where is the invitation in this liturgy and where is the moment of transgressive resistance? I am holding hope that there is a group of liturgist who will continue in our local context the tradition of intentional cultural critique. The occasion of the liturgy should inform the content of the liturgy, and the people gathered will always inform the complexion of the moment.  Whether the coals are lit at the altar or the tambourine is played in the pews the actions and manifestations of corporate worship should always invite its participants to think differently about the world. Along with the experience of transcendence my prayer is that each community of faith would experience transformation toward creating a more just and humane world.



Peace Is Possible,

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



Works Cited

Anderson, Terence R. 1993. Walking the Way: Christian Ethics as a Guide. Vancouver, BC: Regent College.

Frans Wijsen, Peter Henriot, Rodrigo Mejia, ed. 2005. The Pastoral Circle Revisted . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

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

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

Yarber, Cody J Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microagressions in Ministry . Louisville : Westminster John knox Press.



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A National Epiphany

855239-morningThe word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and means ‘manifestation’. It celebrates ‘the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ’. The six Sundays which follow Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation.  For many Protestant churches, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The last Sunday of the Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday. It is a celebration of a spiritual moment of sudden insight or understanding. What if this Epiphany season we can reimagine the ways we present Jesus to world?

In a time when people in power in our nation seem to have forgotten the ethic of neighbor love and radical hospitality we may have the greatest opportunity to take seriously the person and work of Jesus.  Talk of building walls, limiting access to the stranger, and political expediency all fly in the face of God being revealed in the person of Jesus. Perhaps we need a national Epiphany. Much confusion has been made over Jesus Christ throughout history that has not served well to keep the principles of Jesus alive in our culture.  We must be clear Jesus was a person, historically situated, Christ is a title, a theological principle. Christ is beyond history and infinite (Spong 1993). While Christ is Divine, infinite, and unlimited, Jesus is enculturated and situated in space and time.  Much of Christianity reconciles these two realities through hypostatic union or the doctrine which says Jesus was fully God and fully man.

sunsplosionI wonder what would happen if this Epiphany we focused our attention on the lived reality of Jesus? According to the New Testament (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission is inexplicable apart from others. Others, of course, are all people, particularly the oppressed and unwanted of society.  Here is God coming into the depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing humanity from the ungodly principalities and powers that hinder people’s relationship with God (Cone 1997).

As Jesus becomes a friend to outcasts (Matt. 11:19), inviting them to eat with him, he epitomizes the scandal of inclusiveness for his time. What is manifested in his healing of the sick is pushed to an extreme in Luke 11 by his invitation to the ritually unclean to dine with him (McFague 1987).  Throughout the narrative of the life of Jesus we discover a heart for access to health care especially among those who are experiencing the effects of poverty.  The life and praxis of Jesus then does three things: (1) reflects an intimate relationship between Jesus and the oppressed; (2) radicalizes the oppressed to fight for their freedom; and (3) highlights the contradiction between the Divine and the oppressor.

This year as we consider the Epiphany season the opportunity to take seriously the embodied historical realities of Jesus the Palestinian Hebrew born under Roman occupation on the margins of society.  As a member of a minoritized group under the thumb of a controlling dominant group Jesus was born in the poverty conditions of the underclass (Thurman 1976). This story reminds us that as followers of Jesus we must justly engage those among us considered the least of these.  There is no way to take seriously the story of Jesus and allow the rich to hijack the religion that sprung up as a response to Jesus. Followers of Jesus are called to do justice and love mercy.  The season we are now in provides us an occasion to remind our siblings that the cross of Jesus, a paradoxical religious symbol, inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  The story of Jesus informs witness. We must pay closer attention to the ways in which Jesus was Immanuel and how we as partners with this witness must move into our own ministries of faithfulness and hope (Townes 1995). This Epiphany season calls for a national Epiphany!


Peace Is Possible,

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


Works Cited

Cone, James. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1993. This Hebrew Lord: A Bishops Search for the Authentic Jesus. New York: HarperOne.

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

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.




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The Opportunity of Unity

embraceThis week we celebrate again the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  The theme for the 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power,” is taken from Exodus 15:6. The resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by the churches of the Caribbean by an ecumenical team of women and men under the leadership of His Grace Kenneth Richards, Catholic Archbishop of Kingston, the Antilles Episcopal Conference, together with Mr. Gerard Granado, General Secretary of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC).

It’s fascinating the way Providence works in the world. While the leader of our nation is referencing countries populated by Black and Brown bodies in the most derogatory ways, Christians in those nations are leading the charge for the unity of the Church.  Comments that dehumanize and alienate the other, reveal the urgent need for the Christian response. The sub-theme chosen for the week and the focus of our observance here at The School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University is “That They May All Be Free”.  This theme lifts a central tenant of all expressions of the Christian faith: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these…”. This theme challenges us at the foundations of our shared faith to remember the self-proclaimed purpose of Jesus who came, according to Luke 4, to preach to the poor and to set at liberty.

There is great opportunity in this week for the church because praying toward Christian unity forces us to ask ourselves some difficult questions.  We get to ask in this moment, what is the Universal good, and what action on my part would be in accord with it? And we get to ask, what character and conduct is in keeping with who we are as the people of God (Rasmussen 1989)? These questions are necessary for the Church to be amid forbidding circumstances a faithful community. If the Church is to be relevant in our time, we must remember the acute task of assisting the religious practitioner in the critical business of making sense of their experience.  Viable religion is one that has a sense of reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts. Religion is never incidental to the culture, and every theological formulation is viewed against the culture that produced it, if it is to be understood (Frazier 1974).  History will judge us by our response to the reality of our current sociopolitical atmosphere.

The task of the Church (particularly this week as we honor the Week of Prayer) is to provide a visible manifestation that the Gospel is a reality.  The Church as a community is called to bear collective witness against the sin that alienates the individual self from God and to go to the length of giving its life over to the struggle of dismantling sinful structures that calcify patterns of human alienation in the society in general (Warnock 2014). We cannot be the Church until all parts of humanity are at the table in shared fellowship of equality and equanimity. It is not enough to give a polite nod toward a theology of reconciliation. The real work of the Church is to embody community in a new and living way that takes into consideration the whole of creation. We must be mindful of our call to the full Body of Christ. My hope is that this week we will recommit to living out our prophetic witness in the world.

Peace Is Possible,

donalson signature.jpg

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



Works Cited

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America . New York: Schocken Books.

Rasmussen, Bruce Birch & Larry. 1989. Bible Ethics in the Christian Life. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.

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Religion Can Save The World

IMG_4065According to the calendar we have entered a new year, but that doesn’t always signal a new season. In the life of our spiritual communities it takes something more than a calendar change to engage the transformational hope that often accompanies a new year.  As we consider the potential that this new year brings, I have begun to consider the role of religion in society and the opportunity for spirituality to be transformational amid the toxicity of a consumer driven -market based economy.  I am convinced that spirituality humanizes us and is the antidote to the ways in which personhood is assaulted daily in a culture of thingification.


Regardless of faith tradition, at its heart, all spirituality is the articulation of a system of meaning making. Those meaning making systems are based in core human mythology. Our liturgical expressions are ritualization of deep mythology. Our spiritualities search through the ages for truth, meaning, and significance. The mythos that comes up around them allow us to understand our story, cope with our sense of the eternal, and rationalize the passage from birth through life, and then death.  While many cling to the idea of sacred text as literal, infallible, inerrant truth, there is a way that all sacred text points to the larger human condition from the center of the human condition that ought not be quickly dismissed. Our holy writ and sacred books open the world to the dimension of mystery and paint for us a picture of perfection. They are cosmological in that they show the shape of the universe.  We look to our scripture to serve the sociological function of supporting and validating social order, and ask them to be pedagogical and teach us how to live an authentically human life. In this way, all of our sacred texts belong to the world of myth (Campbell 1991).


This new year provides each religious community an opportunity to reimagine the power of the liturgy. To see liturgy as responsible to interpret the best of our deep mythologies toward a more just and humane global family. If humanity is in crisis responding to the devastating effects of multinational corporate greed, empire, patriarchy and every ism imaginable, then there is a powerful potential in volunteer gatherings of diverse people in local communities enacting shared vision that has public and communal meaning to combat the deleterious effects of individualism (Tocqueville 1956).  As we embark on a new twelve-month cycle, what if each local congregation, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc. would insist that each liturgical opportunity would be a visualsonic resistance to the imposition of nonbeing that has formed the story of our global experiences (Sharpe 2016)? Rather than being divided by the particulars of our systems, what if we dare to think about the universal implications of our particular mythology so that what is good and true at the heart of our sacred story is embodied in our coming together in life giving and affirming ways?


I am convinced that the opportunity of this year for spiritual communities is to show the world that the best of religion calls all people to develop their sense of reason enough to understand themselves and their relationship to all other people, while identifying their role in the universe. The highest spirituality is to develop the ability to love the Divine and the self and from that self-love to love all people (Fromm 1950). It doesn’t stop with reason.  The best of spirituality acknowledges the mystery of mysticism and makes room for the Divine to work in and through persons and all living things. If we can capture in our liturgies these simple truths then religion can save the world.

Peace Is Possible,

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


Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke Univeristy Press.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1956. Democracy in America . Edited by Richard D. Heffner. New York: New American Library.



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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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