Category Archives: Reviews

White Crane #70 – Elizabeth Cunningham’s The Passion of Mary Magdalen

Rvu_cunningham The Passion of Mary Magdalen
by Elizabeth Cunningham
Monkfish Publishing
640 pages, $29.95
ISBN: 0976684306

Reviewed by Steven LaVigne

“The road to the country of life is hard. It blisters your feet and breaks your heart” writes Elizabeth Cunningham in her remarkably exciting new age biography, The Passion of Mary Magdalen. Subtitled The Maeve Chronicles, this massive, but refreshing feminist approach to the woman who’s a hero for many who draw strength from the Bible’s most enigmatic character couldn’t have been published at a better time. The worldwide sensation of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code has raised so many issues among the Christian population, it was only a matter of time before alternative viewpoints regarding the key people in Christ’s ministry would appear.

Cunningham takes us into the world of Maeve, nicknamed Red, who’s the daughter of the warrior witches of Tir na Mban, including Cailleach, Bride, and Dugall the Brown.  Using traditional Biblical concepts that she’s a reformed prostitute, rather than the theory she was born into a wealthy French family, Cunningham’s take on Biblical history and her epic storytelling style are unique.  Often The Passion of Mary Magdalen is written in the romantic style of a Harlequin Romance (she even asks readers if the story is “starting to read like a romantic novel,”), yet by combining modern phrases, such as “get a life” or “get over it” with such beautiful metaphors as “the wood is so still you could hear the leaves breathe,” Cunningham gives us a feminist hero for modern times.
Sold into Roman slavery, Maeve’s saga moves quickly from the brothel to servitude to Paulina, the virgin wife of the ancient Claudius. Befriended by Reginus, a gay slave, Maeve’s spiritualism is recognized and after an encounter with her stepfather, Bran, a Druid warrior who, as Rex Nemorensis, guards the holy tree in Diana’s forest, she’s raised to the level of priestess in the Temple of Isis.

The Fascist emperor, Tiberius Caesar forces changes in Rome and the story moves to Judea for its second half, where it really takes off.  Using William Blake’s poem “And Did Those Feet” as a basis, Maeve explains that the lost (Gnostic) gospels are mostly speculation, when Esus (the Celtic name for Jesus) aka Yeshua, enters the story in Chapter 37.  Franco Zefferelli modernized the Virgin Birth by having Mary go through labor pains in Jesus of Nazareth and Cunningham further modernizes the Mother by drawing an unflattering portrait of Miriam/Mary.

Cunningham creates a complex woman, conflicted in her love for Jesus and her need to serve Isis.  She has a sexual relationship with Jesus, thus humanizing the man, and she connects the tale of the Good Samaritan to Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert, having the Samaritan deliver him to the Temple Magdalen, built to worship all goddesses and gods, because “all things are possible.”  Baptized by John in the river Jordan, Maeve dislikes Simon Peter, calling him “Rocks for Brains,” and Cunningham focuses on Maeve’s passions, especially in the saga’s compelling second half.

The Passion of Mary Magdalen has been rightly compared to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.  Just as that book told the legend of King Arthur from the women’s viewpoint, The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham brings its title character into modern times by creating an extraordinary perspective of the woman loved by Jesus.  For the novice, the Biblical scholar and the Feminist, this is a book that’s not to be missed.

Steven LaVigne lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is a contributing writer to White Crane.

White Crane #70 – Lawrence Schimel’s Two Boys in Love

Rvu_schimel Two Boys in Love
by Lawrence Schimel
7th Window Pub
170 pages, $13.95
ISBN: 0971708940

Review by Steven LaVigne

If you pick up a copy of Lawrence Schimel’s Two Boys in Love, your first impression is that it’s a beach read. Two hunks are facing away from one another, the blond cruising the dark-haired man in the foreground. But what riches are hiding inside this delicious collection of short stories.

The first half features nine stories, all of them told in a second person narrative that creates both a comfortable mood and an erotic tone. In “The Book of Love,” one man cruises another at the bookstalls of Barcelona’s Ramblas, taking a chance on love, while “Marchen to a Different Beat” brings Hansel and Gretel into Cinderella territory with a high school dance, a gay fairy named, of all things, Mary, and a Prince Charming named Jack, complete with a comment about his “beanstalk.” In another gay fairy tale, a young man asks a witch for help by working to earn a love potion.

Two of Schimel’s erotic New York tales are rich in sexual images. In “Season’s Greetings,” two men pleasure themselves at the window across an air shaft, while “The Story of Eau” has never made bathing seem so exciting. By far, the most compelling story in the collection, however, is “The River of Time,” wherein the narrator disposes of his best friend’s ashes in the water near the Christopher Street docks, only to encounter strange happenings later on. This story is remnant of “The Brocaded Slipper,” the Vietnamese version of the Cinderella legend, which brings redemption and resurrection to the story.

The second half of Two Boys in Love is a series of five short pieces about Carles and his mysterious boyfriend, Javi. Throughout the tales, told from Carles’ point of view, he fends off the feeble advances of a Frenchman, fantasizes that the motorcycle man who delivers Javi for a date is David Beckham (who’s evidently had gay affairs if you read the tabloids, although no one’s ever come forth to confirm this), and learns about Javi’s relationship with a straight couple who wants to experiment. In the end, though, it’s clear that these two boys are really in love with one another.

Two Boys in Love may be a book for the beach or the bathtub, but it’s a pleasurable experience wherever you partake in Schimel’s exquisite writing.

Steven LaVigne lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is a contributing writer to White Crane.

White Crane #70 – Mark Jordan’s Blessing Same Sex Unions

Rvu_jordan Blessing Same-Sex Unions:
The Perils of Queer Romance
and the Confusions of Christian Marriage

By Mark Jordan
University of Chicago
258 pages, HB, $29.00

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Mark Jordan is Professor of Religion at Emory University, author of two influential and mind-blowing books on the history of the idea of “sodomy” in Christian Church history and several other books, and he is a marvelous writer and rhetorician.

Blessing Same-Sex Unions is a delight to read. At times, of course, it is precise and theological. There’s nothing lax about the book’s argumentation. But it’s written with a certain whimsy and delightfully arch rhetorical style. In the Epilogue, Jordan compares the book to an opera buffa, a comedy of manners, and his narrative voice perhaps to what he calls “the avuncular parson’s winking approval.” From behind the curtain of his serious theological and cultural commentary, you can occasionally imagine the author sticking his head out, smiling at the audience, and delivering a great one-liner—or maybe giving a campy raspberry to all the seriousness.

Blessing Same-Sex Unions takes a different point of departure from usual for discussing gay marriage. Instead of arguing about rights and benefits and human or American liberties, Jordan addresses the question of ceremonies: what is a “wedding”? how do you put on a properly “gay” wedding? what does it mean to “bless” the union? what is the “union”?

One of the reasons, perhaps, that Jordan’s prose is so pleasantly mannered is that he is acutely concerned with language and complains that the language used to debate this contentious issue is usually imprecise and misleading. So he spends considerable space in the book analyzing the language of religion and particularly of marriage and relationship.

I recommend the book simply for its enjoyable readability and its occasional comedy about what is often so “deadly serious” on both sides of the debate. But, of course, the content matters and Jordan’s take on the content is refreshingly different from the usual.

As part of analyzing “marriage,” Jordan looks at the real issues: the wedding and the commitment (to what?). In one of the more humorous sections, he picks apart an issue of Modern Bride Magazine, showing that weddings are really for ceremonies for women and they’re mostly about spending exorbitant sums of money on dresses and catering. He jokes that gay men are intrinsic to weddings—but usually as the dress designers, the planners, and the caterers (and maybe the priests!). Weddings are big business in America. They’re done through the Churches, but really have very little to do with religion.

As a Church historian, Jordan solidly refutes the notion that heterosexual marriage is the fundamental building block of society and has remained unchanged through Church history. Early Christianity did not approve of marriage at all. St. Paul wanted all Christian believers to abstain from sex, reproduction, and marriage as he did. The early Christians believed the end of the world and the return of Jesus were imminent. Having children and planning for the future were signs of unbelief. And monogamy and indissolubility as the central characteristics of Christian marriage are new ideas, certainly not consistent with the polygynist model of the Biblical patriarchs. Even Jesus’ teachings on marriage have more to do with honoring women as equal human beings than with offering a legal structure for or a theology about sex.

Christianity has been traditionally anti-sex and anti-pleasure. So marriage is less about legitimating sex or discovering the mystical significance of sexual consciousness than it is about keeping inheritance lines clear and placing sexuality in a pattern that ultimately subordinates it to child-rearing.

A theme that runs through the book is how modern gay men and lesbians might be reforming marital and childrearing expectations, perhaps, by doing it better. The (surreptitiously anti-sex?) Fundamentalists complain that gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed because gay people (men especially) are more likely to be pro-sex and liberal (adulterous?) with one another. We gay men might argue, for instance, that a little outside sex, especially engaged in honestly and forthrightly within rules like “only when the partner is out of town,” can actually strengthen the bond of love between the partners. That’s what the “family values” people call redefining marriage and worry that our gay adaptations to reality might allow all marriages to be happier, more stable, and—god forbid!—more sexually satisfying.

One of the most interesting discussions in the book is based on analysis of love letters from earlier times. In the letters between the literary critic F.O. Mathiessen and the painter Russell Cheney, for instance, who were lovers from 1924 to 1945, Jordan finds a definition of male love and bonding that blends Walt Whitman’s enthusiasm for embodiment with conventional marriage to come up with a notion of loving “companionship, devotion, and laughter” that enhances personal freedom rather than constraining it.

Jordan looks at “rites” and “liturgies” to see just what is being blessed. Looking at several scripts for gay marriage ceremonies, he elucidates just what kind of commitment the partners might be entering into based on the words they use in their, perhaps personally composed, vows. He also analyzes John Boswell’s arguments that “Pre-Modern” Christianity actually had rituals for same-sex bonding.

If you’re rushing out to join the crowd demanding the same rights—and rites—as heterosexuals because it’s the cause celebre of the moment, you might be more interested in one of those guides to gay marriage, with referral pages for the best costumes or most stylish comestibles for the reception. But if you want to delve deep into the meaning of what such a “blessing” is, here’s the book for you. And it’s a fun read!

Toby Johnson is former publisher and current contributing editor  to White Crane.  His newest book, Two Spirits, is reviewed in this issue.

White Crane #70 – FM3’s Buddha Machine (Music)

Buddhamachine Music
FM3 – Buddha Machine
Label: Staalplaat 2006 $22.99

Reviewed by Bo Young

FM3 is an electronic act based in China, an act known primarily for a (very) minimalist bent and, apparently, their ability to subdue live crowds into absolute Alpha-wave silence. As such, it only makes sense that they be the act to introduce Staalplaat’s Buddha Machine series. The Buddha Machine is a unique sound box, made in China (isn’t everything these days?) that comes with an integrated speaker, a volume control, mini jack-out…even two AA batteries…and a switch to choose between nine different loops stored on a small chip and can be directly played by…and only by…this mini sound system.

The Buddha Machine is ambient music. If you ever listened to flautist Paul Horn’s classic Taj Mahal recordings you are halfway there. It’s background music, but it is also art form in and of itself. The music, that never stops, relaxes you and stimulates you at the same time. And, it’s a nice little adult toy that you will like to hold in your hands, play with and carry it with you.

It’s a little plastic box that plays music. FM3 composed (constructed?) these nine drones (or so we are told…it’s kind of hard to count them, I keep drifting off or I go off into some creative jag when I am listening to it. I can’t swear to the nine) that vary from two seconds to forty-two seconds; they repeat endlessly in the listener’s ear until the "track" is switched to the next drone (or the two AA batteries run out).
The machine has (is?) its own built-in speaker, in case one would like to fill a room with the drones, but there is also a headphone jack for more personal meditative experiences. There’s a switch on the side that allows for traversal of the tracks, and a DC jack (no AC adapter) for those who would like the Buddha Machine experience be truly endless. In a way, it’s like the cheapest pre-loaded iPod you’ll ever be able to buy. It even comes in different colors, displayed minimally on the side of the lotus bedecked, blue box in which the box comes. Seven colors. (Mine’s a monkish saffron). Nine drones. Having only purchased one of these (well, two if you don’t count the one I had sent to Dan) I can’t verify that every Buddha Machine has the same content. Somehow I’d like to imagine they don’t. Collect them all!
At its minimalist little heart (see illustration), however, the Buddha Machine flies in the face of the downloading—if not the collecting—age. First: the entire point of the release is to have the little box.

Sure, theoretically you could download each of the drones (available in mp3 form on FM3’s website), set "repeat" in your media player of choice, and have something close to the original effect, but you lose much of the effect, the “aura,” if you will, of the work that way—evaluating the drones purely on the basis of their musical merit is entirely different than evaluating them as an aspect of an odd little artifact. Second: the sound of the drones via the machine is, in fact, very, very lo-fi; there is an audible buzz in the speaker as the volume gets higher, not to mention a fair amount of hiss that accompanies the drones at any volume. An argument could be made that the constant hiss and crackle is a part of the music (much as the point of John Cage’s 4’33" is not the silence, but the sounds surrounding that silence), lending a bit of entropy to the largely static drones.
All of this is not even to mention the idea that in an age where "how much have you got?" is at least as important a question as "how good is it?", an entire release that contains just under three minutes of unique sound is quite the rara avis.
The drones themselves are largely wonderful, whether carefully studied or relegated to the background. Most of the drones are (if my online translation skills don’t fail me) named after animals and musical instruments, with a couple given the nondescript names of "b1" and "b2", and the final drone named after the verb "To Dance.” The first drone, translated "Horse," is particularly lovely, two repeated organ-like tones that last about fifteen seconds each, which after a while create a lovely, moody, minor-key atmosphere. "Sheep" actually features a melody, that when repeated for a couple of minutes, becomes one of the most peaceful of the drones for its simplicity and use of empty space. Even "b1," (that’s “be-one”…or is it “bone?”) composed with a single, decaying chord only six seconds in length, could slow your heartbeat with its insistence on never, ever moving. The process itself is mesmerizing. I would listen to a drone—for who knows how long?—and then switch the little side switch, back or forth, switching from one drone to the next. Like I said…there are, reportedly, nine of them. I can’t quite count that high when I listen to this…this…box…

The Buddha Machine is more than a little novelty. That’s part of its charm. You can have a little pink (or red, or black, or orange) box that plays ambient music. You can display it. People will ask about it. It’s an icebreaker. But what’s truly special about it is what FM3 has done with a tiny bit of recording space on a little speaker. It’s mesmerizing. It’s portable relaxation. And if you’ve read this far, admit it—you know you want one.

Buddha Box is available one line at Jazz Loft or at Amp Camp at Amp Camp 

Bo Young is Publisher and Editorial Director of White Crane.

White Crane #69 – Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism and Kenji Yoshino’s Covering


Ethics in a World of Strangers
By Kwame Anthony Appiah
Norton Publishing, 256 pages $23.95
ISBN: 0393061558

Covering: The Hidden
Assault on Our Civil Rights
By Kenji Yoshino

Random House, 304 p. $24.95
ISBN: 0375508201

Reviewed by Kai  North

I grew up in a really small town in the American South. In my town, there were only blacks and whites. Integration came along after I had started school. Given the times and the place, my town, my parents, and I took it all very well. It even so happened that by the time I finished junior high school, my best friend was black. It wasn’t something I deliberately chose; I just liked him best of all my friends. We left that town, and moved to a larger one, and then a couple of years later to an even larger one. I got to know Latinos, Asians and Jews.  In college, I counted among my mix of friends a man from Zambia, and another from Japan. Neither of them was as weird as the guy from Idaho. My life has been one of increasing exposure to the wonderful and fascinating variety of cultures in our world. I have yet to travel outside the US, but I did choose to move to Washington, DC, and here I have met people from all over our planet, and some I have gotten to know very well. 

As I was moving toward increasingly urban environments, the world was growing closer together. This shows up not only in our commodities, but also our literature, art, and music increasingly come from far corners of the world, and sometimes sounds from many places will be blended together on one song. Far from being cacophonous, it merges well. And yet this rush to a smaller and smaller planet has been disorienting, too. Five years ago the United States suddenly woke up to realize it wasn’t universally loved, but many of its citizens didn’t know why—and unfortunately many still do not. More and more English is challenged not only online, but in the streets and marketplaces. A few years ago I went to a Salvadoran eatery wearing a DC United jersey. The waitress assumed since I liked soccer, I had to be able to speak Spanish. Fortunately, I knew enough to order food. 

How do we meet this world rushing at us—and past us—without losing dignity or our orientation? Fortunately, Kwame Anthony Appiah has supplied us with an ethical framework for the challenge. Dr. Appiah teaches philosophy at Princeton, and digging deep into the past as well as looking forward, he has arrived at what he calls “cosmopolitanism.” In classical Greek thought, a cosmopolitan was a citizen of the cosmos. To be cosmopolitan is to transcend narrow parochial interests—geographically and metaphorically—and reach out to the world. Culling from the history of cosmopolitan thought, Appiah notes that:

… there are two strands that intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism. One is the idea that we have obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship. The other is that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance. People are different, the cosmopolitan knows, and there is much to learn from our differences.

Isn’t this multiculturalism? No, says Appiah. Too much that goes on in the name of multiculturalism defeats freedom—forbidding us to critique human rights abuses in other cultures, for instance—and the cosmopolitan is for freedom, for the individual, particular human life, and his or her longings and needs. That is why Appiah opposes facile “cultural preservationism,” the mistaken belief in cultural purity that must be preserved. Many a Western intellectual has decried the appearance of t-shirts and ball caps in the remotest village of the Amazon. They say that U.S. lead capitalism is destroying the world. But Appiah believes that if the inhabitants of these far villages really want to wear the t-shirts and ball caps, they should be free to do so. To deny them is to be against their rights and dignity as individuals.

Besides, there are no pure cultures. From time immemorial, cultures have been interacting, trading goods and ideas. And often the result has been more positive than those of cultural isolationism. The Romans borrowed from the pantheon of Greek deities, and then later from a monotheism out of a provincial backwater, itself a fusion of ideas from all over the ancient world. You favorite Italian dish probably wouldn’t exist without tomatoes originating in the Western Hemisphere or the idea of pasta from China. These are things everyone knows; few understand. Appiah argues that it is the very nature of culture to grow and change, by interacting with other cultures, incorporating elements of the others or reacting to them. To preserve a culture in its purity condemns it to stagnation and its individual members to a prison. 

Rather than facile multiculturalism and cultural conservation, Appiah calls people to a “conversation.” There are certain values a cosmopolitan will hold, about human dignity and freedom for instance, but how these values are to be carried out in individual lives and in various cultural settings require a frank and open discussion about our individual aspirations and worldviews. Appiah rightly argues that while the discussion can involve the rational, the appeals to change and acceptance will come not from rational argument, but from accustomization. The changes in the perception of women’s roles in society and the acceptability of gays and lesbians has come not through persuasively rational arguments, as much as through increased visibility of women in the workplace and gays and lesbians in public and in the media. People have simply gotten used to the ideas, and as a result their resistance has diminished.

So it will be with our intercultural conversation. We, as cosmopolitans, will seek to understand each other better, and though we will never completely agree, we will learn to accept each other, and greet each other as sovereign individuals with imperatives and values we often share even if we carry them out differently. And while toleration of difference is a hallmark of cosmopolitanism, that toleration is counterbalanced by valuing individual human lives. For instance, a cosmopolitan would not simply accept that curtailing the rights of women or the execution of gays in Muslim societies, but rather would promote the elevation of the status of those two marginalized groups within a Muslim context. Given that cultures evolve, in other words, our duty as persons who value the dignity of every particular human being is to promote the evolution of cultures in a way that they promote the value of every human being within those cultures. 

Rvu69_yoshino If Cosmopolitanism is about how the individual greets the world, then Covering is about how the individual presents herself to the world. Kenji Yoshino teaches law at Yale, and he believes he has discovered the final frontier of our struggle for civil rights. He interestingly starts with the civil rights of gays and lesbians, but extrapolates from that struggle to the struggles for rights for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and beyond. Until very recently, gay people were forced to convert—to try to become straight, sometimes by means of horrifying physical and psychological torture (some of which even today can be found in the “ex-gay” movement). Progressing from “conversion,” gays and lesbians were required to “pass” for decades, to present themselves as straight, regardless of how they see themselves or behave in private. Finally, as gays and lesbians have come to be more accepted; the latest requirement is that they “cover”—–be gay but don’t be too vocal or too flamboyant. Covering means: not overly expressing who you are.

In a work context, a gay man will often be expected not to behave or dress flamboyantly. He may be expected to “butch it up,” and while his co-workers may know he is gay, he may be discouraged from keeping a picture of his partner at his cubicle, or at least from bringing him to the annual holiday party. An African-American may be expected to dress more conservatively—leave the mud cloth at home, for instance—to be able to advance in his job, or perhaps to keep it. Women, particularly, are asked to walk a fine line, being held back for being too feminine—for instance being too “touchy-feely” in managing employees—or too masculine—behaving too aggressively, too “man-like,” when trying to win a client or argue a case. Women have been held back at their jobs, not only for getting pregnant, but for being in some predetermined age-range for optimal child-bearing.

Yoshino cites Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a coverer. Everyone on his cabinet knew he was confined to a wheelchair, yet he always arrived at cabinet meetings first and had himself in place at the table before anyone else, to minimize the impact of his disability.

Yoshino says that whenever he starts expounding on how various groups of people are asked to cover, he inevitably gets a question from some straight white male in the audience, protesting that not only do women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT folk have to mute their individual differences—he battles depression, for instance, or has been required to cover his religious life in order to advance in the office. And Yoshino recognizes that this, too, is a form of covering, and just as bad as what is required for the traditionally protected rights groups. He says that the law in the US has traditionally favored immutable traits—skin color, gender, and increasingly, sexual orientation—but it has not protected behaviors. For instance, a black woman cannot be fired for being black, but she can be fired for wearing cornrows, rather than straightening her hair.

Yoshino’s solution seems strange for a professor of the law, and yet it rings true: we do not need more civil rights laws to free people from covering—we need a cultural shift in our attitudes toward individual expression. We continue to be asked to assimilate—to meet certain rather narrowly defined norms in appearance, conversation and behavior. He suggests instead that we should look to see how individuals can express their true natures, without crossing a line to offensive behavior. I shouldn’t mind the gay man at work doing some gender blending or swishing, if it doesn’t hurt his job performance intrinsically, but I have a right to be offended were I to see a leather queen in buttless chaps on the subway.

In working out the particulars in society of where to draw the line between what is an acceptable expression of individuality and what is offensive, Yoshino recommends a process similar to that of Appiah—a conversation. We need to get our thoughts and ideas out there and under discussion. We need to celebrate the dignity and the freedom of the individual to express herself, in her preferred cultural, ethnic, gender and spiritual expressions, and acclimate ourselves to an ever-widening variety in human life. Only as we push ourselves to acquaint ourselves with the Other—to make ourselves a little uncomfortable in order to stretch our boundaries—can we win for ourselves the right to reveal our own true natures. The discussion, according to Yoshino and Appiah may not be easy, but it will be interesting, and that will make our human lives more fulfilling and enjoyable.

Both of these slim volumes pack a tremendous amount of profundity and elegance, and yet they are highly readable, and filled with personal anecdotes and reflections; this short review cannot do them justice. Cosmopolitanism and Covering ought to influence our national and international conversations on the freedoms of people to express themselves while fulfilling their obligations within society.

We need to talk to one another.

Kai North is a writer living in Washington, DC.  He last reviewed Bilal’s Bread and The Taqwacores in the Winter 2006 issue of White Crane.

White Crane #69 – Urs Mattmann’s Coming In

Rvu69_mattman Coming In
by Urs Mattmann, 230 pages
Wild Goose Publications,
ISBN: 1901557987

by Steven LaVigne

There’s an episode of the television series, “Sex and the City” where, following her divorce from Trey, Charlotte seeks guidance through a Self-Help book. Over the years, I’ve reviewed my share of them, but seldom have I had the pleasure of lingering over, savoring and learning from them as I did with Urs Mattmann’s Coming In: Gays and Lesbians Reclaiming the Spiritual Journey. Mattmann recognizes and realizes the confusion and anger many gays have with organized religion, and beyond answering questions, he makes suggestions, recommends exercises, meditations and prayers as a practical solution toward becoming a 21st Century Christian.

While perusing the contents for Coming In, readers quickly learn that Mattmann’s manual addresses topics such as "Gay and Lesbian Gifts and Opportunities," the importance of the "Partnership of Love," "Sexuality as a Source of Strength" and "Community Models for the Spiritual Journey."

Mattmann often states his mind, using himself and his lover as examples to put his theories into action.  For one thing, he reminds us that the time for debating the development of gay people is finished. Studies of the coming out process reveal that many of our lives and experiences often parallel one another. He sees gays and lesbians as mystics who can use their shared sexual energy to service the whole of creation.

He finds the word “spirituality” all encompassing, because “true spiritual experiences encompass humanity and nature, all of creation.” Because there are so many different experiences with the divine through different faiths, Mattmann is capable of identifying these spiritualities and he explores them in depth. He sees spirituality as a means toward reaching a higher level of sexual energy, yet recommends deeper exploration becoming in tune with our genitals, our chakras and how to use them for heightened sexuality as a source of strength and nourishment.

Mattmann personalized his writing when he discusses how a backache during meditation led him to address his inner pain and once accepting it, how he dealt with it. He advises regular meditation, in whichever form chosen, and integrating it into daily life. This is one method of healing the collective hurt and guilt many gay Christians feel due to the Vatican,

Fundamentalists or Protestant attempts to change gays and lesbians. Meditation, ritual, self-help groups, therapies and talking circles are other methods he recommends toward helping to heal these inner wounds.

The information in Coming In is nothing if not thorough, and Mattmann’s arguments are convincing. He cites Moses’ journey in the desert as a model for liberation, and informs readers that they need to realize that that coming out is the start, not the end of liberation. By finding a system for making statements that define our sexuality, asking questions, answering them and appreciating our experiences, we learn to use our sexuality as a source of strength. This will give the second part of the liberation process, coming in, more meaning as we use spirituality to guide our lives. When we reach this enlightenment, we discover how Queer Power can serve the world. 

Unlike the multitude of other self-help books, Urs Mattmann’s Coming In is one book from which we can all learn, even people like those people like Charlotte of “Sex and the City.”

Steven LaVigne is a frequent contributor and reviewer for White Crane.  He lives in the Twin Cities.

White Crane #69 – Edward Field’s The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag

Rvu69_field The Man Who Would Marry
Susan Sontag: And Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era

by Edward Field – University of Wisconsin Press,
302 pages, ISBN: 029921320X

Reviewed by Dan Vera

Edward Field has lived a life.  The Academy Award winner is the recipient of a Lamont Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Prix de Rome.  Of course he’s still living his life and receiving the accolades including the recent W.H. Auden Award for a lifetime dedicated to poetry.  Although he is known and has been honored for his poetry, Field has done us the great favor of laying his life out in a stunning and entertaining memoir titled The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag

What comes alive is the story of a writer who makes a life of his work.  He is brutally honest about his life’s experiences.  A lot of these stories are hysterically funny and I found myself calling up friends to read particular passages about people I’d only known through their writing.  The book sheds new light on the lives of well known figures like Frank O’Hara, Susan Sontag, and May Swensen.  Then there’s the amazing figure who the book is titled after, Alfred Chester, who epitomized the bohemian dedication to one’s work and paid the price with his life.  The passages on Chester’s eccentric genius and especially his letters from Morocco present a compelling portrait that is aching to be made into a movie. 

Field holds nothing back and in case you think this is just a one-sided book of gossip — Field gives himself a thorough going over.  He deals with his own life’s struggles with a candor that is alarming at times.  You get the feeling that he’s lived this life and doesn’t give a damn who knows what about it — he’s beyond such considerations.  Field introduces us to so many important people that demand more consideration.  Robert Friend, a mighty poet of heart and precision, is brought to life in this book.  I found myself searching out his poetry and powerfully moved by this little known gay poet and scholar.  Another forgotten poet was Dunstan Thompson, who Field credits with being the first poet to write unashamedly and publicly about his love of men.  He cites Thompson for his use of the word "gay" in his work decades before it garnered general use.  His work is harder to find and sadly out of print.

You know you have found good writing when you are slightly upset to have reached the end of the book. I really wanted this book to continue.  I wanted Field to tell me more stories.  I ached to hear the sound of his voice as he recounted the tales of the people he has known and befriended. 

Strangely, in the days after reading his memoir and remembering this world of poets, artists, thinkers and life-livers, I was reminded of that line from the Gospel of Thomas.  “The kingdom of God is before you and you see it not.”  I take the "kingdom" to be a life of possibility and passion.  Field has revealed the kingdom of his life’s experience and in the telling challenges us to be aware of the marvels who walk among us.

Dan Vera is a poet and White Crane’s Managing Editor.  He lives in Washington, DC  His personal blog can be found at

White Crane #69 – Richard Holloway’s Godless Morality


Godless Morality:
Keeping Religion Out Of Ethics

By Richard Holloway
Canongate Books, 163 pages
ISBN: 0862419093

Reviewed by Malcolm Boyd

There seems to be a global civil war between adherents of religion, and it is drawing nearly everybody else into the melee.

Some people say it’s about interpretation of scripture while others claim it’s somehow related to what different folks do in bed—or on the sun deck.

Richard Holloway clearly states what’s emerging as a more and more prevalent view: “In fact, we no longer treat an injunction from scripture as having moral authority over us simply because it is in scripture. It has to have moral force independent of its scriptural context.” This would have seemed scandalous not too many years ago. Now many of us judge scripture by our own best moral standards, not the other way round. Holloway believes we do this in most areas except “the area of sexual behavior.”

I wonder. He acknowledges that the impetus of social reform usually happens “with the church right at the back of the procession.” At the present time, if the church wishes to remain back there—or seemingly can’t help itself, I think it may find that it has lost touch with a majority of people including an entire youth generation. If this happens, the church’s practice of identifying itself with God could turn into madly self-destructive exercise of irrelevance. God is not mocked. However, the church—when it keeps the trappings of religion, while abandoning all social and moral relevance—mocks itself.

Holloway is extremely helpful when he points out the “distinction between the priestly and prophetic poles in religion.” He is aware that the tension between the two is expressed, though not resolved, in the Bible. He goes on to say: “It is true that the priestly, controlling type of consciousness retrojected into scripture a dominant editorial overview, but the prophetic voice was never silenced, the voice of the critic and satirist, the voice we hear in Jesus.”

I find this close to the heart of the matter. Holloway is prophetic in his claim that most moral systems have reflected and given support to external structures of authority “because until very recent times most human systems were systems of command: domination systems, based on an ethic of obedience to authority.” When God was invoked, it was felt there could be little opposition. This assumed awful social and political implications when the divine right of kings was the rule of the land. Yet Holloway prophetically points to “the living word of Jesus that challenges us to follow the logic that scripture was made for humanity and not humanity for scripture.”

Holloway cites principles that we hold on moral, not theological, grounds. One is “Thou shalt do no murder.” It is accepted by unbelievers and believers alike. He believes if the church’s unity disintegrates over sexuality issues, “it will be because of disagreements over theology and philosophy, not because of sex.” In his view we confront a culture of injustice as well as “ingratitude for the contribution that gay and lesbian people have made to the life of the church down the centuries.”   

A writer and broadcaster, Holloway was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church until 2000. His work here is brave, groundbreaking, always lucid. He is a prophet of our times.

The Rev. Malcolm Boyd, author of 30 books, most recently In Times Like These, is a frequent contributor to White Crane and lives in Los Angeles.

White Crane #69 – Richard McCann’s Mother of Sorrows

Rvu69_mccann Mother of Sorrows
by Richard McCann
Vintage Contemporaries, 208 pages
ISBN: 1400096219

Reviewed by Dan Vera

Achingly beautiful, Richard McCann’s stunning collection of stories has recently been released in its paperback edition and rewards the reader with his abundant talents at painterly description. 

McCann evokes a moment with such gorgeous precision that many times I forgot I was reading a book — as if I was dreaming a reality and gasped into the night, waking myself from sleep and having to remind myself it was only a story.  What one is left with is a refreshing meditation on the gritty complications of our relationships as gay men.  This book has stunning power and an ability to leave the reader breathless at its beauty. 

McCann is the recipient of the Beatrice Hawley Award and the Capricorn Poetry Award for his earlier collection of poems Ghost Letters, and it is clear that he has enlisted his poetic talents to reveal images of powerful honesty in this moving memoir of his life.

Dan Vera is a poet and White Crane’s Managing Editor.  He lives in Washington, DC  His personal blog can be found at

White Crane #69 – Ritch C. Savin-Williams’ The New Gay Teenager

Rvu69_savinwilliams The New Gay Teenager
By Ritch C. Savin-Williams
Harvard University Press
2005, 288 pages, $24.95  ISBN 0-674-01673-4

Reviewed by Bo Young

This is, when all the research is digested and filed away, a hopeful book…much more so than “post-Gay” assimilationists, this book examines the incremental, generational, time-changing success gay liberation has actually had by looking at our children. I am always reminding myself that we’ve only been doing this for 30 some years and black people have been at it for a century or more and look where they are. I am hopeful for a time when “gay” ceases to be an “issue” without having to undergo utter assimilation. Liberation has always had a political component to it. Savin-Williams reminds us that there is a huge psycho-social aspect to it, too: nothing less than the greatest perpetration of child sexual abuse by the hetero-dominant culture against our gay children.

Gay, straight, bisexual: how much does sexual orientation matter to a modern teenager’s mental health or sense of identity?

In this award-winning, down-to-earth book, filled with the voices of young people speaking for themselves, Professor Ritch Savin-Williams argues that the standard image of gay youth presented by mental health researchers—as depressed, isolated, drug-dependent, even suicidal—may have been exaggerated even twenty years ago, and is far from accurate today.

The New Gay Teenager gives us a refreshing and frequently controversial introduction to confident, competent, upbeat teenagers with same-sex desires, who worry more about the chemistry test or their curfew than they do about their sexuality.

What does “gay” mean, when some adolescents who have had sexual encounters with those of their own sex don’t consider themselves gay, when some who consider themselves gay have had sex with the opposite sex, and when many have never had sex at all? What counts as “having sex,” anyway? Teenagers (unlike social science researchers) are not especially interested in neatly categorizing their sexual orientation.

In fact, Savin-Williams learns, teenagers may think a lot about sex, but they don’t think that sexuality is the most important thing about them. And adults, he advises, shouldn’t think so either.

Boidyke. Stem.
Down low.

In this lively and broadly researched book, Cornell University psychologist Savin-Williams reveals that the words gay teenagers use to describe their sexual preferences have changed radically over the past 30 years, and so have attitudes towards same-sex relationships. In fact, many of them are reluctant to define their sexuality at all. “In some respects,” Savin-Williams explains, "these teenagers might relate better to their pre-labeled, pre-identified grandparents than they do with their gay-liberated parents or their gay-resigned older cousins.” “For them ‘gay’ carries too much baggage,” and apparently they get along just fine without it. Much of the volume is devoted to Savin-Williams’ detailed critique of the psychological models currently used to study gay adolescence, which were developed in the 1970s and have barely changed since. These old models, Savin-Williams argues, don’t reflect the diversity of the current gay adolescent experience and should be replaced with a “differential developmental trajectories perspective.”

His book is an excellent resource for professional psychologists with gay patients, but it also contains enough invigorating, real-world case studies to interest general readers. The book was awarded the 2005 Distinguished Book Award, from the American Psychological Association.

Bo Young is Publisher and Editorial Director of White Crane.