Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Book Review: Diverse Worship.

This piece responds to Dr. Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid’s Diverse Worship. As is the usual pattern on this blog, I will begin with a brief summary of the material and conclude with a critique.

1. Summary of Material.

Dr. Maynard-Reid’s book posits that worship should be “wholistic”. (p. 16.) While at least indirectly critiquing “the dominant Caucasian culture” (whatever that is) as presenting less than a “wholistic” worship experience (p. 14), he offers three (3) “paradigms of what holistic worship should be.” (p. 16.) These paradigms include: African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic. (Chapters 4-13.) After setting the stage with an introduction about culture, the biblical setting or context, and a broader historical perspective (Chapters 1-3), Dr. Maynard-Reid dedicates one part or section to each of the three (3) paradigms. Within each part, the author discusses general characteristics, music and concludes with the “spoken word” or preaching aspect of a worship service.

Finally, Dr. Maynard-Reid concludes with a chapter on the “Rational & Physical”. In this chapter, the author argues for a more complete worship experience “encompass[ing] the rational and nonrational; the verbal and nonverbal.” (p. 203.)

2. Critique of Material.

Dr. Maynard-Reid’s book, while an earnest effort to broaden the types of worship experiences that are employed, and to engender understanding of other cultures, is beset by numerous maladies that ultimately doom its analysis and prescriptions.

First, Dr. Maynard-Reid disclaims that any culture or “worship pattern”, especially “African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic” are “monolithic”. (p. 24.) Yet, the analysis that follows belies or undermines his own contention. The author in fact shows himself to hold precisely the opposite view, namely, that there is a single African-American culture that can be categorized. Worse still, Dr. Maynard-Reid often traffics in stereotypes and cookie-cutter characterizations. For example, he writes that “black worship does not emphasize only the objective but highly encourages the subjective”. (p. 88.) What is “black worship”? Is it a singular concept? Are there different manifestations and varieties? Of course there are.

Similarly, Dr. Maynard-Reid remarkably states: “The roots of the African-American preacher go back to the motherland. The parallels between the African-American preacher and the African priest/medicine man are striking.” (p. 87.) Again, he writes so easily about a single archetype as if there is only one kind of African-American preacher. In my experience, this is simply untrue—African-American preachers are not all alike, and are as varied as the number of people being contrasted.

This diverse reality (within the very cultures that he passes off as monolithic) is apparently lost on Dr. Maynard-Reid. Dr. Maynard-Reid does not limit his stereotyping to the three (3) paradigms he proffers. Instead, as noted above, he unnecessarily but predictably denigrates “the dominant Caucasian culture” (p. 24). In so doing, he ignores the rich diversity (and indeed fragmentation) within his broad category of “Caucasian culture”--as if it is monolithic and “dominant”. It is not. What is especially remarkable is that Dr. Maynard-Reid so quickly violates the very principle he laid out in his introduction and fails to grasp the irony.

Second, by focusing on racial and similar means of dividing people, Dr. Maynard-Reid misses the larger issues at play in the (inartfully named) “worship wars”. As the author seems obsessed with antiquated ways of dividing or categorizing people, he fails to address other and I believe more current divisions. For example, society generally and the church more specifically are fragmented in ways that cut-across racial (and national heritage) lines. Dr. Maynard-Reid ignores or gives mere lip-service to socio-economic facts that divide church cultures; he ignores or dismisses gender differences, and perhaps most egregiously he fails to grasp probably the single greatest dividing factor in worship—generational differences. As such, I think much of Dr. Maynard-Reid’s book is wrongheaded, or more pejoratively put, antiquated. What is mystifying is that Dr. Maynard-Reid knows better. His introduction showed such promise when he wrote: “The debate here is not centered on ethnic issues….The debate centers on contemporary versus traditional….” (p. 15.) And, Dr. Maynard-Reid rightly observes: “Culture is not biological or racial.” (p. 15.) He either didn’t write the introduction or forget about it has he penned the chapters that followed—that seem steeped in racial or ethnic stereotyping.

Finally, I think the book ultimately fails because Dr. Maynard-Reid’s approach is largely misdirected. Speaking in the language of racial and ethnic division, he proposes paradigms that are defined in precisely those terms—such as, “African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic.” To the contrary, the paradigm should be the biblical model—which he himself mentions in passing. “[Worship] has both vertical and horizontal dimensions: one’s relation to God and one’s relationships with fellow worshippers.” It’s hard to keep this focus of unity and unitary purpose, when we are casting aspersions about “dominant Caucasian culture” (without establishing what it purportedly is) and its alleged antidotes in African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic worship patterns.