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A Star and a Tear.

A Star and a Tear

by Stephen McCutchan Amazon Digital Services. 398 pages.

Stephen McCutchan has done a wonderful job of using the art form of the novel to explore what happens when spirituality and sex intersect. Under the right circumstances, they can produce wonderful transformation in human relationships. When sex and spirituality intersect inappropriately, however, the results can be demonic. This is an issue that has been "front and center" for those engaged in parish ministry, both Catholic and Protestant.

In this novel we encounter a widely divergent cast of characters.

There is Frank Sessions, who back in college days almost seduced a young woman, but his values led him to discern the needed boundary at the last minute. Frank is pastor of a mainline Presbyterian congregation that is somewhat liberal and that understands itself as a "hospital for sinners." Frank suffers because his wife was killed in a shootout during a holdup at a convenience store some years ago and he is raising his son and daughter alone.

There is Bob Godwin, the conservative pastor of a megachurch called True Vine Church that sees itself as a hotel for the righteous. At times Bob has cheated on his wife, but wealthy friends have paid off the "victims," and Bob's reputation is not tarnished. The sons of both pastors attend a mainline "liberal" seminary in the community.

Then there is Eric Ivory, a radio talk show host in the mold of Rush Limbaugh who despises "liberal" pastors like Frank Sessions. The town is in crisis because a mysterious serial rapist has raped several women over a period of time. A peculiar wrinkle is that the rapist enthusiastically recites passages from the Bible, especially the Song of Solomon, while committing the rapes. Eric wants to use this crisis to attack the liberal clergy like Frank. He proceeds to attack Frank on his talk show for trying to help rehabilitate Reggie Pardella, a former child molester who is trying to change his way of life. He implies that perhaps Reggie is the serial rapist.

The police arrest Reggie. At a public meeting of the clergy in the community, Frank and Eric have a confrontation. During the meeting the news arrives that Reggie has been killed by a fellow prisoner, and also that the serial rapist has struck again --meaning that Reggie is clearly not the guilty party.

To find out who is guilty and how they are caught you must read the book. However, as the author reflects on the unfolding drama, we discover how crucial it is for all of us to understand and respect boundaries so that the intersection of sex and spirituality does not become demonic instead of divine.

This is especially an issue for clergy, who supposedly in some sense represent God. Clergy can end up abusing vulnerable parishioners in order to meet their own sexual needs. People end up losing faith not only in clergy but also in God.

This book is a "must-read" for those who aspire to be faithful in parish ministry. In addition to being a good "yarn spinner," McCutchan offers keen insights into the range of unintended consequences that can come about when we ignore boundaries. An entire community can be profoundly impacted. The novel ends with an O'Henry twist.

ED WHITE is senior consultant with the Alban Institute and lives in Washington.

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Author:White, Ed
Publication:The Presbyterian Outlook
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 17, 2014
Words:561
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