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Dust and Ashes

The Gift of Mortality

Avowed atheist Susan Jacoby recently created a dust up with a recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review entitled, “The Blessings of Atheism.” She wrote in response to all the god-talk that appeared in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown massacre; with all those unanswerable questions or inadequate answers to human suffering and death so often peddled in popular religious belief.

So too, not long ago author and “non-believer,” Christopher Hitchen’s posthumously published his little book Mortality; recounting his rambling thoughts on his own imminent demise; after a terminal diagnosis left him a sufficient number of days to find himself “deported from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.”

But what, or where to, after that? What if this really is all there is?

It seems there has always been the human hankering to imagine all kinds of fanciful notions, in our attempts to recapitulate our mortal existence into something more than it is. Many religious traditions, including centuries of “mainline” orthodox Christianity, employ great mythic stories to describe a life subsumed into something greater than we can either know, or grasp, except by “faith.” Heaven knows, some folks try to better themselves, merely in the hope of a remote possibility there something more, after our death, which is a certainty. But in the end, is it all dust and ashes? And is that OK?

This is the liturgical time of year when many in the Christian tradition undergo a seasonal pilgrimage in which the faithful are reminded at the onset we mortals are nothing more than dust. And so we will one day return to that from whence we came. Then the traditional forty days end with the perennial re-enactment of a passion play commemorating the mortal demise of the one whom Christians even these many centuries later would profess to follow.

Many do so in the hope of some kind of immortality for themselves in some indecipherable form or other; attributing to Jesus a “resurrection” that means the same thing to them as god-like immortality; while others of us may find such imaginings to be not only reasonably implausible, but of less importance than what we take to be of greater significance and meaning in this faith tradition.

Otherwise, the vainglorious hope of immortality can become so enshrouded in our mortal fears that we become – like Lazarus in his early grave – so wrapped up in death that we fail to truly acknowledge and appreciate the gift of our mortality for what it is; nothing more, nor less.

With the certain assurance then that we are but dust and ash, we can ask ourselves if the gift of our mortality is not only enough, but more than enough? And if so, as the psalmist says, how then shall we “number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom?” (Psalm 90:12)

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A Lenten Journey

When we look at the entire story of Jesus, including his teachings as well as his life, it seems clear his path always presumed a spiritual death before one could experience new life or rebirth. His hodos required a death to the old before there could be a birthto a new way of seeing, a new way of understanding and experiencing life.

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Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

In this startling and timely book, Pagels returns The Book of Revelation to its historical origin, written as its author John of Patmos took aim at the Roman Empire after what is now known as “the Jewish War,” in 66 CE. Militant Jews in Jerusalem, fired with religious fervor, waged an all-out war against Rome’s occupation of Judea and their defeat resulted in the desecration of Jerusalem and its Great Temple.

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We All Breathe

A new collection of poetry and prayer. Vosper once again gives expression to the beauty and complexity of life in ways that can touch and move us on many levels. Identifying our interconnectedness as a core principle of our common, human journey, Vosper plays with imagery and symbol, weaving us into a whole that lifts and ennobles us all.

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The Lord’s Prayer – Why I Can Still Say It

Despite its familiarity and almost constant liturgical use, the Lord’s Prayer has become difficult for even some devout Christians to pray in our day. To be sure, the thought-world of the New Testament is very different from …

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Why Weren’t We Told? A Handbook on ‘progressive’ Christianity

WHY WEREN’T WE TOLD? A Handbook on ‘progressive’ Christianity — edited by Rex Hunt and John Smith — (Polebridge Press (Westar Institute)) Progressive Christianity is not new. It has been around for two hundred years or more. But …

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Topics: Progressive Christianity 101. 8 Points: Point 5: Non-Dogmatic Searchers. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Q and A with the President: 2-8-13

Do You Consider Yourselves Followers of Jesus Even Though He Came for the Jews?

Do you consider yourselves as followers of Jesus even though he came for the Jews, the lost sheep of Israel, and not to the Gentile dogs?

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Unarmed and Dangerous

A Gospel of Non-violence in a Violent World

We wrestle with the stark reality of the culture of gun violence in which we find ourselves, and a gospel message for the progressive Christian that is inherently non-violent. Advocates for one side of a heated debate insist the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun; which is only true if the good guy is faster on the draw and a better aim. To assert the good guy always wins is, of course, a lie. There are plenty of examples of murder and mayhem in that compendium of stories we call the Bible. In some stories the good guy wins. In others, they lose; particularly those who choose the way of non-violent resistance unequivocally taught and demonstrated in the words and deeds of the Galilean sage and healer. It’s not a matter of a showdown to see who wins with a more forceful argument. Far from naïve, impractical and unrealistic, a non-violent response may be the only thing to break the perpetual cycle of violence. But how?

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The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War

Religion and violence—the two concepts seem incompatible given the emphasis in religion on virtue, love, forgiveness and compassion. Yet many scriptures contain martial images and stories of god-inspired military conquest. The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence confronts this …

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