Love and Death – Forrest Church

I have offered no posts on this blog for some time, but I want to offer some reflections now.

Saturday, October 3, my wife Jan Carlsson-Bull and I drove to New York City and back to Boston in one day. It rained hard both ways. It was well worth it. We attended a memorial service for Forrest Church, perhaps the most influential Unitarian-Universalist theologian, scholar, and minister of the twentieth century. He also was the man who made it possible for Jan to enter the ministry relatively late in life. He placed his trust in her, and guided her through the process from first steps (not counting Seminary) to full ordination.

Forrest wrote twenty five books and all were published, from his first Father and Son about growing up with his father Senator Frank Church of Idaho, to his penultimate Love and Death, nominally about his three year struggle with esophageal cancer but really a collection of ruminations, anecdotes, sermons and such setting forth Forrest’s take on the title subject.  Love and Death has much to recommend it, and anyone who reads it will likely find something that sets him or her to thinking hard.

Thousands attended the memorial service, many standing in line several hours in heavy rain to be assured a seat.  The service was moving and memorable, with eulogies from four of his friends and three of his children.  And of course the marvellous music of Musica Viva.   The theme offered over and over was that love trumps all.  I have, these days, tended to a sense of futility, a what’s the point? kind of depression.  I freely admit I have had this tendency for a number of years, especially since a partner who “loved me like a brother,”  along with his wife, embezzled a growing manufacturing business out from under me some years ago.  I used to say that this man was the only human on the face of the earth for whom I wished the worst.  I didn’t try to prosecute him, but I couldn’t let go of what had happened, either.  To my mind, love had slowly become just a term of rationalization, life was pointless, and that no one here gets out alive anyway.

During the memorial service, I mused on the ephemeral nature of, well, of everything.  The Buddhists are right, everything we perceive is an illusion.  Or perhaps the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, who taught that all is vanity.  I thought about how famous Forrest was, at least in some circles, how loved and respected.  Yet, even for such as he, death brings oblivion.  Yes he will be remembered for a while, perhaps from our limited perspective, a good while.  Inevitably, after a generation or two, he will probably be largely forgotten.

From the perspective of how I am or what I am now, I look at things more tranquilly than in days past. I find that things that might once have inflamed me, angered me, mad me rant at the tragedy of existence, I now accept with equanimity. My losses to a nefarious partner are trivial in the great scheme of things, and anyway, just about the last thing I would want to do now, given the perspective of the years, is to run a capitalist business venture. Those who read this blog may have detected a certain note of skepticism regarding capitalism. Forrest Church taught that we should all “want what you have, do what you can, and be who you are.” Well, perhaps love does trump all.

Love and  Death

1 comment to Love and Death – Forrest Church

  • I’ve been trying to want what I need lately in many respects. I’m thinking of the oblivion of myself as something like sleep, a kind of sweet escape and preparation for new life. As long as I identify with my consciousness I’ll be stuck with this wakefulness, so I pray to be poured back into something greater than myself. Trapped in my own mind I’ll wear myself out, but what might be gained by giving it over? How can I say nothing? What does rest give? What does turning turn into? Oblivion must be either extinction or revolution. Since everything I know is something that’s been given which I received, how could I resist passing on the favor? Every time I do this now I receive joy. So what’s to fear? reciprocity is the trump.
    jim ulrich

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