Thank you for allowing Debora Coyne and myself, to contribute to your ongoing discussions about the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. I want to emphasize up front that I am by nature an optimist not a pessimist.  I am not here just to lament poor metrics, I am also here to celebrate our potential and look to better times ahead. But it is surely past due for a  rigorous reality check, and  to call out those who believe our economic situation is  not all that bad, we have been here before etc.  Well wake up…… we really are in tough financial shape!

We are  living in difficult economic times globally, and our people must have the courage to face up to what is.   Strictly academic meanderings and debating the finer points  of economic policy will not be  enough to handle the seminal societal changes brought on by this new digital and big data age. We need to do a hard and perhaps even a harsh reality check on ourselves!  It is not just because of slumping oil prices and increasing debt. It is not because Newfoundland and Labrador now has the lowest Moody’s rating of any province, or that per capita spending on government programs is at unsustainable highs:  $14,000 per capita versus the national average of $8000.   People are equally  worried about persistent slow economic growth and the lack of job and income security. In a world in which everything that can will be ‘roboticized’, the future seems particularly bleak. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador know all too well the costs and stress of precarious employment at home. We have been here before, and we are resilient. But its now time we faced  facts.

The issues and challenges we confront  today require serious attention. Blaming outward is neither helpful nor productive. This is not the time for self-pity or conspiracy theories. In our own expectations of governments and deeply engrained sense of entitlement of what we think we deserve, we are at least partially responsible for where we are today.  I refuse to demonize the federal government, and neither will I demonize our various leaders from Joey through to Danny and now to Dwight Ball. I have no doubt that they loved Newfoundland, and that they all worked in what they thought to be our best interests even though in retrospect we can see  they made serious mistakes.

It’s our government; we elected all of them.  But I  write from the Toronto diaspora, and that means many things, including that I  have been away for too long and not as well-informed as I think.  Am I   an ignoramus, as my father would say, not close enough to understand much at all?   Or on the other hand, could I be I someone  distant enough to be able to identify the forest from the trees?    So if  all my numbers are not totally on mark as of today, give me a bye.

My recommendation  is simple: it is time, as a Newfoundland and Labrador community, that we sat around our common kitchen table and took a hard look at where we are today financially, and what we must do to put our house in order.  We are addicted to all sorts of  mythology[ies] about ourselves, and like any severely addicted person,  it is past time that those who love us triggered an  “intervention”?  If they  do not, others less friendly soon may, and should that  happen, few of any of us have any real understanding of the austerity that will be imposed.  Think Paul Martin and the IMF in the early 1990’s and multiple it by one hundred times.

It is now past time to  face  the impact on all of us of our collective debt.  We cannot to behave like a medical doctor I know who refuses to open the envelope and look at his Visa bill every January.  Neither must we succumb to the fantasies of Davis blaming Ball, or Ball blaming Danny, or everyone blaming the Feds. Let’s agree to own our collective past. Are we ready to face that from everyone’s else perspective, we have a bloated public service who enjoy   an  even more bloated benefits package? The public service grew faster than we could afford, and while we must be sensitive and not draconian, we must find a thoughtful solution in dialogue with the public service unions, who also must not be allowed to bury their heads in the sand. I am pro collective bargaining, but our public service unions   leadership needs to open their collective minds  to an independent perspective on  the current financial crisis.  The recent cuts are but a beginning, but we start by recognizing we must put our house in order. Neither can the Health Care silo or the Education silo remain untouchable.

Do we have the nerve to address the issue of public service pensions?  Are we doing what we must do on that front? How do we stand in comparison to the other provinces?  My suggested answer……. not good. And how, without frightening hard working public servants to death, can we find a long-term economically sustainable solution, for this century and beyond? Has anyone at home ever reached out to our  Canadian think tanks, like C. D. Howe, and  dialogued about options?  [Disclosure I am biased I serve on the National Council of CDH

Are we prepared to take action on health care?  Why is it that we have the highest cost medical care in Canada, yet the worst results?   Yes, we have a small population scattered across a relatively large space. But the provision of health care is not and cannot be  a make-work project across communities.  To provide health care of the highest quality, efficiently and effectively, we have to concentrate on the larger population centres and focus on alternative delivery systems.  Further, we must do this through respectful dialogue with open minded medical professionals whose valuable input is indispensable, as well as the general public.    Have we yet looked at what The Australians in Tasmania are doing facing comparable problems?  Are our leaders brave enough to be transparent with us? And do we have the wisdom and the courage  not to shout them down and bury our collective heads in the sand?   No one gets all they want in life, and in our case that  includes multiple community hospitals and professional salary costs we cannot afford.  All of this presumes that we are prepared   to work out solutions which will involve some pain for all of us.  The alternative is that we refuse to face what is, we blame outwards, we identify the terrible other who is responsible for all our woes, and we simply postpone the inevitable, whether it takes six months or six years.

I am confident that if we  take the initiative on these and other issues ourselves, we will send a strong message not just to the financial markets who invest in us, but also to our fellow Canadians with whom we share the challenge of this extraordinarily difficult economic transition.   In part two of this article, I address the  great potential and challenge that is Muskrat Falls.

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Last night I watched the movie “Spotlight”.  It was my second viewing, the first being over Christmas with and  at the insistence of my oldest son, who still cannot wrap his mind around what he refers to  as the ‘irrationality and absurdity’ of my past life. He tells me I was a willing functionary in an immoral institution. He keeps asking me with a pained expression, how could you of all people succumb to such brainwashing? I think he feels that because I was a man of the institution, I am less that he would have wanted me to be.  It is the systemic abuse of power and dysfunction that angers him most, even more than the pitiful litany of individual abusers.  Jonathan is a young writer and artist, and only very reluctantly a lawyer, and it is his moral and artistic soul that is so deeply offended.  Like me, my eldest is ‘beyond intense’, and hence not beyond making me feel like an old Nazi trying to explain away his past affiliation and commitment. Hyperbole you ask, not for him? Not for him either any protestation that most people in and of the Church tried to be forces for good.  What did you know, and what did you do about it?  Why did you not know and why did you not do more?  I once tried to share how when I taught at Gonzaga as a  Jesuit Scholastic, Austin Brophy among others whom I coached in Basketball, warned my about Hickey and his cabin on the   Bauline Line.  I did tell my Superior, but I was shut down, told to leave it with him, and I did.


The characters in Spotlight are clones of people many of us knew at home. For those of you who have not seen the movie, do see it, and name the St. John’s equivalents.   Some of the more uber orthodox among you will wonder why I am dragging all of this up again.  Others of you will write me off as just another spoiled priest who left to marry.   How little do you know?   But know this, like the character Robbie in Spotlight notes:  why, with all the evidence in front of us did so many of us  turn a blind eye, or only do the minimal.   So, Jonathan, I could have done more and I did not. You are right, it was a moral lapse more significant than anything I ever told a priest in the Confessional.  Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! For me, the most honest path I could take was to leave the Institution. Here I stand I can now do no other.




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“Eternity”- Outside of Time- what’s old is new again


In Defense of Immortality

In 1904, less than six years before his death, William James made a revealing statement in response to a questionnaire circulated by his former student James Pratt. To the question, “Do you believe in personal immortality?” James answered, “Never keenly, but more strongly as I grow older.” “If so, why?” “Because I am just getting fit to live.”

Not a ringing endorsement perhaps, but James was sure of one thing: that the common arguments against immortality need not deter us. In his 1898 Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality, James set out with his usual relish to kick over the obstacles to belief. Chief among those obstacles was a general climate of learned doubt.

Our situation today is not so different. Although social surveys indicate that roughly 80 percent of Americans believe in life after death, it is a belief cherished against the grain of perceived official skepticism; and among academically trained religious thinkers, one finds a greater measure of skepticism than in the population at large. For many, immortality is not a matter for reasoned debate, but is simply ruled out of play, along with guardian angels and statues that weep. It is taken for granted, as if it were a premise accepted by all reasonable people, that no one seriously believes in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, in the life of the soul, the resurrection of the body, or the personality of God as the concrete realities they were once imagined to be.

One thinks especially of Rudolf Bultmann, who made it a cornerstone of his New Testament hermeneutics that the three-story structure of the cosmos (Heaven above, Earth in the middle, Hell below) is over, finished; it cannot be “repristinated.” Similarly, Jürgen Moltmann began his 1967 Ingersoll Lecture by observing that the old ways of thinking about the future life “have dried up like fish in a drained pond.”

More than any particular objections, this assumption that the traditional mythos can no longer speak to us weighs heavily against belief in immortality. The burden of proof shifts from the skeptic to the believer, and the believer finds that not only his reasons but also his motives are under suspicion. Belief in immortality begins to look shabby and self-serving, like something we fall back on in weak moments but rise above when we are at our best.

The specific objections to immortality are secondary, and can be briefly stated. Belief in immortality is criticized on moral grounds as self-aggrandizing, on psychological grounds as self-deceiving, and on philosophical grounds as dualistic. Concern for the soul is faulted for making us disregard the body, neglect our responsibilities to the Earth, and deny our kinship with other life forms. We share 90 percent of our genes with mice. Even the lowliest bacterium is our cousin. Why do we persist in imagining that there is some fifth essence in us that sets us apart?

To the first objection, we can say that there is no correlation between narcissism and belief in personal immortality. We feel the need for immortality most acutely when we are made sensible of the inexhaustible value of another person or the tragedy of a life cut short. None of the developed traditions about immortality fosters self-absorption. What are our images of eternal life if not ways of picturing a wider sphere of existence, a more generous personal life, less closed in upon ourselves, less fearful and grasping, more real in every respect? It is by contrast to the real person we hope to be in Heaven that we realize how self-absorbed we are most of the time here below.

As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man’s jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can’t his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.

Against the charge that soul-talk is superfluous, there is the common witness of humanity that some language of this sort is necessary to capture the full range of human experience. Long after the human genome is completely mapped, and the neurophysiology of awareness and cognition thoroughly understood, we will still stand in awe before the mystery of consciousness and selfhood. We may be made in the image and likeness of a mouse, genetically speaking, but our kinship with the mouse is a kinship with life that is perishing. There remains an irreducible quality to our experience which tells us that we are not perishing with it, that we are also made in the image and likeness of Another, whose code is transcendent.

But if dualism troubles you—as it sometimes troubles me—there are non-dualistic ways of thinking about life after death. If you have studied classical Buddhist literature, you know that one need not be committed to a substantial soul in order to affirm the reality of persons, their identity over time, or their capacity for transcendence. Consciousness may be understood as an emergent phenomenon which, upon coming forth from its neural matrix, has the capacity to generate ever more complex structures of awareness, including an autobiographical sense of self. It can then be left to God to decide whether the self that emerges shall endure after its neural basis is destroyed. And once God is in the picture, the emergence of consciousness begins to look foreordained, as in the words to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

The more serious challenge to belief in immortality is an internal one, coming from biblical theology, from the varieties of liberation theology that have captured the flag of eschatology for this-worldly aims, and from existentialist religious thought with its emphasis on human finitude.

The biblical case against immortality-language is plain enough. Like other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, ancient Israel bisects reality into two overarching realms—the heavens and the earth—and two kind of beings—mortals and immortals. As the Psalmist says, “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth He has given to the sons of men. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence” (Psalm 115:16-17). To speak of human beings as immortal, to venerate them after death, or to conjure them by magic is to slide down the slippery slope toward the polytheism of Israel’s neighbors. God’s cult is the cult of the living, not of the dead.

Where intimations of eternal life do appear in the Hebrew Bible, they are driven by the same passion for monotheism and longing for communion with God that, at an earlier stage, had to exert itself against preoccupation (especially of a cultic sort) with the dead. Over time, though, it began to seem like an arbitrary limitation on God’s power to confine it to the realm of the living. Is it right that there should be any realm where God’s power is not felt? Is it not fitting that the martyrs who die in God’s cause should be raised from the dust and regain their youthful splendor? Is it not proper that wise observance of the law should confer an enduring relationship to the maker of that law? These are but implications of the promise that God’s righteousness will be vindicated, even in the face of suffering and death. They may not amount to a fully realized teaching on life after death, but they certainly can be viewed as preparation for such a teaching.

Step into the intertestamental period, however, and the picture begins to change dramatically. One encounters a stunning array of images of angelic metamorphosis, astral immortality, even apotheosis. What is impressive is not just the clear evidence of belief in a beatific afterlife for the just, but the giddy profusion of different ways to imagine that afterlife. Echoes of astral and angelomorphic immortality persist in the New Testament, rabbinic literature, early patristic writings, and Jewish mysticism, whence they enter the full stream of Jewish and Christian thought.

Some theologians have seen this rich array of images for eternal life as cause for alarm. In his 1955 Ingersoll Lecture, Oscar Cullman convinced his hearers, and a generation of theologians and pastors, that the language of immortality was unbiblical and sub-Christian. He sharpened the familiar distinction between immortality of the soul and resurrection of the dead by contrasting the serene death of Socrates to the anguished death of Jesus. In a didactic tour de force, Cullman set these two figures before us and said, “You must choose.” If you affirm immortality of the soul, you make Easter superfluous. If your hope is in the resurrection, you should abstain from all talk of immortality.

Cullman’s argument was electrifying. So striking was the contrast he drew that it was easy to miss his own efforts to qualify it. In fact he qualified it significantly, acknowledging that the post-Easter consciousness of the early Church gave all the appearance of a confident faith in immortality. This might be no more than a battle over semantics, were it not for one very real stumbling block: the interim period between the death of individuals and the general resurrection of the dead. Where are the dead? What are they doing? According to St. Paul, the dead are with Christ, and the Holy Spirit is their pledge of continued existence in God’s hands. To convey this sense of continuity, the New Testament and early Christian sources employ a rich array of images, all of Jewish origin: the dead sleep or wake; they are in Sheol or in a place of heavenly refreshment, light, and peace; they are gathered to the fathers or resting in the bosom of Abraham; they are sheltered under the altar or hidden under the throne of God awaiting the final redemption. Cullman, following Luther, would have us select from this rich array only the single image of sleep, a tidy way to dispose of the doctrine of purgatory and to downplay if not completely efface the cult of the saints.

Of course, Cullman’s lecture was just the tip of the iceberg. If there was any common agenda for the twentieth-century biblical theology movement it was to sort out Greek from Hebraic, individualistic from communal, dualistic from holistic, and otherworldly from this-worldly elements in biblical thought. Marked as it was by the compelling presence of Karl Barth, biblical theology could not ignore his insistence on the finality of death; it could not desert the theology of the cross for the allure of a theology of glory.

The revival of eschatology during the 1960s intensified the polemic. Eminent theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, Johan Baptist Metz, and Eberhard Jüngel, who envisioned eschatological hope as embodied in social and political praxis, were calling on Christians to close their ears to the siren song of immortality-language. Rejecting the medieval “four last things” model, which they judged to be individualistic, static, hierarchical, juridical, and hieratic, the eschatology movement emphasized the communal, dynamic, immanent, holistic, and future-oriented aspects of Christian hope. A similar impulse guided the implementation of the liturgical changes mandated for Catholics by Vatican II. Liturgical reformers sought to downplay individualistic, penitential, sacrificial, and otherworldly themes in favor of an ecclesiology of communion. Venerable ideas like the angelic presence at the liturgy and the Eucharist as medicine of immortality began to be an embarrassment. The lovely word anima, with all its bridal associations and evocations of mystical and ascetic life, was suppressed; and its vernacular counterpart (“soul”) largely disappeared from translations of the Roman rite.

As is often the case with intellectual revolutions, these movements were splendidly right in what they affirmed, but dangerously wrong in what they denied. The eschatology movement recovered the Christological basis for hope, indeed brilliantly so in the case of Moltmann. Yet that recovery was undermined by those who would reduce it to political hope, or would empty out its concrete meaning with evasions like “resurrection in death.” The liturgical reforms recovered the ideal of the whole Church as the body of Christ, but tended too often to reduce that ideal to a this-worldly model of egalitarian fellowship.

The result has been to flatten the symbolic cosmos in which the Christian imagination dwells, distancing modern believers from the great tradition of Christian literature, liturgy, and art. No longer can one read the Church fathers, the monastic tradition, the Anglican divines, indeed most of the spiritual classics of the Christian heritage without making mental reservations: “I must not allow myself to think along these lines; this is too Platonic, too dualistic.”

Even more serious, if consistently applied, the refusal of immortality-language cuts off the community of the living from the community of the dead. It shakes the foundation of funeral and mourning customs. It makes the practice of praying for one’s dead kin or praying to one’s favorite saints lose its rationale. It renders absurd the innocent resolve of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.” This places theologians in the unenviable position of working to deny hope.

During the sixties and seventies, however, many eminent theologians were of the opinion that the ordinary folk in the pews no longer cared about life after death. We were finally done with such pie-in-the-sky considerations, they thought. Yet in 1975 Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life appeared, soared to the top of the best-seller lists, and spawned a succession of immensely popular books on near-death experience, all promising to offer evidence for the immortality of the soul. The public hunger for this material was seemingly inexhaustible, and it shows no sign of abating.

How should we view this discrepancy between learned religious opinion and popular enthusiasm? Should we chalk it up to the narcissism of our culture, or should we consider the possibility that something has been missing from contemporary theology, that a fundamental and legitimate need has been going unmet? People are not satisfied by an eschatology that focuses exclusively on social justice; they are not convinced that individualism is the root of all evil; they are starved for transcendence, hungry for miracles, and sure of only one thing: if life is to be truly meaningful, death must not be allowed to have the last word. Under these conditions, to suppress immortality-language is indeed to deny hope.

The good news is that recent scholarship has progressed beyond the campaign to de-Platonize eschatology, and a more nuanced interpretation has come into view. Without denying the advances made in the last few decades, we are now in a position to reclaim the language of immortality. It is a good moment to rethink what immortality might mean; and a little reflection reveals that it can mean many things. Suppose we arrange these meanings along a scale. Several distinct types will emerge.

One model of immortality—let’s call it Alpha—is immortality in its primary and obvious sense: physical invulnerability to death. It is an exceptional condition and not necessarily enviable: one thinks of the Mesopotamian flood hero Utnapishtim, the Taoist immortals, Dracula, the Wandering Jew. To be given everlasting longevity without being remade for eternal life is to live under a curse. It is Alpha immortality that Gilgamesh seeks in vain and Odysseus wisely rejects; and it is Alpha immortality that Paul Tillich condemns as another name for Hell.

Another type, Beta immortality, is immortality of the soul, understood as the soul’s intrinsic invulnerability to death, an idea we associate with Plato and with classical Hindu thought. Here the soul is immortal because it is essentially perfect, self-sufficient, impassible, simple, beginningless, and beyond time. Your true self is already immortal; you have only to realize it through philosophical self-scrutiny or yogic self-mastery. Among the classic arguments for immortality, Beta favors the argument from the inherent nature of the soul. It is Beta immortality that Cullman believes has been smuggled into Christianity from Greek philosophy.

Gamma immortality is a variant of Beta immortality, in which the attainment of immortality is a particularly strenuous project requiring heroic spiritual exertion, specialized knowledge, or magical skills. It is a path open only to initiates, who learn to outwit the cosmic powers, forge a new adamantine body, and storm the gates of heaven. The twentieth-century movement known as the Gurdjieff work offers a Gamma immortality path.

Delta immortality is a variant of Beta immortality that belongs to the Enlightenment religion of reason. What is eternal in us, according to Delta immortality, is our capacity for moral reasoning, which reveals to us the natural law common to all cultures. The elixir of immortality is a liberal education that awakens one’s powers of critical reason.

Delta immortality was the position taken early on by American Reform Judaism, as expressed in this official statement from the 1885 Pittsburgh platform: “We assert the doctrine of Judaism that the soul is immortal, founding this belief on the divine nature of the human spirit, which forever finds bliss in righteousness and misery in wickedness. We reject, as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden as abodes for everlasting punishments and rewards.”

In retrospect, it is easy to see why this softening of the demands of traditional eschatology was bound to fail. When the thorns are removed, a lot of the sap runs out with them. Immortality and resurrection, though distinct, have become so intertwined in Jewish and Christian thought as to be indecipherable apart from each other. When a Jew or Christian rejects belief in resurrection, what remains is an abstraction that resembles Beta immortality only superficially, for it is without mythos or askesis. It is reduced to a metaphor for the transcendent value of our animating ideals.

But Delta immortality still has its champions. Its chief appeal today is that it solves the problem of pluralism; its chief weakness, and a sign of its Enlightenment pedigree, is its disregard for the divergent claims of the historic religious traditions.

Epsilon immortality is yet another variant of Beta immortality, found in modern theosophy and spiritualism. It has many points in common with Delta immortality, but it is monistic rather than dualistic. Spirit is rarefied matter; energy, electricity, and magnetism are the key metaphors. The translation to eternity, or at least to the next world after this one, occurs by way of an emanated subtle body that carries with it in replica nearly everything to which we are attached: our personalities, our familiar appearance, our clothing, even our pets.

Zeta immortality, which combines features of Delta and Epsilon immortality, conceives of the future life as an archetypal or imaginal world, along the lines suggested by Carl Jung and Henry Corbin. At death each person experiences the ultimate mystery in the form he or she most deeply desires and expects. On an imaginalist reading, all otherworld visions are true. But are they true enough? For classical Hinduism as for classical Greece, for Buddhists and Taoists as for Muslims, Christians, and Jews, immortality means awakening from the world of shadows. If death is the doorway to a realm of dream palaces and docetic theophanies, then it hardly seems worth the trouble of dying.

Skipping over other variations that may occur to us, we arrive at Omega immortality, the central insight of Jewish and Christian eschatologies. It has two main premises: that human beings are creatures, composites of dust and God’s animating breath; and that they are created in the image and likeness of God, with a destiny—a royal dignity overtakes their finite status. They hope to see God, not because of their merit or strength, but because He has made them and stamped them with His image. To be immortal, then, is to be a mortal who has a share in God’s immortality (1 Timothy 6:16); conversely, to be estranged from God is death—or “second death,” which is either annihilation or a particularly wretched form of Alpha immortality.

The keynote of Omega immortality, for both Jews and Christians, is that it is a sheer gift. Adam and Eve may or may not have possessed immortality before their exile from the Garden, but if they did possess it, it was by grace and not by right. Hellenistic Jewish wisdom literature attributes immortality first to God and then only by participation to the wise man who observes God’s law. Similarly, when Christian theologians like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, and Thomas Aquinas affirm the soul’s natural immortality, they do so from within the horizon of Omega immortality: our nature itself is a gift; it’s a gift all the way down.

The gift of Omega immortality is the perfecting of the divine image and likeness in man, known as theosis in the Christian East. This perfecting, coming as it does from a higher power, differs significantly from the Beta immortality ideal of self“mastery even though it bears some of the same marks of tranquility and freedom from passions. When Anthony the Great comes forth from his twenty“year seclusion, looking for all the world like a Cynic or Stoic sage, in perfect equilibrium and health, what radiates from him is the reflected light of Christ, not a brilliance of his own making; he is an Omega immortal.

Of the classic arguments for immortality, the one most suited to Omega immortality is the argument from desire. God has created human beings with spiritual and moral capacities, and therefore with good desires, that will be left unfulfilled if death is the end. Our reason and our piety are offended by such waste. Hence it seems only fitting that the God who uttered the spell of creation would reverse the spell that binds us to death.

Another kind of evidence for immortality can be found in the lives of the saints whose deification or sanctification by the Holy Spirit is the beginning of the great work that God will complete with the resurrection of the dead. In St. Paul’s words, the activity of the Holy Spirit in this life is the first installment of immortality. Omega immortality is the life of the world to come, already partially realized in the communion of saints both living and dead. Its effects are not confined to a circle of illuminati orbiting the divine throne, but spill over to all souls both living and dead who are—like William James—”just getting fit to live.”

Omega immortality is a universal vocation, but not a settled fact. It always has a dimension of longing and expectancy. The anthropology proper to Omega immortality is an ecstatic one. It is shaped like the Triune God, self-giving rather than self-contained. When monastic writers speak of the soul as a cloister or cell, what they describe is not an inner chamber enclosed upon itself, but a cloister that opens out to a cathedral, a cell that turns into a bridal chamber, a bridal chamber that will one day be a banquet hall. This was also Augustine’s great insight: my self exceeds itself, I become myself only when I give myself away. The best use I can make of myself is to offer myself as a sacrifice, in life and in death; at death I go up to the altar of God, and it is God who renews my youth.

Death is real for Omega immortality. At death, “we are like water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered again” (2 Samuel 14:14). Or rather, we are like water spilt on an altar stone, like a sacrificial libation poured into God’s hands. The pledge of survival of death resides not in the integrity of our personality or our memory, nor in any other ontological glue. Therefore, we need not feel threatened by reductionist accounts of the human person nor by the paradoxes of identity and memory that dog philosophical doctrines of immortality. Of course we will disintegrate at death, just as we have been disintegrating all our lives. At death we will descend into the land of the shades, but will discover that God is already there. He has kept our memories for us, and waits to restore them to us, now purified and made real. He holds the secret of our identity, which we misplaced around the age of three. How will I know it is the same me, if I have no subjective certainty of continuity, and no external guarantees? I will know it is the same me because I will see the same Him.

This point has been illustrated for me by a game my four-year-old is always playing with me. He pretends to be a baby animal; but he never remains the same baby animal for long. He always uses the same words to introduce this game: “You’re a person, and I’m your baby velociraptor.” A moment later, it’s “You’re a person and I’m your baby porcupine” or “You’re a person and I’m your baby mouse.” Andy can change identities at will, but I must always be the “Person,” the maternal polestar who remains fixed so that he can change.

For Christianity, that polestar is Christ, the archetypal person, the mirror in which the full extent of human possibility can be seen. Omega immortals do not possess their own immortality but are possessed by it, as it radiates from the risen Christ. They experience their beatitude on loan, so to speak, from the fullness of eternity that will be theirs only with the resurrection to glory. Their immortality is not timeless like Beta immortality, but comes stamped with a date, a certain Sabbath, Holy Saturday, when Christ invaded the realm of death and rescued Adam and Eve. The effects of Holy Saturday flow backward to beginning times and outward beyond the inner circle of the saints toward the larger company of mortal pilgrims and strangers.

The classical Christian view, expressed in countless catechisms and confessions, is that upon death the souls of the blessed enter immediately into the divine presence, where they enjoy the unmediated vision of God, join in the angelic liturgy, and attend to the needs of the living who turn to them for intercession. In restful industry and industrious rest, they await the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the renewal of all creation. Their bliss is perfect after its kind; but until the soul regains its body, and the whole body of Christ is complete in all its members, this perfection is, paradoxically, an unfinished work.

An analogy may be found in the Mahayana Buddhist bodhisattva ideal. If we take our cue from the Vimalakirti-nirdesa Sutra, the bodhisattva is a fully awakened being for whom it is an implication of his perfect enlightenment (rather than a postponement of it) that he remain in solidarity with all who are afflicted by illness and ignorance, birth and death. Similarly, the beatitude of the Christian saint entails the altruistic wish that all may be saved, death vanquished, hell emptied. For the locus of Omega immortality is not the individual soul per se, but the complete society created by God’s love, in which individuality is realized in fellowship.

In this respect, all fully developed teachings about immortality gravitate toward the Omega end of the scale. Plato locates beatitude in the polis rather than in a private interior realm, and in their mature form all religions tell us that ultimate fulfillment will be found not in self-sufficiency but in fellowship. From this perspective we can appreciate the idea common to so many religions that the dead may benefit from having the merit of others transferred to their own account: salvation is corporate.

The special genius of Omega immortality is that it never lets us forget that beatitude must be both individual and social, both theocentric and anthropocentric. We learn this from the famous scene in the Confessions, where Augustine and his mother anticipate the joys of the blessed in heaven. As they lean against a window overlooking a garden in Ostia, the conversation of mother and son becomes so exalted that they begin to ascend toward “that Wisdom by which all things are made”—and then, “for one instant attain to touch it.” This is no flight of the alone to the Alone; it has to be recounted in first person plural. Comrades in rapture, Monica and Augustine have experienced something like a foretaste of the beatific vision as enjoyed in the communion of saints.

How does one rehearse for such a vision? The best way is through liturgical adoration, which recapitulates the vision of God in the Temple and anticipates the vision of God on His Throne. The Psalms are full of hints about this. The presence of God in the sanctuary establishes a relationship against which death cannot prevail; hence it is logical that when notions of a beatific afterlife eventually begin to develop, they should take a liturgical shape.

The liturgy gives us our best and most complete picture of Heaven, portraying the life of the blessed as a choral and complex affair in which solitary and communal elements are fused. One joins in adoration with angels and saints, with the dental hygienist and the mailman, daring to borrow from the seraphim the chant Isaiah overheard: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The divine liturgy on Earth mirrors the cosmic liturgy in Heaven, even as it recapitulates sacred history. If ever there was realized eschatology, it is here.

Therefore if we wish to decide whether Omega immortality is an intelligible idea, we have only to ask ourselves whether perpetual adoration is an intelligible ideal. Is our chief end to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as the old catechisms say? Is G. K. Chesterton right when he says that “all human beings, without any exception whatever, were specially made, were shaped and pointed like shining arrows, for the end of hitting the mark of Beatitude”?

On this view, our inclination to adore God is constitutive; it is written into our whole being. It is not merely a subjective need, but rather a need so completely interwoven throughout our rational, moral, spiritual, and sensible nature that if it is illusory, then we are comprehensively false, we are creatures of mauvaise foi. One can imagine an “argument from adoration” for immortality. The object of adoration who made us to adore Him—can His will be utterly frustrated by death? Can His justice be thwarted by death? Can His love be defeated by death? Must we understand the details before we can believe that He will vanquish death?

Our ancestors were afraid of Hell; we are afraid of Heaven. We think it will be boring. But adoration cannot be boring, for one is gazing at the face of the beloved, and the face of the beloved is inexhaustible. We find it hard to imagine the kind of happiness that might flow from a condition of perfection. The very idea of perfection has become alien to us. We prefer to speak of “human flourishing,” an open-ended ideal that incorporates change and imposes no absolute standards. As an ideal, perfection produces anorexics and martinets, we think; only the “spirituality of imperfection” can promote human flourishing. But this is to confuse perfection with perfectionism; true perfection is evergreen and alive, including within itself everything that we value about change.

A further stumbling block is that adoration entails submission, both to the object of adoration and to the tradition that leads us to it. Submission is not a popular idea, especially where Christianity is concerned. I had a student tell me she had rejected her childhood Christian faith because of its emphasis on humility and self-abnegation; she then took up with a Buddhist group whose practice involved making hundreds of prostrations. The prostrations felt good! Perhaps this is a clue that adoration—when the object is truly worthy—puts our powers to proper use. It is a self-emptying posture, but also a stance filled with dignity and joy, the very opposite of groveling before a tyrant or an idée fixe.

If adoration is the chief end for which we were made, we would be well served by a tradition that helped us to picture that end, making it imaginatively plausible. Historically, both Judaism and Christianity have done just that, wisely tolerating a great variety of images for eternal life, and requiring only that the nonnegotiables, the essential insights, are preserved. Some of these images originate with Alpha or Beta versions of immortality; but if so, they are altered by their new context. The imagery of esoteric initiation, ritual purgation, the flight of the alone to the Alone, alchemical elixirs, spells for ascending to Heaven, and passwords for getting past the guardians of the planetary spheres”all take their turn to express the mystery of entry into eternal life.

Similarly, Omega immortality is hospitable to diverse images for the resurrection of the dead, from the seed imagery of St. Paul to the exhumation imagery of medieval piety. But this brings us to another aspect of Omega immortality that is, if not counterintuitive, then countercultural: its strangeness, in association with the bodily resurrection. Admittedly it is bizarre to think of martyrs’ bodies being regurgitated at the time of resurrection by the beasts that devoured them—but is it any more bizarre than birth, when compared to the more decorous view that finds babies under cabbage leaves? As George Santayana says, the fact of being born is a bad augury for immortality. But it makes anything else seem possible! This was the apologists’ main defense of the resurrection and it is still a good one—that with God, all things are possible.

The plurality of images and conceptions of eternal life is a normal function of the religious imagination. In fully realized religious cultures, however, the religious imagination is not capricious. It obediently serves and unfolds the central insights; it is handmaiden to what is received by a community as the truths of its faith. It is subject to correction, but wise masters of discernment know when such correction is necessary and are very cautious about exercising it.

We may prefer to view images of life after death as metaphors for the transcendent dimension of human existence. This is right, but it is not enough. Talk of the transcendent dimension is effective only as long as it continues to have a purchase on a concrete and living myth of the other world, a “true myth,” to use J. R .R. Tolkien’s expression. We can live by a vague creed only because our ancestors lived by a definite one; we can develop a second naiveté only if we still have access to the first one. We have been living off the capital of a concretely supernaturalist worldview. Once that capital is spent, however, our abstractions will seem like thin fare.

The iconoclasts among us would like to limit the ration of images we may use to anticipate what Jonathan Edwards calls God’s ineffable manifestations of love; yet there are times when even the most childish analogies can be of service. Take, for example, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ novel, The Gates Ajar (published in 1868 when she was only twenty-four), which portrays a Heaven of the most domestic and sentimental kind. In one scene, a little girl named Faith is describing her vision of Heaven to a friend: “P’r’aps I’ll have some strawberries too, and some ginger-snaps—I’m not going to have any old bread and butter up there—O, and some little gold apples, and a lot of playthings; nicer playthings—why, nicer than they have in the shops in Boston . . . ! God’s keeping ‘em up there a purpose.” A short while later, Faith’s mother explains why she encourages such fancies: “I treat Faith just as the Bible treats us, by dealing in pictures of truth that she can understand. . . . If I told her that her heavenly ginger-snaps would not be made of molasses and flour, [she] would have a cry, for fear that she was not going to have any ginger-snaps at all; so, until she is older, I give her unqualified ginger-snaps.”

I have been trying to suggest that qualified ginger-snaps may be a better diet for us than no ginger-snaps at all.

Carol Zaleski is Professor of Religion at Smith College. This essay is adapted from the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality, given at Harvard Divinity School.

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Youth springs to life with embarrassment and  self-consciousness, age  oftimes  dawns  with boring self-obsession. I know nothing more tedious whether in myself or in others than ‘woe is me’ sentimentality.  I dislike myself when I fall prey to ‘meism’, and I try to avoid others who want to remind me of their own diminishment.  Too many of my friends have died for me not to tell myself everyday  how  grateful I should be for everything that has happened thus far.  Then again, it this very reflection little more than an over-indulgence in ‘meism’?

Polyannism is not  in my temperament, but I am immensely grateful for my pilgrimage of grace. How can one feel otherwise on a bright sunny Sunday  morning overlooking Lake Rosseau?  I have London’s Sunday Times spread out before me, and the tome that is the Sunday New York Times is neatly folded on the table,  Am I  in heaven? If not, this is what I want heaven to be.

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“Nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur” “No one learns except through friendship” Augustine

If memory serves it was Professor Edward Norman, then of Peterhouse Cambridge who wrote a small monograph on the 19th century Oxford Movement entitled, “The Parting of Friends”. Norman was a good scholar, but what I remember most about his book is its title. In it he captures that wonderful kindness and genuine emotional connection which prevailed among certain Oxford Tractarians even as they went quite separate ways in theology and in life. Newman, Keeble, Pusey and the others were all remarkable men, and they became my friends in history. Today I learned that a true successor to those great Anglican priests and that movement has died. He had lived for almost one hundred years, held most of the great offices his hyphenated profession offered, won as much acclaim as any Priest and Scholar can win, was Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, Vice Chancellor of the University, Master of Selwyn College, and the list goes on and on and on again. However, as impressive as all of that was, I will remember him until the day I die because of his great kindness and friendship. He was my Doctoral Supervisor, and I am so blessed to have walked a little while with him. Our very first meeting in his office in the Master’s Lodge at Selwyn set the stage for my life long admiration, affection and appreciation. We had gone through the regular introductions and inquiries and he then took me to the door. It was one of those rainy October Oxbridge days, and I was walking. Owen insisted that I take both his bike and his ‘brolly’ and so he continued for all the years I  knew him, always kind, gentle, truly humble and beyond solicitous. He lived his Gospel. He was also a very holy priest, a loving father, and a good husband, a witness to us truncated Romans of what might be.

The Reverend Professor Sir Owen Chadwick was my spiritual father, my mentor and my friend. I have missed him, and I now I will miss him more.

The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM – obituary

Anglican priest and academic whose writing on Christianity was both scholarly and entertaining

The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM

20 Jul 2015

The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM, who has died aged 99, was a clergyman-academic of a kind once common in universities but now very rare; the holder successively of Cambridge University’s chairs of both Ecclesiastical and Modern History, he was a leading authority on the history of religion and the churches.

The greater part of his career was devoted to the study of post-Reformation history, particularly the English Church, state and society since the industrial and French revolutions.

His single biggest publication, The Victorian Church – published in two parts in 1966 and 1971 – was a gigantic survey of religious life in Britain in the 19th century, exploring the social and intellectual developments which lay behind the waning power of religion in the Victorian period.

Although it was based on a quite astonishing range of research, The Victorian Church was – typically for Chadwick – essentially a personal interpretation. It showed less interest in dissent than in the establishment, less liking for evangelicals than for the Oxford Movement, and less love for town than for country. If some critics accused him of lack of balance, they were unable to fault his analysis of the politics of established churchmanship.
The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM

Nor could they fault his prose style. For Chadwick was no dry-as-dust historian; he always preferred to tell a story to explore a situation or illustrate a point. The Victorian Church was enlivened by a wealth of vivid detail: Queen Victoria trying to slip a favourite preacher into a bishopric; a Dorset parishioner complaining that his astronomy-minded rector kept “a horoscope top o’ his house to look at the stares and sich”.

Although he wrote extensively on the relationship between the Christian denominations, Chadwick’s strength lay in his sympathetic understanding of the spiritual and social foundations of the Church of England.

He always wrote most warmly about the country clergy and, as he put it, their “reasonable, quiet, unpretentious, sober faith in God and way of worship”. The history of the English Church, he believed, was made not only by the decisions of the great at Lambeth or Westminster or in debates at Oxford, but by the convictions of obscure country parsons in Lincolnshire.

Chadwick’s particular skill was his ability to evoke the atmosphere of parish life. For example in Victorian Miniature (1961) – considered by some to be his masterpiece – he provided a richly entertaining vignette of life in the Norfolk parish of Ketteringham and the uneasy relationship between the squire, an enlightened despot called Sir John Boileau, and parson, the Rev William Waite Andrew, a sort of Calvinistic Pooter who felt twinges of conscience about gardening.

Chadwick’s use of telling detail was always strongly characteristic of his writing. In A History of the Popes 1830-1914 (published in 1998 when Chadwick was 82) his account of what was “in some ways the worst time for the Church in the modern epoch” was enlivened by vivid cameos: of Pius IX in flight from Rome, stealing down a back staircase in an ordinary cassock, dark glasses and a brown woollen muffler. It contained a wealth of amusing one liners such as “the Holy Office was hard-boiled about women who went into ecstasies” and pithy and evocative character sketches: of Bishop Ketteler, who “studied law at the university where he lost the tip of his nose in a duel. He showed no signs of being an ordinand”; or of Cavour, a man “complacent about his virtues”.

Chadwick liked to quote St Augustine’s saying “Nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur” (no one learns except by friendship). His writings were always strikingly free of hostile judgments. The worst he would ever say of a fellow scholar was that he was “doctrinaire”. His most damning put-down was his comment on the medievalist Coulton’s Art and the Reformation: “Despite its title this is about medieval art and architecture, and is probably Coulton’s best book.”

William Owen Chadwick was born on May 20 1916, the son of a barrister. His younger brother Henry was to become Regius Professor of Divinity and Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, then Regius Professor of Divinity and Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge.

Owen Chadwick went to Tonbridge, where he was school captain as well as captain of rugby, and then up to St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Classics. By his own account he went up to Cambridge to play rugby rather than to study; and as an undergraduate, Chadwick, nicknamed “Binks”, was better known for his boisterous energy on the playing field than for his academic interests. He played rugby for Cambridge against Oxford three years running and in 1938 captained the team to victory at Twickenham. On one occasion he was rusticated for his part in damaging a railway carriage.

But in 1938 other more serious occupations began to join rugby football. It was in that year – the year of Munich – that he came under the influence of Martin Charlesworth, a history fellow of St John’s and a powerful influence in Cambridge Christian circles. It was also in 1938 that the distinguished German pastor Martin Niemöller was sent to Sachsenhausen.

“In that moment,” Chadwick later recalled, “Niemöller looked from England like the European conscience standing on moral principle against tyranny; the freest man in Germany despite his confinement.”

Deeply affected by these events, Chadwick decided that his future lay in the Church and after gaining a First in his Part II exams in 1938, he stayed on for a fourth year to study Theology.

In 1939, after graduating from St John’s – again with a First – Chadwick studied for Holy Orders at Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford, being ordained deacon in 1940 and priest in 1941. Cuddesdon cemented the bond between Chadwick and the Tractarian tradition which inspired some of his finest work as a historian.

From Cuddesdon he went as curate for two years to St John’s, Huddersfield, then, until the end of the war, served as chaplain at Wellington College, the public school. During the war he also played rugby for Blackheath and was part of a wartime England team which played New Zealand. In 1947 he returned to Cambridge, where he became fellow then Dean of Trinity Hall.

In 1956, Chadwick was installed as Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge. Selwyn had been founded in 1882 as a public hostel for hard-up Anglicans, and at the time Chadwick became Master it had not yet become a full part of the university.

Chadwick was Master of Selwyn for 27 years, during which time the college acquired full status as a university college, undertook an extensive building programme, increased its complement of students (women were admitted in 1976) and more than doubled the numbers of postgraduates and fellows.

In 1958, Chadwick became the university’s Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, and in 1968 Regius Professor of Modern History, succeeding Herbert Butterfield. During the 1960s and 1970s, Chadwick was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the see of Canterbury and was said to have rejected at least two bishoprics. Nevertheless, he made a contribution to the Church in other ways.

Owen Chadwick by Walter Bird, 1959 (NPG)

A lifelong friend, and the biographer, of Dr Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chadwick was twice appointed by Ramsey to serve as his representative at joint doctrinal discussions with the Orthodox churches.

In 1964 he served on a commission to work out a scheme for synodical government, and from 1966 to 1970 he was chairman of the Archbishops’ Commission on Church and State which recommended that Parliamant should devolve its powers in Church matters to a new synod, which would become the sole authority on the life and doctrine of the Church. More controversially, the report recommended scrapping the bar on clergymen standing for election as MPs and suggested that leaders of other churches should sit in the House of Lords.

Chadwick served as Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University from 1969 to 1971, years when the tide of radical student and faculty activism was at its height. He coordinated the University’s response to the 1970 Garden House Riots which took place when a group of Left-wing students demonstrating against the Greek military junta damaged the Garden House Hotel during a “Greek Week” dinner organised by the Greek tourist board.

Chadwick had to repair relations between town and gown, and also respond to students and Left-wing dons who were incensed by the role of university proctors in helping the police to identify the rioters. He supported the role of the proctors in the affair, but in subsequent discussions with student representatives on a new disciplinary code, agreed that proctors would no longer attend political demonstrations outside the university.

He continued to be a keen supporter of the university rugby team and from 1973 served as President of the Rugby Football Club. His after-dinner songs remained popular features of the club’s social events.

Chadwick held a number of academic positions outside Cambridge. In 1975-76 he was Hensley Henson Lecturer in Theology at Oxford University, and in 1980-81 he was Ford Lecturer in English History at Oxford.

From 1978 to 1994 he served as trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. He was President of the British Academy from 1981 to 1985 and, after retiring as Regius Professor and Master of Selwyn in 1983, was Chancellor of the University of East Anglia from 1985 to 1994.

His many other notable publications include The Secularisation of the European Mind in the 19th Century (1975), a monumental exploration of the decline of the Church’s hold on European thinking and society, and a biography of Hensley Henson (1983).

In his later years he spent much time at Cley-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, of which he was priest in charge.

Chadwick was appointed KBE in 1982 and became a member of the Order of Merit in 1983. He claimed only to have used the prefix “Sir” on two occasions, once in order to be as rude as possible when replying to a correspondent and once because one of his American students thought she might obtain more money from an American grant-giving body if she could refer to him as “Sir”.

He married, in 1949, Ruth Hallward, who died earlier this year. Their two sons and two daughters survive him.

The Rev Professor Owen Chadwick, OM, born May 20 1916, died July 17 2015

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Long ago, back in those Middle Ages that encompassed the early 1970’s, four young Jesuits taught the Ethics of Experimental Medicine in a large Nursing School in Toronto.  It was a wonderfully open minded era, and medicine was blazing new trails in all sorts of areas, including  redefining what it meant to be alive,  organ transplantation, cloning and much else.  We would usually all travel together, and would argue and debate the  latest medical ethical literature endlessly and from all perspectives.  Not one of these four came out of narrow authoritarianism and  three of them were brilliant minds under any standard.   Looking back now, in all my years and in all my many Universities around the world, I never ever encountered  more intellectually opened minded, curious and brilliant  colleagues.    Of the four of us, one  went to Yale and did amazing work, the second, took over the top job  in the Canadian Jesuits, the third went to Medical School and then also did a doctorate, and the fourth, me, went off to Cambridge for doctorate studies  and thence to Law School.   This week I attended a Memorial Mass for the third . All are now dead save for me, and given that I am still in my sixties, none of us are or were really old. I write today because I am sad, I miss all of them.  What a gift it was to know them, to work with them, and to be their Brother.

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Chris Hitchens and Richard Dawkins  have and had  wonderfully enquiring minds.  Salman Rushdie’s is a perceptive critic of contemporary culture, and Bill Maher delights me every Friday night with his  irreverence.  But when it comes to matters of faith and belief, when they confront the age old phenomenon that we call religion, they  collectively get lost  in not so thinly disguised rage..   Each of them is brilliant is his own way, and have won deserved acclaim, but like all of us mortals, they have significant blind spots.  Emotion shines bright when they encounter someone of faith, at times it erupts in outrage, and they are very genuinely perplexed that in our century anyone would take any of that rubbish seriously.  They are eager to point out the regular litany of scriptural  inconsistencies, love to philosophize  about the snake in the garden, virgins who give birth, and sooner later we get to the  Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the self identified Muslim martyrs, sacrificing their  lives for those one hundred virgins, and more recently they want to let us know that they are uptodate on who is diddling whom amongst the various clergy, what is being covered up and of course they have read “God’s Banker’ .  Wherever one happens to stand along that wide spectrum that goes from atheism through agnosticism to the multiple variants of theistic belief, few will deny that the  reactions of the illuminati tend to be exceptionally emotionally charged.  Hold on a minute, let’s take a deep breath.

Many of us were once told that to be polite we should avoid talking about religion and politics.  It still is good advice to stay away form subjects which people have such strong opinions on, and in which  everyone believes themselves to be experts.  Nevertheless it is time for some of us to speak up just a little about confusion.  Religion can be co-opted by politics, but politics is not religion.  The fountain head of contemporary terrorism is not Islam, and neither is Islam inherently violent, quite the reverse. There is not now and there never has been a Jewish conspiracy, and neither Geneva, Canterbury nor the Vatican do justice to the simple message of Jesus of Nazareth, and as much as they have tried, and neither do they monopolize him.

I believe in God, a transcendent other who made a covenant with Israel and who revealed much about himself and who we are to be in Jesus the Christ.  I believe in prayer and I believe that I am called to be in relationship with that divine other.  I also believe that I am called to live that faith out in community. I am not a nut, and I not willfully deceived. I understand mythology and I have found truth in it.  I do not live for a pie in the sky heaven or fear a burning hell, but I believe we are on a pilgrimage of grace that will not end when we pass on.  My faith is not physics, it is a life structure that gives meaning to who I am and what I am called to be.

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My good friend Michael B  retired and relocated to Hungary almost a year ago. He does not speak the language, although his partner does, and so I worry about how, at the age of 70 plus, this most Anglo of all  Anglo’s is adapting to life in Central Europe .  He assures me regularly that he is fine, and to stop being afraid, and so I try.     Of course he is right, I should stop being afraid;  and on somber reflection, I  sometimes marvel at the role  ‘fear’  has played throughout my whole life.

One of my earliest memories  as an only child is waking up and finding myself alone in our house.  I knew that my Mother had been taken to hospital in an ambulance, and I guess my Dad had accompanied her. I also know now that I was not alone for long, but only for such time as it takes a neighbor to cross a street. Nevertheless that  fear of abandonment has remained with me and has  become  “a feeling touchstone” for my entire life.  I also marvel at the fact that what one fears the most, one can sometimes provoke.  I fear abandonment so much that I am regularly sub-consciously preparing for it, and at times by my  defensive behavior,  precipitating it. No I am not alone or abandoned. I am richly blessed in that I am surrounded by the love of a wonderful family, but I have as yet to come close to understanding why that fear of abandonment is still so strong.  I do take comfort in that often repeated refrain form the God of the  Old Testament: “I am with you.”.

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I  write on WFB.com   as part of an “internal consciousness examination.”  There are times when I honestly forget that someone might read my ramblings.  Yesterday I was deluged because of my comments about “golf, Florida houses and grandchildren”    Just write me off as an ‘odd duck’, and remember, I am in a never ending identity struggle.    I would most certainly welcome grandchildren and adore them, but I make no apologies on the other fronts.   I respect your right to choose and only ask that you respect mine too. Sport and vacation houses were  not front and center in my mind when I reflected as I did.

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Passionate, decisive, intelligent, emotive, tolerably narcissistic and arrogant, risk embracing, engaged, driven, a change agent, jesuitical, dismissive, sensitive and insensitive with alarming blind spots,  all describe  my own sense of an imperfect self.   Like the Energizer Bunny, I also seem to keep going and going and going.  Am I afraid to stop or even slow down? Perhaps yes.  Alas, now, more than any other time in an already full and blessed life,  I feel caught in a limbo of unknowing about what to be and do  next. Lost and floundering too?, yes, perhaps more than  just a little.

How many reincarnations are left  to someone approaching his seventh decade?  How does one best make use of  the time remaining?  Should one flee to monastic solitude in the service of others, or continue  to egage in an active life so also motivated?  The idea of lounging around in a Florida or California house, playing golf, and celebrating  grandchildren  does not appeal to me at all.  I do not judge others who choose those values, it is just not my idea of happiness.   I do love to study, and  once again I have returned to my lifelong fascination with the origins and  development of religious belief systems.  Little of the mythology which so formed  my youth remains, but neither have I mutated into a syncretistic agnosticism.  I now need to delve more deeply.

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