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Forrest Church And The 'Valley Of The Shadow'

Sep 28, 2009 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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Unitarian minister Forrest Church believed that the knowledge that we must die makes us question what life means. Church, who died Sept. 24, 2009 after a long battle with cancer of the esophagus, was the author of Love and Death: My Journey through the Valley of the Shadow.

Church sat down with Terry Gross in October 2008 to discuss the book and his ongoing battle with cancer, which he saw as a test of his theological mettle.

"I needed to ace the death exam," Church said, "having made death such a pivot of my own theology. Otherwise, there would have been a sense that I have been a snake-oil salesman of some sort."

When it comes to death, Church admitted that ministers don't always have the answers: "The most important work we do is done with families in bereavement. But we really don't know, having given all of this advice and held all of these hands and walked all of this journeys through the valley, how we ourselves are going to respond."

Church did not believe in the notion that death and suffering are part of God's plan, though he acknowledged that such a belief can bring comfort to some. "God doesn't throw a three-year-old child out of a third story window or allow a drunken driver to kill a family crossing the street. This is not part of God's plan. These are the accidents of life and death. And if God, for instance, is responsible for a tsunami that obliterates the lives of 100,000 people and leaves their families in tatters, then God's a bastard. I cannot believe in such a God. For me, God is the life force, that which is greater than all and yet present in each. But God is not micromanaging this world."

This interview was originally broadcast Oct. 27, 2008.

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