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Being Alive and Having to Die: The Spiritual Odyssey of Forrest Church Hardcover – October 25, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312599439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312599430
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,771,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

 

“The book critic Dan Cryer ably captures the theologian who was the son of a United States senator and became a champion of liberal political causes in religion. In this inspirational biography, Mr. Cryer, a member of the All Souls congregation, recalls Mr. Church’s ups and downs (two decades ago, he fell in love with a married parishioner; he also overcame alcoholism) and his legacy…In his typically ‘aphoristic’ style, Mr. Church wrote, ‘The goal of life is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.’ Mr. Church accomplished his goal, as does the book.” ―The New York Times

 

“One of the most  intriguing people I have met as a journalist,  Forrest Church was publicly popular but privately inscrutable.  He thought long and hard about religion and politics, was at home in both spiritual and secular spheres, wrestled to live an ethical life yet proved as flawed as any of us,  and struggled to  cope with the shadow of a famous and once-powerful father.  But I knew him only in passing, and longed to know more. Now, thanks to Dan Cryer's prodigious reporting, I understand more deeply the source of his eloquence and the agony of his search.  Even if you never heard of Forrest Church, you will find this man's pilgrimage worth your time.” ―Bill Moyers 

 

"A biography as winning and smart as its subject." ―Booklist

 

"This book will appeal not only to Unitarians and religious seekers, but to anyone who cares about the role of faith in American life." ―The Boston Globe

"A sensitive and insightful biography.”--Tikkun.org


“Dan Cryer's compelling biography of Forrest Church limns a quality liberal religion archetypically misses -- struggle.  Cryer's beautifully wrought account of Church's remarkable rise as a major Unitarian-Universalist minister, and more importantly as a person, melds politics, family, and theology into a riveting account of Church's joys and tragedies.  This is a moving, even transforming book about the central issue Church struggled to clarify -- the very human meaning of life.” ―Jon Butler , Howard R. Lamar Professor of American Studies, History, and Religious Studies and Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Yale University

 

“This splendid biography is worthy of its sparkling, accomplished, and inspiring subject, capturing the life and bountiful spirit of Forrest Church in rich detail.”Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University


“Forrest Church pulled no punches when it came to his own foibles.  Dan Cryer doesn’t either.  By virtue of his candor, Forrest made himself far more accessible to people while he lived.  Cryer has done the same thing for us now that Church is gone.”William F. Schulz, former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA and current President of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee


“Forrest Church was a great prophetic voice and grand public intellectual.  This book helps preserve his precious legacy!”  Cornel West, New York Times bestselling author of Democracy Matters, Race Matters, and many other books

“Dan Cryer’s penetrating, fair-minded  biography of the prominent New York Unitarian pastor Forrest Church offers a portrait not only of a fascinating religious intellectual constantly confronting his own demons but of  the best traditions of liberal American Protestantism, which uphold the separation of church and state and liberty of conscience for all. It was Church’s fate to live out his ministry during the decades when the religious Right has attempted to convince the public of the lie that America was founded as a “Christian nation.” Church stood against that lie and Cryer presents  a compelling analysis of both the man and his times, with much to offer atheists as well as religious believers more interested in questions than answers.”Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason

"Cryer's quietly moving biography affirms the enduring power of Church's liberal religious creed, which urges us to find God all around us and in the hearts of our fellow human beings, whatever their religions." Wendy Smith

 

About the Author

DAN CRYER is the former book critic for Newsday. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and vice president of the National Book Critics Circle. A long-time member of All Souls, he lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

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Forrest Church leading the charge against a religious right determined to make the U.S. into a Christian nation.
Bookreporter
This fine biography by Dan Cryer is not just for those who are interested in religion, but for all thoughtful readers who value an important story told well.
JK Stowe
Church challenged people to understand, to love, and to "live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for."
Laura Pedersen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David on December 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a nuanced portrait of a gifted man and will be an entertaining and thought-provoking addition to anyone's library. Not just a recitation of life events, the story is brought alive through a warts and all telling. Not just a history of Church's public life, one gets to know him as a son, a friend, a husband, and a father.

Don't wait--get one as a gift for that person who has everything, then order one as a gift for yourself. This book should be read as an instant classic.

Cryer, as a journalist, strikes a balance between thoughtful historian and passionate storyteller. As someone allowed tremendous access to Church and his family and friends, you can tell he truly cared for Church, wanting to be sympathetic, even as he finds it difficult to forgive Church's serious errors of judgment, but still maintains his journalistic honesty.

Thus, the narrative builds powerfully as Church gets a death sentence in the form of an incurable cancer in his late 50's, but then through heroic medical care survives three years longer than expected. Spoiler alert: Cryer's deceptively simple recitation of the events at the end of Church's life may bring you to tears--it did for me even on repeated readings.

If in addition, you are interested in American domestic politics, the uniquely American battles of evangelical and liberal religion for America's soul, the claims that the USA was founded as a Christian nation by our Christian founding fathers, you will find a lot to chew on here.

Rev. Forrest Church was a very young man when he was selected, or injected, into the position of senior minister at All Souls Church in New York City, and Dan Cryer tells a suspenseful tale of how Church grew into the job.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert Lee Hill on November 3, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
A mere two years after his death due to esophageal cancer, Forrest Church's life and legacy are recalled with powerful eloquence by Dan Cryer in his extraordinary new book Being Alive and Having to Die: The spiritual odyssey of Forrest Church. One could not have hoped for a better appreciation of one of America's premier contemporary religionists. Among the FOF's (friends of Forrest) one could not have hoped for a better chronicler than Dan Cryer.

Tracing Forrest Church's exciting odyssey from his Idaho origins to his scholarly accomplishments to his eventual position at what would become the flagship church of Unitarian Universalism, All Souls in New York City, Cryer illuminates the personal, pastoral, prophetic textures of Church's complex adventuresomeness.

Church's renowned mantras are fully explored: "Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die." "The one thing that can't be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go." "Want what you have. Do what you can. Be who you are." All of his books are thoroughly reviewed. His obvious foibles and his abject failings are on full display.

Most importantly, with exhaustive research and inspiring assessment, Cryer tells a compelling story of the various stages of Church's personal and public transformations and the redeeming power of love in those transformations. In the process, he manages to describe, with exquisite insight and impressive analysis, much of the landscape traversed by liberal religion in America over the past 50 years.

In a season when we emphasize the saying of "Thanks," it is fitting to express our gratitude to Dan Cryer for producing such an exceedingly fine account of one whose life, despite his brief 61 years, ultimately exemplified his greatest commitment: "We enter and meet ... through the sacrament of love."

-- Bob Hill, Kansas City, Missouri
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Forrest Church was a leading light in Unitarian Universalism, a religion that is often said to be "about the questions" and surprisingly difficult to describe in a few sentences at a dinner party. Yet Church was able to cogently frame this intricate expression of humanism and social justice through original sermons, meditative books, good stories and self-deprecating humor, thus making it more comprehensible and accessible, and, thereby, more consequential.

Even better, Church wasn't articulating a set of religious beliefs so much as having a discussion about how to live in a world filled with poverty, discrimination and violence. In fact, he was most at home where politics and religion intersected. "The Falwells, Robertsons, and their ilk failed to grasp that deist leaders like Washington and Jefferson were more akin to Forrest Church than to any fundamentalist," writes author Dan Cryer.

So Church is a man most of us want to know more about, but his oeuvre is overwhelming as it contains hundreds of remarkable sermons, dozens of articles, and14 books. Cryer (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) provides a superb overview with this very manageable (307 pages) biography of consistently engaging, incisive prose that can be easily understood by any lay person (despite the author's PhD in U.S. History). You get the life of an extraordinary man (complete with scandal --- alcoholism and an affair that almost derailed his ministry), a trip back to the hot-button political issues that dominated the second half of the 20th century (the subject's father was Senator Frank Church of Idaho), and wind up with Rev. Forrest Church leading the charge against a religious right determined to make the U.S. into a Christian nation.
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