In Theory

Imagine being trapped on the top floor of a burning house. As the flames creep closer, you look outside the window and see members of your congregation gathered below. They're looking up at you and praying that you make it out alive. But you know there is no way that you will escape death. If you had only one message for them about your religion or your religious experience that you absolutely had to impart to them, what would it be in 150 words or less?

While not certain that a valedictory message would be my uppermost priority at such a time, I would want to depart as I had lived: as a teacher. One of Judaism's most singular contributions is that of hope in a better tomorrow, and in commending that vision to my last audience I would emulate Moses.

When the great Lawgiver was about to return home to God, he charged Joshua as his successor with the words: "I encourage you and strengthen you."

This message echoes across the ages to be proclaimed by each generation to the next. Believing that tomorrow can be better than today, even if we are not personally here to share in it, is a vital teaching of the Torah.

Rabbi Mark S. Miller

Temple Bat Yahm

Newport Beach

In a traditional Zen story, a man is chased by a tiger. He comes to cliff and lowers himself on a vine. The tiger stalks above him, and a deep gorge lies far below. As he hangs precariously, mice begin to gnaw on the vine. He turns his head and notices a strawberry nearby. As he eats it, he exclaims, "How delicious!"

Can we appreciate our life in the midst of difficulties and suffering, and with the sure knowledge that death awaits us? In Zen practice, we experience a "small death" each time we are able to go beyond our limited preoccupations and enter into the broader experience of our life, our union with others and the universe. Rather than imagining events in the future, we must awaken to our life right here and now. How delicious!

Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett

Zen Center of Orange County

Costa Mesa

Trust God! Love one another! Be patient and ... hurry, call for a rescue helicopter!

(The Very Rev'd Canon) Peter D. Haynes

Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church

Corona del Mar

My God is life affirming, so my first reaction would be to find a way to get to the roof so that the rescue helicopter — which my parishioners would have already called — could pick me up!

I thought of words I might say: "Death is the end of a chapter, but not the end of the story. I will see you at the feast table. I'll save you a seat."

I thought of scripture to quote: "Do not be Afraid, Says the Lord. You shall walk through fire and not be burned. I have called you by name. You are mine. I have redeemed you. You are precious in my sight and I love you." (Isaiah: 43)

But I realized there is no way to compress the faith without damaging the faith; even the New Testament has four gospels. So I end with the words of a 15th century monk:

"There is nothing I can give you which you do not have … The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!"

Pastor Mark Wiley

Mesa Verde United Methodist Church

Costa Mesa

The Savior gave us the two great commandments that encompass all of the ten from the Law of Moses: Love God, and love your fellow man. So "Live the Commandments" is my main message. But the reason is also important: We should not live a Christ-centered life because of a fear of the punishment of God in the hereafter. If we "lose ourselves" in our effort to live for God and others, we will truly find the joy we seek right now and right here! And that joy we find here will continue in the life to come with our families in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His Son.

Tom Thorkelson

Director of Interfaith Relations

Orange County Council

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." (Acts: 16:31).

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans: 10:13)

"To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (II Corinthians: 5:8.

I love you and will be waiting for you on the other side!

Pastor Dwight Tomlinson

Liberty Baptist Church

Newport Beach

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