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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ann Angus

Penultimate Words

by Richard R. Kurrasch - Oct 3 2022

For many years, Martin Marty’s “penultimate word” wrapped up each issue of The Christian Century, the journal that has more or less served as the unofficial voice of mainstream Protestantism. Marty was one of our more important observers of the contemporary religious scene and while coming as it did at the end of the magazine, he clearly wanted it understood that his was the “last word save one,” ours, the reader. Let the conversation continue!

Continue it does, and even though we know that there is nothing like religion and politics to spoil a perfectly good dinner, if not friendship, the fact is that we like to talk religion. As someone once put it, humankind is incurably religious, so the conversation will continue.

For more than fifty years, I have tried to encourage religious conversations. I have files and files of sermons and probably every newsletter column I ever wrote. I have given priority attention to Bible studies and book clubs, and I have welcomed “teachable moments” in hallways, parking lots, and committee meetings. I have experienced some of my most memorable religious conversations, often without words, in hospital rooms and cemeteries. I can’t say they have all reached penultimate heights, but never did I look upon them as the last word, just a word on the shared journey into the purposes of God.

The corner of the vineyard where I have served included churches that were practically well suited to penultimate conversations because they lacked a defined and defining creed that replaces penultimate opinion with an alleged, ultimate truth. Instead, if those gravitating to such churches wanted to find God’s truth, they had to go looking for it and inevitably, that meant talking about it as well. Of course, if you put four of them together in a common conversation, you could easily get four opinions (sometimes five as a matter of principle). It can get a little messy at times but that’s a small price to pay if by chance it should nudge us a bit toward Ultimate Reality.

As people of faith, we need to stay focused on Ultimate matters, remembering at the same time that ours are penultimate conversations, for these things unfold over time. What works, what fits, what’s a clear path and not a cul-de-sac—how do we know unless we engage in conversation with one another and with God?

Penultimate quests in search of the Ultimate.

Reverend Richard R. Kurrasch is a retired Disciple of Christ First Christian Church Minister

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