With respect to abortion, did you know that 300,000 fewer abortions were performed during President Clinton's eight years in office than have already occurred during President Bush's five. In part, this is surely due to the cutback in funding and the restriction of birth control and family planning services in health education and sex education programs.

In light of these numbers, one could argue that a pro-choice agenda serves the anti-abortion cause more effectively than does a so-called pro-life agenda, which limits contraceptive options and restricts sex education to the moralistic platitude of "Just say no." Even apart from such evidence, a pro-birth stance outlawing all forms of abortion and an anti-death stance outlawing all forms of euthanasia (though rarely extended to capital punishment and war) does not, in my opinion, add up to a pro-life policy, especially when questions addressing the quality of life--after birth and before death--appear to evoke respectively little moral intensity or compassionate solicitude from self-described pro-life crusaders.

Beyond this, if we are truly to choose life, we must weigh the competing demands for our moral attention in the scales of equity and justice. An encompassing pro-life position would weigh into the balance poverty and malnutrition, equal health care and education, and all the many facets of human rights and dignity, with as much care as today's pro-life crusaders devote to abortion, euthanasia, and Gay marriage. To choose life is not, regardless of the cost, to mandate birth or to prevent death. To choose life is to nurture and enhance the quality of life for the entire human family. This entails moral choice and requires moral compromise. No responsible civil ethic can be fashioned that does not allow prioritizing the competing claims on our moral attention. To choose life- reverently and thoughtfully, unbiased by sentimentality-we must resist the siren's song of moral absolutists, for whom both choice and compromise are anathema.

I recognize that I've been talking about ethics on what many would define as a metaphysical occasion. Before mounting my spiritual charger--as all these trumpets seem to call for--and galloping off toward the ether, let me say a word about our approach to religion here. We Unitarians are sometimes accused of having a thick ethic and a thin metaphysic. Even on Easter, I will rush to say, "Guilty as charged." We test our faith by deeds not creeds. As Henry David Thoreau put it when asked about the afterlife, we take things one life at a time. Our book of revelation is the book of nature. We read the story of our lives and the story of life itself in its rich and luxuriant pages. As Jesus himself did, we follow the spirit not the letter of the scriptures.

Love to God--the ground of our being, being itself--and Love to Neighbor are our two great commandments, summing up all the law and the prophets. We see ourselves as being saved in and for the world, not from the world. Whatever we may think about life after death, we devote our full spiritual attentions to life before death, seeking to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for. When pondering the life and death of Terri Schiavo or Jesus of Nazareth or our own life and death, we look not to the supernatural for meaning or rescue. Instead, we peer through life's veil in search for the super in the natural, that our lives may be touched by awe and blessed by grace.

Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. We are not the animal with tools or the animal with advanced language. We are the religious animal. Knowing we will die, we question what life means. Question of ultimate meaning are religious questions. One may answer them, of course, with non-religious answers. Just make sure these answers are not too glib. For instance, whenever someone boasts to me that she doesn't believe in God, I ask her to tell me a little about the God she doesn't believe in, because I probably don't believe in him either. If fundamentalists of the right enshrine an idol on their altar, an impossibly petty, tyrannical, and tiny God, fundamentalists of the left strike that idol from the altar and believe that they have done something creative or important. Both remain in thralldom to the same tiny God.

Theology is poetry, not science. It almost has to be. By cosmologists' latest reckoning, there are some 100 billion stars in our galaxy and ours is one of perhaps 100 billion galaxies. Divide the stars among us, and in our galaxy alone, every individual alive on earth today would be the proud possessor of seventeen personal stars. In the cosmos itself, the star to person ratio is 1.7 trillion to one.

So do we stop and shake our heads in humility and wonder? No. We sit on our tiny spit of sand on this vast cosmic beach and argue over who has the best insider information on the creator and the creation. Is it the atheist or the theist? The Hindu or the Buddhist? The Catholic, the Protestant, the Muslim or the Jew? Is it Jesus? The Buddha? Mohammed? How about Darwin, Gandhi, or Freud? Billions of accidents conspired to give each of these compelling teachers the opportunity even to teach. Knowing this-pondering numbers beyond reckoning-doesn't strip me of my faith. It inspires my faith. It makes me humble. It fills me with awe.

If our religion doesn't inspire in us a humble affection for one another and a profound sense of awe at the wonder of being, what finally will? If we can't see our own tears in the eyes of all who mourn and would be comforted, how will we find comfort when we too enter the valley of the shadow?

These questions you won't find answered in the papers. There you'll see true believers with signs cursing judges and damning to hell a bewildered, angry man who has watched his wife linger on life supports in a twilight zone between birth and death for fifteen years. And you'll see pious politicians claiming fidelity to the letter of the scriptures, testifying on behalf of a narrow moralistic agenda, crafting sentimental ad hoc legislation that stands no chance of passing legal muster, while casting budget votes that defy the spirit of neighborliness without giving this a second thought.

Perhaps its time to put the papers aside for a moment. Time to gaze into the heavens, to recognize that we are all more alike than we differ, certainly more alike in our ignorance than we differ in our knowledge. Time to remember how fragile life is and how precious love must therefore be. Time to seize every opportunity we are given to offer thanks, to celebrate, to serve, hope and love. Perhaps its time to wander back once again to Calvary for our annual Easter visit. Nothing is there now. No crosses. No crowd. We stand alone, looking beyond a naked hill to an endless desert. You and I together, each of us alone, looking out on eternity, measuring time.

Alone we walk and yet together. Alone, together with Terri and with Jesus and with one another. We look into forever and we weep. And then we look back. How amazing it was! Wasn't it amazing? The people who loved us. The people who tried. Our parents, they weren't perfect no, but neither are we. Our children, if we are blessed to have children. Our friends, the sun and moon, touch and sight, taste, hearing, smell, every miracle we take for granted every day of our lives until the day we die. How amazing it was, life before death.

Look back and mourn. Then look back and sing. Remember how profoundly we are blessed. Yes, and then we too are resurrected. Removed from our death supports.

Whatever our theology, Jesus lived to remind us that we too can be saved. Not from others, but from ourselves. Saved from self-absorption, self-pity, self-despite. Saved from self-righteousness. Saved from unwarranted displays of conspicuous piety. Saved by love.

Let me leave you with a question. What if this is your last Easter? Or the last Easter you are blessed to share with someone you love? Will anything you do or feel today remain? In your heart you know the answer. Only love remains, only the love we give away remains, the rest is dross.

For you and for me, for Jesus and for Peter, for Terri and her parents and her husband, when death is the occasion, love is the only saving medium and forgiveness, love's most perfect catalyst. That is the message of Easter, its hope and its promise. Death doesn't conquer love, love conquers death. Those who love us live on in the love we receive. By their love we will always know them. And our own bequest of love, however imperfect, this too will outlast us. It will outlast us and it will perfect us. For not only does the love we give live on in our name. It redeems our own and saves our loved ones lives.

You won't find that in the papers either. But you will in the Bible. "Choose Life." "Love your neighbor as yourself." Can you imagine anything more amazing? Life before death. And love after death. Each miracle enough for me. Each sufficient cause for everlasting praise.

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