|This, I Believe
From a panel presentation at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Society, December 7, 2008
I am a cannibal and a critic but most here know I am not an intellectual. I have chosen to accept or integrate ideas into my beliefs according to my needs and my desires. These ideas and thoughts are those that most resonate with my experiences and emotions. I have NO DOUBT about my right and ability to amend my beliefs and perhaps grow through the experience.
One set of grandparents and my great aunt were Universalists. They considered themselves Christians and believed in Jesus the prophet and in a loving God. My mother grew up with them and with Christian Scientists as close friends and neighbors. My parents attended the small Universalist Church with them in Litchfield Illinois and dropped us kids off at the Presbyterian Sunday school to learn Bible stories, which I enjoyed with the simple songs such as "Jesus loves me this I know". As we moved north, our family attended Universalist church in Peoria and then Unity Temple in Oak Park - both of which had comprehensive religious education programs. I'd like to acknowledge my favorite Sunday school teachers - Marion and Woody Baker - we attended church on a regular near-weekly basis. Our mother trusted in a supreme being but hers were private beliefs. Our father was an atheist who joined my mother in church though hidden behind the dark glasses a blind man.
The only times we stopped to pray was when my father's mother and her second husband, our Uncle John visited. He was quiet and loving and expressed Baptist fundamentalist beliefs if asked; I know he prayed for us to be saved, but did not exhort or hector us. I recall Uncle John when we sing the Shaker song "Simple Gifts". My father would have given them more money except that he couldn't stomach that a tenth of what he gave them went to the Brown Street Baptist Church in Alton Illinois.
Our family practices and rituals most importantly included sitting down to dinner together, children's one on one time with each parent, our mother's many Christian Science superstitions, our father's immense and storied creativity, and many ritualized observances of a secularized nature such as X-mass with Santa Claus, Easter bunny and egg hunting, feasting and foods of Thanksgivings and we always went bowling after funerals.
This I believe: I choose to believe in an animating spirit of creation which leaves its work to us, the created. I believe in an animating spirit of love - because it comforts me to think so - I choose to believe that I live in a world founded upon love.
I believe in enduring life; species come and go, planets live and die but life itself will out. When we are able to recognize it, I believe life will be found as ubiquitous on Mars and other planets as it is on Earth.
I believe in a single humanity and I'm comforted to think we all descended from a single mother.
I believe in goodness and that the absence of good is caused by imperfect people while "evil" is a fantasy intended to deny human imperfection or to limit human freedoms.
I believe that there is life after death for it comforts me to believe that idea. We live on - not as human beings, selves, or personalities, but through the consequences of our relationships with others and of our actions while we lived. The ripples we leave, no matter how small persist in their motion impacting everything as they expand. I believe it is beyond our human ken to understand the impact of our own lives.
I believe that we all share human experiences, the emotional and physical joys of heaven and the emotional and physical pains of hell. I "grokked" these shared experiences through a boyhood insight which I attribute to a Universalist upbringing. It has given me confidence and strength to know with certainty that my experiences and my pain are not mine alone - but shared with everyone, only the time and circumstances differ; the feelings, emotions; the responses in highs and lows -- we share them all.
While this belief sadly tempers my highs, it also thankfully tempers my lows. My lows are also moderated by a mother's influence that it is all good but never perfect. I struggle to appreciate my trust that it is in one's attitude that one finds heaven or hell. I'm pretty sure that's true because I can put myself into hell or take myself to heaven. When I put a smile on my face, I believe that you and I both benefit - especially when I don't feel like smiling.
Because we can love, I believe we can endure suffering peacefully. My father informed us time and again -- as he boomed, "Life's TOO short !" (find reason to enjoy it). Because we can suffer, I believe we love what is good. As he'd exclaim, "Life CAN be beautiful !" Those two phrases encapsulate his general philosophy and forever branded our psyches.
I believe that that our physical selves are but way-stations in a line of ever expanding universes. I believe that entire universes exist within the smallest particle - that an atom at the end of your fingertip is host to infinite universes. A representation of the physical universe as I see it was captured in a series of images by Charles and Raye Eames, 20th C designers, in their book and video "Powers of Ten". In it they conjecture what it looks like at each interval in the magnitude of ten, from 10 meters to 10 to the 32nd power away from earth and ten to the -32nd power into the cells of which we are made. Outward or in we will arrive at the same place.
I believe life is like the water cycle and the Flow of a river - an endless process of regeneration - and that our existences are but the moments of the mayfly. That is why we share the urge to procreate from the river and why as humans we need to find enjoyment - RIGHT NOW! We know the day is short. Night is nigh, Death is here. REJOICE!
I believe that each life - no matter how long - is complete. I came this understanding when an only child of a friend died tragically and the only way I could comprehend it was to accept that his life was whole, in and of itself: beautiful, painful, joyous, and brief.
A bit of Hinduism: Creation of life, destruction, recreation and perhaps reincarnation. I agreed with Orange Schroeder statement that reincarnation would be a really good deal and so I'm keeping that belief open and hedging my bets.
I believe in humor . . . , "The Dude abides".
I believe in dancing - participating in the art of non-verbal transcendence - the eternal dance of youth reminds us of joy and of what we once were.
I believe good parenting is the greatest gift a person can get or give. And, "Chinese fortune cookie", I believe health is your first and most important fortune.
As I have listened to the stories of others doing this series I've noted that while the departure points for their journeys have been unlike my own, their courses of search and discovery have not been that dissimilar from mine, and after-all is spoken, we've all arrived at a local destination. Bob - with his Presbyterian background, I believed every word that guy said - and much the same for Erin, especially when I reread her statement on-line - Jerry had a very different religious beginning and yet spoke to my soul in his ruminations on science and the fantastic characteristics of nature -- and I felt in harmony with Dirk's description of confidence through acceptance of Godel's theorem - there is nothing which proves everything. Others spoke of love and of empathy, of the nurture in the nature-nurture equation. Robin conjured the profound faith of the secular humanist in humanity's ability to solve its, our own problems, to live the golden rule for its own sake, and that nuturing love and empathy is powerful and sustainable.
For me, I'll continue to sing the Universalist Doxology:
And, like Louis Armstrong, think to myself, What a Wonderful World! End