|What I Believe
From a panel presentation at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Society, December 7, 2008
There's a New Yorker cartoon where the guru, sitting cross-legged with a disciple at his feet, is saying "You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about."
Some of us spend our whole lives trying to figure what it's all about, not realizing that maybe it's just that simple.
My religious training began with my mother reciting the 23rd Psalm to my sisters and me at bedtime. It's beautiful poetry, and even now I recite it ---sometimes in times of stress. But my mother could just as well have been reciting Longfellow---
"And the little Hiawatha learned of every bird its language", which I also love. She could just as well have spoken those words because she never said much about sin, heaven, hell, or salvation.
My formal religious training began after we had finally settled in one place and I was enrolled by my mother in catechism instruction in the church of her childhood: the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. I was 11.
My father was not a co-conspirator, so to speak, in this decision. He lacked, I believe, what some refer to as the "religion gene" When questioned by anyone why he never went to church his reply was that he attended Sunday School "as a boy" and seemed to feel that this alone qualified him for Heaven. He was a good and compassionate man and a lover of nature. He was devoted to his family. He raised his 3 teenage girls singlehandedly after our mother died.
In the two years of catechism class I was exposed to more poetry-passages from the bible which I had to memorize each week. I loved the sound of them. Many began with "Verily I say unto you...."
But what I also learned in that class was that the Lutheran religion was the only true faith; that I shouldn't be yoked with unbelievers because they are wolves in sheep's clothing; that I shouldn't hang around with Catholics because they worshiped false gods. And that those not baptized would not get to Heaven.
This latter gave me some problems when I was a new mother of our first child.
Eric Alan was scheduled to be baptized at age 3 months when Dave's parents would be able to be with us in California for the event.
The Lutheran minister suggested this and everybody seemed to think it was a good idea.
But I began to worry during that waiting period. All I could see was a precious, but vulnerable infant nursing in my arms.
I remembered that I had learned in catechism class that in an emergency a layman could baptize someone. So with little Eric held over the sink one morning, I sprinkled water on him and recited. "I baptize thee in the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost. Amen."
My attachment to the Lutheran church ended when Eric came home from Sunday school one beautiful spring day telling about the nails that people hammered into a guy's hands. He showed me where on his own hands.
That was too much for me. I was already having misgivings about what churches were teaching. I had read Mark Twain's anti-organized religion "Letters from the Earth." And then there was Dave's longstanding skepticism.
George Calden used to refer to Dave as the "world's greatest bullshit detector."
Though the music and the poetry of the Lutheran church still resonated with me, I quit going to church. Soon afterward Dave discovered a small Unitarian Fellowship he thought we should try. After the first meeting, I was sure I had found a new home.
I was in a period of questioning everything and that's what the Unitarians I met seemed to be doing. They were doing it together and making no bones about it.
In THEIR children's program our son was learning about our world, its creatures great and small and how to treat them.
So, what do I believe?
I quote here Donald Rumsfeld, philosopher: "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns-the ones we don't know we don't know."
I don't know the answer to so many things. I don't know why we're here, if there IS a reason. I don't know if I was somewhere else at another time. I don't know if I'll be somewhere else, or with whom after I die.
Some claim to have these answers. Some claim there's nothing; some claim there's this; there's that. How do they know? I don't know.
What I do know is that my time here on earth will end someday and while I'm here I want to cram a lot of things in , in case that's all there is. I want to do things for and with others. If you ever play Hokey Pokey you many find, like I do, that it's more fun doing it with others.
I want to take time to enjoy the beauties of this life on earth. And I want to be one of those who work to make improvements.
I want to give and feel the love in my life.
Is our lifetime but a narrow crack of light between two dark eternities. as author and skeptic Sam Harris puts it?
If so, it seems to me life is a rare gift.
A gift to each one of us-each of us who is, after all, a mathematical improbability.
As a Unitarian I feel free to try to figure out "what it's all about" for myself, with, perhaps, scientific discovery or my own inner voice telling me what is true.
I am a spiritual person. My spirituality comes, I guess, from the awe I feel of the universe---- the immense and the tiny, including ourselves, about which we still have so much to discover.
We have to tools to do this; our minds and our spirits, combined with all from the past that we hold in high regard.
I guess I have to agree with Donald Rumsfeld, on this at least: there's a lot we know and a lot we don't. It makes for an exciting quest.