“My Credo”  by Chris Dame – December 8, 2013 

First Parish Presentation

 

First, A few words of traditional wisdom …

“People differ in their discourse and profession about these matters, but men of sense are really but of one religion..

Pray my Lord, what religion is that which men of sense agree in …

 Madam, says the Earl…men of sense never tell it..

Anthony ASHLEY COOPER, 1ST EARL of Shaftsbury 1724

One religion is as true as another

Robert Burton – English clergyman 1640

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; 
Psalms 51 verse 17

A person’s spirit is the lamp of the LORD; it searches throughout one’s innermost being.

Proverbs 20:27 International Standard Version

 

And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said,…lo, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21, American Standard Bible

Jesus said, …”If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you…

Gospel of Thomas, saying three

No compulsion is there in religion

The Koran, Sura 2

Whatever good visits thee, it is of God; whatever evil visits thee it is of theyself

The Koran, Sura 4

The noble truth of suffering is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation , pain, grief and despair is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering – in brief the five attachments are suffering…

The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of suffering is this: the Noble eightfold path, right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livilihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration

First Sermon of the Buddha, Pali texts, 2nd c. BC

Love…endures all things..

I Corinthians v. 12, English Standard Version

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13, King James 2000 Bible

You shall not murder.

Exodus 20 verse 13 English Standard Version

 

I’m not OK – you’re not OK, and that’s OK

Rev William Sloan Coffin

I consider myself  a Hindu, Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist and Confucian

Ghandi

A Unitarian very earnestly disbelieves what everyone else believes

W. Somerset Maugham

I was dumbfounded when several First Parish folks approached me and asked if I would agree to participate today. First because I am not an official member of your parish, in fact I’m not an official or unofficial Unitarian-Universalist at all. I’m a lapsed Salvation Army,  Methodist, Congregationist, humanist, agnostic, professional pessimist and wannabee Buddhist. I am a very private person. I feel very uncomfortable talking publicly about religion with people I know let alone strangers I hardly know.

Having said that I admit, I can’t seem to get religion – whatever that is – out of my bones. It’s just not acceptable for me to spend all my Sundays apart from a worshiping community.

As someone dipping his toes into the quest for a new spiritual community, I’m pleased to say that since assuming my modest seat in the left rear, I have felt that well, maybe, I’ll come again next week and see what happens. As a 67 year old religious sceptic, that’s substantial progress.

I am a lifelong religious seeker, a person whose being from the very beginning as a child, has been touched – one might even say infected – with the need to look for knowledge, wisdom, and a personal connection to the infinite.  My path for the search has been the world’s wisdom literature and my personal experience.

My readings today reflect the wisdom literature, and three factors have played a big part in shaping my personal religious views. They are: my childhood, war, and a rebellious streak that refuses to go away.  Let me explain.

First, my childhood. I am a “PK” , a Preacher’s Kid who was the oldest son of not one but two itinerant Christian ministers. My parents were veterans of desperately poor  depression households who struggled to be good Christians.

We changed parishes, communities and schools every two years, as they say – religiously. I attended schools in seven different states and one foreign country before graduating high school. My mantra became  “This will never work out”.

As the brother of two minister siblings, with a third who is married to a minister, and with numerous aunts and uncles  – “in the business” – I am a man with heavy religious baggage.

Despite what the apostle Paul said, I have found it very difficult to “put away childish things”.

My second formative experience was military service in Vietnam. I went to war and I have never really come home. I am not a pacifist and I believe in the sixth commandment. I demonstrated against the war, but, because of that third factor – a rebellious streak, despite a college religious vocations scholarship which would have guaranteed my acceptance into divinity school and avoidance of the draft, I rejected my father’s choice for me to become a Christian minster, and instead became a Marine officer in Vietnam, responsible for the lives of 30 young men.

Anyone who has not personally experienced the morally devastating, ethically-corrosive impact of placing young men in a kill or be killed situation, has no understanding of the long term impacts that such an experience has their lives, the people they meet, and  the communities to which they return.  Forty years later, I still struggle to make sense of the moral meaning of that experience.

I believe the indifference of the American population to such impacts continues today. While our country is in a permanent state of war borne by a few, there appears to be no personal sacrifice, even financial, demanded of ordinary citizens. Nor is there public acknowledgement of the endless stream of coffins and maimed bodies returning to America or the widows and orphans we create in the lands we occupy. Less than one in five of our legislators, the same people demanding military action in North Korea and a war with Iran, have ever served in the military. I dread the day those people will send my new grandson to die in the middle east.

My third personal factor is rebellion. I find it hard to accept conventional wisdom, whether from preachers, Democrats OR Republicans, liberals or conservatives, a single holy book, or the internet. Unlike Émile Coué, so far I’ve found that every day THEY do not seem to be getting better and better, so why should I listen to them? All in all, I think Groucho Marx had it right “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

So what does that leave me for a religious credo? ,

The wisdom literature I read sums up my religious perspective at this stage of my life:

  • all religions contain elements of truth and are worthy of respect
  • Don’t believe everything you hear
  • look within to discover glimpses of universal truth
  • Buddha was right – life is suffering; the difficult key to escaping this is detachment
  • Service to others, accumulating merit in the Buddhist perspective, is what life is  all about
  • Love conquers all
  • there is no pie in the sky but personally, I look forward to some VERY interesting events

 

Having said all that, in the context of my developing relations with this religious community – provided of course you keep up the good work – I confess that I will probably be compelled to modify my Groucho Marx rule.

I may become a member.

 

END

 

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“My Credo” – A Lay Service – December 8, 2013

Sue Demb –

Good morning. My name is Sue Demb and I have been a member of First Parish for over 30 years. Today I am going to speak about my credo, but, before I do I would like to tell you a few things about myself, which have shaped my credo. Most importantly, I’m an eternal optimist; tomorrow is a new day, and there is always hope that things can get better. On the other hand, I’m an introvert; I enjoy involvement with other people, but I always need to return to a quiet environment to regenerate. So I’m your basic optimistic introvert. You can add a little perfectionism to that, too.

Growing up in Dedham, MA, I attended the Episcopal Church, where I was told what to believe. My concept of God was a stern being keeping track of everything I did wrong, including the image of a large open book. I don’t remember worrying too much about this. When I was 13, I took confirmation classes and was confirmed. Interestingly, once I left home for college, I never returned to the Episcopal Church.

Joe and I got married in 1969 and raised two sons, Jon and Andrew. I’ll tell you how Jon brought us here in a few minutes. Both are married with children, giving us one of the best perks of aging, four delightful grandchildren, who continue to bring new energy and enthusiasm to our family.

For much of my life, I was a private piano teacher and loved working with children, guiding them on their musical journey and sharing my love of music with them. I retired in 2007 and now run an online business with Joe, selling photography products that he designs. I do the shipping, bookkeeping and website design. It’s part time and gives us opportunities for recreation and quiet living. We have a dog named Sadie and a cat named Sadie; both are nine years old and both like to spend time with their people. We take Sadie dog on 2 or 3 walks a day, which makes nature a big part of every day.

How did I find my way to First Parish? Joe and I needed a new place to go after Jon asked about church. His friend Michael went to church, and Jon wanted to go, too. I wasn’t interested in returning to Episcopalianism, and Joe wasn’t interested in returning to Judaism. We came here, found something completely different, and my spiritual journey began.

One of the first things I noticed in the building was the church covenant, which, at that time, was hanging on the wall outside the sanctuary. On it was the name Thomas Bartlett, who came to America in 1634 with his brothers, John and Richard, landing in Newburyport. I am descended from Richard. Such an odd coincidence made me feel I had come home, though I didn’t really know much about Unitarian Universalism. It was like connecting to an echo from my past. Stranger yet, people from Watertown went and settled in Contentment, which became Dedham, my home town.

We attended church regularly, but it was years before this felt like “church” to me. The sanctuary didn’t look much like the church I grew up in, which had stone walls and stained glass windows. Furthermore there was no doctrine to be followed, no creed. But the people were really nice, there were lots of young families with children, and the sermons were interesting. Over time I began to get the idea that I could form my own set of beliefs, my own credo, and this is what I have created so far.

I believe in a universal force governing all that exists. Some people call it God, some call it Nature, but for me it is nameless. Perhaps it is too big to be named. When I think about outer space, black holes, galaxies, and planets that are billions of years old, how can all that be contained in a name? The seasons, the weather at its best and worst, the power of earthquakes, tornadoes and volcanoes all inspire awe and respect for some kind of amazing force.

I believe that loving relationships with others, joy in the world around me and helping others serve to make me feel safe and secure in a troubled world. The world has always been a violent and dangerous place, and it is imperative to counter-balance that with peace and harmony. I see war and hate all around me and, when I lament about the sorry state of the world, I am reminded that people have been persecuting and killing each other since the beginning of time. So I look for ways to find peace and security through loving relationships with friends and family, through seeking joy in the world around me, and through helping others. These things allow me to feel grounded and safe in a world that could change at any moment.

I believe that Nature is a source of beauty and inspiration that rejuvenates me. Being out in nature lifts my spirit and makes me feel part of something much bigger than myself. No matter what season, there is always something to connect with. Who can ignore the awakening that is Spring, when flowers, trees, birds and people emerge from the cold of winter and come to life again? When we go on dog walks in the spring, my eyes delight in all the new growth, and my nose tunes in to the most amazing smells that are all around. It’s like a wonderful gift, and makes me feel as if I, too am coming to life again after a long, cold sleep. The lazy days of summer envelope me with warmth, inviting me to spend time outdoors. They offer a time of transition from all the new growth of spring to what I call seasoned growth. The leaves gradually turn a darker green, the flowers and vegetables reach their peak, and the heat makes me long for cooler days. Fall presents me with a daily update on beautiful colors and smells, making it a joy to go out each day and see what there is to see. I love shuffling my feet through fallen leaves; the sound makes me smile. Even winter, gives me gorgeous beauty when the tree branches are covered with snow and the earth takes on a special hush. Yes, it can be cold and nasty, but often it is cold and exhilarating. Now you know I’m a dog walker and go out several times every day to take Sadie for a walk. Sadie has opened my eyes and my heart to the beauty and mystery of the earth in all its seasons, and for that I am grateful.

I believe that music and art connect me to generations of inspiration and beauty which brings peace to my spirit. Art lifts me above my every-day life and brings me to a place of peace and comfort through vision. Joe and I have been visiting museums almost every week for a little over a year. I don’t know much about art, but I find that, as I look at an exhibit, I feel this wonderful sense of calm. I see the world through the artist’s eyes, see the emotions in the work, and feel a connection to this person who may be long-gone. It amazes me that these paintings may be centuries old, but they continue to provide pleasure to my modern eyes. It reminds me of Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious” and the idea that all humans share certain experiences and emotions throughout time, as if people don’t really change that much. They can always connect to universal values that all mankind shares.

The same is true of music, which brings me comfort and peace through sound. As a pianist, I enjoy creating music. Though it takes me a long time to learn a piece, I reach a point where I can focus on musical expression instead of playing the notes. Then my mind focuses intensely on what I am hearing and, from somewhere deep within, I know just how I want the music to sound. Once, when I was studying piano in my 50s, my teacher said, “That phrase is a little flat. Can you do something with it?” Not knowing what would happen, I played it again, listening as hard as I could. He said, “Yes, that’s it; play it like that.” I have no idea what I did differently, but I learned that careful listening is the key to beautiful playing.

I don’t play the piano very much any more, but I do love singing in the choir. When church starts in the Fall, I always realize how much I missed singing with the choir over the summer. I need both art and music to balance the busyness of every-day life and bring peace to my spirit.

I believe that wonder is essential for a complete life, and children remind me of how to experience it. Children and grandchildren remind me of the importance of a sense of wonder. The delight and excitement that children express in the every-day world help me stop and take notice of just how wonderful the world really is. They help me notice that which I have become accustomed to and tend to ignore. This Fall, I loved seeing a toddler walking in the park, grasping a colored leaf in each hand, discovering this brand new thing. Looking at her, I felt her sense of wonder and smiled. Keeping a sense of wonder alive in adults is a real blessing, and children help me remember how to experience it.

Finally, I believe that learning must continue throughout life, enriching mind and spirit. It is through growth and learning that my mind feels alive and my spirit evolves. I believe that living and learning go together to sustain my existence. I am currently relearning Spanish, after more than 50 years, and I find it exhilarating, as if I’m exercising the most important muscle in my body. Taking a cue from my grandchildren, I’m trying to learn it the way they learned English: word by word, phrase by phrase, and, someday, sentences. It is the process of learning that enriches my mind and spirit, not the subject. There have been other subjects in the past, and there will be more in the future.

Putting my credo all together:

I believe in a universal force that governs all things

I believe that loving relationships with others, joy in the world around me and helping others serve to make me feel safe and secure in a troubled world

I believe that Nature is a source of beauty and inspiration that rejuvenates me I believe that music and art connect me to generations of inspiration and beauty which brings peace to my spirit

I believe that wonder is essential for a complete life, and children remind me of how to experience it I believe that learning must continue throughout life, enriching mind and spirit.