Credo by Jenn Bealer

April 2012

I am not a positive person. I can find the dark cloud behind every silver lining, and for me, the glass is not only half empty, it's about to get knocked over and spilled. There are days when I don't have much faith in the goodness of humanity and barring some sort of post-apocalyptic future where a small band of people is all that is left to rebuild society, I'm not sure things will ever get truly "better".

I've had this pessimistic outlook for as long as I can remember. When I was younger it manifested through excessive worrying and over-sensitivity. I was the painfully shy kid who would cry if someone looked at her cross-eyed, and when my mom was even five minutes late picking me up after school she'd arrive to find me in tears, positive her lateness was caused, not by something as mundane as a traffic jam, but because she had been in a fatal accident.

Although part of me thinks I was just born with my default set to "worst case scenario", I also think it's hard to escape a certain amount of disappointment with the human race if you pay any attention to what goes on in the world. I learned early on, through personal experience, listening to the evening news with my family, and even the watered-down version of history taught in elementary school, that people do really mean, nasty things to each other. And a lot of times, those mean nasty things not only go unpunished, they are condoned, encouraged, and perpetrated by the people and institutions we are often taught to believe are there for our protection: our families, our teachers, our churches, the police, the military, and the government.

When I happened upon Unitarian Universalism at around 12 years old, one of the things that impressed me the most was that the adults in the congregation were so receptive to the little bundle of pessimism that I was. They didn't tell me I was too young to be worrying about a nuclear holocaust. They didn't try to convince me that the world is all sunshine and rainbows and I just needed to change my outlook. They took my worries seriously and engaged me in discussions that would eventually allow me to see the injustice in the world as a call to action rather than a cause for hopelessness.

Because here's the thing – I really do believe, deep down under my shield of sarcasm, that there is something bigger than us in this world. I believe that change can happen, and that if enough of us find a way to work together, we can make this world a better place. It's my connection to my UU faith that keeps that belief alive.

Our first principle, the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, becomes my mantra when I hear of a woman in my own town being killed by her intimate partner. When I see yet another state pass yet another law restricting a woman's right to make choices about her own body and sexual health. When I read another headline about a young man of color being shot because the racism so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness tells us that by his very existence, he must be a threat to someone's safety.

When I am faced with examples of the ways we harm each other, the ways we so successfully "other" those who are different than us to the point that we justify treating them as less than human, I remind myself that we ALL have inherent worth and dignity. Not only the oppressed, the victims, the survivors, but the oppressors, the perpetrators, and the privileged. It helps me to remember that we are all products of the cultures and societies we are a part of, and that the intersections of our life experiences are not easy to disentangle.

My faith reminds me that, as tempting as it is to place blame, my purpose is to decipher how we all came to be at this moment, and how we can all make changes within ourselves and our communities to work towards a better outcome when we find ourselves here again.

So, despite my deeply ingrained pessimism, I am moved to save humanity from ourselves, one small effort at a time. I try to understand the many ways that race, class and gender – among other things – intersect and inform the struggles I support. I try to be aware of my own privilege and to not take for granted the way it allows me to move through the world. I try not to use biased-based words that may hurt others more than I realize and remind others to do the same. And, because I want to be a better ally, I try to be open and receptive when I am called out for my missteps.

I have a passion for teaching self-defense and healthy communication skills, especially to teen girls and women. It is one of the most rewarding things I do with my life. Every time I see a spark in one of my student's eyes – that spark that says "My body is my own and it is my right to decide how, where and when I will set my boundaries," I find hope that the grip misogyny and sexism has on our society will eventually be pried loose.

And even though I may not be all sunshine and rainbows about it, I find comfort in the fact that there are other people in the world fighting the same fights, dedicated to making the same changes, and that my UU faith so often brings us together.

 

Credo by Paul Foster-Moore

April 2012

I look back periodically to that quietly eventful encounter with my father (a Methodist minister of 55 years) one day my freshman year at a Quaker college when he called to inform me, gravely, that in the move from Westfield to Danvers, all records of my Methodist church membership had vanished. This from the man who preached to us every week, who led my confirmation class and who served me communion all my life up until that point. He asked gently, “What would you like me to do about the situation?” With no pause I replied sweetly, “Why don’t we just leave it wherever it is.” And at this moment, a wave of joyous freedom swept over me. My father had inadvertently cut me loose- I was baptized anew into the community of atheists, skeptics and amateur theologians who spend a lifetime wondering, What the heck happened to me and what do I really believe?” A fresh start with a clean slate.

Fast forward to January 2010 when I was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition.

The further away from this crisis I get the more I realize I almost perished. And as a result I grow more thankful each day for my reprieve and a chance to live my life more fully and more intentionally.

Writing a Credo can be a theological statement of beliefs as my revised Apostles Creed attempts to do, or it can be a confession of a religious faith, or an intellectual exposition on the nature of one’s personal religious experience. Or in my case, a sketchy attempt at laying out my practical value system.

Last Sat. commemorated the day after Jesus’s crucifixion and the day before his metaphysically impossible resurrection. So what was that day in between all about?

Day #2.

Surely his loved ones were overcome with grief, perhaps crushing doubt about the meaning of his ministry and martyred life and quite possibly a deep fear about what was to come next. Maybe a slim hope of something good to come but no inkling of an event that would reaffirm an enduring, world altering template in human consciousness of resurrection - the ultimate metaphor for rebirth, transformation and renewal in spite of all threats of non-being that try to swallow us up and destroy our lives as we know them.

With no theological certitude about ultimate reality, a God who intervenes in human history, immortality or the apocalypse (except for our collective efforts to make one happen), I am an agnostic. Any given day could for me be that day in between death and resurrection, between the burial of hope and the resurgence of meaning.

Any day could be my chance to enter fully into despair and cynicism and withdrawal and to then to explore it and hope for re-emergence into hope and courage.

So I have my own “spare parts” spiritual code that has held me during those anguished times between the burial of hope and the promise of renewal.

Call me a serial Trinitarian. Yes, first Methodism, then Quakerism and finally at home in Unitarian Universalism. Insight from each one to be included and then transcended in the next unfolding of my life, not discarded but rather, raided like pantry shelves, picking and choosing anything of spiritually nutritional value.

From Methodism, I have retained a sense that no matter what you believe, you feed the hungry and clothe the poor, that service to others grows out of basic human decency and compassion and is grounded in a deep Old Testament prophetic sense of social justice and a New Testament law of love towards all, including one’s enemies.

From Quakerism , a sense of “God” as inner light, an in-dwelling divinity that makes each of our lives precious and capable of entering into a sacred connection with one another. What Martin Buber so aptly described as our capacity for an I-Thou relationship with each other, or with our wounded planet for that matter, infused with an absolute insistence on the intrinsic value of all living creatures. In the stillness and warmth of our hearts we listen to our deepest most uncluttered, essential self. Compassion rekindles itself, again and again from an inexhaustible well-spring of gratitude.

From Unitarianism, I look towards the power of transcendence - A sense of mystery, oneness and wonder within the world and outside of it. I am a seeker lured by adventure, driven by a passionate pursuit of transcendence: clawing my way to the summit of a snow and ice encrusted White Mountains peak carved by blasts of wind, planting myself and gazing out 100 miles in all directions, propped up by friends of 30 years, zipping up one another’s wind shells more tightly, checking faces for frostbite and feeling powerfully dwarfed and reduced to blissful insignificance as our individual identities kind of disappear right in front of us.

Or leaning back in my kayak at the end of an exhausting day of paddling on an Adirondack lake, angled into a setting sun under a New Mexico blue ski as our group returns to camp through gentle waves sparkling in a glittering, undulating path before us. The divine made manifest in the flesh of the earth and in the glow of their faces.

When death, disability or other forms of inconceivably painful loss happens, what shall I do? Am I equipped? Where will my strength to go on come from?

Connection and service to others, the inner stillness of divine presence and transcendence. These are what guide me. Another trinity!

When life nails us to a cross of some sort, these are my sources of renewal. When my conflicted selves throw me into turmoil, I seek the clarity and grounding in my essential Self beneath these selves.   When battered, I sometimes grow more tender with my clients and loved ones. I sing. I sing with you. I listen to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Faure’s Requiem. When confused I seek the simplicity of meditation or the raw invigoration of another sojourn to an icy summit. Helping a grieving widow in therapy rediscover stability and reconnection to life, bottle feeding my baby son 24 years ago, sitting quietly with my wife after her chemotherapy treatments, consoling a dear friend after his 3-week old baby girl died in his arms, being held aloft by dear friends, exploring and accepting my own near-death experience - I could go on. I am not unusual. We all have the scars in our hands and feet. We are all resilient - much to our surprise.

These are the impulses at the core of my existence that have never failed me. Living fully in that day between the death of hope and the renewal of my spirit strangely moves me towards that day of resurgence, usually in ways I did not imagine. Against my doubt and skepticism, I seem to almost make it to day three, if only briefly.

Day # 2 often turns out to be a lovely place to inhabit.

May it be so.

Paul's version of the Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, (I believe in one deep source of all existence)
Maker of heaven and earth, (from which flows all energy, matter, creativity, life, love and non-being within and beyond the cosmos)
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: (and in the divine “spark” in us all)
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;
(which emanates from the heart of the universe, pulsating and infusing all with a sacred and vivid life force)
He descended into hell. (which carries us through the darkest depths of suffering)
The third day He arose again from the dead;   (until, transformed)
He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
We enter into holy communion with our wounded home, beloved earth, and all its inhabitants
I believe in the Holy Ghost; (I believe in the divine within us all)
    the holy catholic church; (the interconnectedness of the human community)
    the communion of saints; (the pantheon of those who have sacrificed for us)
    the forgiveness of sins;    (the confronting and neutralizing of evil)
    the resurrection of the body; (the endless potential for personal and collective renewal)
   and the life everlasting. (and the eternal presence of love against all earthly odds)

Amen