This I Believe: Joanne Englund (1967-68)

I travel in my cubicle of time With only foggy memory, a dusty leg and misty dreams To let me know that there is any other time but now. What I say today is nothing profound. We each look at the world through our own little window. We each see a different world. This church is where we come together to share, like the blind men and the elephant, our unique worlds – so that together we may have a more complete picture of life’s entirety.

Our church is an organism – unified in the human quest for truth; a turning, churning, tumbling, rumbling nucleus of selves – facing outward, each toward his own personal path, but gaining sustenance by devouring each other’s ghosts and demons and thereby cultivating truth.

It is a place to compare goals and share goals; to test attitudes, exchange information and interests; to ponder questions and gain strength for action. 

I like the symbol of Yin and Yang. What I believe to be true does not necessarily negate its opposite. Life does not move onward and upward toward a fixed pinnacle. It turns and bends back along itself – though its principles are in tension they are not flatly opposed. Life is a paradox, all things have an opposite, even a curve has two sides. I also like the spiral concept of the progress in life and history. 

Unitarianism is like a road map. With it we are able to see many choices of direction and are better able to choose the route that leads in the direction that we wish to go. That doesn’t mean we all take the same road or care to go to the same place. It only means that we have another tool to help us. I wish to go to the top of my ladder; you may prefer a mountain, a quiet meadow, a wooded trail, a rippling brook, the 1st National Bank Building or Grand Central Station. 

An individual person is many different people throughout a lifetime. The Unitarian Church must serve all of those people within each person. It seems to me that anytime the world has a new idea it always begins cluttered with confusion, complexity and trivia. The process of improving is to simplify – to strip off the extra trappings and find the basic structure. This is the type of evolvement my religious thinking has gone through – whether progression or regression is, I suppose, debatable. 

My parents seldom went to church and were uncomfortable when they did. My maternal grandmother, with whom we lived, was a most religious person although not the orthodox churchgoer. Her beginnings were mired in hellfire and damnation on old-world Lutheranism. She is now a combination Spiritualist, Christian Scientist, and Unitarian (figure that one out). I can remember sitting in on séances at about age seven: trumpet standing on the table center, all fingertips touching the table edge, table lifting from the floor in a pitch black room – and my combination suspicion and awe. I remember premonitions of death, sights of spirits, requests to the spirit world for help, and an indomitable faith in self-healing. She is now 89, questioning, vivacious, enthusiastic, determined – she may be right.

I gulped down religion with zealous hope. I spent the years from 10 to 20 reading the Bible from cover to cover, mulling great decisions like “Should communion services use real wine and only one cup? ” I was confirmed a Lutheran and ingested my confirmation verse: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. ” (Matt. 6:33). I quit college and married at 18 with the help of those verses: “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increase the knowledge increase the sorrow. ” (Eccl. 1:18) ; “For the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. ” (1 Cor. 3:19). “Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. ” (Job 28:28) ; “Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. ” (Matt, 6:34).

I was absolutely inculcated with the concept that this life is to be tolerated stoically, in anticipation of the next. Earthly goods and services should be physically and mentally ignored. Life should be spent in contemplation, while humbly involved in manual and menial chores. 

From 20 to 30, I had progressed to: Is there a Hell and who goes there? I could never think of one person who was “all bad. ” If this world is to be turned off who’s to keep society running? I met my first Unitarian here, but with the accrual of a house and three children, I did little reading or thinking, it seemed the only time to think was over those supper dishes. 

At about 30 I mentally met Schweitzer, Whitehead, the Overstreets, Bertrand Russell, and Henry Wilder Foote. That led to the Unitarian Church of the Larger Fellowship. My world had done a flip – to the man to man, now, concept – worry when you get there – Agnostic – it doesn’t really matter view. 

Jacob saw a ladder; it led up to the sky. 
It led from earth’s dark ignorance to heaven’s knowing why.
I’ve stepped upon that ladder; I’ve gone a rung or two. 
But I must keep on climbing for an even better view. 
The roar of those behind me says it’s dangerous up there;
that life below is meant to be, and I really shouldn’t care.
But though the wind blows strongly and it’s safer down below; 
I feel my foot on the next rung and I know that I must go.

As Socrates said: “The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways – I to die and you to live. Which is better, God only knows. ” This led to the next position, that one isn’t effective unless one can make a decision about something, take a stand on the facts available, and act to the best of one’s knowledge. But how? 

There is a monster hiding behind this mirror. Its name is ME. I feel its claws scratching away the quicksilver from beneath my skin. It can see through the tiny slits of cleared glass to a bigger world – the light shines in. I can feel its pulse beating within me – and I’m afraid. 

From there to Atheism – and action. In case you’re wondering, my monster gets out occasionally now and is learning to become more comfortable in the outside world. But all this leaves me suspicious of structure, punishment, repression, the term “evil, ” and the feeling of fear. 

I never cared much for people. I liked the creative and constructive feeling that goes with sewing, gardening, woodworking, and the natural creativity that one sees in a walk in the woods or over open country. I joined the church and other organizations for ideas, not people. The only people I felt much of a kindred spirit with were those in books that I could mentally talk to over the dishwater.

Now, that emphasis has changed. The most beautiful and precious creativity I now know is to watch a person grow through a new idea, a new experience, a new conclusion from a rearranging of facts – dialogue from which each person exits on a higher plane than he entered. I have met living people and I get lonesome for them. The people I admire and aspire to are the intense, questioning, moving, growing, searching people – committed to living life as they see it – constantly changing and enlarging their field. Life has become a crazy maze of interpersonal relationships and responses. The irony, I find, is that the more confounded and compounded it becomes the more precious it is. 

Society should be a structure that helps free humans to be themselves. I don’t believe that a human being can do for long what HE thinks is wrong. He can do what society, what I, or what you think is wrong, but he cannot do what HE thinks is wrong. I can disagree with his conclusions and, but nor disrespect his BEING. I have been many people. I have to respect the one I am today, there is no other way. I have to respect everyone else as they are today, also.

We are born neutral – void. We mirror the attitudes and actions of our surroundings. By the time we are capable of judging our environment – the promise is set – is absolute. Is it possible to plant a seed of doubt in a bad promise? 

The negative side of me does not believe in predestination but feels fatalistic about choices. A person’s experiences will allow his only one decision regardless of the obvious alternatives seen by others. The powerful, vaporous genie that is so difficult to see or touch, but who makes or destroys us all…Attitudes hang on the balance between each of the sums of positive and negative experiences. To develop a positive attitude one cannot subtract from the negative – one must add enough to the positive to swing the balance. 
Language, as a tool, is only as meaningful as the listener is experientially prepared to absorb it. A sentence is only a symbol of an experience. It can be transmitted only to someone with a parallel experience. Ideas are the projected products of past experiences.

Mores are born of physical or economic necessity and are, to begin with, rational reactions to human environment. The environment changes but the mores are passed from generation to generation and become moral precepts – emotional rather than logical reactions. Their original purpose fades away, but they become increasingly difficult to change. 

People are afraid to relate to people – afraid of emotion. Mankind must liberate emotion before we can truly liberate brotherhood. I think the black community has the lead on us here and will probably show us how. 

Truth and faith I value most. Society cannot exist without truth and faith. Mankind cannot exist without society. Society is dependent on communication – individuals must communicate to interact. That interaction can only be as effective as the communication is truthful. Society must be truthful; whenever the truth breaks down between what we say we believe and what we do, society breaks down. The United States is a dramatic example of that right now. What we have claimed to be since our beginning is equality, and what we have been, in fact, since before our nation’s birth, is a horrendous dichotomy. 

Man continues to exist on this planet through faith, faith is a better idea, a better way; faith in each other, faith in ourselves, faith in our social institutions. Without faith we would have fallen to tooth or claw before the days of the wheel. 

To quote Paul Goodman: “We live as individuals, we survive as society.” It seems to me that our institutions are sadly in need of a new positive truth and faith. 

To attempt to communicate my beliefs in a Christian society I express myself as an atheist. Mine is a man to man religion. Man makes god in his own highest image. If he has the courage to be, to live his image he is truly one with his god; he is himself. 

It’s hard to know how to be human – this lifetime is so small, and yet we must decide somehow – or we’ll never decide at all. 

I see man as neutral, the universe as neutral. All I know is that we are here. I agree with Frank Lloyd Wright: “There is only one unchangeable law, the law of change. ” And with Alfred North Whitehead: “We live well by half-truths as long as we do not mistake them for whole truths.” 

Tom Young once said that he might call himself a tree worshiper, but a tree has too much form for me. Maybe a wind worshiper; the wind is the all-encompassing “field” that Alan Watts speaks of with Zen.

This is where I am on the narrow little path we walk along through one short lifetime in the world of ideas.