This I Believe: David Heath (2008)

My name is David, and I’m a Godaholic. I’ve tried really hard not to be a theist, but I always come back to a basic belief in some power or some energy or some force or some something that is what people call “God.”

Over the last decade or so, I’ve sat with this congregation and heard others give their “This I Believe” talks. Each time, I’ve been humbled by the depth of their messages. Each time, I’ve been inspired by their words and experiences. Each time, I’ve started composing my own little “This I Believe” talk in my head. I even made some notes. Of course, when I was actually invited to do this, all those notes and scribbles of my little mental epiphanies were nowhere to be found!

My faith journey by David Heath.

When I was in my 30’s my father told me that, quote/unquote, “the greatest single disappointment” in his entire life was that I did not become a Methodist minister. (Yes indeed! My therapist made hay with that one!) My father’s disappointment didn’t just spring out of the clear air. You see, the summer between junior high and high school I received a miraculous, telepathic message from God calling me to be a Methodist minister. When I started college, my major was theology. I was granted what was known as a Local Preacher’s License by the United Methodist Church. For several summers during my college years, I would give the sermon at little United Methodist churches in south-western Ohio when the regular minister would go on vacation. I had two sermons that I gave. One was about Abraham and Isaac and the other was about the Sermon on the Mount. I did these two sermons over and over and over again. One year I was screwed because I was asked back to the same church for a third time.

As a preacher wannabe, I was lucky to have some incredible mentors. Foremost among them was Dr. James Udy, an Australian who was the chaplain at my undergraduate school. Dr. Udy was cut from the same theological cloth as the Berrigan brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., where Christianity was practiced for the greater good. It wasn’t just a free ticket into heaven. Jim Udy went to seminary with Dr. King, and Udy brought him to the university to speak just a month before King was assassinated. The morning he spoke, Udy introduced me to Dr. King, and I shook his hand. It is a moment I doubt that I’ll ever forget.

By the time I graduated college, I had figured out that I wasn’t cut out to be a Methodist minister. For one, I had gotten into wine, women, and song—okay, for my generation it was more like sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll—which wasn’t considered proper ministerial behavior. But more fundamentally, I had too many doubts about the Bible, which I had read cover-to-cover several times. In fact, I pretty much gave up faith in all things religious. My loss of faith, I might add, closely paralleled the rise of the born-again, fundamentalist Christian right, who I believe have stolen Christianity from the Christians . . . oh, sorry, I digress.

So I didn’t become a minister, but I toyed around with similar things. For a decade or so I was a professional actor in New York. Kind of the same thing—you stand up in some sort of costume in front of a bunch of people and say things to entertain the audience or make them think.

Years pass. I’m married to Ann. We have a son and a daughter, Greg and Maggie. We live in the Borough of Brooklyn in New York City. A work friend suggests that we bring our kids and ourselves to her family’s church—the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn. We went for the first time on an Easter Sunday.

The minister was the Reverend Donald McKinney, who was an incredible thinker and speaker. He gave the best sermons I’d ever listened to, at least until I heard Victoria. Like Victoria, Donald expected the congregation to bring their brains to church.

I sat there that first Sunday (which happened to be an Easter Sunday) and heard Donald say things that I had espoused for years—the Bible is a nice book of folk tales. The gospels were “Jesus myths.” Then there was the unbelievable legend of a virgin mother. Stuff like that. Ironically, to my personal amazement, it made me rather uncomfortable. I found myself thinking things like “How dare he say something like that?” But I went back and before long I knew I had found a place that I could call my religious home. I was in heaven—well, metaphorically.

And that’s how David became a Unitarian Universalist.

By the way, a few years ago, my father was dying and reminded me, on his deathbed no less, that still the greatest single disappointment in his life was that I didn’t become a minister. My father believed in the power of guilt. Luckily, after a few years of therapy, I didn’t.

So what do I believe today?

I believe very strongly in the Unitarian Universalist seventh principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I believe this principle on a practical, physical everyday level, but also on a cosmic, metaphysical level.

Okay, folks, I’m about to reveal that I may be a total nutcase. Please bear with me.

I believe in the power of coincidence, and I believe there is a real, tangible web of synchronicity that exists in our world. In fact, my life has been one, ever-expanding set of experiences that indicate the existence of this force or web. My dear wife, Ann, and other people who have spent a lot of time with me will tell you that synchronic or coincidental stuff happens to me–ALL THE TIME. I’m talking about little everyday coincidences and huge, absolutely amazing coincidences. As I was writing this talk, I spent a lot of time trying to come up with just the right examples that would communicate to you how deeply and how often I’m connected with this synchronicity thing. But the individual telling of events, even some that are kind of mind-blowing, cannot begin to communicate the gestalt of the pattern of coincidences and synchronicity that I have experienced.

I’ve had literally hundreds and hundreds of episodes or events that make me believe I’m somehow in tune with the synchronicity vibe. So when I say I believe in a web of existence on a cosmic level, I really mean it.

I don’t understand it. I can’t make it happen. It just does. Often. And it has started happening to my daughter Maggie.

Now on to less metaphysical things—this I believe:

  • I believe in music. Music probably saved my life and kept me sane (well, relatively).
  • Music has connected me with people in ways I can’t even begin to express in words.
  • Music has opened the door for me to tremendous opportunities and incredible experiences.
  • I believe we are only limited by the limits we place upon ourselves. Sometimes you just have to be like Luke Skywalker—let go and trust your own personal force.
  • I believe that we should help others whenever we can in whatever ways we can.
  • I believe people are wrong if they think it is God’s will when an innocent child dies in a car crash or a loved one dies of cancer. If it’s God’s will that innocent people suffer and die, then the current administration and all the suicide bombers are doing our Lord’s work.
  • I believe my generation has failed its children worse than our parents failed us. We said we were going to change things, but we really didn’t.
  • I believe that I can be a much better father and husband than I am. And I am working on it.
  • I believe in laughter, and I believe that if you can’t laugh at yourself and your own personal foibles that you probably aren’t a very happy person.
  • I believe that I am a hypocrite, at least on some levels. However, I believe we are all hypocrites on some levels.
  • I believe in taking risks. I have taken many risks—some small and some large. Some were worth it. Some were not. I hope I will always continue to take risks.
  • I believe in trying to do the right thing. I don’t believe in trying to make a difference.
    Let me repeat that—I believe in trying to do the right thing. I don’t believe in trying to make a difference.
    Nevertheless, I believe if everyone tried to do the right thing it would make a difference.

Late in the summer of 1966, I went on a long bike ride one evening, out into the countryside surrounding the town where I grew up. It was after dark, and I was heading home. I was riding down this deserted country road singing at the top of my lungs. The moon was full, and I stopped for a moment to take in the silence and the moonlight. As I stood there, I thought about how I would be starting college in a few weeks and that I would no doubt change in a lot of ways over the coming years. Standing on that country road, I made a promise. I promised myself that I would never change or “grow up” so much that I could not ride a bicycle down a dark country road and sing out loud for the pure joy of it.

This I believe–I have kept that promise.