This I Believe: Jack Hill (May, 1966)

Usually I am not apprehensive when asked to deliver some remarks because even if I’m slightly familiar with the subject assigned, I can often find sufficient information from various references to provide me with a comfortable basis for speaking. And usually the subject is of a technical nature wherein certain premises are tacitly accepted and form a well defined point from which to launch my remarks. In this instance, I find the situation unique, since not only are there no tacitly accepted premises on which to begin, but the more I try to do research on the subject, the more difficult it appears to separate fact from illusion.

I am further troubled by the problem of semantics. Even if I choose my remarks most carefully, can you read out of them what I believe I am putting into them? I would like to repeat something I heard from Dr. O.M. Wilson, president of the University of Minnesota in this regard. He said words are like vessels. The writer or speaker carefully distills the essence of his life experiences and fills the vessels with his choicest meaning, whereupon on receiving the vessels, the reader or listener finds them empty except for that from which his own life experience he can provide as content. And this I believe most profoundly, each of us lives in an almost completely different world. My world consists of the impressions gained from experiences of living each day in the way I did. Doing and having done to me, each separate experience contributing to a larger impression of the whole, and to a degree, adding to the understanding of the world around me.

The religious experience which shapes my thoughts and provides the basis of my remarks today began when I was about five years old, and my mother and I went to live with my maternal grandparents in a little town of about 600 people. There Grandmother and Grandpa were pillars of the Knox Presbyterian Church, and we attended two services each Sunday as well as Wednesday evening prayer meeting. I remember receiving great numbers of commendations from my relatives and other adults in the congregation my model deportment during these many long services, but beyond that I remember nothing except the fact of having attended so faithfully.

From then until I was 17, despite moving from one community to another several times, since my grandparents accompanied us, I remained under this influence. Attendance and participation at almost every church activity for which I was eligible became a way of life, and during this period I was at various times in the choir, Sunday teacher and assistant director, to name a few. I truly a model Presbyterian youth, but can’t remember considering it more than a carefully styled behavioral pattern that one followed, almost automatically.

…(some text lost here)… fears as his critics. Early in life, parents and adult relatives dictate the portion of the play’s lines devoted to religion. Presumably, most normal humans derive sufficient comfort and solace from the religious ritual to embrace it for the rest of their lives. I have at many times been envious of those who find this refuge from the vicissitudes of life, but with passing years, I find myself less and less envious of those who put their trust in the Lord.

To me, life is for the living, and when you’re dead, you’re dead. To be honest and fair, without envy, hate or malice to me seems sufficient without it having to be clothed in in any mystical shroud. I seem to always take the most objective view of my life’s activities; perhaps the spectator and player are one and the same. I cannot remember ever experiencing either great joy or great sadness. My first close encounter with death was when my grandfather, with whom I had been closer to than any other relatives, died, and I went to the funeral. I was shocked at the expression of grief by everyone, members of the family, friends, the minister included. I somehow felt most joyful in the fact that the old gentleman had lived such a long and satisfying life. That night, after all had gone to bed, I returned to the grave to rejoice alone over the wonderful life pattern I thought he had set for me. I still rejoice in thought of the old gentleman having lived his life as he did, and having finished it and quietly disappeared except from my thoughts.

And here I find myself, living in “blasphemy” -to quote some of my long friends- but confident that all religious truth is the product of man’s mind. I too hope to live a full and fruitful life, and quietly disappear when my time comes. My only desire for immortality is that some memory of a satisfying life will live in the mind of another.

If you ask, as well you might with the story I have just told, why I am here at White Bear Unitarian Church, I think I should have to say that I came in 1951 almost by accident to seek comfort for Catherine and myself from one of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fate.” We were both captivated by the freedom from hypocrisy we discovered, and we have remained to enjoy the refreshing and inspirational and intellectual religious atmosphere. Along with many other Unitarian parents, we also think this approach to religion has benefited our children,

(Manuscript ends here, supposition the speaker gave a concluding sentence or two.)