This I Believe: Jane Bacon (2011)

My Religious Journey

We all have stories.  It’s an honor to be able to share mine.

Childhood into adulthood:  I grew up in a family of ex-Catholics.  My mother had been deeply wounded by the Church; she thought religion was dangerous and should be avoided.  My father also had been wounded; he thought that religion was irrelevant.  My aunt had a more positive experience at a Catholic boarding school, staffed by liberal nuns.

Although we never attended church or read the Bible, I knew that in the outside world religion was important.  When I was about five years old, another child asked me, “What religion are you?”  I had no idea what to answer, but felt as though I should have an answer.  I asked my mother and she gave me one.  The next time this child asked the question, I proudly said, “Protestant.”  And was horrified by his follow-up question: “What kind?”  That was too much for me, and I insisted, “There is only one kind!”  (Years later I realized that my mother hadn’t wanted me to say “Catholic,” and the only other religion she knew was “Protestant”.)

For most of my childhood, I lived on Long Island, in Levittown, New York.  Almost all the children I knew were Catholic or Jewish, and my very best friends were Jewish.  The Catholics attended church and they sometimes had lengthy conversations about whether kissing a boy for a long time was a venial or a mortal sin.  (I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but still found it intriguing.)  My Jewish friends would probably be described as Reform Jews.  They didn’t keep kosher or observe the Sabbath.  I think they attended services on the High Holy Days, but I’m not sure.  Because I was neither Catholic nor Jewish, I wasn’t expected to know much about those religions, and no one really bothered me about religion.

Still, I felt as though I were missing out on something because I didn’t “have” a religion.  I liked science fiction.  I read Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, and felt a great yearning for connection.  (I didn’t realize at the time that Lewis was expressing a strong religious view in that series of books.)  I didn’t “have” any religion, but I found myself asking religious questions, although I wouldn’t have identified them as such, at the time.  Questions such as, “Where did the universe come from?”  “Why am I here?”  “What is the purpose of my life?”  In my teen years I puzzled over those questions with my aunt.  She found the questions interesting and was willing to discuss them with me, never trying to persuade me to adopt a particular point of view, and being open to my own attempts to make sense of the world.

I began to explore Christianity more as an adult.  People like C.S. Lewis were Christians, and they were intelligent and seemingly rational.  Maybe I was missing something.  Since my husband, Dale, was raised Lutheran, I thought I’d try that.  I decided to attend a class for people becoming Lutherans.  But, that didn’t work out.  Like my family, I couldn’t accept the “answers” I was given.  Then, by chance, or luck, or something, I met someone who attended this church.  In 1974 I began hovering around the edges- afraid to join, but attracted all the same.  I attended for several years, growing more and more involved.  (Even editing, printing and mailing the newsletter by myself; we were smaller then.)  One day at the beginning of the service, the Membership Chairperson said, “Anyone who wants to join can see me after the program and I’ll give you a pledge card.”  I almost jumped up right then to shout, “YES!”  I didn’t have think about it; I knew I had found my religious home.  And I have been here ever since.

But the story didn’t end there.  New chapters emerged.

Seeking sanctuary:

  • I came here seeking sanctuary- for myself and my children; to protect them from the religious evangelicals and fundamentalists who lived all around us.
  • I also came for connection- I wanted to be with people who cared about my questions, but did not try to give me a set of answers that I was supposed to accept.
  • At first, I was drawn by the Unitarian heritage- reason, humanism.  I was dismissive of Christianity, and other beliefs and religions that didn’t “make sense.”
  • Over time, I changed my outlook-
    • I was at a church Circle Supper years ago.  In response to someone’s statement of belief, I snapped, “I don’t believe that”!  Marian Peters, a member of this church who died years ago, quietly commented, “Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
    • Some years later, another friend gently pointed out my bias against Christianity.  And I realized that disparaging Christianity also disparages the people who hold those beliefs.
    • I have friends who believe in angels, in past lives, in Astrology; who read Tarot cards.  I don’t necessarily believe in any of these, but I find the ideas interesting and sometimes gain insight into my own journey.  And I can support them in their own journeys.
    • I no longer feel a need to “prove,” or to “disprove” other people’s religious belief systems.  I have moved in the direction of less certainty and more comfort with mystery.
    • In fact, I am dismayed when people here sometimes express embarrassment or fear at acknowledging that they pray, that they believe in God, or that they want to hear more about the teachings of Jesus.  I want everyone to truly feel that “here you need not hide, nor pretend…”

Toward Universalism:

  • I have gradually moved toward my Universalist heritage.  I still value the Unitarian emphasis on reason, but have come to believe that it’s too narrow for me.
  • I believe that the human heart and soul yearns for something beyond reason and logic, and a religion that does not address these needs feels barren to me.
  • I embrace the Universalist view that all are “saved,” – that all are worthy and valuable- that happiness comes from behaving in a loving way.  Other religions express ideas of love and compassion, but Universalism is most compatible with my own background and culture.


  • When I was young, and faced with a challenge, often I would wish that the challenge were behind me.  When I was preparing to leave home for college, and was really anxious, I remember wishing that I had already completed my freshman year, and that difficult transition.  As I thought about that, I realized that meant I would miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being a college freshman.  I recognized that I was wishing away my life- and since I was pretty sure I got only one life that seemed to be a bad strategy.  Too much caution and striving for perfection leads to closing down.  To open your heart is to risk pain and loss.  To remain closed is to be separated, lonely.
  • I still get caught up in the intensity of getting things done, but more often now, I stop and let myself become aware of the wonder that is this life.
  • As songwriter Bill Staines says in his song, “Crossing the Water”:

Oh, there is no other journey

That will ever be the same,

No second chance horizon that will call you by your name.

When the welling waves wash o’er you

And the stormy winds they drive,

Give your heart a song, sing it loud and long, keep your dreams alive.

  • Other artists and writers speak to the mystery of the universe and the wonder of life, and they often express in poetry what I can only say in prose.
  • Peter Mayer sings love songs to the universe.  In words and music he captures the joy, the wonder and the gratitude I feel about being part of this beautiful and miraculous world.  Victoria expresses the joy, the pain, and the sacredness of life when she speaks of our beautiful, broken world.

From seeking sanctuary to proclaiming my faith:

  • When I first came to this congregation it was a fellowship.  Then we grew in numbers, called a minister, and grew more.  When we reached the 300 member mark, I was worried- about having to expand the building again, about losing what seemed the essence of our congregation.
  • But I started attending gatherings of Unitarian Universalists in the Midwest- at Prairie Start District meetings, and nationwide- at General Assembly, the meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  I began to look beyond these walls, to see that Unitarian Universalism has something special to offer all those who are longing for connection, and for a place to ask the big, important religious questions, without being told what their answers should be; to those who are seeking a safe, inclusive home-base from which to reach out and make a positive difference in the world.  So now, when I hear that we have more than 700 members, I feel excited and inspired.  And I’m ready to go out into the world, wearing my “Standing on the Side of Love” t-shirt, and proclaiming my faith.
  • So what is my statement of belief?  The universe is mysterious and miraculous.  I don’t know how it came into being (the big bang theory doesn’t explain what came before), and I am not troubled by that fact.  I have never believed in a personal God that acts from “outside” this world.  All humans share the same essential facts of being born and dying, and I think we all ask the same big, important religious questions; we just use different vocabulary in our answers.  But since over 90% of people in this country profess a belief in God, I think it’s helpful to use that word in trying to communicate my own beliefs.
  • So if today, someone asks, “What religion are you?” I have an answer – finally!

I am a Unitarian Universalist.  I believe that life is inclusive- that all of life is inter-connected, that all of humanity is one family, and that all are equally worthy of respect and love.  God is the name I give to the wonder and mystery of the universe.

I believe God calls us to work toward justice, to practice compassion, and to love the world.

  • Some final thoughts:
    • You can’t know how you will influence others- plant the seed, open your heart…
    • None of us can make this journey alone- seek companions.
    • Do what you can, in the time you are given.
    • Closing:
      • This is the place I come to remember the kind of person I want to be.
      • Unitarian Universalism makes my heart sing.

Thank you for listening, and for being my companions as I continue to figure out “who I am called to be.”