This I Believe: Jeff Ranta (2023)

I like to start with my own spiritual journey.

My father is agnostic and my mother was Lutheran. I didn’t attend church beyond 6th grade. My mother posted spiritual, uplifting statements around the house. My father is a recovering alcoholic of 45 years whose main spiritual practice is the Serenity Prayer that he still lives today at age 94.

In college I was a YMCA camp counselor, and guided canoe trips in the BWCA and Canada, often carrying a bible, seeking a spiritual life. I grew spiritually in nature leading teens through the wilderness. My spirituality was very open, free of church creeds, doctrine, or dogma.

And I fell in love with another camp counselor, a beautiful Catholic woman filled with love for others. We married and raised our children at Guardian Angels Catholic Church, a church dedicated to social justice. A church with a homeless shelter, a food shelf, and a big vegetable garden all on the church campus.

I have also been a part of a weekly inter-denominational group for 40 years, six men representing five different denominations, and six unique spiritual journeys. A liberal group who have read the Bible, and books by Marcus Borg, Krista Tippet, Mariba Starr, Rumi, Richard Rohr, etc. True friendships that feed my soul.

For 35 years I taught High School Biology and Astronomy with topics from evolution to the Big Bang. I see the world through the eyes of science, and our existence as a speck in time and place.
Personally, I cannot separate my spiritual journey from my understanding of the universe. A universe that started 13.8 bya, on a planet that formed 4.6 bya, with all the major Earth religions forming in just the last couple thousand years. The Sun is one of 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, and the Milky Way is one of 2 trillion galaxies in the known universe!! The Fe in our blood comes from exploding stars. We are all stardust!

But as Albert Einstein once said, “It would be possible to explain everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressures.”

Having this knowledge of the universe, how do we define the sacred? There are some Franciscans, including RR, that would say that the first Bible was the Big Bang itself! I like that!
I ask myself what religions would have formed if the founders understood the immensity of the universe? How would that have changed our understanding of the Divine? Would any religion have referred to itself as the “chosen one” or the “universal truth?” We have several thousand religions and denominations across the world. Which religion is the truth? Combined they might get a glimpse of the Divine. I believe if the sacred is infinite I cannot limit my journey to readings from one religion or one sacred book written on one planet on the edge of the Milky Way.

I use to assist in bird banding at Warner Nature Center, north of Stillwater. I would go from mist net to mist net, remove birds, and bring them back to the bird banders, who would record characteristics of the bird, and release them. When I held a warbler in my hand, I believe I was crossing into the sacred. I felt a connection to all of creation. I feel the same sitting by the edge of a lake in the BWCA. Personally, I believe this Earth is a sacred place and we need to treat it as such.

I remember a sermon when Rev Roger said that the ground this church stands on is holy ground, holy ground to the indigenous people that resided here, holy ground to the Methodists who worshiped here, holy ground to the people of WBUUC.

In my readings, I have come across many people who look at Earth as sacred: Mariba Star, Francis of Assisi, Celtic spirituality, Franciscans, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Native Americans, and WBUUC.
Loyal Rue is a professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Luther College of Decorah, Iowa. He once wrote, “This [great cosmological] story shows us in the deepest possible sense that we are all sisters and brothers—fashioned from the same stellar dust, energized by the same star, nourished by the same planet, endowed with the same genetic code, and threatened by the same evils.”
We share the same genetic code. All life on this planet share the same DNA molecule. It is just arranged differently for different species and different individuals. If we share the same genetic code with all life on this planet can we can truly say you are a part of me and I am a part of you? We are connected to ALL life on Earth. We are truly cousins.

I believe we encounter the Divine by seeing ourselves in the eyes of others. In one of our WBUUC hymns we sing “When we see our faces in each other’s eyes, then our heart is in a holy place.” That moves me! To see ourselves in the eyes of our partner, our family, our friends, and our neighbors. To see ourselves in the eyes of the poor, the trafficked, the refugee, the homeless.
I connect with the phrase attributed to Gandhi: “The true measure of the character of society is not how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, the condemned.”

Selfishness is in our DNA!! I get it!!! I taught evolution and survival of the fittest. Life is harsh! I get that we need to take care of ourselves and our tribe, but I believe the work of all religion is to help shake us from a selfish attitude to an attitude of reaching out to others. To reach out to other individuals, other communities, other nations, other religions. We need reminders of this every Sunday!

Christianity is still a part of me. Jesus displayed love for the stranger, the alien, and the outcast. I still learn from the life he led, just not from the doctrine, dogma, and creeds that became so central to the church. Everyday I wake up to meditations by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, and I will always be a part of our interdenominational fellowship group. Many of my closest friends and family are beautiful Christians that are filled with love and service to others. Especially my wife, Mary.
Then six to seven years ago I stepped into WBUUC. The whole service moved me so much that I had tears in my eyes!!! Questions are encouraged, multiple views of God and unique spiritual journeys are respected. Readings from Buddhism, Judaism, Native Americans, Humanism, and Christianity are all read with respect. Thank you WBUUC for helping me to grow spiritually. I finally found a church home. This is the first church I have ever officially joined! I love this church and I love you guys.

Thank you for letting me share my story and accepting my journey.