Several times of the year we invite our members and friends to share their personal credos.  Below is a sampling of those that have been shared through the years.

Brydie Palmore            Carolyn Rhode           Cliff Staton             E. Millar

Erdman Palmore          Shauna Saunders       Dick Merritt

Brydie Palmore: Credo 2012 — Priestess & Witch

My name is Brydie Palmore.  I have been a member of this congregation from the beginning. I have been a Unitarian for almost 50 years, and a Unitarian Universalist from the time when these two denominations became one.

Our covenants, yes, we have two, are important to me and difficult to follow.  The first covenant from the Unitarian Universalist Association is in the front of the big hymnal.  The covenant of this congregation is the second; we adopted it this year.  The covenant we just adopted is preceded by our mission statement which is printed on the back of your bulletin.  These guide me when I am looking for the right thing to do.

I am a Witch and I am a Priestess of Isis.  These are very different and not incompatible.  As a Witch I believe in and work Magic:  Magic is things I know are there or things that are happening even though I cannot see them.  Like most witches I am earth-centered and worship the Goddess.

As a Priestess of Isis I am Her daughter and I do Her work some of which is working Magic. Often I ask “What would Isis have me do?”  My service to UUCH is doing Her work. Getting help to clean up the Memorial Garden is doing Her work.

Both Witches and Priestess of the Goddess think a lot about being intentional about how we treat others.

When I get up in the morning I remind myself that today I will practice Compassion.  Compassion in this case has a capital C.  I call it practice because sometimes I miss.  I think of Compassion as kindness and thoughtfulness. Some might also call it mindfulness; thinking about what I say or do.

It seems to me that a whole lot of doing the right thing, of honoring the Covenants, is about Compassion.

Carolyn Rhode: Personal Credo — January 2011

I must listen to the needs of others or attempt to understand when beings cannot speak.

The impact on the whole must be taken into consideration.

I must recognize that everyone seeks a sense of security in their lives.

I must be a good citizen – support good works and charities and bear my fair share of taxes.

I must encourage civic improvements and better health and education.

I must maintain in good order the property I am privileged to use.

To help those in power be just and ethical, I must support free speech and free press (within limits).

Rules for life:

  • People who have much should share with others.
  • Capitalism is a good thing for the most part.
  • You can’t get anywhere in life without hard work – you make your own luck.  God or the goddess (take your pick) helps those with a shovel in their hands.
  • Those who are saying it can’t be done, shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it.
  • Figure out the system and work to improve the weakest link.
  • Education is the key to success and opening up educational opportunities to the less fortunate is critical to developing a better society.
  • We cannot wall ourselves off from those who are different or don’t share our values.  We must be among them to understand them and find common ground.  It is important for my children to be among others who live their lives differently.  However, going to UUCH can be temporary respite from constantly being challenged.

I believe that people are good, but life circumstances can hurt people mentally and cause them to make poor decisions.  My mother told me that god is the spark of good in each person.  We must work to understand why people act a certain way.  Usually it is because things that have happened to them in their life. No person is beyond redemption.   People use religion to help them understand themselves and others.  People also use religion to have a guiding set of values outside of themselves.   Some people need formal religion more than others to have a set of values.  Others are able to develop those values on their own.  Neither route is superior to the other.  I value UUCH for the community, the comfort of the seasonal rituals and for the opportunity to work in concert with others to bring about positive change in the world.

End of Life understanding

On my rational days, I believe that when people die they simply die.  There is no other place that people go.  Life’s meaning is to be found in simply trying to do the best you can each day.  First do no harm, and second leave the area in better shape than you found it.

On my emotional days, I am comforted by the image of a goddess holding the whole world in her arms and bringing strength to those who need it.  When facing a very hard personal situation, I picture myself in the arms of the goddess and being cared for.   When praying for others, I picture them being held by the goddess and that they will receive her strength to carry on.  I do wonder about what is at the edge of the universe and what has caused it to come into being.  However, I do not expect to ever have answers to these questions.

I am very appreciative to learn of others beliefs and to share my own.  My beliefs are evolving as I continuing to search for answers that make sense to me.

Cliff Staton: My Credo — February 2012

Some may wonder how a Southern Baptist missionary ended up a Unitarian Universalist.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. By the time I was ready to go off to college, I would miss Sunday school and church services as often as I could. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe what I had been taught, well maybe a little bit; it was because I did not see religion as relevant to my life. It was simply something that took up time I could have been spending elsewhere.

It wasn’t until I had been married several years that I got seriously involved in Christianity “Southern Style”. You can look at me and see that I don’t fast very often. The only time I ever did I got the answer to the questions I was asking. “What am I supposed to do? What is my spiritual calling?” That day is a story in itself. The answer I got was “help people”. And that is what eventually took me, as a community development missionary, first to Ethiopia and then Tanzania. Later, I was transferred to South Africa for a different assignment. It would take too long to relate all the forces that came into play that really made me begin to seriously question my beliefs. The last straw was when the president of my denomination said that “God does not hear the prayers of the Jews”.

For a while I wasn’t involved in religion of any sort; however I became aware of a spiritual hole in my life. I started sampling this church, that commune, and the other sect. It wasn’t until I returned to the States in 1999 that I discovered the Unitarian Universalists. After the first service I knew I was home.

My thinking was very much in line with the Unitarian Universalist’s seven principles. They also broadened my vision and gave me a framework for my personal spiritual beliefs. My concept of God has expanded from a personal god that acts in my daily life. I have a more amorphous understanding of a universal force or power that guides toward wisdom, love, and community. I believe in the power of prayer because I have witnessed its results. At the very least, when we pray we project positive energy into the universe. It becomes part of that universal power and combines with the energy of other people’s prayers.

Several years ago, Jean-Michel taught a course called “Building Your Own Theology”. It was during this that I put words to my beliefs and my spiritual call. Do I live up to those words every day? Unfortunately I do not, but they give me something to aim for each day. We were to write our own personal Ten Commandments. My Ten Commandments are, in no particular order:

Do no harm.
Deal in truth with compassion.
Seek the best in people and expect it.
Know yourself and be true to that person.
Know that together we can find truth, alone only a small bit of it.
Realize that occasionally you are wrong and grant others that freedom also.
When in conflict, seek to resolve it so that all involved are better off than before.
Look to the world and the universe not as a never ending candy store, rather as the cradle of all life.
Treat our world thoughtfully and carefully.
Share rather than take.
And an eleventh commandment,
Laugh a lot.

Dick Merritt: Credo: A Spirituality of Interdependence — 2011

I am an average UU.  I rejected the faith my family attempted to teach me.  If someone would have suggested 30 years ago that I would ever have a spirituality to talk about I would have laughed.  Spirituality just was not a logical reaction to the world. And God‑talk made my skin crawl.  I’m still not into it, but I have become more accepting of others who are.  Especially when I realize that for many their metaphors are just that ‑ metaphors.

What is spirituality?  When I realized that I might be coming down with a case of it, I had to turn to the dictionary and look up words like spirit, spiritual, spirituality, sacred, and holy.  What I found was quite a bunch of stuff for a God hater to take.  But, mitigated by the notion of metaphor and, what was then, the new UUA statement of principles and purposes, some of it started to slowly come together for me.

There are some nice words in the principles about spirituality and interdependence:  Remember?

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote :

  • acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

“The living tradition we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”

And more recently:

  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

“Transcending mystery and wonder”? ‑ Could that be why I get that funny sensation in my frontal sinuses when watching a glorious sunset, or spotting a lone wild flower clinging to a High Sierra rock, or looking at the stars on a clear night and thinking about who may be out there, or watching the graceful movements of a beautiful human body, or experiencing a moment of shared intensity in a group of friends.

When I started to put this all together, I could no longer accept the old label of atheist.  It would not work any longer.  I came back to words I had known before, but never thought to apply to myself.  I tried words like theist. — That one had too much baggage, and it didn’t help me to account for my growing feeling that the divine, whatever that was, was in everything.  Deist didn’t do much better.

There it was!  Pantheist and panentheist.  I could work with these words.  If divinity seems to be so many things, why not everything?  If divinity is in everything ‑ in all of creation, all of the Universe ‑ then everything is at least partly divine.  And there was even a term for it.  We can quibble over the fine points of pantheism versus panentheism, but it is rather a side issue.

Where this took me was to seek others who were in somewhat the same place in their spiritual growth ‑ their search for truth and meaning.  I was already a UU, so the next step was easy. There were others around who were on the same path.  I just hadn’t noticed.

The two greatest influences on me came from seemingly diverse places.  One was the Creation Centered Spirituality of Thomas Berry, Matthew Fox, and other Catholics.  The second great influence was neo‑paganism.  It came to me via my partner Barbara and her interest in Feminist Theology with some help from Joseph Campbell.

I had heard and read of these ways of thinking and experiencing before then, but did not have Campbell’s concept of myth as metaphor to apply to make palatable these ways of knowing.  I had rejected the one because of God, Jesus and prayer and the other for the silly multitude of gods and goddesses.

What I now get from the various Earth Centered spiritual paths is permission to feel that awe and wonder without embarrassment.  I get permission to feel the spirit in things.  The Goddess and the Cosmic Christ give me permission to celebrate the sunsets, stars, bodies and relationships; permission to celebrate the interdependent web of all existence of which we are not only a part, but of which we are co‑creators.

Perhaps the divinity I see around me in the components of the Universe only comes from within myself.  So be it.  That is enough.

Blessed be.

E. Millar: A Course in Miracles — Credo 2012

My spiritual beliefs are very heavily influenced by a book called A Course in Miracles (ACIM). First published in 1976, it came about in an interesting way. The woman who wrote this book, Helen Schucman, was a tenured professor of medical psychology at Columbia University. She had earned her PhD from NYU in the 1950s, not an era when a lot of women were getting PhDs. Helen considered herself not to be the true author of the book but actually the scribe. She heard an inner voice in her mind that told her the words to write down (a process which she called inner dictation). She was actually troubled about the voice and went to the chairman of her department, William Thetford, who encouraged her to go ahead and write down the words that the voice instructed her to, even though she didn’t necessarily agree with them. In fact, she considered herself atheistic in belief. The true author of the Course identified himself as Jesus Christ, and he told her that he wanted to correct some of the ways that his teachings had been misinterpreted over the years.

Helen took notes from 1965 to 1972, William helped her type up and edit the material, and what we ended up with is ACIM. Before the book was published, some copies of the manuscript were passed around and the very first study group in the world was founded in nearby Durham. The group that I often meet with in Chapel Hill on Sunday nights is descended from that first group. Any of you are welcome to come and join us anytime for a meeting.

There are no ACIM churches per se. A Course in Miracles was not intended to be a religion, but rather a spiritual belief system. Some ACIM students attend Christian churches, some Zen centers, some Unitarian congregations (in fact there’s an ACIM group that meets on Sunday mornings over at ERUUF in Durham), and some don’t attend church. When I was looking for a church for me and my family a few years ago, I asked my ACIM teacher (Kellie Love) what he thought and he said “Why don’t you give the Unitarians a try?” which I did, and here I am!

I want to briefly touch on some of the ideas of ACIM. Although Christian in language, the teachings are somewhere between Christianity and Buddhism and its own system altogether! The Course says it can be summed up by the following statement:

“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.” So it distinguishes the real from the unreal. By learning to not focus on the unreal, we become in touch with the real and we begin our path to peace.

Some of the other main themes of the Course are:

Love: The Course says the only things that exist are love and fear, and since fear is an illusion, Love is really all that truly exists.

Forgiveness: Forgiveness is important in helping us find our way back to our Source, which is God or Love (they’re the same thing in truth). But this isn’t the type of forgiveness where someone wronged you and you’re willing to take a big step and forgive that “sinner.” Rather, it’s a way of letting go, of saying we hold no one prisoner to guilt; whatever perceived harm was done was but an error made by another child of God. The forgiveness is not only toward others but is also offered to ourselves, as we remember our true identity. When we can forgive, a miracle takes place and we find ourselves that much closer to God and to finding our way home. In this way, we find inner joy and peace here in the present.

One of the really nice things about the Course is that in addition to the text, it has a workbook section, which provides daily exercises that are wonderful healing meditations. In fact, I used to try to meditate and could never really do it until I found the Course.

Finally, I’d like to end by reading the poem that I wrote for Kellie’s memorial service about a year ago. I feel that this poem encapsulates my belief system as it relates to ACIM.

Kellie’s Gift
In memory of Kellie R. Love, 1939 – 2010

I never will forget that year
When at your group I first appeared.
I knew at once I’d found a place.
No more alone the dark to face.

You were a man who changed his name
To show that we are all the same
And all that’s real is love for your brother.
From love we’re born, our spiritual mother.

To love we return for eternity
This body’s shell a mystery
Soon born, outworn, then soon shed,
A mere appearance of something dead.

Year after year on Sunday night
You led your group, a steady light,
A solid beacon in the storm,
Your gentle voice, love given form.

Never can I truly say
How much difference you have made,
The total sum of all you gave,
The peace you brought, the lives you saved.

Perhaps the greatest gift of all
Was the final light we saw.
When came your time to depart,
You showed the faith deep in your heart.

The Course’s wisdom had become your own.
Your smile said you weren’t alone,
And where you went, all fear was gone,
Its grasp outreached, its curtain drawn.

If all that exists is love and fear,
Then when a dear one’s time draws near
And high he soars, all fear above,
He has shown there’s only love.

That wraps up what I have to say today about my belief system. If any of you have questions or would like to chat about the course, please see me after the service, or for that matter, anytime. I love to talk about the Course! Thank you!

Erdman Palmore: The Meaning of Life — February 2012

“What is the meaning of life?”

This profound question has many profound and humorous answers.  I have even seen a sweat shirt that says “The meaning of life is to find the meaning of life.”

Before we can go much further, we need to agree on the meaning of “meaning”.  I assume that “Meaning” in this context means “purpose” — so we can translate the question into: “What is the purpose of life?”

The traditional Christian answer is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Since Humanists like myself do not believe in a “God” or any other supernatural being, this answer clearly does not work for us.

I can think of many more satisfying answers for Humanists: the artist might say “the purpose of life is to create beauty.”  The scientist and philosopher might say, “to seek truth.”  The social reformer might say, “to seek justice and right wrongs.”  The athlete might say, “to make stronger and faster bodies.”  The physician might say, “to heal the sick.”  The farmer might say, “to feed the hungry.”  Etc. etc. -And each profession would give a different answer.

Similarly, each religion gives a somewhat different answer.  The Buddhist would say, “to relieve suffering and achieve nirvana.”  The Hindu might say, “to escape from reincarnation.”  The Christian might say, “to go to heaven and avoid hell.”

A common answer that seems to satisfy many people is, “The purpose of life is to leave the world a better place for having been here.”  I could agree with that, but I would ask, “What is better?”

It seems to me that all these answers are, at best, only partial answers, that do not get at the ultimate answer.  The question remains, WHY do we try to do all these things?  In other words, what is the ultimate goal? What is the ultimate good?

Aristotle stated that happiness is the only human goal that is sought for its own sake; in contrast to wealth, health, or honor which are sought mainly because they are believed to bring happiness.

Similarly, George Santayana said, “Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment.”

I agree with Aristotle and Santayana: the ultimate good is happiness — or some variant of happiness such as joy, virtue, self-actualization, fulfillment, contentment, comfort, or pleasure.  A basic principle of Humanism is the belief in “enjoying the here and now.”

In fact, I have created an aphorism that expresses this belief: “The purpose of life is to create joy in yourself and in others.”

However, when I have told my friends about this belief, they have raised several objections. One friend said, “joy” is too strong a word.  Joy is hard to achieve or create.  So maybe “satisfaction” or “contentment” would be a more realistic goal for most people“

My brother argues that it is fruitless to make happiness your goal  If you try to seize it directly, it will elude your grasp.  Aldous Huxley agrees with my brother.  He said, “Happiness is like coke: something you get as a by-product in the process of making something else.”

Another objection to the assertion that happiness is the ultimate goal, comes from those who say this is “mere hedonism:” pleasure for pleasure’s sake.  They say that happiness is too selfish and not noble enough to be the ultimate goal.

However, if one remembers the second part of the aphorism “to create joy in yourself and in others” then it does not seem so selfish and base.  What can be more noble than to create joy in others?

So whether we can agree that happiness is the ultimate goal or a by-product, it is clearly one of the most important goals of most humans.

How Can We Achieve Happiness?

Like the old saying that “there are many paths to heaven;” there are many paths to happiness.  Many books and much research has been devoted to studying and arguing about what leads to happiness.  There is even an entire field of psychology called, “positive psychology.”

But there is often much disagreement about what leads to happiness.  One of my Father’s favorite Latin maxims was “Digustibus non disputandis” (there is no disputing tastes).  Another more recent maxim is, “different strokes for different folks.”

So I will not argue with personal preferences, but I believe the following factors are important for most people to achieve and maintain happiness:  Health; Economic Security; Achievements; Purpose; Positive Attitudes; Good Relationships.

Remember what Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  Unitarians can make up their minds to be as happy as they want to be, without fear of punishment in an after-life, and  without a vain hope of supernatural intervention in this life to make them happy.

Shauna Saunders Credo February 12, 2012

Many of you know that I was raised a Unitarian. About 13 years ago, I took a “Building Your Own Theology” adult education class at UUCH. My credo comes mostly from some of the questions we explored in this class.

What do you value above other things? Where does meaning in your life come from?

People have always been central to my life. My parents talked about and treated other people, not just people they knew, compassionately and respectfully. Their words and actions helped form my moral character. It has always been a “truth” in my home that every person is inherently worthy. One of the few memories I have of UU Sunday School is bits of a song that went something like, “I’m glad to be me, but I also see you’re just as glad to be you! It’s just human nature, so why should I hate you for being as human as I? We’ll live and let live, and we’ll both get along if we try.” My own experience with other people reinforced my belief that humans are inherently “good”, or at least capable of “goodness”. I do remember questioning, in my teenage years, how people could be “good”, as I watched the body bags return from Vietnam on the nightly news. As I studied child development and worked with children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, I saw how daily realities and experiences could shape a child’s behavior, conscience, and moral character. As I met a more heterogeneous group of people, I also realized how lucky I was to have had the emotional, educational, and economic advantages I took for granted.

I value people and relationships above other things. People have always been very important to me, and although I am not an extrovert, I cherish my close relationships with a limited number of special people. Some of these people nurtured me daily, and it was only after decades (and being a mother myself) that I realized the sacrifices my mother made for me. Others were unlikely friends whom I met through life circumstances that, had I taken a different path, I would never have met or grown to know. Some were important in my life for a number of years and then faded away as I entered another chapter of life. Still, they were important in forming my views of life, in affecting, sometimes changing, my actions and beliefs, and I will remember them and cherish them for that.

I have also come to value the amazing power of Nature. Most of my life I have been less cognizant of the earth and non-human creatures, and more focused on people. In my adult years, I have become more aware of the wonder of nature and our (human) responsibility to other creatures and to our environment. I cannot imagine life without the beauty of nature—the sun rising over the ocean, white water cascading down a waterfall, the fiery hues of autumn trees—or, on an ordinary North Carolina day, the gently rolling hills or blue, blue skies—or, the grey skies! For me, nature inspires quiet reflection, poetry, and renewal.

In considering the eternal vs fleeting nature of humankind, I realize that we humans are probably not “eternal” in the grand scheme of things, but our effects on our world may be “eternal”, or at least long-lasting. As Bob Dylan said in one of my favorite songs, “And if there is eternity, I’ll love you there again.”

So, “Who am I? or “What is humankind?”

I believe that humans are molded by life experiences, inherently good, capable of evil, responsible for their actions, powerful (but not more powerful than forces of nature), and eternal in the sense that, individually and collectively, humans affect the world as we know it. I believe humans are by nature good, but that life experiences can contribute to “evil” actions.

How does your ultimate value affect your life/living?

I try to live by “The Golden Rule,” “doing unto others as I would have others do unto me,” think about my actions on others and on the earth, not just “do no harm” but try to do some good. I serve in my congregation to give back to a community that sustains me, to grow a place for liberal religion in a place where it is sorely needed, and to build relationships with people who hold similar values and who are also interested in making our world a better place.

Last week, you may have received an email, as I did, inviting us to write a prayer, meditation, or mantra to start off the “Standing on the Side of Love” month’s theme “Spread the Love.” Here is my effort:

I cannot prevent my heart from

wrinkling, cracking, tearing,

from feeling too intensely,

but I can try

to act rather than simply react,

to shed my egocentricity,

to do what I can

to make a difference

when I see a wrong.

This is my challenge.