Beliefs and Values of Some Ministers
In 2007, Laila Ibrahim, a Unitarian Universalist Religious Educator, wrote a brief “elevator speech” :
WE BELIEVE: It’s a blessing each of us was born; It matters what we do with our lives; What each of us knows about God is a piece of the truth; We don’t have to do it alone.
In a portion of one of her 2015 sermons at our church, Reverend Joy Atkinson suggested a list of some behaviors she values:
Here are my own ethical ten commandments, a personal code of ethics I try to live by, and a little about each. Perhaps some will resonate with your own ethical ideas.
1. Refrain from lying. I agree with philosopher Sissela Bok. In her book Lying, Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, she advises that lying and deceit should be avoided. Lies are often supported and justified by society (doctors lie to patients, parents to children, spouses to each other, “little white lies” are used to flatter, or to spare someone’s feelings–all designed to “protect” those who are lied to). But lies can multiply, and lying can become habitual, and the habit can permit us to justify bigger and bigger lies. As Bok says, “Why tell a flattering lie about someone’s hat rather than a flattering truth about [her] flowers?” What about the lie that can save a life? Let’s say an intended victim runs away from a murderer, or abuser. If the perpetrator asks you where the intended victim went, and you know that if the person is found he/she will become a victim, do you tell the truth? Of course not! But such instances of truly justifiable lies in crisis are rare in most of our lives. As Bok says, “We should proceed in life as if no lies should ever be told.”
2. Learn to be slow to anger and very, very careful of expressing it. The Buddha said “the one who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, I call a real driver, other people are but holding the reins.” I don’t accept the modern idea that anger is somehow toxic if it isn’t expressed if all its force and immediacy. It can be hurtful, and often begets anger in return. Anger can be reined in, controlled, and the expression of it, if necessary to repair a relationship, can be done caringly, not hurtfully, especially if you have taken the time to calm down and cool off first. As Thomas Jefferson put it: “When angry, count to ten before acting. If very angry, count to an hundred!”
3. Be quick to apology. Be the first one to apologize. It is hard to swallow your pride and say “I’m sorry,” especially if you believe that the person you’ve hurt has also really hurt you, maybe more seriously than you have hurt him/her. But I’ve come to believe that sincere apology is a deeply spiritual act, and it goes a surprisingly long way toward healing a rift between people.
4. Refrain from blaming. Remember the mythic story of Adam and Eve? When God asked the couple who ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam pointed to Even and said, “She made me do it.” Eve pointed to the serpent and said “The snake made me do it.” The tendency to blame in order to take the heat off ourselves happens on a small scale, as when two people in the heat of argument blame each other for their difficulties, and on a large scale, as when whole tribes, peoples or nations blame each other for their hardships and escalate to armed conflict. As with apology, refraining from blaming is a spiritual discipline, which involves accepting responsibility for your part of a conflict, and letting go of the need to be right.
5. Avoid indulging in destructive gossip. This is a strong temptation. Gossip makes us feel important, and malicious gossip makes us feel superior. Resist it! Malicious gossip hurts not only the one who is the subject of it, but the ones who pass it along.
6. Listen to others. Really listening to another person is not as simple as it may sound. Too often we impatiently jump ahead and fill in what we think the person is saying or is about to say, or we only half hear someone while we’re busy forming our own opinions and judgments, and thinking about what we are going to say in response. True listening is an exercise in patience, a door to real understanding, and a precious gift to give someone.
7. Strive to forgive. A grudge is a terrible, heavy thing to carry around. Forgiveness of another for past injury or neglect helps heal the relationship, and if that can’t be done, it at least helps heal the pain and anger we may be holding. As Lewis Smedes says in his book, Forgive and Forget, “When we forgive, we ride the crest of love’s cosmic wave; we walk in stride with God. And we heal the hurt we never deserved.”
8. Express love for your planet. This is a very practical one. Recycle and reuse everything you can, make it a spiritual discipline. Take public transportation or carpool when feasible. And don’t forget to visit the natural world and pay your respects regularly, even if it’s only a walk in your backyard or a visit to a park.
9. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. If I can quit grousing about what I’m lacking, and become aware daily of the many gifts in my life for which I am grateful, I can lift my spirit and that of those around me, and go a long way toward the next “Suggestion,” number 10:
10. Abandon cynicism and bless the world. It is so easy to become cynical about politics, about the motives of other people, about the state of the world. Sometimes it all looks bleak. But to slip into cynicism and despair can lead to inaction and hopelessness. Better to lift up hope, not a naive Pollyanna-like hope, but a hope that acknowledges the rough edges of life, and still looks for ways to bless this broken world with positive action. To paraphrase the Hebrew scriptures: Each day, we have set before us life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose life and blessing, so we and our children may live.
11. (I added one more.) This last one I believe is very important, especially when you fall short of living up to your own ethical code: I have this one pasted to my mirror. It is an exercise in self-care, and though ethics focuses on how to treat others, we should not neglect to care for ourselves. It says, simply: “Forgive yourself, over and over and over again.”
In 1995, Reverend David O. Rankin, a Unitarian Universalist Minister, created a his list of beliefs:
WE BELIEVE in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop their own personal theologies, and to present openly their religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.
WE BELIEVE in the toleration of religious ideas. All religions in every age and culture, possess not only intrinsic merit, but also potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.
WE BELIEVE in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, nor a document, nor an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.
WE BELIEVE in the never-ending search for Truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations that appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally faithful, and wondrously exciting.
WE BELIEVE in the unity of experience. There is no fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge, religion and the world, the sacred and the secular, since they all have the same source in the same reality.
WE BELIEVE in the worth and dignity of each human being. All people on earth have an equal claim to life, liberty, and justice–and no idea, ideal, or philosophy is superior to a single human life.
WE BELIEVE in the ethical application of religion. Good works are the natural product of a good faith, the evidence of an inner grace that finds completion in social and community involvement.
WE BELIEVE in the motive force of love. The governing principle in human relationships is the principle of love, which always seeks the welfare of others and never seeks to hurt or destroy.
WE BELIEVE in the in the necessity of the democratic process. Records are open to scrutiny, elections are open to members, and ideas are open to criticism–so that people might govern themselves.
WE BELIEVE in the importance of the religious community. The validation of experience requires the confirmation of peers, who provide a critical platform along with a network of mutual support.