NPR has re-established a series entitled "This I Believe": listeners write essays that espouse personal beliefs emerging from their own life experiences. And no sermons or religious statements allowed. I've been reflecting about what I would say if spirituality and faith could not play a part. This is what I've come up with.
I believe in the power of decision to change one's life so that it does not imitate the past but inspires a different vision of the future.
I grew up in an alcoholic family and from there all sorts of dysfunction arose, all kinds of patterns that could be repeated in my generation. I remember being in college, at a house party, thoroughly drunk on wine, and then tossing it up over the railing of the front porch into the snow below. I was disgusted with myself and nauseous with shame. I then decided I would not repeat my father's life, a recovered alcoholic who smoked until the day he died of a heart attack, who left his vocation because it broke his body and his spirit. I still enjoy beer and wine--just one drink at a time. I became a minister like my father but because I wanted to help others and serve God, and it made me happy (as described in the Beatitudes). I decided to not smoke cigarettes. I decided to be healthy but not give up everything between me and my feelings. I decided I wanted to be a whole person, one who is generous, kind, and loving but still swears occasionally, eats too much every now and then, loses her temper once in a while, and has a weakness for the material things in life.
I also decided to do things I had no real model for: I gave birth to both my children naturally and breastfed them until they were @ 18 months old. I decided to stay home with them, though I never really decided to put aside pastoral ministry, which has made for great internal (and external) struggle. I decided I would stay married to my chosen partner, that we would take our marriage vows seriously and work together to learn how to love each other into old age. My husband and I have decided to live simpler lives, to give away a portion of our income so that others may simply live, to quote a bumper sticker.
At one point in my sojourn through Al-Anon, one of the other members gave me the greatest gift. She said, "One of these days you have to decide to say 'Fuck it. Being the child of an alcoholic does not have to define who I am'". Since then I have made that decision again and again as I applied that wisdom to other areas of my past that I have allowed to have power over me.
A friend from seminary once asked me what I thought it meant to be an adult. I answered, "Making decisions and being responsible for their outcomes." By no means does my life resemble that of my parents when they were my age; that was part of why I made certain decisions. I also made those decisions so that I would be responsible for my own happiness, my own misery, no one else.
George Bush may have sounded like an idiot when he said it, but for me it is truth: I am the decider. I need to be conscious of who I am, what motivates me, and that I am ultimately responsible for my life and how my decisions affect others.
Having the power to make decisions is the power to create who we will be, not just in our individual lives but as a human race. We can decide if we are a violent species or a peaceful, resourceful one, if there is scarcity or abundance, if there is to be an end to humanity or if this is just the beginning of our evolution. And like a vow or a covenant, these decisions must be renewed again and again if they are to have the strength to be carried through.
Under all this is the decision to believe that humankind will choose the good, to trust that the will toward the good, the just, and the loving is stronger than the will cowed in fear.