© Robert Alexander Jensen 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
May 22, 2011
Robert Jensen is a 15-year-old youth who has completed the one-year Coming of Age program offered at Mission Peak, guided by his mentor, Steve Wallcave. A culminating event of that program is articulating spiritual beliefs, as Robert did at this Sunday service.
Hello, my name is Robert Jensen, and I am going to talk about what I believe. There are several things I really value in life. Some of those things include integrity and honesty, art and music, caring for other people, open mindedness, harmonious living, loyalty, and learning. I will also talk about other things such as my views on God, good and evil, and life and death. I hope you will enjoy my credo.
To begin with, I would like to talk about integrity and honesty. The definition of integrity is doing what one knows inside is right to do. I can tell you of several times in my life when that was a struggle. When I was about four years old, I remember I was at my preschool daycare during recess. I walked around the playground noticing every detail: this tree is tall, and that grass looks real, but isn't! I then came upon a walnut tree that had a milk carton hanging on one of the branches. Thinking it was trash, I thought it was quite rude that someone left this milk carton in the tree without cleaning up after themselves! Me, being the adventurous four-year-old I was, decided that it had to come down. Without thinking further, I removed my shoe and hurled it at the carton. Of course, I did not notice the immensely large fence directly behind the tree. My shoe missed the carton and landed on the other side of the fence - where, I had no idea. Since I missed my first attempt, I decided to go at it again, using my second shoe, only to realize that now I was shoeless and the tree was still littered with that carton.
After the playground staff realized what I had done, they quickly called my father to come pick me up. He was not keen on the idea of having to pick me up from his work only to take me to get me another pair of shoes. Despite this however, we left the daycare in quite a humor. We went looking for my shoes on the other side of the fence. Lucky for me, the other side of the fence was a parking lot. We drove around looking for them, and then all of a sudden we saw them, right next to a giant dumpster. Boy, was my dad glad that they did not fall in there! After I collected my shoes, my dad then explored why I wanted to hit the carton in the first place. He explained to me that it was a makeshift bird feeder and that it should not be removed from the giant walnut tree. I never again threw my shoes at trees with milk cartons in them, for I realized the carton's purpose.
The most important thing about integrity and honesty is that by doing what one person conceives is the best thing to do, we end up helping others who also value that same quality. I can tell you there have been times in my life where I was not always honest. However, I always strived back onto the right path, because of my integrity. In Unitarian Universalism, we rely on this sense of honesty and integrity to help form a welcoming congregation that always strives towards what is the right thing to do. It would truly be a wonderful world where people would act on their integrity without fear of judgment or intimidation.
In addition to integrity, I also highly value art and music. Being a violinist, it truly brings me pleasure to be able to play songs and light up the faces of others, as well as my own. I first came face to face with a violin when I was around five years old. A young girl came to our preschool and performed some pieces on the violin. It was almost love at first sight with me and the instrument. It looked so cool! I even got to try it after her performance. The vibrations of the strings captivated me. Soon after, my mom took me to get violin lessons. I learned quickly, and began producing music shortly after. To this day, I still play and perform with my violin.
I think the important thing about music and art is that these mechanisms allow people to express who they are inside. It also helps reduce stress in everyday life. I continue to take weekly lessons for my violin and am still learning new techniques. In addition to music and art being a huge part of the services, Unitarian Universalists also look to music and art for a sense of inspiration, as well as a sense of reflection. I wish for a world full of people who enjoy and partake in music.
I also highly value caring for others. I came to value this ever since I was young. I always enjoyed making people happy. The important thing about caring for other people is that the care we give in turn helps form a stronger community. There is a quote from the movie Adam Almighty where God says to Adam, "The best way to change the world is by doing one act of random kindness at a time." I could not agree more with this statement. I always try to help people out when they are in need. I get this overwhelming sense of joy when I see how pleased people are. I never have regretted taking some of my time to help someone out. Even in the future I will help people out. Whether someone is thirsty in need of a soda, or someone needs help with problems in life, I will always be there, with no cost at all. It is a fundamental characteristic of our church. I would be pleased to see a world full of satisfied people who always got help when they needed it.
Just as I value helping others, I also value open mindedness. Several months ago, I was contacted by Mr. Bullard, the supervisor of Washington High School's Gay Straight Alliance. He asked me urgently to speak to this young girl in need of some guidance. This young girl had some questions about her sexuality, because recently she had developed this crush on another young girl, who was in fact Mormon. I quickly accepted the assignment,eager to help the young girl out. This would not be the first person I would help who had questions. My best friend Richard was teased in school because he dressed in a way that kids thought was "gay". I made sure the teasing stopped and quickly helped him get through his fragile time. He later came out that year, and I was pleased to hear that he was not being teased after that.
When I first called the girl, she and I had no idea what to expect. I was going to be a listener and open for advice, but what advice could I give to a young girl who was going through this difficult time? After an hour or so, the young girl and I finished our talk. She seemed overjoyed to have someone to talk to about her questions, as her school is predominantly Christian and afraid of the subject of homosexuality. I later heard from my mom, who is close friends with her mother, that she was ecstatic after our talk. She said her daughter had not been that happy in a long time. I was honored to have helped. She and I still talk today.
Being open minded simply means being able to explore subjects without fear or anxiety. That is the one thing I think a lot of people nowadays are missing. In Unitarian Universalist churches, however, we healthily practice our open mindedness with the exploration of the world's religions as well as the exploration of touchy subjects such as sexuality. I would give anything for a world that accepted people as they are, and would not change them for anything.
Likewise, I also value living harmoniously. I recently came to value this after reading the story of Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha. The Buddha had an amazing life. He was once a prince in a wealthy and noble family, but gave all of his wealth, and even his wife and son, to find the meaning of life. What the Buddha found however, was actually quite different. Instead of finding the meaning of life, he discovered the ways to cope with life.
The Buddha taught four noble truths. The first truth is that life has suffering. What the Buddha meant by this was that we will always have experiences in life that are unpleasant. It is the natural way of life. The second truth that the Buddha taught was that the origin of suffering is attachment. This means that because you are attached to certain things, that when those things enter or leave your life, you will suffer. The third truth that he taught was that suffering can be eliminated. The fourth truth is the path to eliminate this suffering. Suffering can only be eliminated by harmonious living and meditation. It was this path that had truly influenced my ideas about the world. I then set out on my own quest to partially end suffering in my life, as well as finding more about the world like the Buddha did.
Even before I read of the Buddha's story, I also had some preconceived ideas of harmonious living. I looked at the teachings of Jesus. According to the gospel of Matthew, chapter five, verse thirty-nine, Jesus teaches that if someone hits you on the cheek, then you let them have the other. The passage reads "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." I liked this idea of pacifism. The meaning I took from this passage was that you should not hurt someone because they hurt you. If you hurt them back, you will just make things worse. I believe that living harmoniously can reduce the negative side effects of our actions. As Unitarian Universalists, we strongly encourage this because without harmonious living, how could we possibly discuss issues without them resulting into fist fights in the end? It would be nice to see a world without suffering.
Along with harmonious living, I also highly value loyalty. I was in kindergarten when I first discovered this marvelous thing. I was standing in the snack line at a daycare I went to over the summer. I was alone, for I was virtually new and I did not know many kids there. They served oatmeal to us. It was maple and brown sugar. As soon as I turned away from the table, I saw a young boy who was the same age as me who was having some problems. To begin with, there was a large group of third graders standing around him. He was trying to tell the time by the analog clock on the wall and these other kids were making fun of him for it! After the kids left, I walked over and sat down with him. That was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I finally gained a friend at that daycare! And it even turned out that Brian's mother Anita worked with my dad at his company! My longest friend for ten years now is still number one on my list.
That summer, we created a club where we all hung out and had fun. There was no official name to the club until it was added later, named AJSS, or Alex Jensen Secret Society. Every year we went to that camp, I was elected as the president of AJSS; Alex Jensen being my name. Up until we graduated from elementary school, we ministered care to kids who were left out, teachers who needed help with day-to-day chores, and to ourselves. Brian and I are still best friends and forever will be loyal to each other.
Loyalty is truly a powerful thing. It enables people to rely on others for help and support. I always keep my promises, for I know how it feels when you ask for something and it does not always happen. Unitarian Universalists have a sense of loyalty as well. We have a sense of loyalty to ourselves as well as to other people. We truly help create the open environment we wish to create in the world. I want to see a world where people can always be relied on.
Finally, I would like to explain the value of learning. I truly value learning new things in everyday life. This was not always something I appreciated. When I was quite young, my parents tried to serve me a dinner I did not appreciate enough to want to eat. I was quite picky when I was little. After some of my rebellious actions, my mother came to a conclusion to solve the dilemma. Her solution was that if I did not eat dinner with them, then I could eat macaroni and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the rest of my life. I quickly accepted, not realizing the consequences of this decision. After about a week, I gave up my protest and started eating the dinner that was served. I was getting tired of the same old taste of macaroni and cheese. After that event, I truly was able to be exposed to new types of foods.
This value of learning is truly extraordinary. It enables things to be discovered as well as the innovation of old things. Since I was little, I always enjoyed hearing random facts. I would learn that cat was not spelled with a k, that whales breathe oxygen, and that even guys can be doctors! That last part was an eye opener to my young self because I only met with my mom's co-working doctors who happened to be women. Unitarian Universalists always try to learn new things. This is why we examine every scripture, and hold no completely definite answer of life. I want to see a world where people are not afraid to try and learn new things.
The subject of God was, and is, not an easy thing for me to talk about. This idea solely lies on what a person's concept of God really is. The reality is that I really thought of God in only one way which I found to be near impossible: the stereotypical white old man sitting on a throne in heaven, the white robe, and the long flowing grey beard. It was not until the Coming of Age vigil retreat that I finally discovered an easier way to conceive what God might be and could be.
When I was younger, I did not really ever think of God. God was a foreign word that I was not raised with believing in. Naturally, I would come in contact with other kids who had a concept of what God was. This was where that stereotypical picture started to take place. It is very difficult for me to actually think about God in that sense. I was very lucky to have gone on the retreat.
During the retreat, we were challenged to sit in the forest alone in silence for six hours by ourselves. At the thought of it, I was excited, but also nervous. What if I grew bored? What if I could not bear the silence for more than a few hours? After the start of the silence period, I sat down open mindedly and started my six-hour meditation. The first two hours of it were the most difficult. This was when my body was thinking "Six hours cannot be that long." I grew impatient with myself and longed to sleep rather than stay awake for the six hours. After a while, I grew acceptant of the silence. Silence is hard to come by in my life, as I have a schedule full of school, violin lessons, swim practices and meets, and Boy Scout meetings. I was victorious and lasted the whole six hours sitting alone in the wilderness, silent.
After I got back from the six-hour solo, I discussed what had happened with some of my close friends who were also in Coming of Age. It was apparent that I needed to change my preconceived notion of what God looks like. I discussed with my friends that after that vigil, I did indeed believe in God, or rather the force of one. My new definition of God came to be that God was the life-force all around us. God was in the trees, in the rocks, in the water, and in us, attached to our souls. God gives us our character, our personality, and what we hold to be most sacredly true. Keep in mind that I do not believe in a God that can control who we are. That definition is long gone, along with my other old one. Rather, God is simply life. I truly felt a connection with life and nature on that vigil that has truly shaped my world.
On the subject of good and evil, I believe there is no true definition of either one. I believe that good and evil are self-defined - good being what brings us pleasure, and bad what brings us displeasure. I believe that the source of these things happens to be in ourselves and in our community. I believe we all do good and bad in our lives, regardless. It is the human way. However, I do believe people tend to do what they feel is good in their lives.
Along with good and evil, I have no answer to life and death - what happens when we die and when we are born. As far as I know, I know that we are created as a result of sexual reproduction. As far as I know about death, I know that our organs shut down, our cells start to decompose, and that we are remembered. I will never claim to have the answers to what happens when we die. That is something we have no knowledge about, and that no person should ever claim to have knowledge about, unless it is the apparent truth from new knowledge. What happens after death should be kept a secret, and hopefully an adventure.
In conclusion, these things are the vital components that make up my life: integrity and honesty, art and music, caring for other people, open mindedness, harmonious living, loyalty, and learning influence who I am, what I do, and what I will do. My views on God, good and evil, and life and death also play key roles in my character. I cannot wait to discover more things in life. Until then, I wait.
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