Our web site now includes a blog! Many faith communities, including Ethical Societies, share public blogs, which are often authored by its clergy leadership. In our case, however, we have no paid Ethical Culture Leader. We are “lay lead,” meaning various members in our congregation take care of the many tasks necessary to run our organization. As the current president of our board of directors, I have offered to manage the blog, at least for the time being. We’ll see how it goes!
This inaugural blog post is the story of my religious journey, and how it led me to Ethical Culture. I love this story, and I hope that you will, too. I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, PA in the 60s and 70s. Our neighborhood was brand new, very family-friendly, and overwhelmingly Catholic. On the dead-end street where my family resided, there were 18 houses, and 79 children. If you do the math, that comes out to just under 4.4 children per family! During my formative years, there were no divorces among any of those families, and virtually none of them moved away while raising their children.
To say it was idyllic is an understatement, depending on one’s definition of “idyllic,” of course. Ours was the only Jewish family in the entire neighborhood. In fact, out of about 900 students in my high school class, there were only a handful of Jews. Judaism to me was something that only really happened on Sundays, when I was carted off to Sunday School at a small synagogue in a neighboring town. My dad dropped me and my siblings off, and then ventured to the Jewish section of Pittsburgh, “Squirrel Hill,” where he’d buy corned beef, pastrami, good rye bread and other traditional Jewish foods for our lunch when we returned. We celebrated the major Jewish holidays throughout the year, (Passover, Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) but I never really felt like the teachings of the Jewish religion were paramount to our daily family life.
I remember getting into an argument with a Sunday School teacher once, after he insisted that Judaism is a “way of life,” and not simply a religion. That was not my experience at all. And so I grew up identifying as “Jewish,” if I was required to check a box on a form, or if someone asked me my religion, but the dogma and the Torah stories and teachings meant very little to me.
I met my husband, Bill, at a very young age. I was 15, and he was 17. His family is Catholic, and he attended Catholic school until the third grade, when his family moved away from the city to the same suburb where I grew up. By the time we met, he already had very strong negative feelings about the Catholic religion, and was repelled strongly by his experiences with the church. Our individual experiences with our respective religions were “there,” but not really central to our lives. We were married by a judge in a restaurant, and began our life together incorporating just a few of the more secular traditions from both of our religions. The menorah looked great next to the Christmas tree every December!
As many young couples with different religious backgrounds do, we began to think more seriously about our beliefs when we decided to have children. We have 2 kids, who were born 5 and 8 years into our marriage. That gave us a lot of time to think about things. We decided that we would expose our children to the teachings and traditions of each of our religious backgrounds, and see where it led them as they matured. I believe that strategy worked well for us, as both of our kids have grown up to be empathetic, kind, loving, moral people, which we believe is much more important than any specific religious dogma, anyway.
When our kids were 2 and 5 years old, we became involved for a short time with the Unitarian church in St. Louis. We felt compelled to expose our kids to a structured Sunday school program of some sort, and the UU church seemed like a good, neutral solution. It was a good experience for the most part, but the commute was really difficult. We fell away once our kids became more involved with sports, clubs, birthday parties, etc. Our weekends were just too busy, and that 45 minute commute made the church less and less of a priority. The adults services did very little to inspire us there…it was really all about the kids.
Years later, as empty nesters, we became involved in our local LGBT community. (More about that in a future blog post!) One Friday night in 2003, we attended an interfaith candlelight vigil in our town, commemorating the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder. Several faith leaders spoke at the event, including a man named Bob Greenwell, who was the clergy leader of the newly formed Ethical Society Mid Rivers, which was very near to our home.
Each speaker told the audience a little about his or her faith community, and the kinds of things their congregations were involved with. I remember leaning over to Bill and whispering, “We have GOT to visit that place, and sign right up!” During a conversation that evening with Bob, he asked me what I usually do on Sunday mornings. I smiled, and told him, “The NY Times crossword puzzle.” We had no idea that our lives were about to become completely transformed, until we visited the new Ethical Society two days later, and officially joined the following weekend.
We learned that Ethical Societies are humanist congregations, without dogma or creed. Their members agree that it is more important to lead an ethical life because it’s the right thing to do, separate from one’s religious beliefs. Consistently striving to lead a more ethical life helps me to be more empathic toward other people. I love the adage that we put “deed before creed” and that we seek to bring out the best in others, and thereby in ourselves.
Throughout the dozen or so years that have passed since joining ESMR, I have developed relationships with many other Ethical Humanists who have enriched my life in ways I could never describe. Attending our weekly Platforms has taught me so much about a wide variety of topics, all relating to ethics in some form or another. Passions relating to equality and social justice have been magnified exponentially, and continue to be inspired week after week, communing with such an uplifting and amazing community. I can proudly say that putting my faith in humanity has influenced my world view and improved my life in ways I never thought possible!