Coming of Age

Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto Sermons and Reflections
Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto Sermons and Reflections
Coming of Age

As young people at UUCPA come of age, they spend several months together in reflection on the questions adult UUs grapple with, meet with mentors from the congregation, and articulate their own beliefs in a credo project. This service is the culmination of their project where they lead the service and share their credos.

Credos and Statements of Religious Identity

9:30 service

Credo 1

One day, on the playground in third grade, I was on the swings. Out of the blue, I looked up at the sky and thought to myself, “I believe in God.” Cute, huh? I didn’t really know what I was thinking, but believing in God seemed like a good idea. I just wanted to be nice to whoever was behind those clouds by reminding him or her, “I believe in you!” To this day, to some extent, I do believe in God.

In later elementary school, I was at church for a Passover dinner and I was coloring in pictures of the ten plagues. Stories say that they were sent to Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to free the Jews from slavery there. As I colored the first plague that turned all the water into blood, the bright red crayon I was using made the situation seem graphic. I thought to myself, “This is pretty scary and extreme. I don’t want to believe in this horror. If I believe in God, do I have to like the evil that s/he can do? Do I have to believe that s/he can do evil at all?” God’s influence should be mental positivity and love, not physical evil. In this case, the water should have stayed water, like nature intended, and not been turned to blood. God should have found another way to end Jewish slavery, perhaps by spreading love.

So, I created my own God, which I will take with me everywhere. If there’s injustice, my God will encourage me to stop it, and I will keep my God in mind when I or others need help. I thought a lot more this time, finding loopholes in how much I liked the traditional idea of God and sculpting my own.

Fast-forward to middle school. I meet a lot more people with different religious beliefs. I overhear my Mormon friend talking to my friend who is both atheist and Jewish. My Mormon friend asks, “What do you believe?” and my other friend responds, “Well, I don’t believe in God.” My Mormon friend is confused. She says, “How can you not believe in God when you are Jewish? He’s like the center of everything.” After a while they agree to disagree, which gets me thinking: Believing in God works for my Mormon friend, and not believing in God also works for my atheist-Jewish friend. So there’s no problem with that.

All in all, I do believe in God, my God. And I respect others who do and don’t believe in God or gods. Everyone across the planet believes in different things, and that should be cherished, not destroyed.

Credo 2

Religion means different things to different people, and to many people religion is a big help, and a big part of their lives. For example, back when there was slavery in the south, it kept the slaves hopeful when they could practice their religion, even if they had to do it in secret meetings in the woods. But to me, religion isn’t a big part of my life. I don’t have much of an opinion about religion. People expect you to have a firm decision about what you believe, and I don’t.

People are all different individuals and everyone has their own beliefs, even if they adopt other people’s ideas as their own. There are a lot of possibilities, and way more paths to chose that you might expect. Even within a group of people, like a church, who all say they have the same beliefs, in themselves they are unique. There isn’t a quiz that can classify you into a religion. Well, there is a quiz on, but it can’t really tell you who you are. There aren’t just established religions.  No one is really the same as another. There is always the possibility of the “maybe’ and “it depends”. Because it really does depend! I choose the “it depends” path. Can you really answer yes or no to a question about who you are?

I have come to the conclusion that people’s religion and beliefs don’t necessarily stay the same over time, and mine will forever be changing. Some people might be devoted for life to a specific set of values, and if that is who they are, that’s okay. However, when a problem that challenges your strongly held beliefs arises, you can have a crisis that makes things worse. It’s healthy to be open to change. Be like the portable dock, that is only anchored to the sea floor with a chain, gently rocking and shifting around, instead of the dock that is drilled into the seafloor by long columns, keeping from moving with the flow of the ocean. Even though it feels safer to stand on the firmly planted one, the portable dock is more okay with change, rising up and down with the tide. Your beliefs sway with the circumstances or waves, but you are still always anchored.

Credo 3

I’m lazy, and I know it, from all these BuzzFeed quizzes I’ve been taking ever since the start of high school. This is part of my new lifestyle, which, as just one part, involves more internet use than before. It’d be easier to ramble about high school, but I’ll try to cover only the most important parts of my high school experience, and how it relates to my identity, and explain my beliefs as best I can.

The beginning of high school, about 9 months ago, was when my life began. When all my thought processes suddenly started changing. That’s the most important thing I know about life: one day, your life is remade, as you begin to re-learn and challenge thoughts, new joys or sadnesses or fears or pet peeves set in. You may also develop new habits. For me, I started to interact with peers much more than middle school, meanwhile many factors have gotten me into the internet, and this leads to me seeing new content that shows aspects of humanity, whether it be realizing what appeals to me most, or what appeals to others. This makes me see the world in a whole new way, with so much more available in my phone and computer.

Back in middle school, I thought that I was the oddball in my middle school. It is a pretty large school, but not as large and diverse as high school. It seemed as if everyone was either good at socializing and popular or an outcast. Guess which one I was. In 8th grade, I first got to be jealous of the girls who clicked with each other, talked about sports or Instagram or whatever, which made no sense to me. I couldn’t bond with them, and I thought that meant I didn’t have anything in common with anyone.

I was afraid of going into high school, possibly being bullied or outcast by older kids or peers, now with pressures such as dating and sex as well. But that’s false! Overall, high school is a wonderful place, so much better than middle school.

Despite sometimes still feeling unsociable, I now know I’m not totally unlovable. For one, I was/am lucky to have the best PE teacher ever, right after lunch, and with 4 other girls I met this year and became my PE friends. It started during the tennis unit, when I was playing with 2 girls who invited me to join them, and 2 other girls started sticking with us, and we started talking about random things and I realized I had friends who wouldn’t reject me. That really made PE fun (it really is, though I wouldn’t have thought it possible).

The other big factor in my new, more sociable attitude is Marching Band. At first it was all learn to do things that exceed your comfort zone and be tired and feel horrible, but by mid-October it was really coming together as the weather was cooling down, so I could work on being the best marcher, and eventually come with a smile. My mood and on-top-of-things improved, and so did my socialization and fun personality. The time and effort I put into Marching Band also paid off because I got a Marcher of the Week and Most Improved Woodwind, and at one point I had a sudden realization that Marching Band really was my family.

It gets better: there were sweepstakes (huge awards) at a competition. We won one, which is uncommon for us. Everyone felt amazing, proud, victorious. That reminds me of how much effort I put into marching band to achieve it, and everyone else too, in order for us all to get this award. Everything each of us did to improve the marching band, even showing up every day ready to take on this, led to our award. This shows how much anyone can improve, given time to work on whatever they want to change, and the will to persevere through challenges.

New friends from Marching Band and PE are likely part of another big change: I’m changing from an introvert to an ambivert. I’m gradually getting better at small talk and feel a bit more confident about talking to peers. I know that it’s not the end of the world trying to talk to people you don’t know that well. I’m starting to learn what I have in my life and in my head as I try to relate to and ask about peers I’m talking to.

The final main thing that improved in this year is homework skills. For me, the main problem is getting started on work. But in September, my parents found GOALS, with staff who would help you with challenging homework, motivation, and time-management skills. I also gradually improved how I do my homework. Biology notes (I’m in Bio H) is the prime example. Almost every night, I had to takes notes from the textbook. At first, my notes were quite inefficient. Later, I decided I would do notes the way that’s easiest for me — more like writing, no separate entries to prevent confusion. I also slightly improved it so that I could distinguish topics better. This makes them much easier to write and comprehend. In early March, I got a crap-ton homework load, with two big writing assignments, so I fell behind on Bio notes in favor of these. That led me to learn to do two bio notes in one day, which makes it much, much easier to keep up with homework.

After all I’ve learned from high school, you may be wondering about the Coming of Age program which is technically the whole reason I wrote this credo. I’ve learned nothing. Nothing compared to high school anyway. What I’ve learned from high school is all I really need in this time and place and situation. Perhaps in the future, beliefs or religion will matter to me. But now, I just have to discover myself more and learn how to deal with high school life.

All in all, what I’ve learned is that life can and will improve, no matter how little you expect. Of course, life may give you obstacles such as way more homework, but part of life is learning to deal with them. That makes me feel like I can take so much more. One day I will have to. Meanwhile, high school has given me many wonderful surprises in the form of new friends, new ways of thinking based off new habits, and sometimes great rewards I wouldn’t have expected, such as the happiness of socializing and maybe making new friends, or an award for everyone’s efforts in marching band. A lot of changes may happen at one time, which for me, was most notably the onset of high school, is that switch that’s been waiting to be hit: when your world is remade, and you can’t go back to some old ways, but you’ll find it more positive up there.

Credo 4

As a child, my grandmother told me many stories. She tried to teach me things, important lessons to have with me in life. One time, she took a jar off the shelf and placed it in front of me. It was filled with rocks, pebbles, and tiny grains of sand. Slowly, she took the rocks out and poured out the pebbles and sand into bowls. Then, she instructed me to try to fit them all back into the jar. As confused as to why I was asked to do this, I proceeded to first pour the bowls of sand and pebbles into the jar, and then place the rocks in.

But as I continued, I realized that the rocks didn’t fit. I kept trying to shove them in, but they only kept popping out again. After a while of watching me struggle with this, my grandmother asked me to then try to put the rocks in first. So I took everything out and tried again. This time, I watched as the pebbles filled in the spaces that the rocks had left, and the sand filled in the even smaller spaces that the pebbles had left. And, to my surprise, I could close the lid.

She explained to me how the sand was the unimportant things, like watching TV or doing chores and the pebbles were the things that kind of mattered, such as doing well in school and participating in extracurricular activities. The rocks, she said, were the important things in life.

To me, the important things in life aren’t plainly religious, because I don’t really know what I believe yet. As a thirteen year old, I don’t have the answers to life’s big questions, or even my own questions. I don’t know why we exist, or what happens to us after we die. I could try to answer those questions, but they would only be thoughts and theories. They would never really be my beliefs. But what I have learned is what really matters to me in life. What really matters is being kind to those around me, spending time with friends and family, and being happy and satisfied with my life. I must first recognize these important components before I can possibly live the life that I want to. And, from experience, I have learned that putting smaller things first is one of the biggest mistakes I can make.

Credo 5

Trayvon Martin was unarmed, but he was brutally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer on February 26, 2012.  The volunteer’s name was George Zimmerman. He had called the police on multiple occasions to report what he thought as suspicious behavior. Ever time he did this, he was reporting a black male. These previous racial biases came up front when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin because of his race. Zimmerman claimed the have shot in self defense, but this argument is refuted by the fact that Martin was unarmed and had seen Zimmerman before, as Martin had commonly visited that neighborhood. Zimmerman even claimed race was not involved, though the even though his previous calls show that he was blatantly lying. Worst of all, these arguments were taken seriously by the Sanford Police Department and even the Seminole County Circuit Court. It took the court only two days — two days! to reach a verdict of not guilty. No verdict of guilty, no hung jury, just the false verdict of not guilty, claiming Zimmerman shot Martin in self defense.

I first read about the Trayvon Martin story years after it happened. In fact, I only read about it last year. It was in a book with many stories about discrimination against black people. This story however, touched me the most. This was because it was just a kid who was shot. Trayvon was playing video games with his friend and went to get snacks. He never thought this could turn into the last trip of his life. This is why this story reached to me the most– because this could happen to me. I reacted to this story thinking how someone could kill a teenager. I was appalled at this standard of racism.

Such events have been happening all too often, showing that racial biases since the 60’s have barely changed. Martin Luther King changed the legal aspect of racism, but the mentality of the people has not changed. Empty political promises come to no fruition. The mindset of the people has not been changed much since they threw stones at black people marching on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We still have Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and , of course, Trayvon Martin. All of these are unarmed people who were killed due to racial profiling by armed personnel. This shows that people are not willing to change their mindset to not be racist. What is even worse is that many people don’t even accept that racism is still a problem. One poll from 2014 says that more white people believe in ghosts than believe racism is still a problem in America. It is a problem, as shown by the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. It showed that racism is a monster to be taken seriously, as evil philosophies such as white supremacy and neo-Nazism, as well as organizations like the KKK still exist.

People need to recognize that a problem as big as racism cannot go away with a few laws or even 60 years. It takes a strengthened education system to do so. In Germany, students are taught extensively about the Holocaust, and analyze why it was done and how to stop similar actions today. In America, on the other hand, we are only taught the events of racism, and Jim Crow, and slavery. There is no emotional aspect of it. We are just told, in the words of Trevor Noah, “There was slavery and then there was Jim Crow and then there was Martin Luther King, Jr. and now it’s done.” This does not lead to a preventive mindset. People are just told that racism no longer exists, so they do not recognize it as a problem even when it is blatant. What the story of Trayvon Martin should teach us is that racism is still very much alive. No matter what income (Zimmerman worked a professional job as an insurance investigator), people do not abandon the racism that has defined America since the start. People’s mindset needs to change from early childhood so that people can combat racism from the very core.

Racism divides; this is exactly what we shouldn’t do in already divisive times like this. We should be united, as in unity comes strength. Racism prevents true unity, so it must be eradicated, but people should still remember that it happened and know why it happened. This is how racism is truly stopped. We should make sure that there are no more Trayvon Martins in the future by ending racism with a firm hand.

11:00 service

Credo 6

When I started working on my credo, I wasn’t sure what to write. So I stared at a blank piece of paper for a while, and I talked to some people about my beliefs. One of my favorite things to do is reading. I especially like reading the Star Wars books because they feel like they could be possible, at least in the way how people might act.

I think that people in Star Wars are more realistic, because many people don’t care, or they are partisans who won’t compromise. Some people, throughout history and in Star Wars, wanted power, and used a scapegoat to get it — examples being Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Sheev Palpatine (for those unfamiliar with Star Wars, that would be the wrinkly old evil guy in a cape). All of these people used a scapegoat, and got massive power from it. It may seem like it was hopeless for these people to change, but that is only because they didn’t feel there was anything to change for. Consider Darth Vader. At first it seems as though he is purely just an evil extension of the empire, but at the end of the last movie in the trilogy, he becomes good again, for his son.

This shows my belief that things can always change. Another belief of mine is agnosticism.

I’m agnostic which means that I have no clue if a god or gods exist. Some would argue that agnosticism  leaves you purposeless, surely a depressing existence, and I reply, “Why do I need someone else to determine my purpose?”  The purpose I’ve made for myself is to make me and others happy for both the short and long term. I feel like this might make the world a better place.

Lastly, I believe everyone and everything can, and will probably change. This might include my beliefs.

Credo 7  — “The Strangeness Of Beliefs”

Beliefs are a strange thing. Always changing, yet so influential in our life choices. People choose to handle their beliefs in their own ways, some try to push their beliefs onto others, while others keep them to themselves. Some people have core beliefs that don’t change their whole lives, but other beliefs can be easily molded. The definition of belief is ​trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something, or an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists, but what does that mean?

A belief is something we think is true, something we feel is right, they often end up shaping our opinions, and effect our daily lives. Beliefs are so moldable yet so firm. They are great to help motivate us, and shape our goals, but they also help us decide what we refuse to do. Protests, petitions, debates, arguments, all occur because of peoples contradicting beliefs. Almost all religions are based upon certain beliefs. People who go to church often go because they share the beliefs with the church, They can relate, connect. but almost nobody has the exact same beliefs. All beliefs are molded to that person.

Beliefs are important, until they go to far. Beliefs can cause some people to harm others, racism, sexism, Ageism, Weight-ism, being homophobic those are all beliefs, but does that make them right? Those are all bad things to me, but they might be core ideals to somebody else, but that doesn’t make them okay.

I myself believe in many things. I believe that killing for sport is bad, but food chains are part of our ecosystem. I believe there is a heaven, but not a hell, and that everyone has the potential to be good. These are all of my beliefs, but they could be completely different then than other people’s beliefs. The strange thing is though all beliefs are different, they are still all beliefs.

Credo 8

Life is unpredictable. You try to predict it, and control it. But no matter how many times you check the forecast you might get caught in the rain or stuck in traffic or get sick or fall in love. But you can’t take life to seriously, after all, you ain’t getting out of it alive. So what’s the point? Currency? seems kind of stupid if you say it out loud, right? Joy? Learning? Family? It’s up to you to decide,

I think it’s about connection, interaction with the world. It’s nearly impossible to define yourself without the events in your life and the people in it. In a way you are the way you react to your circumstances.

This would beg the conclusion that you were born one way, good or evil. That’s is why I have trouble accepting a heaven or hell, if we are born one way it really isn’t anyone’s fault. If we are born totally neutral we are only are circumstances. If we are made by every decision we are all in trouble because our baby self began those decisions and I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t trust baby me with that. Or most things.

They say life is short. I say it’s rather long. between to beginning there are an infinity large number of points, moments. That’s certainly long enough to stop complaining about how short it is. Then it ends, you prolong it, procrastinate it — I’m a teenager, I know about procrastination — but it does end.

However, science has ruined me. In every action and reaction nothing is created or destroyed. Energy, matter, even the universe never ends. Nothing ends until something makes it. Life is lazy that way. So I like the idea of reincarnation, of souls recycling, which is something I hope you all do, changing, evolving, whatever you want to call it.

You don’t have to agree with me. If everything agreed in life, it would be boring and unbalanced. Nothing would have ever needed to change and nothing would exist.

If you know me you know I love rain. Well, I love standing in it. In part because others hide from it. This one time during the drought we had a downpour, I went to Michael Park Field, it was flooded and just walked in this surreal lake. And sloshing in this field, bare feet, drenched, utterly at peace, all I could think was thank you.

Well, “thank you,” and that I going to get sick after this. True by the way. I was sick for about a week, a great example of the belief that joy and suffering come in pairs. Mommy, why is there suffering in the world? because Emma went out in the rain without shoes again. Wait no, Taxes. College tuition. Okay I got off track. Where was I? Right. Standing in the rain in the Park. Drenched, at peace, thinking, “thank you.” Get back into that frame of mind. You might need to take a few deep breaths. Away from the thought of taxes. And bare feet. Thank you.

I don’t know if the words “thank you” were meant to go anywhere. To a god of some sorts perhaps. Honestly around here there is a very black and white definition of god. But look around you people, the world is in color. .

I think everyone has a god or sorts. But “god” goes by different names. For some, it is science. For others it, is love, family, God. God is people’s support and drive. Whatever gets them through hard times and working towards better ones. Maybe a set of rules for the universe keeps them supported by logic. Or the belief that it will all be okay because someone is looking out for them.

Sometimes someone is looking out for them or is at least trying to. But no matter the version of God, there is suffering. People, animals, plants, are deprived of necessities. People jump off of buildings because the weight of life is too great. Who was looking out for them? Other people were looking. Watching. People watch our oceans rise, our world heat, our natural wonders disappear, our innocent get shot and killed. All in the name of progress, or “god.”

Most people’s version of god includes trying to help the greater good. That doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone though. Some people’s version of “god” means ending everything that is bad, and when they say bad they mean people of different beliefs. Not everyone agrees on the right course of action. If there even is one.

Around here renewable energy is a big idea. Gun control comes up. Composting, recycling and education are important to many people. I did an eco-justice project recently. Installed some owl nesting boxes, made some rain barrels, orchestrated some ecojustice and social justice themed murals. And beyond politics people were eager to help, to do what they could. They just needed a little push.

We can do so much more than we do but often we don’t believe we have enough time or we have no opportunity. We need to make opportunities for ourselves each other and the world. Give it the push it needs to get going.

And no, we will never end suffering. We will never fully lift the crushing weight off everything’s shoulders. But that shouldn’t stop us from beginning. There is beauty in this world, we can find it. We can preserve it we can bring more. You never know what you may find to do. Life is unpredictable that way.

Credo 9

After coming home one day, my brother got off a call with a grim expression. He told me that our grandfather had a stroke and was in the hospital. I was very worried and kept wondering about what would happen. Later on, we visited him at the hospital and he was as normal as ever. Apparently, he had been annoying the nurses and doctors. He got better and got released a little later. However, I kept thinking how would I prepare for death. Would I act normal or freak out? I realized that it all depended on what I believed would happen after death.

I don’t believe in heaven. I wouldn’t want someone to be burdened with more life after death. I like the idea that everyone ceases to exist after death. As ominous as it sounds, for me, it is the most reassuring. Once you are content and satisfied, you can be calm without any worry about what will happen next.

This church has helped me choose my beliefs about death by teaching me about the different opinions about death and afterlives in Sunday school. I thought about each belief and spoke with others about it. In church, I feel like I can talk about any beliefs and share my opinions.

Whenever somebody asks me about my church, I say, “you can believe whatever you want, just accept and respect other people.” This helps me because some of my friends have beliefs influenced by their religion that I am disagree with. Unitarian Universalism has helped me be understanding and realize everyone has very different views in the world. I have learned to discuss these matters in ways that develop my understanding and I like to think that this church has helped me to be able to do that.

Although I have thought about a few things like death and talking to others about religion, I am still forming my religious identity.  There are other religious questions that I have not yet explored, like why is there suffering, why are we here, and what is the nature of human beings. And I know that when I am ready to explore them, the skills I have learned as a UU will help me.

Credo 10

¡Vivir Es Increible!

This was something I saw on a sign, in Mexico. It was a large sign, and, unlike a board with words on it, this was one that was just words on a hill. It wasn’t an advertisement. If you’re wondering what it means, it means “life is incredible”.

Life is incredible. Life is amazing.

Many people often forget that. They’ll commit to hatred of one group of people, or have beliefs that limit them and their beliefs. If you have beliefs that limit you, take a moment. Think about why you have those beliefs. Are they preventing you from understanding people? Are you being closed-minded? Nothing big has to happen for you to change your beliefs. You don’t have to go through some kind of traumatic, life changing experience. Beliefs aren’t set in stone.

I mean, some beliefs are, but many are just slowly developed over time in the subconscious. So take a moment, and I’ll give you one in a sec, to think about what you believe. Think about it now.

Now that you’ve had your moment, I’d like you to think about how your beliefs match up with who you’d like to be.

Who do you want people to see you as? Who is your best self? Because, as I’m sure you know, we present ourselves differently to different people. I might be more myself with my friends, and less when talking to waiters. This doesn’t mean I’m not authentic. It means I have different comfort levels around different people. People are like onions. The closer you are to their core, the more of them you see. Some people only get to see the outer layers. And that’s okay.

And think about where you want to go. What’s your end goal? Yes, we do need to live in the moment. We should appreciate what’s around us, reveling in the beauty of fleeting moments. And yes, we also need to have a kind of “ideal” in which you may not have done everything right, but you’re content.

Content. Even the word itself is…nice. It feels like peace. It feels like the future, if we don’t mess it up first. Which we may as well might, the way politics, global warming, and human rights are going. But again, we can make change.

In fifth grade I participated in an Honor Society program. My group focused on recycling, and the most profound thing I took from that extra part of school is the idea of a circle of influence. Your circle of influence is whomever you can impart your thoughts and beliefs on. Your friends, family, teachers, coworkers, and even the stranger you unintentionally changed the life of with a single interaction, they are all part of your circle of influence.

So use your life. Use your circle of influence. Go out there. Make new beliefs. Respect the beliefs of others, be content, be you.

And then change the world.

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