From third to eighth grade, I experienced relentless bullying. The players changed, but it was a constant issue. From insults to poking that left bruises to having garbage thrown at me, it was a challenge to go to school each day. There were two things that helped me get through this. The first was my family. While I did not tell anyone about what was going on for a very long time, my family life was wonderful and a true escape from what went on at school. There wasn’t social media so I could enjoy the company of my parents, grandmother and aunt without fear of the school bullies encroaching. The other was my faith. I went to a catholic school and church, and I prayed a lot. I felt very close to God during those years. I had a very strong faith. I needed it to get through those days. I prayed for my tormentors. I found courage in moral righteousness. I needed that sense of purpose and moral rectitude to face them each day. In high school, I found that my faith was worthwhile as some of them went to the same high school and apologized. Others did not directly apologize, but their behavior showed that they had changed. While I understood that some people would not change, I felt my faith both in God and people was not misplaced. I found people in high school who were genuinely good and worthy of my trust and friendship. I needed my faith less, and I struggled more with the elements of Catholicism that bothered my inclusive sensibilities. But I still felt very strongly faithful and close to God. In my college years, I continued to struggle with identifying as a Catholic. My values and my church’s values did not align. I found the answer in becoming a Unitarian Universalist. In the years since then, I’ve focused more on the mission of the Unitarian Universalist fellowship, which is encapsulated in the statement “Standing on the Side of Love.” Their mission is people-directed and focused on the here and now. In many joyous ways, my need for a morally righteous faith has lessened. And in this process of focusing on the good and change through people the strength of my attachment to God has lessened. I don’t feel that connection very strongly. Many days I don’t feel it at all. But it does not worry me. Because what I haven’t lost is my faith in humanity. No matter how bad it gets. No matter how many people are shot. No matter how many wars are ongoing, I know that there are so many who are trying to bring peace. There are so many who are trying to listen and understand. There are lots of problems. There are lots of people working toward solutions. When confronted ceaselessly by bullies, it may seem as if there aren’t any people worth trusting, but I know that is not true. When we give up hope, we give up our faith in humanity. While some days I don’t know much about God, my faith in humanity never waivers. I have friends who are agnostic and atheist, and they are some of the most faithful people I have ever met. They put all their faith in people. They work for change here and now because it is all we are promised. Even most of the religious only have a hope of eternal life – not a promise. We must plan as if we have 100 years, but act as if we only have today.
Some might think that faith in God and faith in people are two different things. I do not. They are each a leap of trust. Belief in an abstract God is no more a risk (and sometimes much less of one) than trusting other people to care about you. There are different moral codes around the world, but even when we struggle to understand each other, we share so much about care, love and compassion. It is remarkable how much we do for each other. Even our cynicism is a sign of our trust. It would not be considered cynical and a negative if it were also considered a given. Goodness is the assumption, not cruelty. And for that I am grateful. Because of it, I place my faith in you. And as such, I have one idea that drives me – I believe in you; I believe in us.