This I Believe

Written by Nan Jefferys

A Service Coordinated by Nan Jefferys
with Statements by Astrid Kruse, Cassidy Murphy,
Robert Logcher, Rebecca Green Neale and Devon Tate

On February 18, 2018

At First Parish in Bedford, MA

A Thought To Ponder At the Beginning:

“Everytime you state what you believe, you’re the first to hear it.
It’s a message to both you and others about what you believe is possible.

– Oprah Winfrey

Astrid Kruse:

This I believe: I believe in revering the dignity of all sentient life, human and non human animal. Each one of us, whether furry or feathery or scaly, is a miracle of evolution- to come from a protoplasmic goo over millennia and have the ability to feel and think is pretty cool! And each of us has just this one life, this one perspective looking out of these neural endings out of this specific body.

Because of this central belief in the dignity of life, I am a cliché: a vegetarian veterinarian. I don’t eat animals, since I wouldn’t kill one myself to eat it, and I don’t want someone else doing the dirty work for me. I aspire to be a true vegan and not use any animal products- my farm rotation in vet school convinced me of that. Grizzled older farm vets turn out to be quite annoyed at young veterinary students weeping in their trucks after farm calls. I remember kneeling over a struggling calf- I was supposed to dehorn her- the dairy industry cores out the horn buds since cows with horns hurt people and hurt each other. My pain killing nerve block, which I had asked to try despite it not being standard protocol, didn’t really work and the calf cried as did I. I felt nauseous at a big dairy farm seeing the “downer cows “- which are cows that can’t get up anymore, being old and broken at the end of their work lives of being walking udders whose babies are taken away at birth. This is the animal suffering cost of milk that’s not on the $3.50 price tag. A farm vet in Navajo Nation did try to convince me that the super fresh Rocky Mountain Oysters he was popping into Tupperware straight from the nether regions of the bucking young bulls in the squeeze chute were suitable for vegetarians since the animal was going to live, for now.

I wrestle with knowing the realities of animal farming, whether factory farming or a smaller business, as business needs profits to survive. Animal welfare and maximizing profit don’t mix, and one way to keep my conscience clean would be to completely stop eating dairy and eggs as well as meat. But I don’t always live consistently with my beliefs- the cheese case at Whole Foods leads me into temptation, Bedford Farms, Comella’s pizza. Also I am reluctant to impose on friends and be an even more difficult dinner guest. We could go all pioneer but our family doesn’t have space for a cow, and my husband, being the only rational one, is resisting adding happy free range chickens to our menagerie of a dog, 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs, 1 rabbit, and a bearded dragon lizard.

As a small animal veterinarian, my job is help pets live their best lives with dignity and to reduce animal suffering, which is part of a veterinarian’s oath. I try to help furry creatures and their humans live harmoniously together. I pour my heart and soul and brains, bought with hundred of thousands of dollars of education, into helping my patients and their families. There is an evolving language shift from owner to pet parent. And the companion animal side of the veterinary profession doesn’t put a price on a pet- when I was in vet school a feeder goldfish was getting radiation therapy for a sarcoma tumor. Two thousand dollar dental procedures for a painful rotting dog mouth are routine. I recently did surgery to remove a tumor on a parishioner’s gerbil- “just” a gerbil but now healthy and pain free.

My greatest challenge is when I can’t help heal or relieve my patient, either because of medical limitations, financial limitations, or non compliance. Sometimes cats and dogs don’t want to take pills. Sometimes the human doesn’t trust me or want to make the effort or spend the money and they don’t have pet health insurance. There can be an awkward triangle of competing interests between patient, doctor and client.

I also use my medical skills to end life when there is suffering that I can’t help. Euthanasia comes from “eu” which is good and “thanatos”, which means death, in Greek. The family and I ideally have an ongoing honest conversation about palliative care options, the nursing care that is needed, and what we think the pet is feeling and would want. Animals aren’t intellectual to experience a fear of death, but they do fear pain and feeling sick. I think animal suffering is worse than ours in some ways since they can’t think about past and future, and can’t put their pain into a context of a life well lived. When a pet is too painful, too decrepit and tired to find pleasure in life anymore, it is a gift to be able to give relief and gently send the soul on to a better place. As I sedate them and then inject the overdose of anesthetic medication, I gently say what a good boy or girl he or she was, I stroke the fur, and I am fully present with them until their spirit is not there anymore. This dignity at the end of life is what I would ask for myself. But it still takes a bite out of my own soul every time.

And then I try to console the pet parent, and sometimes I cry as well, because I appreciate the pain in that human soul as well. And mourning together is a bond that brings dignity even to red eyes and runny noses.

Thank you.

Cassidy Norton Murphy:

I grew up in this church. Right around when I was twelve and my brother was nine, my parents looked at us about to hit our teenage years and said “well, we’re definitely going to need a village to raise these kids,” and so it was that we joined First Parish Bedford.

So I grew up here in Bedford and in this church, and looking back I was so, so lucky to be able to take what “love” means completely for granted. My family – all of it, not just my immediate family – is very physically affectionate, very open about sharing words of love and backing up those words with deeds. And my extended family, which is legion, they’re like a giant love amoeba, they just suck people in. For years my husband was annoyed that I didn’t introduce him to people at family parties, because like I know the name of my great-aunt’s priest? Or my dad’s mom’s brother’s wife’s mother’s daughter’s son? (His name is Joe, but that’s not the point.)

And they do things like open their houses for absolutely enormous family Christmas parties, and for wedding receptions and graduation parties. My cousin gave me a car when I graduated from college. My aunt loaned me money to buy my house. And I know there’s more but they don’t even talk about it, they just do it. They’re crazy and loud and can hold a grudge forever but they’ll welcome you into their homes, they’ll kiss you, they’ll feed you – and they will never, ever let you down.

That’s what I grew up with, and I never knew anything else. So off I went to college, and one day my dear friend Maggie invited me to co-host her radio show with her. It was Valentine’s Day 2004, and I was twenty. Maggie queued up the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” – and I’ll never forget this – she turned to me and she said, “Do you think it’s true, Cassie, that all you need is love?” And I said “of course not, don’t be ridiculous. You’ve got to eat, you’ve got to earn, you’ve got to have a roof over your head.” And Maggie just looked at me like, well, you haven’t got a romantic bone in your body, because I really don’t think that’s the point.

Now I don’t think it will come as a shock to anyone here that a sophomore in college doesn’t actually know anything about anything.

That was fourteen years ago, almost to the day, and I always think about it at this time of year and laugh a little at what little I knew. In those fourteen years I’ve learned a lot about love – what it gives, what it takes, how it can break your heart and make you a better person.

Join me now in the present day, and imagine this scene: I have a dog, his name is Hector, he’s 55 pounds and very sweet. He’s not yet two years old, so he’s still a puppy in many ways. And as dogs do, he likes to chase the cat, whose name is Clio. This is supremely unfair to the cat, who, it must be noted, was here first. And personally I find it super stressful to live in a constant state of conflict, so I am working with them on learning to get along. Lately this has meant Clio getting as close to Hector as she can and then smacking him when he tries to sniff her. The cat is a jerk. We can achieve a cessation of aggression, but only so long as I am actively petting both of them.

So as I’m sitting there, petting both of them, I explain to them – not that they’re listening, but I’m trying to explain to them – that I have plenty of love to go around. Just because I am snuggling Clio does not mean I love Hector any less. Love is not finite, I tell them; it’s not like a jug of milk that decreases with use and needs to be replenished. It’s just there, an endless well of love.

But it does ebb and flow, you know. There’s a lot of things they say about love – that it is patient and kind and blah blah blah – and it is all of those things. But no one tells you how hard it can be, that sometimes it is really hard to love. Because it does come with responsibilities, like making sure the cat doesn’t spend the rest of her life being chased by the dog. Love has no limits, but loving can still take an awful lot out of you. Sometimes you don’t even really like the people you love. But you love anyway. And sometimes love isn’t enough, but that’s a whole other essay all together.

When I told Maggie that you certainly need more than love, I was thinking of the endless commitments, responsibilities, chores, tasks and all the little things that need to be done to ensure that we live through another day – and when I was twenty years old, with such a strong and loving foundation, I didn’t know that getting through is not enough – which, ironically, if you are not a self-absorbed twenty-year-old and you actually listen to the lyrics of “Love is All You Need,” is exactly what the Beatles were saying. Even if you check fifteen things off your to-do list, a day without love is a day wasted. This is a strong admission from a born pragmatist, by the way.

Love is love, and it has endless variables and presentations. There’s romantic love, of course; there’s love of and for family, the ones we were born into and the ones we find. There’s love of and for our friends, the families we build. And there’s even love for one hyperactive puppy and one exceedingly rude cat.

And so in the end, this I have learned, and this I believe: those great sages of the sixties were right. All you need is love. Even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard – in the end, it is truly the only thing in this world that we cannot live without.

Robert D. Logcher:

First, let me introduce myself. I’m Bob Logcher. I have been a member of this church since 1967. And I am an immigrant. I was born in The Hague, Holland, and came to the US in June of 1939 at age 3-1/2. Second, I am an engineer, and third, an atheist.

Let me give you some background on my religious upbringing. I was brought up as a Protestant, going to Sunday School, Congregational Church, a Youth Group, even Youth Choir. Then I went off to college and came back my first Spring break and told my mother that I needed to talk with our minister. I told him that I needed to resign from the church because I didn’t believe in God. His comment – “That doesn’t matter.”

Only three years ago I found out that my parents were Jewish. They had hidden that from me, I can only guess, to protect me from persecution. If we had not left Holland when we did, I would not be here today. There were, and still are, significant anti-Semitic feelings in this country as well as elsewhere.

With this background, let me say some things about religion. We think of it as a tool to develop moral principles, which can be a very good guide, but if only used well. In 1975, I made a trip to fairly recently-independent Algeria, looking for research funding. People there told me that at that time, 40% of the population was under 12 years of age. The reason was that the government was trying to increase its population in order to have greater influence in the Muslim world. A few years later they realized that this religion based policy was an economic disaster due to unbalanced over population.

Several years ago I read Charles Mann’s book entitled 1491: The Americas Before Columbus. This anthropologist went through all of the major civilizations in the Americas, south, central and north, and showed how advanced they were, culturally, and with very large populations. They all had religions. But he pointed out that in all cases, the religious leader was the civic leader. Conclusion: religion was used to control the population, to tell them how to think and act, with emphasis on think.

Over time, science has been a problem for many religious beliefs. Many canons and practices had to be modified or abandoned. In other cases, the science is ignored. When ignored, some followers cannot adjust their thinking, such as on the issue of evolution. Today, many religions around the world are trying to force their ideas on the rest of the world, just like the Crusaders did in the Middle East. Even in the US, they are trying to make the world accept their beliefs.

I align my own thinking with Humanism, an active philosophy from the early 1800’s, which someone told me was a forbearer of Unitarianism. It’s creed is “If there is a God, it is us”. We are all in this together, so we better all get along or we are doomed. Charles Mann, in a subsequent book, blamed Columbus for starting globalization, which many of us, or should I say, some, recognize is now here. So now I believe that we all need to deal with each other. We are all in this together. The whole world must change its attitude, accepting globalization and the need to respect all people, even if you don’t agree with them. And we must work together to save the planet. It is the intelligent way to survive. We need to figure out how to do it.

Rebecca Green Neale:

I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all of us.

20 years ago, I traveled with a dozen other college students to Peru, to learn about Liberation Theology. We spent a weekend in the pueblos jovenes on the outskirts of Lima.

Pueblos jovenes, literally translated, means “young villages.”

Practically speaking, they are cities of makeshift homes, patchworked together with whatever materials are available, and stretching up the foothills and along the road out of town, as far as we could see. Open ditches, littered with trash and damp with sewage, lined the paved roads. The smell of burning trash filled our noses, and the sounds of – humanity, closely packed – filled our ears: Music blaring, babies crying, chickens squawking, and people talking.

We walked through town wearing travel clothes and sturdy shoes, sunglasses, backpacks, and cameras around our necks.

People stared at us.

And it was no wonder that they stared. I can’t imagine the looks on our faces as we hopped over a ditch or saw a chicken slaughtered in the mercado.

We walked past a woman standing behind two buckets on a table. She was dunking, scrubbing and wringing out her clothes, then hanging them on a clothesline. She stood in her flip flops in front of a rust-colored shack with no door. It had a doorway, but no door. A blue tarp covered half of the roof. There were no windows and no lights on inside.

She smiled at us and we had a short conversation, stifled by our limited Spanish. She was so friendly to us and someone asked, “can we take a picture?”

She blushed and looked down at her feet; and subconsciously lifted her hand to her hair as she said “no,” she wasn’t presentable enough for a photo.

She had the kind of normal, human response that I would have had, if I found myself living in squalor and some shiny foreigners asked to take my picture.

She probably wouldn’t be there but for the impossible choices she had to make. People founded and populated the pueblos jovenes out of desperation. Whatever they were fleeing from was worse than the shoulder to shoulder existence that we witnessed in the outskirts of Lima.

I was embarrassed by my voyeurism. I was ashamed that I had walked through town, viewing these lives through my camera lens – a lens that separated me from the humanity of the situation.

I could be her, and she could easily be me.

Since then, I can’t un-see the humanity in people who are living through impossible situations.

And there have been many.

Since then, I don’t think there’s anything about me that makes me more deserving of running water in my home.

It’s just the fortune of being born here.

Since then, my perspective had shifted so permanently, that I thought that most people felt the same.

I realized recently that’s unfortunately not true.

It is a radical thought, to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all of us.

Thank you, for sharing it with me.

Devon Tate:

When asked to participate today, I’m not going to lie I was nervous, but I thought, okay, I wrote a Credo back in Coming of Age, I’ll just rework that. Well, I reread my Credo from 10 years ago, and… well… we’re going to start from scratch….

To start off, 10 years ago, I wrote about how I believe in love, friendship, courage, the unexpected treasures of life, and the power of human collaboration, among other things. And while these values still hold true for me… today, rather than listing to you all the things I do believe, I’d rather tell you a story about a belief I’ve learned.

I’m 24 years old, young… I know. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, they say, so don’t worry so much, life will figure itself out. These are things I’m told to believe, but society has conditioned me differently. I left high-school and went straight to college, because that is exactly what we were taught was normal, and the thing to do. I picked a major, that I liked, that was interesting. But, had I really thought about where it would take me in life? No. It was path, I was on it, therefore I was fitting the mold. But where was the opportunity for reflection, for the time to understand the impact of my choices. In my senior year of college, it was time to pick that next step. I realized I hadn’t really thought about, reflected upon, or even understood the directions I could go. But, that’s okay… I’ve got time they say. That concept’s hard when you come out of college, in debt you don’t even want to talk about, debt you didn’t understand when you started college. To feel like, you’re unsure of what you want, but you’re in debt for it, but… it’s okay.

I was asked to speak today to represent the millennials. And I really struggled with what to say. What belief do I truly value? What belief have I learned? So, continuing with my story, it’s hard to feel unsure, and feel like feeling unsure is okay, because the path society takes us on, makes us feel like we should know. Why would I invest so much time and money in myself to feel unsure? So, I took a year off after college, then I decided to go back to school, because I discovered in my year off something I’d always known about myself. I have a passion for health and nutrition. It’s not an interest, it’s a passion, and that’s where I needed to be in the world. So, I went on to graduate school, and I’m finishing this May with my Master’s. But, here’s the thing, I’m still unsure. But this time, I’m not unsure of what the field has to offer me. I’m unsure of what impact I want to make, where I want to be in the field. But, that’s okay, I’ve got time, they say. But, how could I know, honestly? When I’ve only experienced small snip-its of potential job prospects through internships, research assistantships, etc. I know I’m passionate about nutrition, I know I want to help people. But where exactly I want to be, I’m not sure. And again, I’m told it’s okay, life will work itself out. Yet, society tells me otherwise. I dread the question, “So, what’s next?” While, I know it comes from a good place, without having a good answer it feels like you’ve failed by being unsure or not knowing. I had an interview the other day, and one question the interviewer kept circling back to was, what were my long-term career aspirations. It didn’t seem appropriate to say, well I’m not sure. So instead I said, “Well I’m interested in working with people, and I think this position could really help me grow.” But, that didn’t answer the question, he asked again, “Great, but what are your long-term career goals?” And I said to him, “I don’t know, I’m not sure if down the road I’ll want further education or if I’ll want to be more embedded in the community, I’m hoping this job will help identify that for me.” It didn’t feel okay to be unsure during this interview.

So now I’ve told you a long, sad, millennial story, that I’m sure some of you relate to and perhaps others are saying…no, it really will okay. I’m here to say I believe you. I do believe that life will take me where I need to go. But, someone needs to tell the rest of the world. Feeling unsure, is so hard, when society puts you on this path, that you pay for. But the moral of this story is reflection. I believe in the value of reflection. I believe reflection fosters confidence, clarity, and an understanding of yourself. Society put this pressure on me, and while I may have been moving forward, it wasn’t until I took time to reflect on the value of what I was doing, that I realized I’d been lost all along. Only with reflection was I truly able to make and take responsibility for my own decisions. I believe in reflection. I believe reflection can promote change, not only in yourself, but in the systems of the world. I chose too quickly a path from high-school to college. I didn’t reflect on my true values and the niche I wanted to fill in life. But taking that year after college, reflecting, and realizing where I needed to be, makes me feel okay this time that I’m unsure. I’m unsure because I’m inexperienced, but I’m confident that as I gain experience, that’ll change. But maybe as a society, instead of asking what’s next… let’s ask what interests you, and help start that reflection process for others.