Difficult Truths

Sunday Service: Difficult Truths

April 9th, 2017 - 10:30 AM                   Rev. Fiona Heath

This month our theme is reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginal people – so of course I will begin with a Monty Python story.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his band of knights are on the quest for – obviously - the holy grail.  

Tim the Enchanter has brought them to a cave they must enter, but it is guarded by a terrifying creature – a little white rabbit.


Tim the Enchanter tells them it is a vicious and ferocious beast but they don’t believe him.  One knight heads in to make some rabbit stew for dinner.  
The rabbit rips his throat out.

After a few more knights die at the teeth of this vicious, dangerous rabbit, Arthur finally yells “run away, run away” and they do.

Running away is the right thing to do when faced with killer rabbits.

But humans tend to run away from even the ordinary bunnies of life.  

We think we can run away from our past, from ourselves, from all the things we don’t want to face.

We avoid painful truths through work, through endless activities, by running away into the future as fast as we can.

And there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in being distracted by the shiny pretty things of life – cool stuff, sexy film stars, just one more glass of wine.

To run away, run away, like King Arthur, is part of human nature.
Let’s not pretend otherwise.

As poet-philosopher David Whyte suggests, we are most fully human, most fully present, when we acknowledge that part of us does not want to be here, or does not know how to be here in the moment.

Living takes courage.
When we recognize that we are actually reluctant to do the hard work of being engaged, being in right relationship, of doing what is necessary, we can begin to cultivate the self compassion needed to stay present.
(Whyte, Consolations)

Instead of denying the desire to run away, we can acknowledge it.
We will all have times that we run away.

But we can learn to stop ourselves. We can learn to be attentive in the moment.
If we can make ourselves larger than our need to run away, we can face difficult, dangerous truths.
This is the hard but necessary work of being fully alive.

As Unitarian Universalists we try to see life clearly, to see it whole, to see the big patterns of the interconnected web.

You have to be still and steady to see the pattern of the web.

Our Canadian web of life has been created by three peoples, the English, the French and the aboriginal people.

Like European colonizers all over the world, the English and French came here and saw primitive savages, not a different kind of civilization.  
It is an understatement to say that the indigenous people were not treated well.

We are beginning to understand that the first nations are sovereign people with their own ways of being that served them well for thousands of years.

But we can’t move forward together into a healthier future without acknowledging the painful and tragic past.

Those brought up in homes with secrets, with abuse or addictions, know that the past is powerful.  Buried truths have a way of surfacing.  The pain of the past can cycle through generations.

Some people find the courage to face the truth, break the pattern, heal and move on.

Sometimes people get stuck, justifying their actions, blind to the damage they have caused, and are still causing, in their denial.

Reconciliation is impossible in these situations.

Societal truths are similar.  It does no good to say the past is the past and just move on.  

Without hearing and understanding what happened, it will happen again.
Without acknowledging the pain and trauma, people can’t be healed.

It is hard to hear pain, it is hard to speak pain.
Hiding from pain, like running away, is a normal response.  

We build walls to keep the truth inside.  We hide from our own truths.

We hide painful, shameful truths, hoping that they will eventually disappear.  Instead, they get heavier and stronger.

There is a tamil folktale about a poor widow who lived with her two sons and two daughters-in-law.  

They treated her with a careless disdain, finding her an inconvenient burden.  A proud woman, the widow did not wish to share her sorrows with anyone outside the family.

She quietly took the abuse until one day she shuffled away from the house in misery.  Walking aimlessly, she saw an old house in ruins in a field.  It had no roof and no door.

The widow went in and found herself weeping. She was so lonely and miserable it was unbearable.  She had to speak.

So she began to tell her sad story to the wall in front of her.  As she spoke of the cruelty of her children, the wall began to crumble into dust.
She spoke of all her pain, all her suffering, turning to the next wall and the next, each crumbling with the weight of her released sorrow.

As she stood in the shards of the house, the widow took a deep breath.  She felt light, she felt free.
She smiled.

We need to share our stories and bring down the walls.
Hiding, like running away, doesn’t help in the long run.

Facing the painful past, both personally and as a society, is the only way forward.  

Human instinct is to fight, flee or hide in the face of a threat.
Flight and hiding don’t work, but neither does fighting.
Going on the defensive, taking it personally, makes it hard to listen to another person’s pain.  It’s really just a temporary safe space for ourselves.

As David Whyte said, we have to acknowledge our desire to run away, our desire to hide or to fight, and still stay present in the moment.

We can choose to stay and just be in the difficult moments.
To face what is threatening with attention, and trust that we can handle it.

By facing painful truths, we have a chance for a different way forward, towards a larger good.

We can learn to simply be and listen.

My colleague Meg Roberts went to a healing circle in Vancouver with elders who had been in the residential school system.

Near the end of the circle, a Non-Aboriginal woman spoke of the shame she felt about what had happened.  An elder then spoke up.  

As a survivor---and she believed the other survivors would feel the same---she did not want other people to feel shame.  She said, “we are … grateful you are all here---all that we want is for you to hear our stories, to hear what happened to us, so that it won’t be forgotten.” (sharing our faith, 2016)

May we learn the art of being present and attentive to the difficult truths.


As people of the chalice who honour the inherent worth and dignity of all people, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the pain and suffering generations of aboriginal people have endured – and continue to endure.

We need to heal together, to reconcile to create a new future that upholds all three founding nations of this country.

This was the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

To hear and understand the suffering of indigenous people whose communities and children were damaged by the residential school system.

And to find a way forward together in a way that honours all people’s inherent worth and dignity.  

Reconciliation is necessary work if we are to heal as a society.

My colleague the Rev. Brian Keily said:  “Reconciliation is more than confession and forgiveness. Reconciliation only occurs when both parties are willing to listen and accept the truth of the other and then find ways to move ahead together in mutual respect and with a new enlightenment.
The key is that all parties are changed.”

To listen and accept the truth of the other.
Move ahead together in mutual respect.

Listening matters.

The Indian Residential School system was put in place in the 1880s as a way to end the native way of life.

Indians were seen as primitive savages, but if the Indian child was taught properly early enough, they could be civilized.  It was believed that aboriginal parents were not particularly attached to their children, so they wouldn’t mind having them taken away.

Tribal systems are heavily interdependent communities.  Elders teach children through example and shared activity.  

Language itself shapes culture.  Children learn their history through the stories told night after night.  You can’t remove a generation and expect the community to survive.

Many of the children were treated terribly.  The schools saw the children as less than human, not needing affection.
Lydia Ross, who attended the Cross Lake school in Manitoba, said, “If you cried, if you got hurt and cried, there was no, nobody to, nobody to comfort, comfort you, nobody to put their arms [around you].”(TRC final report)

Using their own language could mean a beating.   Raymond Hill, at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford said, “I lost my language. They threatened us with a strapping if we spoke it, and within a year I lost all of it.” (TRC final report)

As well as the struggles to live in a system that didn’t want you to be the aboriginal person you were, there was physical and sexual abuse, and lousy medical care.

Over 6,000 children died at residential schools.

Imagine the pain of parents and grandparents losing touch with their beloved children, never knowing what happened to them.

Those that did return often found themselves no longer knowing, even ashamed of their culture, sometimes unable to communicate with their parents.

The residential school system with its intention to wipe out aboriginal culture generated a cycle of injured relationships, addictions and self hate which has passed down through generations.  

Reconciliation involves naming these painful truths, and having them be heard.

On a practical level it means learning more about what happened to the aboriginal people in the residential school system.
It means learning more about what the lives of aboriginal people are like today.

Reconciliation to me means a willingness to learn and change.
To be able to admit my ignorance, to be uncomfortable.

It means to acknowledge my feelings of discomfort, to acknowledge my position of privilege, but not to get stuck there.
It means I am willing to sit and hear other people’s pain.
To listen compassionately, without fixing, and slowly rebuild trust.

Reconciliation means building a relationship based on the inherent worth and dignity of all those involved.
Finding a way forward together.
In terms of this congregation, it means that for the rest of 2017, we will continue to explore reconciliation with the aboriginal people.
We have Darren Thomas coming on April 19th.
We will have a discussion of the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report and recommendations in May.  
In the fall, Pamela will lead an adult spiritual development curriculum on reconciliation.
We will continue to build a relationship with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

We seek reconciliation with the aboriginal people of Canada so that all Canadians may have a better future.

In the words of Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, who helped found Reconciliation Canada, “Let us find a way to belong in this time and place together.  
The future, and the well-being of all our children, rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”

The future on the kind of relationships we build today.
May the relationships with aboriginal people be ones of respect and mutuality.

So Say We All.



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