The Reverend Mark DeWolfe Sermon
OUR OWN UNITED NATIONS
“You’ll love Toronto”, a San Franciscans said when I told him of my intentions to move here. “It does have some of the ugliest housing in the world. But in the summer there are lots of ethnic festivals that make it a really exciting place to live”. Well he was right megalopolitan Toronto including Mississauga has proven to be an exciting place to live. And one thing, among the many, that make this part of the world a place I’m glad to live in is the ethnic diversity of our community.
Meanwhile, as Toronto has become multi-ethnic, it has also engaged in the struggle to be recognized as a world class city. Now world class is a term only a city like, Toronto living for so many years in the shadow of cosmopolitan Montreal, a term only Toronto could dream up. And it’s become a local statement of quality. A statement of standard that what is really top of the mark is world class. Something that would be good not only in Toronto, but in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, no matter where one was. The irony is that while Toronto struggles to be world class, the world has quite literally come to Toronto. Or at least a healthy chunk of it. The world has come here and here is Mississauga as much as Toronto.
The apartments on my floor in my apartment building demonstrate graphically how the world has arrived. Apartment 701 and 702 are inhabited families of Punjabi origin, though one came from the Punjab, the other from Guyana. Apartment 704 used to have a Hindi couple now a retired couple of Anglo Canadians. 705 is yours truly an Anglo Amer-Canadian. The family in 706 consists of a mother from Ecuador, a father an Acadian from Cape Breton island so there’s a French name and speak Spanish. 707 contains a Scottish couple who see that I am well supplied with shortbreads every Christmas. They babysit their grandson whose name is Shawn and who bears his mother’s Italian face. 708 finally is the one other Anglo Canadian couple. At the moment the Anglo Canadians have a bare plurality but nothing like the majority.
Many of you have met our church secretary Dolly Dias who bears an English nickname but carries four Portuguese Christian names on her birth certificate and who speaks Augzonian [28:35] English and Swahili. She comes you see from Kenya. But her ancestors are from Goa once a Portuguese colony now part of India.
Dolly and her family lived in an apartment block like mine and find their neighbors are similarly diverse: Indians, West Indians, Eastern Europeans. Dolly described her floor as “our own United Nations”.
Travel writer Jan Morris recently wrote a piece on Toronto in which she said that multi culturalism was the word which best summarized the city, a patchwork quilt of differing cultures. She also described Toronto as “too civilized to be interesting”. Thank you Miss Morris, but we prefer it that way.
This morning I’d like to share with you some of the aspects I see of life in a multi-cultural city. Multi-culturalism demands that every group taking part in the mosaic including the one that has the plurality or through historical reasons has the dominance, that each one take a sufficient pride in itself. It requires not letting any one group get all the glory for that is damaging to one ‘s self image.
About 15 years ago when suddenly it was trendy among Anglo Canadians to be French Canadian it turned out to be damaging to the Anglo Canadian self image. In fact, Anglo Canadians claims that they had no self image. Resistance to bilingualism, particularly in Western Canada, it seems to me to be very much a response to this. “Don’t tell us it’s only groovy to be who you are, let us take some time to find out what it is to be ourselves”.
Coming here as an American visitor 15 years ago, I found Anglo Canadians very defensive about being Anglo Canadians. But to express what it was to be Anglo Canadian was only to say what it wasn’t to be American. Now it can be expressed much more positively. I think it’s been a very productive 15 years. Canadians know who they are, Anglo Canadians anyway. And they don’t have to define it in negative terms.
Now I believe another angle of this taking sufficient pride in yourself is not allowing the other participants in the cultural mosaic to threaten you. Nor should it allow you to pit one group against the other.
I lived in Boston during one of the greatest political and social scandals of that city’s history. The busing scandals over school desegregation the lasted from the early seventies, well practically through that whole decade. The most disgusting and really shameful aspect of that period in Boston’s history was the way the politicians pitted the poor Irish in South Boston against the poor blacks in Roxbury. Each group was a volatile voting base and was used against the other, manipulated in political gains.
I had never seen a classic example of one group attacking another in Canada until 2 weeks ago when Dolly’s daughter Cherylynn, who is 12 years old, known as Sherry for short, came home with the sad story of having been called a Paki by one of her classmates in grade 6 in a separate school. This boy who had called her a Paki had found power in name calling. The power of making the other person uncomfortable.
Interestingly enough, this young man who had found the power of name calling was himself a Filipino and the first-generation immigrant. Dolly went to speak to the teacher and the teacher was appalled. Especially given the fact that Adonis was Filipino and bore a Spanish surname, was raised speaking English. Sherry, quite proudly and beautifully, found the strength and the courage to tell him off. And she found out that Adonis didn’t even know what the word Paki meant. He just thought he could apply to anyone whose skin was slightly darker than his own. So when the teacher called him in for a confrontation he confessed to the Sherry had already told him off and that he wasn’t going to call anyone a Paki ever again.
Sherry found the strength to him tell off, a pride in the security in herself that came from having some support from her mother and from her teacher. It’s that feeling of security in who we are that then gives us the power to allow others to be themselves. Security in who we are.
I think of the strength of the Hassidic community that you see in Montreal and in Toronto and in cities all over North America. The most obvious example of Jews. People who still dress like nineteenth century peasants in long black frock coats, little square hats recently taken up by a rock singer, Boy George, as a stylish way of going around. Side curls, ways marking themselves distinctively. It is a strength of knowing who they are.
That strength is reinforced by their dress codes and their dietary codes and their ways of being. To maintain the strength for them requires a vigilance and I think it’s very different from, for example, the reconstructionist Jews. You may have seen the story on in yesterday’s Toronto Star. A movement of twentieth century Judaism that seeks to adapt Judaism to the cultural context in which it finds itself, rather than to reinforce Judaism in the face of it. Both of those ways of being Jewish require a strong sense of Jewishness, a strong sense of Yiddish ???? [34:58].
I think of proselytizers and how they come across as slightly insecure. I remember a young Jehovah’s witness who accosted my grandmother on a Sunday morning when we were getting ready for church. She went downstairs to answer the door in her slip and proceeded to argue biblical inerrancy with a young man who thought that that was how one should probably spend Sunday morning. And finally saying that she was never going to agree with him, she had to close the door in his face.
This young man did not have the strength of his own convictions to allow us to have ours. It is the one thing I remember from the tone of his voice and his desperate need to convert this family of Universalists.
I have said this before, but I fear that the Canadian mosaic lacks the eye of an artist. A mosaic is a lot of different colored tiles put into a single pattern. And what it needs, more than anything else, is a strong sense of something holding it together an eye of the artist, a vision to a pattern.
To be part of that pattern though means that there’s no room to react to a sense of self insufficiency with a sense of pride, with chauvinism, which I must remind, you does not mean being a male of a certain stripe but rather means being a super patriot. One finds super patriotism among those who feel that they have a weakened sense of self. I think the current president of the United States is a classic example. Who boasts of bringing America back from weakness and you won the last election and stands to win this one on the grounds that he can convince Americans that he has made them strong again. He appeals to a super patriotism that in the states we refer to as wrapping himself in the flag. It provides him with an invulnerable shield of armor. But it appeals to a sense of weakness and a sense of confusion. And offers at best a band-aid solution.
While I see this election is not the only example of people making mistakes responding to a multicultural world from a feeling of themselves in a one down position. That Boston busing scandal could not have happened if the South Boston Irish were not third generation immigrants still living in slum tenements whose richer cousins had made a success of themselves and moved out of the city. Now living in the suburbs that ring Boston on every side but the east. Their richer cousins had moved out and these people had a self pride. They loudly sing a song that has a chorus of “Southy is my hometown”. Southy is a slum tenement. They take great pride in it because it’s theirs. And the only thing they had to be proud of was their all white high school and their white skins. And when Judge Garrity ordered that they were going to bus black youths from Roxbury that threatens their sense that at least they were better than them. They may not have much but at least better than them.
There’s no room for this attitude anymore. Not in a world in which people are constantly batting against each other and their differences.
I think again of the Hassidism, those of who must wear this outward statement of their Judaism. Hassidism began as a movement among poor people, people who knew they had nothing and who in the view of the world were not worth what the rich people were. The eighteenth century was not that different from the twentieth. They continue to bear the outward signs of their religion because it gives them something to be proud of. It is an outward sign like the white skin of the Boston Irish. Not a sense of inner worth. Or a sense of being part of an artistic vision of a mosaic. A sense of being part of something grand.
While such chauvinism may be a symptom of that kind of social disease it can also become a disease which feeds on itself. All I need to use as an example of this is Nazi-ism. Germany in the twenties and thirties suffered greatly from the depression. The treaty of Versailles that ended the first World War was there with the intent of punishing the Germans for everything that they had ever done. The Weimar Republic hadn’t a chance against the economic tragedy of the depression and the continued ongoing reminder in post World War One Germany that the Germans were not a worthy people. Desperately needing to hear a message that they were worthwhile, they turned in large numbers to the Nazis who offered them scapegoats and reassurances and the cultural mania for repression and revenge.
For multi-culturalism really to work, as it must work within the council of Europe and the European Economic Community just as much as it must work across Canada, no one group can be long in the one down position. For that leads to rebellion and suffering. But pride in who you are must not be allowed to grow into chauvinism when catalyzed by repression. A healthy sense of self worth is one thing. It becomes unhealthy when pressured from the outside. It’s switches, to use pop psychological lingo, from “I’m okay your okay” to “I’m okay or not okay”.
While our multi-cultural community here, for all the conflicts within it, is a microcosmic reflection of the rest of the world. It is trite now to repeat the words of Marshall McLuhan, to say that the global village is a reality. Megalopolitan Toronto demonstrates it, our broadcasts, our radios, every piece of media that we received reflects it. And megalopolitan Toronto, in this way, can be a laboratory, in a small way, for multicultural coexistence.
I think of the third world fears of western cultural dominance. One of the most frightening things to come out of the recent debates within the United Nations educational scientific and cultural organization or UNESCO is an insistence by third world countries that there be what they call a New World Information Order. For all the information that is spread around the world is spread through western control of the media. And it looks all alike to them. From their perspective the distinctions between a Canadian, an English and an American record of events in our country are hard to find. Here in Canada we may pick them up. I am always noticing, personally, the difference between the way the American press reports something and the Canadian does. And I think that difference is significant. I personally think that most Americans should spend time in Canada just to find out that the whole world is not viewed from an American perspective. But from a third world position, the western perspective; American, Canadian, European, is all rather alike. And the big fear that their call for a New World information order brings up is the fear that this is talking about press censorship. Well UNESCO has done quite a few shameful things in the last few years. The expulsion of Israel being one of them. But it at least has brought up this issue. Of needing to see the world from the shoes of the people who are living in it.
It strikes me, their fear of cultural dominance from the west as being much like the Canadian intellectual fear of U.S. cultural dominance. A wise one. A fear well balanced, well understood. And here in Megalopolitan Toronto. (I don’t say metropolitan Toronto because that ends at the Etobicoke Creek, but somehow we are still connected to what goes on down there so I had to coin a new word for it and I hope you’ll forgive me). In a city where we may speak our own languages proudly and in many accents. We seem also to have to share in the dominant one, the official one. This way of being together can serve as a model for a global multiculturalism that allows us to speak across cultural barriers, cultural boundaries. It requires us frequently to explain that the words that are the equivalent in one language don’t carry the same meaning. It requires a lot of communication and a lot of struggle. And it requires an adaptability of all of us in every culture, including the dominant ones, the super powerful ones. Just as multiculturalism in Canada demands an adaptability of those of us who are part of the dominant ethnic culture.
The vital crucial aspect of this moment in our time is that we recognize how, on one globe, we have a great need of each other.
In 1979 I went to Japan as part of a delegation of young western religious leaders from the free religious movements, the International Association for Religious Freedom, and traveled for 3 weeks among Japanese religious leaders. Visiting shrines, discussing theology as best we could in 7 different languages. And I finally decided, on leaving, that for an American to travel to Japan is the closest thing one can see of a completely different way of being human despite the modernizations, the industrializations. It’s as close as you can.****** [gap] Cultural self reliance. Westerners teach independence, Easterners interdependence. [end of part 1 audio]
We discover we had much to learn from each other. I remember those of us who are part of the western delegation have been friends for by this time 5 years from various meetings before. And as we met each other in this guest house in Tokyo of course we were greeting each other with these grand hugs and great squeals of glee to be seeing each other again after such a long time. This really threatened our Japanese hosts. One doesn’t do that in Japan. It’s considered an invasion of personal space. Not to mention that it’s probably considered lewd and obscene. They had a hard time even finding the right English words to tell us that part of their reaction. On the last day of the tour, one of the young men from the Japanese group asked a young woman if she would hug him when they said goodbye at the station and she was quite glad to perform the service.
That’s just one example. They envied us, some of them not all, they envied our freeness, our looseness, our ease. We envied them their loyalty, their strong organization, their sense of commitment.
Another hard part of that experience. One of the young women had worn a tee-shirt that said “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. Try explaining this to a Japanese. Where despite the entrance of women into the workforce, which has been a major part of industrialism there, Japan is still a highly stratified country in terms of sex roles. So, finally we shrugged our shoulders and said well you must understand that a Japanese bicycle always tends after her fish. The Japanese had need to learn the beauty of our strength. Of self reliance. That our self-reliant culture builds strong individuals.
Westerners on the other hand, desperately at that time, particularly 1979 being the end of the “me” decade, to learn the virtue of loyalty and the virtue of interdependence. Each was part of the spiritual reality we call human nature and each was what the other needed to learn.
Human nature, I have decided is one coin. And cultures are different faces minted onto it to express values. Just as what we mint on the coin expresses the value of the coin. The western is one face, the Japanese another. And they are in so many ways the obverse of each other. Well in our global village we are not needed to become quick hybrids. Though, some hybridization will of course happen. Rather at this moment we are required to be in a certain way more ourselves. The world doesn’t need us to become someone else, not right away, but rather needs us to full fill a role in the dialogue. To enlarge the meaning of what it means to be human. One of my favorite stories or sayings rather from an Hassidic Rabbi is from Rabbi ???????[3:30] who once commented ‘when I die, when I meet the great eternal, the great eternal will not ask me “Luciano why were you not more like Moses?”. The eternal will ask me “Zutia????[3:47], why were you not more like Zutia????[3:49]? Just as the Japanese need us to be western in order to show that western virtues and we need them to be Japanese to teach us perhaps how better to run our auto industry. But more likely how better to be another way of being human. Only from that perspective can real hybridization occur.
The times need us to cease trying to convert people to our way of living, because frankly it will never work. The times need us to cease trying to use each other for our own ends because this is as fruitless in international relations as it is in your personal one.
Well perhaps you were disappointed that I have not chosen today to speak of Unitarian Universalism but I would respond to that I have spoken today of nothing else. The perspective I’ve endeavored to articulate comes from the unique perspective of our religious community. Our faith, at once in the freedom of the individual and in the importance of religious community. A well functioning Unitarians Universalist church is a place where our differences and values, beliefs and experiences are shared so that we enlarge understanding of what it means to be human. It is our religion to affirm the right, even the duty of each individual to be true to him or herself. And the responsibility of that individual to be part of a community, to take part in the community. With the world encroaching closer and closer upon itself the world, needs to hear our Unitarian Universalist point of view now more than ever. The world needs to know of worshipping communities where differences are celebrated.
Now not everyone will become Unitarian Universalist, just because our model of doing religion is what the world is hungering for. But just as traditional religions liberalized in the face of our successes over the last 500 years there are lessons we can teach the world now about how to be more ourselves in community.
And not just the world but also our home town, for our town resembles the world just as the world resembles more and more a town. Could you ask for a more golden opportunity to take part in the creation of the future.
– -Rev. Mark Mosher DeWolfe