Dismantle Oppression

Dismantle Oppression

Rev. Fiona Heath   Presented on Zoom  September 26th, 2021

I know many of you are tired of masks and social distancing and endless Zoom meetings where we are together but not quite. The eyes may be the window to the soul but it sure helps to see the whole face when you are speaking to someone.

Social distancing leaves us all anxious – how close is too close? Are hugs okay yet?

Zoom meetings like this, while so great, are just not the same as being together in person.

Masks, social distancing, Zoom – we are together but not quite.

Racism is similar – we are together but not quite.

Racism embedded in our systems, in ourselves, means that even when we are together in real time and in real spaces we still aren’t quite together. In UU spaces, people of colour have to edit themselves to fit in, they don’t see too many people who look like them, may politely laugh off racist comments and assumptions and may not hear stories and songs that reflect their history or culture.

Unitarian Universalism is a culturally white religion – we arose from the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the Transcendental movement in the Eastern United States. Our history, our culture, our norms are largely white.

I’d be lost without my birkenstocks and Mary Oliver poetry.

So of course it is a challenge to change. Cultural shifts ask us to become aware of our unconscious assumptions and bias. It takes time – and can follow those well known stages of grief. It is as much a feeling process as a thinking one.

We begin with denial – I’m not racist. Then move into pain and guilt – I’m ashamed that I am a racist. Then anger and bargaining – I am mad at myself for being racist, I’m only racist in some ways. Depression – I don’t know how to change, it’s too late to learn. Acceptance – Ok, racism is part of me, I’m part of a racist society.

Reaching the stage of acceptance takes time, it has taken me years to move from denial to acceptance and I still sometimes end up back at denial because the process isn’t linear. These feelings will reoccur over and over.

I’m proud that as a system UCM has reached the stage of acceptance. I know individuals are all at different stages, but as a collective we have acknowledged this truth that has been obvious to people of colour their whole lives. They have always known that we are together but not quite.

That like masks and social distancing, racism keeps us apart; and unlike masks and social distancing, racism only keeps white people safe and it prevents all of us from living fully in community. Together but not quite.

Last spring, here in Canada, the Dismantling Racism Study Group identified racial bias within Canadian UUism and suggested adopting the eighth principle, which calls us to “‘Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and in our institutions.’

To date, the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga is the only congregation in Canada to have voted to affirm the eighth principle. Our national body, the Canadian Unitarian Council, is holding a vote in late November to claim this principle as part of Unitarian Universalism in Canada. We will be sending delegates.

I wish I could tell you this is a done deal and that we will unanimously affirm the importance of dismantling oppression as a denomination. I don’t know, people are at very different stages, but I do have hope.

The conversation around the eighth principle has challenged us to speak openly at last about racism. The CUC is currently holding national forums to help people engage with all the complex feelings and thoughts which arise when confronting racism within ourselves.

I have hope that as Canadian UUs we are wise enough to see that dismantling oppression helps us all, however we word the principle.

Here at UCM leadership is beginning to look at what we need to do to uncover and shift our racial bias, as individuals and as a chalice community. We are creating a task group to guide us as we offer learning opportunities as well as tools for action.

Dismantling oppression is now one of our Unitarian Universalist principles.

It is up to each one of us to understand how it will guide our choices in the years to come.

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I want to pause now for a moment of quiet contemplation. I invite you to just sit and be and check in with yourself. Dismantling Oppression is no small task, and I know I feel overwhelmed.

How are you feeling when you consider this principle? Whatever you feel, just acknowledge the feeling and let it be. Don’t judge yourself, breathe.

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I see religion as a way of framing humanity’s relationship to the greater whole. As Unitarian Universalists I understand that our fundamental relationship to all-that-is to be one of interdependence.

This interconnected web of life means that we are all in this together, what affects one reverberates through the web. We tell stories of connection and care and use the principles to guide our choices, to try and live into that interdependence.

Our new eighth principle calls us to affirm and promote:  “‘Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and in our institutions.’

This principle acknowledges that we don’t live in a society founded in connection but one based in exploitation. Colonialism and capitalism are rooted in using people – mostly brown ones – to meet the needs of the wealthy few – mostly white ones.

If our interdependence is calling us to love and justice, as our national vision states, then we are being called to dismantle oppression, to change the culture.

No biggie. We can get this done by Friday if we’re motivated.

It will take longer. And it will be harder and more challenging than we think.  There is pain and trauma to navigate and hold and the way forward is full of nuance. But the sooner we begin the journey the better.

Theologian Richard Rohr notes that an “evolving faith is one that accepts and even embraces change” and Unitarian Universalism is a faith based in on-going evolution.

Right now we tell a story of interdependence, love and justice. One hundred years ago we were telling a story of freedom, reason and tolerance. Two hundred years ago we were telling stories about the unity of God and God as all loving.

Who knows what story we will be telling in one hundred years?

But right here, right now, interdependence is our story to live out.

Rohr notes that “… transformation happens…when something falls apart. The pain of something old cracking apart or unraveling invites us to evolve instead of tightening our controls and certitudes.”

Racism and other oppressions are unravelling – it’s been happening for years, it’s time to let go and evolve.

The path of the eighth principle will be challenging. It’s rocky and uneven, we will need to go at our own pace. The signposts aren’t clear. But it will take us where we want to be.

We know that if we want to welcome in young people, families, people of all backgrounds, we need to do this work so that people of colour don’t have to keep arriving and seeing that we aren’t as welcoming as we think we are.

I have faith that we will walk this path together, helping one another to live by the eighth principle, so that we can help create a community which is truly all together.

As Canadians we have a painful history – white Europeans took the land of sovereign peoples – people with sophisticated cultures with art, ritual and complex social relations that looked different then Europe – and then pushed them aside – letting them die from disease and starvation and addiction and contaminated water – and isn’t just history.

This Thursday September 30th is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

Thursday is a day to reflect on this painful truth – that our society is founded in policies that intentionally destroyed first nations cultures –with residential schools and the sixties scoop of indigenous children happening in our lifetimes.

On Thursday you are invited to wear an orange shirt, a symbol of the lost generations of children. Wearing an orange shirt, posting the Every Child Matters sign acknowledges this trauma. There are events and webinars happening in Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto. We will send out links in a special Shining Chalice and on Facebook.

I encourage all of you to spend some time on Thursday with a spiritual practice – journal, meditate, light a chalice – and breathe and be. Renew your spirit, and, as Ojibway writer Richard Wagemese says “keep what’s true in front of you…you won’t get lost that way.”

What’s true is that we live a legacy of racism. What is true is that we can do the work to dismantle it within ourselves and our institutions. What’s true is that we are all in this together as part of the interdependent web of life on earth.

And one day we will truly be all in this together. If we choose to walk the path of dismantling oppression.

May we do so.

 

So Say We All.

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