Hand to Hand
Presented on-line June 7th, 2020 Rev. Fiona Heath
We are experiencing history right now – a moment of historical significance where in the midst of a global pandemic people are rising up in the millions across the planet to say
“enough” to the killing of people of colour,
“enough” to police brutality,
“enough” to systemic, entrenched racism.
The protests are everywhere from small towns to the largest cities. They continue night after night. And this gives me a tiny glimmer of optimism.
Not because next week power structures will suddenly change for the better but because this time people are continuing to speak out, continuing to act, refusing to be ignored.
This time the world is paying attention and not just paying attention but taking action – from media coverage to criminal charges to seeking legislative change.
As mid-century American writer James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Now is the time for those of us who are white to face the truth that we benefit from structural racism, that our privilege comes at the expense of people of colour.
This is just as true in Canada as the United States. Racism impedes the life of black people, indigenous people and all people of colour here in Peel and across the country.
Here in Canada people with names that signal a non-white race or ethnicity are far more likely to be discriminated against in hiring practices. It’s harder for people of colour to rent a home. To have a mental health issue.
Overt racism is still alive and present in Canada too. In 2017 a young black woman working at a MacDonald’s in Fergus, Ontario had a customer who refused to be served by her – they explicitly asked for a white server.
People of colour often hear racial slurs, get told to go back to where they came from, even though they come from here.
Ending systemic racism includes questioning and examining the militarization of police forces.
In just the past two weeks Canadian police have been involved in the deaths of two young women of colour who had mental health challenges. There are many cases of police using excessive force in arresting black and indigenous men.
‘Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Now is the time to face the difficult uncomfortable painful truths of racism and know that change won’t come easily.
Between the uprisings, the pandemic, climate change, increasing wealth disparity, we are in midst of a great world crisis.
The bad news is the outcome is unknown.
And the good news is the outcome is unknown.
The future can be shaped by our intentions and our actions right now.
UUA president Susan Frederick Gray wrote this two days ago: “We need to remember our Unitarian Universalist values in this time. To remember that we are one in creation, one in God, as our Universalist forebears said. We are in this together, and we need each other to survive. These are frightening, devastating times. How we show up in this time, and where we put our hearts, resources, and commitments will define who we are and what the future holds. We must all find ways to support the uprisings. We must find the sources within ourselves to give us courage in this moment to resist, to risk, to sacrifice for this movement that needs all of us to succeed.”
This movement needs all of us to succeed.
This is the time to act for a world in which our interdependence calls us to love and justice. Because all of this is connected.
Freeing people of colour from the scourge of racism frees white people too.
Freeing women of sexism frees men as well.
Embracing LGTBQplus identities allows all of us to live fully as ourselves.
Protecting the environment protects people too.
Every small action we take to become anti racist, feminists, support pride, care for the earth – matters – all of this liberation is tied up together. By our choices – each and every day – we help create the future we seek.
Tiny raindrops make the rain.
This movement needs all of us to succeed.
Now let us move back into our bodies. I invite you to shake yourself out, settle into your seat, and take a deep breath. Bring your hands up to the screen. Look at each other’s hands.
Now look at your hands.
See the muscles and bones and blood vessels and skin. See the scars and the damage. See the beauty of your hands.
Feel their soreness and their strength. Their aliveness.
I invite you to look at the lines of your hands and trace them. Use your hand like a labyrinth – trace the lines from the palm all around. Follow them to the back of your hand. Follow the whorls and wrinkles of your skin.
Continue to do this for as long as you need to.
I invite you to bring your hands up to the screen one more time. Our hands are marvellous.
A friend once told me that sometimes when he struggles with anxiety and angst he turns to his hands. He looks at his hands and touches them and is once again amazed by the power of his body being him, being able to move and act in the world.
His hands bring him back to himself. Our hands are amazing, so powerful.
Hands may caress another’s cheek or punch a face.
Hands may create a work of art or destroy a building.
Hands may carry a gun or a cradle a baby.
Hands may hold a protest sign.
Hands may pass a deadly virus to another.
Hands may tend to a ventilator and save a life.
We live in our hands.
Mark Nepo says to “live in our hands humbles our mind into accepting something other than itself. It is how we heal each other and ourselves. We all come alive through a Braille of heart.”
To “live in our hands humbles our mind into accepting something other than itself.” Through our hands touching life – experiencing the physicality of this world – we come alive in response to life.
We live in our hands.
Through the actions of our hands – the things they create, the way they heal or harm – we build the world. “We all come alive through a braille of heart.”
At the end of our in person services we stand and hold hands and sing ‘from you I receive, to you I give.’
Hand in hand.
And we can’t do this right now because hand in hand can literally hurt us. Pass on the infection of COVID-19.
But the truth of the connection – that from you I receive and to you I give – remains vital. Our hands are still hand in hand.
We are still people of the chalice, still living our purpose to deepen in spirit, nurture community and act for an equitable, sustainable world.
On-line we will still do our work and sing our songs. We will continue to find ways to connect and care for one another and the larger community.
Hand in hand, not just with one another but with UUs across the continent.
I have a ministerial colleague in Massachusetts in a downtown congregation in a working class town.
In the early days of the pandemic the town became one of the hotspots with high rates of infection – so masks became mandatory for everyone going out in public.
But this isn’t a well off part of Massachusetts. When face masks disappeared quickly from store shelves, it meant that kids in school lunch programs couldn’t access the food they needed. People couldn’t access social services. Vulnerable people were at risk.
The UU congregation wanted to do a mask drive but their people didn’t have sewing machines or sewing skills or supplies. So my minister colleague used her hands to send a message out to UU communities asking for mask donations.
UUs from across the country used their hands to cut and sew and mail washable cotton face masks.
Members of that Massachusetts congregation used their hands to set up tables outside their building, putting masks into the hands of anyone in need.
Over 500 masks have been given to the local community. Hand to hand to hand to hand.
This is the power of Unitarian Universalism. Small individual actions creating positive change. Webs of connection woven by helping hands. Hand in hand. Hand to hand.
Never forget your hands are powerful.
Bless your hands and care for them.
Extend your hands in care to others, however you can right now.
Let us go forth into a future shaped by our hearts and our hands. By our values and our vision.
May we be part of the change we seek.
So Say We All.