Rev. Fiona Heath Presented Sunday May 23rd, 2021
Their wings are so fast – that’s what astonishes me every time I see a hummingbird. The wings beating so fast the air hums. And how tiny hummingbirds are. So tiny a creature yet has been part of the earth for over twenty million years.
Despite their bright feathers most people don’t notice them. You have to put up a hummingbird feeder and pay attention.
Hummingbirds have survived by specializing in drinking the nectar of plants. Whether you notice them or not, they are busy doing their work of pollinating plants and keeping an eco-system healthy.
Small and mighty little birds.
Unitarian Universalism is a small and mighty religion.
We are a tiny group of people here in Canada, hummingbird size compared to Christianity or Islam or Hinduism. Or even Unitarian Universalism in the United States.
We have a role to play in the Canadian eco-system, a vital one. We pollinate the flower of culture change.
We quietly and busily fly around encouraging ideas like women being real people who can be ministers, ideas like Black Americans having the right to vote and be educated without segregation, ideas like the LGTBQ+ community having the right to love, the right to marry.
We are pollinators of cultural change.
Not the only ones of course, but we push religious boundaries wider like no other tradition.
And we are at a change moment again. One that says racism didn’t end with the end of segregation. One that says cultural change has to happen both internally and externally. One that asks white people to listen, truly listen to black, indigenous and all people of colour when they say there is still racism, and that racism is right here in Canada and in chalice communities.
Two weeks ago the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Dismantling Racism Study Group – a team of hummingbirds – released their final report based on a survey of over eight hundred Canadian UUs. UCM members Charmaine Ferworn and former DLL Pamela Smith-Loeters are part of the DRSG.
Their findings make it clear that we embody white supremacy culture – a culture shaped by perfectionism, urgency, individualism and progress is bigger, better, more. The Report tells us that BIPOC respondents have experienced racist comments and behaviours within UU communities, while some of the white respondents said things like “I don’t really see racism happening in our church.”
Which is the problem. If you can’t see the racism, you can’t name the racism and you can’t change the racism.
The DRSG report says the people of the chalice have work to do on issues of racial justice and equity so that we can be as radically inclusive as we aspire to be, so that we can create that beloved community of interdependence, love and justice.
It’s not easy to hear. Over the years I have certainly gone through the stages of denial and defensiveness when I hear about white supremacy culture (defensiveness is another trait of white supremacy culture).
I have been fervent about the joys of multi-cultural Canada where we happily eat samosas and watch Kim’s Convenience and cheer on the Toronto Raptors and have diversity without racism.
And then I did a course called racism for white people. And another on Deep Diversity. And did truth & reconciliation work. Went to lectures and listened to podcasts. And read books by people of colour and followed them on twitter and over time went oh yes, of course, racism is everywhere.
It is embedded in the DNA of our society. From the land stolen from the Mississaugas of the Credit, the fur trade, the slave and sugar and rum trade that made Europeans and North American settlers rich, to the advantages of white skin that has allowed me to make my choices with few barriers in the way.
Just the fact that I can be white for some many years without ever having to think about it. That’s white supremacy culture – White people are fish swimming in water and asking what’s water?
It’s not an easy journey to awareness, it takes awhile to unhook the term white supremacy from the klu klux klan and understand it as a way to name a culture designed by white people for white people. And to learn that living in a racist society doesn’t make me a bad person – just a person like everyone else. We are all in this culture together.
And now that I know better, I can do better, as Maya Angelou says. I can be a hummingbird too.
The DRSG report asks UUs to listen to the voices of black people, indigenous people and other people of colour. They are here and have been waiting a long time to be heard.
To do the work of racial justice in our congregations we need to place it in the centre of who we are – radically inclusive people of the chalice – who believe we are all connected and that our actions matter.
There are concrete actions to do – make anti-racism training a requirement for board members and committee chairs, teach an anti-racism curriculum– are strategies to help us shift towards that inclusive community we seek.
It might be messy and we will make mistakes and be wrong and that’s okay. We are moving away from needing to be right and perfect and into living beloved community.
Our world is one world./What touches one affects us all. (#134, Singing the Living Tradition)
Do we believe the songs we sing? Is our world one world?
When people of colour are harmed by racism, we are all harmed. We are less then what we could be. If we want to live into our vision, our aspirations, the principles of our dearly held religion, then those of who are white need to listen.
We can start by studying the DRSG report. One recommendation of the report is for Canadian Unitarian Universalism to adopt an eighth principle.
The eighth principle asks us to affirm and promote “Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and in our institutions.”
This new principle says a fundamental value of UUs is to take action against oppression.
Some of you will know there was an unexpected motion from the floor to adopt the 8th principle at the Canadian Unitarian Council’s annual meeting. It passed but the motion is suspended because the process was against the by-laws.
The motion to adopt the eighth principle will come back to the CUC in November. Meanwhile congregations are invited to discuss and consider the eighth principle.
The UCM board has decided to go one step further and has asked us to vote on adopting the 8th principle as a congregation at our annual meeting on June 6th.
This is a big ask. This is a big risk. The principles as they are, are much loved. This is a historic shift not to be taken lightly and yet we are a living tradition, we evolve.
Six principles were adopted in the 1960s with the merger of Unitarian and Universalism, then they were revised in the 1980s to the words we know today, as well as adding the seventh principle – respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part.
These changes were much debated and caused some turmoil. And yet here we are almost forty years later and the seventh principle is now a central tenet of UU life.
We evolve and continue to evolve as we seek to live by our UU values and clarify our theological framework.
Now we are asked to widen the circle, clearly and explicitly. To see anti-racism work not as a social justice project but as essential to our identity as people of the chalice.
The eighth principles shows that we know that our world is one world, that the oppression of anyone diminishes us all.
That our aspiration to be radically inclusive means we do the work to widen the circle.
Here at UCM we proclaim we want to live as a group which deepens in spirit, nurtures community and acts for an equitable, sustainable world. Embedded in our mission is the desire to dismantle racism and other oppressions.
Again, this may all come as a big surprise – another principle? – but the need for an eighth principle that addreses racism has been discussed in UUism since 2013. In the United States the adoption of the eighth principle is now part of a larger review of all the principles and will come to a vote in two or three years.
Both Black Lives UU and Diverse Revolutionary UU Ministries, two BIPOC groups have endorsed the eighth principle. Many U.S. congregations have already adopted it.
In Canada the national vote will be in the fall. If it passes on June 6th, I believe UCMississauga will be the first Canadian congregation to adopt the 8th principle.
I think this is our work. We live in the most culturally and ethnically diverse region in all of Canada. We are the congregation of Mark Mosher deWolfe, the first openly gay minister in Canada We should be the leaders in anti-racism work.
In the next two weeks I ask that all of you take time to read the DRSG report, to read the eighth principle and sit with its words and meaning, to talk to me, the board, one another about it, and to attend the annual meeting and vote your conscience, holding up our fifth principle.
Your voice matters. We are a democracy.
You might not be ready. I know it’s taken me time to understand and I am still learning. And I know we’ve been learning together over the years with the truth & reconciliation work and our nurturing inclusivity work. We can figure it out together.
This works matters. We need this cultural change, this symbolic action that lights a beacon of hope for UU people of colour. Our denomination needs this shift, and so does Canadian society.
What harms one, harms us all.
So let us be hummingbirds, the small & mighty pollinators of cultural change.
So Say We All