presented December 6th, 2020 on Zoom Rev. Fiona Heath
Come, Come Whoever you are. Whoever you are.
The beautiful chant from Rumi speaks of our Canadian Unitarian Universalist aspiration to be Radically Inclusive.
It’s a powerful hope, and in all honesty, a challenging one. To be radically inclusive of all: come, come, whoever you are. This aspiration asks us to build hospitable, diverse, multi-generational communities.
I think we all agree we would love to see all ages and ethnicities and genders coming together, a UU forest made healthy by diversity. And yet this is an incredible challenge – to be inclusive, accepting of all.
Religion and culture are intimately intertwined – and to be radically inclusive of people from other countries and cultures, or indigenous people, or anyone really who isn’t white and middle class – means we have to adapt.
And that isn’t so easy for a religious community – people come to us in need of spiritual grounding – and depend on the comfort of familiar rituals and norms. It’s human nature to want to be with people like yourself, to want to feel secure and safe. Sameness helps with belonging.
And with a broad theology like ours, which encompasses God believers, neo-pagans, and atheists, white middle class culture has ended up being our common ground. We aren’t as open to diversity as we like to think we are.
It is also human nature to not like change all that much. As we have experienced so clearly this year, our routines steady us and it’s hard to adjust. Change usually includes loss and it can hurt.
Which is why we aspire and strive to be radically inclusive. To push ourselves past sameness towards celebrating, welcoming difference. To learn how to manage change and look for the good within it.
To aspire to be radically inclusive means being willing to evolve, to spin that web a little larger, a little wider each year.
This is challenging work – to live on the edge – bringing in new threads, extending out the old, weaving all together. It’s tricky and there is a lot of unravelling before the weave gets sorted, but history shows it happens more often than we realize.
I was thinking this, as I, the earth based spiritual atheist decorated my Christmas tree.
I am not Christian, was never baptized into Christianity. But I did grow up here in Canada, in a predominantly Christian society. My parents are British born and grew up with Christmas and so the holiday is a both a cultural and family tradition for me. A special time out of time, with carols and wreathes, mince pies and mulled wine, and mysterious parcels from English relatives.
So each year I put up a Christmas tree. It has hearts and stars and snowpeople on it. And wreathes and deer and the grinch. Red birds and green baubles and garlands of the sun and moon.
Christmas for me is not about the birth of Christ, and I suspect that is true of most people who celebrate in Canada.
We know now the date was chosen to overlay solstice celebrations – Christmas was a way to claim pagan rituals and absorb them into Christianity. Christmas trees – three hundred years ago it had become a German tradition to have a table top fir tree at Christmas – it was not the norm elsewhere in Europe.
And while I was once told I had no right to celebrate Christmas as a non-Christian, no one has ever said I can’t have a Christmas tree because I’m not German.
While it can be hard for people who honour Jesus as their saviour to accept that Christmas is – and this feels odd to say – that Christmas is bigger than Jesus, it is.
The celebration of Christmas today is radically inclusive. Commercial and full of problematic overconsumption to be sure, but inclusive.
Everyone is welcome at the festive feast – I’ve exchanged Christmas gifts with muslim, sikh, jewish, atheist, and pagan friends over the years – the holiday is a now a greater cultural tradition. It’s evolved and expanded. Meanings change over time.
To be radically inclusive is to aid and abet cultural change. This doesn’t mean that Christians can’t honour the birth of Jesus, they can, and the rest of us can make our own meanings of this season of light. It’s big enough for all of us.
Where you find radical inclusion in your life history? Where has something that has been held tight been opened up? Where has the web been woven larger?
In some ways you could say that as people of the chalice, we are in essence a religion of radical inclusion. We are designed to evolve and weave the web larger.
It’s why we broke free of Christian creeds in the nineteenth century – so that there was no test of belief as a barrier to Unitarian and Universalist belonging. But to be radically inclusive does mean being willing to change – to allow people to come in with new ways of doing things, new interpretations of our traditions – and in practice that’s hard.
A colleague says that when you are in an environment where you feel very comfortable, very safe and very welcome, you need to look at how that same environment might be problematic for someone else. To see what might be a barrier or even harmful. (Rev. Kent Mathias, Germantown UU Congregation from First Toronto Soul Matters)
And then you have the responsibility to work to change those barriers.
To be radically inclusive means being willing to examine even our most cherished norms and adapt them to be more welcoming.
We have done it before.
Making vegetarian and vegan and nut free and gluten free options available is an act of inclusion.
Having large print hymnals, hearing devices, and now closed captioning are acts of inclusion.
Being a welcoming congregation and affirming the LGTBQplus community is an act of inclusion.
Pronouns on name tags and gender neutral washrooms are acts of inclusion.
Each of these changes has taken time and talking and some steps backward and more time and talking. We each have to do the internal work to adjust our understandings. To see that having a vegetarian chili doesn’t harm the carnivore. To move past our fears and choose instead to welcome.
We are widening the circle and it is work that does not end. The web always needs to be woven larger.
The Canadian Unitarian Council’s Dismantling Racism Task Force recently released the results of a survey of Canadian UUs done this spring. Over eight hundred people responded. Almost 90% of respondents were white, which I think reflects the state of our congregations.
The survey shows that we consider it most important to improve relationships across race and culture and to play a role in dismantling white supremacy. That’s good news – our awareness of white privilege is growing.
But fewer people could claim that racial justice work is essential to their congregation. There is some level of commitment but it isn’t at the top of the list.
Respondents also acknowledged that they had seen racist behaviours in their congregation. About 20% of white UUs had seen pushback against racial justice work, discrimination and microaggressions. However, about 40% of people of colour have seen pushback, discrimination and microaggressions. Which tells me we have work to do.
White UUs aren’t as aware of racist behaviour as we think we are. We need to look at what feels welcoming to us and see what might actually be harmful – even in small ways – to people of colour. It’s our responsibility to do the work.
I believe our community is adaptable and welcoming, we know how to widen the circle. We just need to keep our focus on what matters most – people come here seeking solace, seeking to know they are not alone in their struggles and worries, seeking community and a theology that resonates.
Our common ground can shift from being white middle class culture to our shared desire for a deeper spirituality, a nurturing community, and a more equitable, sustainable world.
To our sense of being part of the interdependent web of life, part of a great magnificent infinite universe of mystery.
As we get more clear about who we are as people of the chalice, the more we are grounded in our theology, the more we can welcome diversity.
I’ll finish with a Jewish wisdom tale: “Tell me”, says a rabbi to his students, “when does the night end?”
“Does it end when you can see the morning star?” asks one. “No,” says the rabbi, “That is not the time”.
“Is it when you can see all the lines on the palm of your hand?” asks another student. “No,” says the rabbi, “that is not the time”.
“Then when?” asks his students.
“When you can look at your neighbour’s face and see that it is your own. Then, at last, the long night is over.”
We aspire to be radically inclusive.
May we help the chalice flame shine more brightly, a beacon to those in need.
May we help weave the web wider.
So Say We All.