Summer Reflections 2022

Taking Time to Reflect on the 8th Principle

Between July 4 and August 29, 2022, the Canadian Unitarian Council invites you to join us in a weekly, self-guided reflection series. We want to keep the national conversation going about how we live out the 8th Principle, personally and collectively. 

Every Monday in July and August, we will send a reflection, thought or question to our eNews subscribers. Think about it while you go out with the dog, share your thoughts with a friend over coffee, journal about it, or write about it on social media. We invite you to reflect on the question or prompt in whatever way you choose. (Not an eNews subscriber? Sign up today.) 


August 15, 2022: Growing Out of Our Comfort

A Reflection by Shelley Motz
Communications Manager, Canadian Unitarian Council

What if commitment and covenant aren’t comfortable?

“ . . . we are illuminated by a faith that allows us to sit and think. In this quiet time, we can reflect in solitude, meditating on Love, and growing out of our comfort. Though we experience discomfort, we are excited to give birth to a new, just world.” –Growing Out of our Comfort, Melissa Jeter 

Throughout this summer, we have been reflecting on the eighth principle. We have been meditating on how we can dismantle racism and systems of oppression, collectively and individually. As Vyda Ng, Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council, noted in her reflection, “On Accountably,” this process requires us to consider our own accountability and, frankly, that can make us “go squirmy and feel uncomfortable.”

Perhaps you, like me, are inclined to avoid squirmy situations. In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of how my desire to avoid discomfort is at odds with my desire for change. Left unchecked, this desire can assert itself as my “right to comfort,” one of fifteen characteristics of white supremacy culture identified by Tema Okun.

According to Okun, the right to comfort shows up in many ways, from “scapegoating those who cause discomfort” to “equating individual acts of unfairness against white people with systemic racism which targets people of color.” 

Fortunately, Okun offers antidotes. She calls us to welcome discomfort, and to recognize that it is essential for growth and learning. She asks us to deepen our understanding of how our personal experience sits within the larger context of racism and oppression, and she reminds us to not take everything personally.

As we work together to implement the eighth principle, we will be uncomfortable. We will be unsettled–and that is okay. It is all part of the process of giving “birth to a new, just world.”

***

This process is not new to us; we have been here before. Watch “Agents of Change: 60 Years of the CUC” to learn how Canadian Unitarian Universalists have changed and grown–together–throughout our history. 

Recommended Resources


August 8, 2022: Beyond Identity

A Reflection by Casey Stainsby
Youth and Young Adult Program and Events Coordinator

No matter how “progressive” my community may be (or be seen to be), how can we make our circle even wider?
What is our next step on the journey toward Beloved Community?

Throughout the 8th principle process, it was common to hear well-intentioned comments to the effect of “we need to listen to our young people; they’ve got this inclusivity stuff all figured out already.” 

I certainly agree that there are prophetic leadership qualities within youth and young adult communities that could stand to be upheld more often to our collective benefit. And there is some truth to the perception that young people tend to be more tapped into current conversations around social justice issues happening on social media, for example. While these may be true-enough statements, it’s also true that these kinds of generalizations–dare I say, stereotypes–can also be harmful if accepted without any nuance. 

For one thing, we don’t actually have it all figured out. Barriers to full inclusion still exist within youth and young adult communities. The adoption of the 8th principle by Canadian Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations has prompted us to recognize that we have our own work to do in terms of accessibility, representation, and privilege, to name a few. These conversations have barely begun. Perhaps we are starting from a different place in the journey towards Beloved Community than our wider multigenerational movement (for one thing, there doesn’t seem to be any disagreement on the question of whether the barriers exist in the first place, though there are many different ideas about the best way to address them), but we are far from having arrived. 

Another danger of this narrative is that it sets up the conditions for tokenism. Whenever we look to a particular group of people to “save” us, we run the risk of seeing their value in their identity rather than their individuality. Before approaching someone with a request (especially for volunteer labour), it is a good idea to ask ourselves some questions: 

      • What makes this person right for the task, beyond any identities they hold? What personal qualities, experience, or interests do they have that may or may not help them succeed in this context? 
      • What’s in it for them? Is the task at hand enjoyable or fulfilling for that person? Are we making space for their individual growth and flourishing? How can we make sure we are not treating them simply as a resource, but as a full human being with complex needs? 
      • Are we expecting them to represent an entire group, or just themselves? Will they be the only person with a given identity involved in the project? How else are we making space for diversity? 

It is absolutely critical to seek out the perspectives and intentionally make space for the gifts of those who are underrepresented in our movement, whether they be young, poor, disabled, racialized, neurodivergent, queer/trans, and/or living with any other combination of marginalized identities or experiences. May we do so in a thoughtful way that expects and invites complex human beings, not just labels. And may those of us who belong to such communities not be lulled by the perception that we have it all figured out.  

Recommended Resources

 


August 1, 2022: 8th Principle: Canadian Unitarian Universalist Experience

This week, we are doing something a little different. Instead of sharing a reflection to be read, we are inviting you to watch the on-demand webinar the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) created for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in June 2022. 

In this 1.5-hour video, Vyda Ng (CUC Executive Director); Beverly Horton and Rev. Julie Stoneberg (co-chairs of the CUC’s Dismantling Racism Study Group); and Canadian Unitarian Universalists share their experiences and insights on the road to adopting the 8th Principle.

 

Our journey did not end with the adoption of the 8th Principle. It is just beginning. 

What new learnings are emerging for you in regards to dismantling racism and systemic barriers to inclusion?

 

Recommended Resources

 


July 25, 2022: On Decision Making

A Reflection by Rev. Danielle Webber
CUC Youth and Young Adult Ministry Specialist

Have you recognized ways in which your congregation’s decision making policies support and even highlight systems of racism?

Can you name one or two ways in which you could shift this?

In what ways have you already changed your policies to meet the demands of our 21st Century decision making needs?

Our 5th Principle calls us to uphold the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

As Unitarian Universalists (UUs), we know that how we make decisions matters. Processes not only shape our decisions, they can define our relationships.

In December 2021, the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) established the Decision-making Exploration Team, and in addition to the survey that we have asked individuals to fill out, we have been speaking with an Advisory Team, consisting of many people from different arenas of our community, as well as the CUC’s Elders-in-Residence.

During our last conversation with Elder Sharon Jinkerson Brass, we spoke mostly about how decision making works better when there is a depth of relationship, and when we know where people are coming from, and what state of mind they are in when being asked to make decisions. One question that was posed as we discussed relationship building during Annual General Meetings was “what if we could shift our focus from efficient decision making to resilient decision making?” This had me pause, and I have been considering it a lot over the last two weeks.

Currently, the CUC makes decisions at the national level in an efficient way. Data is sent out ahead of the meeting, with the hopes that everyone will read the data, and use the information to help them make decisions when they are voting. During the meeting everything is timed, and if we go over our time, there needs to be an agreement by everyone present to extend our discussion. This can be frustrating for everyone involved. Discussion can be halted abruptly, before everyone has had an opportunity to share, or discussion can drag on, with multiple people expressing the same point of view. How would things shift if we focused on resilient decision making?

Could shifting our focus to resilience—the ability to withstand or recover from difficult situations—allow us to make better decisions? Or even, just different decisions? Would reframing our decisions around resiliency allow us to create systems that removed barriers to full participation, and dismantle racism?

Recommended Resources

 


July 18, 2022: On “accountably”

A Reflection by Vyda Ng
Executive Director, Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC)

What is it about the concept of being accountable that makes some of us go squirmy and feel uncomfortable?

For most of 2021, our Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations wrestled with many aspects of adopting an 8th Principle, where congregations would covenant to affirm and promote

Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion in ourselves and our institutions.”

One of the words in the 8th Principle that caught people’s attention was “accountably.” There was concern about what this might mean, and what implications there might be. Questions were posed. “Who am I accountable to?” “Will the CUC be checking up on the congregations?” “What am I accountable for?”

For me, the notion of being accountable is very personal and is at the heart of how I do this work. The past two years have been . . .unprecedented (in an obvious over-use of the word). Much of what the staff team delivered in response to the pandemic and the 8th Principle process was based on being flexible and creative, and making things up as we went along, based on the best information we had at the time.

As we did our thinking and planning, at the back of my mind I wondered how I would account for what we were doing. Were these our best efforts, would they help or harm our congregations and people, who was included and who was left out? As much as it was about being held responsible to the CUC Board and to all of you, it was equally important for me to be able to be honest with myself.

The CUC Board and Dismantling Racism Study Group spent considerable time in 2021 pondering the notion of accountability, and trying to answer concerns. They offered this vision in  “Understandings of ‘accountably’ and ‘systemic barriers to full inclusion” to congregations in November 2021:

We will hold each other accountable without shaming, blaming or ostracizing.  We affirm that we will uphold the dignity and worth of everyone in the process of dismantling racism.  This does not mean that individuals will always be comfortable.  Human community is often messy, and moving through discomfort may be an essential ingredient in moving forward together. It does mean, however, that each of us will be held by the community, given the opportunity to be heard and offered compassion and understanding when we fall short of upholding our values.”

We each have to decide for ourselves what it means to be accountable–to ourselves, to each other, and to our larger communities–as we are each ultimately responsible for our actions. We will sometimes mess up and fail, and we should be able to own up, without shame or guilt, when that happens.

One of my favourite authors, Louise Penny, imbues one of her main characters with strength and vulnerability, courage and self-doubt, confidence and humility. Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector with the Sûreté du Québec, teaches cadets that there are four things that lead to wisdom, four things to learn to say and mean: I was wrong. I am sorry. I don’t know. I need help. 

I don’t know if those four statements have led to wisdom for me, but I do know that they keep me firmly grounded, in the reality that there is so much I don’t know, that I make mistakes, and that I need evermore to learn. They also hold me accountable–to myself first of all, to my family and friends, and to you. 

Recommended Resources

 


July 11, 2022: Not ALL about me?

A Reflection by Rev. Linda Thomson
CUC Congregational Life Lead (Central/Eastern Region) 

What is required of me?

Our eldest daughter studied acting. Many of her friends are actors. She and her friends used the now-popular expression “It’s not all about you” when one of them was a bit caught up in themselves. This seems like good advice–for friendships, for theatrical productions, and for congregations.

I think there is a tendency in Unitarian Universalist groups for us to emphasize the personal freedoms offered to us by our evolving tradition.  The principles that speak to the right of conscience and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning are ones that, understandably, appeal to many of us. Those of us who have experience with other faith traditions often speak of the unease we felt when our beliefs did not match doctrine. I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories of struggles to conform, and of shame.

No wonder then, that when many of us find our non-doctrinal congregations, we embrace and revel in the freedom they offer us. We enjoy the company of others who see the world as we do. I often hear people talk about ‘coming home’ and ‘my haven’.  Isn’t it wonderful that we can provide that sense of safety and affirmation for our members and for each other?

I read something the other day that struck me.  John Buehrens, in a preface to a book, entitled If Yes is the Answer, noted:

“The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that we have forgotten which questions to ask.  Instead of prophetic questions, like Micah’s ‘What doth the Lord require?’ we are such products of consumer society that our questions about religion are upside down: “What do I require? In a group, a cause, a teacher–a God that I’ll trust.

Not that these are bad questions, said Heschel . . . Our questions are bad only if we forget that, overall, something is asked of each of us.”

I believe our congregations would be more vital and more likely to be of interest to newcomers if we first remembered to ask: what is required of me? Before we asked: what do I require?

I sometimes hear some asserting “I’m not sure about growth or the approach to Sunday Services that the younger members are calling for.”  I hear us say: “the sign out front or the ‘funky’ washrooms aren’t important, because we all know one another anyway.”  I hear some of us worry about making decisions to ensure a healthy future or being more visible in the larger community because one or two long-time members might not like it. I am not suggesting we should turn our congregations upside down or spend our bank accounts dry in order to accommodate newcomers or to be more welcoming.  I don’t believe we should discount the opinions of our long-time members.  I am, however, suggesting that our reluctance to even consider change is sometimes a symptom of “all about me” thinking. 

I feel deep gratitude for the gifts of our liberal religious communities and have been challenged by others to think of my responsibility to ensure that those who would benefit from and respond to our gentle life-affirming message are aware of who we are and where we are. 

Some of us need a haven–we all do at times.  One of the purposes of a religious community, it has been said, is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  When I confront my anxiety over new faces during my growing congregation’s coffee hour, I am challenging my personal comfort so that I can ensure there is room for those who need the comfort my congregation has to offer.  When we broaden our familiar practices or our comfortable language choices or our tired outreach and facility improvement efforts we are engaging in the fine art of hospitality.  We are welcoming others so that they too can benefit from participation in our congregations.  We are asking what our commitment to Unitarian Universalism and to our congregations requires of us.  We are, in short remembering, that it’s not all about me and it’s not all about you.  It’s all about us and what we can be.

Recommended Resources

 


July 4, 2022: Anti-racism Work is Spiritual Work

When was the last time you or your congregation made a change?

Beverly Horton (First Unitarian Congregation of Hamilton) posed this question during a Widening the Circle of Concern session early in 2022.  It is one of several questions, says Horton, that is important to consider when engaging with the 8th Principle.  

Horton (alongside Rev. Julie Stoneberg) was Co-chair of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Dismantling Racism Study Group, which was established in May 2019. The group was tasked with identifying and assessing efforts made in our congregations and communities to dismantle racism and other oppressions and explore possible action plans to engage Canadian Unitarian Universalists (UU) in serious conversation and action about racism.

In its final report and recommendations (May 8, 2021), the study group emphasized that anti-racism work is spiritual work–and it is work that requires us to make significant changes within ourselves and our institutions.

. . .there is a gap between who we say we are (our UU principles and aspirations) and the existence of racism within our congregations and communities. While Unitarian Universalists aspire to affirm and promote “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” it is clear that this is not the lived experience for everyone who enters our doors. It is also clear that there is a direct correlation between our moderate commitment to racial justice work and the troubling lack of change actually happening in our congregations. 

Working towards eliminating this gap is key to being “radically inclusive, striving to create hospitable, diverse, multi-generational communities” and “acceptance of one another and spiritual growth in our congregations.”  Anti-racism work is spiritual work. If our congregations are to be vibrant, relevant, and a force for social justice, we must face and address racism while also understanding that many global challenges exist at the intersection of racism, climate change, economic inequities, and other oppressions. To do the work of dismantling racism and undoing white settler culture in our midst, we must forge relationships with BIPOC, those already in our congregations and those in the wider community. And we must actively develop, support and implement anti-racist policies that dismantle systemic racism locally and globally.

As we reflect on the changes we have made (and the changes we have yet to make), Horton invites us to consider the following two quotes in addition to the question posed above.

      1. “The most dangerous phrase in the language is “we’ve always done it this way.” Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
          • In what ways does this statement resonate with, or describe, how your group (team, committee, Board, etc.) functions? In what ways has your group been resistant to change?
      2. “There is significant difference between “all are welcome here” and “this was created with you in mind.” @drcrytaljones
          • How will your group (re)create itself (and the congregation, more broadly) to become more radically inclusive? Who is the “you” you have kept/are keeping in mind?

Recommended Resources

 


Contributors

Beverly Horton – Biography
Rev. Linda Thomson
Vyda Ng
Rev. Danielle Webber
Rev. Julie Stoneberg
Casey Stainsby
Shelley Motz