Testimony of Catherine Lake, November 5, 2017
We often hear in the call to worship that wherever you are in your life’s journey, you are welcome here. My name is Catherine Lake and I’ve been a member of this congregation for about 15 years and throughout that time, I have brought so much of my self to this place —my political passions and personal penchants, my despairs and delights — and have always felt welcomed and embraced.
I also bring my inner doubts to my faith community and am not always soothed, sometimes I am deeply challenged and sometimes I am simply held like how my journey group meeting monthly for almost a decade now--holds my experience as they listen to who I am, and who I’ve been, and who I am becoming.
One of my journey group sisters, Brenda Ponic, has been coming to First for 17 years and talks about this place as providing “the ground where she can focus her quest for meaning.” Through the years I have become accustomed to saying that I am a Unitarian Universalist and part of a vibrant faith community called Toronto First. This place is part of my identity.
Where else in the world do I get to call out my sorrows and joys?
Where else do I get to hear wisdom and beauty and have my soul, myself, my person stirred and steadied?
Where else do I get to spiritually connect with others and feel connected and then I get to take this “here” out there?
Out there to the hard places of work and school and family and neighbours and traffic and the blur of cellphoned faces in the streets.
I love running into a Toronto First person out there in our cacophony city. It’s exciting like — hey that’s one of my people, that person shares something with me. Something called community, search, commitment, support and struggle for a better world.
Like when I ran into Anne Montanges in the AGO years ago and having never before spoken to her but in having seen her here, I sat with her and she talked to me about art. Anne has been a member of First Unitarian for 67 years. Last Sunday I asked her why she comes and she said “for weekly sustenance” and then I asked why she gives and she said that “everyone needs to live practically as well as spiritually and the church needs it too.”
So in this our pledge season, I am calling on all of us to be generous. Don’t do it according to how many times you come or if one particular Sunday service was better than another. See giving as more like paying for roads and schools and health care. Your contributions pay for this here—and this here supports you personally and in doing so, this here supports those you meet on the road of your journey, those who study life alongside you, and those who strive with you for a healthier world.
As a previous Board member, I know that the Board and people that run this place here really need your commitment and specified pledge for budgeting purposes. You can’t freelance a congregation. It’s too hard not knowing what budget and goals you can set, what people you can hire, what you can offer to the community for the coming year. A firm monetary number and the commitment of planned giving from each of us is a huge weight of worry off of those volunteer shoulders that keep help this place going.
A place to be heard.
A place to be held.
A place for your health and your journey not just within the walls of this place here but out there where we all really need it.
So today, make your pledge. And then pat yourself on the back—for giving to our community that gives to our wider world and for giving to yourself that in turn gives to others as together, we seek, connect, and serve.
Testimony of Ruth Tait, January 22, 2017
No, no, no, no, Yes!
The title of my testimony comes from a quote by humanist photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was once asked how he was able to take such evocative photos. He responded, “I lift the camera to my eye, I look through the lens and I say: ‘No, no, no, no, yes!’”
In my own journey, I too have taken the opportunity to strive at various undertakings. I might be doing work in my studio, honing my professional skills or, as is germane to this testimony, becoming a Unitarian. What do I strive for in this enterprise?
As I look out towards the congregation, consisting of many people that I have come to know over the years, whose community I enjoy, I am filled with gratitude for the sense of connection this affords me. From my perspective, this is one of the best things about the Unitarian faith, as I have come to appreciate it. Would I not find the same thing outside this place? Possibly. But, in my life, opportunities for connection are less certain. In the weekly comings-together, I find myself feeling a sense that we are all of us drinking from the same life-affirming well – to evocatively build our own sense of humanity, to whatever extent possible. To share, within the bounds of our covenant, our vulnerabilities and our hopes.
I am well aware, as I have come here for many years, that coming together in community on a regular basis is not all there is to Toronto First. I also know that ways that I am able to choose to deepen my faith depend on many factors, some of which I am unable to control. It is this aspect of the Unitarian that I see in me that I want to address – and for which I derived the title.
In my efforts to meet effectively the challenges of my life, I have frequently had to step away from greater engagement. I have had to say ‘no’ to many initiatives that I would clearly have enjoyed, were I living a different reality.
One of the most painful, from my perspective, of these ‘no’s’, happens when our community finds itself in desperate need of funds. The appeals that issue forth are persuasive. Still, I must say ‘no’. I am someone whose income, as a professional artist, is unstable and well below the poverty line – and I have to be realistic.
Or, a wonderful project is brought forward, calling for volunteers. How I wish I had the time! But I am someone who must work many hours to gain my living. I cannot realistically be so diverted. This is indicative of many workers in the arts in Canada.
With each ‘no’ I feel my faith as a Unitarian wobble.
I grew up privileged in a home knowing there was always enough food to eat. Today, as a working artist and a senior, I do not have that same privilege. This is a challenge requiring all of my creative thinking.
I realize that I am up against a huge global vortex. I also know that in the discussions around how to approach this problem, my voice cannot be viewed as a token one. I am resolved to bear witness to the situation that I face with equanimity and even with gratitude but also with truth. I felt I needed to say how it is for me. In our services we invite 'those who are able' to stand. I think that, in consideration of the problem of income disparity, pledging and collection might also declare of giving, only – 'as you are able'.
Where the 'value' of a person may well equate to earned income – what of those less ‘valuable' who wish creatively to contribute to the greater good? Community is founded on a representation of unique perspectives engaged in common purpose. A purpose of this community as I have come to understand it, is to insure that all are invited to the table and to act for all.
This is how I evoke my self as a Unitarian: I represent a part of that which exists in the world. Each day, I have the opportunity to create that self and that world anew, to my best ability.
Within the confines of my limitations, I pledge to draw from the wellspring of my own gifts, tools, experience, opportunities and questions, such as they are, to engage my faith, to support this congregation and grow spiritually. I may say ‘no, no, no…’ but be assured that I am also actively striving for ‘yes!’
Testimony of Ted Wood, December 4, 2016
Good morning. I’m Ted Wood and I’m a member of Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.
Today is Amnesty Sunday when we celebrate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 and participate in Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign.
Today our ministers are in Standing Rock, North Dakota attending the Interfaith Day of Prayer. Amnesty International USA has been monitoring the situation and has sent observers. Amnesty USA has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police practices.
Amnesty Group 142 focuses on the rights of Indigenous peoples as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which our congregation endorses and supports. The Declaration asserts the rights of Indigenous peoples including the right to Free, Prior and Informed consent to projects that affect their lives and lands.
In Canada, the Site C dam project in the Peace River region of northeast British Columbia is a microcosm of the Canadian resource economy. By actively promoting intensive resource development federal and provincial officials have emphasized economic benefits while largely ignoring serious and sometimes deadly consequences for the health and safety that disproportionately impact the lives of Indigenous people who live there. The hydroelectric dam would flood more that 100 km of the Peace Valley submerging hundreds of cultural and historic sites, destroying vital wildlife habitat and lands where the Dane-Zaa, Cree, and Métis peoples hunt, trap, and gather berries and medicines. The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have challenged the dam in court, arguing that their treaty rights have been ignored.
The federal and provincial governments approved construction of the dam even though their own environmental review process concluded that flooding the valley would “severely undermine” the ability of Indigenous peoples to carry out hunting, fishing, and other traditions protected by treaty, the Canadian Constitution and international law. The two governments have claimed that the need for electricity “justifies” these harms, however the province has pushed ahead with the dam without properly considering less harmful alternatives – or even if the electricity is really needed.
In addition to our action to halt the Site C dam we also have two other actions. One will support Máxima Acuña, a peasant farmer in northern Peru who has taken on Yanacocha, one of the biggest gold and copper mines in the world, over the ownership of the land where she lives with her family. The other will call on Honduras to protect the lives and personal integrity of all the campesino human rights defenders and to investigate the murders of José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionisio George and bring the perpetrators to justice.
To support the work of Amnesty International, there will be a special collection today and the white envelopes in your order of service are for that purpose. Cheques should be made payable to Amnesty International Group 142 and charity tax receipts will be issued by Amnesty Canada.
For holiday shopping we have Amnesty merchandise available in Workman Hall during coffee hour. There is also the opening art reception here in Sunderland Hall at 12:00 noon for our December exhibit by Indigenous artists.
Amnesty International believes the campaign to stop Site C is so important for international human rights and justice that we are spotlighting it in our worldwide Write for Rights event. Amnesty supporters in over 200 countries will be sending hundreds of thousands of letters to Prime Minister Trudeau. We will also be sending letters to Premier Clark. We will be signing letters today to support and protect Peace River communities from an injustice that, if allowed to happen, cannot be undone.
Testimony of Nacia Miller, November 6, 2016
For the things we save; for the things that make us who we are. And for my uncle, my dad, and millions
of others who lived through extraordinary times and went on to live very ordinary, honourable lives.
These are the things in Uncle Johnnie’s box. The things saved, the things
left behind when he died at 91. Or maybe he was 92. (We weren’t close)
Dad’s older brother, the one who’d quit school at 14 and went to work
to support the family. The one who became, for a time, tyrannical
boss of the house. Still in the end he was alone, and his Arizona
nursing home mailed this small, battered wooden box of things,
mailed it to my dad. And then it came to me. After Dad died.
These things, now mine:
A telephone book with faded names and numbers of insurance companies,
drugstores, long-dead friends from Miami, Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens.
A number for the time of day and temperature in Phoenix. And one for
C & T Fashions on West 36th Street, the factory where he worked
for 40 years, sewing ladies coats. A partly torn snapshot of his wife
and a tarnished bracelet engraved with her name: Mollie.
And also these:
His 1945 Honorable Discharge, listing his height as 5’3”, weight 120 lbs,
so small he could squeeze into the nose cone of a B-24 bomber, out there
gunning in mid-air, a perfect little target, trapped in a tight space
with the insane roar of the plane’s engines making clear thought
impossible, which was probably good. (I never asked)
Souvenirs from the battles of Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes,
Rhineland. He flew 30 missions, Dad said. Or maybe it was 20.
(I wasn’t listening)
His European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal, a British Army pin,
his Army of India medal. His dog tags on a crude silver chain. A photo of him
in full bomber gear, and one where he’s dressed as a Scottish Highlander.
(I don’t know why)
Last, a silk escape map of France, Spain and Portugal. In case
he was shot down, wandering alone in an unfamiliar land. (I guess)
Folded over twice, creased, muted, still intact.
When I was a child Uncle Johnnie visited only on holidays. He was loud,
argumentative, mostly deaf. From the war, Dad said. (It meant nothing to us)
He had no time for kids and mocked our excitement with Christmas trees
and presents and Santa. He seemed mean, clipped, harsh to us who knew
nothing about him, nothing really.
Testimony of Margaret Bryant, May 14, 2016
I am Margaret Bryant and I'm a member of this congregation. My husband Dominic and I were married at First, and our daughter Alix attends the Grade Five/Six RE program. I'm participating in the leadership development program, a member of the social events team and past co-leader of the Family Retreat.
You might be surprised to know that I've been attending First since I was a child.
There are few of us who have made the transition from child to youth to adult.
This morning I'm going to tell you a few of the things that I remember from when I was a kid here.
Most obvious are the physical changes to our building.
Our RE classes were held in dark, cold, cramped rooms in the basement. They were classrooms that you ached to get out of. The curriculum was uninspiring and traditional, though delivered by kind and caring teachers. Those classes began to change as I became a youth with first what was the precursor to OWL called About Your Sexuality, and a program that endures today, Neighbouring Faiths about learning about other religions. On one memorable Sunday, we visited The People's Church up on Sheppard East and were amazed to watch kids our age responding to the call from the pulpit of volunteering to go on missions right then and there, while we Unitarian youth slunk low in our seats.
Now, our RE program is incredibly varied and dynamic. Today my daughter isn't sitting in a cold, damp room, or even one of our bright, carpeted rooms, but heading to Winston Churchill park for a nature walk. On any given Sunday, you see kids tearing up and down the backstairs, and chasing each other through Coffee Hour. Our popular Family Retreat stretched the limits of Cedar Glen this past January with over 80 participants.
Another physical change is the layout of the sanctuary which has rotated 90 degrees. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, my mind wanders, with apologies to the service leaders, and I challenge myself to remember what the building was like before. Moving the front of the sanctuary over there, with the floor to ceiling opaque glass windows on either side through which you could hear the sounds of the streetcars.
When I was a kid, there was a room on the side of the chancel which was called the minister's study, although I think it was used as the library. It was a mysterious room in which we were never allowed, and amongst the kids it was rumoured to have a door to a secret garden.
Although the chancel moved, some things have remained the same. The piano for instance, and the playing of our pianists. I have always sat where I can watch the pianists' hands. Many of you will be familiar with the dramatic and wonderful changes in our music program. When I was a kid, the music for each service was announced in the monthly bulletin. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that if we saw that the choir was singing, my mum and I would skip that Sunday's service. Now, the opposite would be true.
It's also hard to believe that the kitchen moved so significantly. Where the kitchen now is, was once the smoky welcoming lair of church secretary Bunny Turner. I spent many boring hours in that office while my mother volunteered as the collections and pledge bookkeeper.
And in the old kitchen, my mum introduced me to the pleasures of giving service. We regularly helped out at social events including the men's lunches making what seemed like hundreds of sandwiches. It might have been tedious work to a kid, but it wasn't really. I got to listen to the women chatting, and felt a real sense of belonging and the joy of feeling useful. This is something we're trying to pass on to our daughter. You'll see her helping out at the AGM lunch, with the social events team that has made her welcome and a team member. It's through active participation that we feel most comfortable here, and that hasn't changed at all.
One last physical change, I'll share with you. You may occasionally use the back stairs. Well, I use them all the time, even at risk of being locked in them. Hanging on the wall is a beautiful wooden wall hanging that once hung in the front of the sanctuary, where now we have the copper sculpture that complements our chalice. When I was a kid, we had only a small wooden chalice lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished at the end. The new large chalice with communal candle lighting didn't exist, and actually the chalice was not a focal point, more a bookend to the service.
I walk by the wooden wall hanging and am nostalgic for my childhood, and for a time of my grandparents humanism, cooperative games and Lotta Hitschmanova-led service to others. Of my parents popular and robust youth groups, of robe-less ministers and minimal rituals. And of my childhood, here, where I belonged.
I'm not really that nostalgic. I know ours is a perennially changing faith. I like looking at the colours and workmanship of Shawn's stoles. And I'm so proud of our recent service towards the Syrian refugees. And of our amazing music program, wonderful and challenging Sunday services and of our enhanced RE program for kids and adults.
Despite the constantly changing nature of Unitarianism, to me, one thing stands out as not having changed at all.
There are few of us here, and at other congregations, who have grown up Unitarian. We remain a faith of predominately first generation Unitarians, whose experience of our faith and of this congregation is largely limited to the recent past.
We still are challenged to bridge the transition from youth to adulthood.
Testimony of Kimberley Watson, March 6, 2016 (actor in the Vagina Monologues)
Good morning. My name is Kim Watson, and I’ve been attending First for about a year.
Women stood in a sacred space, a place of reverence and respect, and told women’s stories.
As someone who currently falls in the agnostic-atheist range, I sometimes feel perplexed at attending a congregation that comes out of the Judeo-Christian tradition – a tradition I left at the age of 13. Looking back, in the version to which I was exposed, I experienced it as didactic, prescriptive, emphasizing shame and sin instead of life and celebration. There seemed to be no space for my questions or for direct experience! Later I tried neo-paganism, where there was an embrace of the feminine principle along with the masculine, and where as a woman I had a place in the sacred circle. But, ultimately, at the time I didn’t know how to compromise that approach with my science training.
And now, here I am, back to a place that comes out of the tradition I left, albeit with some welcome variations – talking about what it was like to tell women’s stories in a sacred space.
In retrospect, I didn’t carefully consider being in The Vagina Monologues. Sistering is a good cause, it was a way to get to know people here, it’s a classic play. Never mind I hadn’t auditioned for anything in 30 years! This seemed like a safe place to take chances. Our director Mona el Baroudi asked how brave did I feel – would I consider a monologue reclaiming a fallen word now considered the most profane, AND do it with orgiastic ecstasy to boot? Why not? – This seemed like a safe place to take risks.
The realization of the absolute profundity of this project only slowly unfolded for me. Women stood in a sacred space and told women’s stories! The play speaks to the feminine across a range of issues including: sexual desire, body shame, genital mutilation, rape, love, birth, lesbian and transgender experiences, embodiment. My monologue was about the celebratory, healing power of sensuality and sexuality, and the joy and freedom in claiming the right to define oneself.
We named all these things, in the pulpit, which historically has been a seat of power from which women were excluded, women were persecuted, and women’s bodies were controlled.
Remnants of neopagan ritual come back to me. I hope that together as a cast we lifted up a sort of incantation that aids a transformation of those difficult truths we declared, and a transformation of the relationship between women and institutions of worship. May there be transmutation in naming these things from a powerful and loving centre.
Our Minister Shawn Newton affirmed this project was his long-time dream. I don’t recall him saying – but surely it was intentional? – that The Vagina Monologues was performed the very month we focused on the theme of Reconciliation.
WE women spoke of women’s realities, in THIS sacred space. We held this place of reverence and respect, and we TOLD the stories.
Our minister, and many of you, attended the show. You listened and bore witness, sometimes despite discomfort. You did not turn away from, interrupt, dismiss or silence us.
You. Bore. Witness.
And that, also, is Truth and Reconciliation.
I stood in this place of reverence and respect and I spoke women’s stories, together with other women.
This process healed an old wound that I didn’t even know was still there. For that I am ever grateful to all of you.
And yes, I feel renewal. Did you know related words are restoration and restitution?
And yes, this is a safe place.
Testimony of Yvonne Raaflaub, March 6, 2016 (actor in the Vagina Monologues)
How does this wordsmith, who expands small topics, reduce an extraordinarily layered experience to 451 words, the length of Eve Ensler’s monologue finale I was 4 privileged to perform – “My Revolution begins in the body” – and that I continue to recite once each day? I can but try or I may just cry, speechless.
Inseparable, “My Revolution” and I. The most powerful piece I’ve taken inside me.
How could I not love this poem that honours females, reveres earth, and respects all human beings, especially those who “feel too much”?
To “feel too much” is to “feel just right”. Mona, you feel just right.
Mona offered me something Unitarian ears might cringe at. Two words. Any guesses?
Validation and visibility and voice. Validation as an artist – first-time actor that I was. Visibility – me alone at this podium in my little black tube dress (which I’ve nicknamed my fallopian tube dress), sharing the spotlight with nobody. Voice – “You have a big vocal range.” That’s something I hadn’t known.
What I do know is the power of monologue combined with Mona’s contagious mindfulness. Here’s looking at you, Mona!
And here’s looking at my VagSisters and our respectful rehearsal week together where I was awed by their hard work and buoyed by all the laughter…
But I had come to resent my monologue and struggled with it. Imagine hating a poem about love!
I’d ignored my soul, my reading, my writing and done what I most abhor in others: I’d abandoned the tried-and-true when something new and exciting came along.
I cried, wrote, asked my books for forgiveness (I hope I used all 5 apology languages), made a nest out of my favourite books and slept inside.
“We missed you,” they said, “but you looked busy. Please come back and write in our margins. We’ve missed your touch.”
“I’ve missed yours, too.”
Books are my personal refuge, my sanctuary. I love them. And this sanctuary at First Unitarian, I also love.
When I performed “My Revolution” here, the two things I most cherish in the world came together for the first time in my life. One – the arts, not part of my childhood, fully embodied here. Theatre, with music, poetry, stories…
And I was a performer. Validated, visible, vocal.
Two – my village, population 300, contained within these walls both evenings. Familiar and friendly faces. Just like back home.
Because of you, I am made whole!
Because you live community.
“A great community,” writes Lois Smidt *, “creates conditions where people can fall in love.”
“It is a place where we can make a fuss about one another.”
“A place where we can ask, ‘How did I ever live without you?’”
* Lois Smidt in John McKnight and Peter Block, The abundant community: awakening the power of families and neighborhoods. San Francisco: 2010, p. 148.
Testimony of Jewels Krauss, March 6, 2016 (actor in the Vagina Monologues)
Hi everyone. My name is Jewels Krauss. Actually, before I go into sharing my reflections on my experience with The Vagina Monologues, I was hoping you could help me cross something off my bucket list. I was raised in a very conservative Christian church where there was no conversation between who was standing behind the pulpit and the congregation members. I love how interactive it is here, however, so I was wondering if, when I say “Good Morning”, you would all respond with “Good morning, Jewels”? That would be great.
This is actually a very nice segue into my reflections. Being raised in a conservative Christian church, I would have never imaged something like The Vagina Monologues being performed there. I mean I don’t know, I haven’t been there for a while. But definitely not when I was still going. Which is weird and one of the reason I veered away from that church. I remember thinking as a 16 year old how curious it is that we body shame in church/society. That our bodies and their needs/wants are condemned as evil. When, if you believe in God (which I don’t), God himself created us and our flesh. So to me, body shaming ultimately means insulting God’s work. Which would be a sin. And therefore not something we should do, right? So, when Shawn told me in January he wanted to put on the VM here at UU, I thought “I don’t think I could have any more respect for this man!” How incredible to perform this piece of theatre in a sacred space.
I am an actor and director, and I am very interested in theatre as a scared space. Story telling, if you go back to the bible (“first there was the word”), is how we understand ourselves, each other, and the world. I saw the VM years ago at a university and it was very powerful. Young women claiming the space. And yet, having it at a university, with young men in the audience, I didn’t feel safe sometimes for the performers. It didn’t feel like a sacred space. Particularly, during the monologue where a woman reclaims all the various different moans women can make during sex. The reactions coming from some of the young men bothered me. So yes, when Shawn said it would be performed here, I could have not asked for a safer place to do so!
To me the experience was sacred because I shared space with women of all ages.How incredible for me, a young woman, to share a stage with women older than me who are standing powerfully in their sensuality and sexuality. I loved how Mona picked women who were so different from each other in age, cultural background, mother tongue, etc. Andwe all came together and listened. Truly a sacred thing.
I wanted to end with one thought. I think it is incredible that women are coming together to talk about their sexuality, sensuality, vulnerability, and hurt. But I also think that we’ve been doing that for a while. Women, I mean. And I wonder with all the recent talk about rape culture and violence against women, I think it is time for the Penis Monologues. I think it is equally important for men to explore their sexuality in a safe space and I wonder if that would move this whole conversation in a different direction. I mentioned this to Shawn before he left on his sabbatical, so we’ll see. Maybe he’ll come back with a fully written script. I would definitely attend and offer my full ears and heart the way the men here did for us!
Testimony of Alezandria Coldevin, March 6, 2016 (actor in the Vagina Monologues)
Vagina. This word has been seen as sacred, as dirty, as fun and everything in between. I personally had never really talked about or considered Vaginas before joining our production of The Vagina Monologues. This is just one of the many gifts I received in being a part of that performance. Each one of us got to work one on one with Mona – our amazing director – for weeks before we ever got together as a cast. My experience with Mona was one of nurturing and exploration of the text and of myself, it was powerful, but the week rehearsing with the cast takes the cake! I felt privileged to be able to hang out with such a diverse group of incredible, smart, talented, gorgeous women! The respect and generosity felt among the cast members was tangible from the start, and grew as the week progressed.
Throughout the week I got to consider the monologues, their meaning, and their varied truths, while marvelling at the compelling and diverse performances, and enjoying the company of so many awesome women. By the end of the week of rehearsals – we were confident that we had a great show – and that is when the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place. You. The audience. Both nights were sold out. Standing room only. And both nights we could feel that you were with us, cheering us and supporting us, and for two magical nights, we collectively went on a journey, and that journey lead to vaginas. When I tell friends outside of this community about my experience with this production, they are always surprised that the monologues were performed in a church. A sacred space. A place for families and contemplation and spiritual growth. Having lived that amazing week, with the cast and ultimately with you, I can’t imagine it being produced anywhere else.
Testimony of Gerta Moray, December 6, 2015
(At the service marking International Human Rights Day and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.)
Good morning. My name is Gerta Moray and I want to bring some reflections, from my own experience, on violence, suffering and memory.
I want to start by thanking the Raging Grannies for sharing their song this morning. The Raging Grannies - now an international movement - began in 1987 with 11 women in Victoria BC. who felt strongly about the threat of nuclear powered and armed vessels in Victoria's harbour and on the BC coast. They developed humour and a disarming send-up of the older woman stereotype, to draw attention to issues of militarism and of environmental, social and economic justice. The Montreal gunman who shot the women engineering students at the Ecole polytechnique on December 6, 1989, had declared that he "hated feminists ... women were taking employment opportunities away from men. They were not fulfilling the role women were supposed to have.” The Grannies' song was devised in 1991, when they and other womens' groups were determined that the fate of these fourteen young women not be forgotten.
Fourteen women! Nine is the number of the African American women, and men, shot by a young white supremacist in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, just this year in June. One thousand and seventeen is the number of Indigenous women and girls that an RCMP report estimates to have been murdered in Canada between 1980-2012.
There is a Latin proverb once told me by a friend: "Sunt lacrimae rerum." It translates as "There are tears in things," or more loosely, "Shit happens."
The members of my Journey group, and of the Journey facilitators' group, will tell you that whatever the month's theme, Gerta is rather prone to remember that bad things happen.
I was born in Czechoslovakia, in 1940, the first year of World War 2. During the first 7 years of my life I only met my father, who had been drafted, on a few occasional visits. Then he was missing, presumed dead. I remember running into basements during air raids, and houses on our street not being there next day. We moved around a lot to stay with strange people. At the end of the war we were refugees, admitted to immigrate to England. My parents had been an affluent young middle class couple with a beautiful home in Prague - their world had vanished forever, save what my mother could carry in one suitcase. There was no Post traumatic shock counselling. My sister and I were sent to school - children beat our legs black and blue with hockey sticks and punished our dolls by making holes in their foreheads.
In my life, and for many others in the world, things after the war became steadily better. I ended up a professor of art history. Research on Emily Carr took me to First Nations villages in the 1980s. There I witnessed the vital leadership role of aboriginal women, and the burdens their communities bear. I taught in a Women's Studies program where I shared a long evolution - from amazement that what could not be spoken in public was now being named, to sisterhood, and empowerment, and finally to generations for whom it sometimes seems unnecessary to remember that bad things happen.
I have never forgotten my childhood world in ruins, nor the kindness of strangers. They have continually inspired my choices in life.
There are tears in things. I joined this congregation when I discovered that I cracked open and cried during services. I had found a home, a family where hearts and minds were open to all aspects of the world, where people were as committed as the Raging Grannies to try to prevent bad things from happening, and to assuage the pain. There are tears in things.
Testimony of Ted Wood, December 6, 2015
Good morning. I’m Ted Wood and I’m a member of First and a member of Amnesty International. Today is Amnesty Sunday when we celebrate Human Rights and participate in Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights.
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. In addition to writing letters and signing petitions, we undertake research and gather information on human rights in all countries and we promote, protect and uphold those rights. Human rights do not have to be given, bought, earned or inherited. They belong to all people simply because we are human.
People sometimes ask me if writing letters really works. Of course I answer yes. And the answer is yes. There is good news as a result of Amnesty’s letter writing campaigns. People are freed and laws are implemented, changed or upheld to protect people’s rights to live in freedom and When I think about how one letter can help, I think about our city, our country and our world. It is the little things each one of us does every day which makes a difference in the lives of others and in our own lives. We are not alone; we cannot survive without the efforts of others. When it comes to Amnesty it is the effort of each one of us as part of the efforts of 7 million and as part of the efforts of countless others that makes a difference in the lives of all. It is in a world community that we live and create a better world for all.
During our service today we will have a Special Collection to support the work of Amnesty International. The white envelope in your order of service is for this purpose. Cheques should be made payable to Amnesty International Group 142 and you will receive a charitable receipt from Amnesty Canada.
For our Write for Rights during coffee hour we will have an action concerning the death of Indigenous leader Benecio Flor Belacazar and calling on the Colombian government to protect his family and other activists. There are also two Stop Torture actions: one urging the Canadian Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and another requesting justice for Miriam Isaura Lopez Vargas who was tortured and sexually assaulted by soldiers in Mexico.
Along with our actions, Amnesty greeting cards and other merchandise are also available during coffee hour.
At 12:30 pm please join us as we will have the opening reception for the In/visible Scars Stop Torture Photo Exhibit here in Sunderland Hall with our special guests from Amnesty International.