Testimony of Doug Buck, December 1, 2019
Good morning, I’m Doug Buck, a member of this congregation.
The men standing here commit ourselves to being allies to women. On this solemn Sunday, we are promising to ask men to do better. As individuals, we pledge not to commit, condone or ignore violence against women and girls, nor will we condone bad behaviour towards anyone. We believe that women shouldn’t have to defend themselves on their own.
I know there’s an inherent challenge in my standing before you, as an elderly, white, cis-gender man, but because of my identity, it’s also a responsibility. I’m hoping that we can find a deeper trust and build our ally-ship. And, the men standing and supportive ones sitting in the congregation are not meant to be an exclusive group; we encourage all men to join us.
Recently, I became upset when I read another case of a man murdering a woman to whom he’d once been married.
The newspaper account quoted people who had watched the man while he held on to this woman while arguing, but the witnesses didn’t see, or didn’t want to see, the danger.
Most of the time the harassment is lower level: a remark on a woman’s appearance, or competence, or a sexist joke. Can you let the man know he’s being watched? Be present. If you see something, say something.
My son-in-law Michael works doing cash at a Winners. Recently he saw a male customer in his cash line-up leering at a young woman employee and saying in a suggestive voice “Hey, precious!" several times. This is intimidation, not admiration.
The transaction was completed, and when Michael handed this customer his receipt, Michael looked him in the eye and said "There you are, precious." The man’s eyes widened in terror. He fled, without his receipt. Michael told me his store manager is a woman, and the four assistant managers include a gay man and lesbian woman who support his behaviour, but women in other locations are less lucky, are expected to tolerate abuse.
We must have no misogyny, no hatred in the world, and this means working on ourselves first. Indeed, some of the men standing said to me that they have been unkind, and I’ve also been ignorant and unkind. I’m learning.
To be better allies, we ask to be told if we ourselves do something unkind. We’re asking men to be more aware, to apologize more frequently: indeed, to behave as many women do.
In her book “All Our Relations,” Tanya Talaga quotes Nelson Mandela: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” (p. 219)
May we all, in whatever ways we can, strive to honour and protect the freedoms of others.
We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
-Martin Luther King, Jr. "Beyond Vietnam," 1967
Testimony of Richard, June 16, 2019
When did you know?
When did you first know she was right for you? Was it when you first met her? Was it when she smiled that special smile? Was it when she winked and gave you her best come-hither look? Was it when she kissed you for the first time? Was it when you went on your first long walk together?
For me, it was when she gave me a warm embrace and said welcome – you’re home. Relax. Take your shoes off. Let your hair down. (I had some then, and long too.)
This story could be about Margaret…but it’s not!
It was just an average day in August 1972. I had just stepped off the ferry in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. A place I had never been. Truth be told, I had never been within 1,400 kilometers of Yarmouth. I just knew I was home – in my bones – and in my heart.
See, I had just returned to Canada with my first wife from a visit with her mother in Augusta, Maine. For those of you who are not old enough to remember, 1972 was the era of the Viet Nam war, with life in the U.S. much as depicted in Easy Rider. A classic movie about 2 men’s search for America. (I looked more like Dennis Hopper than Peter Fonda.)
It wasn’t easy being a long hair in the U.S. back then, especially in rural areas, which I passed through frequently. And which all of Maine is. Every time I went rural, I felt the cross hairs of people’s contemptuous eyes on my liberal heart. I never felt comfortable. Like those of you of a certain age and certain politics, the vision of what happened to Peter and Dennis in that movie is permanently planted in my brain. For the rest of you, just let me say KA-BOOM, KA-BOOM!
Who was this mysterious lady? She was big and wide, and had an inclusive, loving heart. She embraced all who came to her.
No, it really wasn’t Margaret. (I would never, ever say some of those words about her. And besides, they wouldn’t be true. Although some are.) Most of you know her by her proper name – Canada.
So why am I telling you this story today? See, today is exactly 50 years to the day, that I immigrated to Canada from the US. Here I found the country where my heart is. A country filled with people who share and live my values. This is my community and you are an important part of it. And I, I hope, of yours. I am so grateful for the riches and peace this has country brought me.
Fast-forward to May 25, 2017. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Office of the U.S. Consul General. There and then, I said good-bye to my mistress of 40 years. Closed the backdoor. I renounced my US citizenship. And declared my complete allegiance to my true love, Canada. Renouncing the citizenship of the country of my birth was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But being 100% committed to Canada is worth it.
For those of you from away, when did you know? When, did you know?
Come share a celebration cake with me at coffee hour and tell me your stories.
April 8, 20019
Testimony of Helen Iacovino, February 24, 2019
Where You Haunt
(Written during the Harvest Moon.)
long ago you decided
it had to be worth the journey,
long ago having chosen
what lights to carry with you & where
& what would be the places you would haunt.
you knew where your footsteps should take you,
& you knew what powers to call to you,
& you knew what beings to consider your friends.
now all along the constellations.
with a moon by turns hidden & revealed
in a sky of amiable passing clouds,
the world tonight is as it always was –
some creatures living, others dead,
among new trees & old,
among waxing & waning blossoms
as the world approaches
the season of the crone.
now you walk to receive the gifts of this world,
& you live in broad strokes, ever going
forward through forest & shadow
with unknown companions
but on chosen & familiar roads.
by moonlight or lamplight,
it really doesn’t matter,
in darkness the world becomes more real
& shadows define themselves
into their true meaning.
your job is to discern shadow,
to delve into what’s not said,
to ride a wind that’s not there
& to imagine worlds into being.
your job, determined long ago,
is etched into the places that you haunt,
mirrored in your footsteps, outlined
with your breath on the night wind.
you walk, & the gifts come upon you,
you turn towards the darkening sky
& welcome the autumn winds closing in,
welcome the chariots of night.
darkness reveals a certain depth,
& the quiet grows deeper
& looks towards the longest nights,
where you know what the questions are
& how to find the searchlights
& gather the animal helpers
& call to the unbidden wind.
journeys ever beginning, never ending,
never an answer, always going deeper,
but that is the world you chose for yourself,
long ago, as a way to grow old,
ever asking the questions,
never settling on unsettled ground,
nor settling on solid ground,
knowing solid does not exist in this world,
when long ago you decided
it had to be worth the journey.
© Helen Iacovino
This poem was included in a service package for International Women’s Day 2019 compiled by the Canadian Unitarian Universalist Women’s Association (CUUWA) on the theme of “Journey”.
Testimony of Shirley Grant, February 17, 2019
“This is really not my testimony, but that of my father who wrote it in 1971 when he was 85 years of age. I came across it when I was belatedly going through some of his papers. I had never seen it before, but I found it very interesting so I made a copy for Shawn, and he thought I should share it with the whole congregation. You will find some of his thoughts questionable, controversial and even radical. But don’t take me to task over it. I’m only the messenger!”
Toward the close of a fairly active life, I feel a strong desire to put on record the convictions or lack of convictions I hold today. These have undergone great changes over the course of the years. Very briefly, I would like to deal with three subjects: faith, life after death, and the existence of God.
The Church demands faith. It demands that I shall accept unconditionally certain doctrines which I find incredible, contrary to the natural scheme of things, and to my mind, false. So I say to the man in the pulpit: “What PROOF can you offer me?” He WILL, he MUST, reply that his authority is the Holy Bible, which is the word of the Living God.
However he will offer me a bribe and a threat: a bribe, that if I accept his doctrine, I shall earn Eternal Happiness in Heaven. A threat that if I do not accept his doctrine, I shall live in eternal torment in Hell.
And I shall reply that I am not impressed by his bribe or his threat, and I disbelieve his ability to deliver the goods. If his sole authority is the Bible, I assert that this is no authority at all, for the following reasons:
If the Bible is the preacher’s only authority, then his doctrine has no foundation at all, and I reject it. If, with regard to life after death, survival physical, mental or spiritual, I do not have a firm conviction. Most religions offer a future life, but this universal belief could be due to universal wishful thinking. For Christians, a heaven with music, for Muslims, a state of sexual gratification, for Indians a Happy Hunting Ground. I feel that the scheme of things is total extinction after death, and Man could hardly be an exception. If Man is descended from the animal world, at what point of evolution did he acquire an after-life?
Yet, man does differ fundamentally from the rest of the animal world. He has mental capacities, self-consciousness and something else that I call his soul. It is something so unique that its destiny may also be unique.
I do not desire an afterlife for myself, but I would hesitate to affirm that I do not believe in it.
With regard to the existence of God, I am wholly convinced that this intricate Universe could neither have come into existence, nor continue to function without a Guiding Spirit. The courses of the stars and planets in the heavens, Life and Reproduction, the human brain – these things could not have been born by blind chance. Given billions or trillions of years, without a Guiding Spirit, all would be chaos.
I cannot conceive what this Guiding Spirit is, and above all, what its purpose can be. My mind is finite and incapable of grappling with things infinite. There is nothing to prove that the purpose and future plans of the Guiding Spirit favour the future of the human race, but of its existence I have no doubt. Proof of its existence surrounds us.
I cannot pray to such a spirit, so I do not pray at all. Actually, I do not feel the need of a protecting deity. The Human Race has managed its affairs very badly¸ but at least it manages them unaided and uninfluenced by any outside power.
Yet, if my argument is logical, it fails to explain the hold that churches, synagogues and temples have on most human beings. Thousands more gifted and more intelligent than myself, with better trained minds and the courage to think for themselves ,- all these still believe in the age-old doctrines of their forefathers. Men of high intelligence have gone to the stake for their faith, and what greater proof is there of their sincerity.
Frankly, I envy them this faith, but I cannot share it.
Walter Sachs, July 1971 Age 85
Testimony of Margaret Rao, January 27, 2019
Love & Justice In Action
Good Morning Everyone!
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to share a testimony with you on my life as an activist. In keeping with the theme of change, an activist is, simply put, a change agent. A change agent has a vision and values to live by. My vision? – a locally sourced, publicly controlled, green, sharing economy! My values? - love and justice in action! Social action is described as ‘what love looks like in public,’ by African American educator Cornel West. A just love would bring about “a world in one piece/peace.” This was Eryl Court’s favourite saying. Eryl, a lifelong U.U. peace activist, died last month in her 94th year. Eryl embodied love. I am sure she died as peacefully as she lived. Today’s requiem is dedicated to Eryl.
I offer you a brief snapshot of an impressionable period in my life. I came of age in the mid-sixties. It was a time of great spiritual, societal and political change. In Quebec, it was dubbed the ‘Quiet Revolution’. In 1968, our newly elected Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a charismatic intellectual, waxed eloquently on ‘the Just Society’. He also observed, "If Canada is to survive, it can only survive in mutual respect and in love for one another." Heady words for an idealistic 15 year old! Sadly, fewer ears were listening to Chief Dan George’s “Lament for Confederation’ on Canada’s 100th birthday. We know better now.
That same year, I was voted Miss Congeniality by my grade nine class. Psychologically speaking, my friendly nature was based, not just on trust, which is hugely important in any relationship, but also on a survival instinct, as in safety and strength in numbers. Whatever the reasons, the end result is social cohesion and a sense of belonging. All for one and one for all! As an adult ESL teacher to new Canadians, I extended the same welcoming ways to my students and soon found myself politically engaged in refugee rights. No One is Illegal! is a network and rallying cry for asylum seekers, similar to the words we share each Sunday, ‘You belong here because you are here!’ Social justice groupie that I am, one justice cause led to another over the years and now I’m an official senior citizen activist and honorary Raging Granny. Civil disobedience is only one aspect of what we do. It’s the ‘civil’ discourse and ‘civil’ behaviour amongst ourselves, sorely lacking in many quarters today, that make our various solidarity actions successful. We all need to improve on our active listening skills.
At the age of 66, I no longer have the energy level, nor the eyes of my youth, but I’m the same idealist and multi-issue-oriented person I’ve always been and continue to be as President of Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice. Our keynote speaker on May 12th in Shaw Hall, is Toronto author, artist and poet, Joyce Nelson. Her latest book is Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule. As I see it, there are two urgent realities we must address, #1. the environment – climate change is an existential crisis, whether we bury our heads in the oil sands or not, and #2. the economy, that isn’t working for anyone, including the 1%. We need an eco-economic system that puts the earth first, and the financial system last. As my dear elder activist friend, Ann Emmett, puts it, ‘We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.’ There is hope when we act and there are amazing blueprints for change, such as the Leap Manifesto. Since I have run out of precious time, I ask you to check out 15 year old Greta Thunberg’s latest call to action on YouTube.
Testimony of Margaret & Rosemary Kohr, November 18, 2018
Why I say “Yes” to First
There are so many ways I could tell you about why I say “yes” to First. But to keep it simple, I say “yes” to First because of how First has said “yes” to me… and how the love and commitment and hope this community has provided to me over the past 23 years has virtually saved my life. Back then, to the casual observer my life was good…wonderful husband and kids, great job, friends… but inside I was dying from an extreme case of paralysis of heart and soul. I longed for a deeper connection, not just with others but with myself. I felt disconnected, insecure, irrelevant and unworthy... I was uncomfortable in my own skin but terrified of what I would find if I went below the surface.
Arriving here, I was particularly affected by the statement often used to set the context for the covenant…that First was a “community of love, commitment and hope”. I determined that I would put this assertion to the test.
And so, I plundered all of First’s resources and took advantage of every opportunity that came my way:
First gave me the courage to discover and value my authentic self and to be that person in the world. First really did save my life.
There is one more gift I have received from First… my voice… not my singing voice, alas… but the confidence to stand here and speak to you … which I have done a number of times, in a variety of roles over these many years. My most cherished role though, is as Worship Leader, when on a Sunday morning I have the joy of looking out at all of your beautiful faces … this really is the best spot in the house.
When I speak with gratitude of how First saved my life, I am actually speaking of each and every one of you… because you are First … we are First …each one of us creates this community of love and commitment and hope…this community of First Unitarian that means so much to us all.
This morning there is someone else who would like to add her perspective to my testimony… and to say a few words of her own, my sister, Rosemary:
Observing my sister develop in her relationship with First over the past 23 years — experiencing her wonderful personal warmth and humour blossoming.. has been such a joy for me and has given me a real sense of the importance of this community. Something transformative happened to her from her connection with all the people, the music, her community involvement at First: all things I value too.
I live in New Brunswick—but thanks to the Sunday services on You Tube, my connection to First has also grown stronger … I am immediately connected and feel at home.
So, I too say “Yes” to First-- as an experience that goes beyond the simple requirements of faith. I say “yes” to First, because this community welcomes and enriches with an open heart and a thoughtful mind, no matter where you are.
Testimony of Donald Cole, November 4, 2018
Good morning. When my perpetual internal questioner asked “Why Me?”, I decided it was time to share what saying yes to this community means to me.
Coming to First, I said yes to my mother who asked me to join her singing in the choir, because she wanted company and I wanted to be with her, deepening our relationship.
I said yes to Shawn when he invited me to become a member, because my history, values, beliefs and actions were consistent with this congregation’s mission.
And to Nancy and Terry Lee, who asked me to help fund David Foot, a speaker at the CUC conference in Toronto, I said yes because I am a fellow academic committed to better understanding our social-ecological world and its impact on our health and well-being.
I also said yes to Ellen Campbell, who suggested I strengthen connections with East African UU congregations, because I travelled often and could share their struggles and joys with our congregation.
To Peter Brydon, who asks regularly for choir members to bring snack, I said yes so we can share fellowship. And to Tanya Cothran, who organized a virtual Journey Group, I said yes to a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of monthly themes, from wherever we were in the world To Karen Dunk-Green, who asked me to consider pledging more each year, I said yes because this congregation supports struggling members of our city. I have also said yes to resident musicians, who invite us to hear their music on line and support them is their work, as I appreciate their creativity To Paul Bognar, who asked me to be a worship leader, I said yes so I could be with myself and you all in a deeper way, and with Catherine Lake, I agreed to share this testimony, to reveal how First has become a bedrock for my being in this wonderful, crazy world.
Saying yes to First has meant so much to me that I am going to renew my annual pledge to First this pledge season. May saying yes do so for you as well as you consider how Yes Lives Here at First Unitarian. Be generous as your means allow to support all we do here together and all that First nurtures within.
The offering that we take each Sunday isn't just habit — like the annual pledge campaign, it's an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people.
Each offering is an affirmation — a “yes.”
When we give, we say yes to something we value.
With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith.
May our offering help us practice Unitarian Universalism within and beyond our congregation.
Will the ushers please come forward to receive our contributions.
Testimony of Moara Sarah Barrett, October 21, 2018
Good Morning, Everyone.
I have been attending First for almost three years, now, and I’d like to share a bit about my experience singing in the choir.
When I first started attending, I was asking myself, if I may take some liberties with today’s theme, Where was I going to fit in in this community? Where to “Engage and connect” as the sign outside Workman Hall says. And there are several places where I have found that one can engage and connect but, when I arrived here, I have to be honest, I had ruled out joining the choir early on. Although I have sung in several choirs, in the past, I just didn’t think that singing in the choir at First was a viable option. There was the time commitment, for one. But there was also the fact that the choir was really good and the music was excellent and I assumed that in order to be in the choir, you had to audition and, frankly, for many reasons, I wasn’t especially confident that if I were to try out, I would be up to snuff, so to speak.
Then, two years ago, I realized that I really missed singing in a choir. And, right around the same time, I found out that not only was no audition required to join the choir at First but that the prerequisites for joining were only (1) showing up for rehearsal, (2) being present, and (3) being enthusiastic. And I thought, I can do all of those things most of the time and so decided to join.
And upon showing up for my first rehearsal, it wasn’t long before I realized that this choir was very different from any I had participated in before.
First of all, during warm up, the choir director, Dallas, didn’t just tell us to make various sounds on various pitches; he told us why we should make various sounds on various pitches and what to focus on. When we rehearsed a song and he stopped us to enhance or correct something; he didn’t just tell us what we needed to enhance or correct but he asked us to tell him what we should do to enhance or correct. Perhaps this is how most choirs rehearse. I don’t know. I only know that it was new to me. I had no choice but to develop as a musician.
Secondly, there are resident musicians leading the sections. Having a professional singer to learn from and attempt to emulate is incredible. Their mentorship is priceless.
Thirdly, and finally, and this is something that has become more obvious to me as a felt experience as time has gone on: the choir is a community. I lean on my fellow Tenors as we sing. Every member is supportive as we try to grow as musicians. Dallas makes sure that our efforts support the goals of the Sunday service. We support each other through life transitions and events (good and bad). But, more than that, the choir is an opportunity for its members to grow spiritually and intellectually through community and service.
So, when faced with the question of Where am I going to fit in here? I have to say that choir is definitely a place within this congregation which is an answer to that question.
But there is a financial cost to maintaining the music program. And, if I may be direct, beyond being able to purchase music, we have to be able to pay our Music Director and Resident Musicians a fair wage for their leadership and professional contributions.
I want to support the music program and all of the activities that First Unitarian runs. And I also want our leaders and participants in the entire congregation to be able to organize and attend activities without having to worry so much about whether or not we can pay for them. So, I will be making a financial pledge and I hope that you will too.
Testimony of Doug Buck, March 4, 2018
Good morning; I’m Doug Buck, a member of this congregation.
York University, where I taught, ran on committees — so it was easy for me to fit right in at First Unitarian. I understood.
Once, in the late 1980s, I made a progress report to a departmental meeting as chair of a faculty search committee. I said that each candidate would be given an orientation tour of the campus and, for women candidates, we’d include a visit to the campus day care centre. Yes. One of the few women faculty kindly suggested that male candidates also visit the day care. Embarrassing. I was clueless.
At that time, my cultural experience was that a man would be less interested in child care choice, and a culture is powerful. It’s the air we breathe; it’s hard to see outside of it, and the culture of men was and still is different than that of women.
We read and hear stories about some men whose ego is so thin that they become easily enraged and violent. Those who feel threatened may take out their frustration on less-powerful others, including women. Rarely, however, are men violent against their bosses.
This morning we’re looking at “Risk.” Indeed, virtually all women are at risk of marginalization, discrimination, abuse, and assault. For Indigenous women, the risks are even higher. But think also of the risks to our society: how many symphony conductors, physicists, and Olympic athletes will Canada never have because of the abuse that limits women’s horizons.
While cultures change slowly, I’ve learned that I can help this change by being aware of my speech and actions. I apologize when I suspect I’ve offended. I try not to let remarks or actions of others slide past me If I’m silent, I’m complicit.
If my wife, Kate Chung, sees someone being mistreated, she goes and stands near that person to offer moral support, and to be a witness, like those who accompany people in a war zone. I want to do that, too.
I’d like to ask for men to think about this and to help as you can. I was corrected by a woman, but it isn’t fair to ask only women to remind me when I’m clueless.All of us are a combination of strengths and weaknesses. As I’ve listened to women speak of their own experiences, I’m gaining a better appreciation of what it means to be respectful. I want to be a good ally.
One way to demonstrate support for women is for men to wear a Moosehide Pin.
The Moosehide Campaign is a west-coast First Nations initiative that asks Indigenous and non-Indigenous men to honour, respect, and protect women and children, to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as together we work to end sexism in our culture.
Several years ago, the Campaign was started by Paul Lacerte and his daughter, Raven, and a million pins have now been given away. Following the service, these pins will be offered to men in the Narthex, although women can wear them too. If you are able, wear one, please. Take the risk. It could save a life.
Together, we can change the culture. We’ve done it with smoking, and this is far more serious. Thank you.
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!’