Member Testimonies

Good morning, my name Terri Marks and I’m a member of this congregation. The testimony you are about to hear is not the original one I intended to write. But it is one I needed to write and needed to speak, in light of recent events. To be honest, you might be a bit uncomfortable. I certainly will be, but I hope we’ll all be okay. Afterwards, you might even see me differently, and, in fact, I hope you see me differently. For those of you who are curious, I come from a mixed background. My father is a white Scottish Canadian and my mother is black and from Guyana. I have to say that although my skin colour is light brown, I’ve never really identified as being a person of colour. Reflecting on this, I realize that I’ve largely identified with the white side of me. That may be hard to believe considering I am so obviously a women of colour…but there it is.

It’s not been easy for me to say this publicly, but still, it is an important first step in learning what it means to be an anti-racist. I can no longer deny the shade of my skin. I am a woman of colour. This is now who I am, and I am not hiding from it anymore. You might ask, what does it matter if I identify as a person of colour? Well, it matters a whole lot, especially these days.

As you know, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet—are just a few of the names of people of colour who have been killed in recent weeks. I want to say these names over and over. I want to remember their faces and who they were as people. So many people of colour, so many deaths. I can’t be silent anymore. I want to wake up.

I want to wake up to the corrosive role that racism plays in our world. I want to wake myself up to the racism happening in our very own society. You might think that since I come from a mixed background, I’d already be woken up, but truthfully, I don’t think I am. Intellectually, I understand racism exists. Our country was founded on racist acts, I know this. But I haven’t felt the sting of racism directly in a very long time. Sure, I was called the n-word when I was a kid, and often I’m the only person of colour in the room, but in the big scheme of things, I’ve been okay. Of course I know that just because I haven’t felt racism in a deep way, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I know it exists. The murders of these people and others, most of them at the hands of the police--who are sworn to serve and protect--are clear evidence that systemic racism exists. But I have been complacent…coasting for too long.

To be candid, I believe that my lighter skin colour has afforded me some advantages, where other people with a darker skin colour had none. Since the time of slavery, it has been an unwritten rule that the lighter one’s skin tone, the more opportunities one was given. This should not be the case in our society now, but I know this “shadism” or “colourism” still exists. I suppose on one level I’ve been able to pass—not as a white person—but as an “acceptable” woman of colour. I am just brown enough to be seen as a woman of colour, but just white enough to be accepted in the white world…the polite, articulate, and educated “acceptable” woman of colour. I hope that’s not how you see me.

I know I’ve been lucky, and I am grateful. But I want to wake up now because I have been largely asleep to the racial bias that people of colour have experienced on a day to day basis. I’ve asked myself why I haven’t been a better advocate for people of colour. The truth is I’ve enjoyed my privilege and have been neglectful of helping others, partly because I’ve been caught up in doing “life,” and partly because I haven’t been doing the very deep work that is necessary. And to be very honest, it’s uncomfortable—really uncomfortable. Recognizing my privilege and talking about race is hard for me. This, of course, is no excuse and so this is my growing edge. I am now committing to doing more anti-racist work—even if it is uncomfortable. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and of the countless others are my wake-up call to do something different. There is much work to do. There is much work I have to do.

When I first arrived at First Unitarian, I was asked that dreaded question, “Where are you from?” “Canada.” “No, where are you really from?” Some people at First may not think this is a racist question, but it is. It assumes that I’m are not from Canada—that I’m different somehow—that I am separate from you. Sure, the intention of the question may be to be nice and welcoming. But in that question lies a subtle reminder that I am not one of you. And just because you intended to be nice, doesn’t mean it wasn’t racist. I mention this because it bothers me, and I don’t want us to ask this question anymore.

Luckily, this was just a small “blip” in our introduction. Yes, there is still the occasional off-putting question, but you have changed, and I realize you are growing, just like I am. We are on this journey together. For example, it gladdens my heart that so many congregants read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and want to continue to do their own personal work on white supremacy. I want you to know, that I too, am doing my own personal work on how I can be a better ally to all people of colour. I am doing the reading and the introspective work that is necessary, and when I’m ready, I will take action. Our work needs to be done, to be not just an accepting congregation, but one that is in alliance with people of colour. Another way to be an ally? Please don’t ask me or other people of colour to explain “it.” And “it” means anything having to do with race or racism. When you ask us to explain why something is happening or why your question is not okay, it’s emotional labour and it’s not really fair. Instead of asking, do the heavy lifting. Continue to read, discuss, and act. And as I have promised to do, walk through your feelings of discomfort, fear, disbelief, and defensiveness. You will make mistakes--I will make mistakes. Let’s agree to apologize to each other, and also to keep working.

What initially attracted me Unitarian Universalism and First were the 7 principles—they really resonated with me. I even got married by a UU minister. But First is more than that, and it has grown on me. The strength of your acceptance over the years of my daughter Enna and I won us over. This is key because it has meant that we have built some amazing relationships. You’ve turned out to be a dynamic community of loving and sometimes like-minded individuals. We’re growing and changing in important ways. In addition, the religious education experience, for Enna, was first-class. She has told me on more than one occasion that she’s glad she’s a Unitarian and I am very happy about that because it means that she has a strong set of core values that will guide her.

It’s been 15 years and I keep coming back, because First is a safe place to grow in so many ways. Over the years, I have had many volunteer positions. I’ve been a service leader, a member of various committees and more recently, over the past 3 years, I’ve been a Board member. Being a Board member has been especially interesting and challenging, and totally worth it. If you ever get the chance to be a Board member, take it. I highly recommend it because it gives you an opportunity to see the inner workings of this wonderful community. I can’t say enough positive things about Karen Dunk-Green’s leadership and Susan Phillips before her. The ministers, the services, the sermons, the music, the rich volunteer opportunities, the retreats, the community of friends, have all impacted me very deeply. I think I would be a vastly different person without First, so thank-you. I look forward to our continued and wakeful journey together.

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.

Thank you.

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

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

Suggested Hymn: #159 – This is My Song

              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”.

A Creed

“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:

  • The Bible is nothing more than a mixture of history and folk lore of the Jewish people. It is often contradictory. It is often immoral by our standards. It paints God in most unfavourable colours – an irascible, jealous and cruel despot. God as painted in the Jewish Bible, commits acts which no one today would condone, for instance:
  • He puts people to death for trivial misdemeanours – Onan in the Old Testament and Anan/ias in the New Testament. Note that Ananias was put to death for lying, yet when Peter thrice denied that he knew Jesus, he gets off scot-free.
  • He tortures Abraham in his old age by ordering him to butcher his son Isaac. Then at the last moment, he stops the murder. He creates Adam and Eve and endows them with – say – 5 ounces of temptation, and when they succumb – which is inevitable – he punishes them and all future generations, when the fault is God’s.
  • He dreams up an irrational scheme of things, in which all men must go to Hell unless his own Son shall be put to death in a horrible manner. Almighty and most merciful God!
  • 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