Embracing the Darkness

Last Sunday’s sermon seems an appropriate thing to share in these last days before the Solstice:

Rev. Brian J. Kiely Unitarian Church of Edmonton, December 14, 2014

In the 2001 Pixar animated movie Monsters Inc. we were introduced to another world populated by monsters.  They were loveable and furry and sometimes silly, but still…monsters.  The electrical power of that land was fuelled by the screams of terrified children.

Each work day the creatures of the power company passed through interdimensional portals into the closets of sleeping children and then scared the bejeezus out of them capturing the energy of their screams.

 The premise of the film was simple and resonant, for what child has not feared the terrors of the darkness?  How many of us slept with a nightlight for some or all of our childhoods?  How many of us make sure there is still some light on somewhere when we sleep?  For that matter what adult has not felt the creeps at least sometimes long after the sun has set?

Even though my daughters are 10 and 11, I am still asked now and then to check under the bed and in the closet, and I well recall asking my Dad to do the same after our nightly reading sessions came to a close.

It’s not a surprise, really.  Some say it’s in our nature to fear the dark.

Turning to the quick source of all wisdom, Wikipedia I found this entry:

The fear of the dark is a common fear or phobia among children and, to a varying degree, of adults. Fear of the dark is usually not fear of darkness itself, but fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by darkness.[1] Some degree of fear of the dark is natural, especially as a phase of child development.[2] Most observers report that fear of the dark seldom appears before the age of 2.[3] 

When fear of the dark reaches a degree that is severe enough to be considered pathological, it is sometimes called achluophobia.

Some researchers, beginning with Sigmund Freud, consider the fear of the dark as a manifestation of separation anxiety disorder.[4]

Separation anxiety…I expect that’s a good explanation, but I suspect – completely unscientifically – that there is something very primordial in our fear of the dark.  Out there, in the darkness beyond our campfire, the dangers lurk.  Even the Wikipedia entry acknowledges: Fear of the dark is usually not fear of darkness itself, but fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by darkness. 

Predators stalk the night, and if we venture into it we go forth missing the strength of one of our most powerful senses – our vision.  Sure, we might hear the rustle of leaves and crack of branches, we might smell danger, but when it comes to fleeing, the sighted among us need to see the path or we’re in big trouble.

There is an old saying: what we don’t know can’t hurt us.  But somewhere deep inside we believe that what we can’t see can indeed hurt us.

Whether it’s true or not,  rational or not, the light has always been seen as a safety measure.  It’s no accident that in our church – one that emphasizes community and safety, we gather around the chalice light, symbolic of warmth, comfort and the circle of affection.  It is the campfire that gives us a feeling of security.

Yet the night is not all bad.  Here in our urban world where darkness is seldom if ever total, for many the night is the time to party.  The cover of night gives us a measure of anonymity and that can bring a sense of freedom.  It’s no surprise that in many films, plays and books, scenes of hedonism and abandon take place in the dark.  Perhaps people get up to mischief during the daytime during Mardi Gras, but I can’t recall an image or a parade for that festival that did not take place at night.

I don’t know if it was youthful testosterone or perhaps just having better than average night vision, but as a young man I loved the dark- the cover of night.  As a big man who always felt so very visible and identifiable in daylight, the dark felt like a place where I was free of my body, where I was less recognizable and more anonymous.  It’s not that I ever got up to anything nefarious, it just let me feel more free.

But now we are in the dark time of the year.  For many of us that is not comforting.  It can be draining.  The dark of the year carries a whole different meaning with a power all of its own.  November and December are the months of dying.  The leaves have tumbled and been raked, the grass has browned, the snow has fallen, the cold settles into bones.  Humans tend to want to slow down,  hibernate and eat a lot more.  Bikes get put away, the hiking trails and even sidewalks are emptier.  When we do go outside it’s more often for a purpose now, not just because it’s nice to be outside.

The ever-earlier sunset seems to remind us of the darkness of oblivion, that final closing of the eyes as we will settle into death.  It’s a different kind of frightening – not the shock of the monsters in the closet, but the gentle and perhaps grief-tinged resignation of acknowledging our own mortality.

Even our civic leaders have come to recognize the oppressiveness of winter darkness.  In recent years they have struggled mightily and well to make Edmonton into a Winter City with outdoor festivals of many kinds.  Some have worked better than others and that’s good.  This year they are asking us to take down our outdoor Santas and reindeer in January, but leave up the non-festival coloured lights through until the beginning of March.

I like that idea and plan to do so.  I have always been steadfast in not turning on my outdoor lights until December 1.  I want to hold off until I need them most.  I want to light up as a celebration of getting past November! So, yeah, I am going to brighten the wintry streets around my house and encourage you to do the same.  Let’s not let the darkness triumph.

In the coming days many will celebrate the Solstice.  In modern day pagan celebrations marking the event, like the wonderful Westwood Sharing the Light Service at City Hall next Sunday, the language is often triumphal.  The ancient stories tell of battles between light and dark, of the birth of a new sun god who begins to turn the tide at solstice and triumphs over the god of darkness.

They are good stories.  They explained a lot for people who did not know about elliptical orbits and the balancing of the poles.  Building on the intrinsic fear of the dark, the ancients cast the darkness as evil.

Jacqui James, the author of our reading and by the way, the UUA staff person who devoted years of her life bringing our grey hymnbook into being, reminds us of the not so subtle negative effects of letting our fear of the dark define us and our use of imagery.

We shape language and we are shaped by it. In our culture, white is esteemed. It is heavenly, sunlike, clean, pure, immaculate, innocent, and beautiful. At the same time, black is evil, wicked, gloomy, depressing, angry, sullen. Ascribing negative and positive values to black and white enhances the institutionalization of this culture’s racism.

We don’t need a deeply scientific survey to know this is true.  All we need do is to look at the riots in Ferguson and the protests in New York.  Read any article on the number of times police have killed unarmed black men in the U.S. and to a lesser degree in Canada and you’ll know that this bias, this prejudice runs very deep.  Heck, even NFL football players have taken to running on the field with their hands up in the universal sign of “Don’t shoot!”

As Unitarian Universalists who try to pay attention to the privilege that whiteness gives the majority of us, you think we would do a better job of noticing these things.  After all we love words.  We love to parse words, to sip them like fine wine…especially the ministers, anyway.  As a group, we use words as our craft and we think we choose them with care.

And yet…I found Jacqui’s reading on the American Unitarian Universalist Association website called the Worship Web.  It contains hundreds of readings, sermons etc.  It has a searchable index.  I knew of Jacqui’s reading – she wrote over 20 years ago, and knew I could search it.  I typed in the word ‘dark’.  About 75 readings, chalice lightings, opening and closing words popped up.

Only Jacqui’s framed the darkness in positive terms.  A few others made a passing acknowledgement to the gifts of darkness, but mostly while encouraging the embracing of the light.  I would have thought there would be more.  But then we all grew up at least a little afraid of the dark.

So in these last few days before the solstice, perhaps we would be wise to heed Jacqui’s words:

Welcome darkness. Don’t be afraid of it or deny it. Darkness brings relief from the blinding sun, from scorching heat, from exhausting labor. Night signals permission to rest, to be with our loved ones, to conceive new life, to search our hearts, to remember our dreams. The dark of winter is a time of hibernation. Seeds grow in the dark, fertile earth.

And I would add, so did we in the wombs of our mothers.  Let us take the time to appreciate the gifts of the darkness, my friends.  Let us enjoy the candle flame and the coloured lights, but let us notice that they do not banish the dark.  In fact without the embrace of the dark, we would never notice them or see their beauty in such depth.  The twinkling lights need the dark, just as the stars need the dark.  It is the canvass for their art.

And it is the place where we can rest and hibernate and renew ourselves for the coming year.  People get so busy with Christmas preparations and often speak of their stress.  Perhaps we need to take a little time to breathe in the comforting darkness, to listen to its gentle prodding to rest a bit more, to sleep a little longer, or at least curl up in bed with good book a little more often.  This is the time when night rules, perhaps a time to give it proper deference and listen to its gentle whispers.

And if we do, the monsters will stay in the closet…or at least we can learn to fear them less and perhaps like little Boo in Monsters Inc. even make friends with them.

GSA’s the Alberta PC’s and Basic Decency

Today the Alberta Conservative Government blocked a private member’s bill that would have required schools to create Gay, Straight Alliances (GSA’s) anywhere students wanted them.  GSA’s are proven to lower teen suicide rates among LGTBQ students substantially. Instead the PC’s introduced their own Bill 10 that would allow schools and School Boards to refuse those requests.  The government argues that these teenaged students would still have a right to go to court to get the decision reversed.

Dear Messrs. Prentice, Dirks and Young,

 
I haven’t always liked the PC government, but for the first time I can say I am completely and utterly ashamed of it.
 
The decision to spike Ms. Blakeman’s Bill 202 in favour of Bill 10 is shameful.  You suggest it does pretty much the same thing, but that’s a flat out lie.  You suggest there already a bunch of groups dealing with bullying and 94 GSA’s, that’s nice, but it’s not the same.  The point of Ms. Blakeman’s Bill was to ensure that GSA’s could be started wherever students decide there should be one, not just in nice, progressive urban schools.  She was trying to empower our young people to take responsibility for the rights and safety of their friends and fellow students.  Bill 10 will not grant that power- will not give that voice to young people, in fact it will muzzle it.
 
I always wondered if Alberta was a province that respected the human rights of all, you know in a way that says, “All humans have the same rights. Period. Full stop.”  Apparently the answer is no.  It appears that social and religious conservatives have more rights that GBLTQ people and their supporters.  That’s wrong and unfair.  It sends a message that some people are more okay than other people, especially if some people are more likely to vote PC.  Disgusting.
 
But what really fries my bacon even more is what you are doing to children who might be interested in the political process and human rights.  This law says that not only do they have to go to their Principal – a scary prospect at best, but, if refused, go to the School Board- even more scary.  And if that doesn’t work – and it likely won’t – they then have to find the technical and financial support to actually go to court?  Really?  You actually think this is a constructive legislative proposal?
 
You seem to want to ensure that the kids currently in high school receive a clear message that the political process does not and will not serve them.  Rather it will throw barriers in their way any time they hope to bring good and justice to the world.  You are telling them they have no voice and aren’t likely to get a voice anytime soon. Well, on the plus side, I guess you are teaching them early how a PC government really works.
 
GSA’s are proven to help kids and lower suicide numbers.  I should think that as leaders and parents you would be falling all over yourselves to see a drop in teen suicide.  Apparently not.   You should each and all be ashamed.

Rev. Brian Kiely
Unitarian Church of Edmonton

The HEART of War

This month we are exploring the theme of “What would it mean to live as a person of heart. This Remembrance Day I chose to explore the place of heart and humanity in war.

I have never been to war, never worn anything more threatening than a sports team uniform. No ancestor of which I am aware has ever been to war in six generations. I don’t say that as a point of pride, for our family’s machine shop constructed materiel for the world wars and the workers were forbidden enlistment.

I say this to suggest that I know nothing of which I speak today, not first hand or even second. I never heard the guns or witnessed the kind of carnage described in Major Diespecker’s poetic prayer. There are some here who have much more direct knowledge than I do.

But I did grow up in a generation of young boys defined by war. Our youthful television years were filled with “Combat”, “The Rat Patrol”, “12 O’Clock High” and even “Hogan’s Heroes”. The first book I checked out of the school library at age 8 was “We Were There: Pear Harbour” a book about a little girl and boy witnessing the famous attack. We never played Cowboys and Indians. We played Allies and Nazis. For my ninth birthday Dad took me and my friends to see Henry Fonda in “Battle of the Bulge”, just one in a long list of war films that inspired a fascination with the genre. And later that same year the Viet Nam war became a North American reality. I do know young American friends who went off to that conflict. I saw them return and discovered post-traumatic stress long before it became an identified ‘syndrome’. It was them who caused me to first see the portrayal of war in all those films as largely a false thing, a recruiting and propaganda tool.

Those of us who have only known peace in our land can’t really understand what it means to go to war. Perhaps that’s why generations of soldiers have returned and remained silent, keeping the struggles with their demons of memory to themselves. One of the most powerful sequences to me in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” was that it was told as a recollection. It’s a story of a squad sent to find and bring home a particular soldier whose brothers had all been killed.. Based on a real policy, the US government wanted to bring at least one son home to his mother. Ironically six or seven men have to give up their lives to get him back.

The film opens with the now elderly Ryan visiting the graveyard of those comrades in France along with his family on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. He recalls – no relives the sacrifices the men sent to save him. The 60 years of silence takes its toll. Tears stream down his face as vividly comes back to him, a story I doubt he has ever spoken aloud.

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There is no redeeming war. There is nothing nice and neat and tidy about it. The battlefield is a bloody, place, disgusting beyond our imagining. It is inhuman in the extreme and there are different rules, different moralities at play. People do things they would never contemplate doing in ‘real life’ – and yet war is also as real as it gets. Those who have never known it – soldier or civilian – cannot truly comprehend. It is an alternate universe where our peaceful laws of social propriety do not apply. And for that reason, parenthetically, I do not think we have the right to judge, either. Only those who have lived it have that right.

It would be easy to point from afar and argue that war is de-humanizing in the extreme. The death and destruction and violence are bad enough, but what it does to survivors in some cases seems even worse. It is a heartless business. And I won’t argue with any of those statements.

And yet, it is a cauldron in which heart and humanity do exist. Like dandelions that grow in the cracks of asphalt, like the larks that managed to fly over Flanders Fields, the human heart finds ways to keep steering us even in these most horrific conditions. Christine Maxwell-Osborn’s story is just one case, a story of two friends, one who gives his life just to comfort his buddy who is dying. It is a tale almost biblical in it’s morality. To us in a peaceful world it may not make any sense, but like I said, who are we to judge what makes sense in a place where reason and compassion are by definition in short supply?

While I cannot claim the title pacifist in good conscience, I do not condone war. But people go to war. We always have, and while I love the hopeful hymns, people likely always will. But Remembrance Day is not the time to preach anti-war. It is the day to try to understand the suffering and the sacrifice of the women and men caught in war.

We have an obligation to try to understand, for they are our countrywomen and countrymen. Like it or not, they are fighting in our name. I am proud that the citizens of Canada have come to understand that we can oppose the wars our governments conduct without hating the soldiers who fight them. We saw the terrible price the US paid and is paying for shunning its Vietnam veterans. We should not do the same thing. Soldiers are willing to go to war, but few actually wish to do so. We need to care for the beating hearts inside the uniforms.

What makes war fascinating – if that’s the right word- is that it tests the humanity of the participants as nothing else can. We all learned growing up that fighting is bad, that killing is terrible, yet here is a whole consuming construct built on exactly the opposite moral vision.

War is kill or be killed. And when those are arguably the only two possibilities available, where then, lies humanity? Certainly there are pacifists who accept jail over combat, or work as ambulance drivers and medics. That is an expression of heart in warfare, and sometimes a very brave one.

And there are those who through small acts of kindness or creativity or introspection try to tend their hearts, try to remember their values in every moment they can, in every moment when survival is not the critical issue. I am not qualified to say whether or not there is honour in war, but there are certainly honourable people who go to war or who are overrun by it.

In the seeming psychopathic construct of the battlefield, there can be a desperate grasping for human contact, little gestures that affirm humanity. In the limestone tunnels at Vimy Ridge even today you can find little works of art carved into the soft rock by some soldier reminding himself what beauty looks like.

There are countless stories of soldiers doing little kindnesses for civilians, and animals, and even for enemy soldiers, and the famous and poignant WWI tale where during a Christmas cease fire, Germans and Allies alike joined in singing “Silent Night”.

The heart that is at the core of all our values will creep out when it can, even in the most terrible times.

In June of 1916, Cpl. Alexander Robertson wrote a poem called Thou Shalt Love Thine Enemies about seeing the items found on a dead German soldier

They were not meant for too curious eyes
Or our imaginations to surmise
From what they tell much that they leave until.
Strangers and foemen we, yet we behold,
Sad and subdued, thy solace and thy cheer.
Even here we see these as thou did’st appear,-
Tall, with fair hair, blue eyes. Heinrich the name…

Thou had’st a wife and children: on this card
They are depicted; on another, marred
And soiled and crushed, thy mother too, we see.
And here are cards with rustic eulogy
Of scenes thou did’st know, old woods of pine
Through which doth pass a sunlit railway line.
These letters of thy wife, o warrior slain
No anguish tell, they give no hint of pain,
Cheerful her words, although the heart did weep
In solitude, thy babes of hers asleep…

Of thee, alas, thy children cannot keep
a single memory…

It seems that in the pauses between the skirmishes and attacks and major battles there are moments for reflection, moments for taking the heart out from under the helmet and touching our humanity like some reassuring talisman.

It is as if such simple gestures, musing on the life of a dead foe, handing a candy bar to a child, sharing a meal with a comrade, gazing again at a letter or picture from home, it is these heart strings that remind us of who we are while struggling to survive while trapped down some nightmarish rabbit hole of warfare.

Within a few days of writing that poem, Cpl. Robertson went missing in an attack near Serre in France on July 1, 1916. His body was never found.

Perhaps the best handholds a soldier’s heart can grasp are twofold. First there is the love of family and then there is a sense of purpose or hope. To put oneself at such terrible risk demands a good reason. In Canada’s world wars there seemed to be a widespread belief that our way of life was deeply threatened by those who made war on us. Whether that is true or not is a debate for another day. But we heard John read of Major Diespecker’s prayer for Victory, really a prayer for his and his nation’s humanity. Let me close with his words

Then dear God, make us worthy of Victory.
Give us the strength to keep our pledge
To make a better world…
Not the world we’ve known,
The world of power against power,
The world of breadlines and bitterness,
A world that would not let a man work,
A world that watched unmoved
While the beasts of aggression
Swallowed the little people one by one;…

Give us the power and purpose
To make children laugh;
To give work to the men who fought for us;
And comfort to the women who suffered;
And peace to the aged…
Hope to the devastated,
And release to the enslaved,
Food to the hungry,
And strength to the weak.
Let this hilltop be the world,
Soft, green and eternally at peace,…

This wonderful, magnificent human heart of ours is a most marvellous thing, my friends. If we tend to it and listen to it, it can help us survive even something so terrible as war.

Amen.

Reflection on Events in Ottawa October 26, 2014

For the most part, I have been a proud Canadian this week. When terror-like violence – albeit on a very small scale- arrived in Quebec and Ottawa, our security and police forces responded quickly, effectively and, it appears, appropriately.

Likewise the majority of our major media responded with balanced and fair reporting, reporting designed to calm fears, provide pertinent information and to stick to known facts. Compared to the media response of our American friends there was an astonishing lack of conclusion-leaping, political soapboxing and crisis fuelling. Even now as the lives of the killers are being picked apart there are more “disturbed” descriptions out there than “extremist” labels.

And across our land, while there has no doubt been xenophobic muttering in some quarters, interesting since both young men were Canadians, there has been a refreshing lack of violent or crude response, though I mourn that the Cold Lake mosque was defaced with graffiti. And yet even here is cause for pride as the people of Cold Lake turned out in numbers to clean up the walls and stick up posters reading “You are home” and “Love your neighbour”. As Journal columnist Paula Simons tweeted Saturday, “Thank you, Cold Lake, for redeeming our faith in Alberta and Albertans. Today, you are the most beautiful city in Canada.”

Our calm and restraint has made me proud.

I grieve mightily for Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo their families and colleagues, and I celebrate the bold actions of Kevin Vickers, the Sergeant-at-Arms who has become the poster boy for, “Just doing my job.” I wish he didn’t have to do that job, but he did it calmly and well. He likely saved lives.

Others did their jobs as well, not the ones they are paid to do, but the ones that are part of the job description of ‘citizen’ and ‘human being’. The citizens of Cold Lake are one example. But for me the iconic image of this week will not be bullet holes in Parliament, but the photo of crowd of people who rushed towards the gunfire to give Cpl Cirillo first aid in his last minutes. Among them was Barbara Winters who held him telling him he was loved, he was brave and that his family was proud of him.

How can we fail to be proud of those fellow Canadians?

Some commentators have talked about a loss of innocence in this land last Wednesday, but that’s nonsense. We all knew it was possible, and many thought something was inevitable. We have seen our share of mass murders and hate crimes before. We have seen our deranged killers. Each claimed to be serving some kind of perverted purpose. This isn’t as new as it looks. So when the time came, citizens and security forces alike knew just what to do.

Our first response was something of which we can all be proud.

But I do fear what comes next. I fear exploitation of these dramatic, but ultimately – to all except families and friends- insignificant acts. I fear what Mr. Harper and his government might do. The fact is, our security measures by and large worked. The violence was limited to the kinds of acts that could not realistically have been prevented no matter how large and intrusive our security services. True, the hit and run driver was on a watch list. The gunman was not. It is likely we will have to step up security to a degree, but the question that concerns me is to what degree?

Mr. Harper is now fast tracking a bill to increase the powers of our security services, powers that would give CSIS, for example, the ability to arrest and detain, It is not a power they currently have. I am troubled by that. I worry about oversight and boundaries of power.
I fear this will become the fulcrum for the erosion of our rights and freedoms to an inappropriate degree, to a degree that the incidents themselves do not warrant.

And that will not leave me feeling very proud at all.

Religious Terrorism meets Religious Liberalism

Brian Kiely:

An excellent example of living our Principles into the world. It’s also a good reminder that our congregation (every congregation) has a plan in place for handling an intrusion like this. Many years ago I remember attending a service in San Francisco which was disrupted by a disturbed individual In that case as well, the minister graciously stopped the service, spent a few minutes with the man, arranged for a further meeting after the service while ushers respectfully led him to a safe place where they could begin to help get him the care he needed. Nothing makes me prouder that seeing moments where our UU values are put to the test and come up as more than adequate to the situation. Bravo, NO UU’s.

Originally posted on And the stones shall cry:

This past Sunday, something pretty scary happened at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (First UUNO).  Operation Save America, a fundamentalist anti-abortion organization that is known for descending upon abortion clinics and making life a living hell for anyone coming or going, chose to land in one of our congregations.  Several members of OSA showed up at First UUNO as if there to attend worship, and during the service stood up and began verbally accosting the worshippers and pushing anti-abortion pamphlets into their hands.

I don’t think they were prepared for what followed.  That Sunday, First UUNO was commissioning the College of Social Justice youth leaders who had been gathering all week.  The youth leaders immediately circled in and began singing.  Rev. De Vandiver, a New Orleans-based Community Minister who was leading worship that morning, asked the protesters to please respect the worship space and if they couldn’t…

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Pride: Parade and Interfaith Celebration

Saturday, June 7 about 40 of us marched in the Pride Parade.  If you missed it, there is a clip of us passing the Media Stand on the UCE Facebook page. You might have to scroll down a bit.10423839_10203213026679566_9107738674686155921_n

The next day at Churchill Square, Rev. Audrey Brooks and I were among a host of participants offering insights, wisdom and prayers at the First Annual Interfaith Pride Service, backed up by the combined voices of Chorealis and Edmonton Vocal Minority (pictured)

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Here is what we offered.

A Unitarian Pride Prayer

Brian:  The Unitarian Church of Edmonton has been a friend of the Pride Movement since before it was a Pride movement, since before the acronym LGBTQ was even coined.

Audrey:  In the 1970’s our minister at the time, Rob Brownlie encouraged our congregation to support Gay and Lesbian people and so we started holding pot-luck dinners and dances so these marginalized folks would have a safe place to meet.

Brian: in 1974 Rob performed our first same sex wedding – called a Service of Union – and we have been doing them ever since.  Nationally our Unitarian Church raised a strong liberal religious voice for getting same-sex marriages legalized in Canada.

Audrey: Since the 1970’s LGBTQ people have openly held every office available in the Unitarian Church in Canada including congregational leaders, ministers, Lay Chaplains, Religious Educators and national President.

Brian:  The First of the Seven Unitarian Universalist Principles we honour affirms “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  To us that means EVERY person

Audrey:  We are proud to be allies of the pride movement in Canada and around the world, so let us pray:

Brian:  Spirit of Life, as we gather in our wonderful city’s public square celebrating Pride, let us first give thanks.

Audrey: Let us give thanks for all that has been accomplished in the past 40 years.  Let us be grateful for the pioneers of the LGBTQ movement who had the courage to speak out, often at great personal risk.

Brian:  Let us be grateful for the allies who joined them in declaring hate and prejudice to be wrong.  Let us be grateful for the legal minds who set aside personal prejudices and determined that the law of human rights must apply to everyone equally and without reservation.  Let us be grateful for the political leaders and the police who choose to see people – not Gay and Straight people.

Audrey: And let us acknowledge that the struggle is far from over.  As long as there is hate, as long as there is bullying of LGBTQ teens and adults, as long as there are places in the world where being different is a threat to life, then Pride must keep marching.

Brian: Spirit, help us not grow too comfortable with our victories and our progress.  Help us remember those who are still trapped in places where their rights are not honoured and their lives are not safe, both here and abroad.  This week let us celebrate, but let us not forget that next week there will be work to be done…by all of us.

Together: Amen

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Gathering the National Clan

It was the yearly gathering of the clan…about the 28th or so version I have attended. The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) Annual Conference and Meeting happened over the May long weekend, this time in Montreal. But today I will just speak to the Friday business meeting and not the conference itself.

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So what goes on? Well, there are reports of course, and the receiving of financial statements, the passing of a budget in principle (a largely balanced one) and elections – though they are never contested. Being a Board member is a lot of volunteer work. New members are usually recruited by a hard working Nominating committee.

But the meat, if you will, usually falls into two categories: new national initiatives and social justice.

Last year there was a huge report on democracy and transparency within the CUC that was well debated and adopted almost in its entirety. This year we learned about plans for implementation of that report and approved a board work plan (see below).We also approved the budget in principle and heard some extensive discussion about the staff plans for the next few years. Most exciting will be the development of communications platforms and opportunities to better connect Canadian UU’s. (See the funding t-shirt photo item after this column!)

Passive Surveillance Urgent Motion
There was one an urgent action item (that means that it’s ‘breaking news’ and could not fit the regular resolution timeline. Read it here:. http://cuc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Urgent_PervasiveSurveillance.Apr3_2014.pdf

The motion objected to the “pervasive surveillance” news that broke in January. Essentially the government is making warrant less requests for private telecommunications info to the tune of millions each year. This is deemed legal even though there is no Parliamentary oversight. It is a challenging issue: balancing national security versus of right to privacy. There was some discussion but overall a great deal of support. It passed easily.

The surprise debate!

The surprise debate came over what is typically an easy vote. The CUC has a study process where a team of volunteers sends out information about an issue for study. From the feedback is developed a proposed justice resolution.

Usually the creation of these study groups is a no brainier, a fait accompli, a near unanimous vote to go ahead. Not so this year!

The issue was Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You can read the proposed resolution here: resolution

The actual call for a study group was benign enough, but the supporting documents were seen by many to be heavily pro-Palestinian. The perceived imbalance was a cause for concern. The other issue that got raised had to do with a larger question of should we be expending limited volunteer resources on a question on which we have little chance of having an effect when there are so many significant social issues to address in Canada.

The debate was long and passionate. There were many who perceive a call to action on any injustice we see must be done. Others equally argued that this was likely to be divisive in many churches even as we discuss it.

In the end – in a nice procedural move -the motion was suspended without vote in hopes that a better approach be crafted. Why a nice move? It was clear that there was too much division and concern about the way the proposal was written. Few wanted to defeat it, but even fewer wanted to pass it. So it was suspended by an over 2/3 vote. This suggests it was the best solution. To make it better the ‘leader of the opposition’ rose to make a lovely short speech in tribute to the good hearts and good intentions behind the proposal. Loud applause ensued.

This is democracy in action. It’s messy, passionate, heartfelt and even hurtful at times. But decisions get made given the best information at the time.

See you in our beloved church
Brian