Testimony of Stan Yack, November 6, 2005
A Humanist UU
Of all the registered UU religious brands, the one to which I feel the most loyalty is Humanism.
More specifically, I identify with Scientific Humanism, which has been defined as "a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism, and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion."
I don't consider myself to be a Philosophical Humanist, which I understand would have me concentrating more exclusively on human need and human interest.
I also call myself an Agnostic, because I understand that there are some questions that we cannot answer, and I believe that all knowledge is provisional, or as the time-honoured UU aphorism puts it: "Revelation is not closed."
A important way that I express my religious self here at First, is by celebrating our 4th Principle: "A free and responsible search for truth and meaning."
Some of you may have witnessed my searching in my impromptu coffee hour science lectures, or my Socratic probing of your political views.
This congregation is important to me because many of you actually listen to me, and I am inspired to listen to you, and to learn.
My roots are in the Jewish tradition, where the most learned have always been the most respected. But even during my youthful years of week-nights at Hebrew school, studying for my Bar Mitzvah, I considered myself to be an agnostic, and I focused on my day job as a science nerd.
As I've matured, I've more and more held learning in high esteem. Mathematics, physics, technology; philosophy, language, cognition – learning has become my hobby, and my vocation.
At First I've learned about a religion without irrational creeds, where reason is used to filter truth from make-believe, where there is no privileged oligarchy revealing truths about mythical divinities.
I very much value what I've learned from all the free-thinkers that I've met here … and I plan to continue to learn from you and, I hope, you from me.
Testimony of Stan Yack, April 17, 2010
I’ve been attending services here for about twenty years, and this will be my third testimony. Today, I have a confession to make, and I will be coming out of a closet. No not that closet, another closet, one with a green door.
First the confession: For over 60 years I have been an unrepentant omnivore. When I started calling myself that, it was just a thoughtless joke; I was unconcerned by any criticism of my culinary behavior. But recently I’ve become aware of good reasons for changing that behavior. These days for many of us, not just Unitarian-Universalists, discussion of culinary behavior has become more common.
In none of the related domains of discourse – health, ethics, environment – are the issues regarding dietary choices simple. The discussions are very personal, and with so many of our social connections occurring at meals, conversations can be uncomfortable. I recommend waiting until dessert.
Of the arguments against eating meat, I've found it easiest to reject health-based proscriptions. My pop-science understanding of human biology tells me that our digestive system has barely changed from our savannah ancestors, so surely a diet including meat should still be good for us. (Though I am concerned about the antibiotic content of factory farmed meat).
For me the ethical objections to meat-eating are more relevant. As a student of cognition and philosophy, one ethical question I must consider is which creatures’ lives I have the moral right to terminate.
But today, on Earth Sunday, I want to talk about environmental ethics.
The environmental problem with eating meat is straightforward: There are over 6 billion humans on the planet, and there is a fixed amount of land, a fixed amount of potable water, and limited energy for cultivation, fertilizer, and transportation. There’s just not enough of those things to feed meat to 6 billion human beings. So what right do I have to eat meat? I can put the issue concisely by reworking an old saying:
“One man’s meat is another eight men’s bread.”
That’s because the production of a given amount of meat protein typically requires some animal to consume eight times that amount of plant protein, corn on today’s factory farms. Eight-to-one is the factor on North American industrial beef farms; some sources estimates the factor as low as six, others as high as at ten. It is lower on farms where cattle graze on grasses, but there’s not very much of that going on any more. Our modern industrialized food system, whether producing meat or vegetables, is a product of the so-called “Green Revolution”. That system depends on tremendous amounts of fossil fuel for fertilizers, for pesticides, and for transportation. Cheap fossil fuel is a resource that is unlikely to be available for much longer. And protein production from beef consumes 100 times the water as production from grain!
Of course, a one pound steak and six pounds of bread are not nutritionally identical – they contain different proportions of proteins, carbs, fat, sugar, fiber, … An excellent guide to the health and ethical issues of food is Michael Pollan’s best-selling book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. The New Yorker says that Pollan “undertakes a pilgrim’s progress along modern food chains, setting standards for ethical eating”.
But now it’s time for me to open my green closet door, and come out:
I have become a “pescetarian”, a vegetarian who also eats seafood.
Note that I haven’t committed to a anti-meat orthodoxy, religiously avoiding meat to claim my place on a higher moral plane. Throwing out the leftover meat in my freezer didn’t seem to make much environmental sense (The meat’s all gone now.), and at my recent family Passover seder I did eat my mother’s chopped liver.
But for almost three months I haven’t purchased any meat, not in restaurants, not in supermarkets, not on the street: no beef, no pork, no chicken. That means my meat consumption is almost negligible. I decided that like Michael Pollan: “I had to stop eating meat before I could in good conscience decide if I can keep eating meat.” Now nearing the end of my third month, my conscience is still directing me toward a meat-free lifestyle.
In the future I might backslide from pescaterianism, and rationalize myself back into more carnivorous behavior. (After all, studies show that one man’s chicken is only another two men’s wheat, so maybe I’ll become a “pollo-tarian”.) Or I may become more committed to reducing or rejecting consumption of animal products, and swear off fish and seafood.
I’ll keep you posted.
Testimony of Barb Wentworth, October 16, 2005
By way of introduction, many of you will recognize me because I come to church with Mark, an adult who lives with cerebral palsy and a developmental disability.
Dare to Dream:
I have dreamt all my life. It’s what keeps me from being depressed. I dream about what’s next, what opportunities can I create for myself, what places do I want to go, what things do I want to do. That’s the fun side of dreaming. The trouble with dreaming is that I don’t always get what I want. But I always get something new and different.
My Dare to Dream testimony has a theme – not surprising because I’ve been dreaming about this in one way or another all my life. It’s around disability.
1. What makes you proud/time you felt most alive at the church?
I have been proudest of this community when you include my son Mark. When people approach Mark and tell him they like his singing, I see him duck his head in a shy, pleased reaction. I was proud of this community when Mark Morrison Reed welcomed my son from the pulpit – that was critical to Mark’s engagement here and his sense of belonging and helped open the door for you to approach him as well. Thank you.
2. What do you personally bring to the church?
I am changing my role here at Toronto First – taking on more of a leadership role. I offered a session at the Leadership Workshop and will offer a Disability and Me workshop on Nov. 12th. When I lead here, it changes my relationship to this place and to you. Leadership here makes me grow into this community.
3. If you had a magic wand, what three things would you wish for and how would the church look in five years after you got your wishes?
My Magic Wand idea is best described by reading a quote from Margaret Lawrence’s memoir - “Dancing on the Earth”.
Talking about her birth, she says:
“My mother and I were lucky. I often think, however, of the children born with birth defects. Their parents are by necessity heroes, caring for and loving their children, refusing to give up, coping somehow under stresses that I have never known and feeling, despite all the terrible difficulties, that their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the life of their child. Also feeling…so often that sense of being overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer awful presence of need: so much care, so much strength, when human strength even at its utmost is limited. I stand in awe of those victories of the human spirit, while at the same time I wonder at a society where the caring parents of disabled children, and the children themselves, are so inadequately helped.”
Where are these children? Where are these parents? Where are we as a community??
I believe this statement applies to more than parents. It’s also true for people caring for those who are terminally ill, those with Alzheimers Disease, those who are struggling with addictions and mental health issues. We will all be touched by our own disability or the disability of a loved one at some point in our lives.
I believe this “presence of need” is all around us here in this congregation. We keep it hidden. Put up your hand if you have a disability that no one/or only a few people here know about….Put up your hand if you know of someone with a disability that could use some extra support….I believe we have the capacity to be more honest about our own needs and I believe we have the capacity to bring into our congregation others who are in need.
This congregation set out to become a welcoming congregation on sexual orientation with great success. My dream is that this community will also become a welcoming congregation to those who are differently-abled. You have already started with your generosity towards Mark.
Just being welcomed and accepted here means the world. Thank you.
Testimony of Diane Wagner, June 19, 2005
My name is Diane Wagner and I’d like to share with you some thoughts on what belonging to this community means to me. Like many of you, I arrived here from a mixed religious background. I was raised Baptist by parents whose personal faith was, and still is, very important to them. I think I always had doubts, and I did not chose to be baptized when others usually do, at around age 13. I later was baptized as a Catholic, after being married at the Newman Centre on U of T campus. This was, at the time, a supportive and liberal community, but when I went back a few years ago it had changed a lot, and so, I suppose, had I. The music was beautiful, but I came to realize that I could no longer believe the things I was expected to believe. Several years ago I heard someone interviewed on the radio who said that once he admitted to himself that he didn’t believe what he was taught to believe, he couldn’t go back. That has been my experience as well.
So I found myself looking for a religious community where a wide spectrum of beliefs were accepted. I was also looking for a community that would accept and respect my lesbian daughter. I just happened to meet someone on a Bruce Trail hike who told me about First Unitarian. I arrived at First at just about this time of year, 6 years ago, and in the fall I started attending the Women’s Group. Small groups at First are a great way to get to know people, and the Women’s Group has become a very important part of my life. It is a warm, supportive group of women from all kinds of backgrounds who share the ups and downs of their journeys through life. From these women I learned to listen to my own feelings, and to actually stop and ask myself how I feel.
After about a year and a half I decided to become a member of First, and then I attended a Mapmaking series. For the first time I got to know some men in the community. By the way, two of the members of my Mapmaking Group went on to become chaplains, and a couple of others have run adult programs here.
So what keeps me at First? I feel very much at home with the principles we share, and in fact the first time I heard them, I thought someone must have been reading my mind. To me “growing into harmony with the divine” means respecting and being part of the interdependent web of existence.
I appreciate the intellectual and spiritual stimulation at First – in the services and in the workshop series. My favourite series was one where we had to decide whether our main approach to life was humanist, naturalist, mystic or theist, and then look at questions such as “What is real to you?” and “How do we know what we know?” By the way, I started out in the naturalist group, then decided to join the mysticism group, but I’m still not quite sure which group I belong to.
Something else that is very important to me here is the experience of R.E. for my granddaughter -- a place where she can feel that it’s quite normal to come from a non-conventional family. In fact, after her first R.E. class a couple of years ago Daya came up to me, excited, and said “Grandma, a little boy in my class has three Moms. He’s so lucky! I only have two”.
But what is most important to me is being part of a supportive community.
Mark said in one of his recent sermons that it’s the job of ministers to always strengthen the fabric of community. I told him afterwards that he and Donna must have done a good job, because I feel confident going forward into our uncertain future. I’m confident in our community.
Testimony of Helen Iacovino, June 5, 2005
Every year I bring a little flower to Flower Communion (or sometimes a bigger flower, if the spring has been early enough and peonies happen to already be in bloom). But I take home much more. I take home a flower that has called to me, that is perhaps unusual to me, that seems to have sought me out – and I take home the intangible sense that I’m a part of something much, much bigger.
It’s the same with taking on a volunteer role around here. I feel that I get more out of it than I give. In my other life I work in the office of a golf club, and one day I overheard their past president saying, "I’ve discovered that you get a bigger kick out of this place the more you put into it." I’ve found that this holds true for Toronto First.
Perhaps more significantly, since I joined Toronto First 21 years ago, I have felt that this place truly is "permission-giving" in that when a member or friend volunteers in some way, they are permitted to carry out that task the way they see fit. They have the freedom to emphasize the aspect of the job that is dearest to them, and to carry it out in a way that is in keeping with their personal preferences. They are encouraged to infuse it with their own vision. Furthermore, they have the support of others, such as the convenors and the Board, or the committee they are working with.
Of course, we are not perfect, and so our permission-giving to our volunteers and congregational leaders is also not perfect; we are continually working on it. I cannot say that I have felt entirely happy or entirely supported all of the time. But most of the time I felt supported beyond measure, supported beyond my expectations, by the convenor team as a whole and by Board members, and sometimes this was at a time of very difficult decisions that I was in the forefront of. When things become difficult in one portfolio, the rest of the Convenor group is there. Like the roof. The final decisions about how we will proceed with replacing half the roof will be shared. The Property Committee, the Convenors and the Board will all have input into it and be there for each other through it, and in addition the congregation will be kept informed. So together we will solve it in a way that works for us all.
If one of the goals of life is to continually learn and grow, what better way is there to further that than to volunteer for something in this wonderful place? I found in my volunteer roles, I got more out of it than I put into it. As I think Donna or Mark once put it in a sermon about how we all minister to each other, it’s the crossroads where the individual’s greatest joy meets the community’s greatest need – doing something I enjoy doing to further the work of this place.
For the past three years I have been the Administration and Property Convenor, and as of the Annual Congregational Meeting last Monday my term is up. I leave it, I admit, with a certain sense of relief – now someone else can worry about photocopiers, elevators and heating bills. However, I also leave it with a sense of immense gratitude for having had this opportunity, and that the congregation entrusted this to me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow into the role as I took it on, and to grow through it and see the congregation from a perspective other than that of some of the areas I was involved with previously, such as RE. It all keeps unfolding. It allowed me to make connections with more people, with different people and it allowed me to discover and develop skills I didn’t know I had. It also reacquainted me, on annual Property Cleanup Days, with muscles I didn’t know I had. It made me want to communicate to all of you that this building is YOURS and OURS and that we want you AND your children and youth to feel that this space belongs to you, and you belong to it.
And that’s what Toronto First, and Flower Communion, is all about to me – the entwining of all our lives as we attempt to create in the world a beautiful garden.