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Selected Presentations

John Buttars (October 20, 2013)

Unitarian Universalist Principle #6

Thank you once again for inviting me to reflect on the seven Unitarian Universalist principles, a task that has, in fact, turned into a joy for me personally and has resulted in some surprising gifts. For instance, at the end of last June I was at a United Church theological consultation in Toronto and the Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies reported to me that in her researching a particular topic she found these talks on your website. So thank you!

During the course of doing these talks I have wondered when these principles emerged and it was this sixth principle that gave me a clue that they maybe they came from the 1980’s. Contact with Linda Thomson of Canadian Unitarian Council confirmed that, indeed, the principles were adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1985. At the time Canadian Congregations, as you know, were all members of the UUA, but in 2002 the Canadian Unitarian Council and the UUA came to a new understanding about their relationship. At that time the CUC affirmed the 7 principles, with a few spelling changes, with the understanding their suitability in the Canadian context would be reviewed. That review happened around 2005-6 and the strong feeling was that these seven Unitarians had been claiming were very suitable. (See the following article describing the 1985 adoption:

On to the next one, the sixth principle: “The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.” However, we always have to remember the preamble, “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote.” It’s the action side that I want to raise up. We are called to affirm and promote within this congregation but it is a call beyond this particular congregational community to the world just outside our doors. When I told Barbara what principle was being discussed today, her response was, “Oh wow! That’s ambitious!”

And there, in a picture, is the world community, just outside our doors and expanding into a gorgeous blue ball in space. It is a powerful photograph, this blue orb hanging in space, blackness all around.

Looking at that photograph let me share a quote from the writings of Edward Hays:

Our senses tell us that the earth stands still and that the sun, moon and stars move around it. But while we know this is not true, our daily speech reveals that ancient belief.

The earth spins around her axis at the speed of 1,000miles an hour at the equator. To spin around once takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. The spinning of the earth makes our days and nights. But as we spin we are also on another circle journey as we orbit around our daystar, the sun. Traveling at the speed of 66,000 miles an hour, this second journey takes 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 9.54 seconds to complete. In the annual pilgrimage around our great star we travel 595,000,000 miles. Finally, Earth as a member of a solar family composed of the sun and nine planets and their moons, is also racing outward into space at 43,000miles an hour.

So here we sit as if we are traveling nowhere and it seems nothing is happening other than my talking and you trying to concentrate but actually we are spinning at an alarming rate and simultaneously moving around the sun and racing outwards all at the same time. Amazing, utterly amazing!

In the same way, I hunch, when we hear the word community it is probably pretty limited, the community of my family, the community of my work, the community of this congregation, the community of Guelph. However, beyond that do we consider Wellington County as a community, Ontario, Canada, North America? It is almost unfathomable how to get your head around the notion of ‘world community.’ As I contemplated this sixth principle I found myself wanting to somehow acknowledge the multitude of communities within the one earth community. In addition, I wanted to acknowledge that by community I did not want to limit it to the multitude of human communities but recognize that there are a host of non-human communities as close as my very back yard – the skunk I met early Wednesday morning and the squirrels and chipmunks, the several ground covers we have under the spruce and pine trees that are battling it out for space and light, the various trees and bushes, the birds and insects. These are all communities, plant communities, animal communities, with whom I share space and whom I affect with my lifestyle just as they affect me. I know that I am straying into the seventh principle but let me acknowledge that we in western culture have a decidedly human focus. Without giving away what I want to talk about next time on the last principle, I want to suggest that we have to give up, relinquish a strictly human focus and recognize the multitude of human and non-human communities within this one world community. It is this reality of human and non-human communities within the one world community that makes this principle so difficult to follow, to put into practice.

Let me take one example and if I offend anyone today please join the circle after the service and let’s have a discussion. I have voted for several political parties but am not a member of any although have contributed financially to two. I find myself, however, quite alienated by the most recent federal Throne Speech. The lead article in The Globe and Mail on Wednesday was on ‘retail politics:’ Concern for the gap between the sticker prices here in Canada and the United States; overbooking by airlines; cell phone charges and so on. All of these are important issues but they are not life and death. I am much more concerned about green house gases continuing to climb, human poverty, the small arms treaty not being ratified by Canada yet, or the continuing lack of real progress on settling native land claims. Since I write politicians I must confess that when I am dealing with the Prime Ministers Office and the various ministers in the cabinet it is like there is a different world view, a different mindset. Maybe we do live on different planets!

How do you go about discussing, negotiating ‘peace, liberty, justice for all’ when the people on the other side of the table, so to speak, have a different world view? Sometime in the early 2000’s I decided I wanted to try to bridge a gap between the Guelph Ministerial (mainline ministers by and large) and the Evangelical Fellowship (conservative Protestants who usually call themselves evangelicals). It was a fascinating experience, one I appreciated and one I disliked at the very same time. But we were on different planets. That is the only image I have to express our profound differences. Except the picture on the table is a reminder that the more literal truth is we live on the same planet and exist within that one world community.

So this is what I want to suggest: Non-attachment and non-anxious presence, two practices or life orientations when we engage in the business of affirming and promoting ‘peace, liberty and justice for all’ when the going gets rough. The reason I want to suggest them is that in the middle of writing this talk one of my grandchildren had a meltdown over, I think, peanut butter and who would get it first, her brother or her. As it turned out, she got it second and had a hissy fit. So, what is the parent – let alone the grandparent, to do?

Non-attachment, attachment, detachment: A few days ago I was talking with a friend who was a bit dispirited because a colleague had disappeared from their life. There had been a disagreement over an issue and the one had taken a kind of hard line, my way or no way, clinging to a particular outcome. That’s attachment to an issue but the opposite is being detached, don’t really care one way or the other. A friend of mine is very socially and politically active and someone asked their spouse how they do it all. The spouse said, “Nothing is ever taken personally.” That’s non-attachment, I think, and for anyone who is committed to the work of affirming and promoting peace, liberty and justice for all that person has got to learn the skills of non-attachment, not wedded to outcomes, being totally committed to the project but not taking it personally. So, how are you in that department of steering away from the opposites of attachment and detachment and being non-attached?

And being a non-anxious presence? You have to be rooted, grounded, self-aware, self-confident to be such a non-anxious presence. The test for me in being a non-anxious presence is dealing with criticism. Criticism is always hard to take but we all get criticized. Do I fight back? Do I flee? I remember sharing with someone my consternation, my blood pressure rising, my feeling personally threatened when criticized, and this person said that they were seeking to have a default position. A response that they would give no matter what the circumstances is this: After a person had unloaded whatever criticism they had my friend was seeking to learn to say, “Tell me more.” Tell me more, a way for them to practice non-anxious presence. So secondly, how are you in not just being non-attached, not taking it personally, but in being non-anxious?

Non-attachment, non-anxious presence: Two concepts to consider as we “affirm and promote peace, liberty and justice for all.”

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