Friday Workshop Reports – Spring Retreat 2021

There were five workshops on Friday:

Saturday workshop reports are on a different page – click here

When Everything is a Gift

led by Rica Kaufel

This was a heartwarming and positive session. Rica’s idea – based on Native American thought that the world is a gift, with beauty and blessing everywhere – was the basis for our discussion.

If we see our fellow humans, animals, plants, and our lovely planet as sacred gifts and not as commodities to be purchased and thrown out later, we have created reverence and respect for our world. We should be aware of how much pain we inflict on our “interdependent web”. Greed and selfishness are rampant and are causing our world grief.

How can we solve this problem? Education could be a solution. Very important is sharing our resources, and putting great value on kindness, responsibility, and gratitude.

Marcie McGaughey, EUU member at large

What is a plant-based or vegan diet? Why are many Unitarian Universalists
following or considering a vegan diet?

A workshop offered by Amanda Strombom and Stewart Rose

The workshop entitled “A plant-based vegan diet?” was given by Amanda Strombon (WA) and Stewart Rose (OR), two UUs who formed a non-profit called Vegetarians of Washington in 2001.

After presenting the “four legs of the vegan table” (health, compassion for animals, sustaining the environment and spirituality), they gave an overview of some famous vegetarians and later mentioned some spiritual leaders who spoke about the moral issues involved in killing animals for food. They also connected reasons for going vegan with three of the Seven Principles of Unitarians (#1, 4, 7).

I noticed a certain degree of overlap with the theme talk, which only impressed upon me how convincing the arguments for a plant-based diet were, coming from completely different sources.

Stewart explained why vegetarianism and veganism lead to a significant reduction in risk of developing diverticulitis, cataracts, diabetes and high blood pressure, and of dying of coronary heart disease or certain cancers (prostate, breast, colon and rectal cancer). I had read this type of thing before but was very happy to hear that mainstream medicine finally seems to be waking up to the fact that a plant-based diet is often just as – and sometimes considerably more – effective than very commonly prescribed medicines in the treatment of the biggest killers in the U.S. – oh yeah, and without the side effects.

One of the slides that fascinated me most was the one elucidating the fact that we are, by nature, herbivores. It showed that we do not share characteristics of carnivores and omnivores, such as having claws to kill other animals, sharp teeth to rip open their flesh and short intestines to enable us to digest raw meat. Our anatomy and physiology (e.g. long intestinal tract) are evidence that we are herbivores. Our brains have undergone significant development since we started walking upright, but the rest of us has remained essentially the same, so without culture (tools) and the use of fire, we would be ill-equipped to catch, kill, eat and digest cows, pigs, sheep, etc.

Since compassion for animals seems like a no-brainer to me, I’ll go on to environment. Just to list a few of the facts Stewart presented:

  • We currently raise 60 billion farm animals on this planet (leading to topsoil loss, creation of dead zones because of soil erosion, desertification)
  • 2/3 of all arable land on earth is used to raise meat (land either populated by animals or used to grow crops to feed those animals)
  • “Livestock agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trains, planes and ships put together.” (U.N. report from 2006)
  • “Livestock and their byproducts actually account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.” (World Watch Institute Report from 2009)
  • 72% of all farm animals in the UK, and 99% in U.S., are raised in factory farms (zoonosis – creation and spread of infectious diseases)

Another aspect of modern agriculture that really struck me was the wastefulness of it all. One of Stewart’s slides showed how cows function as “food factories in reverse”. For every 100 g of protein we feed a cow, we get 10 g of protein back as beef. For every 100 calories we feed a cow, we get 4 calories back as beef. And 70% of all crops grown in the U.S. are fed to animals.

In addition to destroying, rather than producing, nutrients, another thing animals don’t do well is to metabolize the toxic chemicals we spread throughout their/our environment in the form of herbicides and pesticides, which get into grass, grain and algae. So when we eat the creatures that eat these things, we consume all the toxins in a much more concentrated form. This may be why the W.H.O. has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans – in “Class 1”, which also includes tobacco and asbestos, red meat possibly being close behind.

And all this just scratches the surface. As much as this talk made me want to continue moving in the direction of a strictly plant-based diet, I really appreciated Stewart’s comment at the end: “Proceed at your own pace. We’re here to help.”

Janet MacNair, EUU member at large

The World of Organic Food. WHAT’s BIO, WHAT’s NOT and WHAT’s in it for YOU?

Presented by Aude van Lidth de Jeude

The workshop was very well prepared with lots of informative slides. We learned what the different symbols in the states and in Europe mean. If we want to buy organic, it could be a real help to know how to differentiate between really organic and just natural (not organic). We also learned about why it is important to eat organic. Thanks so much for this instructive workshop!

Janie Spencer, UUFP (Paris)

It’s Not the Rules, It’s the Relationships: Why and How to Covenant

Facilitated by the Rev. Diane Rollert

Rev. Diane Rollert’s workshop was rich and deep, thought provoking and practical. The focus was on covenanting. I have come to understand that having a covenant facilitates a group’s ability to focus on its goals and process in order to achieve the best results possible.

After outlining a presumed covenant for the workshop itself, Rev. Rollert described how different religions define covenanting. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the covenant is between God and the people. In Unitarian Universalism, it is in how we agree to be together in relationship.

To explain what a covenant is, she shared words from Rev. Victoria Safford’s article in UU World: “A covenant is not a contract. It is not made and signed and sealed once and for all… A covenant is not a static artifact, and it is not a sworn oath… A covenant is a living, breathing aspiration, made new every day. It can’t be enforced by consequences, but it may be reinforced by forgiveness and by grace, when we stumble, when we forget, when we mess up.”*

Rev. Rollert also presented sample items from a covenant from her own congregation, the Unitarian Church of Montreal, including…

… to create a safe and loving space to empower each other as we make decisions, act, and take ownership of our roles to uphold the vision and principles of the Unitarian Church of Montreal when working towards our goals.

…to work towards clarity and understanding, and to disagree openly in all our meetings as clearly and honestly as possible.

…to hear all voices, both present and absent, and to acknowledge the importance of time for reflection and second thoughts.

…to support the final decisions of the group, whether it reflects our personal view or not.

By providing 12 excellent steps for establishing a covenant — from having time and food, to what questions to ask, to focusing on relationships — and a full page list of articles, books and videos for further exploration, Rev. Rollert, the UUA Ambassador to the EUU, gave us inspiration and tools to bring back to our own fellowships and groups.

*“Bound in Covenant” by Rev. Victoria Safford

Wendy Schwartz, EUU member at large

Who Will Pay Reparations On My Soul?

Presented by Jesse McCarthy

The title of the workshop comes from an essay, and now a book of essays, by Jesse McCarthy, an assistant professor of English and African-American studies at Harvard.

He joined the EUU retreat via Zoom from the states to discuss his view that monetary reparations for racial injustice “throw us back onto what I call the critical question, not the easy or facile question, of ultimate value…. I’m less interested in engaging in a debate over the politics and rhetoric of the question of reparations… I’m more interested in the paradoxes and problems it raises,” he said.

His essay was written in response to one by the author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has argued in favor of monetary reparations. McCarthy says in his essay, a copy of which all participants received, that he wanted “to suggest a different emphasis, one which ultimately comes down to thinking of reparations for racial injustice as a moral rather than a material debt…”

McCarthy argues that sending people money to take care of a wrong is “in a rather awkward way to be reinstating the original sin, as it were, which was slavery itself… putting a price on the value of human beings.”

He cited examples of oppressed people rejecting a check. The Sioux Nation, who consider the Black Hills as sacred land, took the US government to court for violating an 1868 treaty. The US Supreme Court in 1980 agreed there was a violation and ordered the government to pay the Sioux reparations of some $130 million. But the Sioux refused to take the money still held in a Treasury fund which “today is worth more than $1 billion,” McCarthy said. The Sioux continue to say what they want is the land, not the payout.

For a more contemporary situation, he referred to the case of Breonna Taylor, shot dead by police in Kentucky. The state attorney general refused to bring charges against the police, so there was no trial. Her family did win a civil lawsuit, receiving millions in damages. But McCarthy argued that if her family had a choice, “money or a case before a jury, they want a trial, they want justice… No amount of money can be put on her life.”

When questioned by a workshop participant, McCarthy responded that he is not opposed to monetary reparation, “maybe it would help to a certain extent,” but society needs to discuss the hard questions, addressing the underlying problems.

He cited the story of a black man, interviewed by Coates for his essay, who said he had moved from the south to the northern city of Chicago because “he wanted the protection of the law,” to escape from arbitrary domination and violence. But that is an ongoing struggle for African Americans.

“If you said to that man, ‘We feel bad about slavery, here’s a check,’ what good does that do if in a banal encounter with law enforcement he has to fear for his life?” McCarthy asked.

Giving out checks because society feels guilty about slavery “doesn’t fix anything… we like to think that we can solve problems by just cutting people checks.”

For McCarthy “guilt is not a helpful, useful emotion.” He finds discussions of so-called white fragility, “useless and uninteresting, teaching people racial etiquette as if that’s the solution.”

With real reparations, he says, “the thing being repaired is the social bond… one of non-domination.”

“People are not looking for apologies, admissions of guilt, but what I would call broadly recognition… People want to know they are living in the same country.”

As citizens, he says we need “a good faith study” of our own history and to reckon with it. “What don’t I know about, what could help me understand the situation?”

He added that “reparations are expedient; they stop the conversation,” and having a serious conversation is what he is seeking so as “not to lose track of the underlying issues… ask the hard questions, not just the easy ones.”

Beth O’Connell, UUFP (Paris)