Growing the Space Between

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 7 January 2018

I have been doing theological reflections for much of my life. Although, of course, I would not have called it that. But ever since I was little I have been reflecting on the world, pondering the meaning of things. Trying to decide how people interacted, and why they interacted they way they did, and making connections. Growing up Unitarian Universalist, and being raised by Unitarian Universalists meant that I was always pondering, always questioning and searching for truth. I learned about the Seven Principles, probably before I turned seven. And I was always asked to connect our faith’s principles to everyday reasoning. My parents expected that I would use the principles as a tool when making decisions and I have now relied on this practice for many years. This soon became habit for me. To look for deeper meaning in everything around me. Whether it was for a school assignment, or listening to a music album I would look for more, I would seek deeper understanding. Reminiscing on a conversation I had with my best friend, struggling to remain considerate through my divorce or trying to determine how I was going to move across the country. Every aspect of my life required greater decision making, required that I look to my faith, and the ideals that I proclaimed were important to me. Although I would not have known I was doing it, I have been reflecting on theological concepts since I was a pre-teen.

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Our Most Humble Moments

Reflections by Rev. Diane Rollert and Rev. Lynn Harrison. 26 November 2017

Part I: Rev. Lynn Harrison

When Diane suggested the sermon title of “Our Most Humble Moments” to me, I thought it was a great idea!

It sounded so human and down-to-earth…I loved it. That is, until I started thinking about it, and realized that I’d have to share a story about being humbled…coming to terms with my own flaws or imperfections. Suddenly I was a little less keen on the idea.

Mind you, I am preaching this morning at a congregation other than my own…so, I feel a little more free in sharing with you some of my less-than-stellar moments.  

We all have them of course. Things we’ve said that we wish we could take back… Choices we made that we soon regretted. Over time, if we’re lucky, those moments contribute to our deepening sense of what it means to be human. They help us develop compassion, as we watch other people also learn lessons the hard way. Most of all, they teach us that “inherent worth” is not about never making mistakes. It’s about extending love to ourselves and others, even when—or especially when—we do make mistakes.

So…here’s the story of one of my most humble moments.  

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The Humble Leader (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 12 November 2017

Less than two weeks ago, I was standing before the monument to the Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge, just outside the city of Arras, France. It’s a place beyond words. The monument stands in the middle of 250 acres of open land. Two soaring towers of beautiful gleaming golden-white marble represent the ten thousand English and French Canadian lives lost during the battle at Vimy Ridge, waged between April 9th and 12th, 1917.  The towers are so tall that you get vertigo looking up at them.

Names of the ten thousand dead are carved in alphabetical order around the base of the monument, names of soldiers, most whom their bodies were never individually identified. A few giant allegorical figures are placed strategically around the towers. None of the figures are triumphant. Instead, they represent helplessness, loss, the values that were fought for, a soldier breaking the sword in hopes of peace, angels looking up to the heavens. One female figure stands alone beyond the others, her head bowed in sorrow as she surveys the killing fields below. She’s known as Canada Bereft or Mother Canada, mourning her dead.

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Connecting With the Light (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 15 October 2017

Many of you already know that I’m leaving for Europe next Thursday for a two-week trip. Sometime ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the European Unitarian Universalists’ fall retreat that will be held in Spa, Belgium. Before we get to Belgium, we’re starting out in Paris where I’ll be preaching at the Paris UU fellowship next Sunday. I want to thank you for graciously letting me make these connections with our fellow UUs in Europe. I’m also grateful to Rev. Nicoline Guerrier who will lead the worship services during the two Sundays I’m away.

When Nicoline and I mapped out the services for this month’s theme on connection, we agreed that there was a lot that could be said about human connections, this sort of horizontal connection to each other, but there had to be at least one week when we talked about connecting to God or to the Ultimate. In other words, the vertical connection. Nicoline laughed and said to me, “I’ll let you do the God connection.” 

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Call Me Maybe (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 1 October 2017

The other day I heard this wonderful interview with Guillermo del Toro. (
Del Toro is a Mexican-American film director, screenwriter, a producer and a novelist who has been fascinated by monsters since he was very young. He made one of my favourite films, Pan’s Labyrinth, set in post-Civil War Spain during the early fascist era of Franco’s regime — the story of a young girl’s fantastical encounters with the netherworld. An excellent exhibit of Del Toro’s monster collection just opened in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Del Toro explained that he finds monsters to be very moving. Unlike heroes, they are creatures who are suffering. Monsters, like humans, are imperfect, fallible, in pain. We are closer to monsters than we are to the angels, he says. He saw his own difficulties as an awkward child in monster stories. Then he said this, which really struck me: Most every artist spends their entire life solving their first ten years of life. “That’s the forge in which we are created,” he said. “And then we spend the rest of our lives deciphering, disassembling and correcting the things that were done wrong when we were kids.” 

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I'm Never, Ever Letting You Go (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 24 September 2017

It was late April. Two years ago in the evening. I had every intention of getting home by 9:30 that night, but there I was in my office after a long meeting. There’s was a knock at the door. That night’s concierge popped her head in. “Your sister-in-law’s on the phone,” she said. It was really odd for any of us to have picked up the main church line at that hour. My mind couldn’t even register why one of my sisters-in-law would be calling.

I picked up the phone. It was my brother’s wife in California. My father was in the hospital. There was a large hemorrhage in his brain. They didn’t know if he would survive the night.

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The Reed that Bends, the Tree that Breaks(Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 17 September 2016

There’s a French fable from the late 17th century by Jean de La Fontaine, The Oak and the Reed, Le chêne et le roseau. The oak stands tall and tells the thin reed, “You grow along the banks of the river, but you are weak and you need me to give you shelter.” “Oh,” says the reed, “you are too kind to care so much about me. But just wait. When the storm comes and the winds blow hard, I will still be here, but you will be gone.”

Les vents me sont moins qu’à vous redoutables.
Je plie, et ne romps pas.

The cruel North wind blows and just as the reed has warned, the oak tree is uprooted in its inability to bend, while the reed remains, small but mighty.

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As the Water Flows: Reflecting on Letting Go (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 10 September 2017

Two months ago, when we set the plans for this water communion Sunday, we weren’t anticipating hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Jose, or the 40 million people in South Asia facing the aftermath of epic floods, or the people of Mexico responding to a major earthquake, or historic forest fires out west. Much of this has happened just in the past few weeks.

So let us a take a moment to acknowledge the fragile balance we share with the oceans and rivers that surround us. Let us also acknowledge our relationship to the earth and her climate — recognizing the role we play in climate change and the power this earth has to change our lives in an instant. May we remember all the lives that have been lost and the millions of people struggling across the world to rebuild their lives.

Breathe with me. Mourn with me. Pray with me.  Amen.

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Let Go with LEGO (Audio Available)

Reflection by Akiko Asano, 23 July 2017

Good morning,

First, I would like to thank the summer services team for asking me to present again in front of all you awesome people.

Little did I know that when I first presented a “family coming out” speech at the Guelph Sexuality conference in 2013, that it would lead me to present it again many times. Each time it got easier and each time the “introduction” phrase of who I am started to shift and to change as I became aware of other aspects my own gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. I started to construct the new, improved, better version of “me”. Not only was I advocating for my trans child, I started to advocate for me.

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To Hold Our Traditions Fast — Or Not? (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 11 June 2017

To clap or not to clap, that is the question. 

Many years ago, it wasn’t unusual for the congregation to clap after each piece of music, breaking the flow of worship. A lot of people began to feel that the clapping took away from their feeling of being in worship and moved things more into a performance. So, in 1999, when two of our members went to an organ concert in Davis, California, a solution was conceived.

The couple noticed a man in the pew in front of them who did not clap. “Instead he used one or a combination of hand actions. Sometimes he held both hands vertical, palm out, in front of himself and rotated them out and back in rapidly several times – this action, he said when questioned after the concert, is the International Sign Language for the Deaf sign for applause. 

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The Flower Communion 95 Years Later (Audio Available)

This month we are exploring the theme of tradition. Now and then, over the years, I encounter someone who asks me why we Unitarians — who have liberated ourselves from the chains of rigid dogma — why would we celebrate traditions of any kind? “Do you do anything the same way from week to week or year to year?” they ask. “Do you even have worship services?”

Over the years, I’ve encountered a few people who argue that Unitarians should have no traditions, but that’s a pretty hard and rare line. Personally, I cherish our freedom of thought and the way we invite each other to responsibly search for our own truth and meaning and sense of the sacred. But I also love tradition, and I believe we humans need traditions to help us make sense of our lives.

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Cinnamon Sugar

Yvette Salinas, presented as part of the May 7th  Race, Diversity and Inclusion: A Teach-in Sunday Worship Service

Verónica loved cinnamon. She loved making tea with cinnamon sticks on cold, gray days. She loved rolling pan de polvo cookies in cinnamon powder while they were still warm from the oven. She even loved mixing cinnamon sugar into her mother's cafe those mornings after the baby had cried all night long. There was something about its color, its flavor, that just made her happy...even a little bit connected to the home of her Ancestors, far south from where she lived now.

Verónica lived with her Mother, Mami; her father, Papi; and the baby. Far from any extended relatives, Veronica's little family took care of each other. Always.

One Saturday, Verónica noticed her mother looking sad. Really sad. “Tomorrow we will try going to a new church,” Mami announced suddenly.

“Why?” Veró and Papi asked. It had been years since they last attended any church.

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Race, Diversity and Inclusion: A Teach-in Sunday Worship Service

Introduction by Rev Diane Rollert, 7 May 2017

In moments like this, there’s always a story that catches fire and pushes people to act. This story begins with two people. One was a white man, the other was a woman of colour. (To be a person of colour is to be someone who is not of white, European descent.) Both the man and woman were serving as volunteers on the governing board of the Unitarian Universalist Association in the US, our siblings across the border. Both applied for a high profile paying job. The woman was told she had all the necessary qualifications, but she didn’t quite fit. The man got the job. Like the majority of people on the team he was joining, he was white, male and a minister. 

Members of the UU community of colour in the US said, “Hey, wait a minute! Look at what’s been happening. You say that our principles call us to be a racially diverse and just movement. You ask people of colour to take on important volunteer positions. You take pictures of us in meetings for your publicity so that you can show the world how inclusive we are, but then you never hire us to hold leadership positions. You tell us that we don’t fit.”  The situation got tense, and the current UUA president stepped down just three months away from the end of his final term. Three interim co-presidents, all ministers of colour, were named to take his place.

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Tilling Rocky Ground to Cultivate Compassion (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Meg Roberts, 30 April 2017

I remember it like yesterday: the first Unitarian service I ever attended. It was almost twenty-five years ago: that Victoria Day long weekend, the Canadian Unitarian Council annual meeting was held in Montreal (where I lived at that time). When I arrive, people are friendly---not saccharine-sweet friendly, but authentically friendly. During the service, I enjoy the ritual of lighting the chalice. Charles Eddis’ sermon is inspiring. It seems like a warm, spiritually-growing community. At the end of the service, the brass quintet breaks into a ragtime piece---and people spontaneously get up and start dancing! I think: these are my people. And they have been ever since. Little did I know that eleven years after that, I would be a minister in this spiritual movement. And on top of that, that I would be here serving this particular congregation as a sabbatical replacement minister for six months, while Ray Drennan (your then settled minister) was off on study leave.

I am so happy to join you as you celebrate your 175th anniversary as Canada’s oldest Unitarian congregation. It is fitting that this month’s theme is compassion. Because all those years ago, during my six months with you, I learned a lot about compassion.

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The Golden Rule of Compassion (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 16 April 2017

The other day I ran into a neighbour as we were both walking our dogs. “You know,” she said, “I’ve been thinking about you and Jesus. I’ve been wondering what you were going to say this Easter Sunday.” She looked at me almost beseechingly and said, “I can’t read the news anymore!”

I tell her that I’ve been feeling the same way. Lately I’ve been wishing I could be Rip Van Winkle. I’d like to lie down in some soft grassy place up on the mountain, fall asleep and wake up twenty years from now. Just let the time pass and hope that the world is in a better state when I awake.

My neighbour says to me, “Who cares if Jesus ever lived. It’s the message that matters.” Then she puts into words what I’ve been struggling with lately. She says, “I don’t have hope. You can’t have hope now. All we have is our goodness, and goodness is strength.”

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Compassion in Many Voices from Arts to Islam

April 9, 2017
Reflection from Samuel Dalpé
Samuel Dalpé is completing a doctorate in contemporary religious studies. 

Une image d’une jeune fille en détresse est présentée à l’audience. Altruisme, volonté d’engagement et de porter secours sont alors fortement signifiée (bien que les résultats diffèrent selon la couleur de peau du sujet). Cette même jeune fille est présentée par la suite au côté de son frère[1]. Le degré sollicitude chute alors, et l’envie d’aider diminue. Joignez à l’image le reste de la famille[2] et l’impact de celle-ci est encore diminué. Présentez des chiffres de l’ordre de « 4 millions d’enfants mourront cette année de la faim » et l’empathie s’essouffle encore davantage. Pire, les conséquences de cette perception d’impuissance, de cet épuisement émotionnel, en viendraient à affecter notre motivation à considérer les engagements utiles près de nous[3]. Depuis une dizaine d’années, les études en psychologie et en neurosciences nous le confirment inlassablement, nos intuitions morales sont souvent déroutées lorsqu’elles sont conduites par notre empathie.

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Reflection from Shaheen Ashraf
Shaheen Ashraf, is a member of the board of the Canadian
Council of Muslim Women and secretary of its Montreal chapter.

I thank our leader of this congregation, Rev. Diane Rollert, for giving me this opportunity to share with you the Muslim perspective of ‘Compassion’.

In Arabic the phrase Bismi-Allah Ar Rahman Ar Raheem  translates to “In the name of God, TheCompassionate, The Merciful.  It is repeated before starting any act (work, study, worship, even before starting to eat). This, in my humble opinion, leads us humans to recognize consciously, our Source that some call God, or Allah or Jehovah OR, OR, OR!

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In All Honesty - Rites of Passage (Audio Available)

Reflections by Rev. Diane Rollert, Shoshanna Green and Normand Gosselin

Download In All Honesty by Rev. Diane Rollert
Download Shoshanna Green's reflection
Download Nomand Gosselin's reflection

My first wedding ceremony was supposed to be held on the beach, but rain changed our plans and we ended up inside the local yacht club. I was relieved. The surf was so loud that day, I had no idea how I’d be heard over the pounding waves. As planned, we got the cue that the bride was ready, so in I processed, followed by the groom and his groomsmen. Then we stood there, waiting at the makeshift altar. The bride’s music began, but no bride appeared. We smiled, the guests smiled back. The band played the wedding march to the end and started all over again. Still no bride. I stood there thinking, Ok, now what do I do? Just as I was about to step out of formation to find out what had happened to the bride, there she was. All was well, all was beautiful.

It’s been 15 years since that wedding, but what remains is the joy as the couple kissed and ran off before I could even say my closing words. They’d waited long enough and they were ready to plunge into their new life together. I laughed all the way home.

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Whatever Happened to Honesty? (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 5 March 2016

My father was a musician. In the 1960s, he designed a music program for the Chicago public school system. He took the soprano recorder — the woodwind flute-like instrument used in Baroque and Renaissance music — and he had it mass-produced in durable plastic. The sound was surprisingly clear and beautiful. He then wrote a teacher’s guide, the Olenick Method, using musical excerpts from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and the like. He was on a crusade to expose children to real music. 

Back in those days, most schools would introduce students to the flutophone as their first musical instrument. It was this screeching flute-like thing.  We’d all learn how to play ear-splitting renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. It was awful.  But Dad had us playing the William Tell Overture on the descant recorder, and it sounded like music. Mention the flutophone in my house and my father would shout out, “A total piece of crap!”

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