Service Leader: Jo-Anne Elder-Gomes
November 5, 2006
BREATH OF THIS MOMENT
Breath of the divine, light a flame of reflection
in all that we do.
To Dare to Be Religious...
Breath of creation, light a flame of connection
in our circle of care.
Breath of wonder, light a flame of inspiration
to cultivate participation.
Breath of fear, light a flame of courage
to be who we are: sentient, vulnerable, and diverse.
Breath of this moment, light a flame of celebration
- for our future unfolds the covenant of this day.
--- By Janet Vickers
SOUFFLE DU MOMENT
Souffle du divin, donnez vie a la flamme de la reflexion
pour decouvrir le sens profond de nos actes
Souffle de la creation, donnez vie a la flamme de la compassion
pour creer des liens qui nous unissent
Souffle de l'emerveillement, donnez vie a la flamme de l'inspiration
pour nous inciter a la participation active de tout notre etre.
Souffle de la peur, donnez vie a la flamme du courage
pour etre qui nous sommes : consciencieux, vulnerables et diversifies.
Souffle du moment, donnez vie a la flamme de la celebration
pour que notre avenir puisse se deployer
grace a notre engagement d'aujourd'hui
--- Jo-Anne Elder-Gomes, with Lucie-Marie Castonguay-Bowers and Gilles
Hymn #123: Spirit of Life
Story: Those Words
Joys and Sorrows
Based on the words of Rev. Brian Kiely:
"How can we care for one another if we don't know each other's stories?
We need to know . . . that it is acceptable to HAVE a personal story,
whether you share it publicly, privately or not at all. We are all flawed
beings moving through a flawed world. We all encounter challenges at some
point in our lives that seem too much to bear. This Joys and Sorrows
ritual is our weekly reminder to those who are sad, that wonderful things
can and do happen everyday. And it equally a reminder to the happy and
healthy, that others need their support and friendship when they are able
to give it." I invite you to share your personal stories of joy or
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin-
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
T. S. Eliot
Dorothy Smith: "Every utterance contains the speaker/writer's creative
struggle to make a language that is pre-given and determines how she can
mean, mean what she wants in the actual local settings in which she
speaks or writes."
"I am looking for a way of speaking and writing of the power that brings
us to life and keeps us going, the power that holds up when we can't
imagine how we are managing not to collapse. ...
This root of justice, where is it in our lives? How do we experience the
sacred, that which will liberate us from lives that do not connect in
mutually empowering ways? To whom do we turn for help?"
Carter Heyward, Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love
From Rev. Charles Eddis: "The question is not, does God exist? The
question is, how is faith in God possible? And what sort of God? Faith is
not belief. It is a quality that involves relationship, a relationship of
trust. Well did Martin Luther say, `Whatever thy heart clings to and
relies upon, that properly is thy God.' "
"Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a
commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the
reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In
the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally
necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that
transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that
transformation." Audre Lorde, "The transformation of silence into
Language and Action," in Sister Outsider
Forms, colors, sensuous relationships, rhythms, textures, tones,
transmutations of energy, all belong to the natural world. Before humans
arrived, their power was there; they were nameless yet not powerless. To
touch their power, humans had to name them.
The revolutionary artist, the re-layer of possibility, draws on such
powers. The revolutionary poet loves people, rivers, other creatures,
stones, trees inseparably from art, is not ashamed of any of these loves,
and for them conjures a language that is public, intimate, inviting,
terrifying, and beloved.
Adrienne Rich, "The Revolutionary Poet," What is Found There: Notebooks
on Poetry and Politics
Talk: To Dare or Not to Dare?
From CanU: Appreciative Inquiry Summary
Define: Before the board retreat, Mary Bennett devised several questions
for the board asking, "What's the best of what we already do?" The
board's purpose was to determine common goals for the coming year as well
as build synergy between newcomers and veterans in the group.
Discover: Board members (and several staff) interviewed each other in
pairs, trying to discover the times when each person felt our religion is
at its best.
Dream: The interview results were shared with the whole board, and they
tried to imagine what the cuc would look like if the best things were
commonplace instead of exceptional.
Design: The large group summarized their findings in four propositions,
then took them back to small groups to devise action steps.
Deliver (or Do It): The board will use the action steps in its
decisionmaking over the coming year.
The Board's four Provocative Propositions:
- Dare to be religious in all that we do (spirituality)
- Inspire participation (teamwork)
- Create connections (communication)
- Risk diversity (outreach)
1. Dare to be religious
The first of the Board's propositions for the cuc relates to
spirituality: dare to be religious in all that we do. Nora Prosser of
Hamilton observes that she has "noticed a hunger for spirituality in our
congregations." Jean Armstrong of Portage La Prairie thinks there's a
simple way to inject spirituality into our practices, at least at
denominational events like the cuc annual conference. "I think our
professional ministers should play a larger role, since they're trained
in theology and contemplate these things every week."
At the U.U.A. G.A. in Montreal, on the day after the vote to have the CUC
take responsibility to deliver services to Canadian congregations, Rev.
Ray Drennan spoke about the challenges facing all faith groups at the
dawn of this new century: "Religious loyalty and tradition, for
tradition's sake, may be a thing of the past. If a significant number of
the members of Generations X, Y, and Z ever choose to walk through our
Unitarian doors, if they ever choose to become more involved, and if we
dare to listen to them and even dare to follow their dreams and desires
for our religious community, then they will lead us to change radically
in ways which we cannot even dream of today." His suggestions, which ask
us to consider leaving Christianity sociologically (that is in our
practices of how we "do" church) as we have left them theologically, is
consistent with much of the literature we have on children's religious
education. For instance, we need to leave the language of "Sunday
School", "classes" and "teachers" behind, and with them our concepts of
knowledge and roles. Those of you who are involved in student-centred
learning, collaborative learning, communicative approaches to
second-language teaching, or women's or other interdisciplinary studies
will be familiar with these ideas. Ray Drennan invites U*U Congregations
to be "Collective Kitchens of the Spirit. What a picnic it would be if,
in our congregations as a weekly and daily diet, we had more dynamic
collective-kitchens of the spirit preparing wholesome authentic Unitarian
foods of the Pagan, Cosmic, Humanist, Theist, Christian or Buddhist
variety. What a picnic it would be if each Sunday morning we dared to
reach across the table and try foods that were new to our pallet? Oh what
a picnic that would be!"
And I, for my part, would invite us to become learners together,
supporting each other to grow and learn. Our roles would be to accompany
the spiritual growth of the others in our community.
Wayne Arnasson speaks about the same situation, but uses the God-language
some of us struggle with. Here are his words: "We see many more newcomers
to our congregation with little or no religious background in their
lives, nothing they feel they have to rebel against. They are open to the
language of spirituality and they search us out because they understand
there must be other definitions of God, salvation, and faith beyond those
that flood the radio and television airwaves.
"In our congregation, we perceive a lack of trust among the
congregation's founders and long time supporters that the new generation
coming in will truly be their religious companions, and that the church
they want to create will be the same one that they have supported for
many years. Those who are humanists fear that their perspective on
religion might be crowded out. Those who have long held to a naturalistic
theism have trouble with pagans who want to embody that into
non-traditional liturgies. Those who saw religious action in terms of
social service and justice work have a hard time accepting that daily
spiritual practice might also be religious action that informs and
strengthens our capacity to make a difference in the world." Wayne
Philip Hewett has written an excellent article summarizing the history of
the Canadian U*U movement, which can be found at
I'm going to be drawing heavily on this article and on some Unitarian
ministers' sermons in this talk.
One of Hewett's insights relates to the need for modernizing and
Canadianizing the language of Unitarianism. Hewett points to religious
thinkers who, in his words, are "following the paths marked out by
artists and literary figures." Perhaps it is for this reason that our U*U
tradition is so rich in poetry. Our holy book may be the great human
poetic text to which all writers contribute, a text which would include
but not be limited to the Holy Bible, the universal story that is told in
the words of our individual yearnings. Poetry, I believe, is truly the
language of worship.
The Canadian contributions to this text, the expressions of a Canadian
imagination and mythos, are, writes Philip Hewett, "provocative." He
speaks of the idea of a Canadian contextual theology - a project now
taken up by Rev. Carole Martignaccio, as a way of identifying the
distinctive goals and contributions that Canada might bring to an
international U*U community: the goals of building bridges, of
establishing firm foundations of trust, of living on the "edge of empire"
as Douglas Hall writes.
According to Philip Hewett, the dominant theology among Canadian
Unitarians has shifted in recent decades. The theology upon which
societies were founded in the nineteenth century, imported by men like
John Cordner and William Hincks, continued to predominate in the first
four decades of the twentieth century. This was a liberal Christian
version of Unitarianism, sometimes imported from the England, Ireland and
Europe. Transcendentalism and the Free Religious movement in the U.S.
were introduced only after the Second World War, where Canadians formed a
closer connection with American Unitarian thinking. The outlook then
shifted, remarkably quickly and smoothly, from liberal Christianity to
secular humanism. This was reinforced by social movements emphasizing the
progress of human civilization through the use of reason, as exemplified
in the economic boom and in medical advances, as well as the existential
disillusionment with divine power. Then, writes Hewett, came "the crash.
Terrifying and unforeseen side-effects of the human efforts to dominate
and control the environment... there were limits to our attempts to play
God." In some societies, the founding members "held on to their
[humanist] vision of a rational re-ordering of the world..." In larger
congregations, those who share a humanist or a theist philosophy form
small groups that consider themselves in the congenial company of
like-minded people and may feel distanced from the congregation or the
movement as a whole, minoritized.
Many members who joined in the twentieth centuries, however, came to this
religion by choice, from another one, just as they or their ancestors
came to Canada. Philip Hewett comments: "We have gained from this
process, but we have also lost a great deal." He suggests that "we can
learn from those who have maintained a continuity with their historic
faith notwithstanding their openness to the contemporary world," as well
as a keen commitment to the land and people around them. These people are
at home with the warm ancestral fires that burn on in them, as well as
with the endless season of snow that teach them to cope effectively with
the tragedies and the struggles of life.
"Unity in diversity," writes Hewett, "always requires a greater effort to
maintain the unity than to see the diversity." Identifying common needs
and developing common visions in community is more difficult for us than
affirming individual freedom of thought or belief. Pluralism and
inclusivity can lead to cultural relativism and the lack of a strong,
expressive language. Certainly, liberal Christians involved in the Social
Gospel movement had more in common with the shared humanist view of
personal rationality and social progress, in terms of providing a unity
of vision. As Philip Hewett asserts: "Where there is no vision the people
perish - or at least, they remain uninspired."
Like the Canadian identity, our Unitarian identity is often expressed in
negative language. We are not fundamentalists, we have no dogma or creed,
we are against oppression or globalization. The next step is to affirm
what we are and we have in common. I find our decision to become a
Welcoming Congregation interesting in this respect as well, since not
only was it affirming our identity - yesterday, Wilfred Langmaid made
reference to this central concern as part of our being - but we were also
standing up "for" same-sex marriage, equal marriage rights and so on. My
favourite slogan in that campaign remains "Unitarians standing on the
side of love." No one, I don't think, would want to protest against love,
but for me to articulate the importance of love along with the obvious
need to combat hatred is empowering. I want our religious community to
stand for love, for peace, for social justice. This is in keeping with
the appreciative inquiry approach I increasingly use in my workshops and
Some of us find it challenging to accept any religious language, although
we draw constantly from religious sources in our services. Our readings
come from diverse roots, but the history of our movement is one that can
be related to such Judeo-Christian events as the Protestant Reformation.
Let me say that another way: The history of our movement is one that can
be related to such Judeo-Christian events as the Protestant Reformation,
but our readings come from diverse roots. Can you hear the difference?
But let's make a simple, even more radical shift rather than simply
inversing the terms: Our readings come from diverse roots, and the
history of our movement is one that can be related to such
Judeo-Christian events as the Protestant Reformation. In other words, we
don't have to be either / or, we can be both / and.
But more than the use of readings from one tradition or another, the real
challenge we have is that of using intentionally religious language. I
remember being surprised when I heard a Canadian U*U minister reminded us
that "after all, we're a religion, not a community group." That wasn't
obvious to me at the time, which was ... 2001. What words is it that we
should hesitate to use? What words is it that cause problems?
If we decide to avoid all words that relate to religion or any other
religion, what is the purpose of our coming together? Are we a political
or a social movement? That would mean, of course, choosing common causes
and parties. Everyone who isn't NDP or pro-choice would be either bored
by the discussion or shunned. Or we could choose a common ideology.
Feminism seems like a good possibility. However, I'm afraid we may be in
even greater danger of losing young adults from our pews... I mean our
chairs. The young women in my class are articulate and strong in their
beliefs, and they hate labels the way Second-Wave feminists like me hate
to be told what to do with our lives.
Moreover, this is the only place where I can go to engage in a particular
kind of creative, community and intellectual activity, and that is an
activity of a religious nature. I have my own spiritual practices, as a
family we have strong spiritual roots and wings, but - I mean and - it is
only here that I can come together with others who, whether or not they
share my belief system, have committed, by their presence, to thinking
together about the deeper concerns of human existence. Religion means the
act of tying people together. The fact that we are committed to making
decisions and to listening to music and to sitting in the same room
together binds us. I believe we are linked as strongly by the words we
speak to each other as we are by the acts we perform - acts of social
justice, acts of caring and, for me, acts of faith. To me, as for my
Baha'i friends, service is worship. I act out of what I believe in, and
it is a way or remembering and trusting the very source of my being,
something beyond who I am on the surface. Those of you here know me
better than many people I see every day, and that is because we worship
together. Worship means honouring that which is worthy - whether it is
within us or outside of us doesn't really matter to me. What does matter
is that we recognize what is important, that we state its importance.
Rev. Kiely has given a course as well as a service entitled "The Language
of Reverence." He was responding to Rev. William Sinkford, President of
the UUA., who was concerned about our reluctance to use religious or
reverential language in describing ourselves. "I realized that we have in
our Principles an affirmation of our faith that uses not one single piece
of religious language. Not even one word that is traditionally religious.
And that is a wonderment to me; I wonder whether this kind of language
can adequately capture who we are and what we're about... UUs have no
language that allows us to capture the possibility of reverence, to name
that which is holy, and to talk about human agency in theological
Similarly, former UUA President Gene Pickett observed of our Principles,
"they describe a process of approaching the religious depths but they
testify to no intimate acquaintance with the depths themselves." Is that
something we need to change?
Is avoiding the description of the depths in case someone has seen
different things there a deference to the atheists or secular humanists
that does not properly acknowledge the presence of the theists among us?
In the language we choose to sing, to name our community, to use in our
Sunday services, what do we do with theists, Universalists, God? Is this
choice a compromise? If it is, then we need to seriously consider whether
a compromise is all we can manage. Rev. Kiely speaks of the frustration
that comes from compromising all the time, and of things that he has
discovered about himself. Perhaps it is a refusal to settle that comes
from greater experience with the depths, but - and -it may also be the
willingness to take risks, to dare. For many years I believed that
following the rules would keep me safe. Well, it didn't. So now I am more
willing to risk following my heart. Carlos's illness taught me that being
willing to risk everything, accepting the possibility that everything
would be lost, brought with it great gifts of understanding and courage.
Like Rev. Kiely, "personally profound turning points such as the deaths
of my parents and the chance of gazing into my minutes old daughter's
eyes taught me that... They taught me that what I had believed was
inadequate to the task of explaining the experience. I found I needed
something more, something beyond the merely and purely human. I can't say
what it is exactly. I can't define it, give it limits, shape or colour.
Nevertheless I can feel it, and I choose to call it God." U*U Minister
Forrest Church writes: "God is not God's name. God is my name for the
mystery that looms within and arches beyond the limits of my being. Life
force, spirit of life, ground of being, these too are names for the
unnameable which I am now content to call my God."
One of the frustrations of compromise stems from the refusal to choose
one action or another wholeheartedly. I think the way of overcoming the
refusal to choose is to acknowledge the co-existence of two and more
choices, as the little star between the two U's suggests. It's not just
either / or; it is also both / and.
Another frustration comes from the sense of not being willing to go far
enough. At this time in human history, as much or more so than in other
difficult times, we need to find a language that makes it possible to
speak to each other about what matters, to talk about things that seem
incomprehensible. If we are going to think for ourselves, we need to
learn more words, not fewer, to communicate with others. We need to dare
to ask the hard questions, about genocide, the possible existence of
evil, our complacency about the hunger of children and the mutilation of
women's bodies. Perhaps that is where we need to call on the idea of
something large than ourselves to sustain us in our very human struggle.
We need to ask the important questions about the meaning of life, how to
make ethical and principled decisions, what a fair and compassionate
response would be to the tragedies.
We need to have words for these concepts of the greater good, the more
human, and, if we sense the existence of something else, the
beyond-ourselves, beyond-existence, or beyond-imagining, perhaps even
more than we have to find words for all that which is seemingly
inexplicable, unspeakably horrible. If we dare not speak, we also do not
have any way to bear witness to what we have experienced in our spiritual
Rev. Kiely talks about our "donut" religion, in which we have people
standing around a hole that might be called religion, and asks us: "If we
are as open as we claim to be, can we not make room for a discussion of
what we truly believe? In our radical tolerance are we so afraid of words
like God, sacred, belief and faith? Or is there a place in our donut hole
for those concepts too?"
I think we need to acknowledge the struggle we have with naming, and
remember that it is even more appropriate here to live through the big
questions, to live our way into the answers, as Rilke wrote. "What do we
do with God?" is a question that engages our whole, free-thinking minds.
We need to consider it worthy of our full intelligence and attention, and
realize that when we stop asking that question we set limits on our
ongoing discovery of meaning, as well as our acceptance of human
mysteries. Brian Kiely's e-mail response from God on this question is:
"The answer is as always. You'll invent me, dress me up, deny me, praise
me, hate me, work with me, work against me, think creatively about me,
and think about me not at all. You'll curse me and desperately call my
name in foxholes . And through it all, I will remain distant and
mysterious. And that's a good thing, for as much as you protest against
them, you humans love a good mystery the same way a dog loves a bone. It
gives you a spiritual thing to chew on."
Theists are not the only beings capable of chewing on this bone, though,
or of employing a vocabulary of reverence: David Bambaugh writes:
"Humanism...gave us a doctrine of incarnation which suggests not that the
holy became human in one place at one time to convey a special message to
a single chosen people, but that the universe itself is continually
incarnating itself in microbes and maples, in hummingbirds and human
beings, constantly inviting us to tease out the revelation contained in
stars and atoms and every living thing." Truly a language of reverence,
of poetry... perhaps the two are the same thing.
I would argue that simply using the language of reverence makes us more
reverent towards the community in which we situate ourselves, that using
the words that we hold in fear or disdain enables us to define them anew,
to give them authentic meaning, and that taking the chance of calling
what we do "worship" - worth-shaping, makes us better able to shape our
practices into that which is exponentially more worthy through our active
engagement with them. Thinking about this language, using this language,
helps us to think religiously, reverently, ethically.
Rev. Sinkford stated that "My growing belief is that, as a religious
community and as individuals, we may be secure enough, mature enough to
find a language of reverence, a language that can acknowledge the
presence of the holy in our lives. Perhaps we are ready. Perhaps this
faith we love is ready to stop calling itself a movement and start
calling itself a religion."
We are a people who dare to dream, who dare to make change possible. Our
giving comes out of that attitude of generosity and faith. We dare to
consider ourselves abundant people, and to consider this community worthy
of our faith in it. We will now accept the offering.
Responsive Reading: "May We Dare" Rev. Anne Treadwell, Lucie-Marie
May we recollect that everyone who has changed the world for the better
has run the risk of failure. To be religious, which is to commit
ourselves to a better way, in our relationships, our work, our society
and even our leisure, is also to risk failure. May we dare to take such
MAY WE DARE TO BE RELIGIOUS IN ALL THAT WE DO.
PUISSIONS-NOUS OSER ETRE RELIGIEUX EN TOUT CE QUE NOUS
Sometimes, the most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to one
another. We dare to believe that each of us can increase another's
energy, inspire another's thinking, support another's courage.
MAY WE DARE TO CREATE CONNECTIONS.
PUISSIONS-NOUS OSER CREER DE NOUVELLES RELATIONS
It is tempting to remain apart from the affairs of the world, secure in
our private world, but to be religious is to keep always in our
consciousness that we are interdependent. We are inescapably part of all
around us, but we must choose whether we will act in light of that
MAY WE DARE TO PARTICIPATE RATHER THAN WITHDRAW.
PUISSIONS-NOUS OSER PARTICIPER PLUTOT QUE DE SE RETIRER
Not everyone is like us, however much we wish they were. It takes courage
to recognize and deal with our differences, for it means adjusting our
own ways of being. It takes courage to celebrate wholeheartedly the
myriad human ways of believing and acting and being.
MAY WE DARE TO RISK DIVERSITY.
PUISSIONS-NOUS OSER ACCEPTER LE RISQUE DE LA DIVERSITE,
MAY WE DARE TO BE RELIGIOUS IN ALL THAT WE DO.
PUISSIONS-NOUS OSER ETRE RELIGIEUX EN TOUT CE QUE NOUS
Rev. Anne Treadwell
previously minister to the First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo
French response by Lucie-Marie Castonguay-Bowers
Hymn #131 Love Will Guide Us
Call for Action
Declaration of Women's Groups on the occasion of the Federal, Provincial
and Territorial Meeting of Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women
The five million dollar cut to Status of Women Canada causes deep concern
for women's groups about the Canadian government's commitments to
These cuts are extremely worrisome. They are indicative of the
orientation of this government. Our worry is much more than financial.
Are we in the midst of a dismantling of Status of Women Canada? A
dismantling of the very mechanisms dedicated to the advancement of
Our concern has grown over recent months as the federal government has
made several decisions that risk a widening of inequalities faced by
women. It abolished the brand new national child care program, announced
it would not support the adoption of proactive pay equality legislation,
and it eliminated the Court Challenges Program.
Such measures risk undermining Canada's commitments to women's equality
and lead to an erosion of rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms and international human rights obligations. During
the last federal election campaign, Stephen Harper, in a letter to FAFIA,
committed to taking concrete and immediate measures to ensure that Canada
fully upholds its commitments to women. These cuts are not consistent
with Mr. Harper's statement during the election.
Hymn One More Step
Rev. Sinkford writes: "Put a name to what calls you, and ask yourself
what it is to which you find yourself called. Do it often; you won't
always necessarily come up with the same answer."
May we feel that we are called by name to do the work we have chosen to
do, that we are given the words to speak our selves, that we can reclaim
the language that has always been ours, just as we were born and deserve
to live as whole beings, speaking our own minds with our own tongues. May
it be so.