Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda
news of our historic UU church in Ruthven (Kingsville), Ontario

About Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda

Unitarian Universalist Church Of Olinda Photograph This church was founded on the faith that love is a more positive force for good than fear. It exists as a haven of religious freedom, offering fellowship, knowledge and inspiration to all who would seek truth, live responsibly and courageously, and be of service to humanity.



 

Publications available in celebration of 140th Anniversary

December 11th, 2020 . by William Baylis

In Celebration of the UU Church of Olinda’s 140th Anniversary the following two publications are now available for you to have your own copies.

  1. Universalists in Ontario by Louise Foulds
    A Centennial Project of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda – 1980 Revised Second Edition for the 125th Anniversary of the Church – 2005
  2. The Little Church at the Crossroads By Jane Innerd
    A Brief History of the First 120 Years of The Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda together with A History of the Years 2000 to 2020. In Celebration of the 140th Anniversary of the church.

To order, please download either the pdf or the word version of the attached flyer and complete the order form on the second page.


Current Sunday Services for 2021

March 18th, 2020 . by William Baylis

In-person Services suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Executive Committee of the Board together with the Minister of the church are monitoring advisories on the current coronal virus outbreak. At their meeting after the service on March 15, they elected not to offer in-person worship services until further notice. The in-person services are being replaced by new online materials and virtual services using Zoom. For future worship services, the situation will be re-evaluated with the latest medical and societal information then available.

Please check back on this site for updates, and visit canada.ca/coronavirus for more information on the virus.

The arrival of spring brings expectations for brighter and more colourful days. And along with these, we can find illumination on the mysteries of light and colour.

Date Speaker Title Musician(s)
Jan. 3 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Beyond ExpectationsWith Advent now past, new seasons of expectation are before us, as the coming months may reveal a new sense of life. Baylis-Stone Trio
Jan. 10, 2021 Elizabeth Ha Justicia for Migrant WorkersSue Markham, service leader Lorie Lyons
Jan. 17, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Uncomfortable Conversations>We sometimes hesitate to delve into some deep conversations because the topic is unfamiliar, or we may be afraid to make a mistake in how we talk about it. But if we find people or places that reassure us that it’s OK to lean into difficult topics – however imperfectly – then uncomfortable conversations can strengthen meaningful connections. Toni Janik
Jan. 24, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Long HaulAbout a month into the new year, we might wonder how exactly this year differs from the previous one. Even with major changes, a lot might feel the same for another while. Where do we fit in in the story of this new year’? Lorie Lyons
Jan. 31, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel France is Bacon“Knowledge is power”, but there are some questions we are not sure how to ask, either because we might not have the words we need, or because others don’t share that language with us. This can lead to misunderstandings, and it can also invite further contemplation. Toni Janik
Feb. 7, 2021 CUC, Revs. Shana Lynngood and Samaya Oakley A Faith Worth Failing For – National Service at 1 pm
We often talk about Unitarian Universalism as a transformational faith – and yet to be transformed means to take a risk. How is it that we are adverse to taking such risks when it comes to widening the circle of who we are as a community? Join Revs. Shana Lynngood and Samaya Oakley for a service that explores how we’ve failed and how we can learn from those failures to become the transformational faith we proclaim to be.
CUC link
Feb. 14, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Love it or Leave itWe all have things we don’t particularly care about… and we might not understand why others would be into those things. Sometimes people will pay a premium for a food we never crave, or we know die-hard fans of a movie we thought was alright for an evening, but its fandom perplexes us. The way people express their love and form relationships is also varied, and folks may go about it in ways that don’t resonate with others. The culture of diversity allows room for multiple realities to coexist. Baylis-Stone trio
Feb. 21, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Speaking in TonguesLanguages come in different flavours – with different sounds, looks, and stories. And forms of expression can go beyond spoken or written dialects. Telling each other our stories, or making ourselves known, can encompass all aspects of our being. Toni Janik
Feb. 28, 2021 Phil Alexander The Hardening of Attitudes – A Terminal Condition? Some of my experiences may lead to the conclusion that there is no generally agreed upon answer.​ (Black History Month) Lorie Lyons
Mar. 7, 2021 Karen Miller Light and Shadow: Transcendence and The Wisdom of Wise Women (International Women’s Day on March 8) Karen invites everyone attending the service to bring names of 1-3 women who have inspired you, and if you would like, also a quote by one of the women mentioned. tba
Mar 14, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Circling BackWe now mark a year of church outside the walls of our building, and anniversaries have power as times for commemoration and contemplation… sometimes, even celebration. We can recognize this time, and the feelings that come along with it, together. Toni Janik
Mar 21, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Circle of LightThe arrival of spring brings expectations for brighter and more colourful days. And along with these, we can find illumination on the mysteries of light and colour. Lorie Lyons
Mar 28, 2021 Rev. Conrad Dippel Salvation in the Stacks Based upon my experience in old libraries and wrecking yards, I explore the relationship between salvage and salvation, and wonder whether a Unitarian Universalist can be saved again. Baylis-Stone trio
Apr. 4, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel [Easter Sunday] Rising From the Rabbit Hole – Sometimes, a bit of extra time online can land us in unexpected places, as exploration of new topics can feed greater curiosity. Eventually, the time to emerge out of these rabbit holes invites new opportunities to rise up. Toni Janik
Apr. 11, 2021 Rev. Nicole McKay Called to ServeAt every juncture in our lives, we are asked to be attentive to that still small voice inside that guides us on our way. This is the journey of discernment which is revealed to us slowly over time and it is our responsibility to stay curious about how these callings will play out. This Sunday, join Nicole as she shares how she has come to discern her call to ministry as a Unitarian Universalist military chaplain in Canada, and how your own life’s journey is helping you bring your gifts and talents in service to the wider world. Lorie Lyons
Apr. 18, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Planet GroundOur planet is unique for many reasons, and exploring how other planets in our galaxy might compare invites the imagination to ponder on just what conditions are “just right” for life as we know it! Baylis-Stone Trio
Apr. 25, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel MVPs – Most Valuable Players – One year on, the meaning of essential workers remains elusive, with much debate as to what work is considered essential – though it’s clear that work itself is essential for livelihoods, and that workers are central to workplaces. Toni Janik
May 2, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel The Best Worst Spanish Sometimes, making mistakes can be the best way to get it right – be it learning a language, or building community. Lorie Lyons
May 9, 2021 Rev. Rosalind Mariconda Mother Nature: our timely teacherWe are called to consciously restore balance in a variety of ways, both in ourselves and in our world. The rhythms of Nature can guide us. Toni Janik
May 16, 2021 CUC AGM: Nation-Wide Service CUC Nationwide service Sustaining Our Light at 1 pm ET. – Now more than ever we need to be grounded in connection, in hope, and in love. As the cycles of the seasons teach us the gifts of the dark as well as the light, we still need energy–a spark–to fuel living into our aspirations and values no matter the season, the struggle, or the celebration. This Sunday service will celebrate how our UU faith and our connections are crucial to sustaining and amplifying that spark. tba
May 23, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Reading Tea LeavesThere is no right way to make tea – except… there actually is!  And that depends on what you’re making the tea for, or for whom, or why.  Standards matter, and it also matters when they do not.  Best practices work best when we ask what they are best for. Lorie Lyons
May 30, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel The Best Worst SpanishSometimes, making mistakes can be the best way to get it right – be it learning a language, or building community. Toni Janik
June 6, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel What is it Good For?Author and UU minister Robert Fulghum once proposed making a “Crayola bomb” to deliver crayons around the world whenever there was an international crisis, in order to promote creativity and wonder.  What are the alternatives?  Are they any better? Toni Janik
June 13, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Sheet CakeWe often have an instinct to help out.  But sometimes, our desire to be helpful might not match the actual needs of those who seek support.  How can we close the gap and be real supporters, rather than help for our own sake? Lorie Lyons
June 20, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel BBR (Be Right Back)Flower Celebration. Our program year is winding down, but church isn’t really over.  We have plans for the summer and into the fall.  And we mark this shift with our flower celebration. Lorie Lyons
June 27, 2021 Dr. Katherine Baylis The Howard Pawley Memorial Lecture: Can Earth, Now Stressed by Climate Change, Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People?Critical food issues in sub-Saharan Africa offer valuable lessons. Baylis-Stone
July 11, 2021 Qasim Rashid TBA Baylis


You are welcome to attend our Sunday Services

February 3rd, 2019 . by William Baylis

Services begin at 10:30 AM on Sundays and last about one hour. Children are invited to attend religious education classes during the service. Weather permitting, we meet every Sunday between Labour Day and the end of June and once a month in July and August. About three services every month are given by our new minister, the Reverend Rod Emilio Solano-Quesnel and typically include an engaging sermon on a  timely topic. Other services often feature an invited guest speaker. Services are usually followed by good tea, coffee, and conversation. Please see the monthly newsletter on this site for scheduled sermons, speakers, and musicians. We welcome atheists, agnostics, and theists, pagans, humanists, Christians, members of other religious faiths and from LGTBQ communities and others seeking fellowship, knowledge, and inspiration.


The UU Church of Olinda is a welcoming congregation

September 5th, 2014 . by William Baylis

UUA Chalice Rainbow You are welcome here!welcominglogo_200


Summer 2021 Newsletter

July 4th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


BRB (Be Right Back) | Flower Celebration

June 20th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The Story of Flower Communion

Foothills Unitarian Church, in collaboration with Steve Sedam, narration and editing by Rev. Gretchen Haley (24 May, 2021)

Meditation of the Season – #73 Chant for the Seasons (Summer)
~)-| Words: Mark L. Belletini, 1949- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Czech folk song harmony © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
~)-| Arranged by Grace Lewis-McLaren, 1939-
Tune PRAHA

The Community Church of New York UU (25 June, 2020)

Homily – BRB (Be Right Back) | Flower Ceremony – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

The starwheel has turned again and, starting tomorrow, we can be right back to summer.  To Be Right Back is something you might quickly type in an online chat with the abbreviation BRB, when you need to step away from your device for a moment, assuring your long-distance companion that you will Be Right Back.  At summer time, as many programs are winding down, including much of our own church planning, we may find ourselves saying to each other that we’ll Be Right Back, more often than usual.

I’ll be right back, to that in a few minutes.  But first, I want to share a “cheesy story” to give more perspective to a ritual that has become tradition among our communities of faith.

It has been an open secret in the marketing industry that essentially-identical products can be marketed to different genders with some mere repackaging.

Often these products can be more expensive when targeted to women, even if they’re functionally the same, but decorated in a way that society might consider more “feminine” such as by presenting it in pink or lighter shades.  Because of that, this practice is often called the “pink tax”, even though it’s not a government tax, but it can effectively be a surcharge that many companies place on women.

Conversely, the repackaging of products with gender-specific designs can also be used to target men for products that have traditionally been regarded as only suited for a female demographic.

Soft drink companies, for instance, have found that diet sodas are primarily consumed by women, due to lopsided (and often oppressive) societal expectations on women’s looks, shape, and weight.  To expand this market, newer diet pop varieties have come out with slight name re-brandings and designs intended to appeal to the male demographic… whereas “diet” pop might come in more delicate, lighter-coloured cans, “low-calorie” sodas might come in cans with dark, bold, “manlier” designs.

This practice can sneak up in unexpected ways.  We enjoy a good portion of cheese in our household, so we often buy several bricks at the grocery store.  We get a few kinds, for variety – cheddar (white and marble), Havarti, gouda, pepper jack, and so on.  At one point, I saw a couple of options that caught my eye…

I have always been suspicious of the “low-fat” versions of food, especially since the fat in these foods is often an essential nutrient in them, so I don’t usually pay attention to the low-fat cheese in the dairy aisle.  But then, I found a “high protein” option, which I thought might complement my health regimen, especially after a workout.

It took me a couple double-takes, but it eventually occurred to me that cheese is primarily protein and fat.  Sure, there is some water moisture, salt, and milk sugars (lactose), but the main event in cheese is fat and protein.  Therefore, a low-fat cheese would have a higher proportion of protein, and a high-protein cheese, would automatically necessitate a lower amount of fat.

Surely enough, when I checked the nutritional information on the packaging, I found that the two products are identical – except for the packaging.  The low-fat version has a lighter, “daintier” design that is presumably marketed to women, while the high-protein version has more solid, bolder colours, in a “manlier” design that is presumably marketed to men, who might not be as interested in “diet” products, but who wouldn’t mind a food that helps them bulk up in their workouts.

These gender constructs permeate throughout our society, sometimes affecting what kinds of things we’re supposed to like, what colours we’re expected to enjoy, what occupation we should have, or what company we’re supposed to keep.

Tradition has directed mothers to receive flowers on Mothers’ Day, though some of you may be well aware of what other things your mother might be partial to.  And, in the popular imagination, fathers are expected to get other things, like ties, wallets, or cigar-flavoured cologne… but flowers are not usually on the list.

Today, we affirm that fathers – and all parents… all individuals, in fact – are equally entitled to enjoy the beauty of flowers.

Rev. Norbert Čapek, from the Liberal Religious Fellowship (Unitarian) in Prague, did not find any social barrier to suggesting flowers as something that everyone can enjoy – in fact, he intentionally used them as a tool for inclusion, when he created the Flower Celebration in 1923.

And today, we follow this tradition by receiving your offerings of flowers – your blessings from the community to the community – and sharing them with all of you.

These flower photos were offered via e-mail by many among you, including men, and they are meant for all of you, without regard to any gender you might – or might not – claim.

The images of these flowers will be posted on our website, with permission from those who offered them [link in the description, and on the web edition of this service].  You may come back to them, whenever you need your community’s blessing with a “flower fix” throughout the summer.

And we will be right back (BRB) my friends.  In fact, we’re not quite going away, just shifting pace for the summer, taking a bit of a break, and having a… lighter, though still solidly-identifiable presence.

Many of us, my friends, will be right back, next week, with a guest speaker for the Howard Pawley memorial lecture, and during the summer, with two live online services, as well as a few web-based recorded services during August.  Our church will not quite go away, my friends.  Some among us, may take a longer break than others, but we will Be Right Back.

Enjoy the flowers, my friends.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in Love, and in Peace
We’ll Be Right Back
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Flower Celebration

(Photos and paintings of flowers published with permission)

Flower Hymn #78 Color and Fragrance
~)-| Words: Norbert F. Čapek, 1870-1942
~)-| trans. by Paul and Anita Munk, © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
~)-| English version by Grace Ulp, 1926-
~)-| Music: Norbert F. Čapek, 1870-1942
Tune O BARVY VUNE

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston WV (16 May, 2021)


Sheet Cake

June 13th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows – Dancing (2012) – Matt Harding and Melissa Nixon

Over the past year… or so, when certain names of places appear on the news, it’s usually not a good sign. When we see names like Hong Kong, Damascus, Kabul, Gaza, the Great Barrier Reef, or Beirut, it has often meant a story of sorrow or tragedy.

We do not forget these hard stories… and we can also recognize that these places – and their people – have a lot more story to tell than what often appears in the headlines. Matt Harding and Melissa Nixon offer a witness to moments of joy in many places around the world. A testament to a world gone before, and maybe a vision of a world that may yet be again.

When I watch this video, I see many places and people joining in sharing a special moment together. I also wonder about some of the stories in the background… including dynamics of colonialism, imperialism, privilege, and power. In looking into the background of the making of these videos by Matt Harding, Melissa Nixon, and their team, I’ve found affirming stories of them looking to do this responsibly, with practices such as obtaining permission and releases, looking to establish that the people in the video want to be in it; and offering financial compensation to dancers who do that for a living. It probably isn’t perfect – it is a practice of due diligence in relating responsibly.

Sermon – Sheet Cake – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

There is a story of legendary status about the rock band Van Halen.  Their show “rider” – the list they gave to each prospective venue, with instructions on how to prepare the stage and backstage – had a very particular requirement: to have a bowl of M&Ms backstage… with all the brown M&Ms removed.  For a long time, this was seen as the famous rockers playing the prima donna card.

It was eventually revealed that this apparently petty requirement was a test, to see if they could trust the venue to have followed all of their other instructions closely.  Van Halen had a lot of complicated – and potentially dangerous – equipment requirements, and a bowl that still had brown M&Ms was an indication to them that the venue had not followed their exacting technical requirements closely enough, therefore putting people and equipment at risk.

In a Story of Sheet Cake, offered by Rev. Brian Ferguson (and shared with his blessing), he describes what may well be a similar test to see if his congregation could follow the leadership of people of colour.  When his fellowship’s social justice chair asked an organizer for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally how their UU congregation might support them, they were asked to bring sheet cake.  The board’s instinct had been to offer something more – pie or other baked goods, which they were very good at doing – but Rev. Ferguson wondered if they should just do what had been asked of them.

They did just that, and brought the sheet cake – nothing else.  At the rally, an organizer recognized Rev. Ferguson as the minister at the fellowship that had offered the sheet cake, and then invited him to offer the benediction at the rally.  Rev. Ferguson was the only White speaker.  And he doesn’t know for certain, but he often wonders if bringing the sheet cake – as requested, and nothing else – was a test of sorts, to see if the predominantly White congregation would engage in the followship from the leadership of people of colour.

Over the past couple months, Canadian Unitarian Universalists have been paying closer attention to how we might address racism and oppression in our congregations and in society at large.  It’s not a new conversation, but it has picked up steam as we consider adding an 8th Principle that explicitly outlines our commitment to dismantle racism and other oppressions.

As we’ve done some groundwork over the past several years, including truth, healing, and reconciliation work, you may have heard an adage that is often cited when marginalized communities relate to historically dominant communities – nothing for us, without us.

That’s to say, anything that is done for the sake of beginning, restoring, or supporting relationships with marginalized groups, is better done if it takes the initiative and the input from the very groups that are asking for support.  It is tempting to offer something else… what would-be supporters consider best from their point of view, but which might not necessarily be the support that is most helpful, or wanted – and may in fact be harmful.

This month of June, there is plenty to consider in supporting people that have often been put in the margins.  June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada, with Indigenous People’s Day coming up on June 21.

June is also Pride month in many places, although the festivities – and protests – to affirm the worth and dignity of 2SLGBTQ+ peoples often carries on at other times during the summer, as is the case in the Windsor area.

There are also some important commemorations in Black history.  Many are U.S. based, but as we’ve learned, that history often extends to Canada’s history – and so do many of the lessons.

Next Saturday is the U.S. holiday Juneteenth, when enslaved people in Texas got the news of emancipation on June 19th, 1865… three years after emancipation had been declared.  And even then, slavery hadn’t been fully abolished U.S.-wide, until later, with the ratification of the 13th amendment.

And as we know, the legacy of slavery and subjugation of Black people has continued long after.  At the beginning of the month, we recognized 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre, which included the burning of Black Wall Street.  And there is still living memory about that event, as 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield (“Mother Randle”) recently testified to the U.S. congress.

A similar… not quite holiday – but celebration – is Loving Day, observed yesterday on June 12.  This recognizes a US Supreme Court ruling in Loving vs. Virginia striking down “anti-miscegenation” laws which were still applicable in some states.  Striking down those laws allowed interracial marriages U.S.-wide in 1967.  And there is living memory of those who were affected by those laws that were only so recently struck down.  Many among you were alive when laws against interracial marriages were still a legal reality.

In Canada, we’ve recently been using our newest $10 bill, featuring Viola Desmond, who was convicted of tax evasion (1 cent) as a result of a movie theatre’s discriminatory practice that didn’t allow her to sit where she wanted, in 1946 – even though segregation wasn’t exactly legal where she lived, other institutional means were used to oppress Black people like Viola Desmond.  Desmond’s sister keeps that living memory, and was around to see the unveiling of this new banknote a few years ago.  This is not ancient history.

Just a couple weeks ago, the finding of the remains of 215 children found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School highlighted the ongoing legacy of systemic harm on the Indigenous peoples of this land.  Survivors abound.  This is not ancient history.

The mass murder of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario, this very week, shows that Islamophobia, often based on racialized prejudice, lives in our communities.  This past week is not ancient history.

All of this history, some more recent than others, but all of it recent enough, reminds many of us of the urgency to act.  And when we act, we keep in mind – nothing for us, without us.

Many of you have expressed enthusiasm for a land acknowledgment at the beginning of our services.  And some of you are wondering why we still don’t have one.  It is not because this practice of land acknowledgement isn’t worthwhile, but simply because we haven’t been asked to do it.

When I was beginning to build a relationship with the Caldwell First Nation, I eventually asked one of their leaders about land acknowledgments, and I was assured that there is a template for this, which they offer to churches and schools – when asked for it.  But when I specifically asked if they would want us to have a land acknowledgement, the answer I got was that they were not requesting that from us.

Ever since then, we have – intentionally – done without a land acknowledgement, following the lead from a leader among the people we are building a relationship with.

This could change.  A different leader might give me a different answer, or the same leader who previously declined might give a different answer now.  We can stick to followship as we follow their lead.

It also doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge – and build upon – the relationship.  This morning, I acknowledged that the space our church building is in, is near the traditional home of the Caldwell First Nation, which is Point Pelee and its surroundings.  This is our own recognition of part of our relationship with the land and people we are among.  We do something similar when we recognize local communities of faith every week, from the Leamington Ministerial weekly prayer schedule.

This is something we can do for our sake, my friends, out of our own agency, while respecting the agency of the people we are in relationship with, and how they would like us to relate with them.

Recognizing the relationships is also a practice that Indigenous leaders have often invited us to take on.

My friends, we have also been invited to continue the relationship in other ways.  We have been invited to attend teachings, and cultural events.  This past week, some among us have visited the days-long vigil near the Caldwell First Nation offices in Leamington, as they acknowledge 215 children over 215 hours.  That was an invitation extended to the community, and one we were welcome to take up.  They did not require anything else, other than to show up, and perhaps offer some tobacco on the fire, upon invitation.

My friends, there are times when going above-and-beyond what we’ve been asked can have a place.  And as trust is built in a relationship, those times and places become clearer, more intuitive, and open to be received.  In the process of building those relationships, we can trust the leadership of those who call us to support them, to let us know precisely what they need, and nothing more.

May we continue to build these relationships, and may we remain in followship of the lead of those who ask for support.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in Love, and in Peace
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #1008 When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place

~)-| Words & Music: Joyce Poley, 1941- © Songstyle Music (SOCAN)
keyboard arr. Lorne Kellett, 1950-

Offered by the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (18 October, 2020)


What is it Good For?

June 6th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Dancing – by Matt Harding and Melissa Nixon

Reading – from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (p.47) by Robert Fulghum

Our reading is by writer and UU minister Robert Fulghum, who considers the hidden power of crayons.  A summary of this reading can be found here:

https://www.pentictonherald.ca/opinion/article_dfcfe9cc-b50b-11e6-a16e-2b996defd816.html
(Penctincton Herald – The joy and imagination children will find in a box of crayons by Harvie Barker, 27 November, 2016)

Sermon – What is it Good For? – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

When living in Toronto, my partner and I would take some walks around the neighbourhood, and one time we ran across an odd-looking storefront… we couldn’t figure out what it was.  The marquee above the doors read “Intergalactic Travel Authority”.  Huh?

It took us a while to get there at a time when they were open, and when we finally got in, we found a neat little café and boutique with odd space- and alien-themed merchandise.  We got curious and asked what the place was all about.

As it turns out, the Intergalactic Travel Authority was just a front – the real business was in the backroom, which was a workshop space where a team of properly-vetted volunteers led story-telling and story-making workshops for children of various ages.  This non-profit organization is called Story Planet.  Part of their mission statement reads:

“We believe that empowering young people to share their stories, while listening to and respecting the voices of others, will help them be catalysts for compassion and change.”

Through creative writing workshops, they seek to inspire imagination in children, and develop critical communication skills.

This mission resonated with me, so I joined up as a volunteer, got screened, vetted, and trained, and joined a team in leading a story-telling and story-making workshop.  I still have friends in that team, and some other time I might share some of those stories.

(As a footnote, I’ll say that The Intergalactic Travel Authority storefront is no longer there, but the Story Planet organization still thrives in Toronto, now hosted by a downtown library, and currently online.)

What I found at Story Planet was a deeper appreciation for how important it is to offer guidance to children in finding their voice, in expressing themselves truthfully and respectfully, and in working with each other, listening to each other, and figuring out creative solutions to collective challenges.  One of these included the development of a story-making app – and it was quite an involved process.

As I worked with my teammates, it struck me that, in addition to having fun, we were also doing active work toward peace.  It occurred to me that, often, when folks run out of the words to truthfully and respectfully express their needs, and when folks have problems listening to others as they express their needs – that’s when the punches start flying.

In his 1969 classic hit, singer Edwin Starr asks “War, [huh, yeah] what is it good for?

His answer is very simple: “Absolutely nothing.”

Now some historians might object to that simple dismissal, pointing out that many of the landmarks of progress that we have today would not have come about without the catalyst of war – computers, rockets and spaceships, commercial air travel, progressive taxation, the Red Cross… technological and medical innovations that are too many to list, or that we might even be aware of.  Things that often make our life easier or more enriching… things and processes that are often lifesaving.

We might counter that it wasn’t war itself that prompted those innovations and life improvements, but the challenges that war posed.  And we have plenty of challenges to go around as it is.

About a century before militaries in World War Two developed computers to help calculate missile trajectories, or to crack enemy codes, Ada Lovelace had already been figuring out how to make code for a theoretical analytical machine, and she is often considered the first computer programmer – in the middle of the 1800s – recognizing that these computing machines could have practical applications.  And warfare applications were not high on her priority list.

Years before Germany started launching V-2 rockets toward the United Kingdom, Robert Goddard had already pioneered rocketry with an entirely different mindset.  He had no intention of throwing his rockets at anyone or at any place.  He simply thought they’d be good vehicles for going further up than people had gone before.  And while his imagination had made significant progress for one person’s lifework, the real barrier was when those around him lacked the imagination to collaborate in that goal.

As I remarked a couple months ago, pursuing the challenge of space travel and exploration – due to its sheer complexity – spurs plenty of opportunities to use our creativity to offer solutions to those challenges, which in turn have spin-off benefits beyond the space travel industry.

The catalyst is our creativity, and how we use it to address the challenges we face.  And that creativity can only be channelled constructively if we can communicate effectively and can identify the needs of our people on planet earth as those needs are expressed.

In considering the anniversary of D-day, I took an opportunity to chat with one of the veterans in our church – and we have a few.

He was in the military because it was what his government required him to do, and he fulfilled that duty, but it wouldn’t have been his first choice in encountering the world.  He remarked to me, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war” – which is to say that, to move our jaw and talk things out, is better than other alternatives, like landing punches or launching missiles.

Rev. Robert Fulghum once suggested we make a “Crayola bomb”, which we could launch whenever there was a world crisis – it would spread deluxe Crayola boxes (the large sets of 64 with built-in sharpener).  And then, people could use their imagination to come up with creative work that didn’t involve violence.  He admits this may sound absurd to some folks, but when he considers how much money governments set aside for weapons, he doesn’t find that option any less absurd.

I certainly find a “Crayola bomb” less absurd than the alternatives.  Perhaps the specifics of launching packs for crayons over the site of a global crisis might be less than effective… but something to the effect of reminding people of, and guiding them, into the power of their creativity and imagination may well lead to more inspiring outcomes than the harmful effects of brute force.

And, my friends, we don’t need the crisis of war to put our creativity and imagination to good use – we have plenty of challenges without it.  This past year or so, we have seen the collective creativity and imagination of countless scientists, medical professionals, and government agencies, build upon the work of previous generations to reduce the harms of the pandemic, with – among other things – offering us a selection of effective vaccines in record time… never done before in under a year and surpassing even the most optimistic expectations.  Challenges remain, including making their distribution more equitable for all of our sakes.

The challenges of the climate crisis have spurned the creativity and imagination of scientists, entrepreneurs, and (some) world leaders.  Much progress has been made – the challenge remains for us… and so do our most valuable tools of creativity and imagination.

My friends, our church, like many communities of faith around the world, has faced its own set of challenges… at different times in our history, and most memorably over the past year, or so.  We have met many of these challenges with our imagination and creativity – many remain.  And, my friends, those invaluable tools of creativity and imagination also remain with us.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in Love, and in Peace
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #159 This Is My Song
Words: Lloyd Stone, 1912- © 1934, 1962 Lorenz Publishing Co.
Music: Jean Sibelius, 1865-1957, arr. © 1933, renewed 1961 Presbyterian Board of Christian Education
Tune FINLANDIA

Marlena Moore (4 July 2020)


The Best Worst Spanish

May 30th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Sermon – The Best Worst Spanish – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

Toward the end of high school, I took the opportunity to take a summer language exchange programme in the town of Trois-Pistoles, Quebec.  By then, I had already taken several years of French Immersion, and had enough proficiency to use French in the classroom and in casual conversation, but I didn’t feel I could call myself “fluent” in the language.  Other fellow students all had different levels of proficiency, ranging from fresh beginners to language teachers.

The program in Trois-Pistoles was immersion to a whole new level – the immersion carried on outside the classroom.  Our hosts would not ever speak to us in English, since they didn’t speak English to begin with.  Even in social interactions with fellow students, a French-only rule was strictly enforced, if a staff member caught you speaking English three times – you were expelled from the program.  Simply put, the setting made it a necessity to communicate with whatever French we had.

The first step in the programme was to take a proficiency test within a day of our arrival.  It was called the Laval test (I don’t know if they still use it, but it’s what we were given).  This would determine what classes we’d be able to choose, which ranged from beginner language classes to upper-year university-level courses about other subjects – taught in French, but with no formal language training component.

After taking the test, I was disappointed that I hadn’t even cracked into the 70% range… not even a B-, and feared I wouldn’t be able to take the class I was most interested in.  The councillor reassured me that I was actually in the top range, and that my score meant I could take any class I wanted.  Apparently, it is a difficult test, dealing with ample and obscure grammar rules, that even proficient speakers aren’t fully familiar with.

I took a political science course on the history of French-Canadian society, with a professor who looked like he was still campaigning in the 1980 referendum.  Outside the classroom, we were well-fed by local hosts.  We got to know the local culture, and had many get-togethers and activities among students with a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and proficiency levels.  It was a good time.

Everyone of every level made fantastic progress.  And I found that I was consistently dreaming in French and was instinctively reading the French side of the labels on food packages.  When it came time to take the test again, I was confident that I would breeze past my previous score, as evidence of all that I had learned.

To my surprise and dismay, I found out I had actually dropped two points.  When I pointed this out to the staff in puzzlement, they shrugged and casually mentioned that that’s what typically happens to folks who come with ample formal language training.  Apparently, learning deeper fluency can mean your reliance on the formal rules drops, as it becomes more intuitive.

As it turns out, the standard that the test uses does not line up with the ability to use the language effectively.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of finding that the standards of language we’re used to using are not the best indicators of successful communication.

Often, when folks who are non-native Spanish learners speak to me, I can sometimes have trouble keeping a conversation – not because they don’t know enough Spanish, but because the constant starts and stops of self-correcting and looking for the right word or conjugation tends to break the flow of the conversation.

Several years ago, I met a remarkable Spanish learner who broke this mold.  Due to their life circumstance, they had to quickly start speaking Spanish, even though they barely knew it, and I found it surprisingly easy to have a conversation with them.  Their Spanish was… respectably awful.  They had a heavy Anglo accent, their grammar was inconsistent, they could barely conjugate, and word order was all over the place.

And yet, we were able to converse quite naturally.  It took me a while to understand what was happening, but it eventually occurred to me that it was actually quite simple… they just spoke.  They did this without constantly stopping to correct themselves, even though they knew full well that their Spanish was nowhere near correct, along with a self-awareness that they’d improve over time.

They would not have won any Spanish-language literature or public speaking awards, and they probably would have failed at even an elementary school language test – but that standard of language proficiency was hardly relevant.  Their purpose was to communicate, and by that standard, they excelled.

Emerging linguistic scholarship is finding evidence that contradicts some of the previously-accepted wisdom around learning languages.  The prevailing perception that fluency cannot be achieved once you’re a teenager is increasingly being challenged, with data pointing to people who are fluent speakers, even when they started learning well into adulthood.

The reasons for that are still in the process of being understood, but it looks like there are a few factors that explain this.

Somewhat simplistically put, one of the main reasons that children learn languages so well, is that they are much more at ease with making mistakes.  We see this all the time, when they say they have “forgotted” something, or they tell us to look at the “mooses”.  When that happens, we find it adorable and accept that it’s part of their learning process.  We might correct them from time to time, and they’ll learn from that mistake, or else they’ll eventually absorb how we use the language, and add it to their learning.  Making mistakes, or simply not getting it right from the get-go, is all a natural and expected part of the process.

My friends, in our community, we have seen and will see this kind of process unfold.  Adapting to doing and being church primarily online has put us in a spot of quick and required learning.  It didn’t happen all at once, we had to learn over time, making mistakes and gracefully finding ways to overcome unexpected challenges, I would say we’re still learning this craft of online churching.

And as in-person churching becomes once again a reasonable possibility in the near-future, the process of adapting again into an emerging multi-platform church will bring other challenges, and we won’t expect to get it right the first time, or the first year – we’ll continue to learn as we go along.

My friends, we have also been learning to be prophetic witnesses and promoters of radical inclusivity, and this includes occasionally stumbling in figuring out how we live our values or how to model our commitment to social justice, anti-oppression, and anti-racism.

My friends, these can be tricky areas, and we sometimes find ourselves tripping over our words – or might be hesitant to commit for fear of messing up and not getting it right from the get-go.  Even seasoned folks will attest that they are still learning.  My friends, by embracing imperfection, shifting our standards, and having an openness to offer and receive grace, we may build an ever-more beloved community.

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #335 Once When My Heart Was Passion Free
Words: John B. Tabb, 1845-1909
Music: From Kentucky Harmony, 1816
Tune PRIMROSE

Offered by Jennifer McMillan
Music Director at Westwood Unitarian Congregation in Edmonton, Alberta (26 February, 2021)


Reading Tea Leaves

May 23rd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The $40 Internationally Standard Cup of Tea – Half as Interesting

Sam Wendover (21 September 2017)

Video Reading – Making and International Standard Cup of Tea – Tom Scott

Tom Scott (9 April, 2018)

Sermon – Reading Tea Leaves – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

With Victoria Day coming up tomorrow, we have a major Canadian holiday in our sights.

But there’s another worldwide holiday that you might have missed last Friday – it was International Tea Day on May 21.  And this day isn’t some self-proclaimed holiday by some random guy on the internet, it has the full backing of the United Nations General Assembly.  Now, if you haven’t heard about it, it might be because this was only the second year it’s been implemented, and its purpose is to expand awareness about the global importance of sustainable tea agriculture around the world, recognizing that tea is a major economic source of livelihood for many, and it can be even more sustainable, for our planet and the farmers, if environmental and fair-trade best practices take better hold – which is to say, if better standards are adopted.

There’s also a similar holiday of this sort in Japan on March 28: it’s the commemoration of a fellow named Sen no Rikyu – who was a major influence in the development of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  Now these ceremonies can have some very exacting standards for when, where, and how tea is prepared, served, and consumed.  The standards matter – and they also shift.  There are, indeed, many schools of the Japanese tea ceremony, and I suspect, each of them was developed for its specific cultural setting.

Many of us might not conform to those particular standards if it’s not part of our culture.  But every once in a while, we might bump into other standards for tea.  In the case of ISO 3103 – Tea – preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests, the standard is there for a specific purpose.  It lays out very specific instructions on equipment, portions, and timing.  But as Sam Wendover and Tom Scott point out in their videos, those particular standards are there for the goal of ensuring that the preparation of the tea is not a variable in experiments regarding flavour perception.  It is an important standard – for that specific purpose.  Outside of that scope, the best cup of tea is the one that suits you best – and any company you might eventually have.

Standards, however we define and redefine them, help us navigate the fog of the future – offering us guidelines that can help ground us whenever what’s next is uncertain.  And they also require a degree of interpretation as situations shift.

We continue to be in a time when it’s increasingly obvious that… the future isn’t obvious.  Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that having clarity about the future is an imperfect science, and that even educated guesses are still… guesses.

As we read the proverbial tea leaves while we attempt to make sense of what’s in store, we can nonetheless find comfort in the knowledge that, yes – there are guideposts along the way, which help us and our society move along, with a hazy map… or at least a steady compass to point us through the haze.

And in the coming months, we have some idea of what we expect our timelines to be for things like in-person gatherings and other things we haven’t been able to do for a while.  When and how these things happen will depend on whether we meet certain standards, on things like vaccination rates, and the feasibility of other safety protocols.

We’ve talked about vaccines, and how it was important for researchers and regulators to hold them to a high standard of safety and efficacy before they were made available to the public.  At the same time, there was some flexibility in streamlining the clinical trial processes, to reduce lag time and red tape.  This was done while still keeping the core standards on safety and efficacy in mind.

But standards can be deceptive.  The published efficacy rates for our current approved vaccines have been quoted as ranging from 60-95%, giving the impression that some are substantially better than others.  Epidemiologists have been quick to point out that the meaning of those numbers doesn’t represent what we might think it does.  For starters, they measure slightly different things – in trials that were conducted in different places, at different times, and facing slightly different variants.

But there’s an entirely different matter at play – those numbers also don’t answer what are possibly more important questions.  They relate to infection rates, but where the vaccines really shine is in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death… and using those metrics – those standards – all vaccines in Canada are virtually 100% effective.

(This of course is not medical advice – your healthcare provider is a better resource.)

My friends, the standards matter – when you know what you use them for, who you use them for, when you use them for.

In our Unitarian Universalist congregations, we are familiar with a number of standards.  Perhaps the best-known standard in our North American setting is the covenant to affirm and promote the 7 Principles.  These Principles haven’t always looked the way they do now – the first 6 were only adopted in 1960, and the 7th principle is the newest, adopted in 1984.

You may have now heard that there’s been talk of adopting an 8th principle to clarify our commitment to dismantle racism and other oppressions.  In fact, some individual congregations have already adopted it, and our system of governance leaves room to do that, regardless of whether the Unitarian Universalist Association or the Canadian Unitarian Council have done so.  The fact remains that even in the case of this well-known standard, we know that it has changed, and that it can do so unevenly.

You may have also heard that – for a few brief days – it looked like the Canadian Unitarian Council – the CUC – had indeed adopted the 8th Principle at its Annual General Meeting a couple weeks ago… as it turns out, the process that took place earlier this month did not meet the standards for that kind of decision to be formalized, but it did show that there is widespread enthusiasm for us to take bolder action in the coming months.

This is more than a pedantic debate on technicalities, it is partly about following our denomination’s legal commitments, as a non-profit, and perhaps more importantly, honouring more deeply our 5th Principle promise in following a democratic process – another standard that we have set for ourselves – that ensures that our collective voices have been heard on the matter, while also moving as swiftly as we can.

And one of the steps toward that goal is taking part in the kind of conversations that the CUC is hosting this coming Saturday and again later in June.  (I also encourage you to read the CUC letter “A Way Forward for the 8th Principle Process”, which will answer many of the questions you might have.)

It will also require a degree of flexibility, being open to embrace a degree of imperfection, and perhaps being willing to live with some degree of dissatisfaction if the precise wording of the new principle doesn’t exactly match your preferred wording.  In working toward a general consensus, not everyone will get everything they want, but we may work toward something that we are OK with, and can support.

There are other standards in our tradition – ministers have a set of standards on conduct and professional expectations.  How exactly those apply in specific circumstances can and has changed, but the fact that they are there guides us on our goal of offering the best service that we can, under the circumstances.

Our liturgies – the order of service – in each individual congregation can have many commonly recognized elements across the country and the continent… you can usually tell when you’re at a Unitarian Universalist gathering.  And we know that they are also different in each congregation – sometimes they are different within the same congregation, depending on the time and space in which we operate.  The last few months have shown us that flexibility on how we gather and hold a Sunday service is important, even as we keep a general sense to guide us on what is important as we search for truth.

My friends, in the coming months, new questions will be coming up.  Questions on how might continue to gather as circumstances change – quite possibly for the better.  We will be exploring the feasibility of in-person gatherings, as well as how we might incorporate our new knowledge of how to offer multiple platforms to make our services accessible to our wider community.

My friends, the answers to these questions still remain somewhat enshrined in the fog of the future.   But there will be some standards, from our covenants, our principles, our values, and our practices, to help guide us and point us in the direction that may best suit our communities.  My friends, the standards might not always matter in the sense that we think they do – but they do matter.  And perhaps the best standard – and guideline – that we have, is our covenant, our promise, to proceed in love.

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn – Keep it Alight – Rev. Lynn Harrison

Canadian Unitarian Council (17 May, 2021)


AUUction Items Lists (silent and live) for May 2021`

May 22nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and plan to bid!


June 2021 Newsletter

May 22nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


Keep it Alight

May 16th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service
Hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council

Watch: (Fast-forward to 9:24 for beginning of service)


Mother Nature: our timely teacher (Rev. Rosalind Mariconda)

May 10th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Watch:


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