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.

[140th Anniversary:] Upon This Stone – Just about 140 years ago, our church founders set our building’s cornerstone in Olinda.  We have built upon it – and beyond it – an enduring community of faith proclaiming the good news of radical inclusivity.

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) 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 Absolute Justice, Kindness, and Kinship Baylis Duo
August 15, 2021 Stefanie Pest LGBT  Baylis-Stone Trio
Sept. 12, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel [Water Ceremony] The HumoursIn ancient Greek philosophy, four bodily liquids were regarded as the source of our different moods.  Our understanding of emotions is different now, but we may still use water to recognize the feelings that come at this threshold of time in our community and the world. Lorie Lyons
Sept. 19, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel [140th Anniversary] Upon This Stone– Just about 140 years ago, our church founders set our building’s cornerstone in Olinda.  We have built upon it – and beyond it – an enduring community of faith proclaiming the good news of radical inclusivity. Baylis-Stone Trio
Sept. 26, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Seeds of Growth – Our church has experienced growth of many kinds over the past couple of years.  Among these are new and returning members, who have joined in engaging with our community of faith. Our church has experienced growth of many kinds over the past couple of years.  Among these are new and returning members, who have joined in engaging with our community of faith. Toni Janik
Oct. 3, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Accounting for Theologians – The practice of accountability can seem daunting or perhaps vague. What does it mean to be accountable within our covenants? Baylis Duo
Oct. 10, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel What We Count On [Thanksgiving] – Some things anchor us in our lives, and keeping stock of these can replenish our awareness of our “wellness accounts”. Lorie Lyons
Oct. 17, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Hope [Thanksgiving] Bill Baylis
Oct. 24, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Spending the AllowanceActing responsibly, with an interest in service to humanity, can seem like a chore when it’s a “rule”… what if it is a possibility? Toni Janik
Oct. 31, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel LamentationsThe past couple of years have been an especially difficult time – and source of lamentation. In our annual recog-nition of Days of the Dead, we honour loss in our communities. Send pictures &/or bring mementos. Lorie Lyons
Nov. 7, 2021 Donovan Hayden Anti-Racism as Spiritual Practice Ray Stone, Karen Miller, Bill Baylis
Nov. 14, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Life SavingThe medical community has been committed to saving lives for centuries. Research has led to life-saving discoveries like insulin, penicillin, and vaccines, which are
greatly successful. But finding these is only part of the work – there’s something else that’s also needed.
Toni Janik
Nov. 21, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Knickers in a KnotIt might be uncomfortable to talk about certain things, especially when they relate to toilets and hy-giene… what if talking about these were life-saving? Lorie Lyons
Nov. 28, 2021 CUC LNational Service at 1 pm – Change Is NatureLed by youth and young adults, this service recognizes and celebrates the CUC’s 60-year history, and calls on us to fulfill the possibilities of our future together. CUC
Dec. 5, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Reconciling with Indiana Jones Some films age better than others… This is especially true if our values and understand-ings of the world have shifted, which can reveal different layers to our favourite movies. Toni Janik
Dec. 12, 2021 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel tba tba


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


Protonic Salad

January 23rd, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The Taste of Protons

Steve Mould – What Do Protons Taste Like?” (18 June, 2021)

Sermon – Protonic Salad – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available]

Early in the pandemic, one of the possible symptoms of infection that was announced was the loss of the sense of smell or taste.  And while this kind of symptom may not sound as scary as shortness of breath, fever, pneumonia, or hospitalization, it’s also not trivial, especially if it happens for a prolonged time.  Of course, there are a number of conditions that can lead to a loss of these senses, and it can really be a significant loss for some people.

It also raises many interesting questions about how we interact with our surroundings, as well as specific questions about what exactly our senses are, and how many do we have?  And even if we focus specifically on one sense, like taste… what exactly is it, and how many tastes can we perceive?

When many of us were growing up, some of these answers were easy – five senses, and in the sense of taste, it was four: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.

But by now, many of us have gotten the memo that there’s actually a fifth recognized taste: umami, often translated as “savoury”, or sometimes as “deliciousness” or even “meaty”.  Even after accepting these five, there is ongoing debate on whether there are six, seven, eight, or even more identifiable tastes.

And in terms of our senses, for some time now, it has been understood that they number more than five.  Our vestibular sense, for instance, is one such “sixth sense”, which is our ability to find equilibrium… to balance, and the ability to feel acceleration is related to that, as these are both perceived by our inner ear, even though they are not related to sound.

There’s sometimes debate about other senses, such as the ability to perceive pain, and temperature, as well as internal senses (called interoceptions), like hunger, which aren’t so much about our surroundings, but still use our nervous system to convey information to our body.

The boundaries of how we define our senses, and the specifics of what those senses let us sense, can sometimes get fuzzy, and it is worth leaning into that fuzziness, as we explore how we get to know the world outside ourselves… as well as the world within ourselves, that we may not always be conscious about, yet it guides our behaviour and actions.  The senses, interoceptions, or whatever you want to call them, are our doors of perception.

The science educator Steve Mould, makes an interesting observation about our sense of taste, and what each of the currently recognized tastes are.  In one of his videos, he describes our tastes as chemical detection systems.  And each of the chemicals that we detect with our tastes play a literally vital part in our survival.  Sweetness allows us to find sources of energy in simple carbohydrates, like sugar.  Saltiness allows us to get a certain balance of electrolytes.  Umami can help us find sources of protein… sometimes – it helps us find glutamates, which can often come with protein, which is a start.

Indeed, the role and effectiveness of our tastes can get a bit fuzzy.  It’s probable that our sense of sourness helps us determine the ripeness of fruits, by gauging their acidity.  And Steve Mould describes bitterness broadly as a poison detection system.

But wait, some of us eat or drink bitter stuff all the time – I do it most mornings with a cup of coffee – and we don’t recoil in disgust or fear that we’re poisoning ourselves.

As Steve Mould remarks, many of our tastes can be “fooled” to an extent, in the sense that they don’t actually detect what it is we’re looking for.  We can taste sweet things that give us little or no energy – in fact, we often due that on purpose.  We can taste salty things that don’t have the amount of sodium we think we’re getting, and we often due that on purpose.  Often, we get umami stuff, because we simply like it, regardless of the protein content of the food – or food-like matter – that we’re taking.

And many of us actively seek out things that one part of our body is telling us might be poisonous, though we also know that they often are not.  Mould suggests that we’ve learned that certain things, such as broccoli, are good for us, despite the bitterness they have, so another part of us rationalizes that the bitterness is inconsequential.  Sometimes, we might even come to like it, as is the case with things like chocolate, coffee, and beer.

And Mould hypothesizes that the pleasurable sensations we get from the psychoactive substances in these foods and drinks overrides the bitterness, or might even help us associate the bitterness with the pleasure of eating and drinking these things.  One of the most bitter, yet harmless, substances we can ingest, is quinine, which was used as a tonic against malaria at some point, and now some of us seek it out on purpose, in smaller doses (in tonic water).

Perhaps the most mind-blowing taste might be sourness, because the mechanism our tastebuds use to detect acidity is thanks to one of the signature features of acids – their tendency to give out positive hydrogen ions.  And as Mould explains, since hydrogen is made up of only one proton and one electron, and a positive hydrogen ion is missing one electron, we are effectively tasting protons when we eat something sour – “protons taste sour” (Steve Mould).  Every time we dress a salad, we are seasoning it with a generous helping of protons for our tongue to detect.

What I find rather powerful about this perspective is that it reminds me of just what senses really are – our ability to interact and connect with the world.  And our doors of perception affect our ability to respond to this world as it interacts with us.

Not only is it amazing that we can directly taste a subatomic particle, with no specialty equipment beyond a salad bowl and some vinegar (no particle accelerators required), but we can also make use of these flavours to affect our diets and our health, sometimes for good (in the interest of our well-being), and sometimes… for ill (quite literally).

Artificial and low-calorie sweeteners and low-sodium salt are one way in which we purposefully “hack” our sense of taste to reduce the adverse effects that too much sugar and salt can have on our bodies.  Let’s remember that both sugar and salt are essential nutrients that we regularly require to survive.  We evolved to like these things so that we could get enough of them, especially when they were hard to come by.

But in our current industrialized society, these things have become more than easy to come by – too easy – so easy in fact, that we often have them without realizing it.  And so, we’ve learned to go out of our way to avoid them, at least some of the time, sometimes getting some help in keeping our cravings in check, with substances that give us similar sensations.

And we’ve learned to tolerate or even like some bitter foods and drinks, because we’ve learned that they are not nearly as poisonous as their taste might imply, or might even be especially good for us.

And then there’s umami, which helped our ancestors detect and get protein.  But umami doesn’t always come with protein, and that can be helpful, since protein is also easier to come by nowadays, including from things other than meat.  And even though some umami foods, like tomatoes, mushrooms, and seaweed don’t have much protein, we’re still getting other good things from them.

But umami can also be industrially added to foods in substances like monosodium glutamate, or MSG.  A fuller discussion on the health effects of MSG might perhaps be a topic for another time or place, although it’s been established that it’s not nearly as dangerous as popular lore has made it out to be.  As internet cook and food commentator Adam Ragusea observes, in and of itself, the substance MSG is quite harmless to most people.

Food historian Dr. Sarah Tracey, from the University of Toronto, observes that the greater danger of MSG might be that it can taste so good, with very little nutrients, especially when added to other foods that don’t do much for us.  Things like, food-inspired products, like packaged snacks.  When added to the wrong things, MSG and other flavour enhancers can make “food” that is terrible for us be irresistible, and that’s perhaps its greatest danger.

There is one saving grace in contemplating junk foods like these.  They are a lesson in interacting with the senses.  It’s not just one ingredient that makes them so irresistible, but a very precise science that mixes many experiences.  There is saltiness, sweetness, sourness, and umami all together.  Not only that, there is sight involved, appealing shapes and colours that beckon to us.  And there is also sound.  The tastes, aromas, sights and sounds, all come together into one satisfying experience.

But junk food does not have a monopoly on these experiences, healthy and wholesome foods can have those too – it just takes a bit more forethought, more consideration, more intentionality.  Healthy foods can have all the tastes, look good, even sound good.  And when we learn, or teach ourselves, to bring that satisfying experience to our food, or anything else that we wish to do which is good for us, then our senses can continue their task of guiding us toward healthier living.

My friends, when we explore the roots and routes that the doors of perception offer, they may continue to serve us into more wholesome lives.

My friends, when we consider the ways in which the doors of perception may trick us and fool us, we may be better prepared to proceed with caution.

My friends, when we are open to our senses and seek to get deeper in touch with them, we may make of life a richer experience.

So may it be,
In optimism and grace,
Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #346 Come, Sing a Song with Me
Words & music: Carolyn McDade, 1935- , © 1976 Surtsey Publishing Co.
Tune A ROSE IN WINTER

Mike Menefee KUUF Choir (1 July 2020)


Perpetual Beta

January 16th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #290 Bring, O Past, Your Honor
~)-| Words: Charles H. Lyttle, 1884-1980
Music: John Bachus Dykes, 1823-1876
Tune NICEA

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship San Luis Obispo (26 November, 2021)

Sermon – Perpetual Beta – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available]

When the web browser-based e-mail platform Gmail was released in 2004, its logo came with a little tag attached to it: the word Beta.  Named after the second letter of the Greek alphabet, this is a software development concept in which the product has passed its initial alpha stage and can be considered “complete” insofar as it includes the features the developer wishes to deliver… while still expecting a number of bugs and issues to come up.

There are many ways of doing beta, but one way is to do a limited release of the product for some live testing by an initial cohort of users.  Indeed, at first, you could only get a Gmail account by invitation only, from another user.  Getting an invitation wasn’t all that difficult, as each user had 100 invites to give, so if you really wanted an account, it wasn’t long until someone you knew could give you an invite.  Fairly soon, people could simply get an account on demand.

The official beta stage lasted around five years, although even now, there is a section in each Gmail account called Labs, in which new features are constantly tested by users, and you can only access those features if you specifically sign on to take them on in a trial basis.  Some of these features might never catch on, while others eventually become part of the standard package.

In some ways, the beta mindset is a built-in feature of the product, even if it’s officially past the beta stage.

Indeed, some software developers have a looser definition of the beta stage, and have embraced an approach that could be called perpetual beta, in which the users of the product are effectively co-developers of it on an ongoing basis.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith also embraces much of the perpetual beta ethos.  Of course, we tend to use more… theological language, such as living tradition, in which we actively recognize that, just as we honour past experience and wisdom, we also welcome ongoing reform and development.

In the condensed histories of our Universalist roots, and of our church of Olinda, Louise Foulds takes care to include some of our roots in the appendices.  These include proclamations of faith that might still resonate with some among us, but which have given way to broader and more inclusive statements and covenants that we have determined are more reflective of our tradition as it is today and as we want to be.

Each of these statements has been years in the making, each building upon previous ones.  And the adoption of each new statement has not come automatically – each one included countless hours of discussion and deliberation, and did not come without moments of controversy.  Nonetheless, each one also came about because the groups that came up with them identified a need in the community for changes – or upgrades, as they might be called in the software development lingo.

The latest of these developments is the addition of an 8th principle, as the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council covenant to affirm and promote: “Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion in ourselves and our institutions.” 

This was a change that came with many hours of discussion and debate in our denomination nation wide.  It did not come without controversy and resistance.  And while support for this was not unanimous – for various reasons – it was also overwhelmingly adopted by our delegates nationwide, last November.

While this was a momentous change to the original document that was adopted in 1985, it wasn’t the first change made to the original 7 principles and 5 sources, as adopted in 1985 – a 6th source was added in 1995, recognizing earth-centred traditions as part of our heritage, practice, and community.

The 8th principle is the latest addition.  And the wording adopted in Canada is itself modified from a similar proposal in the United States, which is still under consideration by the Unitarian Universalist Association.  The Canadian wording came with its own set of questions that included considering how it applied in our national context.

The “original” 7 principles and 5 sources – later 6 sources – were themselves the product of a wholesale revision of the previous 6 principles that were adopted in 1961.

I won’t go through all the 6 principles from 1961 here, but if you were to look at them, the similarities – and the differences – would likely jump out at you.  Obviously, 6 principles are different than 7; also, the order is different.  The wording and general sentiments, however, would look very familiar, and much of it was carried over into the newer 7 principles of 1985.  There would, however be some wording that would immediately look rather strange – the conspicuous use of the word “man”.

In the 1961 statement, its 3rd principle speaks about “the dignity of man”, its 4th principle speaks of “a world community founded on ideals of brotherhood”, and its 6th principle proclaims “To encourage cooperation with men of good will in every land.”

I think we know what the intent of those words was, but the impact it will have on us now is of a gender-exclusive use of language.

It will not surprise you that it was in large part the initiative of women in our movement that prompted the revision of the principles in the 1980s.  Not only were the principles reworded and reordered, they added a 7th principle that speaks to our interconnectedness, recognizing, among other things, a rising environmental awareness.  And, of course, the language became more inclusive.

Now that the 8th principle has been adopted in Canada, there is no illusion that the work is done, and that this covenant is to remain static.  In a living tradition, a covenant is a living document, which warrants periodic revisiting to consider how it will serve us better in the service of humanity.  Already, there are plans to review the process by which we adopt and amend our principles in Canada (this was a point of contention during the discussions about the 8th principle).  Once that process is determined, there may come a time in which our principles may be re-developed again, perhaps with minor edits, or perhaps with wholesale changes, like entire re-orderings and rewordings.

It has not escaped our attention, for instance, that our current 2nd source speaks about the “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men” – more inclusive than the male-centric wording from 1961, but still reinforcing a gender-binary that does not recognize members of our community along a broader gender spectrum.

My friends, at the church of Olinda, we have started adopting some covenants among some of our ministries.  Some of these are short-lived, intended to serve us during specific settings, such as educational programming groups.  Others are longer-standing, as is the case in some committees.  These are all living documents, in perpetual beta, as their ongoing development and redevelopment help guide us in who we seek to be, and on how we want to be with each other.

My friends, in a living tradition we continue an ongoing practice, as we make our church the place where we practice being human.

My friends, may this practice be our ongoing covenant.

So may it be,
In optimism and grace,

Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #123 Spirit of Life
Words & music: Carolyn McDade, 1935 © 1981 Carolyn McDade
~)-| harmony by Grace Lewis-McLaren, 1939- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Tune SPIRIT OF LIFE

Sung by Leah Hokanson of First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo
Posted by the Canadian Unitarian Council (8 March, 2021)


Ctrl+Z

January 9th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #326 Let All the Beauty We Have Known
~)-| Words: Dana McLean Greeley, 1908-1986
Music: English melody, adapt. and harmony by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958, © 1931 Oxford University Press
Tune DANBY

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (30 January, 2021)

Sermon – Ctrl+Z – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document]

When your work involves a lot of typing, you are likely to pick up a habit of using what are called the “key shortcuts” – which is to say, little combinations on a computer keyboard that do little “tricks” or functions.  I won’t go through all of them here, but there are a couple that bear mentioning.

On many computer configurations, if I press-and-hold the shift key while tapping the arrow keys, I can highlight text, if I then press-and-hold the ctrl (“control”) key along with the letter c, the computer will copy that text – this the ctrl+c shortcut.  And I can then paste that text somewhere else by using ctrl+v.  You could also do all this with your mouse, but sometimes, using the key shortcuts allows for more precision, or… well, control.

But perhaps my favourite key shortcut is ctrl+z.  Using that combination of keys does something magical – it will undo previous actions, and this can range from the last letter you typed, to entire paragraphs (depending on how many times you tap it).  It’s essentially a typing eraser, and I use it – a lot.  In fact, I used it while typing this very paragraph!

Like many things, ctrl+z is a tool, something that helps you in your trade – just as the correction ribbon on a typewriter might have been at some point.  And for someone who writes for a living, ctrl+z can be almost as habitual as typing itself.

Sometimes, the habit becomes so engrained that it can be a bit jarring when you realize you can’t use it “in real life”.  After spending several minutes, or even hours, moving furniture around a room – or putting furniture together – and then realizing it’s not quite where you want it, or the order of assembly has been mixed up… it can be almost a reflex to move the fingers to an imaginary set of keys, typing “ctrl+z” in the air.  But the furniture will not reset itself… the key shortcuts don’t work the same way outside of the word processor.  There is no ctrl+z for real life.

Or is there?

Let’s back up a bit… or press the proverbial backspace key, if you will!

It is common to start a new year with a sense of new beginnings, of resetting – perhaps looking back at the previous year and thinking about the things we might have done differently.  To some degree, this is an arbitrary practice, based solely on shifts in the calendar… but that’s as good a time as any.  In fact, reflection and evaluation has a place at any time when we feel that new direction might be useful.

And the past two years have certainly raised a heightened sense of… needing new direction, or wanting to start over again.  This is true worldwide, and this extends to our more immediate communities.  Perhaps some of us occasionally get an overwhelming desire to altogether have a total do-over… essentially press the proverbial ctrl+z keys of life.

New year’s resolutions represent one way some of us might try to do that – and these can bring mixed results.  It may well lead to new directions in life, or at least begin exploring certain aspects of how we live our lives.

Last year, I mentioned a more novel practice of considering a general theme for the year – rather than a specific resolution.  This approach might offer more flexibility, allowing the goals of a theme to adapt to the shifting needs that real life presents to each of us, as the year evolves.  You might choose, for instance, a year of health, or a year of relationship-building, and whatever you end up doing under any of those umbrellas represents your fulfillment of those themes.

In everyday situations, there are other ways that we may find “ctrl+z moments”, like when we make a mistake (outside of the word processor) or when we find that we have hurt someone.  Apologies are one way that we sometimes seek to remedy those missteps – these usually don’t really “undo” a regrettable action, but they might bring a relationship to a more wholesome state, perhaps even improve upon how it was before.

Now, apologies aren’t always possible, or desirable.  There are times when that’s not what is being asked for, and may in fact lead to more problems if they are not welcome.  They are one tool at our disposal, offering options.

An even broader tool at our disposal is an attitude of openness to learning.  And this is extremely valuable, because even when a complete do-over isn’t possible, or when apologies either won’t cut it or aren’t really feasible, learning will still allow us to grow and develop, to enrich our lives, perhaps further beyond what they would have been without having stumbled along in the first place.

We have previously explored how making mistakes is sometimes an integral part of the learning process, and that in many tasks, such as learning a language or a new skill, getting it wrong comes with the package as an expected part of the process.  That is what practice is often about.

Embracing this approach to learning and development is much easier when we stop demanding perfection in the process.  It doesn’t mean we won’t try in earnest nor does it mean forgetting about the consequences of a blunder; it simply means recognizing that the practice involves ongoing rehearsal, and each time it might be a bit different – maybe even a bit better.

Sometimes, when we hear a word like evaluation, we might cringe at implications of being tested or criticized.  But if we consider it in its broader sense of taking stock, of reflection and consideration of what’s important to us – what is valuable to us – then we can see it as another tool toward a new and improved direction.

Last week, we heard from some among you as you looked back at the past year, as well as how you’re looking at the coming year, and this is an evaluation of sorts.

In a couple of months, we’ll be holding our Annual General Meeting, and we’ll have had a chance to consider the annual reports from our many shared ministries in our church.  These too are evaluations and reflections of where we’ve been and where we want to go.  They’re not about testing or criticizing our shared work, they’re opportunities for learning and community development.

Our Committee on Shared Ministry will also be holding a general evaluation of our shared ministries, and this too will help us get a better sense of our congregation, taking stock of where we are and where we want to be as a church.

Our weekly Sunday services are constantly being re-evaluated, and this has become an even greater necessity over the past couple years, as our format and logistical preparation shifts – sometimes week to week.

So, my friends, even though life outside the word processor doesn’t really have as magic an eraser as ctrl+z, we do have ample tools for ongoing course correction, for consideration and reflection, for learning and enrichment.

My friends, may we take these opportunities to practice deepening and development in our shared ministries.

My friends, may we so practice our ministry.

So may it be,
In optimism and grace,

Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #56 Bells in the High Tower
~)-| Words: Howard Box, 1926- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Hungarian carol, © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Tune KRISZTUS URUNKNAK

Social Band (24 October, 2015)


January 2022 Newsletter

January 7th, 2022 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


Winter Fuel

December 26th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Boxing Day Carol – Good King Wenceslas
Words: Jason Mason Neale & Thomas Helmore
Music: 13th Century Spring Carol
Tune TEMPUS ADEST FLORIDUM 7.6.7.6

“Good King Wenceslas”
Kathy Wert – Piano; Sarah Wert – Alto; Rod E.S.Q. – Tenor
Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda (26 December, 2021)

Sermon – Winter Fuel – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available]

The song Good King Wenceslas is one of the few Boxing Day carols in common usage (though there are a few other traditional songs for Boxing Day, that are better known in different regions).  Upon first hearing, the “plot” of the carol might be a bit tricky to follow, but the gist of it is that a princely figure – Wenceslas – spots a poor man who is gathering winter fuel – firewood.  Wenceslas asks his page about the man, and is told where the man lives, and the two of them set off to offer the man a hearty meal and firewood to help him through the winter.

The trek to the man’s dwelling was difficult in the bitter winter cold, and the page that came with Wenceslas was daunted by it.  Wenceslas encouraged his page to literally follow in his footsteps in the snow, to minimize the cold’s bite while walking.  Following Wenceslas’ leadership, they offer a blessing to someone else, which in turn enriches the life of all who offer from what they have to give.

Like many of the stories of this season, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish factual detail from legendary narrative.  Wenceslas was a duke in Bohemia, rather than a king, though there are accounts of his charitable kindness.  The specific tale described in the song, may or may not have happened, and if something like it did transpire, there is no way of knowing whether it was on December 26th, which is the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr – the casual reference to the feast of Stephen meant it could be sung as a hymn in church on that day of observance.

Yet, it is fitting that the story of an act of charity is recounted on Boxing Day, which has included traditions of alms-giving and charity.  In the British tradition, there are times when money boxes were set aside for people in need.  The specific practices shifted over the years, and at some other points in time, there have been customs of knocking on the doors of wealthier folks, and asking for donations for one’s personal money box.  More recently, we see elements of this practice in Christmas bonuses that are sometimes offered to employees, as well as in practices of extra giving around this time of year.

One lingering aspect of the Boxing Day holiday that we still see to this day, right here in Canada, is the fact that Boxing Day is a statutory holiday, in addition to the Christmas Day stat holiday.  This reflects the commonwealth recognition that many workers are required to work on Christmas, by the very nature of their work.  Boxing Day offers a kind of “deferred”, or extended, Christmas when folks can be ensured a holiday to spend with family or friends, and to take some well-deserved rest – to regather winter fuel in the wake of such a busy season.

I should mention that there are a few other traditions related to Boxing Day.  Some continue to have currency in certain regions, while others have fallen out of fashion.  In several countries, it’s still often a day dedicated to watching sports – and I imagine a few of you indulge in this tradition… even if it’s not strictly as a Boxing Day observance.

In the United Kingdom, killing a wren was considered unlucky, unless it was done on Dec. 26, so wren hunts were a part of Boxing Day.  And while this is no longer a mainstay, a few of the other specific Boxing Day carols I could find were related to the wren’s predicament.  Similarly, fox hunting has been a popular sport on this day, though this has also been regulated away.

Of course, in Canada, Boxing Day has become synonymous with big retail savings.  This can have a few meanings, in that it’s an opportunity to even out the bank account, even if money boxes or bonuses weren’t a part of the equation… though it also comes with a risk of glorifying excessive consumerism.  There are different ways of refueling, and sometimes getting a good bargain that sets us up for the new year can go a long way, like a pair of new boots or an affordable new jacket, to keep us warm into the winter.  (A lot of my must-need wardrobe has historically been financed by Boxing Week.)

And being “in need” might mean many different things in our community.  It might mean having limited money, or limited food, or limited ability to have a reliable place in which to stay warm.  Beyond physical and immediate needs, it may also mean being short on time, energy, company, and other opportunities to connect more deeply – with others and with oneself.  It may mean feeling the need to look after our health and wellbeing – physical and mental.

Each of us will have different abilities to offer specific kinds of blessings to our neighbours.  And each of us will also find times when we are in particular kinds of need, when we’re in a place that we might do well to accept an offering to us, and perhaps even ask for the means to help us fulfill some of our most urgent needs.

Some charitable causes – supported by those among us who are able to do so – are sometimes labelled “band-aid” solutions: that is to say, short-term remedies that address immediate needs… needs that are often due to larger systemic issues.  This does not make these causes less important – relief for immediate needs can make a big difference in someone’s life now, be it our neighbour’s life or our own.  And contributing to short-term respite to ongoing challenges does not mean that we can’t also work to address larger systemic problems – the kind of work that often takes much more time… sometimes multiple lifetimes.  We can each do our parts, as we are able, at different times.

My friends, there is still a winter ahead of us, with a number of challenges still to face, and with opportunities to work together and in our own ways.

My friends, may we take time now, as our season continues, and gather up our winter fuel. 

My friends, may we find blessings in offering those blessings that we are able to offer.

So may it be,

In the spirit of the season,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #235 Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly
Words: Traditional Welsh
Music: Old Welsh Carol
Tune YULE Irregular

Unitarian Universalists San Luis Obispo (25 December, 2020)


Many First Noëls

December 24th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

#237 The First Nowell
Words: English carol
Music: William Sandys’s Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, 1833,
harmony by John Stainer, 1840-1901
Tune THE FIRST NOWELL

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, posted by Jie Yi (23 December, 2020)

Homily – Many First Noëls – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document]

As the story has been handed down to us, the First Noël – the first Christmas – was a very unexpected event… it just didn’t go as planned.  There were some tedious travel arrangements related to bureaucracy; the accommodations were… not as expected; it looks like there were some surprise guests; and there were ongoing hazards that kept folks anxious.  On the plus side, it looked like there was some gift exchange, and people still took time to look out into the night sky in awe.

And, in any case, it did rather make for a good story – we’re still telling it about two thousand years later!

We’ve all had Christmases that didn’t go as expected, with last-minute travel plans – or travel cancelations; accommodation situations that were sparse or improvised; surprise guests or surprise no-shows; unexpected hazards; gifts that were not what we expected; or that weren’t received the way we’d hope.

Each of these will have been the first Noëls of their kind.  When Christmas went differently than what had been the accepted or expected tradition.  Some of these will have been one-of-a-kind events, though occasionally, some of these traditions will have kept on afterward.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a first Noël to be celebrated on December 25, after decades of debate on the date (the original story was vague on that kind of detail).  At some point, there was a first Noël that included Yule traditions, with tree and ornaments.  Then came first Noëls with roast birds and side dishes that for many have become de rigueur, even if it hadn’t been tradition before.  Just over 100 years ago, in the fields of France, Belgium, and Germany, soldiers had a first Noël singing carols and playing soccer with mortal enemies, over no-man’s land, having an unexpectedly silent night under the stars of the European sky.

Many of you will have had a first Noël that became what Christmas was supposed to be like, a first Noël with particular music, stories, or other rituals that tell you that Christmas has happened.  And later, other first Noëls came around that were different… not quite what you expected.

Some of these may have been welcome surprises… and others may have been awful disappointments at the time, perhaps even traumatic.

Perhaps after some time has passed, some of these unexpected Christmases might have become must-tell stories among family and friends, congenially recalling past events with a hint of embarrassment, but more than a balance of fondness for the shared experience.  Others may remain stories full of regret.

This year, it is quite likely that Christmas was not quite what was planned.  Last year was our first Noël without the use of our building in over 100 years.  This year was our first Noël with… mixed accommodations.  And the Noël via videophone has now become a bit of an annual tradition… at least for now.  We have faith that there will be an upcoming first Noël where the videophone will be a welcome option only, rather than a requirement.

Some of these may become stories of regret, and some may even be fond memories.  What remains for sure, is that we continue to offer the best of ourselves to each other, whatever gifts we have to offer one another, receiving whatever gifts others have to offer us, and spending time with each other – however we may be present – amid a starry night.

So may it be,
In the Spirit of the Season,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

#238 Within the Shining of a Star
~)-| Words: Robert S. Lehman, 1913-
~)-| Music: Betsy Jo Angebranndt, 1931- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Tune CHRISTMAS HYMN

Posted by Shannon Warto, with Lucy Faridany on Piano, Camellia Latta on Flute (9 January, 2021)


Lend a Hand to Build a Welcoming Community

December 19th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Olivia Brezeanu
The Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women


How Do You Draw Your Stars?

December 12th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #1051 We Are…

~)-| Words & music: Ysaÿe M. Barnwell, 1946- , © 1991 Barnwell’s Notes Publishing (BMI).  Used by permission.

Annual Dinner 2021 – Dr. Ysaÿe Barnwell Performs “We Are”
Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys (2 March, 2021)

Time For All Ages – Folding Stars

Optional Activity – folding a five-point star

Origami: Five Pointed Star 2.0 – Instructions in English (BR)
Easy Origami (5 November, 2016)

Sermon – How Do You Draw Your Stars? – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF]

I once shared an intensive months-long training with a peer group, and as our time of learning and working together was drawing to a close, we decided to plan how we would mark the occasion.  We knew we’d like some sort of celebration – in some style.

In addition to a get-together outside of the work and learning environment, we decided we needed some outdoor activities.  And, in a planning conversation, we floated the idea of having a piñata.  One of the peers, who happened to be into crafts, offered to make the piñata himself, and he wanted to make it as traditional as possible.  Since he knew about my heritage, he asked me what the most traditional shape might be.

Now, it’s important to note that it’s quite common in Mexico for piñatas to be of just about any shape that might appeal to any personal taste.  They range from animal shapes, to superheroes, to cartoon characters.  A simple walk through any store or market that caters to parties will have anything from the Little Mermaid, to Spiderman, to SpongeBob Square-pants, and even individual cars, from the movie Cars.

But a traditional motif, especially around the Christmas season, what might be called a “star of Bethlehem” – these are very popular during the posadas that happen around this time of year.  So, in response to my peer’s question, I answered that a “star-shape” would offer that traditional vibe that he was looking for.

Now, when I say “star-shape”, I was imagining the rather ornate three-dimensional “stars” that are typically made with a round base – either a clay pot, or a papier-mâché globe – and peaks made with cardboard cones, each one richly decorated in coloured paper and foil, as well as streaming tassels at the end of each point.  Once I had offered this counsel, I quickly forgot about the conversation, as our end-of-program celebration was still a while away.

When the celebration finally came around, my peer proudly brought out his handmade piñata… it was a flat five-pointed star, just thick enough to contain a respectable amount of candies and goodies.  I was intrigued by the design, and asked him what had inspired him to choose that particular shape.  My peer looked surprised… “Why, Rod – it’s what you suggested!”

It was my turn to be surprised – I had no recollection of recommending that shape.  To be clear, this design would be perfectly appropriate in any birthday party or celebration – I simply could not imagine having suggested that particular figure… “I did?” I asked, “When did I do that?”

“I asked you what shape is traditional,” he reminded me, “and you said ‘star’… so I made a star”.

My memory came back – yes, I had said “star”!  And that’s exactly what he crafted.  It just never occurred to me that he would conceive of a star-shaped piñata that looked like… that kind of star.  I had been so used to the ornate Mexican star-of-Bethlehem patterns, that a flat five-point star had never entered my imagination as an example of a “star”-shaped piñata!  And yet, his interpretation of my instruction was a perfectly reasonable rendering of what I had recommended.

Our celebration went along fine.  We hung up the piñata, we wacked the piñata, we cracked piñata, we collected as many candies as we could, and then hung out, happy that our learning work had been completed.

But I was struck by how divergent our own understandings of the same concept had been.  I was also surprised by how certain I had been of my own clarity in my instructions, and how I had never anticipated these same instructions to be interpreted in such an unexpected way.  It was a perfectly fine result – just… different from what I had envisioned.

As many of us begin decorating our spaces with holiday imagery, the star motif takes hold around our homes, our media, and the stores that offer a variety of decorating options.  And surely enough, the stars on offer are quite diverse – the differences among them range from the number of points, to the colours, materials, sizes, and where they belong on our spaces.  Some are flat, and some take up more space.  Some are soft, and some are… riskier to handle.  And of course, there are always the real stars in the sky, which seldom look the way we represent them, and would be… impractical to reproduce with the same materials in our decorations (being that household hydrogen is hard to come by, and much more difficult to fuse into helium at home)!

And even when we agree on the kind of star we’re talking about – say, a flat, five-point star – it is quite possible to see many ranges of diversity in them.  They could be drawn, painted, cut-out, folded in origami, textured, or glittery.  And even if we’re specifically talking about drawing these stars, each of us can bring a level of diversity to it.

If you think you already know someone really well, and are wondering what else you could possibly learn about them, you might ask them: “How do you draw your stars?”  You might be surprised.  Chances are that, when you draw a five-point star, you’ve gotten used to starting at a particular point… but maybe the people you thought you knew use a different starting point!

Some people might start at the top point, while others use the bottom left, the bottom right, or maybe one of the two “arms” at the sides.  We are so used to doing it our way, that it might not have crossed our minds that people we know may do it in an entirely different way.

And so it is with this holiday season.  Each of us will have an idea of what we expect at this time of year, with traditions that let us know that the holidays have “happened”.  For some of us, the holidays mean Christmas, along with a specific set of stories, music, food, decorations, and people we hope to see.  Among us, there are folks for whom the holy day and holy night that come with the winter solstice might be what the holidays are really about.  Some among us or near us might have recently celebrated Channukkah for eight days.  For others, the holiday time might be about cozying up during long winter nights, or maybe picking up extra shifts and even getting paid time-and-a-half for working on days that other people are able to take off from work.  All these realities can coexist.

For some folks among us, the holidays can be difficult.  They may be lonely times, or stressful times, or involve interacting with more people than is comfortable, or with whom things may be… complicated.  These can be times when celebration comes along with extra work, or with extra expenses that we may not be prepared for.  These realties can coexist.

Very often, the joys and sorrows of the holidays can converge, being both the best and the most difficult times of the year.  These realities can coexist.

My friends, at this time of the year, we are called to honour a diversity of holiday experiences.  To be better able to see what that experience means to each of us, and those next to us.

My friends, may we get to know what these experiences are in our diverse communities.

My friends, may we be able to see how our neighbours draw their stars.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #1059 May Your Life Be As Song

~)-| Words: Jim Scott, 1946 –
Music: Yuri Zaritsky

Julia Stubbs (17 September, 2020)


Reconciling With Indiana Jones

December 5th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #226 People, Look East
Words: Eleanor Farjeon, 1881-1965, used by perm. of David Higham Assoc. Ltd.
Music: Traditional French carol, harmony by Martin Shaw, 1875-1958, used by perm. of Oxford University Press
Tune BESANCON

Alena Hemmingway and Mike Menefee, Kitsap UU Fellowship (17 December, 2020)

Sermon – Reconciling With Indiana Jones – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available]

In the season of advent, we sometimes look forward – to the past.  Christmastide is often a time to hear familiar stories, seeking out our fix of nostalgia, partly as tradition, and partly as longing for times we remember fondly.  It’s also an opportunity to see familiar stories in new ways.

And adventure is a theme in many stories from my childhood, particularly movies – the kind that I seek out every once in a while, as sources of comfort… reminders of a simpler time, with familiar narratives and characters, as well as musical scores and scenery that capture the time when they were made.

I imagine each of you have some version of a comfort film or show that you would gladly watch again, even though you’ve seen it dozens of times and already know exactly how it’s going to turn out.

For my particular age demographic, these often include classic films from the eighties… and occasionally the nineties.  With epic musical scores and iconic imagery that I relate to in a way that is simply impossible for me to replicate with today’s hero flicks.

Now, it is rare to find a film that is “perfect” all the way through, or which has stayed that way.  And I continue to enjoy a whole variety of comfort films, despite their many flaws.  This morning, I’ll go over just a selection of my childhood media where I’ve increasingly seen issues that systematically prop up throughout.

I remember playing the Ghostbusters soundtrack record at full volume at my grandparents’ house – much to their chagrin – singing along the iconic theme song by Ray Parker Jr. in faux-English, pretending to know the words even though I didn’t yet know the language.  The theme song just got me.

Just as epic is the theme song for the Indiana Jones movie franchise.  If you’ve ever heard the Indiana Jones theme, by legendary film composer John Williams (of Star Wars fame), you will know that it’s music that instantly evokes adventure.  It seems unlikely to me that one could hear the Indiana Jones theme without immediately imagining riding off into the sunset on a mission to save the world in heroic glory.

With current streaming services, I’ve had a chance to revisit these comfort films quite regularly now, maybe even rediscover some that I had forgotten about.  And alongside my welcome stroll down memory lane, and the warm and fuzzy sensations that come with comfort watching, I’ve also been finding a creeping sense of discomfort when watching some of my old favourites.

The truth is that, some of the values and worldviews that the film industry has often seen fit depict are no longer aligned with the values that I have come to embrace, especially as I’ve become part of Unitarian Universalist communities of faith.

So, while I still feel the euphoric sense of adventure when I hear the Indiana Jones theme, or when I sing along to the Ghostbusters theme song, I’ve realized that there are at least parts of those films that simply don’t sit right – it’s uncomfortable.

I feel this as I see these films perpetuate barriers to full inclusion.

Let’s start with Ghostbusters.  Putting aside the observation that the ghostbusting characters are terrible scientists, with an implausible grasp of physics, my discomfort comes with the behaviour and attitudes that the film depicts.  One of the film’s stars is the celebrated actor Bill Murray, and in the film, he masterfully portrays one Dr. Peter Venkman with an aloof wit and a flawless deadpan delivery.

But I’ve increasingly felt creeped out by this character – the ghostbusting Dr. Venkman consistently performs with poor professional boundaries, to say the least – particularly when it comes to his romantic advances on a woman who is also a client of his ghostbusting business.  This would be an inappropriate practice in any business setting, but the Dr. Venkman’s repeated failure to accept her refusals takes it to another level.  In the movie, this kind of interaction is depicted as an endearing romantic subplot… obscuring the undertone of harassment that is now so plainly clear to me.  It is uncomfortable to watch.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that the Ghostbusters film also seemed to have an inexplicably active agenda against environmental government regulation – somehow, it turns out that the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the main real-world antagonists in the movie… perhaps a bigger one in the film than the ghosts themselves.  This bizarre subplot escaped me in any of my multiple viewings, but once she pointed it out to me, it struck me by how out of place it is.  It’s cringeworthy.

I still watch the movie every once in a while, but I go into it knowing that I cannot “unsee” the troubling elements in it.

The original Indiana Jones trilogy is much worse.  Once I get over the excitement of the epic theme music, I start to pick up on troubling elements throughout.  Even if we put aside the fact that Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. is a terrible archeologist, who wantonly destroys priceless cultural and archeological sites while claiming to salvage valuable artefacts that “belong in a museum” as he punches bad guys, he also has some unsavoury character traits.

I find it quite jarring that the Indiana Jones character consistently behaves with misogynistic and chauvinist attitudes toward his leading ladies, using patronizing and dismissive language, with poor professional boundaries, and exploitative dynamics.  Not to mention blatant disregard for personal and public safety.  The next time you watch one of the Indiana Jones films, I challenge you to see the problems with his approach – once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  To paraphrase Dr. Jones, his professional standards “belong in a museum”.

Moreover, the people of colour in the franchise are often portrayed as scary and irrationally violent at worst, or exotic and comical at best.  Even the people of colour who are “good guys”, in supporting roles to Dr. Jones, tend to be portrayed in a way that is played out for laughs, with little dimension to their characters beyond comic relief or an air of foreign intrigue.  In the original trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is probably the worst offender in this sense – if you watch it after today, you’ll know what I mean – though Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark also displays a firmly colonial approach, where Jones acts in a way where he seems entitled to casually claim and occasionally destroy indigenous cultural heritage.

Of the three, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is probably the most palatable of the lot, but Dr. Jones’ poor professional boundaries remain – and get him in trouble – and all the while, people of colour remain the most expendable background characters, casually being killed off with barely any grief displayed.  It’s usually only when the leading white people are in danger, or get killed, that the film seems to present any real stakes.

In my latest nostalgia trips, I recently rediscovered the Crocodile Dundee franchise.  And while this wasn’t exactly an old childhood favourite of mine, I still found myself drawn to its 80s nostalgia charm.

And… again, I found myself sitting with the discomfort of a film establishment that did not take into account everyone in the room.  While I found the films mostly entertaining, there were routine instances of misogyny and occasionally awkward navigations of Australia’s colonial history.  I was also rather upset to see that, among the few scenes that featured transgender characters, these characters were played out for laughs and with little regard for the dignity and humanity of trans folks.  I couldn’t help thinking that, if a trans person saw this film, they would walk away feeling harmed, disrespected, and with a message that society does not value them.

And just recently, I’ve started rewatching the 90s sitcom Seinfeld.  A lot of its comedic genius continues to hold up.  There is a lot to say about the whole series, but the one thing that has frequently popped up for me is its consistent insensitivity, stigmatization, and poor understanding of mental health issues.  Some episodes feel outright harmful.  I am glad that this is a conversation that has been given more space in society these days, and I’ve even found some good recent series that deal with mental health in very affirming ways.  It’s just a shame that a television classic fails to consider its impact through its considerable run time.

In some ways, seeing these problematic parts of old favourites might feel like I’ve lost something… old comforts are now sources of new discomforts.  I nonetheless feel that I’ve gained something more valuable – a better sense of what others’ experiences might be if they saw these films… particularly people who have a different life experience from mine.  In revisiting these old favourites and viewing them with a newer, more critical and inclusive perspective, I see myself as embarking in a bolder, far more exciting adventure – to connect more closely with everyone who might be in the room, in an exercise of more radical inclusivity.

Perhaps the specific bits of pop culture that I’ve cited here today are beyond the entertainment categories that you might be more accustomed to.  But I suspect there are old favourites of yours that may end up looking different once you see them through a lens of radical inclusivity, taking into account the values that you hold dear, in contrast to the attitudes and approaches that the filmmakers might have found more marketable for mass audiences.

My friends, nostalgia for the good old days may bring the occasional, welcome, comfort to our current lives.  And it is also helpful to be mindful of the rose-tinted lenses that nostalgia sometimes uses to obscure the reality that those simpler times might not have been all much simpler for others who share our space.

My friends, the adventure of broader inclusion of all who we might encounter calls us to see beyond the stories we might be used to.  It might be uncomfortable and require work – adventures usually do.  And it may bring deeper connection with anyone who might be in the room.

My friends, we share in this adventure together – into the sunset!

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #106 Who Would True Valor See
Words: John Bunyan, 1628-1688
Music: English melody, arr. by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958, used by perm. of Oxford University Press
Tune MONK’S GATE

Hymn Channel (3 June, 2016)


Change is Nature

November 28th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service, hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council and led by Unitarian Universalist Youth and Young Adults.

Watch:

“Change is Nature”
UU Youth and Young Adults
Canadian Unitarian Council
28 November, 2021

with Closed Captioning


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