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

The Long Night Ahead

December 20th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

For All Ages – God Rest Ye Merry Gentle(folk) and We Three Kings mashup – by Boise UU Fellowship

As we long nights approach, we may be able to glimpse the latest alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, creating a “Star of Bethlehem” effect.
This performance by the Boise UU Fellowship celebrates this event with the conjunction of two classic Christmas songs.

Sermon – The Long Night Ahead – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF document for download]

When the sun sets at 5:03pm tonight we will go through the two longest nights of the year, with only a short day in between.

We will welcome newly-lengthening days in what has already been a dark season… not only have the days been shorter for the last few months, but we’ve come from even longer months of uncertainty, and a string of bad news, including sombre numbers that continue to climb worldwide.

And it’s looking like, in many ways, it might get worse before it gets better.  Even with slowly brighter days, there will be cold months, and for many among us, they may well be lonely months.

What can we look forward to in this long season upon another long season?

Kari Leibowitz is a health psychologist, who spent some time in Norway – during the winter.  She spoke with many people around the country and her findings on how Norwegians cope with long and dark winters are outlined in an article from the Guardian called Dreading a dark winter lockdown?  Think like a Norwegian.

Among her observations, she saw that Norwegians appear to have developed coping skills for long dark winters that go beyond solid housing and warm clothing – a lot of it seemed to come down to mindset.  Many Norwegians, it seems, have become used to looking forward to winter, shifting their sense about many of the things that might make winter feel dreadful, and regarding these as features, rather than bugs.

This shift in attitude also seemed to increase with latitude.  And the further north she went, the more people exhibited strong anticipation for winter, to the point that they were puzzled at the idea that there were people who don’t look forward to winter!

This was tied to the Norwegian concept of koselig, which – like its Danish cousin hygge – is a bit hard to translate, but in English we might articulate it as that sense of “coziness” that comes when we snuggle down with a blanket and a warm drink, for a quiet time in the winter, with some treats and maybe a good book or movie.

The concepts of koselig and hygge give witness to an approach in which, not only is embracing a measure of leisure acceptable, but that this can be outright glorified as a goal in itself.

For those of us to whom it is possible, winter may allow us some permission to slow down – to embrace the kind of leisure activities that we’re conditioned to think of as lazy or unproductive.  In the context of winter, sitting down and enjoying the space of our home curled up with a favourite pastime is perfectly reasonable – in the context of a pandemic, it is a public health imperative, as doing a bit less is precisely what the doctors are prescribing.

This is not to say that “it all comes down to attitude” – there are a lot of other social, economic, political, and environmental factors in play.  There are realities about people’s situations that cannot be fixed with an attitude shift.  What Kari Leibowitz found in her research in Norway is not that people can get away from winter or pretend that it doesn’t exist, but that we may have more agency on how we encounter it, than we might realize.

Already in this protracted pandemic season, many of us have been able to identify some advantages that weren’t there before, such as finding that we might need to do less driving, for instance, or that other expenses we would otherwise incur might no longer seem necessary. 

These specific examples will not be true for everyone, but chances are that you might find some opportunities, if you’re in the lookout for them.  In our church community, some of our members have found it easier to connect to Sunday services, and other church activities, when they couldn’t before – although the opposite has also been true for other members.

The point of finding the opportunities in this extended winter is not to pretend that there aren’t challenges – but to rather recognize them, and if possible, even embrace some of those challenges as potential sources of growth.  And if we are fortunate enough to find opportunities in these challenges, we might also be able to offer what we can when we encounter folks who are struggling.

Many of you have done that, be it in connecting with members who could use further connection, or in volunteering gifts of time or even money to organizations that need additional assistance.  This has always been part of the holiday spirit – and now is even truer than before.

Aside from bringing greater exposure to many of the social inequalities and environmental issues of our time, this protracted season has also shown surprising resilience among the world community.  I have already spoken about the incredible news of such a fast development of several viable vaccines – and I’ll continue to explore that story, as it is hard to overstate – because it shows that we can be capable of facing incredible challenges, even exceeding expectations about what could be possible.  The most optimistic estimates were 12 to 18 months – approvals came in in just under a year… and just a few months ago, many were expressing doubts as to whether they’d even be possible.

Shifting our attitudes about winter and lockdown is not about ignoring the additional anxieties that come with winter… and with pandemic season – it is about being open to recognizing what is possible in making these seasons spaces for self and social improvement.

There seems to be a Norwegian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”  And as winter arrives, reflecting on the story we tell ourselves about this time may just help us find the proper kind of clothes, the right tools, to endure, and perhaps even enjoy, this quieter time.

My friends, as we head out into the long night of the year that is winter, we do so with the knowledge that the longest night of the year will have already passed after tomorrow.

My friends, as of Monday, the days will begin to get longer and light will slowly be ever more present in our lives – just seconds and minutes at a time… barely enough to notice it day to day.  And, day to day, we will come to a time when the light will be more than dark.  We are now in the Great Advent as, day to day, people are gaining protection from the virus.  This improvement will be small and slow, silent as whispers.

And as spring and summer arrive, my friends, it will eventually be clear that we can again breathe outside, and in each other’s homes, in the physical presence of each other.  Each day from now on will still be important, as we cozy up when we can, and reach out, as we are able.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,
Amen

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #55 Dark of Winter
~)-| Words & Music: Shelley Jackson Denham, 1950- ,
© 1988 Shelley Jackson Denham
Tune WINTER MEDITATION

Piano Brian Kenny, posted by Mike Menefee (3 December, 2020)


Twelve Sleeps

December 13th, 2020 . 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 BESANÇON

Interpreted by Julia Stubbs (11 December, 2020)

For All Ages The Story of Hanukkah by Jeremy Frank Read by Peter Jacobson

Pause – A Bit of Recent History – First Pfizer Covid vaccine given to British patient – The Guardian

Sermon – Twelve Sleeps – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF version available for download]

Perhaps one of the most popular ways for kids to count down to something – be it a birthday, the last day of school, a class trip… or Christmas – is by sleeps.  Today we can say “twelve sleeps to Christmas!”

It’s a clever system – it gets around the ambiguity that comes when counting by days… if I say twelve days to Christmas, does that include today?  Does that include Christmas day?  Is it twelve days inclusive?  And inclusive of which days… starting when?

Counting by sleeps does away with that – you go to bed tonight… and after you do that twelve times, you wake up to Christmas!

There is a lot of counting down these days.  During Advent, there is Christmas, of course.  After Christmas, many folks are ready to count down the sleeps to January 1st, 2021 – eager to be done with the year 2020.  [In the United States, and other places, some folks are counting down the days to January 20th.]  Last week, we might have been counting down the days till a Covid vaccine was approved, now it’s a countdown to when it will be rolled out – a government official phrases it as “V minus 3” (three days to the vaccine rollout) – we might call it, “two sleeps”.

As those efforts take place, we might be counting the days to a time when regular in-person meetings sound more reasonable and routine.  It gets a bit tricky, since exactly when that day might be isn’t entirely clear, but it’s increasingly sounding like it might be less than three hundred and sixty-five sleeps.  Some folks these days will be looking to see when the Windsor-Essex Gray Zone designation gets lifted, and count down in anticipation.

There is something about counting down that builds up expectation.  And sometimes, that can help in creating a sense of hope – looking forward to something, which often brings a measure of pleasure, even when the expected day, or moment, hasn’t yet arrived.  In some ways, it’s a way of extending – maybe even multiplying – the joy of an occasion, when we know the time remaining for it.

Now, I’ve spoken before about the notion of anticippointment – which can perhaps be cynically described as expecting some degree of… pre-emptive disappointment, lest the expected moment not live up to expectations, and in some way immunizing us from a bigger letdown.  A more… health-oriented definition could be worded more simply as an exercise in managing expectations.

That happens sometimes with the holidays.  After the right number of sleeps, Christmas or New Year’s Day arrives, and… it somehow doesn’t always live up to the hype.  Sometimes, it’s the days leading up to it that seemed to hold the bulk of the magic.

One of the sad news this week, was the announcement that aviation pioneer Chuck Yeager died.  He was the first person to travel faster than sound.  As his life was being celebrated, news outlets recalled the time that, in speaking about his experience of that significant moment – when he broke the sound barrier – Yeager found it to be a rather… underwhelming moment.  He’s quoted as describing it as “a poke through Jell-o”, and that he somehow did not seem to feel particularly different than before he was slower than sound.

He was, of course, glad that nothing more significant happened – it mostly meant he was safe – during a mission where many things could have gone wrong.  But the moment when he first flew faster than sound was mostly just another moment in the long journey of training, preparation, excitement, frustration, and anticipation, toward that goal.  That’s what he lived for in the months and years leading to Mach 1 – he lived for the days that led to just another day in the process – even if some days are marked as more significant than others.

Perhaps that’s the lesson about the sleeps that we might count toward those significant days in the future.  After all, part of the point of sleeping is waking up to a new day – another day in the journey.  Eventually some of those days will be marked more significant than others – maybe even historic.  But the days leading up to that day, are perhaps even more significant, in having built up the space for those special days.

My friends, we’ve witnessed the historical moment when Margaret Keenan, from Coventry, was the first patient to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine in the UK last Tuesday – at which point she asked the nurse “is that it?”.  In Canada, a similar historic day may happen around this coming Tuesday.  But for the most part, those will be largely ordinary days for most of us.  We can still be excited about this, but not a lot will change in our daily lives on that particular day.  There will still be several weeks, or months – several sleeps – of anticipation.  But those days, and the sleeps in between will be important, as our situation slowly changes… quite possibly for the better.

And hidden along that story, my friends, are those significant days that led up to these recent special days.  As soon as the virus was sequenced about a year go, a lot of work came together very quickly to lead to the celebration in Coventry last Tuesday, and in the coming days.  In fact, Margaret Keenan was not the first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine… she was simply the first to do so as a patient.  Thousands of clinical trial volunteers had already received it months before, in otherwise unremarkable days – many days, and many sleeps, when much of the most significant advances were made, on days that are mostly unknown to us.

And so, my friends, it is unlikely that there will be a specific day when we can say, “there, the pandemic is over, and everything changes as of… now”.  Even if a declaration by health authorities is made on a particular day, it is likely that, just like an overhyped New Year’s Day, not a lot will look different from the immediate days before or after.  It will be the build-up to those days, and the sleeps in between, that will really matter.

My friends, it will be the anticipatory time of this great advent of the coming months, that will really make the difference.

And so, my friends, may we welcome each of those sleeps, and each of the mornings that follow them.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,
Amen

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #409 Sleep, My Child
~)-| Words: Adapt. by Alicia S. Carpenter, 1930- , © 1990 Alicia S. Carpenter
Music: Welsh melody, c. 1784
Tune AR HYD Y NOS

Interpreted by the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Laetate Ringers (14 September, 2020)


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.


Power Dynamic

December 6th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #360 Here We Have Gathered
~)-| Words: Alicia S. Carpenter, 1930- , © 1979 Alicia S. Carpenter
Music: Genevan psalter, 1543
Tune OLD 124th
Vocals (Choir) and Instrumental (Piano)

Offered by the Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco (May 3, 2020)
My-Hoa Steger, pianist; Asher Davison, Brielle Neilson and Mark Sumner, songleaders

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

Today is December 6, marking 31 years since the École Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal, and urging us to recognize the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Last week the Caldwell First Nation received approval for a land reserve.  This land has been in the certification process for 10 years, and the Caldwell First Nation has been seeking to have their treaty rights recognized for 200 years.

And we can share in cautious optimism as multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates, with high efficacy, are now beginning to be approved around the world, with phased rollouts in the horizon. Along with the unprecedented efficiency in their development, we also recognize that many people will not have access to them for several months.

Holding the realities of the world, we also recognize the value in giving witness to the joys and the sorrows that are present in our personal lives, including those that aren’t voiced, remembering that in our larger community, none of us is alone.

Hymn #130 O Liberating Rose
~)-| Words: Mark L. Belletini, 1949- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
~)-| Music: Larry Phillips, 1948- , © 1984 Larry Phillips
Tune INITIALS

Offered by the First Unitarian Church of Chicago (Music Director: Jeff Hamrick) (14 June, 2020)

Sermon – Power Dynamic – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF version available for download]

Towards the end of my last year of seminary, a few years ago now, a group from my cohort was tasked with organizing our closing worship ceremony.  The cohort invited folks from all the colleges of the ecumenical school to be part of the closing worship team, representing the United Church, the Presbyterians, and the Anglicans, as well as taking care to invite me, representing the Unitarian Universalist perspective.  It was a bit like one of those jokes, though it was really an established practice to work together, in all seriousness.

At our meetings, I remember feeling quite satisfied with a sense of inclusion and representation – we had members from four denominations, with ages ranging from millennial to boomer, embodying racial and ethnic diversity, with folks identifying three sexual orientations, and at least two genders.  I thought we had done it – living the dream of collaborative inclusivity.

As we were settling on the details of the Order of Service and the content of worship materials, I made a suggestion for one of the elements of the service.  The precise details are a bit fuzzy now, and aren’t particularly important, but suffice it to say that it comprised a slightly more… experimental approach to one of the biblical readings.

After some silence, each of my peers in the planning team offered support for it and consented to try out my suggestion.  In truth, I could sense that there was some… unspoken trepidation about my idea, and that they weren’t fully comfortable with it, but the group nonetheless formed a consensus, giving the go-ahead for it.  And, while I had picked up on the hesitance to adopt my recommendation, I did not feel at the time that it was my responsibility to advocate for others’ opinions.  If they had voiced their dissent, I told myself, I would listen to it and see about working something out, but since they hadn’t spoken against it, I decided to simply take them at their word.  The matter was closed.

Or so I thought.  A day or so later, I got an e-mail in my inbox.  One of my peers wrote that she and the rest of the women had held a follow-up conversation and voiced to each other their discomfort with my suggestion and were wondering if I’d reconsider.

I admit I was initially taken aback.  First, the notion that they’d had their own separate discussion – without me – seemed… unpalatable to me.  But then, a second shock took over – when I reread the e-mail and noticed that she had written: “me, and the rest of the women…”

It was only then that it dawned on me that all the other members of the team were women – and that I was, in fact, the only man.  Only then did I consider that their original hesitancy to object to my suggestion might have something to do with gender dynamics.

Since they had, in fact, now voiced their objection, quite unanimously, I reconsidered my suggestion and withdrew it (and there were other parts of the service where my contributions had been welcome).

But I still felt uneasy about how that other conversation had played out, and noticed how inadequate I felt at how I had handled it – feeling that I had missed something important in how I worked with my teammates.

I followed up with one them, to see if she would help me understand.  This new conversation was no longer about worship planning, but about the gender factor in our team’s dynamic.

She was gracious enough to listen to my questions and offer some of her time to educate me – I imagined she sensed that I was open to listen to her perspective.

She acknowledged that she, along with her female peers, had been socialized to hold back on their opinions – especially when it would mean countering a man’s position.  And in holding their own caucus as women, they’d found the confidence among each other, first, to voice, acknowledge, and validate their opinions to each other, and then, to voice them to me.

This is something that I technically already knew.  At some level, I understood that there was a power dynamic in play among genders.  But it somehow felt abstract… a historical footnote in the struggle for gender equality, that now – in the future that was 2012 – somehow did not really matter any more.  Except that it did.  And only when I saw it play out in real time, did I more fully understand, what that power dynamic meant.

My colleague said something else that has also stayed with me.  In addition to how I might consider how women had been socialized, she asked me if I had considered not just the fact that they were women, but that I was, in fact, a man.

I had not.

Since then, I have been learning to understand that – whether I realize it or not – I often wield more power than I might think, simply by virtue of the gender I present with, the moment I walk through the door.  I might not intend to use that power in any detrimental way, but my words and actions may still pack more weight than those of others.

This includes the understanding that the cultural socialization does not stop with my women peers, but has also shaped my assumptions about how I’m supposed to be and how others are supposed to perceive me, including the expectation that what I say is less likely to be second-guessed. (And certainly, as an ordained and called minister, there are legitimate reasons why people might want to pay attention to what I say – and still, I’m aware that I must always take the gender factor into account.)

This realization has also called me to re-evaluate many of my interactions with women in the past, when I might have thought my words or actions were innocent enough, or at worst, playful joking among friends, when they might in fact have been something worse – disrespectful, hurtful, harmful, perhaps even toxic.

In many cases, it is hard to know for sure, but I know that some of the ways I’ve behaved in the past are not ways that I would find acceptable now.  And of course, the work is never fully done – be it growing in self-awareness, or calling out toxic and harmful behaviours in others.

And that’s a call to many of us.  Today is the National Day of Action on Violence Against Women.  It is a very specific set of words, each one with very direct meanings.  The one that I’d particularly like to call attention to is Action.

And while women are named – and remembered – in this day of action, it is not a day directed exclusively at women.  On the contrary, it is an invitation – an imperative – for men to be part of the solution toward reducing gender-based violence.  And we do that acknowledging that women and people with other gender identities are disproportionately harmed when men don’t hold themselves, and each other, accountable.

The aim isn’t to feel guilty about our genders or debate which one is best or the most virtuous.  The goal is to renew a commitment to grow into awareness about who we are and what that can mean, to grow in understanding that the power dynamic among genders is not a mere historical artifact, but a mechanism that continues to affect real people, in real time.

Among the sobering statistics of the pandemic is a surge in reports of people – most often women – at increased danger in abusive households.  Even though the École Polytechnique Massacre happened in Montreal thirty-one years ago, we continue to see examples of the effects of toxic masculinity in our immediate time (and I’m not talking about masculinity in general, but specifically toxic masculinity).  The Toronto Van Attack and the Toronto Danforth Shooting, both in 2018, both seem to draw inspiration from misogynist sources.  In our year 2020, the Nova Scotia attacks and the Toronto Machete Attack also have a connection with gender-based violence.  And without excusing their behaviour, it is worth noting that many of the male attackers also struggled with a sense of inadequacy in their maleness – exposing a reality that patriarchy hurts everyone (and that might be a conversation for another time).

My friends, these are the most graphic examples, but the difficult and ongoing realities of the imbalance in the power dynamic among genders are manifest in many more, and much more mundane, everyday examples.  As I have witnessed to in my experience with my worship teammates in seminary, even the most intentionally inclusive and open-minded settings are not immune to the spectre of patriarchy sneaking up, when one is not actively aware of how the power dynamic among genders can be unexpectedly unbalanced.

My friends, we are called to do that work, as a covenantal community seeking ongoing personal and collaborative growth.  To make space when we realize we already take more space than we thought, and invite others to take that space, especially those among us who have been accustomed to give it up.

My friends, may our prophetic imperative to justice, guide us toward a deeper understanding toward harmony, and truer balance among all of us.  My friends, we have work to do – may we take it on.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,
Amen

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #125 From the Crush of Wealth and Power

~)-| Words: Kendyl L. R. Gibbons, 1955- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Peter Cutts, 1937- , © 1969 Hope Publishing Co.
Tune BRIDEGROOM

Interpreted by John Thomas, baritone soloist, posted by Dan Inglis (16 July, 2020)