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

The Best Worst Spanish

May 30th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Sermon – The Best Worst Spanish – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

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


Reading Tea Leaves

May 23rd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

Sam Wendover (21 September 2017)

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

Tom Scott (9 April, 2018)

Sermon – Reading Tea Leaves – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn – Keep it Alight – Rev. Lynn Harrison

Canadian Unitarian Council (17 May, 2021)


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

May 22nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and plan to bid!


June 2021 Newsletter

May 22nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


Keep it Alight

May 16th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service
Hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council

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


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

May 10th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Watch:


How is that Working for You?

May 2nd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Meditation Hymn #157 Step by Step the Longest March
Words: Anon.
Music: Irish folk song, adapt. and arr. by Waldemar Hille, 1908-1996,
© 1969 by Waldemar Hille
Tune SOLIDARITY

Dave Rowe and Stacey Guth
Recorded for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City (12 October, 2020)

Sermon – How is that Working for You? – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

The popular Saturday morning cartoon The Jetsons, by the Hanna-Barbera studio that also brought us The Flintstones, offers us one vision of the future.  And just as The Flintstones offers a vision of the past that takes… some artistic license, The Jetsons offer us a mixed bag when it comes to predicting how our future might be shaping up.

Set one hundred years from when it was created, The Jetsons shows us a society that in many ways mirrors contemporary life in the 1960s – a nuclear family with a male breadwinner, with a teenage daughter that spends her generous allowance at the space-mall, and a son who takes after his father in the local school’s sports team (except, instead of baseball, they play spaceball).

But, of course, they make some half-serious predictions about how technology might impact our lifestyles.  Like much of fiction set in the 21st century, they have flying cars.  And while that technology has been on the cusp of reality for several decades, it is yet to reach any practical or realistic application.  Many question whether it would even be desirable to have that mode of transportation in our cities.

A few things have panned out.  Moving sidewalks are a technology that, while not widely used, has been a reality for decades now, and many of us have even used them – probably at an airport.  Same goes for treadmills.

In the cartoon, the standard way of communicating at a distance is the videophone – a telephone with a screen that shows you, visually, who you are talking to.  This is something that an increasing number of us have become familiar with.  In fact, our videophones are probably more sophisticated – and portable – than the cathode ray ones in the cartoon – and we don’t really call them videophones, but rather laptops, or tablets, or… phones.  Now, the cartoon doesn’t really show the Jetson family going to church, but if they did, they could well have done so on their videophones, like much of the world does on Sunday mornings these days, now that we live in the future.

The one prediction that I find most interesting – and perhaps most disappointing in its non-fulfillment – is the one about the workweek.

George Jetson, the patriarch and breadwinner of the family works three hours per day, three days a week – for a total of nine hours a week.  He complains about his heavy workload, and is not entirely happy with his short-tempered boss.  Technology, it seems, has made this possible.

This particular prediction has not come to pass for most of us… but could it?  It is not entirely without precedent after all.

For thousands of years, there have been established traditions that eschew the kind of non-stop workweek that continuously goes day in and day out, and instead have a formally-instituted day of rest – it’s in the Bible! [Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8]

This sabbath day was partly to allow space for worship, as we do in this community.  And what is worship?  Last week, I read words from Jacob Trapp, who among other things, describes worship as the possibility to stand in awe among all that is before us – the “stars, a flower, a leaf in sunlight, or a grain of sand”, the ability to be receptive, “to pause from work and listen to a strain of music”, to be able to listen “to the still small voice within” and be able to move “through deeds of kindness and through acts of love”.  These things can be done while working, but they can be even easier to do when we take a sabbath day and seek moments of sabbath.

In the Bible, that sabbath was a Saturday, which continues to be observed in the Jewish tradition, and by Seventh-Day Adventists.  Folks in the Christian tradition – and those of us who share in that heritage – have moved that practice to Sunday, because of a mix of historical and theological reasons.  And that Sunday of rest has become standard in what is often called the Western world, as well as many other places around the planet.

But Saturday has also made a comeback.  Thanks to the work – and often significant sacrifice – by leaders and supporters of many labour movements, the standard work week has come down from six to five days.  Some industrialists, including Henry Ford eventually embraced this change, finding that rather than lose productivity, workers were better rested and more effective in the tasks of the week.  It took a long struggle, but the modern weekend is a popular standard around the world.

And there has long been a campaign for another major shift toward a four-day workweek, which has gotten a boost lately, as the Pandemic has invited people to rethink how work is done, where it’s done, and when it’s done.

Not only is there precedent with the Saturday comeback, but it’s also witnessed around the world, as can be seen in some places in Europe, where three-day weekends from Friday to Sunday have taken some hold.  And there is evidence, again, that productivity often does not decline and may even increase.

Perhaps, the Jetsons were not that far off.  Now that we live in the future – about halfway in the timeline from when The Jetsons were conceived to when their story is set – it might be a good time to take some stock of how we think of work.

Now that we live in the future, our society is, by many measures, magnitudes of scale wealthier than ever before.  And a lot of it is owed to technological advances.  It can be argued – and many have – that our middle class lives a wealthier life than any medieval monarch… when you factor in things like better health and medical care; common luxuries, like the availability and variety of food; amenities such as plumbing, clean running water, and electricity.  Even something like owning a car can represent a better quality of life than the richest people in the middle ages had in their lifetime.

But just because our society – and many individuals in it – may be wealthier in our lifestyles, does not necessarily mean we’re richer.

Poverty is still real, with real impacts on people’s lives.  Even when many aspects of quality of life are better now than centuries ago, living with precarious housing conditions, or no housing – or unreliable access to those benefits that many of us can easily obtain – means that, in many ways, the life of the future has not made many folks all that much better off… even with shinier gadgets and better institutions.  And technological advancements alone have not made the space for leisure that is often speculated in visions of the future.  Our world may be wealthier, but the access to that wealth has not benefitted everyone in the same way.

And there’s another complication at play here.  What does it mean to have access to all this wealth – at least in principle – if you don’t have the time to truly benefit from it?  To enjoy it.  To allow it for us to grow into a more meaningful life as individuals and as a community.

This doesn’t mean that folks today can’t have meaningful lives.  Or that if you work full shifts and overtime you can’t find moments of fulfillment.  But the case remains that, we could imagine a far more fulfilling life – a more enriching life – for each of us and our society, if we’re ready to embrace the possibility that maybe we don’t all need to be working all the time, or so much of our time, for the sake of sustaining our existence.  Or, as can sometimes be the case, for the sake of ever-increasing riches, even when there’s already enough to sustain oneself.

I rather like it when a rationale can be supported by both principled and practical arguments.  And the case for a shorter workweek often covers both of these.

Not only would more time out of required paid work make space for more fulfilling lives, but the evidence suggesting that, by allowing workers more time to rest and devote to their personal and family needs – leading to more efficiency when performing tasks – suggests mutual benefits for all.

More time out of required paid work doesn’t mean that people want to work less, but that they may have the opportunity to do other kind of work that that is enriching in other ways, to themselves and to their community, such as volunteering for a cause they find important, thus enriching society at large, or following personal passions, like a hobby or further education, thus enriching one’s life.  Having more time for family and friends also allows for better mental health, and having space to focus on play and exercise can also lead to better physical and mental health, which benefits the individual and society, by reducing both social and financial costs.  This is both a principled cause and a practical cause.

My friends, re-envisioning how, where, and when we do work, is not a case for doing less work, or for making fewer contributions to society.  Rather, my friends, it is a case for making space for other options in how we contribute to each other and ourselves, for how we can make a more fulfilling life, for how we can make a more worshipful life.

My friends, living in the future has opened up many possibilities and opportunities… maybe it is also a time to see those possibilities and opportunities truly fulfilled for all of us.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and Love,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #139 Wonders Still the World Shall Witness
~)-| Words: Jacob Trapp, 1899-1992, © 1981 Jacob Trapp
Music: Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlities en Contradanseu, c. 1710
Tune IN BABILONE

Posted by Raymond Crooke for the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church (1 December, 2019)