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

BRB (Be Right Back) | Flower Celebration

June 20th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The Story of Flower Communion

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

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

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

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

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the flowers, my friends.

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Flower Celebration

(Photos and paintings of flowers published with permission)

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

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


Sheet Cake

June 13th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

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

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

Sermon – Sheet Cake – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

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

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


What is it Good For?

June 6th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

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

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

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

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His answer is very simple: “Absolutely nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Marlena Moore (4 July 2020)