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

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.


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

with Closed Captioning

December 2021 Newsletter

November 27th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Knickers in a Knot

November 21st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day song for WaterAid (5 November, 2013)

Reading – Deuteronomy 23:12-13

“12 You shall have a designated area
outside the camp
to which you shall go. 
13 With your utensils you shall have a trowel;
when you relieve yourself outside,
you shall dig a hole with it
and then cover up your excrement.”

Sermon – Knickers in a Knot – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Growing up, I was always curious about how things worked and how people figured out how to make these things.  So, I got into the habit of asking my dad about how things were invented – and who thought these things up.

I have fond memories of sitting in the back of the car while he was weaving through traffic, or during a long road trip, and asking about anything that piqued my interest.  How does velcro work?  And who came up with it?  How do people get in touch long-distance over wires?  And what is this Nobel Prize I keep hearing about?

My dad told me the stories behind these, and many other things.  I learned of Swiss Engineer George de Mestral, and how he noticed that whenever he went out hiking in the alps, little burrs would get stuck to his clothes.  And how he then wondered if he could learn what was behind it so that we could put things together, but also be able to pull them apart as needed – the hook-and-loop fastener was created!

I learned about Samuel Morse, and the telegraph’s use of electric circuits and switches to send messages over long distances.  I even learned a bit of Morse Code.

He even told me of Alfred Nobel’s quest to make nitroglycerin safer to handle, eventually creating dynamite, and how – perhaps regretting that he made a fortune from this explosive – Nobel set aside his money to reward world-changing scientific and intellectual achievement.

As I learned all these fascinating stories and facts, I eventually started wondering about other complicated mechanisms.  Cars and internal combustion, electric motors, and things like, how does the water in the toilet flow down when you flush it, but then stops and stays in the bowl?

I wondered about this latter one for a very long time, and as I grew up, I realized that I somehow never got around to asking him about toilets as a kid.  Of course, at some point I knew how to conduct my own research to my questions, and I did eventually learn about the magic of the S-curve in pipes and plumbing, and how this air-tight water-plug keeps the bathroom from smelling like a sewer.

But I also wondered… what kept me from asking my dad about this?  Looking back, I can’t imagine that he would have been anything but enthusiastic about explaining the mechanism of flush toilets.  But something held me back… maybe I felt embarrassed about asking something relating to bodily functions.  Perhaps somewhere in my interactions with friends, or with family, I had picked up a message that this was something you don’t really talk about.  I didn’t know the word for this, but I now know that we call these kinds of things taboo.

Last week, I talked about a few life-saving advances in medicine, like insulin, vaccines, and antiseptic practices such as handwashing, which have shaped the landscape of our health – and of our civilization.

And among all of these advances, toilets remain underrated in just how important they are in building and maintaining the societies that we have come to know, and the benefits that we may find in living in communities that have consideration for sanitation.  Just like the other advances that get lauded and celebrated, winning Nobel Prizes, and which are commemorated on our money and our stamps, toilets are also a life-saving technology that keep us healthy, bring us safety, and make financial security likelier.

But we rarely talk about them because they deal with… squishy and smelly stuff.  Stuff that we’d rather keep out of our mind most of the day – except for those few times during the day, when we are obligated to acknowledge it.

And this silence can be deadly.  Keeping it at the… bottom of our priorities when we think about social development, equity, safety, and health.

And while most of us can go about our days without having to think about it, each of us can probably also recall those days when… the plumbing is not working right.  Only then, do we remember how life-changing, and fundamental, the convenient water closet is to life as we know it.

The harsh reality is that a life without ready access to a toilet is an everyday reality for about a third of the world population.  In great part, this includes many populations in impoverished and rural areas that, due to a variety of social, economic, political, and even geographic factors, have not had the opportunity to establish this fundamental infrastructure.

And we’re not only talking about far away places either.  There are also many people in our country who don’t have reliable access to working plumbing, toilets, sanitation infrastructure, or even clean water.  Many of us are growing in awareness that many reserves for First Nations cannot offer adequate living conditions, due to colonial policies and practices, and this can include substandard sanitation.

In our cities and towns – right down the street from many of us – people who are homeless and precariously housed often lack reliable access to toilets.  Over the last two years, this has been compounded by the effects of the pandemic, as publicly-accessible bathrooms in private establishments have at times been literally barricaded – you might have seen that if you’d gone into a coffee shop in the spring and summer of 2020, and perhaps a few other times since.

In fact, it may well have happened to you during a recent outing, that toilets were not nearly as available as you’d been accustomed to – a realization that has a bad habit of emerging at very inconvenient times.

The fact that this is an everyday reality for many people around the world has serious implications for individual and collective well-being.  It brings serious public health risks like the spread of cholera, diphtheria E.coli and many other pathogens.  It is dangerous – particularly for many women and girls, who sometimes need to step out into the night to take care of their bodies, at great personal risk; and it is costly, both in terms of lives and in terms of economic outlook for individuals and economic output for societies.  A lack of toilets for everyone is an irrational reality.  It is an absurd reality.  It is an expensive reality.

Investing in sanitation and creative solutions, on the other hand, can bring great dividends, sometimes in unexpected ways.  When I mentioned at a recent meeting that I’d be talking about toilets today, a colleague shared that he and his wife once visited the mayor of Battleford, Saskatchewan, and they noticed that the mayor happened to have a toilet sitting in the middle of his office…

When they asked what that toilet was doing there, the mayor explained that the town had been considering a prohibitively-costly expansion of water and sewage infrastructure, but when they learned about the highly water-efficient Caroma toilets that were in use in drought-stricken Australia, they realized that they could instead invest a fraction of that money in providing toilets with a lower water demand to the town, and still meet their water needs.  Smart investment in toilets is investment in communities.

The greatest gains, of course, are the benefits to human lives.  The health advantages and the convenience of easy access to toilets, can sometimes mean the difference between poverty and prosperity, by opening up space and time for educational and economic opportunities.

For this reason, many organizations have made toilets and sanitation a priority.  The World Toilet Organization championed this advocacy and the observance of November 19 as World Toilet Day, and the United Nations took the cue and adopted this awareness initiative.  Water security organizations, and development banks have also included this matter in their agendas.  The topic may offer some comic… relief, but it is a serious matter, as it encompasses the gamut of human rights and dignity.

In our own congregations and surrounding communities, we are also growing in awareness that toilets and bathrooms, and who has access to them, can have implications on dignity, safety… sometimes life and death.  We know that this is a delicate matter for trans folks, who may be in danger as bathrooms are gendered in a way that does not take into account the risks that come when trans identities are ignored.  The bathrooms in our own building happen to be gender-inclusive and this hardly strikes us as odd, yet even single-stall bathrooms in many public spaces are gendered without any reasonable justification beyond habit.

My friends, this conversation begins at home.  It begins with encouraging our family and friends to grow beyond the learned embarrassment around the topic of toilets and bodily needs – even if it’s squishy, sticky, or smelly. 

My friends, this conversation belongs in our immediate and wider communities.  Awkwardness on the topic aside, the lives of many of our neighbours are at risk, and their dignity is at stake.

My friends, this conversation belongs in the world, even when it’s uncomfortable.  The silence can be deadly – bearing witness can make the difference for affirming life.

May we have that conversation.
So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,


Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

#145 As Tranquil Streams
~)-| Words: Marion Franklin Ham, 1867-1956
Music: Musicalisches Hand-buch, Hamburg, 1690, adapt.

Interpreted by Julie Stubbs (4 September, 2020)

Life Saving

November 14th, 2021 . by Rod 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
spirit of life

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

Time for All Ages – Canadian Heritage Minutes

Heritage Minute – The Discovery of Insulin (2021)

Sermon – Life Saving – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF version available for download]

A couple decades ago, I had a summer job as a counsellor for a series of diabetic summer camps.  I was one of only three or four staff members that did not have type 1 diabetes – even the other counsellors used daily insulin to live, as did all the campers.  That experience offered me my first real understanding of just how different the lives of people with diabetes could be from my life.

By and large, people affected by diabetes can manage lives that are quite comparable to those lived by the rest of us… but there’s always something – a whole set of considerations in the background, that still dictate, or affect, many aspects of their lives.  These can range from the merely irksome or annoying, to the inconvenient, and occasionally life threatening.

Of course, many things have changed over the last hundred years.  Type 1 diabetes is no longer the death sentence it used to be.  The processes perfected by the team at the University of Toronto, including Frederick Banting, Charles Best, JJR Macleod, and James Collip, paved the way for the wholesale production of insulin, so that it may be made more accessible to those who need it (and to be clear, it’s not those who merely want it – it’s always those who need it).

Banting and Macleod shared the Nobel Prize in medicine – the credit for an effort like this could never go to one person.  Banting felt that Best also deserved recognition and shared his portion of the prize with him; Macleod did likewise, sharing with Collip.  And… there is still controversy on whether all the right people were properly credited.  In an interconnected web, success is a product of shared efforts, and giving proper credit is an impossible task – and still a task that we pursue.

One Canadian Heritage Minute condenses the dramatic developments of the twelve days that cemented insulin’s success, from the first trial on 14-year-old Leonard Thompson – a trial that failed, giving Thompson an allergic reaction, due to impurities in the first trial batch – to the frantic effort for a pure enough dose, which eventually succeeded in treating Thompson.

But we know that this story doesn’t start at the beginning of those twelve days.  Another Heritage Minute shows a slightly longer timeline, including the trials on diabetic dogs, which eventually succeeded in treating the dogs.  But the story is longer than that.  Banting, Macleod, Best, and Collip, all had to do months and years of earlier preparation and discovery, following a mix of hard facts and intuition.  But there’s more to it than that.

This was only possible because they had foundations that were laid down by several others before them – too many to name, though they include several German and U.S. scientists, with efforts going decades earlier, who made the initial connection between the pancreas and diabetes.  And the real origin story of continuous discovery could go on.  In an interconnected web, giving the proper credit to all the right people is an impossible task – and still we seek to offer the recognition we can.

So, we can celebrate the widespread availability of insulin beginning about a century ago, thanks to these medical advances – but there’s more to it than that.  Despite 100 years of availability and an original patent held by the University of Toronto intended to keep its prices low, insulin is still not as accessible as it should be for all who need it.  Many people with diabetes cannot get the insurance coverage they need, making its necessary use costly over time.

That can be a challenge for many Canadians… and it’s even more so in the United States, where the price of insulin is several times over what you’d find over the counter in our country.  The reasons for this are perhaps too complicated to explain in detail here, but the gist is that it has less to do with the medical science, and more to do with certain regulatory practices and certain business practices that exploit aspects of patent law in insulin’s newer production methods.

The reality that this situation gives witness to, is that medical progress depends not only on research and scientific endeavour, but also on the larger systems and institutions that take part in prioritizing funds, and in channelling the political will to set practices that prioritize serving public health.

Over the past two years, we have seen many parallels to this.  I have spoken before about the miraculously speedy development of the mRNA vaccines for Covid-19.  But there’s more to it than that.  While this was nothing short of remarkable, perhaps the greater miracle was that this newer technology already had decades of preliminary research to back it up, which itself had over two hundred years of progress in immunology, going back to Edward Jenner’s first vaccine for smallpox… which itself relied on previous wisdom.

Some of this wisdom came from names that have been lost to history, though there are also names that simply aren’t acknowledged often, as is the case with the African slave Onesimus, whose received wisdom was taken to help prevent smallpox outbreaks in New England before vaccination was available.  In an interconnected web, giving proper credit may be an impossible task – and yet we strive to name those who we can, when we seek to express gratitude.

We also know that there’s more to it than that.  We have seen that the success of the vaccines depends not just in their efficacy – as established by studies – but also, on social and economic factors that allow them to be equitably distributed, and on social institutions that promote trust, and counter disinformation.

Now, some of the medical progress we have seen can indeed stem from challenging some of the established norms and assumptions of the medical establishment.  And when I say “challenging” I don’t mean “discrediting” or “frivolously attacking” established wisdom – what I mean in this context, is that, when enough facts and research back up a shift in thinking, it is time to boldly champion new wisdom.

That is the story of Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis.  The very first sermon I wrote in lockdown featured him.  You’ve never heard me speak that sermon, because it was exclusively sent out to your inboxes, electronic and physical, before we got around to the online broadcasts.  Semmelweis is known as the pioneer of antiseptic procedures – which is a system of high-level hygiene practices to prevent medical infections.

He suggested handwashing with a special solution as a way of preventing infections in maternity wards, and his method was so dramatically effective, that it cut deaths from childbed fever in one ward from 18% to 1%.  But there was more to it than that.  Despite the empirical evidence, the establishment rejected this new wisdom, and it took… too long for his procedures to become established practice.  Nowadays these hygiene practices are the universal norm and they save lives every day.

Handwashing became one of the three pillars of protection that we had available to us against Covid-19, before vaccines became available, and over the past two years, we have been reminded to honour his memory, with a lifesaving ritual (handwashing!), several times a day.

Versions of this story bring us back to the health science of diabetes.  The first person to share the Nobel Prize with Frederick Banting – JJR Macleod – had been initially sceptical of Banting’s research.  He questioned Banting’s level of experience and credentials.  Still, the research showed enough promise that Macleod offered him space, an assistant (Charles Best), and eventually increased funding and connections with the medical establishment.  Although the partnership had begun somewhat begrudgingly, it became a lifesaving enterprise.

Even now, there are promising developments that are only slowly taking hold in the treatment of the other kind of diabetes – type 2.  Recent research, primarily in the United Kingdom has shown ways in which people at risk of type 2 diabetes, or even recently diagnosed, may be able to prevent it, or even reverse it, within a certain time window.  I won’t go into the details of it here, because it’s not my place or expertise to offer something that might look like medical advice, but I understand that the data backs up these new developments so that the reluctance to accept this newly-emerging wisdom is slowly waning.

My friends, the interdependent web of existence heads deep into the past, and leads us boldly into the future.  Not only did the century-old insulin-development team from the University of Toronto draw deep wisdom from the foundations of this web, they also laid down new foundations for the future of the web, sometimes in unexpected ways.  The development of medical insulin came in just in time to save the life of Dr. George Minot, who eventually developed a treatment for pernicious anemia, and also got a Nobel Prize.  Had medical insulin not arrived when it did, the treatment of pernicious anemia would have likely taken much longer.

My friends, the interdependent web of existence begets life from life.  We are part of that web, we have been part of that web, and we will be part of that web.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,

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

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

Anti-Racism as Spiritual Practice

November 7th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #145 As Tranquil Streams
~)-| Words: Marion Franklin Ham, 1867-1956
Music: Musicalisches Hand-buch, Hamburg, 1690, adapt.

Offered by Hillside Community Church (18 June, 2021)

Sermon – “Anti-Racism as Spiritual Practice” – Donovan Hayden


Hymn #298 Wake, Now, My Senses
~)-| Words: Thomas J. S. Mikelson, 1936- , © Thomas J. S. Mikelson
Music: Traditional Irish melody, harmony by Carlton R. Young, 1926- , renewal © 1992 Abingdon Press

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (1 May, 2020)

November 2021 Newsletter

November 2nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!