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

Winter Fuel

December 26th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

Sermon – Winter Fuel – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,

In the spirit of the season,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Unitarian Universalists San Luis Obispo (25 December, 2020)

Many First Noëls

December 24th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

Homily – Many First Noëls – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

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

Lend a Hand to Build a Welcoming Community

December 19th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Olivia Brezeanu
The Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women

How Do You Draw Your Stars?

December 12th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #1051 We Are…

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

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

Time For All Ages – Folding Stars

Optional Activity – folding a five-point star

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

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


Read: [Printable PDF]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #1059 May Your Life Be As Song

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

Julia Stubbs (17 September, 2020)

Reconciling With Indiana Jones

December 5th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

Sermon – Reconciling With Indiana Jones – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Hymn Channel (3 June, 2016)