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

Rev. Rosalind Mariconda, Sermon Oct. 22, 2023:

October 27th, 2023 . by William Baylis

“Make Peace in Time of Conflict”

Click here for an mp4 recording

Pawley Lecture 2023 | Carolyn Davies

June 25th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Howard Pawley Lecture 2023 | “Canadian Medical Assistance Teams: Responding to Medical Disasters Around the World” by Carolyn Davies


Covenanting Through Transitions (CUC National Service)

February 5th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

The Canadian Unitarian Council hosted this week’s service.

Watch the recorded broadcast here:

National Worship Service (Sharing Our Faith Covenant Through Transitions) – 5 February, 2023


Special Occasions

January 15th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #353 Golden Breaks the Dawn
Words: v. 1 from the Chinese of T. C. Chao, b. 1888,
trans. by Frank W. Price and Daniel Niles,
~)-| v. 2 by John Andrew Storey, 1935-1997
Music: Hu Te-Ai, b.c. 1900,
~)-| harmony by David Dawson, 1939-

Unitarian Universalist Society of Laconia NH

Sermon – Special Occasions – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

The cook and best-selling author Samin Nosrat is perhaps best known for her book Salt Fat Acid Heat – the title refers to four of the basic elements of cooking.  She also hosts the Netflix series of the same name.

When talking about the basic cooking element of fat (which is also an essential nutrient), she spends much time talking about olive oil – which is among the oldest cooking fats, as well as one of the healthiest, not to mention very flavourful.

In a conversation about olive oil with one of her show’s co-hosts, they discuss an anecdote about one of their friends – a bride who received an expensive bottle of exotic olive oil as a wedding gift.  Being that the bottle was so special, the bride sought to extend her enjoyment of it by using it sparingly, bringing it out only for special occasions, such as their wedding anniversary.  Even years after her wedding, the bride would take out the exotic, expensive olive oil and use just a bit of it, saving the rest for the next year.

There’s an endearing element to this ritual, and it has a certain value as a practice to celebrate a special date, marking a special time.

Although… if you know anything about olive oil, you might remark that it doesn’t keep well over time – especially once it’s been opened.  Year after year, this extremely refined olive oil would become increasingly rancid, and it’d eventually be no better – in fact, measurably worse – than any ordinary bargain oil you’d get at the local grocery store.

Anniversary celebrations aside, if the purpose was to enjoy the oil to the fullest extent of what it has to offer, she’d have been better off using it right after it’d been opened, adding it to every meal that called for it.

Now, I have to admit that I see a bit of myself in this story.  And maybe you’ve found yourself in similar situations.  I think of those times when one might have gotten something really special, and followed an instinct to save it – one might even say, hoard it – lest we run out of it too soon and not get to enjoy it in the future.

And I’ve been heartbroken many times, when I’ve finally had to resign myself to throwing out special treats or foods that I’d been saving up for the right time – a special occasion – only for it to be wasted, never to have been enjoyed at all.

Yes, a measure of restraint can be an indication of virtue – having too much of a good thing at one time can be sign of vice.  And practicing some strategic temperament over impulsivity has its place in running a balanced and healthy life.

Yet hoarding, or dawdling on good things, can be a vice of its own, and there are some special things that really do call to be used when you can, regardless of whether or not the situation appears to “measure up” to its particular… specialness. 

In fact, those special things, treats, foods, etc., may be quite helpful in reminding us that the ordinary times can be celebrated as well.  As important as it is to mark and recognize times that are labeled as “special” – be it by tradition, practice, or the stories that come along with them – it may be just as important to remain mindful of the wonder that the present moment offers.  And if we can add a nice treat to it, that might go a long way to enhancing the moment, and help us remember that “ordinary time” is precious in itself.

Now that the new year has begun in earnest (getting to the point where it might feel out of place to greet someone with the phrase “Happy New Year!”), the winter holiday season seems to be officially behind us (we don’t even have the Feast of the Epiphany left to celebrate).  There will be other holidays, minor and major ones – days that might be marked by the calendar manufacturers: Groundhog Day (or Candlemas, if you want to be more traditional); Valentine’s Day (which, like many holidays, may bring its own baggage); Family Day for those in Ontario (a full stat holiday even); eventually some of us might begin some kind of Lenten observance in preparation toward Easter; and so on, among others that could be named.

For now, we’re in the middle of January.  Some of us might recognize World Religion Day today, or prepare to honour Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, especially if you have a US background or connections there.  But for the most part, the latter part of January (and into February) simply doesn’t seem have the same spirit of celebration that often comes with December.

Last month, I offered affirmation and encouragement around the increased connection that many of you might partake in during the winter holidays, some of it even face-to-face.  Sometimes, having certain special days in the calendar helps us to have a good excuse to get together, or reach out more than we might ordinarily do – it also helps that more people might have more time off, to travel or to set time aside for connecting.

And there’s no reason why some aspects of those practices can’t carry over into this time of the year.  It might not involve the same level of extravagance that some of you might take over holiday times, and there might be less time and space for that anyway, but the spirit of connection need not dwindle away.  If anything, there may be a greater call – and a larger need – to diligently carry it through.

I am aware that many of you already have a practice of regularly checking in with some of your family, friends, or neighbours, maybe weekly or even daily, and that is a practice that can allow you to maintain the specialness of the moments that every day may offer, even if the calendar doesn’t offer an “official” excuse to do so.

Or… maybe that practice has fallen off by the wayside, or you might be wondering about how to start it up in the first place.

I have spoken before about approaching the practice of new year resolutions a little differently.  Rather than taking an attitude of rigid goals or specific tasks, I might instead think of the year as having a theme, and the theme of renewing connection has resonated with me lately.

While staying connected with my support network (or being part of that network for others) is not new to me, I’ve lately felt the need to pay extra attention to that area of my life.  One practice that I’ve found very helpful over the past while is to schedule calls with people in my life that I haven’t connected with as much as I’ve wanted.  Now, long “catch-up” calls may feel daunting, but it can help if we agree to schedule future follow-up calls from the get-go, so that we are comfortable leaving some conversations unfinished.  The calls I’ve been having with my friends and family tend to take about an hour – but there are other options.

The New York Times columnist Jancee Dunn suggests scheduling 8-minute calls, which make it likelier that her potential connections will be inclined to wedge in the check-ins into their schedules, without feeling obligated to stay longer, and encouraging more frequent follow-ups.

I don’t know what might be your magic number, but exploring discrete morsels of time might be one way to make connecting, or re-connecting, a more manageable task (if that’s something you struggle with).

Here, at our church, we have an established (and re-emerging) practice of holding some opportunities for connection, even if there isn’t a particular calendar date to honour (sometimes, it’s precisely because there isn’t a particular date to honour, which in turn offers more space and time).

In a bit over a week, we have an opportunity to be part of our soup fundraiser, and our auction will come up in a couple of months.  Some of you are interested in hosting small-group dinners at your place.  The dates when these happen don’t necessarily hold particular significance – beyond the fact that each of us is setting them in the calendar and intentionally making them special out of our own accord.

My friends, whatever your intentions might be for this year, they don’t need to wait for the calendar to give you an excuse.  Sure, the calendar might sometimes make that easier, but living in “ordinary time” need not be a barrier toward finding special moments.

If anything, my friends, ordinary time may in itself be the perfect reason, the perfect excuse, for seeking out what is special about the here, and the now.

My friends, who knows when the opportunity might pass.  And saving the special moments only for what we expect might be the special occasions might mean that we could miss out entirely, like a bottle of expensive olive oil that has been left out too long.  Now is the time, my friends, for co-creating special occasions.

So may it be,
In the spirit of ordinary connection,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #77 Seek Not Afar for Beauty
~)-| Words: Minot Judson Savage, 1841-1918
Music: Cyril V. Taylor, b. 1907, © Hope Publishing Co.

Unitarian Universalists of San Luis Obispo

Links in the Description

January 8th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #259 We Three Kings of Orient Are
Words & Music: John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1820-1891

Unitarian Universalist Society of Laconia

Sermon – Links in the Description – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

As the Christmas season draws to a close, its most recent related holiday was Epiphany, this past Friday Jan. 6 – often called the 12th Night of Christmas, which is referenced in the song about the partridge on the pear tree.

The word Epiphany itself refers to a divine manifestation – a revelation of sorts.  In the Christmas story, it’s about the divine presence that is contained in an unexpected place – a child in a humble lodging in a dingy town in Judea, a far-off corner of the Roman Empire.

But, as the story goes, those who were ready to look beyond appearances were able to recognize the awesome presence in that child.  As the Epiphany carol We Three Kings of Orient Are suggests, the stargazers from the east followed special signs that led them to make that connection.  A similar thing is said to have happened to many local shepherds, who were prepared to go deeper than the superficial setting of the child’s whereabouts.

There are many unexpected connections we can make – with a bit of extra digging.

A couple Easters ago, I talked about the wonder of allowing oneself to go down unexpected “rabbit holes” – that is to say, letting ourselves follow interesting paths when exploring a topic, or subject of interest, which may often mean we end up in a much different place from where we started, as our initial query may have been transformed.

If, for instance, you’ve ever looked up an article on Wikipedia, and then clicked a link on a related topic, and suddenly found yourself several articles deep, many hours later, you’ll know what I mean.

Of course, these rabbit holes of exciting exploration don’t necessarily need to be on Wikipedia, or even online.  Any stroll down a bookstore or library, including your own bookshelves, may yield similar results.  Even a casual chat with a friend is often bound to take interesting turns, and you might find that the topic at the end of your visit might be very different from where you were, many conversations before, at the beginning of a visit.

Of course, online media has a way to enhance the speed at which these rabbit holes go – and it’s also important to be especially cautious with the content that is available on the internet, since out of the great volume of information we can find on it, much of it is not always reliable.  Finding trustworthy sources, and coming in with a healthy dose of skepticism, can help reduce the risk.  With a bit of caution, we can find fun, interesting, and even transformative material.

Over the past couple of years, we have made much more ample use of online resources at our church.  We occasionally have online resources during our live in-person services, including music, and what I call “video readings”.  Not only are we broadcasting online live, but we also have archived sermons, so you may watch some of the messages of inspiration from more than two years ago.  And these options can go further than you might realize.

You may have noticed that, when I send out the link for the online edition of our services, I don’t just title my e-mail “Sermon”, I call it “Worship Resources”.  I do this quite deliberately, as I often include more than just a transcript of the sermon and a recording of it.

When you click the link in the Worship Resources e-mail, you usually, also have access to recordings of some of the hymns that go along with the topic we explore, and I often also include links to articles or videos that I might not have included in the live service, but which are related to the topic, or may even have been part of my inspiration toward it.

If you watch exclusively on YouTube, without accessing the UU Olinda page, you can also find any links by scrolling down a bit to where it says Show more and clicking there, which expands to offer additional details.  This is what is called the description of the video, and that’s where I may include links to resources for further exploration.

In some of the sermon recordings, you might hear me say “links in the description” – it is this Show more doohickey that I mean by “the description”.  In 2009 the YouTuber Wheezy Waiter called this section for description of details the dooblydoo, an expression that has also caught on among YouTubers.  Whether you look at the “links in the description” or “in the dooblydoo”, the key action is looking at that option to Show More – on offering to find additional connections.

I set up these options in these different ways in order to offer some possibilities beyond the Sunday service.  Whether you attended live, online or in-person, or you access the services later on, you can continue to use these Worship Resources throughout the week, or even months later.

Over the holiday season, I celebrated and encouraged us in our community to seek out new connections, or actively maintain existing ones.  This could mean getting in touch with other people, or perhaps figuring out new ways to foster a better relationship with oneself, especially if the holiday time meant spending more time at home during a snowstorm.

Whether the past holidays meant more cozy time by the fireplace (or perhaps with a streamed version of a fireplace, such as the blockbuster film Fireplace for Your Home), or whether it meant a resurgence of in-person encounters, it may well have meant a change of pace from some of the other, more “regular” times of the year – the “ordinary time”.

Yet, as we begin a new year, amid more “regular” spots in the calendar, it pays off to consider what it means to keep this spirit of connection – or re-connection – into this year.  This includes seeking out new opportunities, some of which may seem hidden or not immediately obvious, but which may be quite close-by – if we invest some effort or intentionality in looking for them… if we decide to take that extra step and look for “Show More”… to explore the “links in the description”.

Some of these may be just a click away – literally scrolling down and being open to go into a new rabbit hole and see what direction a link (a connection) might lead us into.  It may include being open to connecting over new media (with appropriate precautions), or reinitiating our use of more traditional media, such as phone, or post mail – or even getting back into the practice of spending time with each other after the church service… you know, doing more church after “church”.

My friends, the holiday time may offer us a reminder to be intentional in connecting through the colder, darker winter months.  And, just like the spirit of Christmas, that initiative need not be confined to December.

My friends, during the more “regular” times of the year, the spirit of connection may remain with us.  It may look different – our availabilities, energy levels, and needs, will be different in different seasons – but the opportunities to be with each other, and the benefits of exploring reconnection with ourselves and those around us, are still there.

My friends, may the spirit of connection and reconnection carry forward in this new season.

So may it be,
In the spirit of connection,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #326 Let All the Beauty We Have Known
~)-| Words: Dana McLean Greeley, 1908-1986
Music: English melody, adapt. and harmony by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958, © 1931 Oxford University Press

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (30 January, 2021)


December 24th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Carol #241 In the Bleak Midwinter

Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1830-1894
~)-| New words by John Andrew Storey, 1935-1997
Music: Gustav Theodore Holst, 1874-1934

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore

Homily – Housewarming – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

I have often spoken about the Mexican holiday tradition of posadas, in which folks in small communities re-enact an interpretation of the Christmas story, wherein Mary and Joseph knock at different doors, looking for lodging, and repeatedly being turned away, all the while, Mary being pregnant and expecting her son Jesus.  The word posada is Spanish for inn.

But some of the keener listeners among you may have noticed that inn is not the word I used when reading out the Christmas lesson today.  Sure, most current translations of Luke 2:7 speak about there being “no room at the inn”, but among the many parts of the Christmas story that raise questions for scholars, the translation of the word inn (for the ancient Greek katalouma) comes up.

Many scholars believe that the word could more accurately be translated as guest room (which is the word I used today).  Households in Bethlehem, like many places in the region at the time, would likely have a guest room, to house relatives or other travelers, and some biblical scholars suggest that the holy family in the story may been staying with their extended family (Bethlehem, after all, would have been a hometown of sorts for Joseph).  In that case, the house would have been more crowded than expected, and they would have had to stay in the lower level of the home, were the animals were also around… not where they would have expected to be, but a warm enough space to bear and shelter a child.

This evening, some of us are not where we expected to be… as our church building was snowed in, our preferred spiritual home is less accessible than usual, some among us may have had travel plans upended this weekend, you may be hosting unexpectedly, or more likely have visitors sending regrets.  Nonetheless, if you are joining us in this space, you are likely to have found a place that is warm enough to shelter you and anyone around you, and to bear witness to this holiday, however you feel the need to observe it.

Whichever your observances, my friends, the realities of this season – as witnessed particularly over the past couple of days – are that our shelter is an important place in which to find a homebase.  And setting it up in the way that makes that stay as pleasant and heartwarming as possible is part of the necessity, and spirit, of the season.

This month, my friends, we have been exploring the call for us to get into the mood for what we might call “hibernation”, and today is a good place to put that into practice.  Be it decking the hall, lighting a fire, watching a show featuring a fire – or any other classic film, or simply putting on a good winter sweater with the right winter food, today is a good place to put the spirit of hibernation into practice.

My friends, it is also a day in which to witness the hardship that many in our community have in being able to hibernate in comfort, and we make it a practice to remember all our community members, near and far, and make efforts to make access for housewarming spaces easier and more accessible, be it with gifts of money, time, or advocacy.  That is also part of the necessity, and spirit, of the season.

And so, my friends, just as we warm each other today with our presence, we may warm our hearts and our homes tonight, and search to warm the hearts and the homes of those around us.

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

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Carol #251 Silent Night, Holy Night

Words: Joseph Mohr, 1792-1848
Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1787-1868

Michael Tacy – Joint Choir of Gathering at Northern Heights (Cincinnati) and Heritage UU

Stellar Apple Pie

December 11th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages

Carl Sagan – Cosmos – Stars – We Are Their Children – Smithsonian Channel

Sermon – Stellar Apple Pie – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

As we approach the middle of December, certain seasonal motifs become increasingly conspicuous.  It will be common to see “indoor trees” in many homes (maybe even your own), and these are often decorated with a star at the top – as is the one we have in our church’s sanctuary.

Stars, of course, are linked with the traditional Christmas story, which includes an account of a Star of Bethlehem, as a guiding light toward a mystical revelation.  In Christmas, this mystical revelation is the power of cosmic divinity in a child.

Last year, I spoke about the Posadas tradition in Mexico, in which small communities look to re-enact part of the Christmas story, in which Mary and Joseph look for lodging while traveling far from home, so that Mary may give birth to her child (posada refers to “lodging”).  At the end of this re-enactment, it is customary to smash a piñata, which is traditionally made in a “Star of Bethlehem” image, with many points adorned in paper ruffles and tassels.  This tradition would start this week (it’s usually around the Dec. 16), so this feels like a good time to think about stars, and how they may continue to offer guidance in our lives.

Along with that, this is also a season in which many of us pay special attention to certain kinds of foods.  This may simply be that some childhood favourites of yours are featured more often around this time of year.  Or, you happen to be able to gather with friends or family who make special dishes.  Or, perhaps you are the person who is keen on making these special dishes, either for others… or for yourself.

When gathering for special food – or when settling down on your own for some special treat – there is sometimes a debate on whether to get food ready-made or whether to start “from scratch” and make it all on your own.

Now, I should say that I find no shame in getting food ready-made.  Depending on each of our individual situations, it may be the most realistic or effective way to get fed.  I myself like to get certain meals made by the professionals, either because I might not have the time or inclination to make a meal at a given time, or because I know that, for some dishes, there are others who are better at preparing them than me.

But, if you’re up for the challenge, or find it personally enjoyable, there can be a certain feeling of achievement in making something from scratch – starting with ingredients that may be used for many other things, but then making them into an entirely new thing.  It may take longer (and may sometimes even be costlier) than simply getting the finished product from the get-go, but going through the process of preparation can be its own payoff, and sometimes even offer a superior product – or, at least, one that is personally special.

Yet, as we gaze upon the stars, and ponder about their ancient wisdom, an inconvenient question might crop up – can we really make anything from scratch?

Scratch is a way of saying “from the beginning”, so that we may take some claim of responsibility – and credit – for creating a meal ourselves “all on our own”.

Most of us will understand that starting with typical kitchen ingredients, such as fresh produce, or plain spices and seasonings, might be enough to say we’re starting from scratch – that is, from the beginning.  And from then on staking a claim that we’re making the thing ourselves.

Take apple pie.  If we start with a few things like apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and a few other things, like butter, salt, and whatever your secret recipe calls for, and then put them together and bake it, we can typically claim credit for having made the pie “all on your own”.

And to be clear, making an apple pie this way is, indeed, an achievement.  And I know that some of you are particularly good at this sort of thing – so, this is not a commentary on your abilities or skill.

But going deeper, how much does this really represent making it “all on our own”?  What does it really take to start “from the beginning”?

Very quickly, we realize that that particular claim is a bit of a fantasy.  The apples didn’t come out of nowhere.  They may have come from the orchard down the street, or been trucked in from a place further away.  And they were grown from the ground, with water from the ground or the sky, with knowhow from a whole team of farmers and farm workers, and labour by people that live nearby or came from far away.  They, too, make the pie that we bake.  The beginning starts further back than our kitchen counter.  The reality is that none of us makes a pie “all on our own”.

Same deal with the sugar, which most certainly came from farther away, not to mention additional processing by people and machines, at a factory.  And the butter has a similar story, plus the life investment of animals that gave of themselves, in some way or other (even vegetarians have bees to recognize for their role in pollinating for fruits and vegetables).  Many of you are involved in some of these kinds of industries, and will well appreciate the work involved way before a pie starts “from scratch”.  None of us make a pie “all on our own”.

I could tell similar stories about any of the ingredients that go into a pie, way before we have a go at making it “all on our own”… “from the beginning”.

But let’s go a bit deeper.  Because even before any of these ingredients get to look like anything we’d recognize as food, or the inputs for the food, we might consider what makes the stuff that they’re made of… and that stuff was made a long, long time ago – possibly in our galaxy, but likely still far, far away.

I’m particularly fond of the way that the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan describes how all of the elements we’re made of have had a long journey toward their creation.  Most of them were made during the lives of stars… or as they died.  And even though hydrogen, the simplest of the elements was not made in stars, it too could only be formed as the early big bang universe cooled down enough for it to come into being, at a time very close to the beginning.

In the vast furnaces of stars, hydrogen came together under immense pressure and heat to make helium… and eventually, other things like carbon, and oxygen, things that our bodies and the stuff we eat know very well.  After enough hydrogen fuses together to make iron, then it is only through the death of some stars – in massive supernovae explosions – that we come about other elements we know, like gold, and tungsten, and… molybdenum.  What we stand on, what we breathe, who we are, all came to be in another time and another space, in and by stars we’ll never know about, and which we have never named.

My friends, we have spent much time and contemplation this year in honoring and recognizing the legacy of our ancestors, recent and historic.  And just as we are the product of our ancestors, for whom we are grateful, we and these ancestors are the products of ancestral stars, whom we may honor and recognize as part of our creation – to whom we may offer credit in the creation of the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, that make up the apples in a pie, forged inside stars and at their end, as well as the even more ancestral hydrogen, which may be nearly as old as our universe.

My friends, it is no small feat to make an apple pie in your kitchen, especially if you get to share it with loved ones – or with strangers you have yet to meet.  And it does not diminish your achievement to share the credit with those who also collaborated in making the ingredients before they got to the kitchen, or with the ancestors who crafted the knowhow and shared the knowledge, or with the stellar ancestors that made possible what we are and where we are.

My friends, we may never make a dish “all on our own”, but then, isn’t it comforting that we don’t ever do anything “all on our own”? as a cloud of witnesses collaborates with us in everything we do? (a cloud that includes, somewhere along the line, a literal cosmic cloud from a nebula of freshly-created elements)

My friends, it turns out that, to really make an apple pie from scratch may take longer than we might expect – 14 billion years, give or take a few million.

My friends, over this holiday season, or into the new year, if you come across a slice of apple pie, or apples, or pie, it wouldn’t be out of place to offer a prayer of gratitude and joy, to the people who made the final preparation “all on their own – but not by their own” (no small feat); a prayer of gratitude and joy for the people and animals who offered of themselves; a prayer of gratitude and joy for the stars whose lives continue to live within each of us; for our ancestors near and far; recent and from time immemorial; for the unfathomable forces and reach of time and space, which remind us that none of us is “all on our own”.

So may it be,
In the spirit of mystical connection,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #1051 We Are… (For Each Child That’s Born)

~)-| 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)

The Curiosity Gap

December 4th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages Hallelujah Chorus – Quinhagak, Alaska 5th Grade class of Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat school

James Barthelman (Dec. 20, 2010)

Sermon – The Curiosity Gap – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Picture this: it’s 5:05pm, you’ve just finished listening to the afternoon news on CBC Radio – which is all you needed to hear before dinner – but you took just a little too long to turn off the radio, and now you’ve caught a few words from the announcer about the upcoming show on the secrets of better sleep, as revealed by new revolutionary research – “coming up next” they helpfully remind you… before you know it, you’re halfway through a show you’d originally had no plan to listen to, but now can’t seem to be able to walk away from.

What happened?

It’s not your fault, that’s simply the work of journalists using one of the oldest tricks in the book.  In content marketing, this is known as the curiosity gap, often phrased as something like: “the gap between what people know and what they would like to know”.

In other words, whoever is writing the news or a show – and the advertising for it – expects that you already have at least some background knowledge about what they are going to talk about.  But they also presume that they are going to give you some information you’re unlikely to know – and will likely find fascinating.  So, before the show even gets going, the announcer tells you… not exactly what they’re going to tell you later, but that they’re going to tell you something more about what you already know, and are presumably interested in.  That gap is a compelling force into keeping your attention.

And it’s not just radio – TV news, print news, and online news, all employ this tactic.  It’s part of what can make learning about the world – and its many challenges – so addictive, even if it isn’t always as inspiring, or pleasant, as the kind of entertainment media that you might be more likely to follow for relaxation or amusement.

The curiosity gap is a powerful force.

And, in the case of the internet, the marketing aspect of the curiosity gap is even more insidious – and potentially more harmful.

Online, the riskier version of the curiosity gap gambit has come to be known as clickbait, that is, headlines or links that are worded so that they can be irresistible to ignore, baiting you by promising to satisfy your curious mind, by hinting that they’ll give an incredible answer to a question they have raised in the headline – if only you clicked.

Classic examples are phrasings such as “You won’t believe how so-and-so keeps their house so clean” or “Are your recipes ruining your dinner parties?”

(By the way, there’s a news media adage that, whenever a headline ends with a question mark, then the answer is almost always “no”.)

These kinds of headlines or article titles are especially difficult to ignore if they have tickled some sense of insecurity in you.  This is often used by the makers of products that promote diets or beauty products, who often use clickbait in the form of sensationalistic banners that give promises of a body that is considered ideal by certain segments of our society, although the goal of this kind of body is often neither attainable nor necessary for being able to love oneself and to be loved by others.  There is also the risk of harmful products that underdeliver on their promises or which may be outright dangerous to one’s physical or mental health.

Other times, the clickbait technique may simply lure you into wasting time on information that is nowhere as important (or interesting) as its headline may have made it out to be.  This may seem like a minor hazard, but when that lost time reduces the time for you to connect more deeply with better content, or with those around you, the harm can be real.

So, yes, my friends, clickbait, and the manipulative use of the curiosity gap, can be harmful in many ways.  It is little wonder that the action of following a seemingly endless thread of clickbaity content is often labeled as doom-scrolling.  And a lot of doom-scrolling – even more of it than usual – happened during the pandemic, when our curiosity to find more and better information left a wide gap, which many content providers were vying to fill – some more responsibly than others.

Curiosity can be a powerful force.

Now, using the curiosity gap, or even some versions of clickbait, isn’t always a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a nefarious tactic.  After all, the job of journalists, and other kinds of content creators, is to make content that you want to follow and may indeed be information you need, or could at least find useful.  And presumably, you are interested in following interesting content… at least some of the time.

One of my favourite content creators is Adam Ragusea – you’ve seen me reference him, or even play some of his videos, here before.  A journalist by training, he describes himself as “man in a kitchen with a camera” and his channel is food focused.  And while he does offer weekly recipes, he also has videos that are essentially food journalism, exploring aspects about food production, preparation, commerce, and even the ethics around the food we eat, and how we get it.

In a speech he gave to the Atlanta Writers’ Club a couple years ago – during the height of the initial pandemic waves – he spoke about how he struggles to balance the need to inform right away and the need to get people’s attention – and therefore onto the content he creates.

At the time, in the context of the pandemic, he made a video to emphasize that getting food through minimal contact with people was safer than riskier options, such as going to restaurants.  He titled that video “People are more dangerous than food” – effectively offering the answer right in the title.  He did this because he felt that playing the clickbait game, with a curiosity gap headline, was inappropriate at the time, wanting to prioritize giving as much of the answer as possible in the title itself.

But he noticed that this particular video had significantly fewer views than some of his videos with less urgent information that had more clickbaity titles.

Adam Ragusea wondered if he’d had gotten more views with a title like: “Can you get covid from food?” – a question for which you’d have to click in order to get the answer – thus enticing more people to click and get a fuller sense of the safety information he was looking to offer.  He has reluctantly accepted that, if he cannot get people’s attention, he cannot inform them, and thus makes some use of curiosity gap tactics to get people onto his content.

He balances this by giving away the most important information early in his videos (rather than make you wait to the end of the video, as some other YouTubers are prone to do), and he also ensures that he does intensive journalistic research before publishing, seeking to offer good quality information.  In this way, he feels he has “earned” your click.

In fact, we do this kind of thing at church.  When I write the blurbs for the upcoming month’s sermons, my e-mails to the newsletter team are headed “Titles & Teasers”.  If you’ve ever wondered why my titles aren’t more forthright, part of the reason is that I’m leaving a bit of the subject matter deliberately in the gap between what you know and what you want to know, hoping that this will pique your curiosity and you’d be more inclined to engage with the service.

If I worded my title and blurb something like “today I’m going to talk about how understanding star formation cycles can offer spiritual inspiration”, you might be less keen to attend, or to click on the Zoom link. (Next week’s sermon, by the way, is called “Stellar Apple Pie”… it’s about how understanding star formation cycles can offer spiritual inspiration).

Of course, there is more than a simple marketing ploy at play.  Because part of our tradition’s practice is to inspire curiosity, so intentionally seeking the gap between what we know and what we want to know is precisely what we are often about – looking to bridge that gap, and then find the next one – because curiosity is a powerful motivator to make connections between the gaps, that we may explore how our fragmented world is far more connected than we might expect.

My friends, curiosity is a powerful force.

Last week, my friends, I spoke about some of the practices that we sometimes take, or which folks have suggested, to bring cheer and warmth into a season that might otherwise be cold and dark.  These practices and suggestions included a mix of comfort in tradition, as well as excitement in seeking novelty.  Our church is about that, finding a sense of grounding and guidance in the work and insights from our ancestors, while also pursuing the gap that our curiosity finds, that we may move toward bolder, deeper, and more connected ways of being.

My friends, in the spirit of the season, we encourage curiosity through an appeal to exploration, to search how we may stay connected or make new connections – with oneself or with others – as the cold season may invite warm opportunities to either gather together, or find comfort in our own places, in sometimes new and exciting ways.

My friends, curiosity is one of the drivers of our faith.  And finding the gap in it is an invitation to practice that faith.

So may it be,
In the spirit of curiosity,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #354 We Laugh, We Cry
~)-| Words & Music: Shelley Jackson Denham, 1950- , © 1980 Shelley Jackson Denham,
~)-| harmony by Betsy Jo Angebrandt, 1931- , © 1992 UUA

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (10 January, 2021)

Warming it Up

November 27th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Off the Scales

Ever wonder what the deal is with temperature scales like Fahrenheit and Celsius?

This video – and its companion – offer surprising insights on the stories of Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius:

What the Fahrenheit?

And you can watch the companion video here:
Celsius Made His Thermometer Upside Down

Sermon – Warming it Up – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

I’ll start today with a bit of a historical anecdote.  It turns out that today is the birthday of Anders Celsius (who was born in 1701) – you’ll likely recognize that last-name, as he is often credited with creating the Celsius scale, which most of us use these days to figure out how to dress up before heading outdoors.

But the story is a bit more complicated – and interesting – than that… for one thing, some among us might use the Fahrenheit scale instead when figuring out our outdoor attire, and so do most of our neighbours across the border.  When the subject comes up, you may hear some heated debates ensue – hopefully friendly ones – around the merits and pitfalls of each scale, and by extension, about the use of the metric system and the few places that resist using it.

But I’m going to skip that debate today, because I’m more inspired by the stories of the people who are associated with those temperature scales.

One of the first tidbits that I find surprising is that Anders Celsius never used what we now call the Celsius scale.  He did create and use a similar scale, with the same size of degrees – but did you know it was upside down?  With water freezing at a hundred degrees, and boiling at zero?

Dr. Derek Muller explains that he used this as a way to avoid having negative readings, which might aid in record-keeping.  It was one of his successors at the University of Upsala that eventually flipped the scale – possibly Carl Linnaeus.  Furthermore, a different scientist called Jean-Pierre Christin also created a scale with zero as the freezing point of water, and 100 as the boiling point.  So, the C in the thermometer could stand for Carl Linnaeus, or Jean-Pierre Christin, or Centigrade.  Eventually a community of scientists decided to name the scale after Celsius, but you could argue that the C actually stands for the Community of scientists who worked on making temperature measurements useful.

And, while many of us who are used to metric units might sometimes look disdainfully at the Fahrenheit scale, we would do well to recognize the contributions that Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit made to the community of instrument-making, and particularly to thermometer standardization.  He promoted the use of mercury, and his thermometers were among the first to be consistent with each other, which was rare at his time.  Even those of us who prefer Celsius have gained from the knowledge and techniques developed by Fahrenheit, and we now have the comfort of getting accurate readings when we want to know how to prepare when heading outside – regardless of what scale we might use!

And, I get the sense that a lot of us have been looking at these scales on the thermometer quite a bit lately!  Whether it’s a matter of checking to see if our body temperatures are at a healthy range, or trying to figure out how the shifting November weather affects our daily plans, these scales give an element of certainty as we face a meandering trend toward colder days for the next few months.

And it’s not just cold… although the longest nights that come with the winter solstice are still a few months away, we can already feel the shorter days upon us… dinner time feels like night time, and with recent cold snaps and snowfalls, November has indeed felt like November lately.

And while the holiday time that includes Christmas is still some weeks away, many among us begin a time of expectation, with anticipation for celebration.  The lighting of an advent wreath is one way that we can mark this time, and turn our attention toward what kind of warmth we may find in this cooling season.

Recently, the newspaper The Guardian had an article with some suggestions to try out, which might help bring some cheer as winter draws near. These range from listening to some favourite music you haven’t heard in a while, to trying out a new food, to taking a mindful moment to take a pause and appreciate your surroundings.

Out of the 53 suggestions in that particular article in The Guardian, many are probably not for everyone, but what I noticed about them is that they include a combination of going back to tradition and seeking novelty.  That is, finding comfort in older practices we may have let fall by the wayside, or looking for some excitement in things we may have forgotten could be options.  Any of these can be a call toward mindfulness, so that we may make something more of this moment.  A call toward mindfulness that may help us warm up, as we face the cooling days.

And intentionally seeking that warmth, for ourselves and others, is imperative during a season like this.  Many of our holiday rituals are about offering warmth through what can be a harsh season.  Be it bringing in a bit of evergreen nature from the outdoors to the indoors, making warm drinks that may also bring warm memories, or telling familiar stories that warm the heart, be they stories that have been told for centuries (like the Christmas story), or stories that simply remind us of last year, or that reunion where that funny thing happened, some years back.

For those of us who are fortunate to have a reliable home, it may also be a time to… get comfortable with the idea of staying indoors more than usual.  Of course, over the past two years or so, staying indoors became an emerging norm that came upon us with tremendous force – and was largely involuntary.  But lately, the outdoors has become much more accessible to many of us this past year, and staying indoors may feel like more of a choice again.

Over the next month or so, we’ll have an opportunity to exercise that option – we’ll be able to get together on a Saturday – Christmas Eve – for some community warmth on a late December evening… something familiar, and still a bit different than usual.  And on Christmas Day Sunday, we may all stay home and have a chance to hibernate, or hang out with other people we might not get to see all that often, except at this time of year.  And the following Sunday, January 1st, we’ll have an online-only service where we may all stay home while also having some community time online, in which those of you who feel called to it may share of your home, be it by offering a reading or poem, or perhaps some music or some other housewarming or heartwarming offering.

This is also a time to consider how we may warm each others’ experiences – finding the spirit of generosity.  Depending on your circumstances, you may find that you are in a position to offer a sense of warmth to others, by gifts of time, food, company, or money.

Or perhaps you may be finding yourself in a place where you could use some extra warmth.  And it’s worth remembering then that it is OK to reach out, be it to a friend, someone in your family, a community you’ve been part of, or some of the local services that offer support in cases of need.  Help that is offered is only helpful when one is open to receive it.

We are also mindful of the people for whom a home is not a viable option to stay warm.  These may include people whose homes have been destroyed, or the power to keep them warm has been disrupted, as is the case in many Ukrainian places.  It is also true that people who live in our communities – down the street – have housing situations that may also be precarious.

As a community we are collectively able to offer something to warm the homes and the hearts of those around us.  Some of us are in a position to offer support to refugees in many ways.  Here, at Olinda, we also have an established practice – a ritual – of sponsoring a Christmas family, offering some essentials, like clothing, as well as things that may sound like luxuries – toys and other things that bring joy to children and families – but which can indeed be essential to warming the soul.

So, my friends, as advent beckons us to focus onto a holiday season of warmth in the face of cold and darkness, we take it as a call to action – a warm-up – into taking care of ourselves by warming our souls, being able to ask when our souls need warming, and seeking how we may warm the souls and lives of others around us, as we may be able to offer that warmth.

So may it be,
In the warmth of community,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing 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

Mike Menefee

Global Handball

November 13th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages

How playing sports benefits the body … and your brain – Leah Lagos and Jaspal Ricky Singh | TED-Ed

For an insightful perspective on how we can make sport participation more accessible, promoting healthier mindsets and communities, there is also this video by soccer coach Ruben Jongkind:

Football can change the world, but we need to change football first | Ruben Jongkind | TEDxGeneva

For a retrospective look at Diego Maradona’s “Goal of the Century”, take a look at this video:

Diego Maradona Goal of the Century | Argentina v England | 1986 FIFA World Cup

And, here’s an interesting view of physics in soccer:

Football physics: The “impossible” free kick | Erez Garty | TED-Ed

Sermon – Global Handball – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Earlier this month, many of us honored our dearly departed during our annual days of the dead commemoration.  One of the ancestors in my family, which holds a place in that honoring, is my maternal grandfather, for whom I hold many memories.

One of my memories when visiting my grandfather was finding him lounging, as he was enthralled by a sport that I had trouble understanding.  Being in Mexico, I was familiar enough with association football – soccer, as it is more commonly known here.  After all, Mexico hosted the 1986 FIFA World Cup when I was a kid – this is the Cup when Argentinian player Diego Maradona scored both the celebrated “Goal of the Century”, as well as the controversial “Hand of God Goal”, which was a goal “guided” by Maradona’s hand, though the referees didn’t see.  And while I wasn’t part of the soccer fandom, it was hard to miss the large crowds that gathered before and after a game, or the fact that there were seemingly endless games on TV, apparently devoted to making me miss the latest episode of The Smurfs.

Even with my tepid interest in soccer football, I understood the intuitive dynamic of the game – you put a ball in the opposing team’s net, without using your hands (unless you were the goalie… or Diego Maradona).  This is also one of the first lessons in English for many Spanish-speakers, as we come to understand that the game’s name, foot-ball is essentially a basic instruction manual on how to play it.

But my grandfather was a much bigger fan of another kind of football, American Football.  And the dynamics of his passion were much more difficult for me to understand.  OK, so people from the US call themselves American, and that’s where the game comes from, that part made sense, but… why football?  The feet only came in contact with the ball a minuscule amount of the active playtime.  By that logic, I once reasoned, soccer could be called “Global Handball” – it’s played all over the world, so it’s global, and goalies touch the ball with their hands every so often, so it could legitimately be called “handball” in the same way that the American version was “football” – or saw I’ve reasoned at some point.

Semantic quibbles aside, my grandfather explained the subtleties of the game to me, and I even came to appreciate the excitement of a 4th-down-and-9 that might turn into a memorable long pass.  Years later, when my Canadian high-school became the national champions in American football, I showed up to the games and participated in the school spirit, even painting my face in blue and white – the school colours.

Now, I don’t know what kind of football you might be into – or if you’re into any sport at all.  But in about a week, a new season for football (or Global Handball) is coming, as the FIFA World Cup in Qatar opens on November 20, and with Canada’s team qualifying for the first time in decades, we might have more neighbours flying flags and cheering as each new game comes along.

Now, I know there are some among you who are big fans of professional sports… and I know that it’s hard to speak of these without sounding divisive – at some point or another!  There are some folks who are really into professional sports, and some who are more mellow about them.  Heck, even among those who are into sports, there are those who are into one particular game and not into another kind of game.  And even among those who are into the same sport, there are split loyalties among all the different teams, not to mention players, coaches, strategies, fantasy leagues, and a whole bunch of dimensions that I won’t pretend to understand.

All this to say, I know this can be a contentious subject, perhaps even more so than religion.  Come think of it… it might be accurate to describe some of the followings of professional sport as reflections of a secular religion.  I remember my years in Montreal, when the Canadiens got to the Stanley Cup playoffs… many people watching the game at the pub, wearing their “holy flannel” Habs scarves, were devotedly clasping their hands, as if in prayer.

Now, rest assured, although I’m not usually in any particular sport fandom, I can appreciate the world of professional sports, and even more so, sports in general.  Over all, I think they are a net positive, and there are many good reasons for that, some of which we may talk about.

There are also… some uncomfortable aspects about the world of professional sports, especially when they are held at the national and global levels.

Already, the current FIFA World Cup, which is being held in Qatar has brought up many questions about the suitability of the host country.  These range from practical issues, such as its dry heat weather, to principled questions about its human rights record.  Indeed, this year’s World Cup, and its host, have had a full quota of controversy.

Of course, controversy is not new to World Cup events, or even to FIFA, as these questions also come up regularly with the Olympics and other major sporting events.  Many of the host countries for worldwide sporting events routinely face questions about their human rights records, their employment practices in construction, the displacement of low-income families and local businesses for construction of venues, or even for the suitability of the local climate.  That’s without even mentioning perennial incidences of corruption and abusive behaviour, be it in specific governments or in sporting organizations.

I could list a whole bunch of places and issues, but each of these can be a long discussion on its own.  Nonetheless, these are important questions to keep in mind.  And let’s not forget that some of this scrutiny may come closer to home in four years’ time, when Canada, the US, and Mexico, all come together to share hosting duties for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

At the same time, international sporting events are touted as promoting the health and wellbeing of the global population.  And there are good reasons to link sports with wellbeing.  Of course, any physical activity, including walking, sit-down exercises, yoga, or dancing, has been extensively documented to measurably improve the health of body and mind.  And team sports, in particular, can offer a place for communal and social interaction, as well as promoting team-building skills and setting norms for working toward a common goal – often quite literally a common goal.

Even purely on their entertainment value, sports and their related events offer a fulfilling passion for billions of people, as some of our church’s members will attest.

Moreover, there is a case to be made that international sporting events promote a sense of international community.  Even with my very mild interest in sporting events, I have to admit that I find opening ceremonies for the Olympics quite fascinating.  As I implied before, there is a certain spiritual, I daresay religious, dimension to these – they are ceremonies after all, with a spirit of celebration.  And the choreography and storytelling that comes with these events, as well as the coming together of many nations, certainly plays a role in reminding viewers from all over the world that… there is a lot to the world, and the people who live in it.

But this comes tied up with the inherent rivalry that comes with a competitive set of sports, especially when the teams are divided by nationality.  When a newly-unified Germany won the 1990 World Cup, I recall some people wondering what a renewed sense of German national pride might mean for global stability (this turned out not to be a major issue, but I heard people raising this question seriously).  Some time after scoring “the Hand of God Goal” against the English team, Argentinian player Diego Maradona implied that his illegal goal had been revenge for the Falklands War with the UK a few years earlier.  There’s even a certified Football War – an actual war that resulted after a soccer game dispute between El Salvador and Honduras.

The actual value of these assets and liabilities can sometimes be hard to measure, and it might be unfair to tie any of the problems that come with these events with the sports or the games themselves.

Indeed, many of these problems are persistently present outside of the sporting world, and these issues are often more related to how institutions run themselves, be they sporting associations, governments, religious groups, clubs, or businesses.  Whenever there is a system in place by which things need to get done, it is important to ask how these systems may lead to some behaviours and outcomes.

For instance, Ruben Jongkind, a coach and advisor in several Dutch professional football clubs, promotes an approach that emphasizes sport as a way to connect and grow together, in terms of physical, mental, and community health, with a lesser emphasis on winning as the only goal.  This is not to say that sport shouldn’t ever be competitive – there are advantages to having a dose of healthy competition to drive self- and team-improvement – but it is to say that, when focusing exclusively on competition and winning as the main goal, we risk losing sight of the other gifts that sports have to offer to individuals and the community.

My friends, I haven’t brought up this conversation to admonish anyone for liking the sport or game that you might like – it is important to have passions, especially those that connect you to things larger than yourself.  The benefits of sport and team games, whether you actively engage in one, or enjoy watching it at an arena or at home, are many.

It is also important, my friends, to remain mindful of the risks that come when scoring goals becomes the only goal.  And to maintain an active awareness of the impacts that certain systems in sports organizations, or any institution for that matter, can have in areas that go beyond the games themselves, especially when these can affect large populations and vulnerable people.

There are no easy answers, my friends, but there are important questions to ask if we want to turn the world around, be it at the World Cup, or in the playground.

So may it be,
In the spirit of fair play,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #1074 Turn the World Around

Words & Music: Harry Belafonte, 1927- and Robert Freedman, © 1975 Clara Music Publishing Corp. (ASCAP).
Administered by Next Decade Entertainment, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.
~)-| Arr. Jason Shelton, 1972-

Michael Tacy 

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