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

September 2021 Newsletter

September 14th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


The Humours

September 12th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

Offered by Hillside Community Church (18 June, 2021)

Homily – The Humours [Water Ceremony] – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF document available for download]

If you’ve ever followed the history of medicine, you might have been intrigued by an ancient Greek view about human health, which attributed different ailments, emotions, and healing methods to the balance of four fluids in the body.  These fluids, or humours, were labeled as: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm, and while those labels may sound familiar, those words were used to describe different things than what we would now associate with those names.

I won’t go into the details of what these humours were, because our medical understanding nowadays is much different.  But I bring them to mind today because each of those humours were associated with different moods or personality types.

Someone who was thought to have more “blood” than usual was labelled sanguine, and was seen as lively, and perhaps more joyful than others.  If the imbalance was in “yellow bile”, then they were seen as choleric and prone to anger and rage.  If it was a matter of “black bile” – or literally in Greek, melancholy – then they were seen as prone to sadness.  And the folks labeled as phlegmatic tended to be seen, among other things, as more mellow or reserved.

This is a gross oversimplification.  And I’m offering this overview because, to me, the most useful part of this… classification method, was that it named real moods – emotional experiences that real people go through.

And today, I invite us to do that – to recognize our multitude of overlapping moods and emotions – with a different kind of humour…  (a humour, is essentially a liquid or fluid – it’s where we get the word humid).  And our humour today is water.

A ritual that many of our congregations do around this time of year, is a water ceremony that honours these emotional experiences.  One way to do that is to lay out four vessels for us to give witness to some of our emotional experiences as we transition from the summer days and into our new church year.

This was an eventful summer around the world, and chances are that there were some events in your personal lives as well.  A range of overlapping, and perhaps conflicting, emotions may have resulted from this, and it’s OK to recognize more than one at the same time.

So, we can lay out vessels for: recognizing joy, happiness, amusement, or other kinds of enjoyable experiences; another one for acknowledging anger, rage, fear, or other bold and sometimes unpleasant experiences; another vessel to honour sadness, grief, or otherwise a sense of loss that we might have encountered around this time; and a vessel to hold our sense of hope, for peace, for a sense of renewing faith, as we come together at this time.

I have short reflections for each of these moods, and pouring some water in a vessel for each of them may be a way for each of us to recognize these states of mind.  You’re welcome to set vessels of your own at home and follow your own ritual, or you can simply bear witness to the reflections included here.

Joy, Amusement, Pleasantness

The 2021 Ig Nobel prizes were awarded this past week.  (More accurately, it was called “the 31st First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony”).  This awards ceremony is usually hosted from Harvard University, but was done online for the second time this year.   The Ig Nobel prizes are awarded to real scientific research that “first makes you laugh, and then makes you think”.

Among this year’s winners, was research seeking to demonstrate that transporting rhinoceroses upside down is better for them than transporting them on their side – this is surprisingly important knowledge for wildlife veterinarians, who occasionally need to transport ailing rhinos while minimizing harm to them; there was also a study that supports the hypothesis that humans evolved beards as protection from being punched in the face… which can lead to further lines of inquiry; and there was a study that catalogued the array of microorganisms on sidewalk chewing gum, which may offer unexpected insights in the realm of microbiology.  There were a total of ten awards, spanning six continents, and I invite you to look them up if you enjoy the combo of laughing and thinking.

These may not sound like ground-breaking research, but as laughable as they may initially sound, each of these endeavours adds to the sum of human knowledge in more profound ways than meet the eye at first glance – they first make you laugh, and then make you think.

Laughter, and by extension any kind of enjoyment, is a basic element in our human existence, and this past summer may have offered many of you with opportunities to find some kind of enjoyment, be it time to rest, or to get to do something you don’t regularly get to do, or perhaps laugh a bit more often… and maybe to think for a bit longer.

Around the Windsor-Essex area, with the Detroit River, and Lakes Erie and St. Clair, water can be a part of summer, even if it’s just a quick view from the street while walking downtown… sometimes, it can be something more engaging, like a day at the beach or a walk on the riverside.

And sometimes, it’s as simple as a cold drink on a hot day.

Pouring this water may help us recognize the moments of joy that we have coming into our reconvening this year, or that we look forward to as we engage in this community again.

Suggested meditation music – Ode to Joy by Ludwig van Beethoven

Anger, Rage, and Fear

Among the news this summer and into the fall, we’ve witnessed the frightening developments in Afghanistan, where many people have been desperate to leave, fearing for their lives.  And fear often begets anger.  Many people around the world have strong feelings about the near-twenty-year war that has just ended.

Along with that comes the memory of the attacks that happened on a clear Tuesday morning 20 years ago.  Many of us remember the fear that came with that day, along with the anger that led to many decisions and world events over these past 20 years.

I remember being invited to a Thanksgiving dinner on October 8, 2001, and learning over the dinner that the bombing of Afghanistan had started the previous day.  It sobering to consider that it’s only less than a couple weeks ago that that war ended.

The decisions leading to that war have become divisive and we also see that divisiveness around many other issues today: around social and racial justice, around health policy, and around environmental action.

Among our environmental fears, we have witnessed the stormy seas and rainy gales that have come with multiple hurricanes this season, many of them hitting both far away and closer to home.

These stormy fears and this anger are part of our world and our own personal lives, and we can acknowledge it here.

Suggested meditation music – Storm Warning by Frank Mills

Sadness, Grief, Loss

Many of us have experienced loss around this time, or may wonder if we may be facing some kind of loss in the coming days.

In the world, we are witnessing the loss of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  And over the past year or so, we have seen the loss of health and life due to the pandemic… and other reasons.

With yesterday’s anniversary, many remember the sacrifice given by First Responders in the performance of their duties – simply doing their daily job during a disaster.  And this echoes with the experience of many First Responders over the past couple of years, who have given so much of themselves, including their lives, in the performance of their duties during crisis.

With water, we recognize the tears of sadness, literal and proverbial, that may be part of our lives and of our world.

Suggested meditation music – Nocturne by Martha Mier

Hope, Peace, Faith

When we talk about the time 20 years ago, the narrative usually mentions both Twin Towers in New York City… it often also includes the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and… sometimes there’s a mention of a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Of course, the symbolism of Wall Street and the US Department of Defence amid the smoke, along with the numerous casualties involved, bring easily-recognizable images.  But sometimes I wonder if an oft-missing headline from 20 years ago, was that field near Shanksville…

Of the four flights that were crashed just over twenty years ago, flight 93 was the only one that didn’t reach its target.

And that wasn’t an accident – it is believed that deliberate action by passengers in that flight prevented it from reaching Washington D.C. and causing even greater harm.

After the closing of Kabul’s international airport at the end of August, it has just been announced, a couple of days ago, that a new civilian flight left Kabul’s international airport – the first in a couple of weeks – bringing people to a safer place, over a week after it was doubtful that this would be possible.

Even amid extreme adversity, there is hope.  And faith, in its many manifestations, can help us find a glimpse of peace.

This month there were elections in Morocco and Sao Tome – these are complicated things, and… they always leave space for change… maybe for the better.  Here in Canada, we are heading into our own election, and wherever you stand in it, it offers some opportunity for a better life in our country and in the planet.

Water may offer witness to floods of hope, and tranquil streams of peace, that feed growth and change.

Suggested Meditation Music – How Can I Keep from Singing? Traditional

And so, my friends, with the fluid form of these waters, we witness to our moods – to our shared and personal emotional experience that comes with this transitional time, as we face our past, and look to our future.

My friends, may the witness of these humours offer more balance in our lives.

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn – #4 I Brought My Spirit to the Sea
~)-| Words: Max Kapp, 1904-1979
Music: Alec Wyton, 1921- , © 1990 Alec Wyton
First Unitarian Church of Baltimore
Tune: JACQUI


A New Premise 3 – Yes

September 4th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Confluence Lecture 2021 – Rev. Anne Barker (Westwood UU, Edmonton Alberta)

A New Premise, part – Yes

(originally posted to the Canadian Unitarian Council’s YouTube channel on 27 April, 2021)


A New Premise 2 – disComfort

August 28th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Confluence Lecture 2021 – Rev. Anne Barker (Westwood UU, Edmonton Alberta)

A New Premise, part 2 – disComfort

(originally posted to the Canadian Unitarian Council’s YouTube channel on 27 April, 2021)


A New Premise 1 – What if we were wrong?

August 21st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Confluence Lecture 2021 – Rev. Anne Barker (Westwood UU, Edmonton Alberta)

A New Premise, part 1 – What if we were wrong?

(originally published 29 April, 2021)


BRB (Be Right Back) | Flower Celebration

June 20th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The Story of Flower Communion

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

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

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

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

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the flowers, my friends.

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Flower Celebration

(Photos and paintings of flowers published with permission)

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

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


Sheet Cake

June 13th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

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

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

Sermon – Sheet Cake – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

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

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


What is it Good For?

June 6th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

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

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

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

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His answer is very simple: “Absolutely nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Marlena Moore (4 July 2020)


The Best Worst Spanish

May 30th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Sermon – The Best Worst Spanish – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

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


Reading Tea Leaves

May 23rd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

Sam Wendover (21 September 2017)

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

Tom Scott (9 April, 2018)

Sermon – Reading Tea Leaves – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn – Keep it Alight – Rev. Lynn Harrison

Canadian Unitarian Council (17 May, 2021)


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