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

Watching Paint Dry

March 26th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #92 Mysterious Presence, Source of All
~)-| Words: Seth Curtis Beach, 1837-1932
Music: William Knapp, 1698-1768

Andrey Stolyarov

Sermon – Watching Paint Dry – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF version available for download]

When filmmaker Charlie Lyne subjected the British Board of Film Classification to a 10-hour movie, featuring the riveting action of paint drying, he was protesting the Board’s practice of charging per-minute for reviewing a film for rating purposes – a requirement that he found to be a prohibitive barrier for many independent filmmakers.

In 2016, he set up a fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter to submit his movie Paint Drying – the more money that was pledged, the longer the cut of his movie that he could submit for review.  The fundraising campaign eventually allowed for a 10-hour cut of Paint Drying, which the Board of Film Classification had to spread over two days, as they have a 9-hour shift limit.

It received a “U” rating – suitable for most audiences aged 4 and up.

As it turns out, Lyne seems to have been following what seems to be a British tradition… viewers in the United Kingdom had already been engaged in the act of collectively watching paint dry in real-time, as far back as 2004, when the channel UKTV took “reality TV” to its next logical step: showing an 8-week season of paint drying, 24 hours a day.

Viewers could engage in the deep rivalries between shades of silk and eggshell as well as debate the nuanced characteristics between glossy and matte finishes.  Then, in full “reality TV” tradition, they’d have a weekly opportunity to vote a paint off the show in an exhilarating showdown of tinting supremacy.

Now, I suppose there may be some among us who might not share an appreciation for the allure of such thrilling viewing experiences like a 10-hour feature movie or an 8-week, 24-hour television series featuring the dramatic twists and turns of paint drying.  But for those who are into this particular genre, I have spoiler alert – in the end, there is a shocking twist: the paint dries.

Now, even if you’ve never seen these particular spellbinding dramas, there may be something about them that may seem… oddly familiar.

There are many times in our personal lives, or the lives of our communities, when it feels like we’re watching paint dry, as a stage of our lives may seem to move at a glacial pace.  And still, we often find ourselves arriving to a moment when things shift, and a page in a particular chapter eventually turns.

This month marked the third anniversary since the covid lockdowns came into force.  You might remember how, a couple weeks into it, folks remarked that March of 2020 was a very long year, which – as it turns out – dragged on for even longer.  It is only last month that we removed our compulsory masking policy in our church.  Eventually, the paint dried. 

Different places moved at different paces – paint does dry unevenly in spots, after all.  And, in some ways, there are some things about the pandemic that may still feel unresolved, as we continue to live with the reality of a rather new respiratory disease in our world.  Even walls with dry paint continue to experience ongoing change – paint chips, new coats of paint eventually come, perhaps a new colour altogether, or even a mural telling a new story.

This past month was also the shifting of the seasons from winter to spring.  Enduring cold days and long nights may sometimes feel like watching paint dry, and even the fickle weather in the weeks of March and April sometimes feels like there are never-ending bouts when winter refuses to end.  But spring is arriving in earnest, and flowers eventually bloom.

The past few weeks have also been a time when other kinds of anticipation are in seasonal vogue.  If you’ve been following a Lenten practice, you may have also been counting down the days toward Easter, when you might see some relief from the additional discipline of Lent.  Whether it’s a matter of easing cravings for chocolate, or looking for respite after some intentional and otherwise fulfilling temporary sacrifice, the road to Easter may well sometimes feel like it’s dragging.  But two weeks out, we can see that Easter is indeed in the horizon, when a new life may be in sight.

Of course, there are always new walls to maintain, or new coats of paint to apply.  Even as Lent is drawing to a close, other neighbours of faith are beginning their own practice of fasting.  As Ramadan began this past week, our Muslim neighbours will spend many daylight hours contemplating the evening time when they may break their fast with a light meal and some water, and there may be times when the crescent moon of Eid may seem tantalizingly far off.

Our world community has also spent several months – over a year – wondering when the dreary chapter of the war in Ukraine may turn a new leaf.  The wait has been agonizing, and yet we remain in hope that the paint will dry.

I have another story of architecture that shifts over long periods of time.  And that is the story of Roman concrete. 

Now, if your childhood was anything like mine – or if your inner child lingers on – you might have had some interesting images in mind when you first heard that the process of concrete setting is properly called “curing”.  Perhaps, you might have visualized a wall of concrete popping back some medication, or imagined a grey concrete slab sitting on a hospital bed, with a cast around its arm or a thermometer sticking out of its mouth… while it’s “curing”.

It turns out that there’s some truth to these images when it comes to Roman concrete.  Unlike our modern concrete, the Roman kind doesn’t just cure once over a few days or weeks – it rather heals steadily over several centuries.

We have known for a long time that the concrete that the Romans used for building long-standing structures, such as the Pantheon in Rome, was different than the concrete we tend to use these days.  Our modern concrete can deteriorate in a matter of decades, but the Pantheon and ancient aqueducts (among other Roman structures) are still standing. 

We have recently learned that Romans had a couple of long-lost techniques that set their concrete apart.  Among these was the use of ingredients such as sea water mixed with mineral quicklime, which left chunks of undissolved lime into the hardened stuff.  As concrete aged and cracked, water would seep in, reactivating the lime, and allowing the concrete to heal itself, so that its lifespan has extended into millennia.

The story of Roman concrete is one of an ongoing long game.  Not a one-time cure, but a constant healing process, as wounds appear in it across time.  It is never “done-done”.  Watching the Pantheon’s structure across the centuries would seem like an uneventful endeavour, but inside its structure, it is still shifting, and enduring.

For some among us, the story of covid has gone beyond breaking out of lockdown or following mask directives, as many of you have had more personal experiences of living with the virus, with unexpectedly long bouts of the illness, or seemingly unending recovery times.  The question of when the paint might dry, or if it ever will, may loom hauntingly in our minds.  It may be hard to think of a single moment when a cure happens, though there may be ongoing times of healing over time.  Even when it doesn’t look like it, shifts are happening.

My friends, among us, we have heard other stories of those parts of our lives when we feel like we’ve been staring at the same wall for too long.  Stories about anxiously awaiting news about our health.  Stories about long journeys of living with grief.  These stories are among our community, and they rarely have a fixed instant when things have “cured”, though some wounds do find healing moments over time.

And my friends, just as Roman concrete has had long-held technical secrets for resilience and healing, we too have special techniques at our disposal, to assist us as life shifts over time.  Spiritual practices to seek out better understandings of ourselves or others, be they seasonal in Lent, or ongoing through a community of faith.  Practices of connecting, that we may offer support to each other when we face a phase in our lives that feels like it might drag on.  The people around us, friends, family, church, who may offer a space to sit with the challenges, and if we’re willing to hear it, offer guidance.

My friends, it is sometimes imperceptible, but the paint really does transform.  And with the right conditions, even hard cracks can find healing.

So may it be,
In the spirit of the ongoing journey,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #146 Soon the Day Will Arrive
Words: Ehud Manor, 20th cent.
Music: Nurit Hirsh, 20th cent.

Posted by This is LEA, with Cantor Jason Kaufman (29 July, 2020)

Feeding Our Community

March 19th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #283 The Spacious Firmament on High
Words: Joseph Addison 1672-1719, paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-6
Music: Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809, adapt. Dulcimer, or New York Collection of Sacred
Music, 1850, alt.

A Cappella Hymns

Sermon – “Feeding Our Community” – guest speaker Rev. Debbie Wilson-Safa (St. John Anglican)

Our guest speaker is Rev. Deborah Wilson-Safa is Vocational Deacon, as well as Community Meal and Outreach Coordinator at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Leamington.


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Good morning and thank you for the privilege to come and share with you today.

First, I would like to share a little bit of who I am, and how I ended up here speaking to you this morning.  I was born and raised in Georgetown (which is this side of Toronto), and I am what you call a cradle Anglican.  Leamington has been my home now for over 30 years.  I have two grown children and one grandchild.  My daughter works in the agricultural industry.  My son and his wife are both doctors.  I am a bookkeeper by profession and continue to still work. I also facilitate a contemplative prayer group, and sit on the Service Teams for both our local and provincial chapters.   This is a very small part of who I am.  This past January, I celebrated my 11th year anniversary of ordained ministry as a deacon in the Anglican church.  This is a special ministry of servanthood under direct authority of our bishop.  We are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.1 

My liturgical role is to proclaim the Gospel, set the table for Eucharist, clean up; and send out the congregation to go into the community and world to love and serve the Lord.  To be the hands and feet of Christ. 

There is so much more I could say about that journey, it wasn’t easy, life threw many obstacles in the way to ordination.  My ministry is outreach.  This ministry is not rewarded monetarily, it is rewarded through the grace of God by humbling yourself and serving all people. “At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.”1

The prophet Micah reminds us that the Lord requires us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.  (Micah 6:8)

 So, what does that mean for you and I?  I am going to share with you about the outreach ministry taking place in our community, and I hope that will help in shedding some light on that question.

In 2009, the Anglican Consultative Council developed The Five Marks of Mission, which were adopted by the General Convention.  The third mark is “to respond to human need by loving service”.

I was asked a few years ago to speak about the Third Mark, to my clergy colleagues in the diocese.  Intimidating or what?  What am I going to tell a bunch of priests, deacons and bishops about what they already know?  It wasn’t about telling them what to do, but reminding them of what we are called to be.  Just because we have Holy Orders, does not make us less human.  As humans we make mistakes, we say and do the wrong things, but God continues to love us and continues to give us second chances to get it right.  This is the revised version of what I shared with my colleagues …….

Third Mark of Mission:  Service

We at St. John’s Leamington respond to human need by loving service, where we humbly attempt to follow these words of Mother Teresa, “Prayer in action is love, love in action is service.”  Our weekly community meal programme grew out of a Christmas Day Dinner which began 28 years ago.  It was the idea of a parish family who had gone through some difficult times and they wanted to give back to the community which had shared their love and support for them.  I am blessed to have been a witness to that loving service from the beginning, and had that example to share and build upon.  This made me think of the tiny mustard seed and how it grows and flourishes into a tree.  The original idea, was the seed.  The tree’s trunk continues to be the Christmas Dinner, but the branches have become so much more.  Over the years there have been a number of initiatives, some have continued, and others have not, for example, the Easter and Thanksgiving Dinners.  They have been incorporated into the weekly community meal which began October 20, 2010.  Since then, the Angel Clothing Cupboard, Outside Angel Pantry, and so much more, have been implemented all with their own branches shooting forth to provide love and support to those we meet.  From these branches, further growth has sprouted forth in partnerships with North Leamington Mennonite Church, who hosts and prepares the meal on the fourth Wednesday.  We are staffed by volunteers from the parish, the community at large, and other churches.  During the last few years, a greater partnership and sharing of resources has taken place between the local churches and businesses.  For which we are extremely grateful.

That 28-year old seed, has not only impacted those on the receiving end, but more importantly how it has transformed those who are the givers.  What we do for others isn’t to fix them, but to meet them where they are in their need because we are not superior to them.  A number of years ago, at one of the Christmas dinners, a man I knew, who drove taxi, and had dropped off some of our guests, came in, stood at the kitchen door, and said, ‘Debbie, I am hungry.’  My heart and soul still ache when I think of this.  It was a transformative moment for me.  We were providing a place for people to not be alone at Christmas, to share in the joy of the season, to help extend the resources of those who were stretching every last dollar…..people I could relate to in my own life’s experience.  In all that I was doing, or thought I was doing, never prepared me for that most basic request….’I am hungry.’  Someone shared with  me  that ‘service to others, is the rent we pay for our place on earth’, my hope is that we can keep up the payments, as we continue to nurture those small seeds into trees of love.

In some ways I feel as though I have kind of glossed over what is happening in our community.  Sort of giving you the feel good part.  But, not the numbers…. Of meals, dollars, people ….

With COVID came the closing of our communities and life has we knew it.  Our meal and outreach programmes continued as they were considered essential by our Diocese and the government.  However, our way of doing things changed greatly.  No eating in, loss of fellowship (which is extremely important to those struggling), a loss of hygiene facilities for those living rough or couch surfing.  We shifted to take-out and continued with our delivery service to those who are shut-in, had mobility issues or lack of transportation.  We are currently still functioning in this way.

Last year, St. John’s prepared and served 7,063 meals, an increase of over 4% from 2021; and an increase of 109% since our first full year of 2011.  The 2022 meal number included 755 bagged lunches that were initially distributed by the WEHUC outreach workers, which have now been redirected to the Homeless Hub located at the South Essex Community Council.   The 2022 programme cost was $16,800 which was supported by financial donations and investment monies designated for outreach of $11,300, leaving us with a shortfall of $5,500.  These numbers would be much more, if it were not for the generous donations of our local businesses and community members supplying us with bread, vegetables and so much more.   I am not here asking you for donations, but to share with you the toll it takes to support those who are living on the margins, facing food and housing insecurity.  Attempting not to judge how they got there.  We see new faces and hear new stories every week. 

Over the last few years, we have come together as a faith community, along with  service providers and municipal officials to work together to find solutions.  These unfortunately do not happen overnight.  I do wish to share with you some of what has come to fruition.  There are:

2 community meals each week – Leamington United Church on Mondays and St. John’s on Wednesdays

LUC is supported by Feeding Windsor, Meadowbrook Church, St. Michael’s Knights of Columbus, Faith Mennonite Church, and LUC’s congregation. 

5 outdoor food pantries – St. John’s; the Corner of Erie S & Marlborough E; Parkdale Store; St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; St. Michael’s Church

The Bridge – youth ages 14 – 24 (provides food, clothing, laundry and shower facilities)

3 Food Banks/Cupboards – Salvation Army; St. Vincent de Paul; St. John’s

1 Clothing Cupboard – St. John’s

2 Drop-in centres both running 7 days a week  – Homeless Hub at SECC from 9am – 5pm (provides access to services, snacks, rest); Feeding Windsor/Street Angels from 6 – 10 pm (provides soup and coffee, a place to warm up) located at the Leamington Community Hope Centre (the former Knox Presbyterian Church)

The Finding Home report which can be accessed on the South Essex Community Council’s website, which was the result of the Leamington Homelessness Project which both Rev. Rod and I participate.  I encourage you check it out. 

Unfortunately, we do not have any overnight shelter for people who are living rough.  The closest shelters are in Windsor, and many do not wish to go.  There are many reasons for this. 

Returning to the question I posed earlier, what does that mean for you and I? Have you formulated an answer for yourself?  For me, Archbishop Linda Nicholls (Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada) said, ‘the heartbeat of the diaconate is actually at the edges of the community where the deacon is the link between the church and the world.  Helping the world see the love of Christ in action, and keeping a proverbial foot in the door of the church so it cannot become self-absorbed and must let some of the sights, smells, and sounds and needs of the world in and be able to go out sent into the world to be Christ to others.”2   Yes, this is what God has called me to.  But you as well have been called, to love your neighbour, strive for justice and peace, to respect the dignity of every human being.   We can do this, it won’t be easy, we will fall down and we will fail, but we will stand again and again.  Why?  Because we are not alone… God lives in us, and we live in God!!  With this we can “Transform, revive, and heal society.” 3   This line comes from a worship song called “We Seek Your Kingdom”, set to the tune of “Abide with Me” and can be found on YouTube.  It is to provide encouragement and a call to action – a declaration that each of us can join in God’s kingdom work right where we are.  We are all the hands and feet of Christ.  We will use them in different ways, at different times in our lives.  That’s okay.  God only asks us to do our best.

As the deacon, I send you forth into the world to go in peace and serve God, as we “Transform, revive and heal society”.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Copyright © 2023 Deborah Wilson-Safa

Closing Reflection Music – We Seek Your Kingdom – Noel Robinson, Lou Fellingham, Andy Flannagan, Donna Akodu


Complicated People

March 12th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #360 Here We Have Gathered
~)-| Words: Alicia S. Carpenter, 1930- , © 1979 Alicia S. Carpenter
Music: Genevan psalter, 1543
old 124th

Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara (20 March, 2021)

Sermon – Complicated People – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

When the Unitarian Universalist Association’s latest supplement of readings for worship Lifting our Voices, was published in 2015, it included a short reading from Aung San Suu Kyi. 

I suspect, however, that this reading is probably not used very often in our worship services, even though the spirit of its words would likely resonate with us.  It goes: “It is not enough simply to call for freedom, democracy and human rights.  There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.” (Lifting our Voices #146)

This was published in 2015, the same year that her political party in Myanmar had won a supermajority in parliament, paving the way for her to become State Counsellor – effectively the civilian head of government, leading Myanmar in its transition from military dictatorship toward democratic government.

By then, Suu Kyi was already well-known in the international community, widely regarded as a champion of democracy for Myanmar, and had received several awards and recognitions worldwide, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  Suu Kyi had a prestigious pedigree, being born the daughter of Aung San, who is styled “the Father of the Nation” for his role for independence in what was then called Burma, and she further gathered worldwide sympathy when she became a political prisoner in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2011, her life under house arrest was portrayed in the movie The Lady by none less than Michelle Yeoh (whom you would recognize from the latest blockbuster Everything Everywhere All at Once) – I remember watching the film The Lady with my grandmother in the theatre, and felt quite inspired by her struggle on behalf of her country.

It is little wonder, then, that her words of encouragement toward the cause of democratic government were chosen by the editors of Lifting our Voices in 2015.

And then… things shifted.  While she was in office, the world came to know about the plight of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, who have been consistently reported to be persecuted and brutalized by Myanmar’s military.  Often being denied full citizenship, living in poverty, and facing constant danger, many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh or sought refuge in other countries.

Now, Aung San Suu Kyi has not been identified as the initiator of the Rohingya persecutions, but she has faced intense international criticism for her inaction in what has often been recognized as a genocide, as well as for her refusal to acknowledge the involvement of Myanmar’s military in extensive massacres, even defending it before the International Court of Justice.  Suu Kyi has also faced several other criticisms, including her treatment of journalists while she was in office.

It was not long after her words were published in Lifting our Voices that Suu Kyi fell out of favour in progressive circles and the larger international community.  Several leaders in civil society across the world called for her Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked, though there is no mechanism to do that.  She has, however been stripped of many of her accolades by civil institutions and governments that had previously supported her, including her honorary Canadian citizenship.

Because of this, I suspect that most worship leaders who know the background to this story would likely hesitate to use her words in ministry, despite their inspiring appeal for human rights.  This is not because the words aren’t important or worthwhile, but by honoring her in the context of human rights, it might bring into question the value of those very words, and perhaps the reader’s understanding of them.

It bears mentioning that her role as State Counsellor had limited power, and that Myanmar’s military still had significant sway in the running of the government.  Analysts have observed that it might have been difficult for Suu Kyi to have stayed in office as long as she did had she taken bolder action for the sake of the Rohingya people.

Because then… things shifted again.  As can be seen in a workout video that inadvertently captured military vehicles in the background, Myanmar went through a military coup in 2021, losing much of its civilian power institutions, including the offices held by Suu Kyi and her party.  She was once again arrested for charges that seem to be politically motivated and has effectively become a political prisoner once again.

As conflicted as the international community might have been about her, many advocated for her release and reinstatement, given that she represented a greater figure for democratic government than what has, once again, become a reality of military rule in Myanmar.

My knowledge and understanding of Myanmar’s politics, history, its people and its dynamics is quite limited.  And I hesitate to make a pronouncement on her character.  I have never been a political prisoner, nor held an office of comparable power.  I don’t believe that I’ve done anything that would warrant a Nobel Prize, nor anything that would warrant calls for its revocation.  I might imagine what I think I should have done had I been in her position, but I don’t actually know how I would have, in fact, acted if faced with her reality.

Though I am more certain about some other things.

I know that what I’ve heard about the Rohingya people’s recent story brings me great discomfort.  And that persecution of a vulnerable minority group is not something that I want to see in the world I live in.

And I recognize that I have the luxury of not being in the position of a Rohingya person, without a true appreciation for the hardships that many of them have gone through, including direct danger to life by the government.

I also know that I’ve done things in my lifetime that have hurt people and that I greatly regret.  I don’t think these make me a bad person, but they do offer some guidance on who I want to be now, and how I might become a better person than I was or currently am.

Among those things, is recognizing the different layers that people have, and in the case of Suu Kyi, I feel that if I ever feature her words of democratic and human rights advocacy, I also need to acknowledge parts of the story in which her public record is more complicated.

There are complicated people in the world, and we are each complicated people.

Closer to home, a similar kind of discomfort comes to mind around the author J.K. Rowling and her intellectual property, primarily media relating to her Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter captured the imagination of an entire generation, including people of all ages, starting in 1997.  I worked at a bookstore when the final book in the series was released, to great fanfare, and was asked by management if I would dress up as the lead character on the weeks leading to it, since they saw a resemblance in me – I even got a bookseller’s nametag with Harry Potter engraved in it.  J.K. Rowling had become a literary superstar.

And then… something shifted. 

In recent years, Rowling has made several statements that have been hurtful to the trans community, including dismissive remarks about trans women and declarations that disregard the nuances of sexual and gender diversity.  She has also implied that increasing access to certain services for trans women would put cis women in increased danger, without acknowledging the dangers that trans folks face on a regular basis.

Many fans have found what Rowling has said, or the way she says it, rather disappointing.  And the Potter fandom community has been struggling with how to reconcile their appreciation for the Potter lore with its creator’s refusal to acknowledge the reality faced by trans folk around the world.

In trying to understand Rowling’s perspective, one might note that she has expressed fears about her safety as a cis woman who has experienced sexual violence.  And some of her critics also invite attention to the source of those fears, so that they may be honoured and addressed – without neglecting the fear that trans folks often face in everyday life.

And, there have been notable causes for concern about the toxicity around this conversation.  The way that some critics of Rowling have further threatened her safety, or focused on attacking her character, rather than educating or engaging her, her supporters, and the general public around trans matters, have raised appeals for what might seem like more gracious approaches.

I don’t know Rowling’s experience or how I would act if I were in her position, given what has shaped her worldview.  But I do know that trans folks often find themselves among the marginalized people in our world, who need our support and solidarity.

I also know that, not being trans myself, I don’t face the same challenges and struggles that they do, and I usually have the opportunity to be more gracious with people who do not yet have some appreciation of what trans life can be like.

Trans folks often don’t have the same luxury, and may often need to prioritize their own wellbeing and self-preservation over graciousness or politeness.  Those latter approaches may be the kind of work for people like me to do.

My friends, I’m not here today to prescribe how you should feel about these figures or your relationship with the stories of any other complicated people.  But I do offer a set of invitations.

An invitation to acknowledge our own complicated lives, our actions, and our stories, and identifying how we may improve upon them (that is one of the appeals of the Lenten season).

There is an invitation, my friends, to be mindful of the people that face immediate danger to their lives or hardship due to who they are, and who may often have little space, time, or energy to walk us through their experience, especially when they’re not sure of other’s intentions.

And, my friends, there is an invitation to be gracious with others, especially when others are not in a position to offer that grace.

My friends, there is a time for grace and a time for anger, a time for forgiveness and a time for accountability, a time to look out for oneself and a time to look out for others, a time for self-reflection and a time for self-improvement.

So may it be,
In the spirit of complexity,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #213 There’s a Wideness in Your Mercy
Another accompaniment, 161
Words: Frederick William Faber, 1814-1863, alt
Music: Amos Pilsbury’s United States’ Sacred Harmony, 1799

Michael Tacy

The Leviathan of Parsonstown

March 5th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Video Reading – “What did the Leviathan of Parsonstown Teach us?” | Hank Green in Hank’s Channel (shorts)

Sermon – The Leviathan of Parsonstown – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

One of the ways to look at the Lenten and Easter season is as a kind of bookend – and parallel – to the Advent and Christmas season, as we revisit the stories and practices of anticipation and revelation, all the while exploring themes of divinity in unexpected places that are far, near, and within us, as well as of resurrection and rebirth.

In the Christmas story, which we hear or retell in the darkest and coldest days of the year, we come across a set of mysterious characters – the original text calls them magi – we often call them the “wise men from the east”.  But the people who study these kinds of stories aren’t always sure who these people were, what it was they did, or even how many of them there were.  Where they kings? priests? sages? magicians? fortune-tellers?  The sources aren’t very clear.

One thing that is rather clear, is that they looked at stars.  I often call them stargazers in my dynamic translation of the text that talks about them.  And in the story, this stargazing gives them surprising insight.

They weren’t the only ones.  People in ancient times looked up at the heavens – a lot.  Partly, this might have been because there wasn’t much else that they could do at night.  I imagine that it also offered them a sense of awe to look at the uncountable stars and other heavenly bodies, and the mysteries they held, or the stories they sometimes offered.  Also, looking at the sky in day and night, they found that… the sky spoke to them.  It offered clues about the weather and how the earth would treat them at a particular time – it told them when to plant, grow, and harvest food; where to be, and which places to avoid at certain times.

Many societies figured out that, by looking at the heavens in evermore systematic ways they could get very precise information – even if there always seemed to be more questions.  The Maya civilization figured out how long the year was, down to fractions of a day.  People in ancient Egypt, Greece, and India figured out that the Earth was round much earlier than the public imagination gives them credit for, and they came up with pretty good guesses as to how big it is.  All by looking at the sky and its relationship to the earth… as well as some disciplined practice.

We still do that today!  Maybe not as often in our regular individual lives… other things often catch our attention.  But we do have entire sets of professional stargazers and skywatchers (and there are many amateur ones too).  Meteorologists can give us a sense of what to expect weatherwise and about how the climate of our planet is doing – along with directives as to what we might do about that.

Astronomers look out deep into space, and we continue to get very interesting answers to things we have wondered about the place where we live – the universe! our planet! the ground that we stand on!  All the while new questions emerge.

As people figured out the difference between the stars that appear fixed on the sky (at least, in the timescale of our lifetimes) and the planets that move around from night to night, they kept finding other things to pique their interest – unresolved questions.

In the mid-19th century, one of the big unresolved matters was the question of “smudges” in the sky.  Things that were too fuzzy to be stars or planets.  What were they?

The astronomers Charles Messier and John Herschel, and many others, pondered about these smudges.  Some folks thought they were nebulous clouds of gas in space – nebulae, they called them.  Others thought that they were immense clusters of stars, what we now call galaxies, just like our Milky Way.

The technology at the time wasn’t making things clearer – the telescopes weren’t big enough, and the observations weren’t conclusive.  So, the 3rd earl of Rosse, William Parsons, along with many other people, set about to build a bigger telescope – the biggest one yet – a leviathan.

The Leviathan of Parsonstown had a mirror 1.8 meters in diameter – six feet (and over the past three years, we’ve gotten a sense of how heavy six feet can feel).  And the tube that protected it needed to be held up by a kind of stone fortress that made the observatory look like a strange kind of castle.

When it was finished… they looked up the sky again.  As science explainer Hank Green enthusiastically proclaims, it turns out everyone was right!  Some of the smudges were clouds of gas – nebulae.  Others were gigantic clusters of stars – galaxies.

Of course, there’s a flipside to this.  In a way, it also means that everyone was wrong – at least to the extent that folks might have thought they were the only ones to be correct.

This isn’t the first or only time that something like this has happened in the story of people and in the story of science.  For centuries, people who ask questions, and who seek answers, have wondered whether light is a particle or a wave.  There have been intense disagreements and vigorous debates about this.  And part of the search about this involved looking up at the heavens.

Turns out, everyone was right – we now understand light to behave both as a wave and a particle – a wave-particle – and the answer sometimes depends on what kind of question you’re asking about it.  There are still some things we don’t understand about light – the quest continues.

Eventually, we’ve built bigger – and bigger-er telescopes.  Since the late 20th century, we’ve had the Hubble space telescope, as well as other kinds of radio, x-ray, and infrared telescopes on earth.  Each of them offers interesting answers, and usually more questions.

We now have the James Webb space telescope – the biggest one yet, and we’re beginning to get some interesting answers, which… are raising questions about how we’ve come to understand the universe and its story – our story.  One of the early observations from the Webb telescope is that we’re finding ancient galaxies – almost as old as the universe – that seem to be too big for their age.  There’s an element of mystery here, and that can be unsettling, and also exciting.  This can bring up disagreements in how we understand the universe, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than one correct answer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all answers are always equally correct.  The search for truth requires disciplined practice, honesty, and diligence.  It also requires a measure of humility – there are incorrect answers.  But finding one correct answer does not necessarily mean that other answers are always wrong.

My friends, our tradition – itself a legacy of traditions – also tells a set of stories about espousing multiple outcomes.  Both Unitarians and Universalists have come to understand that, in disagreements, presuming only one correct answer is too constraining, and it may indeed be one of the greatest mistakes.

Unitarians understood that recognizing a sense of divinity need not negate affirmation for the human spirit.  Universalists understood that one individual’s journey of redemption did not represent another one’s condemnation.  More than one person, and more than one option, can be right.  And that of course, can depend on the question that is asked, and it can include significant personal and spiritual work, a life-journey of searching, being open to surprising answers, and espousing a perpetually questioning mind.

My friends, our community of searchers thrives on this spiritual quest.  There have been and there will be disagreements.  And if we take our spiritual practice seriously, along with some humility, we may find more than one valid answer, as well as invitations to further exciting quests.

My friends, in this community, may we share a ministry of shared search, and shared insight.

So may it be,
In the spirit of multiple answers,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #283 The Spacious Firmament on High
Words: Joseph Addison 1672-1719, paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-6
Music: Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809, adapt. Dulcimer, or New York Collection of Sacred Music, 1850, alt.

A Capella Hymns

The Doors of Perception

February 26th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Video Reading – The Most Important 10 Words A Stranger Ever Said to Me – by Hank Green in vlogbrothers

Sermon – The Doors of Perception – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Have you ever felt like, no matter how hard you try, other people simply aren’t impressed with you, or with what you do, and how you’re doing it?  And been convinced that no one else could possibly think otherwise?

How about this one: have you seen someone else do something that didn’t impress you?  And been convinced that no one else could possibly think otherwise?

Hank Green, from the vlogbrothers YouTube channel, describes that moment of “unconvincing”, when he first had a serious realization that his perception was not nearly as universal as he thought.

He shares the story of “[t]he most important 10 words a stranger ever said to [him]”, when he was at a summer camp in his tweens [ten or eleven years old], watching another fellow about his age… dancing in a way that he found… odd.  He describes the experience as “second-hand embarrassment”, convinced that whatever he was seeing was not what “cool” dancing should be.

As he watched in astonishment what he was convinced was a cringey display, an older “higher status” woman said to him those life-changing words: “I know, I wish I could dance like him too”.

This broke young Hank’s perception of reality at the time, prompting him to… redefine how he related with the reality that he shared with others.  He was surprised that, not only did his own account and evaluation of the scene not automatically transfer to everyone else, but he was dumbfounded that someone else might actually think the opposite.  And rather than thinking of the unorthodox dancer with embarrassment, she was impressed.

Although these life-changing words didn’t exactly turn around everything in Hank’s life, it did bring a shift in some of his modes of thinking.  His mind began training itself to listen to another voice beyond his own patterns of criticism, and to accept that others may be experiencing a somewhat different reality – one that he might find worth exploring, and which might even offer transformation in how he relates with himself and others – a conversion in his perception.

Our perceptions of others – and of ourselves – can be like that.  And our patters of thinking can convince us to be self-deprecating of our own worth and offerings, or to think of others with disdain.

But if we take a moment to appreciate the value of others’ perspectives, we might just find an opportunity of conversion toward a more affirming viewpoint.

Now, there is a flipside to this… just as we may sometimes have an exaggerated sense of our failings and shortcomings (or find ourselves overly-critical of others), it also happens that we can be… disproportionately confident in our abilities or in the quality of what we think we offer.  And other voices, when coming from people who have credibility in those areas, can also offer a path to a more balanced sense of who we can be and how our offerings may better impact others.

Likewise, there are times when it can be warranted for us to offer perspectives that may […] complement how others perceive themselves, if these are offered with love, with tact, and a genuine desire to be allies in those who trust our counsel – rather than seeking to impose our own perspective on others.  This, too, can be an affirming practice.  Of course, it helps if we have some level of authority on the matter, which is to say, there’s good reason to believe that we know what we are talking about.  Criticism for its own sake is seldom helpful, and unlikely to be heeded.

And still, being open to wisdom from unexpected places can bring surprising shifts in our perception.  A stranger’s words: “Yeah, I wish I could dance like him too” can bring a conversion from deprecation to appreciation; from derision to affirmation.

My friends, although Lent does not take the same prominence in our tradition as it might for many of our neighbours, I have been raising it up over the past few weeks because… it invites certain spiritual practices, and I’m the kind of person who’s into those “spiritual” things (as I imagine many of you hope I would).

So, as we’ve been heading into this Lenten season, I have been inviting us to consider those things in our lives that offer value, and which we seek to see more often, by opening up space and time for them.

In what is traditionally seen as a “fasting” season, one approach for that is to also consider those things that may be getting in the way, by taking too much time and space.  Now that Ash Wednesday is behind us, which in some traditions marks the beginning of the season, you may have been toying with the idea of giving something up, or conversely, taking something up.  Sometimes, these two paths go hand in hand.

And, here’s another perspective, what if this practice can involve taking a deeper look at the doors of our perceptions?  As Hank’s story illustrates, making space for someone else’s perspective can offer just that.  And when done with an affirming mindset, it may even help us make more room for ourselves to flourish – to find more confidence in what we do and to appreciate others in what they offer.  As well as to welcome balance into our lives when others offer us counsel, even if it may sometimes be hard to hear.

My friends, in this season of mind expansion, we may yet find transformation in unlikely places.  Wayward words from a stranger: “Yeah, I wish I could dance like him too” can remind us that we may be in a better place than we realize and that we can connect with others far more deeply than we might expect.

Because, who knows?  What if there are folks out there who wish they could dance like you, no matter how much you may doubt yourself?

What if, after thinking someone’s dial is only at Notch 8, someone else is looking at them thinking: “Yeah, I wish I could turn it up to 11 the way they do”?

What if, my friends, when you’re standing in front of a crowd – maybe this very pulpit – and you’re convinced things were a disaster, there are folks out there thinking “Yeah, I wish I could be in front of a crowd the way she does”?

What if, when we wonder if our singing, or our musical offerings, are up to snuff, there’s someone out there listening and wondering: “Yeah, I wish I could enjoy music the way they do”.

What if, when we welcome folks into our space and we’re wondering if they’d like to spend more time of inspiration and wonder with us, there are folks who say: “Yeah, I wish I could be part of that little white church in the country”.

My friends, sometimes there’s a voice in my mind that wonders: “Yeah, I wish I could be in a community of warmth and caring, that loves to look out for each other and make each other feel welcome”.  And then, another voice in my mind says: “Yeah, I am.”

So may it be,

In the spirit of shifting perceptions,


Copyright © 2023 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)

Time Surplus…?

February 19th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #86 Blessed Spirit of My Life
Words & music: Shelley Jackson Denham, 1950- ,
© 1987 Shelley Jackson Denham

Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara (20 March, 2021)

Sermon – Time Surplus…? – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

A month ago, I spoke about my sense of pride in… showing off an empty bottle of olive oil.  More specifically, it was a special Mediterranean olive oil, brought directly from far away as a gift from a friend who’d been travelling.

In cases like these, it’s my instinct to “save” these special things for “later” – for some imagined special occasion that would warrant their use.  Inevitably, that special occasion either doesn’t happen, or it gets put off as life happens, or when it does happen… I’ve forgotten about that special thing that I was saving, which then ends up languishing until it is no longer fit for use.  So, I was particularly pleased with my empty bottle of fancy olive oil, that I gladly used up while celebrating ordinary time, recognizing that every moment we live can be special… if we allow it to be.

I also mentioned an 8-minute phone call technique that is proposed by columnist Jancee Dunn in a New York Times article, wherein she schedules a deliberately-short check-in with friends, ends it promptly, and schedules another one before signing off.  Her rationale is that proposing a digestible chunk of time makes it easier for her, and her potential contacts, to ensure they wedge in the moment of connection into their busy schedules.

The 8-minute number is perhaps arbitrary.  I don’t usually follow it myself, and I don’t know what number would work best for you, or your connections.  But it’s the mindset behind the technique that I find most useful – the practice of making an important task easier and more accessible, so that we actually do it when it matters most: now.

It also illustrates that important things don’t have to be daunting or onerous for them to matter – it’s getting to do them that matters.  If time feels scarce, then adapting to a manageable timeframe helps with that hurdle.  If we fear that one task will go beyond what we’re ready to commit to, then setting reasonable boundaries to our commitment allows us to offer whatever we are able to, without overextending ourselves.  In taking that extra step to recognize our limitations, we may yet be able to do what we set our hearts to, without hitting the wall of expecting an ideal time when we’ll be able to do all the things.

The same columnist, Jancee Dunn, happens to quote professor of psychiatry Dr. Bob Waldinger, who said that: “most busy people ‘tend to think that in some unspecified future, we’ll have a “time surplus,” where we’ll be able to connect with old friends.’ That may never materialize, he said, so pick up the phone and invest the time right now.” [The New York Times, “Day 2: The Secret Power of the 8-Minute Phone Call” by Jancee Dunn. Jan. 2, 2023]

Of course, that does not mean that it is not also worth thinking in the longer term.  Some investments take time to pay off.  Planning with vision for future goals can offer guidance and motivation for responsible choices, even when they might imply some sacrifice in the present.  Some goals may not be achieved in the short term or even in our lifetime.  Being mindful of the generations after us is a way to become worthy ancestors.

But relying exclusively on what we imagine might be the “right” conditions, for action to make the present worthwhile, can also rob us of the ability to take advantage of the present moment, for doing what we can, with what we have, and for making and maintaining connections that sustain us within our limitations.  And these are investments of their own.

At our church, we have now reinitiated some hospitality offerings.  It’s a somewhat scaled-back version of a practice we’d had for several years, before the pandemic made sharing food and drink much riskier.

Now that the risk feels more manageable, we have walked some steps toward resurrecting that practice.  The offerings may be more modest, usually some hot tea, rather than tea and coffee.  Some of you might remember quite substantial spreads on Sunday.  These days, we’ve begun to enjoy occasional nibbles, to go along with our hot drink.  This is what our volunteers, and the resources of time, space, work, and money that come along with them, are prepared to offer at this time.  It is manageable, and it is present.  And for these we are grateful.

There may be a future when our after-service gatherings look more like what we might imagine as a golden age, but rather than expect such future when an imagined surplus might or might not materialize, we make these Sunday afternoons a golden time.  We enjoy them because we can have them now, with the people who are here, and because they are gifted with love.  Love for our community, and love for fellowship that receives these gifts, these times, and this company with grace and gratitude.

In April, we’ll have another opportunity to resurrect a cherished practice of a larger-scale community meal within our walls – a chili lunch.  It’s a BYOB event… Bring Your Own Bowl.  The volunteer team has invited this initiative after recognizing the current limitations of our space for handling large volumes of dishes.  Clean-up can be quite a demanding task, especially as our kitchen does not currently have an industrial-grade dishwasher and sanitizing machine.  So we are asking for your assistance in bringing one dish for your chili, which you can look after at home.

Of course, our Property Team is looking into getting the hardware that would make these events easier with our inhouse serving ware.  But rather than wait for the ideal time when we might have a surplus of resources, we are making the time for warm fellowship and food now – this is the time we have.

So, my friends, we don’t know when we might have a time surplus, or a resource surplus, in an imagined future, which is why it pays off to invest in the present with the resources we have now, even when they might feel limited – they may well be more than we realize.

My friends, depending on what traditions are familiar to you, this coming Wednesday represents the beginning of the Lent season.  Some of you might know it as Ash Wednesday.  And the Lenten season can offer us an opportunity to reflect on some practices that we may already seek to uphold during “ordinary time”… but which may yet have fallen by the wayside, so the calendar offers us an additional excuse – an invitation – to pay extra attention to them.

Sometimes, the Lenten practice is framed as a fast, and in a narrow definition of fasting, it may mean reduced food intake, or giving up certain foods (or other things that we might put into our bodies).  But we can also look at a broader understanding of fasting as reducing those things that take more time and space in our lives than we’d like.  To turn them down a notch.  Paradoxically, these self-imposed limitations can open up room for more of those other things that we recognize as important in our lives… things that we wish we could turn up to 11, if only we had time and space for them – which we just might have… if we mindfully make it so.

My friends, our limitations (personal and collective) might be constraining and restrictive.  They are also invitations to take action and connect – however we may be able.  Scarcity can represent real hardship, and it may also be a guide in searching for the wealth that is available to us.

My friends, our community represents rich resources of time, space, warmth, and love.  A wealthy surplus of these may abound in the times and spaces where we are now.

May we search for that surplus together.

So may it be,
In the spirit of hidden wealth, in all its dimensions,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #288 All Are Architects
~)-| Words: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882
~)-| Music: Thomas Benjamin, 1940- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association

UUCC Music Director Anna Hamilton

Friendship Recession

February 12th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #299 Make Channels for the Streams of Love
Words: From Richard Chenevix Trench, 1807-1886
Music: American folk melody, arr. by Annabel Morris Buchanan, 1889-1983, © 1938, renewed 1966 J. Fischer & Bros. Co., harmony by Charles H. Webb, 1933- , © 1989 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.

Michael Tacy (15 August, 2020)

Sermon – Friendship Recession – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, and it is customary in our Canadian culture to highlight romantic relationships around this time.  Some of you may be planning a special dinner with a partner, or perhaps a card and gift exchange with them.

And… as if often the case with holidays, there may be some baggage around this holiday, as well.  Perhaps your partner is no longer around, and this time may highlight their absence.  Maybe you haven’t had a partner in while and the emphasis on romantic love brings up feelings of exclusion (I’ve been there before).  Or maybe a previous partnership has left scars or painful memories that don’t seem conducive to celebration.

Is there a way to expand the meaning and focus of this day beyond the romantic dimension?

As it turns out, when I was growing up in Mexico, Valentine’s Day was actually branded Love and Friendship Day (Día del Amor y la Amistad), such that romantic and platonic aspects of love were celebrated, offering a more inclusive holiday.  In some places in Latin America this can include a “secret friends” practice, similar to our “secret Santa” tradition.

I have to say that I originally found it puzzling when that side of the holiday wasn’t as prevalent here, when I first arrived in Canada – though I’ve seen versions of this expanded approach in elementary school and some workspaces, in which card and candy exchanges among peers is sometimes encouraged.

And, while holding friendships may be a more universal and inclusive experience than being in a current partnership, people who study populations have noticed that we may be having fewer friendships than what we used to have.

It seems that, amidst current talk of possible economic recessions, there may be a larger unseen recession going on… a friendship recession.

Last year, the Survey Center on American Life published findings that people currently report having fewer friends than before.

There are many reasons for this.  The pandemic has certainly played a role in how we engage socially, and has complicated the calculations we might make for social interaction.  But the trend goes beyond the past three years.  Curiously, one factor has been identified as “declining religious involvement”.

It has also been observed that one group is particularly vulnerable in the friendship front – men.  And this may be attributed to men being socialized to certain ideals of masculinity that discourage showing affection, or displaying vulnerability.  This may be another illustration that – at least in some respects – patriarchal systems hurt everyone.

Age also seems to come into play, as it seems that adults have a harder time striking up new friendships than children.

As children, and perhaps young adults, we spend time in school settings that might make forming friendships seem like a low-effort enterprise for many of us, as constant exposure to peers of similar age, sharing a similar experience, and perhaps sharing similar life outlooks, offer an environment where nearly any situation might expose you to potential pals.

Later adulthood, however, reveals a different reality, where making new friends often requires additional intentionality, and competing life priorities might easily drown out the importance of finding folks with whom we can find support, share vulnerability, and foster meaningful moments outside of work or home life.

Now, while it may be true that forming adult friendships often calls for some extra effort, it might not be as difficult as we might think.

For my partner and I, one of our newer friendships locally came by through a combination of happenstance as well as a measure of intentionality, and some willingness to take low-level risks.

A few years ago, not long after we arrived in the county, we attended a local agricultural fair.  Dropping by the open-air Sunday service at the fair, I felt that the guest minister had said things that resonated with me and my approach to spirituality and community.  After the service, I saw that he was hanging out near his church’s tent.  After a short contemplation, I thought: “Let’s go say ‘hi’.”

Depending on your own… level of comfort with meeting strangers, this might represent a measure of risk.  It could be an awkward meeting.  Maybe the new acquaintance might have no interest in interacting with you – and this could feel like rejection.  Or perhaps it may simply feel like too much effort, if you’re in a space where you’d rather be on your own.

But, if you’re looking for new connections, the stakes are probably worth it – and in all likelihood, the fears around them may be unfounded to begin with.  You may find that others are more likely to engage than you might expect.

After introducing myself to this colleague from a different tradition, we struck a comfortable conversation.  He and his wife were also fairly new to the area and didn’t mind meeting new people, as it turns out.  We got a dinner invitation on the spot.  This, too, might have represented a level of effort – or perhaps risk – on their part.  Either way, we found it to be worth it, and we continue to make space and time for us to hang out.  A couple weeks ago, the four of us went as a joint team at a trivia night, and we were excited to get to third place, being that we didn’t feel particularly knowledgeable about the subject matter (then again, the award placings weren’t the main point).

I have shared that this year, I’m following a theme of expanding connection and re-connection, and have found that phone contacts with friends and family I haven’t talked to in a while are easier to do than I sometimes lead myself to believe.  There’s sometimes a sense of inertia when you haven’t talked to someone in a while, and eventually, the reason you don’t call them is… because you haven’t called them.  My experience lately, is that they’re usually more than happy to hear from you again.

Here at the church of Olinda, our mission and practice include space for fostering friendship.  The words to our Chalice Lighting invite us to offer fellowship, and call us to one community of warmth and light. 

We see and hear concrete examples of this mission and practice.  We uphold traditions of shared community meals – established and re-emerging.  Some of you get together of your own account, building on your acquaintance from shared time and space in worship (and over the past weeks we have heard some of you sharing celebrations of these encounters).

Some of these manifestations come from the “institutional” dimension of our church, including the work of our Caring Committee, with an established mandate to connect with folks in vulnerable moments or facing prospects of isolation, as well as our Membership Team, who grow links among members and offer opportunities for community-building.  Some manifestations are more organic, as you seek out your own deepening relationships with members and participants. 

My friends, all of these require some level of effort and perhaps risk – and these are usually worth it.  And as we remain mindful of this intentionality, we build upon the wealth of camaraderie that can shield us from the hazards of a friendship recession.

My friends, there is no shame in reaching out and making connections – we need these.  During a holiday time that celebrates love, there is no need to limit the reach of affection to romantic relationships, which represent but one manifestation of special friendship.  And platonic friendships may offer special connection of their own.  Our platonic companions are more than “just” friends (as we sometimes call them), they are gifts of mutual support, havens for shared vulnerability, and sources of meaning-making.  Like any investment, there are some initial costs and require work, and they can be risky, but the rate of return can yield infinite results as they mature.

My friends, in our community of faith, we practice the co-creation of this special wealth, and in our wider communities, we also have opportunities to make valuable investments that can bring us out of a friendship recession.

So may it be,
In the spirit of friendship,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #18 What Wondrous Love
Words: American folk hymn
~)-| New Words by Connie Campbell Hart, 1929- © 1992 UUA
Melody: Melody from The Southern Harmony, 1835

Foothills Unitarian Church

National Sunday Service – Covenanting Through Transitions

February 4th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

This week, the Canadian Unitarian Council is hosting a National Service. This is an opportunity to see fellow Unitarian Universalists from across Canada!

You’re invited to join the service on Zoom (brief registration with name and e-mail address):

Join National Sunday Service – Covenanting Through Transitions Sunday, February 5 at 1PM

There is also the option to watch the livestream on the Canadian Unitarian Council‘s YouTube channel.

We will resume our regular Sunday morning services (10:30am), with in-person options, next week (Feb. 12).

Stories of Haiti

February 2nd, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Glen Jackson

Presentation originally offered on 22 January, 2023

Down a Notch

January 29th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – “These Go to 11” –

Excerpt from This is Spinal Tap (1984 “rockumentary”)

Video Reading –Take it Down a Notch – John Green | vlogbrothers

Author and vlogger John Green reflects on finding balance in 2023:

Sermon – Down a Notch – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

The 1984 mockumentary (or rather “rockumentary”) This is Spinal Tap, features a fictional metal rocker proudly displaying the equipment for his band’s amps, confidently explaining that the notches in regular amps go to 10, but his band’s dials “go to 11”.  The phrase “turning it up to 11” has since entered the popular imagination as a catchy phrase to illustrate taking things to the extreme, going the extra mile, or heading just a bit more beyond the limit – literally giving it 110%.

And pushing our limits is, indeed, one of the ways that we often think of growth.  In fact, we often encourage it in our spiritual communities, as going a bit out of our comfort zones can often offer novel experiences, new points of view and perspectives, and a wider sense of who we are and who we can become individually and as part of a community.

This can mean taking on new tasks or seeking ways to improve what we are already doing.  At our church, that can take the shape of stepping into a volunteer position, like joining a committee (or maybe chairing one), leading a service, offering to host a social gathering (at home or in our building), or helping out with the practical and logistical needs of making a place homey and welcoming.

For many of you this may be an expansion of what you already do.  Or, it could be an entirely new thing altogether, which can be exciting and scary at the same time.  Speaking in front of people can do that for some of us, even more so when there are a lot of moving parts.

At the same time, self-improvement can take a seemingly opposite – but complementary – shape.  Instead of turning it up to 11, it is also a perfectly legitimate option to take it down a notch from time to time.

Setting boundaries, or finding where our limitations are, can also be a practice of personal growth.  Sometimes, the need to take it down a notch may be the result of recognizing that pushing some limits may simply not do us – or others – much good.

Other times, it may be that we find newer limits, which can come from changing life circumstances, health issues, emerging personal needs, or the transforming needs of a community.

There is also the possibility that allowing space for less may open up space for more in other dimensions of our lives, which might have been neglected, or could otherwise use more attention – turning it down a notch so that we may devote 11 where it’s needed more.  As we head into the Lenten season in February, we sometimes explore how having less, or doing less, of something can make space for more of what we might me missing.

Or… in turning it down a notch, we may open up space for someone else to expand their limits – going down to 9 so that someone else may have some room to move into 11.

Perhaps it isn’t so much one’s actions that need turning down, but it’s expectations that could use coming down a notch.  Be these some expectations of oneself, or the expectations we have of others.  Maybe it’s OK if all we can offer is an 8 – or a 7 – and it’s worth remembering this when others aren’t in a position to go to 11… or, maybe they are at 11 but we may be using different scales with different units, an altogether different standard.

The author and vlogger John Green has made it his goal in 2023 to “take it down a notch”.  With many projects on the go, he’s come to recognize that a lot of his life involves turning it up to 11, but he’s seeing that this is not sustainable.  Green is not much older than me, and he may look quite young to many of you, but the truth is that all ages have spots when it might make sense to take it down a notch, even if those spots might come up more often later in life.

Now that I’m in middle age (as I’ve recently been reminded), I too find that there are some areas where I could use turning it down a notch.  It’s become abundantly clear to me that I cannot keep the same lifestyle that I had in my school days (and often that’s probably a good thing).  And many things may be true at the same time – I still find spots where I might do well in turning it up to 11… or at least keeping it at 10.

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that one of my personal themes for this year is deeper connection – or reconnection – with friends and family, so I’m turning my efforts to reach out to them up to 11.  I’ve also found it helpful to be more mindful about some of my expectations, and turning some of these down a notch helps make it easier to be satisfied with others’ efforts, as well as with my own sense of accomplishment.  A little anticippointment can go a long way.

Here at our church, you may have seen that some folks take on a number of roles, and there are good reasons why many of you do.  You may well enjoy these roles, or find them otherwise fulfilling in what you accomplish through them.  You may be well-suited to the task.  And you may also do them with a sense that no one else might take them on if you don’t.

Maybe you’ve been wondering if you can assist on these tasks, or even filling in when someone else is ready for a break.  And perhaps some time and space has opened up for you and you’re ready to take on something that wasn’t as feasible before.  Some of you are already being part of making these kinds of transition happen.

Because that is how a community like ours can run – not just through the efforts of devoted folks who take leadership, but also owing to the spaces made possible by sharing our ministry.  And by recognizing that not all of our expectations from ourselves and the community may be fulfilled at a given time – some may take longer, some may not be realistic at all, or anymore.  Alongside our shared efforts, a measure of grace goes a long way.

My friends, now that January is nearly over, we’ve had a chance to test out our emerging goals and outlooks for the year.  Perhaps you’ve identified a theme that resonates with you as you’ve found something that you want more of in your life… or something you want less of.

Taking it down a notch, my friends, is a legitimate way to take care of oneself, and of others.  And it is also an invitation for those who are thinking of taking 11 out for a spin – or even trying out 9, or 8.

My friends, there are times and there are spaces for pushing the limits, and there are times and spaces for acknowledging limitations.  There also times and spaces to offer ourselves and others a measure of grace.

May we allow ourselves these times and these spaces.

So may it be,
In the spirit of balance,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #94 What Is This Life
Words: William Henry Davies, 1869-1941
Music: A. D. Carden’s Missouri Harmony, 1820

Community UU Congregation at White Plains

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