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

Reconciling With Indiana Jones

December 5th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

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

Sermon – Reconciling With Indiana Jones – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Hymn Channel (3 June, 2016)


Change is Nature

November 28th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service, hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council and led by Unitarian Universalist Youth and Young Adults.

Watch:

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

with Closed Captioning


Knickers in a Knot

November 21st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – World Toilet Day

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

Reading – Deuteronomy 23:12-13

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

Sermon – Knickers in a Knot – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Interpreted by Julie Stubbs (4 September, 2020)


Life Saving

November 14th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #123 Spirit of Life
Words & music: Carolyn McDade, 1935 © 1981 Carolyn McDade
~)-| harmony by Grace Lewis-McLaren, 1939- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
spirit of life 8.12.8.12.8.10

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

Time for All Ages – Canadian Heritage Minutes

Heritage Minute – The Discovery of Insulin (2021)

Sermon – Life Saving – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF version available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,
In Solidarity and faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #139 Wonders Still the World Shall Witness
~)-| Words: Jacob Trapp, 1899-1992, © 1981 Jacob Trapp
Music: Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlities en Contradanseu, c. 1710
Tune IN BABILONE

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


Anti-Racism as Spiritual Practice

November 7th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

Offered by Hillside Community Church (18 June, 2021)

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

Watch:

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

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (1 May, 2020)


November 2021 Newsletter

November 2nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


Lamentations

October 31st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #128 For All That Is Our Life
~)-| Words: Bruce Findlow, 1922-
Music: Patrick L. Rickey, 1964- , © 1992 UUA
Tune SHERMAN ISLAND

Rev. Christopher Watkins Lamb for Foothills Unitarian Church (9 August, 2020)

Time for All Ages – “What is Day of the Dead?” – Religion for Breakfast

“What is Day of the Dead?” – Religion for Breakfast, with Dr. Andrew Chesnut (24 October, 2021)

Remembrance Ceremony

These morning, many of our members shared memories of their dearly departed.

The photos in this printable slideshow are being shared with permission.

Honoring our Ancestors (printable slideshow)

Reflection – Lamentations – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Lamentation, Celebration, and Gratitude can often come together.  These are strong – sometimes contradictory – emotional realities that can coexist.  When we remember and honour our ancestors, as many of us did this morning, we are bound the feel the sadness, maybe the pain of loss that came with their death.

Somewhere along the line, it can also be difficult to escape the joy that loved ones have brought us, recalling the delight of their company, the laughter that came with times together.  And along all this, we can build a practice of gratitude, being thankful for the opportunity we had to share our lives, even if briefly.

These don’t necessarily happen all at once, but somewhere along the journey, it is common for these to blend in a bittersweet brew – these realities can coexist.

My friends, this has been a difficult year, as we have been witnesses to death at a larger scale than usual.  Even for those among us whose life may have been less impacted by death in your immediate life, we have all been reminded of its presence with more frequency, just about every day.  This was a reality we faced late last year, and so we do again late in this year.

Also, toward the end of last year, we began to see many glimmers of hope toward ending the crisis of the pandemic, and this year has allowed us to witness parts of that hope bearing fruit.  Most of us here are walking participants in the efforts to contain the pandemic and effectively reducing the risks that come with it.

These realities co-exist.

In addition to the losses that we have named today, we are also paying our respects to the many deaths we know about around the world.  As of this morning, the death count from Covid-19 is about to cross the threshold into 5 million deaths.  That’s 5 million confirmed deaths… it is estimated that the true total is already much higher than that.  With similar grimness, it is likely that, this coming month, the total confirmed number of cases will surpass a quarter of a billion.

Alongside these realities, we can also express gratitude to the many souls who have given of their lives, and sometimes their very lives, in the work of taking care of us and those we love.  The healthcare workers, the care staff, the scientists, the retail and grocery workers, the first responders, and too many people and professions to name.  Some of them died doing what they love, others continue, sometimes wondering if they still love what they do.  All of them offering and having had offered essential service.  And for that we are grateful.

Just as the tally of deaths and infections are nearing grim thresholds, there are other inspiring thresholds we are facing.  Within the next few days, total doses of vaccines are on track to surpass 7 billion.  Of course, due to the multiple required doses of many vaccines, the total vaccination rate is lower – still, this coming week, we are likely to see that half of the world’s population has received at least one dose, and already, significantly more than a third of the world population has been fully vaccinated.

These are both encouraging and disappointing numbers.  It is incredible that we have reached those levels of immunization over the past year – many authorities doubted it would be possible to even begin that process by this time of this year.  And still, the numbers are not quite where they need to be to really offer the protection needed for everyone to be safe, particularly many who remain among the most vulnerable populations to begin with.

My friends all these realities can coexist, and we can acknowledge them together.

My friends, today we sit with lamentation, we are open to celebration, and we offer our gratitude.

My friends, today we live with these realities, and we honour them together.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in love, in faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #322 Thanks Be for These
~)-| Words: Richard Seward Gilbert, 1936- , and
~)-| Joyce Timmerman Gilbert, 1936 , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Hungarian Melody, 16th cent.,
~)-| arr. by Robert L. Sanders, 1906-
Tune TRANSYLVANIA

Jess Huetteman (27 March, 2021)


Spending the Allowance

October 24th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #126 Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Words: v. 1 Robert Robinson, 1735-1790, adapt.,
~)-| vs. 2-3, Eugene B. Navias, 1928-
Music: John Wyeth, Repository of Sacred Music, Part II, 1813
Tune NETTLETON

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (28 February, 2021)

Sermon – Spending the Allowance – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

A couple years ago, I mentioned that disclosing to a new acquaintance that I am a minister of religion can lead to… interesting conversations.  And a common outcome of this kind of conversation can be a kind of litany of questions about what I am “allowed” to do.  These are often questions about what kind of family I can have (or if I can have any kind of family), or about what lifestyle I can lead, including what I can eat or drink, or about what I am allowed to say – sometimes people wonder if can swear.

I’m often amused by this kind of conversation.  It’s not that it’s entirely unexpected – there is baggage that comes with religion and the people involved in it – but it strikes me that the question of what is allowed, and of what rules we’re expected to follow, often seems to take a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to what actually occupies my mind in ministry, or what drew me to this community of faith in the first place.

And it turns out that we do have a set of rules, or at least a code of conduct that we pledge to observe.  This happens to include some firm directives, though it is largely a set of guidelines that outline a set of best practices toward a more responsible ministry.

And if you’re still wondering, swearing is not specifically prohibited, though there are some guidelines around appropriate speech, which might often be interpreted as a call to be… judicious when using hard language.

This question of how we use speech has been particularly trendy over the last several years, both in society at large, as well as in the Unitarian Universalist community.

There are times when someone’s speech has been harmful to others, and the people who are harmed can often include folks who have been already marginalized by varied systems of oppression.  I have seen that when this kind of harmful speech is named, the conversation is often framed as a matter of what people are “allowed” to say, and harmful speech is defended as exercise in free speech.

And it can be true that most kinds of harmful speech are protected by our legal and cultural norms of free speech.  It can also be true that naming it for the harms that it does is also an exercise in free speech itself.  I find that, when framing it as a matter of whether it’s allowed or not, it kind of misses the larger point around the value that speech, and how it is used, has on our society, our communities, and our relationships.  I also find that, in many cases when people claim that their speech is being disallowed, the people making that claim already have an extensive platform, which they are usually free to continue using.

As a minister of religion, I have been entrusted with a somewhat high-profile platform… sometimes literally, as I do when I stand on the chancel that holds up the pulpit in our building.  By definition, my job is largely to say things for people to hear them.  I not only have the freedom of speech that most of us enjoy in this country, but I also have, contractually and by tradition, the freedom of the pulpit.  From a certain perspective, this could be interpreted as me being able to say pretty much whatever I want.

But I don’t.

It may perhaps surprise some of you that, in my work, a good deal of the thought and time that I put in it, is in fact spent deciding on things that I won’t say… that I realize I don’t want to say, or that perhaps I don’t’ need to say.  In other words, I filter my speech.

Now some folks might consider this practice of filtering as censoring myself… and depending on how you define or view censorship, that might be true.  But most of the time, I don’t really see it that way – rather, I see it as being disciplined so that my free speech may also be – as Buddhist teachings call it – right speech… useful speech, helpful speech, responsible speech.

And while this might make the work more challenging, and I may well at times feel hindered by this practice, I actually feel – in the balance – quite liberated.  Because even within the constraints that I am held by – often, by which I choose to hold myself – I have a great deal of freedom… in fact, the constraints that I accept allow me to have an enduring freedom to say what I feel is necessary.

This works at different levels.

At a merely practical – perhaps even cynical – level, we could say that it’s simply a matter of self-interest.  It is in my self-interest to watch my speech.

Just as our tradition recognizes and affirms our religious professionals’ freedom of the pulpit, it also proclaims a congregation’s freedom of the purse.  It is, ultimately the congregation which calls a minister, and it is the congregation which… makes decisions on ministerial transitions.  And you’ll be aware that this isn’t just theoretical either, our tradition has ample examples of congregations exercising this prerogative.  So, at a basic level, it may make sense that I watch what I say, lest my speech lead to some harder conversations.

But this particular scenario is not usually what I have in mind when I filter my speech.  The kind of consequences that I tend to worry about are much broader, and include considerations that are as much for others’ sake as they are for my sake.

Because if I don’t watch my speech, and speak irresponsibly, I’m aware that I may hurt someone, or break trust and perhaps lead to the breakdown of relationships, not to mention hinder my ability to lead in this community.  There is still an element of self-interest, in that these are not things that I want for myself – and they come with a consideration that it is also against the community’s interest.

So, the real reason for a practice of considered speech – “filtering” my speech – is a more essential philosophical and theological concern with how it will impact where I am and who I am with.  It is neither entirely selfish nor selfless… it’s something I like to think about as “self-full” – a practice that will help me cultivate a more wholesome relationship with all whom I interact with.

And this doesn’t mean that I only look to say things that will please… it is my job, contractually and by tradition, to say things that may be challenging or uncomfortable, even if these might seem unpopular in the moment.  My covenant is to choose speech that will direct this church toward greater spiritual growth.

And this is where the question shifts from a matter of what I am allowed to say, to a question of what makes sense for me to say that will serve us better.  And when ministry is based on service, being thoughtful about what is said and how it’s said – considering how it will serve – then speech can be ministry.

Now I’ve spent a lot of time speaking about how this applies to my ministry, and that’s partly because these are pretty central parts of my profession and my vocation.  It’s literally my job, as I stand on this platform.

Here’s the kicker – this is also part of your ministry… it is part of our shared ministry.

My friends, in our free and responsible search for truth and meaning, we covenant to enjoy and exercise our access to options, to experiment, and be ready to fail so that we may learn from mistakes or occasionally, as Bob Ross might say, “happy accidents”.  We also covenant to practice and perform actions that are considered and considerate, to follow a discipline and a discipleship that invites us to think before acting – while being bold enough not to overthink, lest our actions lose impact.  This covenant invites us to employ a measure of self-regulation, of self-evaluation, of self-reflection.  That is another practice of accountability.

My friends, this accountability does not mean that every single word has to be correct – accountability does not demand perfection.  It is impossible to imagine every single outcome from what we say and how it will impact others.  It does mean that when our understanding of our speech is invited to expand in considering others more thoughtfully, we may be open to listen and grow into deeper relationship.

My friends, our covenantal tradition offers space for grace, and it calls us to spiritual growth.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in covenant, in faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #182 O, the Beauty in a Life
~)-| Words: Based on a text by Bishop Toribio Quimada
Music: Traditional Visayan (Filipino) folk tune
Tune QUIMADA

Sandra Hunt and Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert (Unitarian Church of Montreal) (21 May 2021)



Hope

October 17th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #347 Gather the Spirit
~)-| Words & music: Jim Scott, 1946- , © 1990 Jim Scott
Tune GATHER THE SPIRIT

Performed by the UU Society of Grafton and Upton, Massachusetts (22 December, 2020)

Time for All Ages – Jane Goodall on How Kids Can Make a Difference

Posted by T.A. Barron (5 April, 2018)

Homily – Hope – Sarah Wert

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

In the past, I have undergone periods of deep depression. These are times that are prominently marked by the fact that I am unable to have any hope. During these times, my future seems utterly bleak and empty. Months pass in meaninglessness until suddenly a subtle undercurrent of hope returns to my outlook on life.

About 7 years ago, I had been living for many months in a profound state of depression, during which I was sure that nothing good could come out of my life, just by virtue of who I was as a person. But one day I found myself online, searching the Bath Bed and Beyond website for items to newly furnish the home I shared with Rod.

Rod would tell me later that he knew my depression was on the wane when he noticed me searching for cushions and rugs that would make our living space cozier to live in – in the future. I was once again able to feel that life could be worth living, that life was worth planning for, that life could be meaningful. Hope was returning to me, even if I hadn’t been able to realize it myself at first. And something striking was that it was returning without much effort on my part. Also, once hope had been re-established in my psyche, it was as if it had never left.

I suppose I’d never really thought very much about what hope actually is. Perhaps I’d taken it for granted that, as American poet Emily Dickenson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

But, As I’ve already illustrated, there have been times when hope has stopped for me. This fact got me thinking:  If hope is such a crucial part of life, how, then, was I able to continue? The conclusion I came to is this: the people who love me – Rod, my family, my friends – held onto hope in my stead when I could not. They nurtured a sense of hope in the world – as well as maintaining hope in me myself, believing that life was abundantly worthwhile, and believing that I was a worthwhile person – and that I had the capacity to recover.

But it took hard work and dedication for my loved ones to keep hope within their grasp. It took being very intentional and it took pushing forward, even when I made that difficult for them, even if unintentionally, because of my hopeless outlook.

Upon reflecting on this, I realized two things: 1) that my understanding of hope is that it is fostered and maintained through connections and community, and 2) that hope requires hard work. Mariame Kaba, an American activist and educator whose work focuses on transformative justice, among other things, conceives of hope as a discipline. This resonates with me. If I am to truly embody hope, I need to make my goals clear and to dedicate myself to achieving them.

But I think it’s important to make a distinction between hope and optimism. As described by Arthur Brooks in his column for the Atlantic,  

optimism is the belief that things will turn out all right; hope makes no such assumption but is a conviction that one can act to make things better in some way

Dr. Jane Goodall, who was featured in the video clip I played earlier, is someone who has very much made the world a better place. She is also  a profoundly hopeful person. She is acutely aware of the trauma and turmoil that envelops our world, and she is not entirely optimistic about the future of our planet but she has, throughout her long and illustrious career, worked exceedingly hard to bring about change.

Dr. Goodall is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking work demonstrating that chimpanzees use tools, but her legacy goes so far beyond that, including conservation work and seemingly tireless activism that has inspired people around the world to themselves take action.

One thing she has done is to found an educational program called Roots and Shoots that inspires young people to realize their capacity for bringing about environmental change in the world, and although Roots and Shoots began in 1991 with 12 students in Tanzania, there are now Roots and Shoots groups running in over 100 countries.

Goodall has stated that her reasons for hope are human intellect, the resiliency of nature, when given a chance, the enthusiasm and determination of young people when they know the problems and are empowered to take action, and the indomitable human spirit.  As someone who works with children on a daily basis, I very much agree with her assessment of the enthusiasm and determination of young people! There is so much zeal and strength and character, and indomitable spirit in each infant I have the privilege of interacting with.

An older demographic than infants, but still quite young, is Generation Z, people born between roughly 1997 and 2012. This is painting them with a broad brush, I know, but a couple key characteristics of this generation include that, more than previous generations, they embrace diversity, and that they are politically progressive. I find this to be profoundly hopeful.

Members of Generation Z who are making real change in the world include indigenous water-defender Autumn Peltier, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on children’s rights to education. Each of these remarkable individuals has been instrumental in inspiring entire movements full of people supporting each other in doing the work of hope – and holding hope for each other when they veer toward hopelessness.

My hope is that we may all hold hope for one another, as a community of generosity, dedication and love.

Copyright © 2021 Sarah Wert

Hymn #161 Peace! The Perfect Word
Words: Odell Shepard, 1884-1967
Music: From The Southern Harmony, 1835, harmonized by Alastair Cassels-Brown, 1927- , arr. © 1982 The Church Pension Fund
Tune CHARLESTON

Posted by Unitarian Universalists San Luis Obispo (27 September, 2021)



What We Count On

October 10th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #67 We Sing Now Together
~)-| Words: Edwin T. Buehrer, 1894-1969, alt © UUA
Music: Adrian Valerius’s Netherlandtsch Gedenckclanck, 1626,
arr. by Edward Kremser, 1838-1914
Tune KREMSER

Posted by Paul Thompson for the UUCP in Moscow ID

Sermon – What We Count On – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

Last week I mentioned that, leading up to seminary, I started reading a certain book.  Today, I won’t get into the specifics of the book, other than to say that I re-read it again into my first year of seminary and brought it out wherever I might have a bite to eat or wherever I might have some time to sit around.

And one of those places was a greasy-spoon around the corner from the university.  They had all-day breakfast, including a “student special”, and I found it convenient that it was less than a five-minute walk to most of my classes.

Suffice it to say that I came around there a few times per week.  It didn’t take long before the server began to ask me if I’d have “the usual”.  And I found it unexpectedly comforting that I had someone who would ask me that question.

It didn’t take much longer until I could simply walk into the diner, plunk myself down on a seat, open my book, and – when I looked up a few minutes later – there would be a warm cup of coffee, right next to a plate, with the right number eggs, done the way I liked them, with my favourite sides, and my preferred bread done how I needed it to be done.

Now, I haven’t gone into any of the specifics of my breakfast preferences… but you know who knew all those details?  My regular server.  She knew the specs without flaw.  I came to count on it.

There are times when a pattern like this might seem, or feel, like a rut… a stubborn monotony that could use livening up.  But during those school years, juggling a heavy course load, and a shifting work schedule, that breakfast student special was a welcome anchor to my week.  I knew that, whether it was early in the morning, or late in the afternoon, I could walk in and find a meal.  I knew what it would cost, how much it would feed me, how much I’d enjoy it, and who would serve it to me, without even having to ask – we’d save our words for chitchat instead.  I could count on it.

There were other unexpected details that I started counting on… as much as I fancied myself a regular, I learned that there were higher calibre regulars.  Even though this diner categorically did not take reservations, there was always one booth with a “reserved” sign on it between 11am and 1pm, for the lady that lived upstairs and who always ate lunch there.  The diner could count on her being there, and they reserved her place.  I once made the mistake of sitting on the “forbidden booth” during lunchtime, and my server politely explained the situation, as she offered me another seat, before going to get me “the usual”.

Of course, in life, there are very few absolutes.  Some things did change.  Occasionally, my regular server might have been off duty and I’d have to spell out my usual order.  A couple times, I did have to give the server a heads-up that I was in the mood for something different that particular day.  At least once, inflation crept in, and the student special had a slightly different price tag – still a good deal, but the dollar amount was higher than when I first started going there.

One day, I noticed that the “reserved” sign was nowhere to be seen during lunchtime, and my regular server assured me that, yes, I could go sit on the “forbidden booth” – turns out the regular lady had moved out to a different condo.

Eventually, I moved out, as I followed my calling and took a ministerial internship in another city.  What we count on will change along with our circumstances and our needs.

Noticing these things that we count on – even if only for stretches at a time – is part of the practice of gratitude that can enrich our lives by replenishing our “wellness accounts”.  And if we do our housekeeping, at least every so often, we might find that we are richer than we thought.  And in Canada, this weekend is just one of those times when we intentionally set ourselves out to do just that.

We spoke last week about the housekeeping that comes with taking account of our stories and our histories.  This includes taking a sincere look at our lives as they are, affirmations and painful moments alike, so that we may have a better sense of who we are, how we might be more of who we think we are, who we want to be, and how we want to be.

An honest account – or at least, as honest as we can make it – is key to making real progress for ourselves, our communities, and all our relations.  And failing to do this can land us in trouble.

It so happens that Canadian Thanksgiving tends to land around the same time as the somewhat newly-established Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States, on October 11 this year.  This is around the date that was originally observed as the anniversary of the Christopher Columbus landing in the Caribbean in 1492… a date which symbolizes the beginning of colonialism in the Americas, and which, until recently, was widely called “Columbus Day” in the United States.

Of course, U.S. Thanksgiving falls later in the year, and its story has also been mythologized in a way that depicts a rather incomplete and inaccurate account of colonialism in North America.

Here, we just had a newly-established National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last month.  So, this is a time in both countries, when we can also make and renew intentions toward a more wholesome understanding and awareness of our history, in the journey toward truth, toward healing, toward reconciliation.  That’s part of remaining accountable to each other and all our relations.

We have also talked about how giving thanks – acts of gratitude – can be a kind of accountability.  As it, too, is an exercise in deepening awareness.

In much the same way that some of the more difficult parts of our stories can sometimes be glossed over when we record our stories in a certain way – hindering us from really taking stock of our reality – it can also be true that we sometimes forget to keep track of those things that sustain us, that can keep us going, that can bring joy into our lives.  And losing track of these can also get us into trouble.

Now, when exercising gratitude, it can be tempting to proceed as if blessings and curses were “assets” and “liabilities” in a regular “ledger” account, where one of each would cancel the other out… making it some kind of game in which the left and right columns fight each other out to see if we can stay in the black, lest we find ourselves in the red.

But a more helpful practice of gratitude might be in taking a slightly different logic.  Rather than tallying up our problems, and see if counting our blessings can “cancel” out our “deficits”, a more radical thanksgiving might look, not at ignoring or forgetting our issues, and rather seek clarity and awareness in what can sustain us through them.

As we’ve discussed, ignoring or forgetting our issues – our “liabilities” – can land us in trouble, and stall real improvements.  Naming these, in fact, can be quite liberating… sometimes, that’s all we need when we seek out a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on.

A radical gratitude, in turn, does not call us to skip over these “liabilities”, and rather look at what else we have with us, alongside everything else that is in our lives.  This is to say, taking stock of our “wellness account” – the “assets” that can keep us company, maybe even get us through the tough times.

What these are, the things that we count on, can be very personal.  Very often, people will name… people as their assets – friends, family, communities.  What we count on can also be places – home, the places you live in, the neighbourhood, the local place where you might be a regular.  What we count on can be activities, sports or exercise, comfort watching favourite shows or movies… relaxing, when possible, can be one of those anchors that we count on.  What we count on can even be things – a dear keepsake, an heirloom, a photo, a memento.

My friends, in this community, we count on each other.  Sometimes, things might look a bit different, as circumstances and needs change.  The people that have served our church change from time to time, lay and ordained.  The way we gather, the way we stay connected, the way we do worship, the way we do church – these have shifted and will continue to shift.

My friends, we may count on one another, even as each of us and our community continues to face challenges and struggles.  My friends, we may exercise the practice of radical gratitude, not by overlooking or ignoring whatever painful or unpleasant experiences we have, but by counting on all that which carries us through all of it, and by celebrating that which we care to honour.  Radical gratitude offers us not a way to “outcount our deficits” but a practice toward being more deeply aware of what is with us.

My friends, so may we be graced.
In Solidarity, in Love, in Gratitude
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #70 Heap High the Farmer’s Wintry Hoard
Words: John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892
Music: American folk melody, arr. by Annabel Morris Buchanan, 1899-1983, © 1938, renewed 1966 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.,
harm. by Charles H. Webb, 1933- , © 1989 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.
Tune LAND OF REST

Brian Mittge (22 November, 2020)


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