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

September 2023 Newsletter

September 1st, 2023 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Pawley Lecture 2023 | Carolyn Davies

June 25th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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



June 18th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Showtune for All Ages – You’ll Never Walk Alone – Ferenc Molnár – interpreted by Gerry & The Pacemakers

Sermon – Encourage – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

During the spring of 2020, author, vlogger, and Liverpool football fan John Green wrote a series of essays exploring how he feels about the many human things that he encounters in his life.  This became his collection The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet.  His opening chapter is about the showtune “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and how it brought him great comfort throughout the Pandemic.

Although he admits that he finds the song somewhat cheesy, he also finds a truth in it about the importance of carrying on, with an invitation to consider that, even when one feels alone, we aren’t necessarily so.  He particularly appreciates that, alongside its call to go on, it doesn’t gloss over the fact that tragedy is there.  He notes how the song is sung by fans of the Liverpool Football Club both in celebration and in lamentation.

Green cites a moment when medical professionals encourage one another by singing the song, through a glass wall, reminding each other that things are tough, and that they are not alone, as colleagues cheer on their colleagues.  And they do that with a song that brings fond memories, and which acknowledges hard times.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” may not be your particular flavour, but you may have other songs, anthems, hymns, that bring out that bitter and sweet reminder that times can be tough, and that there are others out there, somewhere, who share in your feelings, and who can be there for you.

Or maybe it’s not a song that you find encouraging… it might be something that can be done together.

This past month, many Indigenous folks in our country began an online “challenge” to pose as mermen… men in mermaid-like poses.  Why? To bring some more fun into the Indigenous community… a bit of the humour in daily life that has fostered resilience in their shared experiences; to challenge perceptions of masculinity, and play around with the way men can look in public; to encourage each other through the reality of hard times they have lived through – and which they want to live through.

They posed a “challenge” to remind each other… that they were there for each other.  They challenged each other to remind their community that they’d never walk alone.  That, yes, they might feel alone… that the world is not always a just or a happy place, but that they’d be there.  That they can laugh together, and do something together, to show to each other that they will go on.

In interviews about their participation, some of the men expressed initially feeling a degree of embarrassment, or discomfort, in posing for the pictures… the challenge was indeed challenging for them to follow through with.  And… they also felt they wanted to engage, to participate in a showing of mutual support.  And maybe even find out that it was a worthwhile experience all along, to encourage each other, through all that the Indigenous experience can entail.  Even if that means pretending to don on the tail of merfolk.

Merfolk are back in vogue these days, perhaps in part because of the live-action remake of the animated classic The Little Mermaid, which has recently come out in theatres.  The original film has become a lot of things, since it came out in 1989.  It is was a commercial success, it was a critical success, it is an Academy Award-winning cartoon (which is rather rare), it is also considered the beginning of what is now called the Disney Renaissance.

For me, it is a reminder of my dad, and what his fatherhood looked like when I was a kid in Mexico.

I fondly remember when my dad took me to a movie theatre in Mexico City called the Disney Castle, which specialized in children’s features, to see the new animation feature that would usher in that new golden age of Disney movies – The Little Mermaid.

My dad has never been a fan of singing in movies, but he understood that taking his kid to the newest animated feature was one way to embody late 20th-century fatherhood, and he endured the singing that came with the cartoon crab, and the mermaids prancing around with fish and stingrays, dubbed in Spanish to the Oscar-winning calypso tune of Under the Sea.

I recently watched the new live action remake, and despite whatever cynicism may come with this latest wave of Disney remakes… I gotta tell you, I was hopping when I heard the opening chords to Under the Sea.  It brought up those fond memories of that time my father took me to see The Little Mermaid, at the Disney Castle theatre in Mexico City, whatever his misgivings might have been.

A lot of things come with fatherhood and parenting, and it’s hard to get it right all the time.  That’s true of my dad, and I suspect it may be true for those of you who’ve had fathers, or who have been fathers, or who have experienced parenting in any way.

Along with that reality, my dad has done a lot of things right, teaching me how to get hydrogen out of water for science fair projects, how to write clearly and concisely, how to think critically about the news of the world and about pursuing responsible spiritual learning and practice.  And about the value of sitting through some discomfort, from time to time, for the sake of duty to self and others. 

He has encouraged my growth, and has been part of the choir that reminds me that I don’t go it alone, even when it feels that way.

He has also taken me to the sea, at the movies and in real life – partly for his sake as he has pursued his passion of exploring the ocean, as well as for my sake as I pursued my passion of… being a kid in the water, around and under the sea.

And the showtune Under the Sea will always be part of that.

Showtunes have often been seen as a staple in the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ experience.  They can remind folks in sexual and gender minorities that there is a community out there that has their back, that also lives their pain – the real pain of exclusion; that shares their celebration and their pride, even when they feel alone.  That there is a family for everyone, be it a family of birth, or a family of choice.

A spiritual family of choice is what Norbert ?apek had in mind when he led the Liberal Religious Fellowship in Prague, in then Czechoslovakia.  A hundred years ago, he understood that people were often left out from some communion services that excluded folks who did not subscribe to a Trinitarian understanding of the sacred, or who were not included in the bread and wine celebrations at other communities of faith.

He wanted to include anyone who would partake in a shared ritual.  Sharing in the beauty of a flower with others, no matter your religious or spiritual background, or your gender.  He understood that flowers can transcend artificial norms of masculinity or gender expectations, that they called on our common human experience and appreciation for the sacred, and to our drive to remind each other that we are not alone, even when we feel that way.

A hundred years ago, Norbert ?apek, his wife Maja, and those around them found that a ritual based on accessibility was a way to encourage each other, through difficult times.

On days like today, my friends, we are often invited to participate in this, now-centennial practice.

The flowers that we share in a Flower Celebration are brought in by others, who share our space and our time, and when we take a flower, we can bring, in a sense, those other people along with us, as a reminder that there are others out there, alongside us.

Even when we are on our own, my friends, and when we may feel alone, because we will, flowers shared can be a reminder on days like today, that we’ll never really go it alone.

Be it a shared flower, my friends, a shared song, or a shared cause, encouragement can take many forms.

My friends, may we seek such encouragement in its many forms.

So may it be,
In the spirit of diverse mutual encouragement,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #78 Color and Fragrance
~)-| Words: Norbert F. ?apek, 1870-1942
~)-| trans. by Paul and Anita Munk, © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
~)-| English version by Grace Ulp, 1926-
~)-| Music: Norbert F. ?apek, 1870-1942

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

Stone Soup

June 11th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Stone Soup

As interpreted by the Canadian Food Grains Bank, a faith-based charity to reduce global hunger

Stone Soup: A Traditional Folk Tale | Canadian Food Grains Bank

Sermon – Stone Soup – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

As we celebrated our building, and the stones that it is built upon, we considered the value of a physical place like the one in which we often gather, in offering a home for our community.  And we explored the… complexity of coexisting realities, as we saw that we had options for gathering, including virtual and online options – which offered their own set of advantages… and drawbacks.

We acknowledged a newer understanding that it is… possible for a church to survive without a building – we were witness to that for well over year (and on-and-off since then).  We also recognized that a physical gathering space goes beyond the ability to survive, rather offering tools to thrive, by inviting deeper connections, and sharing interpersonal warmth, in a way that is much more challenging through telecommunications alone.  The literal stones upon which I often speak, can add… something special.

Something special is the role of the stone in the story of Stone Soup, in which a clever character begins cooking soup with nothing more than a pot, water, and a stone, eventually inspiring a community of limited means to pool their resources, by suggesting this “magical” soup would taste better with a few vegetable “garnishes” and the odd savoury additions, begetting a hearty meal that nourishes everyone.

As it turns out, the stone is not strictly necessary for the eventual soup to exist – all the other ingredients are already there, somewhere – but sometimes, a stone is essential for all of it to incorporate into something that feeds a community.  It became a good excuse to come together.

I often speak of church, and church time, as a good excuse to get together.  This space, and the spaces that come from it in other forms, can draw on the magic that is already there, somewhere, to truly become miraculous.

And that is the other lesson in the story of Stone Soup, the integral value of the people, who come together, and make something greater than they could on their own – to serve one another.

Today, we make another space to recognize those magic ingredients that come together.  We’ve been witness to them right here, be it sitting in the pews, watching or listening from home, or reading online or on paper.

This very building, came up and stays up, because of the magic of volunteers who look after it, offering time, physical effort, sometimes money, often… enduring headaches, to maintain this a place where we have the option of gathering.  Without them, there is no pot.

The major decisions that allow our community to function, act in good faith and follow best practices, are made real by the work of volunteer directors on the Board, and by subsequent follow-ups in the Governance Documents Committee, and the Finance Committee.  These may not always sound like the most glamorous titles, but they are necessary and essential.  Without them, the pot tips and holds no water.

The music that we hear every Sunday is only a reality by the devotion of lay talents that folks share with us, who put themselves in the vulnerable and venerable position to perform for us and with us.  Without them, the fire fails to catch.

The opportunity to gather or receive a Sunday service, and receive perspectives and inspiration from professional, lay, and guest speakers only comes about through the work of the Sunday Services Committee, who make preparations and facilitate services, and the Techs who enable that connection, in real time.  That includes lay folks who participate in each service, often literally lighting the fire.

The possibility of learning about, and doing something about, the issues that affect our wider communities opens up through the spaces made and identified by the Social Responsibility Committee, where we can seek ways to work collectively and individually in the service of humanity.  To find what is in the pantry that we haven’t thought about offering to serve each other.

The opportunities to learn more about our spirituality and deepen it, outside of Sunday or pulpit time, come from leadership and participants in our Lifespan Learning Team.  A seasoning that adds that special flavour.

The food and refreshments that we enjoy after a service, sometimes modest, sometimes more substantial, and the housekeeping that goes on around that, only happens because of the members who are committed to hospitality.  Stirring the pot, and often washing it afterwards.

The stories that come from this exalted excuse to get together are often still told because we can peruse them in our records, as curated and preserved by our Archives Team.  Through them, we can hear the story of this stone soup, retold across the ages.

One of the greatest hazards in naming specific contributions is that inevitably, someone is left out in the naming.  This is not because their contribution isn’t significant (often, it’s quite the contrary), but because of the nature of the task, or through fallible memory, the contribution remains invisible, at least sometimes.  The contributions that are sometimes invisible are also part of our community.  They are the anonymous carrots and turnips, that make the soup substantial, but whose source is not always clear or immediately easy to acknowledge.

Some of you will hear, or see, or remember yourselves in fulfilling those holy tasks, if not today, perhaps in days gone before – or can imagine yourself doing so in days to come.  Some of you make those holy tasks possible by contributing financially, so that the decisions and duties may be made – with concrete outcomes.  Some of you, offer encouragement and gratitude, thanking folks for a job well done – or simply for taking on the job and doing it to the best of your abilities.

This morning, and into the afternoon, many of us were able to further benefit from – and celebrate – the contributions of our many volunteers, by sharing in a feast that was, fittingly, made possible by our volunteers – past and present.  There are many people who made decisions, preparations, purchases, set-up, and service of the food we received at our annual church picnic. 

And even now, we benefit from past volunteers from the former Women’s Association, who set up the Legacy Fund that financed this picnic.

My friends, you too are contributors, even if you were not directly involved in the planning.  Be it through donations that keep the fund afloat, or by having brought your own containers or utensils, making the workload on our volunteers lighter, you are collaborating with our volunteers.

And, my friends, by showing up, as you are able, to this and other times when we have offered an excuse to get together, you invite another opportunity to serve, be served, and offer gratitude for making this community happen.

My friends, let us be grateful, for our mutual service to each other.

So may it be,
In the spirit of gratitude,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #128 For All That Is Our Life
~)-| Words: Bruce Findlow, 1922-
Music: Patrick L. Rickey, 1964- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association

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

I Could’ve Sworn!

June 4th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Wait, is this a Mandela Effect?! | Julie Nolke

Sermon – I Could’ve Sworn! – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Early on in our time in Canada, my dad and stepmother needed to attend a conference in British Columbia.  My dad often took me along for those work trips, and he usually liked to tag on his vacation time to those voyages, to get to know the places we were visiting a bit better.

We did all the rides.  Victoria, Vancouver, Capilano, Butchart Gardens, Blackcomb/Whistler.  We visited as many museums as we could.  Somewhere in there, we got to the Vancouver Aquarium.

Our favourite part of the aquarium was learning about the whales, particularly belugas.  Bear in mind that none of us had grown up with the music of Raffi, so belugas were unfamiliar to us, and it was exciting to delve into the story of belugas.

Except, we didn’t call them belugas…

Somewhere along the way, as we looked at the information plaques, one of us read their name as “belungas”.  None of us picked up on the misread, and for the entire journey, we all enthusiastically learned the details about belungas.

Belungas, we learned, don’t have a dorsal fin, which allows them to swim under the ice more easily; belungas have a bump on their head, which is officially called the melon, and which helps them in echolocation, allowing them to essentially “see” with sounds, which is particularly helpful in finding breathing holes under sheet ice; belungas have a significant layer of subcutaneous fat, which allows them to stay at a healthy temperature range in arctic waters.

Belungas this; belungas that.  Belungas, belungas, belungas.

The whole way home, we talked about our fascination with belungas.  We found it hilarious that the bump on their heads really was formally called a melon, and how 747 jumbo jets also looked like they had a melon that made those airplanes resemble belungas.

Belungas this; belungas that.  Belungas, belungas, belungas.

Some time after our trip to BC, we looked at the pamphlets and brochures we had collected as keepsakes.  And we found a very silly mistake on one them… some careless copywriter or editor had misspelled belungas on a brochure, amusingly calling them belugas.

Then we found another info packet making the same mistake.  There was a lot of information about belugas, but nothing about belungas.

As we saw more of the literature making the same mistake, we slowly came to the realization that it wasn’t the entire universe that was wrong – it was our family that had collectively misspelled the name of belungas in our mind… or, if you must, belugas.

This was rather disorienting… we could’ve sworn that we’d been saying the correct name all along – after all, none of us had corrected each other, and the name belungas sounded right the whole time.  But, as far as we could tell, no one else had ever called belugas “belungas”.

Maybe the construction of the word “belunga” just sounded more natural to our Spanish-speaking ears.  Maybe it was a simple mistake from our part, quickly reading the source material during a very full aquarium expedition.  Maybe we just got caught up in the excitement of our visit and didn’t bother noticing the evidence to the contrary.  None of us thought we had come from some alternate universe, where “belunga” was the norm, though it kind of felt like that, for a moment.

That odd experience was, in a way, a small-scale illustration of the so-called Mandela effect, in which many people seem to have the same incorrect memory.  It started when many people were simultaneously surprised in 2013, upon learning that former South African president Nelson Mandela had just died, as they could’ve sworn that he had already died in prison in the 80s.

One of the first people to notice this phenomenon, speculated that a whole sector of the world population had lived in an alternate universe where Mandela had died earlier on, and that they had then somehow merged with this, the “wrong” universe, but then kept the memory of the old one…

Cognitive psychologists have a simpler explanation.  First, is recognizing that memories are not as reliable as we’d like to think – which has been repeatedly demonstrated by data from studies.  There is also a suggestion that people may be conflating other events and putting them into an easily-recalled narrative.  For instance, another notable anti-apartheid leader, Steve Biko, did die in prison in the late 70s.  Mandela also made news in the 90s, when he was released from prison and eventually made the presidency.  It’s possible that many people had a similar experience of recalling those events and somehow merging them in their minds until they could’ve sworn that a story, different from history, was fact.

Last week, I spoke about the fascination of experiencing optical illusions, along with other sensory illusions, which offer, in a sense, a magical feeling of awe, while also inviting an uncomfortable sense that we can’t always trust our senses.

The “mnemonic illusion” of the Mandela effect, in which our collective memories fail us, can also bring that sense of unease, upon our acknowledgement that our memories can also be fallible… far more often than we realize.  I often pride myself on having a decent memory, and have still been surprised upon learning that some event happened significantly different from what I remember.

There are even academics who have studied people’s recollection of where they were during 9/11 and what they were doing at the time.  They’ve found that people who were in the same place and at the same time often tell vastly different narratives.

In speaking about mythology, we have seen that not all stories need to be factual to expose other profound truths about the human condition, about our spirituality, and in helping us understand ourselves and our communities at a deeper level – there is value in mythology.  The flipside is that certain narratives that draw on faulty – or entirely fabricated – memories, can also be weaponized to dismiss historical harms and perpetuate oppression.

The stories of colonialism, slavery, and patriarchy, for instance, have often benefited from a collective erasure of experiences that have been well documented, as well as preserved in oral histories.

Every once in a while, some folks seek an easy path to power by drawing on an embellished memory of the “good old days”, and how we need to return to those simpler times, when things were better.  What is often missing from that particular mythology is the coexisting reality that things may not have been as good in those old days as the power of nostalgia would have us believe.  And for certain sectors of the population, those old days were significantly less good than current times, as different levels of systemic oppression were more acceptable.

We have some tools to manage this.  Historians are trained to rely heavily on primary resources – contemporary accounts of people who record events as they happen.  Journalists of integrity seek to keep records with minimal interference from their viewpoints (or, to at least acknowledge when their point of view is part of their reporting). 

Archivists collect the documents of time, in essence creating the foundations of future history.  And our church has that kind of archival team, seeking to preserve a memory that is both factual and can also nurture a healthy mythology that reflects who we have been, who we are, and who we want to be.

At a more personal level, many of us have learned to keep logs and journals, which allow us to keep track of what has been going on in our lives and in ourselves, to process the present, and to preserve the past.  These kinds of practices may often serve us in staying in touch with another reflection of ourselves as we may have been in another time, and by better understanding ourselves, we may have a clearer path into our futures.

Recently, I’ve had a chance to visit some of the places of my childhood, and it hasn’t been uncommon for me to find myself drawn by the lure of nostalgia’s rose-coloured glasses, and occasionally longing for what seemed like simpler times.

I’ve been learning, however, to balance my perspective with more intentional consideration for those other aspects of my past life, in which things were, in fact, not always great, and when I couldn’t wait to move on to other stages of my life – to grow up, to know more things, to be better at things, to find a more rewarding career, to bring more people into my life, and nurture closer relationships.  Upon this contemplation, I can acknowledge the gifts of the past, while also appreciating the beauty of the present.

That’s not to say that there aren’t real losses in parts of our lives that have remained in the past.  As we age, we experience perhaps inevitable deterioration in our physical abilities, mental capabilities, and relationships that are no more, due to interpersonal breakdowns, the distance of geography, or death.  These losses are real, and often permanent.  Their previous existence really was better in the past.

And as we process our memories, my friends, we may still be able to find balance in remembering the hardships gone before, and those of which we’ve been able to overcome.  To appreciate those parts of ourselves that are wiser, perhaps more compassionate, and loving.

To recognize the clarity of mind that can often come only from experience, and even the peace that can come from learning to let go of old baggage that no longer serves us – grudges, unrealistic expectations (of self or others), desire for unlimited excess.

To celebrate the stories that we can only share now that they are over, with the benefit of time, with which the wounds may be perhaps less raw, less often.  To celebrate the triumphs that were only dreams, uncertainties, or anxieties in the old days, and which may now be fulfilling achievements in this, our day.

My friends, with the humility of failing memories, be they personal or collective, we may inherit a past of coexisting, contradictory realities, that enrich this present moment, and which may yet lead us into a richer future of good new days.

My friends, may this be our day,

So may it be,
In the spirit of the moment,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn – Baby Beluga

by Raffi

Simultaneous Brightness

May 28th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Vsauce – Simultaneous Brightness Contrast

We Still Can’t Explain This Illusion | Vsauce | Michael Stevens

Sermon – Simultaneous Brightness – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

Growing up, I remember being fascinated by magic tricks – or, properly called, illusions.  Seeing that people could do seemingly-impossible things was awe-inspiring and exciting.  Eventually, my mom got me a few magic kits, and I started peeking behind the curtain.  This, of course, brought me to the paradox of losing the magic of the illusion – literal disillusionment – while gaining the excitement of possibility for creating that sense of wonder in others.

But the thrill of these kits can be surpassed by what I found in optical illusions.  Optical illusions were like magic – but real!  Whenever I found them, they were usually presented without pretense – it was literally advertised that they were illusions, and they still worked!  Even after you learned “the secret” behind them, they would often still successfully fool they eyes… or, more precisely, the parts of the brain that processed the visual inputs.

I eventually found that there are also such things as auditory illusions, tactile illusions, olfactory illusions, and gustatory (taste) illusions.

There’s something both amazing and… unsettling about optical illusions, as well as the other sensory illusions there are out there.  The optical kind are like portable magic on paper – set down plainly to prove that we can’t always believe our eyes, or our senses… or ourselves.  They open up the doors of our perception to the wonder that there may be more to what we think we know… and also a reminder that we really don’t always know what is out there!

MIT Professor Edward H. Adelson offers an illustration of what is known as the checker shadow illusion, also known as simultaneous brightness contrast.  It shows how two identical grey spots can seem to have different brightnesses, depending on how they contrast with their surroundings.

Exploring this particular illusion, we can go a bit further, as it exposes how these distortions of reality may well serve a vital purpose – literally.  Michael Stevens, from the channel Vsauce, remarks that, as our brain artificially amplifies the contrast of the same shade of grey (in essence, lying to us), it is also making us more acutely aware of a different kind of truth: the differences in our environment that can bring life-changing stories – including potential threats.

The story of our collective brains’ evolution, through natural selection is often like that, distorting some of our perception – on purpose – so that we may be better aware of things that our survival might depend on.  Quite exciting, if unsettling, when you think about it.

The story of mythology is also often like that.  Sometimes, the word myth is used as a synonym for “lie” or “untruth”.  But the truth is more complicated that that.  Storytellers, elders, theologians, sociologists, psychologists, politicians, and other groups that use mythology on a regular basis, understand that myths are an integral part of our life as a species and as a society.  They may not be factual records of past events, but that’s not the point, in their ostensibly fictional accounts, they expose deeper truths about ourselves, of where we come from, who we are, who we want to be, and where we want to go.

To be able to receive these mythologies can be a matter of survival, by guiding us in a way that we may understand ourselves, our histories, our personal goals, our common goals, and our search for meaning, in a way that plain facts never could.

For instance, the novel The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel is what might be called a mythology about mythology.  It was released in 2001, so I apologise if you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet – minor spoilers here.  All I’ll say, is that it includes the story of a boy who survived by the grace of a mythology that he constructed in the midst of intense hardship.

Let’s take a look at some of our own stories, such as our own Unitarian Universalist tradition.  That mouthful of a name tells a whole set of stories, which are… not always entirely true in how we live those names these days, but which also expose who we have been, and how we have become who we are now – and where we want to go from there.

The original Unitarian heresy, as a reaction to the trinitarian conception of the divine, is not something we spend a lot of time on in many of our congregations today (certainly not in our particular church).  Whether your conception of the sacred involves a triune deity or a unitary God, or no specific divinity at all, is not usually our most pressing concern.  Some of you may even espouse a trinitarian theology – and we have space for that here (as it happens, the Unitarian Church of Montreal made a conscious decision to allow trinitarians in their midst over a hundred years ago).

But the freethinking approach to embrace a notion that revelation is not sealed and that the search for truth requires continuous work and struggle, has remained a true living foundation of our tradition.

Likewise, our Universalist roots, which our church of Olinda was founded upon, have shifted in a way that its truth holds multiple simultaneous values.  The joyful heresy of universal salvation, as a rejection to a story of eternal damnation, holds some truth in our community – even if many among us may not be particularly invested in the concept of an afterlife.  And the heritage of radical inclusion continues to be a true foundation and aspiration of our spiritual community.

And that brings us to the wider conception of faith.  There are many ways to define it, but there’s one definition that I find particularly inspiring – and challenging.  Faith is sometimes described as hope despite evidence to the contrary.  And this can be a tricky approach, as it can seem like a call toward blind faith in unfounded leadership or practices.  If, however, we look back at our collective history, we see the amazing deeds that have been achieved by people collaborating on making seemingly-impossible feats become reality.

When prophetic people fought against slavery in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, abolition might have at times seemed like a hopeless dream – but despite the immediate evidence against it, they kept faith that it was a sacred task worth taking on.

So has been the fight for gender equality and equity, as prophetic women, men, and people of all genders took on difficult and risky work to make an impossible reality real – with some of their goals unachieved within their lifetimes – or ours.

The dream of marriage equality, in which our tradition was an integral participant, had seemed impossible at times, and yet we have lived that reality now… going on decades.

The gradual shifts in government policies that go from policing drug use toward treating addictions – and prioritizing people – have seemed like slow, agonizing battles, and yet we see evidence that it is happening.

My friends, all of these are ongoing enterprises, the struggle continues, and a faith that holds despite what we might immediately see, is vital to the survival of these holy tasks.

My friends, there is plenty of reason for despair – we know the reasons, I don’t need to list them here – but with a faith that struggles through the factual present, toward a transforming, emerging reality, we may well continue to fulfill a prophetic future.

My friends, may we be in that faith,

So may we be,
In the spirit of simultaneous wonder, despair, and hope

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #83 Winds Be Still
~)-| Words: Richard S Kimball, 1934- , © 1986 Tirik Productions
Music: Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1819-1876

UU Society of Grafton and Upton, Grafton MA (30 June, 2021)

Bringing Promises to Life

May 21st, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service, Hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council

WESUN – Supporting Ukrainian Newcomers

May 14th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Presentation – WESUN – Supporting Ukrainian Newcomers – Andriana Pitre


Negative Concord

May 7th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Literally No One Likes a Grammar Cop | PBS

Reading – The Tempest, Act IV, Scene I

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Sermon – Negative Concord – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

There is a famous passage from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, in Act IV, Scene I, which invokes the notion of life’s dreamlike qualities, and particularly the illusions that are inherent in it: “We are such stuff | As dreams are made on” it reads.  And perhaps one of the greater illusions in life, is the very medium that Shakespeare uses – language.

That’s not to say that language isn’t important, or impactful… or real for that matter.  I am using language right now, and much of our church’s life, including this moment, is centred around the power of language.  But, just like life, there are inherent illusions in language, which can take on a power of their own, some of which helps us communicate more clearly, and others which… complicate matters.

The very fact that we can convey the meaning of… anything, by making sounds, or drawing lines, or moving our hands, is based on our mutual agreement on what those sounds and figures are supposed to mean.

In English, for instance, we can use the word church to refer to a spiritual community like this one (and perhaps, by extension, the building that houses it some of the time).  This is a mutually agreed-upon code, which allows us to understand each other when we’re talking about each other in a time and space such as this one.

Of course, it takes only some brief exposure to another language – perhaps during grade 4 French, or when travelling abroad – to realize that different groups of people have chosen their own not-so-secret code to communicate with each other.  Whether they have landed on the word église, or iglesia, or kirche, to describe a spiritual community, the specific word that is used can seem somewhat arbitrary, and it becomes clear that our attachment to certain words to describe certain things can have little relation to the thing itself.  After all, there’s nothing inherent about a spiritual group of people, or about our shared building, that forces us to use one collection of sounds, or lines, or signs, over another.  As long as we have some agreement as to what the code means, we are happy to accept that meaning.

Some of the other illusions of language are its rules.  Sometimes we treat them as if they were divinely ordained and unchangeable, but we need only look at works from William Shakespeare, or Jane Austen, or Edgar Allan Poe, or Gene Roddenberry (of Star Trek fame), or even more recent writings, movies, and TV shows, to see that language, its words and its rules, have shifted across the centuries, decades, and even in a matter of years.

And again, that’s not to say that these rules don’t matter – they give structure to our speech and help make mutual understanding easier and clearer.  Without some version of them, we wouldn’t be able to still understand Shakespeare.  But these rules might not always matter in the way we may think, and those very rules might not even be the rules we think they are.  As tools for communication, they are invaluable; as rigid frameworks, they can get us into trouble.

Take the case of former US President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008, when Chief Justice John Roberts – a notorious stickler for grammar rules – prompted Obama to recite the US Oath of Office in Justice Roberts’ preferred word order… which differs from the wording that is required in the US constitution.

While many lawyers generally considered that oath to still be valid, the White House nonetheless took the precaution of having a do-over with the original wording in the constitution, to have all bases covered.  And so, we see that when one person in power decided to enforce their own interpretation of the rules, fear of a constitutional crisis ensued.

And when it comes to English grammar, the rules really are quite often a matter of interpretation.  The elementary school lore that we can’t split infinitives (as is the case with “to boldly go”), comes from a 19th century opinion that it was best to avoid them, because they didn’t conform with the rules of Latin (never mind that English isn’t Latin).  The same goes with the notion that we cannot end sentences with prepositions, such as with words like “with” or “on”. 

But that’s simply not the way people speak English, based both on the norms that have been passed down over centuries, as well as current usage.  Our old friend Shakespeare ends a phrase with that so-called “mistake” in today’s reading: “We are such stuff | As dreams are made on”, modern movies use the same form: “Who are you talking to?” and no one bats an eye… except for specific folks who have been trained to look for that sort of thing.  Most people don’t find it unusual, because it follows the rules that we have learned and that continue to serve us in communicating, rather than rules that someone thought we’re supposed to use.

Lately, we have been seeing more of this kind of discussion around the pronouns that people use to better reflect their identity.  Some trans and non-binary folks feel that the pronoun they allows them to express who they are in a way that she or he simply can’t.  And there has been some resistance to that usage since many of us are often accustomed to using they as a plural pronoun – or so we think.  Most people will use phrases like “someone took my coffee mug and they need to give it back”, without even noticing that they used the singular they, as do many people everyday.  Heck, even Shakespeare used it.

We even use plural-sounding words like are for individuals in standard English all the time.  Think about it, when I say to one of you that “you are an attentive listener”.  No one raises an eyebrow when you are using are for a single you.  Actually, some people do raise an eyebrow: people who had to learn English later in life (such as myself) – only then did that quirk of the language seem unusual.

And there are dialects in English that have different rules from what many of us may be used to, yet they do have rules that allow their speakers to understand each other.  A notable example is African American Vernacular English.  It has practices that are less common in standard English, such as using double negatives: “don’t go nowhere”. 

For some us, the math of that sentence may seem odd… won’t a double negative make it a positive?  But language isn’t math, and people will understand what that means.  Linguists even have a name for this kind of construction: Negative Concord.  It’s a way of emphasizing the negative meaning in a way that feels consistent throughout a phrase, and it makes perfectly good sense, when you have learned to understand that sense.  It’s also not unusual in many languages.  French and Spanish use negative concord all the time and people have no trouble understanding each other.

The rules in these languages, including African American Vernacular English, are internally consistent, and everyday speakers will recognize when you break those rules of everyday usage.  The fact that African American Vernacular English is sometimes looked down upon, is more an indication of who is often in power, than an issue with the dialect’s grammar itself.

And to be clear, this is not a call to abolish or ignore rules – it is a call to be mindful of what they are, why they are, who uses them, and how they are meant to serve us, rather than us being subservient to them.

I generally stick to the norms of standard English when I speak from the pulpit, as I know that this will allow me to communicate more clearly with most of you, though I also don’t worry too much about breaking with those opinions that are sometimes received as rules – I split infinitives, I end sentences with “on” and “with” (I’ll leave it as homework for you to see where I did that in this sermon!) – I have faith that you’ll understand me when I speak the way that many of us speak.

Linguists that pay closer attention to how language is spoken are said to take a more descriptive approach to understanding our speech and its many illusions.  Those who take a more proactive approach in maintaining certain norms might be called prescriptivist, when they seek to promote rules that aren’t necessarily followed – even though people in everyday speech do follow the rules that serve them well in communicating clearly.

The tension between descriptivism and prescriptivism is familiar to anyone who works in the art of dictionary making.  Lexicographers often find themselves in an awkward position as both observers and authorities of language.  And while many of us look at dictionaries for reference on proper usage and spelling, those who put these collections of words together usually see their work more as mirrors of how we are already using those words.  When their use changes enough, the books eventually follow suit.

My friends, our spiritual tradition can play both of these roles, and there is that inherent tension in it, though I would say it often takes more of the descriptive approach, recognizing the sources of inspiration and wisdom that offer the most insightful guidance in our current lives, and usually limiting our prescriptions to reminding us of how we have agreed to be with each other, with norms that serve us, rather than the other way around.

My friends, Unitarian Universalism has built an identity around stepping back from prescribing what individual members’ spiritual path should be.  The practice of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, involves a recognition that simply enforcing what meaning should be upon others, seldom serves the needs of individuals or communities.  And, the practice of a responsible search still calls us to work on common understandings and guidelines on how we may carry out that search mindfully, intentionally, and with respect for each other’s needs as members of a community with common needs and goals.

Of course, my friends, there are occasional shifts, as we recognize evolving needs.  Our statements of faith have given way to what was once our six principles, eventually seven.  A year or so ago, we added an eight principle in Canada, to better reflect how we have said we wanted to be with one another, and particularly in dismantling racism and systemic barriers to inclusion in our communities, small and large.

My friends, in a couple of weeks, we are invited to join in a national service, where ministerial colleagues of diverse backgrounds will explore more deeply how we may live more fully into this 8th Principle, that we may better understand what this norm has meant to us, and how we may better reflect it in our communities and lives.  To get a clearer sense of how we may adhere to the norms of justice that we proclaim to seek.

My friends, there are many ways to express ourselves, and when we agree that we want to understand each other – we can.

So may we be,
In the spirit of mutual understanding,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #187 It Sounds Along the Ages
~)-| Words: William Channing Gannett, 1840-1923
Music: Melody of the Bohemian Brethren, Hemlandssånger, Rock Island, Illinois, 1892, arr.

Unitarian Universalists San Luis Obisbo

Sweet Things

April 30th, 2023 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #76 For Flowers That Bloom about Our Feet
Words: Anonymous, c. 1904, alt.
Music: Severus Gastorius, c. 1675, adapt.

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (5 June, 2021)

Time for All Ages – Bee Game – Google Doodle (Earth Day 2020)

The Google Doodle for Earth Day three years ago featured an interactive game that offers a sense of what it’s like to be a bee. It is free to play and goes on for unlimited rounds – so be careful not to stay on it too long!

Google Doodle (Earth Day 2020)

Sermon – Sweet Things – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

We’re almost halfway into spring, and we’ve now had evidence that it’s really happening!  With flowers, come bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, which we’re able to see in our church gardens.  Some of you may have personal gardens, or window-sill flower troughs, or maybe you’ve noticed the urban landscaping that is being tended to on public spaces.

April has been a time for daffodils, and those are now wilting, as a generation of flowers comes, and then goes.  On the eve of the month of May, we can begin to see the tulip blooms.  And eventually, these too will vanish like a vapour.

As the wisdom of the cliché goes, if we don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses, even when we’re busy or preoccupied, we may not get a chance to smell them at all.

And May also brings in the main birding season at our nearby national park in Point Pelee.  Sure, there’s a window of space and time to get there, but it won’t last forever, so it’s worth taking some time now to go see them soon, if that’s your thing.

It is worth keeping these kinds of opportunities in mind.  A couple weeks ago, I mentioned the “Overview Effect”, which mission specialist Christina Koch – from the planned crew of the Artemis II mission to orbit the moon – recently outlined on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  The Overview Effect is that sense of mixed insignificance and awe, vulnerability and magnificence, that astronauts experience when looking at the planet, and much of what’s dear to us, all contained in that blue space just outside the spacecraft’s window.

But recognizing that we can’t all go into space – in fact, most of us still don’t, and likely will never, have that opportunity – we can nonetheless find other ways to experience that kind of sense awe.  Some folks may go on long walks around the world, looking for the meaning of life, as in the story of Tom Turcich, while some of us might simply go on a ride around the neighbourhood.  Some of us, may simply manage to look outside our window.

And when we do, if we are able to look, or smell, or hear, with the right mindset, we may just find some sweet things.  Some of these are literally sweet, like the smell of the roses, or daffodils, or tulips.  And flowers in turn often produce literally sweet fruits, like apples, oranges, berries, and many of those things that our bodies have learned to seek, over time and space.

The continuum of living chemistry, that has been on our planet for 27% of the life of the universe, has led to our species’ evolving to need and crave sweet things – particularly the life-sustaining energy in sugar.

Now, sugar is a complicated thing, both in its chemistry and in its implications for human health.  For one thing, there are many kinds of it.  Some of them, like glucose and fructose, give us energy and taste good.  Together, they make sucrose – the table sugar that we may be most familiar with.  The milk-generated sugar, lactose, is fundamental for us in our early youth, though many of us can’t handle it well as we grow up.

There are other sugars with different energy outputs and sweetnesses.  Some may help us manage our energy intake, some may have… digestive consequences.

I’ll spare you the rest of the chemistry lesson, and I won’t go into the whole deal with artificial sweeteners today, but the fact is that the sweetness receptors in our bodies are no accident.  They are there as a primary lifeline.  Even folks who follow low-sugar diets, by need or by choice, will still use some level of sugar to survive.  And for that reason, we have learned that sweet equals good, especially since, for most of the life our species, it was also relatively difficult to find in abundance.

Now that we live in the future, it is abundantly easy to have too much of everything that’s good for us – which is to say, that it is easy for good things to be bad for us.  Sugar is everywhere, and so prevalent that we find it without even looking for it.  Without having to forage for it during the right season, it is easy to overdose on it at any given time.

I am no nutritionist or dietitian, and it would probably be unwise to take health advise from me, though it is not a controversial claim in the food world that a balanced diet is key to our wellbeing.  For whatever apparent contradictions there may be around increasingly-frequent claims about nutrition, seeking a balance in our food intake has prevailed as the most steadfast dietary prescription.  Precisely what that balance means is for each of you to figure out, ideally with the support of people who know what they’re talking about.

And fruit is one of those foods that often offers that balance.  It is hard to overdose on sugar if we’re getting it primarily from fruit.  For one thing, whole fruits contain a lot of other things, like water, fibre, vitamins, minerals – all things that are good for us (and which encourage us to avoid excess).

And… there’s something more.  The fruit that comes from the ground; that is facilitated by the pollen carried around by bees, birds, and butterflies; that is grown as fruits of shared labour; that is brought to us by workers in the field, on the road, and in the store; that store the energy of the sun in miraculous chemistry; that is part of the continuum of living chemistry of which we are also taking part; it is a conduit of communion with so many of the things that are greater than ourselves.

A simple act like taking a piece of fruit can be a practice of physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

On Easter, I mentioned a so-called “loophole” by which folks who engage in any kind of Lenten “fast” (or other disciplined spiritual practice) may take a break from it on Sundays – a feast day.  Of course, it isn’t so much a loophole, as an intentional observation of sabbath time, by which we allow ourselves to find respite and balance in our lives.

By the same token, we talked about how we can flip this dynamic around, and observe “fasting” or other disciplined spiritual practices, even in ordinary time, so that we may continue to find balance by paying attention to our diverse needs of toil and leisure.

Balance is such a simple concept that it seems almost silly to talk about it on a Sunday morning.  Simple, though not easy – it requires practice and intentionality.  There are inherent and apparent contradictions in it – do this, but also do that, which is an entirely different thing… but not too much, because what’s good is also bad.  Live in the moment, but also plan ahead.

And so, my friends, it is not a contradiction to plan ahead to live in the moment – at least some of the time.  Paradoxical perhaps, but also a truth of our reality. 

My friends, we need not travel to space in order to appreciate our space, and our time.  Because sweet things are at hand when we know what spaces to look in.  And now is a time when flowers, bees, birds, and the fruit that they bring, are at hand.

My friends, the sun will set tonight, yet today it is risen.  Even through the clouds, we may share this day under the sun.

So may we be,
In balance with the sweet things in life,

Copyright © 2023 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Unitarian Universalists of San Luis Obispo

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