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

Warming it Up

November 27th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Off the Scales

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

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

What the Fahrenheit?
Veritasium

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

Sermon – Warming it Up – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may it be,
In the warmth of community,
Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Mike Menefee


Global Handball

November 13th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon – Global Handball – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #1074 Turn the World Around

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

Michael Tacy 


Treasures from the Archives

November 6th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Reflection – Treasures from the Archives

by Charlotte Innerd
Presented by Sue Markham
with a contribution by Carol Hylton

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

When Carol approached me about helping with the library and archives at Olinda, I was excited.  This was not the first time and I had been involved with them, having previously helped with Louise Foulds, Sheron Campbell, and Gypsy Carroll.  I love the history of this church and there is a lot of documentation about this community.  While I find it endless fascinating, I realize that not everyone will have the same enthusiasm about the intricacies of managing this heritage or even the details of the history.  Today, I want to leave you with an understanding of what the Library and Archives Committee is doing and some interesting insights into the history of our congregation and what is says about this church and our theology.

I am going to do this through the lens of three rites that we perform in churches.  These are not unique to UUism or to Olinda but I will talk about them in the context of Olinda.  I have in various contexts explored the meaning of these rites and hope you will find it interesting. The first rite, is the laying on of hands.  In this ancient tradition, we ordain and install our ministers.  There is a physical laying on of hands as they are charged with the sacred duty of ministry.  For me, this important rite also occurs when we have a child dedication and welcome a child into our community.  And when we greet each other at the door, in happiness and in grief.  I also feel this when I work with our archives and I touch and read the documents created by those who started and kept this community going.  It is an honour and a delight to be able to read the words and learn what our forebears were thinking and what they accomplished by touching the relics that record their lives and activities.  We are very fortunate at Olinda that the records of this community have been preserved through the years.  We know who started this congregation, we have their minutes, their ledgers – we know how they spent their money, an indicator of where their values were. 

As Carol, Sue and I started working on the archives, the first thing that became apparent was how much we had!! I thank the Board for agreeing to us having the closet at the end of the hall and for purchasing a filing cabinet for us.  Thanks to John and Laurie for making sure it was level (a historic church means the floors have a certain charm, but are always uneven.)  There’s now a four-drawer vertical filing cabinet and two small two-drawer horizontal cabinets at the end of the closet.  I think we were all surprised when we almost filled the cabinets to the brim!  Having them in boxes in the second bedroom closet hid the full extent of the collection.  In transferring the items, we put the documents into acid-free archival grade folders.  I have also been scanning these in so that we have an electronic copy should anything be damaged or lost.

As we worked on transferring the material, we realized what a great debt of gratitude to those who came before us.  Primarily Louise Foulds but also Sheron Campbell and Gypsy Carroll.  Louise did a mountain of work identifying items and people and we can see her imprint throughout the records as well of course as her written history.  Sheron put together fabulous scrapbooks where she identified events and people.  I will come back to these scrapbooks shortly.

It is important that we continue to maintain and care for these documents, but also that we periodically bring them out and share with the congregation so you can see the continuity with our ancestors. 

This leads to the second rite that we have in our church.  The rite of storytelling.  Storytelling is a long tradition, and when we tell stories over and over again to each other, it is to pass on the knowledge and traditions of this community.  It tells us who we are and why and how our theology has changed over time.  We are especially fortunate to be in a tradition which values and honours that change.

I started attending Olinda when I was 6 years old and tomorrow, I will be 48.  As I worked through the archives, I was reminded of people and events from throughout those 42 years.  I was struck by how close we are to the people who founded this church and how many stories there are through the years.

I have selected a few items to share some of those stories briefly.  And only a few because there are some many different items in the archives that I would love to share with you, each with a unique history and insight into life at Olinda.  I hope this will add to or remind you of the history of Olinda and also give you an idea of what we have.

We have all the minutes of the congregation and the Universalist Convention.  For many years, recorded in handwriting in Minute books.

We also have all the ledgers and financial documents.  Again, the ledgers being in hand recorded in ledger books.  One of my favourites is the Universalist Convention ledger book.The ledger book that we had covers the period 1901 to 1994.  That’s right, I said book. It is all contained in one book, with pages to spare I might add! And George Whaley was the Treasurer from 1938 to 1994 so most of the entries are his.

I also mentioned the scrapbooks that Sheron put together.  She did a marvelous job of putting these together, weaving together the story of Olinda.  Unfortunately, there were two drawbacks to this, one is that the scrapbooks contained the original and often only copy of the documents or photos.  The second being that the pages she used were not archival quality and were starting to fall apart.  I wanted to preserve her work so I scanned all the pages and photocopied them as well.  This preserving all her work.  We have put the photos into archival quality envelopes and in an archival box with labels.  We are now working on typing the labels up into a finding aid.  What I produced was this binder that people can go through to view copies of the original documents and see the stories through time.  It is still in progress.

I picked three items of the many in the scrapbooks to highlight.

I dearly remember Florence Dresser and sitting and talking to her after service.  It was a treasure therefore, to see postcards sent by her from New Jersey in 1920 (page 52).  She was there as part of a YPCU event – Young People’s Christian Union of the Universalist Church.  We also have her Daily Bible Readings card from September and October 1920.

Then there are the documents starting in 1920 calling into question whether Universalist ministers marriages are legal, though the real question was whether the marriage performed by Rev. Martha Jones – a woman! – was legal, even though it was performed with her husband Rev Leon Jones.  It was eventually established that Universalist Male ministers could perform legal marriages.

We have a series of letters between Mrs. Rubi Stotts, one of the founding members and Mrs. Dresser from 1954 to 1958.  She was answering specific questions about the founding of the church and its early organization.  She was 93 in 1958.

Through these documents, we can trace the changes in our theology.  There is another way that we can do that as well, and this leads to the third rite that I wanted to discuss, and that is music.  Who can imagine a service without music. 

It is clear through the archives that this is true throughout our history.  One of the things I did was look through and identify what hymnbooks we have and we have a great historical, and well loved, collection of hymnbooks, many of them Universalist hymnbooks, hymnbooks in our own tradition.  These are fascinating to look at to see what has and hasn’t changed about our theology.  Though I will say a lot has changed, it is also obvious how we are connected to our past. 

We know this was an important part of life throughout out our history and we even have a photo of the first organist, the very same Mrs. Rubie Stotts whose letters I talked about earlier. Carol is working on a list of all the musicians at Olinda so that we have a record. 

I’m now going to invite Carol forward as she has a special donation that she is making to Olinda.

Copyright © 2022 Charlotte Innerd

[Carol Hylton]

I am at the time in my life that I have been looking to find a new home for possessions that have some sentimental value.    One of those items is a gold-plated pocket watch which I have had for probably 50 years and I have worn it a few times.     It was originally presented to my grandmother in 1902 for playing the organ here at the Church. 

I finally came up with the idea of giving the watch back to the Church in recognition of all our musicians over the years. The watch has been placed in a picture frame to be displayed along with some other sentimental items on the wall between our two entrance doors.    I will read the inscription that accompanies this watch.

This gold-plated watch was gifted to
Esther (Peterson) Longland, who played
the organ for this Church.  Inscribed on
the outer cover “Esther” and inside: 

        Presented By
                         Church of our Savior 
        December 25, 1902

  This watch is a symbol of appreciation
of all the past and present musicians of the
Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda

        November, 2022

I thank all our musicians.      Carol Hylton


October 2022 Newsletter

November 1st, 2022 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


November 2022 Newsletter

November 1st, 2022 . by William Baylis
Click here and enjoy!

At the Altar of our Ancestors

October 30th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening #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)

Homily – At the Altar of our Ancestors – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Today, some of us have collaborated in a joint altar – a shrine – to commemorate those who have gone before us – our dearly departed, people who we can now come to see as ancestors.  The particular altar we’ve set up in our sanctuary has some elements that are common in the ofrendas or altars that are set up around this time of year during the Mexican Day of the Dead (and in some other places as well).  This can include items like food and candy, colourful ornaments and banners, and skull motifs.

Although this particular setup might not be common among many of your cultures of origin, I – having a background in this practice – have extended an invitation to you to participate in it, recognizing that there are also ways to do similar practices that are more in tune with your own backgrounds.

After all, setting up photos or mementos of those who we miss, is not something that’s exclusive to one culture, I suspect most of you do something of this kind already.

The Mexican style, of course, has some distinctive traits.  In the season of the Days of the Dead, the custom also tends to include intentional gathering, often with music, and partaking in some of the food and treats.

But, while visiting Mexico this summer, I was reminded that these altars are actually not exclusive to this season.  Sure, the days around the feasts of All Saints and All Souls do prompt people to ensure the altars are set up, updated, maintained, and intentionally admired, often with a group of family or friends, but many households actually keep these up – or some version of them – year-long.

This past August, while visiting Mexico, I noticed that many family members had a table, or maybe some furniture in a corner of the house, where these photos and items where perpetually set.  As I looked at these, certain conversations came up – we’d pick up the photos and reminisce, and maybe we’d share the stories with other guests who were not familiar with the names or the anecdotes.  Even though it was the summer, the practice of honouring our ancestors endured.

I noticed that, in reliving these stories – or in learning some new stories – I came to a deeper understanding of how these people who came before me have shaped who I am.  Some of these ancestors did so while I was already around, but some were gone long before I was born.  And still I saw that their lives influenced mine.  And just as our ancestors have done, so do we become ancestors to people we might know now, as well as to those who we might never know.

During my summer visit, one of my aunts had been safeguarding my deceased grandfather’s family bible – I’ve put it in the altar this morning.  She figured that I might be the grandchild in the family who might most appreciate being the keeper of this particular personal effect from my grandfather.  And having this around the house offers me another point of connection with him.

This week, a different thing happened, as I got something in the mail from a – living – friend of mine.  It was these Day of the Dead-themed socks, with a traditional sugar skull design.  Knowing that I like socks with… cute designs, and that this Mexican holiday holds particular significance to me, he saw them, bought them, and mailed them to me.

Once again, I got to thinking that, as we are around, here with each other, each of us is also on track to becoming a cherished ancestor.  Sometimes, this kind of connection may be expressed through gifts, and over the next couple months, many of us might engage in that kind of activity during the holidays.

But the greater part is reminding each other of the presence that our dear ones represent in our lives.  Physical gifts do that some of the time, and spending time with each other is another way to give of ourselves, be it through remote connections, or in-person, as it has now become more practicable.  Some of you have now been taking part in our church dinner series – hosting and attending – building new memories into the ancestry that we want to be for each other.

My friends, I know that many of you have some version of an altar at home – shelves, mantels, or dresser tops, with photos and other articles, which have memories of people you’ve shared your life with – casual corners that have, over time, been transformed into a shrine.

On these shrines, my friends, you may find items that represent both people who are still alive, as well as many that have transitioned to a presence that is now centred around our memories.  Some of you might choose to gather these latter ones together in one space – though, whichever place is conducive to honouring their memory will be appropriate enough.

And if there are photos are of people who are still around, some of them might be visiting or connecting every once in a while, ready to reminisce, to name those ancestors alongside you, to make ongoing memories.  Sometimes, my friends, new memories are made, as we coauthor a new ancestry for those who come after us.

So may it be,

In keeping memory,
And in building memories,
Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing 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
Foothills Unitarian Church (9 August, 2020)


Defenders of the Faith

October 23rd, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – What did democracy really mean in Athens?

| Melissa Schwartzberg (TedEd)

Sermon – Defenders of the Faith – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

About four weeks ago, I attended the municipal candidates’ debate at the Roma Club in Leamington.  It was a fairly full house, where we were able to meet most of our candidates face-to-face, and hear directly from them as to how they feel about issues important to the community.

I thought about how this represented one aspect of our Fifth Principle, which supports the use of the democratic process in our communities, and how participating in this aspect of the process was an enactment of faith.

It also reminded me of a similar meeting about four years ago, when our last municipal election was underway.

This year’s gathering felt like a larger crowd, but more notably, I paid attention to the kinds of questions that were put to the candidates, as well as the issues that many candidates themselves brought up.  Some of these issues were perennial items you’d usually expect: property taxes, sanitation, infrastructure – important topics to be sure, but not out of the ordinary in municipal politics.  But I did notice a significant shift in some issues that were not discussed nearly as widely the last time around, such as affordable housing and homelessness, addiction support and safety, and public transit.

I began to consider – what might have brought along this shift?

When I first studied political sciences in university, one of the courses that stuck with me the most was around the history of democracy.  Up until then, I had somehow taken democracy as a given: a logical conclusion that simply made sense and would be the inevitable goal of any rational society.

There may be some truths to this line of thinking, in that the last several hundred years have given way to an increasing number of governments that follow democratic principles and guidelines, and the places that do so tend to do better than the places that do not.  But the historical record isn’t as neat and tidy… it really did take centuries of struggle – or even millennia, depending on when you start counting – to establish the kind of institutions that we associate with democracy today.

Some of this struggle was rhetorical – debates and essays… philosophical publications by classical thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, or Jean Jacques Rousseau, articulating and promoting the ideals that have become part of current democratic societies (and if you’re into this subject, you might notice that I’m leaving out many other names).  But some of this struggle was more literal and concrete – economic advocacy, power struggles, demonstrations, rebellions, revolutions, and yes, even wars.

And the notion of who benefitted from these democracies has also shifted over time… the idea that all are created equal has not always been applied equally to all (the fact that the phrase is still often cited as “all men are created equal” belies this limited application of the principle – and even then, this notion didn’t always apply to all men).

Even though I should have known better, I still had some romantic idea in my mind that democracy was established by some kind of… John Locke or Rousseau fan club… or something, where people sat down, took the philosophers’ ideas, and just decided that this was the best way to run their government.

But what philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau were speaking about in laying out their democratic principles, was often more of an observation of previous developments as much as a plan for future ones.  Yes, those written ideas did inspire the formation of certain institutions, such as the emerging governments in the Americas and revolutionary France, but these writings were already building on other more concrete work by others.

The idea that there is a social contract between the governed and the government might more often be seen as a kind of series of historical accidents and developments over the centuries, than one actual sit-down session when such a social contract was drawn up.  Yes, there have been actual sit-down sessions when papers are signed, but these have often been as much codifications of emerging practice, as times when the original ideas and agreements were created.

To take the familiar example of our country’s heritage, which draws from the British Parliament, it took close to a thousand years for the monarchy to transition to the symbolic figurehead that we’ve come to know (and which many of us now often have the luxury of ignoring, other than occasional engagement with its pageantry or family drama).

The Magna Carta started as an agreement that King John was… “encouraged” to sign following economically powerful individuals pursuing their own interests.  This was a small group of individuals, more interested in themselves than on equal rights for all.  And even then, it took a few false starts for a Magna Carta, as we know it, to be truly established.

But that seed of regulation of power, did eventually inspire and lead toward expanding rights for the interests of more people – perhaps most people – leading more recently into universal suffrage for all adult citizens (which, to be sure, still leaves a lot of people out, and even those who are eligible to participate may encounter barriers to doing so, beyond the letter of the law).  All of this took ongoing engagement, struggle, and vigilance.

Where does this history leave us, on days like today, on the eve of several municipal elections?  And what does it mean for us as ongoing defenders of our faith and principles such as engagement in the democratic process?

To begin with, part of the vigilance involves remembering that municipal elections – while not as flashy as provincial or federal elections – still deserve as much attention.  For one thing, many of the decisions made by town and city councils are liable to affect us very directly, just like any provincial of federal law.

And these are decisions in which we may have much more power than we might expect.  Being that each of us, as individuals, have a larger share of the voice toward our local leaders, we may indeed have a greater effect in influencing our local community interests.  And that’s without even mentioning that we may have a closer proximity to those leaders – many of us might well know our local councillors or even mayors personally… maybe even on a first-name basis.

When I attended that candidates’ meeting about four weeks ago, I saw that the shifting conversation at the meeting reflected many of the conversations I’ve seen around the community, including with colleagues from Leamington Ministerial.

You have heard me speak about the regular meetings that Leamington Ministerial has had with the mayor and other municipal leaders over the past four years.  One of the main topics has been around addressing homelessness in the community and finding solutions toward more affordable housing.  Other related topics also came up.

Now, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that the local clergy can claim all the credit for the movement of these conversations.  Other community organizations have been involved, taking leadership, offering resources, and putting in a lot grunt work on the matter.  But I will say that the changes in policy focus since our initial meetings at the Town Hall have been quite affirming and gratifying, and I can’t help but feel that the initiative offered by our association played an important part in bringing focus to these issues.  And, of course, we weren’t the first to identify these kinds of community needs.  Social justice has been a core value in many communities of faith for a very long time, including our own.

My friends, tomorrow, many of you will have an opportunity to participate in one aspect of the democratic process, and we are blessed to have that option.  Voting is one of the more visible and immediately impactful ways for the community to voice its priorities and direct effective policy.  It is one exercise in our defense of a faith that believes in a democratic process.

And, of course, my friends, election days are also but a moment in the process.  In some ways, elections are affirmations or confirmations of other years-long projects, collective work, and ongoing conversations, which must happen before, during, and after elections.

After tomorrow, my friends, the work of the democratic process will continue.  Democracy will happen among the diverse communities that you participate in, be they in associations or clubs, tabletop conversations with friends and with family, or casual conversations at work or in a common space.  That too, is work that can shift attitudes, values, policy direction and results.  That too, is a defense of our faith’s principles.

My friends, the power we have may seem modest, but it’s real.  May we use it for the common weal of our communities.

So may it be,
In defense of faith,
Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #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)

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (28 February, 2021)


Ablutions

October 16th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening #27 I Am That Great and Fiery Force
Words: Hildegaard of Bingen, 1098-1179
Music: Music Josquin Desprez, 1445-1521, adapt. by Anthony Petti, b. 1932
Tune AVE VERA VIRGINITAS

Jennifer McMillan for Westwood Unitarian (12 January, 2021)

Sermon – Ablutions – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

Yesterday was Global Handwashing Day, and an awareness day like this reminds us that it is worth taking stock of what this simple act means for us.  Where and when does it come from?  And why is it still important for us to recognize this act even as handwashing is commonplace the world over?

Most – perhaps all – spiritual traditions have rituals that revolve around water, and particularly, washing.

Of course, when it comes to things spiritual, we like to use fancier words than just “washing”.  So, when describing many of the spiritual washing rituals there are, we often use the word ablution (or ablutions for the collection of these rituals).

Unitarian Universalism’s ancestry includes the Protestant tradition, which in turn means that we have some spiritual ancestry in Christian and Jewish teachings and writings.  Jewish scriptures laid out many forms of ritual purification by washing after certain activities or situations.  Many of these include bodily functions, though it also involves washing before special events, such as entering a worship space, initiating a ritual, or preparing for prayer.  Different Jewish traditions carry out versions of these practices.

There is also carryover into Christianity, and priests in particular may carry out a number of purification practices when preparing for certain spiritual activities.  The specifics vary in the many Christian traditions, but they are there.  And of course, the act of baptism is a near universal part of membership in Christian faiths, signifying entrance into a new kind of spiritual life.

The related Muslim tradition also includes purification rites with water, including washing the hands and face, and sometimes the feet or other parts of the body, depending on circumstance.  These are often done before prayer, as well as other everyday activities.  Many devout Muslims might include purification with water before handling the text of the Quran.

Beyond these – the Abrahamic traditions – the preponderance of using water as spiritual preparation does not disappear.  On the contrary, it is quite present in virtually any major religion you might encounter.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i faith, Shinto, and so many others we could name, will have some form of use of water as a spiritual element.  Sometimes, these have intuitive hygienic sense, but they are more readily recognized as spiritual practice.

It is worth noting that purification rituals don’t need to include water.  For instance, while many indigenous spiritual practices do involve washing rituals, many of you have observed the very common practice of smudging with smoke from a medicine plant, such as sage or sweetgrass, as a way to ready one’s mind and spirit for a sacred time and space.

In our tradition, the use of water in ritual is relatively limited, but we still do it.  Often, we use it in child dedications or baby naming ceremonies.  Although this isn’t a baptism in the way other churches might recognize it, it is still a rite of passage to mark an important occasion and bring us together as a community with a common goal for the formation of a child.

We also have our annual Water Ceremony, as we did in September.  And although we don’t usually use this water for washing. The ritual does, in a sense, allow us to flow from the summer season, into our dawning program year.

For us, and most places around the world, washing has also increasingly taken a primarily practical significance, especially as global understanding of infection, and the role of germs in it, has become well established over the past few centuries.  But just because washing may be increasingly viewed in mundane terms of hygienic or medical value, it does not mean that this everyday practice needs to lose spiritual value.

For one thing, washing for practical purposes is a practice of celebration and preservation of life.  It is a way to continue being connected with those around us, while reducing the risk of harm to others.

Over the past couple of years, the value of simple handwashing has taken a renewed place in our consciousness.  Pandemic season has also been a reminder that, although we may have grown up with this practice, it pays off to take the time to remember to do it properly for the best results – a quick rinse with a token amount of soap is not quite the same as a proper scrubbing for a pre-set minimal amount of time (such as 20 seconds), with a healthy dose of soap and intentionally reaching all the appropriate places.

There is a lesson there around the need to constantly re-evaluate where we are at, examining whether we are where we want to be, and pledging to do better, even when we’ve fallen by the wayside.

But even though we’ve had this reminder, it may already be falling by the wayside.  Many of us took a more diligent approach to handwashing when it seemed that Covid might be readily transmitted through touch.  And while it is now more likely that infection happens through airborne transmission, it still pays off to observe proper handwashing technique – not just to minimize one other vector of transmission, but also because there are other diseases that are, and have always been, prone to pose a risk through touch.

This is why taking some time to recognize relatively obscure “global holidays” such as Global Handwashing Day, is still relevant to us.  Even when we think we know what we’re doing, it is worth pausing to consider whether we could be doing better.

I have previously spoken about the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who advocated for handwashing for surgeons in maternity wards in the mid-19th century.  He is sometimes offhandedly credited with “inventing” handwashing, though this, of course, is not accurate, as witnessed by the many ancient traditions that include handwashing and other cleansing rituals with water.  But he did make a methodical and intentional evidence-based case as to why it was necessary, especially in a setting where it wasn’t being done (such as the maternity ward of the Vienna General Hospital).

The magic of recognizing handwashing is that it is a simple practice, especially when the adequate infrastructure has been set in place.  Yet, in its simplicity, it can bring immense rewards, including a longer life expectancy and quality of life.

The same goes for spiritual ablution.  It’s a simple act that, in addition to any physical purification, it may also offer mental purification, helping to focus the mind into a more worshipful space.

My friends, in our daily lives there are many simple acts we carry out for what may seem purely practical reasons… mundane reasons.  And these mundane actions can take a spiritual dimension, if we let them.  Take the act of breathing, for instance… we do it all the time.  But when we allow ourselves some time and space to do it intentionally, it may offer a place for peace, or mental preparation, a rite of settlement into a spiritual home.  It can be an air ablution, a ritual washing with breath.

Perhaps meditation in stillness is not how your mind has come to find these sacred spaces.  That’s OK, for I suspect you can find something else that may lead you in that direction – something mundane, yet sacred, that helps you wash your mind.  My friends, it may be something simple, such as getting outside if it’s feasible for you (if you’re able to walk, that is one option); if sounds are accessible to you, music may be that place, perhaps singing or dancing, if that is within your ability.  Reading books or listening to audio books may also be options of this kind.  Perhaps cooking, or enjoying a meal might offer you this kind of opportunity.  Some of these may not apply to you, and you might likely have found something else that I wouldn’t even have thought of.  Yet a mundane activity may still hold holy value.

My friends, in a couple weeks, we’ll be honouring some of our ancestors in our annual Day of the Dead commemoration.  It will involve a simple setting of a table, with photos and everyday items from some of those who have gone before us.  These may be things that are not all that extraordinary in the grand scheme of things, but which we know to be special for the memories we intentionally hold alongside them.  And with these, we may transform a casual table into a shrine.  And with this ritual, we may do a spiritual ablution, as we recognize past lives into beloved ancestors.

My friends, every casual corner may be a shrine if we allow a simple, intentional ritual, to wash over us.

So may it be,
Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing #100 I’ve Got Peace Like a River
Words: vs. 1-3 Marvin V. Frey, 1918(?)-1992, © 1974 Marvin V. Frey,
vs. 4-6 Anonymous
Music: Marvin V. Frey, © 1974 Marvin V. Frey
Tune WHITNEY

Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church (28 May, 2020)


A Triumph – Not in Vain

October 9th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – “March 25, 1965 – The Murder of Viola Liuzzo”

Voices of the Civil Rights Movement

Sermon – A Triumph – Not in Vain – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

In our tradition, we don’t talk much about martyrs, we might rarely know their names, and we don’t really have an established practice of venerating them – no stained-glass windows featuring church ancestors in the midst of execution, or feast days in their names.

And yet, our historians have compiled lists of people who we have come to consider martyrs in our tradition.

Put very simply a martyr might be someone who is put to death as a result of practicing their religion… there are more precise and sophisticated definitions, but this gives you a general sense of who we’re talking about.  This death is often the result of a martyr taking action against injustice to others, as established by the ethical guidance of one’s faith.

So, who are these people?

And what are we to make of their lives and what it means to us as their faith descendants?

The list is long enough that I won’t go through them all today – each of them could be a sermon in their own right – but I’ll go over some of the ones that are most often mentioned when we talk about martyrs in our tradition.

Last week, our guest speaker, Liz James mentioned her evolving engagement with the story of Unitarian martyr Michael Servetus, who in the 16th century, was very vocal in criticizing Trinitarian doctrines – hence Unitarian.  Although that specific distinction of doctrines may not sound particularly essential to how we currently practice our tradition today, it was a pretty big deal around the times of the Reformation in 16th century Europe.

Of course, there are nuances in the telling of his story.  We often speak of Servetus as the Unitarian who was burnt at the stake by Calvin.  There is truth to this, in that this is how Servetus was executed, though Calvin’s involvement is more nuanced than that.  And last week, Liz highlighted the notion that Michael Servetus put himself in harm’s way more often than we usually let on, when UUs tell his story.  Nonetheless, Servetus was killed as a result of his beliefs, including a zeal for questioning established doctrine, which was instrumental in establishing our current tradition.

A contemporary of Servetus was Francis David, another founding member of what became the Unitarian side of our tradition.  Francis David promoted a practice of religious tolerance in 16th century Transylvania, during the reign of King John Sigismund.  He did this under the auspices of a Unitarian theology, and this approach to religious coexistence has also become a hallmark of our tradition.  However, when King Sigismund died, the support for Francis David’s approach dwindled, and he died in prison, which establishes him as a martyr.

A newer name, which you might be more familiar with, is Norbert ?apek.  We usually remember him and his wife as the creators of the Flower Ceremony that we celebrate in June.  He founded the Unitarian Church of Czechoslovakia and aided in raising funds for relief work during World War II.  He was imprisoned by the Gestapo and died in the Dachau concentration camp.

More recently, we might remember Rev. James Reeb, an American Unitarian minister who actively supported the Selma to Montgomery Marches led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  After eating dinner with colleagues at an integrated restaurant, following a protest, Rev. Reeb was beaten with clubs by White men, in retaliation for his support of equal rights for Black people.  He died in hospital.

A name that is not spoken as often but has a related story is that of Viola Liuzzo, a member of the First UU Church of Detroit, who also joined the civil rights movement in Selma, helping with, among other things, transportation and logistics.  She was murdered by Klansmen as she was transporting a Black activist (who thankfully survived).

I’ve been mentioning a lot of Unitarian martyrs, but there is also Toribio Quimada, a Unitarian Universalist, who founded the UU Church of the Philippines, holding what is more appropriately labeled a Universalist theology.  It is believed he was murdered as a result of his social justice activism through the church.

There are also Unitarian Universalist martyrs in this century.  In 2008 Greg McKendry and Linda Kreager, were members of the UU Church of Knoxville, who were killed by a shooter who resented the church’s support for social justice, including 2SLGBTQ+ rights.  McKendry is reported to have deliberately stood in front of the shooter to protect others, while Kreager died for simply being in her spiritual home.

Something to note here, there are other names recognized with heroism that day.  These include church members: John Bohstedt, Robert Birdwell, Arthur Bolds, and Terry Uselton.  There was also a visitor called Jamie Parkey.  All of these people were instrumental in stopping the shooting and preventing further tragedy.  The shooter’s plan had been to shoot until the police came to kill him.  Because of the bravery the martyrs and of survivors, his plan did not go further, and he is now serving time in prison.

This brings up questions of how we recognize those before us, who have done important and notable deeds, as part of their participation in our faith.  All of them were prepared to take a risk, even when it might have ended in death, but death does not always have to be the outcome.

I have already noted that, in Unitarian Universalism, we don’t have a regular practice of… fetishizing martyrdom.  We have recognized it at times, but we don’t typically celebrate the act of death in the name of faith as a primary goal – rather, we might recognize that, sometimes, we may need to accept the possibility of making some sacrifice as a result of our faith’s guidance.

When death is the outcome, we recognize the tragedy alongside the contribution, and we may be grateful to the people who were willing to take that risk, despite ultimately sacrificing their lives.  We also don’t forget that others have taken a risk, and gratefully survived.  My friends, for all of them we are thankful.

My friends, this congregation is no stranger to taking principled stands based on our faith’s guiding principles, which has included taking some risks, alongside an experience of sacrifice.  For instance, there are those among you, who still remember our church’s struggle to stop mandatory prayer in public schools – not as a stance against prayer itself, but rather as a stand against the imposition of one religious approach in a space that purports to welcome a diverse community.

That particular quest was successful… and it came at a cost for our community, with a sense that it created distance with our neighbouring faith communities.  Our relationships with other faith communities are closer these days, but that sad memory lingers.  My friends, it was a costly triumph, but not in vain.  And for that bold action, and the people who took part in it, we are thankful.

My friends, not all of us are called to put our lives on the line for just causes – that is OK.  All contributions in the name of justice offer their own triumph, sometimes only in the long term.  And for these we are also grateful.

So may it be,
In gratitude,
Amen

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing 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.
Tune FAR OFF LANDS

Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica (27 February, 2021)


The Inherent Mirth and Dignity

October 7th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Reflection – “The Inherent Mirth and Dignity” – Liz James

Watch:

Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]


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