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

March 2021 Newsletter

February 26th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Speaking in Tongues

February 21st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn – Circle of Song
~)-| Words & Music: Tony Turner

Posted on Report from Parliament Hill – With Andrew Hall (9 July, 2015)

Reading – The Book of Love by The Magnetic Fields

Video animation by Kayla W (5 August, 2010)

Sermon – Speaking in Tongues – Rev. Rod


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

There’s a song by the band The Magnetic Fields, called The Book of Love, which talks about how “the book of love is long and boring”, going on to say that no one can lift the thing, as it’s “full of charts, and facts, and figures… and instructions for dancing”, as well as full of music – some of which can be transcendental, while some it… less so.  According to the song, the “book of love” is full of gifts, but the singers are more partial to the act of gifting itself – at least at first glance.

And putting aside the metaphorical immenseness of this book, the singers affirm that they like to express their care by reading to each other, singing to each other, or giving each other gifts… the singers even express a specific desire for wedding rings as the gift of choice.

The song has a neat mix of cynicism and idealism in it, commenting on the complex and over-calculated advice on how to find and maintain love, while also proposing that a variety of simple expressions of love may do the job just fine.  [a link to the song in the description and the online version of this service]

I’ll say that, when the song comments on the sheer magnitude of “the book of love” making it impossible to lift, I believe it.

For six years, I sold books at a large book retailer, and there was a lot written about love.  That store, of course, only held a fraction of all that has been written about it, but I’m sure that no one person could lift even a portion of the “books of love” that I sold.

The actual section labeled as “love” was relatively small – at least compared to other sections, such as history, or programming languages, or fiction.  In fact, the section for “love” wasn’t actually labelled “love”, but there were rather subsections, usually under Self-help, for relationships, dating, sex, and things we’re supposedly too young to know.  Many of these books are full of charts, facts, and figures… and instructions for dancing – we had those too.  In a secluded corner of the fiction section, there was also a modest erotica shelf.

Erotica, of course, coming from eros – one of the Greek words for understanding one way of expressing love, along with words like agape, storge, and philia.  All translatable to “love” in English, but referring to its different dimensions, like the familial love of a parent to a child, or siblings’ fondness for each other, or friends caring for each other, or physical ways of expressing close intimacy.  These exist in the English-speaking world as well… but Greek can sometimes be more precise about these things.

But the fact is, the bulk of the books in the store were, more often than not, somehow related to love, writ large.  Most fiction books had at least some romantic subplot, or an epic journey by protagonists doing grand things for the sake of the people who mattered most to them.

I came across the Sufi poet Rumi’s poetry on love in the religion section.  And a lot of that section was about love, writ large, including promises of boundless, universal love, grace and forgiveness, and unconditional caring.  The Bible alone has a whole array of the dimensions of love, including all the Greek categories of agape, storge, and philia… and even erotica – if you know where to look (hint: it’s the Song of Solomon).

Interestingly, many of the folks who came to the store were often looking, not specifically for books about love, but books to express their love – gifts for someone who they care for.  One of the easiest parts of my job was finding the shelf where a specific book was, while one of the hardest parts was finding the book that someone was looking for… when it was a book for someone else.  It required quite a bit of listening, and some strategic questions, and it also gave me insight about the extent to which the customer had been listening to the special people in their lives.

One of the “books of love” that I ran into, and which was very popular while I was employed at the bookstore, was The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman.  Chapman is a Baptist pastor, and also holds a degree in anthropology.  He developed a working theory that people tend to express their caring in five main ways.  Quickly, I’ll say that he lists these five different ways as: 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) receiving gifts, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical touch.

Now, I’m not going spend a lot of time laying out Gary Chapman’s thesis, or promoting it.  If you’re curious, there’re plenty of resources online for that – along with the books.  And while the scholarship on it is sparse, these love languages, as described by Chapman, are recognizable expressions of caring that we may be familiar with, and we may already intuitively have a preference for one or two of these.

Now I’m wary of subscribing to the orthodoxy of numbered lists.  I can’t say with certainty if, in reality, people have five love languages, or three, or fifteen.  Or if the five can have subcategories, or be amalgamated.  But in essence, I can appreciate Chapman’s thesis as a worldview that can help make sense of some of the ways that people express themselves to each other, as well as the discrepancies between people, when they seek to relate with one another.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect from this outlook, in my opinion, is the enhanced awareness that it can bring for recognizing that: yes – people express themselves differently, and that taking some care to appreciate how others express their care might help us deepen our connections with others, as well as help us understand when there are disconnects… such as when our expressions of affection don’t land well with others, or when we’re confused by the way that others might be trying to connect with us.

It looks like the musical group The Magnetic Fields were on to something when they wrote and sang The Book of Love.  They talk about different expressions of love – love languages, if you will – spending quality time reading to each other, singing to each other, or giving gifts to each other… in their case, the song specifies wedding rings.

We know that having wedding rings isn’t a reality for everyone.  Many of you have them, and many of you don’t.  Some of you used to have wedding rings, but don’t anymore, for a whole variety of reasons… some of these may be tragic reasons, and some of these reasons might have come from an awareness that you were better off without those rings.  Some of you don’t have rings… yet, and some of you have fought for your right to wear them proudly.  Some of you will never, or don’t ever want to, have them.  Different languages speak different to your selves.  And in this church, all are welcome.

My friends, today is Language Movement Day in Bangladesh, and from this, UNESCO derived World Mother Tongue Day, as a way to recognize that the languages that we come from, and that we hold dear to our heart, are an integral part of us.  Sometimes, a mother tongue may be a different language than what is spoken where you now live – I have some experience with that.

Languages come in many flavours – with their own sounds and shapes.  Sign languages, and reading lips, are part of how some members of our community understand others… sometimes from birth, and other times, as we get older.  However it is that we need to express ourselves, or understand others’ expressions, our spiritual imperative is to seek out our companions’ language of their soul, as we look to close the gap in our connections.

My friends, almost every Sunday, I invite folks to stay for Coffee & Conversation after the service, be it at the dining room in our building, when we’ve met in-person, or on our breakout groups when we meet online.  And even though you don’t need my permission, I also make it clear that it’s OK to “tiptoe” out toward the proverbial door at that time.  Because I know that informal coffee and conversation is not always the way that everyone feels most connected in our church – it may not be your “love language”.  For some folks it’s the opposite: church hasn’t happened until a good informal conversation has been had.

However it is that you express your loving and your caring, in our church we seek to affirm that love… without exceptions.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and Love,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

#131 Love Will Guide Us

Words: Sally Rogers, © 1985 Sally Rogers, used by perm. of Thrushwood Press
~)-| Music: Traditional, arr. by Betty A Wylder, 1923-1994
© 1992 UUA

UUAA Music by Sally Rogers Arranged by DeReau K. Farrar Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, Director of Worship & Music Allison Halerz, Pianist-in-Residence Audio mix & video editing: Mike Halerz (3 May, 2020)

Love It or Leave It

February 14th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The Book of Faith – CommUUnion Gathering 2015

At a Young Adults gathering in Kingston ON in 2015, several voices joined in a reinterpretation of the song The Book of Love by The Magnetic Fields.

Video Reading – Homemade bagels | boiled New York / Montreal style hybrid – Adam Ragusea

Sermon – Love it or Leave it – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

When I moved for seminary studies to one of the bagel capitals of North America – Montreal – I hadn’t really appreciated the significance of people’s devotion to their preferred “sect” of bagel.

I would soon learn that these can mean much to some folks.

As my new room-mate and her dad helped with the move, I quickly staked out my new neighbourhood, making notes of its amenities and its local flavour.  It was a blue-collar Anglophone neighbourhood along one of the city’s main streets.  I was glad to see that there were two grocery stores within a block, as well as a depanneur convenience store.  My main bank was a short walk away, right next to a post office.  I also liked that there was a public park right across the street, and even a small pub.  There was also an independent local coffee shop that hosted open mics, as well as a greasy-spoon diner that offered student specials for breakfast.  Taking all this in, I thought I’d fit right in.

As I was bringing in some boxes, my room-mate walked in enthusiastically – “Hey, Rod, did you look around the neighbourhood?  What do you think?”

“Looks great!” I replied, “there’s lots of good stuff around here!”

“I know!” she exclaimed, “Did you see the bagel shop at the corner?”

I admit I was rather taken aback by this… out of all the things I noticed during my reconnaissance mission around my new neighbourhood, the bagel shop at a nearby corner hadn’t even entered my radar, and I was perplexed as to why this was the one thing she would care to mention.

A few minutes later, my room-mate’s dad walked in with a batch of things.  The first thing I remember him saying was, “Hey, Rod – did you see the bagel shop at the corner?”

I was dumbfounded, and admitted that I had not seen it… but had already been made aware of it.

It simply did not compute to me that a nearby bagel shop would be noteworthy amid the many other things our neighbourhood had to offer.

In truth, I have always been puzzled when people waxed poetic about that special spot in town that had the perfect bagel, that you just couldn’t possibly miss out on.

I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out by being unaware of the bagel geography of the places where I lived.  And the fact that some people would have deep discussions, and sometimes lively disagreements, about this subject always presented me with an unsolved mystery.  I simply didn’t get the passion behind it.

Same goes for the competing fandoms behind the schisms between the New York versus Montreal factions, each one evangelizing to me the nuances that distinguished one from the other.  And even though I have heard detailed exegesis parsing out these differences, I simply don’t have enough interest on the subject to retain the details as to why different kinds of bagel are the way they are, nor why it’s supposed to matter.

The folks that are into bagels – many of you may be among them – are often equally puzzled by my indifference… which they have sometimes interpreted as active hostility.

The fact is, I don’t hate bagels.  If someone offers one to me, I’ll eat it without argument… I’ll even enjoy it.  But to me it’s simply an adequate, edible snack.  I also appreciate that, when used as sandwich bread, they’re a highly effective protein-delivery mechanism.  I simply will never understand the fervent following that other people have for them.  I’ll just as easily have a mildly greater enthusiasm for other ring-shaped breads, such as donuts.  I’m simply not always into the same things that others are into.

And that’s OK.  The truth is that other people’s passion for bagels doesn’t really affect me.  And they don’t need my permission to enjoy what they enjoy.  I can love it… or leave it alone.  You don’t need my permission to follow your passion.  As long as no one gets hurt, you don’t need anyone’s permission to love what you love.  You can be into things that other people aren’t into, and other people can be into things that you are not into.  You can love it… or leave it alone.  That’s the value of a community that has mutual respect for each other’s dignity and which celebrates the diversity that comes with sharing our lives with others.

Some folks are into poppy seeds, some like sesame seeds of different colours.  Some prefer onion and others garlic… others are even into burnt cheese.  And some people are into “everything”.

My friends, on a day when we celebrate love, we also open ourselves to recognizing how love comes in many forms.  In our Unitarian Universalist tradition, this is not an entirely new conversation.  We know that some people express their love in different ways than some of us might.  Some people are into something that we might not be into.  As long as no one gets hurt, that’s perfectly fine – in fact it’s worth celebrating… even if we don’t understand why some folks are so passionate about something that might not speak to us.  We can love it… or leave it.

Part of this ongoing conversation has included our affirmation of LGBTQ+ communities and individuals.  We affirm and celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer… plus, communities and individuals.  Sometimes, it takes a bit of work to explore the fuller spectrum of the LGBTQ+ circle.  Lately in the past few years, we’ve paid closer attention to what it means to better appreciate and recognize the trans experience.  There are also parts of that “plus” that we still don’t talk about often: such as the identities of two-spirit, polyamorous, pansexual, and asexual folks, as well as other sexual and gender identities that make part of our congregations and our wider communities.  This past year, for instance, the Canadian Unitarian Council has been paying closer attention to the polyamorous identities of folks in our national denomination, and that might be a deeper conversation for us some other time.

My friends, how people identify, how they express their love, and how they develop relationships is also part of who their family is.  We know that in our church’s community, and in our larger community, the definition of family goes beyond what was traditionally called the nuclear family – a straight married couple, with children.  Some of you have that kind of family, and that is perfectly fine.  Many of you don’t – either you don’t want it that way, don’t need it that way, or you don’t any more, or you don’t yet… there are single parents, couples without children, single folks, intentional communities of companions and friends – and whatever that family is, it is also worthy of recognition and celebration.  Not everyone’s family is like yours.  It might be hard for us to understand, why some folks’ families are they way they are, or why they might want them that way, but that’s beside the point.  Your families of origin, and your families of choice, are the people who you love and who love you, who hold you and support you.  And that is worth celebrating.  That is worth at least a holiday, or two.

My friends, in this Valentine’s Day and this coming Family Day, may all who you love, all whom you hold dear, and who hold you dearly, be a cause for celebration.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and Love,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Offered by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Anne Arbor
performed by Allison Halerz (9 August, 2020)

A Faith Worth Failing For

February 12th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Service – Hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council – Led by the Revs. Shana Lynngood and Samaya Oakley – 7 February, 2021

France is Bacon

January 31st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel


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

In the internet chat forum Reddit, where users often pose questions to each other, someone posted the question “What word or phrase did you totally misunderstand as a child?”

A Reddit user, going by the username “Lard_Baron” shared a childhood story from their time as a 12-year-old, admitting that when their father shared the quote “Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon”, they heard it as “Knowledge is power, France is bacon.” [Click here to read the full story]

Whenever the kid shared the quote, including what they thought was the cryptic phrase “France is bacon”, they were astounded that no one found that phrase weird.  Upon asking a teacher to explain the apparently-cryptic phrase’s deeper meaning, the teacher gave an in-depth explanation about “knowledge is power”, but didn’t elaborate upon the attribution to Francis Bacon – or, as the kid heard it – “France is bacon.”

Not having the self-confidence to articulate their confusion any further, the kid was resigned to accept the phrase as part of the things they might simply never understand… until years later, when they saw it written down and finally understood the source of the confusion.

A bit of a sidebar here… strictly speaking, the quote “Knowledge is power” doesn’t fully belong to the philosopher Francis Bacon.  In his work Sacred Meditations, the Latin phrase he uses [Nam et ipsa scientia potentia est] translates more closely to “knowledge itself is power”.  It was one of his students, the notable Thomas Hobbes, who later used the version of the phrase that we are now more familiar with.

That particular detail aside, the way the quote was cited, and then long-misunderstood by the 12-year old’s inability to articulate his curiosity, offers a deeper lesson on the limits of communication, and the work involved in reaching clearer understanding.

Many of us have had situations when we’ve misheard a phrase or a song lyric – there’s even a word for these: mondegreens.  You can probably think of a time when you’ve had a similar misunderstanding.  As meaning-making beings, our experiences and preconceptions often fill in the blanks with something that helps us make sense of what we might have misheard, though this might lead to misunderstandings down the road.

In reading the story of France is Bacon, I was impacted by the kid’s recognition that they might never fully understand the mysterious meaning of that phrase, accepting that sometimes we can leave room for uncertainty… until they eventually found a medium that helped them find greater clarity – the printed word.

This allowed for a fuller visualization of the difference between Francis Bacon, the philosopher, and “France is bacon” the cryptic phrase that the kid’s own experience led them to conjure up from what they thought they heard in spoken speech.  Sometimes, different methods and different media really make a difference in learning.

Next month, we’ll be looking at a number of deep themes.  And although February is a short month, it often features, and celebrates, several deep themes in our lives, including questions of justice, as part of Black History Month; celebrations of love, during the Valentine’s Day holiday; exploration of family connections – and the meaning of family itself – with the relatively new statutory holiday that is Family Day.  It’s also the month in which fellow Unitarian Universalist communities consider our shared faith nation-wide, with some guidance from the Canadian Unitarian Council.

All of these have deep and complex uses of language, with words like justice, love, family, faith, and community – all carrying broad meanings, that can be ambiguous, as well as emotionally charged for some of us.  These meanings are often informed by our own experiences and preconceptions.  And we might not always feel that we have the best use of language to engage in these conversations.  Language itself can be complex and nuanced, with many opportunities for expression.

A quick word of caution, my friends – when we have questions about deep and complicated matters (racial justice, religion, love, family), and we happen to lack what feels like adequate language, there is a tension between venturing into our learning edges, and remaining respectful.  Some level of stumbling is inevitable – this is part of the learning process.

It is also important to remember that, in the process of stumbling, people might get hurt, even if unintentionally.  It is because of this, that a fair level of contemplation continues to be important in exploring the depths of knowledge, to minimize the potential for unintentional harm.

My friends, as I have said before, one of the safest ways to pursue curiosity is to first listen intently, and welcome offerings of knowledge whenever they are being freely given.  Then, contemplate the meanings we gather thoughtfully, and get a better sense of what meanings and wisdom we still struggle with.  And when an appropriate opportunity arises, we may continue our queries, in a spirit of humility and respect.

Sometimes, the people we query are not in place where they can answer our questions, and this calls for respect as well.  And very often, our own work of responsible research, through varied media and reliable sources, can bring up answers we might not find otherwise.

In our hymnal there’s a hymn called Praise the Source of Faith and Learning, which we haven’t used much lately at the church of Olinda.  This is partly because the language it uses, and how it uses it, can bring up different meanings – and emotions – among each of us.  For instance, the hymn calls for a renewed “call to prayer” and not everyone in our church has a practice of prayer… or we might not always call it that.  But the broader appeal that this hymn makes, in my interpretation, is toward accepting the need toward enhanced contemplation, and constant re-evaluation of our understanding, with a caution to avoid stagnating in our own assumptions and preconceptions.

One of the hymn’s verses states: “we acknowledge that our science and our art | and the breadth of human knowledge | only partial truth impart”, which – at first glance – might appear to knock, or undervalue, science.  One way that I’ve read this hymn is quite the contrary: recognizing that the most inspired science requires a degree of intuition, and an openness to questioning, as well as cultivating a sense of comfort with our discomfort, accepting that there is always room for the unknown to linger, beckoning us toward further pursuit.

In this spirit, my friends, may we continue our responsible search for truth, with a sense of healthy curiosity, a measure of humility, and a respectful regard and awareness of the varied experiences and perspectives that we may come across, as we encounter all with whom we share the planet.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #158 Praise the Source of Faith and Learning
Words: Thomas H. Troeger, 1945- , © 1987 Thomas H. Troeger
~)-| Music: William Albright, 1944-1998, © 1992 Henmar Press, Inc. (C. F. Peters Corp.)
Tune commissioned by the First Unitarian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for their 125th Anniversary

Offered by Jess Huetteman (9 January, 2021)

February 2021 Newsletter

January 29th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Long Haul

January 24th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #348 Guide My Feet
Words: Traditional
Music: Spiritual from the collection of Willis Laurence James, 1900-1966
harmony by Wendell Whalum, 1932-

First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, Posted by Lukus Estok (8 March, 2009)

1 Guide my feet while I run this race.
Guide my feet while I run this race.
Guide my feet while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)

2 Hold my hand while I run this race.
Hold my hand while I run this race.
Hold my hand while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)

3 Stand by me while I run this race.
Stand by me while I run this race.
Stand by me while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)

4 Search my heart while I run this race.
Search my heart while I run this race.
Search my heart while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)

Meditation with Music – SLT # 146 Soon the Day Will Arrive – Sung by thisisLEA and Cantor Jason Kaufman

Posted by thisisLEA, with Cantor Jason Kaufman (29 July, 2020)

Sermon – Long Haul – Rev. Rod


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

We’re almost a month into the new year – just one more Sunday till the end of January – and already it might feel like January was a year unto itself…

And still, a lot of things feel the same, or maybe worse – covid infection rates seem higher than they were last month – approaching 100 million worldwide this week; the long-awaited vaccine has yet to reach the majority of the population; and our social and commercial options are narrower than they were before Christmas… very much the way things were last March.  On top of that, talk of a U.S. impeachment trial in February gives a sense of déjà vu for 2020, a bit like the movie Groundhog Day.

It certainly looks like many things about life in 2021 will continue to look a lot like the hallmarks of 2020 – the looming possibility of lockdowns, with uncertain beginning or closing dates, the threat of the disease itself.  Many things have changed, but things might feel like they’re going to stay the same for… a while.

Last month, just before Christmas, I made the observation that many things pointed toward things getting better, but that it also seemed like some things might get worse before they got better.  And in many ways, this past month has been a fairly faithful illustration of that playing out.  Only now do things seem to be getting into more steady direction toward sustained improvement – but we can’t rule out bumps along the way.  At this point we are still roughly in what might be called a midway point.

As we look at Canada’s expected timeline toward recovery from a pandemic situation, the last leg of population-wide vaccination is currently scheduled for September.  This is, of course, tentative… unexpected delays may yet come up, and with full efficacy taking several days to set in, September does not automatically mean a full return to large in-person gatherings and restriction-free socializing.  Of course, it’s also possible that the schedule may be moved up and progress accelerated… but at this point, a healthy dose of anticippointment might be helpful.

We’re still in for the long haul.

This is also a time when many of the hard realities of the pandemic have become more visible in our church community.  If, by any chance, the pandemic still seemed abstract, we have now all been touched by people in our immediate church community who have been infected, and in one case died.

This is hard news, which challenges our sense of coping with several more months in this prolonged situation.  It is concrete and it is palpable.

And yet, this latter part of January is much different than the end of December in 2020.  Infection rates are indeed going the opposite direction – down.  In fact, in most of the jurisdictions where we live – in Windsor-Essex, in Ontario, in Canada – the infection numbers over the past week are actually lower than they were a month ago.  And many of you have already had your first dose of one of the new vaccines… the change is slow, and it is also concrete and palpable.

And, despite the civil unrest in the U.S. earlier this month, a tumultuous leadership has been replaced with one that uses a different and more conciliatory tone, just this past week.  This does not mean that Canadian leaders and representatives won’t have challenges in dealing with our neighbour, but it does mean that expectations on how our leaders will relate to each other are likelier to follow more regular norms of diplomacy and a more respectful demeanour.

Let’s also remember that many lingering conversations around social inequalities are now more largely in the open, with people having a wider awareness of them, as well as a deeper understanding of what they mean for the whole of society. 

We have discussed before that, in many ways, a full return to what was normal ten months ago might be untenable – and, in many ways, even undesirable.  Many things that were normal in early 2020 no longer feel acceptable to us in early 2021 – particularly the conditions that led to the pandemic having such a devastating impact over the past several months, as already-vulnerable sectors of the population became even more vulnerable under pandemic circumstances.

We’ve become familiar with the risky conditions in congregate living settings, where folks with compromised health were put at higher risk due to structures of employment that unnecessarily allowed for repeated exposure to the disease.

We’ve heard the evidence and stories of people in precarious work conditions, who could not afford to follow the ideal precautions, or who were simply left behind with inadequate support.

We’ve become aware that decades and centuries of marginalization based on race and ethnicity have left systems that perpetuated the marginalization of many communities. 

This enhanced awareness, along with the actions that our larger community has taken and will be taking – in which many among us play a part – is a welcome change.  This year, we can look to many things being different, for the better.

My friends, in our church community, the time that still remains for this current crisis to wane also offers us space we can use toward envisioning our church’s life toward September.

My friends, we have become used to different ways of doing church and being church.  To some extent, these alternatives have simply been ways to cope with the barriers that have come up, but they also represent options for making our church more accessible.  Come September – or whenever in-person gatherings make sense – we can expect some changes to stick around and complement our church life, not to return to normal, but to go beyond normal.  When sitting at the pews becomes an option again, our church – its people, its culture, and its relationships with the wider community – will inevitably look and feel different.

Some aspects of our Sunday services might be more flexible, as we’ve adapted with openness to see how else worship can look.  We’ll have more options on how we get together, who gets to participate, and where else we might fit into the larger community and its shared mission.

Yes, my friends, already, this year is different, even as parts of it may feel like we’re lingering in the past few months.  We have changed, we have grown, we have developed unexpectedly, and we can expect our story to develop as we keep steadfast into this long haul.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #131 Love Will Guide Us
Words: Sally Rogers, © 1985 Sally Rogers, used by perm. of Thrushwood Press
~)-| Music: Traditional, arr. by Betty A Wylder, 1923-1994
© 1992 UUA

UUAA Music by Sally Rogers Arranged by DeReau K. Farrar,
Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, Director of Worship
& Music Allison Halerz, Pianist-in-Residence
Audio mix & video editing: Mike Halerz (3 May, 2020)

Uncomfortable Conversations

January 17th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #1 Prayer for This House
Words: Louis Untermeyer, 1885-1977, © 1923 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1951 by Louis Untermeyer, reprinted by perm. of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Music: Robert N. Quaile, b. 1867

The Community Church of Chapel Hill (27 April, 2020)

For All Ages – Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by James Weldon Johnson, music by J. Rosamond Johnson, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist – Storybook video by Kia’s Cottage

Video Reading – Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Episode 1 – by Emmanuel Acho

Sermon – Uncomfortable Conversations – Rev. Rod


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

Emmanuel Acho is a former football player, now a sports commentator and author, who heard many questions from white friends about Black liberation movements around June of 2020.  He decided that many other white folks might be wondering similar things, so he started a YouTube channel with a series called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.

In his Uncomfortable Conversations series, he goes on for several episodes that include interviews with white celebrities, interracial families, a church pastor in a mostly white congregation, a mostly white police department in a mostly white California town, as well as the commissioner of the National Football League.  He sought to have frank conversations for the sake of educating his white friends.

Immediately after seeing his first episode, I was intrigued.  Not only is he taking on the task of explaining many questions I’ve encountered about Black liberation movements – or questions I’ve had myself, but he also does it in a very accessible way.  His goal is not to guilt folks or make people feel bad.  I’m not even sure he’s going out of the way to cause discomfort, but he acknowledges that conversations about race can be uncomfortable – not just because of the history behind these conversations, but because many of the stories and experiences may be unfamiliar to folks who don’t share his background.

There are questions that white folks may be uncomfortable asking, being unsure of how they will be received.  And there are also questions that white folks might not even know are there, or might not have the words with which to express some parts of that conversation.  Therefore, these can be awkward conversations – uncomfortable conversations.

There are also parts of the stories of Black people and of racialized People of Colour, which might simply not reflect the experiences of white people, and may be therefore hard to relate to, understand, or fully appreciate, if you are white.  When there is such a large gap in people’s assumption of how life is for others, there can also be discomfort, even as expanding understanding may develop.

One of the things I especially appreciate about Emmanuel Acho’s series is that, while it has a reasonably high production value for a YouTube series, it’s also somewhat unpolished in the conversations themselves.  In later episodes, when he interviews with different leaders, celebrities, and families, the conversations seek a level of sincerity that doesn’t always present itself in perfect expressions… people trip over their words, stumble upon the concepts they are trying to get across – or the concepts they are trying to grasp.  There are raw emotions, and sometimes contradictory conclusions.

I realized that I don’t always agree with everything that Emmanuel Acho says – or the way he says it – and the same goes for what many of his guests have to say, or the way they say it… and that’s OK.  I still appreciate the effort that he makes in educating me from his lived experience, and the effort that his white guests make in pursuing personal growth and community development.

Uncomfortable conversations don’t have to be perfect – it is far more important that they happen.  To be sure, coming in with an open mind, a respectful demeanour, and a sincere heart, are all part of the equation, but perfection is not a requirement.  Learning is inherently messy… otherwise, learning wouldn’t be needed to begin with!

I should point out here that Emmanuel Acho has willingly taken on this task of hearing and answering these questions, but that will not always be the case, and it’s important to be mindful that People of Colour should not be expected to constantly take on the role of educator – but when they do, it is important to take the opportunity to listen to what they have to say.

Now, there’s one uncomfortable conversation worth bringing up this month…

Since the last time I was at this virtual pulpit, just two weeks ago, a number of historic events have happened at our country’s doorstep, including an insurrection at our neighbouring country’s legislative building, as well as an unprecedented second presidential impeachment.

A lot of analysis has already been had about the meaning of these events, and I won’t go over all of it now.  But one of the aspects of it that is still often overlooked, and which bears reminding on the eve of the US holiday honouring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is the racist element in the insurrection.

Many people were quick to point out the disparity of the massive police presence last summer in Washington D.C. during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, versus the sparser, and ultimately inadequate, security presence when a mostly white mob made their intentions to storm the Capitol building known.

Even more apparent was the ideology that was welcome among many in that mob, as there were Confederate battle flags visible, outside and inside of the building.

Perhaps less obvious was the inherent element of white supremacy that was present through the longer developments leading up to that insurrection.

Many authorities have not minced words in branding key players in that insurrection as terrorist organizations – specifically white nationalist terrorists.  Though it is telling that the label hasn’t caught on in popular speech, even though acts by other groups – who are often foreign and from racialized backgrounds – have often been accepted as terrorist acts without a second thought.

Of course, there are many dimensions to the events of the past couple of weeks, including complicated socio-political and economic factors, bureaucratic details, and even questions about the role of technology in public discourse.  But the fact that white supremacy was a central element cannot be forgotten or ignored.

So, where does that leave us?

It is too easy to dismiss this conversation as an “American” thing… and that would be a mistake.  Not only is this happening across the Lake from us, in a land where many in our community hold close ties, but it also overlaps with many issues that are also often ignored in our Canadian home.  Certainly, the white supremacist legacy of colonialism endures in today’s relationships with First Nations, and it’s also important to remember the oft-forgotten history of slavery in Canada, which many in our community have been learning about over the past year.

And I’ll remind us that Wanda Robson was still alive at the unveiling of the $10 banknote recognizing the struggle her sister, Viola Desmond, went through in countering white supremacy in this country – not that long ago.

My friends, part of the mission of our Universalist-founded church, in its ever-expanding goal of radical inclusivity, is in keeping up the ongoing conversations – sometimes uncomfortable conversations – that help us understand, and act, on these present issues.  Here, we can stumble along, and respond to each other with grace – perfection is not a requirement – what matters is that we have these conversations toward an ever-expanding understanding.

My friends, we always take time in February, as part of Black History Month, to make space for these conversations, we’ll have a guest speaker with lived experience on these matters, and our main task is to listen, with sincerity and open-mindedness, as we continue the constant task of sitting with the wisdom handed down to us, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

And February is not the only time we do this… today we give a nod to the US MLK holiday, and we’ve talked about this last summer, but the conversation is important throughout the year, because, as we have seen the past two weeks, the spectre of white supremacy is insidious throughout the year, and looms even when we’re not paying attention.

My friends, today, we keep paying attention.  In this coming year, we’ll keep paying attention.  We will pay attention.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Meditation with Music – #1009 Meditation on Breathing
~)-| Words & Music: Sarah Dan Jones 1962- , © 2001 Sarah Dan Jones

Created by Lia Davis for virtual worship services at First Unitarian Society of Denver Performers: Alisha Bashaw, Christopher Belanger, Kalia Bethany, Charlotte Braud-Kern, Tyler Corson-Rikert, Lia Davis, Rachel Hill, Lacey Hochman, Melissa Monforti, Ally Sabbah, Brian Stone, Kimberly Urish (1 June, 2020)

January 2021 Newsletter

January 10th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Beyond Expectations

January 3rd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #344 A Promise through the Ages Rings
~)-| Words: Alicia S. Carpenter, 1930- , rev., © 1983 Alicia S. Carpenter
Music: Severus Gastorius, c. 1675, ed. by A. Waggoner

Offered by the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, Pianist Jeff Hamrick (3 May, 2020)

For All Ages – On Immunity, Inoculation, and Individuals – John Green in Vlogbrothers

Vlogbrothers John and Hank Green share perspectives on the history and story behind vaccines, and the question of their responsible use.

In this first video, John Green references the book On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Biss.

Video Reading – Would I Take a COVID Vaccine? – by Hank Green in Vlogbrothers

Sermon – Beyond Expectations – Rev. Rod


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

Over the past couple of years, you’ve heard me talk about the approach that’s captured by the word anticippointment – that is, reducing the likelihood of disappointment by deliberately lowering our expectations – in other words, managing expectations.

It looks like health authorities had this approach in mind when, as the novel coronavirus was identified earlier last year, they announced that a covid vaccine was at least 12-18 months away.  They qualified this even further by stating that this was the optimistic outlook.

This came among more cautious speculation that a vaccine might not ever come at all, or that it might not be effective enough.

It seems that the approach paid off.  With managed expectations, the vaccines that came in, ahead of the expected schedule – under 12 months – and with remarkably high effectivity rates, roundly exceeded all expectations.

As we have also seen, this victory is only partial at best.  There are many logistical challenges ahead, from mass production of the newly-approved vaccines, to mass distribution of them, as well as a prevalent vaccine hesitancy among many in the population (including some concerns that are legitimate, while others are simply unfounded).  And that is without even accounting for some of the lingering questions that remain unknown, such as how long immunity by vaccination will last, to what extent it curbs transmission, as well as rare adverse effects that may have been missed in smaller clinical trials.

So, in some ways, even exceeding expectations still leaves room for ongoing managing of expectations.

And, as we have become aware in our community this past week, even a victory in record time was still not fast enough for some, who have already been fatally infected, and will never have a chance to get the protection from the miraculous development of these vaccines.

Even exceeded expectations have left some unrealized hopes behind.

And still, it is worth getting a deeper appreciation for what this victory – partial as it may be – means for our world community.  You have heard me talk about these new vaccines over the past few weeks, because this record-time medical breakthrough goes beyond a few research labs getting lucky, or an odd intense all-nighter, as scientists burnt the midnight oil… this one time.

This is a story of intense and intentional cooperation and collaboration through space and through time.

So, let us talk a bit about how the covid virus has played out in time…

In many ways, the year 2020 began a bit early – in December of 2019, as the novel coronavirus was identified around new year’s eve day, 2019.

Had the virus been identified just a couple days later, we would have spent 2020 talking about the dreaded covid-20 pandemic… and the part of me that likes order still gets a bit irked by the fact that it wasn’t covid-20 in 2020.  But it is perhaps fitting that this irksome number “19” remains in the covid name, because it is a reminder that covid, and diseases like it, are not just the product of the year when we’re most aware of it – it’s a product of a larger system that has allowed the disease to take hold.

Likewise, the vaccines of 2020 are also not the product of 2020 alone.

Many people are wondering how this process – which usually takes several years – could be measured in months, without cutting any corners.  And that’s because while the process of creating, testing, approving, and commencing deployment took place almost exclusively within the 12 months of 2020, the larger systems already in place predate the year 2020.  In a sense, the new vaccines were in fact not created in the space of 1 year – in a truer sense, it was more like at least 200 years.

The reason they could be prepared in record time, is largely in part because we relied on so much previous research, knowledge, wisdom, and collaboration from the past several centuries – and yes, a measure of luck.

Looking back just a few years, we can recognize that local governments and international agencies had already put systems in place for faster vaccine development, including new protocols and existing research on the innovative mRNA technology – these faster processes didn’t begin last January… people with foresight had invested in them years before.

When Chinese health authorities sequenced the virus’ code just about a year ago, that information could be put to use virtually overnight by research teams all over the world, thanks to the medical foundations that were already in place.

There was also financial, political, and institutional will to act quickly.  Money came in from many sources – some public and some private.  Health authorities gave priority to the ethical and technical decisions that needed to be made.  There were also improvements in the systems used for data collection, and the process by which approvals were evaluated, allowing for the same level of scrutiny in review, but with an approach that allowed for concurrent following of the data by overseers, which assisted in making the final decisions more quickly, while safeguarding the quality and integrity of the data being used.

One of the reasons the clinical trials could be conducted so quickly was by taking advantage of the very challenges of the situation itself.  In a lemons-to-lemonade approach, the very fact that the virus’ reach was so widespread, and that people were aware of it, meant that recruitment for the trials happened immediately, rather than over months, and the efficacy of the vaccines could be tested against high exposure rates, which made it easier to collect useful data in a short amount of time – using one of the virus’ main features (it’s ease of spread) as a tool for us to combat it.

But looking even further back, we see that the story of vaccination goes back to older breakthroughs, such as the story of Edward Jenner, over two hundred years ago, when he noticed that milkmaids’ immunity to smallpox may come from their exposure to cowpox.  His was not the only discovery of its kind, as that kind of wisdom had been observed – and applied – by others in his time and before him.

My friends, I’ve been giving space to this story because it is a witness to a part of the human spirit that may have gotten lost amid the many difficult moments of 2020.  This story tells us something worth remembering – and it is worth celebrating.  And it is imperfect and incomplete.  Astonishingly early, and somehow still too late.

My friends, just as the year 2020 began in earnest in December of 2019, so it is that, in many ways, 2021 appears to have begun in December of 2020, with the approval and deployment of the new vaccine.  If 2020 was a year of rising infections, 2021 may well be a year of rising vaccinations, but more tellingly, it could well be the year when we become participants in fulfilling one of the other stories of 2020 – a story of preparation and foresight (even when it didn’t always seem that way); a story of ingenuity and resilience; a story of gratitude for the work – sometimes invisible – of previous generations; a story when individuals and communities each have a role to play; a story of small, cumulative victories, that add up to victories beyond expectations.

My friends, we’ll have a role to play in the coming months.  It is possible that not all of you may be eligible to get the vaccine for medical reasons (adverse effects, while rare, are also a reality).  Those of us who can, may participate by getting the vaccine when we’re eligible.  And all of us will also need to participate, over the next months, by continuing a practice of limited physical contact, wearing masks in consideration for others, and following general hygiene and health guidelines.  As we have seen in this story beyond expectations, small victories, across space and time, make the major breakthroughs possible.  We are part of this story.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #350 The Ceaseless Flow of Endless Time
~)-| Words: John Andrew Storey, 1935-1997
Music: African American spiritual, c. 1750-1875, adapt. and harmony by Harry T. Burleigh, 1866-1949

Offered by the First Unitarian Church of Chicago (songleader Beena David; pianist Jeff Hamrick, music director at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. Recorded for the 9/20/20 service.) (21 September, 2020)

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