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

About Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda

Unitarian Universalist Church Of Olinda Photograph This church was founded on the faith that love is a more positive force for good than fear. It exists as a haven of religious freedom, offering fellowship, knowledge and inspiration to all who would seek truth, live responsibly and courageously, and be of service to humanity.



 

Reading Tea Leaves

May 23rd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – The $40 Internationally Standard Cup of Tea – Half as Interesting

Sam Wendover (21 September 2017)

Video Reading – Making and International Standard Cup of Tea – Tom Scott

Tom Scott (9 April, 2018)

Sermon – Reading Tea Leaves – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

With Victoria Day coming up tomorrow, we have a major Canadian holiday in our sights.

But there’s another worldwide holiday that you might have missed last Friday – it was International Tea Day on May 21.  And this day isn’t some self-proclaimed holiday by some random guy on the internet, it has the full backing of the United Nations General Assembly.  Now, if you haven’t heard about it, it might be because this was only the second year it’s been implemented, and its purpose is to expand awareness about the global importance of sustainable tea agriculture around the world, recognizing that tea is a major economic source of livelihood for many, and it can be even more sustainable, for our planet and the farmers, if environmental and fair-trade best practices take better hold – which is to say, if better standards are adopted.

There’s also a similar holiday of this sort in Japan on March 28: it’s the commemoration of a fellow named Sen no Rikyu – who was a major influence in the development of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  Now these ceremonies can have some very exacting standards for when, where, and how tea is prepared, served, and consumed.  The standards matter – and they also shift.  There are, indeed, many schools of the Japanese tea ceremony, and I suspect, each of them was developed for its specific cultural setting.

Many of us might not conform to those particular standards if it’s not part of our culture.  But every once in a while, we might bump into other standards for tea.  In the case of ISO 3103 – Tea – preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests, the standard is there for a specific purpose.  It lays out very specific instructions on equipment, portions, and timing.  But as Sam Wendover and Tom Scott point out in their videos, those particular standards are there for the goal of ensuring that the preparation of the tea is not a variable in experiments regarding flavour perception.  It is an important standard – for that specific purpose.  Outside of that scope, the best cup of tea is the one that suits you best – and any company you might eventually have.

Standards, however we define and redefine them, help us navigate the fog of the future – offering us guidelines that can help ground us whenever what’s next is uncertain.  And they also require a degree of interpretation as situations shift.

We continue to be in a time when it’s increasingly obvious that… the future isn’t obvious.  Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that having clarity about the future is an imperfect science, and that even educated guesses are still… guesses.

As we read the proverbial tea leaves while we attempt to make sense of what’s in store, we can nonetheless find comfort in the knowledge that, yes – there are guideposts along the way, which help us and our society move along, with a hazy map… or at least a steady compass to point us through the haze.

And in the coming months, we have some idea of what we expect our timelines to be for things like in-person gatherings and other things we haven’t been able to do for a while.  When and how these things happen will depend on whether we meet certain standards, on things like vaccination rates, and the feasibility of other safety protocols.

We’ve talked about vaccines, and how it was important for researchers and regulators to hold them to a high standard of safety and efficacy before they were made available to the public.  At the same time, there was some flexibility in streamlining the clinical trial processes, to reduce lag time and red tape.  This was done while still keeping the core standards on safety and efficacy in mind.

But standards can be deceptive.  The published efficacy rates for our current approved vaccines have been quoted as ranging from 60-95%, giving the impression that some are substantially better than others.  Epidemiologists have been quick to point out that the meaning of those numbers doesn’t represent what we might think it does.  For starters, they measure slightly different things – in trials that were conducted in different places, at different times, and facing slightly different variants.

But there’s an entirely different matter at play – those numbers also don’t answer what are possibly more important questions.  They relate to infection rates, but where the vaccines really shine is in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death… and using those metrics – those standards – all vaccines in Canada are virtually 100% effective.

(This of course is not medical advice – your healthcare provider is a better resource.)

My friends, the standards matter – when you know what you use them for, who you use them for, when you use them for.

In our Unitarian Universalist congregations, we are familiar with a number of standards.  Perhaps the best-known standard in our North American setting is the covenant to affirm and promote the 7 Principles.  These Principles haven’t always looked the way they do now – the first 6 were only adopted in 1960, and the 7th principle is the newest, adopted in 1984.

You may have now heard that there’s been talk of adopting an 8th principle to clarify our commitment to dismantle racism and other oppressions.  In fact, some individual congregations have already adopted it, and our system of governance leaves room to do that, regardless of whether the Unitarian Universalist Association or the Canadian Unitarian Council have done so.  The fact remains that even in the case of this well-known standard, we know that it has changed, and that it can do so unevenly.

You may have also heard that – for a few brief days – it looked like the Canadian Unitarian Council – the CUC – had indeed adopted the 8th Principle at its Annual General Meeting a couple weeks ago… as it turns out, the process that took place earlier this month did not meet the standards for that kind of decision to be formalized, but it did show that there is widespread enthusiasm for us to take bolder action in the coming months.

This is more than a pedantic debate on technicalities, it is partly about following our denomination’s legal commitments, as a non-profit, and perhaps more importantly, honouring more deeply our 5th Principle promise in following a democratic process – another standard that we have set for ourselves – that ensures that our collective voices have been heard on the matter, while also moving as swiftly as we can.

And one of the steps toward that goal is taking part in the kind of conversations that the CUC is hosting this coming Saturday and again later in June.  (I also encourage you to read the CUC letter “A Way Forward for the 8th Principle Process”, which will answer many of the questions you might have.)

It will also require a degree of flexibility, being open to embrace a degree of imperfection, and perhaps being willing to live with some degree of dissatisfaction if the precise wording of the new principle doesn’t exactly match your preferred wording.  In working toward a general consensus, not everyone will get everything they want, but we may work toward something that we are OK with, and can support.

There are other standards in our tradition – ministers have a set of standards on conduct and professional expectations.  How exactly those apply in specific circumstances can and has changed, but the fact that they are there guides us on our goal of offering the best service that we can, under the circumstances.

Our liturgies – the order of service – in each individual congregation can have many commonly recognized elements across the country and the continent… you can usually tell when you’re at a Unitarian Universalist gathering.  And we know that they are also different in each congregation – sometimes they are different within the same congregation, depending on the time and space in which we operate.  The last few months have shown us that flexibility on how we gather and hold a Sunday service is important, even as we keep a general sense to guide us on what is important as we search for truth.

My friends, in the coming months, new questions will be coming up.  Questions on how might continue to gather as circumstances change – quite possibly for the better.  We will be exploring the feasibility of in-person gatherings, as well as how we might incorporate our new knowledge of how to offer multiple platforms to make our services accessible to our wider community.

My friends, the answers to these questions still remain somewhat enshrined in the fog of the future.   But there will be some standards, from our covenants, our principles, our values, and our practices, to help guide us and point us in the direction that may best suit our communities.  My friends, the standards might not always matter in the sense that we think they do – but they do matter.  And perhaps the best standard – and guideline – that we have, is our covenant, our promise, to proceed in love.

So may it be,

In Solidarity and Love,

Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn – Keep it Alight – Rev. Lynn Harrison

Canadian Unitarian Council (17 May, 2021)


AUUction Items Lists (silent and live) for May 2021`

May 22nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and plan to bid!


June 2021 Newsletter

May 22nd, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


Keep it Alight

May 16th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service
Hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council

Watch: (Fast-forward to 9:24 for beginning of service)


Mother Nature: our timely teacher (Rev. Rosalind Mariconda)

May 10th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Watch:


How is that Working for You?

May 2nd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Meditation Hymn #157 Step by Step the Longest March
Words: Anon.
Music: Irish folk song, adapt. and arr. by Waldemar Hille, 1908-1996,
© 1969 by Waldemar Hille
Tune SOLIDARITY

Dave Rowe and Stacey Guth
Recorded for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City (12 October, 2020)

Sermon – How is that Working for You? – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

The popular Saturday morning cartoon The Jetsons, by the Hanna-Barbera studio that also brought us The Flintstones, offers us one vision of the future.  And just as The Flintstones offers a vision of the past that takes… some artistic license, The Jetsons offer us a mixed bag when it comes to predicting how our future might be shaping up.

Set one hundred years from when it was created, The Jetsons shows us a society that in many ways mirrors contemporary life in the 1960s – a nuclear family with a male breadwinner, with a teenage daughter that spends her generous allowance at the space-mall, and a son who takes after his father in the local school’s sports team (except, instead of baseball, they play spaceball).

But, of course, they make some half-serious predictions about how technology might impact our lifestyles.  Like much of fiction set in the 21st century, they have flying cars.  And while that technology has been on the cusp of reality for several decades, it is yet to reach any practical or realistic application.  Many question whether it would even be desirable to have that mode of transportation in our cities.

A few things have panned out.  Moving sidewalks are a technology that, while not widely used, has been a reality for decades now, and many of us have even used them – probably at an airport.  Same goes for treadmills.

In the cartoon, the standard way of communicating at a distance is the videophone – a telephone with a screen that shows you, visually, who you are talking to.  This is something that an increasing number of us have become familiar with.  In fact, our videophones are probably more sophisticated – and portable – than the cathode ray ones in the cartoon – and we don’t really call them videophones, but rather laptops, or tablets, or… phones.  Now, the cartoon doesn’t really show the Jetson family going to church, but if they did, they could well have done so on their videophones, like much of the world does on Sunday mornings these days, now that we live in the future.

The one prediction that I find most interesting – and perhaps most disappointing in its non-fulfillment – is the one about the workweek.

George Jetson, the patriarch and breadwinner of the family works three hours per day, three days a week – for a total of nine hours a week.  He complains about his heavy workload, and is not entirely happy with his short-tempered boss.  Technology, it seems, has made this possible.

This particular prediction has not come to pass for most of us… but could it?  It is not entirely without precedent after all.

For thousands of years, there have been established traditions that eschew the kind of non-stop workweek that continuously goes day in and day out, and instead have a formally-instituted day of rest – it’s in the Bible! [Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8]

This sabbath day was partly to allow space for worship, as we do in this community.  And what is worship?  Last week, I read words from Jacob Trapp, who among other things, describes worship as the possibility to stand in awe among all that is before us – the “stars, a flower, a leaf in sunlight, or a grain of sand”, the ability to be receptive, “to pause from work and listen to a strain of music”, to be able to listen “to the still small voice within” and be able to move “through deeds of kindness and through acts of love”.  These things can be done while working, but they can be even easier to do when we take a sabbath day and seek moments of sabbath.

In the Bible, that sabbath was a Saturday, which continues to be observed in the Jewish tradition, and by Seventh-Day Adventists.  Folks in the Christian tradition – and those of us who share in that heritage – have moved that practice to Sunday, because of a mix of historical and theological reasons.  And that Sunday of rest has become standard in what is often called the Western world, as well as many other places around the planet.

But Saturday has also made a comeback.  Thanks to the work – and often significant sacrifice – by leaders and supporters of many labour movements, the standard work week has come down from six to five days.  Some industrialists, including Henry Ford eventually embraced this change, finding that rather than lose productivity, workers were better rested and more effective in the tasks of the week.  It took a long struggle, but the modern weekend is a popular standard around the world.

And there has long been a campaign for another major shift toward a four-day workweek, which has gotten a boost lately, as the Pandemic has invited people to rethink how work is done, where it’s done, and when it’s done.

Not only is there precedent with the Saturday comeback, but it’s also witnessed around the world, as can be seen in some places in Europe, where three-day weekends from Friday to Sunday have taken some hold.  And there is evidence, again, that productivity often does not decline and may even increase.

Perhaps, the Jetsons were not that far off.  Now that we live in the future – about halfway in the timeline from when The Jetsons were conceived to when their story is set – it might be a good time to take some stock of how we think of work.

Now that we live in the future, our society is, by many measures, magnitudes of scale wealthier than ever before.  And a lot of it is owed to technological advances.  It can be argued – and many have – that our middle class lives a wealthier life than any medieval monarch… when you factor in things like better health and medical care; common luxuries, like the availability and variety of food; amenities such as plumbing, clean running water, and electricity.  Even something like owning a car can represent a better quality of life than the richest people in the middle ages had in their lifetime.

But just because our society – and many individuals in it – may be wealthier in our lifestyles, does not necessarily mean we’re richer.

Poverty is still real, with real impacts on people’s lives.  Even when many aspects of quality of life are better now than centuries ago, living with precarious housing conditions, or no housing – or unreliable access to those benefits that many of us can easily obtain – means that, in many ways, the life of the future has not made many folks all that much better off… even with shinier gadgets and better institutions.  And technological advancements alone have not made the space for leisure that is often speculated in visions of the future.  Our world may be wealthier, but the access to that wealth has not benefitted everyone in the same way.

And there’s another complication at play here.  What does it mean to have access to all this wealth – at least in principle – if you don’t have the time to truly benefit from it?  To enjoy it.  To allow it for us to grow into a more meaningful life as individuals and as a community.

This doesn’t mean that folks today can’t have meaningful lives.  Or that if you work full shifts and overtime you can’t find moments of fulfillment.  But the case remains that, we could imagine a far more fulfilling life – a more enriching life – for each of us and our society, if we’re ready to embrace the possibility that maybe we don’t all need to be working all the time, or so much of our time, for the sake of sustaining our existence.  Or, as can sometimes be the case, for the sake of ever-increasing riches, even when there’s already enough to sustain oneself.

I rather like it when a rationale can be supported by both principled and practical arguments.  And the case for a shorter workweek often covers both of these.

Not only would more time out of required paid work make space for more fulfilling lives, but the evidence suggesting that, by allowing workers more time to rest and devote to their personal and family needs – leading to more efficiency when performing tasks – suggests mutual benefits for all.

More time out of required paid work doesn’t mean that people want to work less, but that they may have the opportunity to do other kind of work that that is enriching in other ways, to themselves and to their community, such as volunteering for a cause they find important, thus enriching society at large, or following personal passions, like a hobby or further education, thus enriching one’s life.  Having more time for family and friends also allows for better mental health, and having space to focus on play and exercise can also lead to better physical and mental health, which benefits the individual and society, by reducing both social and financial costs.  This is both a principled cause and a practical cause.

My friends, re-envisioning how, where, and when we do work, is not a case for doing less work, or for making fewer contributions to society.  Rather, my friends, it is a case for making space for other options in how we contribute to each other and ourselves, for how we can make a more fulfilling life, for how we can make a more worshipful life.

My friends, living in the future has opened up many possibilities and opportunities… maybe it is also a time to see those possibilities and opportunities truly fulfilled for all of us.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and Love,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

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


MVPs – Most Valuable Players

April 25th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #357 Bright Morning Stars
Words: Anonymous
Music: American folk song, arr. by James A. Lucas,
© 1983 Plymouth Music, used by perm. of Walton Music Corp.
Tune BRIGHT MORNING STARS

Rev. Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb
Foothills Unitarian Church (5 April, 2021)

Meditation – Fix You by Coldplay – Performed by the Calgary Physician Choir

Sermon – MVPs (Most Valuable Players) – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

Those among you who are into sports will know that – unlike the internet-related abbreviations I’ve previously used – this month’s abbreviation, MVP, has been around way before the internet was a thing.  MVPs are the most valuable players in a particular team or league – the VIPs of that particular sport community, granting them recognition and a certain special status among their peers.

Over the past year, there has been some version of this “game” playing out in the larger labour market.  Except it isn’t a game – it’s sometimes been more of a debate, or a lobby, or a struggle, to figure out some kind of… categorization, or even a type of hierarchy, among different kinds of workers.

We first started seeing this kind of conversation intensify around March of last year, when the question arose around what work could be considered “essential”.

There are many answers to this.  It is subjective – which is to say, it depends on whose perspective you are trying to answer this from.  It can depend on what we are actually asking, and it is perhaps more helpful to ask “essential for what?”

From a sociological perspective, one might consider something like health care to be a primary industry during a global health crisis.  It was probably never a question that health care practitioners would be considered essential during shutdowns or other restrictions on mobility.

With a slightly larger scope, the provision of food and household necessities were also quickly identified as primary needs, so that grocery stores – and importantly – their workers, were deemed essential quite universally.  Grocery stores may have adapted, but they never closed.  And certain fears around the availability of things like toilet paper and other household items were mostly unwarranted.

Things got fuzzy around things like providers of alcohol and cannabis.  These too were designated as essential.  The rationale behind this can be a whole conversation of its own, but the bottom line is that these stores also never closed – and their employees showed up.

From an economist’s point of few, the subjective filter used a slightly different question – something to the effect of, “what industries need to continue functioning, so that the economy doesn’t completely collapse?”

This included areas such as transportation – specifically regarding the chain of supply – as well as banking, construction, and… to varying degrees, education and childcare.

I could devote a lot of time and space outlining what the different provincial guidelines officially labelled as “essential”.  A year ago, I noted that Ontario’s guiding document listed several dozen industries, with several subcategories, as well as exemptions and allowances for adaptations for things that could be done from home, or in a way that reduced contact with the public.  There were many gray areas.

Last year, the Calgary Physician Choir sang the song Fix You, by the band Coldplay.  If you watch it, you’ll see that the last 30 seconds of the video are devoted to crediting over 40 singers – all of whom are doctors – and to whom we’re giving extra credit these days.  The title doctor has always carried with it a certain degree of prestige, and there are good reasons for that… from the level of skill and training required to obtain that title, to the hazards involved in that work, and the life-saving potential they have, for us as individuals, as well as for the health benefits of society as a whole.

That hasn’t changed – if anything we have been reminded of why that recognition is there to begin with.

The same could be said for other healthcare practitioners who do not carry as prestigious a title as doctor, but who also require similarly specialized skills, and contribute as team members in the provision of quality healthcare to individuals and society.

And we also recognize that many other work positions, in several sectors, are equally not often recognized for the value that they bring to us as individuals and to the functioning of society, and which themselves can carry their own occupational hazards, especially now.

Now that vaccines have become available – to varying degrees – a similar set of questions around what is “essential” has been floating around.  Part of this has revolved around which industries – and their workers – have been prioritized in the immunization order of precedence.

Now, it’s important to note that many of the decisions made around this kind of conversation are not necessarily tied to which jobs are “more important”, and often try to follow a practical set of rationales, including risk factors, such as the possibility for exposure to disease – for the employees and their clients.  Though it is also important to note that these metrics have at times seemed to have been applied… unevenly.

Which brings us to a larger question around what kind of work is important.  And again, the answers are somewhat subjective – which is to say, the answers revolve around the subjects that we focus on.

In our economic system, jobs – and the work attached to them – exist because there is value that our society places on that work.  Which means that, at some level, every job has an element of importance.

At an individual level, the stakes become even higher.  For most of us, a job is a means to a livelihood – a way to eat, a place to live, a form of pursuing fulfilling activities – a matter of survival.

And this means that employment is – or has been – one of the most important parts of one’s life for a large segment of the population.  Which makes for an especially difficult decision, when the means to a livelihood can also represent a risk to one’s life, or the lives of those near us.

Over the past year, we have been called to give a closer witness the hazards of work.  To be clear, there have always been hazards and dangers attached to all manners of labour.  In the past while, it has been clearer that some kinds of work are more hazardous than we realized, and some of them have become even more hazardous still.

For too many in our community, that has been a choice they’ve had to make – survive, or put one’s life at risk.  That choice has always been present for too many among us, and now, that choice has come up even more often.

Leading epidemiologists and labour analysts have made it clear that, one of the main mechanisms that we can keep workers, their coworkers, their families, and society at large, safe – especially now, but also at other more… typical times – is for paid sick leave to be a standard, normalized, part of our culture… a part of our work ethic.

This was true before, even when the greatest threat was a regular flu, and it is just as true today – as the stakes are higher.

My friends, this week we recognize that people make this kind of difficult choice every day.  Whether their work is officially categorized as essential, or not.  On the national Workers’ Mourning Day, on Wednesday, we remember those who gave their all, in the service of our community and in the service of their families.

And, my friends, we recognize that, in an economy that relies on the work of all who offer value to our society, all employees are the economy’s Most Valuable Players.  May we recognize that value.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and Love,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 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

Foothills Unitarian Church (9 August, 2020)


May 2021 Newsletter

April 24th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!


Planet Ground

April 18th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – TRAPPIST Transits

The TRAPPIST-1 system revolves around a red dwarf star, which is pretty small – around the size of Jupiter, but much more massive – and the seven planets around it, are so close to it, they’re even closer to their star than Mercury is to our sun.  But because the red dwarf is so much colder than the sun, many of their planets might be just right, in the Goldilocks zone.

Another thing that astronomers on Earth have found out about these planets is that their orbits are kind of synchronized with each other, in such as way that each of their orbits are whole number ratios of the other, meaning that they have a kind of rhythm, a bit like musical notes.

Some people who are into music and astronomy have wondered what it would sound if we played a note every time one of the planets passed in front of their star – when they are in transit.  So one team did just that – playing a xylophone note when planets b to h transited the star TRAPPIST-1, with each note being the letter of the planet, and planet h given the note A.  This is an interstellar collaboration between Earthlings and the TRAPPIST-1 system!

TRAPPIST Transits – Composed by the TRAPPIST-1 System, with help from Tim Pyle (Caltech/IPAC)
Posted on ExploreAstro (22 February, 2017)

Meditation Song – Space Oddity by David Bowie – Interpreted by Commander Chris Hadfield

Posted on Rare Earth (12 May, 2013)

Sermon – Planet Ground – Rev. Rod

Watch:

Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

It costs tens of thousands of dollars to send something into space – pound for pound it is the most expensive shipping option.

And yet, years before the current pandemic, the medical officers at NASA, who are in charge of their employee’s mental health, understood that, when people are cooped up in a confined space for weeks on end, they can get… a bit edgy, which is not healthy.  It can be rather hazardous for astronauts to step out of their housing, so there are limited options for stress relief.  One option is exercise, and astronauts on the International Space Station do that regularly.

Another option is music.  And even though it can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to send instruments into space, NASA understood that sending things like a guitar, a keyboard, bagpipes, or a didgeridoo, was an investment in their employee’s health.

For over a decade there has been a guitar on board the International Space Station.  And in 2013, Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, played it as he sang and filmed a reinterpretation of David Bowie’s classic song Space Oddity. This is the first music video filmed in space.  And while the equipment used was quite expensive, they didn’t set any budget for special effects.  What you see is what they filmed.

In this version of the song, the astronaut makes it back to Earth, landing near the Kazakhstan cosmodrome.  And, while Commander Hadfield sings solo, you can see that there are billions of people in the background, as Earth is visible through the windows of the space station.

When people talk about the first music video to be filmed in space, they sometimes wonder if it’s also the most expensive video ever.  It probably isn’t, since most of the costs for the “set” were already absorbed as costs for other purposes.  Even the tens, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars spent on sending up the guitar have been amortized over the years, and paid dividends in maintaining the mental health of several astronauts.

But it does raise the question, why spend all the money to get up there in the first place?  It’s a question that NASA comes across from time to time.  And there are a lot of answers.  At the most practical level, the scientific advances from experiments in space have direct use back on Earth – from new products, to new medical techniques, that have been developed over the decades.

There are also indirect benefits just from taking up the challenge of sending people up.  Simply figuring out the complex problems that come with sending stuff and people into orbit has spurned technological advances of their own, which would not have happened otherwise… or at least, not as quickly.  Such jumps in innovation were previously usually seen only in warfare and the development of war machines.

Space exploration is kind of the opposite route to stimulating technological development.  Not to mention that nations need to cooperate with each other to work on something like an international space station.  Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield, got there and back in a Russian Soyuz capsule, and worked with a team from several other countries.  Space exploration is like an anti-war recipe.

At a more abstract level, going out inspires awe and excitement for learning about what goes on out there – and what it means for us down here.  In the same way that rabbit holes, inspire us to dive deep, and encourage passions when we rise back up from them.  Space exploration is a kind of… space wormhole, that invites us to look up, see what’s out there, and come back with new inspiration and passion.

Aside from physically going up into orbit, simply looking up can do that as well.  Astronomers are professional looker-uppers – and they do that in a more disciplined and systematic way.

That’s how they came across the star TRAPPIST-1 and its system, with planets TRAPPIST-1 a through h, just 40 light years away.  Far enough, that… it’s impractical for any of us here, at this time, to realistically get there any time soon.  But close enough that we can see it with enough clarity to get a sense of what the place looks like.  And even fantasize a bit of what it might be like if we were ever to get closer to it.

Since 2017, we’ve gotten to know the TRAPPIST-1 system.  Orbiting around what is called an ultra-cool red dwarf star, the seven planets are so much like ours… and also very different.

The star TRAPPIST-1 is smaller and cooler than our sun.  And its planets orbit so tightly around it that all of them are closer to it than Mercury is to our sun.  Their orbits are so fast that a year on the planet TRAPPIST-1 b is less than two earth days.  In fact, the longest year in the system takes less than 19 days, on TRAPPIST-1 h.

And yet, this is the system we know of that has the most planets like ours.  Seven terrestrial planets, rocky planets.  And out of those seven, three or four are in the habitable “goldilocks” zone.

But it gets complicated.  Since the planets orbit so close to their star, it is very likely that they are tidally locked – which is to say, they all have one side always facing the star, in perpetual day, while their other side is in perpetual night.  A very different situation than ours – a very alien situation.

And despite this vast difference, it is also speculated that some of the planets in the habitable zone may also have liquid water, and some kind of atmosphere… all factors that may allow for life.  Water and an atmosphere may also allow for some more even distribution of temperature around the planet, even if one side is always day and another is always night.  And it’s possible that in between – in the perpetual twilight zone between day and night – the conditions may be just right for some kind of life to thrive.

Even if there’s no life that we recognize on the TRAPPIST-1 system, the planets of the system exhibit a special relationship with each other.  The planets’ orbits have full integer ratios between them, which allows them to have a certain musical rhythm, but it’s also part of what keeps the system running.  Without that orbital resonance, it is speculated that the planets would collide with each other and the system would fall apart very quickly.  Showing that even at long distances, things are interconnected.

Thinking about the terrestrial planets of TRAPPIST-1… and the possibility – however remote – that they may harbour life, has sometimes led me to the rabbit hole (or wormhole) of thinking, “what would the aliens call their planet?”

One clue might be on how we categorize these planets: terrestrial… which is to say, earth-like.  In one of the most fundamental ways, they’re like our planet Earth.  And we happen to name our planet after… earth – the stuff that we walk on, grow food on, live on – the stuff that makes part of who we are, and which we are a part of.  I sometimes wonder if hypothetical aliens might follow a similar naming convention.

If we were to somehow encounter these aliens, and after we figured out the whole translation bit, it turned out that they’d say something like: “We’re from planet Ground”.  Or maybe their language has the subtlety for them to say “Our world is the planet Land”.  And maybe another species would say, “That’s funny, our home is the planet Dirt”.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we all used a different word that essentially meant the same thing?  If we all called our home planet that stuff that we walked on, grew food on, lived on?  The stuff that made part of who they were, and which they felt they belonged to.  “We’re from the planet Dust,” one species would say, “that’s where we come from, and to that we shall return.”

My friends, we look up at the heavens as they inspire a sense of awe, reminding us that there are impressive and unique worlds out there.  We don’t know how many – if any – of these worlds can harbour life, or if that life is anything like what we know here.  Either way, it’s a cause for awe.  If we are the only ones in the universe, we can marvel at the uniqueness of our spot in space.  And if there are others that we share this space with, we can be grateful that we are not alone in this vast expanse, sharing in the amazement that, against the odds, they are out there – today, we can share in the amazement that, against the odds, we are out here.

And looking out upon the heavens, my friends, we are reminded of the many specific, particular, peculiar, circumstances that are needed to support the kind of life that we have come to know – in a place that is just right.  And of how precious the place where we are is, that allows us to walk on it, grow food in it, and live on it.  A place that is part of us, and of which we are a part.  The dust that we come from, and to which we shall return.

My friends, may we steward this place that is just right, celebrate it, and stay in awe, as we look up to all else that is out there.

So may it be,
In Solidarity and Love,
Amen

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #1064 Blue Boat Home
~)-| Words: Peter Mayer, 1963- , © 2002 Peter Mayer
Music: Roland Hugh Prichard, 1811-1887, adapted by Peter Mayer, 1963 – ,
© 2002 Peter Mayer
~)-| keyboard arr. Jason Shelton, 1972 –
Hyfrydol

Aviva Heston – Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City (12 May, 2020)
Musical Director: Nancy Holland; Editor: Nick Pierone; Singer: William Rapp, Marilyn Shield, Aviva Heston, Alex Heston, Shirley Kahn, Karen Juday, Heather Stewart Jorden, Polly Pierone, Dan Cragan, Theresa Hassman, Cheryl Caplow, Yoshi Inman, Nick Pierone


Called to Serve

April 11th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Sermon – Called to Serve – Lt. Nicole McKay

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Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

What does a doula, an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, and a minister have in common? 

This sounds like it should be followed by the punch line to a joke, instead, it is the winding path of discernment for my call to serve at a military chaplain. 

I joined the Canadian Armed Forces in March of 2005 as an officer in the Cadet Instructor Cadre, a branch of the military set aside for working with youth. This group is made up of reservists, part-time people in communities across the country who work and volunteer their time to mentor young people as they become good citizens and leaders. There is no training for deployments and there are no moves unless they are voluntary. The training is specific to working with youth, how to empower them and how to set up boundaries for the safety of all who participate. These officers are formally responsible for the administration and training delivery of the Cadet Program. Although I have held a variety of positions at the local units where I worked, including a few years as the Commanding Officer, the paperwork was often done at home because, I often found that the spirit called for me to serve in a different way. This would happen repeatedly over my time with the cadets themselves. The young woman crying on the bathroom floor, and I joined her to listen all while decked out in my full dress uniform. The young person who was hiding in the bushes outside the building in which we met. He knew his parents weren’t coming to pick him up for several more hours, even though our meeting was over, and the staff would always stay until everyone was on their way home. Another young person came through the doors crying and when I asked her what was going on, she shared that she had just witnessed her best friend get shot at school that day, news that had been on my car radio as I was heading in. She chose to come to us before going home. Together, we called her parents to let them know she was safe and we continued to talk for most of our evening gathering. This was important work in my life knowing that I was being asked to be a positive adult role model for those who are navigating the challenging teen years. I didn’t understand the ministry that I was so clearly doing but simply acting out of the place where my great joy and great sadness met.

Of course, the work I was doing as an officer with the cadets was meaningful but it only paid 25 days a year. In my “civilian” job, I worked as a doula. Alongside families of all shapes and sizes, I provided physical, emotional, and spiritual support during pregnancy, birth, and the early weeks with a new baby. Strangers invited me into the sacred and vulnerable times in their lives, as a witness and caring presence through uncertainty, fear, and pain. From my perspective, it was also beautiful and holy work. While labouring at home, a muslim couple danced in their dimly lit kitchen to the sung Qu’ran. Later, at the hospital, I helped create space for the father to whisper to into the new baby’s ears the call to prayer. The woman who became a mother by choice – choosing to conceive a child without a partner – as she laboured through the night and into morning. We watched far too many late night tv movies. The baby who had their own schedule and who arrived at home before the midwives and before the EMS had arrived. Together with her extended family, we were able to quickly set up what we would need including warm, dry blankets which had just come out of the dryer. I was asked in that moment to be the non-anxious presence, the calm in the storm, and to trust the process knowing that this family had gathered together in love. I think it worked. Mom had asked me to catch her baby, and by a small miracle, since doulas are not clinical care providers, I had one sterile glove in my backpack. As I was preparing to leave a few hours after the arrival of this new life, she asked me how many times I have had to act in this capacity to which I had to confess, it was the first. Whether my work took me to a home or a hospital, I knew I was walking on holy ground. 

Then everything changed. 

It was a typical January day and I was on-call for two birthing families. We had a fair amount of snowfall and school had been cancelled for two days in a row. The next day, my daughter, who was 6.5 at the time, woke up with a tummy ache and she stayed home from school. Within the hour, we were at the hospital and before the day was over, I held my daughter as she took her last breaths. To say that this turned my life upside down would be an understatement. 

When it came to work, I asked my colleagues to cover the births I had in the coming weeks knowing that I needed to tend to my own grief and I wouldn’t be able to be fully present with another in that way. From this place of deep grief, there was also a lot of growth. Life had slowed down to the bare essentials but this time of reflection also revealed something to me: I had believed that I was functioning rather well but in reality, I was still keeping parts of myself hidden. My life remained compartmentalised, each version of my identity coming out in its own setting. One of those identities which I only let come out with specific people and trusted circumstances was my deeply spiritual nature. This had been part of my life from a young age and something that I nurtured myself as my family was not religious or spiritual. A spiral path which has had me revisit old places only to take me deeper each time.

After a few months of not working and feeling unsure if I could go back to birth work, I turned to the military for some employment options that would at least pay the bills. I had run my own business for a number of years, so I applied to take on a role in public affairs or communications for a summer contract. It turns out, the work came naturally and that they later sent me to public affairs school which has led me to the full-time position I held in a headquarters, where I provided advice to senior leadership about crisis situations. Life had once again begun to settle.

Little did I know what would be around the next corner. In the first two weeks at the school, we took a class on the government where in one of the readings, they defined the word “minister” as one who serves. It was as if the proverbial light bulb went off in my head. I was no longer listening to the instructor but re-visiting the path which my life has taken. A minister is one who serves. To work in the military is often spoken as being in service. Doula is a Greek word meaning “woman’s servant.” Everything that I had been doing in my life made sense. This had nothing to do with the job title I held but about the calling that could be lived out in many ways. I had unlocked a new understanding of who I was.

I was being called to a life of service and it wasn’t going to be as a public affairs officer. I knew I had to start taking my Master of Divinity, something I had toyed with a few times before, so I applied and was accepted. It still took some time to discern where this call was headed. Two years later, it had become clear, as I sat in a tent, checking my emails and reading an advanced copy of the newest defence policy. It explained that the military was aspiring to be more diverse in its understanding of religion and spirituality. I needed to embark on the journey to become a military chaplain, our first UU military chaplain. 

I share this deeply personal story, not to draw attention to my own personal journey, but to underline our humanity with its joys and sorrows. Right now is a difficult time for many, if not all of us. Our lives have taken a sudden turn and we don’t know exactly how long this will last or what life will look like on the other side of this pandemic. We are doing a lot of grieving – grieving the many losses including those of our hopes and plans for the future. 

This process of discernment isn’t an easy one. I can be trying. 

We don’t get to see the journey each of our lives will take from start to finish. We live in uncertainty. We do our best to lay out our plans, think ahead about what may come, but we are never 100% prepared for everything. Just as when we head outside at night under the street lights, they only shine enough to see the next section, the next step. We are only revealed the next part of the journey and we will build upon it from there. As we contend with this uncomfortable reality, our spiritual response must be one of cultivating hope. This is the work we do together as Unitarian Universalists and it is something that we can draw out from our principles and sources. 

Some people find this hope in God or the divine. As I prepare to minister in a multi-religious setting, I have been giving a lot of thought to how I might define God, the divine, the spirit of life. I believe that the divine is something that is life giving – whether for you that be a creator or the creative spirit within, the renewal of your spirit when you are out in nature or catching up with friends, this is what I find in our sources. So I ask: What is life giving to you? Is it the time you take for yourself to create art, is it listening to a favourite compose, is it your experiences in nature? Are you a story teller who delves into the wisdom from around the globe learning from the many voices? Where are you cultivating hope through these times of uncertainty? 

May we stay connected to our truth, to what gives us meaning. May we share these moments with one another because we are the beacons of hope for one another. Even when our journeys are not going in the same direction, we need the company of good hearts to remind us that we are not journeying alone.

Copyright © 2021 Nicole McKay


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