Introducing the Ex-UU Group

It’s been said that the only constant is change. This truism probably goes back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said “Everything changes and nothing stands still”. People change. Institutions change. Situations change. Change is all around us. Sometimes change is difficult. But sometimes change is what we need to do.

Back when I was in university, I was undecided what to do after graduation. I felt I should stay in school to get my Master’s degree. But I also felt I should move on. I decided to take what seemed the easier path and stayed in school. But within months, I realized I had made the wrong choice. I quit school, accepted a job at IBM Canada, and moved to Toronto. I never regretted that decision.

In 2010, my family decided to take a radical step and we moved to Kingston to be close to family. Shortly thereafter we joined the local Unitarian fellowship. It made sense at the time. We were with a group of friendly, more or less like minded people. However, as time when on and we became more involved with the fellowship, we became more and more uncomfortable. Something was changing. But it took a while before we began to make sense of it. (You can read about our decision to leave the fellowship here.)

Which brings me closer to the topic of this missive. Lately, we have been participating in one particular on-line forum on Facebook, The Gadfly Papers UU Book Conversation Group. I’ll try not to get into a lot of details, but the group reflects deep ideological differences among the Unitarian Universalist (UU) laity. Differences that may threaten the very existence of UU.

In a nutshell, the key issue is this. While it is probably a given that the vast majority of UU’s (if not all) want to see an end to racism, there is deep disagreement over how that is to be achieved. The UUA has embraced an extremely controversial theory called Critical Race Theory (CRT). It’s worth reading the Wikipedia page, especially the Critique section. One big problem with the theory is that critics of the theory are summarily dismissed with accusations of “white fragility” or being part of “white supremacist culture”. If the theory cannot be challenged, it cannot be tested, and therefore is bad science. I realize the social sciences can’t be as rigorous as the hard sciences, but I believe most researchers in the social sciences do try to make an honest effort to apply the scientific method.

Critics of CRT argue that there are better methods to address racism in society, methods that don’t alienate vast parts of society, including people who are making a sincere effort to stamp out racism. Within UU, good people have been thrown under the bus just because they disagree with the current CRT doctrine of the UUA. There is a serious chilling effect. Ministers cannot be seen as disagreeing with CRT lest they be accused of acting out of covenant. I leave it to you to decide how many of the Seven Principles are being violated by the actions of the UUA. (If you want another opinion on CRT, read A Perspective Based on 22 Years of Marginalization, by Jozef Bicerano, a UU for more than 35 years and also currently an active member of a UU congregation.)

But I don’t want to dwell on that. My point is that, for various reasons, people have left their UU fellowships (or Unitarian, in Canada). And as a result of the current controversy, more may well be tempted to leave. But as for us, we left two years before the Gadfly Papers made a splash at the recent UUA General Assembly meeting. As I mentioned at the start of this essay, people change and institutions change. Sometimes the only viable option left for someone who’s feeling unsatisfied is to leave their fellowship.

A few months ago, I jokingly suggested to someone that we needed an on-line support group for people who have left UU. As a result of the heated discussions on the Gadfly Facebook group, we decided to go ahead and start such a group. If you have already taken the leap and left a UU congregation, you are invited to join the Ex-UU group on Facebook.

Just to be very clear, this is intended as a forward-looking group. While group members may have strong feelings about their prior involvement with UU, it is not our place to engage in UU-bashing. And I want to make this clear, it is absolutely not our purpose to encourage people to leave their fellowships. Many of us still have a strong affinity with UU. As I’ve mentioned before, even though I no longer identify as Unitarian, I still have a strong respect for the Seven Principles.

We are a group of people who share our stories as we move forward in our lives. Some ex-UU’s are looking for different channels to support their humanist leanings, while others look for more spiritual outlets. There are a lot of different alternatives, such as humanist organizations or progressive Christian churches. Leaving a church can be difficult. We want to send the message to disaffected UU’s that they are not alone, and that there’s life after leaving a UU fellowship.

To further our purpose, we do try to screen prospective group members. When you press the “Join” button, you will be asked three questions: What is the name of your last UU fellowship? What year did you leave it? And do you agree to the rules of the group?

The group is simply a recognition of the fact that situations change. Some may well view the existence of the group as provocative. But I would argue that if someone sees the group as provocative, they don’t fully understand the Seven Principles. The fourth principle in particular talks about the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. If you truly accept that, you must accept the possibility that your own search for truth and meaning may well lead you away from UU. There’s nothing wrong with that.

If you are a former UU and would like to join with others, then please feel free to check out the Ex-UU group on Facebook.

Cheers! Hans

 

Wikipedia and Genealogy

Occasionally, I go back through my ancestors to see if I’ve missed anything. For the Dutch side of my ancestry, I think I’ve gone back about as I can go along all of the lines. But I still hope to be surprised.

A few weeks ago, I came across a 5th great grandmother, Rijkje van Assenraade, who lived in Amersfoort during the 1700’s. If she was born there, then surely there should be a baptism record. The WieWasWie index is steadily improving, and I was pleased to find a baptism record for Rijkje, dated 1733.

Searching through the Amersfoort church records, I soon came across another baptism dated five years later:

I also found a burial record for a child of Wijnand van Assenraade dated 1734. Through a process of elimination, I was able to conclude that that burial record referred to the Rijkje born in 1733.

So now I had names for two new 6th great grandparents, Wijnandt van Assenraade and Hendrikje van Willikhuize. Going back further is turning out to be a challenge. From their marriage record, Hendrikje was from Nijkerk. However, there’s no sign of her in the Nijkerk church records. Also, the name van Assenraade doesn’t seem to occur any earlier than the 1730’s. So more work is needed to extend the pedigree further.

However, my search through the Amersfoort baptisms turned up a few siblings of Rijkje, one of whom, Jan van Assenraade (1732-1810) also survived into adulthood, married, and had children. Going down that line turned up some interesting people. Which brings me around to the topic of this post, using Wikipedia as a source.

One of the children of Jan van Assenraade was Wijnand van Assenraad (1764-1855). In the death record for his wife, Hendrina van Uijttenhoven (1766-1838), the occupation of Wijnand was listed as Burgemeester. Now then, most people in my database were just regular folk, such as farmers or workers, and rarely get mentioned anywhere outside the church records or civil registration. However, for some people, it’s always worth doing a web search. Someone as important as a mayor is likely to be mentioned elsewhere, and sure enough, a search found some information in Wikipedia, as well as a picture.

Going down another line, I discovered a few more distant cousins mentioned in Wikipedia, my 3rd cousins 4 times removed, the composers Johannes Albertus van Eijken (1823-1868) and Gerrit Isak van Eijken (1832-1879). That was three Wikipedia relatives found in one day!

All together now, out of the more than 13,000 people in my database, 25 of them have their own Wikipedia pages. While it obviously can’t be relied on for most people, it can be a useful resource for the more famous (or infamous) people in our databases.

I’ll end this missive with a list of the Wikipedia people in my database:

Just to emphasize the point, it never hurts to do a web search on names you come across in your research. You never know what it will turn up.

Cheers! Hans

p.s. After publishing this tome, I realized one famous artist was missing from the list. I checked, and found that while Evert Moll (1878-1955, 4th cousin 3 times removed) is listed in a Wikipedia page of painters, he does not (yet) have his own Wikipedia page.

I Am A Musician

There are times when I look at my bass and wonder: “How the heck do I play that thing?”. I then pack up my gear, head to one of my regular jams, and still I pound out some decent bass lines. I’ll never be as good as Geddy Lee or Bruce Thomas, but I’m doing fine, and getting better each time out.

Back when I was young, I took piano lessons. I hated it! Later, in my teens, I tried my hand at guitar. While I was more motivated to practice, it never really stuck at the time, and I stopped playing. Fast forward to 2007 when I turned 50. That December, Sylvana asked me (as she usually does) what I wanted for Christmas. I said that I wanted a ukulele. After all, at the time, the ukulele had been gaining in popularity, and I was indeed curious. She did get me one, and I loved it! I had finally truly discovered the joy of making music.

Over time, my collection of ukuleles grew, and I branched out into other instruments, including banjo, and more recently, bass. I’ve found that choice of instrument is important in maintaining an interest in making music. Ukulele, in particular, is a wonderful introductory instrument since it doesn’t take a lot of practice to get it to sound like it’s supposed to. But with practice you can still do a lot of interesting things with it. And while I learned a bit of music theory during those painful piano lessons, ukulele can help bring the music theory into a practical focus.

Likewise, when learning bass, I started with a Gold Tone Micro-bass. Although it’s bigger than a typical U-bass, the M-bass is sometimes classified as a bass ukulele. The M-bass is a lot of fun and easy to play. In fact, I was jamming with it after just six days of practice.

This Summer, I’ve been making an effort to learn how to play the full-size, solid-body bass guitar by borrowing instruments from Joe’s MILL. Since the M-bass is so much easier to play, I tended to grab that first when practicing and jamming. However, an accident with my M-bass forced me to bring my borrowed Yamaha to a jam, and I managed fine with it. The full-sized instrument has additional challenges in technique, mainly in the realm of limiting fret noises and muting the unplayed strings. But once I broke the ice with that first jam, I’ve been jamming mainly with the Yamaha since then.

(When I return my borrowed Yamaha to the MILL, I’ll probably buy a Yamaha bass. Of the basses I’ve borrowed this Summer, I like this particular instrument the best. It feels right and play well. From what I’ve read, the Yamaha’s are considered very good value.)

My point in this tome is that, while I’ve been making music now for almost a dozen years, I still sometimes find it hard to call myself a “musician”. Some artists describe the creative process as if there were some supernatural spirit controlling them. And sometimes I too feel like it’s not really me playing an instrument. But that ignores the dozen years of experience and practice I’ve gone through. I’m fundamentally a lazy person, though, and I have difficulty focusing on things that I don’t enjoy doing. But I enjoy making music. What I’ve done over the past dozen years doesn’t seem like practice at all since it’s been so much fun.

With what I can now do with ukulele, banjo, and now bass, there’s no reason now for me to avoid saying this: I am a musician.

Cheers! Hans

Groote Beer Passenger List – August 1953

In August 1953, my mother, Johanna Maria Moll, came to Canada on the S.S. Groote Beer, along with her parents and nine siblings. Of the remaining siblings, one arrived in Canada a year earlier, another emigrated a year later, and one more stayed in the Netherlands.

About 20 years ago, I downloaded a passenger list for that voyage. As far as I can tell, the website that hosted that passenger list is no longer active, so now I offer that list here.

The Groote Beer left Rotterdam for Montreal on August 10, 1953. Along the way, she stopped in Le Havre, Southampton, and Quebec City. My mother and her family disembarked at Montreal and then traveled by train to Kingston, Ontario.

Some Thoughts on Unitarianism

It’s now been a little more than two years since we resigned our memberships in the local Unitarian fellowship. In a previous posting, I summarized the reasons behind our decision. As you might guess, there’s a lot more to our story than that. At various times, I’ve been tempted to go into more detail. But I never quite see the point in dredging up history. However, occasionally I do still think about my own beliefs, and how they fit in with Unitarianism. This post is a somewhat rambling collection of semi-related thoughts and musings.

I’ll start by mentioning one reason behind our decision to move on. Over time, as atheist humanists, we felt less and less of a connection to the congregation as it seemed to move increasingly towards more of a focus on spirituality. Ultimately, there were specific events that forced the issue, and by April 2017, we pretty much each had at least one foot out the door already.

Here’s an important point about Unitarianism. As a “creed-less” faith, the term “Unitarian” really doesn’t say much about one’s beliefs. There always seems to be the need to qualify the term, as in Humanist-Unitarian, Christian-Unitarian, Buddhist-Unitarian, etc. I don’t call myself a Unitarian, but if I were to, I’d have to say that I was a “Seven-Principles Unitarian”. That is, although I may no longer belong to a Unitarian fellowship, I still place great value on the Seven Principles.

And that leads to my next point. Many congregations have a particular focus. For example, many congregations in the US are distinctly Christian. Indeed, some Unitarians in the US can be more accurately described as anti-trinitarian Christians instead of Unitarians. Other congregations have a temperament that could be described as anti-Christian, where people cringe upon hearing the name “Jesus”. All of this fits within the umbrella of Unitarianism, since the faith gives its followers the freedom to develop their own personal theology.

That freedom to develop one’s own personal theology is clearly stated in the Seven Principles. Specifically, the third and fourth principles:

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

Note that there’s an important consequence of these particular principles. As I often state, if you truly accept these principles, you must accept the possibility that your own search for truth and meaning may well lead you away from Unitarianism.

In a sense, Unitarianism is not so much a faith, but rather a process. We are all on some sort of spiritual journey. Even if we don’t consider ourselves as especially spiritual, we all have values. And over time, these values may well change and evolve.

I’m now reminded of one thing that bothers me about the third principle, the term “spiritual growth”. The word “growth” implies a value judgment. When one says that they are growing spiritually, it implies that they are somehow better, or rather, more enlightened than before. And often, the conceit that they are more spiritually “awake” is accompanied by the arrogance that others should follow in their path. Although this conceit seems more common among followers of the more conservative denominations, Unitarians are not immune to this way of thinking. I’ve seen it among some of them as well.

One of the biggest challenges for any Unitarian congregation is finding a balance between different factions. The person most responsible for dealing with this challenge is the minister, who must not be seen as favoring one group over another within a congregation. Ideally, in my opinion, a congregation is best served without a minister. After all, the main reason most people join a congregation is to socialize with like-minded people. I’m sure many will take issue with that, but I stand by that statement. For us, meeting with some wonderful people every Sunday is the thing we miss most about our local fellowship. And just because we’ve left the fellowship doesn’t mean our own spiritual journeys have ended. It just happens differently now.

For me, I now find spiritual meaning in music. As Jimi Hendrix once said, “Music is my religion”.

If a congregation truly takes the Seven Principles seriously, it must be able to deal effectively with conflicting personal theologies. Members of a congregation must accept differing beliefs and values, while at the same time feel free to express their own beliefs and values. Members must not feel shackled by some tacit covenant in order to be seen as playing nice with others. While Unitarians talk about welcoming everyone, that must include giving everyone the freedom to express their beliefs and opinions, and to challenge others in a respectful manner.

That’s enough rambling for now.

Cheers! Hans

 

The Making of “a walk in the woods”

Part 2: The Video

A few days ago I posted a description of how I created the music for my video “a walk in the woods”, which you can view here. Today, I discuss how I made the video.

While composing the tune, I had a vision of accompanying it with video of walking through the woods, with the shots becoming more frantic as the tune progressed. Since the weather had been so rainy, it took a few days before I had a chance to venture out into the Lemoine Point Conservation Area. I hoped to spot the trilliums in bloom, but it was too soon for that.

This is a time of year when I love taking pictures in the woods. The trees are still bare and you can see much of the interior landscape unhindered by foliage. And the Spring weather is still comfortable.

I quickly had some good video of walking along the paths, with forward and side shots, as well as some shots of my feet walking. Not planned in advance were the shots of the squirrels and turkeys. Also unexpected were the stretches of muddy path along the eastern edge of the park. Unfortunately, at one point I got confused about when I was recording and when I wasn’t, and missed some shots of a couple of deer.

Back home, it was back to the computer. Just as I used free open-source software to create the music, the rest of the process also used free software. First, to capture the audio output from MuseScore, I used the program Audacity, a powerful multi-track audio editor and recorder. I made extensive use of Audacity for our Christmas video. But this time, I only needed Audacity to capture the audio. No additional tweaking was needed for the sound track.

The video was edited using the powerful open-source program Kdenlive. This is similar to Audacity, but for video. You can edit and combine video clips, applying various effects if needed. At any time you can play the video to see how things look. I used two video tracks, one with the audio muted. Regarding the effects, there are literally hundreds of different effects to choose from. I used only two: Greyscale and speed.

Before rendering the video, I needed to use one more piece of free open-source software, the GIMP, a powerful image-editing program. This is comparable to Photoshop, but of course, several hundred dollars cheaper. I used GIMP for the titles.

One design decision I mulled over for a few minutes was whether or not to desaturate the video. But choosing black and white was really a no-brainer. Often, monochrome is considered pretentious and stilted. But color can often be a distraction from the essence of the image, especially if the colors of the scene are boring. In a wooded area, the colors are mainly browns and greens. Well, mainly browns at this time of year. By leaving aside color, you can concentrate on other creative factors, such as the textures, lighting, and composition.

In conclusion, it’s truly amazing what kinds of tools are available to us for little or no cost. This video was produced using only open-source software available for free, running on a budget-priced computer I bought about seven years ago.

Cheers! Hans

The Making of “A Walk In The Woods”

Part 1: The Music

A few weeks ago, I woke up with a silly tune in my head. Normally when that happens, I promptly forget the tune. But this time, I quickly sketched out the tune on a piece of paper and put it on my desk. Later, I took that sketch and scored the tune for a trio of flute, cello, and bass. Once done, I shot some video at the Lemoine Point Conservation Area, and put together a short film. You can view it here:

Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m no musical prodigy. Far from it. But I know enough music theory to be dangerous. And so I fired up a program called MuseScore, and got down to composing. In this post, I describe how I went about creating the music.

To begin with, let me explain a couple of basic principles of music theory. First, a chord is defined as a sequence of three or more notes played together or in close succession. A major chord consists of three notes: the first, third, and fifth notes of the musical scale. In do-re-mi terms, those are the do, mi, and sol. For example, a C major chord consists of the notes C, E, and G.

Second, many songs fall into the category of the “three-chord song“. That’s true for literally tens of thousands of pop, folk, country, and blues songs. Those three chords typically are the major chords based on the first, fourth, and fifth notes of the scale. For a three-chord song in the key of G major, the chords are G major, C major, and D major.

Back to my silly tune, it’s basically a three-chord song in the key of G. Here’s the basic theme:

The flute, scored in the treble clef, carries the melody. The cello simply plays the notes of a major chord, one chord per bar, in the sequence of G, C, G, D, G, C, D, and G. The bass, played an octave below the cello, plays the root note of the chord.

MuseScore isn’t the easiest bit of software to learn or use. But it’s very powerful, and allows you to compose a score using pretty much any musical terms you want. You enter note mode, and then click on where you want each note to go. You can then play back the song and listen to what you composed. You can also tweak each track to get the sound you want.

Once the basic theme was done, I then copied those nine bars, and made slight changes to the theme. I repeated that process multiple times, each time diverging more and more from the original theme, changing mainly the flute and bass parts. Over the course of the entire song, the bass part in particular became more intricate. At certain points, I changed from 3/4 time to 5/4 time, and even to 7/4 time. The piece gets more and more frenetic, but returns to the initial theme at the very end.

Many artists have commented that often when inspiration strikes, it feels like there’s some spirit or muse taking over. That’s how it felt writing this piece. I was amazed at how quickly it came together. Even the intricate bass runs did not need much tweaking once I entered in the notes. In the past, this kind of thing required years of dedicated study and practice. And yet, with the right technology, this rank amateur could whip this out in a matter of a few hours.

If you think the software is expensive, think again. MuseScore is free open-source software. Downloads are freely available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

In conclusion, I’ll just say this: If I can create a piece of music like, I’m sure anyone can. It just takes a bit of knowledge of music theory and the patience to learn a tricky but powerful piece of software.

Cheers! Hans

 

Seven

I am a “seven”.

That is, I consider myself a “strong atheist” on the Dawkins Scale. On that scale, one represents a “strong theist”, a person who believes 100% in the existence of a supreme being. Four represents someone completely impartial, believing that a supreme being is as likely to exist as not.

A lot of atheists consider themselves as six, or “de facto atheist” since, although improbable, there is always the slight possibility that some supernatural deity might exist. (“Agnostic” might be a better term.) Richard Dawkins, in a 2008 interview, suggested that he might place himself as 6.9 on the scale. And for some time, I felt that that was an appropriate number for me too.

But here’s the thing: Although people have been worshiping some deity or other for thousands of years, there has been no concrete evidence put forward by anyone that even remotely hints at a solid proof for the existence of a god. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if it weren’t for countless ancient myths and legends, some of which have been given such honored status that many people actually consider them literally true, with only their faith as support.

Strip way the old stories, and what are we left with? Setting aside the myths, and starting from scratch, would anyone have any grounds to theorize a supreme being? And if someone put forward a new theory positing a supreme being, without knowing anything about any existing religion, would that theory bear any similarity to any existing religion?

In ancient times, deities and spirits may have been reasonable explanations for various natural phenomena. But over the past few thousand years, we have steadily revealed the inner workings of nature to the point where supernatural explanations are no longer needed.

Although there is always the slight possibility that there might be supernatural agents at work, there are various possibilities: First, if there is a supernatural agent, if may simply be something that is just slightly beyond the reach for our current scientific tools to understand. For now. Alternatively, a supernatural deity may exist but chooses not to reveal itself. Or perhaps cannot reveal itself. If that is the case, it is for all intents and purposes equivalent to no deity at all.

If a god existed, it has had several thousand years to unambiguously and incontrovertibly present itself to humanity. We only have handed-down stories about various prophets who claim to know “God”. Or claim to be “God”. Just the fact that there is still nothing close to universal consensus among theists as to the nature of a supreme being is for me a strong enough indication that such a thing doesn’t exist.

I am a “seven”.

By the way, in case you were wondering about the photo at the beginning of this piece. I took the picture 40 years ago. I’m not sure how the scene came to be, but I thought a cross lying in a hole in the ground presented an interesting metaphor.

Cheers! Hans

It’s All About The Bass

My musical explorations have taken a few twists and turns over the past decade. It’s now almost eleven years since I started playing ukulele. In the mean time, I also started playing a tenor banjo. Not a great stretch since I tune it like a low-G uke. But now, I’m a bass player.

While attempting to get other members of my family interested in music over the past few years, I borrowed a number of bass guitars from the local musical instrument lending library. But that only served to pique my own interest in the instrument. As a ukulele player, I was of course very tempted by the Kala uBass. But ultimately, I decided on a Gold Tone MicroBass, and I’ve been playing it now for the past month.

Why did I pick that instrument? I wanted something easy to play, and I think the MicroBass is just that. The polymer strings are definitely easier on the fingers than any metal strings. And I wanted something that sounded cool. Something suitable for folk and jazz. Paired with a Fender Rumble amp, it sounds great.

How have I been handling my new obsession? Well, so far, in the past month, I’ve played my bass three times at the weekly jam at the local Senior’s Centre. And I’ve done not too badly on it. Granted, I did some noodling on the borrowed instruments, and I did some research on how to play the bass before diving whole-hog into the instrument. But within days of taking delivery, I was pounding out some respectable, albeit simple bass riffs. Over time, with practice, I can only get better at it.

Why play bass? The obvious choices for people taking up an instrument are the popular ones: guitar and ukulele. They’re easy to learn, and you can play solo. However, when playing with a group, variety becomes important. Throwing a bass into the mix of instruments, the whole flavor of the sound changes. I know from experience that a bass player is very much appreciated in a jam environment.

How important is a bass? Well, recent studies determined that the bass was the most important element in any band. While not everyone may agree with that, others argue that at least the bass is more important than the guitars. And I think they’re right on that point.

So now, I begin a new chapter of my musical endeavors, on yet another four-stringed instrument!

Cheers! Hans

Passenger List – R.M.S. Franconia

I was just given something I didn’t know was in our family’s possession: A copy of the passenger list for the R.M.S. Franconia, for it’s voyage across the Atlantic on December 13, 1950, carrying my father and grand-mother.

Here are scans of this passenger list. Please feel free to download these scans if they are useful for your research:

Cheers! Hans