Friday, June 22, 2007

Racing off to... nothing (Sean)

"Running" off to my next session proved wholly unnecessary. I had allocated the 2:45-4:00 time slot to "check in" on some more OST sessions. (To use the OST jargon, I've deemed myself a "bumblebee," flitting among several session rooms, as well as a "butterfly" hovering on the edges of the discussions. Mostly in the name of research.) So I zeroed in on a session entitled, simply, "Ten Times in 20 Years." Really, it was because the title was so, umm, uninformative, that I just had to go to the session to find out what it was about. It should not have been very surprising, therefore, that I arrived to find only the lone convener of the session in the room. He allowed that just one other person had come by, also to find out what it was about, and that person had left as soon as he found out.

Stan, the convener, was pleasant enough, and let me know that his intent was to discuss the paradigm of growing the denomination by a factor of ten in a span of twenty years. That made sense, and we chatted briefly about his concerns that we may be a dying denomination, and I talked a bit about the "Now is the Time" campaign. After five minutes or so, I told him I was going to "buzz off" (sticking with the bumblebee metaphor) and wished him well -- he seemed perfectly comfortable with the fact that he would get to write his task force report all on his own and submit it. I did suggest that he might have included the word "Growth" in his 40-character title and gotten a few more takers. We both agreed that coming up with the right 40 characters on-the-spot in the domain sessions was suboptimal -- perhaps telling people further ahead of time, such as at Plenary-I, about this limit might have given people some time to come up with more creatively descriptive titles before submitting their topics.

I buzzed over to five more nearby break-out rooms, including one topic that actually called to me: Habeas Corpus. Two of the five rooms were stone cold empty, including the Habeas one (reminding me of the current ACLU campaign: "Habeas Corpus is missing"). One had only two people in it, though they were clearly well engaged, and the other two had six each. To offset the empty rooms, though, I also noted that there were a half dozen people at each of two impromptu tables in the lobby, presumably convening topics that didn't make the random selection.

In stark contrast, after twenty minutes or so of looking at OST sessions, I decided to take in the remainder of Robert Fulghum's lecture, "What in God's name am I doing?" -- I couldn't. The room was packed to the doors, and the room monitors were not letting anyone else in. I would estimate that to be a ~500-person crowd. I think Louise attended it, so she'll have to update me later.

Similarly, I attended the 10:45 Starr King President's Lecture by Dr. Amina Wadud entitled "Islam and Gender," and I counted 325 seats, all full, and 100+ "standees" including myself (though we mostly squatted or sat in the aisles once the lecture started), and Louise attended a session next door that was similarly packed, so between our two "normal" sessions there were 800+ attendees, nearly as many as attended the entirety of the Open Space Domain process.

Dr. Wadud delivered a compelling lecture, by the way. Reverend Rebecca Parker did the introduction, which was very moving, so much so that Dr. Wadud was speechless for a moment. I love listening to Rebecca -- she is one of the most articulate and eloquent speakers I know. That said, her five-minute introduction of Dr. Wadud was preceded by a nearly ten minute advertisement for Starr King, which is a bit tiresome for those of us who've already heard it several times. It's just a guess, but I think the Meadville Lombard merger flap is prompting both institutions to re-assert themselves a little vigorously.

In between those two time slots, I attended an eye-opening session entitled "This is my song? Reflections on Cultural Misappropriation" and delivered by moderator Ginny Courter and the Task Force on Cultural Misappropriation. Apparently and unbeknownst to me, even though it happened right in front of me, there was a disquieting moment at GA last year. In hindsight, I remember it and I remember thinking about it at the time, but I am hard pressed to cite details. It was a song break during plenary, and a group of musicians did a very upbeat presentation of a song that had been a spiritual belonging, culturally, to the African-American community. And, perhaps unsurprisingly (even though people were clearly caught off guard) some of our members of color were offended by a seeming inappropriate use of these cultural materials. It brought up a host of questions about how we incorporate elements of other traditions into our community, and yet still respect those traditions and cultures.

Arising out of this "learning opportunity" is the above-named task force, and what a great and challenging mission they have! You can read about their work, including the definition they have crafted of "Cultural Misappropriation" and some of their results thus far, on the UUA web site. The Q&A to the session generated some great comments, including the observation that altering long-standing Christian hymns to make them non-theistic may be another form of cultural misappropriation that some of our community finds offensive.

This morning was Plenary-III, where we heard reports from Beacon Press, UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody, the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and the UUSC President. The O. Eugene Pickett Award was presented, and President Bill Sinkford also made his award for Volunteer Service, recognizing, in lieu of an individual, the work of the UU Trauma Response Ministry, to widespread applause. We also heard moving reports from two Breakthrough Congregations, the Carbondale (Illinois) Unitarian Fellowship, and All Souls Unitarian Universalist, Kansas City, Missouri. As always, details of all these proceedings are available on the UUA web site.

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