Monday, July 06, 2009

Wrapping up (Sean)

Photo by cole24

My apologies for taking a full week to get this posted -- once we left GA we had some catching up to do on the rest of our lives.

We've already blogged most of the salient details of our experience at this year's GA, but I promised I would say more about the AIW's and voting thereupon. I'm sorry that I don't have the energy (or, alternatively, scanning software) to enter the text of the proposed AIW's here (I have not found them posted on-line yet, either, but maybe I just don't know where to look), but there were six of them, and the assembly passed all six overwhelmingly. Update: Links to the six AIW's can be found here.

I, however, voted in favor of only a single one, either abstaining or casting my vote in a tiny minority of "opposed" on the rest -- and I will explain my "no" votes in just a moment.

My reasons for abstaining are easier to explain, and I think were unwittingly highlighted by a question asked from the Procedural mic, I think sometime after we had passed the fourth AIW. One of the delegates got up and asked if, by passing these, we were committing to do anything about them. The visceral sense that I had at that moment is that a fair number of delegates in the room were wondering the same thing.

Frankly, many of these AIW's are like mom and apple pie -- it's hard to be against them, conceptually. And it probably makes us feel good to stick our voting cards high in the air to express our support for the sentiments. However, I feel strongly that merely saying we believe something should be done, without actually doing anything, both dilutes our message, and distracts our attention.

The responses to that delegate's question, while accurate, sound almost schizophrenic: Yes, we as an assembly are committing to do exactly what each AIW says we will do -- in most cases, that's to bring the statement/issue back to our congregations for immediate action, including letter-writing campaigns, calls to congresspersons, etc.. In the very next breath, however, is the stipulation that our rules of congregational polity mean that the Assembly can not make any congregation do these things, nor will we get involved in congregational priority-setting. So, really, take it or leave it -- we all voted for it, but whether your congregation does anything about it is really up to them. I, therefore, personally think that voting like this at General Assembly does little more than make the assembled delegates feel good about themselves, without actually either advancing the issues or bringing the faith together. (I recognize that there are exceptions, however.)

Ironically (or perhaps not), the one AIW which I voted in favor of, a call for a Commission of Inquiry on US-sponsored torture, contained only eight "whereas" phrases, followed by a "resolution" calling for such a commission. Nowhere does it state that anyone either in congregations or the UUA will do anything further to advance this cause. I suppose one might hope that the Washington office might do something with this, or perhaps Rev. Morales can take it with him to his next meeting with congress or maybe Secretary of State Clinton, but we did not actually charge anyone to do anything.

I suppose that one of the reasons I abstained from some of the other issues is precisely because they did charge our congregations with doing something (but see above), and yet it seems to me that we, as a movement, have already spread ourselves fairly thinly across a broad range of initiatives, possibly to the point of failing to first adequately care for our own survival as a relevant faith. The last thing I want to do, frankly, is to mandate that every congregation begin a letter-writing campaign to the Bolivian Ambassador calling for a Truth Commission on human rights violations, when I know for certain that some of those congregations are struggling for their very survival in harsh economic times, and we aren't even certain that our own government isn't guilty of human rights violations. Nevertheless, according to the resolution so adopted, I am apparently mandated to write just such a letter myself.

There was, in fact, another resolution which I was initially in favor of -- opposing sexual orientation- and gender-identity-based violence in Iraq. A lofty and admirable goal, to be sure. The resolution commits us to pressure the US government to, in turn, pressure the Iraqi government to deal with this. Ultimately, I was swayed by several impassioned arguments from the Con microphone. Chief among those was that it was rather hypocritical of the US to be bullying anyone else on the planet on these issues, where clearly we have not yet even committed to wiping out these crimes (or even, in some cases, making them crimes) on our own soil.

Another persuasive argument that was made on this issue was that we have committed to being respectful of other cultures and religions, yet here we are committing to tell another culture and/or religion what behavior it must tolerate of its citizens or practitioners. While there is almost never a justification for violence, implicit in our plea here is that persons of non-heterosexual or non-birth-gender identity have an inherent right to a place in that culture. Our values and principles here regarding the rights of the individual are in direct conflict with our values and principles regarding respect for (or non-interference in? Like the "Prime Directive" from Star Trek?) the values and principles of other cultures and religions. The language of the AIW makes no attempt to resolve or even acknowledge this clash.

There were two AIWs to which I was unequivocally opposed. Both involved supporting pending legislation which, to my observation, the vast majority of delegates had not even read. (Perhaps they are little different from actual legislators in this regard.) While I admire the work of the handful of people who worked passionately on these resolutions, my motto is "trust, but verify," and so I undertook to research the legislation myself. Unsurprisingly, given the diversity of both people and opinions within our movement, the views expressed so passionately by these AIW's crafters represent but one side of very complex issues.

One of these was the AIW calling for unequivocal support of HR2894 (aka the "Holt Bill"), HR1826, and S751-752, all of which relate to ensuring fairness and accountability in elections. Again, a lofty and admirable goal. As I mentioned in my last post, I attended a workshop on this particular issue put together by its champions.

Photo by Sokwanele - Zimbabwe

Now, even a quick survey of arguments for and against these bills will turn up a great deal of controversy even among fair-election proponents regarding either their efficacy or their necessity, with a host of election watchdogs expressing a great deal of concern in injecting the federal government into elections that are not, currently, within their purview. But the real gist of the arguments being made by the supporters of this AIW are that honest and fair elections can not happen if computers are involved in any way, and/or if there are no paper ballots.

Now, I am a computer scientist by training (and so, perhaps, I am not unbiased), but this, to me, is hogwash of the highest order. The presumption that mechanical counting machines and/or paper ballots are not subject to tampering or error of any sort is simply unsupportable, and while I admit that tampering with computers may be easier for some people than tampering with lever-machines or paper ballots, the fact is that you can get just as close to tamper-proof or perfectly accurate with an electronic system as you are willing to spend to do so.

One of the arguments raised by this group is that election results can not be left to a single black-box vendor, as they have been in some past situations (due either to budget issues or a lack of technical savvy on the part of governments), and here I could not agree more. I would advocate, in fact, for open-source software to manage electronic voting. Another argument has been that votes can not be verifiably traced to an individual voter absent a paper ballot with a signature, and, here again, this is not true: any number of biometric measurements could be included at the polls, not to identify the voter ahead of time, but to verify her ballot in the case of it being contested, and to ensure that each voter casts a unique vote. One-way cryptographic signature techniques can be used to ensure that the vote can not be tampered with once cast.

A final argument made by this group is that computers have been losing tons of money at banks and financial institutions, who merely write off this loss without allowing the public to see that the computers are fallible. True -- right up until the cost to improve the computer system is lower than the amount being written off. As I said earlier, you can make it as fool proof and reliable as you want by spending more money; for banks, it is strictly an economic decision.

Paper ballots are subject to all the same issues. They get lost. They get mis-marked. They get miscounted. Does no one remember the "hanging chads"? For secretaries of state, it becomes an issue of spending money and resources on reliable and verifiable electronic voting, or money and resources printing, securing, collecting, and tabulating paper ballots. I, for one, do not want to see us roll back the clock on this one, any more than I want to hand back my plastic and check book and have to go back to carrying gold bullion around to purchase goods and services.

The other matter to which I was opposed was the resolution in support of the Red Rock Wilderness Act (S799/HR1925), legislation which has been pending (and failing to pass) for over a decade. My objection here is the all-or-nothing approach of a Wilderness declaration, which essentially bans all use, in this case of 9 million acres of BLM managed land in Utah.

Photo by yathin

Again, the goal is lofty and admirable. What this fails to consider is that, while a Wilderness declaration means you can't do most things on this land, the absence of such a declaration does not mean that you must do them. In other words, the BLM today is free to place specific use restrictions on any or all of this land, and has already done so in many cases. Supporters of this legislation, however, would have us believe that all manner of environmentally irresponsible usage is rampant. In point of fact, other than cross-country recreation, all of the subject acreage is currently free from such usage -- a precondition for it to even be considered for wilderness designation.

My chief objection to the legislation in its current form is that it makes all nine million acres of what is today public land nearly completely inaccessible to the very public that it supposedly benefits. Oh, sure, you'll be able to hike there, but most of it is unreachable by even the strongest and most well-prepared hikers in anything short of several days, and then only with expeditionary-level preparation. This is, IMO, elitist: it makes all this public land inaccessible to all but the exceptionally physically fit and able-bodied with plenty of time on their hands.

There is no question that the BLM has bungled some land-use decisions, and certainly they can continue to do so in this region. So let's fix the BLM, and/or the corporate lobbying process that grants public land use for resource extraction without proper safeguards and appropriate remediation. But a sweeping Wilderness declaration for nine million acres strikes me as overreaction on a grand scale.

I suppose, before I conclude, that it is my duty to tell you, the leadership of CLF, that the Assembly has spoken and we are to do all these things. (And, again, I am hoping the actual text of what we agreed will be available shortly.) So go forth and pass the word to the congregants!

That pretty much wraps up my report on the business aspects of GA 2009. All told, it was a good Assembly, much less harried and crammed full than the last one we attended in Portland. As always, we both personally got a lot out of it, spiritually and in regard to helping with the business of the Association. We thank the CLF for allowing us to represent them at the Assembly, and look forward to being of service again in the future.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My penultimate post for the year (Sean)

Photo by mischiru

I have more to say about Saturday -- I promised a post on the "Touch Screen Voting" workshop, which actually goes hand-in-hand with some other comments I'd like to make about this year's AIW's and the process by which they were adopted. Frankly, I am running out of steam -- I've been typing here most of the day, and I will save those topics for my final post, at some later time.

Also on Saturday was, of course, the election. No need to blog the results, as it has been well discussed around the UU blogosphere. Instead I will simply state an opinion here about the polls: They were not open long enough, and certainly they were not open for enough hours outside of Plenary. In fact, given that the very delegates who are able to vote in the polls ought to be in Plenary for the duration, I would go so far as to say that polling hours should be entirely outside of Plenary hours. I also heard of at least one delegate who came to GA expecting to vote on-site, but could not because their flight required them to be at the airport before the polls opened, yet absentee ballots could not be accepted on site. Long lines at the polls might have been avoided by assigning delegates specific blocks of time in which to vote, or allowing sign-ups for blocks of time in advance.

Louise did a great job of covering Saturday and Sunday in her last post. I can confirm that things sounded just as wonderful from the audience as they did on stage, and both morning worship and closing ceremonies on Sunday were very moving.

In addition to more reports, the final Plenary-VI session included some business. We voted on, and passed, all six Actions of Immediate Witness. As I already mentioned, I'll have more to say about this in another post.

We also discussed several "Responsive Resolutions" -- motions on resolutions in response to a report of an officer or committee delivered earlier in GA. I was unable to copy all these down, and the text is not yet available on-line, however, unsurprisingly, a number of them had to do with the bylaw problem and the Article II amendments. In summary, we
  • Agreed to look more carefully at use of "Inclusion" rather than "Non-discrimination" as language in the proposed Principles revision.
  • Agreed that the BOT should look into and take appropriate action upon revising the "broken" language in bylaw article C15.1 that I discussed here earlier.
  • Agreed that the BOT should find a way to revisit a proposal to revise Article II in the immediate future.
  • Refused to recommend to the BOT that they accept a list of some 50 names of interested parties gathered at GA as an "ad hoc" task force (later revised to "resource") to work on the Article II process. (This whole resolution was, frankly, not clearly worded -- many of us thought the 50 wanted to work on content, whereas they later clarified that they wanted to work on process -- and the body agreed that it was really the board's job to appoint a commission, not accept a self-selected group, and, in any case, nothing stops them from calling on any of the list of 50 for help).
  • Agreed to raise the issue with the U.S. government about the denial of visas to female religious leaders from Africa to attend a religious conference here, apparently on economic grounds. Not sure how this qualified as a responsive resolution -- it sure looked like an end-run around the limits on AIW's to me, which is not to say that it is not a worthy cause.
Also on Sunday I briefly attended a workshop that was listed in the program as "Implementing our Newly Adopted UUA Statement of Conscience." As Louise wrote here on Friday, we did not actually pass the SOC, but, rather, referred it back to the CSW as "not fully baked." I was interested to see what this session would become, and what, if any, path forward was set forth.

I won't get into details on the contention that arose around this SOC, as that has been blogged elsewhere. I will say that I did think, myself, that it was not decisive enough to be useful to the office of legislative affairs, nor respectful enough of those who choose to serve in the armed forces, to pass as it was written, and these two concerns represented the bulk of the objections. My observation in this workshop was that the CSW had felt "finished" with this work, and it is not clear to me that they have the energy to resolve this -- if it can even be resolved, something about which I have my doubts.

Saturday and Sunday (Louise)

Photo by mike_benefiel

I have just finished re-reading both of our earlier reports, and I must say we are a verbose couple! When the CLF by-laws were written to require a written report by CLF GA delegates, they probably didn't expect quite so much verbiage. And if you are one of the CLF Board members tasked with reading this report, I apologize in advance if this seems like too much information. We would both welcome your comments; if you want us to write less, please let us know.

That being said, we blog regularly and are used to processing a day's events in this format. That and the reverse chronological order lends itself best to daily reading, rather than trying to digest it all at once, backwards. So, your indulgence is appreciated.

(As a side note, I just suggested to Sean that he might want to pause in his writing to wash the dishes, as they have been piling up. He replied, "You have to blog when the Spirit says blog, and you have to wash dishes when the Spirit says wash dishes. And right now, I'm blogging. Oh, and by the way, you are the Wife, not the Spirit." Oh, snap!)

Saturday was another full day, of course. Sean has written a lot about Plenary IV, so I'll just add a few things here. I was tickled to hear that our Public Witness event from Friday made the front page of the Salt Lake City Tribune. SLC really is a small city, and having over 3,000 UUs in town packs a wallop, I think. I am sure that we made a huge impact on the local LGBT community and hope they heard our message of love and acceptance.

At least twice during this plenary, speakers who had been clearly given a time limit blatantly ignored it. One woman said right up front that she had 4 minutes, then spoke for 10. One receiving an award seized the bully pulpit and gave a homily 15 minutes long. While I understand that a person being honored should also be heard, surely each knew their time limit in advance. These awards aren't big surprises. The sad consequence of this time disrespect is that another, equally important, item was completely short changed. It broke my heart to slip out of the worship service at the end of plenary to attend the next choir rehearsal. If I was going to have to choose between that lovely worship and someone's rambling committee report, I certainly would not have chosen the latter! Harumph.

On the positive side, the reports from the UU Service Committee and the UU United Nations Office were so uplifting. As donors to the UUSC, we love hearing how our gifts are being used to improve the world. Now I'm thinking seriously of making a donation to the UU-UNO as well. Good stuff!

After choir rehearsal #4 and a quick lunch, it was on to Plenary V. We had heard on Friday night that the fierce thunderstorm that roared through Salt Lake right before the Service of the Living Tradition had caught our huge "Standing on the Side of Love" banner hanging outside the convention center and whipped it around. Apparently the hardware holding it up smashed through the atrium windows, breaking glass and damaging the banner. The story of this exciting event, and the subsequent gorgeous double rainbow that followed the storm, was retold in words and funny dancing at the plenary opening by the SSL committee members. They also told us that pieces of the banner would be available as souvenirs. I was pleased that no one was hurt and that the committee was making lemonade out of it all.

(Several people noted wryly that a more conventional religious gathering would probably seize on storm and rainbow as evidence that a deity was approving of our actions at GA, but most UUs chose to be simply awed at the natural spectacle and grateful for a benevolent outcome. I would much rather claim, through my own concrete actions, to be Standing on the Side of Love than that God is on Our Side. Too many have used that claim to justify a world of hurt.)

After plenary, I attended the tech rehearsal for Sunday morning worship. The technology required to present a multimedia event of this size is just staggering. Dozens of microphones, scores of people, monitors showing the words to the hymns and close-ups of the speakers, chairs in their proper places, lighting, cues, sight-lines...what a production! The hard work of some very invisible volunteers makes the huge difference between a worship service where 5,000 people can hear and see, sing and be moved, and a big mushy muddle of tiny garbled figures on a stage far away in a huge echo-y conventional hall. There's a special place in heaven for audio-visual folks, a big sound board where they can fiddle and tweak to their heart's content, without temperamental "talent" making demands. Blessed are the A/V nerds!

Photo by ardie96750

After rehearsal, we went to dinner with dear, long-time friends that we see only at GA. Two bottles of wine later, the Ware Lecture simply wasn't in the cards, and I gratefully went to bed early.

Sunday morning rolled around early, as choir members were required to be in place by 7:30am. More sound checks, vocal warm ups, and then we ran through our pieces one last time. As the final chord of our anthem "Choose to Bless the World" echoed through the still-empty hall, our GA choir director, Allison Wilski, paused. She quietly told us that she had a difficult year in her personal life, and that Spirit had been missing. She told us that we had restored her, had opened her heart again with our love and music, and tearfully thanked us.

And that, dear readers, is why I go to GA. That moment, that opening of one heart to music that I made, that I studied and worked for. To be part of something larger through music. Our life on the road makes it very, very difficult to be part of a regular musical group. I can play my own guitar and sing to the cats, but to practise with others toward performance in a worship service is a blessing I only can find at GA.

Photo by WolfS♡ul

Floating on Allison's praise and love, we rocked the worship. Everything came together and it was all lovely. Abhi's sermon was great, the hymns were among my favorites, the hall was packed with UUs. I loved it!

Immediately after worship, we had ANOTHER tech rehearsal, this time for the giant Closing Ceremony production. We sang in a rather complicated combination with Gini Courter speaking a prayer, and that needed to be ironed out logistically. Fortunately, there was time after that for a substantial lunch, because the rest of the day was completely filled with no time for dinner until after 8:30pm.

The final plenary took the rest of the afternoon. I was moved by the chalice lighting, which honored the UUs shot in Tennessee last July. It was powerful to hear about their lives, and how the community came together to mourn and heal.

Other highlights: Gini's Moderator Report. She said that the bad economy can "out" bad governance, as budget cuts force unhealthy practices into the light. She encouraged us to see this as an opportunity for spiritual growth. She also warned us against letting the power of elected boards and committees be usurped by self-selecting, non-official groups. That democracy demands that we honor our elections and responsibilities in this way.

We learned that the morning's offering had raised almost $30,000 for the Utah Pride Center. Yee haw!

And finally, Closing Ceremony. The choir, of course, had to arrive early to get settled on stage and warm up. When GA was at Portland in 2007, I chose not to sing in the choir. That year, they did not participate in Closing Ceremony, the choir's traditional venue. Instead, they had a small, separate concert, sparsely attended. That, for me, was not enough to justify the many hours of work in rehearsals. I don't know what happened in Ft. Lauderdale in 2008, but here in Salt Lake City in 2009, the choir performed at two of the key events, and I am so thrilled! Every minute of preparation was worth it.

We began with rousing hymns. Then a slide show of Bill Sinkford's presidency. At the end, he received the longest standing ovation I've ever been part of. He was an excellent president, and he will be missed. But like the President of the US, it is clear how difficult a job it is. The photos, to me, highlighted how much he has aged in the eight years. Sitting behind him, he looked a bit fragile to me, and tired. I suspect he is relieved that it is over, and looking forward to a well-deserved rest. Thank you, Bill.

Rev. Sinkford then charged Peter Morales with the new responsibilities of presidency. He drew on the words and wisdom of other past UUA presidents, and included Bill Shultz's recommendation to surround himself with true friends. They would "praise and support you in public, but behind closed doors, and preferably with martini in hand, would tell you when you are being a horse's ass."

Photo by Sister72

In what other denomination will you hear that exact advice? I love being a Unitarian Universalist.

Rev. Morales was inducted into his role with the traditional laying-on of hands. Gini prayed, we sang. And then, it was over.

Until next year.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as a General Assembly delegate of the Church of the Larger Fellowhip. It has been, once again, an honor and a privilege.

Status Quo is not an Option (Sean)

Photo by needlessspaces

Saturday afternoon I attended a session on the work of the Fifth Principle Task Force (FPTF), after hearing the Task Force's report in Plenary earlier in the day. I'm not sure where I was when they populated this TF, but I would have volunteered in an instant, as the subject is near and dear to my heart.

I will not rehash their interim findings -- you can see their "report" in slide form here:

In brief summary, the charge and subsequent findings of the TF suggest that the supposedly democratic process by which we govern the affairs of the association is fundamentally broken. In short, the process by which delegates are chosen and then charged to attend GA does not reflect true democratic principles. In many (most?) cases, delegates are self-selected, often on the basis of having sufficient personal funds to attend. (Many will argue with this point -- to be clear, I am not saying this is universally true, but it is true in enough cases to be of concern.)

I will cite my own experience as a case in point. I have been to five General Assemblies, starting with Boston in 2003, then Fort Worth, Saint Louis, and Portland in quick succession from 2005-2007, and finally here in Salt Lake in 2009.

My first time at GA I was not even registered. We did not yet live on the road in our bus, and we attended a brick-and-mortar congregation in Palo Alto, California. Louise had been a long-time lay leader in that congregation, culminating in chairing the BOT, and was sent to that GA by the congregation as a delegate. This made sense to me; I went along for the ride as the sidekick/husband. At that time, I had not fully committed to the faith, and certainly did not see myself as ever being involved in governance.

I confess I did not know what happened inside the hallowed halls of Plenary, nor did I care. The look and feel of GA was quite familiar to me, however -- in a former life, I was very heavily involved in an even larger society that was governed by volunteers through deliberative process and which put on two large symposium/trade show events annually, with an average attendance of 6,000-7,000. At various times I sat on or chaired the committees of that organization that organized the seminars, symposia, and trade shows, and concluded my decade and a half with that organization with a stint on the board, and as treasurer. While GA may seem like a large undertaking to many who attend, to my eyes it was actually a rather smallish affair.

I flitted around the Boston event as much as I could without an attendee badge, taking advantage of those events open to the public (including a few hours in the exhibit hall), and socializing with people in the public spaces and at meals. It is, perhaps, a dirty little secret that one can come to one of these conferences and do a great deal of interacting without ever paying a registration fee -- facility rules and sometimes statutes preclude an organization from excluding anyone from any space considered "public," which includes hotel hallways and often convention center areas outside of the meeting rooms themselves, particularly if those spaces are not being billed to the organization as booked square footage.

I naturally assumed that Louise was off doing "representative government" and that, of course, everyone else there was, too, having been duly elected by their congregations through a democratic process.

Two years later, in our first year of nomadic life, Louise suggested to me that we should attend GA in Fort Worth. Now, by this time I had fully converted to the faith (if one can even use that phrase in UUism), and we were dues-paying members of this very congregation, the Church of the Larger Fellowship. I was eager to attend, from the perspective that this would be an opportunity to meet other CLF members, our ministers, and the folks in the office who support us. Plus, secretly, I love conferences -- why else would I spend a dozen or so years volunteering to work them.

Then Louise told me she would be a delegate for the CLF. Whoa -- how does that work? Apparently, you just ask. Well, OK -- I'm still not well-enough versed in things to think I can be part of governance, and I'm certain, of course, that this is really just a CLF thing -- it makes sense that we'd have trouble democratically electing and then charging our delegates, given the nature of our congregation. At this point, I am still convinced that what goes on in the Plenary hall, where I still have not ventured, is representative governance at its best. For myself, I elect (pun intended) to be a plain attendee, and I have the simplest of badges, undecorated by the "fruit salad" of ribbons I sport today.

By Saint Louis in 2006, I am comfortable enough with GA and with my grounding as a UU to agree to be a delegate. I am still a little shocked by the fact that all I need do is ask the CLF office to become one, supplying no credentials and making no promises or covenant to vote in any particular way. Note that I had met these folks exactly once, in Fort Worth. My obligation appears limited to making a report to the CLF board, which is the purpose of this very blog. Still, I remain convinced that this is a CLF aberration, and carry that illusion with me all the way to my first Plenary.

I even wrote about my discomfort with my part in this supposedly democratic process in my first post from Saint Louis, here. My naivete is also apparent in that post, wherein I speculated that "the delegates are intended to bring with them the sense of the smaller body which those delegates are to be representing. I'm sure that many congregational delegates come here already briefed on their congregations' wishes with respect to the many issues that come before the assembly."

What I have since learned, starting with St. Louis and progressing all the way to today, is that the CLF is decidedly not an aberration, at least in most respects. (It can be said, however, that generally most of our congregation does not personally know nor have personally communicated with their delegates, which is probably different from most other congregations.) Through discussion with many delegates, and direct observation of what happens in Plenary and in mini-assemblies, I can state without equivocating that many (most?) delegates are selected on the basis of (1) their ability to pay their own way to GA, (2) their ability to dedicate the time away from the rest of their lives to attend GA and (3) their own desire to attend.

Photo by A Girl And Her Camera

There are exceptions, of course. Many congregations democratically elect their delegates (although possibly only from a pool of people who can meet points 1-3 above), and many charge them with specific voting instructions. But my observation suggests this is the exception, rather than the rule.

FPTF chair Denny Davidoff (who, ironically, was the chair of the CLF BOT for most of my tenure and thus among the audience for my several reports here) drove this point home during her report in Plenary, wherein she asked for a show of hands: how many congregational delegates were fully reimbursed by their congregations to attend GA -- travel, meals, hotel and registration? How many partially reimbursed? The numbers, in a room full mostly of congregational delegates, were appallingly low. Thankfully, we did not delve into how many of those assembled knew the will of their congregations on the issues at hand.

No need, really, because the unending campaigning in the halls of the Salt Palace made that issue entirely clear. The two presidential candidates have been slated for a long time, and there have been some 22 candidates' forums around the country at the district level. To some degree, every congregation has had a chance to meet the candidates, or at least become familiar enough with their platforms, qualifications, and credentials to have discussed the matter as a congregation and provided their delegates with some direction on the matter. Yet the shear number of "uncommitted" delegates, as evidenced directly by the amount of campaigning and campaign resources, speaks otherwise -- have a look at the material Louise linked here to get a real flavor.

It is with all this as a background that I wholeheartedly endorse and support the recommendations of the FPTF, which can be found in their presentation. Specifically, moving GA to a biennial schedule, scheduling it mostly on a weekend when most working folks could attend, reducing the number of delegates to a manageable yet meaningful size, then fully funding those delegates so that congregations can elect them completely democratically, charging them with a congregational mandate -- even if that is to just "vote their conscience" as duly elected representatives.

What this means, of course, is that I am supporting putting myself out of a "job." While the final tally of elected delegates for the CLF may change somewhat from the current proposal (wherein we are allocated 4, the same as any congregation above 1,000 members, IIRC -- it's not in the presentation but was in a list of FAAQs -- Frequently Asked Anxious Questions), it is certain to be far smaller than the 22 delegates we are currently allocated. Additionally, we must, as a congregation, find some way to discuss the issues in advance of GA, and elect representative delegates to do that real work for us. It will be a "challenge" in every sense of that word.

I think it is a needed change, and, should the CLF choose to continue to send me to GA as a delegate, I pledge to work towards this goal, while ensuring fair and reasonable representation and a voice for our unique congregational makeup. Because surely we do not want to see the somewhat haphazard sort of governance which I have described (and will describe) elsewhere in this blog continue.

Ammendments to Article II (Sean)

Part 2 of my Saturday coverage.

I'm not really sure where to start on this subject, and many other bloggers have covered most of the issues in a great deal of depth. Suffice it to say that, having just suggested in my last post that many delegates arrive unprepared, we were, ahem, unprepared. At first I thought we were just out of the loop due to having missed last year's GA, but as things progressed, I learned that pretty much the entire assembly felt blindsided by this.

Without rehashing the entire (ongoing) discussion here, let me just say that all of the angst, all of the confusion, and even all of the trouble the assembly had moving the matter forward comes from what I believe to be a simple but catastrophic oversight in section C15.1(c)4 of the bylaws. Let me explain:

One would hope that, in the normal course of the affairs of the Association, the assembled congregations would periodically undertake to review and perhaps modify Article II of the bylaws, which state the "Principles and Purposes" of the Association. One would also hope that "periodically" would mean that we would not let as much as a decade and a half to pass between such reviews.

Should we do that, the process of review and amendment is quite reasonable, and is described in bylaw section C15.1(c)1 -- any proposal to review or amend must come before GA to determine whether further review is warranted, at which point the GA may, by majority vote, refer the proposal to a commission appointed by the BOT to conduct such a review, which is to involve member congregations. Within three years, such commission shall bring the proposal and any amendments thereto in front of GA, which may adopt them by a two-thirds majority.

This process is open and inclusive -- congregations, through their delegates, will know of the proposal before study and review begins because it will have already come before GA, and the commission is specifically charged to include congregations in the review process. No one at the subsequent GA wherein the proposal is potentially adopted could reasonably claim to have been blind-sided.

The bylaws also include a "safety valve." Lest the "Principles and Purposes" stagnate and become credal without intentional thought by the Association, C15.1(c)4 requires the BOT to establish such a commission to review and study Article II -- note that this no longer requires or involves the General Assembly prior to the review and study process -- and may then, in its discretion, place any proposal resulting therefrom on the agenda of the next GA. That GA may then vote by simple majority to admit the proposal to the next GA, wherein it may be adopted by a two-thirds majority.

The problem is two-fold. One is that the first time the proposal appears before GA may well be the first time any delegate is even aware the issue was being worked -- that's the blindsided part. The second is that there is no provision whatever for any further work or amendment to be done to the proposal between the time it is admitted by majority vote and the time it is adopted by two-thirds vote.

The simple fix to this is to change C15.1(c)4 to, instead, charge the BOT, if no proposal has been brought forth in 15 years, to charge a commission to bring forward such a proposal, to then be submitted in front of the General Assembly in accordance with the already reasonable process described by C15.1(c)1, which ensures not only that the proposal appears before the assembly twice, but also allows for a reasonable discussion, debate, and amendment process in the interim.

Note that I've already prattled on for eight paragraphs about broken process and a frustrated assembly, yet I have not said even one word about the content of the proposed changes to Article II. It could (but will not) go without saying that there was some lively debate and discussion about several points in the proposal. There were enough contentious issues, in fact, that many in the assembly felt they could not get behind and support the proposal entirely as it stood, without amendment (for which, as I said, there is no allowable process within the bylaws).

I personally did not spend a lot of time dwelling on the content, as it became clear to me that there would be ample opportunity to get involved in that one way or another at a later time (remember, even a vote to "adopt" here would merely have placed the proposal on the agenda for the next GA, where a 2/3 vote would be required). What was immensely clear to me, though, was that enough people felt disenfranchised by the new language that there was no way I could, in good conscience, vote to have the matter languish for another year with no ability for discourse and amendment.

In the end, enough people were either against the content itself or, as me, the process by which things would move forward, that the proposal was defeated by the thinnest of margins. In a vote that required a hand count by the tellers, the motion failed by a mere 13 votes, out of 1,159 cast -- a margin of just 1%.

The mandate to the Association is clear and two-fold: we need to fix the bylaws so this does not happen this way ever again, and someone needs to come forward with another proposal for amendment of article II that will now follow the reasonable process of C15.1(c)1.

Several have suggested that such a proposal could not be considered by the Assembly until two years have passed, as that is the way it is so stipulated at the end of C15.1(c)1. However, my reading of the Bylaws suggests otherwise -- there is no such stipulation in C15.1(c)4, under which this proposal was brought, and the stipulation under (c)1 appears to me to be applicable only to proposals originally brought forth under that section. I see no prohibition on bringing any proposal brought under (c)4, but then defeated, immediately in front of the assembly under (c)1.

Of course, this is my reading in the calm light of day and after GA is over. My regret is that I did not see this sooner -- I could have brought a motion under C15.1(c)1 to refer the existing proposal right back to the BOT under that section for referral to a new commission for study, thus starting the clock immediately at this GA, while allowing the commission to consider amendments, which might then have been immediately forthcoming right here in Salt Lake. Oh well.

Saturday, part one (Sean)

Photo by Leo Reynolds

We arrived bright and early for the start of Plenary-IV at 8:45. Once again, many reports ran over, and we held the business until the end of the session. That business was to admit AIWs to the agenda. To touch again on the subject of GA-reform, it is clear to me from the many procedural questions, and even some of the discussion from the Pro and Con microphones, that many delegates arrive to GA without a clear understanding of why they are here, or of how business is conducted in a deliberative body, or, for that matter, of the processes for Social Witness and governance within the movement. I also had a sense that delegates were generally unaware of the burden their actions place on the Association and/or their congregations, a sense which would be confirmed later.

For the record, I voted in favor of admitting only two of the proposed AIWs. Nevertheless, all six were admitted by wide margins. I would guess that, had the committee been allowed to forward more than six (I believe there were nine submitted), we would have admitted all of them.

Running over on time meant that many delegates, ourselves included, left in the middle of worship.

Plenary-V, in the afternoon, thankfully ran mostly on time. There were no early reports, other than the Breakthrough Congregation in Peace Dale, RI. These breakthrough reports all feature a video presentation, and I think the pressure is enormous to keep those to their alloted times; since they are prepared ahead of time, the temptation to keep speaking extemporaneously does not exist.

Not on the agenda, but brought to the floor by a delegation of Iranian-American ministers, was a prayer in Farsi and a call for a moment of silence in support of the people of Iran during the current turmoil in that country.

Doing well on time, the report of the Fifth Principle Task Force, chaired by Denny Davidoff, was moved up from Plenary-VI. I was moved by Denny's report to attend the workshop on this topic, "Status Quo is not an Option," later this afternoon, and I will say more on this in another post.

That took us to the debate and vote on amendments to Article-II of the bylaws, which is a big enough discussion to warrant its very own post, immediately forthcoming.

After Plenary, I attended the Fifth Principle Task Force's workshop, which is also a discussion worthy of its own post, followed by an unrelated session entitled "Does Touch Screen Voting Violate the Fifth Principle?" -- and I plan yet another post on that subject as well. I have lots more writing ahead of me, clearly.

Monumental catch-up (Sean)

Photo by Steffe

I'm sorry to have to post what will amount to two and a half days of updates here all at once. In order for it not to become one monumental post, I will try to break it up into several chunks. Not only because it is otherwise likely cumbersome for you to read, but also it seems a sisyphean task. Unfortunately, a hectic schedule since my last post here on Friday left me little time for the computer -- barely enough to keep up with email. Spending time repelling boarders here on the blog did not help.

Last GA I attended, in Portland, I brought the laptop with me (I had a physically smaller one back then), and so I was able to type updates throughout the day as time permitted, and even take notes in session real-time, making it easier to transform into a post later. Having several free wireless networks in close range of the convention center helped, and carting the laptop in with me was not really an issue on the light rail. This time around, I have a larger machine, which does not fit in the trunk of the scooter which I rode back and forth to the convention center. Of course, the line for the Internet cafe at GA, open only during exhibit hall hours, made that an impossibility as well.

Next time around, I really need to set things up so that I can post small snippets here from my BlackBerry (something I did not have last time). I did not think about this enough ahead of time, or else I'm certain I could have set it up for this go-round.

In any case, onward to where I left off, on:


Louise did a great job of describing Plenary-III in her last post. I will only add that people giving reports need to learn to stick to their time allotments. To do otherwise is, frankly, disrespectful of the delegates' time. I'm quite certain that some delegates had already left the hall by the time we got around to actually conducting business, the very important debate and vote on the Peacemaking SOC, and those delegates later felt disenfranchised. As delegates, we take our responsibility to be in Plenary from start to finish, and so, at some level, we are held hostage to anyone placed on the podium during a Plenary session and their time-management skills. This is clearly an area for improvement as we re-imagine GA (more on that re-imagining later).

Photo by doctor paradox

In any case, the Plenary ran over by half an hour, and, of course, we ran the clocks out more than once during the Peacemaking debate. It is perhaps the case that the body, which might otherwise have moved to extend time for debate even further, felt the pressure of the upcoming scheduled public witness bearing down upon them. I can't say having a more comfortable time margin, or more delegates in the room, would have changed the outcome. And, ultimately, I personally believe the decision to refer this one back to committee was the correct one -- I could not support it as it stood, and I don't really think the whole assembly could have amended it enough on the spot to make it right.

Friday evening while Louise was in choir rehearsal, I attended the Kate Clinton comedy performance, which, as a recovering Roman Catholic like herself, I found uproariously funny. There were, perhaps, a couple of moments where she (we?) was, shall we say, somewhat less respectful of "other traditions" as we UU's should strive to be -- other bloggers have already made hay of this.

We elected to skip the public witness, in order to eat dinner, and the Service of the Living Tradition because, again, it just ran too late. As Louise has already shared, it is just not reasonable to try to do something in every time slot at GA. This is a lesson we have both learned the hard way.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A much better day (Louise)

Photo by Bill Gracey

Ah, finally some meaty business at Plenary! Today we heard reports from a number of important committees and task forces, but not nearly as many as at some previous GAs. It felt like a good mix, and each report was fairly brief. In the past, a few groups have given their reports in the form of skits or songs, usually quite badly. Thankfully, all were pretty standard today. I don't mind a little humor or variety, but those often go hand-in-hand with taking too much time to say too little.

The preliminary number of delegates attending this year is 1,928, and total folks registered is 3,349. I thought that was fewer than previous years, but can't find any notes here in the blog. Events and rooms definitely seem less crowded this year. Either the Salt Palace is plenty spacious, or the numbers are down, except for choir. Only 150 people are admitted into the choir this year, and there is a waiting list.

Highlights for me today:

The GA Service Project is the Utah Pride Center, a LGBT support group that grows each year. This year they held a Pride Prom, with over 700 youth attending. Queer youth are still at a higher risk of suicide, abuse and neglect, so having such a great place for them to hang out and receive love and support is worth our attention and money.

Two great quotes from the Investment Committee: "We invest with the aim of tilting the world toward justice." "Greed and fear are not an investment strategy."

In this tough economic year, the Shelter Rock UU congregation increased its gifts by over 3%. Shelter Rock, well, rocks!

The musicians who played during the offering were super: Emma's Revolution. Indie Folkies singing inspiring protest songs. Then we sang "Standing on the Side of Love," one of my favorites, just for the joy of it.

The voting part of the meeting was the debate on the Statement of Conscience (SOC), "Peacemaking." Ultimately, we voted to refer it to the committee on Social Witness, but not before much lively debate, a few moments of process confusion, and some deft moderating by Gini Courter. Very interesting and invigorating! I just love this stuff.

I was especially proud when a Youth Caucus (YC) representative from my old congregation, The UU Church of Palo Alto, stood at the CON microphone to speak against an amendment. He stated that the YC so strongly opposed the amendment that if it passed, the YC would have to withdraw their support of the entire SOC. I was impressed that the YC could so clearly state their consensus and was prepared to do so. Interestingly, what they opposed was making the SOC too pacifist. That our youth have such a strongly realistic streak is amazing to me.

After plenary, we ducked out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, the Blue Iguana. Then it was on to the third choir rehearsal. Note to self, for future reference: no Mexican food within an hour before singing. I kept hearing the meditation chant in my head, "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out chips and salsa." Urp! Despite my being bloated, not devoted, we sound pretty good. I'm psyched that we'll be wearing stoles for the worship service, just like a real church choir.

Photo by mahalie

The decision to skip the second half of UU University this morning was clearly the right thing to do. Having a little more sleep and then some downtime this morning for blogging, reading email and eating a leisurely breakfast really made a difference in my energy levels today. We also chose not to attend the Service of the Living Tradition, although it I had warm and fuzzy feelings just watching all the ministers line up in their formal academic and ministerial robes.

I just need to remember this for next GA...I can't do everything. Plenaries, choir, booth duty, and a handful of worship services and special events are all I can handle. Leaving enough time for quality sleep and unrushed, healthy meals is vital.

Comments are now moderated

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Getting past the guilt (Sean)

Photo by Chris Gin

Here it is 11am on Friday and I am still sitting in the bus typing on my computer. I am "supposed" to be, according to the schedule, in the second half of my chosen "UU University" track, "Theology for a secular age." And, actually, I would like to be there -- I really enjoyed the first half, held from 1-6 yesterday afternoon.

I was already feeling some guilt from having missed opening ceremonies and in-gathering Wednesday evening, although then I had a better excuse, which involved an obligation of hospitality. When I got home much later than anticipated last night (more on this in a moment), I gave myself permission to sleep in just a little, telling myself that no real harm would come of missing, perhaps, the first hour of the track. That, I think, was the beginning of the end.

Louise, who is also in the Theology track, was feeling so exhausted and crummy last night, that she bailed out of the convention center right after the candidates' forum, even though we had tickets for the farewell cocktail party for outgoing president Bill Sinkford. So she, too, slept in this morning, and, uncharacteristically, I was up first. We might well have made it to the Salt Palace by 9:30, thus missing 90 minutes of our four-hour session, had we not both launched into UU-blogger overdrive as a result of three blistering comments left here early this morning.

It is, perhaps, poor judgment on my part to take action on such matters before my first cup of coffee has kicked in (and how do Mormons function in the morning, anyway -- Postum just doesn't cut it, IMO). But the comments were inappropriate and distracting, and so I deleted them, which took all of perhaps 30 seconds. The problem with that, of course, is that in typical over-apologetic UU fashion I then felt the need to explain my actions to all our readers, and that took something closer to an hour. By then, we looked at the clock and realized that we would catch, at most, an hour of our track before it ended, then come right back here for lunch (we need to walk the dog a couple times each day, so taking all our meals on-site is not in the cards). As much as I enjoyed the first half, we conceded defeat and decided to just remain home through the lunch hour.

Further compounding the guilt associated with all this (yes, I'm a UU, but I grew up Catholic -- guilt is second nature), I had allowed to the CLF staff when I went by the booth yesterday that we were having difficulty finding any free hours in the schedule to do our booth duty, another part of our delegate commitment along with this blog. So in addition to feeling bad about missing our session, I can also beat my breast and say I could be sitting in the booth right now. Oh well.

I do have to remind myself periodically that, even though we have certain commitments to meet as delegates, we did get here on our own nickle, are coughing up $200 for this camp site in order to attend, and paid the $700 registration out of our own pockets. So, at some level, what we do with our time outside of Plenary sessions (which we consider mandatory) is really our own choice. So I suppose that missing the second half of our track is really just a waste of part of our conference fee.

As long as we made the choice to stay home for the morning, though, I am taking the opportunity to catch up on my reporting. Seriously, we are completely overbooked when we are here at GA (making me wonder why we thought sitting through UU University in the first place was a good idea), and even finding the time to update this blog is a challenge. If I don't do it regularly, though, I find that I lose track of everything I wanted to report.

As I wrote here yesterday, our day started with Plenary-II, wherein no business was conducted but we did have a pleasant worship service followed by an introduction to UU University. Apparently, while previous UU University sessions have been well received, two concerns led to the decision to include the UU University program into the GA general program this year, unfettered by competing scheduled activities. The first was a desire to bring UU University to a much broader audience, and the second was a complaint that many could not find a way to schedule both.

While I admire the motivation, and this was, perhaps, a good first effort, I do have some concerns about the format. We spent five hours in UU University yesterday, from 1-6. Even with two half-hour breaks (so, OK, it was really four hours), that's a long time to be couped up in a single venue with uncomfortable chairs. This morning's piece was another four hours, and spending that much more time in the same chair in the same room is definitely not something I missed by skipping this morning's session. I believe that breaking things up into shorter blocks spread across more of the schedule would have been preferable.

I will also say that, out of six tracks, five were focused on congregational issues that, while not irrelevant to CLF, are difficult to translate to the ethereal realm in which CLF operates. This is why we both ended up together in the sixth track (normally, our sensibilities suggest a divide-and-conquer strategy, wherein we deliberately choose separate activities to increase the breadth of our experience as well as our reporting here).

After Plenary we had, as always, a wonderful CLF worship service led by Rev. Jane Rzepka. When you have one worship service a year, you always make it a good one. This year's service featured a homily from Rev. Bill Schulz and music from a very talented group of soon-to-be credentialed (the very first ones!) musicians led by Sarah Dan Jones.

We had one more session before lunch. Louise had choir practice, and I chose to attend a session on The Path to Immigration Reform, introduced by Rev. Abhi Janamanchi. Apparently, featured speaker Kim Bobo was unable to attend due to a last minute conflict, and in her place Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran minister from Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, gave a very interesting presentation on how current immigration policy is tearing apart immigrant families, ripping children from their parents and presenting lawful US residents with a Hobson's choice of following deported members to Mexico or living apart.

The other speakers were somewhat drier, and I found the session as a whole to be very monotonous. I also felt that the "path" implied by the title was not really laid out -- the problem was well explained, but what we, as individual UUs or as congregations, can do to help, apart from the usual advice to hound your legislators, was not made clear. Episcopal minister Rev. Canon Pablo Ramos did a great job exposing the problem in the Salt Lake area, but failed to explain how UU's from elsewhere in the country can help. Also, clergy from other denominations did not appear to be well-briefed on the possibly non-Christian or even non-theistic makeup of part of their audience.

We squeezed in a round trip to the bus for lunch and a dog walk into the allotted hour, and were back in time to start our UU University track. I'm afraid I just don't have it in me to summarize that here, other than to say that I found the speaker, Rev. Galen Guengerich (pronounced, as far as I could make out, the same as former house speaker Newt), from All Souls New York, to be entertaining and engaging. The program is available on DVD if you are interested, and we are thinking about getting one so we can pick up what we missed this morning.

We had just an hour for dinner between the 6pm end of the session and the 7pm candidates' forum. The University track ended with a worship service, and just like my "bad Catholic" days, we sneaked out early to beat the dinner rush. We walked in to Olive Garden across the street at quarter to six and were seated immediately -- when we walked back out at 6:30 there was a line of UU's out the door.

The candidates' forum was, to date, the most informative (if not engaging) element of GA. This was the first time either of us had heard either candidate speak, and I have to agree completely with Louise's earlier post on this matter -- neither of these candidates will fill the shoes vacated by Bill Sinkford. I, too, am leaning towards one candidate -- not the one towards whom I was leaning when we arrived. I do not want to overshare on this matter just yet -- stay tuned. I also intend to consult with some of the CLF congregational leadership before making a final decision and casting my ballot.

In addition to hearing from the two presidential candidates for about 25 minutes apiece, we heard from the candidates for the two uncontested positions, Moderator and Financial Consultant, for a few minutes each. Gini Courter and Dan Brody are perfect fits for their respective positions, and I can share that I'd vote for each of them even in a contested race.

After the forum, Louise was absolutely wiped out and went home, leaving me to carry the torch to the final donors' reception on Bill Sinkford's watch, making it something of a farewell party for him. Several carefully chosen speakers had a couple minutes each to share their memories of Bill's presidency (and candidacy), including CLF's own Denny Davidoff. And then we were all treated to a surprise, the Sinkford's included, when The Persuasions entered the room singing. Apparently, this is Bill's all-time favorite group, and, courtesy of a handful of "angel" donors, a group of leadership that knew this about him arranged for this surprise farewell gift.

The Persuasions launched into an extensive set, and I left after perhaps the tenth number. The song list was apparently culled from Bill's favorites by some stealthy means that I did not entirely follow. By the time I left, the entire party was dancing in the aisles.

That put me home sometime past 11, which brings this story full circle. In a few minutes, we are off to the next Plenary.

Rules for this blog (Sean)

Apparently, we need to clarify what, exactly, this blog is (and is not).

This blog, as we have stated here several times, exists primarily as our report to the CLF board, one of the requirements we must fulfill as delegates from that congregation. We chose the blog format because it suits us well, since we also blog our everyday life elsewhere, and also because it allows other CLF members (along with anyone else), the vast majority of whom can not come to GA, to follow along more-or-less as it happens. That put us among the very first UU bloggers, back in 2005, and due to the way we get indexed by search engines, there now appear to be quite a number of UU's following along, including many other UU bloggers. Welcome, welcome all.

Because this is our blog, it is also our forum for speaking on UU issues. We consider our opinions on all such matters to be an integral part of our required report to our congregation.

We invite thoughtful comments on what we've posted. If we've made factual errors, or mis-reported something, that is certainly worthy of commentary. Likewise, if we have stated an opinion on which you'd like to comment, that is also appropriate. Lastly, encouragement or constructive suggestions for the reporting process, especially from CLF members, is also welcome.

What this blog is not, however, is a public forum for commentary on GA or on UU issues in general. This is not a bulletin board or a chat room, neither is it a bully pulpit for anyone else's opinions other than our own (you are certainly welcome to get your own blog for that, and we along with our readers can then decide for ourselves whether to follow along).

Accordingly, I have just deleted three comments here that were, to my eye, unrelated in any way to the content of the posts to which they were supposedly commentary. They appeared to me to be "spam" -- by which I mean an attempt to use our blog to reach our readers with someone else's message. In this case, these were comments by a UU (or former UU) who clearly has some grievances (although, I assume, not with us personally), and I have deleted them without prejudice -- I have no idea whether these grievances are legitimate or not, and deleting them is not in any way an expression of judgment of their veracity, nor is it intended to diminish the commenter's inherent worth or dignity.

Like (we presume) most UU's, we are sensitive to the plight of our fellow (wo)man, to include the grievances of UU's with the UUA or their individual congregations. And we are willing to listen to those stories as we are able -- again, like most UU's, we dedicate a particular segment of our lives to helping others less fortunate than ourselves. But co-opting our report to the CLF is not an appropriate mechanism for getting our attention.

Again, we do not want to stifle legitimate commentary on this blog, and, for the time being, we are leaving comments open and unmoderated. As always, we reserve the right to delete any comments for any reason we see fit, even as our actions in this regard remain informed by our guiding principles.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

No Bill Sinkford (Louise)

Well, I've heard both candidates for UUA President speak now, and am leaning ever so slightly toward one of them. Not that either one lit a fire under me. Bill Sinkford is a tough act to follow.

I don't think either one of them would screw up the job, and beyond that, I don't feel it matters much who holds the position. Either would be competent, neither will make a splash, and ultimately, the work of our denomination lies with the congregations, not with the UUA or its President.

I'm much more invested in knowing that Gini Courter will continue four more years as Moderator. Her skill in running GA plenaries is impressive and makes those meetings much more interesting and engaging for me.

Off to a slow start (Sean)

For the first time ever, we arrived at GA without having pre-registered, and so we found ourselves having to wait in the on-site registration line. Things moved quickly, though, and we were registered within about 15 minutes. While we stood in line we caught a glimpse of loyal reader Lance Brown, who has been reading not only this blog, but also our travelogue for quite some time. He seemed quite busy, so we did not get a chance to say hello.

After collecting our APF ribbon, we breezed into the exhibit hall to pick up our delagate authorizations from the CLF booth, where it was great to reconnect with Iris, Beth, Patty, and Linda. As always, we hung around the booth for a good 20 minutes or so, just catching up. Transubstantiating the delegate authorization into actual credentials, of course, being the holy miracle that it is, required standing in a much, much longer line, but after another half hour or so we were official.

That was just in the nick of time for Louise to make choir registration and practice -- the only real and practical reason why we needed to be fully registered by yesterday afternoon. After choir we both rendezvoused at home for what was planned to be a quick dinner of leftovers before returning for opening ceremonies.

You know what they say about best laid plans... we had a visitor show up at the bus just as we arrived home for dinner. Not exactly unexpected, but we ended up spending more time visiting than we had anticipated, and ultimately decided that trying to make it back to the Salt Palace in time for opening ceremonies was logistically difficult at best. We opted to skip them, after a quick check of the agenda revealed that no actual business would be conducted. I am sorry we missed the banner parade, as well as the introductions and president's address, but we've been through this before, and I know we can circle back at pick up the details later.

In-gathering this year was too late in the evening for us. I suppose if we were in a downtown hotel where we could just stagger across the street, we might have attempted it. I suspect we'll not make any of the post-10pm events on the schedule this year.

We did get up bright and early this morning to make Plenary-II, wherein, again, no business was conducted. Of course, there was no line at all this morning for delegate credentialling, making us wonder why we waited in line so long last night. I suppose so that we could have our delegate ribbons on in time for the first wave of candidate politicing -- I've been acosted in the halls half a dozen times already.

This afternoon's agenda is UU University, where we are in the Theology track. And I am desperately trying to find time on the schedule to do booth duty -- delegates, it turns out, have no free time at all.

Now let us sing (Louise)

Photo by ktylerconk

This year's GA is set up a little differently than the last several we attended. This afternoon and tomorrow morning are 9 hours of "UU University Focused Track Programming." More on that later after I've attended; I'm skeptical but willing to give it a try since it is the "big thing" for GA2009.

The plenaries seem to be about the same amount of time as usual in the schedule and scattered around different days and times of day. So far we haven't done any actual business, so my inner Governance Wonk, Process Junkie and Robert's Rules of Order Groupie haven't surfaced to be sated.

Choir rehearsals are well scheduled this year, allowing time to eat and even digest a bit before singing. Unlike in Portland, we will be singing at Closing Ceremony! Hoorah! We will also sing at the big Sunday morning worship service, which is new for me at GA and also highly exciting. Two performances, both important and integral to services and ceremonies, mean lots of reward for the hard work of learning 7 new pieces in about 5 hours. Whew! I've had two rehearsals so far and am feelin' the love.

This morning was the CLF worship service, which was great. Jane was funny and smart and charming and wise, and Bill Schulz was less funny but very moving and powerful. And when we sang the hymns, the floodgates of my heart opened and I wept. Finally, finally, worship and song together, bypassing the intellectual brain and moving straight into my heart. Now THAT's church.

The schedule is filled out with several fora for hearing the candidates for various offices (including the biggie, Association President); a handful of open sessions of workshops, and our volunteer time in the CLF exhibit hall booth. Lunches are crammed down in 30 minutes and we're hoping for a few nice dinners.

I've given myself permission to skip all late night activities (including Ingathering, which was at 10pm last night), the Public Witness event, and probably either the Ware Lecture or the Service of the Living Tradition. I find both tend to be very intellectual rather than emotional, and sometimes its just too much thinking at the end of a long, long day. Compare and contrast CLF worship, above. We'll see.

So. Singing, delegate-ing, and UU University-ing, in that order, are my priorities for this GA.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Not taking ourselves quite so seriously, too (Louise)

I found this hugely entertaining, and actually quite helpful.

"UU heavyweights will ache to have a meal with you and tell you all about the sterling qualities of their favored candidate."
So You’re Going to GA—A Guide for the Unsuspecting UU Delegate in an Election Year

Thinking about being taken seriously (Louise)

After taking a year off from attending GA (Fort Lauderdale was too far to drive our RV in the summer heat and humidity), I feel unprepared this year. I haven't read anything about the two candidates for President, for instance. I am ready to buckle down and listen now, though.

What little prep I've done is look for other blogs and Twitter streams to follow. Unfortunately, I haven't been particularly successful. I am following @SideofLove, a brand new website and account. Time to step up my efforts to hear more voices.

And speaking of voices, Side of Love posted a video of Sonia Sanchez answering the question, "What does standing on the side of love mean to you?" I am unfamiliar with Ms. Sanchez, so I don't know if this is her standard persona/voice. She is described as a poet/activist. My gut reaction to this clip was embarrassment and hope that the main stream religious community in Salt Lake doesn't see it. It's really flaky and "woo woo." UUs already suffer from a cliched image of being fringe and strange, so having a kerchief-ed lady sing/chant "love love love" struck me as not helpful to our cause. She gave the keynote address to the UU Ministers Association. Will that address be publicized? Was the whole speech like this? I don't know.

I did like it when she said, "Put on the sleeves of love, put on the feet of love..." I believe we must, indeed, use our bodies to do the hard work of building love, tolerance and justice in the world. Roll up our sleeves, set our feet to marching and our voices to protesting when others take a position of hate. But don't hand the opposition something to mock mercilessly, because they will.

The other piece I saw lately was this one in the Salt Lake Tribune. Hallman and Morales wrote eloquently of the need to challenge hate speech and hate actions in our world. The comments were very discouraging, effectively calling UUs "chicken little" and hypocrites. If such a reasoned printed discourse can be viewed so negatively, New Agey sing-song chants will not be received well...