Thursday, July 2, 2015

UU GA 2015: One for the Ages

What an amazing UU Ministry Days and UU General Assembly we had in Portland, Oregon this year! Here are just a few of the highlights, from my perspective.

UU Ministry Days is always, first and foremost, a great time to catch up with old friends and talk to other people who do what you do. This year's keynote was delivered by Rev. Rob Hardies, minister of All Souls Church (UU) in Washington, D.C. He blew everyone's socks off! His talk was "Giving the World the Best of Unitarian Universalism." You can watch his talk below.

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That evening, I attended the vespers service at First Church UU in Portland, and I was excited to see their "Black Lives Matter" banner.

The banner as I saw it that evening at First Church UU, Portland, Oregon.

Then the next day... Every year, the 25/50 Service is a highlight for me, and this year was no exception. The 25/50 service honors those UU ministers who were ordained 25 years ago and 50 years ago. Each of these cohorts elects from among its members one person to deliver a homily at this service. These sermons are consistently excellent, and moving. Rev. Gail Seavey gave the talk for the 25 year class, and Rev. Dave Weissbard gave the talk for the 50 year class. Both talks were provocative. You can watch for yourself, below.

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Our own UUCiA minister emeritus Rev. Peter Richardson was there as part of the 50 year cohort. It was very moving for me to see him there.

Next came the Berry Street Lecture. As a reminder, the Berry Street Lecture is the longest-running lecture series in the United States. (Read a short history of this lecture series here.) This year, the speaker was Rev. Sean Parker Dennison (the first Generation Xer to give the Berry Street Lecture!). His title was "Mission Impossible: Why Failure Is Not an Option". Sean noted that we fail because of our fear of failure. Quoting Neil Gaiman, Sean said, "If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something." Failure is not an option, said Sean, because failure is inevitable; it is the only way forward. You can watch, below.

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With that, Ministry Days ended. The transition to UU General Assembly was next!

There is far, far too much to share about the GA this year, as every year. I'll share some of the workshops and talks I attended. I went to "A Way out  of No Way", a panel discussion from the Living Legacy Project of the UU History and Heritage Society. The workshop looked at what UUs did in Selma and the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, and it looked at what UUs are doing (so far) today in the Black Lives Matter Movement. Rev. Dr. Gordon Gibson shared a meaningful perspective from his own experiences and those of others in the 60s, and Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson extolled the Living Legacy Project. Rev. David Carl Olson talked about First Church UU Baltimore's experience of "showing up" after the death of Freddie Gray.

I went to a very crowded session called "Moving from Capitalism toward an Ecological Economy", co-led by Aly Tharp and Matthew McHale. It was beyond standing room only -- some folks had to be turned away! Tharp said that the first step of creating an ecological economy is realizing that our economy is interdependent with a living system. McHale noted that while it's true that capitalism has ignored ecology, traditional communism didn’t think about ecology either. McHale noted that corporations are required by law to maximize profit for their shareholders, and that we have been focused on profit to the exclusion of thinking about ecology and living systems. He noted that the root of the word economy is "oikos" from Greek, meaning home: ecology and economy are from same root. We watched "The Story of Stuff Project" film, which I highly recommend; as the film says, we are "getting better and better at playing the wrong game”.  Tharp emphasized the importance of direct democracy, and finding solutions from the bottom up, not the top down. As for "what can we do", Tharp and McHale gave this list: 1. Radical simplicity: reducing consumer habits, reducing carbon footprint. 2. Political activism: fight for a living wage, fight for the rights of nature, fight plutocracy. 3. Grassroots community efforts: time-banks, similar to the gift economy, community choice aggregation, etc. McHale noted that we live in a land where it is legal to destroy the planet, and illegal in some cases to protect it. He said, "If it's the right thing to do, then we have every right to do" it. Tharp and McHale think that UU congregations should think about what we can do in terms of time-banking, community gardens, and more. 

The Service of the Living Tradition was Thursday evening. Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister, All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa OK, delivered the sermon. I was tired, and ended up watching from my hotel room! You can watch the service yourself at this link:

Friday was a very celebratory day the the GA as the Marriage Equality decision was handed down from the US Supreme Court! An atmosphere of joy and disbelief permeated the day. General Session of Plenary included a celebration of this historic decision. You can watch it at this link, at the start of the video:

I attended "Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy, a Living Earth" on Friday afternoon. Dr. David Korten summarized his book of the same name, and Rev. Mel Hoover was there to help lead the larger discussion. Korten's main argument is that we need to reframe our worldview to get out of our current mess, particularly the global climate crisis. Korten elaborated how in our current worldview, corporate profit is held above people and all else. In a nutshell, he wants us to put not just "People over Profit" (as the slogan goes) but also "People and Planet over Profit". Korten noted that we believe that "time is money"; he argued that it should be "time is life". He said that we need to go from the story of "sacred money and markets" to the story of "sacred life and living earth". He noted that corporate capitalism is destroying the planet by basing "success" on a need for endless growth and consumption. Our current story of "sacred money and markets" puts the importance of money first, he said, but in reality, the health of the planet is primary. "We must get rid of corporate rule and reclaim democracy", said Korten. The story of "sacred life and living earth" would help us to correct our course. I was pleased to see the resonance between Korten's ideas and those of Tharp and McHale, noted above. Said Rev. Mel Hoover, "I don't know if I can win this race, but I'm gonna run it!"

A highlight of Saturday was "Partnering to End the New Jim Crow" with presenters Jo Ann Hardesty, Rev. Kate Lore, Shannon Wright, and Doug Cooper. These four are local Portlanders working on ending mass incarceration and the resulting "new racial caste system". My biggest single take-away from this panel presentation was that (as Hardesty put it) "You can be a helper, an advocate, an organizer, or a rebel", and all four roles are necessary in doing good justice work. Naturally, we can crossover in between all of these roles, changing hats as we go. Rev. Lore talked about the need for UUs to keep "showing up", but noted that we need to prioritize making relationships first (especially before trying to lead!). Lore said that because our churches tend to be made up of folks in the dominant culture, we "must get outside our walls & commit to antiracism". 

Later Saturday afternoon I attended "Building Powerful Collaboration with Native Nations for Climate Justice", a talk led by Lummi Nation leaders and allies. This led straight into the Public Witness event -- you can watch the video at this link:

The view from my Ware Lecture "cheap seats".
Saturday night was the Ware Lecture, given by a hero of mine, Dr. Cornel West (I was fortunate enough to take a class with West when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School many years ago). West is a very quotable speaker, and there are many of his words that I could share, but really you deserve -- you owe it to yourself -- to watch the Ware Lecture for yourself at this link:

Sunday is always the closing day of GA, the endgame. I always find it a bit sad. This year, however, ended with a bang in the form of our Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) passed at Plenary. We adopted three AIWs this year -- click on each link for more information:

Then (though I was sadly not there for it) there was a "die-in" outside the Portland Convention Center to honor Black Lives Matter. Below is a picture by UU World.

Picture of "die-in" by UU World.
What a way for GA to end this year! I'm feeling proud to be a UU. Read Chris Walton's article on this at this link.