You could see the thin clouds moving into the clear blue sky from the west at seven. By seven thirty, the sky was covered except for a blue band in the east. The wind idly shifted and blew gently from the south. My joints hurt slightly, I had to catch my breath suddenly. A general sense of discomfort. By eight fifteen, the sky in the west had cleared. The sun lit the tops of the trees and set. A moment of clarity. Not the drama of last night’s cold front, thunder and lightning and brief sudden rain squalls that brought only a trace of rain. Just a moment of discomfort, and I could breath again.
Dear me, what’s a cranky person to do?
Mr. Crankypants is not feeling very cranky. Much to his dismay, Mr. Crankypants is feeling decidedly upbeat.
It’s all the fault of that foul phenomenon known as General Assembly. For what is supposed to be a big denominational business meeting, General Assembly sure made Mr. Crankpants feel — well, uplifted and hopeful.
Usually, General Assembly makes Mr. Crankypants feel mean and nasty. Amazed, at how Unitarian Universalists can argue endlessly about totally trivial matters. In the past, Mr. Crankypants has come home from General Assembly feeling so mean and nasty, that the meanness and nastiness lasted for an entire year.
This year, what with Elaine Pagels’s lecture, and some good sermons, and several good workshops, Mr. Crankypants came home feeling mellow and relaxed, and generally hopeful about the future of Unitarian Universalism. This was a novel feeling indeed.
Cranky people do not like to feel mellow, relaxed, and hopeful. It makes us feel as though we’re losing our edge. It’s enough to make Mr. Crankypants watch the television news… watching that mind-numbing drivel will surely bring on the crankiness again… enough of this stupid blog, hand me the remote!
On board the “Texas Eagle,” en route from Fort Worth to Chicago
Looking out the window of the train, I see the grass in Texas has begun to turn brown for the summer. But you can only look at brown grass for so long. With an overnight train trip ahead of me, I’m going to have some time to reflect on General Assembly (GA).
The best part of GA for me continues to be my volunteer work with the GA Web staff. It was exhausting to write some ten thousand words for the GA Web site in five days (not including the writing I posted on this blog). But the exhaustion was worth it because each year, I learn more and more from the other Web workers about what makes a topnotch Web site. And more and more, I am coming to learn that a good Web site is essential for any church.
I learned that each Sunday there are hundreds of hits on the “Find a Congregation Near You! “Web page. This means hundreds of people each week go looking for a nearby UU church, and they find that church through the church’s Web site. Second, in one 24 hour period this weekend, there were over 1,500 hits just on the Web page which allows you to access video coverage of General Assembly, meaning that people who are already Unitarian Universalists use the Web to find out more about their own faith.
One more thing I learned from GA — really really good worship services do make a difference. We had some really really good worship services at GA, and cynical and snarky as I am, I have to admit those worship services deepened my faith. Now, I did not agree with everything that was said or sung in those worship services — but come to think of it, that’s one of the things that makes really really good Unitarian Universalist worship services.
Those are my reflections on General Assembly. Whether you attended GA in person, or experienced it through the Web — what are yours?
Fort Worth, Texas
Still pounding the keyboard of my laptop — still trying to get my last story posted to the Unitarian Universalist Association Web site.
While I take a break from writing, here’s my vote for the best free wifi spots in downtown Fort Worth….
First place — The Human Bean, Houston Street between 8th and 9th — great coffee, fun and cheerful staff, with music ranging from reggae to alt rock to classic rock. The breakfast sandwich is a standout, for only $3. the wifi connection is a little slow at times, but basically fine.
Second place — The Flying Saucer, on 4th St. near Commerce (just down from the Barens and Noble bookstore) — with hundreds of beers available (many on tap), excellent bratwurst, a few comfy leather couches on the first floor. I have to admit that after a Bodington’s and a Guiness, I did not get out the laptop to check the wifi signal.
Third place — the lobby of the Radisson Hotel — not very attractive, but the wifi connection is fast and reliable — and you could probably sneak in here even if you weren’t staying here, and no one would notice. The lunch buffet is decent, and the wifi signal reaches all parts of the dining room.
OK, gotta get back to writing this last story. TTFN.
Fort Worth, Texas
The closing celebration of General Assembly 2005 is over — and the closing celebration was lots of fun. Check out the video online at the video page of the General Assembly Web site.
General Assembly is done — but we’re not done here in the Web room. We’re going to be up late, trying to get the last of the stories written and posted, the last of the videos archived, the last of the photos formatted and available. We just ordered two dozen Diet Cokes in — caffeine to keep us going.
Me, I’ve got about 3,000 words to write before I go to bed. I probably won’t be able to post on this blog again until Wednesday, sicne I will be getting on the train tomorrow for the ride home. See you then.
We’re coming down to the home stretch at General Assembly here in Fort Worth. In some ways, things are slowing down — quite a few people have already left, people who could only take a long weekend and have to be back at work. In some ways, it feels as though the pace is picking up, as those of us who are left try to cram too many events into too short a time.
I’m sitting in the Raddisson Hotel, cramming some lunch into myself before heading off to the final session of Plenary, which I’ll be reporting on. So I’m quickly updating this blog before I have to run off. (I asked for a table near a plug, and they found one for me — but when I plugged in my laptop, I discovered the plug has no power — typical, I’m afraid, of this hotel, where the staff is pleasant and accomdating but the building is falling apart.)
I wasn’t going to go to Elaine Pagel’s lecture last night — went up to the Web room to write up some stories, and while I was writing, I turned on the live video streaming of the lecture — she was so good, I hustled right over to hear her live. A woman came in a little later to stand and listen — she obviously knew her Bible, because I could see her mouthing the words of Bible quotes as Pagels cited passages in the Gospel of John — and this woman, too, was captivated, found a seat, and sat down. I watched teenagers who were lost in rapt attention — and someone whom I know is pretty much of a humanist, also rapt in attention.
OK, so Pagels is a great speaker. But there was something more going on here.
After the lecture, I ran across Chris Walton, who’s on the staff of UU World magazine. Chris was sitting in the Raddisson lobby, typing away on his cute little 12″ Mac Powerbook, and he had just come back from Pagels’s lecture. “We are seeing a real change in Unitarian Universalists,” he said.
I wasn’t sure I agreed with him, but he went on.
“Ten years ago, I could not imagine over 2,000 Unitarian Universalists sitting and listening to a lecture about Jesus the way people did tonight,” he said. “No one got up and walked out in a huff.”
He’s right. there does seem to be a new openness to all things religious amongst Unitarian Universalists — a distinct movement away from the hardline ideologies that many Unitarian Universalists used to adhere to — there’s a new sense of intellectual openness, a new willingness to listen.
And Chirs and I agreed that this openness does have a generational aspect. The generation of younger Unitarian Universalists now coming up is far more open to exploring the Christian tradition, and not immediately rejecting it out of hand.
At Sunday morning worship this morning, we got a good old-fashioned Universalist sermon. But the rest of the worship service was anything but old-fashioned. The music was not 19th C. Western European classical music, it was jazz, gospel, and world music. The children’s story incorporated dance and drama to tell an ancient Sufi tale. And worshipping in the Fort Worth arena with about three thousand other Unitarian Universalists did not feel like traditional church — it did not even feel like the old-time Universalist camp meetings. No, the worship was contemporary.
But the sermon, given by Rob Hardies, minister at All Souls UU Church in Washington, DC, gave a message that the 19th C. Universalists would have recognized. The line from Hardies’s sermon that stuck with me went something like this: “The spiritual life isnâ€™t about dabbling here and there, itâ€™s about giving your whole life over to love.” Hardies gave new life to that old Universalist theme that love is the most powerful force in the universe, by pointing out that love will transform us as we use love to transform the world into a more humane and just place.
Hardies also had a good line about the name of his church. His church is called All Souls, which he contends is the best name for Unitarian Universalist churches because we aim to invite all persons in. But, said Hardies, “Can you imagine a church named ‘Some Souls’?” Everyone laughed, and then he added, “But isnâ€™t that the defacto name of dominant religion in America today?” Murmurs of recognition greeted this statement.
Hardies went on to add, “The good news that Unitarian Universalism must deliver to the world… the good news that has literally saved my life, is that a god who picks and chooses is not god at all, it is an idol.â€ Then he said we must â€œpreach the old Universalist gospel that all souls are invited to the welcome table.”
Well, this Universalist agrees with Hardies wholeheartedly. The professional musicans and well-rehearsed worship service for 3,000 people is fine and good, but what really matters is getting that message out to the world.
Fort Worth, Texas, at the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist congregations
The best workshop that I have attended at General Assembly this year by far was “The Electronic Frontier: Growing Unitarian Universalism via the Web.”
At this workshop, we learned that the great majority of our newcomers learn about our congregations through our Web sites. By now, more than 90% of Unitarian Universalist congregations have Web sites. As Deb Weiner put it (she’s the Director of Electronic Communications at the UUA), people who are looking for a Unitarian Universalist congregation should be able to find one if they’re looking via the Web. And right now, hundreds of people visit www.uua.org each Sunday morning looking for a UU congregation near them!
Another highlight yesterday, needless to say, was the meeting of the UU bloggers who are here at General Assembly. One clear thing came up for all of us — at least part of the reason we are blogging about Unitarian Universalism is that we want to welcome those people who might be looking for our liberal faith.
I’m really coming to believe that if a congregation wants to grow these days, it had better pay close attention to its Web site.
When I have a little more time, I’ll try to write more about this topic — but now I have to run off an report on yet another General Assembly event for the UUA Web site. Where am I headed? Off to “The Prom You Never Had.” Ironically, I’m one person who never had any interest in attending my high school prom — that will just mean that I am able to maintain journalistic objectivity.
More about General Assembly tomorrow!
Fort Worth, Texas
We’re sitting here at the UU bloggers meetup at General Assembly. Here’s who’s here:
Enrique, from the Blue Chalice — Annabelle and Curtis, from Talking UU Technology — Chris, from Philocrites — Joseph, from Radical Hapa — Phil, Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie — James, from Left Coast Unitarian — Patrick, who’s a regular reader and commenter — and Larry, who’s also a reader, and looking to incorporate blogging into his church’s Web site.
John from Returning, and Jess from Jess’s Journal were here earlier. Greg from (r)evolUUtions could not make it, but his wife stopped by to send his greetings.
Hi, all you other UU bloggers who are following General Assembly from afar! More on our meeting later….