Tag Archives: uuaga09

Final impression of GA 2009

I’m about to go to bed, because I have to get up at three in the morning (heaven help me) to catch my train back east. Before I do, though, here are a few impressions of General Assembly 2009:

— The weather was just about perfect: dry, warm but not too hot, and a couple of thunderstorms to keep it from getting boring. I have a theory that when the weather is perfect, there are fewer major conflicts at General Assembly — and indeed, this year I have heard of no erupting conflicts.

— The schedule was grueling. I had noticed that I was feeling particularly tired, but I hadn’t thought about why until someone pointed out that the GA schedule had no consistency. Plenary happened at odd times, workshop slots got thrown in when you didn’t expect them, UU University required an exhausting commitment of six hours Thursday afternoon and four hours Friday morning. I found the lack of regularity draining.

— The election for the next UUA president seemed to dominate everything else. I didn’t hear many people talking about their workshops, but everyone seemed to have something to say about the election.

— UU University (UUU) got mixed reviews this year. Some people liked their UU University track, some people thought it a waste of time (Doug Muder says much the same thing). Two years ago, I heard nothing but glowing reviews of UUU; maybe it didn’t scale up very well? It will be interesting to read summaries of the evaluations of UUU.

So ends another GA. Now off to bed.


More local flavor from Salt Lake City

Lightning struck the glass tower outside the convention center today. It broke several windows in the tower. I just walked by the front of the convention center, and there were a bunch of city workers out there sweeping up the glass.

Behind the convention center, about three blocks away, I happened across the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple. In front of it stand three amazing trees: some kind of pine tree with long needles and a delightfully convoluted trunk; a Japanese maple tree; and a tall mulberry tree covered with ripe fruit.

I took a walk this morning, and wound up walking past the local homeless shelter. Maybe thirty people were standing in front of the shelter or across the street. A block away there’s an upscale outdoor mall, complete with Abercrombie and Fitch and Gap stores.

Local flavor from Salt Lake City

Yesterday I found myself in Sam Weller’s, the oldest independent bookstore in Salt Lake City. It’s as good a bookstore as Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, which reveals something about the intellectual life of Salt Lake City. There was a television crew there conducting interviews, because Sam Weller, the owner of the store, had died that day. I overheard the interviewer asking a girl of about ten years old, “So what does Sam Weller’s mean to you?” Very eloquently, she told how important books were for her, and how much she likes to go to that bookstore. She sounded like a budding intellectual, with all that entails.

Later that evening, Rev. Tom Goldsmith, minister of First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, welcomed delegates to the first session of Plenary. Among other things, he said that some state leaders look askance at Salt Lake City, because of the intellectual ferment of the city. “They call it ‘Sin City’,” he said.

If you think of Salt Lake City as a dour theocracy, you’ve gotten a wrong impression of the city. In the neighborhood of the convention center, I have found not just Sam Weller’s, but also art galleries, a film center, ethnic restaurants, and more. After experiencing a little bit of Salt Lake City, my only surprise is that there are only two Unitarian Universalist congregations in the city.


Heading off to Salt Lake

Tomorrow morning I start traveling to the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I’ll get up early and catch the 7:20 Acela train out of Providence. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll take the Capitol Limited from Washington DC to Chicago. Monday afternoon I’ll climb on board the California Zephyr in Chicago, and get off Wednesday night in Salt Lake City. When I get to General Assembly in Salt Lake City, I won’t have jet lag, I will have seen some spectacular scenery, I won’t have had to take off my shoes and hat for security guards, and I will be able to lord it over the people who flew to Salt Lake because my carbon footprint will be half of theirs. Physical comfort, beauty, moral superiority — what more can I ask for?

Once I get to General Assembly, I’ll be doing some text-based reporting and some live blogging of plenary sessions for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). I’ll also be posting here (saving up all my snark for this blog, since snark won’t be appropriate on the UUA Web site). I plan to do some videoblogging, too, if time permits.

So what about you: Will you be going to General Assembly this year? or do you have better ways to spend your hard-earned time and money than by going to some denominational meeting? Will you be following the online coverage of General Assembly? or will you be watching the Red Sox instead? And finally, do you believe General Assembly is worth the thousands of dollars the denomination spends on it each year? Discuss freely. (And if you’ll be blogging General Assembly, don’t forget to plug your blog in the comments.)

P. S.: While traveling, I’ll be able to update this blog in Washington and Chicago. I’ll also be posting to my Twitter feed, http://twitter.com/danlharp, while en route.

The race for UUA president

Here’s a conversation that I have had several times (in slightly different forms) in the past few weeks:

“So, who are you supporting for the next UUA [Unitarian Universalist Association] president?” someone says to me.

“Well,” I say, “I’m not supporting either one, but I think I know who I’ll vote for.”

“I feel the same way,” says the other person. “I can’t say I’m supporting anyone….”

“So who are you going to vote for?” I say.

“I’m going to vote for Laurel Hallman,” says the other person, “not because I think she’s any better than Peter Morales — i don’t think that — but because I think it’s time for a woman to be UUA president.”

“I’m going to vote for Peter Morales,” I say, “not because I think he’s any better than Laurel Hallman — he’s not — but because I think it’s time for a UUA president who is not the choice of the UUA power elite.”

We sit in silence for a moment or two.

I break the silence: “It really is past time for a woman.”

The other person says almost simultaneously: “We really do need someone who is not part of the UUA power elite.”

Then we both agree that both candidates are perfectly capable, that neither one of them would actually change things much, that we both might change our minds before the election, and that neither one of us actually supports either candidate.


I have also had the following conversation a few times in the past few weeks.

“So, who are you supporting for the next UUA president?” someone says to me.

“Well,” I say, “I’m not supporting either one, but I think I know who I’ll vote for.”

“Well, I don’t really want to make this public, but I know who I’m supporting,” says the other person.

“So who are you supporting?” I ask.

“I’m supporting Peter Morales,” says the other person, “but I don’t want to go public with my support because Peter has pretty much promised me that he will implement my [insert innovative growth program here]. So I don’t want to come out as supporting him, because if Laurel Hallman gets elected, if it doesn’t come out who I vote for then maybe she will consider my [insert innovative growth program here].”

We sit in silence for a while.

“Too bad it has come to this,” I say.

“Yeah, it’s all about politics and who you know and who you support,” says the other person.


There’s an old saying that goes something like this: if the head of a nail sticks up, it will get noticed and hammered down; so don’t be like the head of a nail, don’t do anything to get noticed. It feels to me as though supporting one or the other of the UUA presidential candidates in this election is a good way to get hammered down. I’m not blaming the candidates, but their supporters are so rabid, and they are so insistent on asking you to support one or the other. And after the election I do have the feeling that those who support the winner will be blessed with smiles and maybe favors, while those who support the loser will be cast out away from the denominational center into the wilderness. This is what happened in the last UUA presidential election; why would it not happen once again?

Therefore, I want to avoid UUA presidential politics like the plague. I want to go off and serve in a nice local congregation, and do good things there and in the surrounding community, and nurture my own spiritual life, and spend time with my partner Carol, and enjoy life. Call me chicken, but I support neither UUA presidential candidate — listen carefully — neither one of them.

Update: Responding to a comment below, I’m adding a disclaimer: I don’t think either Peter Morales or Laurel Hallman has a vengeful bone in their bodies — but I know from experience that the system is vengeful, and has a long memory, and does not value those who speak out on the “wrong” side of an issue in denominational politics.