A general review of the Justice GA

For me, the story of Justice GA begins like this:

We Unitarian Universalists have to reserve General Assembly sites several years in advance, and we incur financial penalties if we break a reservation. The central purpose of General Assembly is to carry out business required by our bylaws, and our bylaws require us to hold a General Assembly each year. All the other activities that take place at General Assembly — the workshops, the lectures, the conflicts and scuffles, the political maneuvering, and so on — are incidental to that central purpose.

At the 2010 General Assembly, a sentiment arose that Arizona’s newly-enacted draconian law targeting Latino and other immigrants was unjust, and that we Unitarian Universalists should observe a boycott against Arizona called by immigrants’ rights groups within the state. However, the financial penalties that we would incur if we backed out of our contracts in Arizona would mean that we could not afford to hold another General Assembly elsewhere; and we are required by our bylaws to hold an annual General Assembly. We needed a compromise. Out of this need of compromise, Justice GA emerged.

That’s the beginning of the story. Here’s how the story continues: Continue reading “A general review of the Justice GA”

Parker, Arizona

We stopped in Parker, Arizona, on the drive home from Phoenix.

We visited the Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum, which has artifacts from the Mojave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo peoples. Carol and I have been reading The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, a book about a White girl who was adopted into the Mojave tribe in the 1850s, so I was particularly interested to see a Mojave bark skirt on display, presumably similar to the one Olive Oatman would have worn. In the gift shop, they were selling a Red Sox blanket, and I asked why. “Jacoby Ellsbury plays for the Red Sox,” said the pleasant young man at the cash register. “He’s enrolled in the Colorado River Indian tribes.”

Carol went to a thrift store. I stopped to admire the engine facility of the Arizona and California Railroad, a shortline railroad that runs from Phoenix to Cadiz, California, and owns a bridge across the Colorado River.

Carol hugged a saguaro in a public park in Parker.

We drove across the Colorado River, and on the other side we stopped at the tiny U.S. Post Office for Wyatt Earp, CA 92242. Of course we mailed some postcards, making sure they were hand-cancelled with that distinctive name.

GA coverage

For the sake of reference, below are links to posts I wrote this year for UU World’s General Assembly blog. Coming later this week here on my own blog: a more extensive report on the Fahs lecture, a short post on prophetic poetry, a review of the year’s GA, and perhaps a post on the Berry Street lecture.

Fahs lecture: Race, immigration, and religious education

Building the world we dream about

Tse: “Do the one thing you can do”

Talking about immigration with children and youth

Worship: Dreaming a better future

Religious witness at Tent City

As I write this, Unitarian Universalists and local allies are holding a protest rally, or “religious witness,” at Maricopa County’s infamous Tent City. The local temperature is 101 degrees (38 C.) right now, at nine o’clock at night: that’s the kind of temperatures prisoners have to endure during the long summer months at Tent City, which is part of the reason why many people consider Tent City prison to be cruel and unusual punishment, and inhumane.

The Web site for 3TV Phoenix News interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio yesterday, and reported: “‘They’re not going to stop me with their little demonstration,’ said Arpaio.” This is a true statement: the voters of Maricopa County have kept Arpaio in office for the past two decades, and a couple of thousand people protesting at Tent City is unlikely to influence the electorate.

I decided not to attend the religious witness at Tent City tonight. I’m not doing well with the heat, I’m trying to get another article written for the uuworld.org GA blog, I’m past tired. But I’m also wondering how this is religious witness action is going to make much of a difference. I hope our presence heartens our local allies; I hope it makes us feel less powerless ourselves. But on the other hand, Joe Arpaio loves this kind of controversy: it gets him press coverage, and gives him additional publicity for his nasty agenda.

I’m watching live streamed video from OPHKMickey — here’s a screen shot showing people streaming in to the protest site:

Update 11:00 p.m.:

A newly-posted video on 3TV Phoenix News shows Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a microphone flanked by Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Bill Schulz. Arpaio says exactly what you’d think he’d say: “[unintelligible] for people to come in here from out of state, think they’re going to tell this sheriff how to run his operation.” No one likes outsiders telling them what to do, and Arpaio is obviously milking that for all it’s worth.

Service of the Living Tradition

I attended the annual Service of the Living Tradition yesterday, and was struck by both the sermon, and the new way that religious professionals were recognized during the service. You can find a video recording and a script of the service are online here, and my post on the uuworld.org blog here.

Here on my own blog, I’m going to take the time to reflect at greater length on this service:

The Rev. Sarah Lammert, Director of Ministries for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) welcomed the congregation to the large hall at the Phoenix Convention Center in which the service was held. “Ministers are called forth from the lay people they serve,” said Lammert, and the purpose of the Service of the Living Tradition is to honor professional ministry. She added that as those being honored went up onto the stage, the congregation was invited to “raise a glad noise.”

This represented a change from recent Services of the Living Tradition, when the ministers and other religious professionals being honored did not go up onto the stage, but merely stood up where they were sitting. Also in recent years, worship leaders discouraged the congregation from cheering those being honored.

Another change was that the ministers and other religious professionals did not process in to the service together while the congregation sang the familiar hymn “Rank by Rank Again We Stand.” Instead, they were seated throughout the congregation, with their family and supporters. Each group — ministers achieving preliminary fellowship, ministers in final fellowship, credentialed religious educators, credentialed musicians, etc. — was introduced with the words, “I call forth from among you these persons….” The symbolism was clear: religious professionals gain their power and authority from the people they serve. Continue reading “Service of the Living Tradition”


We were walking down by the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix when we saw two middle-aged men, both white, riding bikes in circles on the sidewalk. One of them was riding a Dahon folding bike with 20 inch wheels. Carol has been looking at Dahons on Craigslist, so she asked the man how he liked the bike. The other man rode towards some people walking towards the theatre and asked if they wanted tickets, and then I noticed the man we were talking to had tickets in his hand. He knew a lot about bikes, and, like Carol, he regularly checks Craigslist for used bikes. The two of them compared notes on bikes they had seen for sale recently. He advised Carol not to get a Dahon, because they’re poorly made.

We got to talking about Phoenix, and the man on the bike said there just wasn’t much going on in downtown Phoenix. Restaurants, for example — he grew up in Portland, Oregon, where within a few blocks he had an unbelievable number of choices of restaurants, but in Phoenix there aren’t so many choices, and many of them are chain stores. I asked if there was any kind of bike culture, and he said there was not. not only that, but he said cars had no respect for bicyclists, and he had had more than a few close calls. What about jobs? we asked. His friend rode up at that point, and said most of the jobs in Phoenix were service jobs, paying seven-fifty or eleven dollars an hour.

Someone walked up looking for tickets, and the other man turned away to talk with them. The first man said he had come to Phoenix in the late 1990s, and he gave the impression that he wished he had never left Portland. One thing about Phoenix, he said, was that even though wages are low it was cheap to live here. But that meant it was hard to move anywhere else, hard to save up enough money to move away. You could feel stuck here, he said.

But he did like monsoon season. We asked what that was like. He said that it came in July and August, and you’d look up at the sky and see dark clouds moving in, and soon they’d cover the sky, and then there would be thunder and lightning everywhere, heavy rain, water running a half inch deep on the streets, then in thirty minutes it would all be over. He said it was worth seeing, and it was something he’d never seen in Portland.

Then some more people walked up looking for tickets, so we said good bye, nice talking to you, and went on our way.

Downtown Phoenix

Once it got cool enough to go out for a walk, Carol and I strolled over to find Lawn Gnome bookstore on 3rd St. between Roosevelt and Garfield. Along the way, we stopped at Bodega 420, a neighborhood store that carries a little bit of everything: locally produced food, canned food, ice cream, loose tobacco, condoms, playing cards, etc. We chatted with the owner, Adrian Fontes, a lawyer who runs the store in his spare time.

Adrian on the front porch of Bodega 420.

Adrian told us about the art fair that takes place on first Fridays next to his shop: artists, music, food trucks. He took us to the front porch of Bodega 420 and pointed out JoBot Coffee, some art galleries near by, the new apartment complex going up down the street, and Lawn Gnome Books. Adrian, whose family dates back over three hundred years in Arizona, said he lived for many years in Denver, and told us it was hard to leave there to return to Arizona. But now he’s excited to be in Phoenix: everyone’s from somewhere else, the city isn’t set in its ways, there’s room to innovate.

We wandered down the block to Lawn Gnome Books. I found a used copy of short stories by Joanna Russ, and Carol found The Hobo Diet, a book by someone who lived as a homeless man for five weeks in Las Vegas. Carol started talking with Billie Speece, one of the people who worked at the bookstore.

Billie in Lawn Gnome Books.

Among many other projects, Billie runs letter writing workshops at the bookstore. Years ago, Carol had been part of the Letter Exchange, and she and Billie talked about rubber stamps and mail art. Billie showed us some of the envelopes she makes from recycled paper, stitching the seams with embroidery thread. She said she is part of the Letter Writers Alliance; she added that recently AARP contacted her about her workshops.

I bought one of the handmade journals Billie sews together, using paper taken from damaged books, paper that has one side blank. One of the pages in the handmade journal I bought reads in part: “I wish Gertrude were here…. I wish she could see the man God is building on her foundation.” Another page reads: “Foods high in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.” Carol just said, “What are you going to do with your journal?” I said I didn’t know; maybe I’ll just keep it.

Photo credits: Carol Steinfeld

“Ministry Days,” day one

This was advertised as a “Justice General Assembly,” and it is clear from what’s been going on at the “Ministry Days” which precede General Assembly that many people feel the center of our religious community is social justice work.

But I’m not convinced that religious organizations are particularly effective at doing social justice work. Religious communities can supply moral and ethical frameworks to motivate and support social justice work. And as the Social Gospel movement pointed out over a century ago, religious communities cannot be solely focused on individual and personal salvation; we also have to be focused on social salvation. Thus it is clear that religious communities should be concerned with social justice issues. The question is how religious communities can be most effective at pursuing social justice. Continue reading ““Ministry Days,” day one”