A General Assembly with no Service of the Living Tradition? GA without plenary? Without an Exhibit Hall?!?! What *did* we mean when we voted that GA12 should have the “minimum required” business, and otherwise focus on justice, in last year’s Business Resolution on the Phoenix General Assembly 2012?
Our UUA Board of Trustees will take up this question at their meeting, next weekend. If you believe the Board should take us at our word, if you want the Trustees to direct the GA Planning Committee to have fewer of the “usual” events and more justice-focused events, then please contact your representative soon, and tell hir about your vision. (You can find your Trustee’s name and contact info here, and determine in which district you live here.)
One of my absolute favorite things to do, every year, is attend our General Assembly. And one of my favorite things to do at GA is the Service of the Living Tradition. It’s not necessarily about the sermon (sometimes inspiring, sometimes merely OK)–it is about expressing our appreciation for the retiring religious professionals, and honoring those who have died, and welcoming the ones just beginning their careers. I weep for the dead, every year, and I hug some who are retiring, and I celebrate with the new.
I imagine many of our UUA Trustees also love the Service of the Living Tradition. I appreciate all of the work they do, on our behalf. For just this meeting, there are 71 pages of preparatory reading. The meeting will go for two full days (8:30am – 9:30pm on Saturday and 8:30a – 5p on Sunday)–and that’s after another two days of committee meetings, trainings, and workgroups. Not only is it a long meeting; there are some difficult discussions on the agenda (PDF). With all that challenging work, and with a love of the GA in their hearts, it may be easy for at least a few Trustees to imagine that their favorite GA activity is in fact part of the “minimum required” business. Like the Service of the Living Tradition. Or the Ware Lecture. And of course, the Exhibit Hall.
That’s where we come in. Please contact your Trustee (and/or the Trustees at Large) and tell them what “minimum required” means to you.
My colleagues of color will be risking their well-being by setting foot in Arizona, where SB1070 legislation *requires* law enforcement officials to ask people who look like they lack documentation to prove that they are citizens. UU ministers and UU members risk being detained, or beaten, or deported, if they are not carrying the necessary papers.
Many UUs of color have committed to taking these risks, in order to witness and work for justice. I want to honor this brave commitment–by working alongside them, and by not asking them to risk their safety so that we can listen to Dan Savage and attend cocktail parties. When our religious predecessors answered Dr. King’s call to Selma, they did not go and hold meetings in air-conditioned rooms nearby. They assembled in the streets.
This post is already pretty long, so I’ll cut to the chase. I will probably post more, later, and other bloggers and commenters will likely add their opinions. I will undoubtedly get something wrong here, and at least one thing I suggest will be impractical, but I am trying to keep the ball rolling, and get some feedback to the Board as they make their decisions.
Yes, let us have a Service of the Living Tradition in Phoenix–as part of continuous worship, happening 24/7 from the moment GA begins through to its final moments. There are many sermon awards, which could be incorporated; and lots of chant or taize; and the UU hyphenate groups (Buddhists, Christians, Humanists, Jews, Mystics, Pagans, et al) could all do their thing. We could ask the youth and young adults to take responsibility for *some* of the late-night hours. I think it would be a powerful witness to have worship going all the time, in the middle of such oppressive injustice.
We should still have plenary sessions–and they should include trainings, education, and opportunities to reflect on the things we’ve seen, heard and done. I don’t know if we should teach folks how to stay on-message and talk to the press, or how to deflect the press to the people trained to do that. We could definitely use plenary time to do some NVC training.
The Ware Lecture could still take place, focused on an appropriate justice theme. BTW, all of the justice work we’ll be doing need not be solely about immigration and immigrants’ rights. There is plenty of racism going on against US citizens in Arizona; and there is oppression of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and queer persons; and Arizona ought to be a good place to explore handgun violence. All of that being said, we’ll be at ground zero of the anti-immigrant movement; we cannot miss such an opportunity. In this historical moment, nationalism and xenophobia need to be addressed.
Finally, let us address the Exhibit Hall. That is where our nation’s real religion occurs. I do not imagine for a minute that we’ll have the ability to do without the consumerism of an Exhibit Hall, but perhaps we can address it with some creativity. The information and recruiting booths (seminaries, CLF, UU camps) should be encouraged to attend. Everybody else, and any of the above who sell something (possibly excepting the UUSC), should charge a ten percent surcharge, which gets tithed to our local partners in the struggle. And each person who participates in a justice activity (which will be planned for all levels of fitness, ability, etc) gets a “25% off” coupon for one item. Obviously, the Hall is not open during plenary or during the major justice initiatives, when we’re out engaging the work of creating justice (which means mornings and evenings, in the desert heat of June).
Whether you agree with me or not, please contact your Trustees and share your vision of GA12, with minimum required business and maximum justice efforts.