General Assembly is like attending a carnival – a sensory and cognitive kaleidoscope

(From Ann Davis’s Sunday presentation at UUFE, July 24.)

GA begins with the opening celebration including the banner parade.? It feels somewhat like the opening ceremony parade of the Olympics when the national teams march around the stadium.? Sue and I carried our banner around the huge hall with a march cadence being played and the onlookers clapping.? All the banners were hung along the corridors of the convention center and remained throughout the four days.

sue browning ann davis UUA GA 2
Rev. Sue Browning and Ann Davis carry the UUFE banner at UUA General Assembly

For me, General Assembly is like attending a carnival. It?s a sensory and cognitive kaleidoscope. You can easily be caught by the whirlwind and descend into sensory and intellectual overload. I felt the way many students feel after a final exam, ?brain dead.? From 8:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night attendees are able to participate in worship services, workshops, musical entertainment, and conversations with fellow UUs.? If you?ve been around UUism for any length of time you?ll see friends and acquaintances from other congregations.? For instance, I saw friends from the Mill Creek congregation and Rev. Paula Maiorano, our former interim minister who is now at the UUs of Southern Delaware, in Lewes. You are able to see and hear leaders of the UUA and authors from UU World.

There are the concessions, not of dart games, bumper cars, Ferris wheels and cotton candy, as there are at other carnivals, but crafts people with international wares, social justice program representatives such as Black Lives Matter, ministerial stole creators such as Kit Wright the wife of John Wright, the minister at the Salisbury Fellowship.? Many T-shirts can be found to wear to complete a casual outfit or to publicly profess a philosophical or political point of view. Lapel buttons and bumper stickers can be had to give people pause to think and/or make them laugh.? The UUA bookstore carries all manner of UU clothing, buttons, jewelry, and of course Beacon Press books.? It?s too easy to spend hundreds of dollars in a very short period of time.? (Show bumper stickers, books, shawl, T-shirt.)

One of the most significant aspects of attending General Assembly, for me, was just being with 4,000 other UUs, having it made so clear, that we here at UUFE are a small part of a much larger movement. ?Seeing a greater variety of skin tones, manners of dress, and spiritual paths affirmed my choice to be part of such an open religious institution. The variety of seminar topics demonstrated to me how diverse are the topics of interest and concern to Unitarian Universalists. The Unitarian Universalist Association embraces individuals, small groups, and congregations in a range of areas from accessibility and addiction to multi-faith coalitions and immigrants? rights through reproductive choice/reproductive justice and youth ministry.? Inclusiveness was institutionally exercised throughout the four days.? What I mean by that is, provisions were made for the diverse needs and interests presented by the attendees. Considerate language was used when referring to all of the constituencies. There were rooms designated for attending to issues of ?right relations? and a room for Chaplaincy support.? The chief chaplain was present at one of the plenary sessions discussing and voting on the wording of a controversial business resolution on the Middle East. When the folks at the pro and con microphones and the audience displayed strong emotions, the moderator Jim Key called upon the Chaplain to bring the assembly to a calmer state. . ?Though tension remained, an atmosphere of respectful listening was restored, a vote was taken with an indecisive result.

I think every UU would benefit greatly from attending General Assembly at least once.

I mentioned this to our Martha Hamlyn.? Her response which I thought was very apropos was, ?You mean like the Muslims are expected to make the Haaj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca??? I responded in the affirmative.? She continued, ?But, WE would call it the HUUJ.

 

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It was very difficult to select from numerous and widely varied seminars and workshops.? The program booklet outlined three major topical categories:? Interfaith work, Racial Justice, and Deepening and Strengthening the capacities and skills of lay leaders. The booklet tried to help attendees by listing three multi-session tracks:? Black Lives of UUs Track, Building a Transformative Movement for Racial Justice, and Wisdom and Generosity Track about fund raising.? In an effort to help those like me who could easily feel overwhelmed they provided questions to help you decide.

Which workshops will help with the work I do or the position I hold in my congregation?

Which program will help with my personal growth?

Which programs will help me be a better justice maker or interfaith partner?

Which programs, speakers, or topics am I simply curious about?

I chose to make my selections to assist me with my personal/spiritual growth and to help me be a better justice maker and interfaith partner.

One of the workshops I attended was titled ?What are Microaggressions and Why Should We Care??? My participation with the Conversation on Race dinners sponsored by Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity (TACL) and other groups motivated me to learn more about what micro-aggressions are and how they occur. This presentation brought into clearer focus an awareness that I already.? I began to understand the details. As members of the dominant American culture we White people make assumptions about the experiences of other American cultures.? Generally, WE, don?t have to think about the vocabulary we use or topics we talk about. When we speak with people of other backgrounds we need to be mindful of their differing experiences.? I am definitely a novice in interracial conversations and I?m trying to be more skilled making connections not building barriers is my goal, my hope.? I learned a lot about how micraggressions occur and how to help others recognize them.

An example of a microaggression is, the notion of ?color blindness? when phrased in a statement such as ?I don?t believe in race.?? A response could be, ?So what do you believe in??? As a listener, you could say, ?It sounds like you have a, strong opinion about this.? Tell me why.? Reacting in this way rather than directly challenging the speaker, allows the person to feel heard and to think more about what they have said.? This is a way of ?Calling Someone IN? rather than ?Calling Someone Out.?? I heard this expression in several settings throughout General Assembly.? Educate, rather than shame.? Help folks to think about the meaning of what they have said through gentle questions.

Our interpersonal exchanges are filled with opportunities to generate microaggressions, as well as, macroaggressions.? Being members of the dominant culture causes ?white people? to be perceived as being aggressive in the questions we may ask. It is important to be culturally competent communicators by being attentive to how we speak.? Dehumanization occurs on both sides of the conversation, the dominant speaker and the one who is made to feel ?other,? the one who experiences the microaggression.

 

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I was led to attend the workshop called ?Christianity as the Other: Communicating with the Majority Religion? because of my renewed interest in the historical Jesus and the post Easter Jesus.? I participated in the Christianity Inner Circle here at UUFE as a challenge to myself.? My objective was to examine who the person Jesus was.

I was raised in the Episcopal Church.? As I aged in that faith I felt increasingly guilty of being a sinner who along with all of humanity caused Jesus to suffer and die a horrible death. I took it very personally, as my fault.? A little later in life I came to know that I could not believe in a God who would want me and expect me to feel that badly about myself.? At the same time, I didn?t want to give up the security blanket of my belief in the goodness of Jesus. He acted as a model for me in trying to be the most loving compassionate person I could be.? I believed in his humanity rather than his divinity as a matter of hope that humans have the potential to be as loving as he.? Leading an ethical human life became my spiritual focus.? As I became acculturated into UU land, I confronted many folks who led me to think that talking about Jesus was not mainstream. Many UUs reject anything associated with Christianity because of being hurt by it as I was.? I was denying my affection for Jesus at an subconscious level.

The workshop led by Scotty McLellan, author of Christ for Unitarian Universalists, clarified for me that I can be a universalist humanist and still hold on to Jesus.? I am now comfortable thinking of him as a mentor.

In recent years, I have become interested in interfaith relationships, partly by reading the common read of three years ago, Faithiest. I have become active with TACL, but have been struggling a bit with how to accept the vocabulary of mainstream Christian partners and how to engage with the same vocabulary but with my own interpretations of its meaning.? In the workshop and in his book McLennan has given me a way to do this. ?I think now I have my own understanding of ?the living Christ?, the trinity, resurrection, and salvation.? I encourage each of you to read Christ for Unitarian Universalists.

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