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Wednesday, June 25
Greetings from General Assembly.
I'm writing this while sitting on the deck overlooking the swimming pool of the Fort Lauderdale Grande Hotel and Yacht Club—the hotel across from the Convention Center where a lot of General Assembly (GA) activities are happening. (It also contains the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) web coverage team, from which I get my wireless internet access and free coffee.) The name, it turns out, is not just an affectation: The hotel sits on the Intercoastal Waterway and really is surrounded by docked yachts.
None of which are mine, I might add. I didn't even think to bring my inflatable kayak. Maybe I'll get used to it, but I think I'm going to feel a certain dislocation every time I look up from a conversation about economic justice and realize that I'm trying to decide which yacht I'd pick if someone offered to give me one.
This year I finally succeeded in my plan to arrive Tuesday, a day before the opening ceremonies. (Last year I spent my extra night in Midway Airport waiting for a long-delayed flight that finally got me into Portland in time for breakfast Wednesday.) It gave me a chance to see a little of GA coming together, before the full Brigadoon effect takes hold. There were no lines at registration yesterday afternoon, and the Exhibit Hall was cavernously empty. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) wandered about in groups of two or three, not in steady streams.
In full swing GA resembles a UU city, but on Tuesday evening it's more of a small town. The UU Ministers Association and UU University participants, who have been here for days already, are like Cape Cod residents watching the summer people arrive. Tuesday evening my wife and I walked into a nearby Irish pub and had our pick of tables—only to discover our minister, assistant minister, and several of our fellow parishioners already seated.
Tomorrow the talks and presentations start.
I've been having my usual bipolar reaction while reading the GA Program. In my good moods, looking at the list of interesting people and fascinating talks gives me the same sort of feeling that guys on the Laker bench must have when Kobe Bryant does something amazing: "Wow! I play on a good team." But in my more self-judgmental moments I experience what author Kenneth Gergen calls "the vertigo of the valued": the sense of inadequacy that comes from an "expanding range of what we feel a 'good, ''proper, ' or 'exemplary' person should be."
Every slot of the schedule offers two or three topics you could devote a lifetime to. This speaker is working against war, that one for the environment, someone else trying to develop and promote UU spirituality. Some are building their local congregations, others advancing the cause of the UUA. Human rights, music, religious education, publicizing UUism through new media, antiracism, international programs, church governance, facing death—I can't even attend it all, much less bring it all into my everyday life.
Somehow I'll make my choices. I'll decide what to attend and what to skip. I'll try to remind myself that I play on a good team, and that I don't have to try to save the world by myself.
But I'm going to delay making those choices just a little bit longer. Right now, I'm still trying to pick out my yacht.
Reported by Doug Muder.