"GAdding About" Day 4

Friday, June 23, 2006

Prepared for UUA.org by Doug Muder


Before heading off in search of new adventures, or at least breakfast, I'll try to collect some snippets from the past two days.

Opening Celebration. I was late for the Opening Celebration on Wednesday evening because I failed to make the obvious deduction: If thousands and thousands of people are going to attend something at 8, then thousands and thousands of people are going to look for a restaurant at 7—or even a little sooner if they're smart. So I arrived at the tail end of the banner procession (which looked as if it must have been a lot of fun) and I got a seat way in the back.

A worship services with thousands of Unitarian Universalists takes some getting used to. You've got the sea of people, the tiny person behind a podium way in the distance, and then the same person blown up to Godzilla size on the projection screens. Nobody needs hymnals or programs, because all the words get projected onto the screens.

In other words, it's the basic megachurch, huge-revival-meeting set-up. Nothing we haven't all seen in the movies, if not in person. But in the movies Godzilla is somebody like Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell, the hymns are about being washed in the blood of the lamb, and the whole thing feels kind of creepy. You keep waiting for the mob to realize you're not one of them and tear you to pieces.

Except ... except this time you are one of them. The words on the jumbo screens are about seeking the truth in love and helping one another. If you've never seen it before, it takes a few minutes to realize that what you are seeing is even possible, much less that it is happening right in front of you: Thousands and thousands of Unitarians all singing together in one room.

It makes you wonder: What if UU World wasn't just a magazine? What if the real world were a UU world?

The Hilton clerk. I left my room key in my room, which is a problem in the Hilton because you can't even get the elevator to take you up to your floor without inserting your key. So I had to have the desk clerk call my room so that my wife could come get me.

While we're waiting for her, the clerk (a young black woman) asks, "Are you with that group?"

"The Unitarians?"

"Yeah," she says with some amazement. "You people are all so nice."

Dialog tips. I covered the workshop Peter Laarman and Bill Sinkford gave to promote the book Getting on Message: Challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel. (You can find my play-by-play on the GA website under event 2045.)

I was reporting rather than blogging, so this observation didn't make it into that coverage: The last third of the session consisted of Meg Riley reading questions from the audience to Laarman and Sinkford. Finally, she asks them if there is anything else they wish they had said. Laarman tells us: "Contempt cuts both ways in these religious wars." And then he explains that he's trying very hard to have "respectful conversations" with his opponents on the Right. "That's my spiritual discipline."

From my conservative Christian upbringing, I have a tip that may help Laarman in those dialogs. He might stop referring to the Religious Right as "Christofascists" and "American jihadists." It puts them off, for some weird reason.