General Assembly Journal: "GAdding About"

Doug Muder.
Doug Muder smiles as he looks up from blogging his GA experience for

Wednesday, June 20: Time-Turning at General Assembly

I've completely emptied out my luggage, and I still can't find my time-turner. I can't believe I forgot to pack it. You can't do General Assembly (GA) without one.

For those of you who are too mature to read youth fiction, a time-turner is the device Hermione uses to cover her impossible course schedule in the third Harry Potter novel. You wear one around your neck, and every time you turn it you go back in time an hour. Need to be at three simultaneous workshops? No problem! An even better solution comes from the X-Men comics, where the Multiple Man could split himself into copies and then recombine later. I don't remember exactly how that works, but it has something to do with a mutant X-gene. I don't think I packed one of those either.

I definitely need some kind of help, because my plan to hit GA rested and relaxed was blown seriously astray last night by thunderstorms over Pennsylvania. I spent a serious chunk of the evening meeting new GA-bound people in the Midway Airport as we waited for our crew to arrive from Philadelphia. So instead of arriving in Portland Tuesday night around 9, I actually came in Wednesday morning about 5:30. I suspect east-coast UUs are going to be trading travel stories for the rest of the conference.

But I had a lot of time in transit, so I went through the GA program and made a list of everything I want to see, giving priority to the things I have to see because I'm covering them for the GA website. It was a serious good-news/bad-news experience. The good news? There's a huge amount of can't-miss stuff going on at GA. Bad news? An awful lot of it happens at the same time.

Everyone has his/her own list of can't-miss stuff, but for me it starts right in the first workshop session at 10:45 Thursday morning. I'm going to be at the "UU Spiritual Writing" workshop, because I'm one of the speakers and I'm really curious to hear what I'm going to say. But that means I miss 20 other workshops, plus the ten concurrent "domain sessions" of Open Space Technology, in which some self-organizing group process I don't pretend to understand will generate responses to questions like: "In today's complex world, what is our mission as a faith community?"

Friday afternoon, I definitely want to be in two places for the 1:00 session and three for the 2:45. At 1, "First Freedom First" is going to discuss religious liberty in America, while UUA President Bill Sinkford is going to be taking questions from the floor in "Conversation with the President." (I'm not sure yet whether I have any questions, but it's always surprising to hear what's on other people's minds.) At 2:45 I'm going to be covering David Korten's talk "Navigating the Great Turning," and simultaneously missing "What in God's Name Am I Doing?" by best-selling author Robert Fulghum and "A Jewish Perspective on the Future of Humanism" by Rabbi Sherwin Wine. (I heard Wine at the New Humanism Conference at Harvard in April, and can vouch for the fact that he gives a great talk.) If I could multiple-man a fourth copy of myself, the annual Fahs Lecture ("Home Grown Religion" by William Doherty) looks worthwhile.

Triplicate me's could also stay busy Saturday morning, when former UUA President Bill Schulz ("The Theology of Peace Making") is on opposite author Bill Murry ("Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism Today")—both conflicting with the Commission on Appraisal's discussion "Revisiting our Principles and Purposes." Sunday morning I could get by with two copies or just one twist of the time-turner: Author Kathleen Norris' featured presentation "Amazing Grace" about reclaiming the language of faith looks interesting, but having been to the Church of the Larger Fellowship worship service last year, I don't see how I can miss it. When your congregation has thousands of members and only one worship service a year, that service rocks.

Along the way, I need to squeeze in food, sleep, conversations with friends I don't see anywhere else, seeing Portland for the first time, and doing my writing for the GA website.

So if you're sitting at home with the GA schedule and feeling wistful about all the great things you're missing, don't feel left out. Those of us in Portland are doing exactly the same thing.

At least until we find our time-turners.

Reported by Doug Muder.