The Thinker

Blogging at 35,000 feet

Well, this is cool! I am blogging from 35,000 feet. Granted, the first 10,000 feet are still not Wifi accessible, but perhaps that will change too. For $12.95 I can buy myself about three hours of high speed Internet access, at least on selected Delta flights. Other carriers are probably offering similar services, or will be soon. Moreover, the quality of the service is as good, if not better, than what I get at home via our Cox cable service. The times, they are a changing, and not always for the worse.

I am on my way to Salt Lake City to attend the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Having been a Unitarian Universalist since 1997 or so (and in spirit much longer, I just didn’t go to services) I figured it was about time to attend a General Assembly. This is an annual meeting where UUs from across the country come together and discuss denominational business. It is supposed to be a lot of fun and very interesting. Look for posts on the GA during the week. I will not exactly be alone since other members of our congregation will be in attendance too. When you are surrounded by thousands of UUs, you are never really alone. Of course most will be strangers to each other, but we are all the same in spirit. I am hoping it will feel a bit like coming home to the home you never quite had. I figure that if Muslims are expected to make one pilgrimage to Mecca, perhaps UUs should make at least one trip to a General Assembly too. I hope to learn a lot, but also to clarify for myself just how down the UU rabbit hole that I want to go. Thus far my association has been more tangential than dedicated and has consisted of participating in a covenant group and teaching religious education.

This trip is also unique in that it is something I am doing by myself. I travel quite a bit by myself, but so far it has all been business related. My wife, a Buddhist, had no particular interest in attending. Here I am age 52 and this is the first vacation that I have ever done on my own. It is sort of like being single again, at least for a week. There is no family to visit on the other end. There is also no spouse and/or child to drag along. If I get overwhelmed by the intensity of it all, my hotel is a few blocks away. I can distress by computing from my hotel room or hanging out at the pool. I strongly suspect that I will have no problem finding ways to fill my time. The typical problem at these General Assemblies, I have been told, is trying to do too much. There is simply too much going on.

I mentioned to a colleague where I was going and she said “what is Unitarianism?” I am amazed that in 21st century America so many people have not heard about Unitarians or Universalists. There is often at least one UU church in any community of a significant size. There have even been Unitarian presidents of the United States, although at the time they were not known as UUs, but stuck usually said they were deists. Thomas Jefferson was a Unitarian, at least in spirit. If you are curious to learn more about Unitarian Universalism, feel free to check out the association’s web site, or my tag archive on the subject, or just keep reading. To the extent I have time to blog this week, I will be posting my thoughts on the General Assembly.

Unitarian Universalists are basically religious liberals, without a professed creed, with their roots in Christianity but who are for all practical purposes not Christian. Some UUs consider themselves Christian and a UU service definitely has a church-like feeling to it. Most UUs would consider Jesus to be a great teacher, but only a few think he was divine. It is a sort of “none of the above” religion, where no creed is required for membership, where you simply come as you are, hang out in fellowship, try to do good things, and work toward tolerance and social justice. Perhaps a majority of UUs are like me: officially atheist or agnostic. We also have pagans, wiccans, Buddhists, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, the polyamorous and pretty much any type of odd non-denominational faith you can think of. In general UUs are a tolerant bunch.

We are also overwhelmingly Caucasian. If there is one deficiency in my religion, this may be it. I expect the General Assembly to resemble a Republican convention. My wife rightly points out that her Buddhist temple is very multicultural. In some ways I am jealous. I am also hopeful that over time UUs will become more culturally diverse too. Our current president is African American, but that will probably change this week as we elect a new association president. Unfortunately, I am not one of the delegates, since each congregation only gets four votes. I am sure whoever we pick will be someone of a similar vein to Rev. Sinkford.

However, I don’t give myself too much grief about being part of a “white” denomination. The congregation is so white, not because it tries to exclude people of different colors, but because its roots are European, and Europe is predominantly white. It was imported into the United States where it flourished and where mostly white people lived. Just as certain southern Baptist associations are overwhelmingly African American and it is okay, it is okay that UUs are overwhelmingly white. We do have two African Americans in our congregation, so we are not exactly pure white, and a few Hispanics and Asians too. Those of color whom we attract tend to be comfortable among whites. UUs also tend to be intelligent and overeducated. This can be daunting to some.

So I look forward to a week of fellowship, learning and song. While I do not particularly enjoy being away from family, it is not a bad thing to have a week to myself to do things that interest me far away from home. It helps me figure out who I am and where I want to go as a person in this next phase of my life.

The last time I spent any time in Salt Lake City was in 1996. Back then I remarked how Wonder Bread the city was. Perhaps in the thirteen years since it has become more culturally diverse. In any event, given that Utah is overwhelmingly white I suspect that most UUs will feel at home there. Given our religious and political liberalism, we may give the local Mormon population something of a shock. I hope I am there to witness any fireworks.


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