Sunday, June 30, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 3 - THURSDAY (Day 2: Worship Arts, Compassionate Consumption, Motivating Members, Worship/Witness, and GAME 7)

Part 1
Part 2

While Wednesday is obviously the official beginning of General Assembly, it's also more of a warm-up day as it begins at 1pm at the earliest and much later for most.  Thursday is when the action really begins and for me it started off just right.

First thing I did was head over to Panera with Erik and Jaime for some breakfast and then we all went to a workshop entitled "Six Words, One Image: A Worship Arts Immersion."  While it wasn't exactly what I expected it to be and there was a point toward the beginning where it started to delve a little too much into essentially being a commercial for Starr King School for the Ministry, it turned out to be really, REALLY cool and actually really made me want to go to Starr King (at least for that moment in time).

The reason they talked so much about SKSM was that "Six Words, One Image" is actually a highly condensed version of an intensive program offered by SKSM.  The idea is to incorporate a daily spiritual creative practice into your life by combining six words with one image to tell a story.  The origins of the idea go back to a scene of Ernest Hemingway drinking at a bar.  Hemingway turned to the man next to him and said "I could write the perfect story in six words."  The man obviously doubted the idea that any story could be told in six words.  Hemingway responded: "For Sale: baby shoes.  Never worn."

Six Words, One Image

The discussion then moved on to incorporating the arts into not only worship but congregational life.  They talked about the importance of sensuality, of engaging all the senses much in the same way a filmmaker does--and how as folks grow older, they begin to move away from sensuality in favor of rationality (and how this phenomenon has roots in our Protestant and Puritan forbears).  They also talked about being intentional about cultivating truly multivocal and truly multigenerational ministry.  Lots of great ideas and inspiration; a perfect way to kick off GA.

For lunch, Jeremy and I had a meeting with our Florida District Young Adult/Campus Ministry steering committee which was wonderful.  It's great to be able to sit down with all those amazing folks and discuss all the exciting ideas we have for the committee, such as the possibility of a District YA conference in Orlando, a Regional YA conference in New Orleans, and the logistics of developing a model that will translate to the regional level so that we can begin planting committees similar to ours in other districts that eventually will be supported by Regional YACM steering committees.

After lunch it was, befittingly, time for "Choose Compassionate Consumption: From Personal Choice to Collective Action."  I took a few good notes about the UU Service Committee's "Choosing Compassionate Consumption" program and learned about some resources, but the most exciting part of this workshop for me was talking to Saru Jayaraman afterwards.  I told her I would love to get her to come speak in Miami and she gave me her card and informed me that the restaurant workers organization she formed in 2001, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), actually has an office in Miami.  I also talked to Kara Smith of the UUSC and got a business card from her as well, which was really awesome.  But last but certainly not least, I got Saru Jayaraman to sign my copy of "Behind the Kitchen Door" and got a picture taken with her:

After that, it was on to "Beyond Contentment: Motivating Members to Do More."  If you know anything about UU congregations, I probably don't have to tell you how packed this workshop was.  Easily over 100 people in the room, many of whom had to sit on the floor because there weren't enough chairs.  There was just way, WAY too much great information in this workshop to discuss it all here but rest assured I will be sharing it with our congregation using a variety of avenues.  For now, I'll just leave you with the final image in the slideshow from this workshop:

After the workshops for the day were through, it was time to worship and witness for climate justice.  There were many amazing speakers at the worship service who discussed the evils of mountaintop removal and the open air storage of coal ash that reduces the life expectancy of folks in the low-income neighborhoods where the ash is stored by about 10 years on average.  Mel Hoover gave an especially impassioned message and a plea to divest from fossil fuels (a position I immensely respect even if I don't entirely agree with it).  The "stars" of the show, of course, were renowned poet and Unitarian Universalist Wendell Berry, who shared some of his amazing poetry on the subject of climate justice, and "Bidder 70" himself, Tim DeChristopher (who is studying to become a UU minister!).

After the worship, we marched to The Belvedere for the witness event where many more amazing folks spoke, including Wendell Berry and Tim DeChristopher once again as well as Mel Hoover.  At one point, Jennifer Toth had me handing out vials of symbolic water symbolizing the waters of the Ohio River, which our witness event was looking out on and which marks the border between Kentucky and Indiana and is being polluted with more and more coal ash every day due to mountaintop removal.

After the witness event, I eventually found my way back to the hotel room, threw my Dwyane Wade Marquette jersey on over my Standing on the Side of Love shirt (the jersey is navy blue with yellow trim so it was a perfect combination!) and headed over to the Jockey Silks bar at the Galt House to watch the Heat game with Jennifer and UU Miami's own Chris Kirchner, as well as Terry and Mark from Miami/Ames, IA.  Unless you've been living under a rock, if you live in Miami, you know how the Finals turned out, so I'll just let the photos I took of the TV broadcast of the game speak for themselves...




Saturday, June 29, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 2 - WEDNESDAY (Day 1: Roots, Wings, Banners, and Humility)

Part 1

Finally, the big day had arrived.  I spent most of the morning watching highlights of Game 6 on ESPN in the hotel room but around midday it was time for Young Adult Orientation.  It's always such a pleasure hanging with the YAs and especially hearing from the amazing YA leaders within our faith.  These folks are not the future--they are the present.  They're not standing around waiting for the establishment to hand them the reigns of Unitarian Universalism or pass the torch or whatever other idiom one might use.  They are asserting their voices within our faith, voices of progressive change screaming to be heard by ears weathered by years of polity and justice work.  The conversations, connections, and community I share each year at GA with these folks are, truly, the Roots that hold me close and the Wings that set me free.  More on that later.

One of the most interesting things about the YA Caucus room was this awesomely creative art project the staff put together.  At Orientation, they passed out brown strips of paper and markers for folks to draw a visual representation of the congregation they're from and write a sentence about what has brought them to General Assembly this year or what present commitments they have made to our faith community.  The bark represented the present, the roots, the past, and the leaves, the future.  Three specific questions were asked for each:

From Left to Right:
"What roots do you have with Unitarian Universalism, or with another faith community?"
"What present commitments have you made to our faith community?"
"What aspirations do you have for yourself as a UU and for our larger faith community?"

After YA Orientation, I wandered the exhibit hall with Erik and Jessica (whom everyone else had met the night before while I was screaming at a television set--OK, just kidding, I actually did partake in some conversation at halftime and after the game).  We chit-chatted with a few nice folks, especially the folks at the UUA Youth and Young Adult Offices booth.

Before long, it was time for the Banner Parade.  My most sincere apologies to my fellow congregants of UU Miami for forgetting to bring our UU Miami banner with me to Louisville.  However, I was very grateful to be invited by UUA Campus Ministry Associate Kayla Parker to help carry the Campus Ministry banner along with Jeremy and herself.  It was the first in a long line of very humbling (in a good way) experiences for me at General Assembly 2013.

Left to Right: Jeremy, Kayla, and me

After an awesome banner parade and a rousing Opening Celebration came one of the MOST humbling moments of the week: I was invited by UUA Florida District Board President (and ├╝ber sweetheart) Ila Klion to attend UUA Moderator Gini Courter's reception at the Marriott.  Wow.  Imagine just about every mover and shaker in Unitarian Universalism in one room sharing cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and conversation. What an amazing experience.  I had a lengthy discussion with Rev. Darrick Jackson, Director of Contextual Ministry at Meadville Lombard Theological School on why he felt Meadville was the right place for me to pursue the ministry--and also had a similar conversation with Justine Urbikas, Meadville's Assistant Director for Recruitment and Communications.  I also had a really awesome conversation with Standing on the Side of Love campaign manager Jennifer Toth that started out being about Immigration issues, then transitioned to being about Florida, and ended up with us making plans to meet up the next night with some other Miami folks to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals!

All that would have been the perfect end to a perfect first day of GA but just for the icing on the cake, a bunch of us went down the street and hung out at a bar called BBC with a handful of awesome YAs for some slightly intoxicated small group ministry (i.e. a bunch of awesome drunk conversations!).  But the night still didn't end there because I went back to the hotel room a little early and Erik and Jamie (our other roommate for the week) were still up watching "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman" and having some deep discussion about the universe.  We all continued to theorize and philosophize about the vastness of the universe and our place in it and time travel and all sorts of other craziness until we could barely keep our eyes open anymore and then it was finally time for bed...

Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 1 - The Road to GA


Here we were again.  The moment I had been waiting for all year had finally arrived.  General Assembly 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.  My good friend Jeremy Ritzmann and I had been texting back and forth for weeks about how we could barely contain our excitement.  His wife Sarah even posted on Facebook that she was cleaning their apartment in preparation for me coming because every time I come it's a blessing which truly warmed my heart.

Jeremy and Sarah with their son Judah

I must have spent the better part of Friday and Saturday before I left figuring out everything I would need and packing it into one suitcase and one backpack--this included a small selection of comic books, a copy of "Behind the Kitchen Door" to have Saru Jayaraman sign, a copy of Robert's Rules (because you never know when it's gonna come up), and a multi-colored array of UU t-shirts.

Flying in to Jacksonville is so beautiful

I took a plane I could barely stand up straight in to Jacksonville and Jeremy was waiting for me at the terminal when I arrived.  We hugged a great, big hug that was a far-too-long time coming and then set off for Jeremy's apartment.  On the way there, we stopped at a flea market outside of town and I bought a few more comic books.

Spent the afternoon chilling with Jeremy and Sarah and their two-year-old son Judah (who is just about the smartest, coolest kid on the planet) and then later we went over to Sarah's grandparents' house to have dinner with her family.  Sarah's grandmother is a sixth generation Universalist and her mother is a very active member of their congregation (Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church) so that definitely made for an interesting and pleasant dinner.

After dinner, we started watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Heat and the Spurs which was a fairly depressing spectacle to behold but didn't put too much of a damper on my evening.  Went back to the apartment and fell asleep watching the season premiere of True Blood with Jeremy and Sarah.  Having never seen True Blood, I was a bit confused but mostly just wildly entertained by how cheesy it was.  But I digress.


Not much of note happened Monday.  More chilling with Jeremy and Sarah at the apartment and making preparations for the trip to Louisville.  Spent about an hour at the pool, which was nice.  Other than that, nothing particularly interesting happened until about 11:30pm when we finally raised anchor and set sail for Louisville with our good friend Erik Slader.


The ride to Louisville was long (and the road was muddy and rough...OK not really...) and full of sleep.  Well, at least for me and Erik.  Jeremy stayed up all the way through the night, hopped up on Starbucks Doubleshots and Iced Coffee to drive the entire 13 hour drive.  We stopped in southern Georgia for Waffle House at about 3am for "breakfast" I guess you would call it (it certainly contained all the elements of breakfast anyway) and in Atlanta at 6am to have coffee at Starbucks with Tim Atkins of the UU Congregation of Atlanta but otherwise we pushed onward all through the night.


I woke up eventually to daylight and the Smoky Mountains.  I basically slept my way through Georgia almost entirely and now we were in Tennessee snaking through gorgeous mountain ranges shrouded by low-hanging clouds.  It had been much, MUCH too long since I had seen mountains so I snapped a handful of digital photos along the way.

Finally, we made our way into Louisville and checked into our amazing two room suite at the Galt House just two blocks from the convention center.  After registering early to beat the crowds, we headed over to "Fourth Street Live" which is basically a whole block of bars, clubs, and restaurants where locals go to party.  We found a really cool Irish Pub called Ri Ra and found out we could reserve a room in the back for later to watch Game 6 of the Finals.

Yeah, this was awesome...

We returned to Ri Ra at 9pm and while everyone else actually interacted with each other like social beings, I was glued to the flat screen TV and the rollercoaster ride of Game 6.  Not to digress too far from my point but I just have to say that I have been watching basketball for over 20 years and that was the single greatest basketball game I have ever seen in my life.  When Ray Allen hit that three, I literally ran around screaming like a maniac.  I still can't process the fact that that actually happened.  My GA was |this| close to being totally ruined (OK, not really, but hyperbole is necessary in this case).  Then a miracle happened in Miami.  And the next morning I was more ready than ever to begin my General Assembly experience...

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Still getting super psyched to see the Heat vs the Spurs tonight on ABC. Texas is a great basketball state but Miami is gonna shut down San Antonio and end a proud Spurs dynasty to cement the greatest dynasty. The best part about the Heat is all the talent.


This is a modern classic with some amazing footage of Lebron and D-Wade and Bosh to accompany it.


Tonight our Miami Heat will play for basketball greatness once again and we at Vundablog are super pumped. Enjoy some great Miami Heat vids for you're enjoyment.