Critical Mass - Fall 1998 Newsletter

DC Area UU Young Adults

Edited by Laura Bridgewater

Web design by Eric Carlson


1998 YA Fall Retreat: This Is NOT Your Parents' Faith!

Interested in a rejuvenating weekend away? Would you enjoy time hanging out with fellow UU young adults on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, playing, thinking, and relaxing?

Then reserve Columbus Day weekend (Friday, Oct. 9 to Monday, Oct. 12) for this year's Critical Mass Fall Retreat! The theme is: "This Is Not Your Parents' Faith!"

The theme workshop will be an "Experiential Whirlwind Tour of World Religions (in two parts)!" It'll use an exercise and some discussion for each of seven major world religions to explore what lessons the faith has for our own lives.

Back -- because people liked it so much -- is the ropes course! A ropes course consists of three or four outdoor, physical puzzles that involve all of the participants. It's great fun, and you may even learn something (but don't tell anyone -- it'll spoil the fun!).

Other great things include moonlit walks by the frog pond, a worship on the beach at sunset (including a bonfire), games (including silly card games, noncompetitive games, field games, etc.), creative crafts, free-form conversations, and last -- but not least -- great company!

Cost is a low low $60 if you register before Oct. 2 and $68 after. For more information, see the flier and signup sheet at the back of this newsletter. Hope to see you there!

Peter Dahlstrom, a member of the UU Church in Reston, Va., will be one of the theme workshop leaders.

Rochester, N.Y., Boasts Largest GA Ever

Last June, the largest Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly ever held met in Rochester, N.Y. More than 4,000 UUs participated in this 6-day event, surpassing the previous record of 3,600 at the 1989 General Assembly (GA) in New Haven, Conn. Youth were well represented, and the number of Young Adults continues to increase.

What's GA?

What's this General Assembly thing, you ask? First, some background on how our denomination is organized. Our churches are independent bodies. They function without a parent organization telling them what to do or helping them out fi nancially. They choose, however, to belong to the UUA -- an association of UU churches from across the continent and around the world. This association elects officers and hires staff to support individual congregations, oversee ministerial training and fellowshipping, promote our Principles and Purposes, and represent the denomination at various functions and meetings. The UUA headquarters is located at 25 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.

Every year, UU congregations send delegates to an association meeting called the General Assembly. GA is held in a different city each year -- sometimes on the East Coast, sometimes the West, or somewhere in between, making it more easily available to various geographic areas in different years.

So, what is GA like? Well for me this year it was a very moving and rich experience. Imagine 4,000 UUs all in one place, all intent on living our Purposes and Principles in a loving, justice-seeking, truth-speaking community. Folks from all over the continent -- and some from farther away than that -- meet to debate (and eventually select by democratic vote) resolutions, study/action issues for social justice, and Actions of Immediate Witness. They also listen to reports and lectures, participate in workshops, worship together, sing together, dance and get tired together …

It was a full 6 days! In the morning, worship began at 8:00, followed by a Plenary Session full of information and decisionmaking. In the afternoon, participants attended three workshops and lectures, had a quick dinner, and then went to worship, followed by more workshops and then special programs. The dancing didn't begin until 10:00 p.m.

Keeping the Faith

Monday's Plenary began with a report by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, President of Starr King School for Ministry. Her comments, part of the ongoing series of reports on this year's GA theme "Fulfilling the Promise," examined covenanting. Her thought-provoking report took on more sermonlike qualities as she repeatedly asked, "What will we do with what we have been given?"

Although, she noted, that we live in a time of failed covenant, "there is a universal love that has never broken faith with us -- never." This was truly a special moment. The full 45-minute report is available on the UUA Internet pages in Real Audio and is well worth a listen.

Changes to Resolution Process

A couple of years ago, GA delegates voted to change the procedure for selecting and approving resolutions. This was the first GA with the new procedures fully in place. We now have a 3-year process, which ends in the adoption of a Statement of Conscience. This statement, like the resolutions of the past, is a position paper declaring what we UUs agree on and will be used in the same way resolutions were. The difference is the process by which we arrive at a Statement of Conscience.

The process works as follows. In the first year, delegates select one Study/Action Issue at the General Assembly. After congregational study and input and a GA workshop, the Commission on Social Witness drafts a Statement of Conscience, which is considered and revised again based on congregation comments and feedback and a mini-assembly at GA. In the third year, the Statement of Conscience (hopefully) is adopted by GA delegates.

This year, we continued to work on the study/action issue entitled "Building Religious Tolerance Through Interfaith Cooperation," which was selected last year. We also chose this year's study/action issue: "Economic Injustice, Poverty, and Racism." Materials will be sent to churches during the year to help them plan programs to contribute to this process. If you would like more information about these resolutions or other aspects of GA, check the UUA's World magazine or its Internet site at

Next year, GA will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 24-29. Plan on attending this truly special event. I look forward to seeing you there.

Rob Dahlstrom is a long-time GA delegate for the UU Church of Silver Spring, Md.

On Buddhism and Lotto Tickets

I love to play Lotto when the jackpot gets up to $6 million, $8 million, or more. That may not seem to have much to do with Buddhism, but hang with me for a few more paragraphs.

I know that the odds of winning at Lotto are poor, and that it's a bad investment. Still, buying a ticket is the only way I know to entitle myself to the fantasy of material comfort for the rest of my life without having to work for it. When the Lotto jackpot is up there and I have a ticket in my pocket, I can tap into the fantasy of wealth, comfort, and happiness any time I want.

Indeed, when I pay attention to what's going on with me, I realize that I spend a lot of mental energy seeking out fantasies of what I think will make me happy. Whenever my life seems stressful (which is most of the time) or unrewarding (which is even more of the time), my mind goes groping for a fantasy.

Having a Lotto ticket provides one. Or I might think about signing up that new client who will give me a steady stream of income… Or reaching retirement with enough savings and enough health to live in Central America for a few years… Or writing a book that truly moves people in a unique way… And so on.

And that brings me to the subject of Buddhism. Because one of the greatest things I get out of my Buddhist practice is the realization that I must find my happiness in the only reality there is - the here and the now. If I am always lost in thought about what it will take to make me happy in the future, I will always be lost in thought about what it will take to make me happy in the future.

The simple truth is that there is nothing more that I need in my life to be truly happy. The trick is to recognize what I have. I am sitting typing these words to share them with friends, and that brings me great joy. The trees are outside my window, along with the sun and the clouds and the wind and a gentle drizzle. I am surrounded by the love of my family and of my religious community. What more could I want? What am I waiting for?

One of my teachers, the exiled Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, often points out that people talk about walking on water or walking on the moon as a miracle. To him, the miracle is that people walk on the earth.

Buddhism teaches us to be mindful of this, moment by moment. When I start groping for a fantasy, I bring myself back to the only moment there is - the present moment. It is only by finding my happiness and my peace here and now that I can have any hope of finding happiness and peace in the future - the next here and now.

If I can start living this way for just a few moments a day, I have begun a genuine Buddhist practice. If I can live my life like this, moment by moment, living fully and mindfully in the present, then I have attained nirvana. Or at least that's close enough to nirvana for me.

There is, of course, much more to the teachings of the Buddha. But what I have shared here is part of a course I sometimes do called "The Basics of Buddhism for Here and Now." In it, I also cover the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, self and non-self, the Five Precepts (a.k.a. Mindfulness Trainings), the Fourteen Precepts (a.k.a. Mindfulness Trainings), and my peanut-butter cookie meditation.

I've given the course at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston (UUCR) and will again, and I'd be glad to offer it anywhere (peanut-butter cookie included). In the meantime, we have launched a UU Buddhist sangha (community) at UUCR that meets for meditation and discussion from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the second Monday of every month. All are welcome, UUCR members and non-members alike.

If you want to confirm the UUCR sangha's meeting time, you can call the church at (703) 742-7992 or me at (703) 707-9332. Or, preferably, you can also reach me at my email address, Feel free to ask any questions, and I'd be glad to add you to the list if you want to be included as part of our sangha.

To the Buddha in you.

Mel Harkrader-Pine practices Buddhism at the UU Church in Reston, Va.

A First-timer's View of Opus

OPUS is an annual gathering of young-adult UUs from around the United States. This year, the ages actually did range from about 18 to 35. It includes the steering committee for the Continental Unitarian Universalist YA Network, which is elected at every OPUS.

The 1998 conference, "The UU Gallery: Painting Ourselves Into the Future," (Aug. 2-8) was a full week that cannot be condensed into a paragraph. Here is a try ...

  • A week full of hugs, and smiles ... including large circles of people holding hands at least three times a day. Also spiral hugs and amoeba hugs.
  • A massage workshop taught by a professional.
  • Impromptu hikes.
  • Pagan Worship. Worships you cannot do in a large church, which move people to tears.
  • Wishes coming true. Plotting to make wishes come true.
  • Overheard reminisces about General Assembly.
  • A men's rap group (including drumming). A women's rap group.
  • Low ropes course.
  • Karaoke. Coffeehouse. Poetry. Late night singing.
  • Sleeping outside under the stars above mattresses, with and without a bonfire (carrying mattresses inside during the day as it start to rain).
  • Dancing in the rain. Shampooing in the rain.
  • Imitating a flying saucer.
  • Business meetings where people propose to banish business meetings
  • Dance.
  • Communal food prep, eating and cleanup.
  • Swimming at the lake. Water tag at the lake.
  • Helping to save two abandoned dogs.
  • Expressions of feelings -- hard to get used to.
  • Dedication everywhere.
  • A community that lasts after the camp site is empty

Al Colvill, a member of the UU Church in Arlington, Va., attended OPUS for the first time this year. [Webmaster's note: This was actually Al's second OPUS]

UUMAC Young Adult Program "Comes of Age"

As President of the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Mid Atlantic Community (UUMAC) -- yes, and a young adult -- I should write a very fluffy piece here, talking about how wonderful UUMAC '98 was and all the great things that happened and why you'd like it and how much you should go. Well, it was wonderful, great things did happen, you would enjoy it, and you should go -- if you want more details on that, drop me a line at, I'd love to chat! With that finished, I'd rather write something that's (hopefully) not so fluffy.

I find it very ironic that the Young Adult program will make its transition from "childhood" to "adulthood" between UUMAC's 17th and 18th years.

To me, the defining difference between children and adults is that children have not yet taken full responsibility and ownership of their own lives, while adults, whether or not they realize it, have. Children look to others for the big decisions - "Where will I live?", "What will I do during the day?", and even "What will my life be about?" Adults have both the freedom and responsibility to find the answers to these questions themselves.

The UUMAC young adult program was basically started because a number of people said "we need to provide for this age group," and people were willing to work toward this goal. As such a program, it's been successful. Ever since its inception, there has been a good-sized group of participants -- both folks who have outgrown the UUMAC teen group and folks new to UUMAC. It has given these people a community within the larger UUMAC community in which they can make friends, share opinions, play games, and bond a bit.

This year the need for more became inescapably apparent. It became clear that while the program helped keep young adults at UUMAC, it did not create as tight a community as desired, and it did not help bridge the gap between the teen program and the adult community. So, as good, well-learned UUs, the community created a committee. (That's a little UU humor there :^) People volunteered, and not just one, but two people signed up as leaders.

To me, what this signifies is that the UUMAC young adult community took control of its own program. It declared that the community is responsible for (and capable of) determining its own course … its own destiny. It said, "I'm an adult, and will take care of myself."

I may have stated it like this progression was inevitable, but it certainly was not. It was due to a number of people, including: the people who struggled and worked to create a young adult program when there was none; the wonderful Rev. Roberta Finkelstein, who helped create a possibility out of disappointment; and the people who consciously chose to donate their time and energy to the creation of a new, vanguard young adult program.

I've been able to overhear some of the ideas being tossed around for this pioneer program. I am encouraged. The ideas are well focused, creative, occasionally appropriately outrageous, and -- to avoid a big word where a little one will do -- fun. I believe the 1999 UUMAC Young Adult program is on a good course.

Peter Dahlstrom, a member of the UU Church in Reston, Va., is president of the UUMAC Board of Trustees.

UU Young Adult Events


Tues, Sept. 8, 8 pm
(and every Tuesday)
Tuesday Night Discussion Group in the UU Church of Arlington, Va., Room 18. This week the topic is "Whose rules? Dating in the '90's." For more information, send e-mail to Kara Lowe ( or David Talmage (

Wed, Sept. 9, 7:30 pm
(and every Wednesday)
Games Night for young adults and others. Games will be provided, but please feel free to bring your favorite game to play. For more information, call Mark Guttag at (703) 549-5960 or send e-mail to

Thurs, Sept. 10, 7:30 pm
(and every Thursday)
Join the UU Church of Arlington, Va., YA group for a fun night of socializing on the outside patio at Bardo's -- a large brew pub near the Court House Metro stop. Look for us on the side patio.

Sun, Sept. 13, around 1 pm
Help out at the UUCA Book Sale (free pizza for helpers). Shortly after the second service, the Young Adults will help move books for the sale, which begins Sept. 18. Call Al Colvill at (703) 690-6823.

Sun, Sept. 13, 2:30 pm
Beer brewing and Indian dinner at Mike Garafalo and Kerri Irvine's house in Maryland. For more information, call Kerri at (410) 799-0124.

Fri, Sept. 18, 8:30 pm
Pool at Champions in Laurel, Md. Call Kerri Irvine at (410) 799-0124 for directions.

Sat, Sept. 19, 10 am/11 am
Maryland Renaissance Festival. Those coming from Columbia, Md., meet at Mike and Kerri's house at 10 am. People coming from other areas can meet the group at the Festival's front gates at 11 am. For more information, call Kerri Irvine at (410) 799-0124.

Sat, Sept. 19, 10:15 am
Tubing at Harper's Ferry! Meet at the UUCA parking lot at 10:15 am to carpool out to Harper's Ferry. (71 miles away). If the weather is really cold or severe, the event will be rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26 or June 5, 1999. For more information, call Rick Nyman at (703) 807-2373 or send e-mail to

Sun, Sept. 20, 12 noon
Maryland Wine Festival. Meet at at Greg and Laura's house in Maryland. For more information, call Kerri Irvine at (410) 799-0124.

Sun, Sept. 20, 6 pm
Book discussion and pot luck dinner. We'll discuss The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts. For more information, contact Eric Carlson.

Wed, Sept. 23, 6:30 pm
The UU Church of Arlington, Va., YA group has an ongoing commitment to volunteer at Sullivan House -- a homeless shelter for young families. (We play with the kids while their parents attend a support group.) Meet at the Clarendon Grill between 6 and 6:30 pm. For more information, call Matt Connors at (703) 892-0790 or send e-mail to

Sat, Sept. 26 (or Oct. 24)
Winery tour -- Willowcroft Vineyards in Leesburg, Va. Call Rick Nyman at (703) 807-2373 or send e-mail to

Sun, Sept. 27, 10 am
Great Falls Hiking Trip. Those who want to commute from Columbia, meet at Mike and Kerri's house no later than 10 am. Otherwise, meet at the snack bar in the Visitor's Center. For more information, call Kerri Irvine at (410) 799-0124.


Sun, Oct. 4
AIDSWALK WASHINGTON. Once again, UUCA will be forming a team of walkers! There will be sign-ups in Fellowship Hall after Sunday services, beginning Sept. 6. For more information, call Andrea Beard at (703) 578-1871 or send e-mail to

Fri, Oct. 9-Mon, Oct. 12
JPD/Critical Mass Fall Retreat: "This Is Not Your Parents' Faith." See flyer and article on p. 1 for details. For more information, contact Eric Carlson or Lynette Fullerton at (301) 352-2375.

Sun, Oct. 18, 6 pm
Book discussion and pot luck dinner. We'll discuss The Promise by Chaim Potok. For more information, contact Eric Carlson.