General Assembly: The Joni Mitchell Effect

Offsite voting trialSo… I was blessed to be an offsite delegate to General Assembly this year – an experiment to see if having people connected remotely would work, not just for watching, but for participating – speaking, voting, engaging. Despite a couple of technical glitches and some need for adjustments to process, overall, it was great, and I’m pleased to say that the assembled voted to change the bylaws to include offsite delegates.

But that’s only part of the story.

What I’ve been reflecting on the last few days is the difference between my experience and that of onsite delegates. Namely, I’ve been reading a lot about escallators, rain, access issues, confusion on the floor, crowding. Yes, they’re talking too about the votes, about Karen Armstrong’s stunning Ware Lecture, Kaaren Anderson’s invigorating Sunday sermon, about being together when NY passed marriage equality… but it’s very gritty too.

Or to put it in Woodstock terms: muddy.

As an offsite delegate, there was no mud. No crowding, no endless escallators, no rain on the rally (although here in upstate NY we had plenty of rain… one plenary session was interrupted by a knock on the door; an old man with a beard asked me if I knew what a cubit is…). Instead, the experience let me immerse in the messages. I was in a comfortable chair in a comfortable space and I could get a drink or a snack and not disrupt the procedings. I could listen in rapt attention without disturbances of those around me. And I didn’t get muddy.

I bring this up, because I think that while there is something amazing about incarnation – being IN PERSON – there is something a bit magical too about being present remotely, much as Joni Mitchell was during Woodstock. (For those who don’t know, she was slated to be there toward the end, but by the time she arrived, access was blocked and she stayed in town.) She instead caught the spirit and vision of the event, and wrote the seminal song about it:

And so… I feel a bit like Joni Mitchell. I got to hear the incredible messages, catch the spirit and vision, which I think can be summed up in Kaaren’s phrase “Connection and Compassion”…. something happened at this GA; we coalesced as a denomination. We found our heart, we found our message. We are preparing for an incredible journey at next year’s GA, and thank God we know what we’re saying now.

I’m not sure if on-the-ground observers could see the change…maybe they did. I know I did, watching it, unmuddied, open to the spirit and vision and voice of our faith.