I have a hangover--an intellectual and social hangover. I spent the last three days at Sunstone, and it was the standard mix: really meaningful connections with thoughtful people, new friendships, profound intellectual insights, and a few unpleasant social interactions. As usual, I got asked "So why are you at Sunstone?" in this angry, accusatory tone, as if I have no right to be interested in discussions about one of the primary institutions to shape my life. I think in the future I might photocopy this essay and have it on hand to give people when they ask me that.
There were many discussions of gay marriage, particularly given the church's activism regarding California's Proposition 8. You always hear upsetting stories at Sunstone: tales of religious and emotional abuse, profound spiritual suffering, sheer mind-boggling stupidity. But I was gobsmacked by the tales I heard from a California lawyer who is horrified by the church's homophobia. He said that each ward in California is told how much money it must contribute to the church's campaign to amend California's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. He also said that a member of the high council got up in a meeting and informed the congregation that Satan is behind all the efforts to legitimize homosexual relations, and that he frequently works in some really pernicious ways to get people to embrace things they shouldn't:
1. He creates sympathy among good people for the lives, hopes and unhappiness of others.
In other words, compassion is of the devil.
2. He uses rational thinking and logic to create doubt about God's commandments.
Or, to paraphrase D&C 93:36: "the glory of Satan is intelligence, or in other words, truth and light."
But enough about that. Here are a few of the cool things that happened.
First of all, a shout-out to my friend Parker Blount, who delivered the best paper I heard at the symposium. Entitled "Proclaiming the Family: Which Family?" its abstract read
The document "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" declares that "the family is ordained of God." Are we to assume that means all families, or just so families of a particular type? When the Proclamation warns of the "disintegration" of the family, what exactly does that mean? And what do "responsive citizens and governments" do "to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society"? What are we hearing from Church leaders to answer those questions and fill in the gaps? In this session, I present my take on those questions and suggest that we in the Church may be seduced by our own rhetoric about family.
I have long admired Parker's thinking and figured this would be an intelligent critique of the church's limited and limiting definition of family, which is a cover and excuse for attack on homosexuals, feminists, etc. And the paper did offer that critique, but it went far beyond it and also critiqued our current environmental and economic practices. The real threats to families, Parker suggested, include destruction of ecosystems that support us and all other life on the planet, rampant capitalism, and war.
It was fabulous: intelligently reasoned, politically engaged, attentive to the entire world and not just the somewhat insular community Mormonism intentionally creates. It made me realize that I would love to see an entire symposium focusing as much as possible on the intersections of Mormonism, politics and activism, well beyond Mitt Romney, the ERA, and same-sex marriage.
Margaret Toscano gets my award for the single most profound thing anyone said in my hearing. She offered me a really great definition of "taking the Lord's name in vain": it's not swearing, she said, but invoking God's authority and claiming that YOU know his will and can tell other people, with God's authority, how to think and/or behave.
In other words, though Margaret didn't say this, Thomas S. Monson takes the Lord's name in vain every single day of his life.
Another good thing: I wore these shoes and all sorts of people complimented me on them.
My primary contribution was a paper using trauma studies as a way to read religious autobiography; it was a major expansion of the paper I presented at NonfictioNow back in November. It's not my finest Sunstone offering, as it's fairly new stuff, an introduction of sorts for both me and my audience, but it's a topic I like and plan to pursue, so I hope the next version of the paper will be better.
I also read a really short essay as part of a panel called "This I Believe," modeled on the NPR segment. There were nine presenters and the panel was filmed for YouTube. I tried to find it this morning but it hasn't been posted yet. My essay was on God's sense of humor--I don't really believe he has one, but that doesn't matter so much, as I don't really believe in God. Anyway. If the panel actually gets posted, it will be my YouTube debut, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.