Sunstoned

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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.

12 Comments

Hey, Holly, it was great to catch up with you at Sunstone. I meant to mention that my wife uses your guacamole and green bean recipes--both are terrific.

Also, I wanted to say that my problem with gay marriage is that it will confuse my kids. Some people have a mix of homo and hetero impulses, and if society so openly embraces the homo option, it could tip people in a direction they otherwise could successfully resist. And then they won't conceive children of their own, thus thwarting the family.

I do agree with what you said in the Sugar Beet session about the evils of treating gay people badly. But I don't think our only choice is to either go all Matthew Shepherd on them or celebrate their "marriages"; there's got to be a middle ground, I hope.

Very interesting.

So according to Blount, “measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” are really a call to action to proclaim peace and live a more sustainable life.

I like it. A lot. I think I need to go to Sunstone next year…

Hi Chris--

I'm really pleased to know that someone actually uses my recipes, and even happier to know that the people who eat them, like them.

I hope you were happy with the paper on the Sugar Beet. I always thought you turned out a good product, something to be proud of, but hearing an outsider validate it that way had to be really gratifying. (For those of you who weren't there, a practicing Catholic delivered a very positive reading of the Sugar Beet, the website of Mormon humor Chris invented and edited.)

I understand your desire to shield your children from things that confuse them, but I also recognize that it's a losing battle. (Isn't that kind of a strange construction, by the way? It just occurred to me how weird it is. The battle doesn't actually lose; the combatants do. It's one of those strange -ing constructions we sometimes use--the way we say "dinner is cooking" but we never say "the house is building.") Anyway. Divorce confuses children. Disease and death confuse children. Having a parent (or parents) lose or change jobs, necessitating the whole family moving across the country, confuses children. But we don't legislate against any of those things--instead, we do our best to help children comes to grips with these confusing things.

When I was a child, two things that really confused me were A) the story of Noah's Ark--I just couldn't see why God would need to KILL everyone, or how we could pretend that he was really so nice if he would do that, and B) the existence of the Democratic party, which advocated insanity and lawlessness, while the Republican party was the sole voice of reason, sanity and moderation in the entire United States. I still think my parents and the other adults in my life could have done a better job of helping me understand those things.

And you're simply wrong that if gay people marry, they necessarily won't conceive children. All the measures available to (sufficiently wealthy) infertile straight couples are available to (sufficiently wealthy) gay couples: egg and sperm donation, surrogate mothers, adoption. As I've mentioned before, my ex-fiance Matthew and his partner have a daughter, conceived through artificial insemination, and they are wonderful parents.

Nor does making something legal necessarily equal "celebrating" it. Abortion, divorce and (in some states) the death penalty are all legal; I don't think we celebrate any of them.

I also think it's actually a good thing for the planet and society if people have fewer children and some people forgo reproducing: we're dealing with strained resources, so reducing the size of future generations might be not only a good but a necessary thing.

Hi GMA--

Yep, that was Parker's argument. I think a lot of people who come to Sunstone are surprised at how interesting and relevant it can be--I certainly was the first time I went. And given your credentials and area of expertise, I hope that if you do decide to attend, you will also propose a paper or two--maybe something on how to make chapels and other church buildings greener and more sustainable, perhaps, or elaborating on the idea you mentioned in a recent post, that a house of worship "has the ability to add something of real value to our worship. In my mind, I cannot separate worship from the surrounding context in which it is placed. There will always be a relationship between the two. As such, all forms of art can enhance and add to our worship." I can't speak with any certainty, because I've only attended for six or seven years, but I suspect these are topics that have never been addressed. It would be really cool.

Hey, my brother was there too! He presented a paper about hippies or something. I think. If I'd known you were both going to be there I would have told him to look you up.

That is the best definition of "taking the Lord's name in vain" that I have ever heard. It's right on the money.

Nice roundup. I think I might know that California lawyer.

I was able to introduce Holly at SS this year. Her paper was excellent, as usual. I thought she got a fine response from the audience. Many challenged some of her assertions, but in doing so I think it helped clarify and validate her unique experience. I especially appreciated Stephen Carter's comment, who noted that even within the Mormon subculture you'll find subsets that experience God in entirely different ways. Stephen and Holly experience the Mormon God as largely vindictive and capricious. Others experience him as loving and compassionate. I find this diversity of experience interesting and rather obvious. Others seem to find it troubling. Correlation can only correlate so much, it seems, and personal experience is largely beyond its pernicious reach.

Agree with you about Parker's paper. Like you, I'd like to see Sunstone devote more time to these kinds of issues in the future.

The LDS Church released a rather remarkable document yesterday, a very well-written statement on why it's fighting against gay marriage. It makes some remarkable concessions, and it explains some very compelling reasons for its stance. It's really a watershed document.

I'll paste the URL below. I'd love to see what parts of it you agree with (if any) and which parts you're able to parry.

http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

Hi Rebecca--

Wish I'd known your brother was going to be there. I'd like to meet someone from famille de Rebecca.

I'm glad you like Margaret's definition, Juti. I also think it's spot-on.

Matt--thanks again for the introduction, and thanks for bringing up Stephen's interesting and thoughtful comment. I have been thinking about the fact that he and I somehow grew up with the same idea of god--we'll have to do a panel or paper on these competing but still present and real ideas of god.

Hi Chris--

Well, I clicked on the link, and read about half way before I got tired and impatient--that document is longer than the stuff I write! However, since it's important, I will read the entire document and respond to what I think requires a response, though it may take a while.
Thanks for providing the link.

It's too bad since I bet you'd like my brother. He's a really cool guy.

Just to back up what Holly says about homosexuals and children (I'm the ex-finace Holly mentioned); it can be just as easy for us to make children as is it for straight couples. And many of us want to have children - loving someone of your own sex does not preclude wanting a family that's bigger than the two of you and a pet. And so far our daughter has not found it confusing - children are more happy to accept things as they find them than adults are. At five-and-a-half years old she is learning that her situation is a little different, and she is adjusting to that, but she's certainly not confused by it. She has a daddy and a spare, a mummy and a spare and considers herself pretty lucky for that. One thing that is certain is that she is surrounded by love and is all the more secure for the number of adults she knows she can count on.

I wanted to hijack for a moment and respond to Chris Bigelow's comments up there (I know I'm behind, sorry!):

Kids will have as much confusion or clarity on any particular subject as you allow. As a young teenager, I was very confused by the notion that I was supposed to grow up and marry a man and have a family. Nothing else was ever even mentioned, and I have spent several years trying to make peace with the fact that according to my family, I'm an unrighteous person because of where my attraction lies. Talk about confusing! I almost married a man because I thought I was supposed to, and that would've ultimately ended up hurting many people.

I also wonder about your concept of a family. When you say gays can't conceive and thus thwart the concept of family, is it because they don't have children? Or because to have children, they use non-traditional methods? What about hetero couples who either can't or decide not to have children? Or those who adopt or foster children? Are they thwarting the family as well? I always think of the line from the movie "Saved!" (a fantastic religious satire, if you haven't seen it) where the girl asks, "If God wanted us all to be the same, why did he make us all so different?"

Hi LG--

I wanted to hijack for a moment and respond to Chris Bigelow's comments

I don't think you're hijacking anything when you make an intelligent comment in a complicated discussion. Thanks for adding your thoughts, no matter when you get time to post them.

And I LOVE "Saved!"

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 10, 2008 11:45 AM.

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