Dear Readers: This post has a gooey caramel center, but before I present it, let me make some general comments. If you don't want to read them, please skip to second half, because what I say there really matters to me.
Not surprisingly, my blog has become more Mormony since I moved to SLC. It's partly the constant reminders--the balcony of my stairwell is level with Moroni atop the temple, and I have a clear view of him every time I walk down the stairs--and partly that I can't help but be more familiar with certain elements of Mormon politics. I guess it's not just moving here--it's also Facebook, where I have lots of liberal and post-Mormon friends who post links to the latest crappy or interesting thing going on in Mormonland. I blog so much about Mormonism, in fact, that I sometimes fear I'm going to drive all my no-mo readers away. So if you're a no-mo reader, thanks for sticking with me. I promise to blog about something besides religion at least twice before 2010 ends.
In some ways it has been healing to be so familiar with churchy stuff. I used to find it really stressful to visit Temple Square (or Temple Rectangle as someone pointed out it should be called) but now it's just a place in my neighborhood with pretty gardens. But during weeks like this.... well, it has been a mixed bag.
This week, for instance, there was the BKP shit to deal with.
But there was also the protest in response, on October 7.
I was there. I walked down the street to Temple Rectangle and joined somewhere between 600 (police estimates) and 4,500 (organizer estimates) other protesters.* I saw families. I saw babies. I saw not that many people I knew. (Where WERE you guys? I know some of you had class or stuff, but what was up with the rest of you?) I hung with the Urban Koda and two of his offspring for a while.
Mostly I hung with my friend Sara, an atheist Unitarian with a strong sense of justice and a fascination with Mormons.
What we were supposed to do at the protest was A) wear black, B) lie down head to foot around the circumference of Temple Rectangle and C) be silent, to symbolize the LGBTQ people who have committed suicide because of rhetoric like Packer's. And a lot of people did--so many that in places they were lined up three deep.
Sara and I staked out a place right in front of the west gates of the temple, with a view of the tabernacle and various knots of missionaries who were watching us or chatting or waiting to take people on tours. We lay down for a while. We sat up for a while. Sara, who has protested extensively, suggested we sing. We did, but the two of us didn't really make much noise. More people showed up, and we lay down again.
And then we became contrary. We were joined by other people who didn't really want to lie down. Lying on cold concrete on a damp night is uncomfortable. It also provides no interaction, and protests should offer some interaction, I think.
So we sat up and started singing again. I hope the people who lay down in honor of those who took their own lives felt a connection to the people they were remembering. They probably did, and maybe I should have done as I was told.
But the singing was pretty incredible.
I wanted to sing "Come, Come, Ye Saints" but every time I tried I choked up and couldn't go on. We had a hard time finding a song people knew all the words to. We did OK with the first verse of "Amazing Grace" and "We Shall Overcome" but the subsequent verses were pretty thin. Someone suggested "The Rainbow Connection" from "The Muppet Movie" 'cause rainbows are gay in a good way, but no one but he and I knew the lyrics. One other guy sang a few lines with me from "How Soon Is Now" by the Smiths ("you shut your mouth, how can you say I go about things the wrong way? I am human and I need to be loved, just like everyone else does"). And then we were at a loss.
And then someone had the brilliant idea of singing "As I Have Loved You."
It was among the most moving, profound experiences I have had this year, the others all having to do with my mother's death and funeral.
It's a great song, one I have known pretty much all my life. Based on the versions of it I found online, it seems to be just a Mormon song, though as religious music goes, it's pretty awesome. I can't tell you how powerful and heartbreaking it was to sit in a knot with a score of people, facing the tabernacle outside the temple gates, and sing, in memory of and solidarity with people who are subjected to hate because of whom they love, and sing
As I have loved you
Love one another
This new commandment
Love one another
By this shall men know
Ye are my disciples
If ye have love
One to another.
Loving one another really is what we need to do in this situation. But we need real love--loving acceptance of difference. What the church offers is a hectoring insistence that we all conform to limited ideas of acceptable social behavior, but it calls it love, in the belief that it actually justifies its cruelty. And it's not good enough.
I start weeping every time I think of it. I doubt that I'll ever become a protest organizer, but I have to say that based on my limited involvement with protests, singing beats both chanting and silence as a way to convey a message and to unite the protesters.
I'm embedding a video of the song. The imagery is pure cheese, but it's the only version I could find that A) had the lyrics and B) wasn't a didactic piece of crap put out by the church. Please listen to it.
*My guess as to the number of protesters: a couple thousand. Here's my math: A city block in SLC is 660 feet long, and there are six block lengths at Temple Rectangle. So 110 people, times 3 deep, equals 330 people, times six block lengths, equals 1980 people.... so I'd guess that probably there were 2,000 people there, unless they were a lot more dense in certain places.
Some people did just walk around and around the whole time, because lying down on cold concrete is, as I mention, pretty uncomfortable. So that might raise the number a bit.
And there were also babies and children--that might affect the math too.