Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunstone West Review

I'm so, so glad I went. For a few reasons.

The only problem is that I wasn't used to these people, this segment of LDS society. I didn't know I'd ever find them in one room. I'm really unsure where to begin.

The sessions my husband and I attended:

Teen Marriage Age in Mormon Polygamy and in American Culture: What was the norm?
(pssst! it wasn't 14. or 15. or even 17.)

"I would confine them to their own species," LDS Historical Rhetoric and Praxis Regarding Marriage Between Whites and Blacks
(interesting indeed)

The Plenary Lunch Session:
Where Big Love Began: The Inception of Mormon Celestial Marriage at Nauvoo, Illinois.

Having a very full plate in my lap, a coke in my hand, and sitting next to a great friend...well, I didn't hear nearly as much of this lecture as I would've liked. What I did grasp wasn't far different from what I've already learned, but suffice it to say I really, really want to get the speaker, George Smith's book entitled "Nauvoo Polygamy...but they called it celestial marriage."

A Marginal Moses: A Case Study in Canonicity, Historicity, and Revelation by Ben Clarke.

This session discussed how Joseph Smith's "restoration" of the Bible includes some errors - logistic, syntactical and otherwise - which the Bible itself still contains as translators continue to learn how to best read the original Hebrew.

As these same mistakes or mistranslations exist in both the JST and in the quoted verses within the Book of Moses, Joseph's "restoration" raises some questions. If this is truly a restoration, a correction inspired by God, one would think these wouldn't remain.

Mr. Clarke argues these issues marginalize the Book of Moses and further suggests we shouldn't take scripture as a whole so literally. He also predicted these changes would be included in the next edition of the LDS canon.

The Myth of the Missing Book of Abraham Papryus by Christopher Smith.

Chris' paper was more difficult for me to comprehend, but I believe I have the jist of it. His thesis was that, after extensive and logisical research, the only realistic explanation LDS have regarding the Book of Abraham (remember how we thought it was lost in the Chicago fire, but it wasn't?) is the so-called "Catalyst theory" - the new explanation which states that the papryus, which had nothing to do with Abraham, instead inspired Joseph Smith to write the Book of Abraham. The evidence suggesting Joseph Smith translated anything from any papyrus is slim to none.

Developing Personal Spirituality
(This session was far too short - we were just getting into it as time ran out. Among the three panelists was Maxine Hanks of the infamous heretical September Six. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so excited to learn this, but I was. I wish she would've spoken more.)

Interesting! Imagine a place where a Mormon felt free and comfortable to say they considered themselves a "Catholic Mormon" a "Buddhist Mormon" or a "Unitarian Mormon" - or even a gnostic, as Maxine identified. People who feel free to take truth where they find it. The idea is still so foreign to me and I know it would be shot down here in two seconds flat. I'd see the bishop faster than I could blink.

Find truth somewhere else, as if it needs supplementing? Nononono, we have all the truth here. They're the ones who could use of our truth. All truth is ours, after all. /sarcasm

That was the last full session I was able to attend. I came down with a buddng migraine and I could hardly keep my eyes open. Thankfully we were able to return for the last 45 minutes or so of the closing plenary session entitled Proposition in all Things: Post Election Perspectives on 8.

I sat by George during this session and listened to the speakers. Among them was Laura Compton, spokeswoman for Mormons for Marriage and Clark Pingree, an openly gay LDS man - the only two I had the pleasure of hearing.

Laura's speech basically reiterated the spread of where most "no" and "yes" votes came from, comparing and contrasting 2000's Prop 22 and last year's Prop 8. She called for greater organization this time around - in 2010 there may be two initiatives on the ballot regarding marriage: one calling for the term "marriage" to be absolved and for all partnerships to be called "domestic partnerships" (so romantic) and the other is simply to overturn Prop 8.

The idea that my marriage could be referred to so coldly as a domestic partnership didn't sit right with me. This surprised me. If it doesn't sit right with anyone else, they should then consider what a gay couple feels when they're told they cannot have the term "marriage" either.

But anyway.

Clark Pingree's speech, though nothing I hadn't heard before, moved me. He spoke of the struggle so many gay LDS go through, the ridiculous notion that he might hurt anyone. He wondered quite reluctantly how many young LDS committed suicide last summer when the Church pulled it's "we love you but hate who you are" rhetoric and closed with the horrific rollercoaster of emotions on November 4 and 5: the elation of President Obama's election and then the sickening feeling when one realized Prop 8 won.

I leaned over and whispered to George that we all felt it, but suddenly realized as sick as I felt, he must have felt a hundred times worse. After all, this doesn't affect my marriage or potential for one. His domestic partnership from Oregon didn't even transfer to California when he and his boyfriend moved back. Ridiculous!

After this, I have a greater resolve next year to stand up and be not afraid. To write letters. Discuss with family. The new young women's value is "virtue" and I consider standing up for what one believes in to be a virtue, even if the Church doesn't think what I stand for is virtuous. The Church has no monopoly on the definition of virtue. What constitutes virtue, like anything else in this world, is subjective. There can be a common foundation, but in the end "what is right/what one believes in" is subjective. And "subjective" is hardly a bad word.

It was so good to see George. I also met Alan of Scrum Central, which was a lot of fun. I'm only sorry I didn't get to speak with him more.

It was so exciting to meet and see all of these people I've read about and discussed, to know there's a place where my ideas aren't shut down as antagonistic. I do get angry, but in the end there's a source, a reason. My anger is my own to deal with - but the substance behind that anger, which drives it is viable. It's real. And really, in the end, I'm more angry with myself and how others I love are conditioned to treat me when I don't parrot what is socially acceptable.

And it gave me so much to talk about over the next few weeks.

One last thing struck me: The prayers. The hymns. Exactly the same and yet so different. No rameumptoms (yes, I do think we've a tendency in our invocations/benedictions) and the openness of all the people there: it didn't matter who was a "nevermo" (never mormon), "exmo" or just plain "mo" - the material was what mattered. Truth was what mattered. Discussion without censorship is what mattered.

Imagine that.


Steve M. said...

Thanks for the write-up. Since my summer internship got cut down by a couple weeks, I'm considering attending the SLC Sunstone in August.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

That sounds like it was fascinating. I had a similar experience when I attended the Ex-Mormon conference last October. Being able to not feel like an outcast is very important.

Urban Koda said...

I'll second Steve's thanks! I've messed around on the Sunstone site a little in recent months and liked what I've seen. Perhaps I need to plan on attending the SLC conference as well.

And since I haven't said it yet... Glad to have you back blogging. Your thoughts and opinions seem to echo mine and where they don't, I really appreciate your perspective and honesty when dealing with the issues.

natalie said...

So. Jealous. :(

That sounds amazing. And your analysis is beautiful. Thanks.

Alan said...

Great to see you at the symposium! And I'm sorry too that we didn't have a chance to visit more. Next time.

I loved your write-up. Especially about the songs and prayers. The song at the end really struck me that way, quite suddenly. It seemed so much more genuine and authentic than just about any hymn I've heard in a sacrament meeting for a long time. Like everybody who was singing the words really meant them. Like there was no corporate pre-packaged buffer in between us and God, it was just us talking to Him in harmony and really meaning it. Why don't the hymns on Sunday sound like that very much? If you can hear the singing at all. Oh well.

Lisa said...

Steve: That would be awesome. I'd love to attend that, but I've enough going on this August thankyouverymuch, which is really too bad. It'd be great to meet you too.

Craig: Very important, yes, but don't forget healing and refreshing and affirming. Unfortunately I couldn't relax enough this time to fully realize and appreciate the company I was in. I was still ready for someone to judge me by my coke can or starbucks cup.

UK: Thanks for the kind compliments :) The website is fantastic

Natalie: Next year. We must attend something together next year :)

Alan: The only song/prayer I heard was at the end - and at an anti-prop 8 meeting at that! All LDS without the BS (oh how clever that might almost be if the LDS acronym was LBS...but i digress *cough*)

For the first time I was in a place, full of those who understood and we were singing church hymns and saying prayers. So weird and so cool. And no bishop there to preside. I still can't quite wrap my head around how wonderful it really was!

Grégoire said...

Joseph Smith's "restoration" of the Bible has some serious mistakes, which it shouldn't if it was truly a restoration inspired by God, and also argued that the Book of Moses in this way, as we learn more about translating the first five books of the OT, is marginalized. That we shouldn't take it or scripture as a whole so literally...

While a lot of the sunstone crowd likes to bandy about the term 'inspired fiction', I decided a long time ago to see the work of church leaders as inspirational fiction.

Whether anyone likes Mormonism or not, much of the canon and apocrypha is quite interesting, not to mention possessed of various good ideas.

Many people (Christians in particular) like to point out that Joseph Smith was merely a man, writing fiction. It's reasonable to remind such people that Smith actually existed as a historical character. There's no evidence Jesus, Moses, King David etc. ever existed at all, and the authors of the Bible are not only mere mortals, but also anonymous. Viewed through this lens, Mormon scripture is at least as valid as anything else.

Mormonism, rather than being a gift from some non-existent god, can be appreciated for what it is: the work of human beings who attempted to define their own place in the world. This clarifies rather than deprecates the founders.

Heather said...

I am so scared for you Lisa. I hope someday you will see that the people you think are "judging you by your coke can or starbucks cup" are just concerned and have no idea how to help. They just care and don't know what to do. Take care!

Lisa said...

Heather: Fortunately I haven't felt any sort of WoW judgment from any friends.

That said, I'm unaware as to how many friends/acquaintances have read this blog and/or heard of what's going on. It's in my experience and in the experience of many others that a violation of the WoW seems to bring out the biggest gasps and most pronounced fears. And it strikes me as funny considering how small it is, but that said I respect it because I do know how big it is to members such as yourself and so many others.

As far as your fear for me, I appreciate it and I totally understand it. I scared my family to DEATH when I investigated this church. I've been in this position before, though I will admit this is the harder of the two for me. I certainly did not go looking to go through this again. It's the worst.

That said, I've experienced the fear for others. When my mom basically renounced Christianity and decided to become Jewish, I was so angry and so scared. The anger was purely selfish - a conversion from Christianity to Judaism is far more extreme than mainstream Christianity to Mormonism (I consider them both one in the same, however I do understand why so many see the issue)

I'm not asking for help anymore. There's no help to give; I have to rely on my own intellectual and spiritual experiences. I just want friendships to remain and people to not freak out because I might choose to do something different. I know that's a lot to ask though and initially impossible, and that's hard to accept.

I truly believe there's nothing to be scared of though. I've faith. But again, thanks. You've been a good friend. <3

Lisa said...


I've been thinking along the same lines as your response. I think it's inevitably the best way to consider the Bible (and all scripture) - guidelines, but not necessarily infallible or even always inspired. I certainly reject some of the teachings of Paul.

As far as that extending to the Book of Mormon, I also agree. It does make it as valid as anything else, and truly I found many of my beliefs validated through the Book of Mormon and other LDS scripture.

Taking truth and good where one can find it and apply it to our lives is certainly a good idea. I do find all scripture, canonized or not, extremely interesting and possessed of teachings I could definitely learn from.

I really appreciate your thoughts regarding this. So thank you.

Chris said...


Thanks for the write-up, and thanks for attending my presentation! I'm sorry it was a little confusing... I tried to simplify, but unfortunately it's hard to do justice to anything that complicated in the space of thirty minutes. Hopefully it will make more sense if and when I eventually get it in print! Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed your first Sunstone, and if you come next year then we should chat in person. I always love to meet fellow bloggers IRL.


>>While a lot of the sunstone crowd likes to bandy about the term 'inspired fiction', I decided a long time ago to see the work of church leaders as inspirational fiction.

Whether anyone likes Mormonism or not, much of the canon and apocrypha is quite interesting, not to mention possessed of various good ideas.

This is much how I view most Mormon and biblical scripture, as well. Thanks for your excellent thoughts!


Lisa said...

Chris: Thank you for stopping by!

It wasn't so much that I was confused, but my knowledge regarding the papryus is basic at best. I've been a member for ten years now and had *no idea* despite my pre-baptismal research that there was any issue regarding the validity of the Book of Abraham.

Though the last few years of my disaffection I've learned a little bit, but I wasn't aware of the argument you presented and debunked.

But my husband is, so he helped. My issue was not with you, but with my own knowledge coming into it. That and I just do better when I read papers. It's also why I took notes during the sessions.

So thank you, and we both look forward to attending another symposium next year and chatting. That would be great!

(and actually, you sat next to us at Connell's session - said hey to my husband :) you helped with the overhead slides. I don't know why I remember so well. Probably because you were the first to say hello)