The Sunstone Report

John Nilsson church, curiosity, doubt, faith, Happiness, LDS, liberal, Mormon, Mormons, music, religion, spiritual progression 25 Comments

I attended the Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium on Friday, August 8th. I hadn’t been to Sunstone in ten years.

The last time I came, I was a young, single, childless university student. The world was my oyster, and Mormon Studies was, for me, a new phenomenon. I went to celebrity-gaze.

Whether I would continue to be involved with the Church was an open question for me.

This time I am an old, married, child-ful university employee. Mormon Studies is old hat to me now, and I went to see my friends.

I am committed to the Church more than I have ever been. All of which made Sunstone more enjoyable.

I had the best of intentions to see the morning devotional by Frances Lee Menlove called “Living the Questions: Loving the Mysteries” but I was sidetracked by the Benchmark Books room. Every conceivable Mormon Studies book was in that room. I bought New York Doll for my wife’s upcoming birthday and at the registration desk picked up a free copy of cartoonist Calvin Grondahl’s Freeway to Perfection and a CD from Lisa Arrington and the Fiddlesticks band called Farewell to Nauvoo (traditional renderings of old Mormon songs, which I am a sucker for).

I scanned the Sheraton Hotel corridors for friends, and met them. I met Bored in Vernal for the first time, surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards, greeting every face she recognized, snapping pictures.

I saw the inimitable Clay Whipkey, thankfully recognizable with his modest tuft of hair under the lower lip (what is the proper term for that anyway, a third of a Van Dyke?)

I gave John Dehlin a man-love hug after a particularly moving presentation on crisis-of-faith experiences.

I learned that our frequent commenter Matt Thurston is even cooler in person, and that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (his parents astounded me with their wisdom and courage).

I thanked Claudia Bushman for her writings on early Utah women and the medical profession (which have helped me win people over at the University of Utah to greater efforts to encourage young women to consider bccoming doctors). She was tickled to hear she was making a difference.

I thanked Richard Bushman for his book Rough Stone Rolling and the impact it has had on my family (it’s a book my Mormon mother-in-law and her Lutheran husband can listen to together).

I chatted with Armand Mauss about our mutual friend and his fellow Irvinian, Andrew Ainsworth.

I joked with Jeff Burton about his presentation, “Stories from the Borderlands”.

I learned the entrance requirement for the little-talked about second level of the celestial kingdom from Jess Groesbeck.

I heard from Claudia, Jeff, Morris Thurston, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Greg Prince on “Why We Stay”. This session was worth the registration fee alone. Order it here when they’ve uploaded this year’s presentations to the website.

I made new friends too, sneaking out for lunch to Crown Burger (home of the pastrami burger for which a multitude of nations flow unto the Salt Lake Valley) with Bored, John, Clay, Matt, and many others.

I hope to go again next year for more catching up with folks like you.

So if you’re reading this and I didn’t see you there, why not?  (Reasons other than plane tickets are expensive nowadays).

Comments

comments

Comments 25

  1. Wish I could have made it… the flexible expenses of a grad student are meager. Perhaps I’ll be living back in Utah next year. It would be great to meet all these people from the Internets.

  2. “modest tuft of hair under the lower lip (what is the proper term for that anyway, a third of a Van Dyke?)” I’ve always heard this called a “soul patch.” Does that make Clay a beatnik?

  3. And a soul patch is a lot less than a third of a Van Dyke, since a Van Dyke includes a mustache. I guess you could consider it a third of a facial Brazilian. ;-P

    I had only enough time to say hi to a few friends and participate in my session. It would have been cool to meet a few of ya I know from around here.

  4. God bless you, John, for the Sunstone Report! I had been wondering if Mormon Matters would get a Sunstone report and had despaired of it happening by this point. Your insights and observations are much appreciated. I hope others who had a chance to attend will chime in with their thoughts and/or recommendations as to superior presentations as well.

  5. I learned the entrance requirement for the little-talked about second level of the celestial kingdom from Jess Groesbeck.

    What is this celestial kingdom second level of which you speak? It doesn’t sound like you are talking about the Second Anointing… Is this related to the “Are there 3 degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?” question?

  6. …. and where the Celestial B-Listers are neither procreating polygamous Gods and Goddesses nor servant angels …..

  7. Yeah, I look forward to the day when we actually will know about the afterlife and not have to rely on speculation. We know so little, and yet we want to know so badly. That’s part of the need for faith, I guess.

  8. Yowsa, conversation about my facial hair… slow news day? 😮

    I am a wannabe beard wearer, but my beard is way too sparse, so I have the soul patch (or “flavor saver” as one of my 15 year-old SS students once called it). My wife likes it, so I guess that is all that matters.

    The funnest thing about Sunstone (my first time attending) was definitely the people. It was fun to meet so many folks in person.

  9. Santa Claus — “Yeah, share the wealth…” — He must have been referring to the Satanic (a.k.a., “green”) O.T.O. Alister-Crowley-inspired ritual “magick” they perform (or, at least, have speakers and panelists [a.k.a., “lecturers” and “scholars”] advocate) at Sunstone every year. If only they knew that all magic is fake and spelled with a “C”…

  10. #9, isn’t it interesting how we operate? We’ve got thousands of pages of scripture, yet we’re always seeking for the “sealed portion.”

    I will say that “Mormonism” answers a heck of a lot more questions than any other major religion I’ve studied. If you think the qualifications for the second level of the Celestial Kingdom seem fuzzy, ask a group of Baptists what happens when you die…

  11. Arthur (16): Ah, but could it be that the questions are more important than the answers? As Randy Alcorn, author of the influential “Heaven” said (paraphrased), “Discussions in Christian churches about the new heaven, new earth and new Jerusalem may be more a failure of hope and imagination than theology or even what is in the scriptural record.”

  12. I enjoyed meeting John Nilsson and others as well. Hope to see you all again next year, as well as more new people. I saw Ayla’s blue hair bumpin’ around the halls. Hopefully we can talk next year. I had conflicts during her sessions, but heard good things from others. I’ll catch them on MP3.

    I missed Jess Groesbeck’s session, but was intrigued by the description. I’ll have to catch up with it on MP3

    As for Ray’s, “We know so little [about the afterlife], and yet we want to know so badly,” I agree. One of my favorite sessions was the one given by Clifton Jolley, who in his typical funny/provocative way rambled on about how little we know about the next life. He talked about the Baptist ideas re the next life, the Mormon ideas etc. He speculated on afterlife gridlock. He talked about Islamic suicide bombers and their 72 virgins waiting in the next life. Wondered about the “hearsay” of Joseph Smith and others saying that if we knew what the Telestial Kingdom was like, we’d kill ourselves to get there. He was all over the place, and yet it made complete sense. I had a smile on my face the whole time.

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    I won’t get into the details about the three levels of the celestial kingdom, but I will say that C. Jess Groesbeck’s interpretation has something to do with the Holy Spirit of Promise…listen to the MP3!

  14. Hah! Will do! As we were driving by a few weeks ago I wondered about where your house was… It’s funny meeting these people online and making semi-real life connections. Sometimes I wonder if there are people I talk to online in my ward, but just don’t know it.

  15. Adam and Ayla, Last year, a woman in my stake mentioned on T&S hearing me speak in her ward – since I wrote a post that was similar to a talk I gave there. To this day, I don’t know who that sister is. Next time I speak there, I’m thinking of saying something like, “If anyone in the congregation knows me from my on-line participation in the Bloggernacle, please let me know after the meeting” – but I doubt I will go through with it.

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