I apologize for not liveblogging Sunstone this year. I was staying in my son’s apartment up near the capitol building, and I really didn’t want to be schlepping my laptop around. So now that it’s over but still fresh in people’s minds I thought I would post a retrospective on it and give others the opportunity to contribute their thoughts as well.
This year it was held in the Olpin Student Union building on the campus of the University of Utah. I liked the location; I thought it was fun to be in an actual academic setting (I didn’t go last year at Weber State, except for one session). There were issues with it; the one parking lot we could park in for free was kind of hard to find at first and still a pretty good walk from the venue (but the latter was to me a feature, not a bug, because I like walking, especially on a university campus), if you didn’t have a car, then dinner (and lunch on Saturday when the Union food court was closed) was an issue, and the closest lodging wasn’t all that close. Personally, I was fine with these things (I got the lay of the land quickly enough, I was staying with my son anyway, and for lunch on Saturday I fell in with a great group and we went to the Corner Bakery for a wonderful lunch).
I didn’t do any of the workshops on Wednesday (I never have), and I blew off the opening plenary to take my son and a friend out to eat and to see Dark Knight Rises (first time for them, second for me). So my experience started on Thursday.
My first session was by Randall Smith on Branding Mormonism, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He showed pictures of the widely variant ways the Church presented itself, and how he and his team worked on creating the first official logo. A Seventy had asked for a uniform building welcome sign, but they leveraged that request into the logo project. He gave lots of inside baseball details on their work, and also talked about the logo redesign (which he himself was not involved in). I thought it was interesting that the 1P mandated the new logo for every dept. of the Church except their own; they continued to use letterhead with just the full name of the Church written out across the top of the page.
Next was Connell O’Donovan on the letters of Augusta Adams Cobb to her husband Brigham Young. She was a woman from Boston who, although already married to a guy named Cobb, was one of Brigham’s first plural wives. There are extant some 140 letters she wrote to BY, which means we get a pretty good window into her relationship with him. She really disliked polygamy and kept asking to be sealed to almost anyone but Brigham. Her main request was to be sealed to Jesus Christ (!) Failing that, her sealing to BY was undone and she was sealed to JS. (She would pen entire lists of men she would like to be sealed to.) When this gets fleshed into an article at some point, be sure to look for it.
Next was a panel I was on, on apologetics, which I’ll return to in the comments.
After lunch I went to a screening of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Quest for the White House. The movie was interesting, but really had very little to do with his presidential run and more to do with the final days of his life, so I think people were confused somewhat by the title.
Then I went to a session on Wilford Wood, eccentric and visionary. I was aware that Wood had been instrumental in collecting church history artifacts and historically significant land, so I wanted to learn more about his life. He was quite a character.
Next was a panel titled Heavenly Mother and the Letter of the Law. I felt a little bit silly about this one, because I hadn’t bothered to read the abstract and just assumed it was going to be a scholarly panel talking on the subject of Heavenly Mother. Rather, it was more of a poetic panel, with people sharing letters they wrote to Heavenly Mother. Which I quite enjoyed, the nature of it just took me by surprise.
I blew off the evening plenary to go to dinner with some friends at Cafe Trio. But I was late because I got lost. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be impossible to get lost in SLC due to the grid system. But when I left the university, every street I turned onto was named, not numbered. By the time I finally found myself on the edge of the grid system, I was a long way away from my destination, so my assumption that it was going to be easy to find cost me a half hour.
Friday morning I went to my old friend Todd Compton talking about the polygamy in Mitt’s family tree. He had a nifty handout for us, and told lots of great stories. My thought was that if some engaging reporter could get a hold of this and turn it into an entire series; she would win a pulitzer!
Next was a presentation by Gary James Bergera on student activism at BYU in the late 60s. Attendance was on the light side, but that is a subject I am thoroughly interested in, and Gary always does such a great job with that sort of thing. I enjoyed the paper.
Next was a plenary session on Why We Stay (a Sunstone tradition initiated by Toby Pingree). This featured Rhonda Roberts Callister, John Dehlin, Anne Arnold, Phil Barlow, and Carol Lynn Pearson. I really like the Why We Stay sessions, and think Sunstone is wise to make them a continuing institution. When anyone is able to work through things sufficiently to want to actually stay, I find that inspiring.
Then I went to see John and Zilpha Larsen talk about Mormon Expressions. I was on a ME podcast once and was treated well by John (and as I recall, most of the commenters said it was “boring,” which for an apologetics-based podcast I took as a great victory!) It was interesting to learn about the nuts and bolts of how they got their podcast started.
Then I went to a presentation on interracial marriage and the priesthood ban. This is a thesis that Connell has pioneered and makes pretty good sense to me, that it was the prospect of black men marrying white women that really drove BY over the edge and accelerated the ban. Rick Bennett argued that but for those intermarriages the ban might not have even happened. Marguerite Driessen, a black woman, said she wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t miscegenation that resulted in the ban, but plain old simple RACISM. It was an interesing contrast in perspectives.
I blew off the last session because my wife had just arrived in town, and so she, my son and I went to the Desert Edge at Trolley Square for dinner.
After dinner I went to Pillars of My Faith, which was fantastic. It featured Don Bradley and Maxine Hanks both telling their stories of how they came back into the Church. And in the middle there was a choir who sang Praise to the Man to its original, more somber and funereal tune, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
On Friday I went to Devery Anderson on Willard Richards and Nauvoo polygamy, which I found very interesting. He showed a picture of Willard with his first, rather sickly wife, Jeanetta (as I recall) and their son. I loved that picture; she was sitting on his lap, with her arm around him. That was the coolest daguerreotype (sp?) I think I’ve ever seen.
Then I went to a session on Catholic-Mormon interfaith dialogue, which is a topic I’m interested in. The respondent, a Catholic woman, Jill Peterfeso, asked whether such dialogue is necessarily a good thing, which engendered a vigorous discussion.
Then I went to Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst give papers on the race issue in the light of Randy Bott and Mitt coverage. I not only enjoyed the presentation, but had lunch with them both.
Then I attended a panel discussion that traversed two time slots on a little Bloggernacle navel gazing. I quite enjoyed this, because I care about the blogs, but the sessions were not well attended, so it was mostly an in-house discussion. On the plus side I got to meet the two Taylor sisters I had not yet encountered in the flesh, not to mention the Taylor mom, so it was worth it for that alone.
The final session was a panel on teaching Mormon studies courses, with Bob Rees, Warner Woodworth, Patrick Mason, Doe Daughtery, and Richard Bushman, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I normally don’t attend the banquet, so some friends and I went for dinner at the Copper Onion (or something like that), which was quite good.
Thus endeth another Sunstone. Please share your experiences and stories in the comments below.