Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land:

Mormon Filmmaker Douglas Hunter Visits All Saints Church, Pasadena

I wrote about Douglas' visit to All Saints last Sunday myself earlier this week, but finally got a chance to read his own reflections on his visit -- posted Tuesday to his blog -- and wanted to share some of them here. You'll want to read the whole piece ... "On Screenings and Speaking" ... but here are a couple of excerpts to mull:


The discussion around this film is about so much more than the film. The discussion is about theology, ethics, current events, faith, sexuality, interfaith dialogue, the way we strive for understanding, etc. The audience at the event showed they have thought more deeply and know more about these things than I have. So it was a humbling experience.

The few days after speaking publicly I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what resonated with the audience and also was not said, or what I wish I had said, and ways I can improve my message. Some thoughts:

1) We all speak of God

I need to find a more expansive way to express wonder at the common feeling of connection to God and the workings of the divine in our lives. This is something that transcends ideology and politics, cultural context, economics, and education; its a fundamental component faith. I find it thrilling that going to different churches one can be moved by the testimony of very conservative Mormons and also be moved by the gratitude and faith very liberal members of the UCC. We are all telling the stories of a powerful and caring God at work in our lives. I so want to see us uniting around these shared experiences, uniting around our shared joy over and gratitude for our encounters with the divine.

2) Dialogue is not a strategy

The question of how we engage the other is a central question of being Christian. Do we see the other as a threat? What are we willing or able to do for and for the sake of the other? Are we willing to allow the other to make demands of us? Do we allow our lives to be intertwined with the lives of others? These are only a few important questions, but one of the things that I think is problematic in the public sphere today is that we give in to the temptation to see dialogue as pragmatic, or as a strategy. As if the point of having a dialogue is to present an argument or to convince the other, to win them over, or to show them the error of their ways. I would love to see a different kind of dialogue. Dialogue as practice ...

3) Ideology and theology are not the same

One of the negative effects of the rise of the Christian right is that they have been very successful at selling the idea that theology and ideology are one and the same. They successfully sold this idea to both their followers and to the rest of us as well. It is a very attractive idea, but it is terribly misguided ...

4) Work from a place of vulnerability

We should not fear speaking and even acting from our own most vulnerable place, and even from uncertainty. This is something that I have only learned in the past few months, it is striking and new to me, also unexpected. I never really understood how much more honest it is and meaningful it is to speak from the place of one's own weakness. I am sick of making arguments and of making great efforts to be effective or convincing. I have a new commitment to weakness and to being willing to admit vulnerability to the community.

5) I am not brave

Over the past few months I have heard many times that I am "courageous", "brave", and "bold". I reject this outright. The past six months have been deeply marked by fear, and uncertainty. Not one time have I felt brave or in control or had a strong sense that I know what I am doing. I have just decided to try to craft a certain type of public ethical / religious discourse and see what happens. But the bigger point is that its not about me. The need for healing, understanding, compassion, and empathy and listening is limitless ...


Maybe not so "strange" after all -- this "stranger in a the strange land" of Episcopaldom! Thanks, Douglas -- your courage and witness continue to bless all of us!


douglas hunter said...

Susan, what a nice surprise to check your site and see that you had posted this here. I never feel like a stranger when at All Saints or when speaking with the members of the congregation there. You are all so welcoming and thoughtful, its always a pleasure and a learning experience. I have a lot to learn from you all.

Mossie said...

As a gay former Mormon who once rejected religiosity in the false belief there was no space for me as a queer person, I am touched and heartened by your story and the media coverage I have read that brought me to this site.

Having conversations, finding and nurturing our connections, expressing and hearing with compassion - I truly believe these are necessary to move into a space of healing, for everyone across political-social-spiritual spectra.

I look forward to further exploring the writings and conversations you and Mr. Hunter are sharing.

Thank you.