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Sunstone, A First-Timer's Perspective

by Mr. Jessawhy (handle at the author’s request, “This is a feminist site, right?”)

I thought I would write about my experience at Sunstone. My wife, Jessawhy, met several of her blogger friends at the symposium and many of them wanted to get my reaction on the whole event. When my wife originally mentioned the idea of attending the Sunstone symposium, I looked on the website (since I was not familiar with Sunstone) and reviewed some of the sessions. They all looked really interesting and thought provoking, so I acquiesced. I don’t read the blogs but I know enough to know that I’m part of the “patriarchy” (and a darned active one at that). So here’s MY perspective.

First of all, my general overall feeling after the conference was one of huge elation. I mean, is that IT? Why did everyone in our ward give us a crazy look when they found out we were attending (dare I say?) SUNSTONE? Sure there was a magical nudist who talked about dreams (wait a minute, that may have been a mix of a few sessions), but most sessions were, should I say, “stimulating.” So here are some awards (voted on and judged by me only) based on the sessions that I attended.


That people really were interested in talking about masturbation. I gathered this because it came up in the first three sessions. The best line from the first session was a pun about the average Deacon’s comprehension abilities. “Deacons can understand it, but they can’t masturbate it.” (hee, hee)


It would have been the nudist presenting fully clothed, until, that is, I actually SAW the nudist, fully clothed. I couldn’t get that image out of my mind while he was talking (and yes, I tried to sing a hymn).


“Why We Stayed.” Because, in all honesty, I was really wondering why they had.


Margaret Tuscano, bar none!


This one goes to the guy who presented “The Psychology of Apostasy.” I had great expectations that were completely ruined in the first five minutes when the presenter bit a snickers bar in half two seconds before he began speaking, then proceeded to chew and talk at the same time. He spent the majority of the time talking about his “rage” (which he still harbors) as well as his plan (which he is sure the Church will reject) to help apostate members, even down to the detailed invitations he’ll send out. He was asked several times by the audience to get back on track and never did. At one point, someone got up to the microphone and said “If you are all interested in this topic then stick around for another session where we’ll actually talk about it.”


Clifton Jolley. Hilarious! His paper was entitled “Everything the Prophets didn’t Tell You.” And I laughed my @#$ off (oh, I mean “ass.” I learned that from the Sunstone attendees as well).

BEST QUOTE (sort of paraphrased because I don’t have the actual paper in front of me)

“If the Church continues to change simply to politically align with Evangelical Christian’s, they’ll have given up their birthright for a mess of pottage.” -Michael Quinn

Eugene Kovalenko, who taught the session on dream analysis. In every other session I attended he asked the presenters what their experience was with dream analysis. This resulted in several obvious eye rolls from listeners and blank stares from panelists and presenters.


Overall, the symposium was very faith promoting. I was impressed with the number of saints that have been labeled, ignored, or disowned by their ward or family, and are still making the effort to know their God. That kind of spiritual honesty was tremendously gratifying for me and I felt a sense of deep respect and profound love for each of them.

What did it do for me personally? I understood (or started to) my wife’s perspective on many issues, and actually agree with her on most. I think my wife viewed my attendance as a token of both my confidence and support in her and her abilities. And, to be honest, I saw more sincere thought and pursuit of personal divine communication in three days at Sunstone than I’ve seen in the ten years I’ve been home from my mission.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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  1. Mark IV says:

    Sister Jessawhy: Your husband is cool.

    Brother Jessawhy: Your wife is cool.

  2. Caroline says:

    Mr. Jessawhy,
    Thanks for the rundown! Now I know which Mp3’s to buy. (And not buy.)

    I’m glad you found it spiritually uplifiting. I feel that way about Sunstone too.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    Ok, are the pictures not working?
    They worked last night . . .

  4. D'Arcy says:

    Jessawhy–the photos aren’t working for me.

    Where do I buy the mp3s?

    Mr. Jessawhy–I was the one who stole your wife away and took her to really excellent Thai food while you had to eat at McDonalds.

    Wonderful post, great perspective, I totally want to hear the snickers guy just to see how absurd it was (I love that someone got up and said that)…however, the idea of my apostate self getting a specialized invitation (what is it, an invitation back to church? Cause my RS pres just dropped one of those in my mailbox last week) from him sounds pretty enthralling.

    I think right now I have a hammer in my hands. But maybe Sunstone would help me with my desire to pound.

  5. mr.mraynes says:

    Thanks for your overview, Mr. Jessawhy–very funny and good to hear your take on it all. Next time we’ll have to attend together and do a session called “In the Patriarchy but not of the Patriarchy: Being Married to an Exponent Blogger.”

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Ok, I fixed the pictures.
    Much better. (seriously, the pictures take twice as long as writing the posts!)

    Mark IV: I would say that you are cool, too.
    Except, you didn’t go to Sunstone. What’s your excuse? 🙂

    Caroline: I’m thinking about providing a more detailed list and linking it to this post, in case others are interested in our take on the sessions.

    I dream about that curry chicken. Fabulous!
    Thanks for lunch, it was so nice to spend some time with you in real life. And Mr. Jessawhy had a horrible time at McDonalds. Although we go there fairly frequently since we have young children, my husband walks up to the counter and asks, “What’s good here?”
    seriously. 🙂

    Mr. Mraynes! (I love it.)
    So nice to see you here.
    Yes, you’ll absolutely have to do a session about patriarchy from an insider/outsider perspective.
    Awesome. Seriously, though, we should carpool next year. That would be a blast!

  7. jana says:

    The irony of Sunstone, is that for many people it keeps them _in_ the church rather than pulling them away from it. I don’t think most non-Sunstoners “get” that. It’s also just a lot of fun–it’s like a big family reunion with people that you actually really like spending time with. 😉

    Glad to know that you had such a great experience, Mr. J.

  8. “And, to be honest, I saw more sincere thought and pursuit of personal divine communication in three days at Sunstone than I’ve seen in the ten years I’ve been home from my mission.”

    That was my first reaction to Sunstone as well. I haven’t missed a Symposium since.

    I wish Mark IV would come as well, but he’s on record as having said he’d only attend Sunstone if he were guaranteed the same “fan boy”-like adulation that people like Margaret Toscano ostensibly receive. 🙂

  9. By the way, I second Mr. Jessawhy’s endorsement of Clifton Jolley’s wonderful session. Jolley’s “back catalogue” of Sunstone sessions are all worthy downloads, in my opinion.

    As for Eugene, he’s a very sweet man. Yeah, he bangs his “dream” drum pretty incessantly, but I see him as one of those loveable eccentrics who make Sunstone interesting, and not unlike the many “Eugenes” I’ve encountered in my local LDS wards over the years.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    What a creative way to give a review! How did the two of you decide which sessions to attend? Did you stick together or go your separate ways?

  11. Mary Ellen says:

    Great review, Mr. Jessawhy!

    After dealing with the beliefs people have about Sunstone (without ever having attended one) it’s really gratifying to hear about a first-time experience like yours. Thank you for showing up and being open to all the facets of the Sunstone experience.

    BTW-I really dig the session idea of being married to an Exponent blogger/being in but not of the patriarchy. Send me a proposal for 2009. Seriously.

    Mary Ellen

  12. Paula says:

    D’Arcy, you can see a few videos and hear one mp3 now, at http://sunstoneblog.com/

    The rest will be at http://www.sunstonemagazine.com/

    soon, for a slight fee. When Mary Ellen and the rest of the Sunstone crew get them posted. 🙂

  13. Ziff says:

    Great review, Mr. Jessawhy! I really like your concluding line. I haven’t yet been to Sunstone, but I want to go.

    I know my sisters have said they really enjoyed meeting and hanging out with you (and Jessawhy of course). Perhaps I’ll get to see you again when I finally get to go.

  14. Jessawhy says:

    It was great to see you at Sunstone. I can see your point about how it keeps some people in the church.
    The 2 sessions (Religious Learning Communities,and Learning to Speak and Listen Past Generational Boundaries)I attended by Jeffrey Nielsen were among my favorites. He is very uplifting and optimistic.
    I’m glad you like Sunstone for the same reason. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was nice that my husband had a positive experience.
    I think we could arrange some fans for MarkIV if he would commit to coming. The ZD girls had quite the following this year. We could even have a reception for him like we did for Kristine!
    We did attend some sessions together, but mostly we just went to the ones that most interested us individually. Our intention was to spend time going over our notes together so we could get more out of it, but our weekend was just too packed, and we haven’t made time to do that since we’ve been home.
    I do think I’ll download some on mp3.
    Mary Ellen,
    I’m glad you liked the review.
    I’m curious about why you don’t have feedback cards for each session (or at least each morning/afternoon)? It seems that everyone would benefit from honest evaluation of the panels/presentations.
    I’ll talk to Mr.J and see if he’s interested in writing a proposal, or maybe we could do it together. We’ll shoot you an email.
    You would have enjoyed the symposium, and we would have enjoyed your company. Put it on your calendar for next year, maybe you can call it a family reunion 🙂

  15. Mle says:

    Did you know that Sunstone has a link to this post on their website (under the subheading, Of Good Report)? Nice job, Mr. Jessawhy.

  16. Becca says:

    It was very intense for three days! I wish I could have Sunstone for an hour a week instead Sunday school.

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