Monday, May 28, 2007

Last Night in Madison

WisCon is over. We're spending a quiet night in the hotel room before our very early departure tomorrow morning. Gary's watching TV, and I'm blogging. I'm really exhausted after moderating a 10 PM panel last night and a 10 a.m. panel this morning, so I'm not even going to attempt complete coverage of the last few days.

Standout moments:

* Learning that the Shelter galley went for $100 at auction. Woo-hoo! Thanks to The Other Susan who bought it; Emily, I'm sorry you didn't get it, but in just a few weeks you can get a real-live corrected copy for $15.00, so it's sort of a win-win situation. The person who gets the galley in the Tiptree auction donates to an excellent cause; anybody who wanted the galley but backed off from the bidding process gets to read the book for less money.

* Talking to the Other Susan and learning that she's recommended Flying in Place to all of the counselors in the women's health clinic where she works, and that some of them have recommended it to clients.

* A terrific dinner, and thoroughly enjoyable conversation, with Jeff and Ann Smith.

* The Domestic Fantasy panel was such a hit that people want to do it again next year. We even spawned our own in-joke, involving rabbits -- don't ask -- and a Secret Signal: people who were at the panel and saw each other later in the hallways were supposed to greet each other with Little Bunny Fu-Fu hopping gestures.

* The "Writing as Spiritual Discipline" panel drew a surprisingly large audience, twenty people or so, even though it was running opposite the Tiptree awards, which had gotten a late start.

* The "Religious Left" panel went well, I think, and several people thanked me for organizing the running series (and one woman wants to be on it next year). This included someone who saw me in the Dealer's Room afterwards and said, "I'm a Lutheran pastor, but I'm not comfortable telling people at WisCon that, because, well -- I don't need to tell you. You know why."

Indeed I do. To my distress, I'm still seeing too much evidence of kneejerk anti-religious sentiment at WisCon. During the Dessert Salon, someone admired the "Be Prophetic: Disturb Society" button I was wearing on my purse, and asked me where I'd gotten it -- but then reared back as if bitten and made noises of disgust when I explained that I'd picked it up at the Pax Christi table at the Farmer's Market. (I gave him a Pax Christi pamphlet anyway, and he liked it and kept it.) All but one other member of the "Writing as Spiritual Discipline" panel was in the "I'm spiritual but not religious" camp, which is fine, except that as the only person there who identified as a member of a mainstream faith tradition, I wound up feeling a bit patronized by several folks (mainly in the audience, not on the panel). Ordinarily I'd have chalked my sensitivity up to fatigue, but Gary had the same reaction, so I don't think it was just me.

I was very grateful this morning when someone told me that she'd really enjoyed that panel, that she thought it was "beautiful."

At the "Religious Left" panel -- which included three Episcopalians, a Muslim, and a Jew, women and feminists all -- I talked about the importance of being "out and visible" as members of our faith traditions in public, and we discussed various ways to dismantle us/them barriers, to see everyone as "us" instead. One of the Episcopalians, who's considering ordination to the priesthood and who volunteered in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, said that the guy who trained the volunteers told them, "You can judge people or you can serve them: you can't do both."

I told the story of how Ernest Gordon, who was a WWII prisoner of war, "practiced the discipline of seeing in the face of each of my torturers the face his mother had seen when she cradled him in her arms when he was a baby." That was how he overcame hatred and bitterness, which he felt would have destroyed his soul even if his body had survived otherwise unharmed. I asked everyone in the room to think of someone they hated or were angry at, and then to close their eyes and, for a minute -- which I timed -- to practice seeing that person as a beloved baby. Afterwards, several people said the exercise had been difficult, and I recommended that we all try to practice it for a minute a day.

Folks at that panel were all over the Pax Christi material, and my few remaining pamphlets were eagerly claimed.

But to give you some idea why I started the "Religious Left" panels, ours ran at the same time as one about "the crutch of religion." A Jewish woman who's been on my panel for the last several years, and who asked to be put on it again this year, was disappointed to find herself on that other one instead -- but said she felt she had to be there to stick up for organized religion. I'll be curious to hear from her how that went!

People at WisCon are usually so thoughtful and well-educated, and it's frustrating that there's still such a large blind spot on this subject. I know a lot of the hostility comes from bad personal experience with the judgmental side of religion, but at the same time, I don't like being stereotyped and dismissed any more than anyone else does.

I think that next year, I'll propose a panel called something like "What's Good About Religion," except that no one would come to it except people who already knew what was good, or potentially good, about religion. I'd love to find some way to do a pro-faith (or at leat pro-religious-tolerance) panel that wasn't just preaching to the converted.

Does anyone out there have any ideas?


  1. I'm glad the conference overall went well.....

    Maybe if you market the panel as the "last minority" left undiscussed? With a catchy title, like "Blind on Faith: SFF and Religion" or something (I'm only on my first cup of coffee so not feeling too creative). Come out as the last minority left underrepresented and abandoned by the fantasy community. I often think it's time for the religious left to play offense for awhile, since it's been stuck defending itself on both sides for so long. But, of course, I have no real idea how to begin that process.

  2. Pfft! The 'crutch of religion,' indeed. What is this, 1920? I'm always tempted to bonk people on the head with a hard wooden crutch when they use that dumb phrase.

    Well, you could phrase it as a question: "What's Good About Religion?" Some Penn-and-Teller-types might come and shout "NOTHING, EVER!" but you might get more of a mixed audience, at least.

    Or you could have a panel on contemporary religious writers of SF... though with a bit of sneakiness - so fans of those particular authors would come, and then be surprised to learn that their beloved author is in fact a practicing Mormon, Catholic, Sikh, or whatever. I've known plenty of people who disliked religion but who LOVED religious writers and their symbolism. Go figure.

    Maybe "Sacred Traditions in SF" - someone could talk about Jewish writers, another about Catholics, and so forth?

  3. I have no ideas for you at the moment (possibly due to my sleep deprived state). Just wanted to say that I think that was a great post! :)

  4. I've been thinking about these things, often but not very hard. Right now I'm stuck at the point where I cannot decide what kind of religious tolerance I want. I don't want to forbid people to speak against religion. I don't want to give the impression that I'm afraid of criticism or afraid of questions, or... you know. But I prefer talking to people who don't start with saying that "all Christians are idiots" or something like that.

    So. A panel. Why not a feminist/sociology angle on it: most people in church (at least where I am) are women. What does it mean for women (and women in fandom) if being religious is not socially accepted? (Maybe a bit boring to discuss.)

    Or talk about the asset to diversity in fantastic literature that religous experience can be. What can a religious worldview contribute? (I think this is easier to talk about.)

  5. I dropped by the Star Wars Celebration IV yesterday, and found myself thinking of your post from awhile back about the resemblance between sci-fi fandom and religion. It just came home to me how true it is that fandom is often a moral statement about who we want to be and how we want the world to be. I'm not sure how, but you might try building an event on that idea. Certainly a lot of the hostility to religion comes from it seeming so weird -- you believe a big man in the sky is watching you all the time? And you eat his flesh and blood every week?? -- so anything that helps people recognize their own "religious" practices helps make it less "other," if you get my drift.

  6. How about inviting Orson Scott Card to be on the panel? :)

    Or if he can't make it, how about using some of his writings on SF/F and religion as a springboard for discussion?

  7. You touch upon one of the reasons that I am not evangelical about my faith. I don't like dealing with knee jerk anti-religious reactions, especially from friends and people I respect.

    That doesn't mean that those who know me don't know that I am a person of faith, quite the contrary, but that I don't spend a lot of time talking about how great it is being a person of faith. I don't even know how to begin a "it's great being a person of faith" discussion without it seeming awkward.

    Instead, I just try to live my life in a way that is consistent and representative of my faith. I try to be charitable, forgiving, understanding, and kind. When people ask me why I am religious, or how I came to be religious, then I feel free to tell them.

    My faith is rooted both in the study of philosophy, my God is very Platonic in the sense of being "wholly good" and like Socrates' daimon wishes me to avoid "politics," and my rooted belief in a transcendent morality. Whether or not I believe humans have come to articulate that transcendent morality is another question entirely.

    I also firmly believe that I had a personal religious experience in the form of comfort and forgiveness. An experience I find hard to explain, and one which was free of any material form. The nearest I can come to describing it is that at my lowest moment I received a long and much needed spiritual hug.

    I would be interested in hearing more about the Spiritual Left panel. Too often the Christian Right dominates any imagery of religion in America, which is a shame. Though I am firmly in the Religious Center, honoring and appreciating tradition at the same time as understanding that the historical failings of my religion are related to outwardly expressed intolerance (something I find inconsistent with my religion).

    There is too much beauty in creation for people to spend as much time as they do looking for things they find ugly and reasons why it is okay to find those things ugly. I just don't have time for that.

  8. The panel on spiritual discipline sounds wonderful. ANd if you think being mainstream religious left is hard, try being religious RIGHT?


    Jesus walked the line very well of both judging and loving and serving. He's the best example, I figure. And the way I figure, if in doubt, just shaddup and serve. Better to love than judge, but if we aren't clear on what is wrong--as well as what is right--then we have done our job only halfway.

    I know the incredible power of choosing not to hate an enemy. It's possible to love the person who totally rubs you the wrong way. I've seen it in my life--actively praying when someone struck me so awful, so harsh, that part of me wished they'd fall off the planet--and there is power to do that. No one is impossible to love, if one chooses it. The visualization of the person as vulnerable and beloved, that's good. I suppose God sees us a lot that way, as children who need love and help, and who mess up a lot and need to be cleaned up. :)

    I think the knee-jerk reaction against religion is an intolerant and evil as a knee-jerk reaction against any group. And for the so-called open-minded and tolerant to take that tack shows a lack of introspection and consistency.


  9. Anonymous2:06 AM

    The whining about not feeling comfortable as a Christian is disengenuous at best. Seriously, you can do better.

    Here's what it's like to really be uncomfortable in Wisconsin:

    Did the people of the state say they wouldn't recognize your marriage because you're Christian?

    Did people follow you around threatening to rape or beat you because they thought you were Christian?

    Did you feel unsafe at the local hospital because the ONLY place in the area that the ems folks take rape victims is a Christian sect hospital? A hospital where ONE person is allowed to prescribe emergency contraceptives? And if that person's not on duty or sick or something, no emergency contraceptives can be prescribed for you there. Period.

    Feel safe?

    How about if you can't legally marry your beloved because the loving Christians of the state of Wisconsin voted to make it illegal?

    How about if you can't cover your beloved with your medical insurance as straight, married folks can, because the state doesn't allow it. Feel safe?

    Thinking about adopting? Anyone likely to discriminate against you because you're Christian?

    When's the last time you felt really threatened because you wore a Christian symbol? Men following you around threatening you because you walked with a friend?

    The Episcopal Church in the US is way better than most Christian churches in the US about gay and lesbian rights. But pretending that you really feel unsafe in any way because you're Christian in this country is misrecognizing serious threats to other people.

    The great state of Wisconsin may not have jumped up and down to welcome your Christianity to a convention, but they didn't threaten your basic civil rights, either, or did they? Did the state government come threaten you? The local police?

    Get stopped for driving while Christian the way our black citizens in rural Wisconsin sometimes do? Get arrested for nothing because you're Christian?

    The whining by Christians is dishonest. Freedom of religion doesn't free you from criticism or scepticism. It does free you from abuse and discrimination by the US government. When's the last time the US government discriminated against you because you're Christian?

  10. Hi Susan. I'm wondering if something less intimidating than a religious label would be attractive. How about something like The God Effect in SciFi/Fantasy. Or maybe Belief Systems in Fictional Literature?

    What bugs me is that so many evangelical churches use the gloom and doom approach. What Christian described is what true evangelism is all about. Living a life and letting others be aware of it in non-threatening ways. When I went through Cursillo the talk on evangelism ended with the saying, "Be a friend, be a friend, be a friend (add as many of these as you like), bring a friend to Christ." At no point were we told to make people feel guilty for not being members of a church. In fact we were cautioned against that kind of thing.


  11. Lee -- I'd never try to make anybody feel guilty for being a member of a church! This is more of a "church isn't necessarily what you think it is" effort (i.e., I'm not your enemy).

    Christian -- Religious progressives are beginning to believe that it's important to be visibly Christian (or Jewish or Islamic or Wiccan or whatever) so that people have positive examples to counter the negative ones.

    I really liked everyone's panel suggestions: thank you!

    Anon: Your comment deserves its own post, and will get it later today, when I have more time.


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