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Posts from the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Living After Faith

It has been a year or two since I have began listening to Living After Faith, a podcast produced here in Seattle by Deanna Joy and Rich Lyons that addresses the process of leaving religion with all its complications, challenges, and joys.

Without knowing it, Rich and Deanna have been a major source of support and encouragement in my recent life.

Although my own experience with leaving religion was much less traumatic than either of theirs, I have identified with many of thee speakers and stories shared on the podcast. Through them, I have learned so much about so many peoples’ lives, lessons that have given me new insight this crazy thing called life.

And I have rarely come away from an episode without a good laugh and a good dose of hope and a strong reassurance that I am not alone.

Don’t know why it has taken me so long to share this amazing resource.

Rich and Deanna Joy (and those who make LAF possible), I thank you – for your time and energy, your honesty and positivity, your frankness and vulnerability, and for the living picture you provide of what a beautiful thing a life-after-faith can be.

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Humans Anonymous

Human beings are prone to addiction.

I don’t care who you are, or how much balance/temperance/ restraint with which you live your life. I KNOW you have a penchant for some thing or another. A go-to habit or vice that you know is, to some degree, unhealthy.

It could be as insignificant as nail-biting. It might be as serious as alcoholism or anorexia. But I know you have at least one.

Because we are needy creatures. All of us. Whether we are married or single, old or young, black or white, gay or straight, employed or not, we almost all have days when we feel something is missing; when we are longing for some unidentifiable “more.”

As a Christian, I thought that something was God. That we were made with a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts that could only be filled by a personal relationship with him through Jesus. Of course, I was always baffled as to why that empty feeling persisted even in the midst of my most fervent phases of Christianity.

I did have moments of freedom and peace. Moments when everything was so clear and light. I knew what really mattered in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. I was filled with love for the world and grace and forgiveness for its brokenness. I lost all sense of self-consciousness.

And those moments, as a Christian, did often follow times of extended prayer (in the form of journaling) or worship (in the form of singing praise songs), or an inspiring sermon.

They also happened after long hikes out in the mountains, long drives in the car with a good CD, intimate conversations with a close friend.

Before I stepped off the ledge and finally let go of my faith, I wondered if those moments of clarity and insight and absolute magnanimity and peace I had had would disappear.

They didn’t.

Funny thing – they actually happened MORE frequently immediately following my de-conversion. And they happen now about as often as they used to. Maybe even slightly more. And that makes sense.

Because I’ve learned by experience that those moments were not brought on by some sort of increased mystical connection with God. They were produced by mental space and focus and a regaining of perspective.

When I have my “zen” moments now, when all seems right inside my heart and mind and in the world, it is after a good long journaling session, or a quiet day of gardening and organizing, or a heart-to-heart with a kindred spirit, or an amazing concert, or a powerful true story, or a bike ride out on one of Puget Sound’s beautiful islands.

These types of activities accomplish the same thing in my mind/heart/spirit that prayer-journaling and worship and Bible reading and sermons accomplished before:

They get me out of the crazy-busy world, out of my crazy-busy life logistics, and out of my crazy-busy head.

They quiet all the mental noise and help me realize that everything I have, I need; that everything I am is alright; that I need not live in fear of pain or loss or sickness or even death, because those things are inevitable. Worrying about them only increases their chances of occurrence, and when they do come, they can be dealt with then – one day at a time, with patience and mindfulness and compassion and love.

I do think we humans have a sort of “hole” inside of ourselves. Not a God-shaped one, necessarily, but a sort of empty-ness. I think at its root it is really the unfortunate tendency resulting from natural selection to want as much as we can get our hands on; to want the best for ourselves; to never be satisfied with what we have. And while this character trait has clearly been effective in helping our ancestors survive to pass along their genes, it also has resulted in a lot of inner turmoil.

And I think in order to deal with that inner turmoil – so we don’t get home from a stressful, painful day of life and eat an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies (my particular addiction of choice), or fry our brains on Seinfeld re-runs, or drink ourselves into oblivion, or cut ourselves, or force ourselves to run 10 miles on five carrot sticks, or finally end it all by jumping off a bridge – we have to raise our level of consciousness.

We have to realize this self-defeating character flaw we all have and rise above it. We have to let go of our selfishness and self-awareness and insatiable need for more. We have to step away into the quiet and take a good look around and see reality.

We have to tell ourselves, “Enough!” I have enough. Enough food. Enough clothing. Enough toys. Enough time. And I am enough. Pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, accomplished enough.

And then embrace life. Drink deeply of it. Of the beauty and wonder of the natural world, the awesomeness of the universe, the glory of humanity’s capacity for understanding, communication, exploration, discovery, creativity and survival. Of our own infinitely unique personalities and bodies and abilities and joys.

Hi. My name is Erin and I am a recovering human. It has been eleven days since my last cookie binge. I know there is a good possibility it will happen again. But by the grace of my mind and reason, I am living one day at a time to the best of my ability, letting go of my selfishness and desperate pursuit of More, reminding myself that there is Enough.

If you are on a similar journey, my heart goes out to you. Welcome to Humans Anonymous.

Why This Atheist Still Gets Up In The Morning

monks

Sometimes, even on sunny Saturday mornings, I have moments when I feel like quitting.

Which is ridiculous considering how easy my life is compared with most. I have a clean, warm home; a closet full of clothes; plenty of food to eat; a job and health care and friends and family to love; and on top of all that, nobody shooting at me. That is a lot.

But still, even when life is easy, life is hard. It is hard in other ways, inside.

You see the never-ending conflict and hurts and injustices between people. You carry the guilt of collective practices that are damaging the earth. You experience and/or anticipate the inevitable pain and frustration and limitations of aging. And, in very lucid moments, you realize the immanence of your own death and the deaths of those you love.

And you just can’t help thinking…what’s the point?

When I had these days as a Christian (and I had plenty of them), I would collapse into a heap and throw myself onto the mental safety net of God’s omnipotence. I didn’t know how he was gonna do it, but I had complete faith that, somehow, someday, he would make everything right.

There is a quote by Julian of Norwich in her work, Showing of Love, referencing the ultimate end, that says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I came across it in my universalist days (which turned out to be, for me, the gateway to atheism), and it brought me a lot of peace, believing that no matter how much I screwed up my own life or humanity screwed itself, God would fix it. He would make everything okay.

I would remind myself of that, and stand up, put my head down, and just keep going, and hoping.

I think the emotional need to have this fail-proof back-up plan of The-Salvation-Of-Everything is a huge part of why so many people are compelled to believe in some sort of god concept.

We don’t want to be ultimately responsible for ourselves. We want that cosmic mommy/daddy out there who will pick us up, dust us off, pay the bill, change the tire, and reassure us that everything is under control; that we are safe.

If you were lucky enough to have an earthly parent or two who did those things for you, you know as I do what a gift that is. It makes the transition into adulthood much less painful.

But it is still painful.

At some point, we all have to grow up. And growing up means learning to be your own parent: your own fixer and protector, your own last resort, your own safe place. It means being responsible for your own life.

And if you, like me, happen to not believe in a personal god with a will and the unlimited power to manipulate this reality, it also means being responsible for ALL of existence – this miraculous, inexplicable, self-existing, crazy, beautiful phenomenon that we are privileged by our consciousness to witness. It is a precious and fragile thing, life. And if there is no god, it is up to us to preserve it.

That is when things get really weighty. When you realize that.

Now, when I have those what-is-the-point days, I can’t just throw up my hands and trust that “All shall be well.”

But I can still hope. And I can act.

I read a story recently (a true one) in a book by Joanna Macy, about some Buddhist monks in Tibet who were exiled from their country by the Chinese and only decades later were allowed to return. They, their homes, monasteries, and communities had suffered terribly during the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the fifties, and seven years after returning, they were still rebuilding the center of culture and education their land had once been.

The political atmosphere, however, remained volatile. No one could predict what might happen in a year, or ten years.

The following passage from the story explains a revelation the author had while she and her husband were there in Tibet, observing the monks’ efforts, and wondering about their will to continue in the face of unlikely odds. It was revelatory for me, as well.

As we stood on the outer wall, I watched Bon-pa Tulku smile calmly as my husband queried him about Chinese policies and the prospects of another period of repression. I saw that such calculations were conjectural to him, as were any guarantees of success. Who knows? And since you cannot know, you simply proceed. You do what you have to do. You put one stone on top of another and another on top of that. If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will get built. You persist. Through the vagaries of government policies you persist, because in the long run it is persistence that shapes the future.

When I have my giving-up days, now, I still do the same thing I did as a Christian: I stand back up and keep going.

It could be that in spite of my efforts, our efforts, the world may not improve much. And I’m pretty sure it’s never going to be perfect. So I’m left to choose between two evils:

I can plop my butt down and live out my days in selfish hedonism, starved for meaning and fulfillment, depressed that life isn’t the way I want it to be.

Or, I can pull myself up by the bootstraps, head back out into the fray every day, do the little bit I can in my little corner of the world, and hope for the best.

Both options are hard, and either way, life is going to suck a lot of the time.

It makes more sense to me to do the hard, sucky thing that MIGHT produce some good – some positive change that could benefit our children and grandchildren and maybe even alter the course of evolution and consciousness – than to do the hard, sucky thing that is guaranteed to find us a hundred years from now squatting in the same dark hole, or worse.

And I see enough good, enough beauty, enough creativity and awesomeness and love in humanity to make all the frustration and set-backs and agony of the journey worth it, to make life worth preserving.

I hope you do too.

Because it is not “persistence” as a vague notion that shapes the future, but persistence lived out by individual, real people – like Bon-pa Tulku, like you, like me – who together form communities and societies and countries and the human race.

If humanity is going to persist, you and I must first.

The Homage Of Reason

Thomas Jefferson, who was not a Christian as some think, but rather a Deist, once made the following statement: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

Religion is a funny thing. It requires us to believe the incredible; to accept on faith a whole panoply of assumptions that are often seemingly arbitrary and sometimes even contradictory. And then it asks us to turn around and reject all other religious claims as bogus, usually on the basis of reason. We are encouraged to observe and think critically when it comes to other religions, but when the light is shone on our own, a point inevitably comes at which we must swallow our doubts and “just believe.”

It is a very good thing that, throughout human history, there have been numerous individuals unwilling to do that. For in the arena of ideas about the nature of reality, observable, verifiable fact and reason are the only standards we have by which to measure whether or not an idea is (or could be) true. Reason is what has allowed us to better understand our world and harness its resources and functionality to solve problems and improve our lives. Reason is the universal language by which we can have conversations across cultures and religions and differing personal experiences. Reason is the only place we can begin the search for what is true.

If you are here, reading this, you have likely taken the step of “boldness” that Jefferson advocates, and that takes courage and humility. To hold your deepest convictions with open hands and honestly consider another point of view or new piece of information, and to ask yourself, “What makes the most sense? What is the most reasonable explanation for these facts? What is the most good and right?” and to be willing to accept ANY answer, to change your position, if necessary, even if it will hurt, even if you will lose face, for the sake of truth…that is no small feat.

If it is one you have undertaken, I commend you, and celebrate the victory of reason over fear in your life.

Romanticizing Reality

I am an advocate of getting-in-touch-with-reality, for sure.

It only makes sense to me that we human beings, if we are going to fix (or at least improve on) our many flaws and foibles, and figure out how to live life best, must first understand The-Way-Things-Are.

Unfortunately, we have this very strong tendency to believe what we wish to be true. And that is a problem. You’re going to have a rough time and waste a lot of energy, for example, if you believe you have the voice of an angel and should spend your time sharing your gift with the world, when in actuality you sound like Grover from Sesame Street.

If your wheels aren’t on the ground, they’re just going to spin.

So, first-things-first, we need to – both individually and collectively – get a grip.

Once we’ve done that, however, and our “wheels” are making good contact with a solid surface, we’ve got to turn around and put those rose-colored glasses right back on…at least this is what I’m thinking today, and I will explain why.

We are very tactile, short-sighted creatures, really. We are easily bogged down by the immediate, mundane details of our lives. Happy moments of the past and future are hard bring to mind when we are faced with today’s sadness or boredom or frustration. The present difficulties seem more real than anything else, and it makes us want to give up the fight.

Considering the large percentage of our lives that are consumed by these mundane details, you’d think we’d be pretty much screwed.

BUT…there is this other funny little quirk in the human psyche that is our saving grace:

We are compelled by story.

Much more so than we are by facts, statistics, dissertation or rational analysis, however true or relevant they may be. Stories move us, stay with us, and help us make meaning from our existence.

Every now and then, for me, something happens in my life that enables me to take a step back from it and see it all as part of the grand human drama…one that is headed toward some sort of resolution in which good triumphs over evil and all the pain and tedium turn out to be the stepping stones that get us there, if we use them positively.

I’ve realized this about myself repeatedly – how much more clearly I see and think, how much more graciously I act, how much more forgiving and loving I am toward others when I am looking at my life from this outside, cosmic point of view.

That is what I mean when I say “putting on rose-colored glasses” or “romanticizing reality.” Not living in denial of what is, but looking at it through a lens of hope. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but it is something we must try to do – all of us – if we are going to bring good out of the chaos.

I’ve had something pretty crazy happen to me this past week. And, yes, it has to do with love. (What else is a 29 year-old, single girl gonna talk about?)

That boy, C. (aka Mr. Love), after two years of absence, is back in my life. (Perhaps I should clarify that “in my life” includes such activities as kissing and texting me.)

This is rather mind-blowing, as I have spent so much time longing for this. And it is producing one of those moments in which I look back at my life and see all the heart-ache and questions as plot twists in my own life’s story.

Of course, if there is one thing I have come to believe over the past couple of years, it is that life is full of twists; that it is so NOT predictable; that it will take you places both painful and joyful that you never could have anticipated.

Since my wishing and wondering over whether or not I would ever see C. again has been answered, it has inevitably been replaced by the next big question…will we end up together? But that is a silly question to ask, really. Because even people who “end up together” (i.e. get married) just have to keep asking themselves bigger and bigger questions.

Will I stay with this person today? Tomorrow? Ten years from now? Will I have children with this person? Will we spend our lives pursuing the American dream? Or Chasing Adventure? Or Fighting for World Peace?

Having this one current, significant question answered in my life has made me realize that life, the future, will always be one big question mark. And if I’m going to enjoy the journey, I’m going to have to embrace that, embrace uncertainty. And be okay sitting back and watching the story unfold.

Whether C. and I fall in love and get married and have kids, or whether we date for a while, have a great time, and decide we aren’t really compatible, it will all just be part of the story – my story, his story, and the story of the universe we are both effective entities in.

But I think that, no matter what happens, I will be able to navigate it all gracefully if I sort of levitate above it all, seeing the events and circumstances that come from a universal perspective…

…believing that in the end reality – even with all its harshness – can have a happy ending, if I, if WE, believe it can and are willing to take action accordingly.

Greta Christina

I’m telling you, there are some brilliant minds in the world. And the one that happens to reside inside the head of Greta Christina, atheist blogger, speaker, and author of growing renown, is one of them.

My first exposure to Greta was in an article entitled “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do With God,” which profoundly affected me. I already knew when I read it that I no longer believed in the Heaven-Hell scenario, and while it had been one of the most joyous discoveries of my life that no human being was going to be suffering torment for eternity after all (I had a little, solo crying dance party in my apartment over it) I had also laid awake for a few nights, feeling the weight and fear and incomprehensibility of my own very likely, eventual non-existence, and for the finality with which I would be forced at some point to say goodbye to my parents, my siblings, my loved ones. For a while, it was terrifying.

I think I would have come to terms with it eventually, but her article helped speed the process along.

When I discovered her blog, it was with great delight. Every mental debate I have had regarding Christianity (or personal-interventionist-God-based religions in general), she has addressed there, it seems, and nearly every “Aha” moment I’ve experienced in which things instantly made so much more sense, she has already lived.

I’m not sure I agree 100% with every single one of her thoughts and opinions, but it is nice finding someone who has not only been where you are and come to many of the same conclusions about What-It-All-Means, but also expresses them so thoroughly, so eloquently-yet-plainly, so frankly, and, to boot, very humorously.

Here is an article of hers I read just yesterday, posted on Alternet.org, on why skepticism is not only NOT a bad thing, but necessary in living life to the fullest: Why We Must Always Be Skeptical.

I’m not even going to try to review it, because I will just end up saying exactly what she said, only not as well. It is longish, for an internet article, but you’re just going to have to read it. It is worth it.

I encourage you to check out her blog, too, particularly if you are interested at all in philosophy or religion. The first time I landed there, I was lost for hours wandering through post after amazing post going, “YES!” “Totally!” “Oh my gosh, duh!” Maybe you won’t feel the need to share with the world your inner acquiescence, but I think – at least on some points – you will acquiesce whole-heartedly.

Before you stop over, a little disclaimer: Greta Christina frequently uses some colorful language. If that is offensive to you, be warned. Also, one of the main topics she addresses in conjunction with religion and other social constructions is sexuality, both in general and her own, specifically. She is quite liberal on this topic. If that makes you uncomfortable, this blog might not be your cup of tea.

A Little Wrong + A Lot Right = Pretty Darn Good

Life is good. I just have to say that.

I came home from work tonight, after another crazy week of school, absolutely exhausted. I wanted to go out dancing, or even just to a movie this week, but I was too tired. And I couldn’t forget about all the stuff I have to get done tomorrow and Sunday.

I ate dinner at home alone on my couch, thinking in the process about how lame it was, and how I, as a single, 20-something who loves people and activity and fun and new experiences, should be out HAVING them on a Friday night, rather than eating a cottage cheese-based psuedo-dinner on my couch and going to bed at 9:00.

I started to get really sad and grumpy and bummed out.

And then I picked up the book I just checked out from the library, The World As I See It, which is a collection of some of Albert Einstein’s writings, and before I had even opened it, pulled my head out of the tiny little hole of my own life and remembered the rest of the world.

And it made me remember how totally awesome my life is. How much I HAVE. Food and home, family, friends…so much freedom…to be and think and say and do anything my heart and mind and experiences move me to.

And I remembered that life is not about DOING a certain set of activities or checking off a list of accomplishments that are frequent among people in my particular current age bracket. Life is about BEING. Regardless of age, race, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status, or anything else.

It is about being the human being you know you can and should be. It is about living and experiencing and taking it all in one day at a time and relishing the good and beauty, and learning from the pain. And it is about loving. Not just other people, but also yourself (which can sometimes be the hardest part).

Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

You can take that statement to mean a lot of different things, but one that makes a lot of sense to me is that our perception of things, how we interpret them and what meaning we attach to them, almost totally determines how we feel about them.

When I sit around thinking that my life is unsatisfactory or incomplete because I don’t have/do _______, ________, or ________ …it is! And it makes me grumpy.

When I remember that I am staying home on Friday night in my cozy, comfy apartment full of food and clothes and more, bought with the money from a good job, in order to get a good night’s sleep so that I can think and work and play and socialize and learn and live life to the fullest tomorrow, my life seems so great.

And it is.

Why is it that we human beings so often focus on the one or two little things that might possibly be wrong, when there are SO many things that are right?

I am tired of doing that. Need to flip my thinking around somehow, permanently. Do you think it’s possible?