Bells will be ringing

Today’s the day when my little brother marries his true love! While I’m excited and so happy for him, my heart’s sad that I have to live thousands of miles away and can’t be there to watch him say ‘I do.’

Thankfully through the power of social media and constant text updates from my little sister and mom, I don’t feel quite so far away.

Here’s to you, Bud! I love you, and can’t wait to celebrate with you and Rachel when we see you next. I’m proud of you, too.

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl,
and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

bonus post today!

As I was going through my archives looking for my response to the 2004 election, I came across this gem of a post where I responded to someone who said my blog worked as a “tool of Satan.”

I pretty much love how I ended the post:

So if you want to be critical of me — go ahead. But first make sure you’ve earned the right, in terms of our friendship, in order to say the things you’d like to say. If you’re only going to correct me because you’re feeling “burdened by God” or think I’m another soul to add to your “saved” list — you’re just wasting your time in your correspondence. Also make sure that you actually know about the claims you’re going to make about the condition of my soul and/or my relationship with God. Pet peeve #2.

Thank you and good night.

The right kind of people

So yesterday’s suggestion for a NaBloPoMo writing prompt was to write about your favorite quotation and why. I may be a day late, but here goes mine:

(from here)

These days this quote fits my life almost perfectly.

In terms of my career, I feel like I’m on the verge of great accomplishments. I’ve never felt so much like I belong here in the University system. I have grand plans for my career, and more importantly, I know the steps I need to take (and AM taking!) in order for these plans to become reality.

One major reason why I’m in such a good place career-wise is because of finding these “like-minded” friends “who are also designing purpose-filled lives.”  I have amazing friends!

Yet the biggest reason, I think, of why I’m so happy and successful right now is that I have learned to embrace the first 2 sentences of Twain’s quote: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

Over the last year I’ve found inspiring mentors who saw the potential in me, and cared enough to encourage me to pursue greatness.

A few weeks ago, someone sent me this TED talk to watch:

I watched it over a lunch break, and found myself nodding along to what Achor was saying — the secret to better work IS to be happy! And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my work situation hasn’t changed all that much. What HAS changed in my work context is me. I’m in a different, and better, place.

Sure, not everyday on my job is happiness-inducing, but on the balance, I know I’m having more better days than not.

Thanks to Mark Twain for the quote, and for reminding me of where to direct my energies toward. Now for me to be this kind of friend to others.

It’s not easy being an apostate

Go. Go now. Go now and read ‘From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader’ in this week’s NYTimes’ Magazine. The article is about Jerry DeWitt, a former minister who’s now working as the Executive Director of Recovering from Religion. (sidenote: hey look! Cafe Apostate is listed as one of the 3 groups in Canada!)

I loved reading this article, if only because I think it really illustrates how it’s a long and difficult process to reject your faith.  So many times people ask me ‘when did you lose your faith?’ and expect me to point to the one day when I found that I was no longer a Christian.  It’s a process, people!  Just like you can’t pinpoint an answer to  ‘when did you grow up?’ — it’s impossible to know the precise moments when you realized you were no longer a believer. (p.s. Thanks to Dan Barker and his book ‘Godless‘ for that analogy)

When it comes to my deconversion, I found it was a series of small steps, or a feeling of slowly letting go — until I finally realized (and accepted) that I wasn’t holding on to that faith system anymore. And, I was OKAY.  I was the same person, just with one less box to check on the census.

What I found to be the hardest part of being an apostate is the rejection you face from your religious family, friends, and connections.  I think the NYTimes article on DeWitt does a good job of illustrating just how much can be lost in admitting your nonbelief. From the article:

Almost at once [after his ‘outing’ as an atheist], DeWitt became a pariah in DeRidder [his hometown]. His wife found herself ostracized in turn, and the marriage suffered. She moved out in June. He received a constant stream of hate messages — some threatening — and still does, more than seven months later. He played me a recent one he had saved on his cellphone as we ate lunch at a diner in town. “It’s just sickening to hear you try to turn people atheist,” a guttural voice intoned. It went on and on, telling DeWitt to go to hell in various ways. “I’m not going to sit around while you turn people against God,” the voice said at one point.

Can you feel the Christian love?

Thankfully I haven’t had any kind of death threats or a broken marriage because of my atheism. I have had many friendships lost, family relationships broken, and I’ve been on the receiving end of countless patronizing ‘we will pray for you’ letters and emails that passive-aggressively condemn my nonbelief.  It’s not something that you want to have to go through, but when compared to having to live a lie (ie., pretending to be something you’re not), then it’s all part of the experience.

So that’s why I get so riled up when I find believers who either mock, deride, or dismiss the stories of apostates (and yes, I’m focusing mainly on Christianity here, since that’s where I’m coming from — unfortunately with other monotheistic religions, the response to apostates is to murder them).

In my experience, I find there are a couple different reactions that Christians have to apostates: First, there’s the ‘you were never a True Christian™ in the first place‘ response, where the validity of the apostate’s past experiences as a believer is questioned. Usually when someone accuses me of never being an authentic believer, it’s for one of three reasons: it’s either out of fear (I don’t want to lose my faith one day!), defensiveness (how dare you reject something I hold so dear!) or it’s a response bred from a sense of competition (Christianity is so much better than atheism, let me tell you why!). Let me tell you, it’s disheartening to be on the end of such immediate judgmental conclusions.

Which reminds me, a year ago today, I was on the UK Christian radio program Unbelievable?. One of the most interesting parts of that experience was to listen in to some of the (primarily Christian) audience’s reactions to my apostasy story. From what I remember, most of the listener feedback in the following weeks fell into those three categories above.

But what I’ve found to be the most frustrating Christian reaction to stories of apostates is the mockery and ridicule that some love to heap.  And while I understand the motivations behind it (again, it probably falls under the same three categories I listed earlier), it doesn’t make this religiously-fueled bullying any easier to take.  In fact, I recently left an online group that I helped start because of a couple people who loved to be nasty in their reactions to the authentic stories of what is lost when outing yourself as a nonbeliever.

I wonder how these same people would react to reading DeWitt’s apostate story of what he lost. (I’m not optimistic)

Anyway, while there is a lot of sad feelings and experiences to be found in these stories of rejected (read: not ‘lost’) faith, I think there’s also so much more freedom and authenticity to be found in finally accepting who you are as a nonbeliever.

And for those people who decide not to embrace the ‘real’ godless you? Well, from my experience, it’s not really that big of a loss to no longer have them as a part of your life. I find that I prefer to have a handful of people who love and know me for who I am, rather than be in a relationship where I’m only accepted for being who they think I should be.

Which is one reason why I loved this song from Wicked so much:

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same

I’m through with playing by the rules

Of someone else’s game

Too late for second-guessing

Too late to go back to sleep

It’s time to trust my instincts

Close my eyes: and leap!


I’m through accepting limits

’cause someone says they’re so

Some things I cannot change

But till I try, I’ll never know!

Too long I’ve been afraid of

Losing love I guess I’ve lost

Well, if that’s love

It comes at much too high a cost!

from ‘Defying Gravity’


Ah, the New Year. That infamous time of the year when your gym suddenly is full again, there’s more people lurking in the produce section, and there’s unrealistic expectations piled everywhere you look. Or you could be one of those who “resolve not to make resolutions” (and then pretend that they are the first person to proclaim such a cliche). I’ve been both of those people.

This New Year I wasn’t expecting to resolve myself to do anything differently, but then I found a copy of The Happiness Project whilst browsing at Coles.  Don’t ask me how I ended up in the self-help section.  But, there I was, and there I was picking up a copy of this book.  I’ve been reading it over the last week, and I’m already starting to see my world differently (which is always the first sign of a good book!).

The author of the book, Gretchen Rubin, dedicates herself to researching and practicing different ways to find happiness in her life over a period of 12 months. So far I’ve read January and February, or the “Boost Energy” and “Love” resolutions she tackled.  What I love about this book (so far) is that she’s all about taking the SMALL STEPS necessary to secure happiness. Too often I’ve wanted to take on my own “happiness project” and failed (miserably), if only because I tried to do too much, too quick.

I’m not going to do that to myself, again.  As I’m reading through the book, I’m looking for these small steps I can take in my own life, to help me find happiness.  Maybe over the course of the year I’ll write about the steps I’m taking.

So far, the one step that’s really stood out to me is Rubin’s twelfth “commandment”: “There is only love.”  Here’s a quick YouTube video where she talks about the role of love and happiness:

Now, when I first read this mantra of “there is only love,” I think my eyes rolled.  At first, it just sounds — well, fluffy. Deepak Chopra-ish. Not something a rational person like me could appreciate, right?

But then I started to think about it.

The example in the book is of a woman who took a job working for a notoriously negative employer.  She knew, going into the position, that her boss would be difficult to work with. So, rather than armoring up to bear the tough environment, she told herself to think, “There is only love.” From the book:

From that moment on, she refused to think critical thoughts about John Doe; she never complained about him behind his back; she wouldn’t even listen to other people criticize him.

“Don’t your coworkers think you’re a goody-goody?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she said. “They all wish they could do the same thing, too. He drives them crazy, but I can honestly say I like John.”

— p. 40, The Happiness Project

This idea of “there is only love” has really stuck with me. All too often I’m able to read people, and interpret their interpersonal communication. While it’s sometimes a bonus to be able to have such an ability, more often than not it leaves me feeling devastated — especially when I can tell that people don’t particularly like who I am.

I can’t help it, I’m a people-pleaser.  What sucks is that I’m the kind of person who you either really LOVE or really HATE — there’s not much middle ground when it comes to people’s impressions of me.  Lately it seems like I’ve had to deal with more of the latter, and if I’m not careful, it can really get me down (read: not happy).

So, rather than interpreting someone’s actions toward me as automatically being critical or negative, why not think to myself: “there is only love.”  Those 4 little words remind me that there’s bigger issues at work here. Maybe this person doesn’t understand my approach?  Maybe this person is herself very UNhappy, and finds me a good target to aim for?  Maybe that car didn’t see me before cutting me off? Maybe I’m not as good at reading intentions in communication, and I’m taking things too personally?

All of these “maybes” are legitimate, and I know I need to consider them before jumping on the conclusions wagon. So, one of my “resolutions” I’ve set for myself to start practicing saying “there is only love” more often.  I think it will help me to see my relationships differently — and I’m already feeling lighter, not having to worry so much about what others may think about me.

Another reminder of why I need to be a happier mama.

Higher ground

There’s a new film coming out that looks very interesting — Ebert describes Higher Ground as “the life story of a woman who grows into, and out of, Christianity.”  Here’s the trailer:

The movie is based on the memoir This Dark World by Carolyn S. Briggs, who also wrote the screenplay.  I found this 2002 review of the book, and the last two paragraphs ring especially true:

But then, you get the sense that she’s describing her slow, gradual reverse transformation — from a bridelike soldier of Christ to a freethinking, questioning woman — as clearly as anyone could. Briggs harbors few illusions about her old self. She’s fully aware of what a pain in the ass she was in the days when she was beaming with love all the time, handing out Bibles and quoting Scripture to anyone who’d sit still long enough.

But the thing that makes “This Dark World” so affecting, aside from Briggs’ clear, resonant prose, is that she makes us understand that leaving her faith behind was the single hardest thing she’s ever had to do. Her religious friends bemoaned the fact that she had turned away from the Lord. But no matter how her spiritual beliefs have changed, has He really lost her? The person she became because of Him is still vital and thriving, and probably more alive than ever.


If Emma wasn’t asleep right now, I’d be heading on over to McNally or Indigo to see if the book was in stock. [note: I actually just stopped writing this post long enough to call and order the book from McNally]

If the trailer and book review are any indication, I think I’ll really like the film — maybe a little too much. In fact, watching the trailer made my heart hurt a little bit — because I know what it’s like to be lost – then found – then “lost” again.  About a month ago I talked quite a bit about my transition out of faith on the Unbelievable podcast, but even in the days since recording the show, I have thought about (and felt) more of the effects of my apostasy.

Fact is, when I decided to be honest with myself and others about my nonbelief, my choice to vocalize my atheism forever changed several relationships in my life — and NOT necessarily for the better.

The demise of some of these family and friend relationships still make me sad even now, years after my “outing.”   There have been some moments when I thought I could be heading into a serious period of depression — so much so, I even made a point of seeing a therapist and frankly asking if I needed to be on medication (if only to numb some of my heartache).

Thankfully my therapist not only is good at what she does, but is also wise.  One lesson I learned from my sessions with her is that my sadness isn’t rooted in depression, but is more of a type of mourning I’m experiencing.  I’m mourning the death of what I had hoped for in a relationship, and now I’m left to adjust to the stark reality of a broken connection.

But why are these relationships broken? In large part because of religion, and the hold it places on its adherents.  Sure it may sound great from the pulpit for a preacher to say “put Jesus first in all your relationships”, but the reality of Luke 14:26 (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.) really hurts when its applied.


A couple weeks ago I went to see Wicked with Jerry and some good friends. I love musicals, plus I had read the book, years ago, so I thought I was prepared for the performance. What I wasn’t ready for was how much I related to the play’s main character, Elphaba.  For the first half of the show, I found myself empathizing SO much with what this character went through (though, thankfully, I have no idea what it’s like to have green skin).

Elphaba was someone who didn’t quite fit in, and who was passionately motivated by social justice causes.  There are points in the play where she stands up for what is right, even at great cost to herself. She’s idealistic, hoping to have the Wizard (someone she admires) help her rectify the wrongs she sees in the world. She’s passionate, and willing to take a stand, even by herself.

But then — she finds hypocrisy in her hero the Wizard, and is faced with a decision: does she apologize, back down, and look the other way, or does she defy?

She sings:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by
The rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
And leap…

It’s time to try
defying gravity
I think I’ll try
defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down

So what do you do when you realize that “something has changed” within you?

In my case, should I have kept on my church-smile each Sunday, swallowed my doubts, and played the game?  No.

I took my leap of faith doubt.

Elphaba then sings:

I’m through accepting limits
‘Cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try I’ll never know
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost

and that kind of love — the kind that only embraces you in a particular way — it really is a love at “much too high a cost.”  I guess that’s a lesson I’m slowly learning to accept.

Anyway, by the time this song (“Defying Gravity”) closed the first half of Wicked, I was bawling — and I’m not talking about little tears, but big, ugly, end-of-Steel-Magnolias kind of sobs.  This video just doesn’t do the cathartic experience justice:

And if you’re reading this, hoping that I’m happy — rest assured, I am.

But I’m also sad too.