a part | apart

A funny thing happened tonight while typing out an email to my little sister — I meant to write the words “a part” but instead my fingers missed the space bar and I typed the word: “apart.”  It’s funny, because that one careless typo holds all kinds of symbolism and pretty much describes my last few months…

This summer hasn’t been an easy one for me, interpersonally-speaking.  In early June, I resigned from my position as Community Services Coordinator for the Saskatoon Freethinkers, a move that wasn’t easy — but was necessary (arguably, for both parties).*

For nearly the last year-and-a-half, the Saskatoon Freethinkers have been in the forefront of most of my extra time.  I knew from the first meeting we attended (in February 2009), that I wanted to be a part of the group’s leadership team, because it was JUST what I was looking for in Saskatoon.  By this point, Jerry and I were still pretty much new in our outspoken atheist life, and we were so hungry for like-minded friendships and conversations.

And, it worked out!  I immediately started volunteering for the group, leading talks, and soon enough, I was right there with the movers and shakers.  I loved it.  I loved being a part of the movement.  I loved the responsibility, I loved the interactions, and I even loved helping with the administrative functions of the group (if only because I knew we were setting up something significant).

I was so proud to be on discussion panels, be interviewed for news articles, and even challenge good ol’ John Gormley in defense of our group.  So much of my experience was great fun!

But, like in most relationships, there’s the ups and the downs.  Pretty soon, there were some conflicts and disagreements that never really got resolved, but just got pushed aside or buried.

Before I knew it, my world started getting bigger than just the Freethinkers group, as I helped start up the side-groups of Saskatoon Secular Family Network and Café Apostate.   Pretty soon I found myself volunteering to be a parent education assistant with the Foundation Beyond Belief organization, a US-based charity for atheists and humanists started by Dale McGowan, one of my heroes of secular parenting.  [I’ve only recently realized that our secular parenting group is one of the only active ones in Canada — and this weekend we’re hosting a Freethinker Family Camp that’s gotten notice all over the country!]

And — last week I started my journey toward becoming a secular celebrant, and was officially accepted into the Celebrant Foundation and Institute‘s 2010-11 academic program.   Plus, this week I was invited to be a part of the writing team for a nation-wide blog for Canadian Atheists, representing Saskatoon. (So, I’ve been busy.)

This June, as I was in the thick of all the interpersonal drama with the group, I remember feeling very hurt and confused by what was going on — while also feeling misunderstood and undervalued.  But now that I’ve had some time to think/stew/dwell on everything that’s happened, I can find some actual GOOD that came from the whole experience:

  1. I now recognize that my path in the atheist/freethinking/secular/skeptic movement isn’t necessarily in line with the Freethinkers’ group mandate — and that’s okay.  While I value the need for rationalism and critique, I think I see myself more in the humanist vein of the movement.
  2. I need to feel like I’m in a place where my personality and contributions are viewed as assets, and not liabilities.  From the start, I don’t think I was a right fit for the leadership team.  And that’s okay.  It’s important for me to be self-aware enough to recognize where and when I’m needed, and to know when to back away when I’m not.
  3. I was pretty devastated when I first left the leadership team — it felt as if I were betraying the larger movement by backing away from my role on the Council — but now I can see that’s a bit melodramatic (even for me).   The fact is, while this group has a role to play, it’s just one facet of the whole.  So it’s okay that I didn’t necessarily “fit” here, because there are many more opportunities for me to serve elsewhere.
  4. I’m surprised at how liberating it is to just be a “member” of the group — don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be a part of it, but now I have the freedom to be selective in the activities I participate in.  So, when our interests align, I’ll be there.  When not, I don’t have to be.  No more trying to fit my round head into a square hole! (ouch)
  5. Free time!  Not that I have all that much to begin with, but now I can really focus my interests into my areas of passion — secular parenting, Celebrant training, and Apostate-ing. [don’t tell Jerry, but I’m hoping to also volunteer for the parents’ council at Emma’s new school, and maybe volunteer for next year’s Children’s Festival.]

As cheesy as it may sound, I feel like I’m finally in a place of peace about the whole situation.  Part of me thinks that it took something as shattering as this separation to really wake me up to prioritize my efforts as to what I want to do for the humanist side of the atheist movement.  Some lessons are harder than others to learn (I know, again with the cliches) — but in this case, I’m really glad to see that there’s positives I can take from something that felt so painful to experience.

So, that’s my journey of how I went from being

a part of the Saskatoon Freethinkers

to feeling apart from it

and finally returning to be a part of the group, but in an entirely different place.

And that’s okay.

*[disclaimer: I know that some of the current leadership team may read my blog (or my Facebook notes), so let me state that this post isn’t meant to be a passive-aggressive slam on the group or the current team leading the Freethinkers.  This post is just meant to be me, reflecting on my experience, on my personal blog.  Feel free to comment, email, or call me if you’ve got questions or comments about what I write here.]

What he said: on “emotional intelligence” and leadership

Tonight I listened to the latest Chariots of Iron podcast, and there was an interview with author Darrel Ray (author of The God Virus).   Dr. Ray has helped start many “Recovering Religionists” groups across North America, and I’ve been in touch with him about our own Café Apostate group.  I was expecting this interview to be mainly about these support groups, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear him give some insights into leadership, especially within the secular non-believing community.

He’s a organizational psychologist, with 30+ years of experience helping corporations and non-profit groups deal with leadership/team issues, so I think he’s got some footing to take into consideration. What struck me about the podcast interview was when Ray said: “[freethinking leaders] need to learn to deal with conflict in an emotionally intelligent way.”

Just by virtue of being a human being, conflict is an inevitable part of life.  And the older I get, the more I’m realizing that it’s  HOW conflict is dealt with that makes all the difference.  I found a blog post Ray wrote, and his thoughts sum up nicely some of the issues I’ve personally felt and noticed within the larger freethinking community:

We need to develop leadership in the Secular community. Too many secular groups are fragmented and less organized and effective than they could be. Much of this can be traced to conflict management skills among secular leaders. All groups encounter conflict, if managed well, it leads to organizational vitality. If ignored or mismanaged, it leads to fragmentation and animosity.

Some people speak of conflict resolution, I generally see conflict management as the real issue. Conflict is a positive force if viewed in that light and is rarely totally resolved. In fact, I become suspicious if people say a conflict has been totally resolved. What is more likely is they have just found a way to hide it better and it will come back with a vengeance eventually. If it is viewed as a power struggle with winners and losers, it becomes a never ending cycle of wasted creativity and energy. It takes emotionally intelligent leaders to recognize and manage conflict towards organizational vitality. [my emphasis]

Leadership in the Secular Community
Darrel Ray

What he said.

How reasonable…

Today Jerry and I participated in the local Freethinkers’ group blood drive, as a part of the international day of reason, a day meant to respond to the US government-mandated National Day of Prayer (which was recently found to be unconstitutional).

From the Saskatoon Freethinkers website:

The National Day of Reason is used to inject reason and rational thought into actions and behaviors. It was started as a response to the National Day of Prayer in the US. Rather than praying (which has been shown to have no effect in all properly designed studies i.e. double blind placebo studies), we will do something that has a measurably positive effect: saving lives.

Emma was visibly concerned that Jerry and I came home with “boo-boos”, so she put a sticker on her forearm, so she could “match” mama and daddy:

Day of Reason celebration

I guess it’s up to you to determine which is more helpful for humanity: praying or donating blood?  I’m always up for hearing a case for the former, though I’m yet to be persuaded.

Californy is the place you oughta be

This October, Jerry and I (along with several of our good friends) will be attending the “Setting the Agenda: Secular Humanism’s Next 30 Years” CFI conference in Los Angeles!

I am just *beyond excited* about all the speakers I’ll get to hear and the people I’ll finally be able to meet. Here’s part of the conference description:

Scheduled speakers include Richard Dawkins, who will accept a very special award (to be announced); authors Sam Harris and Robert Wright, who will dialogue on humanist stances toward faith; and a glittering roster of speakers, including James Randi, P. Z. Myers, Eugenie Scott, Paul Kurtz, Lawrence Krauss, Chris Mooney, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Victor Stenger, Shadia Drury, Mark Johnson, Barry Kosmin, Ibn Warraq, and many more.

Oh. my. goodness.  I’m not exactly who I’m more excited to see/hear in person — Dawkins (!), PZ (who it’s no secret I just adore), the debate between Harris and Wright (who’ll have his ass handed to him, I have no doubt), Lawrence Krauss, Eugenie Scott … I could go on!

For the last 3-4 years, I’ve listened to these speakers on various podcasts and YouTube videos, I’ve watched movies or I’ve read (or listened to) their books — now I’ll have a chance to be in the same room with them, AND be surrounded by fellow atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, etc.  I know I don’t believe in a heaven anymore, but I think this conference sounds like it could be pretty close.

And, we’ll be in California!  Without a toddler!  Emma will be staying with some family (who’ll I’ll be forever indebted to) — but Jerry and I will have a chance to be actual adults who won’t have to carry around granola bars and coloring books and wipes and all the other parenting paraphernalia required on most trips to the States.

The hard part now will be to have enough patience until October rolls around.  Stay tuned!

What he said:

Earlier this week in the Star Phoenix there was a letter to the Editor where the author attempted to condone (or at least badly explain) the pedophilic priest epidemic by blaming the “sexual pollution” of our day and age.

Today, the paper published this letter of response, which I just love.  Here’s the letter’s forceful conclusion:

The only sexual pollution society needs to be rid of are the pedophiles who use the confessional as a torture chamber and those who support them, financially and otherwise.

Both letters are worth the read!  Here’s hoping the author of the latter will join ranks with us Freethinkers in town.