Author Archives: vaweber

The Winds Have Shifted

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Hullo My Good People….

For all my lofty intentions, I’ve not gotten very far on this blog.  Internetting via Android was novel for awhile, but sadly fails to meet my needs for a true web addiction.  I’m not feeling eloquent, wise or inspired these days, but thought I’d check in with ya’s. 

So remember this https://vaweber.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/won-the-lottery-should-i-share/ ? The post conveying my eagerness for others to join the ranks of atheism?  Yeah, well….mmm, not so much anymore.  I’m actually surprised myself, having figured that my zeal for logic, reason & empirical data would keep me amped up on my atheism kick.  I still very much appreciate those things.  But here’s what’s happened: 

1) Beginning in May of this year, I had some interactions or observations that reminded me of our fragility as human beings.  I found that my desire to help the people I care about superseded any desire to have them think as I do.  

Here’s my thing: when I was a Christian, I made up my own god.  And really, most of us do.  Granted, most of us do so within the framework of an established faith tradition, but from there we decide how literally or figuratively we’re going to take the words offered to us; we decide if we’re going to accept religious authority in making moral & ethical decisions, or if we’re going to use our hearts & heads.  In a congregation of 200, there are 200 gods, at least, each with its particular nuanced personality assigned by its creator.  

The god I created changed according to my changing spirituality….and got better every time.  And while I don’t believe in literal deities, when a friend was in spiritual distress in May, I used God to help him.  I took the god that I created and used Him to offer my friend peace & comfort.  I wasn’t being deceitful–my friend knows I’m not a believer.  I simply worked from his particular world view in order to best help him.  I dunno, maybe it’s the UU in me.  But I would do it again and again and again…to help the people I care about.  I will introduce them to my God.  

2) And here’s what else:  I still adore some religious stuff.  I enjoy certain music, mythology, symbolism & rituals.  I can say with almost complete certainty that I’ll never give up the mystical musings of Rumi & Hafiz.  I gladly chant with Krishna Das the songs to Hindu deities.  I cry when Amazing Grace is played on the bagpipes.  I miss some of my old favorite Christian pop music.   And a couple months ago I almost suddenly became comfortable with this side of myself again.  I’m OK with allowing these things to feed my spiritual self without my having to subscribe to their respective belief systems.  I don’t even care if people think I’m Christian, Muslim, Jewish or  whatever.  I know what I enjoy, I know what I believe, and I’d rather be concerned about whether people think I’m compassionate, honest, ethical, intelligent, encouraging, hard-working, kind, inspiring…who cares if they get my belief system wrong?  

 

I know, I know, my atheist readers are rolling their eyes.  Don’t worry.   I still love science & reason.  I still loathe religious abuses.  I don’t believe in gods, demons, angels, ghosts and the like.  But I’ve given myself permission to entertain them for the sake of human compassion and connection.  

~V.  

For J, A, N, J, C, & S ~ thinking of you as I write this; it’s my tenderness for you that causes me to write this.  xoxo

You are Loved

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My good people (this means you):

There’s more fragility and vulnerability in life than many people realize.  Please remember, everyone is vulnerable.  Everyone.  Regardless of what others choose to show the world, there is a part of them that is capable of being deeply wounded.  Violence encompasses much more than physical assault—it’s in the messages we send ourselves and others, and we never know just how powerfully we might affect someone.  So when the sun goes down, please, let’s make sure we haven’t said anything or behaved in a way so as to devalue another human being…or ourselves. 

Reach out to people when you need an encouraging word.  Reach out to others who could use an ear or a shoulder.  We can’t all be there for everyone, but we can all be there for someone.  We can’t take care of each other, but we can watch out for each other.  You will not have a heart for everyone; I sure don’t.  But when you have a heart for someone, show it!  And when you don’t, simply be kind.   As much as you can do so without compromising your safety or that of others, err on the side of kindness.  Don’t ever wonder if you should! More kindness—to ourselves, to others, to the creatures and to the earth—can only make our lot better in life.  And don’t let anyone fade away….

Another thing: no matter who you are, someone on this grand planet loves you and thinks you’re beautiful.  At least one, and more probably quite a few.  There are probably people out there caring about you whose existence you barely acknowledge.  Think about that when you’re lonely or discouraged.  Intentional or not, you make a difference in this world, and if that message doesn’t come across in your everyday life, reach out to others and let them remind you until you believe in yourself again.

This fragile tendril of existence that we’re lucky enough to experience won’t even see the full dawn before our species becomes extinct.  Take that knowledge and use this life for wholeness, for goodness. 

If there ever was a gospel that needs to be spread, it is this: Your existence on this planet matters. You are beautiful, and you are loved.

 ~Valerie

PS~ I’ve written the above in various forms on a couple of occasions and think it bears repeating…and, to be perfectly honest, I often need to be reminded of these very same words….  ~V.

A Reading by Richard Dawkins

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Every few months I seem to go back to this YouTube video of Richard Dawkins reading from his book, Unweaving the Rainbow.  It’s one of those things that inspires in me a sense of wonder, gratitude, and delight.  My only gripe is the title, which might suggest morbidity to the fainter of heart–I promise you, this is not morbid, nor is it about death.  The transcript is below the video, but please do watch the video—the musical accompaniment combined with the video clips truly enhances Dawkins’ words.  Enjoy, and do share if you’re so inclined.   ~Valerie

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara.

Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats; scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found. But take a look at the competition. Compared with most planets this is paradise, and parts of earth are still paradise by any standards. What are the odds that a planet picked at random would have these complaisant properties? Even the most optimistic calculation would put it at less than one in a million.

Imagine a spaceship full of sleeping explorers, deep-frozen would-be colonists of some distant world. Perhaps the ship is on a forlorn mission to save the species before an unstoppable comet, like the one that killed the dinosaurs, hits the home planet. The voyagers go into the deep-freeze soberly reckoning the odds against their spaceship’s ever chancing upon a planet friendly to life. If one in a million planets is suitable at best, and it takes centuries to travel from each star to the next, the spaceship is pathetically unlikely to find a tolerable, let alone safe, haven for its sleeping cargo.

But imagine that the ship’s robot pilot turns out to be unthinkably lucky. After millions of years the ship does find a planet capable of sustaining life: a planet of equable temperature, bathed in warm starshine, refreshed by oxygen and water. The passengers, Rip van Winkles, wake stumbling into the light. After a million years of sleep here is a whole new fertile globe, a lush planet of warm pastures, sparkling streams and waterfalls, a world bountiful with creatures darting through alien green felicity. Our travelers walk entranced, stupefied, unable to believe their unaccustomed senses or their luck. The story asks for too much luck; it would never happen.

And yet isn’t that what has happened to each one of us? We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds. Admittedly we didn’t arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born; and we didn’t burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we slowly apprehend our world, rather than suddenly discover it, should not subtract from its wonder.

It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are stil hugely blessed; privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever.”

~Richard Dawkins (Unweaving the Rainbow)

Love is in the Grayscale

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How many times have you heard the following?  True love never ends.  If you fall out of love, it was never love to begin with.  I mean, don’t get me wrong–the whole idea of love lasting forever is incredibly appealing and gives one a sense of security.  But I’ve had reason to actively rethink this in recent months & want to share some thoughts with you. 

Now before you get all up in arms, please know that I’ve been a hopeless romantic my whole life.  Trouble is, my way of loving & my understanding of ‘romance’ has always felt to me to be a bit….unconventional.  I once said to my mom as I happily sighed, I’m so in love with my brothers.  Well that sure was the wrong thing to say.  Trust me, I don’t want to make out with my siblings. I mean, Eeew

I have felt intense, passionate connection with people that I did not want to have sex with.  I have been “in love” in the contented, happy, sighing, euphoric sense with my poetry, God (in a former life), children, flowers, cats, a spring day in an open field, etc…  I’ve had the deep, strong, quiet love for friends.  I’ve even loved strangers.  I have a strong natural need for physical affection and I don’t think physical affection should be reserved for the-one-person-you’re-going-to-be-married-to-for-your-entire-life-so-if-they-don’t-hug-kiss-or-cuddle-you-then-you-are-screwed-in-the-affection-department-forever.  Maybe it’s just America that has these ridiculous norms. 

A couple years ago as I was pondering this love stuff and what it really means, a man at the busstop said to me, Love is a code.  He meant that we say love when really we can possibly be referring to a myriad of thoughts and feelings.  This made perfect sense to me.  I have used or seen others use the phrase, I love you to mean any, some, or all of the following: 

* I feel affection for you

*I’m attached to you

*I’m physically attracted to you

*I care about you & want you to be OK

*I enjoy being with you–maybe more than I enjoy being with most others

*I feel euphoric when I think of you

*I would sacrifice something to help you or be with you

*I desire you/I lust after you

*I feel chemistry between us

*I feel connected to you more than I do most people

*I enjoy sharing physical affection with you

*I want to be near you always/want you as a chief component in my life

*I want to make love to you

Well, isn’t that just a convenient laundry list!  And notice, too, that if you take any of these statements alone, it’s not necessarily your first instinct to translate it as I love you.  While I came up with this list off the top of my head, I’m not imagining this. Check out a few of the definitions of love from Merriam-Webster online:

 

1

a 1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>

 

b : an assurance of affection <give her my love>

2
: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>
3
a : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>

 

b (1) : a beloved person : darling —often used as a term of endearment (2) British —used as an informal term of address

4
a : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others

 

b : a person’s adoration of God

5
: a god or personification of love
6
: an amorous episode : love affair
7
: the sexual embrace : copulation
 
Now, don’tcha’ suppose that if we take the indivual components of this love stuff we find that in some or many cases it doesn’t last forever?  How many of you can recall your feelings for your first boy/girlfriend?  Assuming they are now your ex- and likely in your distant memory….how do you feel about them now?  Perhaps you can still say that you love them, but chances are the flavor of that love has changed.  Maybe you no longer lust after them or feel chemistry with them, but maybe you care deeply about them and have affection for them.  Or maybe that was a relationship you were better off not being in, and none of those descriptives apply.  But if you call all of it love, wouldn’t that mean that love doesn’t by its very nature last forever, and indeed has limits?
 
The definition of love suggests nothing about its nature or behavior.  Who says love lasts forever?  Ideally, yes, perhaps we all would seek to form loving bonds that lasted a lifetime.  There’s much to be said for how love changes us and improves our lives.  But love is its own wild beast.  Let the poets and philosophers wax on about what they think love is and isn’t, but let no one dictate how legitimate your love for someone is, or prescribe such a vaguely staunch standard such as, love lasts forever.  What part of love lasts forever—the affection part, the lust part, the attachment part? 
 
Recently I told a new Friend that it seems people need to define things in terms of black-and-white because they feel safer there.  But love just isn’t a black-or-white issue.  Love is in the grayscale, and I’m comfortable with it being there. 
 
Maybe what we need to do is not throw that word love around so much.  I don’t mean that it’s a bad word; I’d say it’s confusing and imprecise.  When those wonderful feelings well up from deep inside, maybe instead of automatically resorting to I love you, we can try something like, I’m attracted to you and want to go to bed with you.  Or maybe, I feel amazing when I’m around you and I want to spend more time with you.  Considering that many people hear the word love and either start planning the wedding or hightail it outta’ Dodge, maybe we can use more accurate ways to describe what we’re thinking and feeling.  It would cut down on the confusion and hurt feelings, and make it a helluva’ lot easier for both parties to have realistic expectations out of the relationship or interaction. 
 
Having said that, will I cut I love you from my vocabulary?   ‘Course not, silly.  For friends and family with whom the relationship is clear, we needn’t get all semantical as we’re hanging up the phone saying goodnight.  I think it’ll bode well to more frequently expound on what exactly I’m feeling and what exactly I’m appreciating at a given moment. For instance, right now, I’m appreciating that some readers, friends and strangers alike, will be stopping by to take the time to read a few words from little ol’ me.  And perhaps you’ll be appreciating that this blog post is just about over, or that it provided you some keen insight (I’m not banking on it).  We clear? 
 
‘K thanks love ya’ bye.   ;o)
 
~Valerie…..with special appreciation for a certain Someone who appreciates the grayscale.  Thank you for being you. ❤

Eeeeeeeek!

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I killed a spider. 

Squashed it. 

It was smaller than the foremost segment of my pinky. 

I know, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes wondering what the big deal is.  I don’t want to kill things, especially if they haven’t done anything wrong.  If it were outside, I would have spent a minute looking at it before wishing it well and continuing on. 

But this one was in my apartment.  And if I’d taken the time to find something to capture it with, it’d be long gone before I returned.  The cats would find it later and that could be disastrous.  Or it might crawl into bed with me.  Or find its way into a fold of my clothes.  Or jump at me while I was in the shower.  There’s no telling what might happen.  I grabbed a nearby sock, hoping she’d crawl onto it and give me enough time to get to the door (I wear knee-highs; it could happen!).  My plan was foiled when she started to scramble towards my hand, and I freaked. 

So, as quickly as I could (because I hate to cause pain and suffering), I killed it. 

And then I was sad.  I’m even a little sad as I write about it.  She and I were probably equally frightened of each other, but because I’m a bajillion times bigger, my fear got its own way.  And the last thing that little spider felt before she died was fear.  (Which is not to say that I think spiders have feelings like we do, but her physiology was geared to the fear-response.)

We could have both won.  I could have let her stay.  I could’ve redirected her to a quiet little corner and we may never have seen each other again.  Or I might’ve had the courage to scoop her up and take her outside, where she’d be much happier.  I could’ve found out what type of spider she was, and whether she could do any actual harm.

I think of how in some way or another, we often kill when we’re afraid.  Not only in wars and bug-squashings, but in ways we don’t always think of.  We kill people’s egos & hopes; we kill relationships;  we kill kindness and overall goodwill;  we kill community and cooperative efforts.

What’s probably happening is that we’re not recognizing fear for what it is; it’s disguised as another emotion.  Many years ago someone said to me, “When you’re angry, ask yourself, ‘what am I afraid of?’.”  I’ve found it to be a helpful exercise, but it does require some digging, and you can’t be afraid to become vulnerable enough to answer truthfully. 

For instance, I get angry when I get interrupted during a hectic workday.  What am I afraid of?  “Nothing, dammit!  I just wanna’ be left alone to do my job!”  Dig deeper: What am I afraid of?  “I’m afraid of not being able to finish on time; afraid of getting in trouble for not finishing; afraid of someone going another day without help because of me.” I picked an easy one but you get the idea.

I’m no psychologist (nor do I wish to be one), but I’m sure our fear is disguised by things other than anger.  And if we’re not mindful, we could be going around killing where peaceful solutions might be found.  It would be helpful all around if we recognized our triggers and answered, What am I afraid of? Sometimes when we break it down and reason it out solutions come to mind or the issue doesn’t seem as frightening as it once did.

~Valerie

Affirming Self & Other–a Quandary

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I have a hard time when I’m forced to be in close physical proximity with people I’m uncomfortable with.  I’m not talking about dislike; I don’t dislike many people, and those I do present little or no obstacle to my ‘personal bubble.’ 

What I’m referring to is people whose nearness causes physical discomfort for me, in some cases actual repulsion.  I might have no logical reason for these feelings, and they might be likeable people.  But for some reason my body doesn’t want to be near theirs; my senses don’t want to perceive their presence.  My normal radius of personal space increases for these people.  There seems to be an overall sense of “Eww!”, regardless of how hygenic and well-dressed they are.  I might avoid direct eye contact or anything that might encourage them to draw nearer. 

I realize that my reaction to these people is my issue.  Quite honestly there have been times when I’ve later learned that my ‘gut feelings’ were dead-on.  It’s true that I’m very sensitive to nuance and pick up on things that average folks don’t.  I’m not willing to ignore the feelings I have when certain people get too close to me.  I’m also not willing to betray my personal space.

On the flip side, in theory I believe that each person’s, well, person-hood, should be affirmed and validated.  Their contribution to whatever relevant community acknowledged.  The word ostracisism should itself be ostracised.  I know what it’s like for people to mistake my intentions (or correctly guess them!) and feel “eww” towards me. Or for them to be turned off by some silly manner of behaviour of mine.  Or just be grossed out, period, by who knows what about me…those feelings are just sinking and awful.  I don’t want to help re-create that for someone else.

I know I don’t have the energy or internal resources to proactively validate everyone’s humanity.  My struggle lies in finding ways to affirm my own feelings & instincts without causing a sense of alienation in the other party.  Can I show basic human decency even while holding these feelings of “eww?”  Is “community” possible, even in small-scale scenarios, when such anti-other feelings are present?  

For whatever it’s worth,

~Valerie

“Val…do you pray?”

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 That question was posed by a coworker who’d picked me up while I was walking to work.  I wouldn’t normally hesitate in replying, but I did. I’m not close to this person, she’s a coworker, and her motive was unclear. After a pause, I said, No ma’am, I don’t.  I saw no need to continue beyond what was directly asked.  My coworker paused as well. She then said, The reason I asked is because I need prayers real bad.  I expressed my condolences for whatever was going on in her life, told her I’d keep her in my thoughts.  I meant it, and I did.

My coworker wanted intercession on her behalf.  I’m stumped reflecting on my theist days.  Did I think that God would change his mind and act in my favor if more people prayed for me?  I don’t recall having that mindset.  I don’t know my coworker’s beliefs, but my experience shows that not everyone asking for prayer actually believes it’ll change God’s mind.  Perhaps she simply draws comfort from knowing that others are praying for her?  The request for prayer is, in its most basic form, a reaching out. It’s saying,  I need help.  Or support, or guidance, what have you–the key word here is need

 In a funny scenario this past February, I found myself out to dinner with friends I hadn’t seen since before becoming an atheist.  Last they knew, I was a believer.  My friend had lost his voice and said before we ate, Well why don’t you pray tonight, Val?  I stuttered and sputtered and looked at my plate.  I hemmed and hawed.  Finally I looked at my friend and said, Um…ah…I don’t think I can!  I’m sure he attributed it to a fear of public speaking.  I didn’t see this short meal as a proper time to announce my atheism.  Graciously, and with gusto, my friend said, Well we’ll just be thankful and eat then!

My friend is accustomed to praying before meals.  To him, ‘saying grace’ or however one phrases it, is a form of giving credit where credit is due.  He’s acknowledging that this meal didn’t come from his own efforts.  There’s something, someone, behind it all, and by golly, he owes that someone his gratitude. 

 Both of these people were hoping for something that I wasn’t able to give–not on their terms, anyway.  I don’t talk to deities, not out of insolence, but because I simply don’t think they’re real.  (I don’t talk to Winnie-the-Pooh, either…at least, I don’t expect him to actually hear and respond.)  But that doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer.  Nor does it mean that I lack human qualities such as sympathy and gratitude.  Quite the contrary. 

So if you don’t pray, what do you do? 

 Ah, good question, and I think I have a good answer.  I care.  I give.  I hold people close in thought, mentally embrace them.  I offer a listening ear, a hug, advice, a distraction, humor, a beautiful (and relevant) quotation, ideas, a helping hand…whatever the other person needs that I’m able to provide, I do.  Read that last bit again, with emphasis on the final word, whatever the other person needs that I’m able to provide, I do

 Remember the question, if you don’t pray, what do you do?  The question implies that prayer does something…and maybe it does, to the individual praying, but surely not to the person being prayed for (unless they know you’re praying and that knowledge comforts them).  All of you, believer and nonbeliever alike, know this.  How many of you religious folk reading this hear of someone’s hardship and pray, and stop there?  My guess is that very few of you think your prayer is all that a person needs, and if you do think so, shame on you.  Most people, religious included, understand that real acts of help are what’s needed. 

Copyright ApostateXP

Copyright ApostateXP. This FaceBook image prompted me to write this post.

What about gratitude?  Who do you thank if you don’t thank God?

Oh, but I’m a very thankful person, and hope to become more so.  Chiefly you should know that when atheists are thankful, we are thankful for things and thankful to people.  No deity required.  ‘Giving credit where credit is due’ is rendered to real people who do real things every day (as many atheists rightly point out, I wouldn’t thank God but thank my surgeon for her skill, hard work and determination after a successful surgery).  Now I don’t have a person to thank for, say, honeybees, but that doesn’t detract from the wonderful feeling I have when appreciating them.  Being thankful in itself spreads joy to others, and you can be certain that while the sweet little bees have no idea of my gratitude, I’m certainly going to be kind to them.   

Where mealtime is concerned, I like to consider everything it took for my meal to reach me.  Try doing that for a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich and you’ll see how mind-boggling it is, especially if you’re packing it for lunch and have to figure in how the little flip-top plastic baggies are made and distributed.  There are hundreds of people and processes to be thankful for just for one little sandwich.  The same applies to everything around us.  Not one of us gets by without reliance on the contributions of others, and somewhat unnerving is the little detail reminding us that this includes people to whom we are diametrically opposed.  Shall we be thankful for them?  At least to some degree, yes.  Oh look, there’s more gratitude to make the world a better place!

But back to prayer.  Most simply stated, isn’t it a longing, a desire for something to change, or stay the same?  And isn’t a prayer of thanks a way to channel our gratitude?  If I’m right, then anyone can be said to ‘pray.’  I know my atheist readers will balk at that, but we’re humans before we are anything else, and these basic instincts are inherent in us all.  The answer is, no, I don’t ‘pray.’  But I recognize and share with those who do pray the instinct that causes people to do so. 

Annnd…..I’m open to a little creative interpretation of the word; poetic license, if you will.  So I pray this little blogpost was helpful to you in some form or fashion.   ;O]

~Valerie