Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TED Talk Tuesday: Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity

Despite my distaste for Eat, Pray, Love (discussed here and here last week if you missed it), I do think Elizabeth Gilbert seems like a lovely person and I like this talk. She proposes that we should think of creativity as something separate from ourselves, something on loan. She discusses how the ancient Greeks and Romans thought of creative people as having a genius rather than being a genius, and that this mindset acts as a buffer for both narcissism when our work is successful and despair when our work bombs. I like it. I think it's an example of how a story can be a useful psychological coping device, even if it's not a factual story.

I also think it fits in well with a post by Loren at Slightly Moderated Stream of Consciousness, where he discusses briefly his writing process. For most of us, creativity is something we have to work at. If you want the genius to come, you have to do your part to invite it.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I have a bone to pick with the Dalai Lama

I actually really like the guy. In fact, I'm his fan on Facebook, but his status last Sunday morning was in stark contrast to the experience I had that day. He said:

We can't say that all religions are the same, different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.

You know how I was gonna go visit the Quakers? I found a website with a meeting time and place listed, a public building that used to be a school and is now available for use by various groups near downtown. There was a phone number listed and the Still Small Voice said I should call before heading down there, but I'm phone phobic. I ignored that voice at my own peril; there were no Friends to be found. Instead, some other service was taking place, and I figured, since I'm here, I may as well see what this is all about.

There are chairs set up in a gymnasium and I took a seat just as some songs were finishing up and discover that I've stumbled upon Calvary Chapel. Several junctures during the service required an effort to keep a straight face and not cry out, "Are you serious?!" For example, the pastor began by reminding us of how sinful we are and how we need to acknowledge that everything the Bible says is a sin really is a sin, then in the next paragraph reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world. "Some people think that, don't they?" As though this is a ludicrous conclusion to draw based on the behaviors and beliefs of so many Christians. "Jesus didn't come to judge the world," said the pastor, and then I expected some trifle about love and forgiveness and mercy, but instead got, "He's gonna do that at his Second Comin'."

Phew! Off the hook till then! (And, yes, he did say "Comin'" and not "Coming.")

The pastor announced that we would break for twenty minutes of coffee and fellowship time and then have Bible study. I must have been the only unfamiliar face there, because I was immediately swarmed upon. "Do you live in Fargo? Oh, good! So many times we get visitors that are just passing through and we never see them again." The people were all very friendly and welcoming so I was polite in return and resisted the urge to say, "Yeah, I don't think you're gonna see me again either."

"How did you hear about our church?" one woman asked.

"Well, I was actually looking for the Society of Friends," I told her.

"Oh, yeah, they used to meet down the hall from here, but they haven't been here for a couple of years." Drat.

They had a table with some books laid out for lending. Titles like The Biblical Approach to Discipline, Raising Your Son to Be a Godly Man and Marriage the Lord's Way.  One title particularly caught me off guard: Psychology Debunked. Did you know that mental illnesses are just an invention of the pharmaceutical industry to make money? The real problem is sin and the answers are all in the Bible. From their website: "Every major psychological theory is anti-Christian at its core." (Emphasis theirs.) Could that be because the brand of Christianity you're espousing is not conducive to good mental health? And while I agree that medications for the treatment of psychological problems are overprescribed, I think they're less harmful than fundamentalism!

If there's one message I took away from this experience it's this: All churches are not created equal! Sorry, Mr. Dalai Lama.

Oh, how I missed my liberal Episcopalians!

An observation I made, almost all of the members of Calvary Chapel seemed like they could easily fit in with the People of Walmart. There's a definite difference in education level and socio-economic standing between them and the crowd at the Episcopal church. I think it would be interesting to see how strong the correlation is between income/education and how "liberal" one's religion is across several congregations and geographical regions and look into possible causes. Is there something about fundamentalism that appeals to lower-income people, or do fundamentalists feel more strongly about eschewing worldly wealth and honor? Totally speculating here, but that's a study I'd like to do.

So, I'm back with the Episcopalians until I can surmount my phone phobia and see what's up with the local Quakers. I went this morning. Some days I can suspend belief and go along with it and some days I can't. This morning I couldn't. We'll see how it goes next week.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Atheists are trying to get us to come back to their church!

My husband and I got a letter from the Red River Freethinkers a few days ago. We joined back in January but haven't made it to their meetings for the last several months because of a combination of conflicts and laziness. Actually, the letter was a special invitation to the Project 42 Freethought Conference coming up on September 18. It just made me chuckle because it reminded me of letters I'd get from visiting teachers and others when I was drifting away from church. "We've missed your sweet spirit. We pray the Lord will soften your heart so you'll come back to church and let us break your sweet spirit."

Seriously though, if you live anywhere near Fargo or feel like taking a trip up this way, this convention is going to be well worth your time. The line up of speakers includes Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the the Freedom From Religion Foundation; August Berkshire, the first president of the Twin Cities chapter of American Atheists; and Brian Keith Dalton, aka Mr. Deity. PZ Myers was also scheduled, but in light of recent events, I presume he'll still be home recovering. Tickets are only $65, or $29 for students. Visit their website for more information.

And another worthwhile upcoming local event, Barbara Ehrenreich, the bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed will be giving a lecture titled "Women, Economics and Poverty: On (not) getting by in America" this Thursday, September 2 at 7:00 p.m. at Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University. The lecture is free and open to the public.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Early Morning Secular Scripture Study

When I was a faithful Mormon, I was encouraged to study the scriptures daily to grow closer to God. Sometimes it was boring, but often as I read those ancient (or "impostor ancient" in the case of the Book of Mormon) words, I felt my mind clearing and opening, felt a peaceful presence that I then identified as the Holy Spirit. This seemed especially effective when I would study first thing in the morning, when my mind was already clear. Reading scriptures just before bedtime usually ended up being something I did just so I could check it off my to-do list and feel like a good Mormon. I was usually too tired to get anything out of it.

I recognized scripture study as a valuable spiritual practice, but then wasn't sure what to do once I no longer saw the Bible or the Book of Mormon as the inspired Word of God. I recognized that there was a lot of good stuff in there, but it was mixed in with a lot of hooey. I've come to the conclusion that if you're in the right frame of mind and if you do some pondering, you can find meaning and value in imperfect scripture, but with the same consideration you can find those same textured layers of meaning in Homer or Hemingway or Harry Potter. I don't think the Bible is superior to Beowulf. 

I've been in the habit lately of switching on my laptop first thing in the morning, much like the alcoholics in Isaiah 5:11 "that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink." (Or could "strong drink" be construed as coffee? I sure like mine strong, and one of the best parts about no longer being Mormon is drinking it guilt-free.)  Then I check my email and Facebook fifty times a day. There was a recent New York Times article in which a group of psychologists and neuroscientists wanted to study the effects of heavy use of digital devices on the brain. One hypothesis was that even the anticipation of interruptions in the form of new emails or text messages (or blog comments, not that I don't love all your comments! In fact, I probably love them too much) eats into our working memory and reduces our capacity for clear, productive thinking. Parents of young children will recognize this "brain turned to mush" syndrome too, since the needs of little ones are constantly interrupting us.

What to do? How to maintain technology as a tool for my use without becoming addicted and weighed down by the mental clatter created by its overuse?

Two birds with one stone: I've decided I miss the ritual of taking time early in the morning to read and ponder wise words, so I'm reclaiming that. I'm going to start getting up before my kids to have some quiet time for reading. No computer until my oldest has been seen off to school. I started this morning, and it was nice.  :-)

I really like this quote from the Dalai Lama: "My call for a spiritual revolution is not a call for a religious revolution, nor for a way of life that is otherworldly - still less to something magical or mysterious. It is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self, a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others’ interests alongside our own."

And in that vein, the first subject of my secular scripture study experiment is this:

Written by a psychologist and a historian, it examines our attitudes and beliefs about kindness, our tendency to be suspicious of kindness, and why we're hesitant to show kindness, even though we derive intense pleasure from doing so. I'll post a review when I'm finished.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday Funny: NonStampCollector: A personal relationship with Jesus

John Loftus of Debunking Christianity wrote recently about the irony of believers criticizing skeptics for not being able to agree with each other when Christians can't agree with each other either. NonStampCollector weighs in.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I've reorganized my blogrolls so that the Atheist/Agnostic blogs are separated from the blogs that are specifically ex-Mormon. I think I got everyone's blogs moved alright, but if yours got lost in the shuffle, please let me know. I have it set up so that the 25 most recently updated are the ones that show up on the main page, so if you haven't posted for a while, you'll need to click "See All" to find yours.

I'm hoping to do a redesign of the whole blog sometime in the next few weeks, with the goal of making it more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Questions about my call for "Great Blog Post" submissions

Last Saturday, I asked fellow bloggers to share with me their best posts for my "Great Posts By Other Bloggers" section in my sidebar. I'm really excited about the number of you who have responded so far! Some of you I already knew and some are new to me and everything I've read so far has been wonderful. Some of you have had questions, so here are my answers:

What is your criteria for "great"?

Well, I don't have a checklist or anything and since this is my blog, it will influenced by my own personal biases. I know what I like when I see it. I'll try to articulate it a little better for those of you who don't live in my head. I like writing that offers a unique perspective, or new ideas presented in a way that makes me think. I like tight, concise writing. I have no patience 4 bad grammar or txt spk. Like I said in the original request for submissions, you don't have to agree with me and you don't have to write about Mormonism or religion or atheism. You know (or you should know) what makes your blog unique. Donna Banta's blog Ward Gossip isn't particularly profound, but it's funny as hell, and I like that. Show me the best of what you as an individual have to offer.

Is it okay if it's a really old post?

Absolutely! Part of what I hope to accomplish with this is to keep good writing from falling into obscurity just because it's old. I'm really hoping to get some older posts especially from people whose blogs I only discovered just recently. I'm pleased to have gotten a few older posts already.

Can I submit more than one post?

I'm going to put a limit of two submissions per person.

If you already have one of my posts in the sidebar, can I submit another one?

Sure. The same two-post limit will apply.

Thanks to all of you who have sent me your stuff already. I'll keep taking submissions until September 1st. I've enjoyed reading everything I've received so far. I'm thinking after I read and consider everything, I'll pick my five favorites for a permanent place of honor in my illustrious sidebar, and I'll write up a post linking to an uncapped number of "honorable mentions." If you have any friends who blog, feel free to share this with them. Email your links to whoreblog (at) gmail (dot) com and if you have any more questions, just ask!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Why do you still talk about Mormonism if you don't want anything to do with it?

There's an excellent discussion going on over at Main Street Plaza about this topic. All of us from LDS backgrounds know the phrase, "You can leave the Church, but you can't leave it alone." Those of us who have left weigh in on why we still talk about our former faith.

Some of the answers have included:

Because it's part of my past and who I am.

Isn't Mormonism interesting? Do you have to believe in something to enjoy discussing it?

Because I want to help others who are struggling and unhappy in the faith.

Because I see lies and injustices within the organization and feel an obligation to speak out.

Go visit MSP to read all the comments and contribute your own.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

So... I watched "Eat, Pray, Love" last night.

I know. I feel slightly dirty, and I don't have a priest so you readers will have to hear my confession.

The movie is as insipid as the book, but faster, and with some nice cinematography.

Actually, what made me curious was the comments here saying that Gilbert cheated on her husband, because I didn't recall cheating from the part of the book that I read. And after seeing the movie I still don't see how she cheated. (Spoiler alert coming up, not that there's much to spoil.) She had told her husband she wanted a divorce and they were living separately before she got involved with the yogi from Yonkers. At least, that's how it went down in the movie. Was it different in the book? Those of you who say she cheated, is that because she wasn't legally divorced yet? I guess I don't see the legal technicality as constituting cheating. Does it suck for the husband? Absolutely, but, well, all's fair in love and war. Was she supposed to stay when she knew they would both be unhappy if she did?

The relationship part isn't what bothers me about the Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon. And it's not that she traveled (though I'm jealous that she had all expenses paid), because I think travel is a great way to gain perspective and broaden horizons. Cognitive Dissenter hit it on the head when she described the book as staged. That's exactly how it felt to me. There's just something that feels slimy about setting out on a spiritual quest with the intent of selling a book about it. Wanting to write a book should come after the epiphanies. It feels tainted if you go looking for epiphanies so you can write books about them.

EPL is harmless enough. I just don't understand why it's so popular. But then, human beings don't all see the same things.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

TED Talk Tuesday: Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge

My son starts first grade tomorrow. I wish he could have a teacher with this kind of passion for empowering children. I love her analogy about empowerment being like a contagious bug, that empowering one individual is a phenomenon that can spread. I like to picture ripple effects of goodwill and good works circulating the globe. What if we all made the effort to make all of our interpersonal interactions positive and to build each other up? At the very least, first, do no harm.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Am I the only one who hates "Eat, Pray, Love"?

This book was all over the media a few years ago as this profound guide to spiritual enlightenment, so I picked up a copy. I got through about 80 pages and couldn't take anymore. I wanted to scream, "How can something so pretentious and narcissistic be so popular?! I want my twelve bucks back, Ms. Gilbert!"

Maybe I'm just jealous because I had babies before I got to do any traveling or self-discovery. But to me the whole book had this disingenuous "Watch me be spiritual!" vibe to it. (Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe it wasn't the whole book, just the first part that I read.)

Now the movie's out and everyone's raving about it, and I'll admit it looks somewhat appealing, if for no other reason just so I can fantasize about what it would be like to take a yearlong trip around the world, sans enfants. And I do like Julia Roberts.

*sigh*  Back to laundry...


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Call for great posts

Are you a blogger? Do you have a post you're particularly proud of? Would you like me to link to it here at The Whore of All the Earth?

I'm planning to do a blog redesign sometime soon-ish and I want to expand my little section in the right sidebar "Great Posts By Other Bloggers." Currently it consists of just a few posts I've come across that I think are exceptional.

I do want to keep this section selective and so sending me a link isn't a guarantee that I'll include your post. I like good ideas and good writing. Your post doesn't have to reflect my personal point of view and it doesn't necessarily need to relate to the things I write about here, but it does need to be well thought out and well written.

Not that my blog is all that influential, but every little link counts. If you'd like your post to be considered for inclusion in the new design, email a link to your best post to whoreblog (at) gmail (dot) com. I'm excited to read everyone's best stuff! Feel free to pass this around. I'll put an informal deadline for this of September 1.

Happy blogging!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Deep peace of Christ to you, going to visit the Quakers tomorrow

I've heard great things about the Quakers, so I searched for them in my area a few months ago but only found a website saying that they weren't meeting anymore. Chandelle pointed me in the direction of a different link. There's an address and a meeting time listed, so I'm going to show up, and hopefully someone else shows up too.

I came across the blog of Stephen Marsh this morning. He's an active Latter-day Saint, whose blog is subtitled, "Loss and death have happened to me, but I have survived them, they do not define me," which I found beautiful.

This entry was particularly poignant. He describes a period of great loss in his life, including the deaths of three children within four and a half years. And then he says, "I have learned that in life or death, that Jesus is the Christ. That life is in Christ, not in other things."

While I disagree factually, I agree symbolically. I find myself more in line with this statement from the Quakers' FAQ page: "Quakers have always held that Christ as spirit is universally available, and has been at work since the beginning of creation."

I've experienced the underlying peace and transcendent love in the midst of excruciating suffering that Stephen describes. Maybe that's what Michelangelo was trying to portray in his Pietà when he made Mary look so peaceful and even happy as she held her dead son. It reminds me of John Rutter's setting of "A Gaelic Blessing" which I've sung several times in various choirs.

That peace, that love, I believe it comes from within and I mean to reclaim it, without the authoritarian dogma and condemnation. Because I believe I deserve it.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Funny: Jon Stewart - "Wish you weren't here."

This is from several weeks ago, but with all the Ground Zero Mosque hubbub, it bears repeating. Plus Jon Stewart is spot on and hilarious as usual.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Wish You Weren't Here
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Guy Not Taken

Mostly I'm glad that I stayed a virgin as long as I did, but there is one guy that I'm still kind of wistful about.

If you're out there reading somewhere, you probably know who you are. I was a freshman at ASU. You were one of my brother's roommates. We were both Mormon. I was drawn to your intense, solemn, contemplative nature. I came over a lot. You'd play guitar and I'd sing. We used to sit out in the parking lot of your apartment and talk till the wee hours of morning.

Then that one time you came over to my place. We watched Star Trek: First Contact but I can't tell you what it's about because we were making out all through the movie. I remember our thighs intertwined, your lips caressing mine, and your hands on my waist and the small of my back, little by little sliding farther up my shirt. I remember the wanting.

And then I remember both of us pulling back and looking at each other, knowing we couldn't go any further. I sensed your guilt at wanting me that way, and my guilt at wanting you to want me that way. We had both been taught that lust inevitably destroyed love except between married couples. You had come dangerously close to feeling me up and crossing that line, and since we were both 18 and not going to get married, that would have "ruined" our relationship. We both knew we wouldn't be able to keep our hands off each other from now on.

So we did the only thing two people as dedicated to the gospel as we were could do. You went home and we never saw each other again.

It's so sad. I really liked you, and I'm pretty sure you really liked me too. What might have been if we could have let ourselves follow our instincts? Would you have been "The One"? Probably not, but I'll bet we would have had a lot of fun, and I don't just mean the sex. I really think you were a great person who brought out the best in me and made me feel more myself, and that was the origin of my sexual feelings for you, not Satan. I wish I could have recognized that "lust" and "respect" are not mutually exclusive, because it would have been exhilarating to be your lover.

But such was not the trajectory of our lives. I still sing. I hope you still play guitar, and I hope you're well, wherever you are.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TED Talk Tuesday: Dean Ornish says your genes are not your fate

I like this talk because when so much in life feels beyond my control, it's nice to feel like there are a few things I can control. Also amusing to me are the studies showing that alcohol in moderation actually produces sundry health benefits, since I was always taught that alcohol is one of the roots of evil, maybe even the long tap root that reaches down into the groundwaters of depravity. Suck it, WoW! For the uninitiated, WoW in this instance is referring to the Word of Wisdom, not World of Warcraft. I like the "Additional Information" tab, where we learn that prophets have told us that the forbidden "hot drinks" means "tea and coffee" (also shown to be good for you in moderation) because I guess the Lord couldn't just tell us that himself.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I am tripping out over this!

Andrew, aka godwillbegod of the blog Beyond Belief and Reason has made a video based on parts of my de-conversion story and a few other posts on my blog. I'm just speechless! A hundred thousand thank yous, Andrew! I love it!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yes, I left because I was offended.

I have an article up over at Main Street Plaza. Here's a free sample:
Leaving the Church over offense is portrayed as something akin to a stubborn, pouty child, whose pride and fragile ego prevent her from doing what deep down she must really want and know is right. And if the Church were really all it was cracked up to be, indeed, ‘twould be silly to forfeit all that bliss over the foibles of imperfect members.
I didn’t ditch the Church because some blundering member hurt my feeling, but I admit it: there is much about Mormonism that offends me. I wouldn’t continue a relationship with a person I found persistently offensive. Why should I apply different criteria to an institution?
Go visit MSP to read the full article.  :-)


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"I'm Robert, and I'm an ex-Mormon."

The LDS Church has been running a campaign to show the world, "Look, we're just regular people who happen to believe kooky stuff." The commercials start out with a person introducing herself, talking a little about her life and what she does and ending with, "And I'm a Mormon." You can visit this site to watch some of the videos. And I will say that most Mormon people I've known really are great people, but one of the things that bugs me most about Mormonism is the pervasive stereotype within the Church that anyone who leaves the Church does so under the influence of Satan and spends the rest of their lives miserable and tormented. My experience since leaving the Church and those of others I've met who have left has been completely the opposite! Here's the first of what I hope will be many videos made to show the world, "Hey, ex-Mormons are just regular people who used to believe some kooky stuff."

Thanks to Chino Blanco at Main Street Plaza for the link.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Funny: Futurama - Evolution Under Attack

FuturamaThursdays 10pm / 9c
Preview - Evolution Under Attack
Futurama New EpisodesRoast of David HasselhoffIt's Always Sunny in Philadelphia


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My take on the Unitarian Universalists

Since the UUs came up in some recent comments, let me say that I think they're absolutely wonderful. I've visited their congregation here in Fargo and had a great experience. They encourage diversity, freethinking (they even link to the Red River Freethinkers on their website) and individuality. To quote from their About Us section:
The search for truth is a personal one—unique for each individual.  Each of us is different and is affected differently by life’s events.  The purpose of the Unitarian Universalist Church’s services and Religious Education Program is to help adults and children explore their own religious and spiritual ideas and feelings (as well as those of others of all times) in a friendly, non-judgmental environment.
The first Sunday I attended, the message was given by a special musical guest, Peter Mayer,  who told his story of growing up as a Roman Catholic, but losing his faith in early adulthood and then searching for another religion. He said he and his wife would go to services, and if they could get through one without having to mutter under their breath, "Bull-oney," then they would go back. That didn't happen until they visited the UUs. He mentioned that the UUs were a somewhat ironic group, because they're an organized religion that is largely composed of people who are disenchanted with organized religion.

Then he spoke of what he'd like to see in the future, great works of art devoted to the wonder of everyday life, stained glass windows depicting the Big Bang or the first cell. I found particularly touching the contrast he found with Catholicism where only a certain very few things were considered holy, and this world and this life were considered imperfect rubbish, nothing more than a pit stop on the way to the afterlife and heaven, which are held up as better and more real in most religions. He wrote a song about these feelings, "Holy Now." An excerpt:
When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now 
You can see the video of the whole song at the bottom of this post, or visit Peter Mayer's website to hear more of his music or buy his CDs.

The next time I visited, two graduating seniors were invited to talk a little about their experiences with the congregation. One young woman talked about feeling like the odd one out as a child because all her friends were Christians, but as she grew up, many of her friends were having these crises of faith, being told they had to believe certain things but not being sure if they did or not. And she realized, "Hmm, my church told me I could believe whatever I wanted and decide for myself." She felt free to find her own path.

That week's speaker was a women's activist who talked about her work with the local Girl Scouts and what we could do as community members to work toward equality for women. At one point she asked, "How many of you here would consider yourselves feminists?" And I grinned as almost every single hand went up.

I stayed for coffee and conversation and the people were all great. I glanced through their lending library, which included the Bible, the Koran, books on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and... Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation. How many churches do you know of that would include Sam Harris in their lending library?

Will I go back? Probably. The local congregation doesn't meet during the summer months and I discovered them just as their church year was ending. The words spoken and the lyrics of the congregational songs were all things I agreed with. It was very open and accepting and non-dogmatic.

But... I found it a little bland. The genercism (I invented a word there) that allowed for such a wide pallet of individual beliefs and paths lacked a certain depth and potency that I crave in religious practice. For me. But overall, I think UUs are great and they fill a need for community and tradition and education that many people lose when they can no longer believe in many mainstream religions. So I'll probably go back and visit, but I don't see myself joining.

If you'd like to learn more about Unitarian Universalists, you can read about them on their website, where you can also enter your zip code to find a congregation near you.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

TED Talk Tuesday: Seth Godin on standing out

I know a lot of my readers are fellow bloggers and this week's talk is especially for all of you. With about 175,000 new blogs created daily, the competition for readers is fierce. Seth Godin lays out how to get noticed in an age of information overload. The bottom line: Ideas that spread win. Here's a summary of how to get your idea to spread:

  1. Be remarkable, meaning not just "neat" but "worth remarking about." People are busy and being merely "very good" won't get you noticed. (Here's where I make a frowny face, because I think this blog probably falls under the "very good" category.)
  2. Figure out who does care about what you have to say, and target them. If you're remarkable, they'll tell their friends and your message will spread. (Here's where I try to figure out what I have to offer that's unique and focus in on that.)
And a few tips of my own:

  1. Don't post second-rate material. Respect your readers' time and don't post if you don't really have anything substantial to say.
  2. Grab attention from the get-go. If someone follows you on Blogger or a Google reader, often only the first couple of lines show up. If you're on someone's blogroll, the reader usually only sees the post title. If you're not interesting right from the beginning, chances are, they won't click through to see the rest of what you have to say.
  3. Make it easy for your readers to share posts they like. I have a Share This button at the bottom of all my posts. You can get one free here.
  4. Have a regular posting schedule. I need to be better about this, actually. My goal roughly is a TED Talk on Tuesday, something funny on Friday and some sort of original content post at least once a week.
  5. Be a good blog buddy. If someone links to you, say thanks and return the courtesy. And here's where I want to add: If you're not on my blogroll and you think you should be--especially if I'm on yours and/or you read and comment here regularly--it's almost certainly an oversight on my part, so please leave me a comment or send me a message and I'd be happy to add you. Also, if you're not already my Facebook friend, you can find my profile in the right sidebar.
And a couple of links: This was one of the most actually useful articles I've read on how to increase site traffic. And Jane Friedman of Writer Unboxed shares what makes her stop reading a blog.

Much more in the talk. Enjoy, and happy blogging!


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Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Why do you still like religion when you don't believe in it?"

Some of the comments on my recent post about my fondness for Catholicism prompted me to try to break down the factors that contribute to my feeling that I need a bit of religiosity in my life.

First, I was raised in an intensely religious home and was myself a sincerely religious person all through my formative years, up until about five years ago when I concluded Mormonism was false but still wanted to seek out other paths to spirituality, and up until a year ago that I started calling myself an atheist. Something that has been an integral part of one's psyche and identity for so long is not easily slaked.

On the other hand, my brother, twenty-two months younger than I am, raised in the same home by the same parents, claims to have been an atheist since childhood, and I believe him. God and religion just never meant anything to him. So while environment probably played a role in my own religious longings, I suspect there's something inborn about my temperament at work as well.

Perfect pitch is something you either have or you don't, yet it is more common among people whose native language is tonal. A need to tune in to pitch to understand language won't give perfect pitch to someone who doesn't already have it, but it may sharpen an innate ability that would otherwise atrophy if one grows up listening to English instead of Chinese. A Mormon upbringing couldn't impart any religious fervor to my brother, but I wonder if I would still be as drawn to religion as I am if I hadn't been so steeped in it during childhood.

I still like certain aspects of religion and value religious practice. Others can't see the point. What does this say about whether or not religion actually has any purpose?

I have pretty good relative pitch, but I do not have perfect pitch. There are no well-crafted arguments that can give me perfect pitch, but this doesn't mean that perfect pitch isn't a real phenomenon. Nor is music that the tone deaf can't appreciate any worse because some people can't appreciate it. Human beings do not all see the same things.

I like to think of myself as a fairly cultured and sophisticated person, but when I walk into an art gallery, I freely admit that at least half the pieces in there will make me go, "Meh." That doesn't mean it's not good art. Someone else could stand in front of those same pieces and be moved to tears, and their reaction is just as valid as mine. I don't get what the big effing deal about Lady Gaga is, but obviously a lot of people disagree with me there. I can't tell the difference between the bottle of wine that costs eight dollars and the one that costs thirty. Doesn't mean I don't think a difference exists; it's just not one that matters to me.

Skepticmatt asked, why religion? Why not science fiction or fantasy or something that doesn't have the baggage that religion does?

First, it's not an either/or proposition. I read and write fiction and poetry in addition to this blog. I frequently engage with literature, music and art to stimulate my imagination and edify myself as a person. Certainly I can "feel the spirit" while watching a ballet, but the difference between these other humanities and religion is one that matters to me. Religion reaches me in a place where these other art forms don't.

A friend and I were discussing this recently. We were both religious at one time but have since become unbelievers. He admits that there are parts of religion that he still likes and sometimes misses, but feels it is unethical to take part in something that has contributed to so much suffering in the world. He compared himself to someone who really likes the taste of hamburgers, but doesn't eat meat on moral grounds.

If I were to put myself in this analogy, I would say, I can definitely see the moral high ground of a vegetarian diet, but I tried it and found it unsatisfying. Getting my "protein" (meaning) solely from "plant" (secular) sources wasn't working for me. I was still left with an aching hunger. So I'm trying a middle way, more or less equivalent to eating meat in moderation and only from sources where the animals were treated humanely.

I have another friend with a similar background who came out of religion, found himself an atheist and knew that atheism made perfect logical sense, but described it as missing a needed "emotional map." I am a critical, thinking being, yes, but I am also an emotional, feeling being, and secularism doesn't address my emotional needs to my satisfaction. We have ample examples of religion gone awry, but it also serves a useful purpose, or it wouldn't have developed in every human culture. And I no longer believe that those taking a moderate approach are contributing to extremism.

I need religion. For whatever reason, I feel un-whole when I neglect that part of my psyche. I've theorized about why. It meets an emotional need that I have and that I think many, but not all, humans share. There are certain things that all religions have in common. They all have narrative myths. They all have symbols. They all have ritual practices.

Maybe it's the kinesthetic, participatory nature of religious practice that sets it apart from other art forms. In her monologue Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney details her journey from Catholicism to atheism, and then talks a little about becoming a mother and not wanting to raise her daughter to be religious, but still wishing she had a way to mark the important events in her daughter's life with community and great music and art. Sabio wrote recently about a salt purification ceremony that he performs when he moves to a new residence, purely for "ceremony, tradition and specialness." Rituals are a way of imbuing meaning in our lives.

An excerpt of Christian Wiman's "Hive of Nerves" was quoted in a New York Times blog recently, in which he compared religious narrative to poetry. Religion is not a spectator activity. Like poetry, it takes active thinking and participation to "get," or as Wiman describes it, "it takes patience and imagination to perceive....Thus the very practical effects of music, myth, image, which tease us not out of reality but deeper and more completely into it." For me, the exciting question about poetry or other artistic or religious symbolism isn't, "What does it mean?" but, "What could it mean?" And I think we're all entitled to make our own interpretations and extract our own meaning.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly describes ecstasy, the state of stepping into another reality, and that what we have left of ancient civilizations are their sanctuaries and temples, where they went to experience life in a "more concentrated and ordered form." That is exactly what I experienced when I visited Saint Paul's Cathedral last weekend.

I don't think God exists outside of the human imagination, but if my objective is to change myself, what better place to engage with the Divine than internally?

I expect some readers will nod along and know what I'm talking about, and others won't, and that's fine.  So long as no one tries to make me like Lady Gaga, I won't try to make anyone like religion.

Related Posts: Defining Spirituality
                       Am I a Raging Religion-oholic?


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Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Funny: Mrs. Betty Bowers: Less is Mormon

In celebration of the recent Prop 8 overturn. "Being lectured on what constitutes a traditional marriage by a Mormon is a bit like being scolded for loitering, by a crack whore!"


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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop 8 overturned!

L.A. Times confirms, California gay couples are once again free to marry!


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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Catholic-ish roots

I grew up in a small, predominantly Mormon town in Northern Arizona. When I was in fourth grade, my class took a field trip to Flagstaff. We were out walking around town and stopped at a Catholic church. I remember the stained glass windows and how pretty it all was, and I remember wishing I was Catholic so I could go to a pretty church. Mormon chapels are terribly sparse and utilitarian, with absolutely no artwork inside the chapel itself. A couple of plants next to the podium is the extent of the decor.

I'm not sure if this is official Church policy or not, but I remember my mother telling me that artwork wasn't allowed in the chapel because that was the beginning of the slippery slope into idol worship. I also remember being taught that the ancient Egyptians and other idol worshipers of the Old Testament literally worshiped their idols, believed the workmanship of their own hands were actually gods with power. How silly they were! Well, no, how silly my mother was not to realize that the idols were only visual representations of the gods these people believed in.

Many times we were taught that the only two churches that could possibly be true were either the Mormons or the Catholics. It was either the Catholics who had the true priesthood keys handed down since Peter, or the Mormons who had the true priesthood keys restored through Joseph Smith. Every other Christian church was just a splinter group and could be doing no more than playing make believe at their services since they didn't have any real authority.

I'd heard a rumor that the Catholics prayed to Mary, and that appealed to me very much, possibly because I was never close with my mother. I prayed to Mary a few times, but then felt guilty about it because of all my mother's warnings that apostasy starts with the tiniest diversions from the Truth and the Right Way. There was something about all the imagery and relics and trappings of Catholicism that seemed so much more mysterious and alluring than Mormonism is my childhood and adolescent mind.

But there were a couple of things that knocked Catholicism out of the One True Church running for me. (Looking back now, these were not at all good reasons, but this was how I thought at the time.) One was a family trip to Southern Arizona where we visited some of the old Spanish missions. I thought they were fascinating, but I remember my father affirming that he sensed a spirit of darkness in those places. (From an adult perspective, I think more than likely he was just uncomfortable because it was unfamiliar.) The other was a discussion with a friend in high school. We were both gung-ho about seminary and had just had another lesson about how we were one of the only two churches that could possibly be right. And she said, "But you look at some of the stuff that the Catholic church did, and you know that just can't possibly be anything from God." Hmm, that makes sense, I thought.

None of our seminary lessons covered the Mountain Meadows Massacre. We only talked about how much the early Mormons were persecuted, ironclad evidence they were doing God's will. Any wrongdoing on their part was glossed over and justified if it was mentioned at all. I was a diehard, nerdy, scripture-lovin' super seminarian, but I never heard about Mountain Meadows until two years after I'd left the Church when I watched Helen Whitney's documentary The Mormons on PBS. There goes the Mormons' "holier than thou" card when it comes to religious violence.

I graduated high school and began college at Arizona State University. My favorite spot on campus was Danforth Chapel. It was non-denominational, just a nice quiet place where I liked to go to be alone with God. The Mormons also had an Institute and chapel on campus, but Danforth felt holier to me. There was a daily Catholic mass there, and I used to go to that, just because I liked it. I was still very much a believing and practicing Mormon at this time, but I'd always had a fascination with other religions. My parents had taught me with well-intentioned smugness that other religions were full of good people who were doing "the best they can with what they know." We were superior because we had the Fullness of the Gospel, but those other churches had a lot of good too, even if they weren't as ultimately awesome as we were. So I went to mass pretty frequently. I liked the ritualism of it. I liked when we all wished each other peace. I even took communion because at the time I didn't know that non-Catholics weren't supposed to.

Also, I was a Spanish major, so Catholicism interested me because of its importance in the Spanish-speaking world. I had a Catholic classmate and I went to mass with her at the Newman Center. This was where I learned that I shouldn't be taking Catholic communion. Another time, I went to a lecture there about the book of Revelation. Afterward they served cookies and punch and I remember thinking, Wow, our churches really aren't that different after all.

Now like every church, the Catholic Church is full of flaws: too many rules, too much obsession with humanity's "unworthiness," too many hang-ups about sex (or not enough when it comes to priests and kids), way too patriarchal. But I still have a soft spot for all the symbolism and the rituals and history and heritage. Catholicism offers so much for the imagination to latch onto, so many potential corridors for the mind to wander. I don't believe in their authority; I think they're just playing make-believe like every other church, but I like make-believe.

I ran the Twin Cities Marathon last October, and either just before or just after the 26-mile marker (it's all kind of blurry at that point), I passed the Cathedral of Saint Paul. I was down that way this last weekend and decided to take a look inside. It was a Saturday morning and a wedding was taking place. A few tourists were milling around the peripheral parts. I wandered through the side chapels, one for Mary, one for Peter. The sheer size of the place was astonishing. Exploring the place reminded me of reading a poem, something new to discover and consider around every corner, some new meaning to extract, some new way to be changed.

They had a special display of a replica of Michelangelo's Pietà.
I'd seen photos of it, but being in front of the sculpture was a different experience. Mary looked so peaceful, quietly joyful even, cradling the body of her murdered son. Christ looked spent and defeated, but Mary was an anchor of calm and strength.

I wanted to press my cheek up against hers.

The lyrics of a song I sang in recital a couple of years ago came to mind:
Ah! Sore was the suff'ring borne by the body of Mary's son.
But sorer still to him was the grief which for his sake came upon his mother.
From "The Crucifixion," from Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs.

I went back to my hotel for a nap, then slumming in bookstores and coffee shops, then back to the cathedral for the Saturday evening vigil. I stood and sat and recited "And also with you" with the rest of them. During the homily, the priest asked how many parents put as much effort into making sure their children get to heaven as they do into making sure their children get to college. Could it be, he asked, that heaven doesn't seem like a real place to us, that it's in the same category as fairy tales in our minds? Well, for me personally, yes actually. But he made some nice points about making heaven more of a real part of our lives here and now, about going before the Lord and saying, I have become aware of something unheavenly in my life, and I want this encounter with you to change me.

Isn't that really the point of any religious practice?

And I know you don't need religion to be good or to be happy, but I still like it. I like the ways it stimulates my imagination, and it is through my imagination that I become a new, and hopefully better, person.

When it was time for communion, I went forward with the rest of the congregation, crossed my arms over my chest to indicate that I would not be partaking, accepted the priest's blessing and returned to my seat.



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