Sunday Assembly in the Triangle

Yesterday a group of strangers met to begin the initial planning of creating a Sunday Assembly in the area. Originally begun in England, it has been called an atheist church – though now the organization shies away from the word in an effort to become more inclusive.

We are here for everyone who wants to:

  • Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be

  • Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other

  • Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.

I first heard of them several months ago (probably from Hemant) and immediately signed up for more information about a Sunday Assembly in Raleigh. Finally, in January I received an email from SA putting a group of Raleighites in touch with one another. Unfortunately, we never picked up steam – after 6 weeks only 3 or so folks had responded at all. Someone made the suggestion that we consider joining up with the Durham/Chapel Hill group since they had some momentum – so SA put both groups in touch with one another. Todd Stiefel (of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation) put us in touch with the Triangle Freethought Society (TFS) as well, since they’re an established secular organization in the area.

The mission of TFS is:

As members of TFS, we believe our main purpose is to stand up for the separation of church and state as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Additionally, we strive to:

  • Ensure that non-religious people enjoy the same rights as religious citizens
  • Raise awareness and educate the general population about the concerns and issues facing the nontheist community
  • Protect reason-based and scientific education within our school systems
  • Engage in organized charitable and community improvement projects
  • Create a sense of community for the nontheist population in our geographical area and beyond

So yesterday we met up at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Ten people showed up. 4 were from TFS. I was the only one from the Raleigh group.

And if I’m being honest, I’m disappointed with the way the meeting went.

The people were fabulous, and it was nice being in the same room with folks who are looking for something similar to myself. There was momentum in the room – these folks want something to get started.

But TFS already has a plan in place for a Sunday Program – they hope to roll it out in the Fall. It’s different from a Sunday Assembly, but they came to the meeting to see if SA would be a better option and to find out what kind of support and programs SA offers.

I was left feeling as if my only option – being from Raleigh – was going to be TFS. They have a base in Raleigh already, and they are aware that most of their members wouldn’t travel to Chapel Hill (or even Durham) for a Sunday program. The inverse is true of those from Chapel Hill. So it almost seems as if the “best” solution is to let TFS have the Raleigh area (which would require a $25 membership fee if I wanted to be involved – and clearly I do) and a Sunday Assembly would move forward in Chapel Hill.

TFS is a great organization. They do a lot of stuff in the secular community, but I’ve never wanted to get involved because, as shown above, first and foremost they exist to stand up for separation of church and state. While I believe this is a need that they fulfill, it’s not something I have personally wanted to become involved in. I still don’t at this point in time.

Sunday Assembly is different; Sunday Assembly brings people together to celebrate this life and connect with one another. Activism may eventually come out of this community, but that’s not the mission statement or vision of Sunday Assembly. The purpose is building community and providing a safe space for secular human beings to come together.

Both organizations have their place. Both organizations complement one another.

But I didn’t like the feeling that it has to be either/or and that likely my only option is a group I am not especially excited about, when I came to the meeting because I am excited about Sunday Assembly. It’s a really big deal that I showed up by myself to meet a group of strangers. I did it because I believe in Sunday Assembly and it was important to me. I don’t go to any of the events that are sent to me through Meet-Up because I’m just not going to show up by myself to hang out with a bunch of people I don’t know – but who all know each other already.

It’s ironic that I went to a planning/organizational meeting for a group to build community and left feeling as if I had none.

An Atheist Goes to Church

Last week I went with my mom to see Ted Dekker speak and to get his new book signed for her. Because I am an amazing daughter (it was an 8+ hour round trip drive).

If you’re not familiar with Ted Dekker, he’s a Christian author who has written at least 25 books (that’s the count on my list read – and I stopped reading him more than 5 years ago). He was my all time favorite author for years. So much so that even though I haven’t picked up one of his novels in many years, he still holds a tie for first place on Goodreads for my most read author.

I was only a little apprehensive about going on the trip with my mom. I thought it might be a little strange for me because the event was held in a church. I knew he would be speaking but I thought it would be life story stuff or a reading from the book (I should have known better).

We got an hour and a half long sermon before the book signing.

Now I will admit – Ted Dekker is a phenomenal speaker. He has charisma and charm and poise. He stood there in jeans, t-shirt, and sandals and just talked to us. There was no Bible or pomp (or shouting) so it didn’t feel like a sermon.

But that’s exactly what it was.

But it wasn’t the kind of sermon intended to convert; he even flat out said that his assumption was that everyone in the room was a Christian (I mean, why would a non-Christian show up in a church to see a Christian author?). That gave me an interesting perspective on the proceedings.

He spoke about our value. About how humans naturally look to other people to find their worth and their value. It struck me, listening to him, how true this is. Especially for me. I have always looked to other people to find my worth. I care (too much) what other people think. It’s why I stayed involved in the church for as long as I did.

I’ve written about this previously (here and here) from a Christian worldview, saying pretty much the exact same things that he did. That we should not get our value from the world, or from other people, but from God. Only God. I was so certain of this.

But when I was recalling his words this weekend, I realized that one thing we never talk about is how contradictory the Christian teachings are on the matter. Because those teachings say don’t get your value from other people but then they turn around and teach get your worth and value from Jesus.

You can’t have it both ways.

And not only is it contradictory in nature, but it’s yet another example of the church taking away personal responsibility. If my worth and value come from God then I don’t have to do anything to make myself worthy (Though this statement is inherently fallacious because the question arises to whom do you need to be worthy? Answer: no one but yourself). And if you don’t need to do anything to make yourself worthy, then your actions don’t matter.

No personal responsibility.

It’s all very irresponsible if you ask me.

The Atheist Listens

I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been listening to music from my past. That is, I’ve been listening to Christian music.

I like the music. Literally. The music. I don’t hear songs that sound like these anywhere else. I can hear you sighing and just picture you rolling your eyes. Okay, fine. You want examples? Casting Crowns. Todd Agnew. Natalie Grant.

I was thinking about that today when Make Me Over by Natalie Grant came on. And then several things hit me very hard.

This song is entirely about giving up who you are and surrendering to another. It’s about putting your entire being into the hands of another and emerging as someone new – someone that other person (okay yes, in this instance it’s Jesus) wants you to be.

Is it any wonder that I have a natural bent towards submission and wanting desperately to please other people? This song, while it is absolutely beautiful, takes away any sense of self at all. And it teaches you that’s how it should be.

Make me over, make me new
Make me a mirror, a reflection of you
Take me all apart
Take me to your heart and pull me closer
Oh, Jesus, make me over

There’s no sense of self responsibility here. Everything about your life should be stripped away and replaced by whatever this other person would have you be. You don’t have to make your own choices and decisions, this other person gets to decide who you should be and how you should act.

As I’m writing this, the next song that popped up was Lifesong by Casting Crowns. I remember when this song came out. I couldn’t stop singing it! I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.

May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Let my lifesong sing to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
I want to sign Your name to the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to You

But it’s the same idea. My actions aren’t my own, they’re only there to please someone else.

This is what I see in Christian music now.

And I see its mark on me. It’s a deep mark.

The second thing that I noticed is why I enjoy this music – even now. I couldn’t listen to it for years. Once I left my faith behind, I did everything in my power to avoid anything that had to do with my former life. I don’t even own a Bible anymore. But there is an inherent joy present in this music that I don’t hear in other music. I think it’s there because those singing it believe so deeply in the message they’re singing. You’re not going to get that in a song like Miley’s Wrecking Ball

Belief is a powerful thing.

Their belief isn’t enough to make me believe again. But it’s enough to make me notice the difference between their songs and the songs I hear on the radio. And it’s enough to make me miss believing. Because I do.

I miss the things that come with belief.

Certainty. Community. Value. A sense of belonging.

And while I won’t be believing again, I will still listen. While I don’t agree with the lyrics – at least now I can see how they helped shape me into the person I am today.

 

Meet Steve Grand, First Openly Gay [Male] Country Singer

This is a big fucking deal.

Steve Grand has released a music video for his country song All American Boy.

 

In the south, in the culture of country music, there is no place for gay people. The only “out” country star we have is female – and she waited until after her career took a dive to come out (see Chely Wright). This is a culture of God, beer, and ‘merica!

And it’s about time for that to change.

I hope that this song catches the eyes and ears of the right people and he actually gains some traction in the country music world. My fear, however, is that he will gain traction for his political statement and he’ll get a record deal – but it won’t be with those who will let him make country music.

And that will completely defeat the purpose of this video.

Steve – I hope you have some thick skin brother, because you’re going to get a lot of backlash from the very people you’re hoping to join. But I do hope that you cause enough waves that you create change.

(h/t)

Serena Williams on Steubenville [Rape Culture]

serenawilliams

 

Oh Serena. I know it’s been awhile since you’ve been around reporters and in the public eye, but girl!

You should know better!

While being interviewed for a profile in Rolling Stone, something about the Steubenville rape case appears on the television. And Serena makes some very uncouth remarks about the case in front of the interviewer. From the profile:

We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV—two high school football players raped a 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. “Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

What is this I don’t even.

Serena Williams is supposed to be a strong, independent woman. A role model, if you will. But these words – words that blame the victim of rape – remove any role model status she may have had. 

She released a statement earlier today:

What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.

I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.

What do I see written there? Oh shit, I shouldn’t have run my mouth off in front of the man writing a piece about me that would be printed in a national media outlet.

Ultimately, this off-the-cuff remark serves to show what the underlying assumptions are in our culture when it comes to rape. There’s a reason that we teach women “don’t get raped” rather than teaching men “don’t rape.” These are the standards of our culture. They permeate our thoughts – even when we think that we are strong advocates for women’s rights and equality, like Serena. If we aren’t pro-actively rebelling against these standards of society, then we become complacent and liable to fall prey to this kind of misogynistic thinking.

Westboro Baptist Church has Lost More Members

I was the same age as Megan Phelps-Roper when I began questioning everything I’d been raised to believe. And at 27, she has taken a giant step and left Westboro Baptist Church with her sister.

I applaud this woman for this courageous decision. While I do believe her family is absolutely evil, they are still her family. And this choice has left her completely estranged from them. But she still made the right choice, knowing the consequences that would befall.

The act of leaving Westboro is as weird as the church itself. Sometimes it’s described as a shunning process, but that’s not entirely apt. It is, in the eyes of the remaining members, a sort of death, but it’s a gentle one, because the carcass isn’t just dumped or ignored. One church member, who has lost two of his kids to the outside world, told me that he still loved them and that he set them up as best they could with what they’d need to start their new lives—some money, some household goods, even a car.

Megan didn’t leave alone; her sister Grace decided to go with her. They stayed just one night in Topeka. Then, after returning to their family home to retrieve some things they’d not packed the night before—“it was so weird and horrible to ring the doorbell,” Megan says—they left town.

I know from personal experience that it was not an easy choice, and her life was far more insulated than mine. And going public with this decision is even worse. Not only has she isolated herself from her friends and family, but now she has to face the entire world and own up to her past mistakes.

“I definitely regret hurting people,” she says. “That was never our intention. We thought we were doing good. We thought it was the only way to do good. And that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

That’s not how the message was received. “I think I’ve known that for a long time, and I would talk to people about how I knew the message was hurtful,” Megan says. “But I believed it couldn’t matter what people felt. It mattered that this was what God wanted.”

“I don’t feel confident at all in my beliefs about God. That’s definitely scary. But I don’t believe anymore that God hates almost all of mankind. I don’t think that, if you do everything else in your life right and you happen to be gay, you’re automatically going to hell. I don’t believe anymore that WBC has a monopoly on truth.”

This girl is pretty amazing, if you ask me.

And according to other sources, there have been other members of WBC who have decided to pull away from the church as well.

Little by little, chinks in the armor of the WBC are showing. Eventually there will be nothing left. It’s taken years, but the younger generation is finally starting to see that what they’re being taught simply doesn’t make sense. There is still hope.

(h/t)

North Carolina and “the Gays”

A few weeks ago, I voted against NC Amendment 1, also known as “the marriage amendment.” Unfortunately, the Amendment passed with 61% of the vote.

This amendment has thrust North Carolina and the (predominantly religious) supporters of the Amendment into the spotlight.

Just prior to the election, Baptist Pastor Sean Harris preached in a sermon that you should beat the gay out of your kids if they show predilections for such things.

And this week, Baptist Pastor Charles Worley suggested rounding up all the gay men and women and putting them in electrified fence enclosures so they could not escape (one for the women and one for the men). His logic is that if we do that, they will die out very soon because they cannot reproduce.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I had a way, I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn’t get it passed through Congress. Build a great big large fence, fifty or a hundred mile long, put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified ‘til they can’t get out. Feed them, and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.

The thing is – this is nothing new. These attitudes and opinions, while morally reprehensible and repugnant, have been making the rounds from pulpits for years.

It was just never publicized quite the way it is now.

Amendment One passed for several reasons. It was deceptively coined “the marriage amendment.” The majority of NC is, unfortunately, rural. I don’t want to make the assumption that rural=uneducated or ignorant, but it’s hard not to jump down that train when you look at the counties where the amendment passed compared to the counties where it did not. By calling the amendment “the marriage amendment” you make it seem like the amendment is simply about defining marriage. Many of the people I spoke to who supported the amendment believed that all it did was define marriage as between one woman and one man. They did not understand how the amendment could strip rights from anyone.

North Carolina is a largely religious state. We are part of “the Bible Belt.” Sermons like the ones referenced above are far more common than people realize. It’s easy to find those Christians who say “yeah, but we’re not like that – we believe that God is love!” but the sad truth is, in the South, Christians who believe in tolerance and equality are not in the majority.

It is my hope that people will continue to call out these pastors and other “Christians” who continue to stand in opposition of civil rights and liberties. If enough people see it happening, then maybe something can finally change.