My Humanist Summer Reading List

Post 19 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Okay I admit it, I fell of the horse with this writing project (see link above) but I intend to catch up and still hit 40 posts by Easter! Today I’m sharing my summer reading list which I’m starting on the plane home from my third session of the Humanist Institute since I will be reviewing and finishing up those books the next week or so. I will also be reading a pile of books for my August session of the Humanist Institute so this list will be a little short.

  1. Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age,
    by A.C. Grayling
  2. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell
  3. The Good Book: A Humanist Bible, by A.C. Grayling
  4. The Portable Atheist, by Christopher Hitchens
  5. Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, Edited by Louise M. Antony

Some of these books I’ve read sections of or skimmed quickly but I hope by the end of summer to have these five books under my belt. Both Love Wins and The Good Book are newly released and I hope are as good as I’ve heard. I feel all of them provide a broad base to reflect on modernity and how to live as a Humanist in a more thoughtful way.

Being OUT as an Atheist

From the Freedom From Religion Foundation's latest billboard campaign

Post 18 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

In the past year there seems to be a unique moment happening nationally around visibility in the larger nontheist community. It seems everywhere I turn there are bill board campaigns, print advertising, bus ads, commercials, and more. Not in humanist publications but in the places you’d least suspect. Which are the places I would argue they are needed the most. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has launched a billboard campaign in Raleigh, North Carolina. Another pair of campaigns are the OUT campaign and Consider Humanism Campaign.

I’ve heard from humanists both positive and negative rections to the various campaigns that have come before this one about how they either make folks feel proud and excited or left worrying about the negative fallout. I’ve also heard and read debates similar to this one about LGBT Pride Festivals and Parades and the perception of the LGBT community. That by having sexy Go-Go boys that are mostly naked — in the parades, not on a humanist billboard — that we aren’t winning over people to our side but instead upsetting those who were fine with gay people but now are not. I don’t really buy this debate that we lose supporters by increasing visibility. I agree that there can and often is fallout and reaction, sometimes even dangerous reaction. I do not think these campaigns (for either community) are about conversion. I’ve never decided what I believe about the universe or whether I’m attracted to men by billboards or parades. I have felt validated though, I have felt pride, I have felt safer in the moment.

I was talking with someone recently about traveling in the south and she shared that while she sees pro-LGBT bumper stickers all the time around Minneapolis when she visits family in the South seeing them means more to her. I can relate, when I’m in an unfamiliar place I look for things that bring me comfort and when I’m somewhere I don’t think I belong because of who I am I especially look for reassurance that it is okay I’m there and on a deeper level that I’m safe. I realize seeing a bumper sticker or billboard won’t actually help me if someone wants to hurt me, but knowing I’m not the only one of whatever personal identity is feeling stressed by a situation helps and that is where these sorts of campaigns really help. They help the 12 year old who is in a family and a place that they can’t choose or control feel like they aren’t the only one even when they’ve never met another person like them.

I grew came of age with Will & Grace and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a teen and high schooler. The queer and non-Christian characters showed me that there are people out there who aren’t straight and who aren’t Christian (both of these types of people were novelties for me). There shows didn’t keep me from being teased at school, but knowing that all the people in my life I’d met up to that point didn’t represent all the possibilities gave me hope. Sometimes when your in a place you don’t want to be, surrounded by people who don’t think you should be the way you are, that little bit of hope and knowing really counts. Now I’m surrounded by people who validate and reflect who I am but when I was young I remember the first gay character I ever saw on TV, I remember the first atheist I read about. I remember thinking if I’m not the only one then there isn’t something inherently wrong with me and if I’m not the only one then others have done this before. Would I still not believe in God if I hadn’t watched Buffy? Most assuredly. I also would have kept quiet about it longer and wouldn’t have used the word wiggins or contemplated the plural of apocalypse as a teen. Seeing parts of ourselves reflected in our environment doesn’t dramatically change who we will turn out to be, but that assurance can shift how safe we feel, keep us going, and keep us sane.

More than Brunch on Sundays for Nonbelievers

Post 17 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Sundays might either be really amazing or pretty boring for folks that don’t believe in Gods depening on your perspective. Sure you can sleep in, or go to brunch but what else do you do when a significant percentage of other people are off at a church or other Sunday morning religious service?

Side Note: While the  figure is 40% for average American weekly church attendance, that might be highly over reported so you might not be alone in wanting to sleep in.

Sundays have a lot of options, but beyond that one day a week there are lots of other opportunities to join up with freethinking crowds all across Minnesota.

Check out the highlights below for the first half of April. More events and event details can be found on the events calendar. Don’t forget there are also two big freethinker conferences happening in April as well!

April 1-15 Event Highlights

  • Sunday, April 3, 9-11am
    Lake Superior Freethinkers Monthly Meeting | Duluth, MN
  • Sunday, April 3, 10:30-11:30am
    FUS Service: Spirituality for Skeptics | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 7, 7-8pm
    Humanists of Minnesota presents “Corporate Personhood” | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 14, 5pm
    Drinking Skeptically | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 14, 6:30pm
    Rochester Area Freethinkers Monthly Meeting | Rochester, MN

All events I know about for the first half of April are online now. If you know of any I missed drop them in the comments. I will be adding the rest of April and beyond in coming days.

National Gatherings for Nonbelievers

Post 16 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

April is a big conference month for folks who don’t believe in god. Check out two of the largest gatherings of humanists, atheists, and freethinkers.

April 7-10 | American Humanist Association: The Beacon of Humanism

The Beacon of Humanism is the American Humanist Association’s national conference. This year is the 70th annual and it is one of the largest gatherings of humanists, freethinkers, and atheists in the United States. This year it is in Boston and being hosted by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard.

Find out more: http://www.americanhumanist.org/What_We_Do/Annual_Conference/2011

April 21-24 | American Atheists: National Convention

The national gathering of American Atheists is going to be relatively close to Minnesota this year in Des Moines, IA. Don’t miss some of the biggest names in the Atheist Movement when they come to the Midwest!

Find out more: http://www.atheists.org/events/National_Convention

Can You Know?

Post 15 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I’m a planner, so are most of my close friends. We have an extensive google calendar sharing operation going on as well as a google group just to communicate plans and misadventures. We often can’t book plans with less than two weeks notice and toggling on all ten of our gcals lights up a screen like the 4th of July.

One individual is proposing to ruin all my upcoming plans more than 56 days from now. His name is Harold Camping and he knows when the world is going to end. You might be saying to yourself lots of people claim this and no one pays attention. There was that movie about it, there have been news reports about the Mayan Calendar ending, but the thing here is some people are listening to Mr. Camping. He isn’t a biblical scholar nor does he seem to hold and theological degree but no one seems to mind.

There are billboards, he has a radio show, and he has followers. Now the thing about this is, as long as these people don’t hurt anyone in the days leading up until the possible end I’m fine with them believing this. But I’m concerned over two things:

  1. What happens nearer May 21, 2011 when some people think the end is nigh?
  2. And what is the PR plan for May 22, 2011?

The story linked above points to part of the naswer for my second question:

His followers, in turn, are trusting Camping. Allison Warden, a 29-year-old office manager in Raleigh, N.C., runs a website, WeCanKnow.com, dedicated to spreading news of Camping’s predictions. But what if he is wrong?

“It is a fair enough question,” she said. “But the fact that it is in Scripture is why you can say it with such a degree of certainty. It’s one of those things where you have to trust God.”

I mean the validity of this claim is easily settled for me, I plan to write my follow up post to this one on May 22, 2011 or if I’m wrong then I will have other things on my mind I’m sure. I think the larger issue here is that people are really unhappy and nervous about the future right now. National and global events have people have had people on edge and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight — for most of us. I believe this is leading people to want someone with a clearcut answer and you can’t get much more specific than an exact date.

One final problem I have is the minor inconsistency of the date in question. If it is clear and knowable by someone reading an English translation of a King James Bible why are there two dates being advertised?

I’m going to continue to put things on my calendar until google blacks out all dates from May 22 on, then I will start to worry. But I am excited to start an Apocalypse tag for this blog!

Consider Humanism Campaign

Post 14 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I posted earlier this week on the A Week on Facebook campaign, part of the larger OUT Campaign. There is another campaign going on as well, for those who identify more with the term Humanist. It is called Consider Humanism. While each of these campaigns is doing something slightly different, they fit together nicely to create more spaces for people who collectively believe in people and the natural world and not deities and the supernatural.

One of the Consider Humanism videos:

The best few years seems to be an interesting moment in the long history of freethought, atheism, secularism, and humanism (for an EXCELLENT book on this rich history check out Susan Jacoby’s book — Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism). There is more cooperation between different organizations at the national level and a bigger push to be OUT and raise awareness that we exist. We aren’t a tiny sliver of the population but a significant group with a valid alternative path for people who aren’t happy or shunned in various religious communities.

I’m excited to see what the rest of 2011 brings as well as the upcoming US Presidential Elections. Will nonbelievers be part of the conversation in an open way? What would you like to see done next to raise awareness of humanism and the larger freethinker community?

What is Vocation Anyway?

Post 13 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

vo·ca·tion [voh-key-shuhn]
–noun

  1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
  2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
  3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
  4. a function or station in life to which one is called by god: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

Source: dictionary.com

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare(verb to call). Often the call comes from a divine source or the community for one to walk a particular path in their life. The most common form of this is the call to the vocation of ministry, clergy, or religious leader or even for an individual to become deeply involved in a particular religious path. So why is this something of interest to a twenty something non-profit professional whose experience resides mostly in marketing? Because I disagree with the source of “the call.” Instead, I agree with Parker J. Palmer and his amazing book where he illuminates the Quaker saying: “Let Your Life Speak.” The call isn’t something you find outside of yourself and it doesn’t tell you what to become. Rather, it is about being aware of yourself, deeply aware, and taking note of all that you have already done in your life. Your own life and experiences are the real guideposts. The next step is not to change into something else; it is to take off all the roles you have assumed and ideas you have absorbed about what you should be and work on the hard task of figuring out what you truly are, what you always have been, and what you could grow into by being yourself. “Be yourself” may sound simplistic, but in a world that constantly pushes you to be something you are not, it takes a lifetime of unlearning and uncovering to find the core of your actual identity.

I do admit that when I decided to think about vocation, I went to a religious source. I began meeting with a spiritual adviser, spent time thinking about what I have done, and what I want to do with my life. I also became more involved in a religious community. Upon personal reflection, I reached out to ministers to find resources to read about vocation. I continue to read on the topic and have spent considerable time thinking about the term and about my life to this point. The biggest step forward on my current vocational path has been to spend time reflecting on my accomplishments. The experiences, moments, and readings that energize me are those of which I take particular note and try to see where several are pointing. This reminds me of high school math classes where it took several points to create a trend; one or two random dots didn’t really amount to something but 5-10 really started to make a pattern. The core question (paraphrasing from “Let Your Life Speak”) is not “What should I do with my life?” It is “Who am I?”

Here is what I have discovered about who I am:

My passion is connecting people to what they need. This could be connecting people to people, people to resources, or people to a community. Reflecting on snapshots throughout my life, the most significant themes I have found so far are:

  • I love to learn, especially about how people work and how they come together
    • Examples: College Degree, Majors: Anthropology, Criminal Justice, Forensic Science Minors: Biology and Psychology
    • All of these study how people think, function physically, or come together in society (both in positive and negative ways)
  • I enjoy building a sense of community and connecting people to resources and concepts larger than themselves
    • Examples: Involvement in non-profit community organizations, Working within religious communities, Being involved in projects to disseminate information
    • Facilitating the connections between individuals and making contributions to my community have been some of the most rewarding volunteer and career moments of my life.

While these are merely cursory examples, other experiences in my life have also pointed to an inherent fascination and sense of energy around the way people join together to do more than any single person could on their own, be that through a religious community, community organizing, or self-constructed families. I have always enjoyed the D.I.Y. or Build Your Own approach to careers, spirituality, and families. Nothing prepackaged seems to do it for me. By my own means, I discover lessons in theology, philosophy, or amazing human beings to add to my personal worldview, social circle, and my created family. I work on multiple projects, in multiple volunteer capacities, and on many freelance gigs outside of my full-time job to create a career that is multi-faceted and with a depth that encompass a community I love. Mine is a career about forging connections—sometimes through marketing, tabling at conferences, networking events, one-on-one conversations, online social media, or my religious community. Each conversation I engage in is first a connection between myself and the other person, and at any point the connection can grow to more people.

This blog is not just for others; driving my involvement is an agenda very personal in nature. Through writing, reflection, discovery, and sharing pieces of my answer I hope to not only help others find what they are looking for but to continue the path of discovering that for myself.

So what is vocation anyway? Frederick Buechner might say it is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I really think it is finding that place of energy and sense of purpose within each of us, and then centering all the ways we engage our world on this powerful place. So my personal understanding of vocation is the point when I can align all of my unique gifts and my entire self to what I do in the world. Not a simple goal, but one worth taking the time to get it right.

P.S. those of you that know me might recognize this post from another project. I was going to tackle a more extensive rewrite but was surprised that this article still sums up my feelings on this topic and I’ve seen a significant amount of progress in the ten months since I originally worked through this article.

A is for Atheists

Post 12 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Monday marked the beginning of “A Week” on Facebook (sorry I had the wrong dates down for this one folks). A week of visibility on the world’s largest social network for people who don’t believe in God. It isn’t too late to participate though!

The idea is simply during the week of March 20 – 26 people can change their Facebook profile image to the Scarlet A that many atheists use as a symbol. The theory here is that many nonbelievers are invisible to their peers and there are more of us than you might think (Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, posits 1 billion people could fall into this group).

Are you a nonbeliever? Check out the campaign below for more details and to get your snazzy profile image and the larger OUT Campaign by following the links.

A Christian Heretic, What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Post 11 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Controversial Christian leaders. Often they make headlines of late around pedophilia, endorsing political leaders from the pulpit, linking tragic events around the globe to atheists, gays, you name it if the group isn’t Christian it must be their fault. Now a Michigan Evangelical paster is stirring up trouble, but not for any of these tried and true reasons. Rob Bell is preaching about God’s love and the saving power of Jesus to tens of thousands of people.

Huh? He is Evangelizing thousands of people to be Christian and still he is in trouble. The trouble surrounds his notion that it isn’t all about Heaven and Hell, it is also about what you do while you’re here on Earth oh and not as many folks go to Hell as other Christian leaders claim. The other heretical notion that guess what no one really knows what happens when we die. So his crimes are also tried and true, just a bit older in form. He is a true heretic: calling into question religious dogma and asking his followers to question it to. He is one of the most interesting Christian leaders I’ve come across lately. I can’t wait to read and review his new book: “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

Trailer for the New Book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODUvw2McL8g

Background on the controversy: http://www.religionnews.com/index.php?/godfactor/is_rob_bell_a_heretic/

Rob Bell’s response: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/19/rob-bell-punches-back-against-claims-of-heresy/

I hope that more Christians like Bell get the press and have the courage to speak loudly, there are a lot of other people trying to make their faith look horrible, bigoted, and full of fear and hate. There is such a thing as a good, love-filled, and love-driven Christian — they just get in trouble when too many people notice.

P.S. Thank you to my friend Lily who is in a theology program for first telling me about the Rob Bell controversy being discussed in her class.

Humanist Pilgrimage Reflection

Post 10 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Below is my reflection from my second of nine trips to the Humanist Institute back in December. I complete my first year this April with a trip to New York. I now plan on writing these around each of my remaining trips, stay tuned!

Humanist Institute Reflection 2 of 9:

Flying to Washington D.C. for the second of nine meetings with class 17 of the Humanist Institute currently has me reflecting on journeys, pilgrimages, and transitions.

I began the Humanist Institute as a way to deepen my knowledge in my religious identity as a Humanist and to increase my understanding of the Humanist movement in its broadest sense. My first session, held last August, felt like jumping into the deep end of the pool. I am meeting new people, devouring books as fast as possible, and trying to grasp the interconnections of a slew of newly learned about organizations, ideological groups, and national figures as well as all the ways these overlapped and intertwined.

This time around I feel a greater sense of taking the next step on a journey, reconnecting with new friends, and a sense of visiting an important site of one of my personal connections to humanism, the headquarters of the American Humanist Association (in fact the first humanist organization I joined when I began to shift my identity from atheism to humanism).

What began for me as a personal educational process augmented by interaction and discussion with others of similar but complementary viewpoints is becoming much more about building a new community that stretches from coast to coast. I am seeing the minutiae of the freethought/atheist/humanist spectrum and the ways that these differences both give this movement strength as well as challenge.

The other part of this time is one of personal transition. It is between the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas widely celebrated in the US and in my own families. It is also a time when I am leaving a position in a Unitarian Universalist church I have held for the past three years to take on a new position at a small private university. My relationship to the Unitarian Universalist movement is in flux, but it will grow into something different. My relationship to the humanist movement is also changing as I begin to connect to the local secular humanist organization Humanists of MN and deepen my connections to the Humanist Institute and related organizations.

While all of this is going on I have also been reflecting on my changing level of connection to national movements versus state level and local ones. In the past year I have started working with national LGBT organizations as well as national humanists organizations.  In both of these spheres I have observed the tension between the local organization and the national vision of what the movement should do and when.

I look forward to 2011 with continued study within the Humanist Institute, a new position in Alumni Relations, and shifting focus in my freelance work. Building connections seems to be the continued theme personally, professionally, and philosophically as I continue my journey through the Humanist Institute.