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Mar. 23rd, 2008

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Grace or casseroles? A non-believer’s musings on prayer

I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” on one of my flights a few weeks ago. (It’s a wonderfully insightful and beautifully written book; I highly recommend it.) There’s a passage where the author, having recently developed a personal relationship with prayer and a self-styled spirituality, is describing an exchange with her pragmatic sister, Catherine.

A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy when both the mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing the family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.

Karsten and I got talking about my father’s death. My father was a popular man, loved by many in his town and with a wide circle of friends and family across the country. Many people were praying for him as he waged his fight with cancer. Some people would probably conclude that the prayers must not have been very effective since the cancer ultimately won. But even as a non-spiritual person, I think that’s an unfair characterization of the effects of that praying. I would never attempt to claim that there is no power in prayer. I just don’t think it’s the only vehicle for the conveyance of caring, and it’s loaded with religious affiliation, which has no appeal to me. But I have no trouble accepting the possibility, perhaps not as a direct result of prayer, but perhaps resulting indirectly from the quantities of people who simply told my father and the rest of his family that they were praying for him, that my father died with more awareness of how loved he was, and that we, his family, could accept his death with more comfort because we knew how loved he was.

Maybe you wouldn’t call that the power of prayer, per se. And I would agree that it’s something different, but I think — and this is a non-believer attempting to understand the minds of believers, so I may have it entirely wrong — but I think there’s something uniquely potent about prayer to a believer that is somehow not present in the offerings of “thoughts” or “good vibes” or “positive energy,” or any number of alternatives you or I might suggest.

That’s the struggle I have as a non-believer who wants to offer comfort to my loved ones. I wish I had something I could offer my cousin’s family as they’re dealing with my 17-year-old cousin battling lymphoma. I have told them I’m thinking about them, but I feel acutely that that’s not as powerful a statement as telling someone you’re praying for them. To my eyes, as a non-believer, that’s the power of prayer: a communication shortcut that says you want to intercede for someone; that you feel their situation merits grace, and you’re looking to powers bigger than yourself to provide it.

But without that communication shortcut, I guess I find myself in the role of the pragmatic sister, trying to think of when and how to make the proverbial (or literal) casseroles and hope that they are received as grace. (Here I should mention how humbling it is to have a sister who is both a praying person and a casserole maker in the most active sense — she was recently awarded Citizen of the Year in her hometown for her efforts in setting up a non-profit organization that helps the poor and needy in her otherwise well-to-do suburb. She’s a double-helping of grace.) What I lack in spirituality I make up for in plain old compassion, but how can I be of much practical use to a family hundreds of miles away? There’s a missing ingredient that could help bridge the distance, and to say “I’m thinking of you” sounds hollow.

I suppose it’s relevant in some way that I’m musing about this on Easter morning. I have no real ties to Easter: nothing about its religious implications carries weight with me, and the childhood chocolate-fest is behind me. Even the pagan traditions offer little to the pragmatic, so it’s simply a Sunday when more businesses are shuttered than usual. But there is something about the hope of renewal, the rituals of rebirth that carry through from the pagan to the Christian traditions, in welcoming spring and recognizing the cyclical nature of life — something about that does appeal to me. (Maybe it’s the gardener in me.) I know I’m looking for a chance to discover something in myself — some offering I can provide to those who need comfort that feels as powerful as prayer and does as much good as casseroles.

I don’t expect to find the answer today. But I’m asking the question, and questions are more important than answers.

Happy Easter, happy March equinox, happy Sunday, happy day. I’m thinking of you.

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Originally published at The Bee Hive. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 12th, 2007

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Not that I’d want to be a staff writer, but still…

After a lovely dinner at Rosario’s (I mean it! it was good, despite what that mean old Chris Chamberlain would have you believe), we decided to drop in to Edgehill Studios Cafe across the street to see who was playing. It was two guys who sounded pretty good so we stuck around, but we couldn’t determine what their names were — there didn’t seem to be a schedule posted anywhere. (We also spotted Karen Keely from 95.5 The Wolf hangin’ out with a “Cutie Wolf” t-shirt on.)

Anyway, one of the writers announced a song called “Makes Me Wanna Pray” by saying it was on hold with Martina McBride (and I couldn’t help but think of Lindsay). The song wasn’t bad, but I was more interested in how much he sounds like Collin Raye.

Both writers were enjoyable, but Collin Raye Guy got me curious so I looked him up. His name is Jared Johnson and it turns out he’s with Big Loud Shirt. Staff songwriter at Craig Wiseman’s company? Now that’s a gig to have. I’m betting that “Pray” song gets cut, and I’m even betting it’s a single, and heck, why not, I’ll even bet that it charts. People seem to love sad songs that make them feel all holy.

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Originally published at The Bee Hive. Please leave any comments there.

Aug. 24th, 2007

gerbera daisy

Environmentalism vs. economics as personal responsibility

Reading over the thread at Music City Bloggers about mortgage foreclosures and such, I'm struck by a disparity I notice in the voices of the regulars there and in other online fora.

Why does it seem that so many of the people who get most passionate when it comes to matters of personal financial responsibility and conservation of fiscal resources are not equally passionate when it comes to environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources?

If these people can applaud and embrace the concept of budgeting dollars and curbing consumption when it is out of scale with the economic resources available, why can't they applaud and embrace the same principle when it comes to things like water, oil, clean air, trees, etc?

Is it because they don't think of it as a personal responsibility? Is it because no one has told them convincingly enough that it's the right thing to do?

You know what I think we need in the U.S.? We need a pro-environment activist who speaks from a conservative / Christian basis. Sort of like -- no, scratch that, exactly like the Dave Ramsey of environmentalism.

Oct. 23rd, 2006

hand on head - b&w

The right to be atheist? The right to have rights?

Are rights given by god or by government? If you don’t believe in god, do you still have rights?

These are the questions Donald Sensing asked in his blog today. When this post showed up on Nashville Is Talking (a local blog aggregator), I knew I had to respond. Because as I said in my comment, this is the second time in a few years that I’ve been told that I (through inclusion in some group) “don’t deserve any rights at all.”

The core of his post seems to be this:

So could not we religious people simply say, “Sorry, persecuting atheists is no longer against our religon?” If you think not, why not?

Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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Originally published at The Bee Hive. You can comment here or there.

religious, french, icone

The right to be atheist? The right to have rights?

Are rights given by god or by government? If you don't believe in god, do you still have rights?

These are the questions Donald Sensing asked in his blog today. When this post showed up on Nashville Is Talking (a local blog aggregator), I knew I had to respond. Because as I said in my comment, this is the second time in a few years that I've been told that I (through inclusion in some group) "don't deserve any rights at all."

The core of his post seems to be this:

So could not we religious people simply say, “Sorry, persecuting atheists is no longer against our religon?” If you think not, why not?


Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Oct. 18th, 2006

religious, french, icone

Colbert & Dawkins debate the existence of God


How much do I love this video? I don't even think I can quantify it. Dawkins had me at "You're an atheist about all those other gods; some of us just take it one god further."

Major kudos to both Colbert and Dawkins for the intelligent design (ha) of this debate.

Mar. 1st, 2006

with karsten

Three years in Nashville!

I started this post on Monday but got busy. Whoops!

Sunday and Monday were sort of the conjoined twin anniversaries of our transplant to Nashville three years agoCollapse )So Sunday, we had brunch at the Pineapple Room at Cheekwood to celebrate the end of our third year in Nashvegas, which means... the beginning of our senior year here! Maybe sometime soon we'll start figuring out what we're supposed to be doing.

Happily, we also managed to convince tubenerd and oiran to join us, and slipped in a little birthday mention for the Tube Dude.

After brunch, we saw godCollapse )

Anyway, after that, we walked around the sculpture trail, took lots of pictures of each other (here's pics of Karsten -- I didn't ask anyone else's permission to share photos), got cold, came back to our house, drank hot cocoa, and sat around making silly music on Karsten's keyboard. I had a LOT of fun. :-)

Dec. 6th, 2005

hand on head - b&w

Oh Christmas shirt, oh Christmas shirt...

"Hey Enid, the atheists are decorating for Christmas again."

We have a Christmas shirt hanging in our living room! Complete with ornaments and garland! I'll bet it's the best Christmas shirt any of you have ever seen.

Also, we have oddball Christmas decorations picked up at various thrift stores, like a two-headed reindeer metallic candelabra.

But on the outside of the house, we opted for classic and timeless, to match the historic look. It's cute! It's festive! And even though I think we're the only atheists on the block, we're the first ones to have our Christmas lights up. What's that all about?! Get with the Christmas program, people!

I'm thinking of making one room all Hanukkah decorations. Maybe the kitchen, since the accent color is cobalt blue anyway. Yeah. If I happen to find any Hanukkah decorations at thrift stores, that is.

La di da. Back to work.

Apr. 2nd, 2005

religious, french, icone

The passing of the pope

I'm not going to say negative things about the late pope, but I will say, as I was telling Karsten, that he's the reason I'm not Catholic anymore.

I was raised in a devoutly Catholic household, and I was an active member of the family's church as I grew up. When I was a teen, I became an activist for women's ordination. In fact, had women been allowed to become priests, I might well have taken that path.

But in 1994, when Pope John Paul II issued his notorious "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," he told me I was no longer a Catholic. He said "...I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

I was at college when it happened, and my father called me that day, knowing I'd be upset. I remember him telling me that this was the strongest proclamation he'd ever heard a pope make in his lifetime, and I remember telling him how much it hurt me that it had to be over an issue like this.

I stopped going to church immediately. And soon thereafter, I realized I didn't believe in a god anyway. I would've left the church sooner or later, but maybe not out of anger.

But it all fell apart May 22, 1994, and the end started with this pope.

Anyway, I'm glad for the good he did do in the world, and I hope the next pope brings a degree of enlightenment with him, but I'm not holding my breath. And it's no longer really my concern anyway.

Oct. 19th, 2004

hand on head - b&w

Why my dad is so great, #1,983,284,393

Ever since my dad started pressuring me to go to this past weekend's family wedding in Baltimore -- and the pressure started back in August -- I've been meaning to dig out my saved copy of this email exchange and post it for you all to read and for me to re-read. Because it's one of the things that makes me realize how much I'm going to miss my dad. I'll post more about the wedding itself later.

Back in October 1998, I found a web site called Familypoint.com that was supposed to be a virtual meeting place for extended families. I set up a site for my family and mentioned it to my parents just before they attended a family wedding in Baltimore so they could spread the word about it to everyone. One of my cousins who is roughly my age found my personal web site through a series of links from the Familypoint.com site and was apparently shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that I'm bi and poly.

Her father, my uncle, promptly sent me a nasty email about it.

Uncle Bernard"s letterCollapse )


My Dad"s response to Uncle BernardCollapse )

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