Tuesday, August 12

Kindergarten Concerns

Isla's a little uncertain about starting kindergarten next week. So I told her this story.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Isla. She was getting ready for her first day of kindergarten. She was a little frightened. What if she didn't make any friends? What if her teacher didn't know her name? She didn't know how to read or add yet. She decided she didn't want to go to kindergarten after all. She hid her new Pikachu backpack and all her new school clothes under her bed.

The day before school started, Isla said to her mummy, "I'm NOT going to kindergarten tomorrow."

Her mummy said, "But don't you want to go to school to learn to read and add?"

"NO!" she shouted. "I'm not going to kindergarten and that's THAT!"

The next morning, Isla stayed in her pajamas. Her big sister Fiona ate her breakfast, put on her new school clothes and pretty new backpack, and got ready to go to school.

Isla said, "I'm NOT going with you."

Her mummy sighed and said, "If you REALLY don't want to go, then you can stay home." Her big sister left without her.

Isla played all morning, happy that she didn't have to go to school. After a few hours, she said, "I'm going next door to play with my best friend Brayden."

"But Brayden is at school," her mummy said.

Isla frowned. Who was she going to play with? She realized she'd have to just play with her baby brother all day until Fiona came home.

Fiona came home after school full of excitement. She told Isla all about her new teacher and all her new friends and how cool school is. She told her that Isla's teacher had asked where she was and that all the kids wanted to meet her. "Don't you want to go to school with me tomorrow?" Fiona asked.

"NO! I'm not going to kindergarten and that's THAT!"

The next morning, Isla stayed in her pajamas while Fiona got ready for school. Isla played with her baby brother for a while, but he wasn't really very much fun. All he did was punch and throw toys. After a few hours, she said, "Can I go play at Emily's house?"

"But Emily is at school," her mummy said.

Isla frowned. "Can I go play with Jonah?"

"Jonah is at school."

"Lila? Lilliana?" Isla suggested.

"Both of them are at school too," her mummy said.

This is rubbish, Isla thought. There was no one to play with. Not any of her friends and not her little brother. She was bored.

In the afternoon, her big sister Fiona came home. She said, "Isla, your new teacher wants to meet you! All the kids in your class want to meet you too! Won't you come to school with me tomorrow?"

"NO! I'm not going to kindergarten and that's THAT!" she said, but a little less sure of herself now.

The next morning, Isla stayed in her pajamas while Fiona got ready for school. She quietly watched Fiona leave and suddenly felt very lonely.

She imagined Fiona at school, learning all kinds of new things. She imagined her own class learning how to do new things like read or add. And then she got scared.

"Mummy! What if all the kids in my class learn how to read and add without me?!" she cried.

"Well, if you want, I can help you read and add here at home, so you don't get behind," her mummy replied.

Isla sat with her mummy at the table, while they looked at the alphabet, but Isla couldn't help but be worried. She didn't want all the other kids to learn to read without her. She wanted to learn to read, she really did. Later Fiona came home from school and told her all about how much fun school was and didn't Isla want to go with her tomorrow?

Isla didn't say anything. That night she couldn't sleep. She didn't want to miss out on learning to read and add. She quietly got her new Pikachu backpack and new school clothes out of their hiding spot under her bed. She thought about school all night.

The next morning, Isla put on her new school dress. She said to her mummy, "Maybe I'll try school just this ONE time." Her mummy said that was fine. Feeling a little worried and a little shy, Isla left with her big sister to go to school.

When she got to her new classroom, she saw the nicest looking lady she'd ever seen.

"Why, hello, Isla! I'm your teacher, Mrs Holland. So nice to finally meet you!"

Her teacher knew her name!

"Why don't you sit at this little table with these children?" Mrs Holland said, leading her to a table with five other little boys and girls.

"Hi, Isla! Want to sit with us?" the little boys and girls said, and they pulled out a little chair for Isla to sit on.

That day was the funnest day Isla ever had. They played Duck Duck Goose and did art crafts and learned about the letter D. Isla already knew the letter D, as well as the letters she'd missed, A, B and C. She wasn't behind after all! They learned how to add 1 + 2, and Isla already knew how to do that on her fingers too. She wasn't behind on adding either!

She ran home after school to tell her mummy what a fantastic day she'd had. She told her mummy all the wonderful things she'd done and all the friends she'd made and even showed her mummy a picture she had drawn.

"I LOVE kindergarten!" Isla exclaimed.

"Do you think you'd like to go again tomorrow?" her mummy asked.

"Well, I'll maybe go again, just this ONE time," she replied. And she gave her mum a big cuddle.

The End.

Monday, August 11

Saying Goodbye To Summer

My alarm woke me up a little too early this morning at 6am. Though I promised myself I wouldn't, I hit snooze until 6.20. The girls' alarm went off at 6.30; Fiona got up and went back to sleep on the couch, and Isla stayed in bed.

School starts next week meaning this week is that dreaded time where we start getting used to going to bed early at night and waking up early in the morning. While the girls very obediently went to bed at 8pm last night, I on the other hand stayed up way too late.

I crawled out of bed when I heard Cailean in his room shouting 'Mama! Mama!' and stumbled through to get the kids their breakfast. The goal was to be 'school ready' by 7.30, as if it was a real school day. The girls whined and moaned as I prodded them out of bed (or off the couch as the situation may be), coaxed them to eat their breakfast, cajoled them into appropriate clothing and nudged them to brush their teeth. Amongst all that, they had to do their morning chores, like feed the cats and organize the shoe rack at the door. And guess what? They were ready by 7.30! Hair brushed, socks on and everything. I even had myself dressed and Cailean, well, somewhat dressed. It was a successful dress rehearsal for the real thing next Monday.

Morning Checklist


This morning we went to the gym, where the girls went to their last Monday KidFit class. The very last KidFit class for them will be on Wednesday. On Mondays, they play games in the gym, and on Wednesdays they get into the pool. It was kind of sad for me. Isla has been going to KidFit twice a week since February. Fiona was excited to get to join her all summer. But now, my little Isla is starting Kindergarten, so our little routine is about to change. It makes me feel a little weepy, not so much because she went to her last gym-room KidFit class, but because our little year together is coming to a close. I'm looking forward to easier days with just Cailean, but I'll miss my little Isla.

Furthermore, there were noticeable absences at my own Kickboxing class. All the summer regulars - the teachers - were back at work today. The class felt kind of empty.

Socks and Shoes


In the mail this afternoon, both girls got postcards from the school telling them about Open House on Thursday and providing their teacher's names. I don't know who either teacher is, but I guess I'll meet them on Thursday. Just another little reminder that school is starting very, very soon.

You've Got Mail


Fiona and Isla went over to a friend's house today. It's just me and Cailean, a little taste of things to come. I love the quiet, the no-fighting, the relaxed atmosphere, the running errands with ease, but I think I might just miss the little monsters next week when they are at school. They drive me freaking crazy, but gosh, I love them anyway. Without two big sisters to lug around, Cailean and I came home from the gym and took a bubble bath, got dressed leisurely, took a bag of clothes to Goodwill that has been in my room for over 7 months, went to Sally's Beauty Supply to buy pink wash-out hair dye (for Fiona and Isla) and bought some groceries at Walmart. It was easy peasy. We came home and had lunch, then I made a meatloaf. In a few minutes, I'm going to make a recipe to take to my Pampered Chef meeting tonight. All with leisure. I really can get used to this; I'll miss the girls, but wow, life is so easy with just a single child! (If you'd told me that when I had just Fiona, though, I might've hated or at least glared at you.)

Mummy/Son Selfie

It's just about time to say goodbye to summer.

Thursday, August 7

Roundabout Rules for the Uninitiated American

Our town just got its first roundabout. There is a second one opening within the next two weeks (supposedly). I have heard countless people stress out, complain, predict doom and disaster, and criticize the city over this.

It's only a roundabout, folks. It's just an intersection with a circle in the middle.  They exist in every country, and so far, have not brought down the apocalypse. They are in fact safer and better at regulating traffic.  Easier on your gas too, cutting down on all that stop-and-starting stop signs make you do (which in essence is better for the environment, pollution-wise).

But I understand that for those who have never used a roundabout (sometimes called a traffic circle or rotary), it can be a little intimidating.  And if you are unsure of the rules of a roundabout, I can see how you might approach one with a little confusion and trepidation.

So I'm giving you five little roundabout rules and tips that will hopefully make you feel a little more confident next time you approach one.

1. First thing to realize is that roundabouts are basically the same thing as a four-way stop, only with a yield (and an island in the middle).  Imagine that island as a large piece of roadkill you don't want to run over.  You'd bend around it right?  And that's what you do at a roundabout.

The rules of a four-way stop apply.  The person who approaches from the right of you has right of way.  You don't - I repeat DON'T - have to come to a full stop each time you approach.  But you do have to yield if anyone else besides you is approaching or already on the roundabout.

2.  Saying that, unlike a four-way stop where everyone proceeds one at a time, you can actually enter the roundabout simultaneously with someone else if they are coming the opposite direction or are far enough around the roundabout for you to SAFELY enter it too.  This is why it's so effective for traffic control. If you can safely slide in without slowing anyone on the roundabout down, you may proceed.

3.  This is why SIGNALLING is so important on a roundabout.  Here's a breakdown of when and where to signal.

Upon approaching roundabout,
If you are going to take the first exit (on the right), signal RIGHT.
If you are going straight through the roundabout, do NOT signal at all UNTIL you have passed all the exits on the right, then signal right to indicate you are now taking the straight across exit.
If you are taking any exits in between the first right and straight on, don't signal until you have passed the last exit before your exit, then signal right to take your exit.

If you are going left (any exit past straight on), signal LEFT upon approaching the roundabout. This allows everyone else approaching from other exits to know that you are going to be passing by all of them. Keep signalling left until you approach your exit, then signal right to take your exit.

4.  Roundabouts let you legally do U-turns.  You can just approach the roundabout, signal left and keep signalling left until you've made your full U (then signal right to exit). You can even do a full circle if you want, but this is rarely necessary unless you missed your exit, are completely lost or have trouble making decisions and can't cope with too many choices.

5. Go slowly. Always be aware of who is entering, exiting, approaching, and already on the roundabout. Slot in where safe to do so. Stop only when you have to, otherwise, yielding is fine.  Always be aware when you are approaching that someone may be about to cross in front of you, even if they are not signalling.  Not everyone knows to signal and not everyone bothers to signal.  Don't blindly trust other people's signalling either. Just like you wouldn't pull out in front of a car onto a street simply because they are signalling to turn (because you never know if they are actually turning until they start to), do the same with roundabouts.  Roundabouts have rules, but not everyone follows them.

Hopefully, however, this little set of rules will help YOU follow and understand the rules, and maybe teach someone behind you a little about signalling, and hopefully your new roundabout will be a safe and effective traffic installment, not a disaster waiting to happen.

For more information, click on this helpful little graphic of a simple four-way roundabout from Wikipedia.

I am resisting the urge to mark this with the label 'death'.

Wednesday, August 6

The Origins of Christianity and the Early Church: Books by Bart Ehrman

You are officially a 'grown-up' when you start preferring news radio over music. Back in Scotland, BBC Radio 4 became my station of choice. I enjoyed Book of the Week and Woman's Hour and the occasional drama series. I liked keeping up with world news through radio. Now that I'm in the US, I am an avid NPR listener, who makes an effort to catch Science Friday, and will sit in the car to finish hearing the discussions on The Takeaway and All Things Considered and the Diane Rehm Show.

Just before Easter this year, I heard an interview on Fresh Air with historian Bart Ehrman on his latest book, How Jesus Became God. It was a fascinating interview, which piqued my interest in early Christian history.

As an evangelical, I always felt a bit hazy on early church history. I tried to learn more about it, about what the earliest Christians were like and believed, but finding useful information seemed difficult. I couldn't find very much beyond legend in Christian media, and secular historians seemed hell-bent on destroying any evidence of legitimacy. Aside from the Acts in the Bible, I didn't really know much at all about early Christianity or how the Bible was put together.

I remember sharing this concern with a pastor friend of mine. I wanted to know how the Bible as we know it today became the canon, and why it happened so late after Jesus' life. I knew it was roughly the fourth century, but I was hazy on who and how. To be honest, it really bothered me that a bunch of Roman Catholics (pre-Martin Luther, which meant to my Protestant mind, a very dubious group of church leaders indeed) seemingly sat down and picked and chose which books "fit" and which ones didn't. I could believe that the Holy Spirit directed them to decide which to choose, but I also could conceive of men "misinterpreting" the Holy Spirit and making mistakes. My pastor friend gave me a book he assured me would help me understand how the books of the Bible were chosen.

I read a chapter of the book and put it down. It made no sense to me, was overly academic and really wasn't assuaging my doubts. From then on, I just sort of allowed myself to forget about it. I allowed it to be one of the few intellectual things I'd simply not pursue and let faith in past knowledge and expertise reign. I wasn't one to do that generally; I like to understand how things work and how things came to be and form my own opinions. But this subject was just too deep - and too treacherous - for me to delve any further into.

The NPR interview with Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, re-sparked my interest. His newest book, the one he was being interview about, explained how the earliest followers of Jesus likely viewed him as the Messiah in an earthly sense - the literal human king of the Jews prophesied in Scripture  - but upon believing he had risen from the dead, began to believe he was greater than that. This isn't in and of itself entirely foreign to a Christian believer, but what was fascinating is how the early Christians developed their theology of Jesus. From believing he had been adopted as Son by God upon his death and resurrection (or at his baptism) to believing he'd been God incarnate in Mary's womb, to believing he was God before time, the belief in who Jesus was grew and morphed and became increasingly more sophisticated as time - and the educational levels of believers - went on. He uses the New Testament as his primary evidence of these theological changes, using the Gospels and Paul's letters to show the chronological changes in these beliefs through the NT books themselves. I'd read the Gospels countless times, but never realized until he pointed them out, how different each Gospel is - and particularly how different the Gospel of John is, the latest Gospel authored.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After listening to the interview, I went to order the book. However, it was not yet released at that time, so I ordered one of his older books first, Misquoting Jesus. This book turned out to be the perfect starting point for my studies. It explained how the manuscript we call the Bible today came to be - the very question I'd been wanting answered for years. While it didn't go as late as the Council of Nicaea who eventually formed the canon, it did explain where all the earliest manuscripts came from, and how those manuscripts got copied and distributed. What struck me the most was the fact - one I'd never even heard before - that we don't actually have any of the original manuscripts. Not one. All we have are copies, which were likely copies of copies, if not copies of copies of copies. And of all the copies of each book or letter of the New Testament that are available to scholars today, most of them don't even match each other. Some bear only slight mistakes - spelling, a changed word - but some actually have entirely different sections added or subtracted. Since there is no way of knowing which copies were copied from the originals and which were copied from changed copies, we have no way of knowing what the originals even said.

Furthermore, the originals were not even penned until, at the earliest, twenty years after Jesus' death. The earliest letters of Paul were written twenty years later, and the Gospels were written even later than that, the earliest Gospel Mark being written approximately forty years later and John near the end of the first century, about sixty years later. And they were not penned by the authors the books are named for, but extremely literate foreigners, in Greek no less.  The disciples and early followers were uneducated, illiterate Aramaic speakers. These were things I'd never known or considered before.

Misquoting Jesus was a good precursor to How Jesus Became God. It laid the foundation of textual criticism which gets touched on in HJBG. Both books were incredibly enlightening. I know I'd never have been able to read them as a Christian; they'd have come across as more secular Christian history bashing. Except for one thing. One thing that would have bothered me deeply.

Bart Ehrman was once an evangelical himself. He attended Moody Bible Institute and all.

It was through his study of early church manuscripts and texts that he developed a more "liberal" view of the Bible, seeing it as a very "human" book instead of the inspired word of God. It wasn't this by itself that eventually led to his agnosticism (this is covered in another book, God's Problem, which I've also ordered, though haven't read yet), but it played a large part. Knowing this about his personal history gave these books more credibility to me. He is not a "militant atheist" out to destroy any chance that the Bible might be true. He's a man who once believed in Biblical inerrancy and divine inspiration and who himself once had a "personal relationship with Jesus". He didn't go into the field of textual criticism to debunk Christianity; he went into it to strengthen it.

Bart Ehrman has written several books, and I'd like to get my hands on all of them eventually. So far, I've read the above mentioned two, as well as Did Jesus Exist? (he ardently and scholastically argues yes, he did, even if the other claims about his life are less easy to prove), and have God's Problem and Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament waiting on my shelves.   The haze of early church beliefs has finally started to lift for me, as I see Christianity for what it really is - an intriguing history of religion and culture, a religion that expanded in nuance and theology through time and gained popularity through Roman politics and power.  While I now don't believe in Christianity's claims to be truth anymore, I'm am still interested in it from an historical viewpoint and have become fascinated by its origins.

Friday, August 1

Change Your Bookmarks!

Change your bookmarks - We're a .com now!

Hoping to get both the blog.scottandlori.co.uk and the scottandlori.co.uk to redirect to this blog, too, but I'm not very clever with these things. If you're DNS smart, um, I'd accept your help?!

Anyway - yay!  Been trying to get the .com domain for YEARS!

[ETA:  It all works now!]

Love My Body Project: Week 5

Yesterday was the last day of July, and *technically* the last day of the Love My Body Project. But it won't really be my last day. This month has been so uplifting for me, and I intend to keep up the good work.

In just one month, my whole perspective has shifted. I don't know if it was magic or coincidence or really just positive thinking, but wow. What a difference!

I feel so good about myself. Sure I've lost a little weight, which helps, but I've only lost one inch around the waist and nothing around the hips, so it's not as if I look drastically different from how I looked on July 1st. But I feel different. I feel confident. I feel strong. I feel - wait for it - beautiful.

I noticed the big change at the gym a few mornings ago. I've been taking it easy this week, exercise-wise, because I had a cold and even though I'm better now, I don't want to overdo it. I went to Pilates Tuesday and Wednesday, a change from my usual cardio. (I tried Zumba yesterday and only got through half an hour of it before feeling like I might collapse - so clearly still somewhat recovering!) In classes, with all of us facing the mirror, I usually catch myself comparing my body to everyone else's at the gym and wishing I looked like them. It's something I try not to do, but it's automatic. The difference today was that while I did still notice how great everyone else looked, for the first time, instead of wishing I looked like them, I automatically thought, "And I look good too." Not like them, not better, not worse. I actually, before I consciously thought about it, liked my body alongside everyone else's.

For the first time in a very long time, I feel comfortable in my own skin. I don't feel like I have to cover everything up or hide. I wore a bikini to the pool last week and didn't feel self-conscious outside the water. I felt good, and I didn't care what anyone else may or may not be thinking. What a change! I wear shorts and don't feel embarrassed. I really like my body!

I don't have anything super insightful to say about my last week. I'm just amazed at how a shift in thinking, a shift in eating and a shift in activity has made such a huge difference. I've not been rigorous with any of those things; I've cut down on carbs a lot, but I'm not technically doing keto, I have upped my time at the gym but I've not been every day, and I've been kind to my reflection in the mirror but I haven't said the I-Love-My-Body mantra like I planned.

To be honest, I wasn't sure how this little project would go. I definitely thought it would take a lot more time (and a lot more weight loss) to get to this point. I'm pleasantly surprised by how good I feel.

I hope I can encourage you to think positively about your body, if you too have body image issues. It doesn't matter what size or shape you are. It doesn't matter what size or shape you WISH you were. It all starts inside you. And if you can bring yourself to eat a little better or work out a little more, it'll help more than you can imagine!

No sucking in, no Spanx, no push-up bra, no make-up, no contacts.
Dark colors coincidence only.  This is the real me!
*Except for the hair color... which is probably a lot of grey.

Thursday, July 31

Marriage Equality: Morally Opposed but Legislatively In Favor?

Photo credit: Katie Mohr
With the subject of the ban on same-sex marriage before the state Supreme Court this week, I feel it's a timely opportunity to talk about something important to me. I came here talk about marriage equality, and to make an appeal to those who are morally opposed to it.

Let me start with two disclaimers.  First: I never had a major problem with gay people or gay marriage, even as a Christian. Second: When I was a Christian, I believed the homosexual lifestyle was wrong, and the following few paragraphs will be couched in language and sentiments that reflect my beliefs at that time, even though they don't espouse my current views.

With those two disclaimers made, let me proceed with evangelical mentality I had.  While I believed "living the lifestyle" was wrong (and I believed that with God's help, it could be overcome) I still felt that if someone wanted to live it, it didn't affect me at all. It wasn't my problem or my concern. I believed people were born with a "tendency" towards being gay, but that God could "deliver" them out of it, much like people born with tendencies toward alcoholism or violence could be delivered. When asked about it, I was truthful that I believed it was a sin, but that it was between them and God, and really had very little to do with me. And there were many times I was asked about it; I was involved in amateur dramatics for a few years in Scotland and had several LGBT friends. And while I was truthful in my answers, I was always uncomfortable with those answers.

Furthermore, I never went so far to say that gay people were going to hell, just that their actions displeased the Lord. But we all displease the Lord with our actions, I'd say; we are all sinners, and I didn't see the "sin" of homosexuality to be any different than my own sins of gossip, occasionally drinking too much, and pride. A gay person could be a Christian, albeit a "deceived" one, but still eligible for salvation, as far as I could tell.

So even in my evangelical days, if someone asked what I thought about same-sex marriage, my answer was always, "Just let them get married. What's the big deal? It doesn't affect me."

This stance began to change though. Over the years, as the subject gained greater media and societal attention, I observed the pain that the debate, and the issue of homosexuality itself, was causing my gay friends. I had friends who had to choose between their careers in the military or happiness with the love of their lives. I saw friends cut off from their families and/or communities. People I knew, friends, even extended family members were being heralded as immoral, licentious, shameless degenerates on the sole grounds of who they loved. While from a Biblical standpoint, I still couldn't say it wasn't sinful, I was very certain they were entitled to the same rights as anyone else, and absolutely did not deserve to be hated, attacked, treated as lepers or burned at the stake like the Salem witches (who also didn't deserve such a fate). I heard careless, flippant comments by straight people complaining that they didn't get any special rights or attention for being straight, that they didn't feel the need to declare to the world their sexual orientation, so why did "those people" feel the need to?

Because you don't have to declare anything. You can hold hands with your husband and your two-point-five biological children in public and not receive a second glance. You have the luxury of silently declaring your sexual orientation every day in everything you do with zero retribution. You don't need special rights or attention, because you already have them.

Why do people feel the need to "declare" their sexual orientation? Could it be because they have spent years, if not decades, pretending to be something they are not, being bullied by their peers and castigated (quite possibly physically) by their parents and other adults, and just want to finally break free from all that bondage? Or perhaps, maybe some of them are actually "declaring" nothing. Maybe they are just walking hand and hand like you are, but you see that as flaunting something, declaring their sexual orientation, when really, they are just quietly living their everyday lives.

Either way, I realized my "live and let live" stance wasn't going to cut it. If I wanted to see equal rights for all law-abiding people, I needed to take an actual stance. A pro-same-sex marriage stance.

This, of course, conflicted with my religious beliefs to an extent. I started defining my position as "morally opposed but legislatively in favor".  I did not see any complication with opposing something morally (as in, not approving of it personally for me and mine) but still agreeing with it legislatively.  Just because I didn't believe it was acceptable according to my personal beliefs (which, yes, I did believe were found in the Bible, the only true Word of God), didn't mean other people with different beliefs ought to suffer because of my religious understanding.  And suffering, they were.

As a side note, as my faith slowly disintegrated, this stance disintegrated with it, into simply "in favor".  The supposed immorality of homosexuality had been very tightly intertwined with religion and nothing else. Like I said earlier, I didn't really have a major problem the personal, private lives of people who happened to be gay; I just believed the Bible warned against it. However, the "morally opposed but legislatively in favor" is the position I wish more evangelicals took.

It's impossible - actually, no it's not impossible, it's just difficult - for an Evangelical Christian, or a member of any religion that objects to homosexuality to look at it from a strictly human rights perspective. It's difficult, because Christians (in particular) believe they own the rights to marriage, or at least their religion does. They believe that God created marriage, and therefore God has the sole say on how it is administered.

(Yet another sidenote: If this were true, why are Christians allowing members of other religions to marry each other? And why are they allowing divorce?)

God created marriage between a man and a woman, they maintain. Therefore marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is against God's law.

Okay, fine, I'll grant you that belief. I'll even grant you the belief that homosexuals going against this plan are going to hell. You are welcome to believe that. "It's a free country", we Americans love to say.

And that's the point.

It's a free country for you to think gays are going to hell. And it's a free country for gays to be gay. And therefore, it should be a free country for gays to get married.

Our country is not, despite what is touted through the media, a "Christian country". It was founded on freedom of religion, the freedom to believe or not believe whatever one wants. Our forefathers may have been primarily made up of deists and various brands of Christian, from Anglican to Unitarian, (though not all, Jefferson, for instance, had decidedly very un-Christian beliefs), but they were clear that this is not a "Christian", one-religion-fits-all, nation. America is not a theocracy. The Christian definition of marriage should not be the only definition in a country where freedom from such restraints used to be our crowning glory.

Christians and other religious people, or people simply anti-gay (I am purposely steering clear of the word "homophobic" because while it is a correct description for many anti-gay people, it isn't quite fair on all of them), have further reasons they use against same-sex marriage. They believe that it is detrimental to society and detrimental to children. I can only assume, since this was never a position I totally understood, that that is position comes from the stereotypical concept that kids need both a motherly mother and a fatherly father to get the balance right. While I rarely see that stereotype play out perfectly in even heterosexual marriages, I assume the assumption is that in same-sex marriages, kids miss out on one or the other.

The profound misconception here is that women always act like "women" and men always act like "men". Therefore, in a heterosexual couple, there are equal and opposite traits that culminate in a completely wholesome companionship.

This speaks to absolutely nothing of the truth or reality.

In heterosexual couples, you have women who can be described as having one or many of these stereotypically male traits: domineering, authoritarian, outspoken, unemotional, tough, competitive, sexually aggressive. Men can be described in stereotypically feminine ways: nurturing, gentle, soft-spoken, irrational, emotional, submissive, accepting. Some couples are so similar that there is hardly any opposing characteristics; both man and wife can be calm, gentle, soft-spoken, passive and nurturing with no authoritarianism, outspokenness, aggressiveness, or, say, confidence. Conversely, some couples are both domineering, assertive, loud, imposing, authoritarian, strict and judgmental, with no signs of gentleness, irrationality, softness or perhaps compassion. All of these are, of course, generalizations, but they hopefully get the point across.

Again, I'm speculating, but I assume the Father-Mother scenario assumes a give-and-take of masculine and feminine traits that round out a family. This is simply not the case in many, if not most, relationships.

And in homosexual couples, the scale isn't tipped the other way. Two women do not equal two emotional roller-coasters and door mats. Two men do not equal two dictators and workhorses. Same sex or different sex - at the end of the day, it's just two individuals coming together to form a partnership. Some are great matches, some are bad ones.

There is also that study that was in the media a while back, claiming that children with homosexual parents fared worse than children with heterosexual relationships. This would be compelling indeed, if the study had been a good one. As it turns out, it was a terrible study that pretty much just showed what we already knew - children from broken families fared worse than children with families intact. Turns out, it had pretty much nothing to do with whether the parents were gay or not, but still together or not.

So, in a few short words, yes, it's complicated. Sort of. It's extremely difficult to untangle oneself from the net of cognitive dissonance. It's easier to hold to the black and white than to sift through the many shades of grey (no reference to that awful book intended). But really, it's not a complicated matter. People should have the right to marry who they love, as long as both parties involved are consenting adults. It only gets complicated when people make it complicated, trying to create slippery slopes and outlandish resulting outflows. (That's not to say deciphering all the possible outcomes is wrong. Legislation definitely needs to be written in such a way that it does not inadvertently allow for things that would be problematic.)

It may clash with your religious beliefs. You have the right to dislike it. But two total strangers getting married only affects you insomuch that you may possibly one day have to explain why Johnny has two mommies to your child. It does not creep into your marriage and defile it. It really has very little, if anything, to do with you at all.

But it means everything to the people who want to marry and can't, who want to express their undying love for each other by committing to a lifelong union, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Who want to know their best friend and soul mate will be cared for financially when they die through life insurance plans and inheritance. Who want to be parents, who want to be parents that raise their kids in a secure home, with family health care policies and legal custody for both parents, and no discrimination.

For you, it's about a religious principle and someone else's possible afterlife. For them, it's about basic human rights and their own quite literal, very tangible day-to-day experiences.

If affects you little. It affects them in every way. Isn't there a way for evangelicals, and other religious groups, to be morally opposed, but legislatively in favor?

Monday, July 28

As I Lay Dying (of a cold)

I have come down with The Plague. I blame it on the rats (aka, the children).

Cailean was all out of sorts yesterday, and we realized his nose was really runny and he was rubbing his ears and eyes all day. We figured he was coming down with something. And then, like that, I started sneezing. My head started throbbing. My throat got scratchy. My ears got sore. I went to bed early and woke up repeatedly to blow my nose all night. I woke up feeling like my head was going to explode like an overfull balloon filled with firecrackers (because you get those). Scott made me a cup of tea before heading off to work. Isla made me bacon, which I couldn't possibly eat. I had to drag myself out of bed and be a parent regardless, so I got as far as putting bowls of cereal out for the kids and settling in on the couch with my laptop, phone, book, box of tissues and cup of tea.

Unfortunately, I can't stay here all day. Cailean has his two-year-old well check visit at the doctor (this WCV thing is so weird and new to me) this morning, and I have to work tonight. Hopefully in between doctor and work, I can get some snoozy time on the couch in while I plonk my kids down in front of hours of Netflix.

The good thing is, if my appetite remains nil, I might lose a couple extra pounds. (The bad thing is I'll gain them back when I'm better.)

People who work outside the home get to call in when they are sick and nurse their pitiful selves in bed all day. Stay at home mums get to just keep working in spite of it all. Where's my sick day?!

In other news, my blog has reached 100,000 pageviews! This is actually a pretty small number considering I've been blogging here for ten years, but I'm still proud. Also, according to my stats, the only thing my readership enjoy reading about more than my religious failure is frobscottle and weddings. Interesting. Must write more about frobscottle and weddings.

And finally, since my skull has been stuffed with tissue paper like a new shoe, leaving me unable to put together coherent thought, I leave you with a song. A serious song. A song that sums up in a lot of ways (but not every way) my experiences with Christianity of late. A song that used to make me so sad I cried every time I listened to it, but now makes me feel triumphant and teary in a good way. Especially the last line - "And there's nothing inherently wrong with us!"

Quiet Company, "The Black Sheep and the Shepherd"

The river's wide, that I could not swim across it, so I convinced myself I'd walked up on the waves. The river's wide, that I could not swim across it, so I told everyone I'd walked up on the waves.

But I lied, and I knew I'd lied, but I did everything I did to soothe the family pride and I just don't think I can keep it up now. Because I've never heard Jesus speak to me (not in any way that I'd consider speaking) but I bowed my head just the same. Though, I did find some tears when they played that song, but for the four right chords I will play along, I have always been that way. It doesn't matter what the lyrics say.

Into stronger arms we run, with a thorn in our side and the devil's inside. So who are we running from? Into stranger arms we run. Such a thorn in our side, when the devil's implied. Oh what have we done?

So I tried and I tried to achieve belief. Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I've been feeling fine (In fact, often better than fine.) Though, now both my shoulders have started hurting from walking around under such a burden, to reconcile everything that we learn with everything that we were taught. But with all we know now, how can you say "Oh you've just got to take it all on faith" and "Don't think too much. Just hush and pray, exactly as we've always done."

Hey god! Now I've got a baby girl. What am I supposed to tell her about you? Because her life shouldn't have to be like mine. She shouldn't have to waste her time on waiting on you, because you never do come through.

Sometimes I can't believe the things those preachers have the nerve to say to me, but maybe the things that I'd have to say to them are really just as bad. Because the only times I ever thought of suicide, I was waiting on the lord to direct my life, saying "give me one word and I'll put down the knife and I'll never pick it up again." But luckily I held out long enough to see that everybody really makes their own destiny. It's a beautiful thing. It's just you and me, exactly where we belong, and there's nothing inherently wrong with us.

-We Are All Where We Belong

Saturday, July 26

We Read To Know We're Not Alone

Wow. I must admit, I am amazed by the response to my last post!

I was bracing myself for the worst. I expected emails containing threats of hell (or condolences for choosing hell), calls of fake concern from people who otherwise never speak to me, and any other manner of general negativity. But I've been so heartened by the overall support and encouragement I've received instead. Even in the two or three emails promising prayer, which I genuinely appreciate because I know they come from a place that is good and loving, even in those, I have been shown nothing but love, respect and acceptance, not an ounce of reproval or condemnation. From the other many, many responses I've gotten, from people with a similar story or with similar feelings, I've been touched and encouraged by everyone's support.

I've always said I write for one main reason - to remind people we are not alone. Many people need to keep their feelings and experiences private, which is probably the norm. I don't know why I feel the need to be so open with mine, except for that desire to expel that loneliness in others. As I said to a friend the other day, I guess I don't mind being that scapegoat. There is also a little narcissism involved - every honest writer, I should think, would have to admit enjoying his or her words being appreciated and acknowledged by others - but time and again I find myself sharing (oversharing?) for the benefit of not only myself and my need to process, but for the benefit of others.

Sharing my story was not easy, as I'm sure you can imagine. My heart was pounding, my stomach was churning, my hands were shaking. "Coming out" atheist is not an easy thing to do, especially when you live in the Bible Belt. But now that I've done it, I can honestly say I am so relieved. No more hiding. No more pretending. No more beating around the bush. This is me. Take it or leave it, this is me. (I hope you take it though.)

Now that it's out there, I feel I can be so much more honest here on my blog, not to mention in real life. I'm not saying my blog will turn solely to the subject of religion, or the lack thereof, but it feels nice to know that now I can talk freely about what's going on in my mind without outing myself.

So thanks again, everyone, for your kind words and thoughtful responses. And since I'm on the subject of "reading to know we are not alone", I'll leave you with this little snippet from a chapter in my book. I have two chapters in which I give credit to books and authors who have spoken to me, reminding me that I'm not alone either.

We Read to Know We’re Not Alone
-William Nicholson

I also discovered the Christian author Philip Yancey during this time. Scott and I visited friends in Edinburgh one Saturday. We were only new friends, but I felt Judith was someone I could trust, and I shared with her a little of what I was going through. At the end of the day, in her quiet wisdom without saying much, she handed me a book and simply said, "It made me think of you." It was Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey. In this book, Yancey details his own crisis of faith and discusses how the writings or teachings of thirteen different people, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Leo Tolstoy, brought him from the brink of unbelief. It spoke volumes to me. His discontentment with church and the Christian communities he’d been involved in mirrored to some extent mine. He wrote honestly about his struggles with faith, with which I intimately related. This book also introduced me to several new authors and books I would never have known of otherwise, including Silence by Shusaku Endo.

Silence might have been the single most life-changing book I have ever read. Literally. Without giving away any important plot details, Silence is a fictional novel about a Portuguese priest in the sixteenth century who smuggles himself into Japan in order to find out the truth about his mentor, rumored to have apostatized. His journey around Japan brings him into contact with multiple persecuted Christians in hiding, and the question of God’s silence in the midst of such persecution is the explicit theme throughout the book to the very end.

The theme of the silence of God pierced me like broken glass. I knew too much about God’s silence. I’d been withering under the shade of his silence for over a year now, wondering how long it would take for him to break it. That is, if he ever did. What made the book so utterly life changing was the realization that God may never choose to break the silence, and sometimes, he waits until it’s too late. I was coming to the same realization that the apostate priest had come to - that sometimes, God and faith just don’t work.

* No, that was not CS Lewis who said that. It was the Shadowlands screenwriter.

Thursday, July 24

The Five Stages of Grief

It's time to tell the story. I'm finally ready.

The following is a re-worked copy of the original essay that inspired my book. I realized after writing this that there is so much more of my story to be told, enough to fill a novel. My book is currently two-thirds of the way done... the third part - which discusses how I deal with life after faith - is still being lived.

About three years ago [at the time of writing] I discovered I had a terminal illness. I was at work, and all day something was bothering me. There was a group of fundamentalists in America who were proclaiming that today was the day that Jesus Christ would return, and I thought it was laughable but also sad. How sad that they have all placed their hope so sincerely in something that obviously wasn’t going to happen. As I thought about these people, something else started nagging at me. As a Christian myself, am I any less laughable? After all, I too believe Jesus Christ will return, I just don’t have a date set in my calendar for it.

It was that day that I discovered I was terminal. My faith was dying.

As a born-again Christian, a practicing, devout, sincere, whole-hearted Christian for basically my whole life, this was dire news. I battled with this disease for three years, trying to come to terms with this faith that was so close to death.

I went home from work that day figuratively wringing my hands. I must ignore this doubt. We all have doubts. I myself have had lots of doubts. This is no different. God will see me through. I pushed the thought from my mind. Ignore the doubts, and they will go away.

Yet my mind kept churning through this thought in spite of my resistance. Jesus did say that “this” generation (his disciples’ generation) would not pass without the Second Coming. I’ve heard sermons on this my whole life. I’ve explained this away to many people myself. “This” generation is a metaphor. “A day in our eyes is like a 1000 years in God’s.” He was referring to something else. I always accepted all those answers. But plain is plain. Jesus was wrong. Or he was very unnecessarily cryptic. Either way, that generation and many others, did pass away, and we’ve yet to be taken into Glory.

From here, everything began to unravel. Like a cancer spreading, the foolishness of my sincerely held, and intellectually held, I might add, belief began to deteriorate and poison my whole life. I tried and tried to deny what was happening, but denial has never been much of a comfort to me. As a Christian and as a person, I have always been honest with myself. I knew, as much as I hated knowing, that my faith really was on its death bed, and something had to be done about it.

So I lived on. I churched on. I prayed on. Oh, did I pray. I prayed with fervour I rarely prayed with before. I begged God for another chance. I begged for a renewal of my faith. I requested help and prayer from others. I read online articles from other people in my situation and conversed on forums. I told God I would continue living the Christian life, I would continue to honor and worship him despite my doubts, if he would just reward me one day with a genuine faith again. Through it all, God was silent. It felt as if God had snapped his fingers and disappeared. He'd spoken to me so many times before, but now, when I needed him most, he was gone. By this time, my head was completely skeptical, but my heart was still with Jesus. I read a book about cell memory of the heart and came to believe that maybe faith really did live in the physical heart, and all I needed to do was let my heart rule over my head. It sounded so utterly foolish, but it’s all I had left. I would live this out to my dying day, if only to be rewarded with my place in heaven and a crown of jewels for carrying this cross.

The faith was still a spark in my heart. I took that as a sign that God was still there, not letting go of me entirely. This was just a test of my faith. I had always put so much stock in the truth of Sola Scriptura. Maybe God was taking me further, to a deeper place I’d never known. I would pass this test.

Yet with each question my dying faith brought up, I already had the answers. I’d been studying God’s Word and sharing my faith with people my whole life. There were no new answers to be found. I realized that for every question on the test, I automatically knew the answer. They’d been answered long ago, but insufficiently. Sufficient for an existing faith perhaps, but entirely useless to a fledgling non-believer. If this test was for my benefit, what could I possibly stand to gain from already having all the answers?

I felt beaten. As all this was taking place in my heart, my church was crumbling around me. I’d always believed in my church, with all its flaws – flaws I never once pretended weren’t there – but I accepted them all the same. Why? Because I believed the people to have genuine, Christ-like hearts. Sadly at this point, even that was falling apart around me. My husband and I left. He was done with Christianity, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Still in the Bargaining phase as depression began to wipe over me, I went out in search of a new church. All I found was emptiness. Finally, I found a church of wonderful people with whom I felt I could share a little of my painful honesty without judgment, and there I stayed until we left Scotland.

I was feeling crushed under my burden. I told myself again the Christian answers – You’re trying to do this too much on your own. You are trying to get to heaven by works not faith. But there was no hope for the alternative. I was clearly on my own here. No God was answering my pleas. No faith was buoying me above the water. Sinking, crushed, burdened, I was going through life trying to hold onto something that was never going to be mine again. Death was calling; the truth was too clear for me to ignore but too agonizing to accept. I continued on slowly, with my heavy yoke upon my neck and no friend in Jesus to help carry my load.

I found a new church in my new town. Beyond anything I’d ever expected, it was a Lutheran church. Never before would I have considered going “practically Catholic”, but this place touched my soul in new ways. Eagerly, I wondered if this was finally it. God was finally reaching back down to me. All of this was NOT for naught! I began taking communion again, loving this new Lutheran concept of the “real presence of Jesus Christ” being in the elements. I felt something on Sundays when I was there. I might struggle all week long, but on Sundays...

Then one day I heard my six year old daughter telling her friend that Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit were all one called the Trinity, and if you didn’t love God you would go to hell. I cringed. What a horrible thing to believe, a horrible thing to teach my child! I realized then and there that I truly had been deceiving myself these past few months. I wanted to believe that my faith was returning so badly that I allowed myself to be swept up in the precious, sweet sentiment of it all. But when spoken of in the bright of day, so plainly, so academically, I knew I didn’t believe a word of it. I didn’t like the sound of it at all.

I thought at this point I’d reached Acceptance. We found friends who were in the same place as us, previous Christians who left their faith and were, like us, trying to figure out how to live without it. With them, I felt understood and accepted. We all understood each other’s unfolding religious experience at its most complex level. I felt I could actually maybe embark on this new life-after-death after all. I really could accept that this was the new me.

Slowly, however, I realized there was a quiet rage underneath the surface. It only boiled up every now and again, and not too hotly, but it was simmering. I felt it when I went out for drinks with a Christian friend. She was telling us about some things she had done and someone remarked what a good person she was. She cast her eyes down and said, “Not really, but thanks.” She meant it. I knew she meant it and wasn’t just being modest; I knew it because that’s how a true, good Christian feels. All the good they do, all the right decisions they make, all the people they help really mean nothing because at the end of the day, we are all filth. We are scum. We are sinful beings God cannot deign to look upon without the covering of Jesus’ blood. I wanted to shout “But you ARE good!” I thought back on my own life, my own right decisions, the people I helped, my lifestyle in general. All I ever tried to do, even with all the mistakes I made along the way, was be good. And I really was good! It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I’d been put down by my faith my whole life and made to believe I was shit. The times when I dared to recognize that I kind of was okay, I shot myself right back down for having too much pride. Pride proved that I really wasn't any good at all.

The gurgling volcano of anger began erupting now and again in other ways. I would read a Christian article, or hear a Christian viewpoint, and find myself raging at it. I could never go back to believing those things. Even though a small part of me still wished fervently for just a blind faith to wash over me and let me be at peace instead of that constant spiritual masochism, I also knew I never wanted to be on that side of those viewpoints again. Even if I did come back around to having faith, I could never have faith in all of it. I found myself especially annoyed when I read things about why people leave the church or leave the faith, written from the viewpoint of someone still in it. Though I truly sympathized with their ignorance on the matter, (I myself having been one of them for decades), I was frustrated by how simplistic and egotistical their proposals are. If anyone realized the sheer agony I’d been through for the past three years on this awful journey, they wouldn’t be able to take it so lightly or flippantly. They wouldn’t be able to safely put me in a box and lock me away, as a friend put it.

You see, that term “spiritual masochist” speaks deeply to me. It describes who I’ve always been. Unlike what “they” would like to believe, I wasn’t a seed scattered on the path or sown amongst the thorns or cast into the rocky places. Rather, I’ve always over-searched my heart, ripped apart all the layers to find the truth of my soul. I believed in God and the Bible in spite of my conscious, intellectual doubts, and I never lied to myself about those doubts. I took my ability to still believe as a gift from God, for I knew it was all foolishness to the wise. Strip the faith away though, and I was left with oozing open wounds that I still tore and slashed at, amongst my cries and tears, trying to find the truth in the gash. I felt certain that few Western Christians have ever been to the excruciating lengths I had been going through to keep my faith alive. I spent years flagellating myself in the name of God to believe I was nothing, and there I was flagellating myself again to try and find some living cell within my incurable, terminal faith on which I could rebuild a self I didn’t even want anymore. I had been beating and bruising myself over this, and could not stop, and I discovered I was actually very angry about it. I thought I’d by-passed the Anger stage, but there I was, boiling over at any unexpected stimuli. Was I angry that I was raised in a Christian home? Not at all. My parents believe whole-heartedly in Jesus as I once did. Of course they would raise their offspring to place their treasures in heaven and aspire for eternal salvation. Was I angry that God has dropped me when I always believed he never would, never could? Extremely. I had been left to die with no savior to rescue me, just lies and manipulation.

I didn't know how I’d ever be ready to accept entirely that my faith was dead. I was still afraid of death, both spiritual and physical. I feared I was failing the test, and for that, I was going to be eternally punished. I still liked the idea of Jesus. I still liked what he taught and what he stood for. I still wanted to live by those principles and guide my children in those ways. No one ever regretted being a good person. But to believe 85% of the Bible and to believe that God will come to your rescue if you truly ask with all your heart are things I could not do.

I was stepping into a sunnier forest, just one without a set path. I was afraid to forge my own, because I’d been taught my whole life that I am not able to. To find your own way is to turn your back on the Lord. Yet the Lord had turned his back on me already, so I really had no choice. I had children at tender ages to raise. I had my own life to figure out. I was afraid to come into Acceptance, because I knew that it would mean I had truly died. I knew it’s around the bend, but I was still frightened. Frightened I was wrong. Frightened I was right. Worried how I would hurt my family who loves me. Worried I’d do wrong by my kids. I was in no rush to find Acceptance of my situation, but I was done with the search. I thought, “If the God of the Bible is truly the God of Love, he will pull me back in like the one lost sheep, but I’m not holding my breath.” I was finding it hard enough to breathe as it was.

Then one day, while dwelling on God abandoning me, a thought struck me. God never abandoned me at all; God just doesn’t exist! Of course, the possibility that God might not exist had been with me throughout the entire journey, but the sudden realization felt like someone opening the door of a dark room and letting in the daylight. I felt like rubbing my eyes with the wonder of it, the excitement of it, the joy of it.

And like that, my anger dissipated. Well, not really. My anger at God was gone, because it was like being angry at the Easter Bunny. How could I be angry at something that doesn’t exist, never existed? He hadn’t abandoned me, so what was there to be upset about? But I was still angry at other things. Angry at thirty years of a life wasted on a myth. Angry at my ignorance. Angry at myself for all the things I’d done in the name of God that I was now ashamed of. Angry at missing out on all the riches of the world we live in because I was busy thinking about the next world. I was angry in general, but now had no one to be angry with.

The months went by. Gradually I noticed my anger subsiding. At first, I didn’t know how to relate to the world as a verified non-believer. I didn’t know if I was a good person or a bad one. I didn’t know how people would relate to me. If they knew I was – dare I say it – an atheist, would they all turn on me?

I kept this terrifying word to myself, but as time went on, I realized how well it fit who I was now. I was so thankful to have a husband and friends who were stumbling along this journey with me. It was a little embarrassing to realize I was only for the first time truly trying to think for myself. I had to push back the temptation to latch on to other non-believers’ opinions in search of my own beliefs – or non-beliefs. At first, all of my atheistic feelings were tinged with anger and very raw. Again, I wasn’t sure I had really reached acceptance.

But a few days ago I realized six months have gone by since I first came to the conclusion that there is no god. And in that six months, a peace has settled over me. As I drift further and further away from religion, the harder I find it to understand the Christian mind-set and how I ever owned it. I’m now at the point where I have to consciously put myself back in that place in order to relate with people still in it. I also have to remind myself how painful the exit was, because I’m actually quite comfortable with it now.

There is just one step left. I can’t say I’ve fully “accepted” my atheism, because I’m still not brave enough to let the world know. I’ve been through the five stages of grief and now I’m no longer grieving, but I realize that not everyone I know has had the time to do the same. To let my family and friends know that my faith is dead will only bring it all back up again, and now I’ll have to deal with their grief. That’s the one thing I’m not ready to accept: Watching my own funeral.