Despite my desire to communicate, sometimes saying what I feel is the last thing I want to do...Here goes!

Dear Sister Christian

I went on a two-month mission trip in college and one of the leaders began calling me “Sister Christian”. This leader was a great lady and she often came up with little sayings that were endearing and/or humorous. As a Christian, I thought there was something satisfying in the idea that we were all connected as a family. We were a family that knew the truth of Christ’s love and salvation. So, I began using this new expression, sister Christian, since I preferred it to the more awkward-sounding “Sister (or Brother) in Christ”.

As you likely know, I am no longer a believer in any god and therefore no one can accurately call me sister Christian any longer. But in the letter below, the “feeler” in me chose to address my Christian friends and family in this former way because I like expressing affection. And I am truly grateful that, as human-beings, we are all connected in a familial way, despite our many differences in opinion and belief. (Note: this letter isn’t to anyone in particular, it’s a summation of my feelings and thoughts toward my religious family and friends).

Despite my desire to communicate, sometimes saying what I feel is the last thing I want to do...Here goes!

Communicating what I really feel can be so fun… here goes nothing!

Dear Sister (and Brother) Christian,

I miss you. I miss how things used to be. I miss our conversations. I miss the peace and harmony I felt when hanging out with you. Sadly, I am not sure we can have that back. It seems that you have taken a step back from our relationship. I get it… change can be hard. Especially the unexpected “rock the core beliefs” kind of change that happened to me.

It has been pretty exhausting… the process of:

  • doubting and questioning the faith I have had since I was young
  • seeking the truth despite what I grew up believing and despite what my loved-ones believe
  • realizing that I simply don’t believe anymore
  • sharing this news with people as it seems appropriate (examples here and here)
  • experiencing changes in many relationships
  • deciding how to handle all the changes
  • attempting to treat my friends and family with compassion and understanding
  • figuring out how to raise my children morally, without guidance from a god (examples here and here)
  • figuring out how to have community without church
  • observing you sharing about god at your convenience
  • holding my tongue so as not to offend people
  • and finally starting this blog so I can have a voice.

It is very possible that you are exhausted too and that many of your thoughts and prayers have been spent on my behalf. Maybe you fear for my eternal soul or what may happen to me in this life. Or perhaps, you don’t think about this change in my life at all. Maybe it just doesn’t bother you that much. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between. How do you feel about this change in my life? Well, either way, I felt it necessary to express my thoughts and feelings because while I am at peace with the realization that I’m an atheist, I am not at peace with my relationship with you.

Here are some things I think you should know about me:

  • I am still the same person I used to be
    • I love people and building relationships
    • I love my family A LOT
    • I enjoy being outdoors and staying active
    • I’m caring, honest, genuine, fun and enthusiastic
    • Like most people, I want happiness for myself and my loved-ones
  • I didn’t suddenly become immoral
    • I strive for the things that are in the best interest of myself, my family, my friends and my community
    • I don’t want to steal, lie, cheat, or harm anyone
  • I am not convinced there is a god because I haven’t found sufficient evidence
    • I didn’t lose faith because I wanted an excuse to sin
    • I am not a heathen because I felt harmed by god or his followers
    • While I am open to hearing your evidence, I would advise that you not treat me like a potential convert, I think that will only hurt our relationship
  • I don’t generally feel the need to talk about religion
    • I don’t care what you believe as long as you’re not hurting anyone
    • I enjoy the fact that I don’t need to be an evangelist anymore
    • While I do want you to think critically about your own viewpoint, I don’t want to spend time trying to convince you to agree with me
    • That said, I am open to talking about god and our existence and generally enjoy such conversations

_________________________________________________________________________

If I could have an ideal conversation with you about beliefs it would go something like this:

You: I believe ________ and this is why _________.

Me: OK, I don’t believe ________ and this is why __________.

You: Alright.

(We decide to mutually respect each other’s right to believe or not believe whatever we want as long as it’s not hurting anyone)

Me: Alright, well, that’s enough about religion.

You: Yeah, let’s have fun and enjoy each other’s company and not let religion get in the way.

_________________________________________________________________________

I realize life isn’t so simple, it’s not possible to have it exactly the way we want sometimes. And that’s OK.

I want you to know I am happy. I used to worry so much about what god might be saying to me or how he was leading my life. Now, I feel empowered to make my own choices and take responsibility for my life. I feel free. I feel at peace. I am doing well.

Lastly, I invite you to share anything about yourself that you would like me to know. I welcome your response to this letter if you feel compelled.

With much love,

Vanessa

 

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“Team Jesus Forever, Right?”

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The Out Campaign

When I began blogging last summer, one of my first posts was about Coming out as an Atheist. I mentioned there were extended family members, co-workers, and some friends who after 2 years still didn’t know about this huge change in my life. I had a lofty goal of taking opportunities to come out every chance I got. Well, after 7 months, I can’t say that I’m as far along as I want to be in this regard, but I have certainly made some progress. I wanted to take an opportunity to share with you one instance of coming out to a colleague.

Enter Shannon. I first met her when I was involved in a Christian ministry in college. She is an extremely bubbly, nice, goofy, beautiful, and yes, very devout, woman. Post college, we both remained in the same town and would catch up with each other occasionally. Many years later, prior to quitting my job last summer, we became colleagues for a few months. During those months, even though I was an atheist the entire time, she still knew me as “sold out for Jesus”. Even though she talked about god often, I just didn’t feel comfortable mentioning my lack of belief in a work setting.

file0001113911603When it was my last day at work, she gave me a big hug, passionately exclaimed how much she would miss me, and said, “It’s OK, team Jesus forever, right?” This statement took me SO off guard. I was absolutely not prepared for her to say that to me (in front of other people, mind you) so I had no response at all. I just sort of felt sick to my stomach, said goodbye, and turned around to leave. My issue is that so many people know me as a person that loves god and spends a lot of my time and energy pursuing god and his interests. Well, now that I’m an atheist, that obviously isn’t the least bit true anymore.  I want people to know that I no longer believe the things I use to believe, but how are they going to know if I don’t tell them? I can’t expect them to read my mind, that’s for sure. But the reality is, this can be an entirely awkward topic to bring up depending on how well I know a person and the context in which I encounter them.

So, after having this weird encounter with Shannon, I went home and felt sick about my inability to say something in the moment. I absolutely HAD to respond to “team Jesus forever, right?” Because, um… no, NOT team Jesus… not even if I was a Christian would I feel comfortable with that statement!

_DSC0835Below is the email I sent her that same night. To some, this may seem too soft and lovey dovey. But, this is me. I am often very sensitive to the feelings of others, it’s a part of who I am.

So, this email emerged:

Dearest Shannon –

I just love you and our budding friendship. I have felt the need to be honest with you in regards to my faith or lack there-of, although it is challenging for me to share because of reactions I have had from some family and friends.

In the past couple of years I have realized that I don’t believe in any gods. I look back fondly on all my Navigator (college ministry) memories, friendships, etc. but I have went on a journey of doubt, questioning, then realization that I don’t have enough evidence to believe there is a God. I value my relationships, family and morals immensely and I feel that I am in a good place and a good person without any faith in the supernatural.

I appreciate your spirit, compassion, and emanating love. I hope that we can continue forward in fondness for each other. Take care and seeya soon,

Vanessa

I am not sure how many times I will need to have this conversation with people, probably for the rest of my life to some degree. I do know that I will choose to be honest with people when it becomes necessary, just like it became necessary with Shannon.

Your Turn

Share an awkward moment when someone thought something about you that wasn’t true.

The Sound of Silence

Earlier this week I wrote a short blip about the Excruciating Silence that happens when a loved one fails to communicate. As I mentioned in that post, I am a communicator, sometimes an over-communicator. It drives me insane to feel like I have discord with a loved one. I have always been in favor of mediation, conflict resolution, and the pursuit of harmony. When silence lingers for too long (especially when personal and relational challenges are being faced) it’s easy to make assumptions or perhaps let resentments linger. One such instance of an uncomfortable and ongoing silence in my life happened when I started sharing with loved ones about my new-found atheism.

“Coming Out” Atheist: Eventual Silence

About two years ago, my husband and I shared some important information with our close family (specifically, our parents and siblings). We “came out” of our atheist closets and said:

  • We are not Christians anymore
  • We don’t have sufficient evidence for any gods and therefore don’t believe
  • We are at peace with our realization
  • We are still the same caring, fun-loving, and happy people that we were before 

Every single family member was surprised at this change of heart… I don’t blame them since we were seriously devoted to our faith for so long. Some family members had pretty mild reactions. Oh, but some of our family members…their response was not so tame. Raised voices. Heated arguments. Hurt feelings. Unusual behavior. Aggression. Blaming. All of these things erupted in the first few months after sharing our news.

Soon, the raging fire sizzled out and the rumblings ceased…

Silence.

Share faith? Feel free. Lack belief? Mums the word.

Share faith? Feel free. Lack belief? Mums the word.

Awkward, uncomfortable silence.

Excruciatingly painful yucky silence.

When it came to our lack of belief, our families cries went from passionate and vocal… to silent. In desperation I felt like shouting, “But, we used to talk so openly about so many things! Can’t we be real with each other without taking things so personally? Or at the very least, can we agree to disagree, choose to love each other, and THEN not talk about it?” I used to share my deepest emotions and thoughts with my family. Now that we disagree about our core beliefs, sharing in this way has become incredibly difficult, and for now, impossible.

I can hear some of you saying, “Why do you even need to talk about god?” Truly, I would be happy to avoid the god topic under the following conditions: religion isn’t being pushed on my family and we’re not looked down upon for our disbelief. For now, that is not the case.

Unfortunately, because some family members are so devoted to their god, I fear there will be strife, passive aggression, and awkward, painful silence indefinitely. I have rejected their core beliefs, somehow that hurts them. I have to remember, I am the one who changed gradually over time, and then suddenly, I dumped this shocking information on my family.

Perhaps, gradually over time, my family will embrace me with open arms once again, with a willingness to share and be real about who we are. 

But I’m not getting my hopes up.

In the mean time, I will attempt to be inspired by the words of actor and playwright, Harvey Fierstein:

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.

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A Post Valentines Day Laugh

I mean, how can you not appreciate the hilarity of this clip from the Valentines Day episode of The Office? I often think of this clip when I think of what the day represents.

I have almost always said that Valentines Day is “not my thing” or that I don’t care much about it. And no, I am not grumpy because I had a bad experience or mad that my loved one doesn’t buy me expensive gifts (I would actually be a bit upset if he spent money on this day over our anniversary or a random surprise day).

I have never had a Valentines Day that was particularly wonderful (or terrible for that matter). My husband and I rarely exchange gifts, we simply try to spend some time together, using it as an opportunity to reconnect.

Aside from my personal experience, when I look at the commercialization of this holiday I do find it disgusting and therefore at times quite comical. The pressure is on for people to buy gifts and be overly romantic and when that doesn’t happen for someone, they must not be loved or appreciated. Because on this ONE day it is necessary to display love, otherwise, said love must not exist.

I leave you with the words of a sign I saw at my local flower shop: “Will she forgive you, if you forget her?” With that kind of pressure, man, those flowers are gonna be really special!