You can’t run on gratitude alone.

You can’t run on gratitude alone. I knew this already, but I’m learning it again. All the heartfelt thanks in the world are not going to make up for the lost sleep, poor food choices, and exhaustion.

It feels good to receive heartfelt thanks. Then it gets awkward, watching a tear of gratitude trickle down someone’s cheek. They’d rather not be crying, you’d really rather they didn’t. Neither of you wanted to be in this position in the first place, they didn’t really want you to bring them dinner, they’d rather have their home, their own kitchen, their own dishes.

Sometimes they want to share their experience with you. You’re told stories that sound like apocalyptic Hollywood plots: fireballs racing down the street as you want the children. People make confessions of guilt over the beta fish who was left behind, I grabbed the baby, but the smoke was too thick to grab the fish. What do you say to that? I’m glad you grabbed the baby, sorry about the fish. 

You don’t really know what to say. Taking a meal to a family that has lost everything is very different than taking a meal to a family with a new baby. With the new baby, it is usually a joyous (if somewhat exhausting) occasion. With the loss of all worldly possessions, there is the uncomfortable moment when you have to go home, because you still have a place to go home to.

So home you go, feeling somewhat guilty that your house wasn’t destroyed. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. It sits with you uncomfortably. Why was your town spared the devastation? You have an overwhelming desire to punch anyone who suggests it was karma, or worse, the Christian Science equivalent, of not doing their prayerful work, as if enough aligning one’s thought with God, would make a difference. Hundreds of acres were destroyed, why didn’t the wind blow your way? You’re not a better person than they are, nor are you any worse, seriously, who makes these judgment calls anyway? Sure, everything was covered in an inconvenient layer of thick ash, but it is just that, inconvenient (and toxic), but you still have a place to live.

The entire exchange is awkward, but at the end of the day, you’re in a position to help, so you do. It is okay to receive help. It is okay to provide help. It is okay to take care of yourself, because if you don’t help yourself, you won’t be in a position to help anyone else. I need this taped on my fridge in foot high letters, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, otherwise you are USELESS to others. 

Lesson clearly still not learned.


“You’ve done enough.”

1755 Lisbon earthquake via wikipedia

I’m thankful to live in a community that, when you have to make a phone call saying “This family has been displaced, and lost everything to the horrific natural disaster” the immediate reply is “What can I do to help?” Once the needs were known, people followed up with concrete action: bringing meals, helping to arrange alternative housing, gift cards, donations of clothing, toys, money, and household items.

The practical response of the community is so different from what I experienced during my time in Christian Science. If a someone lost their home to a natural disaster, they clearly hadn’t done their protective prayerful work. If their home survived, then clearly they were more spiritually minded than those who had lost everything. As if somehow, it was their thought influencing the hurricane, wildfire or tornado that devastated the area.

The area where we live was recently devastated by a series of horrific natural disasters. I didn’t sleep for a week as evacuation orders pinged on my phone, and I tried to wrap my head around what was unfolding around me, and I was in a safe area. I have friends who lost everything, their homes, businesses, and cars.

I was tasked with helping the teacher call families, to check in and see how people were doing, where people were going, and to see how the community could help. Together we tracked down all the families on the list, checking in to see where they were, what they needed, and how we could help. The community came together to help.

At the end of the first week I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally, but I kept going. I still had a house, I was okay, I was in a position to help. Then, I got an email for yet another meal train, and replied “I’d love to sign up for something, but I need to get groceries first!” the woman organizing the meal train emailed back, “don’t worry about it, you’ve done enough!

“You’ve done enough!”

I cried. In the Christian Science culture you can never do enough. There is always room to strive for a better understanding of Christian Science. If you correct your thought enough, you can change the world and move mountains. You can’t acknowledge you’re exhausted, that is giving power to error. I was still standing, I still had a home, surely I could do something more to help.

Then someone else told me that I had “done enough” and I needed to “take a break.”  This time it was a woman housing people who had lost everything, and organizing baking for a first responder’s breakfast (among so many other things). I had just dropped off six dozen muffins, and was apologizing for not having made more. “It is fine, you’ve done enough.”

I’m coming to terms with what “done enough” means. For me, for now, it means I am stepping back and taking care of myself and my family, working on reestablishing routines and a new sense of  normal. Our area will be in recovery mode for years, there are be plenty more opportunities to help.

I remind myself, I’m not the only one out there helping, the community outpouring of support has been amazing, and I can’t help others if I am too exhausted to help myself.

image via wikipedia

Martinmas Meditations

Our school recently celebrated Martinmas. As darkness fell, we gathered in the cozy classroom and were told the story of Martin, a young Roman conscript who gave half of his warm cloak to a beggar on the side of the road. Later that night Martin had a dream (vision?), an angel was wearing half of Martin’s cloak, and it told Martin that it had been the beggar on the road – Martin went on to convert to Christianity, but that part was left out of the story. The focus was on Martin’s kind heart, and willingness to share what he had with someone less fortunate than himself.

There was a mood of reverence as we walked from the classroom with our lanterns. In the dark, with only the quiet singing of the children, I contemplated the story. Martin did not give the beggar his entire cloak, he gave him half of it, this was not a story of total self-sacrifice, but of sharing what he could. Would Martin be cold with only half a cloak? Certainly, but the beggar would be warmer with half than if he had none at all.

The Martinmas Festival marks the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas, the light of Martinmas fortifies the soul for the dark winter. I’m not feeling a lot of light right now, the darkness feels pretty overwhelming.

I have been struggling this past week with the election results. I feel both compelled to speak out, and compelled to withdraw and protect my family. I have been saddened by the news of attacks on people based on who they may or may not have voted for, their gender, the color of their skin, or their religious views.

As a former Christian Scientist, it would be easy to revert back to my old ways, to “only see the good” and to “know all is harmonious.” That is not how things work. The question, could I be doing more haunts me. I know the answer is yes, but I’m not sure what “doing more” looks like right now.

More on St. Martin & the Martinmas Festival

Image via

Return of the Mormons Part 2: Religion, Guilt & Motherhood

For part one: Saint Kat of the Sparkling Water

Mormon Missionaries often inspire unintended lines of thinking (I’m pretty sure they never intended to push me to secular humanism) and this time was no exception. Something about the afternoon’s encounter bugged me, and it took some time to sort out why. Then I found it:

They noticed that the kids had come to the front door, and started their spiel on how Mormons honor their mothers, and how motherhood is the most important job, and they really respect that. I got the impression they were saying what they thought I wanted to hear, their religion reveres mothers, and their version of God and Jesus makes family important (or something.)

They were, intentionally or not, trying to guilt me into joining their religion because it was the best thing for my family and my children. Because, as previous missionaries have implied, if I don’t raise them properly with a relationship with Jesus, we’re going to spend an eternity separated from God. This is one of many points on which the Missionaries and I disagree.

I’m sorry Missionaries, you picked the wrong angle. My children have played a huge part in why I left Christian Science — and why I have not sought out another religious movement. From Kid1’s difficult transition into the world, to the ER trip for a sprained elbow, and any number of other incidents, I could not put myself, or my children, through the pressure to demonstrate healings that often never materialized (or that just got better with time because the human body is amazing.)

I am going to do my best to instill freethinking humanist values in them. We are striving to raise children who think for themselves on religious and ethical matters, and who are generally kind, empathetic people. I think this is a much more reasonable goal than telling them they can control the weather with their mind, or Invisible Sky Daddy Loves them (and is a completely sadistic bastard — see Job). I want my children to understand the world, and to be empowered to make truly informed decisions. I don’t see any religions offering that. Do like the Noble Eightfold path, but I see that as more of a philosophy than a religion.

Yes, motherhood is important, family is important, I can agree with those things. Yes, I take steps to make sure my family is safe, and I put our familial interests first. Yes, I’d like the best for my children (actually I’m ok with “good enough” because really, “the best” is often an unattainable goal that will only bring stress and misery and that’s not helpful for anyone).

This is one of the very few places Ms. Eddy and I can agree:  I don’t feel motherhood should be the pinnacle defining feature of women if they don’t want it to be. You know, consenting to being a mother, and the choice to become one (or not). I have a complicated relationship with motherhood, my first pregnancy nearly ended with my untimely demise, and I lost a close friend shortly after the birth of my second child because she didn’t feel I was appropriately appreciative  of my children. They’re wonderful, and I love them, but I’m not going to post that everything is sunshine and rainbows. Apparently I didn’t sugar-coat my Facebook posts with enough appreciation for the fact my then-two year old TPed the living room for her liking. I digress. I don’t know enough about Mormon theology and church structure to comment on their views, but the way these young men latched on to the motherhood trope was slightly off-putting.

I don’t want my children to be raised in a (patriarchy-heavy) belief system that thinks it is okay to push their views on everyone. Missionaries, I try to respect your views, but I disagree with them, and I don’t think you should be lobbying to have them legislated across the country (this applies to all church lobbying groups, not just Mormon ones). Please keep your opinions on what should be happening to my body, and in my bedroom, to yourself. Whatever you do, don’t even consider asking if I’m considering having more children (to their credit, these missionaries didn’t, although past ones have).

I’m not interested in joining a religion that has numerous active ex-support sites. I’m finally at a place where I can “out” myself as having grown up in CS to a select group of never-in-CS friends, where I can talk about some of these issues without bursting into tears. I’m working on building a network of ex-CS to help support those who are questioning, leaving and who have left.

Dear Missionaries, I know you think you’ve found the right path, and it may be “right” for you, but it isn’t the right one for me. Thank you for handling my criticism and rejection gracefully. Next time, I suggest you bring water, wear sunscreen and get a good hat. It is hot out there.

the God Delusion

One of my goals for this year is to read my way through a stack of books that have been sitting on my desk for months now. They are about atheism, religion, philosophy, science, social issues, parenting, and a few works of fiction. We’ll see how far I get. 

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I finished reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Dawkins, while obviously well educated, and a brilliant scientist, does not come across as the sort of person I’d like to have over for a small dinner party.

I feel many of Dawkins’ ideas have merit, however I feel they are often better expressed by people other than Dawkins himself – I much prefer how some of these ideas are put forth in McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief, and I prefer Dennet’s style in Breaking the Spell (it is worth noting Dawkins cites Dennet’s work several times).

The first two chapters offer preliminary introduction and background on religion and God(s). Dawkins focus is mainly on the Big Three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism, with Christianity receiving special attention because it is the one he is most familiar with.

I found Dawkins’ “Arguments for God’s Existence” Chapter 3 to be shallow, perhaps this was intentional. Why put up good arguments for a deity that you don’t believe in? Chapter 4, “Why there almost certainly is no God” was slightly better, I enjoyed his Ultimate 747 argument (p. 113).

The Roots of Religion, Chapter 5, was a most interesting read. Dawkins’ speculates on Darwinian imperative, advantages of religion, group selection, religion as a by-product of something else, psychological priming, and closes with a discussion of Cargo cults of the Pacific.

Chapters 6 and 7 deal with morality, and the changing moral zeitgeist. He touched on the idea that our morals are of Darwinian origin — we have an evolutionary imperative to be moral. Dawkins also poses the question if there is no God, why be good? Dawkins goes on to elaborate on this point on p. 227

It seems to be to require a low self-regard to think that, should belief in God suddenly vanish from the world, we would all be come callous and selfish hedonists, with no kindness, no charity, no generosity, nothing that would deserve the name of goodness.

Old and New Testament morality take a hit in Chapter 7, while it used to be acceptable to stone adulteresses, that is now frowned upon. As Dawkins sees it, the Bible hasn’t changed its position on the issue, our moral zeitgeist has. People who were considered progressive in 1902 would not be viewed as forward-thinking in 2001.

Chapter 8 focuses on the damage that has been caused by religion. With subheadings that include (but are not limited to) Fundamentalism and the subversion of science; The dark side of absolutism; and How ‘moderation’ in faith fosters fanaticism it is clear where Dawkins’ is going, trotting out the worst examples of what religion has done in modern times. It is a disheartening read at best.

Children, Abuse and the Escape from Religion is the focus of Chapter 9. Dawkins briefly touches on physical and mental abuse – focusing on Catholic priest sex scandals, the baptizing and kidnapping of children of non-Catholic parents, and female genital mutilation. The topic of circumcision (which is also genital mutilation) is not discussed, nor are the deaths of children under the care of radical relying Christian Scientists – I suspect this is less of a problem in the UK.

Dawkins also focuses on the issue of children being given religious labels. To him, saying a child is Catholic is as preposterous as saying a child is Marxist. I agree with him, the child is a child of Catholic parents, and the child should be free to choose (or reject) Catholicism. Many religious practices would likely die out if it was not for indoctrinating children at an early age.

Relating a Supreme Court case pertaining to Amish children, Dawkins points out that the Amish children never volunteered to be Amish; they were born into it and they had no choice (p. 331). If they had a choice — and we given all the facts — would they choose to be Amish? They don’t get to find out, as the Supreme Court decided the parents’ fundamental right to freedom of religion outweighed the state’s interest in educating children. Dawkins is openly disgusted, and I am horrified.

I am not sure what to make of Chapter 10, A Much Needed Gap. Dawkins speculates

Does religion fill a much needed gap? It is often said that there is a God-shaped gap in the brain which needs to be filled: we have a psychological need for God …. and this need has to be satisfied wether God really exists or not. But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we’d be better off filling with something else?

Further in the chapter he recognizes religions power of consolation, which while it undoubtedly offers, does not necessarily make it true. Here Dawkins’ mentions Dennets’ belief in belief vs. belief in God, and how if you don’t believe you’re encouraged to continue to profess until you do (I tried this with Christian Science, the result is miserable failure). Chapter 10 has more interesting thoughts, and concludes with the analogy that religion is like a burka limiting our vision.

I hesitate to recommend The God Delusion. While Dawkins’ ideas have merit, I feel that his target audience is already affirmed atheists who have made up their mind and are looking for arguments and evidence to support their views, he provides this in spades. The person fully indoctrinated by their religious beliefs is unlikely going to change their mind after reading his work.

Raising Freethinkers

This is another one of the books that has been sitting on my desk for longer than it should have. This post contains some affiliate links. Thank you for your support of

After reading through Parenting Beyond Belief, I got my hands on the follow-up book, Raising Freethinkers. If you have children (or are thinking about having children), and you have not read these books, go do so now.

I really wish this book had been around in the 1980s when I was growing up, that my parents had read it, and acted on it. I was regularly sent the message that thinking is great, exploring other religious views is fine, questioning is wonderful, but at the end of the day Christian Science is the One True Religion (TM), and the only reason to pay attention in a science class is because you need to get good grades — because for some reason good grades are important in a world mired in the Adam Dream. I digress.

Raising Freethinkers is the follow up book to Parenting Beyond Belief, it is the “practical guide” and a gimmicky green faux-sticker boasts that it includes “more than 100 activities” (aka ways to encourage thought). It also includes pages of resources at the end of each chapter, with extensive lists and summaries of books, movies, websites, blogs, and organizations offering insight, advice, guidance, facts, and support. These alone make it worth the shelf-space.

There are nine chapters, an introduction and appendices. The chapters are done with a brief introduction followed by a Q&A style series of questions relating to the topic at hand. I found it to be a quick read, and there are little colored flags for areas I plan to go back and re-read when they relate more to situations that arise.

Chapters one and two deal with encouraging the inquiring mind, and introducing ethics, and yes, you can be ethical without God getting involved. Chapter two also discusses humanist discipline, which focuses on the “Five Es” exampleexplanation, encouragement, empathy, and engagement.

I’ve throughly tagged Chapter 3: Secular Family, Religious World which discusses the importance of religious literacy — the four main reasons are

  1. To understand the world
  2. To be empowered
  3. To make truly informed decisions
  4. To avoid the “teen epiphany”

Religious literacy is also important because they are going to have to interact with people who hold different beliefs, and I want to protect them from, not from all religion experience and information, but what the author of this chapter, Jan Devor terms “an emotional hijacking that interferes with their own reasoned decision making.” I’m going to use the resource guide and check out some of the basic-overview books on religion they recommend, because I’m not as literate on religion as I’d like to be.

Another chapter I know I will return to is Chapter 4: The Physical Self. This chapter really stood out as what was completely missing from my Christian Science upbringing. On p. 100 the question What are the basic humanist principles related to the body? The answer is about as far from the one I was given in Christian Science as possible:

  1. Health and safety come first.
  2. Our bodies are good and natural.

The author of the chapter, Amanda Metskas goes on to elaborate on these points, while my brain sits boggling at those concepts — in Christian Science accidents are unknown to God and we are always safe in God’s loving care. Man is spiritual, not material. I could pull out more CS-platitudes, but if you’ve read this blog (or were raised in Christian Science) you could probably come up with a few dozen more without too much effort.

Not needing to feel ashamed about one’s body is huge, being honest (and age-appropriate) with children about bodily functions, reproduction, etc. is important. My parents never really talked to me about sex, the over-arching message I got was my body was icky, sex was to be avoided until marriage, then submit in marriage, because if you husband isn’t happy he’ll go somewhere else. Sexual submission was not Ms. Eddy’s take on the issue, her views were differently messed up.

Chapters five and six talk about a life worth living and celebrations, while chapter seven discusses life and death. Chapter eight examines the human need for community — something we continue to strive for, and chapter nine is a “grab bag” of ideas that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else.

I highly recommend both Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers for anyone who is raising or interacting with children on a regular basis. We should focus on educating our children so they can make their own decisions, not indoctrinating them.

Parenting Beyond Belief

One of my goals for this year is to read my way through a stack of books that have been sitting on my desk for months now. They are about atheism, religion, philosophy, science, social issues, parenting, and a few works of fiction. We’ll see how far I get. 

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My husband and I are making the conscious decision not to raise our children in Christian Science, and while we have talked about the idea of attending a church, after a childhood of non-negotiable church attendance with our parents, there are other things we’d rather be doing with our Sunday mornings. We are striving to raise children who think for themselves on religious and ethical matters, and who are generally kind, empathetic people, and while my mother insists that Christian Science provides a “wonderful framework” to stretch children out of shape provide support and guidance, it is not a path I feel comfortable taking — I can not sustain the mental gymnastics, nor do I want to pass the guilt and irrational fear of malicious animal magnetism on to them.

In the process of seeking a different path I came across Parenting Beyond Belief, A collection of essays intended as a resource of opinions, insights, and experiances related to a single issue – raising children without religion – and the many issues that relate directly to it (Parenting, xi). I read it straight through in three days — quite a feat with little ones helping.

Parenting is divided into nine chapters, each contains several essays on various topics, with notable contributors including Penn Jillette and Richard Dawkins.  There is also a forward, preface, glossary, a list of general additional resources, and biographies of the contributors. There are also more topical resource lists at the end of every chapter. These are incredibly helpful if you’re trying to find books on a more specific topic — holidays, death, science, etc.

After my first read-through the books is liberally sprinkled with colorful little flags and margin notes. I fell in love with the book in the Preface where McGowan tells the reader

… there’s little attempt to dictate authoritative answers. Our writers suggest, inform, challenge, and encourage without ever claiming there’s only one right way…. And a good thing too — secularists are a famously freethinking bunch. It’s the attribute that ended us up as secularists, after all — that desire to consider all points of view and make up our own minds. (Parenting, xi. emphasis mine)

Nothing in this book is divinely authorized. Everything can be questioned, discussed and explored. To some extent my parents encouraged me to read widely and draw my own conclusions, and as long as my conclusions came back to Christian Science being the One True Religion, that was fine. So, being able to question everything — and come to my own un-pre-ordained conclusions — is a very liberating idea.

McGowan hits on another wonderful idea on p. xii, the notion that secular parents are not alone, even though the societal default assumes some form of church-going culture. While being in Christian Science was incredibly isolating — it is a very small movement, I could at least walk into any Christian Science church on Sunday and be able to follow along and have some sense (misplaced though it may be) of community — and it is part of the default church-going culture.  Being out of Christian Science is an even more niche group, and thankfully, I have found community through my blog and activity in the Facebook groups.

As I explore my path away from Christian Science, I know that Parenting Beyond Belief will likely play a role as I work on clarifying my thoughts as I try to explain my beliefs to my children and encourage them to think for themselves. There will be no divine inspiration, instead there will be lot of reading and questioning in the years ahead.