Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reason Rally Recap, Part 2- nosce te ipsUUm; know thyself

The part of the day I was looking forward to the most was Tim Minchin's performance. First, I want to say I am IMMENSELY grateful that he performed at this . I think it was a huge boost for attendance, and numbers mattered here. Would I have made this trip if it were not for Minchin's performance? Maybe, if I had known about it, but I'm not sure it even would have been on my radar, if not for being obsessed with Tim, and his being on the program certainly influenced my decision to go. I've seen reports that the crowd was biggest during his performance. I'm enormously appreciative that he took the time and effort to support this cause.

I can't help but wonder, though, if he was not entirely enthused to be giving the effort. I felt a bit surprised by some of his song choices. I felt a bit surprised and disappointed he didn't talk more. (I'm sorry. I'm just being honest about my feelings here.) I realize he owed us nothing and gave a great performance. My disappointment is just me admiting this and does not diminish how great his show was, how much it was enjoyed by the audience, or how awesome it was for him to do this. I think that because he is such "an icon for the disenfranchised masses" in a way that is way more serious and true than he ever meant those words to be, maybe we (I) had naive (that word again) hopes that he would have some special message for us, something I haven't already heard the three other times I have seen him perform.

Although he didn't talk much, he did say a few new things. The first was when he first came on stage. After removing his shoes and socks by popular demand (and undoing his belt and pants) he said, "What is wrong with you people, standing in the rain because you all don't believe something similar?" Then he went right into "Confessions".

After the song, he said, "This is fun I guess. This is sort of fun. I don't want to be here. We don't want to be here. Pity really, isn't it? That 300 years after The Enlightenment, we'd still have to be here having a fucking rally for the obvious?"

Of course, I understand what he is saying, that it is sad that in this day and age there is a need for a Reason Rally. But at the end of the day, I was left wondering if he meant it that he really didn't want to be here (which would make me appreciate the gesture all the more. I feel a bit shitty about writing this, but I do want to be honest, and maybe I'm way off base. I'm learning that I often am.) At the end of the show, he did say, "You guys are doing a wonderful, wonderful, soggy thing. Thank You."

I just wonder if he felt a bit annoyed by it all? I am thankful for him though, and thoroughly enjoyed the show, and hope he had a spectacular time. Maybe he got to enjoy "breaking bread with Dawkins" and do something scienc-y with Adam Savage. I'm truly glad I went, and aside from the Pledge sans "under god", which was a new experience for me, his show was my favorite part of my day. The Pope Song on the National Mall? Who would have thought? I fucking love freedom of speech.

I really wanted to see Nate Phelps' speech, but I missed it. There came a point in the afternoon when I was pretty cold, tired, wet, and had a headache. The kids had walked down to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and we went to retrieve them and get a coffee. It was quite a hike to get there and back, and when we returned I had missed the speech. Nate is the son of Westboro Baptist Church leader, Fred Phelps, and he left the group at age 18. WBC was protesting the Rally. This is a photo of his mother, taken a few minutes before he took the stage. (photo from Village Voice blog)

I wish I would have been there for the speech, but watching now, I'm sure I would have cried, (getting even more wet). It is a very moving and sad speech, even if I had no personal experience with controlling religion or estranged relationships. I'm not sure why I did not anticipate this effect on me, but long forgotten memories of belonging to (and I felt like I literally BELONGED TO) an Assemblies of God church, combined with the pain of currently having a strained relationship with some of my family, made this speech even more sad and poignant for me. Not that my circumstances were nearly as extreme as Nate Phelps'. I admire his courage and compassion and the hard-earned wisdom he shared with such sorrow in his voice.

I was bolstered by these words. “They called me a rebel. For years, I wore that name with shame until I realized that confronted with the god of my father, rebellion is the only moral option.”

I know I made the right choice being a rebel and leaving my god and religion.

Yesterday, I wrote about feeling some cognitive dissonance during Greta Christina's speech, but ultimately agreeing with her statements at the end. I had the opposite experience with Richard Dawkins' speech. It started out as a much needed, encouraging reminder of the treasure we have in our Constitution.

"The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over. How sad it would be if in the birthplace of secular constitutions the very principle of secular constitutions were to be betrayed in a theocracy. But it's come close to that."

It continues with an exciting prospect that we are at the moment in history when atheists everywhere feel connected and unafraid and there is a mass "coming out".

"I hope that this meeting will be a turning point. I'm sure many people have said that already. I like to think of a physical analogy of a critical mass. There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists or secularists or agnostics. We are far more numerous than anybody realizes. We are approaching a tipping point, we're approaching that critical mass, where the number of people who have come out becomes so great that suddenly everybody will realize, "I can come out, too." That moment is not far away now. And I think that with hindsight this rally in Washington will be seen as a very significant tipping point on the road."

Both these ideas are so exhilarating! He then elaborates on evolution and what a beautiful, profound, amazing process it is that we have evolved to be intelligent, then cleverly suggests WE intelligently design our lives. Powerful stuff.

However our views diverge towards the end of the speech. Dawkins wants us to not only disagree with religious beliefs but to "ridicule them with contempt".

"So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: "I don't believe you. I don't believe you until you tell me do you really believe -- for example, if they say they are Catholic -- do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?" Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!

Don't fall for the convention that we're all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt."

I can imagine no value in ridiculing a religion, nor a person, nor even a belief. I can disagree without ridicule and contempt. Indeed, I believe it is essential to do so in order for me to retain my sense of morals and ethics. Ridicule and contempt breeds hatred and war. There HAS TO BE a better way to achieve the worthy goals espoused by Dawkins earlier in his speech: REASON, upholding the Constitution, separation of church and state, embracing science, and becoming a nation in which atheists live openly without fear of persecution or ridicule. We must achieve this without persecuting or ridiculing others for their beliefs. I believe the path to REASON must be built with compassion ans respect.

So, that about sums it up. Even if it is uncomfortable, I love questioning my own beliefs, more than I enjoy questioning others'. That's what makes me UU.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reason Rally Recap, Part 1- E Pluribus UUnum?

The Reason Rally was one of the most incredible events I've been to in my life. It was definitely a wonderful experience to share with my son. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime, unique event. There were amazing speakers and performers. The crowd and the atmosphere were invigorating. Well, the actual physical atmosphere was actually pretty sucky and rainy most of the day. There was so much packed into this one day, I'm finding it difficult to even recap and summarize, let alone analyze or explicate.

It is especially difficult because as I reflect, I have such a mixture of emotions. Although there were many moments of joy, and solidarity, and inspiration, looking back, I feel....unsettled. I'm not surprised to have a tinge of post-rally depression from coming down off a humanist high, going from being lost in a sea of free-thinkers to returning to my community where I sometimes feel isolated and shunned. That's to be expected, I think. But I also have a sense of sadness I did not anticipate, stirred up from a past history of being entwined in a negative religious community. I thought I had put that behind me and am surprised to feel old wounds surface. Furthermore, I've I've developed an uncomfortable awareness of my own naivety that I also didn't expect. A lot of these emotions were interspersed with the ups and downs of the day, and the excitement and exhaustion, and rain and bits of sun. I'm still sorting the memories and feelings, and the photos and the videos. I'm going to try to relate my account of the day and sort some of it here.

Photo from CNN Belief Blog

I was really hoping to connect with some UU's there. Unfortunately, I didn't make any actual plans to meet up with anyone. I just thought I'd search for the yellow shirts. (Yes, this is one small aspect of my already admitted naivety.) When we boarded the bus in Chicago with an odd number in our party, we had been discussing who gets to sit with a "stranger". As we were deciding where to sit, a woman spotted Ethan's shirt and asked if he was UU. He settled in next to her, and our journey started out on a great note.

Once we were in DC, before the rally even started, another UU spotted our shirts and we chatted and snapped a pic. Then that was the last we saw of any UU's, maybe because shirts quickly got covered with raincoats and ponchos as the rain started.

The best part of the Rally, for me, came right at the beginning. (Nope, it was not Tim Minchin.) We recited the Pledge of Allegiance the way it was before the words "under god" were added in 1954.

This was an amazing 15 seconds. I struggle with this issue almost every day, as a substitute teacher. I feel very strongly that the words "under god" should not be in the Pledge. Whether or not students should be mindlessly reciting the Pledge at all is another issue. If we are going to say the Pledge, let's make it inclusive for all students.

I love The Friendly Atheist blog, and enjoyed Hemant Mehta's speech. He presented the Jessica Ahlquist with a scholarship check for $62,618. The "for" line on the check read "bravery". I loved that. Here is the video of that and her speech:

Another fun and inspirational speaker was Adam Savage from Mythbusters.

So, so far, everything was fun and exciting and wonderful, even in the rain.

Then, Greta Christina took the stage to talk about why atheists are angry. I was right with her as she ticked off atrocities that make me angry too. Wait. What? The Dalai Lama makes you angry? Oh no. Now it's not just Tim Minchin who is telling me the Dalai Lama is not who I thought he was. "I'm angry that the current Dalai Lama said that although he supports tolerance for gay people, he sees homosexual sex as wrong, unwholesome, a bad action, and contrary to Buddhist ethics. I'm angry that the belief in karma and reincarnation gets used as the justification for the caste system in India. I'm angry that people born into poverty and despair are told it is their fault, that they did something bad in a past life, and they are being punished for it."

See my blog avatar there? --------> That's me, sitting on a fence, holding a picture of the Dalai Lama. I'm doing that because of a Tim Minchin song, "The Fence", (blog post to come, I promise). He talks about the whole reincarnation thing and doesn't even mention the homosexual sex thing (Well, he does, but that is in an earlier verse referencing Che Guevera, rather than the Dalai Lama.) Long story short, I've been "on the fence" not knowing what to think of the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism. That fence just got way more uncomfortable to sit on. And what's this about the Mormon's? I had never heard of "Lying for the Lord".

So, in spite of feeling increasingly ignorant and naive and confused (and angry) during her speech, by the end, I really took heart at this sentiment (because I agree and it makes me feel better about myself)- "Atheists aren't angry because we are selfish, or bitter, or joyless. Atheists are angry because we have compassion. Atheists are angry because we have a sense of justice." This is the part of atheism I love to identify with. I need to learn the love part which tests what it means to be skeptical and challenges my worldview. (Obviously. That's what we demand as a movement. I demand it of myself as well.)

It's getting late. I need to get up and lead schoolchildren in the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning. Tomorrow night, I'll continue with Tim Minchin, Nate Phelps, and Richard Dawkins.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reason Rally and Rain- Bring It On, bring it on

I can't sleep. I'm excited about leaving for the Reason Rally tomorrow. My sixteen year old son and I are going with my friend and her daughter. We are driving three hours to Chicago to board a bus which will drive us fifteen hours to Washington DC, to what looks like will also be the Rain Rally (80% chance of rain and thunderstorms most of the day).

I was going to say that a reason for going is to teach my son about standing for our freedoms and having the personal integrity to be "out" as an atheist. Upon further reflection, however, I realize that more and more, he is the one teaching these lessons to me. Normally he goes to a piano lesson on Friday afternoons. His piano (and French horn) teacher is a good musician and a good music teacher. She's also a fundamentalist Christian type. I recently found out she left in the middle of a school anti-bullying assembly for which she was providing piano accompaniment for the choir, because there was mention of anti-gay bullying. Eth will miss his piano lesson tomorrow since we will be in route to Chicago to catch our DC Rally Bus. I asked him if he told her where he was going and he had. He also told her what the rally was about and used the words "I am an atheist". By contrast, sometimes I've kind of said "oh it's a secularist HUMANIST gathering, and it's PEAK cherry blossom season!", when telling certain people where I am going this weekend. That was quite a risk for my son, who loves and respects this teacher he has had for five years. So, maybe this is venture is more of an opportunity for him to lead and teach me, and for us to go celebrate our freedom together.

We are also going to represent so many more who can't go. The attendance predictions for this are between 30,000 and 50,000 people!! And most atheists are NOT going. I wonder what the ratio is for number of atheists that aren't going for each one who is. I've read so many comments by people who cannot attend wanting to be represented. Some people are making signs listing all the people they know who can't come.

Of people I know that cannot come, many are members of my church. At least six had reservations for the Peoria bus that got cancelled. Another is wheelchair bound and the bus was not accessible anyway. Several more could not afford to go or had schedule conflicts. So I also go to represent not only people from my congregation, but UU's everywhere. (I also hope to see many UU's there!) I'm still mulling over sign ideas. I'm considering "Godless But Not Churchless- Unitarian Universalists Support Separation of Church and State!" Or something like that. I don't know. I'm always making myself even more of a minority than I already am, like I can't just be an atheist; why do I have to proclaim, "I'm an atheist who loves church"? Well, because I love church I guess. (And Eth and I are going to wear our Standing on the Side of Love shirts. Awww, how cool is that (for me), that my teenager is willing to wear matching shirts?)

Ahh, now I'm starting to get tired again. Need sleep to travel safe. I hope we all have safe travel. I would be compromising my integrity though if I don't mention that one of the main reasons I am making this trek is to see Tim Minchin perform at this historic event. I can't wait to hear what songs he has chosen and to hear his talky bits too. Rain or no, I'm totally psyched about this weekend. Must sleep and dream of cherry blossoms and Minchin.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I have given my blog a new look and a new name! I didn’t like the dark background, and I have decided to broaden my horizons a bit. “Tim Minchin for UU” was so…specific. Although I can typically relate any event or idea to Tim Minchin, I find sometimes I’m wanting to write about other things besides Tim Minchin (gasp!). Or maybe things about Tim Minchin which may not necessarily relate to UUism (like an artistic nude portrait I did based on the song below; more details later). I am going to allow myself more freedom in what I post.

Admittedly, I’m sure it will mostly still be Tim things or UU things or the intersection thereof. That’s why I am calling it “A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Minchin”, which is, of course, a play on one of the UU principles, “a free and responsible search for meaning”.

So on that note, please enjoy "If You Really Loved Me".