Atheists: The Fourth Estate of Religion

I’d never want to live in a world without Atheists.

It’s a thankless job, but they do it with passion.

Because of my newspaper background, I recently made the connection. And if you re-frame it that way, Atheists are doing us all a free public service.

Thank them!

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Fourth Estate,” it’s a nickname given to the press. The idea is to be a watchdog, holding elected officials and The Powers that Be accountable. To defend.

Why are so many believers threatened by them? If you’re strong in your faith, a few questions shouldn’t harm you.

Either state why you believe, or agree to disagree.

Since they don’t believe in God, they make things happen. They don’t take anything for granted.

Their minds are always working. They invent things. They ask questions no one else dares.

They’re aggressive, yes. But they’re just doing their job– don’t take it personally.

Everyone needs to be held accountable, even God.

Not everything about religion is good.

And you can be a believer and still think for yourself.

A faith journey isn’t static– it’s dynamic. It’s constantly evolving.

I’m glad Atheists exist, and I welcome them in my life.

They teach me to be open-minded. They are kind. They are fierce.

They get things done.

They do have faith, in their own way. They are self-reliant. They have faith in logic and science.

That’s something I admire.

Minimalism: The New Goal

I’ve been raised in a family of keepers.

The typical reaction to getting rid of something is, “Wait a minute! Don’t you need that?”

Or, “Let’s give this to Amee! Then she won’t have to buy it.”

They’re givers. They mean well.

But at some point, you gotta just decline.

Nothing crazy. We throw away garbage, we clean. We don’t collect animals.

But we do keep paper! And pictures. And furniture.

And for me, being a writer, I have A LOT of paper.

I felt that everything I’ve ever written was something precious. I WROTE IT, it’s gold! This will be worth money! For awhile, I thought I wanted to publish this some day.

But I realize, I don’t. I wrote it for ME. It helped me express what I felt at that time. But that’s not the person I am today. I have no need to make those feelings public or share them now– they’re not true anymore. I’ve grown beyond them. Ripping up the majority of those poems is cathartic. It’s also hilarious to read my angsty love poems from seventh grade, about boys I would never kiss. I was so shy, I could barely flirt! It’s served a purpose, keeping it. It reminded me who I was growing up. It provided some laughs. It impressed me, with my own grip on language at such a young age.

But if I keep it, I’ve got to manage it and store it. And I’m ready to let it go and move forward.

It takes up a lot of space! And I’m only 33.

In a week, I’ll be 34. And I find myself envious of friends with apartments that have barely any stuff.

Zero clutter!

“But it’s just a ROOM!” my Dad will say.

Exactly. A beautiful room with lots of space.

And I want to move. That’s another goal for this year.

And it can be fun, if I try. If I put on some music or TV and just sit down and ruthlessly make decisions.

I don’t want to bring all this with me. I want to have less to pack. I’m making a point to go through all those boxes I just shoved things into each time I moved, and forgot about. I’ve gotten through the majority. It takes a lot of emotional energy to sit with those items and make decisions. But I’m doing it!

To those of you who are gifted with organization, how do you make decisions about photo albums, family pictures, and old correspondence? Letters, cards?

I can either organize, display, or pitch them.

Already, my closet is gloriously vacant. I would say I’ve donated or given to other friends about 80 percent of the clothes I used to own. I had kept things dating back to high school! Old slutty Halloween costumes from my Twenties. Everyone had them! I don’t need that kind of attention anymore. Now I feel sexier wearing something with class, that covers me up. Things that don’t fit me anymore. Old bridesmaid dresses. My Prom dresses. They were the trendy Jessica McClintock corset types from 1998 and 1999 with the big tulle skirts that looked like a pumpkin if you squatted down in them. I kept them thinking, “Maybe I’ll make a pillow out of the skirt!” But I’m not gonna.

And taking them to a thrift store was so liberating. Someone else will enjoy my dresses and costumes. They will have a new life, in someone else’s closet. Maybe even for Halloween. I donated a gypsy dress I wore many times for Halloween. I certainly got my money’s worth! I donated a couple of toy swords I had. I always went all out for Halloween and bought props and accessories.

This Halloween, I just want to be myself! No costume, no make-up, no wigs.

I don’t want to try on a new identity. I like my own!

Self-Defense, Week Seven: Tranquility and Self-Preservation

I’m feeling calm.

This week, we worked on fighting off someone for a few minutes. We had drills.

And even when I struggled to break free, I didn’t panic. My instructor and my classmates encouraged me– watched what I was doing and gently corrected me. My voice got stronger, and I used it.

I always got away. It didn’t matter the size of the person I was fighting, or how aggressive they were.

I used the moves I learned and improvised a few of my own, too. And this time my instructor didn’t criticize me from deviating from the curriculum. He seemed impressed.

I learned a have a strong instinct for self-preservation. My best weapon is my intuition and my brain.

I’m good at avoiding trouble, and that’s not being weak.

On my way to class, I encountered my across-the-hall neighbor on the back porch. I told him where I was going and he jokingly offered to fight me. He had his hands up, defensively.

I stood my ground and said, “Dude, I’m not fighting you.”

Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is walk away from a fight.

Not the Poems

As I’m clearing out my possessions, my bookshelf is becoming vacant.

I donated three boxes of books to the library last week. It felt good.

I had a fourth box I didn’t bring. And I realized, it can’t go.

Not the poems. I donated several student publications I had collected since college. They were greedily picked over, and the look of delight on the workers’ faces was edifying, I admit. I liked knowing my books will find a new life with these eager readers. I gave them free chapbooks from traveling poets I’ve met. I gave them old student literary journals, a few I was published in myself.

But I’m unpacking that fourth box.

Not Sharon Olds.

Not Diane Wakoski.

Not Robbie Q. Telfer.

Not Meggie C. Royer.

Not Nick Flynn.

Not Sylvia Plath.

Not Robin Metz.

Not Ryan McLellan.

Not Jewel.

Not Neruda.

Not Susan Slaviero.

Not emily rose.

They stay with me. I will re-populate my shelves. But they are the townspeople, I will not evict them.

A Small Book of Devotions

At Mass tonight, the woman in front of me was praying hard.

And I noticed she referred to a small plastic book throughout– it had a picture of Jesus on the cover.

It held prayer cards. During the pauses, she was reading and praying those.

After, I tapped her shoulder and told her I liked the idea. She said people ask her about it all the time. I asked her if she had one for The Blessed Mother as well? She does. She also has others for different Saints. What a great way to keep them close.

She was a very small woman, but her smile was huge. She was older. Her husband was there with her.

It’s very practical. We keep pictures of our family and friends close to us.

I think this woman is on to something. I hope I see her again.

Where do you even find little plastic sleeve books like that these days? A dollar store? Since pictures went digital, nobody carries around those little picture books. It’s all on the phone now!

But I’ve got a few, if nothing else.

I’ve certainly got enough prayer cards! Maybe this is a good way to organize them.

What’s Wrong with Religion?

It’s fashionable these days to identify as “spiritual, not religious.”

But I ask, what’s the taboo on claiming a religious identity?

If you have any religion, good for you. If it makes you happy, that’s what matters.

I’m aware that for many people, religion has been a radically different influence in their lives. They have good reason to distance themselves from it and to be suspicious of anyone associated with it.

But for me, prayer and Mass and the Sacraments have been the bedrock of my life.

I’ll tell you what I know.

I cherish all the benefits of religion: tradition, structure, discipline, dogma, family heritage.

Religion is more than a belief system, it’s a tremendous supportive network. It’s a rock in the storm of life.

For many, I think the term itself implies some sort of zest beyond what is acceptable.

But in my life, a devotion to religion is, and always has been, normal. Both sides of my family, plus my step-mother’s family, are all Catholic. Irish, German and Italian! I’m a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school till I decided to transfer to a public school after my freshman year. I wanted some variety.

My parents always took me to Mass on Sundays. The idea was if I was too sick for Mass, I was too sick to do anything else. As a child, I thought of it as boring. But now I’m thankful– my parents cared enough to instill a respect for routine and specifically, religion, in my life. We prayed over meals– though quickly! I know many parents say their children can choose to be religious when they are 18. But I think it’s sad that many are not raised with religion as children. If you’re raised without it, it seems the majority never understand the beauty and power of having that as part of your life. If you’re raised without religion, you’ll most likely continue as an adult without it. Or you’ll spend your life as a spiritual nomad, looking for a denomination or religion that seems to fit you. At least if you’re raised with SOMETHING, you have a starting point. You can choose to leave it and join another, or you can reject it entirely, or dedicate yourself to developing a deeper relationship with it. In my case, I rebelled for awhile in college by not going to Mass.

But I never stopped praying. I never stopped loving Mary, or the Saints. I kept close friendships with nuns and the priests my family had known for decades. And they helped guide me.

When you’re raised with religion, it feels natural to participate in it and share it with others. I feel a peace with other Catholics that I treasure. It’s like having a giant extended family. I love that in almost any city, I can find a Catholic church. I’m lucky that my religion is often in the majority.

I grew up surrounded my nuns and priests, especially since my favorite aunt was a Catholic nun. Reflecting as an adult, I’m both surprised and somewhat sad that she didn’t talk about the Bible to me. But for 10 years, she took a leave from her convent and lived with us. She was a living example of Christ’s love. She was FUN.

She had no enemies. She never said a bad word about anyone. We never prayed the Rosary together, although we did pray often. She just exuded a gentle and steady love. When she moved back home with her community, she would send me prayer booklets, icon cards, and religious cards for my birthday, holidays. In college, her e-mails and care packages helped sustain me when I was desperately homesick. What little money she had, she was always sending me little gifts. She was always telling me that I was special and that God has a wonderful plan for me.

We kept in touch with cards by mail and often prayed over the phone together. She’d pray the Guardian Angel prayer with me. She was a gifted listener. When I would feel afraid or nervous, I’d call her and cry and just talk it out. She didn’t often give advice but her calming influence always reassured me. She would always remind me to be kind, to give the person who had upset me the benefit of the doubt. To consider why they may have acted that way– without malice. When she died in 2010, it was if a light in my life had been snuffed out. It was a Dark Night of the Soul for awhile.

But that loss of her only drove me closer to the faith I’d shared with her all my life. Now I feel she’s a guardian angel to me herself, protecting me and reassuring me still. Now I pray to her. I keep her close to me by being more resolute as a Catholic. I remember all the times she asked me to go to Mass with her and I said I was too tired and didn’t want to get up that early. She was never angry and always accepted my decision– but she never stopped asking.

Now I see it was something she wanted to SHARE with me. It’s harder to find people now to go to Mass together.

I realize now what an act of love it was for her to want to go with me to Mass. And I feel bad that I bypassed so many opportunities in my life to do that with her.

And now, on my own, I’m starting to want to delve deeper into Catholicism. I’m beginning to read The Bible more. I’m feeling closer to the Blessed Mother, praying to her more often. I’m feeling a desire to pray the Rosary, though it’s intimidating.

I even have a Non-Denominational friend who wants to learn to pray the Rosary with me. How beautiful is that?!

If you weren’t raised with religion, please try to open your heart and consider it.

You might be shocked by the peace you feel. And if you are afraid to pray, that’s why we have so many prayers.

Just read it out loud and I promise, God will hear you. Here’s one you can try:

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here.
Ever this day,
be at my side
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen”

He always does, even if He doesn’t answer right away.

On Learning to Fall, and Get Back Up: Self-Defense, Week Six Wrap-Up

This is class is enforcing to me that while I can defend myself, my core identity has not changed.

I’m a non-violent person. Learning combat skills does not change that.

It would never occur to me to throw something or hit someone first in anger.

I’d rather use my brains than my fists. And I’m realizing it’s NOT because I’m small.

It’s because I’m smart.

What I’m learning in this class is that it doesn’t feel good to be hit, or to hit someone else. I don’t like it. So really, this class is about teaching me more skills to avoid needing to defend myself from violence.

I’m with Mr. Miyagi. Don’t fight unless it’s your last resort. Unless your life is threatened.
But this week, we worked more on learning how to fall safely.

In the first few weeks of class, I was afraid to fall. I was worried about my head or neck getting hurt.

But now we’re learning how to fall correctly- to PROTECT AGAINST injury.

How to tuck your chin and protect your neck from injury if pushed.

And how to get up right away.

And I pop right back up. I’m quick and agile.

Is there a more valuable life skill?

I don’t believe so.

Resilience is about knowing no matter who or what knocks you down, you will rise. You will try again.

You will keep going. You determine your own worth and hold YOURSELF up.

I’m becoming a calmer person. I’m laughing more. I’m expecting less of others.

Because I feel less fear, my energy is changing. I love it.