Sunday, August 10, 2014

Humanism, being a Christian and the parable of the Eaton Mess

When @Naradee12 first asked me to write a piece for her blog I thought “I can do that”.
… Then I checked out the blog and found myself thinking “I’m not sure I can do that”. There seemed to be a strong anti-religious sentiment and terminology such as “eradication of religion” simply makes me feel a bit uneasy.

I am a Christian. I grew up in a Roman Catholic family but left the church when I moved away from home at the age of 18. For many years I had little to do with religion – although I was drawn into a church service once in a blue moon, for a while dabbled in Paganism (there is still much I like and respect about it) and at some stage developed an interest in Hinduism.
Then, quite unexpectedly, in my mid-30s I returned to the Christian faith and have been an actively and openly practising Christian ever since. My faith acts as a daily reminder to be more caring, more forgiving and more loving, to be less selfish and self-absorbed and to strive for greater things than personal gain, power and reward.
Of course I am not saying that you
have to be a Christian to do these things – but simply that for me the framework of the Christian faith acts as a daily and constant encouragement.

Quite often atheists have said to me: “I respect you, but not your beliefs” to. I
think that’s meant to be a compliment, but I find it quite difficult to get my head around that statement.
For me the two are firmly connected. My beliefs shape who I am. Where I see myself in relation to God and other people
is who I am. To those atheists I would respond by saying “If you respect me you also respect my beliefs, because my beliefs are what makes me!”

I would also say “judge me by what you
know about me, not by what you assume to know about me based on your assumptions”.
I am talking about my
personal beliefs. Find out about those, rather than judge me by what the Pope said in 1997 or what some Televangelist preached last week or what you were taught in Bible school when you were 7 or by some obscure Bible verse which really gets your goat.
Or simply judge me by my words and deeds … because
they mirror my beliefs.

I believe in God
I also believe in humanity.
I believe in equality and in Human Rights.
And I believe in our ability to live together in peace and harmony … and I am passionately convinced that the only way we can create societies like that is to listen to, learn from and respect each other!
I guess that makes me a humanist.

Jesus summed up all religious teachings into two laws: “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”.
He modelled this by concerning himself with the most needy, excluded and vulnerable members of the society of his time; those you were considered unclean, sinful or undesirable – menstruating women (yes, I know!), adulteresses, tax collectors, lepers, non-Jews, the mentally ill and the physically disabled, to name a few.
He considered religious rules to be there to benefit people, and criticised them sternly when they were used to burden or control people. Religious teachings are there to benefit people, not the other way round.
Jesus was a humanist too!

My hope is that we all be HUMANISTS before we are theists/desist/atheists and that rather than try to eradicate each other we fight for and work towards the humanist values which will build more loving and caring communities.

The other evening we had Eaton Mess for dessert.
For those of you who don’t know what Eaton Mess is, it consists of broken up meringue, whipped cream and fruit (typically strawberries or raspberries) mixed together. Imagine a mashed up Pavlova!
Now, I’m not too keen on cream and my husband doesn’t really like meringues … but we both agreed that in an Eaton Mess all the ingredients really complement each other.
Take the cream out of the Eaton Mess and you no longer have Eaton Mess. And cream on its own is just, well, cream.
I wonder whether there is a lesson for building society.
Perhaps to create diverse, tolerant and understanding communities, we need to get in together, mix with each other and get messy!

Find me on Twitter under @solsikke66

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Practice Self-Acceptance (by Gini Grey)

Before I write anything else I must make very clear that this is not my blog.

Some years ago I came across a blog by a woman called Gini Grey. This particular post spoke volumes to me, so much so that I copied and pasted the text and saved it as a word document on my PC at work. Cleaning up my PC I came across it this week and found the message as profound as I had back then.'s website seems to have disappeared and her Twitter account (@DailyInsights) has been inactive since 2011.

Gini, I hope it is okay to resurrect your post on "practicing self-acceptance" here and now. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing - Thank you!

Practice Self-Acceptance When You Feel Unaccepted 
When you practice self-acceptance it doesn’t matter if you’re not accepted by family.
It would be wonderful if each and every one of us was fully accepted by our family for who we are, what we do, and what we believe in (even if they don’t agree). But unfortunately, many parents and siblings feel they have the right to judge, criticize and advise family members who stray from the path according to their world view.
It’s as though they fear that their world will crumble if the rest of the clan doesn’t act, think, and feel the way they do. Yet in reality, it is our uniqueness that makes us special and creates richness in the world. When family supports us to be our authentic selves, forgives us for our mistakes, and loves us unconditionally, we feel accepted.
So what can you do when you feel unaccepted by family? You can practice self-acceptance. Accepting yourself and your life choices even when others don’t is imperative for living a life of joy and freedom. Without self-acceptance, other people’s opinions become bigger than you; taunting, shaming, or swaying you to make decisions that aren’t a natural fit. When you honor your values, beliefs, gifts and talents, you speak your truth, follow your dreams, and allow others to do the same.
Self-acceptance leads to acceptance of others, which creates a ripple effect into the world. So begin by accepting yourself and your life choices. Here are suggestions on how to do this.
Trust your heart and soul. If you listen to your heart and soul for guidance on what path to follow you will never be led astray. No one knows what’s best for you except you. When your mind becomes concerned about others’ judgments or rejection, tune into your higher self and trust your heart and soul’s truth.
Refuse to take on invalidation. A person will only feel the sting of invalidation if they take it on. Don’t take your family members’ opinions personally. In reality their judgments have less to do with you and more to do with their own beliefs, programming, conditioning, fears, regrets and insecurities. Stand firm in your life choices and let others deal with their own triggers and reactions.
Stay amused and in a state of non-resistance. What we resist persists, so the minute you tense up against another’s non-accepting tone, comment or behavior, they’ve got you. In order to be bigger than your family’s judgments it helps to be in a state of non-resistance and amusement. Stay relaxed, see the humor in their small mindedness, and remember what’s truly important to you.
Recognize what’s behind others’ judgments. Instead of being hurt or offended by a family member’s judgment of your lifestyle, beliefs, talents or career choices, look at what’s behind the judgment. Judgments come from fear not love. A man raised in the depression era who frets about his children’s financial security will discourage his son from pursuing a career in arts or entertainment. A woman may criticize her husband’s growing interest in a new hobby because she’s worried it will take time away from their relationship. A woman may snicker at her sister’s personal growth journey because she’s concerned they’ll drift apart. Recognizing others’ fears will bring out your compassion and ease the pain of judgment.
Surround yourself with supportive people. Cultivate friendships with people who can see and honor who you really are. Spend as much time as possible in the company of others who have high self-esteem, follow their dreams, and encourage you to do the same.
Love yourself unconditionally. When you fully love yourself, flaws and all, it’s less painful if others don’t accept you or your life choices. Find ways to express love to yourself on a daily basis. Nurture yourself, honor your emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs, compliment yourself regularly, and focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Even just saying the simple phrase, “I accept myself” feels healing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On being married to an atheist

I haven't blogged for quite a while.

I am coming back to it because Sarita Agermann asked me to for her Interfaith Ramadan project.

Having taken on the task to write on the topic of Christian/atheist marriage has given me the opportunity to look back at the blogs I have written over the years - some of which have taken me through the highs and lows.

I don't think I ever wrote my blogs for public reading. They were personal reflections for me and quite cathartic for working through difficult periods.
So it seems a little strange to now deliberately share them openly.
They were never intended to be positive up-beat pro-interfaith pieces, but to honestly describe the tricky times and tensions as well as the moments of insight and commitment to each other, just as and when they arose.
So bear that in mind when you read. This is my story, not anybody elses.

Typically tensions arise for us over the Christmas period. Christmas is a strange time - religious in some ways and very secular in others. So it can be a confusing time for us - each having different hopes and expectations.

This was the first blog I ever wrote back in December 2011 on the subject of being a Christian who is married to an atheist. The issue of being sensitive to my husband's feelings and yet being true to my own beliefs has continued on over the years.
There were times when I felt under real pressure to give up my faith for the sake of our relationship and trying hard to assert my right to follow my faith; times when I focused on understanding and accommodating my husband's side; times when I made sacrifices for the sake of our relationship and times - again and again - when we both picked ourselves up and continued to walk together in our relationship.

In January this year I wrote my most recent blog on the issue. Some atheists I have spoken to have clearly said that they could never be in a relationship with somebody who was religious. And some theists have said the same thing about atheists. I am sure there must be many, many atheist/theist relationships/marriages out there - yet I have had difficulties finding anybody else.

In March, at the beginning of Lent, I started a Twitter account with the specific intention of using it to listen to atheists out there, hear what they have to say and learn from it.

It has helped me in several ways:

Firstly, I have made some good friends out there. (Always good!)

Secondly, I have begun to understand some of the issues atheists (including my husband) have with religion, our religious scripture and the attitudes and behaviours of some theists. That's been particularly helpful in my situation, because a lot of those are issues my husband and I haven't been able to discuss, because they have so easily caused tensions, anger and upset. Somehow through the medium of the Internet with a bunch of strangers, that's been much easier.

Thirdly, I have realised that there are atheists our there who are whole lot stronger in their wording than my husband tends to be. (Haha!)

I am reaching a stage where I feel that I can only achieve so much by listening to strangers. The key issue is that this is about two people - my husband and me. We need to be courageous enough to listen and speak to each other. To risk that it might be painful at times and to trust that it will be okay and we will be safe.
There is a reason that we have been together for 28 years - we are good together! We have much in common and share many values.

It seems not so much our differences in beliefs which come between us, but our fear that they could.
We need to trust in ourselves and our love for each other.

I found this moving letter from an Atheist Married to a Christian.
I especially love the last paragraph:
That love is what my interfaith marriage is all about. Rachel would call that the manifestation of God’s love and grace in our marriage. I call it my profound privilege to be able to spend every day of the rest of my life growing a little bit closer to my wife.
Thank you, David B!

I continue to be interested to hear from people who live in atheist/theist relationships. How do you make it work? What are your difficulties and how do you overcome them?

Let me know by replying to this blog or by finding me on Twitter under @solsikke66

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Nice people

No further words needed ...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Christian-atheist marriage thing

It's a while since we've had real marital tensions due to our differences in beliefs. Christmas caused a couple of ripples ... but nothing too serious.

But the topic continues to be on my mind and I continue to have a sense of not truly being able to be myself in our relationship.
I write blogs like this when I am alone at home and when my husband isn't likely to peer over my shoulder.
I continue to be secretive and to guard the faith which is so important to me.
My faith is kept by reading the Bible when nobody is around and by going to church on a Sunday morning. Outside those times it is not spoken about or mentioned.
It works (of sorts) but it doesn't seem enough.

So I continue to search for forums, blog or other resources by and for couples who live in theist-atheist relationships. There is plenty on inter-religious relationships - but it seems that two theists (even if they follow different religious traditions) can get along more easily that one who believes and one who doesn't believe in the existence of God ...

I found this article in wikiHow, which seemed useful to some degree.

From what I have found so far, it seems that a theist-atheist relationship can only work if neither party is overly passionate about/active in their faith/worldview or if both parties manage to avoid the subject of faith as much as possible.
I would love to hear from couples who make it work, and make it work with honesty, openness and love. Without avoidance and denial.

Anybody who can offer any thoughts or suggestions?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Come and see!

Today in church we read the following passage from John's gospel
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter). - John 1:35-42 
I am struck by the words of Jesus: "What are you looking for?" and "Come and see".

What am I looking for in my faith? And have I been looking right?
I often feel that I want to be and do so many things in church and live my faith in that way ... but what about looking much closer to home and seeing the small things in my daily life - my own family, my work? What about living my faith there in everyday situations, rather than looking elsewhere beyond?

Today I took my camera and went for a walk. 
These are the things I found when I looked closer and took in the detail.

"Come and see!"


Saturday, January 18, 2014

First signs of spring

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” 
― Percy Bysshe Shelley