hard to say: I believe


I am angry. A response I recognize as my immediate protective reaction when I encounter something scary, difficult, painful, or disturbingly true. This case may involve all four.

You see, I am reluctantly reading Brian D. McLaren’s profoundly infuriating book: Finding Faith. Not because I am actually searching for faith or spirituality or God, but simply because my Christian therapist told me I may find it interesting; he has earned my trust.

That’s how they get you! Shut up, anger, I’ve got this covered.

Closed mindedness irritates me. When one must consciously filter the information they are exposed to in order to maintain the walls of their fragile belief system, refusing to consider or even listen to an opposing opinion (a voluntary tunnel-vision manner of existing) my hackles rise.

In an attempt to uphold my ideal of open mindedness, I agreed to read this book. At the most this is going to help me understand my family better, I reassured myself as I began to turn the pages. Within these pages, my entire belief system (the belief in nothing) quickly began to crumble.

Atheism has offered me many things. The comfort of not being alone in my opposition of religion. The satisfaction of transferring the hurt I felt back onto those who had hurt me. An identity to latch on to when I was filled with uncertainty and confusion. But it appears now as an obstacle. One I can no longer deny and one I must abandon if I wish to move forward.

I can’t honestly call myself an atheist because I can’t confidently say I do not believe in God. (It only took Part 1 to strip me of my cozy label by the way.) If I am honest with myself, there is no possible way I could be made so increasingly angry by something I have no belief in.

So with apprehensive faith in… I don’t know what, and the uneasy feeling of walking around with an open wound on my face, I will continue reading this goddamn book.

Perhaps all of this time it hasn’t been that I don’t believed in God, it’s been that I fucking hate Him. I suppose that’s a start.


hard to say: I’ll go first


I am currently living and interacting peacefully with my Christian parents. I spend quality time with my Christian siblings and their Christian spouses; my Christian sister is my best friend. When I put my niece to bed, I say a prayer with her because she is being raised Christian. I go to my weekly appointment with my Christian chiropractor and then I hang around the office to chat with my lovely Christian friends who work there. I go to my new job, where I happily work on behalf of a Christian organization. And to top it off, I pop in to see my Christian therapist to discuss all of my atheist troubles.

How the fuck did this happen?

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I could not be in the presence of a Christian for long without saying something intentionally offensive and rude. A time where I picked fights with Christianity for sport. Now many of my favourite people are Christian. Hilarious!

Growing up in a family and community whose fundamental beliefs did not match mine was not easy. It feels as if I have been fighting for personal acceptance my whole life. All I ever wanted, all I ever asked for, was to be accepted for exactly all that I was. I didn’t want people trying to change me or praying for me to be different. I just wanted to be allowed to be me – whatever the fuck that meant.

This frustrated me. Who am I kidding, this really pissed me off. I became angry and aggressive. I actively expressed my anger toward the Christians to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t. I really am a good person, they just don’t accept me! Wherever I went, without being asked, I would explain myself. I was always explaining myself; it was getting repetitive and dull. Nobody wanted to hear my opinion anymore, yet I was persistently and adamantly expressing it.

If everybody had already heard my opinion and had long stopped giving a shit what I had to say, why was I still explaining myself? Who was I really trying to convince?

An annoying truth I have learned after years in therapy is that much of what I say in anger, especially in repetition, is actually the reverse. So all those years of repeating how much I hate the Christians were untrue. I love them very much. So much that I could be deeply hurt and disappointed by them. All that preaching about how they didn’t accept me and I wasn’t good enough for them was inaccurate. In actuality I was the one who didn’t accept me; I didn’t believe myself good enough.

The acceptance I was after – the acceptance I truly needed – had to first come from within. Once I accepted exactly all that I am – whatever the fuck that means – I didn’t need to fight anymore. What point is there in fighting when I am happy and secure in myself. Consequently, once I accepted myself first, I inadvertently began to accept others.

I truly love the Christians in my life. Not despite this or that, but for all of it. I love everything that makes them exactly who they are. Once the cloud of anger lifted I was able to appreciate what wonderful people they are and all the good they have to offer.

Do the Christians accept me now, exactly as I am? A Godless, churchless, premarital-sexed, potty-mouthed, progressive-thinking sinner. I don’t know… maybe. But that’s not the point. The point, after having said all of this, is that it doesn’t matter. Because I do.


the ritual


Five years ago, at a very different stage in my life, I was sitting in a local watering hole with two close girlfriends. We three had gathered in support of our mutual relationship failures. Sitting in that booth were the dumped, the cheated on, and the unrequited.

Hours later, after much sulking and even more drinking, a ritual was birthed. Without judgment we listed the names of everyone we had given ourselves to, whether physically or emotionally and regardless of significance or brevity. A description was sometimes required in lieu of a name.

Recounting our disappointments, losses, and regrets of the past was a sobering experience. Then, with love and acceptance, we went out to the patio, lit the list on fire, and watched as the past dissolved into nothingness.

There was a scary moment when the wind blew the flame toward us that sent us running back into the bar in a fit of laughter. The laughter continued for the rest of the night, carrying with it a sense of healing and friendship.

As a devout non-believer, I have often balked at the complicated rituals performed by religious organizations. The sit-stand-kneel-pray-sing-repeat of the Catholics. The hands-in-the-air speak-in-tongues slain-in-the-spirit of Evangelical Christians. The five daily prayers of the Islamic. The chants and sacrifices of the Hindu. The resting and fasting of the Jewish. Plus millions more that I am not privy to.

But rituals are not limited to worship alone. Both inside and out of religious communities there are rituals for birth, death, puberty, graduation, marriage, accomplishment, etc. A ritual can be any sequence of events, often used in repetition, which serve to symbolize a beginning, an end, a transition, a rite of passage, a celebration, or any personalized event in your life.

It may sound silly but that long routine of brushing, washing, exfoliating, and moisturizing that you do before bed is a ritual.

Many athletes invent rituals to help themselves get in the mindset needed to focus or perform on a competitive level.

Whenever I am feeling sick or sad, I eat a shit ton of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Certainly that is a ritual, despite the negative effects it has on my health and weight.

Humans are highly emotional beings and rituals can be helpful tools of control. When faced with uncertain situations especially, they can be an excellent way to deal with difficult feelings. Or as my therapist explained it to me, “A ritual can be a good place to put the feelings that you are struggling with.”

These days, I struggle to deal with anger that began nearly 20 years ago. An anger that has stinted my personal growth and impacted my ability to trust and interact with people.

It is disturbingly easy to hold on to anger. In fact I’d really like to. For me anger means safety from hurt and safety from the unknown. But as comforting as my anger has been, it has been equally poisonous.

And so it has been advised that I complete the impossible task of letting go in the same manner that three young women once dealt with broken hearts; by creating my own ritual that acknowledges my anger and then releases it, allowing fire to burn it until there is nothing left.