Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


October 2011

Study Weekend

And law school continues…

It’s so central to my life, I take it for granted everyone else knows about it, til I check and it has been weeks since I mentioned it!

So on it goes.  I am closing in on the end of my first year; this program is 4 years, as opposed to most bricks and mortar law schools which are 3.  My final exam is December 3, over which I am appropriately freaking out.  Then the real fun begins.

Because my school is based in CA, the CA Bar requires the taking of the First Year Law Students Exam (FYLSE), affectionately known as the Baby Bar.  It’s a great idea:  you can’t continue in school if you don’t pass it.  In 3 tries.  Well, you CAN, but you get the idea.  I begin my second year in January, and don’t take the FYLSE until June 2012 – halfway through my 2nd year!

Both tests consist of 100 multiple choice questions and 3 essays.  Easy, right?  Sure.  Subjects are Torts, Criminal Law, and Contracts.  They each have their interesting parts, and each have their tedious parts.  The trick is having memorized the rules, the exceptions, and the exceptions to the exceptions, and to be able to analyze and answer the questions, and analyze and write the essays.  1st world problem.

So my study group is a bit unconventional.  (I know, big surprise.)  We have virtual study sessions where we’re on skype reviewing subjects.  Sometimes we’re on the phones, sometimes we’re using email or text.  But this past weekend, we went all out.

happy to finally meet!

Our study group met in 1000 Oaks, California, at the home of Charlene and Rick, and their son Kevin.  I flew in from TN, and Rosine and Myra drove from Tuscon.  We converged on a Friday afternoon, and I don’t really know how, but we managed to squeeze in 4 meals in restaurants, hours of studying, a 2.5 mile walk, at least 4 practice tests, and loads of laughing and socializing, all before I took the redeye out on Sunday!

Charlene and Rick were hosts above all hosts.  Here’s a study area:

Rick grew the roses

And here’s our study tshirts:

I'm not tellin

Then there’s Rick, Char’s long-suffering and patient husband, who waited on the students beyond anyone’s imagination:

afternoon snacktime
Nicest. Man. EVER.

And this was the lovely environment in which all this studying took place:

morning coffee, anyone?

And I can’t leave out Kevin, who gave up his bedroom and bathroom for 2 nights, engaged in a philosophical conversation with me (one of my favorites), let us take over his house for the weekend with no complaint (reminder:  he’s 16), and was an all-around good sport about our endless probing questions into his life and interests.  And can I also add this boy is a 4.0, AP, perfect SAT, Harvard or Yale prospect track star??

Char and Kevin

I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of Sparky, our beagle companion, who added so much to the group dynamic.  She had a lot to say, and as she is refining her “size-reduction techniques”, commiserated with the rest of us about the challenges of that!

The Tuscon contingent

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend of study and friendship.  We hope to do it again in February and April, before our big test in June, and we hope to do at least one of those sessions here in TN.  Myra, who is in graduate school, but not law school, says she wants to work on the farm.  I said to bring her boots.  If we make this happen, we’ll have a throwdown/bonfire for the school posse to meet some of my TN posse.

So much legal brainpower in one shot
Our little group before our walk to....breakfast, of course.

Rick, Kevin, Charlene, Myra, Rosine, Sparky — thank you for a fabulous weekend!

Thanks for reading!



My trip to the Creation Museum

This long quote is by Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary.  In a delicious twist of irony, I disagreed with this position when I was a believer; now that I am an atheist, I find myself agreeing with Dr. Mohler:

“From the beginning of this conflict, there have been those who have attempted some form of accommodation with Darwinism. In its most common form, this amounts to some version of “theistic evolution” — the idea that the evolutionary process is guided by God in order to accomplish his divine purposes.

Given the stakes in this public controversy, the attractiveness of theistic evolution becomes clear. The creation of a middle ground between Christianity and evolution would resolve a great cultural and intellectual conflict. Yet, in the process of attempting to negotiate this new middle ground, it is the Bible and the entirety of Christian theology that gives way, not evolutionary theory. Theistic evolution is a biblical and theological disaster.


Thus, the vise of evolutionary theory is now revealing the fault lines of the current debate. There can be no question but that the authority of the Bible and the truthfulness of the Gospel are now clearly at stake. The New Testament clearly establishes the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the foundation of the Bible’s account of creation. If there was no historical Adam and no historical Fall, the Gospel is no longer understood in biblical terms.”

(Emphasis mine, entire text here.)

When I was a believer, I chose not to take a position on the evolution/creation debate.  It created internal conflict for me, it wasn’t relevant in my life, I didn’t know what to do with it, so I simply didn’t address it.  (I know, right?)  I do not believe I was the only Christian who felt this way.  Which is what Dr. Mohler’s first two paragraphs are referring to.  “Theistic evolution” is such a comfort for moderate, modern, science-minded, reasonable, rational Christians.  However, come along on a little virtual field trip with me and see how very very far from that position a portion of the believing population is.

Gayle’s trip to the Creation Museum, Hebron, KY, October 17, 2011

Here I am, right outside of Cincinnati

I attended the Free Inquiry Group’s 20th anniversary meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I posted about the events of the first day, and I’ll throw in a bit more about the second day in this post.  It was delightful and stimulating and inspiring; exactly what I’ve come to expect from a secular gathering!

In particular, on the second day, we listened to Rabbi Robert Barr, who gave a presentation on the Creation Museum.  I’ve been interested in this since it opened, enjoyed the coverage given to it in the movie Religulous, and was riveted to Rabbi Barr’s description of it.  In addition to that, it was 10 minutes outside of Cincinnati; of course I had to go.

In the parking lot on the way in

The structure is beautiful – expensive stone, spacious and open lobby, friendly staff.  The first thing you notice is all the dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs at the entrance, dinosaurs in the foyer, hanging from the ceiling, on the program, on the ticket.  These people want you to know that they believe in dinosaurs!  Why, here’s one right here…

…beside this child.  This human child.  This homo sapiens, Paleolithic Era child.  But They Believe In Dinosaurs!  They only missed it by a few million years.  About 230 million.  And how do they explain that?  How to explain the fossil record?  Just listen in to these two scientists discussing their discovery:

animatronic archeologists

“Different conclusions based on where you begin.  If you begin with the bible, you end up with a different conclusion.”  Boy, howdy.

It’s not really any more complicated than this

Rabbi Barr said that his impression of the museum is that it is a sermon.  And not just any sermon.  A children’s sermon, with a children’s premise:  The Book Says So.  There is very little science in this “museum”; just a lot of pictures of good, happy images labelled God’s Word versus negative, bad images labelled Human Reason.

Guess who?
Noah looks good for 600 years old

The story of the flood is as important to the story as creation itself.  There are a lot of panels about how the flood fits in to modern science – both Pangaea and the Ice Age occurred after the flood.  There are thousands of pieces of evidence from thousands of scientists and researchers that disprove this, but remember, all of the panels refer you back to The Bible Said So.

I call this shot: Saddled Triceratops Facepalm

Do I still think there is room for Theistic Evolution?  I think it’s better than embracing no evolution at all; I even think it’s where most believers would land if asked.   Do I think you can have the idea of Jesus and salvation and redemption without the fall of man in a literal sense?  It’s not an argument I would like to spend one more moment of my life thinking about and trying to make sense of.  Establish the veracity of the book; then we can discuss the contents.

Get one now for the impressionable children in your life!!

Thanks for reading.

The Fitness Post

How Finding my Fitness led to my Atheism


How Finding my Atheism led to my Fitness

(This was a guest blog for my friend JT Eberhard, who resides at Scienceblogs.  The “everyone” in the first line was directed at his atheist readers, as that was the context in which this was discussed and then written.  I’ve written about this before, but never all in one post…so….here it is!)

Everyone of us has one of these stories.  Everyone’s is interesting, and everyone’s is different.

It gives me joy beyond measure to recount mine.  It may seem like I’m taking license to have the two branches of my story to run so parallel, but it only seems unusual now, after the fact.  At the time, it just happened.

In 2000, I turned 40, mother of 4 teenagers, active in church and community.  I was also active in my Southern Baptist Church, a Sunday School teacher, Missions Director, and committed to the faith.  And 60 pounds overweight.

The evening of my 40th birthday party, surrounded by friends, I came to the conclusion, which later I began to describe as an epiphany:

That the first 40 years of our life, we can treat our body pretty brutally, and it will respond, for the most part, to the demand; the second 40, however, are quite a different story:  we have to treat our body with deep respect and reverence in order for it to respond to the demands of life.

I had attempted diets before, lost a few pounds, then, ad nauseam, reverted to old, comfortable, established habits.  Walking into the bookstore left me more frustrated than helped, facing the wall of books in the Health/Fitness section, some of which were in direct opposition to the one right next to it.  Fuck that.

This was in the year 2000, when the internet was a toddler, and I spent hours at the public library looking up nutrition information, going directly to the study when I could.  I don’t have a medical background, or even a degree that was heavy in science (education), so I had a lot of remedial work to do.  Maybe that even worked in my favor since I had to start from scratch understanding human anatomy, physiology, metabolism, nutrients.

For two years I applied what I learned to my routine, tweaked, applied, and tweaked some more.  I lost 60 pounds, and became so interested in and excited about my new lifestyle I became a trainer to try to help others struggling with health issues.

Clipboard: yes. Whistle: not so much.

Parallel to this information-gathering, exercise-implementing, nutrition-experimenting journey was a gradual, slow, dawning of realization relating to religion.  While I had never been an actual creationist, I was a believer of the Bible, an advocate of a personal savior, even a teacher in my church.  My view of the beginning of human history was that whether it was Eden or evolution, Goddidit, and resolving the particulars was irrelevant to me.

As I began my study of nutritive science, however, I found that I needed to study our human anatomy and physiology to make sense of the process.  That in turn led me to study our evolutionary heritage:  what were we to eat to make us truly thrive?  What had we eaten for the thousands of years that we did thrive?  While the answer was simple:  whole, unprocessed, fairly accessible natural foods, the implication was greater.  Evolution was an absolute, undisputed by any scientist, and the evidence was abundant.  Hmmmm.  Not a show-stopper for the faith, but certainly a proverbial chink in the wall.

I visited Christian apologetics sites and read several books trying to reconcile my new acceptance of evolution with the broader picture of my faith.  I knew there were Christians who accepted, even embraced evolution, and I was eager to understand how I was to do this.  It was completely contradictory to the version of humanity’s beginnings in the Bible.  The general explanation was that the events that occurred in Genesis were “poetic”, not literal, that they were representative of God’s relationship to us.  Hmmmm.  Again.  My next question was:  When did the poetry end and the reality begin?  Noah?  Abraham?  David?  The apologists diverted at this point:  some said that during the course of evolution when we became modern humans, the history then became literal.  Some said that the poetry continued through most of the Old Testament.  But most certainly they all agreed that when Jesus entered the picture, why then it was all literal.



The brevity and simplicity of the paragraphs above belie the drama and torment of the process.  In sharing stories with other atheists, I have heard from former believers who left the faith kicking and screaming, who begged God for a word, who didn’t want to be atheists, who fought for years against acceptance of the truth.  While mine was not quite so vehement, it was painful, it was sorrowful, it was traumatic, and it was humbling.  I had to grieve anew those folks I had only said goodbye to “temporarily” – my grandparents, some friends.  I had to recollect every Sunday School lesson I had ever taught with confidence and arrogance.  I had to grasp the separation this was going to create with my already fractured extended family.  I had to reevaluate my morality.  I had to redirect my compassion and drive and creativity and time that for years and years I had devoted to my church.

But do not misunderstand me.  Although the journey was unnerving and unknown, it was thrilling and exciting and liberating.  My 4 teenage children had been making journeys of their own in the same direction, and we spent countless hours discussing and debating and researching toward the same conclusion.  This brought me absolute, sheer delight.  Watching their beautiful brains develop their critical thinking skills and refuse to accept dogma made me as proud as their mother as I had ever been.
I love reading former believers’ coming out stories.  I love commiserating with the struggles and rejoicing in the victories.  I feel the pain of lost relationships and the joy of new discoveries.  This is mine.  I am honored to share it.

Thanks for reading.

My take on the ACS

And the blogosphere implodes…

watch my atheist friends bust me for this EXplosion when I wrote IMplosion…science geeks.

I know, I know, I have the atheist’s slant on it.  So, in the interest of fairness, I’m wide open to ANY OTHER slant on it.  Ready?  Go.


I’m listening.

That’s what I thought.

So here’s the summary.  A big money, openly atheist foundation wants to partner with the American Cancer Society to be a sponsor for the Relay for Life.  You know, make a contribution, have others make matching contributions and run in the races, blahblahblah.  To the tune of an initial $250,000 contribution.  Which would become a $500,000 contribution after the matching donations.  No problem, right?  Right.  Approved.  For a while.  Then, maybe, not so much.  Maybe the ACS is doing away with non-profit sponsors because they are not cost-effective.  Exsqueeze me?  Have you ever SOLD band fruit?  Beta Club cookie dough?  Fracking wrapping paper for the rugby team?  Does this sound straight up to you?  Half a million dollars and you can’t find a way to, in the words of Tim Gunn, make it work??

Everyone I’ve talked to today has an opinion about this.  Start with the ACS Facebook page.  We’ve had a smidge to say about there.

Here’s a fabulous example from the blogging community, my go-to, Greta Christina at Alternet.

And just because a few of you might click over there, here’s the Foundation Beyond Belief.

Now, here’s my blogpinion.  The people at the American Cancer Society are probably not stupid.  They are probably not mean or vindictive or out to get atheists.  The board of directors at the American Cancer Society are probably professionals, with backgrounds in business, and non-profits, and fundraising.  And I expect they are more than well-paid for their areas of expertise.

Which is why they have made this decision.

I don’t think the men and women who are the Deciders are ACS made this decision lightly.  It’s a half a million dollars, for crying out loud.  I think the professional at the ACS made this decision because they felt that it was in the best interest of the group to disassociate with a non-theist group, and they may be right about that impression.  This is what they do.  They solicit money.  And I rather expect they looked at the market and at the statistics and at the fallout and at the history and at the demographics and they made a decision that was, in effect, choosing between the damage that would be done if they carried an atheist group as a donor for Relay for Life.  And that damage, in their view, was substantial.  So this board of professional, compassionate, thoughtful people made what they thought was the best choice and told the Foundation Beyond Belief:  thanks, but no thanks.

And they are exactly wrong.

Because they seem to have overlooked one of the most fundamental rules of decision making, that piece of golden guidance we all hear our parents echoing in our own memories:  Look at the big picture.  Look at the 35,000 foot view.  I agree with the ACS that there would have been repercussions from accepting the Foundation as a Relay Sponsor.  I agree that there would have been fallout in the way of outraged believers for whom this, like bus ads that say You Can Be Good Without God, is a SLAP IN THE FACE.  How dare you.  This nationwasfoundedonchristianbeliefshowcouldyoutakemoneyfromheathensI’mneverdonatingagain…..

But, look, there in the distance!  Is that the atheist horde?  And what are they carrying?  Money?  And look behind them, in the year 2012, and 2015, and 2020.  There are thousands of them, and more behind them, and more behind them.

This movement is growing, ACS.  It’s growing, and it’s young, and it’s strong, and it’s rational, and your children are finding it, and your grandchildren.

And I haven’t even begun to address what the compassionate, believing community should say about this.  It’s Cancer.  The person who would withhold funds from cancer research and education because someone they don’t like also made a contribution to cancer research and education?  This is who we are humoring?  This is who we are trying not to offend?  Are you fecking kidding me?

I admit: I googled images for Grumpy Grandpa.  I do not know John McCain’s position on this issue.

When I was raising my 4 children, I always tried to tell them that it was human nature to make mistakes, that they would never live a mistake-free life.  I told them that their mistakes were not what would define who they were.   That their character would show more clearly in the way they responded to the mistakes they made than the mistakes themselves.

American Cancer Society, rethink this one.  Take the hit.  Look around you.  Our morals are compassion-based.  We are inclined to act to alleviate real suffering.  We are pro-science and pro-research.  You are missing a profound opportunity to establish the future of your organization, albeit with a small cost to the present.

Do the right thing.  Apologize.  Admit your error.  Embrace Foundation Beyond Belief as a sponsor for the Relay for Life.  Make a statement.  Convene your board for a short meeting to ensure this never happens again.  Ever.

Thanks for reading.

The Joyful Atheist

Sometimes we have to be reminded of the simplest things.

This post has been rolling around my brain for days.  In all of my passion to explain WHY I believe what I believe, I have neglected to express how it feels to believe what I believe.

In the skeptic movement, we are cautious about using “feelings” as a guide for believing things; our feelings, while wonderful and life-enhancing, are not reliable as a source of confirmation or evidence.  Sometimes the concept of a premise is so appealing, gives us comfort, “feels” good to think about, we embrace it in spite of its unrealistic nature.  The result of this falls on the scale somewhere between Harmless (believing in fairies) and Dangerous (believing in prayer over medicine or treatment).   Therefore, we skeptics tend to underemphasize feelings when we discuss our rational belief system.  This filter serves us well in examining and deciding what is reasonable, what is rational.  But it doesn’t tell the rest, and best, of the story.

With that security feature in place, with the recognition that our emotions are integral to our humanity, but not as a source of reality confirmation, one can then plunge in to our deep, rich, abundant emotional frosting with abandon.  And that brings me to the subject of today’s post.

Often atheists are accused of being sad because Life Has No Meaning.  We’re told we are Don’t Have Any Reason To Live.  It’s been said we are Angry All Of The Time.  Admittedly, we may have said something to add to that perception, but more often than not, those are just old, recirculated dogma that won’t go away.  I hang out with atheists.  I read volumes by atheists.  I AM an atheist.  The atheists I know, and I, myself, are none of those things.  We, as a group, an awfully diverse, fiercely independent group, live lives of reflection, and thoughtfulness, and intention, and joy.  And as a nod to the “fiercely independent” descriptor, I’m now going to transition away from atheists as a group to atheist as me.

My life is similar to everyone else’s:  I’ve got family drama, health issues, financial challenges, obstacles to my goals and dreams – the usual shopping list.  I am humbled by the knowledge that I am more fortunate than 99% of the people who have ever been ON the planet, having been born an American, in the 20th century, into a middle-class family.  I know how incredibly fortunate I am.  That knowledge alone is cause for a feeling of thankfulness that I’m reminded of several times a day.

When you add to that the joy I experience every new day, through relationships with friends and family, through taking care of and enjoying my body, through learning and reading and discovering, through physical sensations of sounds, and tastes, and sights, through challenges and achievements, through a sense of community with humanity, through helping others and others helping me, I am often overwhelmed by feelings of happiness, and of joy, and of meaning.

While I cannot always be in control of external circumstances, I have an underlying, overall constant sensation of peace and joyfulness, a sensation which is counterintuitive to a world view that admits that life is chaotic and random and, inherently, meaningless.

I was recently asked whether I had a peace that passed all understanding, a reference to Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.  My answer is No.  I have a peace that I DO understand.  There is tremendous peace in knowing and understanding how the universe functions.  There is joy and peace in the predictability of the laws of physics and science, of the constants on which we depend, and a recognition that that stability is not hindered by an ever-changing body of data, but enhanced by it.

And if I and others in the atheist community don’t allow this to show, shame on us.  Deeply imbedded in our embrace of ration and reason as a world view, is an awe and respect and wonder of the nature of our environment, our species, and our world.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”  Richard Dawkins

Wow.  There’s that joy again.

Thanks for reading.

Wonder what the forest is like? A first blog.

So Aden and I have spent the day together.  We’ve decided to blog about it.  Aden took all the pictures and was keeper of the camera on our walk.  I’ll do the techie work, and the captions for the photos, and Aden will do the heavy lifting of the blogging:

Look closely to see the Daddy Long Legs on the screen

We saw a big grandaddy longlegs and it was strange because it had slanted legs.  I don’t think it was a grandaddy longlegs at all.

A rock formation at the beginning of our stroll. We didn't reach in.

I like this hole in the rock.  I wish I could be a bunny, and hop right in.

Bullseye camera-shy

He is such a beautiful horse.  I love him very much.  His nose is soft.

Deer track

I think this is a deer print, but it could be a cow.  It’s too little for a cow print, and the donkeys don’t have a split hoof.  That’s why I think it’s a deer print.

TVA line. Picture-worthy, when you're 6

I love TV.  I wish I could have windmill.

Cow pie with insect holes...or something. Don't judge.

Bugs dug holes in this poop, but it might not be bugs.  Could be moles or groundhogs.  Choose one.

Big ol' sinkhole, a middle Tennessee feature

We talked about how a sinkhole is made.  See the rocks?  Maybe it’s from water.

another rock formation we liked

This is a funny turtle rock we found.  Or maybe a duck.

Me, Casey, and Aden playing Shadow Muscles -- an original game that Casey and I did not pervert at all.

Look at my strong shadow!  See my beach ball!

Itsy-bitsy frog near the pond

I wish I could have a frog for a pet.

6-year-old Aden told 20-year-old Casey to pick up a cactus. *Sigh*

Too bad Casey.  Better luck next time.  Don’t do what a 6-year-old tells you to.

Mushroom at the end of the walk

Funny mushroom!

A little visit with Uga

We love you Uga, and wish we could see you again.

Not bad for his first try.    We’ll do it again with another adventure.

On behalf of Aden and me….thanks for reading.

Blog at

Up ↑