Yes, Sweetie, Your Mama’s An Atheist…Minister. It Happens. Now, About This Sunday…

Last September, we moved to the “Little Rome” section of Northeast Washington, D.C. I expected it to feel a little more “holy” this Holy Week (perhaps “holier-than-me”?) but it’s actually felt pretty ordinary, quiet, and not very springy yet. Here and there I see some crocuses insisting on coming up through fall’s accumulated leaves, and in well-sun-warmed yards there are daffodils. For me this is what the adult version of the Easter Egg Hunt has become—the search in my northern hemisphere surroundings for evidence of the certainty of eventual spring. Yes, the wind is blustery and I’m still wearing my winter coat when I go out, but spring is on its way.

In contrast, God is something I’ve never been certain about. For all of my life I’ve identified as Unitarian Universalist, which meant to me as a young person that I was encouraged and open to appreciating and respecting many different experiences and interpretations of God. From my mid-20′s on, when I really grappled with the meaning of the word, I identified as agnostic, as not-knowing. But when “rubber met the road” (by which I mean, preaching, Sunday-after-Sunday) during my six years of solo parish ministry in Central Oregon, I quickly came to wrestle directly with and articulate my own atheism. It was important for me as a minister to feel rooted in and clear about what my beliefs were. My best sermons were the ones when I was able to begin with laughter, then plunge down into the depths of something true and real and hard, and rise up again to connect with others, with community, with the love that I believe keeps us human and mostly humane.

There are a gazillion great posts out there worth reading this week and weekend—reflections on Passover, on Good Friday, on Resurrection, on the growing number of “Nones”—people who choose not to affiliate with any religious institution. When I have a chance these days to read something other than Sandra Boynton with actual undivided attention, I’m enjoying reading Chris Stedman’s book Faitheist. I also commend to you this excellent reprise of Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock’s book Saving Paradise. I hope you take some time to read widely and thoughtfully this weekend, and to be conscious of what traditions you might be choosing to engage in, and why.

For us, in our home, my partner, colleague and co-Mama is heading to New Orleans tomorrow to co-lead a week-long service trip engaged in continued rebuilding-from-Hurricane Katrina efforts there. Easter Sunday church services will be crowded and are right in the middle of morning nap-time right now, so we will probably stay mellow at home, maybe make pancakes, and tune into the Church of the Larger Fellowship services online. Because it’s one of my favorite Easter traditions and Mama C will be gone on Sunday, we had our First-Ever Family Easter Egg Hunt this morning. Our Little Bean reached for each plastic egg and brought it immediately to her mouth of course, simultaneously squeezing it with all her might, causing the shiny purple chocolate kisses to tumble out onto the floor and into my hands, happy to receive them. Spring is sprung. Let’s go outside and run around on the resilient, determined grass. That’s a ritual I can revel in.

  • Martha C.

    Please don’t be offended, but I have to thank you for helping me reaffirm my faith (such as it is). If I have doubts about whether I believe (never mind what I believe; that’s a whole other drama), an affirmation by an atheist always pulls me up short. I can truly say, “I don’t think so; at least not for me.”
    I’m just sayin’.
    Best wishes for a great spring!

  • Dave Dawson

    For me, I like to consider the “Promise of Unitarian Universalism”…that you, an Atheist, and I, a progressive Christian, can worship together and celebrate the incredible diversity of this world. And I am incredibly grateful for the faith in which I was raised…Fundamentalist Christianity. It was very painful and required healing but I was blessed by parents who truly loved me. And I love the book “Saving Paradise”!!!! Thanks for the blog post.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    Quite a lot of people can’t bring themselves to believe in anything, yet still feel the urge to keep a pious cast of mind.

  • glblank

    God or no God, treating others and the Earth with dignity is the measure I value. And the God of my youth as a Catholic reminded me of the cranky neighbor who wouldn’t give my ball back.


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