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Atheists Together

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A friend brought my attention to an article from Time magazine earlier this month about atheist “churches.”  I was interested to learn that there is a new “freethought church” in Kansas City, MO.  I wonder if they know about the long tradition they belong to, about the “Church of This World” founded in 1897 by John Emerson Roberts.

From their website www.kcoasis.org

From their website http://www.kcoasis.org

So many of the  leaders among the atheist/agnostic communities have come out of the Christian denominations.  Leading a community is what they have been trained to do.  When their beliefs change, they take these skills to a new audience.

There are some who think these communities are a bad idea.  Bill Maher is quoted in the article as saying, “It undermines the whole point of atheism, because the reason why people need to get together in religion is precisely because it’s nonsensical.”

Would it parallel this statement to suggest that people attend football games in great numbers to support each other in the nonsensical belief that these games really matter?

If Maher can’t separate a belief system from the human desire for community, I wonder what he thinks the “whole point of atheism” is.  To reject the idea of god does not require one to be live in isolation.  To enjoy fellowship is not a crutch.  Nor is the idea of finding like-minded people to join in doing good in the world a statement of faith.

94933_CoverFrontI have a sneaking suspicion that when convinced atheists reject fellowship it is because they really would rather not put up with agnostics, who have not committed themselves to the understanding that there is no god.  This reflects another element which I think is characteristic of humanity: the desire to draw lines and strive for purity.

John Emerson Roberts, on the other hand, would be delighted to know there is a new community of freethinkers in Kansas City, MO.

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Desert Blooms

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The desert, in this case, is the arroyo behind the three mile long dam built to protect Las Cruces from floods of water coming down from the mesa into the valley.  Plants get plenty of water from the runoff of the rains. P1000205The weather is moving toward fall and a few days have been cool enough for a walk in the sand during good photo hours.  Above the yellow Bahia and the white datura (jimson weed) with the dam in the background. The city is right on the other side.  Below, some datura close up.daturaAnother native plant which has been enjoying the weather is the potato plant.  Like the datura, it is poisonous.potato plantThe dominant perennial plants here are creosote bush and mesquite.  The creosote bushes are covered with small yellow flowers.creosoteAnother plant which appreciates the rain is buffalo gourd.  There are already a few gourds on this plant.  Come fall, the gourds will be bright yellow balls, which some artisitic people collect to make Christmas tree ornaments.buffalo gourdOn my way back to the road, I noticed this Texas sage plant.  Its brilliant color is in contrast to most of the flora here.  Texas sage is not native here, but well suited to the climate.  Some bird brought the seed from somebody’s yard.sage

Napa 3: Yes, There Was Writing Too

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P1000198My back yard has acquired its post-rain carpet of green.  When it first appears I can’t tell which plants will be weeds and which will be wildflowers.  I feel a bit that way about the results of my participation in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.  I’m sorting out my drafts of poems and my new ideas and deciding which pieces have most potential.

Many of my poems centered on the past.  Perhaps this was because I was back in California where I grew up, though the Napa Valley wasn’t part of my home turf.  Perhaps it was because when one has 20 hours to produce a poem, one goes back to basics.  Here’s one piece which may be complete in itself, having taken the shape of a tanka.  The assignment was to show passage of time:

Almond blossoms in spring,
tiger lilies in summer.  Our height
marked on the door post.
Before my brother grows tall,
the house is no longer ours.

Another piece is too short for a tanka, too long for haiku.  Perhaps it is the beginning or end of a longer poem, though right now the rest isn’t working.

Prunes, apricots,
cannery by the tracks.  I bury questions
in my grandfather’s orchard.

Since I’ve been working on a different poem about trying to put my ancestors behind me, I may put this aside for a while.  I have researched all the main lines of my ancestry and after writing John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher (see Books page) I thought I was done.  But here is my grandfather and his orchard once again.P1000200

Meanwhile, in a corner of my yard not as covered in new green shoots, a little clump of purple mat, my favorite local wildflower, is flourishing.  It didn’t have to wait for the rain to get started.  And I have lots of other material to work with while I decide what to do with my new pieces from Napa..

Napa Valley, Land of Sun and Wind

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Napa and its valley are known for wineries, and the territory lives up to expectations.  There are fields of grapes everywhere you look.  I even found a small plot of grapes in a small park in St. Helena, the town where our conference was held.grapes in park

There was a vineyard across the street from where our conference met.  The first day I had time to wander over for a closer look, the plants looked much like the one in the park, the grapes tucked among the leaves.  The next day I went back with my camera and found this:grapes in field

My guess is that this is to give the grapes more sun.  This would also make them easier to pick, but I think the savings in labor at that point would be balanced out by the work of pulling each laden vine down.

My hotel didn’t serve breakfast until 7:00, so I was often up and working on my writing assignments before then.  One morning I looked at the usually empty field outside my window and saw:balloon 1

Though New Mexico is famous for its balloon events, I had never seen one being filled.  A slow process, requiring patience, and from the look of the number of people walking around, considerable co-operation and precision. balloon 2

I continued to watch until the balloon left the ground.   Two people remained behind to fold up the ground cloths which had protected the balloon from the dirt. balloon up

By the time  I left for my workshop, I could find no trace of the balloon in the sky.

Going Out and Getting Back

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I’ve been off at a writers’ conference, without my laptop, and so not blogging.  My “re-entry” has been slow this week; I seem to be way off schedule.

Yesterday I baked bread and also spent time reviewing my recent poems to see what is ready to send out, what might go with what, what needs more work.  Only afterward was I reminded that it was Lammas Day, the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.  Lammas celebrates the first harvest; baking bread acknowledges the harvest.  A cross-quarter day is a time for checking on the progress of one’s goals and intentions.

Without being conscious of what I was doing, I was getting back on track with the calendar.

Stevenson Trail

I’ve been at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.  I stayed in Calistoga.  On one break I went for a hike in the Robert L. Stevenson State Park.  The drive up twisty Route 29 reminded me of trips along the California coast in my childhood.

Looking Down the Canyon

Looking Down the Canyon

I found a nice trail up to a monument, which marks the spot where Stevenson and his wife stayed in 1880.  There’s nothing left of the structure or any evidence of their having been there except a monument which was set up in 1911.

 Stevenson Memorial


Stevenson Memorial

There’s plenty of attention to Stevenson in the local museums as well, a curious situation considering that he only stayed in the area for a few weeks.  His writings must have been good publicity for the mineral springs of Calistoga.