Looking into space

On Being Secular

My story on becoming secular might not be a common one from someone born and raised in the South; however, I wanted to share it to bring light on some misconceptions, the different branches and recent findings of secularism.

When I was young, I became ingrained in the church and as a follower of Christ where I was eventually baptized in the ocean and then confirmed in Christ following weeks of study. I sang in the children’s choir, participated in many church-related events, traveled to yearly pilgrimages and wrote a Bible verse in my journal every day for two years. From praying for loved ones who I feared lost their way, to being part of church plays and going to every Christmas show, I fit well into the stereotypical mold of a southern Christian.

As I got older, I started to write about anything and everything that popped into my mind. This led to me analyzing my beliefs and the overall concept of being a ‘theist.’ I started to find cracks in the house that had comfortably surrounded me, and it was a conflicting time: Nothing could repair those cracks that formed. Finally, I discussed my views and was informed of a noun that I had never heard of or read about before — AG-NOS-TIC:

“A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” —Oxford.

I had to repeat the word a few times to get it right, but once I read (and re-read) the definition, an amazing feeling filled me as if a breath of fresh air: I had discovered what I had been contemplating for years, and it felt right, like, ‘Finally, this is how I’ve been thinking over the last few years!’ It was a feeling of relief, freedom and acceptance.

Since then, I’ve researched more into the concept of theism, atheism and the wide spectrum of secular thoughts. It was difficult to initially inform close ones of this change; however, I had found the right community to identify with and was content.

What is the Spectrum of Secularism?

This article isn’t meant to represent the entirety of secularism nor would it even begin to take on such a daunting task. Likewise to the branches of organized religion, there are vast branches of secularism, as well.

An example of how many branches there are in a certain type of secular belief.

The main types that people refer to most often tend to include:

  1. Atheism: A rejection of the belief that any deities exist. ATHEISM IS NOT A BELIEF, it is a REJECTION of belief.
  2. Agnostic: (see above) Basically being agnostic means to pursue evidence-based wisdom even as theories are fluid based on further discoveries. There is no evidence that a deity/deities/supernatural entity exist; therefore, we must rely on known evidence/logic.
  3. Deism: “The philosophical position that rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to establish the existence of a Supreme Being or creator of the universe.” A few deists whom I’ve met believe in a supreme being that created the universe including Earth, but had no intervention in anything post-creation.
  4. Humanism: “A philosophical stance that emphasizes the value of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. “
  5. Antitheism: “The opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications. In secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to the belief in any deity.” One definition I’ve read on this is that it aligns with the concept that humans believing in a deity/ies is extremely harmful.

These are strict definitions that can be broadened and most definitely do NOT represent the entirety of secularism. Basically, two of the core values of secularism is in regards to evidence-based rationale and theories and the connections between nature and living things.

What Are/Aren’t Those Who Identify as Secular?

  1. We do NOT believe in Satan; thus, we are NOT Satanists. One retort that I received was that if I did not believe in God, then I must be a Satanist. This irrational statement doesn’t take into account that secularists question/reject the belief of ALL deities, which includes … Satan!
  2. We have morals and core values. Another thing to touch base on is that we do not have morals since we aren’t being led by the Bible. Luckily for the majority of humanity, most of us have a thing in the frontal lobe area of our brains called a conscience, meaning, we feel empathy and acknowledge what is right and what is wrong. Now, unless you exhibit traits of a psychopath, narcissist and/or sociopath, this concept is not foreign. We also acknowledge the importance of being connected to the world around us.

    According to the Pew Research Foundation: “Like a majority of Americans, most atheists mentioned “family” as a source of meaning when Pew Research Center asked an open-ended question about this in a 2017 survey. But atheists were far more likely than Christians to describe hobbies as meaningful or satisfying (26% vs. 10%). Atheists also were more likely than Americans overall to describe finances and money, creative pursuits, travel, and leisure activities as meaningful. Not surprisingly, very few U.S. atheists (4%) said they found life’s meaning in spirituality.”

    In the same article, “Most Americans (56%) say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral, while 42% say belief in God is necessary to have good values, according to a 2017 survey. In other wealthy countries, smaller shares tend to say that belief in God is essential for good morals, including just 15% in France. But in many other parts of the world, nearly everyone says that a person must believe in God to be moral, including 99% in Indonesia and Ghana and 98% in Pakistan, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center international survey.”
  3. We do not “hate” Jesus or the Bible. In fact, most of us see the Bible as one of the most impactful pieces of work on humanity. Personally, I tried to take a Bible literacy course in high school to become even more knowledgeable of it, but it, unfortunately, didn’t fit my schedule.

    According to the Pew Research article from above, “Atheists may not believe religious teachings, but they are quite informed about religion. In Pew Research Center’s 2019 religious knowledge survey, atheists were among the best-performing groups, answering an average of about 18 out of 32 fact-based questions correctly, while U.S. adults overall got an average of roughly 14 questions right. Atheists were at least as knowledgeable as Christians on Christianity-related questions – roughly eight-in-ten in both groups, for example, know that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – and they were also twice as likely as Americans overall to know that the U.S. Constitution says “no religious test” shall be necessary to hold public office.”

    When legal issues arise with having taxpayer money fund a specific religious material in the public eye, we also do not think that it’s fair for all Americans to fund it. It would be the same concept as if taxpayer money went to fund a Hindu, Buddhist, Islam and/or Pagan physical object in public schools, courthouses, etc. If one religion wants to open that can of worms, then you must be inclusive to all beliefs (or lack of beliefs), which is unreasonable.
  4. We are also a mix of political ideologies. I tend to have more views that socially lean left while fiscally I lean more right. Local and state political issues are more interesting and impactful on my day-to-day, so I stay informed with a few local and state news sites.

    In 2016, religiously unaffiliated Americans, or “nones,” represented 21 percent of registered voters, one percentage point more than white evangelical Christians. However, they only accounted for 15 percent of actual voters, according to Pew Research Center and national exit polls.

    Mind you, the majority of those who are religious-nones tend to back more democratic/liberal candidates and policies; however, it’s not 100%. The graph below compares Evangelicals vs. Religions-Nones on which candidates they supported in 2012 and 2016.

5. The rate of those who identify as secular is rising, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. We must learn to civilly co-exist.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center: “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.”

I’m not a monster out to sacrifice your faith to whatever nightmare you can imagine; I’m not trying to turn your children away from their upbringing; I don’t want to attack your beliefs; and I do not hate anyone or anything that is religious. I merely want to live a loving, relaxing and successful life, similar to most everyone regardless of their beliefs, or lack there of.

As long as you strive to be a good person who treats other living things with respect and love, then you’re a’okay in my book!

As time goes by, and the image of our country, and the world, transitions into a more secular one, I hope these misconceptions and fears against those who are secular will diminish.

Sunflowers on the dunes

Prepping for Grad School by Camping

CSU Rams logoIt’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything. With school starting back for most of Colorado, I’ve been busy preparing for the first semester of graduate school as part of Colorado State University’s Master of Communication and Media Management (M.C.M.M.) program through the journalism department (Go Rams!) as well as an increased workload at my workplace, the University of Northern Colorado (Go Bears!).

Originally, I was going to start on a master’s degree program last fall; however, due to my husband’s unexpected health concerns that are now resolved, I dropped out of the program. It’s been over a YEAR since his cancer diagnosis and almost a year since his first of two surgeries. I am amazed at how much he has recovered both physically and mentally, and it was an experience that led me to truly understand just how much he means to me. Life is short, so best to live it up as much as possible as you never know!

Needless to say, I am excited for the challenge of going back to school and hope I can smoothly balance working full-time and on school this semester. In the end, I’m sure this experience will be worth the added stress and result in the academic stimulation I’ve been craving for the past few years.

To mentally prepare, we took a short but thrilling camping venture across southwest Colorado/Utah the week before. Here’s what we experienced:

Arches National Park, Utah

When we entered Arches, it was over 100° and dry enough to make our throats somewhat sore. On the way in, we saw Balance Rock, set to eventually fall and something that would be cool to see, I think!

We set up our tent in the Devils Garden Campground in the northern end of the park in the shade of a Utah Juniper bush. After hydrating ourselves and filling up our camel backs, we hiked around five miles in the Devils Garden loop trails and saw the Skyline (first image below), Pine Tree and Tunnel (third image below) arches.

Mark and I standing under Pine Tree Arch.

We returned to the campground and saw a family of mule deer, chipmunks and lots of mice tracks. On the way out of the park, we hiked to one of the viewpoints of Delicate Arch and then made our way to Mesa Verde park to see the cliff dwellings!

View of Delicate Arch on our way out of the park.

Mesa Verda National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verda offers a chance to view and/or walk around ancient cliff houses, temples and other structures built by ancestral Pueblo people thousands of years ago. We were awestruck by the beautiful and preserved buildings literally made into cliff walls, known as cliff dwellings. Here’s some of what we saw:

Durango, Colorado

Durango is a hip and friendly town nestled in southwest Colorado. Our Airbnb was right off of Main Street, and we got to enjoy some great, local breweries as well as a great breakfast place, Durango Diner, which was amazing, especially the green chili.

Word of advice: parking downtown is nearly impossible if you don’t have a ton of change for the coin-only meters. It was quite frustrating at times. Park in the nearby Kroger parking lot and walk a block or two to downtown as a get-around!

UFO Watchtower and the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

For the second time, we got to enjoy the Sand Dunes outside of Alamosa and this time with friends! Before going to the Piñon Flats Campground, we made a pit stop to a road-side attraction that’s out of this world … literally: the UFO Watchtower!

From alien-conspiracy theorists to photographed sightings, a garden filled with personal items left by visitors and a funky gift shop and artwork, it was definitely worth the experience. I left a half-sand dollar I found years ago on my hometown of Oak Island, N.C., that conveniently was in my car!

This place is the ultimate roadside attraction full of funky personalities!

Afterwards, we met up with friends at the Great Sand Dunes‘ Piñon Flats Campground and explored seven miles of the dunes and nearby landscape. We heard coyotes howling and yipping multiple times each night that we stayed there, which was utterly surreal! We also saw mule deer and tracks of those coyotes during our exploration.

In the midst of the sand dunes with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background and prairie sunflowers up front.
The gang including me (up front) then from left to right: Mark, Jessica, Sarah and Lee.

On our way back home, we stopped by an amazing southwestern restaurant, Salado, in Fairplay, one of our favorite towns (I recommend the Butter Burger).

Outside of the extreme heat in Arches and lack of parking in Durango, the only other issue I had to deal with was a constant leak in my mattress pad where I basically slept on the hard ground for three nights, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected but it sure did make me grateful for mattresses!

Now onward to achieving one of my life’s goals: attaining a master’s degree!

My Husband is a Cancer Survivor

While driving home from work on Colorado’s US 34 in terrible (as usual) traffic, I received two texts from my husband, Mark, that said:

“Wow…”

“They found a mass in my lung”

I read the texts and almost rear-ended the car in front of me after. I thought to myself, “A what? A mass?? My 29-year old husband could have a tumor in his lung … a cancerous one.”

At that point, I started to disassociate from reality and panic, so I quickly turned down a side road and sped home. That entire drive home felt as if it took forever to get home to him despite speeding down the country roads back home.

Mark in Alaska
Mark posing for a photograph in front of Denali, merely a week away from learning about the tumor.

See, we had just returned from a camping trip in Alaska, and Mark strained his shoulder picking up a bag. He went in for an x-ray at a local urgent care and came out with the discovery of an unknown, large mass in his lung (the size of an egg) that was situated in between three pulmonary arteries.

How could Mark have a tumor? Is it cancerous? What the hell is happening? These thoughts were circling in my slowly dissociating mind. After a biopsy, it turned out to be a non-aggressive, slow-growing, typical neuroendocrine cancer snugly sitting in his right lung’s lower lobe.

Example of tumor of the lung
An example of near the location of where the typical neuroendocrine tumor sat in his lung.

After many sleepless nights, three separate hospital stays that resulted in a total of almost three weeks, lots of blood, fluids and tears, uniportal vats surgery, and two surgeries over three months, Mark is cancer-free and recovering. Luckily, he didn’t need chemo or radiation, but the idea that this rare type of cancer was developing in him since his early twenties with no symptoms was (and still is) an absolutely terrifying thought.

We believe the turmoil has finally ended, and normalcy looks to be within our grasps again, but it was such a strange, emotional and deadening three months. It feels as if the Alaska trip we took in the summer was years ago.

The journey isn’t over as he still has to heal and regain his ability to breathe normally as well as take it easy to avoid any further mishaps. You can never truly prepare for such terrible, medical surprises such as this, but here are 5 things I’ve learned from the experience:

  1. The possibility that something absolutely terrible could happen during surgery
    I didn’t want to let go of his hand right before he was wheeled off into surgery, and when I did, it struck me that if one of those pulmonary arteries was accidentally cut, then he could very well bleed out, and I could very well be a widow. However, you must trust the doctors and medical staff to do what they think is best as well as keep your mind occupied while waiting for it to be over. The panic that loomed over me was too vast for me to even face, but luckily the surgery went well despite it being one of the most difficult surgeries the surgeon has experienced.
  2. Understanding how he/she feels about his/her body and situation
    When I was told that Mark has cancer and must undergo an intense and life-changing surgery, I felt absolutely useless and helpless. I tried and tried to act positive and somewhat normal around him, but in the end, he was the one who had to go through the procedures, stay in the hospital for days or weeks, and face the potential for reoccurrance. The best you can do is stay as strong as possible while keeping on top of those main priorities, such as bills, pets, cleaning and work. Gently remind your spouse that it is okay to let out emotion and stress in front of you and to encourage it.
  3. Physical and mental impacts of the entire experience
    It’s all said and done, right? Not so much. The healing process for lung surgery is delicate and long-term. Mark lost his right lung’s lower lobe in the surgery and can easily tell that he can’t breathe in as deep as before and gets winded easier. Understanding his new needs and limitations takes some time to adjust to especially since we’re both not even 30 years old. With patience, support and laughter, it makes it easier for them to retain control and adjust to their environment again.
  4. The number of people who care about you
    We all get locked into our normal routine of waking up, working, cleaning, eating, sleeping, etc. to the point of taking for granted your relationships with other people. After Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we had outpouring support from family, friends both near and far, coworkers and neighbors. It brought tears to our eyes when Mark’s coworkers donated money to help with future medical bills as well as using Meal Trains to deliver fresh, hot food to us on a daily basis. We were touched when friends would text or call one of us to ask how we were doing along with having neighbors offer to help with yard and housework. It opened our eyes to just how many people care about and support us while going through these absolutely stressful events.
  5. Life pre- and post-cancer and surgery
    Mark looks at life with a different viewpoint after his experience with these events where he is wiser with the concept of mortality, living life and overall love, which isn’t surprising. Getting back up to speed with work and exercise is going to be a rough, but not impossible road. After he completely heals, he wants to train to hike his third Colorado 14er (a mountain over 14,000 feet) next year as a goal … and I’ll be right there beside him along the way.

I hope this brings comfort to others who are dealing with a loved one who has a debilitating illness as you are not alone. I highly recommend finding support groups and legit research articles out there and not click on the first result that pops up in Google Search. My love and strength to you.

We’d like to give a shout-out to the amazing medical and nursing staff at Medical Center of the Rockies and UCHealth. Dr. Ronald Smith is one of only a handful of surgeons in the U.S. who can perform the type of noninvasive surgery Mark experienced. Thank you all for taking care of Mark and making him laugh during his long, long days and nights in the hospital.

Neuroendocrine cancer awareness