Friday, December 31, 2010

Wrapping Up 2010

Another year has come to an end and for the last two years I have taken the time to review those years and write a summary. I find that I actually enjoy going back and reliving our adventures. 2010 was a pretty good year, and like all years we had some ups and downs. This year started out pretty slow. In January we just got back into the swing of things after the holidays and not much happened. Maybe that was a good thing, we probably needed to relax after our trip to Louisiana for Christmas.

February was a little busier and more exciting. The month started with the New Orleans Saints winning the Superbowl. Being a native Louisianian I was extremely excited for the team and the city. Also in February Thomas and I took a trip to Tucson to get away from the cold in Santa Fe. We spent about a week in Tucson and had a really good time. We did some hiking and letterboxing - we especially enjoyed our drive along the Sky Island Scenic Byway and hiking on Mt. Lemmon. You can read all about our trip at A Trip to Tucson (Part I and Part II). Back in Santa Fe we got back to our normal routine and started planning for our next trip. When we were in Louisiana for Christmas we didn't get to see my brother. He and his wife weren't able to get away for the holidays. But they had planned to be in Lafayette for Easter so Thomas and I arranged to visit then. So at the end of March we flew to New Orleans and rented a car. We did get to do a little exploring around Baton Rouge and New Orleans as well as visit the family in Lafayette. My sisters had also asked me to take pictures of my nieces, Tori (for her graduation) and Madison (for her first communion). I had a good time taking these pictures and even though I am not a professional I think they came out pretty good. You can read about this trip at Easter Trip to Louisiana (Part I and Part II).

When we returned to New Mexico in mid April it was to some bad news. Thomas' cousin Ruth had been diagnosed with cancer back in December and had been through surgery and treatments. Unfortunately things were too far along and Ruth was too weak to continue some of the treatments. So she and her husband made the decision to stop everything and make the most of the time they had left together. Ruth passed away on April 20th. Ruth and Thomas had been pretty close as we lived next door to each other for quite a while. But a few years ago Ruth and her husband Chris moved to Albuquerque and our visits with them lessened. It was still a very sad day for us and we miss her terribly. Ruth worked as an instructor at a community college and she was also an author. She wrote books under the names R. C. Brojim and Cleo Dare.

In May I took a trip by myself to Cape Cod, MA and Rhode Island. Some letterboxing friends were having an event to celebrate their semi-retirement from letterboxing and their finding 26.000+ letterboxes. I spent a few days on Cape Cod and then made my way to Rhode Island. This was my first time in Rhode Island and I really enjoyed myself. For more details on that trip go to Happy Trails! (& 26,000 (s)miles!) Letterboxing Trip. After this trip Thomas and I spent most of the summer just hanging around Santa Fe. We did work around the house and in the garden and took day trips in the area. It turned out to be a nice, relaxing time and we got quite a bit done around the house.

Then in August we went on a trip to Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. We had talked about going to Maine for a while but never really made any plans. One of the main reasons for the trip was a letterboxing event in Brunswick (which turned out not to be so good) and the other reason was to visit Acadia National Park. We really enjoyed this park and I would really enjoy visiting the area again. We also made a side trip to Montpelier, VT. This has to be one of my favorite State Capitals in the country. This is the smallest State Capital and I think it is one of the nicest cities. We also spent a little time in New Hampshire during this trip and you can read about the trip at The Maine Event.

September and October had us staying close to home but keeping busy as well. We attended the New Mexico State Fair and we went raspberry picking. And we took an overnight trip to Clayton, NM. And we also took a trip to the Four Corners area and spent some time in Farmington, NM. Pretty simple things but fun none the less.
During this time we also started thinking about taking a trip to Georgia to visit my brother. We had pretty much decided to go between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays but the we got a phone call from my brother and they wanted the entire family to go for Thanksgiving.

So we adjusted our time and plans just a little and made it for Thanksgiving. We actually flew into Birmingham, AL (because Southwest didn't fly into Atlanta) and then did a little driving to Savannah, GA and then to Asheville, NC before heading to my brother's place in Acworth, GA. We really enjoyed this trip - it was the first time for both Thomas and I to visit this area. There are much more details at A Southern Thanksgiving Letterboxing Trip.

That was pretty much it for our adventures for the year. December has turned out to be pretty quiet and cold and we ended having a relaxing Christmas. There are other things that happened throughout the year. Our puppies continue to grow and they have really bonded with each other - Daisy and Buddy have really become good friends. They ended up with another brother this year. During the summer a black dog showed up on the property and would sleep under a juniper at the end of the driveway. At first we did nothing, not knowing where he came from or if he was mean. I guess we thought that he would eventually leave. But then Daisy and Buddy started playing with him and Thomas felt sorry for him and started feeding him. Thomas named him Grim (because he is black and reminded us of the Grim in the Harry Potter books and movies). We have since adopted him and got him neutered and got him his shots. He has turned out to be a great pet - we think he was abused and he was just looking for a little love. I am glad we have the space for another dog and that we can afford to take care of him.

Okay, what else - my detached retina. Things are good! I feel lucky that I have my eyesight and that the retina is attached and healthy. I am seeing an eye doctor that specializes in vision therapy and so far that is going well. I will write a post once I have finished the treatments and let you know how things have turned out. Detached Retina has the complete story. I also continued with my picture taking blog but I had some camera trouble and wasn't able to do a picture every day so I just posted a picture when I had one I wanted to share. You can see what I was able to do at As I See It 2010.

Last but definitely not least was the victories for Gay and Lesbians. Five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia now have legal same-sex marriage. There are also major efforts in California and New York to get same-sex marriage legalized. And now Don't Ask, Don't Tell has finally been repealed. With Obama's signature we can now have openly gay and lesbian soldiers able to serve this country and not have to hide. Unfortunately, there were some suicides among gay teenagers due to bullying. But out of this sadness we gained some really great support. The Trevor Project, It Gets Better and Give a Damn! all came to the call for help. Don't get me wrong, we still have a long way to go but things are much better.

For me 2010 was a good year and I am looking forward to 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Factual Explanation

I came across this post on a blog that I read called Idle Eyes and A Dormy. I really enjoyed Ricky's explanation and felt a connection with it. Whether you agree or not I believe it can give everyone something to think about.

A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m An Atheist

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -¬- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

This, is of course a spirituality issue, religion is a different matter. As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all-powerful all-knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are. From what I can gather, pretty much the worst type of person you can be is an atheist. The first four commandments hammer this point home. There is a god, I’m him, no one else is, you’re not as good and don’t forget it. (Don’t murder anyone, doesn’t get a mention till number 6.)

When confronted with anyone who holds my lack of religious faith in such contempt, I say, “It’s the way God made me.”

But what are atheists really being accused of?

The dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.” Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities. So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God,” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.

I used to believe in God. The Christian one that is.

I loved Jesus. He was my hero. More than pop stars. More than footballers. More than God. God was by definition omnipotent and perfect. Jesus was a man. He had to work at it. He had temptation but defeated sin. He had integrity and courage. But He was my hero because He was kind. And He was kind to everyone. He didn’t bow to peer pressure or tyranny or cruelty. He didn’t care who you were. He loved you. What a guy. I wanted to be just like Him.

One day when I was about 8 years old, I was drawing the crucifixion as part of my Bible studies homework. I loved art too. And nature. I loved how God made all the animals. They were also perfect. Unconditionally beautiful. It was an amazing world.

I lived in a very poor, working-class estate in an urban sprawl called Reading, about 40 miles west of London. My father was a laborer and my mother was a housewife. I was never ashamed of poverty. It was almost noble. Also, everyone I knew was in the same situation, and I had everything I needed. School was free. My clothes were cheap and always clean and ironed. And mum was always cooking. She was cooking the day I was drawing on the cross.

I was sitting at the kitchen table when my brother came home. He was 11 years older than me, so he would have been 19. He was as smart as anyone I knew, but he was too cheeky. He would answer back and get into trouble. I was a good boy. I went to church and believed in God -– what a relief for a working-class mother. You see, growing up where I did, mums didn’t hope as high as their kids growing up to be doctors; they just hoped their kids didn’t go to jail. So bring them up believing in God and they’ll be good and law abiding. It’s a perfect system. Well, nearly. 75 percent of Americans are God-¬‐fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God--‐fearing Christians. 10 percent of Americans are atheists; 0.2 percent of prisoners are atheists.

But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob,” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.

Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.

Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution -– a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us –- with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living. But living an honest life -– for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f— you!” Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view it’s accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That’s obvious. It’s an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever. Again if it was just a case of spirituality this would be fine.

“Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is -¬‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

Ricky Gervais is the writer and star of HBO’s “Ricky Gervais Out of England 2: The Stand-Up Special”