Nope.

This is my response to a few things today. NOPE.

Nope #1:

Explain to a stranger (albeit a reasonable one) on the internet how I am “actively challenging oppressive structures” in order to capital-A-advocate for PoCs after I just explained how I live my life and the humanitarian projects I am involved in. NOPE. The world is a damn big tent with plenty of problems to go around and we can’t all be capital-A advocates for everyone. Work your strengths, your connections, your opportunities and work to make the world better how you are particularly situated to help. Unless you are prepared to lay out your comprehensive plan to counter oppressive structures of the guardianship system for women in Saudi Arabia AND your plan for eliminating FGM AND your plan for making sure that women have access to safe and effective birth control AND your plan to stop blight in trees AND your plan to stop extinction of the black rhino AND… Do your thing and let other people do theirs.

Work together wherever you can but stop demanding that everyone have a plan for everything because then no one ends up having an effective plan for anything.

Be advocates for as many things as you can that you think are good and worthwhile, but only be an “A”dvocate for the things that you are able to dedicate yourself to & please stop expecting me to have the same level of dedicated activism in the areas that you are working on. It doesn’t mean I’m not concerned, don’t care, or am not making a strong effort to understand and/or make a difference. (Because I VERY strongly care about issues that people of color face in my own country and others.)

Nope #2:

Ask me to trust & resume a relationship with someone who just broke trust in a major way without explanation or resolution. NOPE. Actions have consequences and when we really screw up badly we don’t get to expect that other people will give us an immediate redo. This is not a video game. Fix your issues and try again later. A lot later. (P.S. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a fun film to watch with the kids & includes 3 lives.)

Nope #3:

This heat in California right now. Seriously. The state is on fire again.

A Blow to the Heart

I’ve been MIA again. I’ve been working to support an atheist in danger in another country for several months and it’s been long, arduous and stressful. But just when it seemed that we reached a point where real progress could be made – he was safe – something really terrible happened.

Instead of using the money I sent him to secure his new apartment, he used it all to purchase a ticket back to his own country from which we’d spent months trying to safely extricate him. To make matters worse, he apparently intends to kill himself.

There’s nothing I can do to help. Angry. Infuriated. Devastated. Sad. Done. (The image I chose for this post fairly accurately portrays how I feel when I allow myself to think about the situation.)

I don’t regret my attempts to assist. I don’t regret getting to know him. But I’m sad. I’m tired. And I hope he uses whatever remains of the money to try to live. No one asks to be suicidal, and it is a pit of despair.

I’ve learned a lot recently, about what refugees and asylum-seekers (not just for religious reasons) face in terms of mental health challenges. Sometimes we think it’s just a matter of money and options. But the truth is that it’s more complicated than that.

Sometimes people can’t accept, or even see, the options in front of them, even when they are plain as day to outsiders. That is the insidious nature of depression. It takes away your choices – makes them unrecognizable.

There is no threshold level of pain or “bad enough” you must meet in order to ask for help in improving your mental health. (I finally learned that about six years ago.) But in many places there is no way to get help, even for people who might be willing.

My friend Yasmine started an organization for this very reason. The need for this hit home today when I realized what was happening with my friend – because he has become a friend over the past few months.

Free Hearts Free Minds caters to Ex-Muslim atheists who are isolated in their own countries. The organization provides a series of six FREE life coaching sessions. please check it out and if it’s something that seems worthwhile to you, they never have enough money to cover the requests so they happily accept one time donations and monthly support.

This was a discouraging and painful experience and it may become much more painful as I wait to see if he lives or not. It hurts to have trust broken when you’ve poured your heart and soul into helping. But it isn’t going to stop me. I’ll just be a bit more guarded, a bit more cynical. But I think it’s always worth trying to help, even when we can’t control the outcome. Compassion is what makes us human.

P.S. The organization I listed is just one way you could consider helping. (Please take a moment to click through and read about it though. Here it is again.)

P.P.S. Giving money was a calculated risk. I say calculated because I’d spoken with him almost daily for months I have developed a good level of trust, for good reason. But desperation changes the equation.

A Drop in the Bucket


I have stayed up until nearly 2 AM this morning, again, watching a movie. That’s three since Friday. I never take the time to sit and watch a movie for myself. I never feel like I can take that much time for myself. But this last month, two months, has been so stressful and I’m not prepared for our long trip in one day and yet I couldn’t keep myself from finishing the movie I started watching. The Big Sick. I didn’t know what it was about- just that I remembered that I had wanted to see it – but it became so very moving, and real that I had to finish it. (The main character is actually a lapsed Muslim, so that was interesting to see on the big screen – you don’t see people questioning their faith often.) I have found it so cathartic to watch other people’s stories play out on the screen and to get out of my own head. And to pretend for a minute that life is normal, when it really hasn’t been. I don’t want to live in a world where people lose their families and are killed for not conforming. Everything I’ve been doing recently to try to help a man in another country escape threats because he left his faith is such a small drop in the bucket. It is so sad. And I’m tired. But at the same time, the internal optimist in me thinks that if more and more of us put a drop in the bucket, that we will be able to fill it.

(I’ve been volunteering with Secular Rescue. Check them out, and consider giving some money to help more people.)

I’m Raising Money for One of My Friends & Other Secular Refugees on GoFundMe

I met Alex almost a year ago, when he commented in despair about being a hidden atheist in Saudi Arabia on one of Richard Dawkins’ tweets. It caught Richard’s eye and he sent me a screen shot. (I had already begun working on my book, Losing Your Life to Save It.) I was able to contact Alex through Twitter (I gave him the name Alex) and we chatted online for months. Eventually he told me that he was saving money and arranging to travel to another country to seek asylum because he lived in constant fear of discovery and his parents were beginning to suspect – sometimes he made mistakes in trying to follow Islamic practices after he stopped believing.

He entered Germany legally but as he declared his intent to seek asylum at that border, he was immediately put into a refugee camp. His phone was damaged at the camp making communication very difficult.

His claim was denied and he is appealing his denial and asking to be permitted to stay in Germany. Because he arrived with money to support himself he was not given the usual government financial support provided to nearly all asylum seekers. His application was denied six months ago – they wanted to send him, a known atheist, back to Saudi Arabia where apostasy is punishable by death and atheism is legally defined as terrorism – because the interviewer did not believe he has left Islam and felt that there was no reason Alex couldn’t simply return and begin to practice Islam again.

He began the long appeal process with the help of Atheist Refugee Relief but has completely depleted the money he brought with him and the camp he has been recently transferred to does not provide food, unlike several of the previous refugee camps he’s been living in.

He hasn’t been able to obtain the documentation (Saudi bank info) he needs to prove to the government that he’s out of money, so the initial determination that he didn’t need financial support can’t be changed yet.

I’ve set up a fundraiser and am splitting the money raised between Alex and the organization that has been able to obtain a lawyer for his appeal, as well as help with some other services.

Hopefully he’ll be able to access the proper bank documentation soon and get government assistance.

Ideally his application will be accepted and he’ll be able to work to support himself – going back to Saudi Arabia is utterly unsafe.

Either way he needs to eat now and this money will be a temporary stopgap measure allowing him to purchase food and other basic living expenses – like transportation to purchase food. It will help reimburse the German charity that’s been helping and free up to help other secular and atheist refugees.

(After a certain point funds raised will be split between three charities.)

Please consider whether you can donate a bit to help Alex and the groups that help secular refugees that often don’t have safe access to religious organizations that provide aid to they coreligionists.

HELP HERE: GoFundMe – Help Alex Eat

P.S. Whatever happens, he’s all in. Alex got this tattoo when he arrived in Germany!

Working on a project with Courtney Heard

Heads up! I’m working with Courtney Heard (Godless Mom on Patheos) on a joint post about helping a population that is in extreme need.

Stay tuned.


The adorable puppy pic at the top of this post is titled Kiwi Eagerly Waiting and was taken by photographer Adam Folliott. It perfectly captures the eagerness of anticipation. His work is beautiful. Make sure to check it out! (On a computer you don’t have to be signed in to Flickr.)

Social Media – Tools for Fools?

With the recent news about Cambridge Analytics gathering and misusing Facebook data, I’ve seen people tweeting #DeleteFacebook (including Elon Musk, who apparently deleted his entire personal and public presence, though I don’t think he used the hashtag) and a lot of outrage that so much data is being collected and used for various purposes, including political. But I can’t say that I was surprised or even phased by the news. I think I was more startled by how many people were startled! This post is just a little bit of musing – it’s not a “hot take” – just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head.

Social media is such a strange behemoth. There are so many views on the purpose of various platforms ranging from adamant assertions that Facebook is just for family photos and puppy pics (yes, still) all the way to pure political use and so many ways of using it. I think my view on social media is a pragmatic one – you use the tools available to you how you need and/or want to use them. I use Facebook to connect with family and friends, share interesting articles, make new friends – and the best way to reach me at any time is Messenger: I can’t recall the last time I made a phone call for something social or even logistical. I used Instagram when I was running my businesses for fun and because some of my friends wouldn’t use Facebook & enjoyed the simplicity and happy feel of Instagram. I started using Twitter when I started helping with LogiCal-LA 2017 and quickly realized that I could connect with people and gain access to viewpoints and news that weren’t easily within reach on Facebook or my small southern California town where I am raising my kids. That’s essentially the limit of my social media exposure and I find that I use each platform in an entirely different way – they are tools. (WordPress is a new addition, for the purposes of this blog, and I was reluctant to add a new tool, but it seemed necessary. So far, so good!)

They are tools, and extraordinarily useful tools at that. I find that I am willing to take risks with my information in order to gain access to tools that I feel immeasurably improve my life and make my work possible. I do try to read the fine print and I have (largely) resisted the urge to sign up to take little quizzes on Facebook but I know I have glossed over things in order to be able to use resources that I can’t make on my own. But I know when I take that risk that I have to at least try to keep my wits about me – just because it’s in “print” somewhere doesn’t mean it’s real. So there’s a need to try keep your tools from using you. Stay skeptical my friends. Treat every day like it is April Fool’s Day. 😉

Of course, I would like social media businesses and app designers to have a care with the info they glean from me – to be responsible, moral and ethical. But I’m not going to demand perfection or assume that everyone who designs an app has purely altruistic motives, or even that they should. Everything we do in life involves risk – this is one I’m willing to take. When I see people call for Twitter to require use of real names to avoid bots and impersonation, I see an incalculable loss looming as I imagine people in restricted countries losing access to their lifeline to the rest of the world. Ex-Muslim apostates who have limited outlets, political dissidents, people who are constrained from being themselves in their in-person situations. People – young and old – in small villages but with an internet connection. “Lifeline” takes on its original, heavy meaning in those cases. Even atheists, such as myself, who may not know anyone else with whom it is safe to share their ideas and thoughts with can connect and find community online. I did and it kept me going.

The immense value of being able to be heard, or hear someone else, is stunning when you think about it. Just this past week I had the pleasure of seeing some of my blog entries being read in places such as Japan, Argentina, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and even the tiny country of Vanuatu! This is a dream come true for the kid who wanted to be friends with all of the foreign exchange students growing up. How else can we bring people of the world together so easily?

Of course, bringing people of the world together also causes clashes in world view, politics, religion, opinions, taste – essentially every way in which people can differ. But I don’t think this is a bad thing overall. Difficult? Yes. And some of us are being dragged along kicking and screaming as we are forced to pop our little bubbles of safety and similarity.

Yes, it would be nice to get rid of risks that cause us unpleasant experiences online. Twitter could certainly be a happier place if no one could be anonymous. But as we see with Facebook, which in theory requires real names, people don’t seem all that inclined to limit vitriol and nastiness toward people they don’t know even when they aren’t anonymous. In my opinion, it’s not worth the loss to others to make my experience a little nicer. My suggestion is to find another tool if the one you are using doesn’t suit your purpose. (Yes, I know that won’t always work – sometimes you just have to go where the people are.) And, of course, I also try to regulate my own behavior so that it doesn’t make other people have awful experiences! (My two goals for social media: never get angry at someone online, and always assume the best possible interpretation of what someone has posted until they verify otherwise.)

I’m not deleting Facebook. Social media in all its incarnations is a tool – and a powerful tool for connection and change – and when we think of it that way, I think it makes sense to keep using the tools we have, while we work to make them even better. I don’t think it makes me a fool, but I suppose the jury is still out.

Update: Just a few hours after I posted this, I came across this related article: Musk and Zuckerberg are fighting over whether we rule technology—or it rules us


Notes:

I had to laugh at the stories of Facebook users fleeing for Instagram, not realizing the connection. Most of our life is infused with connections like this. We just aren’t aware that they are there. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2018/03/22/bye-facebook-hello-instagram-users-make-beeline-facebook-owned-social-network/433361002/

Seeing Vanuatu on my list of countries in my WordPress stats was startling and reminded me of the stories I’d read about Cargo Cults. Cargo Cults on Vanuatu