Tag Archives: friends

Conferences

Center for Inquiry: CFI Student Leadership Conference 2012!

Last weekend, I attended the 2012 CFI Student Leadership Conference in Buffalo, New York with my fellow Secular Student Alliance intern, Ellen Lundgren.

I want to tell you about the talks themselves, but even more so, I want you to understand why it’s so important for student leaders to attend these conferences.

It’s about a 6-hour drive from Columbus, so we left right after work last Wednesday, and listened to lots of Fiona Apple’s newest album along the way.

The two CFI summer interns (one of whom, Tony Lakey, is actually also the president of my student group back in Missouri) were kind enough to let us stay with them the first night, and we had a lot of fun playing chess and eating veggie chik’n nuggets.

Over the following three days, I reconnected with some great people I had not seen in person since the conference last year, and others that I saw at the SSA conference last summer as well. These are some of the brightest people I have ever known, and some of the best critical thinkers. The best part is, they are also creative rule-breakers when it comes to thinking. This is especially relevant for the workshops, when we do brainstorming activities.

Late-night chess with Tony Lakey

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, it’s astonishing. There is something about very large things that makes you feel—well, small. It changes your perspective to look at something like that. Part of me says, “It’s water & rocks… okay…” But when you realize how quickly those water & rocks could kill you—not to anthropomorphize, but without a pause or care, and that they have been going for about 11,000 years—it makes you feel very awed. A group of us went on Thursday afternoon while everyone was trickling in for the first talks on Thursday evening.

The first of us to Niagara Falls!
The view from the observation deck.

That night, there was a welcome toast, a presentation about what exactly CFI does by Lauren Becker, a talk about the past, present, and future of CFI by the wonderful Debbie Goddard, a panel about CFI’s history, and Jessica Ahlquist also gave her talk. You can see the full schedule here.

I’m actually not going to talk much more about the talks themselves. The videos will be online soon, as I understand it, and I’m going to leave that to other bloggers. I want you to understand what’s so important about actually attending these conferences in person.

The friends I have made by physically attending the CFI conferences last year (my first) and this year are some of the most important and close people in my life, even though for many of them, I have only seen them in person once or twice. If you have ever been on a retreat or to summer camp or anything like that, you know what I mean. Spending 84 hours straight without someone—sharing your meals, living with them, hanging out at night—is going to make you close. In fact, for the last night, many of us didn’t even bother sleeping, since our sleep schedules were so backwards by then. Half the fun of conferences is staying up half (or all) night, talking about your backgrounds, learning what other groups are doing, getting to know each other, but more just getting to that place of understanding that there are other atheists just like you. It may not feel like we’re the majority, and in many places, we’re not. But for our generation, roughly 1/3 of people say it is false that they never doubt the existence of a god. These figures are growing rapidly, and with a passion. It’s becoming harder and harder for young people to believe whatever their parents tell them, because young people are no longer being brought up in isolation from the rest of the world, thanks to things like Wikipedia, Reddit, Facebook, even blogs like this one.

I waited a year to come out of the closet as an atheist because I didn’t know anyone else who was openly an atheist. I was dumbstruck when I first met someone who had no problem saying the word. In her case, she was not an activist about it; she was more what I’d call an apatheist, or a pragmatic atheist. But that moment was life-changing for me: Knowing that it was possible to call oneself an atheist, without feeling ashamed, was inspiring.

And that is how I feel about attending conferences. An entire audience full of people who feel that way, learning how to run their student groups more efficiently and effectively, and getting to know each other. One of the people I’d consider among my best friends, Ellen (the founder of this blog), is someone whom I met at the CFI conference last year, for example. Her work with her group at Grand Valley State University has been inspiring to my group at Mizzou, as well. And now we are interning together for the Secular Student Alliance, which is a dream come true for both of us. The best part is, there are literally dozens of people I could have used as examples in this paragraph of great friends I have made, who are very dear to me. I felt so very lonely for so long as a closeted atheist, and it is a feeling I do not feel anymore. Maybe this is revealing of what a bad writer I am ;) but I can’t tell you in words how grateful of my circumstances I am to be freed of that. Life is better now!

If you are a student and an atheist, and you have never attended a student leadership conference, you simply MUST do so. Today (Sunday) is the last chance to register for the Secular Student Alliance annual leadership conference on July 6-8 in Columbus, OH. Please, please register! You will be so glad you attended, I can’t even tell you. And if that’s not enough for you, you can also attend Skepticon 5, the largest free conference ever, in Springfield, Missouri on November 9-11.

I’m just going to wrap this up with some more pictures from Buffalo, because I took a lot, and I think they can say it better than I can. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Jessica Ahlquist's birthday cake!
Far right: SASHA president Tony Lakey one of the panel discussions
Heathen books!
Debbie Goddard serenades us in the evening
Atheist students learn how to be atheist student leaders
Your author with the founder of Skeptic Freethought, Ellen Lundgren
L-R: Aaron Underwood (SASHA Director of Events), Damon Fowler, Tony Lakey (SASHA President), Ellen Lundgren, and I (taking photo) stayed up all night to watch the sunrise.

And last but not least, one of my favorite photos from the weekend…

Light painting "CFI" with glow-sticks!

See you at the SSA conference next weekend, and at CFI next year!

 

Creative General Opinion

And now, if you will, a Metaphor….

Imagine a massive ship filled with many sailors…

At some time, a rumor began spreading amongst all the people that the boat was heading towards an island that was unbelievably amazing; an island where all the normal laws of reality were suspended and ultimate, endless bliss would enrapture them forever. Many of the sailors took so much joy from this thought that they began ignoring their duties on the ship, doing little more than staring out on the horizon and waiting for the island to appear. Many others did indeed continue their day-to-day tasks on the ship, helping to keep it clean and such, but they constantly talked about the island. It was their obsession, their passion, and their pride. Groups and sub-groups formed around different ideas of what the island would be like. Some thought it would be tropical, others temperate, and still others thought it would have every climate imaginable for all people to enjoy. Arguments sprang up over what sorts of foods would be present on the island!

At various times, different sailors would hold out their spyglasses and shout aloud “I see it! I see the island there!” and many would swell with enthusiasm…that is, until it was revealed that the crier had seen wrong (or, on occasion, even outright lied). Despite all these false alarms and misplaced swells of hope, the vast majority of the sailors kept believing, to the point of certainty, that the island was just over the next wave.

Eventually, almost all of the sailors took to ignoring the present duties of ship-board life and chose to stare out on the horizon with their own spyglasses, each on certain that they could see the island in the distance (despite some of them looking in utterly opposite directions). Indeed, there were many heated arguments, but one thing every one of them could agree on was this: regardless of exactly where it was or what it was like, that perfect island was definitely out there, somewhere. It just had to be.

One day, one of the sailors climbed up to the top of the mast and found two other sailors there, arguing.

“I think the island will be temperate!” said the first. “It will be temperate, I tell you!”

“Ah, but you’re mistaken, friend. It will be tropical!” said the second. “I guarantee you, for I can see it!” he continued, holding his spyglass aloft.

“Fool!” shouted the first. “I can see it, and it is, in fact, quite temperate!”

At that point, the third sailor (who had just climbed up) yanked the spyglasses from both others and told them this:

“Actually, friends, you’re both mistaken. If you’ll just look right here,” he said, gesturing to the ends of their spyglasses, “you’ll see that you each just drew what you wanted the island to be like on the glass. You were never actually seeing the island; you just painted what you wanted to see and thus saw it in your own imagination. Now if you’ll just look without these faulty spyglasses, you’ll quickly see that there is no island; in fact, there never was an island. However, what we do have is an amazing ship with everything you could ever really want already on it. There are lots of other people onboard, too. You can get to know them, make friends, find lovers, and have wonderful conversations. You can learn, eat, relax, work, and overall have a merry life aboard this ship if you’ll only just stop obsessing over this island you came up with.”

“But the island is supposed to be perfect!” cried the first sailor.

“Indeed! Perfect!” shouted the second, both of them clearly distraught at this news.

“Ah, but that is exactly why it doesn’t exist, friends,” said the third sailor. He reached out and put his hands on their shoulders: “Nothing perfect is out there. I’ll admit it, this ship is sometimes leaky and some of the other people aboard aren’t too terribly pleasant. But I think you’ll find that once you stop daydreaming about perfection and start happily working with what you do have, you’ll find yourselves much happier.”

Behold, our ship

Now, guess which sailor was the Atheist…