Monday, August 25, 2008

Seeing a launch in October

Our culture makes you take vacation after you get married. Well, we did get away to Duluth for a couple of days, which did have a lot of honeymooners for such a town. But, our for real vacation will be to Florida to watch a group of highly talented scientists and pilots get strapped to massive amounts of fuel to be launched into a very high orbit, all the way to the Hubble Space Telescope to make some upgrades and repairs. Part of the work will involve removal and replacement of circuit boards aboard the telescope, which will require the astronaut to take out over 100 tiny screws while in a space suit, and wearing a protective glove. I'm lucky if I can take out 25 screws on a laptop, and not lose one. Hopefully these screws are a bit bigger, but still, I'm glad I'm not doing it. We landed tickets to see the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, along with a huge crowd. We also picked up "lunch with an astronaut," which is actually at 11:30 that night. I hope the launch happens on schedule, but we'll be there all week in case it's postponed for weather. We plan to make the most of the visit, including catching a glimpse on Endeavor out on the second shuttle launch pad before it's rolled out to 39A for its November launch. Yay space exploration!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Minnesota Atheists Talk Radio at the MN State Fair

This Sunday and the following Sunday at the State Fair Minnesota Atheists will be broadcasting at the usual time of 9 AM at the AM 950 KTNF booth. A tentative show schedule will feature on hour on atheism, and the following week on humanism. Stop by and ask you question live.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Farting Televangelist

Just because we're married doesn't mean we can't enjoy simple pleasures, like televangelists and farting.

Secular Ethics and Living Biblically

This year at Camp Quest, I was in charge of teaching ethics. However, I was tired of the same scenarios presented, and I'm sure the kids were too. So I took a new approach. One of the main things I'm asked when I tell people I'm an atheist is "Where do you get your morals"? Atheists don't have the bible and the Ten Commandments to guide them in moral living. Telling a non-atheist that "morality is innate", though true, comes off a bit lame. You have to delve deeper. I waned to give the kids an intellectual arsenal. So I kept it simple. I stuck with two of the commandments. I started with "Thou shall not steal" and had the kids come up with as many people as possible that stealing effects. The point was to show kids that one action can effect many people. So when you have a moral decision to make, think of not only how it will make you feel, but what the long term effects are. The things they came up with were amazing. They talked about house-foreclosures. They talked about the effects of the economy. They talked about how a store owner could go bankrupt and take it out physically on it's family, and the rise of prices in the store. I'm not saying they fully understood the economics. I was really impressed however of their awareness of others.
However, I also found it necessary not to bible bash, because camp teaches respect for other cultures. It also got me thinking about the messages the bible holds. There's a lot of really horrible stuff in there, and this is going to be atheist blasphemy, but there's some good stuff too. Over the summer I read a wonderful book by A.J. Jacobs, called "A Year of Living Biblically". Jacobs is a secular Jew who decided to take the words of the bible literally. What struck me the most is that he found some great ways of living from some pretty obscure bible laws. Here are some of my favorites:
  • no wearing clothes of mixed fibers: What good could possible come from this? Jacobs found that most clothes without mixed fibers were white, so he started wearing white. Wearing white made him feel more joyous in his everyday life.
  • no plowing the corners of your field: it's believed that not plowing the corners of the field, was so that the passing poor could eat the gleanings the farmers left.
  • not coveting: You can really waste a lot of time being jealous and wanting things. Instead of looking at gadgets at the Sharper Image, get out there and spend time with family and friends.
  • tithing: I don't think a lot of the board member of MN Atheists would complain if we required our members to give 10% of their income. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel damn good when I give money to a charity.
  • Proverbs 31:6 -"Bring wine to the depressed" I'd take some booze for depression instead of being prayed for any day.
  • Observing the sabbath: Not doing anything is silly, but is it really such a bad idea to give yourself some rest?
  • Saying Grace: this can be a helpful tool to help you be grateful and not to take things for granted.
  • This one is my all time favorite-Proverbs 5:1-23 "Rejoice with the wife of your youth....may her breasts satisfy you always, and may you be captivated with her love". I don't think this one needs any explaining.
I know I'm skipping over a lot here, like the token Elisha and the she-bears story, and the whole curse of Ham thing, and......anyway.....

I liken the bible to a Martha Stewart Catalog. I hate the woman, but if I pick up her magazine for whatever reason, and see a kick ass cupcake recipe, I'll sure as hell give the old bitch some credit. I'm humble enough to do so...(speaking of which, the bible teaches humility, and I personally find humble people easier to deal with than ones with inflated egos). The point of all of this is not to promote the bible. I'll be the last person to do so. Where you get your motivation from is not as important as what kind of life you end up living.

Geocaching at Gooseberry Falls

After the wedding, Jeannette and I hopped in the car and left the city for another city, Duluth. Let me tell you, Duluth is a quiet, romantic town, with many copies of restaurants from Minneapolis. You'll find Grandma's from the West Bank, and Hell's Kitchen from Downtown. So, at least you won't go hungry. The skies are clear, and the lake is cold. We had a fun time.

On our last day, we set out to find Betty's Pies. Find it we did, and stuffed ourselves before going to Gooseberry Falls. Now, this is how a state park should be designed. The visitor center was clean and modern. There were lots of educational displays around for people to learn about rocks and the rivers and the lake in the area. One display stood out as a banner in a few places. Best Buy has not been sloppy when it comes to marketing. Their green banners inform you about the Geocaching History Challenge going on at Minnesota State Parks.

What is Geocaching?

It's a good way to get geeks outdoors, that's what it is. So, you have a GPS, right? Well, you can find any point, as long as you can see the sky, if you are given the right coordinates. Geocaching at the State Parks starts off with a coordinate, you enter it into your GPS, then you go track it down, like a treasure hunt. Gooseberry Falls are one of the Demo Parks, so you can use a GPS from them if you don't have one. We borrowed a little Garmin eTrex unit, and set off. It lead us along a trail we never would have gone on, to a view of the river emptying into Lake Superior. it was a great view. Inside of a typical Geocache, you'll find a log book, and trinkets. Sometiems you'll also find a Travel Bug, which hops from cache to cache. The State Park caches also have a postcard for the park. You can collect all 72 and earn medalions. You can earn regional medalions for completing a series in a region. Inside the ammo box, which make the best caches, we collected our card, a coupon from Best Buy, and wrote our name in the log book. Since it was hot out, we had no water, and Jeannette was in flip flops, we headed back.

Geocaching isn't limited to Minnesota State Parks. Visit to see other caches, including ones with puzzles to determine what the coordinates are. If you want the coorinates to the State Park caches, visit

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Humanist Wedding Ceremony

Now that our wedding and mini honeymoon are over, we thought it would be a good idea to describe our wedding ceremony to offer some help for couples who are interested in having a Humanist wedding.

Where did we start?

Who performs the ceremony?

If you are a member of a church, or temple, that's an easy question. It becomes a little tricky if you are a couple of mixed denominations or religions. For Humanists who want a ceremony which is more familiar then having a judge and two witnesses listen to your vows and make a pronouncement, you should find a Humanist Celebrant. You can sort of think of a Humanist Celebrant as a religious mentor of sorts, except that Humanism isn't a religion. You'll want to check with your local laws to see if a Humanist Celebrant can legally perform a wedding. If they can not, get your representative at the state level to sponsor legislation to make it legal. If you can't wait that long, a "minister" of the Universal Life Church, which can be anyone, can usually get a certificate and be registered with the state to perform the ceremony. If that won't work either, you can find pastors out there who will perform completely secular services. Some think that spiritual is still secular, so make sure he or she knows where you stand.

You should get in touch with your local Humanist organization. Paul Heffron was our officiant, and an active member of the Humanists of Minnesota, so over the past year leading up to the wedding, we were able to see each other often, so it wasn't strange at the wedding. You can also find former pastors who are now Humanists and may still be registered with the state under their old affiliations.

What do you do for a Humanist wedding ceremony?

As a Humanist, your options are wide open, and can be as personal as you'd like. Weddings have a long history, and now there are certain elements which make a modern ceremony. The minimal requirement is usually making vows, making a pronouncement, and signing a certificate of marriage. For some, just signing the marriage certificate with witnesses is enough. But if you want to get your friends and family together, you should come up with a ceremony with some of the following: Opening music, a greeting, a welcome message to families, various readings and/or songs, lighting a unity candle, binding of hands, vows, pronouncement, a kiss or many, and a procession out of the place. The good thing is that you get to pick what you want.

What did we do for a ceremony and how did we come up with it?

We looked through some books from the British Humanist Association, and the Australian Humanist Association to get ideas of ceremonies, as well as looking online for inspiration. Our ceremony is a combination of all of those. We chose music and readings which we already enjoyed.

Processional: The Bride walks towards the guests across a bridge while classical music plays. *We chose Aria da Capo by Bach

Celebrant: Welcome, friends! It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here on this happy occasion to celebrate and witness the marriage of Jeannette and Bjorn who now wish to make their vows for a life-long union in the presence of their family and friends. They have written this ceremony themselves to allow them to express to each other, and before us, what this occasion means to them, and the commitments and aspirations they share for the future. Jeannette and Bjorn have created this ceremony to express their understanding of love and marriage as they stand on the threshold of a great undertaking. They believe that marriage is a journey, chosen by two human beings, based on mutual love and respect that allows an individual to grow more powerfully and more beautifully then if each walked alone. Marriage is not only linking our lives to another individual. We are entering a new dimension of understanding which goes deep into our heart. The happiness that Jeannette and Bjorn embrace today contains many wishes, for they will be able to explore and enter into the mystery of who they are. The happiness that they hope for in marriage embraces the spoken and the unspoken wishes for fulfillment. What they offer to each other is the opportunity to explore, enter, ans fulfill notions of who they are and what they can be. It is the maturing of love, freely given, and gladly returned that is both ordinary, and extraordinary, because it is about everyday living, Jeannette and Bjorn are grateful that you have chosen to be here and by your presence, honor their decision to venture forward as wife and husband.

Whoever loved as we did? Let us hunt for the ancient cinders of a heart that burned and make our kisses fall one by one, till that empty flower rises again. Let us love the love that consumed its fruit and went down, its image and its power, into the earth: you and I are the light that endures, its irrevocable delicate thorn. Bring to that love, entombed by so much cold time, by snow and spring, by oblivion and autumn, the light of a new apple, light of a freshness opened by a new wound, like that ancient love that passes in silence through an eternity of buried mouths. Pablo Neruda

Welcome message to guests:
Bjorn and Jeannette spend a minute talking about each others experience so far in their relationship, about their favorite things to do together, and share an interesting annecdote that friends and family may not know about them. *Bjorn shared a story about locking his keys in his car on their first date. He never forgot again. Jeannette told a story about a bee that got into Bjorn's car, and how he ran out like a fool, but she's still with him even if he can be embarrassing at times.

Honoring the Families:
Paul speaks about the importance of family and the generosity of parents.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. Oh, no! It is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved. William Shakespeare

The Guests Say their Vows of Love and Support

Today I invite you to share the joy -- the joy of these two people who have found joy in each other. I invite you to hear their understandings of love and marriage. You, their friends, are all especially welcome here because you form a circle of love. Jeannette and Bjorn are as they are, in part, because they have known all of you. The loved ones in this circle have shared concerns, they have shared both agreement and disagreement, have shared tears and laughter. Through that sharing, Jeannette and Bjorn have become more as persons. You are not just spectators today. You are all a part of their past, and by your presence here, you promise to care with and uphold them as they move into the future. To show your support I ask you to make your pledge: Do you promise to love and support Jeannette and Bjorn as they begin their new life together? If so, say “We Do!” --- ALL: “We Do! “



Where is peace?

It is in your smile.

How do I cope?

Your hand steadies my nerves.

Why do I wake?

Because you are there with me.

Why should I be better?

It's you I impress.

Why do I cook?

Your happy tongue is worth it.

Why should I learn?

The things we teach each other help us grow.

Why should I love?

Never have I missed or have been missed more.

Why should I marry?

When together, I find myself.

You find my faults and strengths. I couldn't be who I am without you. You are my first thought and my last. No force affects me more then your smile or your tears. You are my future. You are my home. Your compassion and love can see past my flaws. With you, I am as best as I can be. I can give so much more with you beside me then alone. You are my reason for doing. All I can give, I give to you. I give you my promise to love and respect you. We are different and equal. Together we are more then two. I know pledging to love you is right. Nothing makes more sense to me. Gravity is less certain to me. Each day with you is like a holiday.

I, Bjorn, choose you, Jeannette to be my wife. I will respect you, care for you, and grow with you, through good times and hard times, as your friend, companion, and partner, giving the best that I can, to fulfill our lives together.


You are my best friend. We are friends who fell in love with each other. We are friends who have shared some incredible moments together. We are friends who laugh and cry together. We are friends who have a mortgage and bills together. We are friends who will grow old together. I'm so lucky to get to spend everyday with such a wonderful and caring person. Any words I say can't do justice to how much I really love you. I feel the same bliss of my childhood. It may not be as carefree, but I feel as happy and safe as I did when I was little, and know I know I'll feel that bliss everyday for the rest of our lives.

I, Jeannette, choose you, Bjorn to be my husband. I will respect you, care for you, and grow with you, through good times and hard times, as your friend, companion, and partner, giving the best that I can, to fulfill our lives together.


The ring has long been a symbol for marriage. Made from metals drawn from deep within the earth, may these rings remind you that your love, also, must be drawn from deep within you. Forged in heat and with great effort, may these rings remind you that your marriage is also crafted daily and tempered in the forge of daily giving and forgiving. Bright like the sun, may these rings remind you that your love is meant to illumine your lives. Round like arms that embrace, may these rings remind you that human love is a grace upon this world. Bjorn: Jeannette, In pledge of the marriage vows made between us, I offer you this ring. Let it be to you and to me and to all the world, a symbol of the covenant of marriage we have entered into. Jeannette: Bjorn, In pledge of the marriage vows made between us, I offer you this ring. Let it be to you and to me and to all the world, a symbol of the covenant of marriage we have entered into.

As Jeannette and Bjorn have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands, and with the exchange of rings, in the presence of this company, I pronounce them husband and wife. You may kiss! Recessional: Music plays and Bride and Groom exit down center aisle followed by wedding party. Officiant invites parents to follow immediately after, then explains to guests that they should follow the party back to the reception hall for a champagne toast. *We had a dry reception, but everyone had fun!

Should you tell your family it's going to be a Humanist wedding?

The answer depends on how many gifts you'd like. Just kidding! This is a personal question which you'll need to answer based on how you think it will effect you and effect your family. Religion is a big part of my family, and to a lesser extent, of Jeannette's family. I respect my family's beliefs. In turn, they respect mine, even if they don't agree with them. With dialog, things get better, not worse, however your mileage may vary. Sometimes, if a Humanist wedding ceremony is done in a certain way, even without mentioning God or anything spiritual, people won't notice that you've left God out, so you can get away with not telling anyone where you stand theologically, and letting them guess.

My immediate family knows I'm an atheist. My extended family, if they didn't know I'm an atheist, probably have a clue now or at least think I'm non-religious. While it's more difficult to be honest to people who you know will be upset with you, it feels more ethical to be honest, despite the consequences. I think that some people are irrationally fearful of the consequences, when they aren't that bad, but that will have to be your decision, and the decision of your partner.

Secular weddings and Humanist weddings are becoming more and more popular. What this means for you, is that you should be able to choose the style of wedding which suits you, without spending half an hour explaining what Humanism is.

Bjorn and Jeannette get married!

Yep, we're all married up. Thanks to our friends and family for making an ordinary day extra special. No fights broke out, and we even got to go on a gondola ride! We'll be posting pictures to here:

And at Shutterfly:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brian Spient of the Rational Response Squad bends Uri Geller

Uri Geller, yes, that Uri Geller, of spoon and key bending fame, among other psychic skills, and his company, Explorogist Ltd. issued a DMCA take down demand for a YouTube video which contained 10 seconds of footage copy written by Uri Geller. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a suit on behalf of Sapient to challenge the DMCA violation. The EFF and Explorogist Ltd. have settled the case, and as a side effect, the clip in question will be licensed as Creative Commons content.

It's hard to cheer for skeptics. They are always showing you the man behind the curtain. But this is one case when it's easy to applaud.

Why is Camp Quest needed?

Jeannette just got back from Camp Quest of Minnesota where she and others worked with 30 or so kids. Camp Quest is pretty much like other camps. There is camp food, smores, camp fires, sing-a-longs and cabins. There is swimming and canoeing, tie-dye and sponge ball. The thing which makes Camp Quest unique is that the programming is designed for kids of secular parents.

So, what does that mean? Does that mean that kids are taught to hate religion and religious people? Not at all. To their parents, humanism is an important philosophy and learning about critical thinking, science, and famous freethinkers help build a community. Each year, religious literacy is improved by having a group, such as pagans, Hindu, or Baha'i, give a presentation and offer to answer questions from the kids. While the kids aren't converted into any religion, it helps to foster understanding between people.

Why is there even a Camp Quest? From talking to Jeannette who has spent the last two years counseling at Camp Quest, the kids who go every year really look forward to it. Why? Some kids have a hard time making friends. For some, it's because of their views on theology which makes them an outsider. For others, they have a fascination with science and science fiction and might be part of a handful in their school like them. At camp, they don't have to think about who is going to ask them which church they go to, or treat them differently because of what they think about the supernatural. They can have open discussions about ethics and morality and determine for themselves how they think about different issues, like abortion, assisted suicide, killing in general, stealing and bullying, and eating animals. Critical thinking is as important for problem solving as it is for morality.

Atheists and freethinkers can feel like outsiders in the United States. While our government is secular, the majority is Christian. Our culture is filled with religious language, religious symbolism and religious traditions. For one week, it's nice to get away from that, hop into the woods, watch Stargate SG-1 and play Risk.

Only 51 more weeks until the next Camp Quest!