Check out another piece featuring Sunday’s interfaith meal packing event at Harvard! This post was originally featured on the Foundation Beyond Belief blog. 

In 2011, the Humanist Community at Harvard sponsored an interfaith meal-packing event to benefit food-insecure children in Quincy, Massachusetts. The volunteers also commemorated the tenth anniversary of September 11 by packing 9,110 meals while fostering dialogue and education among people of different religious backgrounds—particularly those that have been maligned by stereotyping in 9/11’s wake.

Having hosted another meal-packing event since then, HCH will be sponsoring their third meal-packing event this Sunday.

Just two years ago, food-insecure households in Massachusetts reached a peak rate (10.8% in all the Commonwealth) since 1995, according to the Status Report on Hunger in Massachusetts. This Thanksgiving, while we give thanks to our communities and our friends and family for helping us feel secure in our access to food, we also ought to consider those who aren’t so lucky—and, with our values in mind, we ought to step in to help those in need.

On Sunday, November 18, at noon, the Harvard Humanists VBB team—as a part of their greater Values in Action initiative—will collaborate with religious and nonreligious organizations alike to package 40,000 meals for those with limited access to food in Massachusetts. But these meals must be purchased before they can be packaged and distributed—and they are still working to fundraise toward their goal.

Foundation Beyond Belief has supported the project through a Small Grant Award for Q4 2012. Further donations can be madedirectly to HCH through PayPal—please write “VIA event” in the special instructions box to earmark it for the project. For more information, visit the Harvard Humanist website, and if you’re planning to go, RSVP to the event on Facebook.

If you’re interested in being a volunteer leader, we need people to help load/unload the meal trucks on Monday, as well as to help facilitate the event throughout Sunday—contact Walker Bristol for more information about volunteering.

Walker Bristol woke up this morning and realized, to his dismay, that he is the President of the Tufts Freethought Society and the Director of Communications for Foundation Beyond Belief. This is especially peculiar considering he grew up as a high school wrestler-pianist in North Carolina and intended to become Luke Skywalker for an undisclosed period of his life, eventually settling for a Star Wars tattoo. The Tufts Political Science and Religion departments suffer his enrollment. He writes about social activism and art in the Tufts Daily. His diet consists of hummus. He tweets nonsense on all these fronts @GodlessWalker.

Count Your Blessings – And Share Them

November 14th, 2012 | Posted by:

This post was originally published on the Humanist Community Project blog.

Okay dudes. The election was exciting, but let’s remember we’ve got to do a lot more than vote to be the change we want to see. We’re in the middle of a huge fundraising push for the biggest service project I’ve EVER worked on. The Humanist Community at Harvard, the Harvard Chaplains, and the Boston Interfaith Campus Coalition are pulling out all the stops to pull together $10,000 and hundreds of volunteers to package 40,000 meals for hungry children in Massachusetts. So, as usual, I’ve got some jobs for all of you friendly folks!

1) Donate your $$$. If you’ll be enjoying a hot meal on Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks, then you can afford to help others do the same. Just a $10 donation feeds 40 children! Even better, a $100 donation feeds 400 children! And on and on! Gifts of all sizes are important and appreciated. Please think about your own blessings and be generous.

2) Donate your time. If you’ll be in the Boston area on November 18 – which I KNOW a bunch of Harvardians and Yalies will be! – stop by for as long as you like! We’ll be working from 12-6, and whether you can come for 10 minutes or 4 hours, your help is needed. What better way to recover from the Game than hanging out with friends and helping your neighbors?

Thank you for all that you do and all that I know you will do to help make this dream a reality!

P.S. If you come help out on Sunday, you might get to meet my Learning Lab students! We talked about food systems at our last class, and did some thinking about where our food comes from, what’s in it, who makes it, where food goes and doesn’t go, who doesn’t have access to good food and why, and what we can do to create a more just and healthy food system. The next step is for my students to put their values into action and take a concrete step toward improving our food system by participating in our service project this weekend. The Learning Lab is still enrolling for Winter/Spring 2013, so email clink@harvardhumanist.org for more information or to sign up!

Chelsea Link recently graduated from Harvard University, where she studied History & Science with a focus in the history of medicine. She is the founder and intermittent author of Blogging Biblically, and has contributed to blogs such as the Interfaith Youth Core and Social Action Massachusetts. She has also left a trail of abandoned blog detritus in her wake, ranging from Sewage & Syphilis to The Unelectables. While at school, she served as both the Vice President of Outreach of the Harvard Secular Society and the President of the Harvard College Interfaith Council. Now that she’s graduated, she is a full-time Adult Impersonator, complete with an apartment (in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts) and a job (as the Campus Organizing Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard). She tends to kill the mood at parties by unnecessarily reciting Shakespeare.

What Chris has meant to us: Adam’s Story

November 13th, 2012 | Posted by:

To celebrate the release of Chris’s book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religiouswe at Non-Prophet Status have taken it upon ourselves to share how Chris has impacted our lives. Read Vlad’s entry here, Stephen’s here, Chelsea’s here, Walker’s here, and Lyz’s here. We hope that all NPS readers, regardless of their religious belief, will consider submitting their story for us to post at npstatus@gmail.com! Congratulations Chris! 

Chris is a weird guy. He’s weird because he knows all the lyrics to “She Wolf” by Shakira. He’s weird because he can tell you where in the world Britney Spears is at any time. He’s weird because when dances, he looks less like he’s “breaking it down” (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) and more like one of those inflatable wacky arm guys that you find in used car lots. 

But the thing that’s really weird about him is that despite the rampant, uncharitable interpretation of his work and having a past that gives him plenty of reason to be bitter, he never lashes out. He never stops extending a hand of understanding.

And that’s a weird and admirable quality to have these days. Especially coming out of an election season where for almost a year we heard nothing but divisive bile, Chris and his message sticks out.

As I’ve spent more and more time with him, it’s a weirdness that I’ve found to be infectious.

Now here’s the part where I could tell you about how Chris has made me a better interfaith activist and how he has inspired me to build bridges of understanding between religious and non-religious communities. And that would be true. He’s done that. In fact, he’s a constant source of inspiration for me as I work day in and day out at the Interfaith Youth Core.

But that’s not where his influence ends in my life. Whether he knows it or not, he’s also he made me better at arguing. His resolute desire to go the extra mile to understand where people are coming from has contaminated the ways I tell people that I think they’re wrong. I know on its face this sounds like a counterintuitive claim. Still, I’ve found that when I’m brutal in my demeanor, dripping with sarcasm, and overbearing with my contempt of other beliefs, I lose out on a chance for them to actually hear my arguments. To be honest, when I’m in that mindset I don’t even hear what the other person is saying.

This has led to what I take to be a very simple truth which I think is central to Chris’s worldview: how we disagree with each other is just as important as what we disagree about.

If we want other people to truly understand us and to be swayed by what we have to say, we’re best heard when we speak calmly, compassionately, and with empathetic understanding towards others’ position. This mainly means dropping mockery as a means of criticism.

The reason for this is simple: poking fun at others beliefs might give us a momentary sense of satisfaction but after that fades it’s likely we haven’t changed anyone’s mind. In fact the opposite usually happens: when people feel attacked they intellectually shut down and any chance of having a productive conversation ends.

Anyway, any belief that is so obviously wrong that it supposedly deserves to be mocked should be easy to pick apart philosophically. To rely on rhetorical jabs instead of actual arguments is to take the easy and unproductive way out.

While Chris can’t be held accountable for my all my failings (because I’m pretty sure I still burn more bridges than I should) he is always at least indirectly responsible for all those times where I do get it right. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Adam Garner is a staff member at the Interfaith Youth Core where he supports students all around the country as they work to make interfaith cooperation a social norm on their campus. A recent graduate of the University of Illinois- Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) where he earned a Bachelors degrees in Philosophy, Adam is dedicated making the world a better place through reason, empathy, and demanding that people continually strive to be their betters selves . He was active with UIUC’s interfaith group, Interfaith in Action where he sought to build bridges of cooperation and mutual understanding between people of different religious and philosophical backgrounds through service and dialogue. In his spare time, Adam geeks out about David Hume, epistemology, and Batman. You can follow Adam on Twitter @garntastic. 

To celebrate the release of Chris’s book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religiouswe at Non-Prophet Status have taken it upon ourselves to share how Chris has impacted our lives. Read Vlad’s entry here, Stephen’s here, and Chelsea’s here. We hope that all NPS readers, regardless of their religious belief, will consider submitting their story for us to post at npstatus@gmail.com! Congratulations Chris!

So this one time Chris and I were laughing because we were appreciating how hilariously badass and brilliant both our moms were to us. Who cares what the stigmas are, who cares who they are to other people, they are awesome to us, and we’ve always felt that. Maybe Chris was always able to say so, but I don’t know that I felt totally comfortable expressing that feeling—citing how inspiring someone is in their enthusiastic compassion—before seeing how effortlessly Chris could do it. To honestly identify how others have shaped him, while still taking pride his individuality and self-determination.

Coffee shops and Tex-Mex restaurants, and I meet with Chris and we never end up talking about what we intended to, because we both love music and stories and life too much to do business. Every time, finding a new connection. Nothing relieves loneliness like that. Prolific and multilayered, honest and self-reflective about his shortcomings yet still confident in his accomplishments. It’s a balance that you never master—but every time I’m alone with Chris I’m inspired to continue to strive in that direction.

Chris has propelled me to the work I now dedicate myself to—just two days ago I spoke with him about an idea that casually crossed my mind, and in our discussion it evolved into a titanic initiative that I’m motivated to pursue beyond any single blog post or conversation. He’s given me the forum and the opportunity to build my vision for the world and help others in the way I feel I best can, and has never shot down any thought I’ve shared with him or said “no” to a proposal. He helps me mold my work and my life path, and always offers to take as much time as I need to counsel me and guide me when I ask.

We are all of us brothers. But it’s hard to come up with a better way to uniquely describe what Chris means to me: someone who comes to mind to give me strength whenever I get the creeping feeling that everything is fucking terrible and crumbling and everyone hates me. He’s taken more hits than I could ever imagine, and he’s still standing, proud and honest. When I was back in my hometown and someone shouted “fag” at me out the window of their car, I knew who to turn to to help me reflect and cope. It’s weird: I know he will always be on my side, and will always give me a new window to look through when I need one.

Maturity comes through strengthening your relationships with those around you, and learning to navigate those relationships, driven by compassion and appreciation of difference. I’m sitting here trying to think of someone who taught me this lesson more explicitly, and yet subtly, than Chris. The last two years I’ve known him have marked exponential increase in my admiration of empathy, and I think that’s no accident. When I first met Chris I saw this guy in thick-rimmed glasses who wrote for HuffPo who I accidentally dropped an f-bomb in front of because he was just too damn friendly and easy to be around. Every moment we’ve shared since then reinforces something else that I noticed in that initial impression: he’s an exemplar of sincerity. Wedding honesty, empathy, and passion. It’s not just that I feel comfortable at his side now—I feel like there’s nowhere else I belong.

My perspective is ever-evolving, as is his. Chris’s mentorship catalyzes that evolution, and seeds and grows in me precisely what anyone I’ve met since knowing him tells me they like about me. He’s not the only one who inspires me—but his inspiration permeates every ever-maturing aspect of myself in a way unmatched by my other heroes. A champion of my own vision, and a friend. Even in the darkest hour for either of us. Thanks; I usually only find idols like you in a book.

Chris and WalkerWalker Bristol woke up this morning and realized, to his dismay, that he is the President of the Tufts Freethought Society and the Director of Communications for Foundation Beyond Belief. This is especially peculiar considering he grew up as a high school wrestler-pianist in North Carolina and intended to become Luke Skywalker for an undisclosed period of his life, eventually settling for a Star Wars tattoo. The Tufts Political Science and Religion departments suffer his enrollment. He writes about social activism and art in the Tufts Daily. His diet consists of hummus. He tweets nonsense on all these fronts @GodlessWalker.

To celebrate the release of Chris’s book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religiouswe at Non-Prophet Status have taken it upon ourselves to share how Chris has impacted our lives. Read Vlad’s entry here and Stephen’s here. We hope that all NPS readers, regardless of their religious belief, will consider submitting their story for us to post at npstatus@gmail.com! Congratulations Chris!

From the day I met Chris, he has been helping me feel proud of who I am.

I was at an Interfaith Leadership Institute organized by the Interfaith Youth Core, and I felt incredibly out of place. I had never been involved with the IFYC or anything interfaith before, and had signed up for the program last minute on the recommendation of Greg Epstein, my school’s Humanist chaplain, whom I had only recently met. I’d been a lonely and struggling atheist for almost two years, had only just gotten involved in a secular student group a few weeks earlier, and was still coming to terms with that identity.

All around me people kept excitedly telling new acquaintances about their beliefs, their rituals and traditions, their favorite obscure holidays, their convoluted dietary restrictions, their prophets and sacred texts and inspirational parables. We had all been organized into teams named after different “Faith Heroes”: a Catholic, a Hindu, a Baptist, and a Jew. I felt like my admission to this program had been a clerical error at worst, a token diversity attempt at best. I was terrified of having to meet all these people and be asked the question of the day—“What’s your faith tradition?”—and have to admit, over and over, that I didn’t have one. I spent the whole afternoon red-faced, mumbling “ohimkindofyouknowjustanmmrrrphatheistmmmrrrphsorrybye” when pressed for comment.

To my surprise, my confession of godlessness was always greeted warmly and charitably. People seemed genuinely excited that I was there. That was heart-warming, and it really did make me feel welcome—but I still felt alone. It wasn’t until I happened to run into one of the IFYC’s non-religious staffers that that changed.

“I’m so glad you came—and don’t worry, we’re not the only ones! Did you know Chris Stedman is here too?”

The name-dropping bell in my head, which had almost worn out after two years at Harvard, buzzed excitedly. I had not really begun my foray into the world of organized atheism yet, but I knew the names of the Horsemen and a few other stars, and I had gathered that blogs were a big deal. The Friendly Atheist and NonProphet Status were regularly mentioned at secular student meetings, and although I had trouble getting my shit together enough to read anything that wasn’t assigned for a class, I knew that Hemant Mehta and Chris Stedman were Important People in the godless world.

This was a famous person who was actually relevant to my life, and he was here! What’s more, as I learned seconds later, he actually wanted to meet me—me! And interview me! For his blog!!

My incredible and embarrassingly recent naïveté aside, the fact is that Chris was kind of a hero to me. When I met him, he turned from internet hero to real-life role model, helping make that weekend a positive and life-changing experience instead of a scary and awkward one. A few months later, he made a point of meeting with me on a trip toBoston, and soon came to work at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. He became a crucial mentor, showing me how to navigate the strange terrain where atheism and interfaith overlap. Most importantly, over the last few years, he has become one of my dearest friends.

From hauling around huge sacks of textured vegetable protein and herding hundreds of volunteers for interfaith hunger relief service projects, to ordering in pad thai and watching the X Factor, to congratulating and consoling each other for the many ups and downs in our personal and professional lives, Chris and I have been through a lot together. But most importantly of all, Chris serves as a constant reminder to me to live the values I profess. When I am exhausted and disillusioned and want to give up on everything, his commitment and integrity reassures me that goodness is possible. I can honestly say that, more than anybody else I know, Chris is being the change he wishes to see in the world.

Chris Stedman is my hero, my role model, my mentor, and my friend. I am so incredibly proud of him and his book that I might explode into a cloud of confetti at any moment. Buying Faitheist will be the best decision you make this week. Get it, read it, and let me know if Chris changes your life, too.

Chelsea Link recently graduated from Harvard University, where she studied History & Science with a focus in the history of medicine. She is the founder and intermittent author of Blogging Biblically (documenting her attempt to read the Bible in a year…ish), and has contributed to blogs such as the Interfaith Youth Core and Social Action Massachusetts. She has also left a trail of abandoned blog detritus in her wake, ranging from Sewage & Syphilis to The Unelectables. While at school, she served as both the Vice President of Outreach of the Harvard Secular Society and the President of the Harvard College Interfaith Council. Now that she’s graduated, she is a full-time Adult Impersonator, complete with an apartment (in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts), a full-time job (as the Campus Organizing Fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard), a part-time job (as a Teaching Assistant for a Harvard course on Darwin), and an automobile (a sassy red one named Sofia Vercara). In her spare time, Chelsea runs bone marrow drives as a Volunteer Ambassador for the National Marrow Donor Program. She also enjoys cooking while pretending she’s on Top Chef, adores word games of all kinds (and was once the President of the illustrious Harvard College Crossword Society), and tends to kill the mood at parties by unnecessarily reciting Shakespeare.