Monday, October 12, 2015

Fellowship of Friends of African Descent -- 2015 Fellowship Gathering Clerk’s Letter and Epistle

Dear Friends,
The Fellowship of Friends of African Descent was born out of the Worldwide Gathering of Friends of African Descent organized by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Racial Concerns Committee in 1990. Since then, the Fellowship has held gatherings in various U.S. cities and in the year 2000, in the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, bringing Friends of African descent together to worship, nurture ourselves and our families, and to respond to issues of concern.

In this our 25th year of existence, we gathered in Philadelphia in August 2015 to re-establish the regularity of our gatherings and to address issues of concern, including the incidences of violence against African Americans in cities and towns throughout the United States.

In addition to me, our new leadership team includes Laura Boyce, Assistant Clerk; Claudia Wair, Recording Clerk; Robert Thomas, Treasurer; and Marille Thomas, Communications Committee Clerk.

We invite Friends of African descent who are just learning about the Fellowship to visit our Facebook page, read the attached Epistle and hopefully join us next August when we will meet again in Philadelphia.

In the spirit of peace,
Francine E. Cheeks, Clerk

2015 Epistle
Fellowship of Friends of African Descent
1515 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA  19102
October 12, 2015

Greetings to Friends everywhere:

The annual session of Fellowship Friends of African Descent convened August 21–23, 2015 at Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia, PA. Our theme, “Can I Get a Witness? Honoring our Past, Celebrating our Future.”This call for a witness is a prophetic imperative in Acts 1:8.

Affirming the presence of God in all people—Friends settled into an attitude of worshipful listening: listening to each other; listening to the still small voice; and listening to a host of spirit-filled speakers.

We were blessed to hear from Pulitzer Prize winner Harold Jackson, who is the Editorial Page Editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  He read from his article, “The Memories of a Black Child in Birmingham,” describing memories of his life as a 9-year-old in 1963 Birmingham. He recalled the violence: marchers beaten and “knocked from their feet by powerful water cannons operated by city firefighters, and then taken to jail.” One of the four little girls killed in the church bombing, Carol Denise McNair, was a friend of his. He recalled the foundation that his family and the Black community provided for him, and noted that such support is no longer present in many communities. “Fifty years later,” he concluded “the hatred has subsided, but it's not gone…. We all must remember the past, so as not to repeat it.” In silence, spoken word, and song we remembered, celebrated, and poured libations honoring we gave thanks for the presence of God, as shown in the lives of our recently departed Friends Noel Palmer, Daisy Palmer, Edward Broadfield, Nancy Peterson, and Jane Cuyler Borgerhoff.

We were heartened by the reports of Paula Rhodes, clerk of the Community, Equality and Justice Committee, Laura Boyce, Associate General Secretary for U.S. Programs, and Paul Ricketts, member of the Community, Equality and Justice Committee. AFSC staff members gave compelling accounts of the essential work the Committee is doing at home and abroad. The work of Peace by Piece engages young people in their communities; particularly important in this time of systemic violence across the nation towards people of African Descent.

Our clerk, Diane Rowley, asked “Where does the Fellowship go from here?” which led to our developing three priorities:
  • Planning a long hoped-for trip to Ghana        
  • Developing a comprehensive Communications and Outreach plan
  • Revisiting the Fellowship’s mission statement
The ensuing discussion produced several concrete goals: Endeavoring to travel to Ghana in August 2017; updating our website and creating an online forum for continuous communication among members; and deliberately incorporating our mission statement into all future activities.

Vanessa Julye reported on the Pre-FGC People of Color Gathering. Feedback from the gathering indicated the importance of the event to those who attend, leading FGC to add the gathering as a budget item. The Friends of Color Center provides materials and support for attenders and is a significant resource. Regional gatherings for people of color give far-flung Friends important face-to-face time. We are extremely grateful for and will continue to support the work of Vanessa and the Ministry on Racism Program. To this end, we have attached a minute to the FGC Central Committee expressing our wholehearted support for the Program.

Ruth Flower of FCNL gave a powerful presentation on Mass Incarceration, detailing the unequal application of justice, the effective for-profit prison lobby, and the numerous alternatives to the current system. We were then treated to hearing Sari Sari Lupe Guinier read from her book "To Face It."

Philip Lord, Clerk of AFSC, delivered the keynote address. He referred to the weekend’s theme as “appropriate and profound” before sharing his experience of having “The Talk,” with his sons; that painful necessity in our society. By telling them that “there’s a prison cell with your name on it,” he related the reality of institutional racism. He spoke of the courage it takes to stand up and be a witness; there are significant risks involved, and all great witnesses make great sacrifices. But no matter the risk, no matter the sacrifice, we are called to be witnesses. Even if we need to step back and take a break, we are called to return, to take on the heavy weight, to change the world with the revolutionary act of being ourselves.

On behalf of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent,
Francine Cheeks, Clerk

Original here: 

The Fellowship of Friends of African Descent on Facebook:

Friends General Conference Ministry on Racism:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Guest post: My loved one did not complete a suicide

Here are some of the posts I promised on this topic for suicide-loss survivors and supporters of those who have tried to die by suicide.  Many thanks to Laura Anderson and Hollis Easter for working with me on this.  Names and identifying features have been altered to protect the identities of those involved.  - sm

My loved one did not complete a suicide

Suicide touched my life when I was young.  I was in sixth grade when my cousin killed himself, and I didn’t really understand how to respond or what I should feel.  But my parents, in spite of their grief, were good about making sure that I was okay.  They checked in with me to ask about my feelings and see that I was grieving in an appropriate way.

Far more difficult for me to process, however, were the attempted but not completed suicides.  I suddenly became caretaker, or helpless, or confused about my role in someone’s life.  Doctors would talk to me about the best way to help my loved one through this tough time.  I would sit in waiting rooms, trying to have conversations but struggling for a good topic.  Some of the other patients had tentative grasps on reality (Tom’s roommate said something about touring with a rock band); some were in rehabilitation for drug addiction; some had attempted suicide; some had made bad decisions (such as attending a party, getting really drunk, and then a couple hours later taking a sleeping pill to help them fall asleep).

Nobody ever asked how I was doing.

My pain was left to me to deal with.  My husband Sean had an emotional meltdown a week after his brother, David, came home.  We had to be strong because Father-in-Law and our final housemate were incapable of dealing with their emotions.  We had to be capable of handling David’s needs, make sure that David’s mother was doing okay (being out of town when your child is hospitalized is awful), managing Father-in-Law’s and housemate’s emotional states, and taking care of our own emotional states.

After my ex-fiancé John came home, his roommate and I had to go through the house and remove any items with which John could injure himself.  We had to help him fill out paperwork and make certain that he made it to doctor’s appointments.  I had to call his boss and tell him that John wouldn’t be coming in to work, call his parents to tell them what had happened, while dealing with the grief of my near-marriage erupting like a volcano only a month prior.  And nobody asked me how I was.

I was too distanced from my sister, and we all had the attitude that she had just been trying to prove a point, to show how desperately in love she was for a boy – she would cut her own wrist for him.  My parents and I dealt with the pain by accusing and grumbling. 

Nobody asked me how I was dealing with it.

The only time someone ever asked how I was doing was when my cousin killed himself.  But that was the easiest, emotionally, for me to deal with.  I didn’t have to look him in the eye and know that he was suffering so badly that his only option was to kill himself, but that he had not completed the suicide and was now in an uncertain position with people around him.  There was no awkwardness, no trying to get him to open up, to talk to us, to talk to a therapist, to take medication.  I was allowed to talk about my pain, I was allowed to cry, I was allowed to grieve.

But the other three times, I had to be strong.  My loved one needed me more.  They needed me to take care of them, to help them out, to be willing to listen at any time of day or night.  Nobody really considered that I, too, might be struggling with this situation.

By the time David had his crisis, I had a decent idea of how to handle my emotions.  I knew that I needed an outlet, needed a way to relax and take the stress off.  I scheduled time to drive down to visit my parents and spend the day with them.  They were so removed from the situation that I was able to clear my head a little bit and actually enjoy myself.

Then I was able to start talking.  I talked to my husband about my emotions.  I made sure he was okay, because this was his first brush with suicide, whether completions or attempts.  We sat and cried together.  We hugged each other.

But we had no real resources, because nobody thought to ask how we were doing.  Everyone’s concern was for our loved one, who had attempted but not completed suicide.

I wish I had some great advice to give to all of you who are dealing with an attempted suicide that was not completed.  But I don’t.  Because when a loved one attempts suicide but does not die, everyone focuses on taking care of that loved one.  We have an attitude that they “sank really low” (I hate that terminology, by the way) and needed us to help them regain good mental health.  And while that’s true, we tend to forget that people are dealing with the fact that somebody they love tried to kill themselves. 

How do you deal with that?  The only thing I really know is this: comfort in and dump out.  When you have someone in crisis, you want to comfort that person but not neglect your own emotional state.  So you talk about it to people who are more distanced from the crisis and offer comfort to those who are closest to the crisis.

This means realizing that you are upset.  That you’re dealing with an emotionally charged situation, and that you’re not okay.  And it’s fine to not be okay.  Just because your loved one is dealing with powerfully negative emotions doesn’t mean that your pain is meaningless.  Just because they are hurting doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to hurt too.  You need to be tactful and sensitive to their pain, but you must also acknowledge your own pain and work through it.  Join a support group.  Talk to a friend.  Find a therapist.  Go out to breakfast with your parents.  Cuddle your cat or dog.  Cry.  Sob.  Write blog posts.  Write personal essays.

Just make sure that you don’t neglect yourself just because someone you love is hurting.

-- Laura Anderson


If you are thinking about dying by suicide, please, talk to someone.

This article can give you some ideas about what to expect when you call a suicide hotline:
  • In the US, anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK.   You can also livechat from their website,
  • In the US, LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also text or chat:
  • In the US and Canada, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people can also call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.  Please see their website to confirm staffing times:
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87. 

You are sacred.  Your life matters. 

Guest post: Visiting Hours

Here are some of the posts I promised on this topic for suicide-loss survivors and supporters of those who have tried to die by suicide.  Many thanks to Laura Anderson and Hollis Easter for working with me on this.  - sm 


When you pass through the doors of a psychiatric ward or hospital, you enter a place with stark truths on display, in which illusions are to be stripped away and lives rebuilt. There's a profound and unsettling honesty in the struggles you see there. The deep stuff comes out: the anguish, the terror, the shifting sense of what is real and what is illusory, the loneliness, the grief, the anger, the pain. Amid it all, often, you see hope. But whatever you see, the truths carry a lot less varnish here than in the world outside.

The essence of compassion (literally, suffering with another) is to stand shoulder to shoulder with others in their pain. To look, together, at the hard things in their lives, doing our best not to flinch in the looking. To offer support and to be present in whatever comes.

Challenging under any circumstances. So much more so when offering compassion involves entering that space yourself, leaving your own grief and fears and pain outside in a dusty waiting-room locker, working to shape yourself into the support they asked you to be. It's tough, important, exhausting work. If _mitzvot_ are sacred kindnesses without hope of repayment, surely this must be one.

Laura's piece gazes with compassion at the act of visiting people in a hospital, looking with kindness and candor at the meaning and the costs of generosity and support. It admits that we cannot always fix what hurts those we care about, exhorts us to try anyway, and acknowledges that the emotional toll of caring can be huge.

Hollis Easter, MS / @adkpiper on Twitter : articles about suicide intervention, teaching, instructional design, etc.


Visiting Hours

We were there as the only support structures that they had, the people they begged to see, begged to bring them new clothes, toothpaste, play a game for the short visiting hours.  We drove from an hour away, or two hours, or five minutes and smiled and gave them hugs and they would tell us how their day went, how group therapy was, how art therapy was, if they’d managed to sleep in spite of room checks and lights on in the hallways.

Or we were desperately trying to get through to them even though they didn’t want to see us, even if they stared at us with dull eyes and sat in their chairs, unmoving, unresponsive as we tried to engage them, tried to remind them that we loved them.  They wouldn’t answer our questions, or maybe they didn’t know the answers.

 They hallucinated.  Or they were suicidal.  Or they could fly into a rage and threaten to kill.  They were here because they had nowhere else to go, and we were here because we felt responsible for them.  We were their brothers and sisters, their husbands or wives, and we brought their children or mothers or fathers and passed on messages to friends who were worried.  Or we didn’t tell anybody because they didn’t want the public to know, so we bore our struggles in silence and tried to support them, tried to push aside how we felt so that we could take care of them.

They blamed us.  Or they thanked us.  They said they only tried it because of us, because we pushed them too much, because we had unreasonable expectations.  That if we had been nicer to them, if we had listened when they talked, if we hadn’t been so wrapped up in ourselves, it never would have happened.   They said it was because of us they were alive.  We had listened when they most needed it, we had been there to support them, make sure they got the help they needed, insist that they go somewhere where they can’t harm anybody – including themselves – it was only then that they realized what a problem they had.  How they hadn’t realized how far they had fallen, how dark their world was, how wrong it was that they wanted to end it.  Or they wished we hadn’t helped them, that we had ignored them and let them die because living sucked and they were done with it and we had to wonder how soon after they were released they would try again or maybe this time succeed.

We had seen it coming.  We knew they were depressed.  Or that their breakup had been bad.  We knew that they weren’t on medication for their schizophrenia, or they had stopped taking it because they were “fine.”  Maybe we hadn’t seen it, though.  Instead, we were too wrapped up in our own lives.  We thought they should have been able to deal with the breakup.  They should have been on their meds.

We blamed them.  If only they had been stronger.  Why couldn’t they deal with this?  We’ve all been through it and we weren’t suicidal.  Didn’t they know that bipolar disorder created extreme depression or mania?  Why would anybody in their position stop taking their meds?  Why would anybody with depression refuse to start taking meds?  I don’t like doctors and I don’t like pills isn’t good enough, we thought.  Why didn’t they come to us sooner?  We would have listened.

We blamed ourselves.  How couldn’t I have seen this?  I should have known.  We were glad we got there in time because how guilty would we feel?  How terrible would it be, knowing the should-haves, would-haves, if-onlys?  Why didn’t we make ourselves available to them?  Why didn’t we ask how they were doing?

We left at the end of visiting hour, offering hugs and kisses, promises of future visits, hopes that the next day would be better, hopes that they would continue to heal.  We asked that they continue taking their meds, that they talk to their doctors, talk to their psychiatrists, talk to each other.  Whatever they needed to heal.

We left in pairs, offering each other comfort: we had done the right thing by visiting.  We drove home, but we didn’t really talk to each other about what we were feeling.  We didn’t want it to be our pain, because it was about them and their need to heal.  So we stayed quiet.  We pretended that we were okay.  When they were released – if they were released – we didn’t tell them about the pain they had caused us.  How their actions had damaged us.

We told ourselves it wasn’t about us.  Maybe we even believed it.  But we neglected ourselves.  We neglected the real pain we suffered.

But we cannot neglect ourselves any longer.  We must accept that we hurt, too.  That it might have been about them, but we suffered too.

-- Laura Anderson


If you are thinking about dying by suicide, please, talk to someone.

This article can give you some ideas about what to expect when you call a suicide hotline:
  • In the US, anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK.   You can also livechat from their website,
  • In the US, LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also text or chat:
  • In the US and Canada, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people can also call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.  Please see their website to confirm staffing times:
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87. 

You are sacred.  Your life matters. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Suicide-prevention resources

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please, talk to someone. 

  • In the US, anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK.   You can also livechat from their website,
  • In the US, LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also text or chat:
  • In the US and Canada, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people can also call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.  Please see their website to confirm staffing times:
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87. 

You are sacred.  Your life matters. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Save the date for FLGBTQC Mid-Winter Gathering 2016!

[image: vintage postcard displaying "Greetings from Texas, the Lone Star State"  with a cowboy hat hanging on the T and E]
[image: vintage postcard displaying "Greetings from Texas, the Lone Star State"
with a cowboy hat hanging on the T and E]

​Spread the news! We're going big in 2016 with a fabulous Mid-Winter Gathering in central Texas! 

Our hosts this year are the Friends from South Central Yearly Meeting, who send the following minute from their annual sessions held in April of 2015: "South Central Yearly Meeting joyously invites Friends for Lesbian, Gay, BisexualTransgender, and Queer Concerns to hold its next Midwinter Gathering in our region. We look forward to supporting you spiritually and emotionally, and offering whatever logistical support we can."

The dates are January 15 to 18, 2016. Plan to arrive for dinner on the 15th. 

The location is at URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, TX. (The closest major city is Waco, TX.) Check out Greene's website here:

The best airports will be Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin. Waco is a small regional airport, but there are deals to be had that could route y'all to Waco. We are hoping to have shuttles from both the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and the Austin airport, thanks to support from SCYM Friends. 

The theme is coming soon, but it will be fitting of this fabulous, expansive, wonderful location as well as the yearning of our community. With a theme announcement will also come a keynote speaker announcement! A call for workshops will also come quite soon! Huzzah! 

Questions, concerns, love, bubbles, and/or the location of a large stuffed unicorn should be sent to flgbtqcmidwinter at gmail dot com.

Feel free to share this little announcement with anyone that you think would be an awesome addition to our Gathering!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Katrina, 10 Years Later -- part I

Hurricane Katrina satellite view, 28 August 2005*
Hurricane Katrina satellite view, 28 August 2005*

The ten-year anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma have been much on my mind lately.

In August, 2005, our family had just moved to the Midwest.  I'd grown up in hurricane country and had lived most of my life in majority-minority cities.  I spent the days before Katrina's landfalls tracking the storm on weather websites and anxiously listening to the news.

I spent the days after Katrina hit, like so many people, getting more and more angry, desperately wanting to Do Something.

Hurricane Rita, satellite view, 5 September 2005*
Hurricane Rita, satellite view, 5 September 2005*

I spent Hurricane Rita in Montgomery, Alabama, stranded with hundreds of other disaster relief volunteers in a big box store converted to volunteer staff shelter.  We were incredibly frustrated at being stuck there instead of being out in the field, and given how impossible things already were for Katrina survivors, we were worried about how much worse they were getting.

When it was safe enough to travel -- still lots of wind and rain, but lower winds and fewer tornadoes -- I was assigned to go to a newly-opened service center in Jackson, Mississippi as a family services caseworker.  There, my volunteer colleagues and I worked with thousands of hurricane survivors every day -- for weeks.  Many of the people we saw had been displaced twice -- they'd lost everything and been forced to move to another part of the country, then they lost what replacements they'd been able to scramble and were forced to move again.

One of the things I remember most about that time is the incredible people I met and worked with, over and over and over.  The other volunteers.  The survivors.  The National Guard service members, local law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics.  The people who offered their workplace for our volunteer staff shelter, and tried to make it as homey as possible.

The way people pulled together to pull together.


It is vitally important to lift up recognition of the structurally racist nature of emergency planning and response by local and federal officials in the Gulf Coast region before, during, and after hurricane season 2005.   Yes, natural disasters generally affect people who are poor, people with disabilities, and people of color harder than they affect non-disabled middle-class white people.  But with Katrina especially, that disproportionate impact was so. much. greater.  It was, and still is, very hard not to see that as almost deliberate -- as the logical consequence of a long, long series of racist decisions and choices.

Black lives matter, dammit.  

Other people, especially people of color, have written about this much better than I can, and I encourage you to seek out what they have to say. Especially about the roots and the long-term effects of that racist decision-making. 


I know I have more to write about that time, but none of it is quite here yet.  In the meantime, while that's brewing, here are two excerpts from other things I've written in the past: 

At the five-year anniversary: 
Five years ago, we had just moved to the Midwest, and I was listening to the news coverage after Hurricane Katrina and getting angrier and angrier.

Well, that had happened after September 11th, too; and then, the Red Cross had desperately needed help, too.  So I'd taken my three community service days from work and answered phones at the SE PA Red Cross.  It wasn't glamorous, but it freed up trained people to go out in the field and deal with local disasters like house fires.  And it gave me something constructive to do.  Which was better than listening to people bitch all day at work about how we should, in fact, bomb Afghanistan back into the Stone Age.

So when I was getting pissed off after Katrina, I called the local Red Cross in Michigan, thinking I'd answer phones again. 

They asked me to go to the Gulf Coast and do Family Services / Client Services.  Case management.

And I did.

And it was an amazing experience.

I didn't have time to write much about it, and when I got back home, I left almost immediately for a family funeral; but I did write some.  And I also wrote a little in my article for Friends Journal. 

Excerpt from my Friends Journal article, "The Peace Testimony and Armed Forces Emergency Services":
As a Friend, I first got involved with the Red Cross through Disaster Services just after September 11, 2001. Like so many of us, I had a deep need to do something – something to help, and something that expressed the Peace Testimony. What I did was answer phones, all day, every day. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was needed, and it freed up experienced, trained volunteers to go out in the field.

After Hurricane Katrina, I again found myself raging at the news, and again felt that need to do something. So I thought I’d go answer phones again. But because I have experience as a pastoral counselor and case manager and the need was so great, the local Chapter asked me to go to the Gulf Coast instead.

Five weeks after the disaster, at just one service center, in just one town, my fellow volunteers and I saw and spoke with thousands of people every day. None of us could “fix” anything for them. True, we could help them apply for financial assistance. True, we could try to connect them with services. But we couldn’t repair their lives.

Mostly, what we could do was just be there with them.

It turned out our simple presence meant much more than financial assistance to many people.
“You came from where? To be here with us?”
“But you’re not getting paid?!”
“What about your family?”
“Thank you for coming down here.”
“I haven’t told anybody what happened, and it’s been more than a month.”
“We thought nobody cared about us.”

I already knew what a difference it made for me to have someone simply be with me when I was going through hard times. In Mississippi, I learned yet again that bearing witness is sacred work.


Hurricane Wilma, satellite view, 19 October 2005*
Hurricane Wilma, satellite view, 19 October 2005*


Hurricane Katrina, 28 August 2005.  By Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hurricane Rita, 5 September 2005.  By Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hurricane Wilma, 19 October 2005.  By NOAA Satellite and Information Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, September 3, 2015

If pictures of drowned refugee children make you want to cry or scream...

...then here is something concrete you can do.

I admit this is reminding me so very much of both of the aftermath of September 11th, 2001 and of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: looking at maps, reading and listening to the news, getting more and more pissed off, and feeling the need to Do Something.

If pictures of dead children washing up on Europe's beaches make you want to cry or scream, here is one practical thing you can do: give money to Médecins San Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

MSF are running Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea -- getting people off boats, giving them emergency medical care (including helivac'ing critically ill patients), and getting them to shore in Europe. They are also providing medical care in refugee camps in the countries people are fleeing from to Europe.

MSF people are saving lives every day, and any amount you can give would help. MSF is also a very solid organization.

• Get more information and donate here:

• Click here to donate in your country:

• Click here for more information about MSF's Mediterranean operations:

• Click here for first-person stories from MSF volunteers:

• Click here for a wonderful video first-person account from MSF nurse Carol Nagy:

I wish I could embed the video so you could watch it here. 

Edited to add:

• This is another fun and fabulous fund-raiser for MSF:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Solstice with the Sisters: You are fabulous, and the Goddess adores You

Tomorrow (Saturday, 20 June, 2015) is Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere, and also Pride Edinburgh 2015.  Here is something I wrote after last Summer Solstice and 2014 Pride.  - sm

Saturday was Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.  Summer Solstice is also connected for me, both in time and theme, with LGBTQ pride festivals.  And where I live, this Saturday was also the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Festival.

A friend of mine who's a Novice with the Order of Perpetual Indulgence had asked me if I'd hench (act as a henchperson) with the Sisters for Pride.  I said yes.

So I spent Summer Solstice with the Sisters at Pride.  It was pretty fabulous.  I carried bags, took pictures, helped herd people when instructed, danced in the parade (who knew this would be part of my job?), helped a Sister with a wardrobe problem, helped set up for tea, served food, welcomed people, had lovely conversation with other henches, and shared lots of smiles with everyone there from the Order and all sorts of random other people. At the end of the day, I was very tired and very content.

It was surprisingly simple and satisfying ministry.

It was also pretty close to exactly what my soul needed.  I came home very tired physically, and spiritually re-invigorated for everything on my plate these next few weeks, including my FLGBTQC co-clerks email (I'm about to start a term as Recording Clerk) and a Roses, Too! Tradition Summer Solstice Celebration on Sunday.


In ecofeminist Witchcraft, a lot of what the Sabbats are about is what's happening in nature around us, where we are, right now. 

Some things to think about with Summer Soltice:
  • What's happening with the light?  What time does the Sun rise?  What time does it set?  How many hours of daylight and of darkness are there right now, where you live or where you are? 
  • What's happening with plants?  What plants are growing, have bloomed and are done, are blooming or fruiting now, are yet to bloom or fruit?  What foods are available that haven't been yet this year, that won't be again soon? 
  • What's happening with the weather?  What are the temperatures like?  Has the pattern of rain (or snow!) changed since Beltane or Spring Equinox?  
  • What's happening with animals?  Where are different animals where you live in their life cycles?  Who's migrating right now? 

There are other possibilities. 

One of the easiest ways to engage with what's happening in nature right now on this longest day is to track sunrise and sunset.  You can figure out ways to measure this yourself, especially if there are children in your life; you can look up when sunrise and sunset are where you live, or where you are. (You can do both!) 

The US Naval Observatory has several very useful data tools on their website,  Here you can look up sun and moon data for one day or for the whole year. also have all sorts of interesting astronomical data available, and on their web page, you can look up sun and moon data for a day, a month, a year, and more:

Have fun!


How did you spend Summer Solstice?  How are you honoring it?  

As someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or an ally, how are you celebrating Pride? 

How are you celebrating and honoring social justice and work for social justice in your life right now?  


Remember, you are fabulous, and the Goddess adores you.

Thou art Goddess. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Beltane on Calton Hill with Beltane Fire Society

Note: This is my write-up from 2013.  - sm

I'm a Pagan and I live in Edinburgh: the big question many people are asking me is, "Did you go to Beltane Fire Society??" 

Yes, I did.  Beloved Wife insisted, of all things; I likely would have done the introvert hermit thing, otherwise.  (Big public ritual performance, eek!)  Instead, we went together, and had a blast. 

Yes, it was fabulous, amazing spectacle.  It wasn't the kind of focused ritual work or spiritual work that I would like to be my only celebration of the holiday, but I had a tremendous amount of fun, it was exhilarating, and I'm glad we went.  It was very well-run and well-organized.  We could tell the crowd was a mix of tourists (of both kinds -- spiritual and geographic) and people for whom this was serious business, and everyone was pretty respectful.

(With a few drunken, or just plain thoughtless, exceptions, but I only had to stifle the urge twice to stifle people I found obnoxious.  "This ought to be free.  It's on Calton Hill, so it ought to be free."  (*eyeroll*  Tickets were £8.50 at the door, and much less in advance; and even at the door, that was cheap for how much it costs to put this on, between security, pyrotechnics, police, etc...)  "Yeah, I went through a period where I was into witchcraft and all that, and my girlfriends and I even had this coven, but it's not like it's real religion or anything..."  (I'll spare you the rest of that overheard conversation.))

We didn't get to see a lot of detail, so for that, I'll refer you to BFS' Flickr stream:

But, yes, wow, the organization, the attention to detail, the thought that went into everything, the drama, the pageantry, the costuming, the use of massed drumming, torches, fire, pyrotechnics... 

Heh heh heh heh.  Big public dramatic ritual/ritual drama, all right. 

It occurs to me: some of my Cherry Hill colleagues are writing analytical critiques of Burning Man and such from Pagan/ritual theory/ritual studies/theaological perspectives.  I'd love to see such analyses of any of BFS' big public presentations.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) 2015 Conference

After being part of Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) for many years, I finally got to go to a QUIP conference! 

The location travels -- under the current schedule, the annual conference rotates between the US East Coast, Midwest, West/Pacific Northwest, and the UK.  So it comes to the UK every four years.  (The last year we lived in the US, the conference was in the UK.  Since then, it's been in the US.  Ah, timing.  And money.) 

This year, the conference was back at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England, and this year, things came together so that I was finally able to go.  

There were Friends there from the US, the UK, Germany, and Russia, with a wide range of involvement in different kinds of publications and parts of the publication process.  QUIP also includes Friends from a wide range of traditions within Quakerism. 

For me, it was an extra treat to be at Woodbrooke with a truly international group of Friends. 

Workshops, talks, and plenaries ranged from not-quite-my-cup-of-tea, to interesting, to fascinating.  Social media and internet work played a big part in many of the sessions.  Some sessions had interactive pieces built in, from going on-line, to breaking into small groups, to looking at blog posts pinned up on the walls.  In one workshop exercise, we'd worked on hypothetical book projects in small groups, and the presentations back to the main group had us all in stitches, we were laughing so hard. 

It was lovely to see old friends and meet new ones.  It was really good to have the chance to catch up in person with people I already know, and to get to know other people a bit.  It was also helpful being in a group where enough of us were introverts that nobody blinked when people disappeared for naps or quite solitary time. 

And being immersed in a publications-centered environment was very helpful.  I'm definitely feeling more creativity and inspiration flowing regarding not just my own writing, but creative work in general -- and especially where they intersect and interact.  I'm definitely more in touch again with the connections between printed words, books, social media, community, and Doing Things individually and together in the in-person world.  It'll be interesting to see what comes of it, projects-wise, for me...

A number of Friends who were there posted to Facebook and to Twitter over the weekend. 

For a much better sense of what took place, along with lots of wonderful pictures of people and scenery -- it was very definitely spring in Birmingham, and lovely! -- try these links:

* On Twitter at #QUIP2015
* On Facebook at


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

This is just beautiful -- and it calls us to action.

Please read it, and if it resonates for you, regardless of how you label yourself, please sign it.

You can read the whole thing, and sign as an individual and/or for an organization, at

An excerpt:

Many of our ancestors realized what has now been supported by the scientific method and our expanding knowledge of the universe — that Earth’s biosphere may be understood as a single ecosystem and that all life on Earth is interconnected.

The very atoms of which we are composed connect us to the entire universe. Our hydrogen was produced in the Big Bang, and the other atoms essential for life were forged in the scorching furnaces of ancient stars. Beyond atoms, the molecules of life connect us to Earth, showing that we don’t live “on Earth” like some alien visitor, but rather that we are part of Earth, just as a volcano or river is part of Earth and its cycles.

We are earth, with carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus making up our bodies one day, and incorporated into mountains the next. We are air, giving food to the trees and grasses when we exhale, and breathing in their gift of free oxygen with each breath. We are fire, burning the energy of the Sun, captured and given to us by plants. We are water, with the oceans flowing in our veins and the same water that nourished the dinosaurs within our cells.

We are connected to our families, through links of love, to their relatives, and so on to the entire human species. Our family tree goes back further than the rise of humans, including all mammals, all animals, and all life on Earth. The entire Earth is our immense and joyous family reunion.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17
By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons