Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunrise and sunset

I have been amazed, lately, by how early it gets light, and how late it stays light. If we weren't training the cats not to wake us up for food (it's working, by the way), I wouldn't need to set an alarm in the mornings. I don't feel like drawing my curtains until after 9 pm at night. Wild.

So I thought I'd look up the actual sunrise and sunset times, and see if they're really all that different from when we lived in Philadelphia, or better yet, when we lived in Michigan -- because I know they were definitely different in Michigan compared to Philadelphia. We were much further north in the time zone, and almost as far west as you could be and still be in the same time zone. I'd have to see where we are comparatively, east-to-west, in the time zone here, but I do know we're much further north than we were in Ann Arbor (47th parallel here in Seattle; 44th parallel in Ann Arbor; 40th parallel in Philadelphia).

The US Naval Observatory has some very cool tools, including ones where you can get the sunrise and sunset data for a single day, or a whole year.

So I looked up May 29, 2009, for all three locations, and here's what I got:

  • Seattle: Sunrise, 5:17 am; Sunset, 8:57 pm
  • Ann Arbor: Sunrise, 6:02 am; Sunset, 8:32 pm (wow, they really are different...)
  • Philadelphia: Sunrise, 6:35 am; Sunset, 8:22 pm.

Now I'm curious... how about Summer Solstice?

According to the US Naval Observatory, Summer Solstice 2009 is on June 21st, at 5:45 am UT (Universal Time). In Seattle, we're in the Pacific Time Zone, UT-8, so Summer Solstice for us is at 9:45 pm the night before, June 20th. Ann Arbor and Philadelphia are in the Eastern Time Zone, UT-5, so Summer Solstice is at 12:45 am on June 21st.

Summer Solstice:
  • Seattle, June 20th: Sunrise, 5:11 am; Sunset, 9:11 pm
  • Ann Arbor, June 21st: Sunrise, 5:59 am; Sunset, 9:15 pm
  • Philadelphia, June 21st: Sunrise, 5:32 am; Sunset, 8:33 pm.

So on Summer Solstice, we have
  • 16 hours of daylight in Seattle;
  • 15 hours, 16 minutes of daylight in Ann Arbor; and
  • 15 hours, 1 minute of daylight in Philadelphia.

Very cool!

Today's post is brought to you by the joys of scientific geekdom in the service of spiritual mysticism. :)

Photo: sunset on Lake Michigan, August, 2006, (c) Stasa Morgan-Appel

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Speaking of Pagan values: Cherry Hill Seminary on Same-Gender Marriage

I am deeply grateful to Cherry Hill Seminary for their open commitment to equality. - sm

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Contact: Holli S. Emore, CFRE, Executive Director

888-503-4131 t

Cherry Hill Seminary Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Debate

COLUMBIA, SC -- Cherry Hill Seminary prepares students for public Pagan ministry and pastoral counseling through quality higher education and practical training.

Our students and faculty are representative of the range of human sexual diversity. They minister to communities which include many same-sex couples.

As Pagans, we embrace all forms of consensual adult sexual expression and relationships. We recognize sexuality as a sacred and spiritual force and, therefore, support legal, social and spiritual recognition of these relationships.

More information about Cherry Hill Seminary may be found at or by contacting Holli Emore at 888-503-4131 or

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Peace Testimony and Armed Forces Emergency Services

This article appeared in the July, 2008 issue of Friends Journal. An earlier version appeared here. I am re-posting it, in part, in honor of Memorial Day. - sm

Disclaimer: The opinions and beliefs stated in this article are those of the author only. They do not reflect the opinions, beliefs, or positions of the American Red Cross. This article is not endorsed by the American Red Cross.


It’s 3:45 am when my pager wakes me. I speak to a man who is quite upset: his sister has just died – at the end of a long illness, but unexpectedly soon – and his sister’s son is on active duty in the military, stationed overseas. The caller needs to get a message to the nephew through the Red Cross so the young man can get leave for his mother’s funeral. I walk the caller through giving me all the information I need – his sister’s information, the hospice information, his nephew’s name, social security number, and military address – and promise him I’ll get back to him just as soon as I can. I call the hospice agency and page the hospice nurse, who confirms the date, time, and cause of death. I send the message through the Red Cross system and call the man back to tell him the message has been sent and that we requested that his nephew call him as soon as he receives it. I explain that because his nephew is in Iraq and the activity level there is very high right now, it may take longer for the message to go through and he may not hear from his nephew for several days.*

I’m driving home from work when my pager goes off. I pull over and talk to a woman whose son was just in a motor vehicle accident and is near death. She is very calm. She wants her daughter to come home so the family can all decide together about taking him off life support. I talk to the charge nurse in the ICU and gather all the information that command will need to decide whether or not to grant leave, including the medical team’s recommendation for the service member’s presence. I send the message, then let the family know that it’s on its way, and that I requested that a chaplain be present when the sister is notified.

I’m eating dinner when the pager beeps. I speak to a woman who’s in active labor at a local hospital and is about to give birth. She gives me her husband’s information between contractions and then passes the phone to her father-in-law when she can no longer speak. I apologetically explain I can’t send the message until the baby’s born. Her father-in-law chuckles. “Don’t worry, they’re wheeling her into delivery now!” By the time I talk to someone on staff for the verification, the baby’s been born and I can send the notification. The delighted new grandpa answers the cell phone when I call back to say the message has been sent.

*To protect confidentiality, none of this information comes from actual cases. These situations are compiled from typical kinds of cases.

I volunteer with the American Red Cross, an organization which provides humanitarian relief and assistance under a variety of circumstances. I’m active in two areas: Disaster Relief, and Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES). As an AFES volunteer, I mostly work with military families to get emergency messages to active-duty service members: an illness or accident, death, other emergency situation, birth.

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.

When I returned from my deployment, I stayed involved with my local Red Cross Chapter, mostly responding to local disasters. I learned it also makes a big difference to people when they know they’re not alone just after a house fire, tornado, or flood. One elderly resident of an apartment house which had been completely evacuated in the middle of the night said, “Because you all were there, we weren’t afraid.”

But then my supervisor asked me to get involved with Armed Forces Emergency Services. Our department was short-staffed, and she said I had a good background for the work. I was a little dubious about this. As a Friend, as someone who doesn’t support this war, how would I feel talking to military families in crisis? And could I do so without offering them short shrift? (Integrity. Peace.) But as a volunteer, I was there to do whatever needed to be done, so I said I’d try.

I kept thinking of a F/friend whose brother is a Marine. I kept thinking of my own surrogate brother, who’s a Marine, too.

Over time, doing AFES casework became as much an expression of the Peace Testimony for me as Disaster Relief work. I don't know that I have good words to explain how being part of providing this service, providing this ministry of presence, is, for me, a way of walking the Peace Testimony in the world; but I will try.

Let me start with the seven Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement: Humanity. Impartiality. Neutrality. Independence. Voluntary Service. Unity. Universality.

I know. They sound like a bunch of very dry words. And yet each one of those Principles is quite real. Each one provides concrete guidance to Red Crossers. Each one helps me put my Quaker beliefs and convictions into action as part of a larger, completely secular, organization, side-by-side with non-Friends. Each one lets me work closely with other people who have very strong convictions, and who in ordinary life might not think we have anything at all in common.
The Fundamental Principles help us do sacred work together.

I find one key, one link, to the Peace Testimony in the Fundamental Principles. Take, for example, Humanity. With each AFES case I work, I have several opportunities to recognize and honor the humanity in another human being; to recognize and honor That-Which-Is-Sacred in each person I speak with – the spouse or parent or sibling or cousin or friend who's initiating the case; the medical administrator, nurse, doctor, police officer, funeral director, or hospice nurse with whom I verify the case; the AFES Center worker who takes the case or gives one to me.

These are opportunities to bear witness.

I find additional keys in Red Cross history. The first-ever Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1901, was shared by Frédéric Passy, who founded the first French peace society, and Henri Dunant, who founded the International Red Cross and initiated the Geneva Convention. The International and the American Red Cross organizations were founded in the midst of two of the bloodiest wars Europe and America had known – the Battle of Solferino in the Second War of Italian Independence, and the American Civil War – springing from a desire to help the wounded on the battlefield, without consideration for which side of a conflict any of those wounded were part.

Humanity. Neutrality. Impartiality. Independence.

Several months ago, a local Friend asked me, “Don’t you feel conflicted when you do AFES casework? Because you’re making soldiers’ lives easier?”

That thought hadn't occurred to me. So, I thought about it.

And I realized, I haven't talked to one family or one soldier whose life is anything approaching “easy” right now.

The service I offer as an AFES caseworker is one where I work with people in a time of great stress, and touch them as embodiments of That-Which-Is-Sacred. As real people. Many of the families and professionals I speak with in the course of a case are struggling to make a difference in the world. Many of the them are struggling simply to get through each day.

For the families, having a loved one in the service right now is not easy. There's not one family I've worked with that hasn't been under enormous stress because they have someone in the service right now. When someone they love is ill or dying or giving birth or being born, it doesn't matter whether or not they support this war, or any war, or their relative’s military service: they are the same people as you and me.

I guess that's the real key, what it really comes down to. Working with military families has helped me see that women and men in uniform, and the families of those women and men in uniform, are not part of a monolith or even a monoculture. Working AFES cases has helped me recognize military members and families as people who are a lot like me.

And they are people who are suffering because of this war. Some of them believe in it, some of them don't. It actually doesn't matter: they are all suffering for it, in ways those of us back home who don't have a direct connection can't understand.

"The Red Cross, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours... to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress."


The Peace Testimony.

Each of us is sacred.

The Seven Fundamental Principles

Detailed information on the Seven Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement is available here.

The Principles and their explanation are as follows:


The Red Cross, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours – in its international and national capacity – to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, co-operation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.


It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours only to relieve suffering, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress.


In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Red Cross may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.


The Red Cross is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their Governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with Red Cross principles.


The Red Cross is a voluntary relief organization not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.


There can be only one Red Cross Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.


The Red Cross is a world-wide institution in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

June 2009 is International Pagan Values Blogging Month!

Pax over at Chrysalis has called for Pagan bloggers to write about our values during the month of June:

I have decided that I am tired at how some factions within other spiritual and faith traditions talk and act as if they have a monopoly on values and virtue and ethics.

If you're interested, please link to his post, and please list your blog in the comments section on his post.

I am reminded of how the public debate over same-gender marriage has been polarized into the notions that "Religious people oppose gay marriage" and "People who support gay marriage are godless atheists with no morals."

First off, it's same-gender marriage, thank you very much, and the real issue is marriage equality. IMHO. Secondly, there are plenty of "religious" folks -- both individuals, and organizations -- who support marriage equality.

It's time for religious/spiritual individuals and organizations to stop allowing ourselves to be made invisible on the issue of marriage equality - to stand up and reclaim our space, our stance, our values, our beliefs.

I am also reminded of the notion that people who aren't religious can't possibly live ethical lives, with atheists as those of us in the most danger and with the least guidance. The notion that reason and inner conviction aren't good enough to lead us to live "good" lives. Oh, please.

Many of the same arguments are held up as why Pagans can't live ethical lives. That without Yhwh, Jesus, or Allah, we're doomed -- our Gods aren't good enough. Again, oh, please.

So it's also time for Atheists and Pagans (and those who are both) to stop allowing ourselves to be demonized and made invisible on the issue of ethics and values - to stand up and reclaim our space, our stance, our values, our beliefs.

Christians, in general, are united by a theology that is supposed to inform their values. Among Pagans, there's a lot more diversity of thealogy, and I suspect just as much, if not more, diversity of beliefs among Atheists. I'm really looking forward to reading more about other Pagans' as well as Atheists' values.

In the meantime, I'm very much enjoying the Seattle Atheists' Bus Ad Campaign on Metro Buses. Because they ask people to think.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day: Not Just a "Hallmark Holiday"

Julia Ward Howe's original Mother's Day Proclamation:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
Click here for more about the herstory of Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thistlethwaite: "Why the Faithful Approve of Torture"

I am part of a Meeting that supports and participates in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). We have a banner in front of our Meetinghouse supporting the end of torture, as part of their Banners Across America campaign; and when I'm out and about in Seattle, I see similar banners on other congregations' and religious organizations' buildings.

And yet, a new survey by the Pew Research Center shows some disturbing trends in the connection between religion and support for torture.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite has an interesting article in the Washington Post on "Why the Faithful Support Torture":

The more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture. This is a troubling finding of a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Shouldn't it be the opposite? After all, who would Jesus torture? Since Jesus wouldn't even let Peter use a sword and defend him from arrest, it would seem that those who follow Jesus would strenuously oppose the violence of torture. But, not so in America today.

I recommend it.

(Thanks, Grant, for pointing this article out.)

Gus diZerega on Higgenbothams' ChristoPaganism

Gus diZerega recently reviewed a new book, ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path by Joyce Higgenbotham and River Higgenbotham.

For Gus' review, click here.
For the publisher's page on the book, click here.

While I am not personally a Christian, I know a number of Pagans who are also Christian. I seem to keep meeting more, or perhaps more are "coming out of the closet."

Cathing up, and some interesting articles

Hello, folks!

My semester is over, and I have a few loose ends to tie up, but then I expect to have some time to devote to other sadly-neglected parts of my ministry... like this blog! I've missed writing, and I have a handful of posts bubbling around in the stewpot in my brain...

I've had a really good time with some of the papers I've written for one of my classes this semester, and expect to post them in here once I've had the chance to revise them. This was a class in ritual theory/ritual studies at Cherry Hill Seminary with Grant Potts. The class has made my brain stretch in interesting ways, not all of which I've articulated yet. A good thing.

May 3rd was also the anniversary of the death, nine years ago, of a young adult F/friend of mine, and one of two deaths that marked the outward beginning of my ministry with dying and death. I'd like to write about that, and also about the death of the adult child of a friend of a friend last fall, the deaths of a number of Friends' and friends' spouses, and how we react to others' pain in the face of death.

Last but far from least, I had a wonderful weekend, much of it outdoors: Beloved Wife and I spent our fifth wedding anniversary exploring Seattle's Discovery Park (beautiful!); Saturday, we walked up to Portage Bay to watch the boat parade marking the opening of boating season; and Sunday, we went to the Radical Faeries' Goddess Ravenna Ravine Beltane Celebration, which was just fabulous. (Beloved Wife, while not a Pagan, understands many important things about the care and feeding of her Pagan spouse.) I have some pictures I want to share, and I want to write particularly about Beltane/May Day, what it means to me, what it's meant to me throughout my life, and my experience Sunday.

In the meantime, there are some interesting links I've come across, some through friends' postings on Facebook, some on my own, which I wanted to share.

Happy May!