Friday, December 5, 2014

The queer surcharge

Let's talk about the queer surcharge for a moment. 

Here's just one example: 

People in mixed-gender legal marriages, how much did it cost you to get married?  I don't mean the ceremony, the reception, and all that stuff -- I mean the marriage license, the legal part, where you went down to city hall or the registry office or wherever and filled out paperwork and got a piece of paper (or several) back.  How much did your marriage license cost?  If a ceremony was a legal requirement for your marriage license to be valid -- it is in some jurisdictions -- then go ahead and add in the cost of a registry office, or justice of the peace, or similar, ceremony. 

Now, how many marriage licenses, or equivalent, have you had to obtain for your current marriage?  For that one marriage, for you to be married to the same person? 

Most of your friends in same-gender marriages, when we've had access to legal recognition of our relationships at all -- through domestic partnerships, civil unions, civil partnerships, or even civil marriage -- have had to do this many times.  Each time we move, each time the law where we live changes, we have to get re-married. 

And it almost always costs money EACH TIME. 

That adds up. 

And we're not even talking about the costs in time, energy, and resources other than money. 

We're also not even talking about other ways which being someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer costs more money than being someone who is straight does. 

So, allies: something to think about.  Ignorance -- "Gosh, I had no idea!"-- is not an excuse. 


For more information on having to get married over and over and on the queer surcharge, see:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ally behavior: Pagan organizations, where are you?

Re-posted from Crystal Blanton (via Facebook):

I am noticing... again... the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of the recent unrest, death of unarmed black men, injustices, protests, and harm within society. As a POC Pagan, I am looking out into my community and I do not see the community standing up for me.

This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying... we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.

When the Pagan community does not stand up to support the POC members within their community that are hurting, it is an "in your face" way of reminding us that we are not welcomed.

An African Zulu greeting "Sawubona" translates to mean... I see you. More than the normal seeing.... seeing the core, our humanity, our spirit, our worth... our souls.

So tonight I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you..... the question is... do you SEE us?

Black lives matter.  Pagan organizations are predominantly white, and they need to speak up. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Winter Solstice 2014

I have just update the list of communities presenting A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual this year, including:

  • Edinburgh, Scotland; 
  • Costa Mesa, CA; 
  • Indianapolis, IN; 
  • Louisville, KY (new this year! w00t!); 
  • Pomona/Galloway, NJ; 
  • Dallas, TX;
  • and hopefully Hamilton, NJ, Gettysburg, PA, Clemson, SC, Spokane, WA, and Madison, WI. (I'm still waiting to hear back from some folks.)

Details at

If your community is presenting this and you're not listed, please get in touch!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thank you again to SheWho

Way back in 2002, SheWho feminist women's vocal ensemble recorded the CD for "A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual" for me and my co-author. It was a one-off for them -- not part of their musical life long-term -- but it took a lot of their time and energy. That CD has certainly been part of my life long-term, and as I'm doing a lot of intensive teaching of this music right now, I find myself again grateful for all the time and work those eight women put into our project. There are of course things I'd do differently, mostly thanks to what I learned by doing this CD, but the CD has definitely stood the test of time as a fabulous resource for people learning this music. Thank you again, Karen Escovitz (Otter), Amanda Albright, Anne Cummings, Debra D'Alessandro, Gili Ronen, Hilary Barrett, and Juliet Spitzer.

For more information about SheWho -- or to order their fabulous independent CD, "The Earth Will Turn Over" -- please see:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Trans Lifeline and other crisis and suicide resources

There's a new hotline for transgender people in crisis, Trans Lifeline.  They've been open for a few months but just went public, and the response seems BIG.

If you've got a few bucks, even $5 or $10, please consider donating to them -- you can help save someone's life:

If you are struggling with 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 also 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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Survival and standing in our integrity, at Thanksgiving and every other day

There's an American holiday this month that is often associated with family.  I have been holding in my heart the too-many people I know and care about who are not welcome at their family Thanksgiving, or who are otherwise alienated or estranged from their families, born or chosen, for refusing to lie. For not pretending to be straight, for not pretending to be a gender they're not, for not tolerating abuse or harassment, for not pretending to be a religion they're not.

For living honestly and with integrity.

That integrity is often necessary for survival. Being alienated from our families may be the price we pay for our mental and physical health, but that alienation takes a toll in physical and mental health, too. The simple fact of that discrimination, that our families treat us that way, and the separation from our folks.

No one should ever have to choose between survival and our families. And too often, our families ask that of us. This shit is hard.

Our lives are worth that integrity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Re-posting for Veterans Day / Armistice Day

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.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, straight people edition

Dear people who say you're allies:  When you act like you know more about the reality of the lives of oppressed people than oppressed people do, and when you disbelieve our lived experience, that is NOT ally behavior and it's not helpful. 

I experience and witness this all the time, both in person and on line. 

In today's example, we're talking about: straight allies; lesbian, bisexual, gay, and queer people in same-sex relationships; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people whom straight people are likely to read as some version of queer.  

I was part of a conversation on social media recently that went something like this:

Original Poster (OP):
Re-posting for some friends: looking for safety tips for a lesbian couple traveling abroad, etc. 

Peanut Gallery (PG):
Examples from personal experience; on-line travel and legal resources, etc.  

Straight Person (SP): (Not their exact words)
This is so interesting; someone said traveling without displaying much PDA is safer, and I agree; whose business is it anyway what you do behind closed doors?; I usually travel with my husband, but it's not like people know he's my husband, he could be my brother, right?; I mean, it's not like we're making love in the street; of course gay couples don't want to have to hide that they're gay, and of course I respect that, but why prove you're a romantic couple instead of regular friends?; I traveled with an opposite-sex person I wasn't married to and someone asked us if we were married, and we said no, but if I was a lesbian should I have said that I was a lesbian?; people of the same sex travel together all the time; I traveled with a lesbian friend and shared a bed without having sex and I felt totally safe in terms of what other people thought; I'm just trying to figure all this out; I guess I'm just a little confused by all of this...

Here's what I did say, with link to a NY Times article about the Langbehn-Pond family's experience:
That's b/c you don't have to worry about things like being able to make decisions for each other should one of you become ill or be in an accident, that sort of thing. Or being prevented from seeing each other in the hospital b/c legally you're not kin. Or your kids not being allowed to see you in the hospital when you're dying b/c the hospital staff have decided you aren't really their mother. These are the kinds of things people in same-sex relationships have to worry about all the time, even within the US.

There are also some places where women traveling without a man are harassed b/c they are perceived as not being under a man's protection and therefore fair to harass.

I didn't even get into the more 'ordinary' forms of anti-queer harassment.  LIKE GETTING BEAT UP JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE PEGS YOU AS SOME VERSION OF QUEER. 

SP's response (again, not their exact words):
We are talking about going on a trip, and I don't understand how that needs to include all these life issues; you're telling me that if you are an American in Europe and something happens to you they will not let your travel companion come into the hospital room with you; I find that hard to believe; I'm not talking about all the other issues that are part of this; JUST THE PART ABOUT TRAVELING ABROAD; that's what we're talking about.

Ummm, riiiiiight.

Things I did not say:

YOU'RE RIGHT!  We're MAKING THIS SHIT UP!  For FUN!  And OF COURSE you know so much more about this than all the queer people in this conversation!

Also, hello, "I'm a straight person let me make this conversation all about me and my experience and how unfathomable queer people's experience is."

Also, hello: a straight person turning this conversation from "What do I as an LGBTQ person need to do to stay safe when I travel?" to "I'm a straight person and I'm going to talk about my experience and how unbelievable your experience is" is not ally behavior.

What I did say:
Yeah. We're talking about going on a trip. Yeah, queer people have to worry about this shit. [Name], why would it even occur to you not to believe this is an issue queer people have to deal with? It seems hard to believe to you? I'm sorry your straight privilege makes the daily reality of our lives hard for you to believe. We don't have that luxury.

Let me just say right now that when OP came back to the conversation, they stated really clearly that disbelieving LGBTQ people about our experience was not okay with them. 

In a separate conversation about this in my space, people pointed out:
  • Has SP ever held hands with her husband in public while traveling?  Ever kissed him in public? 
  • Has she ever worried about someone bashing her upside the head for doing so?  Or simply because they thought she was straight?
  • Has she ever had to choose between safety and invisibility? 
  • Is kissing her husband or holding his hand where other people can see it "proving" they're a romantic couple instead of "regular" friends? 
  •  "I'm just trying to figure all this out" is a convenient line, but this person was displaying behavior that indicated she really didn't want to know: she wasn't listening to the lived experience of queer people, and she didn't believe what queer people told her.  What's more, she was insisting her thoughts, feelings, experience, and disbelief take center stage. Not the experience of LGBTQ people, hers.  This is derailing.  So is insisting members of a minority educate her.

Also, EXCUSE me?  The only queer people who get beaten when traveling are the ones who have sex in the street??  It's a very short step from the belief that people won't beat you for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer unless you're having sex and they witness it, to the belief that if someone beat you for being queer, you did something to provoke it and it's your fault

That is victim-blaming bullshit.  Victim-blaming bullshit is not ally behavior. 

SP talked about being in a same-sex romantic relationship vs being in a "regular" friendship, thus reinforcing the notion that same-sex romances and partnerships are not regular, are not normal, are deviant.

That is not ally behavior.

SP talked about her experience as a straight person in a heterosexual marriage and as a straight person traveling with another person of the same gender as if it were equivalent to queer people's experience.  As if it gave her the same understanding of queer people's experience in same-gender relationships, and as if it gave her the same understanding of being a queer person whom straight people read as queer.  SP made it clear she considered her experience as a straight person to be more valid in assessing LGBTQ safety than the experience of not just one LGBTQ person, but several, in the conversation.  (WTF?)

That is not ally behavior.

It's also derailing. 

Derailing is not ally behavior.

SP, who is straight, took over a conversation among LGBTQ people about their experience as LGBTQ people to talk about her experience as a straight person and to demand LGBTQ people educate her. 

That is derailing.  Derailing is not ally behavior. 

All of these behaviors are heterosexist.  Heterosexist behavior is not ally behavior.

For more information on derailing, I suggest these excellent resources listed here:

I want to talk about some of the aspects of this kind of behavior that bother me the most.  

1)  There are straight people who think of themselves as LGBTQ allies, but who have no clue about the lived experience of LGBTQ people.   

Who think it's all about same-sex marriage.  Who think same-sex marriage is nice, but have no idea why it's important -- know nothing about the additional tax burden of being in a same-sex relationship, know nothing about the legal threats to our families, know nothing about the spreadsheets we keep to track how many times laws in different states have required us to dissolve our legal relationships and then re-form them, know nothing about the health care threats, know nothing about second-parent adoption.  Who expect us to look and act like cis straight people.  Who chastise us when we look too masculine or too feminine, or kiss our partners in public.  Who have no clue that we can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, or just never hired in the first place; denied a mortgage; stopped by the cops for walking down the street and arrested for prostitution if we have condoms in our possession; refused medical treatment, including in life-threatening emergencies; refused rental housing.

These things I mention?  They are the tip of the iceberg.  There is much, much more.   

If these surprise you, you're not paying attention, and you're not behaving like an ally.  If you think of yourself as an LGBTQ ally, you need to educate yourself about the lived reality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer people.

And DON'T ask us to educate you.  It is your job as an ally to educate yourself.  There is plenty of good material out there by LGBTQ people for you to find.  Go find it. 

2)  There are straight people who like to think of themselves as LGBTQ allies, but who refuse to listen to that experience when we share it. 

When we tell you about our experience, believe it.  Don't tell us it's hard to for you to believe.  We live it.  Every day.  Our other LGBTQ siblings live it every day. 

When we tell you about our experience, don't change the focus back to you.  Don't talk about your experience as a straight person.  Don't tell us how your experience with something as a straight person means you understand our experience as a queer person. 

Believe what we tell you, however we tell you -- in person, in writing, in documentaries, in music, in theatre, etc.  We have all sorts of ways we talk about our experience.  Seek them out.  Believe them.

Dear people trying to be allies:  

Do you want to be an ally?  Ally is a set of behaviors.  It's not a title.  If you want to behave like an ally, some of the very basic things you can do are:

  • Educate yourself about what the people who are part of the minority you are trying to ally with go through.  Educate yourself about their / our lived experience.  
  • Respect that we know more about the truth of our own lived experience than you do.  
  • Listen when we tell you about our experience.  
  • Believe us when we tell you about our experience, and believe us when we tell you about prejudice, bigotry, and the -isms we face every day. 
There's lots more you can do.  Start with educating yourself, listening, and believing, and you'll find out what behaviors we really need from you.

Hoo-rah-I-think-everyone-should-be-able-to-get-married is not enough.

An Oppressed Person Who's Tired of This Shit

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, white people and men edition

Let's talk about ally behavior:

1)  Hello, white people: we don't get to decide what's racist, because a) we're not the targets of it and b) we benefit from it.

If you actually want to be an anti-racist person and ally to people of color, rather than someone who merely benefits from white privilege and is well-meaning, then you need to listen when people of color speak the truth of their experience.

And when people of color say something is racist, if you want to be an ally, you f'ing shut up and listen, you don't whitesplain all the reasons it's not racist or why it's okay to act that way.

2)  Hello, men: you don't get to decide what's sexist or misogynist, because a) you're not the targets of it and b) you benefit from it.

If you actually want to be an anti-sexist person and ally to women, rather than someone who merely benefits from male privilege and is well-meaning, then you need to listen when women speak the truth of their experience.

And when women say something is sexist or misogynist, if you want to be an ally, you f'ing shut up and listen, you don't mansplain all the reasons it's not sexist or misogynist or why it's okay for you to act that way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, derailing edition

Derailment, people.  Derailing is never, ever a good idea.  And yet well-meaning people do it all the time.  I feel the temptation at times, myself.  Never, ever a good idea.

I find it very, very useful to be able to identify derailment -- when other people are doing it to me,  when I'm tempted to do it to other people, or when I say something and someone tells me to stop derailing. 

Here are some excellent resources on derailment:

Enjoy.  (Some of them are pretty funny.  Wait, humor -- ?!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior

I am about to post a series of articles on ally behavior.

This started out as a single post based on one experience I had last week.  However, the past week has turned into a stream of Allies Not Behaving Like Allies experiences.  Some of these have happened in person, some have happened on line, some have combined both.  It just keeps coming.

I know a lot of well-meaning white people who think they don't treat people of color any differently than they do white people. 

I know a lot of well-meaning straight people who think they accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people whole-heartedly. 

I know a lot of cisgender people who think they support transgender rights.

I  know a lot of men who think they're Nice Guys and would never do anything to make a woman uncomfortable.

I know a lot of well-meaning non-disabled people who think they are fully accepting of people with disabilities.  

But you know what, people, that's not enough.  

If you really believe everyone is equal, if you really believe you're not racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, or ableist, if you believe everyone should be treated equally, believing is not enough. You need to walk your talk.  We need to walk our talk.  You need to behave in ways that mirror those values.  We need to behave in ways that mirror those values.

We're going to start out here talking about ally behavior -- what it is, and what it isn't. 

First, what's an ally?  

Here's an excellent definition from the Geek Feminism Wiki:
Allies are people who support a group who are commonly the subject of discrimination, prejudice, etc, but who are not members of that group. Specifically, feminist allies are individuals who are not women who support women's rights and promote feminism. 

Let me be real clear here, folks: an ally is not what you/we are, it's what you/we do.   It is not enough to say "I'm an ally" or "I support this marginalized group" without adding behavior that puts that into action. 

Okay, then, what is ally behavior?  

Here is a very basic starting place, again from the Geek Feminism Wiki:
  • Accept and understand your privilege
  • Learn to listen
  • Don't make it about you
  • Adopt a language of respect and equality

The "Allies" entry has further examples of ally behavior, and further resources.  I recommend it.  

Here is the most basic ally behavior I can recommend to you:
  • LISTEN when people who are members of oppressed minorities talk about their experience with oppression. 
  • DON'T defend what happened, don't explain it, don't say it wasn't racist etc, don't insist it's okay for people to behave that way.
  • BELIEVE what people who are members of oppressed minorities tell you about their experience.  Don't talk about how hard it is to believe, don't say you've never witnessed anything like this, etc.
  • DON'T DERAIL.  Don't talk about your own experience, don't tone-police, etc.  
In addition: 
  • CALL other people who are members of the same dominant society groups you're part of on their behavior.  

Here are some excellent resources on what derailing is and isn't:

More soon.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Samhain blessings in music

"Hecate, Cerridwen," Reclaiming and Friends:

Hecate, Cerridwen
Dark Mother, take us in
Hecate, Cerridwen
Let us be reborn

"Breaths," Sweet Honey in the Rock:

Those who have died have never, never left
The dead are not under the earth...
Those who have died have never, never left
The dead have a pact with the living

 "We Are," Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We are our grandmothers' prayers
We are our grandfathers' dreamings
We are the breath of the ancestors
We are the spirit of god

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Queries for Samhain

Friendly Pumpkin, (c) Anders Lagerås, used with permission

Friday is Samhain, the Witches' New Year and the Feast of the Beloved Dead. 

It's the time of year when many of us honor those who have gone before, remember our beloved dead, recognize our not-so-beloved dead and let them go, mourn (and celebrate) endings, welcome new babies, welcome the presence of new people in our lives, and celebrate new beginnings.  

Many Pagans feel that this night, the veil between the worlds, between the living and the dead, the seen and the unseen, is thinnest.  Witches have a saying, "Who is remembered, lives."  In Roses, Too! Tradition, Samhain is a time when we honor our ancestors, physical and spiritual, and cultures which have nurtured us.  

Queries for Samhain:
  • How are you marking your endings, your losses, the deaths that have happened this year, the deaths that have happened in the past that are still with you?  
  • In what ways do you do to honor your ancestors and those who have gone before? 
  • What foods have come to you from them?  What ordinary, everyday things?  What special-occasion things?
  • What gifts from those who have gone before do you pass down or share in the world?  
  • How are you welcoming new babies and new people who have come into the world or your life this last year?  

May your Samhain be blessed. 

May these next weeks between the Feast of the Beloved Dead and the Rebirth of the Sun at Yule be a time of rich darkness for you. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Winter Solstice 2014?

I am looking for people anywhere in the world who would be interested in doing a Winter Solstice Celebration based on A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual, privately with a small group of friends / family. Think, getting together in someone's living room, using the CD or an iPod for the music, and sharing the reading. Five is a good minimum number, though I've done it with fewer -- you can do it by yourself -- and as far as I know there is no maximum number. Support and encouragement available from me.

Let me know if you're interested!

More information is available at

There's also a Facebook group for people who are involved in this project at

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Upcoming posts for Samhain: Talking about suicide

Because I do a lot of work around dying and death, and because Samhain is fast approaching, dying and death have been on my mind. 

But in particular, suicide has been on my mind, and for a number of reasons: the topic for the November gathering of the Quaker Concern Around Dying and Death is sudden death and suicide; I've been having a lot of conversations with other people, especially suicide-loss survivors, about suicide; there are so many places in my life where the topic just comes up, over and over. 

For quite some time now, I've wanted to post some articles, both by me and by guest authors, on the topic of suicide. 

Suicide touches so many of us.  But we're conditioned not to talk about it, whether we feel like we want to die, or we've tried, or someone we know or care about or love wants to die, has tried to kill themselves, or has died by suicide. 

That don't-talk-about-it message makes it harder to reach out for help, harder to grieve and mourn, and harder to heal.

Over the last few years, but especially this last year, I have felt a renewed commitment to talking about suicide, particularly to being open about the fact that I'm a suicide-loss survivor.  A number of people in my life, over the span of many years, have died by suicide.  The most recent suicide death in my life came three years ago.  In response, that part of my extended family has been very committed to talked about it, especially amongst my generation.  To reach out to each other. I've also found myself talking more openly in the rest of my life, not just about that death, but about previous ones.  Robin Williams' death in August also prompted a lot of discussion about suicide.  And I've heard from a lot of other suicide-loss survivors, as well as from other people who have contemplated suicide.

I've had some really amazing, hard, courageous, and wonderful conversations over the last months and year with many people about suicide, being a suicide-loss survivor, and how to talk about all of this.  Thank you to everyone who's been part of those.  You have really helped me, and each other.

In the next week or so, I'll have several guest posts to share from people who have different kinds of experience with suicide.  I hope these pieces will be helpful to you in your spiritual work approaching Samhain, and also in general.

They'll each be clearly labeled, so if you're not ready to read about suicide, you don't have to.  You can also come back and read them later.

To start, I'd like to recommend some easy-to-read, thoughtful, helpful pieces by my friend Hollis Easter.  

Among other things, Hollis "runs a telephone crisis hotline and teaches people how to listen, offer support, help people who think of suicide to choose life, and build lasting strength in communities."  Hollis is one of the friends and colleagues I've had deep, chewy conversations with about this issue, the kinds of conversations which catalyze other work. 

Here are some of Hollis' pieces I've found helpful in stumbling towards talking about this.  I hope they're helpful for you, too:

There are many more fascinating, and useful, articles at Hollis' blog; I recommend exploring.

If you are struggling with suicide, please, talk to someone.  
  • In the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK. 
  • 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.

Look for some more posts within the next week. 

This is gentle, tender work.  Be kind to yourself.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Being in community: talking about dying and death

I am sitting on the patio, doing preparation for the workshop I'm leading this weekend on what happens before we can fill out all the end-of-life forms.  I'm listening to the birds and watching a front come in.  I just checked the pressure map, yep, there it is -- a cold front with a low-pressure system behind it...

The summer before last -- 2013 -- I facilitated a conversation at my Local Meeting about dying and death.  It started out as a report from two trips the Meeting supported me in making to Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, one for a course on Creating Support for End of Life and Bereavement, one for the twice-annual gathering of QDD, the Quaker Concern Around Dying and Death, and about why I'd wanted to go in the first place -- my long-standing ministry around dying and death.  It expanded to a more general conversation about needing and wanting to talk about dying and death, and not being sure how to start.  It became clear people really are hungry for more spaces, safe spaces, to talk about this.

I talked to my elder for this talk and another Local Meeting person involved with QDD, and the three of us got together and planned a day-long follow-up session for March.  That session ended up being about how we make the decisions that need to be made before we can fill out all those end-of-life planning forms -- the Quaker funeral wishes forms, advance decisions / advance directives, etc. -- and how we care for those who are left behind when we die.  It was sweet and tender and good. 

We were asked to bring it to the Area Meeting.  So I'm leading a similar session / workshop Saturday. 

Sitting here working on the prep, I'm struck by how much I love and enjoy this work.  It's not all grim.  It's not all horrible.  It's funny, it's sweet, it's human, it's real.  It's about being in community with each other and caring for each other.

Lots of other places in my ministry are much more intimidating for me than this...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Confederate Flag and (White) Southern Pride

The following is reprinted with permission from the author.  - sm

To those who, like me, were raised to believe that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern Pride...

I grew up in Maryland, the Old Line State. My birthplace was not that far south of the Mason-Dixon line. My father's people, though, were from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Family lore has it that one of my great-great-great grand uncles from Virginia took up the cause against Northern aggression, was captured, and slowly was starved to death at the Point Lookout prison camp for Confederate soldiers in Maryland. I was raised to be proud of that ancestor's reputation for kindness to everyone - even his slaves- and for being a responsible and loving family man. I was reminded that we should not be ashamed of our history and we should learn from it. I learned those lessons in places where almost every garage or work shed had the Confederate Flag hanging. I learned those lessons from kind, caring, loving people, who always gave generously to everyone, even when they didn't have enough.

I have retained many of those lessons, about sacrifice and duty and family and history. But there is another lesson from my ancestor that I carry with me every day and use as a "check" in my interactions with people who do not share my experiences. If the myth of my ancestor is true – if he was a kind, loving, generous-to-a-fault person, who fought and died for his State and who was kind to everyone, free or not – then the real lesson that I have to learn is that otherwise kind, caring, and brave people are capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty, particularly when social norms permit that cruelty.

I am not guilty about my family’s past history. That history, however, serves as a powerful reminder. Just like my ancestor was able to convince himself that owning humans could somehow fit into a moral scheme that supposedly valued generosity and kindness, I am sure that there are things that I convince myself are totally valid and proper that actually are cruel and devaluing. That's the complicated white Southern history that I think about when I see the flag. The Confederate flag reminds me to listen critically, especially when the words that I hear make me feel uncomfortable and defensive.

To those who, like me, were raised to view the Confederate Flag as a symbol of Southern pride.... We all know, each one of us, that the flag isn't really a symbol of Southern pride. It's a symbol of white Southern pride. We edit out the "white" part because it makes us uncomfortable and reveals the flag for what it really is. If we are being honest with ourselves, though, we know the "white" is still there. I know many people who fly the flag and speak of Southern pride, but behind closed doors speak fondly of the days of segregation. I still see in my mind the Confederate flags that the KKK flew in front of my best friend's store in Southern Maryland when the Klan wanted her father, a prominent Indian immigrant, to move. I still remember the Confederate flag flying in the garage of a neighbor who addressed her housekeeper, whom she loved dearly, not as “Miss___” but as “Black ___.” I remember the sound of the Confederate flag flapping when I was 6 or 7 and drinking a Coca-Cola in a small general store off a dirt road in West-By-God Virginia that had a "No Coloreds" sign in the window (1983 or 84). Here's a little bit of truth... No matter how much we want the flag to be our symbol of survival and rebellion and states' rights, we know deep down that the flag is just as much about white pride. That kind of pride comes at someone else's expense.

We know, if we’re being honest, that the flag is a weapon. It terrorizes. I am sure that my neighbor’s housekeeper, who was from the South, did not view her southern heritage as wrapped up in those stars and bars. Even though I may really want the flag to be a symbol of my love of the South, I know deep down that it is a threat to a whole class of fellow Southerners.

But I don't mean it that way. I'm a kind, caring, generous person, just showing my pride, I'd do anything for anyone, black white or otherwise. Don’t be so sensitive. And there it is. The lesson my ancestor taught me. While being kind, caring, and generous, I am capable of hanging a threat in my dorm hallway and scaring the hell out of someone for whom the flag is a notice that terrible things are coming.

What happened at Bryn Mawr College happens every day around the country. It happens in backyards and on porches and at the end of piers and over beer coolers in garages. It happens in the North as much as in the South. I purposely am not getting into the procedural mechanics of any student or College or governmental entity’s specific response to the flying of that flag. I purposely am not directing this letter to those who have been terrorized by that flag. Instead, I am speaking to those of you who, like me, were raised in the shadow of that flag, who will argue that I am trying to ignore my history or am ashamed of my past. Know this. It is precisely because I have a deep pride and respect for where I come from, and it is in honor of my history and my ancestors, that I will remember that it is the impact of my actions that count. My intent is meaningless. That is why I do not need to fly the flag. Its lessons already are etched on my heart.

The author is a BMC graduate from MD. She remains thankful for her Bryn Mawr education, which taught her about critical thinking and cussed individualism.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Labyrinth pictures!

I realized I hadn't posted pictures of any of the labyrinths I'd built!


2013 Gathering labyrinth

Click here for more pictures from the first labyrinth, at FGC Gathering 2013 in Colorado.

2104 Gathering labyrinth

Click here for more pictures from the labyrinth this last summer at FGC Gathering 2014 in Pennsylvania.

2014 Fall Equinox labyrinth

Click here for more pictures from the labyrinth we built for the Roses, Too! Tradition Fall Equinox ritual here in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Please see my past posts about labyrinths for the back story of how I came to build these labyrinths, and also for how-to help if you'd like to build a temporary labyrinth yourself:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Friend of the court brief in Smith v Wright

It is my joy and privilege to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) ( has joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filedon October 4  by Kramer Levin in Smith v Wright, the Arkansas marriage equality case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  (More info here:

Yet again I will tell you that, as with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples -- and also who are working to prevent some faiths from being legally privileged over others.

You can read the brief here:

Or here:

More information, and a list of briefs, at:

Congratulations to all the signatories! And deep gratitude to everyone who worked on this brief.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Friend of the Court Brief in DeLeon v Perry

It is my joy and privilege to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) ( has joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed yesterday by Kramer Levin in DeLeon v Perry, the Texas marriage equality case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  (More info here:

As with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples -- and also who are working to prevent some faiths from being legally privileged over other.  

You can read the brief here:

More information, and a list of briefs, at:

Congratulations to all the signatories! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spiritual practice peer support group

Would you like support from other people in bringing a spiritual practice into your life, or in maintaining a practice you already have? 

We have one spot left in the 12-week spiritual practice peer support group that starts this week and runs through early December.

The group is on-line, virtual, text-based -- participants check in once a week, but there's no fixed meeting time.

Cost is $24 / £15 for the 12 weeks.

Please let me know asap if you're interested!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thanking the Goddess for tea

Yesterday, I posted to Facebook:  "TEA. Thank You, Goddess."

Today, while making my tea, it occurred to me to ask myself: Can I thank the Goddess for tea when I don't believe in the Goddess? 

I have said many times that I don't believe in the Goddess; I experience the Goddess.  And I do. 

I live on this planet, so I experience the Goddess -- the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth that are Her breath, energy, blood, and body.  That are literally and metaphorically these things. 

Air, Fire, Water, Earth in my everyday experience:  I breathe air.  I listen for the wind in the trees, down our chimney, against the walls of our house, against the sides of the bus.  I feel the wind against my face, against my body, as I walk; it blows my hair in my face these days.  I love sunny days; I depend on sunlight even on cloudy days, for the food I eat, for my mental health, for vitamin D, for so much else.  I revel in how our cats luxuriate in the sun shining through our living room windows.  I love how our back patio is a little sun-trap.  My neurons fire, a near-infinite number of tiny points of tremendous energy.  I love the moon.  I drink water.  I drink TEA.  I am, myself, more than half water.  My blood pumps.  Making my tea, I had a clumsy moment which reminded me that I definitely experience gravity, and if that's not an Earth power, what is.  I have a body.  I walk on the ground.  There are trees in our communal back garden, and flowers, shrubs, and other plants in both front and back gardens, and so many of our neighbors' gardens.  I can walk down to the end of the block I live on, look east, and see Arthur's Seat, one of the "mountains" in town.  Another few steps, and I can see Salisbury Crags.  I can go climb them.  I can walk across the green at the end of my block.  I can go sit on our back patio and listen to the birds and the wind in the trees, and feel the sunlight on my face. 

These days, I feel very estranged from that fifth element, that something more, the Spirit which binds all the elements, all life, together. 

But I can experience the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth in the everyday. 

I can thank the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth -- including humans -- responsible for my tea. 

Thank You, Goddess.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reprint: But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism

But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism 

by Leigh Alexander

You may notice that a lot of things happen to do with sexism on the internet. Sometimes someone has done a sexist thing and people are talking about it. Sometimes someone has written an article about the time they experienced sexism and other people are having feelings about it.  Sometimes a particular woman or women is being harassed on Twitter and you are witnessing it.

As you know, sexism is bad, and when bad things happen, you might have feelings about it too. But how can you help? What should be done? Here is a guide:

DON’T: Tweet at women asking them “what should be done”. When someone is venting about systemic injustice, commandeering their attention with the question, “but what solutions would you recommend” is akin to walking up to a person who is on fire and asking them to bring you a bucket of water so that you can “help.”  

DON’T: Make the person who is clearly suffering from the effects of an unfair system do free work for you. If you need more information to understand what you see happening, you have ways of obtaining it: Look at someone’s profile and read their feed or their conversations. Look at links that have been posted. Google. Ask your own friends. You can find a Game of Thrones torrent from anywhere in the world, and you can find out what has happened or is being discussed without making people who are obviously upset or occupied explain it to you. Some people may have high public profiles and busy feeds; some people may even be experiencing stressful interactions, even threats. You are not helping by butting in with “link please” or “did I miss something.”

DON’T: Feel like you have to give a response. Sometimes people simply want to be heard and understood, and you do not need to prove you are a good person by offering a pithy reply or insincerely fist-shaking along. One component of sexism is that men tend to inherently expect that what they say is valuable, and that a statement from a woman cannot possibly stand alone without their contributions. It is totally and entirely possible that you might have nothing to add, and you could benefit from the conversations of those who do.

DON’T: Try to explain things. Understand that even if the person you are addressing is not an authority in her field (though she often may be, as sexism targets prominent women) you ought not automatically assume she needs you to let her know how things go in her field, unless she has asked. Experiment with the idea that her experience is not whatsoever about you and it’s not the time for you to attention-seek or offer an ‘alternative perspective’.

And absolutely don’t try to explain to a woman writer or speaker what sexism is or what is happening to her. She knows.

DON’T: Tone-police. Does she sound enraged, impatient, and bitter? Is she not being especially nice to all the people who have Tweeted at her to explain sexism, ask her how to solve sexism, or otherwise undermine the things she is saying? Too bad. You wouldn’t be nice either if you lived in a system which consistently conspired to remove your authority and devalue your work. No matter what happens, you are not the victim in the situation — do not re-center conversations on yourself and your needs and emotions by pestering angry women to talk more nicely to you.
Did she hurt your feelings? You’ll live. Ditch the passive aggressive “fair enough” and “I was merely trying to” and “as you wish” and all of this, leave her alone, and consider your obligation to be part of the solution to a system that has harmed her and made her angry. If you think women, particularly women who are public figures, should feel an equally-important sense of obligation to make you feel good about yourself while they are under stress, congratulations: You are part of the problem.

DON’T: Make stupid jokes. You might be one of tons of people Tweeting at her, tone is hard to read online, and you shouldn’t be putting anyone, especially someone who does not actually know you, in charge of figuring out your sense of humor when they are under stress. You might just be trying to lighten things up or cheer the situation, but let people be angry, let them have heated discussions if they want and need to. Imagine this: Your dog dies, and a stranger walking past thinks you should cheer up, or take it less seriously, and decides to joke about your dead dog. What would you think of them?

You aren’t the mood police, and joking when someone is upset just sends the message that you don’t want to take her feelings or challenges seriously.

DO: Express your feelings of support. When you see something unjust happen, say that you condemn it. When someone’s the victim of destructive sexist behavior, defend them– not in a brownie points-seeking way, directing your comments at the victim herself or copying women into your Tweets so that they know you’re a good guy — but in your own channels. When you see friends and colleagues passing on destructive opinions, challenge them. By engaging the issue yourself, you take responsibility.

DO: Consider the well-being of others. When a woman or group of women becomes the victim of sexist harassment in public, spotlighting them isn’t always helpful, even if it’s well-intentioned. Tweeting “Everyone currently spewing hateful bullshit @thisperson is a jerk” expresses a noble and true sentiment, but it also does two things:  puts the spotlight on @thisperson and the volume of hate speech circulating around her, and also risks attracting more jerks. Good intentions aren’t quite enough: Think about the impact your statement may have, and make sure you’re not just creating more social media noise for someone. You do not improve someone’s level of stress or overstimulation with a wall of five replies from you about how bad you feel for her.

DO: Boost the individual and her work, not her victimhood. No woman who experiences sexism in her profession wants to be known primarily for “being a woman who experiences sexism.” It is right to defend and support women, and it is right to condemn sexism, but sometimes the best way to do that is by supporting their work. Hundreds of hair-tearing tweets protesting all the terrible sexist things that are happening to so-and-so can actually have the same ultimate effect as sexism: In both cases, the woman is reduced simply to “victim of sexism”.

Instead of Tweeting “it sucks what’s happening to @thisperson, why are people so evil and why is this industry so terrible,” consider something more like “I support @thisperson, author of this impactful paper [link]” or “I respect @thisperson, one of the best speakers on [topic] that I’ve ever seen.” Be sincere and not flowery or excessive — sometimes when people are trying to diminish someone because of their gender, talking about their achievements instead is the best countermeasure. Keep the individual at the center of the story, not the people harassing her nor the fact of her harassment. Don’t say “it’s so brave, what you do.” Say “I like something you created.”

And remember, women are individuals who all do different kinds of work, not a hive mind of “women writers” “women programmers” or “harassment victims” for you to group together.

DO: Take on some of the battles. When you see someone attacking a woman — or even just asking the kind of obtuse “but why is this a problem” questions we’ve already discussed in point one, here — explain and correct. Provide resources. Injustice and inequality of all kinds happen because people don’t recognize or realize the myriad way society has written different, deeply-ingrained rules for some people versus others, and information and empathy are keys to solving that problem. It should not only be women and minorities who are in charge of disseminating this information and heading up this fight.

Offer to moderate your friend’s Twitter feed or her website comments at stressful times (if it’s someone you know personally, who would trust you with her login information). Empower yourself to do better than just watching things happen with angst and concern, feeling bad about yourself and wondering “what can be done”. Take the lead sometimes, especially when you see someone being assailed, and share the load.

DO: Be aware of your own power and how you can use it to help others. It’s tough for women when they speak or write about sexism, or become victims of public harassment, to see strangers on Twitter care about what is happening to them — but their male peers, the organization they work for, their colleagues and coworkers remain silent in public. Don’t just send her a nice note in private about how bad it looks like things are sucking and how you “have her back.” Actually have her back. Stand up in public and say that yours is not a professional infrastructure that allows women to be abused or treated unfairly. Say that so-and-so is a talented, valued asset you’re proud to work with or for.

The silence of our friends is so much more painful than the noise of our enemies, and when our bosses, important figures in our field, or colleagues do not come out to condemn sexism or acts of abuse against us it can be very lonesome — we get the message that sexism is our own problem, an inconvenient issue that no one wants to get their hands dirty with.

when men condemn sexism the response is universally approving — good man, brave man. When women talk about sexism, we get death threats. Men should use this advantage to the fullest: The essays guys often write about how sexism is wrong or how they came to understand their own sexism may set examples for other men, and that’s not unimportant, but it’s basically just patting their own backs if those men are not also signal-boosting and supporting the work of women colleagues, hiring women, and bringing attention to the accomplishments of the women in their field.

DO: Care about feminist issues all the time, not just when someone you like on Twitter seems to be being abused. Share and RT the stories and articles that have educated you so that others can learn from them. Regardless of gender, all of us have been sexist before and will probably be again, as sexism, like racism, is unconscious and related to the values we internalize in our societies growing up. If someone tells you you are being sexist or racist, it is not a slur against your character, but an opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. We should all be interested in continuing to read, learn and share with those around us. 

[Any site or outlet has express permission to reprint this article if a. link back to my site is provided b. the article is not edited or altered in any way]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

Quakers in Britain urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

News Release

08 August 2014

Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza. They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath.  As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The Yearly Meeting heard essential steps towards full and fair negotiations:

  •     Palestine to be recognised as a nation state
  •     An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides
  •     A comprehensive arms embargo
  •     An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza
  •     Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners
  •     The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions.

The Yearly Meeting heard that this week that Quakers were invited to meet Foreign Office ministers on the crisis. Teresa Parker, programme manager for Israel and Palestine for Quakers in Britain, was among representatives from faith and secular agencies who went to share views and experience of the region.

A key motivation for Yearly Meeting is valuing all life. The Yearly Meeting statement says:

“As we among other Nobel Peace Laureates have said, ‘The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised.’  Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take… We long for – and will work for – a time when the fear experienced on all sides is replaced by a sense of security.”

The Yearly Meeting statement in full reads:

A statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Quakers in Britain at their Yearly Meeting in Bath, 8 August 2014

“At this time of sombre anniversaries, as we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the anniversaries of nuclear bombs dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we find our Quaker testimonies to peace and equality again compel us to speak out.

“The hostilities in Gaza are the latest eruption of the deep and long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Root causes of this conflict, including the structural violence of occupation, must be addressed. Such violence damages all the people of the region. The present time, with its faltering ceasefires and talks, is a time of both crisis and opportunity. 

“From our long-standing Quaker experience of working on this issue in Palestine, Israel and Britain, and from listening to the testimony of Quakers in Ramallah, we are convinced that the UK Government has a real role to play.  A starting place would be for the UK to recognise Palestine as a nation state on the same basis as it recognises Israel.  We note that 134 states have already recognised the State of Palestine. The UK Government should also play its part in creating a real opportunity for peace by drawing groups such as Hamas into the political process and thus away from violent resistance to the occupation. We have seen around the world how those once labelled as terrorists can come to be recognised for their statesmanship.   It is our view that freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners would help Palestine to develop as a flourishing economic, political and civil society.

“The international community remains complicit in the conflict for as long as it fails to make full use of the mechanisms provided by international law, to hold all parties to account for their actions.  Under international law, at all times, all parties should distinguish between civilians and combatants, though as Quakers we place equal value on every human life. The Israeli Government's ongoing blockade of Gaza and its apparent collective punishment of the people must end, as must indiscriminate fire by all sides.

“Amid the present crisis, we are reminded that the people of the West Bank, living under Israeli occupation face restrictions on movement; loss of land and water; demolitions; the continuing building of settlements; detention without trial and violence by settlers and the Israeli military. Such suffering often sows seeds of future violence.

“The anniversary of World War I reminds us how easily militarised societies can slide into armed conflict and become blind to the alternatives to war. At such times, the international community has a responsibility to avoid fuelling the conflict. We join others in asking for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and armed Palestinian groups. Quakers in Britain ask the UK Government to take a lead on this by halting arms exports to Israel.

“As we, among other Nobel Peace Laureates, have said, 'The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised’. Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take, but an essential one.

“Quakers in Britain feel called to act alongside others to address the roots of violence. We continue to uphold Quakers in the region and those working nonviolently for peace and human rights within Israel and Palestine. Quakers will continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as we oppose all forms of prejudice. We long for – and will work for – a time when the deep fear experienced on all sides is replaced by security and a just peace.


Chris Skidmore

Clerk of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

Quakers in Britain send human rights monitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, but not Gaza. On behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and other Christian agencies Quakers in Britain runs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Ecumenical accompaniers focus global attention on Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights groups. EAPPI uses the standards of human rights and international law to work for an end to the occupation and for a just peace with security and dignity for all.


Notes to editors

  •     134 nations have already recognised the State of Palestine (source: Palestinian Mission UK).
  •     The Nobel Peace Laureates’ statement is here
  •     The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is a World Council of Churches (WCC) initiative which was established in 2002 in response to a call made by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, and Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. Since August 2002, about 1,000 ecumenical accompaniers from more than 20 countries have served in Israel and Palestinian territories. More than 160 of these EAs were from Britain and Ireland. See
  •     Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends.
  •     Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.
  •     At the Yearly Meeting Gathering, 2,000 Quakers, including 300 young people, have been at the University of Bath campus for a mixture of worship, business, interest groups, and significant lectures, exploring ‘What it means to be a Quaker today’. Junior Yearly Meeting, for 14 to 18 year olds, has run alongside YMG.

Media Information

Anne van Staveren

0207 663 1048

07958 009703

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Friend of the Court Brief in Baskin v Zoeller

[UPDATE: Briefs are available to read here.] 

I am pleased and happy to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) ( has joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed yesterday by Kramer Levin in Baskin v Zoeller, the Indiana marriage equality case before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  (More info here:

As with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Here's a link to the brief:

Yay!  And congratulations to all the signatories!

Blessed be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Who is remembered, lives: Margot Adler

I learned today that Margot Adler has died. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the earth
That formed a witch like me
I once was burned, but now I thrive
Was hanged but now I sing

'Twas grace that drew down the moon
And grace that raised the sea
The magick of the people's will
Will set our Mother free!

Rest in peace, Margot. Who is remembered, lives. May your memory always be a blessing.


Related post: Margot Adler's "Amazing Grace," without shame

Friday, July 25, 2014

Donations for humanitarian relief in Israel and Gaza

According to the NY Times, the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation for Israel and the Occupied Territories is the only humanitarian agency currently on the ground in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.

Here is more information.

If you'd like to support humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, please consider a donation to the ICRC specifically for this relief work.
The ICRC started work in Israel and the occupied territories in 1948, following the first Israeli-Arab conflict. Its presence became permanent in the aftermath of the 1967 war. The ICRC repeatedly reminds Israel of its obligations under IHL towards the population living under occupation, through bilateral and confidential dialogue. The organization focuses on the protection of civilians and the welfare of detainees held in Israeli and Palestinian places of detention, and helps the most needy. The ICRC supports the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom (the Israeli National Society). (

To donate, see

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What do these numbers tell you about Gaza?

What do these numbers tell you?

In the current Gaza emergency:
* 95% of the total fatalities have been Palestinian.
* 5% total fatalities have been Israeli.
* 76% of the Palestinian fatalities have been civilians.
* 25% of the Palestinian fatalities have been children.
* 7% of the Israeli fatalities have been civilians.
* 0% of the Israeli fatalities have been children.

Feel free to check my arithmetic:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel-Palestine: the Gaza emergency, reliable information sources, and peace workers

Here are some sources of reliable information about the on-going situation in Israel-Palestine, and in particular about the current emergency in Gaza.  Here's also some information about people and groups doing active peacemaking.  There are a lot of them.  Spreading the word about their work is one way to remind the world about the truth on the ground, which is very different from what most of us hear from the news reports. 

First: information

A good place to get reliable information about the daily situation in Gaza is the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territories, or UN OCHA OPT.  They publish a situation report every day with highlights, quick facts and figures, and brief analysis. 

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territories

Daily Situation Reports

The groups listed under the next section are also excellent sources of information. 

Second: Peacemakers

There are a LOT of individuals and groups within Israel-Palestine doing peace work, especially non-violent peace work. Here are some, just off the top of my head.  If I spent some time looking things up, I could list more. 

Please see what they have to say about the current situation, but also about their work and the overall longer-term situation.  I can pretty much promise you will learn something you didn't already know. 

The International Solidarity Movement

Christian Peacemaker Teams - Palestine

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

Rabbis for Human Rights

EAPPI / Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

B'Tselem בצלם

Oasis of Peace / Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam

Breaking the Silence

You can click on any of those for more information, both about their work, and also about the current situation.

And there are more. (Feel free to post links in comments.)


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some Experiences with a Culture of Consent and Radical Inclusion

In the midst of the renewed coverage of sexual predators in religious and spiritual communities, I want to talk about what it's like to experience a culture of consent -- how a culture of consent can be about expansion rather than contraction, how it can embody radical love and radical inclusion.  

My starting point is a piece Christine Hoff Kraemer recently wrote at Patheos Pagan's Sermons from the Mound, "Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture."  I highly recommend it.  Go ahead and read it; I'll wait.

One of the things Christine talks about, among her many excellent points, is creating a culture of consent around non-sexual touch, and about how this can affirm the sacredness of touch between people:

Rather than focusing purely on sexual touch, let’s focus on touch in general. If we create a culture of consent around touch, and learn to treat touch as an opportunity for a sacramental moment between two people, we will have clear standards for what constitutes appropriate touch in all cases. Not only will it be easier to identify boundary-violating warning signs from potential predators, but well-meaning people will find it easier to offer and accept touch only when it’s wanted, not out of a sense of social obligation.

It was to this point in particular I responded in a conversation I was part of on social media, with Christine and some other friends of hers and mine.  I found myself sharing a little bit about my experience with consent culture in FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns).  Yvonne Aburrow, Christine's co-blogger and another friend and colleague of mine, asked me if I'd write a blog post about it.

I can share only about my own experience within FLGBTQC.  Other Friends' experience might be quite different, and the conclusions they draw from their experience might be different, as well.  

What is FLGBTQC?

Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns is a North American Quaker faith community that affirms that of God in all people. Gathering twice yearly for worship and play, we draw sustenance from each other and from the Spirit for our work and life in the world. We are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony and life.  

Read more here:

I've been part of FLGBTQC since the early aughts.  It's in many ways a diverse community, in other ways a homogeneous one.  We're not perfect, but we do try to attend to each others' needs, particularly around safety.  So many of us come from, and spend time in, communities and places that aren't safe for us -- spiritually, yes, but also emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. 

For as long as I've participated in FLGBTQC, our Ministry and Counsel committee has given what we refer to as "The Boundaries Talk" at the start of each gathering, and repeated it at different times throughout.

The Boundaries Talk, is, among other things, a reminder to ask before touching people.  A reminder not to make assumptions about people's boundaries when it comes to physical touch, but to find out if something even as seemingly simple as a hug is okay.

It's a reminder that although we're joyful to be together and happy to see each other, different people have different boundaries around physical touch; that while many of us enjoy being touched or hugged (or kissed or cuddled or...), not everyone does, nor is it safe for all of us; that these things can change over time, even with the same people; and that we need to ask before touching other people, rather than assuming even an arm around their shoulders works for them.  That while it may have been wonderful for both of you that you  swept this person up in a bear hug the last time you saw them, it might not be okay this time.  That it's very easy, especially when some of us have known each other a long time, and especially in a community as exuberantly affectionate as ours, to forget that not everyone wants or can tolerate physical affection.  So, check first.

That's basically it: don't assume; check first, no matter how well you think you know it's all right; "No" is a perfectly acceptable answer.

By Lazy_Lightning ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Here are some cute cats cuddling after asking first. 
Photo By Lazy_Lightning ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I remember how for many years, The Boundaries Talk was this... icky necessity.  Many of us groaned.  Many times the member of M&C giving the talk groaned.  But it was helpful. 

But something started to shift over time.

At first I noticed how my perception of The Boundaries Talk and asking about touch changed.  Then I noticed that the feeling overall about The Boundaries Talk and asking about touch and consent seemed to be changing, too.

A number of things contributed to this shift.

One thing was in our conversations about gender-designated bathrooms and safety.  Transgender and genderqueer people spoke openly about what they need in order to have safe bathrooms.  Cisgender people who are members of other minorities spoke openly about what they need in order to have safe bathrooms.  Sexual assault survivors of different genders spoke openly about what they need in order to have safe bathrooms.  Many people in our community spoke about safety, boundaries, and their needs and experiences, not just with bathrooms, but in other circumstances, such as queer-focused Quaker space, and still more.

Because this larger conversation sprang from the initial question of gender-neutral and gender-designated bathrooms, this meant we really looked at some of our assumptions about what good boundaries and safety actually are.  This was a real gift.  I think we learned a lot as a community. 

I listened.  I learned.  I grew.  I changed. 

A second thing was a wider conversation, a wider opening, around accessibility overall: 

Bathrooms had become clear as an issue of the accessibility of our community for transgender and genderqueer people, something people within our community need in order to participate fully in our community.  Friends General Conference Gathering, which FLGBTQC participates in, became fragrance-free so as to be more accessible to people with fragrance and chemical sensitivities, and to a wider range of people with chronic illness.  FLGBTQC Mid-Winter Gathering also went fragrance-free.  We started to talk more about hidden disabilities, the kind you can't tell are there when you look at someone, about how those affect our ability to participate fully in our community and our events, about the things we as a community can do to increase accessibility.

People with chronic illness and chronic pain started speaking up more about how their ability to participate in and to tolerate different kinds of physical touch varies over time -- and how other people can't tell, so it's essential to ask.  Clasping someone's arms, or hugging them, or putting your arm around their shoulder, could cause them intense pain for the rest of the day, or prevent them from from carrying their own tray at dinner or from sleeping that night, or be a wonderful experience.  A kiss on the cheek might be lovely, or it might make someone really dizzy.

It became clear that asking about touch is an accessibility issue for many people with disabilities in our community.

Yet another thing was how people with different neurological issues started speaking up about touch and consent.  Some neuro-atypical people, including some people with autism, can't tolerate hugs; some just don't like them; some like them some of the time; some love them.  Some people with migraine love physical touch some of the time and can't tolerate it other times.  Someone's balance might be fine if you hug them one day, or one part of the day, but a hug might knock them over another time.

Again, it became clear that not automatically hugging or otherwise touching people makes the community more accessible for many of us, makes it more possible for more of us to participate fully in community.

To me, it seemed that consent was expanding our community life, not constricting it as so many of us had often assumed. 

People started living and modeling consent. 

The first time a dear F/friend with whom I've shared many hugs asked me, with an incredible grin, "I'd love to give you a hug; is that all right with you, or shall we do something else?," I was floored.  But it was actually super-helpful: my balance wasn't great that day, so I was able to tell her what I needed, and we were able to have a really lovely hug and I stayed upright on my feet.  It was awesome.  It was also a much better hug than it otherwise would have been. 

While our Gatherings might be fragrance-free, we often have to travel through fragranced spaces to get there.  "I'd love to hug you, but I had to use the fragranced soap at the rest stop, so I'm going to stand here and wave enthusiastically," another F/friend said to me once.  I waved and grinned and blew kisses back.  I felt loved.  They felt loved.  We were delighted to see each other.  I didn't get sick, and I didn't make anyone else sick later, either.  It was a wonderful, dear, tender experience. 

And yet another thing was how people who were simply not comfortable with obligatory social touch started saying things like, "No, thanks, I don't like hugs, but I'd love to blow you a kiss."  I can't tell you how much more warm and fuzzy I feel when someone and I can do this, instead of feeling all socially awkward and like I've just violated a boundary I didn't even know was there, or like I've made someone uncomfortable when all I wanted to do was tell them how glad I am to see them.  It's also been really nice for me not to have to hug someone I'm not comfortable hugging, and clasp their hand warmly and with affection, instead. 

There's been less Obligatory Social Touch, and more room for genuine warmth. 

Through this process, the possibilities for our exuberant affection within our community have expanded

It has become clearer and clearer that things like consent for non-sexual touch, and The Boundaries Talk, are things that help our community be more accessible for all of us, that help more of us participate fully in our community.  That checking in is an accessibility tool.

Somewhere in there, things like The Boundaries Talk and asking before touching -- consent -- stopped being about constriction, and instead became about expansion.

Expansion of accessibility.  

Expansion of our radical inclusion.

An expression of our radical inclusion.

It's a joyful way to be in community with each other.  I highly recommend it to others.


Some further reading:

Protecting Our Children, Protecting Ourselves

Respecting Others' Boundaries

Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture

Silence equals complicity: making Pagan groups safe for everyone

Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse

Whatever happened to the pagan community statement on religious sexual abuse?

Growing Faith in Blessed Community