Category Archives: Top Stories

We, Palestinians, teach life

One of the main reasons I was encouraged to participate in the SUSI Program was to carry the true story about how much Palestinians suffer from the Israeli occupation. Most of what Americans watch on the news about the Palestinian – Israeli conflict is not true. Some of the American media is biased.

Read story here.


Midsummer, a time to recapture youthfulness

By Rev. Amanda Morris

Though this year’s calendar says June 20th is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year might more appropriately be known as the middle of the summer season. The sun is at its height and the days have been increasing in length, only to climax at the longest day and shortest night during the Summer Solstice. Twilight and dawn stretch out longer than any other time of the year, but after this week, the nighttime and darkness will slowly creep back upon the day.

Celebrated from June 19-June 24, the exact date of this holiday changes depending on the position of the earth to the sun. Midsummer, also known as Litha, marks the Summer Solstice and a time of great warmth, fertility and energy. Scandinavian and Northern European countries still celebrate this holiday that can trace its roots back to ancient celebrations of fire and abundance. In some places it is almost as popular as Christmas, which sits exactly opposite of this day on the calendar.

Medieval Christianity celebrated the birth of Saint John the Baptist on this day, and huge Saint John’s fires are still a major part of European celebrations, and often enjoyed by Neo-Pagans and other new age groups around the world. A good way to observe the fire and heat of this holiday is to light your own balefire, or even a bright red candle. Others capture the spark of the longest day of the year with a delicious barbeque, which is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors, nature and heat.

For those who are familiar with Shakespeare, Midsummer is also said to be a wonderful night to enjoy the charms of the fairies. The magic of a summer night is something we all remember from our childhood. When enjoying the cool air, the moon, fireflies and the scent of flowers and fresh grass, remember the pleasure of summer.

As a holiday, Midsummer recaptures the magic and joy of youthfulness. Re-read your favorite fairytales, watch your favorite version of Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, go out and catch glowbugs or butterflies, or find a fountain and make a wish! Fill the longest day of the year with all of the things you love, and those games that make you feel like a kid again.

The summer is a special time of year, even for those who are well past their youth and fully engrossed in their 9-5 schedule. The sun is at its full power this week, so think of the sun to give your projects a little spark. Have lunch outside or take a short walk, no matter how hot it is. Summertime is in full swing, so enjoy the beauty of your neighborhood and community while the flowers and trees are thriving. Buy local produce and engage in town beautification projects. Take some time out for the kids in your life, and make a point to dance with the fairies. This is a good time of year to push your boundaries and step outside of your comfort zone, but also to return to those things that inspired us when we were children.

Rev. Amanda Morris is an ordained minister of the Universal Gnostic
Communion (, as well as an initiated Wiccan
priestess. She busies herself with coffee, reading groups, open
circles, covens and other community activities in the Triangle area of
North Carolina.

Vatican censors nun’s book on sexual ethics, and some see a bid to muzzle women’s voices

Alessandro Speciale | Religion News Service

A long-running conflict between the Vatican and American nuns exploded again with the condemnation of a popular book on sexual ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, citing problematic passages on homosexuality, divorce and masturbation. RNS photo courtesy Sister Margaret A. Farley

VATICAN CITY — A long-simmering conflict between the Vatican and American nuns erupted again on Monday (June 4) when the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a scathing critique of a popular book on sexual ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, one of the first Catholics to teach at Yale Divinity School.

After two years of study, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a “notification” on Farley’s “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” saying it contradicts Catholic doctrine on key issues such as gay marriage, homosexuality and divorce.

Coming just days after U.S. nuns rejected the Vatican’s reasoning for a wholesale makeover, and a year after U.S. bishops sanctioned another nun theologian, the condemnation of Farley is the latest example of what critics see as a top-down attempt to muzzle women’s voices and an obsession on sexual ethics.

The condemnation comes just three days after Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who has been appointed by the Vatican to oversee the reform of the largest umbrella organization of Catholic sisters in the U.S., extended what appeared to be an olive branch to the nuns.

Sartain said that he wanted to work to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious “in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the Church’s faith,” and said the Vatican and American bishops were “deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution” of nuns in education and health care.

But his conciliatory tone was quickly overshadowed by the new condemnation issued by Rome on yet another American nun.

The “notification” says Farley’s book “ignores” or “contradicts” Catholic teaching, presenting it as “one opinion among others,” and warned that it should not be “used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.” The “notification” was approved by Pope Benedict XVI on March 16.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office singled out masturbation, homosexuality and marriage as specific areas of concern in “Just Love.”

For example, Farley writes that “masturbation … usually does not raise any moral questions at all,” and that homosexual acts “can be justified” following the same ethics as heterosexual ones. The Vatican statement retorts that “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law.”

Farley also voices doubts over the “indissolubility” of marriage, and argues that laws recognizing gay marriage can play an important part in reversing widespread “hatred … and stigmatization of gays and lesbians,” a position that is “opposed to the teaching of the magisterium,” according to the Vatican.

Published in 2006, “Just Love” has received widespread praise from Christians of all denominations and has been used as a textbook in college courses on sexual ethics. For it, Farley won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Religion from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2008.

Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, taught at Yale from 1971 to 2007.

In a statement, Farley acknowledged that some of her positions are “not in accord with current official Catholic teaching,” but stressed that her book’s intent was to present a modern “framework for sexual ethics” drawing on the input of current experience and different religious traditions.

Farley, who was the first woman professor and one of the first Catholics to teach at Yale Divinity School, says she is convinced that her positions “reflect a deep coherence with the central aims and insights” of Christian theology and tradition, and contends that the Vatican ignored the reasons and context that led to her conclusions.

Other Catholic theologians seem to agree. M. Shawn Copeland, a theology professor at Boston College called the Vatican notification “deeply disappointing and most disturbing,” saying that Farley’s research is “notable” for its “distinguishing of practical and speculative questions from magisterial or official teaching.”

Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, called Farley a “careful and caring” theologian, and said “it is the vocation of Catholic theologians and ethicists to work on the boundaries” of current doctrine.

The notification on Farley’s book comes in the wake of last year’s controversial condemnation of feminist theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and seems to be part of an effort to rein in theologians who stray too far from the path of Catholic orthodoxy.

In March, a Vatican panel stated that while “investigation and questioning” by theologians are “justified and even necessary” the final word on the “authentic interpretation” of the Catholic faith ultimately belongs to bishops.

Want to lead? Listen to me (and her, and him, and…)

By Daryl Geffken/

I broke my own principle yesterday. And as a result, my relationship with one of my sons spiraled into a deep pit of frustration and combat.

Some of you know these days: the cumulative effect of numerous buttons pushed, where punitive consequences are doled out by the minute for the myriad of “bad choices” displayed. By the end of the day, you can get so nitpicky of your child’s behavior that you’re actually looking for them to cross the line.

Unfortunately, I abandoned a practice that generally helps me in moments like these.

“Help me understand” is a trigger phrase that I have grown to appreciate over time. Some people know if I start a question with the words, “Help me understand…,” that I’m genuinely and deeply ticked off. In such moments, I need something that can help me redirect my anger, and hopefully help me approach the situation in a more transformative way. The phrase “help me understand” carries the reminder that I don’t possess all knowledge; that I am a learner and that I hope to be a servant of people.

The idea of the leader as servant is rooted in the far-reaching ideal that people have inherent worth, a dignity not only to be strived for, but beneath this, a dignity irrevocably connected to the reality of being human. Great leaders care for and genuinely empathize with those around them. They see their value and treat them with humility and hope.Margaret Wheatley lauded leaders who are servants first as unique in their ability to respect “what it means to be human.” Servant leaders identify with others: their aim is to have empathy for the lives of people.

 Read full post here.

Weight of words and actions

By Rev. Marj Johnston/SpokaneFAVS

“Actions speak louder than words.”  “Saying is one thing and doing is another.”  “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” It is so easy to get bogged down in words. Sure, there are times we need to use words. There are still more times when we need to do something. Sometimes there is a need for both words and actions; folks are watching and listening.

I serve a congregation that is not particularly wordy about being a welcome place of worship and witness for ALL God’s children, but they are actively living it. For years they’ve been the host site for Alcoholic Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings. Various community groups hold meetings and activities in our building spaces throughout the year. Last November they called me, a pastor who is in a committed same-gender loving relationship. The many folks who make up “they” are busy in the community in numerous ways, all of them modeling God’s love for all in their myriad of ordinary actions and words.

As the pastor, I recognize both the blessing and the privilege of the pulpit with people who want to know not what I think but what God’s words mean for them and for us. Mostly they’re interested in knowing more about what it means to love God and love our neighbors and how we effectively can do more of that here. Their nearly 135-year history is full of actions that document that they “get” what it means to love God and neighbors; now they’re expanding their welcome based on learning and understanding more of their sacred texts.

Over coffee in a local spot, a non-church going community member asked me if I’d seen the recent hate-filled preaching of one Pastor Charles L. Worley in North Carolina. I had to “confess” that I had (up to that point) chosen not to watch and listen to him, but I’d heard enough and read numerous Facebook comments from others. She went on, “That kind of pastor should just shut up.”

 Read full post here.

What is an atheist?

Flickr Photo

With atheism on the rise worldwide, it’s no wonder non-believers are in the spotlight more frequently. More attention has brought with it a new and unanticipated struggle: the struggle to correctly define who atheists are, and what we believe. With so much incorrect information floating around out there, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about America’s fastest-growing religious segment.

There’s just one problem: I can’t.

You might think that, being an atheist, I could easily answer the questions and put this all to rest, but it’s not that simple. Even among those people who call themselves atheists, there isn’t a clear consensus on how the term should be defined. In fact, at a recent meeting of the Spokane Secular Society, members had a lively discussion that resulted in — well, we never did come to a clear decision.

Read full post here.

Pagan community celebrates Beltane

By Rev. Amanda Morris

Soon after the celebration of rebirth and resurrection of Easter, the springtime settles in comfortably. The flowers have bloomed and are thriving, the birds and animals wake up with the dawn to sing their mating songs, and though there may still be a chill to the air, it no longer carries the same bite it did a few weeks ago.

May Day marks the height of spring and takes note of the promise of the growing warmth. Known as Beltane to the Irish, this is a time to finally throw off the dark and cold of winter, and to embrace the bright and shining gifts of summer.

Beltane stands opposite of Samhain (Halloween) on the wheel of the year, and while Samhain marks death, this day celebrates life. Depending on when and where, celebrations for this holiday can take place any time in the month of May, though the first day of May is a common date.

German folk  stories speak of Walpurgis Night, associated with Saint Walpurga. Images of this Saint show her holding a stalk of wheat, similar to old Pagan ideas of a Grain Mother. Her day, April 30, or May Eve, may have originally been seen as a witch’s holiday, and even Goethe writes about the witches who fly around the mountains on this night.

Catholics may also remember the crowing of the May Queen, parades in honor of Mother Mary, and maybe even dancing around the May pole. These celebrations are transplants from much older Pagan fertility rites. The May Pole can be seen as a phallic symbol, and the various May Day festivities are a celebration of the marriage of the God and Goddess. This is worship of the literal life-force.

To our ancestors, this was a time to bless the fields and livestock to ensure a good harvest later on in the year. They would light giant fires and herd their livestock between them, the fire being the spark of passion, fertility, growth and light. The fire was also seen to be transformative and purifying, a symbol of hope and good fortune for the lighter half of the year. It was a good time to choose a lover and to focus on growth and fertility for oneself and the community.

For modern folk, it’s a good time of year to put focus and energy into our own harvest — the projects at work that might need a little extra something, giving love to our families, or returning to our hobbies and passions that have set dormant over the cold of the winter. Make a wish and light a candle or even sit around a campfire and celebrate those things and people you love. Eat some spicy food and fancy chocolate and get your blood going. This is a season of fertility, after all!

Rev. Amanda Morris is an ordained minister of the Universal Gnostic
Communion (, as well as an initiated Wiccan
priestess. She busies herself with coffee, reading groups, open
circles, covens and other community activities in the Triangle area of
North Carolina.