One Woman’s Journey Out of Faith, Family, and Fear

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Samya enjoys peaceful places, she likes music and attends meetings with other atheists once a week. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

On a summer night in a Western town of flat fields and hazy sunsets, a young woman stood outside a Greyhound bus with a ticket in her hand and a backpack over her shoulder. Boarding the bus, she said later, would be the hardest thing she had done in her 18 years.

Harder than saying a last goodbye to her mother, father, and five siblings that morning. Harder than the two years since as she tried to make a new life, alone, in a strange city.

Now 20, she asked to go by the name Samya. If her true identity were known, Samya believes, her family would seek her out and possibly kill her. They would certainly try to persuade her — if not force her — to come home.

Her parents, she said, think she is guilty of two serious crimes: She rejected a marriage arranged by her father, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East when Samya was an infant. And perhaps more serious to her parents: She has become an atheist.

Oscars and the Big Picture

We shouldn't really expect the Oscars to grasp the point of history, though this year the films nominated for Best Picture are a fascinating snapshot of what ails—and could heal—us.

Gareth Higgins is a writer and broadcaster from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has worked as an academic and activist. He is the author of Cinematic States: America in 50 Movies and How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films. He blogs at and co-presents “The Film Talk” podcast with Jett Loe at He is also a Sojourners contributing editor. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Anniversary of My Father’s Death

Photo: Clock gears, © Vitaly Korovin/

Photo: Clock gears, © Vitaly Korovin/

“After the first exile, there is no other.”
—Rosellen Brown, The Autobiography of My Mother, 1976

The great wheel of the year has turned once more, and I find myself back at the beginning again. Not at the start of a brand new year, but rather, at the anniversary of my father’s death.

I was eight years old when he died, on January 8, 1977, after six long months of decline from lung cancer. In the family’s last-minute midnight scramble to the King’s Daughters Hospital to offer a final farewell, I was adjudged too young and too asleep to wake up for the ride.

I found out that he had died when I crawled from bed at dawn the next morning, yawning and jonesing for cartoons, only to find a bath robed neighbor stoking the fireplace, and my father disappeared into ether.

That singular fact has been the still point of my turning world in the decades since.

‘Are You My Mother?’ Sometimes, There’s No Easy Answer

Photo: © vlavetal /

Photo: © vlavetal /

In a classic 1960 children's book, a baby bird toddles up to one critter after another asking, "Are you my mother?"

For some babies today, there's no simple answer — biologically or legally.

Advances in artificial reproductive technologies mean a baby could have three "mothers" — the genetic mother, the birth mother and the intended parent, who may be a woman or a man.

Statutes on surrogacy, adoption, divorce and inheritance vary state by state, court by court, decision by decision. For nontraditional couples, the patchwork of laws makes it even more complex. New York allows gay marriage but forbids surrogacy, for example, while Utah permits surrogacy but bans gay marriage.

Seeking Clarity

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe /

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe /

NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.

They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.

When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.

Christians and Marriage After the Election

By Ken Kressin / Flickr

Minnesota marriage amendment signs at St Pius V, Cannon Falls, Minn. By Ken Kressin / Flickr

Minnesota, famously, has just rejected a proposed constitutional amendment which would have barred same-sex marriage. The battle raged for a year, with Christians on both sides. The Catholic diocese was a primary proponent of the amendment, but many Catholics posted “Another Catholic Voting No” signs on their lawn.  Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists were also found on both sides of the battle, in leadership roles and at phone banks. Rarely did the discussion of the amendment stray too far from a discussion of faith issues, because it was faith that drove so many to either reject same-sex marriage or move to embrace it as a part of our larger community.

There were bruises and scars, of course, within congregations, families, and neighbors. To some, on both sides, it was a deeply personal fight.

Now, though, it is done. The amendment failed. Though my side won, the divisions created trouble me. As an Episcopalian working within a Catholic law school, I saw the pain of those on both sides.