Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just a Picture

Elias Ortega (@eoaresearch): “Excuse me…You don’t roll with me! And No! You can’t tell my story: A Letter to Devonte.”

@stereowilliams wrote an essay on this topic yesterday: Sentimental Photos, Ben Carter, and why black people's anger is necessary

@dopegirlfresh and @thejournalista have tweeted extensively in the last day about this picture.

This storify includes most of @dopegirlfresh's tweets:
Complicating the narrative of the black boy hugging a cop

Today I've been watching a stream of posts on twitter and facebook about a 12 year old black boy in Portland, OR giving away free hugs at a #Ferguson protest. A police officer spotted the boy, who was crying, and asked for a hug. A photographer handily snapped the moment, somebody slapped a little context onto the photo and tossed it out to the internet. It's been racing through my timeline.

That photo has been tweeted and posted and retweeted and reposted, mostly by white folks in my timelines, with commentary like, "this gives me hope" and "this is how we roll in Portland".

Several people have taken me to task for being a grinch about this picture and story, and like I said earlier, on the one hand it's just a cute picture of a cute kid hugging a cop. But right now, in these times, in our U.S. context, a picture of a black boy hugging a white cop is not just a picture. I'm troubled by the manipulative use of this image (and this child).

First, as to "this is how we roll in Portland", THIS is ALSO how y'all roll in Portland. As in most other places, there are plenty of officer involved shootings to choose from.

Second, it's not a question as to whether there is hope for better change to come. There is always hope, and there are many many people working hard toward that better future. What gives me hope is not a fantasy snapshot moment, but the thousands of people protesting, refusing to allow the status quo to remain. What gives me hope is the people taking time and energy to focus on resourcing and loving marginalized youth. What gives me hope is when white folks stop saying "not all cops" or "not all white people" or "ALL lives matter", and move into a more critical awareness of our complicity in an oppressive system. 

Change isn't coming because a young black boy hugged a white cop in kevlar. That photo tempts people to think that we have arrived at the change required. That photo distracts us from the reality that just a few days ago in Cleveland police officers shot and killed Tamir Rice, a different 12 year old black boy, while he was playing at the park with a toy gun. They rolled right up, got out of the car, and shot him.

We're not going to hug this out.

The implication of this photo is that if young black boys would just spend their days offering free hugs, we could solve this problem. If you probe further into the story behind the photo, you will find more details on this child's life. Adopted by two moms in Portland (at least one of whom is white), this child was born with drugs in his system and was subject to abuse from his birth family. The narrative hums along with a white savior track. Adopted out of his dreadful (black) circumstances he is thriving and expected to do great things with his life. 

The reconciliation of black and white folks, the collapsing of oppressive authoritarian structures, is a lot of hope to put on this child's shoulders. What differentiates him from Tamir Rice? What happens when he goes to the park to play? Or wanders off to the corner store for skittles? What is going to change in white people's hearts to stop seeing black and brown children/people as threats? This photo says the change has happened. For too many of our black and brown sisters and brothers, this photo lies.

In these times, how does this picture hit our black brothers and sisters? If you are a supporter of the protest efforts across the nation, how does reposting this photo further those efforts? How does it undermine the message protesters are trying to get across by staging die ins at the mall? Does one free hug make up for tear gas and rubber bullets? Does the framing and display of that one free hug distract you, even for a minute, from the seriousness of what is happening?

Let me offer you an analogy: Imagine yourself at a rally protesting rape and intimate violence. Along comes a well-meaning friend who says, "I know we've been protesting rape for days. But LOOK! Here's a picture of a husband sweetly kissing his wife!" It's not that there aren't loving and tender couples out there in the world. It's that there's a whole LOT of intimate violence wrapped up in the middle of it, and your timing stinks.

We need to stop with the shell games.

Lastly, you may very well frame this photo as a boy overwhelmed by tears of joy/relief at the embrace of the officer. And that may be so. But tears come for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which are fear and anger.

When I saw that photo, this is the story that came to mind immediately:

Seven years ago I had to report to a church committee that I was getting divorced. The first thing the committee said to me was, "We want you to know this is not a trial." And then they proceeded to behave as if it was a trial. At stake was whether I would be allowed to continue in my ordination process, even though there was nothing precluding a divorced person from ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It was a long meeting, punctuated by having to wait outside the room, alone. At the end of the meeting they voted to permit me to continue in my process, although the room was clearly divided. My liaison said, "Good luck" and walked away from me for good.

I felt shamed, angry, terrified, and beat up by that committee, in a time when I was already vulnerable. They smiled at me and said they wanted to lay on hands and pray.

I sat paralyzed in that chair while the committee of 10 or so (mostly men) gathered around me, put their hands on my body, and prayed for me. The consequences of expressing my rage or refusing that prayer were too great for my family and myself. I wept openly as they prayed, swallowing my rage, allowing their touch.

The committee interpreted my tears as relief. They thought I was joyful at the outcome of the meeting (never mind the process of the meeting). They thought I was moved to tears by the Holy Spirit moving through their prayers.

If someone had taken a picture of me during that prayer, what would you have seen? How would you have framed that photo?

If you had asked me in that moment, could I have spoken of the turmoil in my mind? Could I have tolerated the repercussions?

When the young black boy in this photo was approached by the officer and asked for a hug, what were his options? Could he have said no? Did he have that power?

Did this child know, when he set up his free hug project, that his name and abuse history would be published on the internet? Was that his choice or his parents'? Was that their choice or the media's? Was that the media's choice or was it ours, in our ever insatiable appetite for what isn't ours to know?

What do his tears mean? What are you projecting into those tears (as certainly I have projected myself, eh?)?

It's just a picture, Katie. Can't you allow us a moment of hope and joy?
Go watch that video. Tamir Rice didn't even get a second.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

striae gravidarum II

Grief settles like stretch marks
flaming and red and angry
in the beginning
and over time
lies flat
silver striping
against flesh stretch beyond imagination
not quite torn

Grief becomes a part of the landscape
a series of stripes
and creases
an invitation
for a lover
to trace
with reverence
and desire

if you're lucky

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Seventy Times Seven

there are those of us who can only be reached through love
no matter that you can force a body into compliance
no matter that a body will do what it must to survive
if what you are after is the soul
if what you are after is health and wholeness
then you must begin with love

some of us are too wild
too feral
too scar(r)ed

is this good?
is it fair you are picking up the pieces
of someone else's hammer strike?
does it matter?

we begin with love because
when God finally got it figured out
that's what She started over with

Saturday, November 1, 2014


went for a night walk
stared at a possibility
regretfully let it pass
with some relief
a night walk is a strange bird

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monthly Mailing: Late Again

British Postal Museum & Archive
Or, Why I Do My Own Admin Work...

I've been working on my "monthly" mailing to youth and their parents, which at this point is overdue 6 weeks. I've been trying to get at it for two months now, but the school year kicked off with roar, and I haven't stopped moving since August 15.

Meeting after meeting after meeting to plan things, to get it all together, the google calendar, the Facebook groups...the ministry blog hasn't been updated since February...I'm moving as fast as I can!

Every meeting with pastors goes something like this: 
"People don't know what's happening."
"It's in the newsletter."
"People don't read the newsletter."
"Right. It's in the bulletin."
"People don't pay attention to bulletin announcements."
"Right. It's on the Facebook."
"Not everyone's on Facebook."
"Yes, I know that. Have you considered getting a Facebook?"
<and here it varies, because some of the pastors have one already>
"Harumph. Phone calls are a good way."
"Pastor, people don't answer their phones or check their voicemails. I could text some things, but not the long stuff."
"People still use phones."
"Right. Yes. Ok."
"A mailing might work."
"Yes! A mailing! I'm working on it. I'll have it out by Friday."
"Why don't you let our church admin do the mailing for you?"

Ahhh the mailing. My favorite communication tool for youth ministry! You think I'm being snarky, but snail mail is the best way to reach youth and their parents.

It's tricky, though, to get a mailing right. And it isn't work I can delegate to the church admin--it would take me just as long to explain how I need it done as it would to just do it.

And it takes a couple of days' work to get it right.
Better to get it out than to get it perfect, right? 
A poorly done youth ministry mailing just makes a muddle of things.
Better to get it right.

First thing is to address the envelopes. I do this by hand, writing out the student's name and address with my favorite pen. Then the parent's envelope--everybody gets their own. Siblings get their own. It's worth the extra stamps, trust me. As I'm writing the students' and parents' names, their faces come to me, bits of their story refresh my memory, I can picture where they live. As I write, I think about how long it's been since I saw them last. Sometimes I pull them off the active list.

I sort the envelopes as I write into different piles: Middlers, Jr. High, High School, Young Adult, Volunteers. Some of the students are at the boundaries of their age groups, and for one reason or another get more than one set of flyers. The boundary breakers have their own pile.

Some of the parents have more than one student in different age groups. The parents of multiples get their own pile--those parents only want one envelope of information.

The pastors get their own pile. They won't read the flyers, but I can say I gave them the info. It's important to be able to say you gave them the info. Everyone feels better that way.

And then time to make the flyers. Several different sets of overlapping information. Age groups in our ministry come together, break apart, come together again. Part of keeping their attention is giving them a glimpse of what's coming in a year or two. But the high school students don't care what the 5th graders are doing, and the 5th graders don't care what the college students are doing. So different flyers with the info people need.

Who still needs permission slips? Right now everybody, we're at the start of the year. By January, there will be the stragglers who haven't filled it out yet--the ones who come to just a few things, and they haven't been by in a while.

A letter to the parents, hopefully short, explaining why they are getting this stuff. So many of our parents don't exactly know which youth group or church their student is involved with. It's hard to keep track, and the students are notoriously bad about giving their parents info.

My phone number, email, and Facebook page plastered all over everything.

And then notes on the flyers--just a quick one, or I'd be here a week. But a little note to say I miss you, or see you soon, or happy birthday, or just I'm really glad you're around. To the parents, call with any questions or concerns. I'm praying for you. Missing you.

Stuffing, closing.

Throw it all in the nearest mail drop.

And through it all, for a couple of days, I remember the hours I spent with my youth pastor, Terry McBride, labeling, stamping, licking envelopes. I remember watching him write a little note on most of them, his all caps handwriting distinctive. I recognized that handwriting from the notes he sent me--those notes kept me coming.

There's a rhythm to this thing. I don't keep this work out of pride, I keep it out of love. Mailings are a prayer, and prayer takes quiet time. And so the mailings are usually later than I want them, because quiet time is hard to find around here.

In this last year, in the anxiety of congregational systems overwhelmed by transition, I got caught up in it all. This year I forgot that I really know what I'm doing. 

We've had people come and go, and everytime someone stops coming for a while (or for good), the congregation feels the anxiety of that loss. But that isn't how youth ministry works. We keep our hands open so that people can slip through like water. They come when they want. They don't when they don't. We try not to grip so hard. They'll be back, probably. If not, they'll get my note.

And in the end, whoever comes to the banquet, that's who we feast with. We leave an empty chair for the prodigals and prop open the door for the bridesmaids who forgot their oil.

It isn't just a mailing, it's a prayer. It's a hug in an envelope. It's an engraved invitation to step back through our doors. It's a fervently held wish. It's a promise fulfilled.

It isn't just a mailing. And it'll be out by Friday.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sheep in the Wilderness

Sunday, October 12, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Covenant Presbyterian Church

Scripture Readings: Exodus 13:17-22 and John 21:15-19

A few weeks ago, Pastor Molly asked me if I would play with the idea that we are, as a church, beginning a journey into the wilderness. Jason will preach next week and will continue that theme, so my job this morning was to get you out of Egypt and onto the journey. I’ve been pondering this thought for the last two weeks, and here’s what I think is true: I don’t have to get us out into the wilderness—we are already there.

I was going to try some funky things with the youth and with you all here in worship this week. But, as often happens in the wilderness, things got a little out of hand with our ministry. I’ve spent hours over the last two weeks—and some of you have too—trying to figure out how to configure our youth

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

the long haul

so this is how it went tonight:

there was a student who said at 8am
i'm OUT
and i figured it'd be a month before she came around again
cuz i know her
and if we can get in the same room we can work it out
but it's getting in the room that's the trick

so i went on with my day rather sad
and it's messed with everything since 9am
cuz i'm in this for the long haul
but sometimes the short term losses suck

so at 8pm a pair of young adults
and i'm too old for texting
they asked to meet for a drink
and i'm too old for that too
on a school night

but if two young adults ask you for a drink
you go