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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wandering Puppies and Thirsty Wood

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
   by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
   until it is ready! 


I am spending the week in West Virginia with a group of young adults. We are painting and constructing and demolishing, lending a hand to local home improvement projects

This morning, when we arrived at the house to work, a puppy came wandering over to see what we were doing. He came right up, tail wagging, tongue out, ready to play and sniff and get his ears scratched. Someone asked if he was a wild dog.

It's a reasonable question for city folk who don't know dogs--the dogs here just wander about, sometimes in groups. If you're not local, it's hard to tell whose dog is whose. But one thing for sure, this was not a wild dog. This might be a wandering puppy, but he was clearly loved and groomed and well fed. And all that love someone had poured into him, he poured right back into us.

I'm not really a dog person, I think that's well known. But this little guy had beautiful eyes. He was irresistible, really.

The neighbors weren't as enamored of the puppy as we were. He makes a habit of getting into the trash cans and spreading garbage around. But even though they shooed him away, you could tell this dog doesn't really fear anybody or anything. He's been loved his whole little life.

So much love and affection in this wandering puppy--so much he had extra to spare, tumbling though the grass, sniffing at the paint, begging for sandwich scraps, staring into our souls with his beautiful clear eyes. No matter how many times someone told him to go home, he kept coming back for more.

Somebody had spoiled this puppy with love. Ruint him, as they say.

I think I'd like to be ruint by love...I always remember the woman's admonishment in Song of Songs: "Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!" But, oh! How tempting to play with love! It always seems unwise--

don't spoil that child! 
don't play your cards too soon! 
who will buy the cow if the milk is free? 
she's not that into you! 
you're just in love with love!
it will never work out!
he will shatter your heart into a thousand million pieces!

ain't nobody else out here thirsty?
I seen your twitter...

And so there I was, flirting with that puppy, painting a deck railing on a nice man's house. And while we were doing that, he and his wife were caring for their grandson. They weren't young folks, nope, this was a late in life gift of love, to care for this young man who couldn't do for himself. Love, love, spoiling, ruining love.

The wood we were painting was as thirsty as I am, soaking up every bit of the three gallons and wanting more. There wasn't enough for a second coat, and you can see where it runs dry, where the wood drank in the paint so deep it looks like it never was painted.

I'm like that, I think. parched.

Some years ago I watched a man with his grandson. Sweet and tender, careful, mischievous, they were delighted with one another, moving together with deep intimacy. That child had been loved his whole little life.

I was overwhelmed with longing, thirsty to be that child, to be loved so much.

Thirsty in a Song of Songs sort of way--adjure, admonish, discipline, reprimand all you want. Love has it's own way, it's own habits. Love pours out of those who are loved with abandon. And there are those of us who are like thirsty wood, who long to drink deeply...

Your lips distil nectar, my bride;   honey and milk are under your tongue;   the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon. A garden locked is my sister, my bride,   a garden locked, a fountain sealed. Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates   with all choicest fruits,   henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,   with all trees of frankincense,myrrh and aloes,   with all chief spices— a garden fountain, a well of living water,   and flowing streams from Lebanon. 

It is the faintest of protestations: Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready! But how can we not? How does one walk away from a wandering puppy? How do you be thirsty wood and not drink?

pomegranates and fruits and nard and saffron and calamus and cinnamon
a well of living water!

Eat, friends, drink
   and be drunk with love.

but be careful what you stir up
you might have bit off more than you can chew


~Song of Songs 2:7, 4:10-15, 5:1

Monday, February 9, 2015

No More Snow

What do you say when
there's
really nothing
to be said?
If you can't say anything
nice
don't
say anything at all
mama said.
well.
how long do you let that go on?

Boston be pushing snow out
into
bodies
of
water.
what bodies can i
push
this rage into?

the news said they could only push the snow
into bodies
of water
that have enough flow to prevent 
ice dams
from forming.
who among you has enough flow
to absorb me
and live?

I said to a friend
my life is crazy, right?
I should find someone to share it with.
That'd be good, right?
she startled
I'd like to meet that person, she said.
Me too.
like maybe they'd walk on water, she said.

even the cats are stepping lightly these days

Sunday, January 4, 2015

To Walk by Brooks of Water


Pacific Crest Trail by Junaid Dawud
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church

This morning for the children's sermon, I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carles. And I told the children about how when the caterpillar goes inside the cocoon, its body liquifies and becomes a puddle of goo inside the cocoon. I said that this HAS to happen in order for the butterfly to form out of the liquid goo. And one of the children said, "Oh! THAT is why when they first come out of the cocoon that their wings are wet!" And yes, the butterfly hangs from the cocoon for an hour, gently swaying in the breeze to dry their wings.

And isn't that the great story of our faith? That out of a puddle of goo we will be redeemed.
Selah.


Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 37:7-14

I will let them walk by brooks of water,
In a straight path in which they shall not stumble

I’ve been sitting with this image for a couple of weeks now, and I like it. It has a delicate, sweet feel to it, doesn’t it? After a time of warfare and defeat, exile and abandonment, the Lord has decided to regather her people, the people of Jacob, of Israel. After a time of great social upheaval, poverty, and fear, the Lord will provide redemption for the world: there shall be grain and oil and wine, flocks and land to replace what was taken. After the long season of hardship, life will be like a watered garden, and there will be dancing and festivities. Sorrow will turn to joy, and those who mourn will be comforted. The people will be satisfied, says the Lord.

We will walk by brooks of water, in a straight path, and we will not stumble.

Those of us who have known great difficulty and sorrow will, in the end, know joy and satisfaction. In the end times, all will come right with the world. We will be reconciled to God, and that lost vision of peace and wholeness intended at the beginning of creation will be restored to us and to God. My friends, we will roam the garden again. That is the promise of God.

A few weeks ago I went to see a movie called Wild. It is the story of a woman named Cheryl Strayed who decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada, through some of the most rugged terrain on the west coast, running the entire length of California, Oregon and Washington states. It is 2663 miles long and ranges in elevation from sea level to a peak of 13,153 feet. From desert to redwood forest to high sierra mountains, it runs through 25 national forests and 7 national parks.

The movie itself was a flop—in fact as I sat there 4 people left the theater in the first 20 minutes of the movie. What stuck with me was not the acting or the story or even the scenery, but rather this: walking beside brooks of water is not always easy or peaceful, the path is rarely straight, and we stumble dreadfully often along the way.

Midway through the trail, Cheryl realizes her hiking boots are too small. As she rests on a rock, her feet are in terrible pain. Removing her shoes, she finds that her big toenail has come loose and is bleeding. She peels off the toenail, and as she rocks in pain her elbow knocks over one of her boots, sending it flying hundreds of feet down the rocky trail. In frustration, Cheryl screams with rage and throws the other boot down the trail too. She sits barefoot for a few minutes and then finally duct tapes her shower shoes to her feet and continues on down the trail. She limps into camp 150 miles later, still wearing the duct taped shoes. She’s hot, smelly, dirty, bruised and bleeding.

For those of us seeking to walk by brooks of water, the journey is often a lot more like ripping off toenails and duct taping things back together than it is like watered gardens or feasts of bread and wine and oil.

These last several months, since I last preached with you in September, I’ve been working with our youth. We’ve been trying to walk by brooks of water, without stumbling too badly, trying to walk that straight path. Our youth group is a challenging context—students coming from many different backgrounds and many different churches. We’ve got suburban white kids who have grown up in the churches I serve. We’ve got black kids from Trenton—some of whom attend church occasionally with family, but most of whom don’t spend much time in church. We’ve got black and brown youth from working and middle class families. We’ve got poor white kids coming. We’ve got the occasional student who comes from money. We have students whose parents are in jail and students whose parents are police officers. We have students whose parents are drug addicts and students whose parents are social workers and nurses providing treatment and care. We have several preachers’ kids, including my own. On our trip to Montreat last summer we had 8 people in the van and 5 of them were preachers’ kids. That is a whole other challenge, let me tell you.

Not only that, but I work for 3 churches who all have different visions for what youth ministry means. We are pulled in several directions, rarely satisfying anybody. Many of our church folks want to see youth find Jesus. Many of our youth just want to roller skate and eat pretzels.

It’s been a challenging time to minister with youth. Racial tensions are at explosive levels, with the high murder rate in Trenton, police shootings around the country, protests nationally and close to home—initially sparked by the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, but continuing now for Eric Garner, John Crawford, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Jerame Reid. We are praying for everybody involved—we want better for both our communities and our police officers—we want wholeness. Many of our youth are growing up in poverty and financial insecurity—and that is not just limited to our city youth or our youth of color. Most of the families I am working with are one paycheck or less away from financial difficulties. These days people ask me how much it costs for their kid to go roller skating with us, and I always say $10, but pay what you can.

Last month we went ice skating in Brooklyn, meeting up with the youth group at First Spanish Presbyterian Church. As we walked to McCarren park, a mile away from us, police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Romero were ambushed and killed while sitting in their car.

Our context is less like a watered garden and more like wilderness survival in harsh conditions. What hope do we have to offer in the midst of this?

We’re trying to hold together this youth ministry with duct tape. The path is crooked as all get out, and we’re stumbling around. But by God, we walk by brooks of water.

This thing we are doing with the collaborative youth ministry, well, I often think it is doomed to failure. People ask me sometimes what we are doing to make this ministry sustainable long term, and I have to laugh. Because I am often not sure how I am going to pull off next week’s pizza and movie night, much less have any idea how to plan for volunteer development and curriculum planning three years out. Our volunteers are living fractured, splintered lives themselves, holding together their families and careers with duct tape too.

We have a diverse group of students who don’t always mix together easily. We have a youth group where people are welcome to be out of the closet—to be openly gay. And yet not all of our parents and students are comfortable with that stance. We have white and brown and black youth who love each other one minute and who tear each other apart the next. We have students who have spent their lives in the church, and others who could barely tell you a single story from the Bible.

I think the place where we are working at our best is the L.O.G. retreat program. We come together as a community weekly on Wednesday nights for 20 weeks of the year. We take over this church building twice a year for weekend retreats. We gather for special events and activities throughout the year. The students and volunteers work hard to create a place of trust and love and care—we try as best we can to envision what God’s watered garden might look like and to make that happen. We manage it, I think, for short periods of time. For 48 hours twice a year, here at Lawrence Road, we walk by brooks of water and we sing and rejoice and pray and find joy.

But even in that celebration, even in our focused and sustained unity toward peace and love and wholeness, we stumble. We get weary. We argue with each other. We forget how much we love each other. We wander down crooked paths, desperately seeking God’s living water. We lose toenails and have to duct tape our shoes to our feet. This promised land, these beautiful end times, when the Lord will bring us home and we will be satisfied with what God gives us, well it all seems a long way off most days.

I find myself weary on this journey. And there is so much work to do to clear the straight paths. I imagine many of you are weary too.

We pause this morning in this journey to eat together. In a little while we will take communion with one another. And as we eat the bread and drink the juice, we will stand still beside the living water of our Lord Jesus Christ, called into his presence just as he called the disciples to supper all those years ago.

Last spring we held a retreat at Camp Johnsonburg in north Jersey. We had some New York kids with us and some New Jersey kids too. We spent the weekend talking about identity and learning each others’ stories. And on Saturday night, we shared communion with one another there. Our preacher/teacher for the weekend was Cláudio Carvalhaes, and Cláudio told our youth to remember this time together. So that sometime later in life, when they were tired and worn and scared (as we all are from time to time), they could go to a church—any church—that serves communion. And then they could take that bread and that cup, and in the eating and drinking with those people then, they could recall THIS night, with THIS loving community, and they would REMEMBER that they are loved and cared for and that there is hope.

That is what we do this morning as we take the bread and the juice. As we gather around this table with one another. Bring to this table those who have loved and nurtured you in this life, along this journey. Bring to this table other times of love and joy and care. Bring to this table your sorrows and griefs, and your duct taped shoes. For you are known here. The one who walked a path of death and grief has gone before you, and before he left he poured out the wine and broke the bread and left it here just for you.

And then, sometime in a few years, when you are tired and worn and scared (as we all are from time to time), you can go to a church—any church—that serves communion. And then you can take that bread and that cup, and in the eating and drinking with those people then, you will recall THIS morning, with THIS loving community, and you will REMEMBER that you are loved and cared for and that there is hope.

A month ago I had breakfast with some of our youth. They weren’t Presbyterians by birth or by culture. They haven’t got the hang of our rituals and habits yet. And we haven’t got the hang of who they are yet either. We are learning each other.

We had bagels and juice, and as we spread the cream cheese and spilled the juice, I told them the story of Jesus’ last supper. I told them how Jesus had twelve best friends that he spent most of his time with. And these students, they know what that is like. I told them that he washed their feet before supper, and they thought that was really weird. I told them that two of Jesus’ friends stabbed him in the back—one of them sold him out to the authorities and the other pretended not to know him. “That’s messed UP!” they yelled with their mouths full of bagel. And then I told them that even though nothing was perfect, even though his friends had let him down, even though he was going to die, Jesus still ate with them and loved them and cared for them. “That’s weird, man,” they said.

And you know, they’re right. It’s really weird.

And still, we walk by brooks of water.


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?
no
is it fair you are picking up the pieces
of someone else's hammer strike?
no
does it matter?
no

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

ambivalence



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