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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Take a Chance on a Kid

A while back, before I went to seminary, I worked for the YMCA for a bunch of years. I ran summer camps, and we hired 30 or so staff over the summer. About half of those staff would stay on through the next school year, working with our after school programs. One or two would direct the next year's camps, move up through the organization, and then, eventually, they would leave us.

They left us for better jobs, for which I always served as a reference, cheerfully.
They left us for school, which made my heart dance.
They left us for families of their own, of which, for a little bit, we were part.

One time I hired a kid, barely 18. He had about zero experience, but we needed another camp counselor, his sister recommended him, and he was eager. So I took a chance and assigned him to work with two other staff.

I don't think I was his favorite boss. Those were some challenging years in those programs.

But he came back in the fall.
And then he was back the next summer.
He finished community college.
Then he transferred to a 4 year.
Then he did his PhD.
And now he's a professor somewhere.

I used to tease him that when he became a big shot whatever, he would forget his people and the little people along the way. But no, not at all. His work is brilliant and insightful, and he's teaching hundreds of students every year to not forget his people either.

I miss that job, sometimes. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Child Sexual Assault

Today my Facebook and Twitter timelines have been flooded with the story of Josh Duggar and his alleged sexual assault of several children. This story is tragic and common.

I was sexually assaulted by a relative as a child. There are parallels from my life to this story, minus the celebrity complication.

We have not figured out as a society how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part this is because pedophilia does not seem to respond well to available treatments. And so what does one do with those who perpetrate.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because many perpetrators were victims themselves. And most often they did not receive justice or counseling either. This creates an ambivalence that many of us will not admit, but that nevertheless permeates the conversation.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because somewhere deep inside (or sometimes right out there on the surface) we believe as a society that victims of child sexual assault are to blame or are implicated in their own abuse. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because it is extremely inconvenient to deal with it. Families get broken apart and destabilized. Parents lose custody and someone else has to care for children. People go to jail and lose jobs. It's very expensive.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we are squeamish. The conversation, despite the nearly sexual titillation of celebrity headlines, makes us uncomfortable, triggers our own trauma, makes us feel guilty/ashamed, reminds us that our own houses are made of glass. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because it is not a simple problem. Most often children love the relative who abuses them. Most often we love the cousin who perpetrated. Most often we are dependent in some way on the perpetrator who is our spouse/parent/uncle/aunt/grandparent/coach/teacher/pastor.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because there is absolutely no place a potential perpetrator could turn to get help without getting buried in shame or not being taken seriously. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we know the justice system is not in the slightest bit just. People of color are wrongly convicted and more harshly sentenced than white folks. White folks walk away from unspeakable crimes. 

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we do not wish to talk about this subject openly. Our family secrets are generational and painful. We are scared to let in the devil in the night--better not to speak his or her name.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault. At least in some part because we have fetishized youth and youthful bodies, slimness, hairlessness, demure/naive/sweetness, compliance. We work hard to mentally block the connection between that societal fetish and a desire for pre-pubescent bodies, and a national conversation about child sexual assault would require us to face that head on.

We have not figured out how to deal with child sexual assault because we don't want to. And our children are suffering for it. More children than we will ever know. More suffering than we will ever know. But we will feel the effects of child sexual assault nonetheless.

And until we figure out how to deal with child sexual assault, it will not stop.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Mothering: Cursing and Blessing

Sunday, May 10, 2015
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:

I recorded the sermon on my laptop. It's not the greatest recording, but for those of you who prefer to listen than here

This morning I welcome all of you who have been mothers, are mothers, long to be mothers, have had a mother, are missing a mother. For those of us fortunate enough to be gathered in the loving company of our mothers or children today, I give thanks and praise! For those of us who are separated from their mothers or children through distance, estrangement, or death, my heart aches with you. My own mother is 3,000 miles from here. My children are not with me today.

Perhaps you are not a “mother” in the sense of the word normally permitted to us. Perhaps you are a man. Perhaps you have not birthed or adopted or raised or parented a human child. I welcome you here still. For what makes a mother goes far beyond our reproductive capacity. To mother is to birth life into existence, to sustain life, and to mourn life as it ends. Perhaps you have mothered a ministry,

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tongue Tied

Frank Thone
Smithsonian Institute
I spent an hour or so today at the Ripley's Museum in Atlantic City. It isn't my usual thing, but it was a miserably cold and windy and rainy day at the shore, so we needed something indoors to entertain us. Someone had vomited in the pool, so off we went to the museum.

It's a strange place, and the combination of the macabre, the absurd, the racist, the bizarre, the sad brought out all sorts of emotions as I made my way through the exhibits. The entrance took me into a winding hallway that opened into exhibit rooms. It was a one-way street, and once through the exit, you can't go back.

Early on in the exhibits, there was a large mirror with an exhibit of the winners of an annual "funny face" contest on display. An instructional video plays nearby explaining what percentage of the population can curl their tongue, twist their tongue, fold their tongue. Like everyone else, I was drawn to the mirror to try my own tongue and see what it can do. I imagined we made a funny sight, tourists crowding around the mirror, contorting our faces.

So a few rooms later, I laughed at myself when I saw another display with a video playing from the last few hours...displaying each of us tourists as we stood in front of the mirror, grimacing and contorting and playing. It was easy to scroll back and find myself, completely unaware that I was being videotaped. 

And then, a few rooms later, we came to the other side of the mirror, and we could see that it was really a window. Now we were crowded around the mirror/window watching the unsuspecting tourists on the other side playing with their faces. No sound could go through, no way to warn them they were being watched, there was just the voyeuristic pleasure of watching other people's antics. I could only look for a minute--it felt like a crossing a boundaries, the breaking of a social pact.

I suppose the entire experience at the museum felt like the crossing of boundaries, so the mirror/window was well placed.

Sometimes lately I have felt like I was on the other side of a mirror/window, watching people contort and frolic, no way to let them know that the mirror is transparent, that they're being recorded, that there are other people watching from this side. Sometimes I don't know how to tell what I know ten steps ahead down the road. I guess eventually folks will pass this side of the mirror/window too, and then they can see more truly. Or maybe they'll just stay by the mirror trying to twist their tongues.

But I'm on a day off in a fancy hotel room that was a gift. And there is a beautiful bath tub calling my name. Just hoping the mirrors here aren't really windows too...

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Tonight's worship was a Service of Shadows, in which we read the story of Jesus' death. After each scripture was read, another candle was extinguished, until even the Christ candle (lit on Christmas Day) was gone.

Last year I was a wreck during this service:
By the time we got to the Service of Shadows on Thursday night, I was exhausted by all of the emotions drawn from me by this season. As we told the story of Jesus' death, and the candles were extinguished one by one, I let everything come together. The last candle went out and all I could do was weep and whisper, "Too much loss. Please don't die." For Mary's son, yes. And also for my own circumstances.
In fact, all of last year was a sorrowful mess. I had blogged about grief all the way through Lent, but the grief didn't stop on Easter morning. April, May, June, July...all the way through December. And then 2015 granted no mercy and January was filled with difficult personal news. Then February was filled with difficult job news. March was better, finally, and I hung limp like an unwashed dishtowel. It's not been a pretty picture.

In March, my brother Lukata asked if I would fast with him and a few other people. So for the three weeks before Easter we have been fasting and praying. On Easter morning we will break our fast early in the day, before dawn, and then I will go lead the Easter sunrise service.

I have never been more excited about Easter than I am this year.

In these last few months some things have broken free. Or perhaps it is I who has broken free. My circumstances have not changed, but I have.

Tonight I sit out on my porch for the first time since October. I'm still wearing my peacoat, but I have sandals on and the mosquitos are biting. I am out on my porch! I had hoped to share this porch with someone. And now I have a housemate. Which isn't what I quite expected, but is lovely nonetheless. I've been living alone with my children and cats for almost 8 years since my divorce, and now I have adult company.

My family is a mess. As I suspect most of our families are. In January I sat with a friend and wept for the unrelenting grief of motherhood. And I decided there that I would treat every conversation with my children (and others) as if it was probably my last time with them. I would make sure they know that I love them and I would speak truth. Perhaps this is good advice for all of our relationships, but there is particular urgency for me, and I have come to an extraordinary peace with this.

My work remains complicated and fraught with tension. There are so many people and agendas involved in this collaborative youth ministry that it is hard to know which direction to turn. Perhaps what I have learned best in this last year is that I cannot please everybody, or even most everybody. In this last year, as I have been drawn more deeply into our students' lives, I have narrowed my focus to what is faithful. Which means most days I don't really please anybody.

I've been ill this last year (and no wonder my body is screaming out). Finally, perhaps, I am healing, and I can feel with this fasting a new beginning.

I mourned especially last year black and brown boys and girls and men and women who were murdered. Sometimes by police, sometimes by strangers, sometimes by neighbors, sometimes by family. What is the difference between Taquan and Naquan? A letter, a friend said. One shot the other, they say. Cain and Abel all over. I came in this last year to know that these too are MY children, MY brothers, MY sisters. What a terrible year of grief this has been.

I am stronger. I have harder edges than last year, places in my soul where the hurt cut too deep and the scar tissue is thick. But I have learned to twist and bend around those scars to find new ways of movement.

I did not find sanctuary where I asked for it, but I received hospitality in places I had no right to expect it. Friends came and went, stopping to absorb as much of my grief as they could, and then bowing out to take care of themselves. It is right that they left, but I felt the leaving. Last year I wondered if there was anyone at all who could tolerate my company. But there were pockets of time and company offered as a gift, and I am grateful for what was possible.

I have found new depths, and in the shadows I met God.
What more could one ask?

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
really nothing
to be said?
If you can't say anything
say anything at all
mama said.
how long do you let that go on?

Boston be pushing snow out
what bodies can i
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