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.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Never Gets Tired

From Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail:
...I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advised the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Indeed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Intersections

 I spent some time tonight reflecting on intersections of identity, which actually is a fairly usual past time for me. Today those thoughts were prompted by a blogpost written by Dr. Yolanda Pierce, one of my professors while I was at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Her post, "When It Happens to Me" is a discussion of the "new" TSA security procedures, in particular pat-downs and body searches. Dr. Pierce juxtaposes the current outrage over increased bodily scrutiny with the indifference most of us show toward the increased surveillance and bodily violation experienced by persons of color: surveillance, questioning, and frisking for "walking while black."

I say "new" TSA security procedures, because they aren't really that new. TSA has been conducting pat-downs and body searches for all kinds of reasons prior to November 1. At the end of October, I was pulled aside for additional screening and patted down. The reason? Because I was wearing a long skirt. The skirt was cut up to my thighs in 6 places and swirled around loosely exposing plenty of leg, but apparently it fit the criteria for "voluminous clothing." As I sat shaking at the airport bar, it occurred to me that this category had probably been invented for women who cover themselves in traditional garb, so that the issue of "voluminous clothing" becomes a racial, ethnic, and religious issue, allowing us once again to conduct more intense surveillance of people of color.

I thought then of the men I worked with at Bellevue, the summer I was a chaplain there. I was assigned to the prison floor--most of the guys were from Rikers Island. A few were from "The Tombs" or "The Boat", two city jails for short term offenders.  The Boat is literally a barge in the harbor and is otherwise knows as the Vernon C. Bain Center. The guys told me The Boat is cold and drafty; most of the inmates are housed in dormitories with little privacy or personal safety. They told me stories--a lot of stories--about where they came from and how they got there. Everyone had a story about how they didn't do whatever they supposedly did and a dream about how they were going to live differently when they got out. I sort of expected that. But what was new to me was this:

     -Almost all of the men were people of color.
     -The men had grown up with a level of police surveillance I didn't even know existed.
     -Many of them were serving or facing long prison sentences for things that white
           people I know did much less time or none at all.
     -Additional charges for loitering, spitting, public urination, resisting arrest, etc.
          were piled on top of the original violation.
      -None of them had access to adequate representation; that requires money.
      -Most of them were afraid, and had lived in fear their entire lives.
      -They knew I couldn't do a thing to help them.


One man explained to me that he had completed vocational training and earned a certificate that he could use in a job search when he got out. I was excited for him until he told me about the certificate. In big bold letters across the top of the certificate it read: Department of Corrections. He said to me, "Chaplain, I know I'll have to tell them about my record at some point, but the first thing a new boss is going to see is Department of Corrections. They're never going to hire me."

I was thinking about intersectionality today because my own experiences living in fear as a girl and as a woman are deeply connected to the stories those men told me of their own lives. My stories are deeply connected to those of women who cover themselves from head to toe--and not because I judge their choice of attire. No. Because each of us has the right to choose our attire, to show or not show our bodies, as we desire for our own selves. 

And I was thinking about intersectionality because it was Dr. Pierce writing. Two years ago when I was a student in her class I had the opportunity to start off one of our discussion sessions. I came prepared with a quote from Marcella Althaus-Reid's Indecent Theology about Santa Librada, a crucified Mary who is the patron saint of thieves and prostitutes. I had some remarks on queer theory and lesbian feminism to add to the mix, and Dr. Pierce not only made space for my remarks, but incorporated them into that day's class. She legitimized both me and my words and granted me dignity.

Later that day I discoverd that a few students had published a satirical newsletter that was racist and sexist. Dr. Pierce was featured in the newsletter, and not in flattering way. The newsletter had been distributed that morning before class. Dr. Pierce had already seen it by the time I arrived at class. Yet without thinking twice she granted me time and authority to speak in her class. It was a gift, and I will not forget the kindness.

Our struggles are connected, and we must pay attention to what is happening to women and men of color. Because if feminist or queer concerns are addressed at the expense of racial concerns--or if we think for a second that feminists and queer folk are not also often persons of color--we have sold ourselves out while betraying brothers and sisters. Ida B. Wells called out Jane Addams in 1901. Audrey Lorde called out Mary Daly in 1979. The Combahee River Collective called out white feminists in 1986. Dr. Pierce is calling us out now. Go read her post and think about it. 

Pierre Bourdieu wrote in his book Masculine Domination: 
I have always been astonished...that the established order, with its relations of domination, its rights and prerogatives, privileges and injustices, ultimately perpetuates itself so easily...and that the most intolerable conditions of existence can so often be perceived as acceptable and even natural.

We have a rare moment when collectively we suddenly see the established order that has been so easily perpetuated. Startled outside of our usual perspective we have the opportunity, each of us, to remain cognizant of injustice around us or to put back the blinders and pretend that we don't see it. Either way, we are inescapably connected to one another. We intersect.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter

From "Ode to Broken Things"
by Pablo Neruda

Life goes on grinding up
glass, wearing out clothes
making fragments
breaking down
forms
and what lasts through time
is like an island on a ship in the sea,
perishable
surrounded by dangerous fragility
by merciless waters and threats. 





For the first time since moving to New Jersey, I am looking forward to winter. I have been always a fan of late summer and late autumn. Blazing hot sun where I can read in the shade, the warmth of October sun, the muted colors of November before it gets nasty cold. Those seasons suit my spirit well, spinning, somewhat directionless, landing where I do.

But I find myself in a time when it is necessary to narrow down my options, to make things stark so I can see better, to cut out superfluous things, in order to get by. I'm working on a PhD, and I'm working on some kids, and I'm working on a church, and there's still dishes and laundry and Goddess help me a pile of paperwork taller than you. So winter suits me just fine, stripping the leaves until nothing but bare branches remain, life held in reserve for the spring.

And you might pray for me, those of you who do that sort of thing. And if prayer isn't your thing, you might just think a fond thought of me here and there when it gets cold. Because this is a mourning process, to embrace winter. It's just a little too stark and naked for my taste.

Today we had a beautiful worship service at school, officiated by those of us in the trans and lgb group at Drew Theological School. We made some elbow room with our queer stoles and collars (which look a lot like straight and cis stoles and collars, I'm just saying). It was good to be there. So that's the thing about winter, the trees are still wick. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Loverly

Eila Mahima Jaiupal is one of my favorite love poets. As far as I know she only publishes Poemhunter.com.

"Memory Coffee"
by Eila Mahima Jaipaul


will you share a cup of memory coffee
and let me for a while
sip my past days;
when there was none
but two swaying shadows
and a whole universe in my hand.
There was simplicity, and dreams
as I lay my sleepy head on you.


I often wonder, when the innocence of remembering will revolt.
I imagine its when you, and the steam disappear.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

PresbyMEME: Why I am voting yes on Amendment 10a

So I'm Presbyterian, a pastor in the PC(U.S.A.), and for a very many years now we have been wrangling over questions of ordination and queer folk. As it stands right now, any person who is ordained as an elder, deacon, or minister of the word and sacrament (pastor) must meet several requirements including "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness." What this means is that ordained officers of the church are prohibited from having sex outside of marriage. Although "sex" is not defined, marriage is defined by our polity as "between one man and one woman." This clause is used to keep queer folk out of ordained positions as the church does not recognize same gender marriages or civil unions.

Actually, I could write for hours on this topic, but let me focus. A friend started this meme on Facebook and challenged a few of us to write on the following questions. You are welcome to cut and paste and do it too. Link back to me here or to Bruce Reyes-Chow's original post.

New language has been proposed to replace the "chastity & fidelity" clause. I've placed the language from Amendment 10a at the bottom for those who wish to read the specifics. But essentially the new language shifts the focus to the individual's call to ministry and willingness to follow Christ. Frankly, this may cause most of us as many problems as fidelity and chastity, but at least it would apply to queer and straight alike (on paper).

Amendment 10a was approved by our General Assembly in the summer of 2010. Over the next year, presbyteries will vote on whether to ratify it. 2/3 A majority of the presbyteries must ratify the amendment in order for it to pass. Ministers of the word and sacrament and elder commissioners to presbytery have the right to vote. 

All right then, the meme. 

1. Name, City, State  Rev. Katie Mulligan, Lawrenceville, NJ 

2. Twitter and Facebook profiles @grammercie (Twitter)  jakeisacat (Facebook)  

3. Presbytery and 10a voting date  West Jersey, tba 

4. Reason ONE that you are voting "yes" on 10a is..
I identify as queer.  

5. Reason TWO that you are voting "yes" on 10a is...
Sexual standards are very difficult to define, enforce, or investigate. To do so requires a certain voyeurism that is sexual and exploitative itself. We could have a long and painful discussion about what is sex, what is gender, is anyone actually really straight, and are we born or do we choose to be straight/queer. Or we could focus on the person identified for ordination and see if they fit the call. Hmm. (Sexual assault and abuse of power are covered in other sections of our book of discipline, and should not be mistaken for consensual, adult sexual activity.) 

6. Reason THREE that you are voting "yes" on 10a is...
The chastity and fidelity ordination standard has caused us to sin grievously as we interact on both sides of this argument. The level of contempt, distaste, disgust, and outright nastiness within our denomination on this subject churns my stomach. Not because I'm queer (although there's that too), but because it's mean. It's beneath us. We are better than this. If I walked up to any straight colleague and told her or him that what they do with their spouse in the bedroom is disgusting and unholy, and that in order to follow God they should leave their spouse and repent, that colleague would object strongly. And rightly so. 

7. What are your greatest hopes for the 10a debate that will take place on the floor of your Presbytery?
I hope for kindness to prevail. That people will think "what if this was my life being dissected?" before they speak.

8. How would you respond to those that say that if we pass 10a individuals and congregations will leave the PC(USA)?
Individuals and congregations will leave the PC(USA) regardless of whether this amendment passes. While this is a lightning rod issue, there are many other reasons why more "conservative" churches are leaving the denomination for the EPC and PCA. I believe that like marriage, we are sometimes called by God into relationship and sometimes we are called by God out of relationship. Leaving the PC(USA) may be the most faithful response for individuals and congregations on either side. Our own polity calls us to take risks for what is right and not to fear the death of the church.

9. What should the Presbyterian Church focus on after Amendment 10a passes? 
A general direction for the entire church? I know I'm not qualified to answer that. Regardless of whether Amendment 10a passes, there are many initiatives and ways of serving the world the PC(USA) is already involved in. Saying that homosexuality is our big issue and everything is on hold until we solve that is a straw man argument designed to create fear and frustration. For the little church where I pastor? We'll focus on keeping our doors open and figuring out what God is calling us to next.

10. How does your understanding of Scripture frame your position on 10a?
Like many of us in the PC(USA) I understand Scripture to be the unique and authoritative witness to God, written by (mostly) men in different times and places (see Confession of 1967 for exact wording). I do not ascribe to a "literal" understanding of Scripture for reasons too many to list. In five minutes a more conservative minister could give you a Scriptural argument for why homosexuality is evil. In the same time I could pull up Hosea 2 and make a creative argument that Gomer taught Hosea and God that punishing bodies and souls for perceived sexual transgressions is not the way to foster love and care. We could then go back and forth for weeks with our proof texts. I fully acknowledge the flexibility of Scripture and the possibility of multiple readings. Those who don't, there are many other denominations where a more rigid interpretation is encouraged. And for myself, if 10a does not pass, I will have to think carefully about my own options as well. Neither the Spirit, nor the Scriptures, nor our polity call us to a monolithic belief (and no, that is not a replacement Trinity).

Love to you all.

AMENDMENT LANGUAGE IS AS FOLLOWS:
Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place as follows: 
STRIKING: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
AND INSERTING: Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”