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.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Leaning Into Discomfort

Yesterday on Facebook, Son of Baldwin posted a link to an essay by Ewuare X. Osayande: "Word to the Wise: Unpacking the White Privilege of Tim Wise."

If you are not familiar with Tim wise, he is a white man well known for his anti-racist speaking and writing. His book most people know best is White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

Osayande offers a sophisticated critique of Wise's anti-racist work suggesting (among several critiques) that Wise's work displaces people of color, providing a more palatable stage presence (because he is white). The insistence that white people need a kinder, gentler explanation reinforces the stereotype that people of color are non-stop angry (dangerous), and enables white folk in their continued efforts (both individual and systemic) to maintain a racist structure that upholds the very white privilege Tim Wise speaks against.

No need to paraphrase more; go read Osayande's excellent essay.

Immediately after I posted the essay, a few folks got back to me through email and messages, objecting that there IS a need for a kinder, gentler explanation of white privilege and racism, and that we will not reach people with an anti-racist message if we make them uncomfortable.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Intimate Violence Collection of Posts

In October I blogged regularly about intimate violence, and a couple of people asked me for an easy way to access them. So here is a list of the posts, links to sermons I have preached in the past, and a guest post I wrote recently for @goannatree. Thank you for reading and interacting with me on this difficult subject.

Katie
katiesmulligan@gmail.com


"Light" (10/2/11)


"Four of Us" (10/4/11)

"Grandpa Jim" (10/6/11)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pruning

Twenty-five years ago, or so, I sat in my youth pastor's office eavesdropping on a conversation he was having with another student. They were discussing a book by Richard Foster called Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth. I remember being fascinated by the discussion--they were talking about giving up material possessions as a spiritual practice--they were talking about guitars. I was so interested in the discussion that I asked to borrow the book. I doubt seriously I made it past the opening line: "Superficiality is the curse of our age."

I know I didn't get far, and I never finished it. Years later I bought my own copy in seminary, intending to finally get through it. It has remained on my shelf, unread. I confess that my nose wrinkles every time I pick it up and read a line. The word "discipline" has an unpleasant ring to my ears--I have worked hard to understand God apart from power and dominance. I suspect God has worked hard to manifest gently in my life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hospicing Churches: A Rant

<rant>

Over the last few years I've heard a lot about dying churches. I've been pastoring a very small church with an aging congregation, so my vocational life has revolved around the question, "Can these bones live?"

At every gathering of pastors and church folk I've been to, there has been a discussion of whether small churches are dying. More than that, there has been an insistence that small churches should die--that at a certain point small churches suck the life out of the broader church, using up resources that could be "better" used to start new church developments and outreach programs. This conversation appears on twitter with startling regularity.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lost in the Mundane


Huisvrouw met schoonmaakattributen

I'm finally getting around to this last post on intimate violence for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I had intended to blog daily, and I did pretty well the first half of the month. But then a few things happened.

1) I got stuck on a post that was too personal. I was considering posting some paintings I've done, but they were too much for this part of the internet. Eventually I will display that art, because it is powerful, but not here and not at this time. I vacillated on that for a week or so.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lessons From the Road

Yesterday I took a road trip to Washington, DC from Trenton, NJ with a friend who utilizers a power chair. He cannot transfer to other chairs or seats, so we planned the trip accordingly. We decided to try this one day trip to see if it would work, and to figure out the kinks for future trips. It worked pretty well, so I thought I'd share a little bit of what we learned about public transit for anyone else who might find it useful.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Linda 1941-2011

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
~W.S. Merwin

I led a memorial service tonight for a woman I do not know, with people I'd never met, in a place I'd never been. The spiritual life and practices of Linda or her chosen family and friends is unknown to me. I did a quick google search for her name and couldn't find anything. So I thought I would mark a space here on the internet and to simply say that she lived and died among friends and that we gathered together to pray and remember her life. 

Everybody said she had a wonderful smile.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Intimate Violence: Purity

In high school I attended one youth group most of the time, but occasionally I visited a friend's youth group up the road at the Baptist church. We weren't church people, so I struggled with Baptist theology, but there were people there I liked, so sometimes I went. One time we drove over to the local university to attend a purity rally. All the local churches were invited to this event, so there were several hundred high school students present. We gathered in a large gymnasium and listened to music, speakers and other such things. This promo for a similar event in 2009 gives a feel for it:



It was exciting, actually. Loud music, pulsing beats, hundreds of teens shouting in unison. Do you love Jesus? "YES!!" Do you believe God has a plan for your life? "YES!!" Do you want to honor your body? "YES!!" And on it went with dynamic speakers, humor, more music. And we were talking about love and sex and bodies, always a favorite topic of mine, even at age 15 or so.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

TwitterByrds "Tweet, Tweet, Tweet"

"Tweet, Tweet, Tweet"
~By the TwitterByrds*

To everything
Tweet, tweet, tweet
There is a season
Tweet, tweet, tweet
And a tweet for every purpose under Heaven

A time to hashtag, a time to @
A time to link, a time to RT
A time to block, a time to spam
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything
Tweet, tweet, tweet
There is a season
Twinter, Twing, Twummer and Twall (and all you have to do is tweet)
And a tweet for every purpose under Heaven

A time to preach, a time to siddown
A time to <_<, a time to
ლ▴☼‿☼▴ლ
A time to backspace
A time to leave out vowels to meet the character max

To everything
Tweet, tweet, tweet
There is a reason
We should not tweet
And let our words float up to Heaven

A time of twitter infatuations, a time of twitter beef
A time of TMI, a time of PDA
A time to tweet something you later regret
A time to @reply 6 days later

A time to gain followers, a time to lose ‘em
A time to troll, a time to pray for strangers
A time to tweetup, a time to run the other way
A time to log off, I swear it's not too late

*This is a parody.

NAMI and Just Kids

This afternoon the children and I attended a program through NAMI Mercer called Just Kids. They are a chapter of the national organization, NAMI, which stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

I have been meaning to take the children for a few years now, but it seems like something always comes up. My friend, Ann Renee, just started working there and reached out to me a few weeks ago to get our family involved.

The thing about living with people with mental illness is that being out with other people can be a real challenge--especially other family groups. Playgroups are all well and good until you tell that story of the stupendous tantrum your kid threw last week--or worse, your kid throws that tantrum right there on the playground for all to see. People offer parenting tips as if your child is neurotypical, as if you haven't tried every darn thing you can think of, as if you weren't wishing the ground would swallow you up this minute.

So it was delightful today to be with other families who can accept my family for where we are at. We had George the Magician in to dazzle the children, and the parents met to talk about activities for the year. We swapped some stories about local school districts and managing IEP's (individualized education plans). We fretted a bit about the future and tried to stay focused on the moment. Two of the kids tried to sneak behind the magician's screen to peek at his secrets. The kids and I talked about family pets. It was a lovely afternoon, and I'm glad I went.

NAMI Mercer can be reached at 609-799-8994

So thanks, Ann Renee. And thanks to NAMI Mercer and George, the Master of Illusion. It was nice to ignore the stigma of mental illness for a while and just have fun.

Intimate Violence: Language and Fluency

I spent the evening with old friends from seminary, eating homemade tacos and drinking wine. The children wandered off to the other room, restless, uninterested in the conversation of six women old enough to be mothers and grandmothers. We mostly spoke in Spanish with some English thrown in for my gringa self. I followed along a good part of the conversation, but there were many times when the words flowed too rapidly into each other, or two people spoke at once, or somebody dropped a word at the end of a sentence. Towards the end of the night we were telling jokes, and they paused to translate as best they could so that I could understand the funny. I'm not sure if we were laughing more at the jokes or the bewildered look on my face as I tried to keep up with the nuances of language.

I love spending time with these friends who speak Spanish as their primary language. Opening myself to different speech patterns and word possibilities reshapes how I think of the world and my place in it. Once, when I was a young woman, I spent a little time in Mexico as an exchange student. My sister Berta took me all over the city on the buses with her friends, and we spent hours talking and laughing as young people do when they gather in every language. One afternoon I said with great enthusiasm, "¡Vamonos en el camaron para comer camiones!" This translates to "Let us go on the shrimp to eat buses!"

There are few things that tell a person they don't know everything like immersion in another country, learning another language.

As I drove one of my friends home, with my sleepy children in the back complaining like mewling kittens, we chatted about family and children and the difference between "American" culture and "Hispanic" culture, the way children are invited to exit the home at age 18 vs. the way multiple generations live together to create networks of support. It was a lengthy conversation that stretched the limits of my Spanish, and by the time I got home I was very, very tired.

As I crawled into bed it occurred to me that living in the middle of intimate violence is like being immersed in a primary language. And then I fell asleep while typing. Immersion in another language is good for the mind and soul, but it takes years to gain fluency. Learning how to be in this world without repeating patterns of intimate violence is good for the mind and the soul (not to mention the body!), but it takes years to find fluency.

Think of it this way: those of us who live with intimate violence (as perpetrators, victims, or both), learn to function in those situations as best we can. There are ways of being, moving, and speaking that can minimize violence. There are times when the tension in a household builds slowly, but inexorably, toward an explosion, and we learn to set off verbal dynamite to relieve the tension and minimize the explosion we know is coming. We learn to avoid anger, to become invisible, to protect others as best we can. We learn, without knowing it, that there is no escape from this intimate, familial situation. The world, when one is living with intimate violence, can become a very narrow, constricted place.

This chart is one way of looking at how patterns of intimate violence carve a narrow existence:
http://www.heart-2-heart.ca/men/page5.htm

Sometimes we get a chance to learn a new language, to immerse ourselves in another culture, to live with people who do not hurt us. How frustrating it is to our friends and loved ones when we cannot acclimate to a new environment quickly! Individuals leave abusive situations, only to return home to more abuse a short time later. It seems from the outside to be an easy choice to stay where one is safer. But it's like this:

Walking away from intimate violence is like moving to another part of the world and learning a new language by immersion. Suddenly one must learn new patterns, new ways, and new words. If I don't have the correct papers, I may not be able to work. I don't have the right currency, so I am constantly having to exchange my old bills for new--and I must trust strangers who speak a different language to do it.

Learning new languages is easier for some people than others. Leaving intimate violence for healthy relationships is easier for some people than others. It takes years to become fluent. The process of learning the new language is exhausting.

It might be good for the body, the soul, and the mind to learn a new language, but it isn't always easy. There is need along the way for bilingual translators and a great deal of patience. Learning a new language requires a sense of humor, because sooner or later you're going to say with great enthusiasm, "Let's go ride the shrimp to eat buses!" And your companions are going to dissolve into laughter. For a while you're not going to get the joke about the boy corn ear who married the girl corn ear and got so hot that he became popcorn. It just takes time.

At one moment one might say "I need your keys" but it sounds like "I need your kiss."

Or perhaps one might simply mix up pronouns and verbs to say, "Te amo, Katie," instead of "Me llamo Katie." And the poor man you've just met will look at you quizzically.

Learning to live in healthy relationship when one's primary language has been intimate violence is difficult. And sometimes, especially when one is tired, it's easy to slip back into old patterns of behavior, old words, old ways of being. It seems sometimes like everybody else around is speaking too fast, one person on top of another, leaving a person behind, bewildered and longing for the familiar--even if that familiar is unhealthy or dangerous.

Sometimes the right words don't even exist to translate. In English there is no good verb to say "make love."  We have euphemisms and curse words, but not a verb to express the act of "having sex" between loving partners. Even with bilingual companions, concepts do not always translate well and must be lived in order to be understood.

Or sometimes there is a problem of pronunciation. My friends last night asked me what the word is for a chin dimple. "It's a cleft," I said. And we spent a few minutes rolling around that word, trying to see how the sounds fit together. "Cleft" is not a Spanish word. It is too short, too few vowels, with consonants crammed together.

It takes time and energy to learn a new language. Time to learn new ways of being and perspectives on the world. And sometimes, when one is learning to live without intimate violence, this new language is so exhausting that one crawls into bed and falls asleep while typing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Intimate Violence: Healing is the Name of the Game

One of the times I was in therapy (and for those of us involved in intimate violence, a good therapist can make all the difference), I was working through my startle reflex around men. I haven't perfected this, I've never quite lost my fear of men, even though I've learned to stand my ground when every nerve in my body says "run!" 

One day I was at the park, working on math puzzles in my car. It was a sunny day out, but a bit chilly, and I was enjoying the solitude and the quiet without the children or the cats or the spouse or the-bills-to-be-paid or the things-to-be-done.

After a while, I looked up, and a man walked by my car, unzipped his pants, and urinated in the parking lot. I doubt he even realized I was sitting right there in the car. I was shocked, stunned, terrified, frozen in place at the sight. It's not that I'd never seen a penis before, it's just that this one was unwanted, pushing into my space. That unintended violation triggered a deep responsive memory and flashbacks galore.

When I went next to the therapist I was still in distress. I told him about the guy in the park, and we talked around it for a while. Finally, he said, "Well where do you think Jesus urinated?" And suddenly the situation normalized for me, and the association of rape and abuse with the sight of the clueless man's penis in the park faded. And it was then that I realized how much of a threat male genitalia symbolized to me--and for that matter, to much of feminist theory and literature.

I was thinking about that as I walked to the dance studio tonight to take my salsa class. On my way to the studio there is a Man's Gym (it's actually called Man's Gym), and out front of the gym is a full sized statue of David in all its naked glory. You can see on the statue evidence that it used to have a loin cloth, but apparently the loin cloth was stolen. The statue stands proudly outside the gym 24/7, rain or shine, and I have found it a bit intimidating. I nicknamed it "the penis statue." I've tweeted about it a few times when I walked by. I've thought about sneaking by at night and donating my string bikini bottom for the cause. I usually cross the street to avoid it. 

But I have been lamenting the cost of joining a gym lately. My body feels out of sorts because I haven't been taking proper care of it. It's time to get back into a workout routine, but my house is not the best place to work out. It's getting dark, and the weather is iffy. I can't afford most gyms on my budget, and the contracts and joining fees are annoying prohibitive.

So I decided tonight after dance class that I would stop at the Man's Gym and find out the cost. I would brave the penis statute. On my way home I looked closer at the window, and the sign said, "Bodybuilding for Men and Women."  I looked at the sign. I looked at the penis statue. I looked at the sign again. I took a deep breath and remembered my therapist gently laughing at my horror of public urination. I thought about Jesus, and that made me laugh. And then I went in.

I went into the gym because I'm not going to let child rape stop me from being healthy now at age 39. I went into the gym because the men who frequent this place are not the men who have raped/assaulted me in the past. I went in because I refuse to be afraid of the penis for its own sake. I went in because this gym has everything I need at a decent price, and I can't afford to let my history of intimate violence scare me away from becoming strong.

I am healing, I think, although it's been a very long journey. I have come to feel a certain gentleness about men that I never thought I could feel. It has taken 20 years, but I'm coming to see the vulnerability in men. For the moment there is a certain sweet, masculine absurdity about this Man's Gym with its penis statue that is drawing me in. So I will go tomorrow and sign up for a while, and I'll breathe deep each day before I go in. The woman at the counter with the tremendous biceps said, "This place is a nasty ass gym where your outfit don't have to match." And perhaps if I go there a while, and work out beside the men in this space, I won't have to breathe deep every time I go in.

Healing is the name of the game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm Queer, I'm Here, and other such things

Today is National Coming Out Day, and while I had my coming out ball last year, let me pause to throw around some confetti.

There is a stereotype of queer folk as very sad, lonely, frightened, oppressed individuals, cowering in a closet, unable to love or be loved except in furtive, secret moments. There's all kinds of truth wrapped up in that stereotype. But I want to say this:

When y'all weren't looking, perhaps to our own surprise, queer folk have created a rich tapestry of life and love. There are whole communities of queer folk going about their day in a celebratory way. There's a lot of us living, moving, and having our being in the midst of heterosexual, cissexual, straight, normative culture. And while that can be constraining at times, I do not go home at the end of the day to cry in my soup. At the end of the day, I'm not begging God to make me different; I'm begging God to send me more mischief to get up to.

There's a lot of folks seeking equality (however one measures that), and I'm glad the folks who want to marry are getting their chance. But that's not my goal. Part of the fun (yes, FUN) of claiming a queer identity is setting myself at odds with normative structures in this world. Not all of them every day--I've got kids to feed and rent to pay like everybody else. But being at odds is a delightful state of being. Being odd. Being queer. And to my everlasting joy, being queer, being at odds, is satisfyingly compatible with the essential tenets of Christian faith.

So I don't know if I can offer safe space--safety is hard to guarantee, as I've written before. But Beloveds, I can offer love and laughter, a place to share deeply. I can stand with you while you push against oppressive structures (and in this I understand some of those structures will be racist, sexist, classist, ableist, and that claiming queer requires solidarity in those struggles as well).

So come out, come out, wherever you are. The table is set and the wine is poured.

Intimate Violence: An Old Sponge

I am struggling to write tonight. I am raising one child who has been angry at the world since birth, and I have never dealt well with other people's anger. Anger frightens me, and I can smell it the second I walk in a room. I can see it in the clenching of a jaw, the way a body moves, and in terse words bitten off.

Once a friend was angry with me and started yelling. I found myself backed into a corner, crouching. It was an automatic reaction, totally out of proportion with the situation. I remember when I was married that my anger expressed itself in short, tight, mocking phrases. The kind of anger that can slash to the bone with words, but the neighbors won't hear it.

Last week I was at the bus stop, and I saw a couple walking together. The woman was waving her hands in the air, while the man was yelling at the top of his lungs. "You keep walking!" he screamed. "Keep walking, I said! I'm gonna sit right here. I'm sick of your %$#$!! All you do is argue. You keep walking!" The woman stopped and looked at him hard. And then she said, "But you have my bag!" When the bus pulled up a few minutes later the man was still cussing the air blue, and the woman was still standing nearby waiting for his rage to cool.

People work in different ways, but when my children tantrum, it's all I can do to hold it together, to keep from crouching in a corner. It's all I can do to remember that they are small yet, and that I am grown. Sometimes I go outside with them, because outside they shrink to their true size under the sky.

I am so uneasy around anger. I feel sometimes like an old sponge that can't hold any more water. There's just no more room for any more anger and rage in my life, and sometimes no room to get away from it. And so it is difficult to write tonight, because I have weathered yet another blustery day in my household.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Intimate Violence: Sabbath

I am taking a break today. Church council meeting is done. Church is done. Labyrinth is dedicated. Kittens have been visited. Children have been fed. Time to rest before the week ahead. Sometimes honoring the sabbath means putting the pen down and closing the computer. It is hard for the Spirit to restore a body and mind in constant motion. I suspect that the Spirit of God is mightily antagonized when it is trying to settle and we are restless. Silence is not always possible in this life, but I might aim for stillness.

Some wise words from Dr. Emilie Townes:
"Finally, you must give yourself permission to be tired and weary, besides, you must also find ways of renewal so that you can be a creative and healthy participant in dismantling oppressions. Burned out, bitter people do not help bring in justice very often and they are of little help in any search for [T]ruth."
~Emilie M. Townes, Womanist ethics and the cultural production of evil 
 (NY: Macmillan, 2006), 78.

And from Vijay Prashad, who I heard speak in 2010 at an education day dedicated to Mumia Abu-Jamal, the abolition of the death penalty, and prison reform/abolition. I overheard this advice he gave to a young woman asking how to make a difference in the world:

"Find something you can do that's in front of you...and enjoy the work. You're allowed to enjoy the work."

May your day be free of violence and fear. May your children be safe. May you know love and joy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Intimate Violence: Frog Husk

'Frosche in Bauch und Ruckenlage'
 (Frog on Back and Front)
Once when I was sleeping
     and once when I was sick
          and once behind a door I'd hid behind
You'll like this
     it's good for you
          you need to learn
               shh, just lie back
Asked to choose 
     between the scorpion and the spider
          dead anyway regardless
Like the dried husk of a frog I once saw
     eaten from the inside by ants
          skin intact, flawless
               but crumbled at a touch

_______________________________________

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Intimate Violence: Don't Touch My Face

I went to Washington, D.C. this week--it wasn't a planned trip, but the last couple of months haven't really been planned as much as they've been lived. I decided to take public transportation instead of driving, since there's a bus stop in front of my apartment and lots of ways to get from Trenton to D.C. I walked out front and waited a minute, and sure enough a bus pulled up. I said to the driver, "Does this bus go to the transit center?" He rolled his eyes up into heaven and told me to sit down. He'd tell me when to get off to catch the bus to get me there. This blog post is a bit like my trip. It wanders a bit before it gets to the point.

So off I went on my little adventure, flying (as it were) by the seat of my pants. I love wandering about the world without a plan, a little lost, anonymous. Most of my experience with violence and trauma has come from people I know--family members, friends, lovers, etc. Blowing about like a dandelion is a chance to withdraw into myself in a way that is not possible when I am home. Every now and then I just need to hit the road.

Intimate Violence: Grandpa Jim

James G. Ewer
Today I lit a candle for my Grandpa Jim at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  I think every person should spend a day at that museum, because we should never forget what we are capable of, individually and as a state.

Grandpa Jim was a navigator in the Army Air Corp, and was shot down over Germany sometime in 1944/5. He spent a few months in a concentration camp toward the end of the war. I can't tell you much more than that, because Grandpa Jim didn't talk about that time, except with his army buddies. Many Friday nights he would call our house, drunk as a skunk on his favorite scotch. "Is Jjjjjeannie there?" he would slur into the phone. He loved to talk with my mother--they were very fond of each other.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Intimate Violence: Four of Us

Some friends have written in the last two days, by twitter, by email, by facebook. They have asked, "Are you okay?" wondering if my writing this month about intimate violence signifies a cry for assistance. I am well, friends. It has been quite a journey these last few years, but it was quite a journey for the many years before that. No, I am writing this month because we are too silent about intimate violence. I am in the mood to expose roaches to sunlight, to air out the house, to hang up the underwear on the outside line. I am in the mood to trust the fortitude of my neighbors, that they might stare unflinchingly into the abyss with me, knowing that it could be (and has been) many of us...

When I was in seminary a few of us started a support group for survivors of intimate violence. There hadn't been such a group for a long time, and as far as I know it disbanded when we graduated. But four of us met faithfully every two weeks for a year. Two beautiful women from Womanspace met with us. We prayed. We spoke. We heard one another. We sat in silence. We raged. We mourned. We made connections between what had happened in our own families with the dysfunction we found in seminary. We confirmed for one another that we weren't crazy.

Intimate Violence: Words in My Toe

I promised myself I would blog daily this month. So here I am at 36 minutes to midnight finally starting this post. It was partly because the children wanted two different things for dinner and I wanted a third, and it was partly because we moved to a new apartment a month ago and I still have not hung pictures (so I hung a few today). But it was partly because I am struggling to voice my thoughts this month as I consider intimate violence and the way it has touched my life and those I love.




It takes a long time to tell this story. There are so many things to consider. To whom does one tell such a story? Who has ears to hear? Who will be worthy of this story (or these stories, for there are many). Sometimes I have lost those who have known my stories, and then I have to consider to whom I will re-tell these stories, because I cannot bear to move in this world without people who know and love my stories. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Intimate Violence: Light

sunrise from my attic window
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Also known as "intimate violence", domestic violence takes many forms. Domestic violence hides under rugs and behind closed doors. It lurks in relationships, often unknown to friends and family who visit in our homes. Intimate violence is perpetuated by parents, spouses, children, cousins, friends, and lovers. Intimate violence is hard to get away from, since it is closer to your skin than underwear. Intimate violence becomes a way of life that seems normal, usual, like everybody else. It fogs perception for perpetrator and victim. It tears apart one's soul.

Like roaches, intimate violence scatters in the light. But like roaches, it comes back when the light is off and the door is closed. One month a year isn't enough, but I'll take this month and blog daily on the topic of intimate violence. Today is a church day, so I'm reposting from October 2009. Fresh words tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yes, No, Maybe So...

I saw an article floating about the interwebs this morning: 

"If It Feels Right" by David Brooks in the New York Times.

I apologize for linking to a site that requires registration, but I think you can access the article for free. The gist of it is that this next generation growing up is steeped in "rampant individualism" and doesn't know how to make moral choices--or even how to pose moral questions. Kids these days...all they wanna do is what feels right.

I am critical in some ways, because I think this is the latest You Kids Get Off My Lawn scenario. But I am also critical because I think we are missing something very important about the idea of "if it feels right."

Years ago in high school I was part of a church youth group. Our intrepid youth pastor fearlessly offered a "sex ed" conversation in the month of February, coinciding with Valentine's Day. I was new to church as my parents never attended; I did not know much about church culture or expectations regarding sexuality.

Our pastor threw out some discussion questions to get us started. One of them was, "How do you know where to draw the line with sexual activity? How far is too far? Is there some amount of sexual activity you can engage in that is consistent with our Christian values."

There was a bit of a pause in the conversation. I raised my hand and said, "I think if it feels good, then it's probably ok." There was an audible gasp from my fellow youth groupies. The youth pastor gave me the side eye. <_<

I'm not fifteen anymore, and I've had a lot of time to reflect on that question. I still don't have all the answers, but after 25 years of thinking about it, I think there was something important imbedded in that answer: "If it feels good."

My own sexual experience as a woman, already by age fifteen, was a history of sexual violence and violation. I was just beginning to discover at fifteen that sexual activity was something I could choose. It was a lot (and I mean a lot) of years later before I became convinced that I had the right to insist that sex be pleasurable and the right to leave a situation if it was not.

"Does this feel good/right?" is a question I wish every woman would ask in every sexual encounter. There are plenty of other questions to ask, but that one ought to be at the forefront of our minds. Every sexual encounter, whether we are married, single, in a committed relationship, or on a booty call, every sexual encounter should be evaluated with the question, "Does this feel good/right?" And frankly, I wish men would ask themselves the same question--more men than are willing to admit find themselves in sexual situations in which they are uncomfortable. "Does this feel good/right" is a vital starting point.

Right along with that question is, "Does this feel good/right to my partner(s)?" How many of us have been asked that question by our partners and not known how to answer? How many of us have lied in our answers because the other person desired us, we didn't want to offend, etc? If we can't answer this question for ourselves, then how can our partners make ethical decisions with us?

We've been taught, a lot of us, that our own individual wants and needs in this life are not relevant to moral decisions. But I want to put out on the table that "If it feels right/good" *is* a place to begin. It's not the ending point, and neither is "If it is good for the community." Moral decision making is a complicated exercise, and we spend a lifetime working on it. "Does this feel good to me?" is an excellent question to begin with, and I'm glad our youth are learning to listen to their bodies, hearts, and minds. A strong basis for understanding others begins with understanding oneself. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Subject: Anathema

Snorkel Chute Curbside Mailbox

I received this email this afternoon, and am passing it on to you, lovely readers, minus the gentleman's signature.

I pass it on to you, in part, so that many of you will know you are not alone. And I pass it on, in part, so that I will know I am not alone. These words are the reason I have considered leaving the PC (USA) several times, and they are one of the reasons I stay here, with my feet firmly planted in the ground. These words are the reason I am wary of all PC (USA) affiliation groups with conservative, evangelical, orthodox, or renewal bents.

These words caused me pain on a day when I could ill afford it.


I am closing this post to comments and simply allowing these words to hang in the air.


To the gentleman who wrote them: The peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, be with you. Now and always. Amen.

The subject line read "Anathema"
You are a disgrace to the faith.  You are an unrepentant sinner in the eyes of God and He does not forgive the unrepentant.  If you are a Presbyterian leave the denomination and take your lack of obedience somewhere else.   It is queers like you who have denigrated this denomination and have said:  "I will rather have half of a dead baby than none of a live and healthy one."

You personally are a disgrace.   And you and your ilk have caused me to be ashamed of my denomination.


With no respect for you,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Retired PC(USA)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Recycled Mantra

I got home late tonight with the children because we had spent the day scrubbing our old apartment from top to bottom. And by "we" I mean that I cleaned for 7 hours while the children wrestled and played and stole cash from my pocket to get sodas from the corner store.


We stopped by the Wawa for a late dinner, and all I could manage to eat was a coke icee and some pepperoni and cubed cheese in a plastic cup. Don't judge me--it's not like you came over and cooked.


When I got home I opened my email and found a message from my old landlord that said, "I noticed this morning that you vacated the apartment, thank you! What will you do next?" I believe this was a very polite way of saying, "Thank God you moved your crap. You *are* going to clean, right?" Or, in other words, "Please don't make more work for me."


This phrase, "Please don't make more work for me," arises during certain times in my life, and this is perhaps my mantra for the next month as I jump back into school, settle the children into their own schools, close out my time as pastor at tiny church, and create a home out of our new apartment.


"Please don't make more work for me," is what I said all day to the children as I cleaned. I didn't mind cleaning while they played. I had put out a pathetic, last minute plea on facebook for someone to take the children while I cleaned, but nobody was able to help. A few people responded with humorous suggestions to make the children clean as well, but we have been moving for two weeks now: packing, cleaning, lifting, going up and down stairs, making changes big and small. The children are tired. I am tired. Scrubbing an apartment thoroughly was not on their can-do list for today. So I was delighted to let them play while I worked.


But the thing that gets under my skin is when I'm buzzing along with my work and somebody makes more work for me. For instance, I announce I am going to mop the bathroom floor and ask if anyone needs to pee. Firm denials from the peanut gallery, but two minutes *after* I mop the floor, before the vinyl has dried, a nameless child skipped into the bathroom to take care of business...leaving muddy footprints along the way. This means mopping the floor again, of course.


Or earlier in the day, when another nameless child got it into his head to use the vacuum crevice tool as a sword to bludgeon his brother with. A) I was too tired to go get a new crevice tool if that one broke. B) I wasn't sure I could get another crevice tool for this vacuum. C) I don't have the money to buy a new vacuum with a crevice tool. D) I absolutely needed a crevice tool as the various crevices of our apartment were filled with that delightful amalgam of tiny legos, beads, food crumbs, kitty litter pebbles, and bits of acorns the children brought home to feed the squirrels on the porch. E) I didn't want to deal with the shrieks of rage from the other brother as he got bludgeoned with the crevice tool.


So I looked straight at that child with all the authority I could muster and said, "Please do not make more work for me." I'd like to say that he stopped in his tracks and put the crevice tool down, but it was actually a several minute long negotiation that resulted in this disgusted exclamation: "Sheesh! You're no fun, Mom."


But I'm in that place right now where all I can think and say is, "Please don't make more work for me." My to-do list is already several pages long, and that's just for tomorrow. When the earthquake rolled through today and the new apartment wobbled like one would expect an old New Jersey building would, I was grateful it wasn't a big earthquake because we would've been squashed as the building fell down on us. But I was also grateful that the earthquake didn't knock any of the books off their shelf, where I had *just* finished unpacking my library. I was indeed grateful for safety. But the fact that the earthquake didn't make more work for me? Golden. Perfect. Most excellent.


I'm finding this carries over to the rest of my life too. And it's not just physical work. I don't have time or internal resources for extra emotional or spiritual work either. I find myself avoiding people that drain me of emotional and spiritual resources--people that I love and care about too! I just don't have it. And I won't have it tomorrow or Thursday either (and especially since Thursday I take the children to the dentist, and *that's* always a kick in the pants).


It happens every now and then that I have too much to do and it all has to be done now. And in those times, I find myself saying over and over, "Please don't make more work for me." Because the work I do have is overflowing, and one extra thing will disrupt that flow. I say it to the cosmos and Jesus too: "Please don't make more work for me. No flat tires. No family emergencies. No complications with the children, the church, schoolwork, custody arrangements. Please no broken appliances or anything else that costs money. Everything is running along at break neck speed, and all my focus is on precision and detail, making sure we keep running.


It's like this: I've been carrying loads of cripcrap down stairs to my car for a week now. 32 steps to be exact: 2 sets of 8 steps, then a long flight of 16 steps. 2 more cement steps to the sidewalk, then down off the curb to get to the van. When you're carrying boxes and can't see your feet, you need to knows these things--you gotta count the steps as you go. Otherwise I will trip and fall, breaking everything in the box and my body too, and that will definitely make more work for me.  So when the children come out while I am carrying boxes and counting, and they ask me a question about how many popsicles come in a box, I say to them, "Please don't make more work for me." And then I feel out each of the rest of the steps with my feet carefully, because by now I have disastrously lost count of the steps.


But maybe the biggest culprit is myself, because assuredly the person who makes more unnecessary work for me than anyone else is my own silly self. I forget I am allowed to say no. I forget I am allowed to call in sick. I forget that I can't run forever in this frantically precise mode of existence. I forget I do not have to engage every twitter discussion that catches my attention. So perhaps the biggest lesson of these seasons in my life is a reminder to say to myself often, "Please don't make more work for me."


Thanks, mgmt.