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, October 28, 2015

Cysts of the Soul

I injured my knee last weekend. In the process, I stumbled into a metaphor for emotional triggers. So grab an ice pack, put up your leg, and join me in a little mental exercise. I promise no stairs.

I'm happy to report that I am recovering, and it is likely not serious. But for a couple of days I was really scared that I had torn a ligament or cartilage. I thought back to what it cost me to break a pinky finger last year, and I started to freak out about the time and money and effort that might be needed for surgery and physical therapy. I was, for a couple of days, trying to figure out how I was going to shower, since my shower is on the 2nd floor. I very dramatically explained to my children that they were going to need to help out more around the house if they wanted to eat. 

Which, when I think about it, is still true. Definitely some rearranging of household chores is in the pipe.

But and however, my knee is healing up, and it appears to be something called a Baker's Cyst. When it ruptured on Sunday night, the fluid leaked into my joint, causing everything to swell up like a balloon and mimicking other possible injuries. It was very scary.

I had been dancing with some students at a karaoke gathering. Someone was up singing Uptown Funk, and I walked over, delighting in my students' dancing. I decided to join in, because so often I am too busy with logistics to get down and silly with youth. It was a perfect moment with nothing else expected of me, so I wandered over and did a little dance.

Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up uh

Right about on the uhhh, I suddenly felt like someone had kicked the back of my knee twice. I dropped to the ground, surprised, thinking I'd been attacked, but when I looked around, there was nobody who could have kicked me. All of my students were staring at as I yelled in surprise, "Who kicked me??" And of course, nobody had. And they wouldn't. We've worked together a long time, and this was so random.

A few kind folks helped me over to a bench. The students asked if I was ok, and I waved them off. I wasn't really, but it wasn't their fault and they couldn't fix it. So they went back to play. The EMT's came by with their radios and an ice pack. They asked if I'd hit my head, but no, that wasn't it either. 

I told them it felt like I'd been kicked, but there was nobody there. They asked if I'd made anybody mad recently (and of course I have, I'm sure). Everybody nervous laughed. I insisted there was nobody there and that I'd be fine. Then I remembered that we were at a haunted festival on a farm...for a minute I wondered if a ghost or demon had come back through the veil. It was probably...never mind. The list of possible ghosts is long.

I rested and iced my knee. I googled knee problems. The internet scared the daylights out of me. Later, the knee started to swell. By Monday morning, I could barely walk.

I limped into the doctor's office, and after an x-ray and explaining what happened, he suggested a Baker's Cyst. Baker's Cysts work something like this:

They are a fluid filled cyst in the back of your knee. 
They form usually after a previous injury. Sometimes arthritis can cause them.
The cysts can hide for years--how much attention do you pay to the back of your knee?
You might have no symptoms whatsoever.
One random day, you do a little dance and WHAMMO!
The cyst ruptures. It feels like a baseball bat to the back of your knee.
A few hours later the fluid swells up your knee and calf.
You freak out, thinking you have a serious injury. It hurts a whole lot.
And, occasionally the ruptured cyst can cause more serious problems and infection.
But mostly it resolves.
It usually points to an old injury. 
Sometimes it means there's another current injury.
It can come back and happen again
Overall, it's a nuisance. And it's scary. And then it passes.

As I lay in bed last night after this relatively benign diagnosis, it occurred to me that it is a lot like emotional triggers.

Life is just full of injury. Not everyone experiences those injuries the same way.
Not everyone will get a Baker's Cyst. Not everyone will find themselves triggered emotionally.
Occasionally, a traumatic event will form a fluid filled cyst in our souls.
It might sit there for years, with no symptoms.
It might hide in the back of your knee (or in the depths of your soul).
And then one day you are dancing or sitting in class or talking to a friend and WHAMMO!
You've been triggered by something someone said or did.
You weren't expecting it.
You're not sure what happened, but it feels like someone just hit you with a baseball bat.
And everyone around you is looking confused.
They didn't mean to shake loose your Baker's Cyst, y'all were just dancing.
But there it went anyway.
And you're in pain, and the emotions swell up, and it feels like you're in terrible danger.
And there's nothing there.
It's a nuisance. And it's scary. And then it passes.

But it was really hard to tell in the initial day or two that this wasn't a serious injury. IT FELT SERIOUS!

The pain is real. The difficulty walking is real. But there wasn't anybody with a baseball bat.

I don't know. This isn't a perfect metaphor. But it helped me reflect.

Last week, a woman acquaintance walked past me and touched my face in greeting. I think it was an affectionate move, one she would use with her children. I don't really like having my face touched--it's pretty invasive to me. Probably I'm not alone in that preference, but random face touching sets off a panic in my body and soul that is all out of proportion to the event. It is a leftover panic from old, old things.

This week, I felt the trigger when she touched my face. But it was like an echo now. She didn't mean what my body thought. She couldn't have known. I didn't panic. I didn't need the emergency room. I know what that cyst looks like. And when it ruptures, I don't worry too much about it anymore. But it's still there. It's a nuisance.

I think I'll do some emotional examination this week. If I'd paid attention to the back of my knee, I might have known the cyst was there. Maybe there are emotional triggers lying about that I've forgotten about--old injuries I don't remember still shaping my everyday life. Maybe there are some things I could drain of their power before they rupture.

And, you know, maybe not. I'm sure I'll be surprised again. But the longer I survive these things, the more surprise gives way to curiosity instead of fear.

And if I can take that learning from emotional triggers and put it back towards my body, I think I might be on to something. Perhaps I might move my perspective on my aging, changing body from one of fear to one of curiosity. Perhaps I might meet these physical changes and deteriorations with curiosity and gentleness rather than fear and rage.

Hmm maybe. And I suppose I'll just keep dancing. You know, like FLOTUS.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Raft of the Fire Ants

Fire Ant Raft, by Maggie
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at Ewing Presbyterian Church, Ewing, NJ

Scripture Readings:

For our children's sermon today, we read Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein. When you see injustice, when you see pain, may you be an Interrupting Chicken and intervene with yes, even God, like Abraham, like the persistent widow. We are a people of disruption, thanks be to God!

I come to you this morning as a youth pastor. A tired youth pastor, I have to say. Last weekend was our Love of God retreat—it was the 8th such retreat in New Jersey since 2012. Some of our Ewing students helped lead the retreat, and you should be proud of them—very proud.

L.O.G. (as we call it) stands for Love of God, and for 3 days we try to create with God’s help a little peace of a new heaven and a new earth. We invite friends to join us and then we spend the weekend loving them. For 48 hours we spoil our friends rotten—we ruin them, as they say. We have piles of food, unending music and singing, games, laughter, an abundant, overflowing of love: God’s love. From Friday until Sunday we do our best to set aside the drama of everyday life, the stress of school and work and family, the trauma of worrying about the future. We do our best to celebrate (not ignore) our differences, cling fiercely to our similarities, and offer to one another a safe place to tell the stories of our lives. For two weekends a year, our students worship, laugh and love with one another, giving thanks to God for these moments of joy gifted to us.

Last weekend we had a team of 15 students. Some of the students you may recognize: Pierce served as a co-leader. Nadine, Riely, Amber. Eugene and Nazir were there—you’ve met them on Sundays sometimes. Tyana, Taniya and Maniya came as participants—you’ve met them too. They know your church and like it here. Ewing church is always kind to them. Miriam is here today with her father, visiting from the other church. Her mother, Audrey always cooks for us.

Our young adults included Devon and Emma. Oh, the Fletchers go way back here, but then this is a church that GOES way back—you last saw Emma as a little girl, but she’s a sophomore in college now. She’s grown all the way up. Her mother, Pat, was with us most of the weekend. Our other Patricia cooked Saturday to Sunday, tirelessly putting out trays of food for our hungry horde of teenagers. Leslie stopped by to help a while—she is Roberto's best friend--you saw him grow up too. He has a job now, working all the time. They’re all grown up now. And there are others who know this church and are a part of the Ewing community: Kayla, Mandy, Brian, Jack, JoAnn. Extending the love of this congregation, our Ewing community folks reach out beyond themselves to students at Lawrence Road and beyond that to other communities, and through this program, which you help sponsor, they share the love you have as a congregation for youth.

It is not a small thing that we do, this L.O.G. retreat. And Ewing’s part in it is not small either. We are a rarely visible part of the church, sneaking in after hours to use the rooms and eat food and leave our crumbs. Church mice, I have called them. And like church mice, they know your church well, the nooks and crannies, where to hide, where to find a smidgeon of ice cream or chips and whatnot. It would be so easy to think they do not exist. Or that you are not important to the L.O.G. students. But you would be wrong. So very wrong.

I come this morning to tell you that Ewing Presbyterian Church is integral to the survival of the 25 students we worked with last weekend. You matter, Church. Your support matters. You are, in fact, essential to these teenagers.

We are reading through Brian MacLaren’s We Make the Road By Walking. Week by week there is a chapter to read, scriptures to consider, conversations to be had. This week the chapter title is “It’s Not Too Late”, and for our consideration we were offered four scriptures: the lead up to Sodom and Gomorrah and the back story to Lot’s wife turning to salt; the almost sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham’s son; Micah chapter 6—which you will know as “He has shown thee, O Man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God; and finally a passage from Acts that talks about the coming judgment day. We are told by MacLaren: “It’s not too late!” And I ask myself as I read, not too late for what?

As I read through the scriptures, I landed on this passage from Genesis in which Abraham was badgering God for a second chance for the city of Sodom. For God had decided to destroy the city and all her inhabitants. “For why?” you might ask. And of course you have heard the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and about how angels came in the form of men, strangers. They had planned to sleep out in the square, and if Sodom had been a righteous city, they would have been safe sleeping outside. But Lot, who was family with Abraham, knew how the people of the city were, and insisted that the angels stay inside with his family. And sure enough, the men of the city came to Lot’s door and demanded that Lot hand his guests over to be raped. Lot, a righteous man, refused and kept the angels safe. And in return, the angels made sure Lot and his family were outside the city in the morning, when the city was to be destroyed by fire.

But let us go back. For what the angels experienced that night was simply confirmation. The LORD had made up his mind to destroy Sodom before the angels arrived. The men of the city, with their violent behavior, simply confirmed for the LORD that the city was unrighteous. The guilt of Sodom was not a night of threatened rape. No, the guilt of Sodom, we are told in Ezekiel, was this: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. She was haughty, Sodom was.

And still, troubled, Abraham bargained with the LORD. It’s not too late! He cried. Surely there are fifty righteous men in Sodom. Would you destroy an entire city, even though fifty righteous men resided there? Would the righteous perish alongside the wicked? Surely, not you, Lord, would be so cruel! And the LORD acquiesced, graciously even. If I find fifty righteous men, then Sodom will be spared. How about 45, asked Abraham slyly. For his nephew, Lot, lived in the city he knew. Would you set fire to the city if we are 5 short of 50? 40? 30? 20? And each time the LORD said, “ok, fine. 40, 30, 20. I won’t destroy the city.” And a final time Abraham spoke and said, “10. How about 10. If there are 10 righteous men in the city, surely you are a just God and will spare her.” And God, perhaps out of affection for Abraham—this sometimes childish man who trusted God with his whole life—God said, “Ok. 10 men. I will spare the city for 10 righteous men.”

Did Abraham trust that Lot’s family would be enough? Did he pray that night when he went home? Did he share with Sarah in the quiet of their tent his hopes and fears of what would come? Did he regret not bargaining for one—one righteous man? For surely his nephew, Lot, would prove worthy.

It’s not too late! There is time! The LORD will spare our city for 10 righteous ones! It’s not too late! We can still pester our God to be merciful! It’s not too late! We can change our ways! It’s not too late!

I want to say this to you about Trenton. About Ewing. About Lawrence. It’s not too late! 41% of children in Trenton live in poverty. It’s not too late! We have a city of relative ease and wealth in the township of Ewing—it’s not too late! There is much than can be done—there is much we are already doing—it’s not too late!

Like the persistent widow in our Luke scripture, like Abraham for the sake of Sodom and his cousing Lot, we are entitled to badger our God in prayer and supplication. Like the persistent widow, like Abraham, the children of Trenton are entitled to cry out for relief, for justice, for an easing of their pain and crisis. It’s not too late! We are children of a Most High God who affectionately hears our petitions and prayers, who longs for justice, who appreciates generous and abundant hospitality—it’s not too late! We know how to do this!

The students this weekend, at L.O.G., they shared so deeply of themselves. They always do. On Saturday afternoon there is space for them to talk of their deepest concerns in this life. The young ones seem so young to us, don’t they? But their stresses, their concerns, their worries mirror those of adults. Already at 13, 14, 15, 16, their lives are full of deep pain. They speak of depression and anxiety, suicide and rage. They speak of pregnancy and abortion and lost children. They tell their tales of drug abuse, drinking, and addiction. They talk of failing at school and living without money, of days without food and sometimes electricity. They speak of broken families, of parents whose best falls short, of grandparents who died. They tell us the stories of breakups and heartaches and crushes who crushed their spirits. They tell us their worries about the future, about college, about working, about getting out of this place before it eats them alive. These teenagers run deep underneath those glib shrugs and sly silence.

They are so very alive, these teenagers—and so it’s not too late! We draw breath and rise every morning, and therefore it’s not too late!

This week there was catastrophic flooding in South Carolina, and in the midst of the tragedy of lost homes and lost lives, I saw a story about fire ants. It seems that fire ants build their tunnels underground, and when the flood waters come, their tunnels are destroyed. With nowhere to go, the fire ants band together and form a raft with their bodies. Hundreds and thousands of ants quickly weave together, using pincers and mandibles and whatever they can to hold on to one another. With a strength of 400 times their body weight, the ants cling to one another. Their exoskeletons repel water, and woven together they form a waterproof fabric that can float for weeks, if necessary. The queen and the larvae are thrown on top, out of harm’s way. The hardier adults form the bottom layer, protecting the rest of the colony. As needed, the ants on the bottom of the raft trade places with ants on top. The communal movement of the ant raft functions as a superorganism, allowing the entire colony to relocate in times of disaster, saving their leader and the babies. For weeks they can float this way until they reach dry land.

And of course they are fire ants, so when they reach dry land, they disperse, rebuild, and devour every living organism they can find. Fire ants are fire ants, not humans. They have a strength we do not have. They have instincts we do not share. But we humans have the capacity for learning from metaphor, and perhaps we might take something from the raft of the fire ants.

In so many ways we humans have lost our ability to move as a colony. Many of us function as nuclear families without a lot of support or networks to hold us up in times of crisis. For fear that we too might drown, we do not always band together with the rest of our people during the flood times. Individual ants, while somewhat water resistant on their own, will drown quickly in a flood. But the colony together, using all of their smarts and strength and natural abilities, can save each other. We might do that too.

What would it look like as a community of Ewing, Lawrence, and Trenton to hold on to one another in the middle of the flood? We’d have to expand our understanding of who is in our tribe—are you ready for that? I’ve been thinking about the interaction between individual ants as they form the raft.

As the waters flood their homes, the ants grab on to one another. Quickly, oh so quickly they form a blob that floats, and they do it by pinching and biting and squeezing and grabbing. It’s surely not a pleasant process! Can you imagine the conversation that might occur?

“Hey Bob! Get over here! The water is coming!”

“Must I? Really? Last time you grabbed on so hard I was bruised for weeks!”

“Ow! Susana, are you even kidding me? Did you just bite my ear? I told you to grab my hand!”

“Dangit Davonne! You’re too close. Why are you up in my business like that! Take a step back!”

“Hold my hand, little one, don’t let go. No matter what, don’t let go!”

“Mother! Father! I’m frightened! Where are you! The water is so cold!”

“I’m DYING! You must help me! You must help me, even though it endangers you!”

Oh, can you imagine it? It is not our nature, here in the U.S. We treasure our individual success and security with a fierceness that borders on idolatry. We pay lip service to community, but few of us want to rely on the community for our lives. How many of us truly open our homes to strangers? How many of us truly rely on someone else for our needs? No, we do not have the instincts and talents of the fire ants. But we have a capacity for metaphor and learning.

The ant colonies rely on short-lived generations that are constantly dying and regenerating, learning over long periods of time through the death and rebirth of the colony. But we humans live long, and we cannot wait for our children to learn what is needed. We must learn it ourselves and lift up our children. It is not too late!

What will this look like here at Ewing? Oh I don’t know—how could I know? I cannot see the future. But I do know that we have time, that we have been granted the gift of one more day, one more breath, one more chance to say I love you to those around us. And we should take advantage of every one of those chances. For we do not know how many more chances we will have.

We do not know when it is God’s angels at our doorstep and when it is merely mortals. We do not know when we might be one of the ten righteous ones who can save the city. We do not know when the floods will come. But we can do what is necessary to keep the colony safe. We can latch on to one another, trust each other to stay connected, and lift up our children, the elderly, the vulnerable ones to keep them safe and dry in the flood. We can surround our leaders with prayer and love. We can offer up our talents and time and money and love for the betterment and security of our entire community—it is not too late!

How do we do this? I don’t have all the answers. But probably it starts with the people knocking on your door. Or the people down the street. Or the children who come to church. Or the children who come to church when you aren’t looking. Or the neighbors’ kids in need. Or the mother struggling to make it. Or the father in jail. Or the young adult who needs a job. Or the person on the street who needs a bed. Grab on and hold tight. Don’t let go until the flood subsides. It’s no too late!

There is an urgency to love, to life. Christ calls us to abundant life through service and care for one another. If, when there is a knock on your door, a pull on your heart strings, a request to share what you have, if in that moment you believe the person in front of you is indeed Christ, what will you do? How will you serve?

A last story, then, a small story. Sometimes we need small stories to remind us that even in our own pain, our old age, our vulnerability, we still have something to share.

My son went to an AA meeting last week. He was in a rotten mood, and on the way to the meeting we argued. I dropped him off and he left me with all the teenage disdain that only a teenager can muster.

An old woman at the meeting asked him why he was in his rotten mood. And he said, “I got in a fight with my mom.” She sized him up and said to him, “You better apologize to your mom, or I’ll bash you with my oxygen tank.”

And in that moment the sheer absurdity of her words go through to him, and he texted me an apology. I texted back that I loved him. And when I picked him up, things were better.

It was a small, small thing. But that old woman gave us a little breathing room. Through humor and persistence, she got through to him in a way I couldn’t. I’m sure it took a lot for her to get to that meeting with the oxygen tank in tow. But there she was, in faithful attendance. And her presence MATTERED. She grabbed on to my son, and my son grabbed back. And then he bit into me by text message and I held on for dear life.

And it is in this way, moment by moment, small thing by small thing, words here and there, that love will overwhelm the floodwaters and we will LIVE. It is not too late!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mad Love

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
Louvre Museum, Paris
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
With gratitude to Rev. Lisa Day for the invitation and the congregation for their generosity of spirit and warm welcome. 

Video of the sermon
can be found here on youtube

Audio of the sermon
can be found here at

I preached from notes this morning, and the transcript below is exactly that: a rendering of what was spoken, as close as I can get by listening and typing. This is not my usual way--I am by habit and preference a manuscript preacher. As this is the first time I've been videotaped (to my knowledge) since seminary, I spent some time evaluating this sermon (both in terms of form and content) on the blog here. If you have comments, please leave them on the evaluation post where I've already begun engaging critically with this.

In particular, I used the words "mad" "insane" and crazy" several times in this sermon in a manner that I recognize as ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities). This is something I would have eliminated from a scripted sermon, but also something I am clearly still struggling with in casual conversation. I titled this sermon after I preached it, and I leave the both title, "Mad Love," and the sermon as originally preached, as a learning tool for both myself and others.

I learned as much about myself as I taught anyone else this morning. As always, grateful for the opportunity to engage scripture, the Spirit, and my own particular flaws and vulnerabilities, as I bring a word to a congregation. It is a peculiar and queer art, preaching.

Scripture Reading: Song of Songs 2:8-13 (but just read the WHOLE thing!)

Other Readings Cited: 
--Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology

--Robert Goss, "The Integration of Sexuality and Spirituality: Gay Sexual Prophets within the UFMCC" in The Spirituality of Men (edited by Philip Culbertson)

(Note: I did not quote Carter Hayward in the sermon, but the opening poem in her book served as a guiding light as I prepared for today's sermon.)

Good morning! Is anyone else still asleep? I might be a little bit still asleep this morning…

I came out here from Lawrenceville; I live not too far from Pastor Lisa in Lawrenceville. We went to seminary together. I think Lisa graduated in 2006—no 2007 and I graduated in 2009. So we overlapped for a year there. She became a dear friend at seminary. As a single parent in seminary, struggling to make it through my graduate program. It was helpful to have others who were following that same path as a single mom, as an older student. A lot of our families in the area had young children. But we had grade school, jr. high, high school students. My children are now 13 and 16 and they are still keeping me on my toes, very much so. My oldest will be in 10th grade this year, my youngest will be in 7th, and it’s never a dull moment in our home.

My name is Katie Mulligan. I’m a youth and young adult pastor in and around Trenton. I work in Trenton, Ewing, and Lawrenceville. I have students from Bordentown. Felicia is here this morning, one of our volunteers. And she loves it when I point her out like that, I know. She’s helped some with

Critically Engaging

Jon Jordan,
tucked away under the Manchurian Way by Cambridge Street

Yesterday I preached a sermon I titled "Mad Love". I was a guest preacher in a congregation that did not know me at all, filling in for a seminary colleague who was gracious enough to ask.

The sermon was based on a reading from Song of Songs, and as part of my point in the sermon was that Song of Songs can provide a disruptive force to our usual decency and order, I decided not to write a manuscript. I preached from notes--a practice some people affectionately call "extemporaneous preaching."

I dislike extemporaneous preaching intensely, preferring to preach from a manuscript. Preaching from notes often leads me to preach in stories, circling around my points, repeating myself, and occasionally straying from my course. I prefer the tightness of a manuscript, in which extraneous language, inappropriate commentary, and repetition have been excised.

Yesterday was also the first time I have been videotaped while preaching (to my knowledge) since seminary. It was a rare opportunity for me to review and critique myself. Even audio recordings do not provide the same chance to really look at oneself. It is...disconcerting. 

Since I did not manuscript my sermon, I had to transcribe it after the fact. I have now spent several hours slowly watching myself preach while typing out the words I spoke. It was both delightful and

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Put On The WHOLE Armor

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Thank you for your hospitality and generosity of spirit.

Scripture Readings John 6:56-59 and Ephesians 6:10-20

Today's sermon is for Radazz Hearns.
Today's sermon is for our community of Trenton and Mercer County.
Today's sermon is for all those who long for a better world.

It’s been a quiet month since I last was with you. Another whole lazy month of summer gone by, and here we are at the end of August. School will start in 2 weeks for most of our children. Since I saw you last there has only been one murder here in Trenton, Mr. Leon Boota McClendon. I attended his funeral with great sadness. I give thanks for more than 30 days of a break in such violence.

Since I saw you last my youth group had a pool party at the pastor’s house, splashing in the cool water on a late afternoon, chaperones and parents sipping sodas and grilling burgers while counting heads in the pool. 1, 2, 3…8, 11…wait, where’s our littlest fish—oh there she is, popping up in the deep end. We took pictures of the students jumping into the pool, catching them mid air, shrieking with joy. There was ice cream and brownies. It was a good day.

It’s been a warm summer, hasn’t it? With long lazy evenings. The sun has been setting around 8:00, and then as the air cools slightly, dusk falls around 9:00. Teenagers all over town have been hanging out late, walking home from friends’ houses, sitting on front porches, popping down to the corner store with whatever change they can scrape up for a soda or an ice cream. And of course, mischief and hijinx, getting up to what kids get up to these days—I’m not naïve. A long, lazy summer, time to fill, boredom to relieve. Yes, summer vacation hasn’t changed that much since you were a child.

On August 7, a Friday night—my son’s 16th birthday, in fact—a group of three boys were walking down the street on the west side of Trenton at 10:30 at night. It had just got dark an hour before, and they were out, like many kids are that time of night on a Friday. As they walked, an SUV approached,

Monday, August 17, 2015

For a mother, who wasn't easy.

Scripture readings:
Psalm 23 and Romans 8:38-39

Perhaps this is for my grandmother. Or perhaps for your mother. Or maybe your friend. Or maybe your patient. We are sometimes mourned in complicated ways.

A  lot of people will say a lot of things around the death of our loved ones.  And there might be a lot of words in your own hearts and minds about the death of your mother, your grandmother, your friend. I’m here to tell you today that all of the words and emotions and sorrows and laughter are appropriate and right in this time of grief. In one moment you may miss your mother with the entirety of your being, another moment you might be SO angry, and in the next, you may be doubled over with laughter because of a memory or a story about her life with you.

Oh yes, this is a time of many, many emotions, and I’m here today to say that God is big enough for all of them. The God who created this woman from the very beginning, and the same God who even now has welcomed her home, that God is big enough, generous enough, loving enough, to embrace you in and through this time.

We each of us here have some limited time on this earth to love and to care for one another. And it is my belief that in each and every step of the way, God is present with us, delighting in our joy, weeping in our tears, loving as we love. Today, here and now, God is present with us, loving us through this time as well.

Not even death can separate us from those we love, not even THIS complicated woman you love. She will live on in your memories and stories, in your care for one another, in the way you show up for the world. She has shaped you with her life and love, with all her strengths and flaws, and she leaves you now to shape others with yours.

As you go out from here, know that you take your mother/grandmother/friend with you into everything you do, and that as you move through this time of grief, God is with you, even in the hardest moments. Perhaps, God is with us ESPECIALLY in those hardest moments.

May you be blessed by the knowing of this woman.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Like a Mother Hen

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! ~Matthew 23:37

I'm finally getting around to writing my Wild Goose Festival post. Wild Goose, held this year in early July at Hot Springs Campground, in North Carolina, is a 4 day festival of music, theology, social justice, spirituality, and joy. This was my fourth year attending and my third year as a volunteer chaplain for the festival. 

I haven't been blogging regularly this year, and both my professional and personal life have been in need of earnest prayer, difficult work, and deliberate sabbath. This all meant that it's been a month since I got home from Wild Goose, and this is the first time I've felt like writing about it.

It was a strange year for me. I spent most of the weekend volunteering at the cell phone charging station for the Desanka Spirit Café. I didn't really intend to spend my weekend playing nursemaid to cell phones and tablets, but the joy of the work came over me on Friday, and I really couldn't leave it alone. There were other folks working this table as well, but I hovered over it like a hen laying an egg.

We had somewhere around 35 plugs available, and during the busy times it took quite a bit of nurturing to keep the station from turning to chaos. People would leave their phones for hours, and other folks would need to plug in. But nobody likes strangers messing with their phones, so I took responsibility for checking the charge levels. During the slow times we'd let phones charge to 100%. If it got busy, we were unplugging them at 95% or better. And during rush hour, if your phone was over 90% we set it to the side..

Exciting stuff, right?

We didn't have any trouble with phones, but people's chargers went missing a time or two. We provided a few chargers, and they were all marked. But some folks brought their own. And they'd come back to the table and say, "I had my charger here. It was a black cord and a white box." Well,