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.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Humor & Scripture

Yesterday, I posted a cartoon on the church's facebook group. You can view it here:

Adam's Rib Comic

Basically, a kid asks his dad if God really made woman out of Adam's rib. Cartoon dad explains that in fact woman WAS made from a bone and that's why...look, it's hard to explain a joke, just go look at the comic and come back.

The upshot is that because woman is made of bone she is strong and to be feared, and this kid hasn't been brushing his teeth...

One of the members where I serve as pastor didn't think it was funny and he posted a strong reaction about the cartoon being posted in our church group. I'm responding here because I think this is a great conversation starter on a number of levels. If you're thinking to yourself, "What's the big deal, it was funny." or "It wasn't funny, but I don't care enough to read a blogpost." then please feel free to stop here lol.

If it matters to you or you're interested in how I think about things, read on. Feel free to message me or email me or come to church to talk to me (and now you know my real motive for posting). That said, here's a few thoughts:

1. The comic is satirical and not intended as an in-depth theological treatise on Genesis 2:18-25. The usual rule of satire is that it should "punch up" instead of "punching down". In other words, satire should benefit those who are marginalized and not those who have systemic power. In this case, there was an objection that the comic poked fun at women (and is sexist) and at Christians (who are oppressed these days). As I read it, the comic poked fun at men's fear of women, exaggerating men's anxiety about women's hidden strength. It could have been reinforcing the trope of nagging women who will eat their husbands and sons for breakfast over nothing, however...the mother never appears in this comic. We are only presented with the dad's absurd explanation for Genesis 2 and a curious little boy who doesn't seem too concerned about being eaten. The question of Christianity being marginalized in the U.S. and therefore needing to be safe from satire is also not, to my mind, a concern. In Salem County, NJ (where I serve) there is not a single mosque or synagogue, much less gatherings of any other faith tradition. In contrast, here is the 2015 guide to over 50 churches in Salem County...and this is just the churches that responded to the county clerk's office. Christians, at least in Salem County, are not under attack. Christianity remains the predominate organizing framework for most people here. We can tolerate a little satire. Or even a lot.

2. The comic is fairly lighthearted. The last line: "You have endangered us all!" referring to the little boy not flossing his teeth, tells us that it is intended as humor, not a sharp, negative critique. The panels reminded me of this Calvin and Hobbes comic. And hey, there's a little light misogyny if you frame it as yet another incidence of mansplaining and calling a woman crazy, but it's a pretty strict reading of that strip to see it that way. Another way to frame it is that the strip pokes fun at dads for making shit up.

3. There was a critique that this comic is disrespectful toward scripture. This may depend on your definition of respect. Some people adhere respect as obeying authority. In that case, scripture functions as authority, and any questioning of it or humor about it could be disrespectful. Others of us use the word respect to mean treating with humanity. For us, scripture may have been inspired by God, but it was written by humans and humanity (in all its forms of beauty and ugly) are woven into the fabric of scripture. Not only is the comic humorous, but the scripture it refers to is hilarious, actually. In Genesis 2 God made all of creation, including the male creature (who at that moment couldn't have been male since there's nothing to contrast maleness to), and then the creature got lonely so God knocked Adam into unconsciousness, cut open his abdomen, REMOVED A BONE, sewed him back up, and then made another creature as a companion. This is clearly, in all aspects, a case of "be careful what you wish for." Can you imagine, there you are in your prayers, dropping a few tears and saying, "God, I'm so grateful for all the creation you have created, but I am just so LONELY..." and the next thing you know you've had SURGERY, and there's another creature hanging out in your domicile? And it's clear from scripture that this request is the basis for ALL the trouble of humans the whole rest of the next many thousands of years. This story, all by itself, is funny. The creation stories themselves sound a lot like Calvin's dad explaining physics..."Dad? How did the world get to be here?" "Well, you see...uhhhmmm...well...once there was nothing...and then the BigGuyInTheSky waved his hands over the nothingness..and uhhmm...there was something!..."

To me disrespect to scripture begins with a lack of curiosity about the scriptures and an unwillingness to see them as they are: very human. One of the Hebrew professors at my seminary is well known for seeing the humor in the Hebrew scriptures--so many ironies, puns, satires, wordplays! He's written commentaries on Job and Ecclesiastes...if anyone has a spare $100 I'd love to add both to my bookshelf. Once I attended a conference panel on humor in the Hebrew scriptures. Six intense academics presented papers on humor in the texts and only one of the presentations actually used humor in his presentation. The other five were the driest, crustiest, stuffiest papers I'd ever heard, and I spent the hour in the back giggling at how humorless the presentations on humor were. Nobody else was laughing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What is it about us humans that makes us think respect has to be humorless? Twisting and turning scriptures, wrestling with their meanings, laughing at their absurdity, these are all time honored traditions with regards to scripture...except in places where we approach the texts with fear and anxiety. I post humor on the church page to inspire curiosity and to remove some of the fear of approaching scriptures. I hope that we will be the kind of church where questions are permitted, where learning goes both ways between teachers and students, and where we can challenge traditional interpretations of scripture.

4. If the comic inspires us to go seriously and deeply into the theology of creation represented in Genesis 2:18-25, I hope that it will also move us to recognize the first human creation story in scripture from Genesis 1:26-31, and I hope that any examination of THAT text will lead us to a discussion of how THAT more egalitarian text is then used as justification for ecological devastation and colonization of native lands, the degradation of all other animal and plant life on this planet, and our stubborn insistence that (white male) human life is superior to everyone and everything else. We could springboard into a conversation about how human life and society began in the Christian faith itself came out of Judaism which came out of Africa and that Jesus wasn't white (or a Christian) and how white U.S. Christianity has coopted and twisted faith traditions into a formula that supports slavery, exploitation, torture, murder, fascism and mass incarceration...And assuredly, none of THAT is funny to me, but I don't mind using humor to get us to that conversation.

I could keep going, because I've been thinking about this stuff intensely for decades, and I'm happy to keep going in a more interactive way with you over coffee or a phone call.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Take Me With You

Maundy Thursday Sermon
by Katie Mulligan
April 18, 2019

Scripture Readings: John 13: 1-17, 31-35

A long time ago now, I came to the church quite by accident. I came to the church because there was food and laughter and joy and love. I came to the church because nothing was right in my own life. I came to the church because the door was open and someone said “come on in.”

In the church I found people who were kind and caring and concerned for my well-being. They weren’t perfect people, and they didn’t love perfectly. And I wasn’t a perfect person and I didn’t love them back perfectly.

But a long time ago now, I came to the church. And I found an open door. And through that door I found people who had promised to live by a certain code. I found people who acknowledged that there was something bigger than themselves or their church building or even the planet. They called that something God, and they had made a promise to love and care for that life force and the Creation we were gifted to be part of. And they had made a promise to love other people as if they were their own.

As I came to know the story of the church, I began to hear stories about Jesus. Some of the stories were from the Bible and some of the stories were from people’s own lives. I heard stories of how following after Jesus’ teachings had transformed people’s lives and given them a framework to live well and to treat others as…well…to treat others as human.

As I grew in faith and came to know the community I had joined better, I discovered that people didn’t always keep those promises. And people didn’t always live up to Jesus’ teachings. And people’s lives weren’t always transformed in ways that seemed good.

I discovered that the community wasn’t about being perfect or always right or always righteous or always even loving. But it was about a trajectory. It was about a commitment to one another. It was about staying at the table, even through hard times. It was about how there was always a place at the table for me if I was willing to come through the door.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus ate supper with his disciples one last time. He sat at table with all twelve disciples, even though over the course of three years they had all irritated him mightily at one time or another. He had all twelve to dinner even though he knew that Judas had already betrayed him and would do so further. He gathered his closest twelve to himself even though he knew that Peter would deny knowing him three times before the night was over.

He stripped off his outer clothing, took a basin of water, and washed his disciples feet—just as a woman named Mary had so recently washed his feet while he sat at table. So he returned the favor by paying it forward to the men around him. Perhaps it was the woman’s gift of perfume and love and care that gave him the idea to serve his disciples. Perhaps it was her foot washing that gave him the strength and endurance to serve others on this, his last night. Perhaps it was simply that he was a man born to serve others, Son of God, set on a path of service that would lead to his early and untimely death.

We gather tonight to remember Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, Son of God, cousin of John the Baptist, brother to none and to all, sanctified, holy, yet humble enough to kneel at the dirty feet of those he taught and to wash them gently. We gather tonight to remember his last teachings on that night: none of us are greater than the other and that if we love Jesus we ought to love one another. If Jesus can wash our feet, then we ought to wash each others. That even on our deathbeds, in our final days, with our last gasping breaths, that we ought to have concern and care for one another.

We are gathered tonight as an act of love for Jesus. We are gathered to remind one another that we are called to love. We are reminded that we will be known as Jesus’ disciples by the love we bear into the world. All of the pretty words, all of the riches of the world, all of the church buildings and regalia and bells and choirs and Bibles and hymnals—all of that matters nothing against the fruit of God’s work among us: the love we bear one another. The world will know us as Christians, as followers of the Christ, by how we love.

And after he said all that, our beloved savior was taken from us by the work of our own betraying hands. He was executed for daring to see a different way of life and love. He died for little more than a few sermons, a few free meals on the lawn, some roadside healing, and a scathing lack of respect for systems and authority that dehumanized his people.

A few years ago I wrote this:

Do you feel it? Do you feel the urgency, the ambivalence, the unfinished business?

40 days of Lent 
Palm Sunday
the Last Supper
the Trial

Keeping vigil

Oh, I prefer Thomas
whose joy was tempered by
How can this be?

There is a story we read with the youth called The Ragman by Walter Wangerin. It is the story of a man who trades new clothes for old rags in the city. With the new clothes comes healing, and when the ragman puts on the old clothes he takes on the wounds of the people he trades with. At the end of the story the ragman dies, and then comes to life again--the narrator witnesses the strange sight of this man and asks for his own miracle--to be dressed by the ragman and to be healed in the act.

My colleagues weep at the end of this story when they read it, and I love them for that. But my attention is caught in the middle of the story:

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.

The narrator is drawn to follow the ragman beyond the city limits, desperate to see what happens next.

But I want time with the weeping, bleeding, drunken, sick ragman, skittering through the city on spider's legs. I want to hear the stories, I want to bring him soup, I want to see what he sees.

And I am so aware of time! It rushes by so quickly--Christ's ministry was three years only! I have been here in New Jersey now almost 13 years--how is that even possible? My children are nearly grown!

So much to be done, so many loose ends, so many things left unfinished. I wake early in the morning sometimes, overpowered by the nagging sense that I have left things undone. And I am right! This is no false anxiety--there is no end to this work, to this life, to the ever-present need of the people and world around me. And if I am honest, there is no end to my need.

A therapist once told me that the only two things an adult needs are oxygen and water, and perhaps a little food. I understand his point--but he was wrong! We cannot live by bread alone, and so there we go, skittering through the city on spider's legs, seeking love and care however we might find it.

What else could have inspired the disciples to follow Christ? What else could open the purses of the women who loved and cared for Jesus and his band of stragglers?

And now a last supper, full of tensions and unfinished business. How do we read Jesus in this last meal? Full of enough love to include Judas in the dinner, but angry enough to curse him. Intimate enough to wash their feet, distant enough to not fully explain. "I will be with you always." "I will never drink with you again in this life." Come to the garden, but you cannot come all the way. My time is ending, but please God, if it is possible, let this not be! (And was this not Peter's same plea?) The certain knowledge the disciples would betray him and his forgiveness for that, juxtaposed with his frustration that they could not stay awake in the garden to wait for his late night prayers.

So many unanswered questions! So much love not fully expressed! And now, in these last days, not enough time for farewells or last embraces. Was Mary not at the last supper, even? A last intimate moment with Mary Mag?

Could any of them move about in familiar places without thinking of Jesus in the days to come? Did his presence linger in every doorway, every meal, every habit of life?

Skitter on ahead to the death and resurrection, if you must, but I want more time with his life. I am deeply drawn to Jesus' fleshly existence--I cannot sit with his death yet. I won't be ready tomorrow, either. And by Sunday, with the trumpets sounding and the sanctuaries full of lilies, I will still be stunned at the tomb.

It is too soon. Won't you sit a while, Lord Jesus? And if you must be hurrying and skittering, take me with you.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Swarming Locusts, a sermon

Sunday, November 25, 2018
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Preached at First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, NJ

Scripture Readings: Joel 2:21-27 and Matthew 6:25-33

Sermon video:

Storyteller by Leslie Marmon Silko
A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen

Video of swarming locusts:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Broad Place

some weeks suck more than others
which i'm sure you already know

for those weeks there's this:

he reached down from on high; he took me
he drew me out of  mighty waters...
he brought me out into a broad place;
he delivered me, because he delighted in me

~Psalm 18

Monday, October 8, 2018

Hit my inbox

A caveat before posting... I'm in the middle of a search process for a new pastor call.  I've directed a lot of people to this blog.  I've received advice to watch what I post. 

So if you're here, checking me out, and this post makes you uncomfortable, I'd ask you to read more of my posts instead of writing me off.  Maybe you might ask yourself why you are uncomfortable. Maybe you might address me directly with your concerns rather than just ghosting. 

And if not, if this is all too much, then wipe the dust.  Jesus said you could. 

The tensions these last weeks could be summed up in these fucked up scriptures:
Genesis 3:16-17

I'd really like to have a conversation about what our music was/is like, what our literature was/is like, what our romance novels/erotic literature/porn/whatever gets you off was/is like, what our movies/tv/plays was/is like. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


what happens
when your body itself
the thin place
and your
if you will
moves between
here and there
what is and what isn't
hope and despair
yesterday and tomorrow
and today has all the fixity
of school glue

Monday, October 1, 2018

11 word goodnight


clear bell

clear as a bell

aye, you are that.