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.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Voice Was Heard In Trenton

A room at Trenton High, in much need of repair.
Full article & video here.
"Let us be still, O Lord,
let us dwell in the gentle silence 
of your approach. 
You who lift up the weak, 
who repairs the broken, 
who heals the sick; 
we await You. 
We struggle to remember 
that Your Kingdom is at hand. 
 Guide us Merciful Judge, 
in being instruments of your peace. 
May grace more abound within us!" 
~Gideon Addington

Scripture Readings: 
Psalm 148 & Matthew 2:1-23

A quick note: parts of this sermon are taken from a sermon I preached in 2009, which referenced Rosa Linda Fregoso's work meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the BorderlandsIn the process of re-writing and adapting for today's sermon, the reference was lost. But the concept of borderlands and movement was inspired directly from that work. Here is a link to that sermon: "Ni de aquí, ni de allá" Thanks to Kimberly Allard who prompted me to look closer at what had changed.

There is a LOT to unpack in these few verses of scripture. But let me say this up front: I won’t get to

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Can Haz Snow Day

I was about to head to church for a meeting tonight, when the email came:

"Due to the weather, we have postponed tonight's meeting until Thursday. Please be safe and stay off the roads if you can."

I live in winter purgatory New Jersey, and so we get a fair amount of hell freezing over freezing rain, black ice, and wintry mix. This means there's not enough snow to justify snow days in the eyes of the

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Someone's At The Door

Today's sermon was preached from notes on the back of an envelope, hopped up on cold meds. It went something like how this blogpost goes, but I don't promise word for word. At one point I think I flailed my arm in the air and yelled "Stay woke!" which may or may not have made any sense in context.

At the end of the service I blessed the congregation with the benediction: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, with you always, Amen." Really could not remember the love of God part, so we will have to settle with being double graced by Jesus. My liturgist said we always need a double dose of Jesus' grace anyway.

More than the usual number of people said they took something important away from my sermon today. Except for one kind (and probably most honest) woman who said, "You got through it, dear.

Friday, November 1, 2013

striae gravidarum

I said once

it's hard now
to remember what
I was not forgetting
it takes effort to draw
forth images
that once plagued
my eyes
my thoughts
my heart
my body


some implication that I
might forgive

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Slow Cooker Church

I've been working this morning on my overdue newsletter submissions for three churches. One church I'm a week late. One church it was due now. The third church will publish a November/December newsletter sometime later this month. And don't get me started on how desperately I need to do a youth newsletter that will go out separately. Like desperately.

I've been putting this off until I could "find time" to focus for several hours, because putting together the pieces of what I do is somewhat daunting. My calendar is a rat's nest of disparate events, pivoting on a dime between two, three, or four different programs in any given day. How does one put that into a newsletter in any coherent manner? Last year I decided to draw a picture so I could explain it to people:

One person ran screaming from the room, and I never heard from him again.

But, oh, we are having so much fun!

The picture has changed a little bit since the spring, with some relationships strengthening and others

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Laugh Lines II*

possibilities exist
even in the gray strands
filling in the amber honey
that my father
used to call
dishwater blonde

your eyes are like pools

Il faut souffrir pour être belle

I think he said that about my braces

I have forty-one years
are stretch marks beauty?

a stretch mark
crawled out of his own bed
like a question mark
"Hey mom, wanna snuggle?
Just for a little bit?"

sweet as honey
and just as annoyed
to find himself
in a poem

And I think
I am not dead yet.

*first Laugh Lines post here

Monday, October 14, 2013


From Happy Nataraj's fundly blog. Go check it out!

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
 ~Romans 12

This is a post for my friend Happy Nataraj (pictured above), about artists and healers and others who don't fit in the box. Go support his campaign to create beauty here: A Happy Rebirth.

Support his campaign with money. Support it with the time it takes to watch the videos and see what he is about. Support it by adding your name to his page. I know a lot of us are living on the edge and

Friday, October 11, 2013

Queer Like Rain in the Desert

It's National Coming Out Day again, like it is every year on October 11, a day set aside for LGBTQ folks to "come out of the closet" and proudly shout our sexual orientation from the rooftops. "Here ye, here ye, I'm gay Gay GAY!" I made my own Coming Out post 3 years ago, which you can find here: InsideOuted. I had a lot of support, a few very challenging responses, and a lot of folks saying, "Wait, WHAT? How did this happen? You're switching teams?" So I wrote a little more in this post: Some Partial Thoughts. That was the beginning of this blog

It's an absurd ritual in a lot of ways. I mean, should I stand up in church and declare, "I LOVE WOMEN!!" Half the congregation is going to nod and say,

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Restoring the Broken Table

This weekend I've been at Church of All Nations for a conference co-hosted with a Mennonite Worker Community called "Christian Hospitality: Restoring the Broken Table". We've had a series of great speakers and workshops, and I've been tweeting quite a bit. Here are links to the notes I took in plenaries and workshops. The full conference schedule can be found at

A quick note that I attended the Sacred Sites tour, led by Pastor Jim Bear Jacobs, but I did not tweet it. I am still letting that afternoon and space settle in my thoughts.

Plenary: Mark Van Steenwyk, "The Revolutionary Table" 
              Book: The Unkingdom of God: 
                         Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance
              Twitter: @markvans

              Book: Radical Gratitude
              Twitter: @romerohouseto

Workshop: Jim Bear Jacobs, "A Native Perspective on Hospitality"
              Twitter: @bearjacobs
              Website: Healing Minnesota Stories

Workshop: Richard Beck, "The Slavery of Death"

Plenary: Richard Beck, "The Will to Embrace: 
                                      Hospitality as Emotional Capacity"

Not tweeting the last plenary, a panel of our speakers. I do appreciate the acknowledgment/confession that with Mary Jo's departure this morning, this panel is all men. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Of Church Mice Unseen

Sunday, September 29, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan & Jeffri Christopher

A quick note that Plainsboro is the church I joined when I went to seminary. I came under their care halfway through my ordination process, in the middle of my divorce. They loved me. They loved my children. They loved my ex-husband. It is a good church, with good people.

Scripture Readings: 

I bring you greetings this morning from a congregation that resides in the in-between spaces. We do not have a building or an office. We do not have our own elders and deacons and sessions and committees. Rather, we make our home in many buildings; we borrow the church vans; we share office space and cadge off your internet service. In the late afternoon hours on Sundays we sneak into the kitchens of 3 churches. We eat leftovers you so obligingly leave for us from coffee hour or a church dinner. We are the church mice of your congregations.  On Sunday mornings we may be hard to find in the midst of all the people, joyful noise, the lights, and the hustle. But after the people of God go home, and the building empties of light and sound, our students join together in this sanctuary or that fellowship hall, and we make ourselves at home. You might only know we were there because of the mouse droppings: the half-empty soda can, the broken chair, or the copy machine left on all night.

We are a congregation of youth and young adults ranging from 4th grade through people in their 20s and 30s or so. We include their families and a few older adults who have discovered newfound spirit and life at the margins of their churches.

We’ve been calling it a Ministry of Many, and we are a collaboration of several churches working to provide a space for youth and young adults to minister to one another, strengthen their faith, and return to their home congregations with a vision for how they belong in the family of God. I work primarily with Trenton Area Campus Ministry and Ewing, Covenant, and Lawrence Road Presbyterian Churches. West Trenton and Plainsboro support us in various ways with students like Jeffri, meals for our college students, funding for our ministries, and your prayers. We especially covet your prayers.

For the last year, Jeffri has been participating regularly in a youth ministry called L.O.G., which stands for Love Of God. She has been a student leader, inviting others to come to our retreats, working with our student team to plan three retreats for other high school students, and joining us for service work

Friday, September 20, 2013

What Is That To You?

It has been a very full couple of weeks since I returned from all of my summer adventures. My to-do list is pages long. My programs, connections, relationships, and meetings are all back in full school year swing. I'll be running hard until mid-December, when blessedly the birth of our Savior coincides with school breaks and the Christmas Culture War. I will be conveniently lost in most people's shuffle.

In the meantime, I am up and down and all around, never sure if I'm coming or going, switching between age groups and cultural groups, changing clothes three times a day to accommodate worship, relay races, formal meetings, and pizza hangouts.

This kind of ministry, with this kind of rhythm, is sometimes like gorging oneself at a smorgasbord. Every emotion known to humans is on the table: joy, grief, foolishness, cynicism, satisfaction, rage, and more. Sometimes it's my emotions, sometimes it's you all's, but we are connected and I feel it.

I was talking about all this with a colleague today, saying, "If it wasn't for _______, I would be free." Fill in the blank with whatever you want. Free to do what, I'm not sure exactly. But his response set me back: "You are already free."

It could have been trite, but it wasn't. I forget this is my Truth. I forget that I am free in Christ. The trick is remembering to live as if this is true.

When Peter saw [the beloved disciple], he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’  ~John 21:21-22

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Shift in Posture

Sunday, September 1, 2013
sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church

"I would like us to do something unprecedented: to create ourselves
without finding it necessary to create an enemy."

~James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption, (204).

Scriptures Readings:
Jeremiah 2:4-13

Our scripture this morning is a pair of tough passages. Since I preach here so rarely, I had hoped for something light and sweet—maybe a passage about love—love is patient, love is kind. Maybe a piece of the Song of Solomon, and I could preach a barely restrained, passionate sermon on the delights of a lover’s body. Maybe something hopeful about being a new creation if we are in Christ. Or something absurd from Leviticus, like whether or not rabbits actually chew their cud and therefore whether or not we are permitted to eat them.

But in a week that saw the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, the cultural appropriation of Miley Cyrus, and serious consideration as to whether our country will go to war against brown bodies in Syria, I turned to the lectionary and found these two scriptures:

From Jeremiah, which Sandra just read: my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

And now this from Luke: On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

These two passages come around every three years in our lectionary, that three year cycle of scripture that many of us preachers use. I was tempted to skip them this year and talk about rabbits. Yes I was, because listen. I was just on vacation in California, on the beach, picking up sand dollars by the dozen. I was just with my family, visiting an ostrich farm, taking pictures of my son feeding those giant birds. I’ve got school starting and youth groups starting, and college kids are back, and about sixty-seven urgent emails that need responding too, no matter that I am jet lagged and travel weary. I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum, pray hold me excused, I cannot preach on these passages. Do you get me?

But my mind stuck on this: “My people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
In the midst of my weariness I see that I have myself forsaken living water, and carved out cracked cisterns that hold no water. The spiritual malaise that plagues me (and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this) reminds me that I ignore these passages at my own peril. If there is one message that unifies the gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts it is this: the measure of a community’s righteousness is how we treat the marginalized folks: those who are poor; those with disabilities; women; children; those who are cut off from community. In our own context, a measure of our community is how we treat people of color.

A few months ago I pulled into the parking lot with Covenant’s van after a youth event. We had been roller skating or mini-golfing or some such, and it was late in the afternoon. Night was beginning to fall, but there was enough light left to see by. I had dropped off the last of our youth who needed rides home, and now it was time for me to go home and rest. As I walked to my own car to drive home, I noticed a group of 8 children huddled in the parking lot. They were neighborhood children, black and beautiful. I had never met them before. As I watched, they moved together as a group in one motion, occasionally screaming and jumping. I wondered what they were up to, because this wasn’t random play. I walked over to them, feeling somewhat protective of the church, feeling ashamed at my automatic dis-ease around the children. They looked up at me and said, “Hey lady! We found a baby rabbit!”

They were circled around this little creature, trying to catch it, and one of them said, “We’re trying to get it out of the parking lot, so it won’t get run over.” I had leftover twizzlers from our youth event and offered them up. One of the children pulled me aside and said, “Hey, what church is this?” I told them the name of the church and invited them to come again, but what I wanted to say is this: “You came to play here, and I gave you twizzlers. It’s your church now.” I wonder often if we’ll ever see those children here again. I reflect often on the racism of my internal response to meeting them in our parking lot.

Not long after that, I was dropping off a permission slip at a student’s home in Trenton. I didn’t know exactly where her place was, so I parked the van and walked around. I asked a couple of children if they knew where my student lived. They looked at me and said, “Why? Did she run away?” They couldn’t figure out any other reason a white woman would be walking around that part of town, so they assumed I was a social worker.

Ewing and Covenant are pretty diverse churches in a lot of ways. We have people coming from all over New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania to be here. We have wealthy families and we’ve got poor families. We’ve got straight folks and queer folks. I’ve benefitted directly from that, haven’t I? In 2010, about a year after my ordination, I decided to come out and live as an openly queer woman. I wondered, as I publicly invited people to know me in this way, if I would ever find a church call—who was going to hire a queer, divorced, woman, single mother pastor? And then I found Ewing and Covenant, and it’s been a joy to work with two congregations who openly embrace and celebrate lgbtq people and their partners and their children.

We are two very diverse congregations. And we have work to do around racial and ethnic diversity. This is evident in our discomfort in having conversations about race, and the way we are often willing to redirect the conversation away from race to almost anything else. This is evident in the racial and ethnic makeup of our congregations. We are mostly white churches in areas that are increasingly home to people of color. We are Presbyterians, and nationwide our denomination is 92% white in a country that is most certainly not.

I keep going back to the question asked of me in our parking lot by one of our neighborhood children: “What church is this?” There was so much to that question—and I think it’s one we need to grapple with. I think we need to ask ourselves carefully, “Whose church is this?” And if the answer is anything except “God’s church,” then I think we have built a leaky cistern and forsaken living water. It's easy to forget that when I have the keys to the church--it's easy to think that controlling access to a space gives us ownership. But this is God's church, and we are guests.

A few years ago I preached on these same passages. Because of the timing of the lectionary, the date was August 29th. The day before my sermon Glenn Beck had stood on the steps of Lincoln Memorial and preached a sermon to mostly white people about taking the inheritence left to us by the Rockefellers and the Carnegies and building on that. He left out the part of how this country was built on the backs of enslaved people of color. He suggested that segregation and Jim Crow were over. But folks, we can see that isn’t true, just by looking at the two elementary schools that border our church. I challenge you to go out after church today and walk by those two schools. The Ewing school is beautiful and new and shiny, with a gorgeous playground. The Trenton school is old, full of weeds, sad looking. I can’t believe we have children in there. Go look, and you’ll see. We are not done with segregation.

So the day after Glenn Beck’s appropriation of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech, this is what I preached, slightly updated for today:

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address at the 1963 March on Washington: “I Have a Dream”. Nearly five years after that address, Dr. King was dead, assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He was planning to lead a protest march with striking garbage workers. (A brief bio here)

As a black man pushing against injustice, even in non-violent ways, Dr. King was subject to arrest and assault, endless attacks on his character, and his home was bombed. And yet he persevered, daring to speak publicly, openly, loudly, what so many cried out in their hearts. He pulled together a broad coalition of people, men and women, straight and gay, black and not black, rich and poor. At the age of 35 he won the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest man ever to do so.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King went to Washington DC, to the Lincoln Memorial. He stood on the steps and addressed a crowd of 250,000 people; 200,000 black folk and 50,000 white folk. Clergy of every faith, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Baez. He spoke in the same place where Marian Anderson had sung in 1939. Marian Anderson, a contralto singer, celebrated throughout the world. Marian Anderson, a black woman, refused permission to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. So with the help of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she sang at the Lincoln Memorial to 75,000 people on Easter Sunday in 1939. It was here that Martin Luther King said “I have a dream.”

Dr. King spoke on the 8th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14 year old black child who supposedly whistled at a white woman. The suspects in the case were acquitted by an all white jury, and even though the murder case was reopened in 2004, nearly 50 years after Emmett Till’s murder, the perpetrators were long since dead. Neither of their obituaries mentioned Emmett Till. He died in Mississippi, and his mother brought his body back to Illinois where she insisted on an open casket, even though his body was badly mangled. She wanted the world to see what had been done to her boy—her boy child who was the same age as my own son. He had been beaten, his eye gouged out while he was still alive. And then he was shot through the head and thrown in the river with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck. She wanted people to know. Emmett Louis Till, born July 25, 1941 and murdered on August 28, 1955 at the age of 14 by white men who thought a young black man should not be allowed to whistle, or look at a white woman, this child’s death was not to be forgotten, his story was not to be silenced. On the 8th anniversary of Emmett Till’s death, Dr. King spoke of a dream.

After all the brutalities of centuries of slavery. After 100 years of segregation and disillusionment, broken promises, and backbreaking, endless labor exchanged for poverty and early death, Dr. King stood on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, where Marian Anderson had refused to be silenced. On the anniversary of Emmett Till’s death, Dr. King pulled together his 250,000 people marching for jobs and fair treatment—things they had no reason to hope white folk would ever grant. And despite the pain and anguish of a people long denied justice, Dr. King spoke these words:

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
And then Dr. King issued an invitation. Despite all he had reason to fear and suspect about white folk—and despite having an endless stream of examples proving his fears correct, Dr. King offered these words.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
Friends, we were invited to the table by people who had no reason to invite us. We were invited to the table by people we actively discriminate(d) against. We were invited to the table by friends and relatives of those who died at the hands of white folk. And the invitation was offered with heartfelt joy and hope, with the certainty and faith that if we could all join together around justice for all that we might come to love one another fully, to walk beside one another in all things. Dr. King offered up his dream that Emmett Till did not die in vain, that Marian Anderson’s boldness and courage would be honored. He offered to white folk everywhere a chance to regain our humanity and humility—not to wipe the slate clean, but a chance to build toward the future together, grieving together at the past and celebrating the love we might share as people of all races and creeds.
Well, that was three years ago I preached that. And some of the folks called a meeting with me and suggested I move off the social justice kick. But the next week was the Lost Coin. And the week after was Lazarus at the Gates. Week after week of the Gospel of Luke. Week after week of being called to account for injustice. When it came time for Lazarus, I read the scripture and replaced my sermon with 10 minutes of silence. I didn’t know how to preach on injustice without preaching about injustice. I still don’t.

We have an opportunity here, especially at Covenant, where we make our spiritual home in the midst of people of color. We have an opportunity to approach the church and the Lord’s table as guests instead of owners. We have an opportunity to step back and take the lower seat, to listen, to relinquish power, to welcome those who are marginalized to lead us forward. It’s not an opportunity very many Presbyterian churches are afforded. It’s not an opportunity very many white people are given. I spent yesterday morning at a women’s retreat at the AME church across town, and I was acutely aware of the generosity of their invitation.

What would it look like if we engaged in anti-racist work here as guests instead of owners? What would it look like if we gave this house back over to God? What if we took our fears, our racism, our worries, and doused them with living water? What would it look like if we threw open the doors and welcomed the other guests, and took our seat at the foot of the table? What would it look like for us to be a church OF the neighborhood instead of a church FOR the neighborhood?

I bet it would be mighty uncomfortable. I bet it would feel like being a guest in our own house. I bet it would feel like the time my husband and I sold our house and leased it back from the new owners for two months. I bet we might not like it a lot. And I bet we would grow and profit from our willingness to let go our clenched fingers on the doorknobs of the church.

Will you indulge me one last story? I am a Wendell Berry fan—he writes stories about a fictional community in Kentucky, farming in the old days, days lived by the rhythms of the rivers and the seasons. He wrote about a farmer named Jack, who back in the day grew his farm to the point that he needed a hired hand. So he hired a black man named Will. Sit back a minute and listen to this story—listen to the way a master-servant relationship can destroy even the best of intentions. Think about the way in which we engage the community around us.

<Google books has a preview of The Memory of Old Jack. The excerpt I'm referring to begins on page 58. I am excerpting a short piece from that chapter, but I encourage you to read pages 58 through 64 in this version. If you are looking in a different edition, this is from the chapter called "Will Wells.">
There grew between the two of them a relationship--a sort of brotherhood--of an intensity that Jack would know only that once. Though they assumed the inevitable economic roles of master and servant, they were from the beginning equals before the work. It would not have occurred to Jack to ask another man to do a job that he would not do himself, or to hold back while another man took the hardest part, or to rest while another man worked. That was his principle and his pride. Though Will worked for Jack's benefit, he did not work for his convenience. That they worked side by side, that they knew the same hardships of labor and weather, made a ground of respect between them, and a liking. They teamed together as if they had been born twins... 
Jack and Will worked together for two years, putting the old neglected farm to rights. And Will had settled into a little house with his family on Jack's property. 
Jack saw what Will had done, what a pleasant, frugal order he had made it, and he admired it. But he found to his surprise that it troubled him too. In some strange way he feared it. He feared the claim it made on his respect and his feelings. For it was his farm; his was the permanent relation there; it was his name on the deed and the mortgage, and his life whose continuance in that place the law anticipated and protected. The small domestic order that Will Wells had made there was almost accidental, a passing fact like a day or a season, its impermanence full of sorrow that Jack recognized by an impulse of sympathy that was deep, for he liked the man. And yet he strove against it because he saw in it the threat of an anguish that would be his own. 
This difference between them, though for a while it did not have to be acknowledged, was too great. There came between them in the third year, not an open break, never a disagreement that either of them could have stated, but a disharmony, a withdrawal from the center of their agreement. There began to be a roughening, an imprecision, in their teamwork that made them conscious and resentful of their dependence on each other... 
One afternoon, as they worked in this discordant state, the wagon got stuck. Jack lost his temper: 
...even in his fury [Jack] pauses. And then he looks at Will.
"Go get a shovel!"
No such words have ever passed between them. Will recognizes the challenge and the accusation in them, but he turns and hurries off toward the barn...
A struggle breaks out between the two men, finally surfacing the rage between them created by their unequal positions as owner and servant. Will gets in a good punch and knocks Jack over. As Jack lies on the ground, Will walks away. 
Everything is finished between them, [Jack] knows, for the reason that nothing was ever really started. A vast difference lived between them even while they worked together--the difference between hopeful and hopeless work...And it is final. Their anger was the end of words. Between them now is a silence against which they have no speech. They cannot be reconciled, for no real peace ever existed between them, and they are far off in history from the terms and the vision of such a peace.
Was that too abstract? Can you see? Can you see what it is to work as master and servant? As Owner and Guest? Do we want that for Covenant? For Ewing? As we come into this fall, readying ourselves to do work in the community and in our church, do we wish to claim ownership of this church? Are we really willing to sacrifice an equitable relationship with our neighbors, who are mostly black, by saying, “This church is ours and we are willing to serve you?” Or might we find another way, by shifting our understanding of whose church this is? Might we sign over the deed to God, remind ourselves that we too are guests, and invite our neighbors to join us at table as we take the lowest seat we could find?

What might that look like? What shifts in your thinking might you have to make when you are talking with people of color? What space might you need to make for others? What structures might we need to put into place to guard ourselves against the automatic, barely conscious racism we bring to the table with us? When I see a threat in black children in the parking lot as they go about rescuing a baby bunny, what do I need to change about myself?

These are the questions our scriptures brought to mind today for me. I offer them to you for digestion, knowing they are not comfortable questions. I offer them because our youth group is changing, becoming more diverse, and I need our church to be involved with their families. I offer these questions because our children are watching us, imitating us, learning how to be in this world based on our moves. And our children know our hearts and internal thoughts almost as well as Jesus does. They need to see us struggle with race and ethnicity and culture as much as we have already struggled with poverty and sexuality. They need to see us willing to be uncomfortable with uncomfortable questions. This, then, is our challenge. What will we do with it, I wonder?

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goose Sanctuary

"You shall also love the stranger, 
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." ~Deuteronomy 10:19

I got back last night after a 15 hour road trip, returning home to New Jersey from the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina.

ICYMI (in case you missed it), here is my blog post from last year's adventure, "Wild Goosed." And also, ICYMI, the essay I wrote about belly dancing and ministry while attending last year's Goose can be found in this book: From Each Brave Eye.

Wild Goose is a 3 day outdoor festival of music, speakers, and an eclectic mix of emergent-ish, evangelical-ish, main-line-ish people. It pulls heavily from the southeast, particularly the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. We drew about 2,000 people to the town of Hot Springs, NC. We had about 250 volunteers who helped pull this off.

Wild Goose is not my usual fare. But I seem to have slipped into it just fine. I have to say thank you to my friend, Hugh Hollowell. He runs an organization called Love Wins, a ministry and congregation with homeless and housing vulnerable folks in Raleigh. This is a shameless plug for his organization, and for their campaign: StopHobophobia

The music was great, with Run River North opening for the Indigo Girls on Saturday night. I was going to list out the speakers who moved me in particular, but the list got too long. Check out the website for the list of speakers and their topics. There was a wide variety, the likes of which most Christian conferences do not see.

My favorite moment of the entire festival may have been Sunday morning when most people were busily packing up their belongings, and I discovered four children who had taken over the open mic.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Certain Child Was Going Home From the Corner Store...

Sunday, July 14, 2013
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: 

Today’s lectionary passage is the Good Samaritan story, and I was going to preach a sermon today that referenced our sanctuary wars here in this church. I was going to talk about our ongoing challenge to love one another in this church. I figure I might as well speak the plain truth that some of us don’t like each other very much. I figure if I say it enough times, it’ll be like sucking the poison out of a wound. Eventually you will get tired of hearing me say it, get mightily offended, tell me to shove off, and get about the business of being a church, just to get me to shut up about it.

Yeah, that’s what I figured I’d preach about. Jesus said a certain man was going down from Jericho into Jerusalem and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. I’ve been in this congregation as a one-tenth time youth pastor (this church technically pays me to work 4 hours per week), for a year and some change now. I’ve seen a lot of people walking around here wounded, in pain, devastated, stuck in their grief for that building across the street. I don’t have a history here—my grandmoms and her grandmoms aren’t buried in that cemetary. I was not married in that sanctuary. I didn’t show up to worship 7 years ago and find the sanctuary doors bolted and a red tag of condemnation on my beloved sanctuary. It’s pretty easy for me to say that God is not in a building, because I have moved around a lot, and I have never noticed God to favor one building over another. I am not of this place, so it is easy for me to say, “Let that building be whatever it is going to be, and let’s get on with the business of being church.” Oh, I was going to preach this today—Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Choose life, so that you may live.

But late last night the verdict came in for Trayvon Martin’s killer: not guilty. Not guilty for murder. Not guilty for manslaughter. Just, not guilty. There is no question that George Zimmerman killed that young man—that 17 year old black boy, visiting his father in the suburbs. But not guilty, because George Zimmerman said he was afraid for his life.

Trayvon Martin’s crime? And clearly he was on trial these last few weeks too. His crime? He was black, walking in the suburbs. He wore a hoodie. He went to the corner store and got skittles and ice tea. He was talking to a good friend on the phone. He didn’t like being followed by a strange white man in a car. He didn’t like when the man came out of his car and approached him on foot. Trayvon’s crime? Being black in a mostly white neighborhood and being disrespectful toward a stalker. The last guy who stalked me like that, I punched him hard.

Not guilty. No conviction, no penalty, no time, no fine, for the man who gunned down a black teen who was armed with skittles and an iced tea. Who was Trayvon’s neighbor? George Zimmerman. And the neighbors who didn’t want to get involved. And the jurors. And all of us who watched this happen.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Backside of God

Gratuitous photo of my cat, Bast.
Because no picture of anyone's backside would be appropriate.

Sunday, July 7, 2013
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
and thank ye kindly for the invitation!

Scripture Readings: 
John 3:1-10

"But you know, grandson, this world is fragile."

The word he chose to express "fragile" was filled with the intricacies of a continuing process, and with a strength inherent in spider webs woven across paths through sand hills where early in the morning the sun becomes entangled in each filament of web. It took a long time to explain the fragility and intricacy because no word exists alone, and the reason for choosing each word had to be explained with a story about why it must be said this certain way. That was the responsibility that went with being human, old Ku'oosh said, the story behind each word must be told so there could be no mistake in the meaning of what had been said; and this demanded great patience and love.
~Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

Our church finds itself in a strange place, doesn’t it? We are in an in between place—stuck between what was and what might be. We are dependent upon committees and people’s schedules, the presbytery, the fickleness of preachers and pastors, and perhaps most challenging of all, we are dependent upon each other.

Here I am this morning with a last minute sermon, and here you are, perhaps unsure of who was preaching today. Pam in the office took it all in stride and made up the bulletin as if she’d had my material weeks before. Our musicians play as if they had practiced this music for decades. We have our

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Please Don't

Please don't.
     Why not?
I don't like it.
     But I do.
I didn't give you permission.
     I didn't ask, actually.
My point, exactly.
     Wait, what?

Please don't.
     Don't what?
This is my space.
     I know, it's nice here.
Step back, please.
     You're so hostile.
I'm not.
     And argumentative too.

Please don't.
     What's wrong with you?
I asked you to stop.
     Did something happen when you were a child?
That's not the point.
     If you don't tell me, how do I know if your request is valid?
This is a further violation.
     *nod* I can see you are damaged.

Get your arm off my chair.
     What? I always do this.
Please don't touch my body.
     It must be sad to be so wounded.
I asked you to stop.
     Stop what? This is how I am.
Step. Back. Get. Off. Let. Me. Be.
     If you asked nicer/clearer/politer, I could hear you better.

I miss the desert.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Arise, My Fair One

A sunrise in Florida (my photo)
This morning's sermon I have preached before. I defend myself with some words from G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Sermon, Sunday June 23, 2013
by Katie Mulligan
(and thank you kindly for the invitation!)

Scripture Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-14 and Matthew 11:28-30

I beg your indulgence this morning as I read from Song of Songs. I know it wasn’t on your approved scripture list, but it was such a very long winter, and the storms were so bad. I thought this year that

Monday, June 17, 2013

Donkey Dung

Yesterday's post was about triggers ("Trigger Me This, Trigger Me That"). In the spirit of that, here's a trigger warning: I will be talking some about intimate violence in this post. I will also be talking about Redemptive Suffering--entered into with consent--but nevertheless a frightening, distasteful, and triggery subject. Your mental health is more important than reading this particular philosophical musing, so please feel free to close the window anytime.

Also, upon finishing this post, I realize there is a certain absurdity to engaging internet blog conflicts with the seriousness that I have here. Yet, social media is becoming a primary method of interaction and relationship; this conflict mirrors our face to face interactions in many ways.

In thinking through triggers I was also thinking through why women might enter "masculine spaces" (I really need to unpack this phrase, but today is not the day) and then claim to be triggered, describing abuse and generally making themselves vulnerable in spaces not particularly open to it. I wasn't wondering whether women should do this or judging whether it is effective. I was just thinking through the various reasons I myself might do this--and even why I myself blog about intimate violence in an open forum. There is an element of additional suffering in exposing oneself to the world.

So here's some possibilities--and again: not judging whether we should do this or whether it works. Just saying that I do it, have done it, and others do it as well, and thinking my way through what my/our purpose might be. If you doubt my own participation in this, here is a link to Intimate Violence posts on my blog. Let me just slap a trigger warning on that too.

The example I want to use comes from Tony Jones' blog post "Where Are the Women?" This is my last post on this particular kerfluffle. The first two posts can be found here and here.

Dr. Jones' question and comments section was highlighted by Ana Mardoll in her post, "The Cycle of Fauxgress", which I got to from @graceishuman's post, "When dudebros protest too much". Both of those posts are excellent. And pointed. With good reason.

The comments on this post, "Where Are the Women?" continue across several threads. What I've been able to glean is that one woman shared that she does not visit Dr. Jones' blog because his behavior (and that of his regular followers and commenters) reminds her of abusive men in her past. Dr. Jones

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trigger Me This, Trigger Me That

Trigger Warning: Just a heads up I'm talking about triggers and I share some of my experiences. Just a heads up, do as you will.

So I've backspaced over the opening paragraphs to this post about 8 times in the last few hours. I've been working through some thoughts on triggers and redemptive suffering. I've blogged the last couple of days on a particular internet conflict, which you can find at "Elbow Room" and "Kissing Girls & Other Playground Games".

As I've been thinking through those posts, my thoughts turned toward triggers, and the way in which many of us women are navigating masculine spaces (and if there was ever a vague term that deserves unpacking, it would be "masculine spaces").

A lot of us women have had some downright terrifying experiences of sexual/spiritual/physical violence in our lives, most often perpetrated by men. I'm pretty uncomfortable with this generalization, seeing as how gender is a very flexible concept, but I've been pondering the idea of triggers in the context of male-identified bloggers asking where the women are.

Sometimes in my youth ministry work, people ask me, "Katie, why don't the youth come to Church/Potlucks/SewingCircles/CommitteeMeetings?" Actually, I was asked that today. I have a standard set of answers based on the 20 years I've been working with youth and families and the bunches of books and articles I've read. I usually spout those answers off. Sometimes I suggest a meeting with the youth to ask them. Those meetings usually suck.

I think my new response to people is going to be, "I'm not sure. Why do you think they aren't coming?" And then I'm going to hold us on point until we really examine what it is about our adult behavior that is closing the doors on relationship.

Why aren't the women present in larger numbers in Emergent circles? Why aren't women present in

Thar Be Dragons

I met her in Florida. She later hid under the algae,
but tho invisible, she was always present.
This sermon came about because I auctioned myself and the pulpit to raise money for my youth programs. the winner of the auction, one Mr. B, got to choose any scripture and I would preach on it. I made no promises that he would like the sermon, but I would preach the scripture. Mr. B chose Job 40-42.

As I was preparing for last Sunday's service, one of our members died, and I realized I would be preaching with folks who were grieving deeply in the moment. If you know something about Job, you may know that it's not the best scripture to whip out in the midst of fresh grief. "Gird up your loins like a man," is not pastoral care when someone has died, it's spiritual abuse.

The presence of one of our own grieving shaped this sermon. I believe both Mr. B and Mrs. E's family were pleased in the end. The Spirit has a ridiculous sense of humor, even in grief.

Sunday, June 9, 2013
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at the Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church

Scripture Reading: Job 40-42

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kissing Girls & Other Playground Games

Laura and Miriam Kiehl playing with a barrel,
Fort Lawton, Washington, February 20, 1899
I posted yesterday about "Elbow Room" and the idea that we are simultaneously called to make space for others and to claim space for ourselves where we have been denied. Today, as I was thinking about intersectionality and the complexity of what happened over at Tony Jones' blog ("I'm Tired of Being Called a Racist"), I stumbled upon Grace Ji-Sun Kim's blog. In her post, "Journey Towards Reimagination" she writes:
Much of my personal life intersects with race, religion, and gender issues. In some ways, the word intersects is too gentle. Perhaps collide better captures what occurs in my life as an Asian North American woman theologian, writer, minister, and mother. As I try to engage in theological dialogue, live in community with the dominant, unfamiliar culture, and raise my kids with concerns on how to be just in this world, I realize that the lives of all people, especially people of color, collide and clash with others on the critical issues of race, religion, and gender.
Collide and clash--I love this. It's messy to claim multiple intersections of identity. It seems to me that this is what happened when Dr. Jones responded to Dr. Cleveland's blog post, which was itself a response to public remarks Dr. Jones made at a conference. A collision and a clash, and the mess that went with it.

When I first saw Dr. Jones' post and the outraged tweets that inevitably went with it, I rolled my eyes. His blustery style takes more energy than I have to read most days. But I clicked over and read it, so it's my own fault I read the last line that said "and quit calling me a misogynist too." A few days later, I saw Dr. Jones' invitation to feminist Christians to guest post. And then I saw two men argue over the course of 30 or so comments about the definition of "ad hominem". This is why I spend no time on that

Friday, June 14, 2013

Elbow Room

"Ave B" by James Jowers, 1969
I am re-posting this essay for two reasons. First, it was originally a guest post for Anna Blanch (@goannatree on Twitter), but I noticed recently that her blog is no longer available. The idea of taking up space comes up again and again in my life, so I'm revisiting it.

Second, Tony Jones posted "An Invitation to Christian Feminists" on his blog last week, in response to a bit of a fuss/kerfluffle/pickle he created/landed-in on the topic of racism and misogyny. I have been pondering a response to this mess for several weeks now, but I have my own blog and prefer to post here. I have been carving out my own space--my elbow room--for a few years now on the internet.

I am weary/wary of our well-worn conversations around gender, race, and sexuality. I'll still have the conversations, but I sure wish we could find a new way through. I'm not interested in rehashing the blogposts or the twitter/blog comment discussions, but I am interested in making some space for Dr. Christena Cleveland, an academic focused on social psychology, faith, and reconciliation. Her blog was the inspiration for Dr. Jones' kerfluffle, but she has not responded to the fuss at all publicly. Dr. Cleveland is the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart. It is set for release in November, and perhaps all of us caught up in the kerfluffle might take some time to read it. You can find her on twitter at @CSCleve.

In particular, this post by Dr. Cleveland's was helpful: "Listening Well as a Person of Privilege"

I'll note also that I reached out to Dr. Jones, and he listened. I appreciated that because I didn't have nice-nice things to say.

We have a long way to go before folks are comfortable with people of color and women taking up space in this world. It's going to be uncomfortable, because after a while people get tired of asking

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Two Cans of Tuna & Five Hot Dog Buns

Hungry Child Gets Piece of Bread From Soldier
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: 1Kings 17:8-16
John 6:5-15

So, we have two stories this morning, one from Elijah’s time as a prophet of God and one from the days of Jesus. What they have in common is that some people were hungry, and a servant of God fed them. 

The prophet Elijah was a difficult man, as prophets are wont to be. Prophets have to do things like knock on the door of kings and queens and inform them that they are morally bankrupt. Prophets stand on street corners and declare that disaster will befall the nation if people do not repent of their terrible sins against the poor and the widowed. Prophets insist that there is another way to live outside of institutions and systems—that there is a way of abundance and plenty—that the kingdom of God is not limited, nor is love scarce, and that there can be food aplenty if we might share amongst ourselves. Prophets speak against their own churches in times of scarcity, to remind them that fear and hoarding only serve to exacerbate troubled times. And this is why prophets are generally driven out of town and thrown off a cliff. Nobody likes a prophet. They are annoying.

And so prophets often find themselves spending time in the marginal places of the world—the wilderness, outside the gates, on a deserted hillside. Elijah (whom King Ahab called “Troubler of

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Foolish Presence

I have been thinking about suffering quite a bit recently. It’s hard not to with all of the news in this world, isn’t it?

I was sitting in a meeting on Monday when I began to see the first reports on twitter of the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma. My meeting was at Stony Point Retreat Center, where several of us had gathered to talk about creating intentional communities connected through spirituality, service, and a commitment to living life well with one another. It was such a strange juxtaposition: I was sitting in a comfortable chair, in a room with delightful colleagues, talking about a subject that I am passionate about. Well-fed, I was drowsy in the mid-afternoon warmth that sometimes follows a good meal. And then 1500 miles away, a mile wide tornado swept through the town of Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 people and injuring many, many others. As we sat there talking of creating beloved communities and chosen families, children were trapped inside schools, and images came across my laptop of homes and business utterly destroyed. Entire blocks of houses literally erased from the earth by a wind so fierce it could pick up cars and barns, and anything else in its path. From the images I saw, it seems incredible to me that only 24 people died. The tornado was on the ground for 50 minutes and damaged or destroyed 12,000 homes.

The tornado was only one of many tragedies in the last month. Bombings, both in the U.S. and outside our borders, a bridge collapse, a factory building collapse, droughts, kidnapping, flooding, disease, political unrest. And that’s just the big news over the last few weeks. The everyday suffering of humans is so vast and so deep that it is almost unknowable. If we were to open ourselves up to all of the world’s suffering, we might drown in the flood. And what happens when we drown in the suffering of this world? Numbness, bitterness, grief so large that everything hurts. How can we enter into suffering—both the suffering of others and our own significant sorrows—and still find joy? How can we stay open to grief without becoming paralyzed or empty or being so filled with pain that nothing else can be felt?

At least part of the answer is that sometimes we can’t. That the suffering will overwhelm, because it is too close to home, or we took in too much, or we are too tired.

But on those days when we have the courage and strength and resources to attempt it, how do we hold suffering and joy in tension, tending to the pain while still living fully?

Our scripture this morning offers a way through. Referring back to Abraham, who surely had seen his share of suffering in his life, Paul writes that like Abraham, we are justified by our faith in God, and that since Christ has already died on the cross, we can have peace with God, even in the midst of our present suffering. Knowing that one who has gone before us down the road of suffering was not abandoned by God, we are assured that God is ever present in our own suffering. Paul writes that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us (although this world and humans very well might), for what we hope in is God’s love, which is poured through our hearts.

I hope that clears it all up for you.

I could read this passage and understand it to mean that I should celebrate in suffering, because suffering is good for the soul. But nobody anywhere has been comforted by such words in the middle of suffering. But perhaps what is meant is that knowing that God is present with us in even the most difficult of times, we might be at peace as we enter into that suffering. Since suffering is unavoidable, we might enter into it with a determination to be present and open to our suffering, to be fully in it, and to trust that God is present as we journey. In fact, that as we open more fully to suffering, that God becomes ever more discernable and tangible. So that to be open to suffering is to be open to God.

A Russian woman, Iulia de Beausobre wrote an essay called “Creative Suffering in which she wrote about the suffering of life and humans and her own experience grappling with it. She wrote in particular about a Russian folk figure called the yurodivy—a sort of wanderer like we might understand a bard or a troubadour. Using this folk figure, she suggests a way in which we might engage suffering on a deeper level, to live more fully into the joy and life that can be found in the midst of suffering.

This matter of participation brings us to a figure as popular as he is typical in Russian history and life--to the yurodivy, 'the born fool', so hard to describe to anyone who has not grown up in Russia.

It is perhaps best to begin by pointing out what the yurodivy is not. He is not a monk, though there is much about him that might lead the passer-by to think that he was: his speech, intonation, cant phrases, sometimes his clothes, and always his absolute voluntary poverty lend him a monkish air. He is nobody's son, nobody's brother, nobody's father, and has no home. He is as old as the history of Christian Russia and wanders over the whole of that huge country feeling equally at home everywhere. But he settles down nowhere and is usually to be met on the road. As often as not he has a practised trade, but prefers for the most part to live on the people, and in return for his meal and night's lodging will give them a piece of his mind, seldom mincing his words. Though he has no schooling at all, he is always ready to express, in chant and rhyme, his views upon the world of matter and the world of spirit; on Russia, her friends and her enemies, and on infinity; on the past, present and future, and on eternity. And yet he remains somehow lovable, and he is loved; cherished in fact, because he is a living personification of what most Russians take to be true Russia, and in him every Russian is confronted with something of his own essence.

From a practical point of view, no useful purpose is served by anything that the yurodivy does. He achieves nothing. Yet there must be some strong attraction at work to draw men (and women too), poor creatures most of them, to choose such a rough and comfortless life, manhandled from time to time, pelted by children and set on by dogs. The attraction is found in participation, participation in all the dregs of life. The aim of the yurodivy is to participate in evil through suffering. He makes of this his life's work because, to the Russian, good and evil are, here on earth, inextricably bound together. This is, to us, the great mystery of life on earth. Where evil is at its most intense, there too must be the greatest good. To us this is not even an hypothesis. It is axiomatic.

I was thinking about yurodivys the other day as I watched a video of the Oklahoma tornado. Somebody had posted on youtube the first 10 minutes of the tornado as it formed in the sky and rapidly became an EF 4 or 5 twister. Storm chasers, they call these people. They were driving around the highway in their vehicle, scouting out likely cloud formations that might shift into tornadoes. You can hear them talking in the background as the camera focuses in and out through a car window on the storm. They were connected to a local news channel, and were providing some of the most accurate, on-the-ground reporting of the tornado possible. In my personal opinion, these people are foolish beyond words to be out chasing tornadoes.

But it is undeniable that their coverage of the storm provided many people additional time to find shelter and get out of the way of the tornado. They were able to provide minute by minute information about where the tornado was touching ground and what direction it was moving. Their up-close broadcast of the tornado gave information about what roadways were being impacted.

And it was undeniable that these foolish storm-chasers were enjoying themselves thoroughly. Fascinated by the storm, you could hear the awe and excitement in their voices as they witnessed the rapid formation of this deadly storm. There was nothing they could do to stop the storm, but they were willing to enter fully into the risk of drawing near to its power and danger in order to help others reduce their risk. It would have been easy for them to become frightened by the storm—heck, I was terrified and in tears just watching the video—but they stayed their course until the storm was nearly upon them.

I don’t know if the storm chasers are Christians. But when I read Paul’s words to the Romans, I hear a call for us to be storm chasers, and to be at peace as we are pummeled by the storms of life.

A few days ago I saw on the news that the Westboro Baptist church planned to protest the funeral of a 9-year-old boy killed in the Oklahoma tornado. Westboro is famous for picketing funerals with ugly signs. They are known for compounding people’s suffering with proclamations of damnation for lost loved ones. I cannot imagine the cruelty of showing up at the funeral for somebody’s child and announcing that the child is in hell. It seems the very opposite of all that faith and goodness stand for.

So I was delighted when I saw that somebody had notified the Patriot Guard Riders. The Patriot Guard is a group of motorcycle riders who ride out to stand guard at funerals where people like the Westboro Baptist Church members impose themselves and their nastiness on the families of fallen soldiers. They showed up en masse for this little boys funeral and surrounded the service with a wall of bikers. The picture was awesome. It seemed their announced presence was enough to discourage the Westboro people—they failed to show. But I love the image of these bikers surrounding vulnerable people in their worst moments, providing support, protection, care, and most of all, presence.

I don’t know if the bikers are Christians. But I think Paul’s message to the Romans, calls us to be bikers for Christ, riding fearlessly into threatening spaces to provide protection and presence for those who are in the midst of acute suffering. Surely there, in the midst of that wall of bikers, the Holy Spirit danced merrily on the wind. We cannot evade suffering in this world—there is too much that cannot be prevented. But we can find joy and peace in the midst of it. We can hold to our hope and the promise that God is present most in the places of deepest suffering, and when we find ourselves in those most difficult places, let us cling strongest to our faith. And when we find ourselves unable to cling to that hope and our faith, then may we have bikers and storm chasers who hold that faith for us. And may our doors always be open to the yurodivys, the fools for Christ, who travel among us, reminding us of the ever-present possibility of joy.