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.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just a Picture

Elias Ortega (@eoaresearch): “Excuse me…You don’t roll with me! And No! You can’t tell my story: A Letter to Devonte.”

@stereowilliams wrote an essay on this topic yesterday: Sentimental Photos, Ben Carter, and why black people's anger is necessary

@dopegirlfresh and @thejournalista have tweeted extensively in the last day about this picture.

This storify includes most of @dopegirlfresh's tweets:
Complicating the narrative of the black boy hugging a cop
____________________

Today I've been watching a stream of posts on twitter and facebook about a 12 year old black boy in Portland, OR giving away free hugs at a #Ferguson protest. A police officer spotted the boy, who was

Thursday, November 20, 2014

striae gravidarum II

Grief settles like stretch marks
flaming and red and angry
in the beginning
and over time
lies flat
silver striping
against flesh stretch beyond imagination
not quite torn

Grief becomes a part of the landscape
a series of stripes
and creases
an invitation
for a lover
to trace
with reverence
and desire

if you're lucky

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Seventy Times Seven


there are those of us who can only be reached through love
no matter that you can force a body into compliance
no matter that a body will do what it must to survive
if what you are after is the soul
if what you are after is health and wholeness
then you must begin with love

some of us are too wild
too feral
too scar(r)ed

is this good?
no
is it fair you are picking up the pieces
of someone else's hammer strike?
no
does it matter?
no

we begin with love because
when God finally got it figured out
that's what She started over with

Saturday, November 1, 2014

ambivalence



went for a night walk
stared at a possibility
regretfully let it pass
with some relief
a night walk is a strange bird




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monthly Mailing: Late Again

Postwoman
British Postal Museum & Archive
Or, Why I Do My Own Admin Work...

I've been working on my "monthly" mailing to youth and their parents, which at this point is overdue 6 weeks. I've been trying to get at it for two months now, but the school year kicked off with roar, and I haven't stopped moving since August 15.

Meeting after meeting after meeting to plan things, to get it all together, the google calendar, the Facebook groups...the ministry blog hasn't been updated since February...I'm moving as fast as I can!

Every meeting with pastors goes something like this: 
"People don't know what's happening."
"It's in the newsletter."
"People don't read the newsletter."
"Right. It's in the bulletin."
"People don't pay attention to bulletin announcements."
"Right. It's on the Facebook."
"Not everyone's on Facebook."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sheep in the Wilderness

Sunday, October 12, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Covenant Presbyterian Church

Scripture Readings: Exodus 13:17-22 and John 21:15-19

A few weeks ago, Pastor Molly asked me if I would play with the idea that we are, as a church, beginning a journey into the wilderness. Jason will preach next week and will continue that theme, so my job this morning was to get you out of Egypt and onto the journey. I’ve been pondering this thought for the last two weeks, and here’s what I think is true: I don’t have to get us out into the wilderness—we are already there.

I was going to try some funky things with the youth and with you all here in worship this week. But, as often happens in the wilderness, things got a little out of hand with our ministry. I’ve spent hours over the last two weeks—and some of you have too—trying to figure out how to configure our youth

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

the long haul

so this is how it went tonight:

there was a student who said at 8am
i'm OUT
and i figured it'd be a month before she came around again
cuz i know her
and if we can get in the same room we can work it out
but it's getting in the room that's the trick

so i went on with my day rather sad
and it's messed with everything since 9am
cuz i'm in this for the long haul
but sometimes the short term losses suck

so at 8pm a pair of young adults
texted
and i'm too old for texting
they asked to meet for a drink
and i'm too old for that too
on a school night

but if two young adults ask you for a drink
you go

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vigil

I sat vigil tonight for our community
no homicides since July 30
the longest stretch of quiet 
since May 2012
nobody else came
but I don't mind
I sat and prayed
anyway
and sang
I sang hymns
and crocheted a scarf
and I prayed
for the children
for women and men
in Trenton
for my children
for myself

     I sat vigil in our small chapel
     and it doesn't matter that I was alone
     if there's anything I've learned as a mother
     it's that sometimes
     as the sun goes down

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Herky Jerky


I've been re-reading C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters after a conversation with a colleague reminded me I haven't read them in years. It's been two decades, in fact. I am so clearly different from the just-barely-woman I was at 20. Since then I have married, divorced, borne (and partly raised) two sons, buried my mother-in-law, finished two degrees and dropped out of a PhD program. I have moved 8 times and have been ordained as a pastor. I've buried 4 cats.

So many joys and sorrows, each leaving their mark--laugh lines, stretch marks, ragged scars. This business of carrying the marks of what we have done, what we have experienced, goes back to Cain, doesn’t it? Who among us dares to deny sanctuary to another?

It’s been a difficult year—perhaps my most difficult. The landscape of this life is familiar, but surreal, constantly shifting, and I feel out of step, as if I am dancing to the wrong song as the rest of life moves to a proper rhythm. My feet aren’t planted—like a kid carrying too many balloons on a windy day. I have longed this year to float away into fantasy and wishful thinking. As unbelievable as life has been this year, my daydreams are just as

Monday, September 22, 2014

you weren't made for this world

Once
I met a man
in a psych ward, who
came by ambulance
after
they peeled him off a street in Manhattan, on which
he had blocked
4
lanes
of
traffic
with his body
by lying across the center line.

After they picked up his miraculously unbroken
body
they deposited him in the psych ward, where
he grinned about the traffic
when he wasn't grimacing about the meds.

The traffic, tho
it kept moving.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Where You Go, I Go


Sunday, September 7, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Reading: Ruth 1:1-18 (and Matthew 10 was on my mind too)

The audio for those of you who prefer it. I confess that I still talk too fast, and it exhausted me to listen to it.

I have been struggling in these weeks since Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, MO to find something coherent to say about racism, violence, divided communities, and the gospel. Those of you who follow my social media will laugh at the idea that I struggle with words—after all my facebook and twitter have been awash with articles, blogs, opinions, rants, news stories, etc.  I have not been silent—I have lifted up the voices of many, many individuals, amplifying the anger and despair and frustration that has tumbled through my social media connections. I have added my own thoughts to the chorus, and over the last month several people have messaged me, asking if I am ok. The conversation goes something like this: “All you have posted for the last few weeks is about Mike Brown and Ferguson. You haven’t posted a cat picture in weeks. Are you ok?”


I don’t know how to answer that except to say that in these last few weeks it has seemed unthinkable to post cat pictures in the midst of the real grief and anger expressed by people I care deeply for. And since I have been working with black and brown youth in Trenton and Ewing and Lawrenceville these last few years, I have grown fiercely protective of these students, whose lives are more prone to violence from all sources. When I saw the initial reports of Mike Brown’s death on twitter, I knew immediately that this could have been one of our children, one of our students, here in our church. So no, I’m not ok.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Even in Drought

Nojoqui Falls, California. A 3 year drought
and the hills are dry as a bone.
But in this canyon, there still is a trickle of water.
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ Luke 9:1-6

The sky is falling! The middle class is dying! And clergy are getting shafted! I've been seeing this in my newsfeed a lot lately.  I'm troubled by the idea that the church owes us pastor types a middle class living. If it was ever true that congregations could promise that, it was only true for some pastors--mostly white, mostly male, mostly married. But even then, my great-grandfather was a pastor, and his wife made the children's clothes out of empty flour sacks. I bet he

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Cursing and Blessing

Sunday, July 27, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at Spray Beach Chapel, NJ

Scripture Reading: Jonah 2:1-10

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
‘I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me...
As my life was ebbing away, 
     I remembered the Lord;
     and my prayer came to you,
     into your holy temple...
I with the voice of thanksgiving
     will sacrifice to you;
     what I have vowed I will pay.
     Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land. 


I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah and the belly of that fish lately. It’s been a bit of a rough year for me…I’m sure I’m not the only one in this chapel that feels that way today. Amen to that? Well, maybe this year has been just peachy keen for you, but I bet there have been other years when it felt like you were buried in the belly of a fish.

You know the kind of week or month or year I’m talking about. Here's a hypothetical sample week: You wake up one Monday to a slew of emails from work. “URGENT” the message line reads, and s

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mosquito Love

"Mentholatum" Miami University LIbraries
An unpleasant little poem
about an unpleasant little bug
dedicated to the Holy Spirit
who is on my last nerve.

I have wondered for a while
why God made mosquitos
They serve no purpose, save
irritation
on every level
the incessant whine of a skeeter
whirling about
one's body
the blood sucking
(and disease passing
sometimes mosquitos mean death)
the welts
left 
behind
one
by
one
the itch that lasts
for days
the way a perfectly good porch sitting

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dry and Thirsty Work

I went to church this morning, as I most times do. I work for three churches, you know, so I'm usually at one or two of them on any given Sunday. I serve in those spaces with delight and joy--I surely do. Today was a communion Sunday, and I poured out the grape juice for our people like Jesus himself was with us. The blood of Christ shed for you. And for you. And yes, even for YOU.

But then I had a little extra time today, as I almost never do, and the timing worked out that I could go to a church to simply BE and worship a while. Beloved Community in Trenton takes me in every now and then. (Beloved worships on

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rest in the Unrest

A communal mural painted at the Wild Goose Festival 2014,
held in Hot Springs, NC. A sign next to the mural invited
passersby to paint on the mural; paint and brushes were
left out for our use. The rain blurred and ran the paint,
mud mixing with the colors.
So, it's been almost three years now since I left my PhD program and began to think about what I was going to do that didn't involve 5 more years of writer's block and student loans. I left my tiny church at about the the same time--my last Sundays were Advent in 2011. Both the tiny church and I were sad and frustrated at my leaving; I preached the four weeks in advent using the four chapters of the book of Jonah. It was fitting, somehow, that bitter sweetness of Jonah's fish tale.

I cast about, trying to figure out what would pay the bills and be at least moderately entertaining. I thought about several things like waiting tables and retail--at that particular moment there weren't any pulpits open nearby, and I was unwilling to relocate my children. So that left me in a bit of a bind--more and more

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Joyful Submission, Part Deux

There is an easing of tension in my soul today, because...

...This afternoon my church denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), voted to approve two measures at our General Assembly in Detroit, concerning same gender marriages.

Earlier, I posted this on Facebook:
ai yi yi. I don't have the stomach to watch another GA debate marriage. I'll check back when the youth mailing is done.

But I am a worm, and not human;  
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me; 
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 
‘Commit your cause to the Lord;
let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’ 
~psalm 22

So I finished the mailing (thank you, JoAnn), and as I was addressing envelopes and writing little notes to students, the news came back from GA that the overtures regarding same gender marriage had passed General Assembly. Hallelujah!!

1) An authoritative interpretation (AI) of our Book of Order, amending the Book of Worship to allow teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders (aka pastors) to perform same gender marriages in states where they are permitted by civil law. The text of 10-03 can be found here, although I don't swear this is the final language as I am not present in Detroit.

This is a "freedom of conscience" ruling, which allows pastors and churches to decide for themselves whether they will be involved in same gender marriages. As always we retain the freedom to officiate a marriage or not, based on our evaluation of the circumstances. 

Authoritative interpretations take effect immediately and do not need ratification by the presbyteries. Effective immediately Saturday, after the close of General Assembly, pastors in the PC (USA) may officiate same gender weddings in states where it is legal without fear of reprisal or recrimination from ecclesial courts. Hallelujah!

2) The General Assembly also passed an amendment to the Book of Order, modifying the definition of marriage. It used to say marriage should be between a man and a woman; if the amendment is ratified it will soon say "between two person" without reference to gender identity (claimed, perceived, assigned, or otherwise). (Update: language stating "traditionally between a man and a woman" would not be binding, but will be present.)


Amendments require ratification by a majority of our (173?) presbyteries. The presbyteries will cast their votes over the next year. If ratified, this amendment would take effect in two years about a year (again, I am not a policy wonk, so feel free to correct). This means that although the General Assembly has approved the change in definition, it is not currently in effect and cannot be acted on.

The Authoritative Intepretation, however, means that regardless of whether the definition is altered, pastors may perform same gender marriages in states where civil law permits.

I did not think this would happen--maybe ever. I had become very cynical from watching the last two General Assemblies. There will be much analysis done over what changes in our church allowed this to happen at this time, but I give thanks to God and to the commissioners who have opened new doors for our ministries.

It used to be like this:

"Hi. I'm thinking about God a lot lately and thought maybe I'd come to church."
"Wow, that's great. We meet Sunday at 11am. Let's get coffee this week."
"My partner is thinking of coming too."
"Great! We are an open and affirming church!"
"We've been thinking about getting married in the church, actually."
<pause>
"Oh. I can't do that. I mean, we're working on it. And I have some colleagues in xyz denomination who will gladly officiate."
<pause>
"I see. That's...sort of distasteful."
"It is, isn't it."
<pause>
"Well, I'll think about it."

So now we can just say, "Great! Let's meet when you're ready to talk more about marriage!"

There is an easing of the tension in my soul today because the last legal barrier to tending to lgbtq folks' pastoral concerns has been dismantled. We just can be pastors through all of our people's life transitions. Nobody has to ask me to risk my livelihood for their own marriage. We can simply pastor. This doesn't mean we'll be perfect pastors to lgbtq folks (we have a LONG way to go with trans folk). But it means there's one less structural barrier/excuse.

There is an easing of the tension in my soul today because the last legal barrier to my own same gender relationships is gone. I can date freely and do not have to worry about whether I will ever have to lose my ordination because I am partnered with a woman.  For a single, cat lady like me, who knows if this will ever be relevant to me. But gone is any need to have a conversation about the loss of my ordination if I should happen to fall in love with a fabulous woman.

Two years ago, when we approved the ordination of non-celibate lgbtq persons, I wrote a blogpost titled "Joyful Submission". I think that post explains the easing of tension and the reclamation of trust better than I can say it today, so go read that. But here is a piece of it:
And then after the presbytery meeting where I was received as an inquirer, I was asked to sign a code of conduct. It was required of all pastors, candidates and inquirers under care of the presbytery. Mostly this was a formality--a piece of paperwork that had been forgotten in the process. I should have signed it before I was presented to the presbytery or at least been allowed to consider it. The last item on this fairly standard code of conduct was a clause which stated that I would not participate in or condone homosexual activity. 
This brought me up short. I was married to a man, and only had the vaguest inkling of my own queerness--it just wasn't something I thought about in relationship to myself. But my oldest, closest friend is a lesbian. And many of the youth I worked with identified as queer in some way. I very nearly refused to sign that code of conduct, but I also refused to walk away from this call. Truthfully, I did not grow up in the church, and I had no idea that unmarried, sexually active individuals could not be ordained as an elder, deacon, or minister. It sat wrong with me. I had just become an inquirer, and I suddenly realized that this church was not what I thought it was. In some very deep way my trust with this church was fractured, and the peaceful connection with God that I had discovered became fraught with tension, rebellion, dislike, and the desire to run.
and this...
The tension of being at odds with this denomination I love so very much did not ease. The discussions about sexuality have been difficult. The rage I feel when same gender love is equated to pedophilia is something I can't describe. And I have been shaped by that. My spiritual practices have been shaped around the need to rebel against what is not God in the midst of the church--this deliberately narrow heterosexual framework imposed upon every member.
and finally this...
The passing of 10A has returned the possibility of building trust with the church and her people. I felt today, as I was walking, a great deal of joy at the possibilities for the church and queer folk. But deeper within I could feel the Spirit moving again peacefully, in a way I have not felt since 2005. I no longer am living under threat of shame and discipline. I can risk again deep vulnerability with the people of this church. 
For six years I have submitted to the church and to people, and it has damaged me in ways I hope I can repair. The passing of 10A returns my submission to Christ. In a way that was previously only possible by leaving this church, this church has restored my faith. My words here fail to express this fully, but I have been liberated from a deep pain, and I thank you. 
Oh, thank you, my dear church! What a gift you have given me today!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father God

Sunday, June 15, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

A diorama of Genesis 1
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1-2:4
Audio of the sermon can be found here: Father God

A quick note: this is not a hardball sermon taking down the assumed masculinity of God. For that you can see, like, the rest of my blog. But today I spoke out of love for the complicated men I love. Happy Father's day to my father, and to the father of my children!

Today is a very complicated day in the life of the church. As I sat down to think through my options for preaching, I was overwhelmed by the choices—sometimes I think we really believe that we

Thursday, June 12, 2014

b/c it was too long for a Facebook comment...

Me, demonizing.
A friend asked me what I thought of this article: The Danger in Demonizing Men's Sexuality over at The Good Men Project, a web site devoted to articles on masculinity and reframing what it means to be a good man. 

The article wouldn't load on my phone, so I responded quickly: "I'll read it when i get home and give you my thoughts. In general, the good men project makes me uneasy, but it's not written for me."

My primary response remains the same after reading the article, but since my friend asked, I began to write a response. After some time it became obvious that my response was too long for Facebook. So here we are.

So, I have a number of criticisms of this article. Some of it is small change. For instance, I don't use the term "douchebag" or "douche" as an insult. It's a bit misogynist to associate bad behavior with a product women use to clean themselves. I have actually spent way too much time arguing with other feminists about the use of this term. But essentially what you are saying when you use this term is that vaginas are unclean. Which, for the most part, they are not.

Second, the use of Dan Savage as an illustration is problematic. Royse suggests he can, by the nature

Monday, June 9, 2014

Prayer Vigil & Community Meal

Covenant Presbyterian Church
4 candles lit for Keith Day, William Massaquoi
Rayquan Brown, Amir Hassan Glover
Prayer Vigil & Community Meal
Monday, June 9, 2014

We gathered tonight to mourn the violent deaths of 15 men in Trenton since the beginning of January. In the last month there have been 4 murders, including a man who died this morning.

However our prayers and gathering in love over a meal may be useful, O God, use us.

We will gather again for prayer and a meal at Covenant Presbyterian Church on July 7 and August 4, at 6pm. Please bring something to share if you are able, and come anyway if you cannot. We will have plenty to eat.

To get involved, please contact us:
UMIO (United Mercer Interfaith Organization)
umioorganizer@gmail.com

Chevin Burgess, 22, January 4
Keyaan Lee Young, 25, January 6
Keyon Shontel Wade, 39, Jauary 18
Julio Cesar Cruz, 18, February 15
Dwelle Jerome Clark, 55, February 18
Charles White, 43, March 8
Joseph Gaines, 44, April 3
Cagney Roberts, 19, April 9
Raheim Hayes, 34, April 9
Jahmir Hall, 24, April 19
Aaron Lewis, 23, April 24
Keith Day, 26, May 14
William Massaquoi, 25, May 28
Rayquan Brown, 16, June 1
Amir Hassan Glover, 24, June 9

There is so much more to tell in the stories of these men's lives. We lifted them in prayer tonight. We remember their names. We talked of hope and possibility for what can be done and who we can come to know. For tonight, that is what we can do. Tomorrow there will be more.

Selah.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Drunk As a Skunk, and It's Not Even Noon

"The Court Jester"
Sunday, June 7, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture reading: Acts 2:1-21
Audio recording can be found here: Drunk As a Skunk

Dedicated to Helen Emmons, who passed away one year ago today. Her son, John, sang in church today. This line he sang perfectly sums up the paradox of today's scriptures:

Let me know a song can rise
from the ashes of a broken life

So, here we are at Pentecost. Oh! We’ve been building up to this, haven’t we? 46 days of Lent and the relentless pace of Jesus’ life and ministry, Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the prayers in the garden, Jesus’ arrest and trials the inexorable march to the cross, the crucifiction of Jesus and the two thieves, and finally, death.

Jesus’ burial, two days of silence, and then the bizarre discovery that Jesus’ body was missing. Angels gently mocking our grief, the re-gathering of the disciples, except for Judas, who hung himself in shame and grief and self-loathing. Was he not also saved?

And then 50 days of Easter, as Christ appears over and over in strange, impossible ways. Life beyond death. Life through death. Life that defies death. A final appearance to the disciples, and then Jesus

Friday, June 6, 2014

Then What Good Are Ya?

photo by Artur Chalyj
A bunch of years ago, I worked as a chaplain for a locked mental health unit. I liked the work--every day was a new day with interesting conversations--conversations you really couldn't have anywhere else. In a locked mental health unit, people aren't afraid to be their true selves; they have no filter and nothing to lose, really.

It was there I met Jesus, John the Baptist, and the woman who would bear the next Christ child. Also a Muslim man who asked for rosaries so he could perform baptisms.


One day, a new woman arrived on the floor. Thinking it was my job to be hospitable, I introduced myself. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hi, I'm Chaplain Mulligan (they made us call ourselves that)
Lady: Huh.
Me: Would you like to talk with a chaplain (a required opening gambit)
Lady: Not really. I'd like a hair dryer. Can you get me a hair dryer?
Me: Oh. No, I can't get you a hair dryer. What brought you here? (more of the script)
Lady: I said I didn't want to talk to you. Can you get me a hair dryer or not?
Me: No, I can't.
Lady: Then what good are ya?
Me: Huh.

I mean, I really couldn't get her a hair dryer, no lie. 
And she really didn't want to talk to anyone unless they could get her a hair dryer.
So, really, what good was I?

My work lately is a lot like that.
I got something to offer.
But it isn't really what is needed.

So.

She told me her story a few days later, the lady did. A hair dryer was probably about 22nd on the list of things she really needed. But I couldn't get her the 21 other things that she needed either

She was gone a day after that.
Probably back home where she had a hair dryer.
Although, I don't think home had the other 21 things.

But I was gone a week after that, having served my time.
I wonder sometimes if she remembers the chaplain who couldn't even get her a hair dryer.
She sure sticks out in my mind.

eh. still working tho.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Unzippered in Church

Sunday, June 1, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Preached at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church

I dedicate our reading from Habakkuk this morning to the families and loved ones of Keith Day and William Massaquoi, the two most recent murder victims in Trenton. So far this year there have been 13 murders in Trenton—we are keeping pace with 2013.

Update: Since Sunday morning, we lost Rayquan Brown, a 16 year old boy who was shot in the head on Stuyvesant Avenue in Trenton. My heart is screaming.

We will have a vigil at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 471 Parkway Ave, Trenton, NJ on Monday, June 8 at 6pm, followed by a community meal at 7pm. Please join us if you are able--we welcome all who wish to mourn the deaths of these three men. We welcome you if you are hungry and just want to eat. Bring a pot of soup or a loaf of bread if you can. If you cannot, come and eat some of my soup and bread. 

I did record the sermon. For those of you who prefer the spoken word, you can find it here:

Unzippered In Church

Scripture Readings: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Luke 19:1-10

Two Women with Contrasting Dress
Mennonite World Conference, 1967
Here we are back at the gospel of Luke. Jesus had been busy with parables and healing and foretellings. The parable of the sower, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son. The dishonest manager, Lazarus at the gates, pharisees, and rich rulers. The widow and the unjust judge. Interspersed were the miraculous healings—10 lepers, a man with dropsy, a widow unable to stand straight. And artfully woven into the story, Jesus foretold his own death and return. Just prior to meeting Zacchaeus the tax collector, Jesus spoke for the third time of his arrest, execution, and resurrection. It must have been an exciting time—full of movement and action, wandering about, following a beloved and charismatic teacher. They were so caught up that Jesus’ words of warning didn’t register. When Jesus spoke of the coming troubles, “they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34)

There is something about this kind of urgency that opens us up to new possibilities—new ways of living our lives, new ways of interacting with friends, families, and strangers. The constant pressure of Jesus’ movement toward Jerusalem and the fulfillment of his promises to his disciples is hard for us to imagine in our everyday lives. We get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other, going about our business like we always do. Jesus died and scurried up to heaven 2000 years ago now, and we are still waiting his promised return. But we shouldn’t forget that Jesus was feeling the crunch of time as he passed by the sycamore tree where Zaccheus was hiding. And perhaps we might keep in mind that regardless of when Christ returns, the days of our own lives are numbered; we ought to feel the pressure of that—we have this life to be who the Spirit calls us to be. None of us knows what comes next—we have this life.

Zacchaeus was a rich man—he was a chief tax collector. He made money off of collecting those taxes—and most likely he skimmed extra off the top. Tax collectors were not popular at all—probably less popular than tax collectors are in these days. This was a guy who took money from his own people and gave it to an oppressive government, and then took some extra for himself, and there was nothing you could do about it. This was a guy you avoided; he wasn’t a guy you ate with. Or socialized with. Or introduced to your other friends. 

He was a short man, and he wanted to see Jesus, so he climbed a sycamore tree and waited for Jesus and his crew to pass by.  When I was in New York a few summers, President Obama came through town, and his motorcade passed by the movie theater where I was sitting on some steps. I didn’t realize what was happening until a crowd formed around me. The motorcade included several vehicles—it was impossible to tell which car the president was in. But that didn’t stop us from speculating, “ooh, it must be that one.” Everyone in the crowd had a reason for why they thought this car or that car would be the one the president was in. But imagine how surprised we would have been if the motorcade had stopped and the president popped out of one of the cars. Imagine if he’d singled out someone in the crowd and said “Come on down from those steps! I’m having dinner at your place tonight.” It’s not a perfect analogy—I promise I am not saying the president is Jesus. But do you get the sense of it? The surprise, the jealousy of others in the crowd, the grumbling that might begin if the crowd sensed the person singled out was not worthy of this honor?

Zacchaeus was a smart man, and scrambled out of that tree to welcome Jesus. And as the crowd grumbled around him, Zacchaeus took Jesus home and fed him, and he made a promise to give back half of his possessions to the poor—if he had defrauded anyone he would pay it back four times over. Satisfied with this promise (and perhaps with the fine dinner we don't get to hear about), Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

What would it be like to bring Jesus home to your house this afternoon without warning? Would your loved ones appreciate the unexpected guest? Is your house in order to receive guests? Do you have time in your schedule for such an unexpected event? Or would you be more like me? With 12 loads of laundry to be done and the dishes piled up and the cats are unruly and the children tired and cranky. Would you offer Jesus carrots and ranch because that’s what is readily available in your fridge? Do you think that Jesus would demand more? Do you think that he does? Do you think that Jesus demands more from us as a church, that we be ready at all times, properly dressed, properly pressed, ready for a visit from royalty?

I was out walking once around my neighborhood. I was lost in my head as I am wont to do when I am out walking. I was thinking about a blog post I needed to write, and this sermon, and an essay that was being stubborn. I was musing about how my son had an essay he needed to write, and how funny it is that our children are so much like us. I stepped off the curb, and a car pulled in front of me and stopped.

A lady dressed in black jumped out of the car, startling me. She waved and called out, “Hey! Can I ask a favor?” I couldn’t think of much to say, startled out of my daydreams and stopped short on my walk. I looked around, but she was definitely talking to me, so I nodded. She said, “Can you help me with my zipper? I hate being unzippered in church.” And then she pulled off her jacket and turned around, and sure enough her zipper was stuck about 10 inches down her back.

It was an oddly strange event to be zipping up a woman’s dress on the street. And it was an oddly strange dress to dash off to church in—gauzy and black and full of glittery sequins. It took me a minute to untangle the zipper from the fabric where it had caught, and then there was the tiny clasp at the top of the zipper, which my cold fingers had trouble with.  And I’m pretty sure I accidentally pulled off one of those sequins. But finally I had her zippered, and she jumped back in the car saying, “Thank you! One should never live alone!” And then she dashed off to church, I guess, on a Saturday afternoon.

Her words stuck with me—“I hate being unzippered in church.” And isn’t that true? We don’t much care for being exposed in church—we dress up, act appropriately. We zipper up—we don’t tell the full stories of our lives. Church is a place where we ought to be unzippered, but it’s surely one of the places where we are most tightly bound.

The lady’s words reminded me of another time when I worked at the YMCA. I was lucky enough to be able to bring my baby to work with me, and I was still nursing. I had a meeting with my boss and the other associate exec—both men who were accepting of the fact that I was nursing in the middle of this meeting. About halfway through my baby was done, and I started to smoothly set him to one side and zip up my jacket like I normally did after nursing. I’d nursed this baby in public all over town and rarely had a problem. But in that moment, the zipper got stuck, and I couldn’t fix it one handed.

Out of options, and unable to concentrate on the meeting, I disrupted the conversation and said, “Excuse me one moment.” I handed the baby to my boss, stood up, and fixed the zipper, but not before I exposed more of myself than I had hoped to. It was a startling moment, this moment of being unzippered.  It’s the kind of moment the lady in black was trying to avoid Saturday at church. The kind of surprise and discomfort I felt at being stopped by a stranger who asked me to zip her dress. It is perhaps the kind of surprise and discomfort Zacchaeus felt at being called out of his tree and imposed upon for dinner.

Being unzippered in church. What would that look like? What delightful mischief would Jesus get up to if we let our guard down? He surprised Zacchaeus into giving half his money to the poor and paying back those he’d defrauded four times over. If Jesus was here this morning, unizppered, what might we do for him? What might we do for each other if we had the honesty and courage to come to church unzippered? What might we do for the world in such a moment of self-honesty and vulnerability?

Impossible! You say. Improbable! Inappropriate! Unzippered in church! Not as grievous a sin as drinking coffee in church, perhaps, but surely you would find someone to zip you up as soon as possible!

But what if you didn’t. What if you let that 10 inches of zipper just stay stuck—exposing just a bit more skin than you are normally comfortable with—what secrets of your soul might leak out? How much more of the Spirit might sneak in through the gap? How might you be saved from yourself this day?  It’s something to think about, being unzippered in church.

One never knows when Jesus might call you out of your tree and insist upon following you home for dinner. And one answer to that dilemma is to keep your house clean at all times, dinner ready, the guest room made up. But another answer is to let your house be as it is, and to welcome the Spirit into your home just how it is. The other answer is to just be unzippered and not worry too much about it. Take Jesus home for dinner and offer up those carrots and ranch. Move the newspapers off the chair to offer a place to sit, and let the children run as they do. Let the Spirit startle you in a moment of undress and disarray, and then see what comes.

May you be lost and found many times over. And may the Spirit find you half-dressed every time. Amen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I Am Coming To You

Sunday, May 25, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Reading: John 14:15-21
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
Did you know that it is still Easter? This is a thing I did not realize until a year into seminary, but perhaps some of you are better churched than I was!

Agape feast at L.O.G. (Love Of God) retreat.
Thanks to Pat Fletcher for the photo!!

He is risen!
And you say?
He is risen, indeed!
And we all say together? Hallelujah!


And again, please!
Again until the sanctuary
cries out with Hallelujahs!

Oh, my friends, it is still Easter! After 46 days of Lent, we move into 50 days of Easter. 50 days to think through resurrection and the enduring presence of Christ, even beyond the grave, until Pentecost. Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit will descend like tongues of fire on our heads.

For now, we wait. And ponder. And wonder.

Our text this morning from the Gospel of John takes us back to the Last Supper—and why, you might ask? Why focus on the night before Jesus was betrayed, in this time after the empty tomb? Why in a

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Into the Breaches

Sunday, May 18, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Preached at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church

Scripture Readings: 
Acts 7:55-60 (and truthfully, you need to read Acts 6-8:1 in order to get the context)
Ezekiel 13:1-7 (This text served as a backdrop for my sermon writing. I attended an urban ministry conference on friday this week, and we worked through this text as a group. I was struck by the way we sidestepped the reference in verse 5 to "battle on the day of the Lord." Many of the children and families we are in community with know they are in a battle zone, in a way that white suburbia does not notice. As I preached this morning, the community of Trenton--of which we are a part--was at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers.)
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or repaired a wall for the house of Israel, so that it might stand in battle on the day of the Lord. They have prophesied falsehood and lying divination; they say, ‘Says theLord’, when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they wait for the fulfilment of their word! Have you not seen a false vision or uttered a lying divination, when you have said, ‘Says the Lord’, even though I did not speak?
I come to you this morning from a few weeks’ worth of travel. I am not quite done yet, as I leave directly from this morning’s worship services to drive to Camp Johnsonburg and pick up the last car load of our jr. high youth and the 2 patient chaperones I left with them to wait. And then I am not

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Joyful Submission

Originally posted on May 11, 2011 at www.lettersfrominsideout.blogspot.com

Last night (May 10, 2011) the Presbyterian Church (USA), in which I am ordained, both as elder and minister of the Word and sacrament, passed an amendment to change our ordination standards. There are about fifty-eleven news stories, blogs, tweets, and facebook statii which can explain about Amendment 10A. The biggest implication (although not the only one) is that the PC (USA) will now be able to ordain queer folk who are involved in same gender loving partnerships as deacons, elders, and ministers. The PC (USA) has published an official statement here.

It would be easy to raise my fist in the air and dance across this blog, and of course I am joy-filled. It would be disingenuous to say I wasn't, no matter how many pleas for graciousness go out. And I don't expect those who disagree to hide their sorrow. I am an openly queer pastor, and it has been a very stressful few years.

But I am left with deeper thoughts tonight than this celebration--a deeper joy at my own personal return to a right relationship with God and the church. I thought I might share what I mean.