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.)

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."
"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."
"I see. That's...sort of distasteful."
"It is, isn't it."
"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)

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.


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.


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.