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, August 31, 2015

Mad Love

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

Video of the sermon
can be found here on youtube

Audio of the sermon
can be found here at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I’m just grateful to be here this morning. I wanna just to invite you all to sink in to a few moments of delight with the scripture this morning. I’m going to read to you Song of Solomon, a few verses from that. And it’s because it came up in the lectionary. The lectionary is this three year cycle of scripture that many pastors use to decide each week what they’re going to preach on. It helps us to not skip over the parts of scripture that aren’t our favorites or that might feel uncomfortable . It’s this selection of scriptures. About two times in that three year cycle, they give us a little snippet of Song of Songs. And every time they do it, I take full advantage. Because we don’t get to read this book enough in the church. We don’t get to talk about sex enough in the church. So this morning, I’m just going to go for it.

It seems that every time this scripture comes up, I’m guest preaching in a congregation that doesn’t know me. So you might hear my sermon this morning and figure, “That’s one crazy pastor we never wanna have back.” But I just wanna invite you this morning to enjoy it.

First off, I also want to invite you….I don’t know how many of you might not be shoe people. But, should you wish to remove your shoes, at least during the sermon—I don’t know about, you might get frowned on in the fellowship hall. But at least for right now, quietly, if you felt like it, you could kick off those shoes, and just be comfortable here this morning. We’re talking about bodies. We’re talking about holiness and sacred space, and even Moses, when he stepped onto sacred space, that father of our faith, took off his shoes to speak to God. So, mine’ll just stay right here.

I work with teenagers. I work with a variety of teenagers. Some suburban white kids. I work with some suburban black and brown kids. And I work with some urban kids from Trenton who are all black. So we have this youth group that’s formed out of originally three churches (and there’s now two). They have come together over the last three and a half years to try to make a community with one another. That really wasn’t their stated intention, I will admit that. None of my students would tell you that, “Yes we are trying to form a diverse community that might live out the reconciling promises of the Gospel.”, none of my students will tell you that, but it’s what we’re trying to do. They’ll tell you they come because of the roller skating and the pizza. They come because there’s a boy they like in the youth group. And they come because there’s a girl who’s so cute. And they come because their parents said it’s either go to church or do your homework. They come for all kinds of reasons.

But we are trying, at least with some success, to pull together a community of faith of students who are very different from one another. In the process of that, I’ve spent more time in Trenton than I ever imagined that I would. And one of the things that’s come up for me is that there is a culture of death in Trenton that is very difficult to overcome. It’s something we have been working on. In July there was a 16 year old named Jah’vae who was shot to death after a party. Last week, two weeks ago, there was a young 14 year old man, named Radazz, who was shot by police when he was running from them.

There’s a lot of questions about the circumstances, a lot of questions about how this came about but I’ve been running prayer vigils every month since last May, May of 2014, for those who have been murdered in Trenton. I gotta tell you, that I came to this scripture this morning, tired of death, But, I can’t not talk about it. And I can’t not talk about black and brown bodies and the way they are not valued in this culture. So I came this morning with this scripture about love and passion and desire, with a conviction that it might have something to say to us about how we might push past our usual boundaries and create a community of love and care.

I think it’s possible, because love and desire and longing and sex are disruptive to our usual and decent order, aren’t they? And we’re Presbyterians, most of us in this room, so we are decent and in order. We have our liturgy….this is the same bulletin all month, right? This is our order today. So we have our order to things. But I have to tell you that love and sex and desire don’t conform easily to boundaries, to order, to decency. And that this scripture has for us this morning is the possibility of leaping outside of our usual order, and that could be a very good thing for us. So the scripture from Song of Songs:
The voice of my beloved!     Look, he comes,leaping upon the mountains,     bounding over the hills.My beloved is like a gazelle     or a young stag.Look, there he stands,     behind our wall,gazing in at the windows,     looking through the lattice.My beloved speaks and says to me:“Arise, my love, my fair one,     and come away;for now the winter is past,     the rain is over and gone.The flowers appear on the earth;     the time of singing has come,and the voice of the turtledove     is heard in our land.The fig tree puts forth its figs,     and the vines are in blossom;     they give forth fragrance.Arise my love, my fair one,     and come away.
Come away with me…has anybody ever said that to you? Come away with me…for the weekend. Let’s go to Atlantic City…Come away with me, let’s go to New York…Come away with me…we’ll take a week and go to California, and we’ll drive the ocean highway and we’ll see Monterey and the whales and the seals…Just come away with me to the Pinelands and we’ll camp…come away with me to the Poconos. We’ll go to the shore. We’ll get a house. Come away with me…It’s a beautiful time.

I love this scripture.

And because we’re not focused on decency and order today, I want to read you a little bit more of it. And I want your curiosity to be piqued so that you go home from here and you read the whole Song of Songs—and it’s not even all that long, but you won’t get very far without blushing—you won’t!

Upon my bed at night
     I sought him whom my soul loves

(Have you ever done that? Laid awake at night,
     longing for the person who you want so much to love you back?)

I sought him but found him not
     I called him, but he gave no answer.
I will rise now, and go about the city
     and I’ll seek him whom my soul loves.

She says (and this is the woman speaking),
I adjure you, O daughters of Jersualem,
     by the gazelles and the wild doves
     do not stir up or awaken love, until it is ready

(Oh we get into trouble with our love, don’t we…)

You have ravished my heart, 
     my sister, my bride.
You have ravished my heart 
     with a glance of your eyes
(With just a glance of her eyes!)
      with one jewel of your necklace, 
How sweet is your love
      my sister, my bride
How much better is your love than wine
     and the fragrance of your oils than any spice
Your lips distill nectar, my bride
     honey and milk are under your tongue
     the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon
A garden locked, is my sister, my bride
A garden locked, a fountain sealed

Whoo! And then I can’t read the rest in church. Go read Song of Songs—it’s SCANDALOUS! Absolutely scandalous! But it’s scripture, and it’s in our Bible. And I’m here to tell you this morning that sex and love and desire are in our Bible. And that they are an antidote to fear and death, to racism, and it’s in here, and we can do this. Go read your Bible! Go read Song of Songs. I’m prescribing you the erotic poem that is in your Bible. Go read that.

I come to you this morning to talk about intercultural ministry. And that’s sort of what I’m engaged in. And it’s what this song is engaged in a little bit. Is a black woman, a black woman who says, “My skin is dark as night.” And a white man, an white alabaster man. In a different time and a different place where these things had different meaning to them. But nonetheless, intercultural ministry. And love and desire can cross those boundaries.

I want to talk about these disruptive possibilities of passion and love and ridiculous, impossible, indecent longing for other human beings. Whether that be being madly in love or whether that might be the bestest of friends you’ve ever had. Has anyone here ever fallen madly in love with your bestest bestest of friends? Did you ever fall in love with a baby? Oh my gosh, those little ones? And you could just eat them up, couldn’t you? I mean, unless you don’t like babies, but if you like babies…and they’re just so fat and juicy and wonderful, you could just eat them all up. That’s the kind of love I’m talking about, irrational, madness, absolutely insane. That’s the kind of love I’m talking about that can disrupt our usual order of things.

Because I don’t care who you are, if you love babies, and there’s a little baby in front of you, and they’re black or white or brown, or any color whatsoever, they’re just so juicy and plump and Oh! You can eat them up! And in that moment, you are not focused on what it is you fear about another person, you are focused on how much love you have for them. I think there is a possibility here.

I want to invite you just for a minute into your own memories of love and desire. Because I think if we go there, you might get a sense of what we’re talking about. So I’ll share some of my own memories, but maybe they’ll spark for you, yours. And maybe it’s been a REALLY long time since you felt that flutter of butterflies in your stomach that says, “Oh, I really kinda like this person…I hope they like me too.” But however long it’s been, I know you’ve felt it. And however much you’ve despaired that it will never happen again, I promise you it will. In this life, it will. Because we are built for longing and desire and love.

I remember when I was young and in high school and there was a boy, and he was 6’6” and dark, dark, long, hair. I was so in love with this guy. One time he met me at my bus stop. I was taking the bus home from school, and I got off the bus and there he was in all his 6’6” dark long hair glory, and my 14 or 15 year old self—my heart was beating so fast. .And there he was. You know he only met me one time at that bus stop, but even now when I go back to my hometown 30 years later, and I walk by that bus stop, I remember that day he met me there, and I half expect him to show up again. Do you remember what that’s like? Oh that adolescent love! No boundaries, whatsoever, none, right? Love is endless and possible and everything is better when you’re in love like that.

One time while I was married (I’m married, now divorced), I was going away for a long trip (like a week). And that seemed pretty long to me—we hadn’t been separated too much. You know those CD labels? You know how you could make CD labels if you had a mixed tape. In the center of that Avery sheet of labels, there was a little donut hole leftover. I had a whole bunch of those. So I went on my computer, and I designed labels for the donut holes. So I had all these little labels that said, “I love you,” “You’re my favorite.” Like all these little kind of—I mean, I was 20-something—but all these little jr. high kinds of love notes. And then I went around the house before I left and I pasted them everywhere he might find them over the next week. Behind his shaving mirror, in a silverware drawer, inside the refrigerator, in his underwear drawer. Oh gosh! I put those labels everywhere! So that as he went through his week he would find them and just be reminded, I know I’m away, and I won’t be back for a week, but I love you.

Do you remember that kind of love? Was there a moment in your relationship when you felt that? Because maybe you’re not there today. Oh my word. I saw a woman yesterday at a festival. And someone said to her, “How are you doing?”

And she said, “I’m doing great! I’ve got a beautiful apartment and I left my husband and I’m doing FINE!” And she started highstepping around like this, almnost booty dancing around the parking lot. And I gotta tell you, she was doing just fine. And so I know that relationships have their ups and downs and that we don’t always feel the beginnings of that love and desire, but I know it was there at one time.

This transcends our sexual desires too, right? It’s the sensuality I’m talking about. My shoes are off—it feels good up here. Well, I’m from California and we don’t wear shoes (that’s not true, Californians wear shoes). But it transcends this romantic love and goes on to all our other relationships.

My son, when we were getting along for a while. He sent me a text, he said, “Mom, don’t come home for a couple of hours.” And I thought, “Oh no, what has happened?”

He said, “No, it’s not bad. Just don’t come home for a couple of hours.” Okay. So I went to the coffee shop, and I prayed, that the house would still be standing when I returned, that this was not something bad.

I walked in the door, and he had found every picture in the house of us as a family, and gathered them all to the table. With some flowers, and a couple of Mother’s Day cards. He called one of our youth leaders and asked if he could borrow her speakers so that when I walked into the house there was beautiful music playing. And he put out candles…and so this beautiful Mother’s Day tableau that I walked into, fearing that my house had burned down. But no, it was this beautiful expression of love and care and intimate affection for me, as his mother.

I think it transcends age. A lot of times I hear people say, “Well, I’m too old for that. I’ve outgrown that kind of love and desire.” “I’ve been married 59 years, honey. We don’t, yeah hm.” I hear that a lot. But I also talk with seniors who have this phrase: they’re “keeping company.” So Harold and Gladys might be “keeping company.” And we put it in quotes because what we know is Harold and Gladys are “keeping company,” but they also got a little thing going on the side, don’t they? Harold and Gladys at 78, 83, 95 are up to no good. Mischief, teenage love, keeping company.

One time I met a woman. I said, “Have you ever been married?”

And she said, “No no no no, I’ve never been married. It’s never quite worked out for me.”

And then she leaned in, she’s 93, she leaned in real closely, she winked at me with a big grin, and she said, “I am an unclaimed treausure.”

I love her! I think that’s great!

Maybe when I am 93, I will be an unclaimed treasure!

Do you remember what it was like, when somebody asked you to go to lunch. And you weren’t sure if it was a date, but you kinda hoped it was. But you weren’t positive, is this a date or is just lunch? Is this a date, or is this a business thing? I met him through work or I met her through soccer, whatever it is, right? And so you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t know if this is a date or not.” But you go. And you sit there, and it’s supposed to be just lunch and then you’re done at 1, but you’re still there talking 3 or 4 hours later. It’s now almost 5:00 and you’ve missed several things you were supposed to do this afternoon. But you had no idea it had been so long. And then you get up from the table, because you just have to go now. But you wish you didn’t, and you can’t believe it’s already 5. And then in that moment your eyes meet, and you’re wondering is this really a date, or did I misunderstand this? And then one of you leans in for the kiss…

That is IN HERE! It’s IN HERE. And I invite you to go back and read it. Because this kind of thing is completely disruptive to our orderly lives. When you fall in love like that, EVERYTHING’S is out the window. You start thinking well, I could move to New Orleans. I could move to Spain. I could move to Japan. I could move wherever this person is. I could move all over the world. I could do anything. Because this love just opens up all kinds of new possibilities, this longing and desire. Things that you never thought that you’d be willing to do. All of a sudden this person is with you and now, you’re going skydiving for that second date. Well that wasn’t your plan, but you‘ve been disrupted by love and desire.

I think we get kind of afraid of this, right? I mean, this is not safe. This is NOT safe. I read an article this morning, posted of Facebook (I’m a Facebook person). Somebody posted this from Mark Manson, “Love Is Not Enough.” It was a very sober article, focused on don’t get too lost in that passionate moment.
When dating and looking for a partner, you must use not only your heart, but your mind. (Like you could use your mind when you’ve lost your mind.) Yes, you want to find someone who makes your heart flutter and your farts smell like cherry popsicles. But you also need to evaluate a person’s values, how they treat themselves, how they treat those close to them, their ambitions and their worldviews in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you…well, as the ski instructor from South Park once said, you’re going to have a bad time.
Oh, I guarantee you, if you fall in love, you’re going to have some bad times. There is nothing, NOTHING that says that love isn’t a roller coaster, right? Oh gosh…you’re going to go home after that first kiss and wonder, “Did I imagine it? Did I lean in? Did I…Was I…oh gosh.” And you’ll have all the memories of all the awkward things you did during that first date. That silly thing you said that you really didn’t intend to say. Or the awkward pause or the weird language. Or you go home and realize that your zipper’s undone and it’s been undone for the last half day…That’s never happened to me.

Love is not safe, and it is not orderly, and it does not conform to decency. Frankly, it’s kind of rude. And I’ts in here. God gives it to us. I think it’s in here because God feels for us that kind of mad, crazy, insane love for us humans. There’s really no rationality to it. We really don’t deserve that kind of love.

The people we fall in love with in that way have done nothing to earn it from us. We don’t even know their values when our eyes first meet across the room, but we are already moving to Japan. Yes.

Song of Songs tells us of two lovers who share a moment in time. They exchange words of longing and desire. But this song does not tell us of long term stability. It doesn’t tell us of sustainability. It doesn’t even tell us of consummation. We don’t get in the story the moment where these two lovers are reunited. We just get to hear a story of longing and desire.

It’s not about diapers and soccer mom vans and 9-5 jobs and maybe three 9-5 jobs and pensions and health insurance and putting food on the table. That’s not what Song of Songs is about. There’s kids to care for in here. There’s no long-term disability. There’s no mental health issues in here. This is just unbridled love and passion. It’s about risk and newness and possibility and hope. And when we think we are dead and buried alive…raise your hand in your mind if you’ve ever felt like you are living a living death. You don’t have to confess it before your church here, but I know I’m not alone.

When we believe with all our being that we cannot be any more than we are, that we are stuck in our ways. When we are convinced that we will never love again, that we will never BE loved again. We’ll never feel like that again—never be swept off our feet with desire that twists our guts and sets our skin on fire—do you remember that feeling? THAT is when we must open Song of Songs and read this scripture. And remember that we are dearly made of flesh. That we are born out of passion. That we are called into passionate union with other human beings. And then also called into that kind of passionate union with God.

Song of Songs and the passion it contains holds the possibility of disrupting our decent, orderly lives. It’s probably already disrupted your life at one point or another. There’s probably people in this room that are only in New Jersey because they fell in love with someone who was here—how did that end up?

Passion and desire tempts us to overcome our greatest fears. If I know that you will love me and desire me and approve of me when I jump off the cliff, what cliff wouldn’t I jump off of? Oh, we’re tempted to do all kinds of crazy things because somebody loves us. And we think oh, this is great! Oh! So risky! So indecent! NO wonder we’re afraid of this text.

I want to read you a thing here, because I think, yes it’s risky and all that. But there’s a guy named Robert Goss who has written…Again, this is a book called The Spirituality of Men, and there’s some chapters in here that will make you blush along with the Bible, so I highly encourage it to you. He says…
I’ve had the honor of learning from two gay men with thirty-some years of experience... [in their community] ...who both see sexuality explicitly as a spiritual practice as well as a sexual practice. And one of them taught me to approach each man with two things in mind. That this person in front of me is the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen, and that this was the first human I had ever laid eyes on. I would add a third thing that I do, which is to see the presence of God within that person. Realizing that God within the person becomes a central practice of spiritual sex. Gay sex then can become a locus of truth and likewise a means of grace. (This is a slight paraphrase.)

Look, this book is going to make you blush. It’s craziness.

But what he’s saying is, in our love for one another, in our passion for one another, we see, if we’re doing this right, the person who is the object of our desire, as a perfect creation of God. That’s what we’re called to in the Song of Songs. That’s what we’re called to in our relationships. That’s what we are called to when we are involved with somebody intimately, passionately. To see them as a perfect, beautiful creation of God, like we’ve never seen before.

Oh, Song of Songs isn’t about two married people, no no. This is about two people who are out of line. And oh gosh, it is so beautiful! Go back and read it. Just do it.

For those of you who are looking for a less outrageous solution to enacting the Song of Songs, because I know a lot of you aren’t going to go and club or go out in the bars and pick people up. And I’m not suggesting that to you as a prescription, but I’m saying passion! I’m saying love! I’m saying desire! I’m saying sex. AND I’m saying abundance and beauty and sensuality.

Food! I am so in love with food! Food could be my Song of Songs partner. That whole song could REALLY be about food, not just a metoaphor. Pomegranates and honey, are you kidding me? That is beautiful.

I found this book called Chocolate for Lent. How indecent is that? This is fantastic! The author of this book takes the movie Chocolat and turns it into a Lenten reflection. And instead of saying to yourself, oh I’m going to withhold from everything, and I’m going to give up, uh, I don’t know, chocolate, for instance (who would do that?) for Lent…

I gave up meat and dairy one year, and I thought I was going to die. And at the end of Lent…well, I didn’t really think I was going to die. It was just a sad life for Lent--I guess that’s the point. And I got to the end of Lent, and I told my congregation, “I am going to have a bbq on the front lawn on Easter Sunday morning. And they all went and had their own family events and all that, nobody came to my barbecue, but I barbecued a side of cow. Lent, I have a mixed relationship with Lent.

So I found this book, Chocolate for Lent, and the idea really is to meditate on the lushness of chocolate, and food and life and desire and love. And if you’ve seen the movie, you know that that’s a lot of what that’s about. Right? Oh it’s just lovely, anyway. So that’s, Chocolate for Lent.

Maybe chocolate for today. Maybe some of y’all need to go out from here and have some chocolate, after church. I don’t know what’s in the coffee hour, but…Is there coffee hour, by the way? Oh good! Excellent! I love coffee hour!

Is there chocolate? Ohhh. You are a Song of Songs church. I’m excited to hear this!

Abundance, joy, longing, and desire.

Let me just read you something else that is totally scandalous. Just because I can this morning, because I’m a guest preacher. But I gotta tell you that there’s a lot of theologians out there who have taken a look at Song of Songs and other instances of sexuality and spirituality that come together in scripture. And it’s something that we ignore. We ignore our bodies a lot when we come to the church. Right? We’re properly dressed. We have shoes on. We tell our girls, can you wear the skirt a little longer? Kind of nudge it…you’re showing a little…Or our guys, pull up your pants, you’re sagging…and this is real common, right, with some of our black youth in particular, but my son as well, sagging, underwear showing. We tell them all the time, this is just indecent! You can’t go into a place like a church with your pants sagging, right? We tell people that. There’s a kind of respectability that we need to step into when we’re in these spaces. And by doing that, we kind of erase a sense of our bodies in particular being connected to this Word in particular.

So there’s a theologian named Marcella Althaus-Reid, and she wrote a book called Indecent Theology. And again, it’s a challenging read, it will make you blush. So I give you that name with the caveat that if it makes you blush, don’t blame me. I told you it would. Here’s a little excerpt from the very beginning.
Should a woman keep her pants on in the streets or not? Shall she remove them, say, at the moment of going to church, for a more intimate reminder of her sexuality in relation to God? (Again, not a prescription, I’m not telling you what to do.) What difference does it make if that woman is a lemon vender and sells you lemons in the street without using underwear? Moreover, what difference would it make if she sits down to write theology without underwear? … Writing theology without underwear may be punishable by law, who knows. An act of gross indecency…Yet an Argentinian feminist theologian may want to do, precisely, that. Her task may be to deconstruct a moral order which is based on a heterosexual construction of reality, which organizes not only categories of approved social and divine interactions but of economic ones too. The Argentinian theologian would then like to remove her underwear to write theology with feminist honesty, not forgetting what it is to be a woman when dealing with theological and political categories.
Again, not a prescription, but a reminder that there is something disruptive, something subversive about this scripture, that reminds us that bodies are important to scripture and important to us in the church.

I’ll just tell you one more story, about my youth group. A couple of months ago we had an overnight. There were three youth from Trenton, who were black; three youth from the suburbs who were black; three white youth from the suburbs. And we were sitting around, and we were doing these two exercises from a book called Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal. He did some theater kinds of things for people who were oppressed. It was called Theater of the Oppressed. The idea is to get our bodies moving and telling political stories about who we are and what has happened to us.

And so I was doing these exercises with them, nothing scandalous, I promise! You would take your right hand and move it in a circle—try this with me. Move your right hand in a circle. Now, take your left hand and make a cross with it. Yeah, it’s not easy, is it?

The other thing you can try, and I won’t be able to see you do it with your feet, is take your right foot and move it in a circle, and after you do that for a minute, take your right hand and write your name in the air. Ok, your body’s not cooperating is it? No, it’s not. And so we did that first exercise and we were so frustrated.

And then the second exercise was in partners. Everyone would put…the one partner would put their hand this close to their partner’s face. If you were the partner that was following the hand, you had to follow their hand. Wherever they moved their hand you had to follow it, in whatever contortion they planned for you.

Well, one of the girls put her hand too close, too fast to another girl’s face, and she punched her. Yeah, just, boom. It wasn’t a big punch, but she punched her friend and said, “You know what? I’m done!” And she went and had a seat.

So we finished the exercise, and we began to talk about what had just happened. Personal space, bodies, what it’s like to have someone’s hand shove up in your face too fast.

As we talked about that, we began to talk about race. I really don’t know how it happened, but we moved from bodies to the color of bodies. And we began to have this pretty wild conversation.

I was telling them the story about the first time I had led youth group with this church. One of the girls who was there was a very light-skinned girl. I did not know she was black. She has kinky hair, she’s part Egyptian, very light-skinned. And I had put her in a group intentionally with a couple of very dark-skinned girls in an attempt to kind of move us around out of social groups and all of that. So she began to joke with me about putting all the black girls in one group. And I didn’t understand, because I thought she was white. So I started lecturing her about being racist and how we weren’t going to do that in our youth group, because…

And she looks at me finally and says, “Katie, you’re stupid. I’m black.”

So I’m telling this story, and my black kids are like dying laughing at me. Which is fine, they can laugh at me all they want to. They’re laughing at me and my stupidity and my naivete with this group. They’re practically falling on the floor, laughing, and I look over and I realize that my white kids aren’t laughing. They’re frozen solid. They’re terrified by this discussion of race.

And so we stopped a second, and I said, “Hold up, hold up. We gotta stop laughing for just a second.” And I asked my white kids to talk about what they were feeling. And they couldn’t do it for the longest minute. And then one of them finally said, “It’s just not funny. It’s just not funny to joke about skin color.” And he was terrified that he would be called racist, if he joined in the laughter about my stupidity. Whoo, it was quite a moment, made me sad.

And then one of the white girls got up and decided she was going to go sit next to her black friend. And then one of the black boys got up and he went and sat next to his white friend. And they rearranged themselves because they had realized that subconsciously, unconsciously, unintentionally, they had been sitting by race. All the black kids were together and all the white kids were together. So they mixed it up, and they thought they had it fixed. And then they looked around the room, and they realized now they were seated by gender.

And then they were all able to laugh. Every last one of those kids started laughing. We ended our exercise there.

And I tell you this because I want you to know that paying attention to our bodies can make the smallest of difference. This is not a story that is going to make the newspapers. This is not a five year long project that’s going to have some kind of outcome that can be measured and given a grant for. This is just a moment in time, a 45-minute period in our youth group, and half those kids will never even remember it. But for that period of time, we were able to talk about bodies, discomfort, humor, laughter together. We were able to move around a little bit.

Nothing’s really fixed. I mean, my kids are still trying to figure out how do they be black and white in the same youth group? How do they be poor and wealthy in the same youth group? How do they come together when their life experiences are so very different. They don’t have any common ground, some of them, to really talk about what’s going on in their lives.

Well, I’m going to end real quick here, but I just wanted to say this. I was on twitter the other day. I’m a big social media person. Somebody had tweeted their cousin’s—their cousin had gotten married. And the cousin had said, “I don’t understand why marriages don’t last, or why people are always complaining about their spouses.” And then she added in her commentary. She said, “That was from my cousin, married a SMOOTH two weeks.” A link to the tweet.

Well, if you’ve been married longer than two weeks, you know…gosh…and I posted it and I got a number of comments back, which you can imagine.

One person said, “It would be wonderful if that feeling could last forever, wouldn’t it.”

Another person said, “Obviously an expert…” a little sarcasm.

Someone else said, “She clearly hasn’t experienced the male post-burrito car fart. Picked up enough towels off the bed or socks on the floor, had her living room destroyed by sports fans, or experienced a forgotten anniversary yet. She should steel herself.”

Someone else said “Obviously they have not yet tried to pack for a move or load a dishwasher or do any of the mundane tasks that truly tax a marriage.”

A woman from the south said, “Bless their hearts.”

And finally someone said, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

People don’t have a lot of optimism and hope for early love. It really is tempting to think that it goes away and never comes back. That we can’t keep accessing and tapping it for the purpose of disrupting our lives. Maybe if you’ve been married 39, 40, 70 years, it’s tough sometimes to call up those feelings of passionate connection and love. But I encourage you in those moments when you think it’s not possible, where you think we are stuck in the categories we are stuck in, that we’re stuck as black folks and white folks, that we’re stuck as poor folks and wealthy folks, that we’re stuck as Trenton vs. Ewing, Trenton vs. Lawrenceville, Trenton vs. Hightstown, that we can’t transgress those boundaries, I want to send you back to Song of Songs. And I want you to remember that love and passion and longing and desire can transgress those boundaries. And I want you to think about how in your life you can look upon the Other, the person who’s become your enemy; the person who is in your way; the person who doesn’t live the way you wish they would live. And I want you to think about how you can look upon them and think about them in a way that you would think about a little baby, who you could just eat up because they’re just, they’re so fat and chubby and juicy. That you could just eat them up, because they’re so amazing. That you could just spend hours with them, and it would seem like no time had gone by. I think that is an answer and an antidote to when we feel stuck in these categories.

So I charge you with that, I challenge you with that. Go out and fall in love with the world, with people, with people you shouldn’t be in love with. Now, I’m not saying go build a life and take out a mortgage with them. That’s not what Song of Songs is about. You gotta be smart and wise in this life about how you are taking care of yourself and your family. Absolutely. But that doesn’t stop you from falling in love. Maybe you don’t act on it. Maybe this is not someone that you’re gonna to be going to the shore with. But you can still feel that love for them. You can know that they are inappropriate. You can know that they sag their pants. You can know that they are out there doing things that you do not approve of. They might spend their money unwisely. Maybe they’ve spent your money unwisely. And nevertheless you can love them, desire them, long for them, yearn for them. You can think about them as you lay upon your bed at night and pray for them with all your soul.

I charge you with that. Amen.

Critically Engaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Put On The WHOLE Armor

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

For a mother, who wasn't easy.

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

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

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

Oh yes, this is a time of many, many emotions, and I’m here today to say that God is big enough for all of them. The God who created this woman from the very beginning, and the same God who even

Monday, August 10, 2015

Like a Mother Hen

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

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

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