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 13, 2016

welp. here we are.

Sunday, November 13, 2016
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
Luke 21:5-19

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. ~James Baldwin

So...the election, uh? What a week. I have been watching this election unfold over the last two years with a mixture of cynicism, hope, astonishment, and heightened awareness. As Tuesday night finished its dramatic climax, and one impossible candidate beat out another impossible candidate, and all I could think of was, "Welp. Here we are." And indeed, here we are. As I looked through the scripture this week, thought through the election and our congregation, and realized that we are in the middle of a stewardship campaign, I thought to myself, "Welp. It was sure nice being employed while it lasted."

I imagine this morning that these four walls contain the entirety of human emotion, just in this congregation of 50 people: joy, despair, excitement, fear, frustration, relief, etc etc etc. How many emotions can your single body hold at once? How many emotions can this body, this church, hold at once? Is there a limit? In these next four years, I think we might find out.

I've been advised by pastors who have managed to hold their jobs longer than I that the pulpit is no place for personal politics. And I assure you this morning that I am not here to lift up or tear down either candidate, winner or loser. You have not known me very long--just a few weeks, really. I have only preached twice here. But both times I spoke about racism and police violence and homophobia. It's not a mystery where I stand on justice and oppression, and that stance wasn't different under an Obama administration than it will be under a Trump administration or than it would have been under a Clinton administration. On the topic of justice, I am, my friends will assure you, obnoxiously consistent.

As I went to bed on Tuesday night, I updated my Facebook status to read: "tomorrow it's the same work. people who need food and clothing and shelter. protests to organize and participate in. children and elderly to protect. white supremacy to betray and dismantle. reeducating men (and women) about rape. standing with trans folk. getting our same gender loving on. white supremacy to betray and dismantle."

Here we are. A new president elect. The same work in front of us that was behind us.

It's not been the smoothest start for Pastor Jen and I. Within the first few weeks there were three deaths in the congregation. The boiler acted up. New church calls are always challenging. Part time church calls are extra challenging. Trying to share a brain with a co-pastor, super extra challenging. It was unfortunate timing with the election just 5 weeks into our time with you. You haven't known us long enough for love to cover a multitude of sins. You haven't known me long enough to hear me preach, smile to yourself, and say "Yeah, I knew that's about what she would say." It's like when you first start dating someone and then something big happens that forces all the cards on the table before you were ready quite yet. And so here we are.

The job is temporary anyway, right? Literally, on paper, Pastor Jen and I are called Temporary Supply Pastors. We are in many ways fulfilling the role of an Interim Pastor. We might be here six months, we might be here six years. We're still figuring it out, you the church, and we the pastors. But I'll tell you what, all of us pastors are only ever temporary, and we would do well to remember that. In my first call, where I was the 15th pastor in 50 years, a member of the church came to see me one day. We had had a disagreement over I don't even know what now, and she wanted me to understand my place. She said, "Pastor, you do what you want. I was here long before you got here and I'll be here long after you leave. Do. What. You. Want." I'll never forget it. And I'll never forget that she was right.

My role here as pastor this morning isn't to get you to like me or agree with me. My role here isn't to preserve my job. Although I do like working here. My role this morning, as pastor, is to bring a word from God, as best I am able to interpret it. It is your job, as the congregation, to hold the community together. I am temporary. This community was here long before I got here and likely will be here long after I leave. This gives me both freedoom to speak plainly and a certain reluctance to do so.

So. Here we are.

Our scripture this morning speaks of a time when the disciples were admiring the temple, how beautiful it was, with lovely stone and decorations, gifts and offerings to God. The space was aesthetically pleasing. And Jesus said, "Aha! And yet, calamity will come upon is and this temple will be destroyed!" Understandably, people got a little excited about this and started asking questions. "When will this be? How will we know?" And Jesus said, "Ohhh, it's gonna be a hot mess. Nation against nation! Wars and destruction!" Or in the words of the original Ghostbusters movie: you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor. Real wrath-of-God type stuff! Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

Does that sound familiar? Sounds like my facebook. But I'll say it again: "tomorrow it's the same work. people who need food and clothing and shelter. protests to organize and participate in. children and elderly to protect. white supremacy to betray and dismantle. reeducating men (and women) about rape. standing with trans folk. getting our same gender loving on. white supremacy to betray and dismantle."

And I believe it's the same work no matter who you voted for last Tuesday, what your party affiliation is, whether you are joyful or devastated by the election results, we are called by ALL of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus and a host of other biblical characters to do justice. If you've been in the church longer than a minute, you know Micah 6:8--"He has shown thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee. But to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God."

There's no Republican Pass. There's no Democrat Pass. For me there's no Green Party or Socialist Party Pass. We don't get a pass for the way we perpetuate systems of injustice--even when we do it out of ignorance, best intentions, or conviction. Electoral politics don't get us jewels in our crown or brownie points in heaven. Saved by Grace, sent out to Love, that is it. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

And O Lord, do I struggle with humble.

Every person in this room has an obligation to justice and love. Every person in this room has an obligation to stand with the marginalized, even if you are marginalized yourself. In face, it is LIKELY that in any given place, time, or context, that you will find yourself marginalized along some axis of oppression. Because this is life. And life is profoundly unfair, unjust, broken beyond words. What we have is each other.

Do you remember my first sermon? I told you that I only have one sermon and that the message is always this: We find God in the love we have for one another. God dwells in the relationships between us.

Two summers ago a 14 year old boy was shot in Trenton by police officers while he was running away from them. He had seven bullet holes in his body, in the back of his legs and torso. At least eleven more bullet holes and casings were found nearby scattered on the ground, in cars, and even in the walls of peoples homes. One bullet went through an apartment wall, across the room, and lodged in another wall. The family was home, but luckily the resident of that room wasn't hurt.

As you can imagine, the community gathered. There were opinions all over the place, from "What was a teenager doing on the street so late?" (It was 10:30 on a warm summer night) to "Why was this child shot by a sheriff and a state trooper?" (instead of local community police interacting). There was disagreement over whether he had a gun, if the gun was planted, whether it's ok to run from the police, whether it's ok for police to patrol without uniforms in unmarked cars, whether teenagers should be allowed out of their homes at night, whether any of us should be allowed out of our homes at night. Plenty of blame floated around that room.

It would have been easy for that community gathering to fall apart into disagreement and for nothing to be done. But instead what happened is that we began to divide the work. Some people worked on the family's immediate medical needs and emotional support. Some people started looking at legal support. Some people wanted to investigate possible witnesses and video cameras. Others wanted to work on police accountability. By the time we left our second meeting, it was clear that we were not in agreement as to the nature of this event. But it was also clear that there were justice and human needs that could be met by the community. It was clear that regardless of your personal politics, feelings about the police, opinions about teenagers, etc etc that there was work you COULD do that moved us toward justice and healing. I told one skeptic that if all she could do is make a casserole and drop it by the family house, then that's what she should do. She didn't have to protest the police department. She didn't have to show up at the courthouse. If what she had to offer was that casserole, then so be it and she should do it. We didn't do this perfectly. There are things I would change about our community response. But we at least got to work.

I suppose that's what I have to share with you this morning. That this community has a broad spectrum of political opinion. Yet you are still called by God to justice and love. The fact that there are people suffering is indisputable. The fact that there will be people suffering under both this current administration and the next to take office is indisputable. And the fact that God calls you to stand with the marginalize is also indisputable.

A very real question for this church as it moves forward is who will you be? What will your identity in the community be? Will you be a place of sanctuary and welcome for those who suffer? We can argue the finer points--and I'm sure we will. Oh I'm sure we will.

But the work...oh the work. "tomorrow it's the same work. people who need food and clothing and shelter. protests to organize and participate in. children and elderly to protect. white supremacy to betray and dismantle. reeducating men (and women) about rape. standing with trans folk. getting our same gender loving on. white supremacy to betray and dismantle."

And so....welp. here we are.

Luke closes this passage by saying, “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

My role is not to tell you what to think or what to do or how to live or what to believe. I'm here to walk with this church a little way in your journey. I'm here to surface your gifts for service to God and other humans. I'm here to help you discern your call, both personally communally. Some of you will disagree with what I see in this world. Still you are called to justice and mercy and humility. If what you can do is feed and clothe people, then Hallelujah! Keep bringing the food and clothing and we'll keep finding those who need it. If what you can do is pray, then do so fervently, we surely need it. Some of you will see systems of injustice that go beyond the pragmatic fulfilling of daily needs. If so, let's talk more, there are many ways to get connected.

May we fearlessly examine ourselves. May we hear accusations of injustice, racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia etc. as opportunities to grow and change. May we work diligently toward justice and mercy as best we know how, and may we keep learning how to do it better. The work has not changed--it is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, protest injustice, protect the vulnerable, betray and dismantle systems of oppression and violence, love across boundaries.

By your endurance you will gain your souls. May it be so.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Grandpa Jim

James G. Ewer
Repost from 5 years ago. 
------------------------------

Today I lit a candle for my Grandpa Jim at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  I think every person should spend a day at that museum, because we should never forget what we are capable of, individually and as a state.

Grandpa Jim was a navigator in the Army Air Corp, and was shot down over Germany sometime in 1944/5. He spent a few months in a concentration camp toward the end of the war. I can't tell you much more than that, because Grandpa Jim didn't talk about that time, except with his army buddies. Many Friday nights he would call our house, drunk as a skunk on his favorite scotch. "Is Jjjjjeannie there?" he would slur into the phone. He loved to talk with my mother--they were very fond of each other.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cheesecake

a slice of cheesecake tonight
more of a wedge, really, than a slice
and the waitress' name is Darlin
which she is
my mother made cheesecake
and I know how
but i don't because one cheesecake
is several wedges
which is a lot of slices
it was my mother's cheesecake that caught my father
or actually her mother's
with the graham cracker pecan crust

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pour Out Love

Sunday, August 7, 2016
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at The Presbyterian Church of Willingboro

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 1:1,10-20 and 1 John 4:7-12

Good morning! My name is Katie Mulligan, and I am a Presbyterian pastor. I am a minister member of the West Jersey Presbytery, and I live and work in and around Trenton. I work with youth and young adults and their families, mostly in between the churches. A lot of the people I work with don’t have much use for churches or church people, but they do appreciate fellowship and joining together over meals and a chance to be heard about how life is going. You know, so I work with regular people, not a whole lot different than any of us here, who are gathered this morning for fellowship, sharing table, and being heard.

It’s been a hard week, news wise. First, on Monday, police in Balitmore attempted to deliver an arrest warrant to Korryn Gaines, a young black woman who had two children, ages 1 and 5. She had, like most black folks I know, previous engagements with the police that were negative—she’d been harassed by police, and she wasn’t taking any of it. She posted videos of her engagements with police in prior months. When the police arrived on her doorstep to deliver arrest warrants for failing to appear in court for traffic violations, Korryn Gaines did not answer the door. The police got a key from the landlord and helped themselves in. Finding the chain across the door, they kicked the door in. And that’s when they saw Ms. Gaines had a shotgun.

The police went away and got themselves a warrant. And then they started a 5 hour standoff. They cut her social media. They refused her mother to speak with her. They cornered her in her home with her 5 year old son. And when they got tired of waiting, they stormed into the house and shot her dead. They shot her 5 year old son in the face. He will live to tell the tale. He will live as a motherless child who watched his mother killed by police while getting shot in the head himself.

And this, let me remind you, was all over traffic tickets. Korryn Gaines has been on my mind and in my heart all week. Fierce, unrepentant, refusing to take mistreatment without fighting back. For herself and for her children. Korryn Gaines.

Later that night, I heard about the death of Joyce Quaweay, another young black woman and the

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It's Not About the Building

Sunday, June 26, 2016
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Preached at Ewing Presbyterian Church

Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 and Luke 9:51-62


How strange, really, to be preaching in THIS building for the first time, to worship with you all for the LAST time as one of your pastors. We’ve traveled together spiritually for a little over 4 years, through some dreadful ups and downs. The obvious source of conflict for this congregation over the last decade has been this building—this building we are sitting in today. And then the good Lord drops this scripture in my lap and says, “Here, do something with this, would you?”

A scripture rejecting nostalgia on my last Sunday with you, preaching in a building from 1867 that we’ve been fighting about for 15 years (longer really), with a congregation that remembers baptisms, marriages, funerals as “properly” conducted here in this contested space. Man, Jesus is a jerk.

So here goes.

It was January 2012 when three separate friends pointed me to the position description circulating in the Presbytery for a Director of Youth Ministry for Ewing and Covenant Presbyterian Churches. The position description was three pages long, included ministry to the youth of two different churches wanting to work in collaboration. You all advertised that the job would be 6-8 hours a week.

I was amused.

And intrigued.

Youth ministry, no matter the context, no matter the size of the ministry, requires more than 8 hours a week. But I was intrigued by churches trying to do something different, working in collaboration, so I

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Brief Return to Tiny Church

Sunday, June 12, 2016
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Mt. Laurel, NJ

Scripture Readings:
Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, 5-6
Luke 7:36-50

Send out your bread upon the waters,
for after many days you will get it back.
In the morning sow your seed,
and at evening do not let your hands be idle;
for you do not know which will prosper,
this or that, or whether both alike will be good.


As I wrote this sermon on Saturday, a 15 year old boy was murdered in Trenton. I don't especially know how to speak of these things to people and churches who don't experience them. I don't always know how to go between these two realities well. I just know that I will preach in the morning at Tiny Church and then come back to Trenton to be. We will pray for this young man and his family. We will do what we can, each of us.

Dear friends, it has been almost 5 years since I left Tiny Church—can you believe it? My oldest is 16 years old. He just got a job! The little one, El Segundo, is 13 and finishing 7th grade. Sometime this spring he grew taller than me by an inch. His voice has dropped to a deep gravelly bass. No longer does he run about church sanctuaries and hide under pews. These days he programs computers. They eat, these two boys, like locusts, devouring entire grocery store harvests.

These last few years I’ve been working with three churches in and around Trenton, ministering to

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hold My Faith

Unglazed wood fired jar by Michael Simmons
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: 
1 Kings 17:8-24
Luke 7:11-17

I am delighted to worship with you this morning—I thank you kindly for the invitation to preach and to fellowship with you. Community, in any form, is rare these days. I treasure this time with you.

For the last four years I have been a youth and young adult pastor in and around the Trenton area. I’ve worked with three Presbyterian churches—one in Trenton, one in Ewing, and one in Lawrenceville—to create a collaborative youth group, including youth from all three churches as well as youth from the wider community. It has worked well in some ways, failed in others, and like many of our attempts in the church, it is coming to an end. June 30 is my last day as pastor for this assorted crew of teenagers. I suppose, really, that like ALL attempts of church it is coming to an end. There are cycles to mininstry, seasons of life, and even an historic church like this must surely know that. 1692 you were founded—if these old walls could speak, what tales would they tell??

I confess I am tired this week. I am torn between excitement about what might come next, anxiety over not knowing, and grief at what is ending. I brought all of that with me as I pondered the scriptures from the lectionary this week, and it appears that a message I could draw personally from
these stories is that in God there is life, even after all hope has been destroyed by death. It seems I might simply arrive on your church doorstep and proclaim, “Put your trust in Jesus, and your son too will be brought back to life. For the Lord loves the widows and will not leave you destitute.”

And yet, and yet…two men were murdered this week in Trenton. Elvin Grimsley, 38 years old, gunned down while he was sitting in his car on Wednedsay. He was the father of a teenager, Elvin Kimble, who was murdered last November. The paper printed a picture of the two of them standing together, father and son. That same day Zaire Gibbs was shot, and he died on Thursday. He was 25 years old.

Just a few weeks ago 100 of us walked through the city to remember the other seven people who have been murdered this year in Trenton: Ricardo Montalvan, 23 years old; Jermaine “Mooky” Johnson, 26 years old; Ciony Kirkman, 16 years old; Elliot Simon, 52 years old (and he was the father of Tiara Green, murdered just two years ago when she was 16); Tyquise Timmons, 21 years old; Shawntay Ross, 39 years old; Jovan Marino, 24 years old. Just a few weeks ago we walked through the city, praying, crying, pleading, hoping. But no miracle, and these sons and daughters did not come back to life. No miracle and two more men have died. It is difficult, in the face of these losses, in the face of a community traumatized by violence, to hold to faith with any integrity. As I type this another man was stabbed tonight, another man shot tonight. No, no, a second man also shot. I pray they see the morning. I pray for their families. I pray for this City. Will you take Trenton into your heart this morning? Pray with me?

You are nodding your head or shaking your head. Perhaps you have faced similar doubts, similar uncertainties, similar challenges to your faith. Perhaps you, too, struggle with the mismatch between the miracles of our Biblical texts and the reality of our lived experiences. Or perhaps such things lead you to cling closer to your faith, certain that the answer lies in better prayer, more faithfulness, Christ’s grace, the Spirit’s erratic movement, God’s promise to make all things new. Maybe, like me, you swing between belief and unbelief, certainty and unsurety, hope and despair.

Elijah, the prophet, was on the run from mayhem and murder in his homeland. He was a prophet of Yahweh, and as such, a wanted man. Jezebel and King Ahab worshiped Baal, and they were making the effort to arrest and execute rival prophets. Prophets, after all, rarely speak words of comfort to the powerful—prophets, mostly, when they are speaking the truth, make people uncomfortable. Discomfort is, precisely, perhaps, their job. So Elijah, prophet of Yahweh, was on the run. And God, true to form, offered little in the way of comfort to the prophet either. God sent Elijah into hiding in the desert, in the middle of drought and famine. He sent Elijah to a ravine, where there was a trickle of water, and sent ravens to deliver morsels of food so that he might not starve. And when the water had dried up completely in the ravine, God sent Elijah on, not to his homeland, not to any place of comfort where he might know somebody, no God sent Elijah straight into the heart of Jezebel’s land, to find comfort and sustenance from a widow who had nothing but a son who needed feeding.

When Elijah, desperate himself, arrived on the doorstep of the widow, she had only a bit of water and the tiniest bit of food. With the last of her cooking oil, she intended to make a last supper for herself and her son. And when they had eaten their last meal together, the widow planned to wait with her son until they starved to death. The land, gripped with famine and drought, provided no other life for them. At the end of the life she had scraped together for them, the only option was to wait for death.

Elijah, this man prophet, this man, with no other mouths to feed and with at least some mobility—the opportunity to seek out other possibilities—this man approached the desolate widow and presumed to ask her for water. And while she was granting that request, he pressed further and asked for food. And when she told him that she had one last meal left for herself and her son, and that after that they would starve to death, Elijah dared to say, “Give that meal to me. And you will be blessed with food and water that will not run out until the drought is done.” Out of faith people make astonishing claims. Sometimes out of desperation, people make astonishing demands.

And what, after all, did it matter to the widow? What is one less meal at the end of one’s life? Who wouldn’t trade the cow for the magic beans when there are no other options left? If death comes anyway, what is the cost of hospitality? Perhaps, if I am that widow, faced with death by starvation, I might welcome a quicker end. Take my food and end it!

So gave it she did. And Elijah ate. And somehow, some way, his promise was made good. The jar stayed full of meal. The jug stayed full of water. The widow and her son and Elijah ate and drank through famine and drought. They became a household. A miracle.

I’m struck by this passage. I work in Trenton. I see food insecurity constantly in the neighborhoods. Young people and families go hungry. Old people go hungry. This year, for the second year in a row, the City of Trenton failed to fund Meals on Wheels. This year, for I suspect is the umpteenth year in a row, the rest of the townships and the county failed to fund Meals on Wheels. 185 homebound seniors in the City of Trenton depend on Meals on Wheels to bring them a meal each day. Who will keep their jars full? Where is the miracle? Where is God?

We are in a drought in the City. There is a famine. Death creeps up to our windows. I don’t know a single family unscathed in the City. The City of Trenton lies at the south end of Mercer County, bordered by the suburbs of Ewing, Hamilton, and Lawrence, running right up against the Delaware. It is beautiful there, full of trees and old homes. The City is full of people who work hard, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. It is full of people who want better for their children—like any of us do. Trenton is our capitol city in New Jersey, a city with a long history of manufacturing and the diversity that comes with that. Working class and poor folk, mostly. The factory jobs are long gone, not much else to replace that industry. We could argue the reasons for days. But the results are clear.

7.5 square miles, Trenton, 84,000 people. 25% of the population of the entire county, squeezed into less than 4% of the county’s land. Almost all of the “affordable” and section 8 housing in the county is located in Trenton. Rents in adjacent townships are high enough to prevent Trenton folk from spreading out, even if the jobs and transportation were available. 34% of children in Trenton live below the poverty line. In surrounding townships that number drops to 8-11%. In the outlying suburbs to the north that number drops to 3%. In Trenton, 6th grade students function at a 4th grade level. 15 miles north, in Princeton, 6th grade students function at a 9th grade level. 5 grade levels difference in public school children. Generational wealth and systemic oppression have made their mark, carved sharp lines within the county, creating a sinkhole in Trenton that will not allow that city’s children to thrive. And twisted all through educational and wealth disparities is the truth about race. 52% of the people in Trenton identify as black, 33% identify as hispanic/latino. Trenton is the place where blackness and poverty and violence are pushed, enclosed, reinscribed, expected, required, judged, condemned, sentenced, and imprisoned. It benefits the rest of the county tremendously to have such a place. You don’t need a fence to keep Trenton Trenton. For the most part the borders are clearly marked by housing, behavior, resources, exhaustion.

This side of the street is Trenton, that side is Lawrence. The Lawrence side has street lights. The Trenton side is dark. This side of the street is Trenton, that side is Ewing. The school on the Trenton side looks abandoned but is not. The school on the Ewing side looks new. Separated by a double yellow line that says don’t cross And mostly, people don’t. Drive up 206 from Trenton to Princeton, and watch as the houses give way from tiny row houses with families of 8 living together, boarded up abandoned homes, the exhaustion of the community evident in the walk of the people on the street…drive north through Lawrence and watch the homes get bigger, family size drop, until at the southern tip of Princeton you will see 5,000 square foot homes that house 2 people. The disparity is so stark it takes my breath away. There is a drought and a famine in our land, and people are starving and strangling to death in poverty while others have plenty and more.

Where is the miracle? Do the people of Trenton not pray? I assure you they do.

Where do you see yourself in the scriptures today? Are you Elijah, running for your life, thirsty, hungry, driven by God and circumstance into the land of your enemy, to seek refuge with the poorest of the poor in the middle of a drought? Are you the widow, desperate to feed your son one last meal before you watch each other starve to death? Are you Jezebel and Ahab, rounding up people who don’t believe as you do and executing them? All fantastic possibilities, no? And if this was just an academic exercise, we could play with the images, entertain the metaphors, talk about starvation and death as hunger and thirst in spiritual terms. But three people were violently injured last night in the City where I work. Who knows what food those three were supposed to bring home? Who knows which children were supposed to be loved and cared for by those men? And there will be three or more people arrested or on the run for perpetrating those crimes, and they too were supposed to feed and care for others. This is no academic exercise. We are not Elijah, we are not the widow. We are, I believe, something far more useful: we are the grain that fills the widows jar, providing sustenance to those who suffer until the drought ends.

What does this look like, you ask? It looks like work. It looks like giving what we have. It looks like putting our gifts to work in ways that are useful to those who are simply waiting for death. It looks like being uncomfortable. Grain in the widow’s jar looks like after school programs and reallocation of resources to our poorest schools. It looks like Meals on Wheels programs funded by the suburbs when the city can’t make it. It looks like keeping and creating affordable housing in our townships to give people space to move and live and breathe as needed. It looks like jobs for ex-offenders and for teenagers before they become offenders
. It looks like sharing our space, our resources, our time, our talents. For Trenton is not the only pocket township in this state of New Jersey—this pattern is repeated in most of our counties. I don’t have to name the neighborhoods and townships in your county that are suffering—you know where they are. The good news of today’s scriptures, the Gospel I can offer you, is that we have the capability of being the grain to fill the jar. We can be used to bring miracles to other lives.

A seminary professor once told me that the beautiful thing about our communal faith—about the creeds and scriptures and liturgical rituals—is that in times of our own disbelief, the community holds our faith for us. When our prayers run dry and despair runs deep, the community prays and hopes for us. I find myself in such a desert these days, and I am looking to you here in this church, in the wider church also, to hold my faith. I’m looking to you to pray and hope on my behalf and for the community I serve. I’m looking to you to be the grain in the widow’s jar—to make sure that the jar does not empty before the drought ends. What miracles will you bring to fruition through the hands and feet God gifted you?

I slept on it, this sermon. I almost didn’t preach it. I figured you don’t know me and I don’t know you, what right do I have to ask this of you? I wonder how long Elijah stared at the widow’s house before he approached. I wonder if he knew how desperately low she was on supplies, how near death she might be. I wonder if he was moved to compassion, to sleeplessness about that. Nevertheless, Elijah came to the widow and asked. And I am coming to you, asking for your morsels of faith and courage and hope. Will you hold my faith a little while until the drought ends? Will you be the grain in the jar? Will you seek out opportunities for justice and reparations in your community? Who is the neighbor in need? Where are they? What do they need?

Christ’s last instructions to Peter in the gospel of John were to feed his sheep. And then he told Peter that if he followed him it would lead to his death. The widow knew this was the last of her food and then she would die. But perhaps she knew what we try to forget: we will die anyway. It’s just a matter of how we live and love. Will you be the grain? Will you hold my faith?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Blessing for Community

A blessing for community on the occasion of my friends' wedding:


Omie and Taj asked me to say something about the relationship of love and community. I suppose, as a pastor, words to that effect should come easy. But the truth is I’ve been struggling all week with this task.

Taj and Omie are building together. We’ve been invited today to bear witness to that, and also somehow to participate in it. We are stand ins for the community they will cultivate around them as individuals and as partners. There will be changes over the years to this community as people leave and new people come. The love we share with you today will shift and change and mature. Community often has the sense of permanence and solidity—in a way I want to tell you that each of us in this room will be here for you through thick and thin, through all things good and bad. In a traditional church service we might ask the congregation to make their own vow to you as a couple, promising to care for you and help you uphold your vows to each other.

But there is something too controlling, too stagnant about that, something of what bell hooks* might call “dominator culture”. She writes, “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.”

As you go forward, building with each other, draw near to you those willing to risk, willing to move through fear, willing to connect deeply, willing to revel with you. In the midst of that community, guard what you have with each other fiercely, for that is as sacred as each of you are individually. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Note On Hope


(cross posted at Practicing Families)

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~Romans 5:1-5

A note on hope. A note on hope from a parent who very occasionally gives up on hope. A note on hope from a parent whose children very occasionally produce the sufferings which produce endurance, which produce character, which supposedly produces hope, which, quite frankly, frequently disappoints, despite the fact that God’s love is poured into my heart through the Ding Dang Holy Spirit.

I found myself recently pondering the ragged remnants of hope, dashed against the rocky shores of adolescence and my limited humanity. It is not a pretty shoreline most days. I won’t bore you with the details—if you care for children, you know the basic outline. I was left standing (just barely), staring at my child who would not change, no matter my persistence, my assistance, my clenched teeth. I was left without hope because I could not see the way forward and I could not turn my back.

So I breathed as deep as I could, taking in as much of God’s grace as I could find. And then I cursed and threw my hands in the air. And my kid LAUGHED. And I SUFFERED.

And then I endured to the next day, because that is what parenting is sometimes. I threw my shattered pieces of hope straight back at the Holy Spirit.

The Lord picked up those pieces and reshaped them and offered them back. And I saw that indeed I could not have hope for my child. Because hope for our children produces expectation, which produces stubborn mule-headed arguments, which produces FRUSTRATION in the 10th degree, which produces cursing and the waving of hands, which solves nothing, but does feel good.

But the Lord handed me back hope for myself. And I saw that no matter what happened with my child, there is hope for what will become of my life. And likewise the Lord will go with my child and the two of them will work out their own deal.

Hope for myself. Trust in the Spirit. This is decidedly better for my heart. And probably for my child.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Naked


Sunday, April 10, 2016
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Trenton

Scripture Reading: John 21:1-19

I’ve been stuck all week on this one line from the passage. When John, the Beloved Disciple, realizes that the strange man walking on the beach is Jesus, he calls out, “It is the Lord!” and, “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.”

I’m so puzzled by this! Why did he put his clothes on and THEN jump in the water? Why did he put clothes on at all? Was Jesus never naked? Did Peter have an unfortunate habit of running around naked, and one day the Lord said, “For Christ’s sake, Peter! Put some clothes on!” I’m so amused by this little sideline that I almost can’t read the rest of the passage.
Hairless cats are supposedly very sweet.

Nudity is a funny thing in our cultures and communities. You can spend a lot of time in books and the internet reading about nudity and feminism and advertising and rape culture (and I would encourage you to do so). But today I’ll just share some amusing naked stories that came to mind as I read this passage.

First, I live next door to a church. It is a square house, and the windows on two sides face the church. The third side looks straight into my neighbor’s windows across the street. The fourth side opens to the busiest street in Lawrenceville. The impossibility of this arrangement means that after 4 years of living in that house, I have flashed an extraordinary number of people, just walking from the shower to my bedroom. The pastor warned me, when I moved into that house, that privacy would be challenging while living there. How right she has been!

Years ago I took a summer daycamp in California on a field trip out of town. We had a school bus full of 72 children, and when we arrived at our destination we discovered that the city had locked the bathrooms at the public park. On the way home we needed to make an extra stop, so we pulled over at a public beach. What the signs failed to mention is that if, at the bottom of the cliff, one turns to the right, one will find an unofficial nude beach. As we climbed down the stairs, the 4th graders went running off ahead towards

Friday, April 8, 2016

Nothing

ghosts
spiderwebs
tangled
sticky
nothingness
in hair

"don't drink me," you said
while passing the bottle

Friday, March 25, 2016

It Is Finished...Oh REALLY???

It is finished.
Oh yes, O Lord?
It is finished.
I see.
What, exactly, is finished?
Your 33 years, I suppose.
This little ministry of yours
I suppose.
Your mother, perhaps, might be finished
   to watch this son from her womb
   to die like that
   To watch your child die at all.
It. Is. Finished.
   You say.
Oh yes?
   How quaint.
   How SWAY.
33 years and then you run off
   and get yourself killed

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Discomfort as a Spiritual Practice

This morning I am teaching adult education hour at Ewing Presbyterian Church. A few people have requested an outline, resources, whatever. Here are the texts I am using today.

"A Ministry of Discomfort" in From Each Brave Eye: Reflections on the Arts, Ministry, and Holy Imagination. My essay is the conclusion of this compilation of essays.


We need a ministry of discomfort in the church, and we need to remember what it is like to learn something new. Go take a belly dancing class or learn how to blacksmith or take calculus or learn a language. Remember what it is like to feel stupid, naked, vulnerable and excruciatingly uncomfortable. This has tremendous implications for us as we welcome guests or enter into communities as guests. Becoming a new creation in Christ has more in common with peeling off skin than with dancing familiar routines. If we can learn to embrace discomfort, we might find a key to reconciliation across racial lines, between cultures, and through gender and sexual identities. Just maybe.


The Sexual Theologian: Essays On Sex, God and Politics by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood. The text below is from the introduction to this excellent book.

This world is queer indeed, and those who wish to play it straight are failing to see that new horizons are declared holy and we are propelled on in courage not certainty. Where are those who will sit with the fear and uncertainty and not flee in the face of a queer god -- the early followers fled in the face

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Crash

Sometimes, often enough, my brain works like shattering glass

 

It's not that I didn't see it coming--no, I watched the bottle slip from my hands, drop to the floor, shatter into a thousand pieces, settle scattered across the floor.

Monday, February 22, 2016

TLDCIYR (Too Long, Don't Care If You Read)


I've been reflecting on generational differences today, finding myself in between 2nd wave feminists and I suppose 3rd/4th wave feminists (and I guess Gen Xers find themselves in these in between spaces a bit). 
I suppose I would have said I was a feminist before seminary, but it was grad school where I began to read more deeply (and I wouldn't say I am well read in feminist theory of any wave). One of the first books I came across was The Willful Virgin by Marilyn Frye. I found it through a book on recovery from sexual abuse. That book included this quote: 
...the word virgin in its root definition means "she who is not owned by another." Being virginal in its authentic definition has nothing to do with having had sex or not. A virgin is a woman who is self-possessed. May we all develop virginal sex lives. (Haines, 31)
(I wrote a short blog post on this, which you can find here: http://insideouted.blogspot.com/…/some-partial-thoughts.htm…
When I got to seminary, I suddenly had access to books in a new way, and I got my hands on Marilyn Frye's book, which had been published in the early 90s with essays spanning 1976-1992. It was my first

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Found On Road Dead

Was sorting through paperwork tonight and found something I wrote, without date, without context. Archeologically, the box belonged to a few years ago, and it's possible I was on a retreat. I have the vaguest recollection of writing, and I could guess at a couple of different groups I was retreating with.  I am fairly certain this was related to being closeted. I didn't come out as queer until 2010.

But I suppose what's most useful is this:

1. The church can be toxic sometimes.
2. Writing can be therapeutic sometimes.
3. Life really has been much more peaceful out of the closet. For me.

Well, here's the writing...