God's Politics

God's Politics


Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper: Worship in a Time of Catastrophe

posted by gp_intern

When a gun gets loose on a Virginia campus, or a high school rampage occurs in Colorado; when a building blows up in Oklahoma City, or a plane hits a tower in Manhattan – people follow their horror and disbelief with liturgy and love.

I’ll never forget the little shrines of stuffed animals in Manhattan and Oklahoma City, or the three crosses erected on the hills outside of Columbine High School (which were later taken down by students who “didn’t believe” any more). These street liturgies are the reflex ritualizing that comes when things happen that can’t be explained. They are ritual attempts to explain what can’t be explained.

The cell phone has changed our approach to disaster (we rush to phone someone), but not our approach to worship. We still want face-to-face contact after disaster strikes. What follows here is a small guide to good worship when disaster strikes. The first part is for the professional, the second for the participant.

1. First of all, act quickly. Don’t wait, act. The congregations in Virginia acted swiftly to gather people together. Mazel tov to them. Don’t worry about the quality of the service or music: It will pour out. People want religious leadership at times like these.

2. Create symbols. The white ribbon that the Bronfman Center at New York University is promoting is instructive. People want to say, “We connect. We object to what happened.” The Bronfman Center is having a companion event at 2 p.m. today in New York City. They also sent delegations of students to Virginia. Again, mazel tov.

3. Involve diverse constituencies. This (in my view) is not the time to invoke the name of Jesus so much as the name of the God beyond God. Don’t alienate people who may never have wanted religious connection before!

4. Sing. Help people to cry. Especially help people who have been victims of previous violence. You know who they are. Invite them especially.

5. Follow up on anniversaries. Put on your calendar the one-year anniversary and have some other kind of remembrance.

6. Don’t expect the relatives of the victims to speak, or be able to speak. Invite them and let them be surrounded by the clumsy love of the service.

7. Give people THINGS TO DO, even if it is distributing leaflets or phoning people or cleaning up the room where the remembrance will be held.

8. Be careful not to accuse the perpetrator of the violence. Leave the anger for later. Resist the temptation to join the hate you oppose.

These instructions go to religious professionals as we go beyond street liturgy into human gatherings with awesome spiritual content. For those who are not professionals, the point is to participate. Show up some place. Act like you care. Isolation is our biggest enemy when terrible things happen.

My own Sept. 11 day in Miami went like this: I found my daughter and was the first parent to take a child home from school. Next, I fed my animals, got money out of the bank, packed food, and went to the church. I was then Senior Minister of the Coral Gables Congregational Church in Miami. I realized my process was strangely, almost absurdly, practical. I got my daughter, age 16, to start calling the youth group on their cell phones. We got almost all the youth group to the church. Then we called the whole congregation, using all the cells and phone lines. We called 900 people that day to see if they were okay. By 4 p.m. we had put out a press release that we were having worship that night at 7 p.m. – and over a thousand people came. The best thing that happened in that worship was that we invited a Muslim woman, a Pakistani-American doctor at the local hospital, to speak. She was brilliant, and received a standing ovation. We worshipped and wept and put a finger in the dike of anti-Muslim hatred. We liturgized love in the face of hate.

As we move into the aftermath of yet another violent disaster, we can imagine a range of responses. They will be a collage of the revenge and awe, fragility and the concomitant preciousness of daily life, fear and insecurity, all packaged in as practical (and absurd) a way as removing our shoes at the airport. This nearly absurd but very holy experience is what ritual and liturgy are all about: They bring together our longings for love and our opposition to hate and violence. They matter more than we can ever know, because they have the last word. They fill up the space where hate has tried to come with its opposite. They prevail.

Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper has served as the Senior Minister of the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, New York City, since 2005. She blogs at Dolly Mama.



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Wolverine

posted April 19, 2007 at 7:00 pm


Rev. Schaper lost me right out of the box: When a gun gets loose on a Virginia campus… So I take it that the gun jumped out of Cho Seung-Hui’s hands and started shooting people on its own? did it float along on its own or did it drag Mr. Cho along with it? Look, I understand you see guns as a problem and you want to regulate them strictly. And maybe you want to avoid using the attackers name. All that would be perfectly understandable. But lets’ not pretend that there wasn’t a human being involved too. Wolverine



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Aaron

posted April 19, 2007 at 7:18 pm


Maybe the devil made the gun do it.



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Katherine

posted April 19, 2007 at 8:17 pm


Thank you. This is a beautiful and instructive essay, and I’m grateful for it. The statement “We liturgized love in the face of hate” will leave an indelible mark on my heart.



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Carl Copas

posted April 19, 2007 at 9:49 pm


“Gun” “building” “plane”



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squeaky

posted April 19, 2007 at 10:32 pm


Wolverine– ” Rev. Schaper lost me right out of the box:” It’s too bad you let your biases prevent you from actually reading her article. It had nothing to do with gun control, and was actually a nice piece on what our reaction should be as worshippers of Christ to such events. I agree that it would have been better had she worded it “when a gunman gets loose”. But, sheesh–No need to be so touchy! Comment on the meat of the article rather than nitpicking a poorly-worded sentence!



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kevin s.

posted April 19, 2007 at 10:39 pm


I don’t think that gun line was intended that way. The article also states that a “plane hit a tower in Manhattan”. Its a rhetorical device. I have no idea what “God beyond God” means, though. What’s wrong with invoking the name of Jesus?



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Joy

posted April 19, 2007 at 10:47 pm


Thank you Rev. Schaper for your ideas. so often when a tragedy of this sort happens I find myself wondering where the church and Christian witness is. Our local news media never mentions any churches in the area holding worship services for the public. I know plenty of people who don’t regularly attend church but who would gladly participate in a community event such as you described. Maybe more churches will follow your example and hold community prayer and healing services even if their community is not the one directly affected by the tragedy.



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Rick Nowlin

posted April 19, 2007 at 11:53 pm


Our local news media never mentions any churches in the area holding worship services for the public. I know mine did after 9/11 — I covered one at my old church. Besides, there may be too many. Maybe more churches will follow your example and hold community prayer and healing services even if their community is not the one directly affected by the tragedy. Wouldn’t be unprecendented — churches were full the Sunday after the first Iraq war and, once again, 9/11. I have a prayer meeting at my job that meets on Tuesdays, and this week we prayed that Christians in the Blacksburg area be mobilized for ministry.



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Mary Kelley

posted April 20, 2007 at 12:58 am


I agree with Wolverine. A PERSON shot those people with a gun, the GUN ITSELF didn’t get loose and do it. But curiousity got the better of me and so I did look up the blog at Dolly Mama, which is where Dr. Donna Schaper writes. This is what Sojourners and Belief Net published, written by Dr. Donna Schaper: “When a GUN gets loose on a Virginia campus, or a high school rampage occurs in Colorado; when a building blows up in Oklahoma City, or a plane hits a tower in Manhattan – people follow their horror and disbelief with liturgy and love.” And this is what’s on the blog (written by Dr. Donna Schaper), which I agree with and makes much more sense: When a GUNMAN gets loose on a Virginia campus, or in a high school in Colorado, or planes hit large buildings or bombs fell same in Oklahoma City, people gather in horror and disbelief to make liturgy and love. Why is there a difference? Did Dr. Schaper write two versions or did someone change her writing to fit their own agenda? I’d like a response please. Mary



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Just a thought

posted April 20, 2007 at 6:05 pm


Overall, I thought that Rev. Schaper’s blog was beautifully conveyed; however, I am a bit concerned by her comment that we should not invoke the name of Jesus in our worship in the aftermath of such a tragedy. I understand and appreciate her desire to be sensitive to diverse constituencies. Our attitude should be that of Christ – one of humility & love – not of condemnation. However, I believe that Jesus is the precise reason why we are able worship and give thanks in the midst of destruction, tragedy and death. Jesus is, as scripture says, the “first fruits” of the resurrection that we put our hope in and anticipate to come. Jesus was the victim of senseless and brutal violence. So, we can take comfort that God through his Son truly knows the depths of our deepest sorrows. Yet, we are not bound to remain in a place of grief and despair. Through the subsequent resurrection of Christ we understand that neither death nor its perpetrators have the final word. The resurrection is proof that by God’s sovereignty God is able to take the most senseless acts of human depravity and turn them into a cause for the greatest hope & joy in the world. I agree, let s be sensitive. But let’s also understand that Jesus has much to teach us all in these very difficult moments.



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Carl Copas

posted April 20, 2007 at 11:16 pm


“God beyond God” is a phrase used by German theologian Paul Tillich. As I understand it, Tillich uses it to suggest human inability to truly comprehend the majesty and wonder of God. We form images of God but they fall short of the actual God that is beyond our pictures of God.



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Barb

posted April 21, 2007 at 7:03 am


God is inclusive and speaks to all relgious people (used in this way–I’m aware that many Christians might claim ‘him’ as a particular Christian being). Jesus is exclusive, and speaks only to Christians. A Jew might not feel welcomed by Jesus. A Muslim might not feel welcomed by Jesus. A Pagan might not feel welcomed by Jesus. They would all, however, be welcomed by God, and feel welcomed by God. I think that is Dr. Schaper’s point–that one of the great purposes of religion is to create community, and at times of societal stress (such as 9/11), we should be gracious (i.e., behave with God’s grace) and create a welcoming atmosphere to all those diverse people who are within our greater community. And this demonstration of love and sensitivity–God’s grace–might just be what changes some people’s opinions of Christians as hate-filled and hypocritical people, and brings them closer to God.



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kevin s.

posted April 23, 2007 at 12:03 am


“As I understand it, Tillich uses it to suggest human inability to truly comprehend the majesty and wonder of God. We form images of God but they fall short of the actual God that is beyond our pictures of God.” Gotcha.



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Donny

posted April 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm


Cho got it into his mind to hate successful people. Or better yet, people that want to succeed. His mind was influenced by Satanic and Liberal forces. Socialists decry the same kinds of people as did Cho. Listen to a socialist running for office and listen to Cho on his video tapes. Isn’t Hugo Chavez building a powerful military?Individual success usually comes from individual effort. I would hope that many people will learn from this tragedy, that no one deserves to be the subject of hatefullness just because they are successful or desire, success. Cho saw an “us versus them” or better yet, “he versus them,” no different than than the Columbine killers did. (BTW, Gun control is not having an effect on Sudan’s violence, and beheadings don’t involve a gun at all.) A common theme in the have’s and the have not’s delusion, is the typical “hate America” or, “hate Americans” mind of evil. It is time to see evil for what it is.Cho wanted to decide the fate of others. How is he any different than the common Leftist?



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sara mcallister

posted July 16, 2007 at 2:07 pm


3. Involve diverse constituencies. This (in my view) is not the time to invoke the name of Jesus so much as the name of the God beyond God. Don’t alienate people who may never have wanted religious connection before!
After the horrors of 9/11, Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc. we should have realized how fleeting our time on Earth is. The only response Christians should have to this IS to invoke the name of Jesus-the only name by which we are saved. Our purpose is not to make people simply feel accepted..it’s to share the good news of salvation through Christ. If we really cared about others, it would mean more to us that they accepted Christ than that they simply felt comfortable.



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Andrew

posted July 18, 2007 at 5:25 am


To Donna, or the Name Donna beyond Donna,
“The name of God beyond God” makes no sense whatsoever. God’s name is defined by His Person, character, essence, and He is described by His name. What in the world does religio-babble like that phrase mean? Your guess is as good as the guess of Donna’s Name Beyond Donna. I doubt if you even know what you wrote, or if you did, you are deceiving your audience with words that sound religious.
OK, I see how stuffed animal shrines are an example of street liturgizing or ritual. And definitely the crosses erected at Columbine.
But how is your conclusion that removing my shoes in an airport is “a holy experience” and “is what ritual and liturgy is all about”? Is that why Muslims take off their shoes? Is that why Moses took off his? I don’t think so. It is because they believe what they do is in respect for God’s presence. So the airport is a holy place in which we take off our shoes in respect for God? Donna, (or should I address this to the Name Donna Beyond Donna?), I’m not following this. I thought the security guards were having us take off our shoes to check them for explosives, not because they are the priests and priestesses of a new pagan ritual worship, offering them on the altar of the Almighty Scan Device (or should that be “to the Brand Name of the Scan Device Beyond Scan Device”?)… This is truly a strange conclusion which makes little sense, and it certainly doesn’t help as a comfort to grief, let alone a valuable ritual liturgy.



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