Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York. Her most recent book is I Heart Francis: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.
Posts By This Author
Sanctuary Movement Sees Post-Election Resurgence. Here's How to Get Involved.
I choose a sanctuary strategy both out of patriotism and my belief in Jesus. I love my country and I love the gospel even more. I couldn’t possibly allow the state to tell me or my people how to follow Jesus, and thus feel a need to test the “law” about the government intruding into religious spaces. So here, I offer you and your communities a six-step guide for how to offer physical sanctuary.
… my cup overflows.
Women have a lot to offer — and the problem is that we offer it too often and too long and without a break to fill the fountain. Women, at all ages, even girls, are set up to please and to give. Pleasing and giving are wonderful things — especially if they are appreciated and if they matter. When a womb is a fountain it overflows into goodness. When a womb is disrespected and unappreciated, even it can go dry.
I think of my two grandmothers: Lena and Ella. One was generous, the other stingy. One stretched the soup, the other made sure it was thick for her inner circle. One died happy and the other died sad. You may think I’m going to suggest that Lena, the generous, died happy and Ella, the less so, died sad. The truth is both had a certain joy and a certain regret. Women who give a lot to others often wonder when it will be their turn. Women who are as selfish as men with soup and self get hurt less. Women know we are “supposed” to keep the beat and feed the family. We also experience compassion fatigue, time famine, and wonder when what we give will come back to us. We worry that our fountains will go dry.
May Our Tweets Rise Up Like Incense
YOU DON’T HAVE to be an environmentalist to wonder about technology. Will it be our great savior or another thorn in the flesh, another opportunity to hear Thoreau’s lament about the tendency of humans to “become the tools of their tools”?
This excellent collection of prayers and worship materials, From the Psalms to the Cloud, helps us understand the tool of technology. It is a very green book while also being useful. It is green because it gives us a way out of the totalitarian world of the market and into a world that we make with words.
Just about everybody is on the other side of the “time famine” and the “trust famine” and deep into digital and connectivity overload. By time famine I mean the pervasive sense that there is not enough time to do what we want, so subjugated is our time to technology, forms, and robotic requests for information. By trust famine I mean all that time we spend worrying about time and wondering if somebody else is in charge. Are we in charge of our tools and our time or are our tools and time in charge of us?
In this optimistic book, the prophets arrive. Mankin and Tirabassi ask the right question: Can a technology devoted to advertising be useful to spirituality? They answer with a careful yes, taking us on the long road from the Psalms to Twitter, by way of “vintage wine in vintage wineskins, uncorked.” These two writers gather the wisdom of dozens of beautiful writers of prayers and liturgies and show us a way to go deep digitally. Whether they are praying for energy that will “deeply change all of our clocks,” or for the return of the time when churches giving sanctuary for immigrants will become again “dusty places with pews,” or in any of John Dannon’s exquisite doxologies for the natural and ecclesiastical seasons, or encouraging us to “spend a day saying nothing that doesn’t need saying.” The prayer topics move through addiction to pregnancy to a ritual for quitting a job. What a great ask this is for those confused or overdone with technology: We pray “for a trap door when we hit rock bottom.”
Moral Mondays: Clergy Are Changing Their Language
Since state legislators were taken over by the Koch brothers, many progressive clergy have spent our entire discretionary accounts on travel to our state capitals. We attend on behalf of equal marriage, the living wage, campaign finance reform, fracking, or low wage workers. While trying to be faithful, we are, also, in the great words of Joseph Sittler, “macerated” by our citizen involvements.
But an experiment is occurring in North Carolina to de-macerate and reunite our spiritual souls with our political bodies. Instead of episodic lobbying, on Moral Mondays, clergy visit with their representatives as chaplains. They change the language from the pragmatics of the political to the hope of our God. They pass through the wilderness of the secular and its optimism and arrive at the land of hope. They talk about the downtrodden in meaningful ways with state legislators.
A Spiritual Glossary of Debt
Debt, multitudes think, is bad. It could be good, by helping more people manage the energy of money. The Lord’s Prayer helps the confusion along: some pray to be forgiven debts, others to be forgiven trespasses. Good debt does not trespass. Bad debt is most often done by banks, and trespasses inside people, insidiously, and shames them. Religious institutions help the shame along by mispraying the Lord’s Prayer.
Debt might be good. In his book on Debt: The First 5000 years, David Graeber opens with a story. The story is paradigmatic. A woman tells a man the story about a person who is “under water.” “But, shouldn’t she have to pay her debt?” Should. Have. Pay. Debt. Those four words go together. They mispray the Lord’s prayer. Instead we might pray, “forgive the banks their trespasses into our souls first and then our pocketbooks.”
The Blessings That We Refuse
Immigrants are a blessing, not a curse. They are assets, not deficits. I have learned this the hard way after seven years working with the New York City New Sanctuary Movement. We have accompanied 67 people on the verge of detention or deportation, and we have lost only three of them.
These people are restaurant owners — employers. Some run small high tech start-ups; others raise children on their own, grouping with other parents to take care of them. They live under the constant fear of disruption to their lives and constant trepidation about whether their children will be separated from them. Many have been picked up for small offenses, like traffic violations and gone to jail only to luckily be released. But they have still have shown resilient courage, that miracle of guts that keeps them going inside the constant fear and the constant harassment. Immigrants are spiritual and economic blessings, not curses. They are assets, not deficits.
Pregnant with Possibility
THE TASTE OF the election still may be in our mouths—but Advent is breaking in.
Advent is a four-week stomp to Christmas. It is the time when God starts to show. God is pregnant during Advent: pregnant with possibilities that somehow, some way, someday, things will be different. They will taste better. We will know their taste better. We will be able to be engaged in our lives and our commitments and also be at peace. We will be the ones at the birthside, marveling about how God could dare come as a child or send heaven to earth, spirit to flesh, drenching humanity with divinity. The big words for this showing will be “Son of God” and “joy to the world.” The angels will sing, the night will go silent, the people will hark.
This Christmas would be a great time to notice what we have already seen: that when leaders and things get too large, when we put too much trust or hope in them, they revert to a brutal and brutalizing smallness. When we put trust in what we can notice, what we can do and who we can be, we are rarely disappointed. We expect, expectantly, as though we too were pregnant, day by day, with the possible.
For now, there is the waiting, the preparing for an Advent practice that will smell and taste good, that will open doors on more than a calendar.
I am an avid reader of women’s magazines, especially those that have a centerfold of the perfect Christmas dinner. I praise that dinner, hope for it, plan for it, and then eat with vigor what really comes out. A friend has a sign on her refrigerator about the difference between what we usually have and what the magazine announced: “It’s not going to happen that way.” By that sign, she is preparing herself for a day and a life of surprises. She is grooming her “to don’t” list.
Imbalance Of Power
Women and sexual violence