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Donna Schaper
The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper has been Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church for five years. Her life goal is to animate spiritual capacity for public ministry.

Ferguson for the weekend, anyone?


by: on October 8th, 2014 | Comments Off

Originally published in The Huffington Post

ferguson protest hands up

Ferguson protestors raise hands in solidarity in Washington D.C. Credit: Creative Commons/ep_jhu

If you are one of tens of thousands of people who can’t stand to hear another story about another black man being shot by another policeman, you may want to go to Ferguson, Missouri this October 10-13. Your showing up may not stop the shooting(s), but at least it will let people know that you see. You hear. You notice.

If you can’t go to Ferguson or get to Ferguson, there’s nothing wrong with raising your hands in worship next weekend. Yup. Hands up. Hands over the head. Hands that know they know and know that others know and know that we know what we know. Congregations all over the country will wear a kind of hoodie this weekend. We will say that we know. We see.


What Happens when a Ritual Works: The People’s Climate March


by: on September 29th, 2014 | Comments Off

People's Climate March 2014

Credit: Creative Commons/South Bend Voice

Originally published in National Catholic Reporter

Religious folk are not so good at a lot of things but we are experts at ritual. The mass. The wedding. The baptism. The Bar Mitzvah. The funeral. The Praise service.

At the climate march we multifaith types joined the rest of the people who love the earth enough to march and create a ritual. When a ritual works, people feel something. They are changed. They come in the door one person and go out another.

The best moment was at 12:58 p.m. when a call went out for two minutes of silence. It was real. Quiet in New York City? Very much so. And then a secular ritual – the wave – joined the quiet, starting from the back and waving all the way through the thousands gathered. Like an ululation – an Arabic shout that accompanies ritual – the sound built its joy and pierced the quiet with happiness. EVERYBODY I know says that was the moment worth the bus rides, the sleeping on the floor and the expensive packaged food. For me, it was an urban bliss, a sacralization of all that has been desacralized, a punctuation marking off the time before we had hope we could love the earth from the time when we forgot or did not. Hope waved its arms and its voice at us, and we waved back. I know this mostly happens at large sports events. So what? The blend of the sacred and the secular, the earth and the heavens was everywhere.


Why Noah’s Ark?


by: on September 17th, 2014 | Comments Off

Originally published on National Catholic Reporter

Noah's ark climate march

The ark comes to mind as a good symbol for crowded, unpleasant conditions, ones we get when try to repair or resurrect the environment, along with Noah. Credit: Creative Commons/Taiwan boi

We are five days out from the People’s Climate March in New York. The ark, a float in the upcoming march, is built and on its flatbread truck on its way to Manhattan.

You are probably wondering why the ark became the symbol for Green Faith.  Obviously, we are looking for a miracle to happen on September 21. We want God to repent God’s anger and give us one more chance.  We want to see the bow in the sky.  And we are mightily interested in all the colors of all the animals on earth coming together to create a new beginning for humanity.  In fact, the biggest question being asked internally about the march is why people of color should participate in it.  The answers so far are less invitational than they might be.  But I’ll get to that.

We know the march will be big, if for no other reason than our phones are ringing off their hooks. We don’t yet know if it will be a miracle or not.  Miracles are something the divine pulls off, even if we assist mightily as partners in miracle making.  Plus, there is always the possibility it is too late for the climate and that repair, not restoration or new beginning, is all that we can hope for.


Spirituality and Technology: The Case of the Caring Bridge


by: on May 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons/John Wright

(Originally published on Patheos)

The Caring Bridge is a great example of spirituality reshaping technology and technology reshaping spirituality. Caring bridge is a website. It lets caretakers stay in touch with the community of people who also care about the afflicted person. If I get cancer, my husband will want to update people on my status. He will have little time for phone calls and repeat information. Thus he might distribute information through a web site, a bridge that cares. By broadcasting, he is creating a bordered space, for hugs and intimate conversations with those who are his real web and real net, not his World Wide Web or “internet.” Community is the word for both the bordered and the outer circles.

Caring Bridge can also announce a death – as can an email. At my congregation, we are just developing etiquette for how to announce a death on line. We have arrived at the following formula. There is nothing great about it; instead it is a compromise about using our list serve to create nets and distribute information. “Sad News” is what we say in the message line. Details follow in the body of the email. In the old days, the telephone, just another technology would suffice to spread information. “Everybody” would know but not all at once. One of the biggest concerns was who would be left out. “Don’t let her find out before she hears from you.”

What is good about talking about human suffering and death using technology? What is not? At these moments of great stress and distress, we want nothing counterfeit. Thoreau said that humans often become the tools of our tools. Spirit is finding its way on line, through technology in multiple ways. You can go to church on line. You can contribute to church on line. Even our Sunday School kids show up for Sunday School with cell phone in hand. All the other kids gather round the cell phone and play the game and connect eye to screen. If I thought their parents weren’t on line during the sermon, I might be concerned. We don’t even do the “turn off” message any more.


Moral Mondays: Reuniting Our Spiritual Souls with Our Political Bodies


by: on July 30th, 2013 | Comments Off

Moral Monday March and Interfaith Social Justice Rally, July 29th, 2013. Credit: Creative Commons.

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 or the living wage or campaign finance reform or fracking or low-wage workers. We epitomize that famous word for today’s progressives, “intersectionality.” While trying to be faithful, we are also, in the great words of Joseph Sittler, “macerated” by our citizen involvements.

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 and by doing so, take off some of their own boot. Instead of being “rentaclergies” for statewide organizations, they name their own agenda, in their own language, at their own time. They even develop relationships with state legislators over time so that when they have to sit in at the rep’s office they know him or her by name. Nonviolent civil disobedience is so much better that way.


Prayers for Immigration and Immigrants


by: on April 3rd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Prayers from the Stranger for the Stranger to the Stranger

O God, remind us that we are part of a whole, part of the land or our ancestry and your future, that we are both bordered people and unbordered, national and trans-national, wound and unwound people. Let us be citizens of a globe, where love and respect have just borders. Amen.

We pray to the Spirit and the Forces that created the globe. No matter whether our tradition began with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Sara, or Ishmael and Hagar, or the immigrants standing at the manger, or in a manifestation as deep as the heart’s longing for understanding, still, hear our prayer for the displaced and misplaced. We are each hosts and guests, strangers and friends, on an increasingly small globe that has its source in you. Bind us together in the arts of mutual welcome and understanding. Amen.


Retelling the Story of Marriage and Families


by: on March 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Marriage equality is an emerging story useful to both same sex and the “one man/one woman” kind of marriage. It is even helpful to families who are single parented. By story I mean the tale we tell ourselves about ourselves. The big word for it is narrative – and what the nation is missing right now is a narrator in chief about gender. Without a commanding narrative about what it means to have a gender, we are each and all lost in the woods of personal confusion, which results in national confusion, which results in many long dark nights of the soul, for those with any kind of sexual equipment. Marriage equality is helping, not hurting, this gender confusion. It helps by allowing for experiments it what it means to be married, what it means to be a person with a gender, and what it means to cling to each other, in the world beyond consumerism. We promise richer/poorer; better/worse; sickness and in health when we get married. Our word is our word here. Multiple attention dissolves into singular attention, the kind we want from a lover. We stop “shopping” and start living.


A Prayer for the Seder Horseradish, A Hope for the Easter Ham: Conversation Starters for the Holy Holidays


by: on March 25th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

At tables, during holy days, occupy our hearts with something new:

Let us risk a conversation in which debt is not considered shameful.

Grant us mutual release of any embarrassment that we aren’t rich yet.
Release us from the nasty shame that says debt is our fault.
Remind us to keep our resumes at home.
Keep us from reporting only accomplishments to each other.
Help us forgive all our intimates for not winning the lottery.
Help us redefine what it means to win.

Grant us some generous forgiveness for not being wildly successful and limit our
bragging to one self-referential story per hour. Move us beyond shame for being “poor”
or understanding how you can have a lot of food and still feel poor. Remove internalized
poverty from our table, where it sits next to the egg, the root, the parsley, the shank.


Uncommon Prayers


by: on February 28th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

We are almost always counting, Precious Lord. Teach us soon to count our blessings. We are in a terrible hurry. Put something in the way of our rushing about and let us trip over it, finding a new appreciation for interruptions. Amen

We pray, O God, for that thing called integrity, that exciting marriage between our inner and outer lives. Help us to pay attention to our own nourishment and what we put into our bodies, our arms and our hearts. Help us find energy, to know that health is not so much the absence or disease as the presence or vitality. Make us into inner-actives; people who move with grace from the inside out and the outside back again. Help us to be both morally nimble and morally solid. Let us not be afraid of our confusion but rather embrace it with the power of wisdom in you. Amen

Shekinah, Spirit, draw near and dwell among us. Settle us down and when we have come out of BUSYNESS as usual, change us. Animate us. Brace us. Mystify us. Change us. God you come into our life to change us and to be yourself be changed. Like a parent is changed by a child, you are also changed by us. Show us how much you love the world, so much that you are willing to be changed by it and us. Show us how much we matter to all others and to you. Amen


Dare We Get Used to Violence?


by: on February 26th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

We know that Tyler Clemente and Trayvon Martin are dead and we are not naive about who else will kill whom else. We know about Colorado killings and Tucson killings and Newtown killings and we know we don’t want to even have to name everybody. We know about the sting of death, especially that worst kind of death, useless death, the kind that has no point and just stings and stings and stings, the way a bullet first hurts a child and then goes on to haunt a family.

We also know that the dead alert and compost the living into new ways of being. The dead help us get clear, clear enough to live beyond the sting. While haunting us, they also fertilize us to unsentimental appreciation for life and breath. We get unstung and we almost never know how. We know the process of release from pain and marvel at why it took so much death to get changes in gun laws or a tad of release from racism. We muse on what a useful death can be in a world of such extensive uselessness.

We begin to see that death had its name on our own resume before we even got to update it. Someone asked Arianna Huffington if she was going to write a memoir and she quipped, “Aren’t they for dead people?” Yes, they are for dead people but once you write the story down, you don’t have to carry it around any more either. Once you write the memoir, by dying early to an achieving self, you are lighter. You might even begin to have a useful life heading towards a useful death.