By Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
I ran into my Muslim friend on the street a week after the Paris bombings. She was not wearing her scarf. All we had to do was meet each other’s eyes to realize that we needed to have a big long cry. “Donna, my mother told me not to wear my scarf….I am so scared. I am so ashamed too…” Religion begins in tears. And it ends in hope. Hope requires a turn of the page.
The Barnard college campus could show us a way. There was a large magnolia tree, twisted all around itself, right in the center of the campus lawn. It is being moved about 20 feet further west in order to make space for more gatherings on the lawn as well as a new library. A huge hole had to be dug so that the tree could be balled without damage to the roots and moved. Good religion digs a deep hole in us and tells us how scared we are. Then from that fear, we move. The big word is “Metanoia,” the great turning.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I am not sure we are going to turn. The hatred unleashed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria is so large and so out of the bottle that it may not be possible for the folly of the United States to face itself or the folly of ISIS to face itself. My faith is that we could turn towards each other, not that we will. We have the capacity. We have the capacity to restore the lost American narrative of welcome and democracy. We can change, but we may not. It may even take a larger crisis to make us change—larger than my friend’s weeping or the Paris or Beruit or Mali bombings. Often people don’t shape up until after their first heart attack. You might have thought 9/11 was a big enough heart attack to force us to gather instead of gun for each other. I also thought Sandy Hook would do something to stop our love affair with guns. It did not.
By our God-given creation, we can change and we might not. We could live without plastic water bottles, brought by trucks to Manhattan filled with water from Maine. But we worship at the altar of convenience and portability more than at the altar of the God’ given gatherings of our creation.
We can change if and as we become more spiritually formed. We won’t change until we hollow out and turn ourselves around. By spiritual formation I don’t mean finding the right God. I mean finding one path to God, among many. There may be one God but there are many routes to God. The best approach to the divine is to be sure you aren’t sure about it. ISIS is now making the same mistake Christians permitted under Hitler and during the Crusades. It appears to be a stage in religious formation to get stuck being right. And any spiritual person knows you can be so right that you can be wrong.
Religion begins in shared tears. It ends in multiple paths, well respected, even scarved, to one God. Gathering is the only route to that joy.
Excluding people like the Syrian refugees de-gathers. It is un-religious and un-spiritual. It is not even spiritual lite. It is just wrong. It will create more terrorists even while imagining that it is stopping them. Thanks to Governor Cuomo and Congressman Nadler for their welcome here.
Religious people know how to confess our sins and how to gather. We can move.
Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is senior minister at Judson Memorial Church since 2005
and the author of 34 books, most recently
Approaching the End of Life: A
Practical and Spiritual Guide.