Cancel Church, please

Cancel Church, please January 9, 2011

I wanted them to cancel church this morning.

I am not saying I wanted them to close the doors. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about forgetting the music and sermon they spent the week planning. I wanted Pastor to call us together as a body and say, “You know what? We aren’t going to do any of the stuff we normally do. We aren’t going to even have children’s church. Today I want you to keep your children with you. They need to be here because today I am inviting you all to come down to this altar and pray.”

I have long wished that communities had their own wailing walls, like Jerusalem. A place where we could join with our friends and community members to pray and cry out to God.

We don’t put altars in church to good use anymore. Oh, sure, we have our 15 minutes of it, but I’m talking about praying, really praying as a collective unit. There’s power in joining together like that. I saw it Friday night at the basketball game when the student body section all donned the same black shirt and came together to cheer on their team. It was one of the best moments I’ve had in the hundreds of hours I’ve spent watching basketball. There’s something powerful that happens when we encourage each other. We are all our best selves when we work as a team.

Teamwork is what has saved Rep. Giffords, said Dr. Peter Rhee, trauma director at the University Medical Center in Tuscon.

It is prayer that will help her heal.

I wanted to go to church this morning and strip away all the niceties. I wanted us to get down and dirty. I wanted folks to do the ugly cry. I wanted old men and young girls to kneel together and cry out for the family of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year old killed in yesterday’s attack.

I wanted someone there, maybe a lot of someones, to pray for the family of the shooter because I can’t imagine the shame and guilt I would feel if this had been my child doing the killing. I would need the prayers of the compassionate to sustain me.

I wanted Pastor to put aside his 3-point message replete with jokes and application moment to “bow head to floor” as Beth Moore says and ask God to help the families of those shot and killed because they will be tempted to blame God and not the Source of all Evil for these deaths.

I wanted us to pray for the teachers in our midst, people like my husband, who every morning rise up and face a multitude of children who have grown up in a world that teaches them that violence is a lucrative form of entertainment. A world that has so effectively blurred the lines that truth is compromised in favor of “reality.”

I wanted us to pray for the EMTs, doctors, nurses, police officers and such in Tuscon and the nation over because they don’t have time to recoup from one crises before they are thrust into the next. And you know what they are doing with their free time? A lot of them are taking trips to help victims in Haiti and other regions devastated by Mother Nature, who frankly seems to be having her own issues as of late. Having worked alongside emergency personnel and cops for so many years, I know their hearts and how they break, especially when children are involved.

“I’m not a political person,” Dr. Rhee said. “I’m a public servant.” When you serve men and women on the battlefields the way Dr. Rhee did in Iraq and Afghanistan, you learn very quickly that politics divide us and blood unites us.

Or it should.

I wanted us to kneel there this morning, under that large wooden cross and remember the Blood that saves us from ourselves.

I wanted to come away from church with the assurance that despite the darkness pressing in, all that is Holy remains and is to come.

But, tragically, there was no mention of Arizona in church this morning.

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  • Ken Szeto

    Karen, another fantastic article! I agree 100%.

    Lord God, may Christina Greene’s tragic death teach us all that we need to make changes so the America we are creating for our children is one of peace and love, and not one of fighting and hate. I thank you, Father, that the devastation was not more catastrophic. I pray for your comfort and healing for all the victims, and for our nation. Amen.

    • Lisa

      Amen, Ken. Amen.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        Thank you, Ken.

  • Karen

    I share your heart Karen. While we didn’t stop church today, my pastor did acknowledge/address the tragedy and lead the church in prayer for the victims and their families as well as the people elected to lead our country.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I am sure that many pastors pray and issue a call to prayer. I only wish more would.

  • I was also sad that nothing was mentioned about the shootings at ‘my’ church this morning 🙁 (it’s not really my church, because we’ve been visiting different churches the past 6 months, after leaving one we’d attended for 20+ years)

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I don’t suppose you’ll return to this one, heh?

      • That’s probably right … I wondered if it was just this church … but it sounds like many didn’t mention it.

        This morning, I was captured by this thought expressed by Abraham Piper on 22 Words …

        “This morning President Obama observed a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Arizona shooting. I respect this and observed it also, along with much of the rest of America. And as I sat silently thinking about those who were injured and killed—as I imagined this happening to me, or worse, my family—I realized that, while a moment of silence is valuable, if I was really emotionally connected with the pain of my fellow Americans, I would also feel the need for a moment of screaming.”

  • Pat Pope

    I have felt the same way on many occasion. It’s as if we go into our little enclaves (because that’s what they’ve become) and forget about the world outside our door. Though there would be naysayers about disturbing the order of things, I suspect there would be far more who would applaud the move.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Hopefully the power of prayer would have silenced the naysayers.

  • Ann Strickland

    Karen, I love your blogs! The tragedy was talked about in our service this morning. After reading your blog, I was just thinking about what a “SERVICE” would have been like you described. It would have been awesome!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Ann. I do think such a service would be awesome. In fact, my husband said he would like to see churches construct such a wailing wall for their own communities. Can you imagine a community where a Wailing Wall existed? Where we could collectively cry out to God when tragedy hits our nation? Candlelight services have their holiness but dadgumit there is a time for wailing. This was it.

      • Gloria

        AMEN Karen AMEN! Let’s have that church service you describe even today!

  • Lillian

    Amen, Karen. Great article. Prayers should have been for the victims and their families of the shooting. I know from experience that prayers on 9/11 and up until now have kept me sane.
    It made me feel loved and comforted to know that I was being asked for God’s love and strength in my dark hours. I can relate to that little girl’s mother upon learning of her daughter’s sudden death. I pray for her that she can find comfort and healing. She and I both will have to work on forgiveness and wonder why. Why do such things happen to innocent persons?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Lillian: You have such a powerful testatment to the healing power of grace. Did you hear that Christina was actually born on 9-11?

      • Lillian

        Yes, I heard that the little girl was born on 9/11/01. I remember thinking that on the day a mother was welcoming her daughter into the world, I was losing mine in the Pentagon. I hope she can find peace and comfort
        through family, friends and the love of God.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          God’s poetry, Lillian, that in a moment of terrible loss, new life arrives.

  • When I first heard this, it shocked me, like most people. Then I heard a little girl was killed. I am a dad to a girl (and two boys). Then I heard she was 9 years old. This brought it a little closer to home, because my daughter is 9 (and so is her twin brother). It’s an important thing, because there’s something about knowing she’s the same age, it really helps me empathize.
    Then I found out she was, like my twins, born 9/11. her life was bookended by tragic events. My twins’ pregnancy started (according to the doctor) Dec 22, 2000, the day my father took his life. Then they were born at the same time planes were crashing into buildings. This made yesterday’s shooting uncomfortably familiar to me. I’ve been haunted by sadness for her parents for over 24 hours now. This is devastating. I hope nobody ever has to go through what they are going through.
    You are right, Karen. Churches everywhere should be praying for peace and comfort for the loved ones of this girl and the other victims.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Such powerful words about our ability and our need to empathize with others. I have thought about the neighbor who invited Christina to the meeting. The survivors guilt is sure to folo.

      I am sorry about your father, James.

      • I also was thinking about that neighbor. Something they will no doubt live with forever, and will needlessly blame themselves, to some extent.

  • I couldn’t sleep last night knowing what I intended to preach this morning so when I woke up I threw it all out and wrote a new sermon. I can’t imagine knowingly not mentioning it, maybe your pastor simply hadn’t heard the news?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Sadly I’ve heard from several folks from New York to California who say the same — there was no mention of the tragedy in Arizona. I think Pat likely got it right — churches have become enclaves.

  • Ginny

    During corporate prayer, our pastor told the stories of those who died – the man who threw himself in front of his wife, the mother who covered her daughter…. It was messy crying as we grieved. One picture I’ll carry with me: a young man with non-stop tears running down into his beard. After a few minutes, an eldery woman got up and wrapped her arms around him and just held him as he wept.

    I am grateful for places that give us space to lament.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Beautiful, Ginny. Thank you for sharing. So good to know that there are such sacred places. Care to tell us which state you live in?

      • Ginny

        IL, specifically Chicago. It’s a quirky little church made up of recovering Baptists and Catholics.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          Sounds like a good ‘un.

  • Treva Whichard

    Agree. Fortunately, our clergy always bring the painful and ugly realities of the world into our service – which is where all such realities need to be brought.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      One would hope.

  • Debbie

    I don’t go to church but I wailed alone in my house half a world away. My deepest heartfelt prayers to all whose hearts are breaking.

    Karen I would seriously consider going back to church if it had more of that kind of prayer.

    I also heard that Sarah Palins website was shut down because of that horrible map of America with gunsight targets on it that she had plastered on her page – not sure if it is true – just a rumor.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I don’t know, Debbie, if that’s true about the website or not. I imagine a lot of people might consider going to church if their local church were a place for such healing.

  • I often wonder if the lack of prayer in this nation stems from the belief that our prayers do not effect the outcome of events. Not to get into a discussion about predestination or anything, but I DO believe God hears our prayers and desires us to pour out our hearts to Him. Otherwise, why pray in the first place? Thank you for that video. We sing that song at our little church, and it’s one of my faves.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Kat: I’m no theologian but I have long held the belief that we pray because it’s a matter of obedience to begin with and in the process of praying it becomes a matter of the heart. Prayer changes us and we desperately need changing.

      • Agreed. Prayer changes us and our hearts. But I also believe that prayer effects outcomes. God asks us to pray for the desires of our hearts. Why would he tell us to do that if he’s already decided what’s going to happen? I mean, even if he tells us no, or not yet. I still think praying is about more than just changing our hearts.

        • Debbie

          I think we pray because we believe and believing is the heart of obedience. Sin was unbelief. It also is a given that God is who we believe not the idea that He will do everything we talk over with Him or tell Him we want done.

  • I like the way Brooklyn Tabernacle does the altar call to prayer at every service. We did pray and talk about this tragedy in our church family yesterday. But I know what you mean about stripping away the niceties and getting down the core of being in prayer. Peace.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      We need to do the ugly prayer more often.

  • Our church family prayed about the Arizona tragedy yesterday…it is more than sad. I read more of the details today and the next thing I saw was an article about 15 young men, 14 of them headless, found in Acapulco…and another mayor in a small Mexican city was shot to death…too much tragedy in this world.

    We have much to pray about…so much.

  • Amen 350 million times. Karen & katdish: you’re both right. I was at 8:30 worship yesterday, and it came up in both the pastor’s prayer and in the prayers of the people. At 1:30 I was with an ecumenical group that prays and celebrates communion outdoors in the middle of Portland’s Park Blocks, rain or shine. It was foremost in our minds and spoken prayers there. At 4:15 in our service and meal with homeless folks it came up prominently. A man who has been looking for work for over 18 months had a profound request: that the trgaedy lead to justice and not retribution. Another prayed that if anyone else were contemplating a similar act that they be stunned into repentance. You’re right Karen. So often we’re too busy doing church that we forget how to “be” church. If we truly gave prayer the place it needs and that we need, we would never question its power and effectiveness.

  • If your church didn’t mention Arizona, you might want to go looking for another church.
    At least for me, the silence screams.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Tim: I agree that the silence screams but you raise an important question: How does one go about deciding that this is the thing that compels us to seek out another body?

      • I think (or at least this is how I’m currently living out my walk) that following Jesus and being committed to the Body of Christ is not the same as being married to an institution. I love the freedom to go, or not to go, to any specific meeting.

        As I hear you describe your feelings about the service you go, I would probably stop attending that aspect of fellowship with that group and look for other areas/opportunities where you have lots of energy or desire for.

        What’s in your heart to do?

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          Not sure, Chad. Didn’t write the post because I was thinking of leaving the body. Wrote it because I hope it would make folks think about what “community” means. If I live in Oregon, am I or am I not part of the community of people dead and injured in Arizona? Or does such a tragedy only warrant prayer when it’s in our own backyard?

  • Debbie

    Karen I need to really get face down because I heard the Westboro mob are going to picket near this little girls funeral and I asked God to send a shooter to take them out.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Debbie I understand the sentiment behind such a prayer. I suspect God does as well but still, yeah, I think forehead to the floor is called for.

    • Debbie, you just validated the prayers that the folks brought at our worship last evening. God is good. You wouldn’t have needed to acknowledge what you wished for or prayed for–but you did. God bless and grant you mercy and peace! Amen.

      And Vasca reminds us there is so much to pray for. Debbie’s post just identified a new one. If the Westboro folks do go to AZ, imagine the challenge of the law enforcement officers sworn to protect them and everyone else. God grant them strength, patience and peace. Send angels, Lord, myriads of them! Amen.

  • Yet another reason that you should move down to California.

    The first, obviously, is the chocolate chip pie…
    The second is that we would have been more than happy to wail with you for as long as God wanted us too!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Oh, Peter, I know you really only want the pie.

      • I want to plead innocent to that charge….

        But I’ll plead the fifth instead.

  • Larry Wishard

    Loved the post
    Made me write a post about weeping.

  • Thank you for sharing you heart in this post. It reminded me how Pastors are human. Being human means we forget about the obvious. We overlook the forest for the trees. To you and perhaps others, talking about…praying about…healing about Arizona would’ve been a logical choice. However, my church made no mention either. Nothing whatsoever.

    Which is why I prayed for the victims and families all the more.

    It’s easy to use this as an excuse to criticize the Pastor and other leaders. To scoff at their heartlessness or being slaves to their own “order of worship.” Fact is, that can happen. And fact is, Pastors who are listening to the Holy Spirit’s whispers…His subtle nudging…will change orders of worship. Or cancel everything and turn the service into a time of prayer.

    No, the key is not to consider a new congregation. But to challenge and remind ministers that stories thousands of miles away are meaningful here. To show how small the world is…the 9 year old girl who died was born on 9/11 in Maryland. That alone would be enough for Maryland churches to remember her.

    The key is not to get wrapped up in the political word vomit that’s being tossed around but to focus on prayer…healing…encouraging…and loving.

    Glory to God.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Rick: I agree. I don’t think jumping ship is the answer either. If our lives are story, then story is comprised of tension and conflict. The goal isn’t to avoid the conflict, but in working toward resolution.
      I found it interesting that one reader’s response to the original post was that I ought to go where I presumably would avoid all conflict.

      • Life is conflict. Life without conflict is some form of fantasy. Like world peace, a world, church, or even family without conflict is a wonderful utopia – but isn’t reality. Being in a sinful world means there will always be conflict. How we react or not to that conflict is key.