Primacy

world map
A world map. Public domain.

When I was six years old, I sat in a very small building with a handful of other kids, most of them much older than me, and together with a Vacation Bible School teacher, we looked at a world map.

I can’t recall what we were discussing on that day. But I do know that the very small, Southern Baptist congregation of my early childhood thought a lot about missionaries and prayed regularly for them. I also recall that there were photos of Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary who had lived in China for 40 years, in the church itself. So it’s quite possible that we were talking about missionary work (… which was often religiously-sanctioned colonialism).

At some point, while looking at this world map, I said to the teacher and the other kids, “When I grow up, I want to live in Switzerland!” I’m not sure how I had come to this conclusion or what I might have known about Switzerland at age six. But I suspect I had seen some photos or scenery on tv because I began to talk about how beautiful it is.

But I didn’t get very far because the teacher cut me off. He was also my neighbor across the street and the husband of the woman who sometimes babysat me. He felt he needed to address me and all the other kids with utmost seriousness. He even seemed a bit offended.

“Don’t ever say that,” he said. “We live in the United States, and it is the best country on earth. We are so lucky to live here,” he added, which seemed to shame me for my ungratefulness. “The United States is the best country on earth.” I think he probably said that statement more than once. Or at least, he said it strongly.

In that moment, I felt badly for not upholding the greatness of my nation. But mostly, I felt sad because I really wanted to be able to live in Switzerland. And I wanted to be able to tell people I wanted to live in Switzerland. But that was clearly the wrong thing to do. I learned quite early that the United States always had primacy.

And then, already ever the people pleaser at age six, I immediately found a way to redirect any criticism. I told the classroom some other news too: Earlier in the day at VBS, “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”

“I want to be baptized,” I said.

That changed the mood.

But also, I meant it. I had been raised Christian since birth, yet in this tradition, you typically have a moment when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior for yourself. That’s the framing, and that’s the language for it. The teacher asked me a few questions, probably trying to make sure this was a genuine moment, and then, he concluded that it was. A few weeks later, I was baptized at age 6, a very young age for a Southern Baptist.

Now, I return to this scene again…

I recall this moment looking at the world map… this moment when national supremacy and faith formation were built into the same conversation … I remember hearing that the United States is the best nation on earth and internalizing that this should never be questioned… or that it might be wrong even to make space to admire the beauty of another nation.

Now, I return to this scene again…

I thought about how I grew up feeling a distanced sense of pity for people of other nations who knew war and hunger but “didn’t know Jesus” (even though there were fellow Christians in those nations). My distanced sense of pity was also an internalized dismissal which seemed to say, “Things are bad there, but that’s just how it is.” I accepted violence. I accepted poverty. I numbed any of the obvious feelings that would question those things. “That’s just how it is for those people.”

This primacy — this sense that the United States is the best and only nation that gets to count, or matter, or deserve empathy; this internalized belief, sometimes conscious, sometimes unquestioned and unconscious, that white people are superior to others and more worthy of resources; this warped theology built upon a belief that God loves Americans more than people of other nations — it kills.

This primacy kills.

Renee Roederer

Loved in Limitation

you-are-loved-green-enough-for-me1
Written in chalk, “You are Loved.” Public domain image.

Have you ever felt loved in limitation?

I’m not talking about failure, though we certainly need love and grace when it comes to that.

I mean, limitation. I mean, receiving love precisely in the place that feels challenging. Accepted fully as you are. Cared for in the unique particularity of your being, including what may be difficult.

That’s when vulnerability and connection become very sacred. That’s when they become very transformative.

Renee Roederer

One of My Fave Things

A person reading a book. Public domain image.

In a variety of contexts, over more than a decade I have been privileged to build community with and among college students. And among all the gifts of that, this is one of my very favorite aspects:

I have watched people grow from being teenagers to becoming legit experts concerning so many things.

In a combination of academic study, vocational work, and life experience, these folks I know are now experts in so many different areas. I learn a lot from them. Regularly, I bring my own curiosity questions to them. Occasionally, I facilitate information between them: “Oh, I know some who would know that. I’ll ask!”

I love this.

Renee Roederer

“For You”

Baptismal Font, Public Domain Image

It’s interesting how someone’s phrase can pop back into your mind years after it was first spoken.

Sometimes, the voice of David Roth, one of my most beloved influences, bubbles up within me. (By the way, that’s David Nelson Roth, not David Lee Roth of Van Halen). And lately, this is the phrase that comes to mind:

“For you. . .”

“For you. . .”

“For you. . .”

These words were spoken in a litany he would say every time he baptized person in the congregation where I grew up. Most often, he said these words to babies. Each “For you” was followed by a phrase of love. Then he would add, “And right now, you’re too young to understand any of these things, but. . .” He invited the people present to be companions in telling the stories of faith and sharing this kind of love.

These days, I keep hearing the rhythm of this phrase again.

“For you. . .”

“For you. . .”

“For you. . .”

With gratitude, I think about the people who have conveyed this kind of love to me.

And these days, I ponder the mysterious realization that right now, our work and our ways of being in the world are making space for people we don’t even yet know.

“For you. . .”

“For you. . .”

“For you. . .”

Renee Roederer

Interruptions

Arrow



This morning, I find myself thinking about interruptions — the types of unexpected experiences that change our lives in powerful ways. Some interruptions are undoubtedly disruptive, but others are gifts we never expected, like,

-the life-changing person we didn’t anticipate meeting,
-the invitation that put us in the right place at the right time,
-the story that encouraged us to ask a new question,
-the feedback that taught us something unrecognized in ourselves,
-the movement that emerged rather organically.

Though rarely sought after intentionally, some interruptions add depth and direction to the scope of our lives. They can also bring us into community in powerful ways. They are some of the greatest gifts we receive.

Today, I am pondering these kinds of interruptions in my life and giving thanks. While unexpected at the time, much later, these are the kinds of experiences we cannot imagine our lives without.

What are some of yours?

Renee Roederer

Gentleness

A few days ago, I was present in the midst of a group conversation where multiple people said,

“You just don’t see that anymore.”

and

“I just don’t see many present examples right now.”

and

“It’s so rare to experience that these days.”

At one point, we were talking about forgiveness. At another point, we were talking about kindness. No one in this conversation had become cynical; instead, I believe I was hearing a yearning for expressions of care, both public and personal.

Right now, I think there is a longing to see and experience kindness on display, not just for the sake of it being on display, but for the inherent sake of kindness itself.

Or to use another word, we need gentleness. We need to practice it. We need to receive it. We need a gentler world.

This is different, of course, than needing a comfortable world. As a caveat, this is not an effort to decrease the tenacity and strength of voices crying out in anger, pain, or need. Sometimes, we make calls toward kindness and “civility” so we don’t have to be uncomfortable with the righteous anger and pain people are expressing. That’s just tone-policing and respectability politics, and it does more harm.

But I wonder what would happen if we responded with kindness and tenderness? I wonder what would happen if we responded not with defensiveness but gentleness?

I also wonder what would happen if we chose to practice more gentleness toward ourselves right now. This is a human need all the time. I think it is especially needed right now.

On these all of things, I’m just wondering aloud today. I would love to hear from you too.

What do you wonder?

What do you think?

What do you long for?

Renee Roederer

Zusya and Us

underscore

Chasidic masters told this story about Rabbi Zusya of Hanapoli:

Once, the Hassidic Rabbi Zusya came to his followers with tears in his eyes. They asked him:

“Zusya, what’s the matter? 

And he told them about his vision; “I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusya replied; “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’ and that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?”‘

Zusya sighed; “They will say to me, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?’”

Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?

[________], why weren’t you [________]?

We can easily place our names in those boxes. In lifting this story up today, my point is not to raise the possibility of judgment, either here or in some future afterlife. My point is to raise questions like,

[________], what has gifted you to be [________]?

[________], what could be possible if you lived as [________]?

[________], how might your neighbors connect meaningfully to [________]?

[________], what is possible if you are fully [________]?

After all, there are gifts and abilities that come quite easily specifically to you. What could be possible if you felt their joy — a joy that then extends well beyond yourself? What could be possible if those very qualities, traits, gifts, abilities, and passions were turned in the direction of some of the greatest needs we witness and experience?

How could we give? How could we receive?

Renee Roederer

I inserted this story of Zusya, as I found it here: Be True to Yourself — Ask Zusya’s Question

Gratitude

hearts

During this season, I’ve been thinking a great deal about gratitude and living more fully in the present moment.

I have found this to be true:

Gratitude helps us
hold lightly, and
hold deeply.

These two things at once.

The practice of gratitude helps us hold experiences lightly, because we recognize that all things are constantly changing. Gratitude doesn’t seek to control people, situations, or outcomes. Instead, we can receive from all of these as they change.

The practice of gratitude helps us hold experiences deeply, because we recognize their value and are fully present. Gratitude connects us deeply with our daily lives and most especially, people. Gratitude strengthens connections and bonds.

I wonder what’s possible if we practice gratitude more intentionally?

Renee Roederer

The Booper

Last night while taking a walk, I felt a boop on the back of my leg. I turned around and it was this perfect, gray, fluffy puppy. Her humans were kind enough to let me pet her fluff and then photo her.

WHAT A CUTE BOOPER

May be an image of dog
May be an image of Persian cat

Storytime

candle-in-glass-holder
Image Description: A candle is burning in a glass holder.

Spontaneously, we turned off the lights and began passing around a single candle in a glass jar. We had time to kill as we waited for the last person in our group to arrive at the house, so we sat at the kitchen table and passed this candle around. We giggled as it illumined faces, and when the candle came to them, each person added a phase to a story we were building.

And it was so silly.

Goodness, as I recall this, there were so many goofy themes that became a part of this story, which we built for a long time. Our other member had to come late, so we just kept going.

By the time she arrived, we had all planned to stay in the dark, silent, just sitting there with this candle burning, so she would think, “Wait… what are you doing…?”

But of course when she arrived, we tried that and just started laughing.

These are the silly moments of belonging — mundane, yet spontaneous, yet memory-making. These are the moments of having an expansive sense of household. These young adults have  become a chosen family group, and I get to house that experience every time they come over. With gratitude, we’re building that bit by bit too.

Renee Roederer