Rise Up! A Sermon Addressing Gun Violence

Emma

Yesterday, Emma Gonzales, student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke powerfully, demanding an end to gun violence. Have a watch: We Call BS.

Our children are rising up. Will we?

This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is based on Matthew 5:21-43. A recording is above, and the written text is below.

Last Wednesday, just four days ago, Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day met up. They coincided. They aligned.

Collectively, our community in this congregation and our larger Christian community around the world spoke and heard these liturgical words again: “From dust you were created, and to dust you will return.” Certainly, those words remind us of our own finitude. But at the same time, of course, they also call forth life and love. “In life and in death, we belong to God,” we often say. “In love you were created, and love calls you to live,” we often say.

These are all liturgical words — words of truth held in community, words that are spoken both to reflect and participate in the recognition of a reality, a reality that God loves us through and through no matter what, and that in the face of disarray, and at times, even death, we are called to love and to live. We are called to reflect and participate in the creation of a world where all can love and live.

And so, it was jolting to hear the news on Wednesday, the day when Ash Wednesday and Valentines day met up. Whether we learned of it before the Ash Wednesday service, or immediately after, it was remarkably painful to learn what had happened hours before at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A young man with a dangerous assault rifle killed 17 people, most of them students, and he traumatized all of them, along with their families.

Today, around the nation, some people are in worship services, others are at home, others are out in the community doing any variety of things, perhaps also feeling traumatized today by what happened, even if they don’t know anyone close to Parkland personally. That’s because we believe this should not have happened. It’s because we are tired of hearing headlines like this, knowing that human lives, including young, human lives, are behind those headlines. It’s because we love our children. It’s because we feel a calling to love all children.

“In life and in death we belong to God.” This should not have happened. We know this in our bones. Yet today, we are bold to proclaim that these beloved ones are not lost to God. And their worth and value, their personhood, and their belovedness will not be lost on us either. Because this should not be happening anymore.

This morning, the story of scripture says,

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So Jesus went with him.

On Wednesday, outside that school building, a crowd gathered around — parents filled with love, standing with worry. Perhaps we have seen that photo which will undoubtedly become iconic — a woman with ashes on her forehead in the shape of a cross, crying as she holds her crying child. “Come lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” This is the calling for all of us now. Will we go with them in this calling?

The story of scripture continues,

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him I the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

The crowd is growing and pressing in. Our days are often filled with headlines of needs, of losses, of injustices. And when it comes this injustice — when it comes to gun violence — how often have we felt as though we have endured much? That we have spent all that we have — our emotions, our voices, our arguments, our statistics, our phone calls to leaders, our marches, our contributions, our demands, our condolences, our questions, our exclamations, our proclamations — only to discover that we are not better, but rather, we have grown worse. We are desperate.

And so, we come to this one who calls us into a ministry of healing, and we not only touch his cloak, but we hear his voice: “Daughter,” he says. And though there is fear and trembling, we hear this recognition of worth. “Daughter,” he says. We tell the whole truth — what it is like to live in a society that is addicted to violence; what it is like to live in a society that values the rights of weapons above the rights of students. Yet we hear this recognition of worth. “Daughter,” he says. We hear the worth and recognition of our children. Will we go with them in this calling?

The story of scripture continues,

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, “Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, and the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with them, and went in where he the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Why trouble the teacher any further?’ we might ask. Perhaps we feel as though all hope is lost. We certainly hear people weeping and wailing loudly. And oh that we could bring these lost ones back into life! We surely would. . . They should be in this world today.

And even here, especially here, in this longing, trauma, and pain, Jesus says, ‘Talitha cum.’ ‘Get up!’ May we we hear that message for ourselves and our nation and our world. ‘Get up!’ ‘Rise up!’ Create a different reality! Transform this world of pain. Rise up! Become partners in life and in love! Act! Be free! Live! Resurrect! Go into peace and create peace every step of the way. You and me, and all of us together. For our children, together.

After all, they shouldn’t have to bear this, but this week, the growing children of a school in Parkland are rising up. They are saying, No more! We won’t be silenced! We will not stop until you protect our lives! “For in love we were created, and in love, we are called to live.” Talitha cum! Our children are rising up. Will we go with them in this calling?

Will we?

We hear it again, these words we often say. “In love we were created, and love calls us to live.”

For them, for the one who created us, for this great, beloved world. Talitha cum!

Amen.

Renee Roederer

Heartspace

hearts

Today’s piece is a repost (which will be obvious since it mentions 2017!) but I thought it’s appropriate to today. Love comes in many forms. Love is loving us to being in many ways. Love is opening us to wonderment in many directions.

Heartspace.

This is my word for 2017. It’s not an actual word, of course, but it’s my best attempt to describe a reality that is difficult to name. It’s a wordless feeling for the reality of human connection we experience when we know each other deeply and are deeply known in relationship.

Heartspace.

It’s a feeling of wonderment when we see people living fully as themselves.

It’s a feeling of gratitude when we get to witness people being fully alive.

Heartspace.

When we were crossing into this new year, I had this feeling one day and realized that try as I might, I could not come up with a name for it. Have you ever had a moment when someone you care about says something or does something that brings you to absolute wonderment in who they are?

For instance, we might imagine an adult who just happens to catch the precise moment when a child discovers something new. “Oh, look at her. ..” that adult might feel  deeply within herself, along with a sense of gratitude and wonderment at the chance to see it happen.

Heartspace is that “Oh, wow. . .  isn’t he wonderful?. . . look at them go!” feeling.

We might describe it as a swelling sense of pride, except that would fall short, because it’s not about us. It’s about the other person. But it’s filled with connection.

We feel this for people we mentor.
We feel this for our friends.
We feel this for our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
We feel this for our partners.
We feel this for strangers we chance meeting – people who demonstrate a sense of aliveness in the ways they’re living, calling us into greater aliveness too.

There are so many moments, so many memories,  when I can remember this swelling feeling of wonderment-connection. I know I have felt it for others. I know others have felt it for me.

I decided to name this Heartspace. When we feel this for one another, we enter that reality.

I want to prioritize it in 2017. This kind of love and connection keeps us grounded. It keeps us going. Most importantly, it gives us sacred opportunities to see people thrive, not on our own terms but theirs. It is a beyond-ourselves kind of love, but in it, we find ourselves too.

Yes, let’s have more of that.

Heartspace.

The Gift of Receiving

sky

When was the last time you allowed yourself to truly receive? Or perhaps, when was the last time you opened your awareness more fully toward the gift of receiving?

Some of us have been socialized to be givers. And no doubt, giving can become an act of receiving too. It feels good to give from who we are and to experience connection with others.

But when the last time you allowed yourself to truly receive?

We might think of the big things — times when people reached out to us, nurtured us, created space for us, made a meal for us, gave us a gift. But we might think of the small things too — the sky is demonstrating its blueness, the chair is holding us up, the bird is singing.

I wonder if shifting our reference toward receiving — noticing it, allowing ourselves to be energized by it, resting in it — might change our day. I wonder how it might help us remember that we belong. I wonder how it might invigorate us. I wonder how it might increase our gratitude. I wonder if it might shift what’s possible.

Renee Roederer

The Beauty Remains, Unexplained

beauty

Sometimes, we let ourselves believe that experiences are valuable and valid only. . . if they’re explainable.

Of course, sometimes, marvelous things happen, and that ignites our curiosity. “How is that possible? How does that work?” This kind of questioning is expansive in its energy, deeply curious about how the world works and how we function within it.

But another kind of questioning can show up in ourselves that’s simply dismissive. “How could that be possible? Surely, that isn’t so. That’s ridiculous.”

Skepticism can be healthy and helpful. Needed, even. I’m certainly not knocking that in total. Instead, I’m talking about those moments when we stop being curious. When we’re so sure we know how the world works that our questioning (or our explanation points) become contracted instead of expansive. We stop marveling. We cease to believe that more is possible beyond what is easily explainable. We also come to this conclusion: Experiences are valuable and valid only. . . if they’re explainable.

We make explanation the benchmark.

But sometimes, marvelous things happen that we can’t explain. Sometimes beauty remains, unexplained. Maybe the beauty is more important than the explanation.

A few months ago, I wrote a post in a large Facebook group of clergy. I said,
“Unpopular Church Opinions. Go!”

330 comments followed. I’ll leave the details confidential, but many of us described beefs we have with church life. Some shared minority theological perspectives, wondering what folks in our congregations would think if they knew we had shifted our thoughts. And then, some (and I didn’t expect this) felt courage to share for the first time that they had experiences that might be thought of as mystical in some way. These were experiences beyond what is typical or explainable. People seemed to be encouraged by seeing this in one another. “Wait, you too?” “I never get to talk about this anywhere!” In our communities of faith — often, very cerebral communities — people would probably disregard such experiences.

Well, last week, I had a beautiful experience that I will leave unexplained.

I was in the midst of doing some work, specifically, reading on my laptop Kindle app while some music was playing on Pandora, and all of the sudden, I stopped because I had this sensation. It was a feeling of calm, followed by a feeling of awareness. In the awareness, I said,

“Someone’s praying for me right now.”

This is not something that happens to me typically.

I sat with it for about three seconds, and then said, “It’s Ellie.”* Somehow, I had a sense that it was Ellie. She’s my friend in the U.K. And I did feel a remarkable sense of calm. I looked at the time because I wanted to remember it. It was 1:37pm.

Later that evening, Ellie and I ended up chatting on Facebook about something else entirely when I said, “How many hours ahead are you from Eastern Standard Time?”

“Five.”

“Okay, this may sound really weird. . . but were you praying for me today? Because I had this sense that you were. And it was at 1:37pm EST.”

“Yes, I was! And that was it, exactly. I was walking outside on my way to a 7pm meeting at a local pub. It was about 6:40pm, and during that walk, I prayed a blessing for you — that you would feel peace.”

“Ellie, I did. It reached me!”

I can’t explain this. I don’t need to. It’s beautiful. I’m going let that beauty remain, unexplained.

Even if untypical, there may be a very natural way to explain such a phenomenon. Perhaps we are more connected than we think we are (I tend to believe this strongly!) I welcome the expansive, curiosity questions.

But my concern, the point of this post, is that we are so internally dismissive of some of our own experiences, that we may miss very real ways of perceiving, very real ways of being connected, very real ways of marveling because we’ve been socialized to discount them. But still, the beauty remains, unexplained.

Renee Roederer

*Friend’s name changed

A Litany: Who Loves You?

love

One of my best friends has a nightly ritual with both of her daughters. They are three and a half and one and a half,  both completely precious. Every night, after reading to them, my friend says these final words before they go to sleep:

“Who loves you?”

Then both girls go through this litany of naming who loves them (sometimes with help) — parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends. Sometimes the stuffed animals get named too.

I think this is a very dear practice. It’s wonderful that these girls rehearse love right at the end of the day before they fall into sleep.

Perhaps we’ve never taken a moment to go through a list of people in our minds like this, but. . . maybe that would actually be a good idea today. We never outgrow the need for this kind of awareness, a calling to mind of those who love us.

So I’ll ask us all the same question today:

Who loves you?

Renee Roederer

Religiously Unaffiliated “Nones” and Good Samaritan Ethics

coffee

Yesterday, I spent some time reading Elizabeth Drescher’s Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones. It is truly an excellent book.

This book is a result of research project in which Drescher traveled across the country and conducted in-depth interviews with people who are religiously unaffiliated. Often, when asked about their religious affiliation on surveys, a sizeable, growing portion of people in the United States choose the answer ‘None.’

This only represents a demographic bracket, of course. Those who choose this answer are not monolithic in their beliefs or practices. Drescher seeks to enter deeper conversations that hear religiously unaffiliated people on their own terms. This is why I like her work so much. Many of the studies out there define Nones — even through the word None itself! — by what they are not (religiously affiliated) rather than who and what they are. Drescher takes a completely different approach. A much better one, I believe.

Yesterday, while reading her chapter about ethics, I found this to be interesting:

Of the 100 people Drescher interviewed about ethics, 20 people independently brought up the parable of the Good Samaritan in their conversations. They shared that they admired this story and wanted to see people live this way.

It’s kind of stunning that this came up 20 different times. Some of this, undoubtedly, is connected to the fact that many Nones were raised in Christian congregations before they deaffiliated. But the content of the story itself resonates with a desire to see ethics practiced in a particular, relational way. One that is willing to love to the point of risk, even when — and perhaps especially when — presented with difference.

Drescher writes, “The appeal of Jesus to Nones has nothing to do with the institution developed by his followers, but rather with his willingness to walk across religious and other social boundaries, through the lives of ordinary people, attending to their suffering, healing their afflictions, welcoming them into conversation, and sharing stories of hope. For Nones, this stands in contrast to the doctrinal professions of faith of that have characterized the Christian tradition since the Reformation.” 1

Simply put, many Nones responded that they don’t often see these kinds of ethics practiced in Christian congregations:

“Few churches, it seemed to Nones, expressed their identities in prophetic, radically other-oriented registers, even to their own members. For many, Jesus is the cute, swaddled infant of Christmas pageants; the kindly Good Shepherd who leads us beside still waters; the regal risen Christ who triumphs over sin and death. But, he is not often a dude who would leave the comfort of a cozy church coffee hour with folks of his own social milieu to part with cloak and coin for the benefit of the dazed Iraq war vet with two pit bulls at the highway underpass down the road from church.” 2

Not all interviewees were directly critical, but they expressed a desire to see people stretch their ethics of care beyond their own circles:

“Still, even those who did not criticize or condemn churches and their members for failing to live up to the Good Samaritan ethic seemed to feel that institutional religions were not up to the challenge of offering genuinely self-sacrificing service to others. Lily Hampton, an Agnostic, argued,

‘The big church organizations— Habitat [for Humanity] or whatever— will do things like that. Or, maybe after a hurricane. But day to day, week to week, you don’t really see [church members] where you live being involved— out on the streets with homeless people or protesting injustice. I think most of them are just trying to hold on to the members they have, to make them happy and comfortable. They take care of their own, in my experience.'” 3

Even if Christian congregations practiced such ethics in ways that were more visible, Nones would not necessarily affiliate in traditional ways. There are other cultural factors that influence how Nones relate generally to affiliation.

But. . . may I share one more quote? I also ran across this one yesterday from Walter Bruggemann:

“The crisis in the U.S. Church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.” 4

I think many religiously unaffiliated people would love to see Christians live in greater alignment with Christian ethics. We Christians (I am one of them) fall short even when we do seek to practice them, but. . . have we allowed such ethics to be crowded out by other drives and forces?

This parable came up 20 times. Perhaps our ethics need conversation and confession.

Renee Roederer

1 Drescher, Elizabeth. Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Kindle Locations 4671-4672). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

2 Ibid. (Kindle Locations 4645-4649). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Ibid., (Kindle Locations 4629-4634). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

4 You can find the Walter Bruggemann quote here.

Would You Like to Support My Campaign?

Michigan

Hello, Dear Friends,

I am starting this day with a lot of gratitude. As I begin this post, I want to thank you for reading Smuggling Grace. It is such a joy to connect with you here. So often, these posts lead to real-life conversations and connections with you, and I find myself thankful every single time that happens. Thank you for your presence here.

Today, I want to let you know about a personal project that is underway. Some of you know that I’m in the midst of a fundraising campaign for my work as a Community Chaplain.

Community Chaplaincy is a entirely new kind of role in ministry. With gratitude, I entered into partnership with the Presbytery of Detroit to bring it into being, and that partnership has provided official status to my work. The challenge, of course, is that I do not currently have any formal funding for this kind of position.

For this reason, I am in a campaign currently to raise an initial $15,000 to support my work in ministry.

My work as a Community Chaplain allows me to do many things I love:

-For the last two and a half years, I have served as the organizer of a new community in Southeast Michigan called Michigan Nones and Dones. Sometimes, participants describe this as a community for people who are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious.” Our community includes people who are religiously unaffiliated and people from a variety of religious traditions who have become a bit uneasy with organized expressions of religious community. We meet in coffee shops, restaurants, and homes to build friendships and talk about faith, spirituality, and meaning.

-I have several meaningful partnerships at the University of Michigan which allow me to build relationships with undergraduate and graduate students and faculty and staff. One of these vital partnerships is Canterbury House, a student ministry on the edge of campus, which provides space for worship, shared meals, community conversations, and music (both concerts and jam sessions!)

-I have the privilege of being connected to a variety of local faith communities, organizations, and activist communities that are doing tremendous social action in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and the broader Southeast Michigan region. I am grateful to be present to them and help connect others to their work.

-I have the great joy of writing on this blog five times a week. Thank you for following this work here. It means a great deal to me.

If you would be interested in supporting this work, there are two primary ways to do that:

1. Northside Presbyterian Church has been a tremendous partner to me in my vision, and they are holding the funding I raise so that it is a) tax deductible and b) provides an accounting structure. If you would like to donate, the best way to do that is to write a check to “Northside Presbyterian Church,” then write “Renee Roederer: Community Chaplaincy” in the To line. You can mail that to

Renee Roederer
2648 Lookout Circle,
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

I will make a note for my records, and then, I will pass it along to Northside Presbyterian Church.

2. You can also give a gift to support my writing. If you’d like to do so, you can give at this link: https://www.paypal.me/ReneeRoederer

Many thanks, friends, for your cheerleading in these efforts. That always means so much! And if you have any questions, you can email me at revannarbor@gmail.com.

Best to you,
Renee