Inch Wide, Mile Deep


[Image description: A book is on top of a brown, curved table at an angle. It’s title is Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. The lettering of the word ‘Emergent’ is blue, and the lettering of ‘Strategy is green. There is a salmon-colored box below these letters which reads ‘Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds’ with the name of adrienne maree brown below. In the background of the book cover, birds are flocking.]

I’ve been reading Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne marie brown. I (and many others!) find this book to be a remarkably refreshing, empowering paradigm shift in how we understand our relationships, our connection to the earth, our activism, our organizing, and our processes for affecting change.

There is so much I could share, as this has opened up reflections for me in many directions. But today, I want to share a piece of the book that has been sitting personally with me all week.

adrienne marie brown says,

“We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.” (page 20)*

Inch wide, mile deep… I absolutely love that.

She is encouraging us to move away from a paradigm we might recognize very well (do you?) — that is, plunging into task-oriented work in a huge array of areas based on the urgency of the many needs around us (those needs are very real, and when we experience burnout, we might find ourselves driven more by ‘shoulds’ than feelings of relational care). In the midst of this, she encourages to move toward a paradigm that is based on relationships — going deep with them, going deep with the care of them — because that is how transformation really happens.

It’s also much more sustainable. Whether its in our employment, our vocation, our neighborhood vision, or in larger scale movement work, mile wide, inch deep rhythms… often lead to high burnout and low impact.

But inch wide, mile deep… That’s refreshing, transformative work.

And all week, I’ve found myself desiring this. To plant myself/ourselves particularly — not widely, but deeply — to be all-in on a few things, very specific inches,

trusting that those roots go deep,
trusting that those roots find nourishing soil,
trusting that those roots intertwine with other roots,

finding connection to the people planted in other inches.
(and intersecting)
(and providing collective sustenance).

Renee Roederer

*adrienne marie brown also says this about the ‘inch wide mile deep’ language:

“I first experienced this ‘inch wide mile deep language when it was used to speak about the work of the Detroit Future Youth program at Allied Media Projects. I’ve since heard it used to speak of work that prioritizes depth in community organizing, and understands that meaningful scale depends on deep transformative work, rather than surface widespread work.”




Elegant Valentine Gradient Background

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An invitation to visit these hashtags today on Twitter:


#ActuallyAutistic people are talking about how they want to be celebrated, accepted, perceived, and included on their own terms, as opposed to the orgs that try to speak for them and in very different, often remarkably harmful directions.

This is a conversation we need to have.

Renee Roederer

These Things Happen


[Image description: A white, block iPhone adapter, lying flat turned slightly to the right.]

Yesterday morning, while getting in my car, I was holding the block adapter of my phone charger, and when I dropped it, it bounced off an object, did a flip, and landed in my coffee mug,

whereby I felt the realized horror of each object throughly ruining the other.

Renee Roederer

I Visited This Tree


[Image Description: A tree with many branches is in the foreground on a sloping hill. In the background is a road and a beach along Lake Michigan. A red lighthouse is in the distance.]

When I was in Wisconsin last week, I made the occasion to visit a particular tree.

I had already driven down to Racine to have lunch with a friend, which was so enjoyable. It was a long time since I had been in the city, but years ago, I visited often. Some of our closest folks lived there for a number of years. They’ve since moved elsewhere, but since I had the occasion to be in Racine, I was glad to visit some of the special places we used to go, including the Lake Michigan Pathway — a walkway right along the beach. All of this brought back wonderful memories.

Then I decided to walk to a certain tree.

In 2013, I was sitting under this particular tree when I had the initial phone conversation that led to us moving to Ann Arbor. We were visiting our people in Racine when the opportunity arose. I sat under this tree, facing Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin side, and of course, facing the state of Michigan too, though unseen to me. A place called “Lake Michigan Pathway” seemed like the perfect location to have this phone call, because we wanted to move to Ann Arbor very much.

Though we lived in California at the time, I suppose it all started right here in Wisconsin under a tree by a Great Lake. It was good to visit this tree again because I wanted to pause and think of my unfolding sense of calling and belonging in Ann Arbor. I wanted to give thanks for six years in this town, the people I’ve met — at this point, people I can’t imagine not knowing. That’s how it always is in a place… It’s peopled.

I’ve had some serious highs and lows here. I’ve met people who taught me a lot. I’ve had occasions to practice ministry in ways that were totally new to me at the time, and often, are still new to me. We’ve befriended people in multiple congregations. We’ve made memories in a house, our first one. We’ve invited people in in ways that feel like home.

And we’re still going at it.

So here’s to Ann Arbor, the unfolding calling, and the unfolding practice of community-building. And here’s to that tree.

Renee Roederer

I’m a Free Range Pastor


[Image Description: A brown rooster stands on a sidewalk in front of a fence and is facing left.]

To borrow some language from the Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, I’m a Free Range Pastor. I enjoy this role very much.

In this role, though I’m roving, I’m not not detached in some way. I’m connected to communities. Many of them, in fact. That is part of what I enjoy so deeply. As a Free Range Pastor, I have the opportunity to lead worship and build relationships with so many congregations. Over time, these relationships have grown deep.

I’m a member of the Presbytery of Detroit, the collective group of people that also sponsors my ministry work as a chaplain and community organizer in Ann Arbor. And as Presbyterians sometimes do, we have a very jargony term for people like me. I’m a…

Teaching Elder at Large.

See? Isn’t that jargony?

It’s our title for people who are members of the Presbytery, but not serving in long-term, called positions within congregations.

For a long time, I think people viewed this role primarily as a temporary, holding term for ministers who were between positions. But once I entered it, I really began to feel like it was a calling in and of itself.

Most Sundays, I lead worship in various churches throughout our Presbytery. (And occasionally, outside our Presbytery). Often, I fill in when a pastor is away. Sometimes, I spend a month or two with one congregation while they are in transition. I’ve discovered I really love the opportunity to be the shorter term transitional leader before the interim pastor or new pastor arrives. And within all of this, over the last four years, I have built wonderful relationships with all of these congregations. I love that.

Teaching Elder at Large, or Free Range Pastor, or whatever we want to call it, I enjoy being a resource, consultant, worship leader, keynoter, and of course, friend and cheerleader to many congregations. It’s a special role.

And in the midst of this, I’m called primarily to my own ministry in Ann Arbor. The Presbytery supports that as a Validated Ministry. (More official jargon, distinguishing it from parish ministry). All of these congregations feel connected in some way to that vision, so that is lovely.

The community circle is large. And I’m a teaching elder within that large. Or… maybe just a chicken.

Renee Roederer

When Life Rhymes Quite Wonderfully

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[Image description: Four handbells are lying on a green bell table. Two are in foreground. They have white handles and read D5 and E5. Two are in the background. They have black handles and read D-flat5 and E-flat5.]

As I shared in post yesterday, I spent last week with Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, Wisconsin. At one point, while I was meeting with a group, I just happened to tell them the story of how I became a Presbyterian. I didn’t plan on sharing that story, but it flowed quite naturally into our conversation.

Now I’ll share it with you:

In my earliest years, I was raised as a fundamentalist, and I attended Southern Baptist churches. It would have never dawned on me that I would someday be Presbyterian, let alone, that I would one day become a Presbyterian minister. All the leaders in my earliest churches were men, even the people who served as ushers, and even the people who collected the offering. (Sidenote: Once I did become Presbyterian, I was surprised when women walked down the aisles and passed the offering plates. “They can do that here?” I thought?)

One day, when I was in seventh grade, I was sitting in an ugly, orange chair in the cafeteria of my junior high school. I was sitting there with my best friend who was complaining about something kind of overly-specific. Most of the time, we talked about our peers or embarrassing things our parents did — you know, typical seventh grade conversation. One this day, however, my friend was belaboring the point that she was assigned too many bells in her church handbell choir. It was too many for one person!

So I asked,

“Could I join your handbell choir? That sounds fun. Maybe I could help out.”

The next Sunday, my friend asked if I could join the group, and Amy Roth, the director of the bell choir, said yes. All these years later, I think about her ‘yes.’ Never underestimate how much you might provide another person when you simply include them. Sometimes, it can open more possibilities than we would anticipate at the time.

That ‘yes’ was wonderful. I came to my first Sunday evening rehearsal, and I was assigned my own set of bells. (My friend could play less!) And that led to so much more for me. I enjoyed the music and formed new friendships. The youth group met afterward, so I started joining their time together as well.

For a while, I attended worship at my Southern Baptist congregation and then came to hang out with the Presbies in the evening. But over time, that church — St. John United Presbyterian Church — became an additional family to me, and I wanted to be there on Sunday mornings too.

“So the rest is history,” I told the people in Wisconsin. “Two bells — D5 and E5 — made me Presbyterian.”

Then someone in the group said, “You’re not going to believe this, but we need someone to play D5 and E5 this Sunday. Would you be interested in doing that?”


Soon after, I received an email from the Worship Ministry Director asking,

“This Sunday, would you like to be a ringer ringer?”

That made me laugh. I thought it would be wonderful to jump in and play my old bells, the very notes that started this whole trajectory.

So I did.

Someone once said to me, “Sometimes, life rhymes a bit.” This was certainly one of those moments, and it was pretty great.

Renee Roederer


Year Seven

6 -- Love

[Image Description: There is a white background. A black marker is writing on a red heart and finishing writing the letter E on the word ‘Love.’]

Today is the 7th anniversary of my ordination.

That ordination service, filled with loved ones, was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. Every year on this date, I think about the people who were connected to that moment.

I had moved formally in the direction of ordination for seven years, so it was a long time coming. The people in my home church in New Albany, Indiana nurtured that direction and taught me a lot about what was possible in living in community with one another. My college friends in Louisville accompanied me in making the decision to move in this direction. My seminary professors and classmates at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary introduced me to so much learning and helped me discern my interests and sense of calling.

My ordination service took place at University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, the first congregation I served. I marvel at how many significant people came into our lives during our years there  — people with whom I’m still in regular conversation all the time. Truly, so many of them, and truly, all the time. There’s a big diaspora of us who were there together and have since moved all over the country.

My ordination service took place on behalf of Pasadena Presbyterian Church, the congregation that was calling me to a new role. I had already been serving there for a while, but now, I would be ordained. I was really touched that some of them traveled to Austin for the service. All of them remembered me during that service and felt connected to the moment, even if they were far away. This congregation nurtured so much creativity in me, and to this day, I’m so grateful for that.

And of course, that ordination service eventually led me to other places and other communities beyond that time. Every community has added to me. Every community has taught me so much. Every community has been filled with significant relationships. They’ve all shaped who I’ve become.

Last week, I spent some time with Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, Wisconsin. One day, I was with a circle of people who have been reading the Bible together for years. After exploring a passage together, I asked,

“Have you ever had a moment when you were loved beyond what you expected?”

In response to that question, people told powerful stories. I appreciated hearing those.

When I look at this trajectory — ordination, and all that has come with it — it hasn’t always been easy. There have been challenges too.

But above all,

the seven years that prepared me for this, and
the seven years that followed,

have led to many occasions when I’ve been loved beyond what I’ve expected.

That’s also how I feel about the whole of it.

And I’m grateful.

Renee Roederer