Hope.


The sun emerged this weekend and seemed to transform the entire town where I live. 

I wasn’t expecting this. 

A few days before, the weather app on my phone revealed that it would be 68 degrees in February, and since I live in a winter climate, this was already surprising. But the most astonishing thing was watching what it did to us.

I decided to take a short walk in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. Immediately, I was stunned at the sheer number of people outside. It seemed that everyone had the exact same idea.

The warmth transformed us, not only because it was enjoyable, but because it helped us relate in a different way, a way we desperately needed. In the middle of winter, people passed each other on the sidewalks while smiling. Strangers began to talk to one another. Panhandlers shared their best music on the street, and people pet each others’ dogs. Kids ran around with joy, and people ate ice cream cones. It was truly something to see.

Perhaps we were aware that this warmth was special. Perhaps we were aware that it was temporary. We made the best of it, and grateful for its surprise, we harnessed its energy into something transformative. 

This caused me to reflect a bit about hope. We all need it. Sometimes, we desperately need it. Hope cultivates a sense of anticipation that moments will emerge – indeed, sometimes, quite unexpectedly – toward gratitude and surprise. Hope invites us harness that energy toward transformation.

In order to have hope, we need awareness of gifts we can count on. The sun rises and sets every single day, even if it is hidden by clouds. 

And in order for hope to come alive, we need to be surprised. The sun shone warmly this weekend and completely transformed the ways we related to one another.

Where is the hope you need? 

If we start by pondering the hope we already know, it might lead us to some surprising, transformative places.

Renee Roederer

Separated

church

My heart is heavy this morning. It’s heavy as I think about separation.

Separation. . . I grew up in Southern Indiana. During my teenage years, I had a rich and meaningful experience in high school, filled with tremendous opportunities and memories I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But we were separated.

Separation was part of the experience. In some very real ways, it made those opportunities and memories possible. The student body at my high school was almost exclusively white. This was not the case at the other high school in the same public system — still a good school but with fewer resources. I don’t have any official numbers from those years, but I suspect that my high school was 99 point some-odd-decimal percent white.  We had a few exchange students from time to time. But I did not have any regular interaction with people of color, and I did not know any immigrants.

Separation. . . I grew up in the most incredible Christian congregation. Truly, it would be an understatement to say that the love and belonging I experienced there changed the trajectory of my entire life. That community provided me with love and convictions I have not lost.

But we were separated.

Like most Christian churches in the United States, we were largely uniracial, and we approached the racial makeup of my high school. During my earliest years of Christian formation, my interaction with people of color was rare, and I did not have any significant relationships with immigrants.

This is actually pretty common. Among Christians the United States, most of the time with few exceptions, there are white churches, black churches, and churches of immigrants based around shared languages. By and large, we do not spend time with each other. We barely encounter each other. We do not know names, stories, or needs of each other. We do not know the gifts of relationship.

Separation. . . We do not know the value of each other.

And this is serious. It’s not only a diminishment — a profound loss of the particularity of relationship and a dim vision of what Church can be. It’s dangerous.

If we do not know the value of one another, our humanity is reduced. This increases the likelihood that we will say, do, and tolerate inhumane acts toward one another.

Today, I want to address the Christians that I know, a large portion of my audience.

We do not exist in a vacuum. We live in a context which claims to be post-racial, while abuses of power increase contempt and systematic oppression for people of color. It’s not so hard to see this, unless we decide not to see it. . . Unless we separate ourselves from black and brown fellow human beings. . . Unless we separate ourselves from the crucial, inner work, required to ponder our social location in regard to others. . . Unless we separate ourselves from our Christian convictions themselves.

And this important right now because real, human lives are threatened in this moment.

As I grew into my young adult years, I was fortunate to build friendships with people of color. I did come to know immigrants quite personally, especially in other church circles. Right now, they are experiencing increased vulnerability and threat.

Do we feel connected to them, or will we continue to separate ourselves?

Right now, both within and beyond the Church, immigrant families are terrified and traumatized at the prospect of violence and the possibility of being separated from one another indefinitely. College students born abroad but brought here as young children are discovering that they could be deported to nations they do not know. Children are being torn from their parents as they are being detained, recognizing in terror that they might not be united for years. To their horror, international adoptees are learning that their citizenship paperwork was never completed when they were brought to the U.S., and they may be cast out permanently. Last week, a woman sought refuge from domestic abuse, but was instead arrested because of her immigration status.

These stories are all real. Do these experiences matter to us? Is our vision of Church — both its belonging and our calling — large enough for this moment? Most importantly, do these follow human beings matter to us?

I am afraid that some white Christians will soon express more upset and concern about the rising cost of vegetables than the plight of immigrants themselves. Imagine that. Greater anger about the price of tomatoes than the lives of the immigrants who pick them.

What will we do? Will we increase our separation even more, or will we live our convictions at this vital time?

Renee Roederer

 

 

Love Your Enemies?

love

More than a decade ago, I found myself in a vulnerable position in some conflicted relationships. During that time, this became a mantra for me:

As much as it’s up to me, I will work to be at peace with everyone, but I will not denigrate my sense of peace in order to give them a false one.

That’s the kind of thing that’s easier to say than enact. But still, I tried to hold both of those clauses in tension, and it was helpful to remind myself of these words, and even to say them aloud, as I considered how to act and interact in those conflicted relationships.

Last night, years later, I found myself thinking about these words again. They’re not just words. They’re a relational posture. I found myself wanting to expand them, saying,

As much as it’s up to me, I will work to be at peace with everyone, but I will not denigrate the peace of the most vulnerable to give a false peace to those who oppress them.

This is also easier to say than enact. But still, we can hold these clauses in tension. It may even be helpful to say them aloud.

When I say these words aloud this morning, I recognize that my social location has moved around this framework. A few times, I have been the vulnerable party. At other times, however, I have been the oppressor, representing and benefiting from an oppressive force.

I want to say that I’m grateful for people who refuse to give a false peace.

Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” And just this morning, I saw a quote from Cornell West as well: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

I take both of these to heart.

Jesus challenged us by saying, “Love your enemies.” Now that has never meant, “Love the harm that enemies do to you,” or “Let your enemies continue their oppression unchecked and unopposed.”

No, never. That is not justice, and that is not love.

When we stand up and say no to oppression — when we say, “You will not denigrate the peace of the vulnerable” — we are doing the most loving thing possible. Oppression begins to look a whole lot like inhumanity, and when we protect the vulnerable, we invite, and frankly, demand, that oppressors do the same. That is love in action.

So perhaps we can enact some version of this today,

As much as it’s up to me, I will work to be at peace with everyone, but I will not denigrate the peace of the most vulnerable to give a false peace to those who oppress them.

Renee Roederer

Who Loved You Into Being?

In 1997, Fred Rogers won a Lifetime Achievement Award Emmy. As he walked on stage to receive the award, the room was filled with so much appreciation for him. Before he ever said a word, there were smiles and tears.

But that appreciation grew even more when he began to speak. In his acceptance speech, Rogers moved the spotlight away from himself toward the people who have shaped us — people unseen, people with names known especially to us.

He said,

“All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are — those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life? Ten seconds of time. I’ll watch the time.”

People giggled at that last part.

But then, you could see everyone’s minds go to very loving places. People sat in silence with tears in their eyes, remembering the presence of people who have loved them into being. It was a beautiful span of silence, filled with many memories.

He continued,

“Whomever you’ve been thinking about. . . how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. You know, they’re the kind of people television does well to offer our world.”

Such a sacred moment.

Friends, who loved you into being? How can that love ground you and hold what you need today?

How special it is to have received that love — not only to know it, but to have had the occasion to know that we’re worth that love in the first place. That’s what these individuals gave us. And as thankful as we are for them, they are surely thankful for us.

Have you pondered this lately? If we’re still able to contact these loved ones, perhaps this might be a good day to let them know we’ve thought of them. And even if they’ve died, we can have a conversation with them inside ourselves. That experience of connection still exists for us.

So, who loved you into being?

Life Finds a Way

[Photo by Scott Hanoian, Musical Director of the UMS Choral Union]

From the first downbeat of the music to the enthusiastic standing ovation, Maestro Iván Fischer brought tremendous energy into Hill Auditorium on Friday night.

On the stage, I had the pleasure to sit and listen to the first three movements of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, then jump to my feet to sing the final Ode to Joy with the UMS Choral Union. Connection, energy, and joy abounded in that music hall.

Throughout the entire concert, I found myself reflecting on how unlikely this moment was. Many factors could have prevented it from coming into being, but there it was, a real gift and a moment we desperately needed.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra was almost unable to travel to the U.S. for its scheduled international performances. One of their members has dual citizenship in Hungary and Iraq. He would have been barred from entering the U.S. due to the recent travel ban executive order. Iván Fischer and the rest of the orchestral community were not going to leave their friend and colleague behind, so they had to push hard and advocate for their member. The outcome was quite uncertain, but eventually, with the recent judicial stay, they were able travel into the country as a full orchestra.

Iván Fischer would never leave his colleague behind because he knows the harm that discrimination can bring. Quite personally, he knows the horrific doors it can open. Maestro Fischer’s grandparents died in the Holocaust.

I found myself reflecting upon this as well when he began to conduct the music on Friday night. In addition to his tremendous musicality, Maestro Fischer is famous for bringing his orchestra to play at the sites of abandoned synagogues where Jews were taken and then killed.

I watched him initiate that music on Friday night and pondered how his grandparents would think he is an absolute miracle, which of course, he is.

So there we were on stage, bringing music to life. It may have never found its way to this particular moment, yet remarkably, it did.

And the music did really come alive.

With a lot of enthusiasm, we performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. We’ve all become somewhat accustomed to Beethoven’s signature sounds, but his music broke so many rules from his era. It stood outside the box, inviting people into awe, wonder, and mischievousness of their own.

And considering the most unlikely factor of all, this glorious, joyous, complex 9th Symphony was composed after Beethoven had completely lost his hearing. A Deaf man gave us this gift to hear, and he is deservedly famous for it.

We heard it again on Friday night, and at the end, everyone stood to their feet enthusiastically and roared with applause. In a time of uncertainty in our own lives, joy had found us.

In response to all of this, a silly memory popped in my mind. It seems kind of funny to move from soaring Beethoven to eccentric Jeff Goldblum, but that’s where my mind went on Friday night. I suddenly remembered that scene in Jurassic Park when Dr. Ian Malcolm finds those unexpected dinosaur eggs on the island. “Life finds a way,” he says.

I think it does. Despite the harm and trauma we continually unleash in the world, I think in the end, it really does.

Renee Roederer

Join Us


With joy, these words are still ringing in my mind and heart. . .

“If you’re with us… Join us!”

“If you’re with us… Join us!”

“If you’re with us… Join us!”

Students chanted those words yesterday when they entered the Michigan Union. With just a couple days notice, Students4Justice organized a sit-in in the Union to respond to a growing number of incidents of racist violence and intimidation at the university. Most recently this week, students from Computer Science and Engineering received anti-Black and anti-Semitic emails with violent epithets and death threats, and a reflection room was defiled when someone urinated on a prayer rug. All of this is utterly shameful.

It’s also dangerous. These students want the administration of the university to take greater action to protect them and carve  out a healthy learning environment.

Hundreds of students participated in the sit-in which lasted until 2 am. And I’ll never forget that moment when we first walked into the Union together. We revisited a chant from the Student Walkout in November, also led by Students4Justice:

“If you’re with us… Join us!”

The events that made this sit-in necessary are serious and hard, yet when we chanted these words continuously, I had an enormous smile on my face. I knew I was watching something special unfold. That chant seemed very fitting. 

While the sit-in stood firmly and fiercely against certain things — white supremacy, Islamophobia, violence, and intimidation — from beginning to end, students also demonstrated what they are for.

The are for each other.

They are for another way of relating.

They are for another way of protecting.

They protected each other last night and put it on stunning display. They didn’t merely say there is another way. They made another way happen. From beginning to end, it was obvious. You could see and feel it present. 

When I came home, I read a number Facebook updates from students who have truly had a difficult time at this university over the years. They shared the impact of this event – that they felt welcome, protected, and valued. Some felt that in thr university space more strongly than they ever have before. And they knew they made that happen. 

They did. The administration didn’t make that happen. They did.

And now the administration needs to follow their lead:

“If you’re with us… Join us!”

Those words ring in my ears and heart. As a friend and chaplain at this university, I can’t begin to tell you how much I have learned and grown in the presence of these students in the spaces they continuously create. Their passions, visions, and expressions of community care and justice are phenomenal.

We can step into that way of living if we turn against the most sinister forces among us and within us and begin to see human worth and value for what it is – worth proclaiming, worth protecting.

Are you with us?

Join us.

Renee Roederer

The Inevitable View of Belovedness

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to re-read my favorite book of all time. It’s Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart: The Boundless Power of Compassion. I admit that I cry easily, but still, I do not exaggerate: The first time I read this book, I had to close it and pause at least 20 times due to tearing up.

Greg Boyle tells powerful vignettes about his community at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries provides jobs, counseling, and classes for people who are looking to exit gangs. Many of them are teenagers and young adults. Many have known long spells of incarceration. But long before they ever joined a gang or experienced that incarceration, they have carried deep burdens of trauma. As Boyle says, “Kids who join a gang are not running toward something. They are always running away from something.”

The whole book is filled with compassion, and it works to address an internalized belief we tend to carry, one that distorts our views of others and ourselves – that is, “the sneaking suspicion that some lives are worth less than other lives.”

That is the lie we must confront.

Greg Boyle confronts that lie by telling stories of transformation. He’s a Jesuit priest, and he weaves theological reflection together with stories of his relationships at Homeboy Industries. Throughout the book, he encounters shame with love and compassion. We get to hear the transformative moments when these loved ones truly began to know for themselves that they are worth loving. We might step away from the book coming to know that more deeply for ourselves too.

We need to mirror this kind of love toward one another, especially when a suspicion seems to be growing that some lives are worth less than other lives.

That’s the lie of our age, and it’s simply untrue.

Greg Boyle tells a sweet story about a man and his father, and he opens that story up to speak a conviction about God and human worth. I want to leave it with all of us today for own thinking and our own loving.

As his health was failing, an old man moved in with his adult son, someone that Greg Boyle knows personally. In the evening before bedtime, the son would read aloud to his father. In a beautiful role reversal, the adult son put his father to bed every night.

The son would often invite his father to close his eyes while he read aloud, but over and over again, he would catch his father looking at him. He would say, “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you, you fall asleep.” The father would apologize, but at some point, one eye would eventually pop open.

This went on every single night. When it was time to sleep, the father could not take his eyes off of his own son.

Greg Boyle says that God is like this: “God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval. What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. ‘You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.'”

God just keeps looking at us with love and wonder.

Maybe we need to pop one eye open and view each other with this kind of love too – no longer heaping shame upon shame, accusation upon accusation, or stereotype upon stereotype, but viewing one another love and wonder.

One eye inevitably and playfully open.

Renee Roederer