Lifts Us All

Image Description: A photo of Taylor Murray, smiling. She’s wearing a blue shirt and glasses.

I’m grateful to invite Taylor Murray to be guest blogger on Smuggling Grace. I love the phrase that she shares in this piece below, as well as her reflections upon it.

Lifts Us All

I went to my weekly spiritual gathering this Saturday. It was our last one in a series we started seven weeks ago. We have been coming together, as a group of spiritually-curious 20s year olds, and trying to connect with our inner spirits. It’s been really powerful.

This week to celebrate our work and the work left to be done, we each were asked to share our intention of what we want to work on with Spirit in the weeks to come. At the end of each intention Angie, our leader, would say “We honor your intention, it lifts us all.”

I fell head over heels for that phrase. It lifts us all, it lifts us all. Your growth and intention lifts us all.

This mindset is countercultural. Our capitalist society says that another’s success, another’s happiness and nourishment is threatening to our own. It even convinces us that their success is a success stolen from us, their achievement should be ours. We are taught to be angry about other people’s betterment because it means we are failing.

But Angie brought abundance that day, and she could do that with ease because we were interacting not on a physical plane but a spiritual one. There is no limit to the amount of love you can give or receive, and the more someone else has, the more you will get because they have more to give to you. Your abundance of love lifts us all. Your abundance of joy lifts us all. Your wisdom lifts us all.

I carry this phrase in my back pocket now. When I used to see someone succeed, heat would gurgle in my body as I sunk into the depths of shame.

They stole that from you, my mind says. You deserve it more.

Or

You don’t work hard enough. You are undeserving of amazing things.

My mind is expertly able to deprecate myself while inflating my ego, both forcing me down into a dangerous part of myself that I wish was not a part of me.

Today, my friend got a research position with an amazing professor we both adore. Immediately, while my fingers were typing over-the-top congratulations, my heart started to turn to the darkness in me. I could feel it turning. But out of nowhere a light switch flicked on as I remembered: her betterment lifts us all. It lifts me too. I am connected to her, and the more opportunities she has to expose herself to this amazing work, the more I will be connected with it and will learn from it.

It lifts us all.

I offer this to you now, when you feel the shame wash over you. You may have envy like a mold growing inside you, like I have for the past 20 years. If so, let the knowledge that the string that pulls others up is tied to you, and up you go with it.

It lifts us all.

Taylor Murray

Taylor is a student at the University of Michigan, currently taking a semester off from her computer science studies. She is the co-founder and president of Tech for Social Good a student org creating critical conversations about technology and society. She is also a self-described renaissance woman and currently is learning Korean, thinking about communal grieving, and combatting grind culture. You can reach her at murratay@umich.edu.

Gentleness for This

May be an image of 2 people and text that says 'me still processing last march marchnext march next month'
A meme circulating on social media. “Me still processing last March,” “March next month.”

I keep thinking about how feelings of trauma can get reactivated when we reach the dates of difficult anniversaries, and how we’re about to experience this for the pandemic while it’s still happening.

If we notice big spikes of stress in ourselves and others in the next 4-6 weeks, it makes complete sense. ❤️ Gentleness for this.

Renee Roederer

What If We Ask a Different Question?

There are times when we find ourselves mulling over the very same themes in our thinking.

There are times when we feel weighed down by longstanding frustrations that rarely seem to shift.

There are times when it feels like things are stagnant or unmoving.

So. . . What if we ask a different question?

This is something that a friend of mine says often, and I really appreciate it.

What if we do that? What if we ask a new question? Could that open up new possibilities – creative pathways or new angles of relating?

Maybe that seems like a small thing, but it’s actually a large thing. Frameworks affect how we view situations, feel, and express hope.

So what if we try it? Might it open up something different?

What’s possible?

– Renee Roederer

Deep Yes-And

Photo Credit: Carson Smith. Hans Honschar is an artist who leaves encouraging chalk messages for people to discover throughout the neighborhoods of New York City. This says, “fulfill your calling, HHNY.”

“How do we live and work as people who are connected to our whole selves?”

This was the very excellent question someone asked me this week.

Of course, none of us has a full, definitive answer to a question as large and expansive as that one, but it’s the kind of question that can sit with us for a while. Maybe it’s the kind of question that asks good questions of us:

What is wholeness? Who are we called to be, and how do we partner our deep-seated callings with the callings of others? How do we embrace our vulnerabilities? How do we give voice to our vulnerabilities and allow them to provide leadership as strengths? How do we give and receive care in relationship and community? How do we cultivate space for healing and wholeness — for ourselves? alongside others? How do we lead with our unique gifts? How do we open ourselves to a sense of the whole within our life and work, even if we have only a glimmer of understanding that we are connected to a vision and sense of mutuality much larger than ourselves alone?

When this expansive question at the top came up (which has now offered a cascade of questions) the two of us were talking about vocation and calling and what it’s like to bring our fullest, particular selves to our living and our work. This was a meaningful conversation that has stayed with me throughout the week.

Today, as I ponder this conversation and these questions, I’d like to place the writings of two authors side by side.

Richard Rohr talks about vocation and calling as the Deep Yes:

“The doctrine of haecceity is saying that we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the unique and ordinary, not the other way around, which is the great danger of all the ideologies (overarching and universal explanations) that have plagued our world in the last century. Everything in the universe is a holon and a fractal, where the part replicates the whole. Go deep in any one place and we will meet all places where the divine image is present.”

-And-

“In the moments of insecurity and crisis, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep ‘yeses’ that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.”*

MaryAnn McKibben Dana has written a great deal about the concept of Yes-And in improv, applying that vision to our daily living. She has published a book entitled, God, Improv, and the Art of Living. She also has a blog, and she’s written a piece called, The Joy of Yes-And. I recommend reading all of it. She talks about embracing our limitations and making choices about what is most important to us:

“But too often, our culture looks at people who take a step back in terms of what is lost. Maybe Ohashi will not end up at the Olympics as a result of her choice… [See the piece for this story.] But it’s clear from her performance how much has been gained.

“Sure, sometimes Yes-And is a process of sheer addition, and making it work imperfectly and beautifully. But other times – maybe more often – it’s about subtraction. Clarification. Deepening.”

What does it mean to practice a Deep Yes-And?

There are many ways to answer that question, of course, but I think it leads us back to this question:

“How do we live and work as people who are connected to our whole selves?”

We make the main calling the main calling, whatever that may be for us. We choose it deeply, even as it is most readily choosing us.

But we don’t have this all figured out. How could we? It’s all in process, and we never arrive fully. We just keep adding our yes to the Deep Yes that beckons us, little by little, moment by moment.

Deep Yes-And…

Deep Yes-And…

Deep Yes And…

Renee Roederer

*The two paragraphs from Richard Rohr above come from his daily meditations. I recommend subscribing.

Sermon: Toward Solidarity

Water
Sunrise over the water at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor, MI. Photo, Renee Roederer.

Jesus came up out of the water and
was greeted by very the voice of God.

After Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in the waters of the Jordan River, he was immediately immersed in words of favor from God. The story of Jesus’ baptism depicts the heavens opening, and the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove. Then, with great love, the voice from the heavens declares,

“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”

This voice was
declaration, a proclamation, and an affirmation
of  Who Jesus Is.

The divine voice was a recognition of Jesus’ deepest identity and calling.
The moment must have felt tremendous.

But then, the story takes a sudden, dramatic turn.

Luke, the great storyteller of his Gospel says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

There is very little time to revel in the glory of that holy affirmation.
Instead, Jesus enters the wilderness and a time of testing.
Instead, Jesus encounters another voice.
And he has been led to the wilderness by the Spirit,
the very Spirit that descended upon him like a dove.

It is a reminder that the life of faith is full and freeing, but it’s not always easy. In fact, the life of faith often involves a process of claiming truths found in God’s loving voice and allowing them to forge our identity. Sometimes, this takes place even the midst of challenge, crisis, and pain.

Jesus had this kind of experience in the wilderness.

The Epistle to the Hebrews says,
“For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
He knows challenge, crisis, and pain.

Jesus had this kind of experience in the wilderness.

The wilderness. . .
Jesus meets a different voice in that place.
For forty days, he was tested in the wilderness by the devil.
The devil. . .? Who is this one? And what kind of voice?

When we ponder this voice called the devil, we might imagine an embodied person or creature red with a pitchfork and cloven hooves. But this is the devil of art, movies, and cartoons.

The scriptures occasionally portray this devil as a spiritual being, but above all, ‘the devil’ seems to be a destructive voice. At times, this voice is personified, but it’s helpful to remember that ‘the devil’ is not capitalized in this story. In other words, ‘Devil ‘is not the name of a being. ‘Satan’ is not a name either. The Hebrew scriptures refer to ‘the satan’ — the Hebrew is ha-satan — and it means ‘the accuser’ or ‘the adversary.’

The accuser and adversary in the wilderness with Jesus is not the caricatured Satan of art, movies, and cartoons. But that does not diminish the destructiveness of this voice. It is a devastating voice. For Jesus, this voice — ha-satan, the accuser, the adversary — seems to call into question what it means to be God’s Son. This voice seems to call into question what kind of Son Jesus should be.

This voice questions Jesus’ deepest identity and calling.

But Jesus will endure this challenge and is withstand it.
The Spirit led him into the wilderness,
but the story also begins with the fullness of the Spirit:

Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan,
and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. . .
The Spirit is with Jesus, and
The Spirit is within Jesus.
For forty days and nights, he was tempted by the accuser.
For forty days and nights, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit
to claim the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allow them to forge his identity.

This voice called the devil questions Jesus’ identity as he places security and power before him. . .

Security.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Power.
“To you, I will give all the kingdoms of the world
with their glory and all their authority.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Security.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that
you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus replies, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. . .
If you are the Son of God. . .?
Since he is the Son of God,
Jesus relies on the Holy Spirit,
as it is both with him
and within him.
The experience in the wilderness is challenging and painful,
but Jesus claims the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allows them to form his identity.

Jesus withstands this alternative voice, this destructive voice of the accuser. The story finishes with the devil departing: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Trouble is not over for Jesus, but he has a greater understanding of Who He Is and how he is called to serve.

“For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
He knows challenge, crisis, and pain.

Jesus knows challenge, crisis, and pain.
Jesus claims the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allows them to form his identity.
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus allows this experience in the wilderness to form his identity too,
for he knows even more what kind of Son he is called to be.
He is called to walk with us in kinship,
He is called to walk with us toward solidarity.

And that is exactly what he does. Jesus turns away from security, and he turns away from power. Instead, he turns toward us, and most especially, Jesus turns toward human beings who are marginalized, downtrodden, and outcast.

The story continues. Luke, the great storyteller of his Gospel, says, “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today, we see one who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Today, we see one who knows challenge, crisis, and pain.
Today, we see one who knows what kind of Son he will be.
Today, we see one who chooses to walk with us in solidarity.

So where are we today?
Today, are we in challenge, crisis, or pain?
Today, have we forgotten God’s love for the poor, the captives, and the oppressed?
Today, from our doubts, do we add to the voice of the accuser,
“If you are the Son of God. . .”?
Today, do we need to learn once more that Jesus walks in solidarity with us?

If so, may we all hear this good news. . .

For us, Jesus rose from the water and heard,
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
With you I am well pleased.”
With us, Jesus claimed the truths of God’s loving voice,
and allowed them to forge his identity.

For us, Jesus entered the wilderness
and was tempted for forty days.
With us, Jesus turned away from security and power
and walked toward us in solidarity.

For us, Jesus traveled to the synagogues
and spoke words of power.
With us, Jesus dedicated his life
to the marginalized, downtrodden, and oppressed.

Today, through his life, we hear his voice toward us,
“You are God’s child, the Beloved;
With you, God is well pleased.”

Today, will we claim the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allow them to forge our identity?
Today, will we follow the one who goes before us,
and live our lives in solidarity with others?

Renee Roederer

Seeds

Image Description: A person is holding seeds in their hand and planting them in a row in the soil. Public domain image.

Today, I’d like to share a poem I wrote. It was commissioned by Northminister Presbyterian Church in Endwell, New York. It is based on Matthew 8:31-38.

Seeds
He speaks to us in parables:
Very truly, I say to you,
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.


At once, we easily feel
the weight of this,
the fear of this,
the loss,
the decay,
the bereavement.

Yet the very one acquainted
with all of these in his body,
knows his Body —

the Community,
the Family,
the Kin-dom
that we are.

We are the fruits
of his love laid down.
We are the fruits
of his love lived forward.
He speaks the parable,
and we embody its truth,
we who are
present,
living,
listening.

He speaks to us in sacred invitation:
If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.

We can accompany him on this lenten journey
of love laid down,
of love lived forward.

And though we may feel
the weight of this,
the fear of this,
the loss,
the decay,
the bereavement,

Who might we hold within us?
Who might we carry?
Who might we birth?

the Community,
the Family,
the Kin-dom,
ever expansive,
always born anew —
always
present,
living,
listening.

Renee Roederer



The Q Crowd

I think we’ve gotten somewhat used to this grouping in our national political life, but if you think about it, it’s odd that QAnon is pulling together…

-people who are religious, especially white, evangelical Christians,
-people who have left religion purposefully, yet replaced it with this religion-like phenomenon,
-people who are holistic health practitioners,
-people invested in MLMs,
-people who are Neo-Nazis and/or members of white supremacist militias

… and the list goes on.

This week, I attended a public panel discussion from Arizona State University, entitled, “Religion, Violence, and Digital Culture: Understanding QAnon,” and I thought it was very insightful. I’d like to share that below. The QAnon phenomenon has grown for a number of reasons, including the disruption and angst taking place during a pandemic. A sizable portion of our U.S. population believe in these associated conspiracy theories. It’s important to learn more about them.

Ash Wednesday: We Belong

Ashes
Image Description: Ashes on a person’s forehead in the shape of a cross.

Today, many in our world are keeping Ash Wednesday together. This is the day that initiates the holy season of Lent.

It is a day of confession.
It is a day of contemplation.
It is a day of recognition that our lives are mortal.

And this may seem heavy to us.  . . I have a good friend and colleague named Reid Hamilton who is an Episcopalian priest in Ann Arbor. He calls Ash Wednesday, “The service of d minor, the saddest of all keys.” It can certainly feel that way.

Though the themes of Ash Wednesday can feel heavy, they can feel surprisingly freeing and life-giving too. They remind us that we are human. And remarkably, though the themes of Ash Wednesday can feel solemn, they can feel freeing as they invite us to trust.

Here’s why. Here is the good news we honor and remember today: In life and in death, we belong. We belong to God, and we belong to one another.

No matter what,
It is absolutely true.
From our first breath to our last breath,
From this life to the mystery the exists beyond this life,
We belong.

We belong to God and we belong one another.
All the days of our life, and even beyond our life,
No matter what.

Each time Ash Wednesday rolls around, I find myself remembering Ash Wednesdays I’ve experienced in previous years. I think of the many congregations where I have been present. Some are churches where I grew up, and others are congregations where I’ve served as a pastor. Over the course of my life, I have come forward many times to receive ashes upon my forehead. At other times, I have had that sacred privilege of placing ashes on the foreheads of people I love.

It can be challenging to hear the liturgical words we speak to one another on this day.

“From dust you were created, and to dust you will return,”

It is just as challenging to speak those words of mortality toward others.

“From dust you were created, and to dust you will return.”

Most years, I’ve said those words — I think we need to be reminded of our mortality — but then, I’ve also added the good news that exists around, before, and behind this truth. I’ve added these words:

“You are God’s child, God’s own, this day and forever.”

So today, let me say those words to each of you.

“From dust you were created, and to dust you will return.
You are God’s child, God’s own, this day and forever.”

Let these words sink into your very being.

“From dust you were created, and to dust you will return.
You are God’s child, God’s own, this day and forever.”

Today I remember the many times I’ve heard and spoken words like these over the years. And as I ponder those moments, one particular Ash Wednesday comes to mind in a specific way.

In 2007, I was in the middle of my time in seminary. There was much from that period of time that was beautiful. I was reading everything I could get my hands on and growing in my unfolding sense of call. But it was also a very challenging time in my life.

On Ash Wednesday in 2007, someone I loved very deeply received a terminal cancer diagnosis. He was the pastor of the church where I had grown up, and many times, he had lovingly placed ashes on my forehead. But much beyond that, David and his wife Amy were very much like parents to me. They taught me, nurtured me, and provided safe spaces for me.

We all knew that David had gone in for testing, and during the Ash Wednesday service I attended in Austin, I found myself thinking about him and Amy. I prayed for them and all those who loved them. When the service was over, I stepped into the courtyard of that church, and I received his news over the phone.

David said that the cancer would be ‘terminal’ — that word felt so heavy — but doctors thought treatment would work for about a year and a half.

That news was devastating, and it initiated a long period of anticipatory grief in my life. But as I consider the memory of that night, alongside the painful news, I remember how David chose to break that news to me. I remember how much he emphasized my sense of belonging. I will never forget it.

He was the one who had received painful news from his physician that very day, and yet, he was sharing it from such a posture of care for me. He said to me,

“You know, there are children who just come into your lives, sometimes unexpectedly. You are the child we never bore, and yet you are ours.”

It wasn’t the first time David had said something like that to me, but it stands out in my mind as a particularly strong memory that our lives belonged to one another.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, we remember that we belong to God and to one another — no matter what may come.

There is nothing that can separate us from that love of God.
Even our losses.
Even our health crises.
Even our mortality.

I wonder. . . do you ever fear that something is separating you from God or from others? Whatever it is, you ever fear that it will trump your belonging?

We all fear things like that from time to time, but today, we rest in the truth that nothing — absolutely nothing — can separate us from the love of God. Nothing! And as we are rooted in that love toward God, we are absolutely connected to each other. Always.

Even when we argue, or even when we experience estrangement in relationships, they are never the last word. Even when we lose loved ones to death, that is not the last word. If any brokenness exists to death, it is never the last word, because in life and in death, we belong to God.

God holds our life,
and God is restoring all things,
both now and in the life to come.

So hear these beautiful words from the Apostle Paul as they are recorded in Romans:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Hear these holy words again as they mark your life:

“From dust you were created, and to dust you will return.
You are God’s child, God’s own, this day and forever.”

Renee Roederer

“Receive From Everything, Share From Everything”

HV Communities Receive Water Infrastructure Grants | WAMC
Image Description: A drop of water falls into a body of water, making ripples. Public domain image.

This is my personal phrase lately:
“Receive from everything, share from everything.”

It’s also how I’m trying to live in these days.

There are times of upheaval, both personal and collective, when we rightfully ask ourselves, “What should I do? How should I act? How are my neighbors and my community calling to me? What do I need? What do my loved ones need? What do my neighbors need?”

We might ask these questions out of urgency. We might ask these questions out of anxiety. We might find ourselves zooming out of the moment, getting perspective, yes, but also distance, asking these questions hypothetically within the big picture rather than dealing with the reality of the day-to-day picture.

Within it all, my personal phrase is,
“Receive from everything, share from everything.”

The truth of the matter is… change happens in the day to day, mundane aspects of life, and above all, change happens through a web of relationships. There are times, absolutely, when our daily, mundane lives need to be disrupted with cries for large-scale change. We are experiencing this now.

We activate change, however, in the daily mundane aspects of life and above all, through our relationships. We need to build change, not hypothetically in some conceptual big picture, but in the communities we are already in, allowing those very communities to expand, transform, and transform us.

Receive from everything, right where we are —
receive care, receive messages, receive love, receive challenge, receive questions, receive resources, receive conflict, receive imagination, receive lament, receive hope, receive connection, receive relationship.

Share from everything, right where we are–
participate in being a catalyzer,
share care, share messages, share love, share challenge, share questions, share resources, share conflict, share imagination, share lament, share hope, share connection, share relationship.

We can participate in building change when we act, when we share, in our daily, mundane lives through the web of our relationships.

Let life catalyze us.
Participate in catalyzing change.

“Receive from everything, share from everything.”

Renee Roederer