Support for Smuggling Grace

thanks

Hello, Dear Friends,

I want to take a moment to thank you personally for following my writing on Smuggling Grace. Each week, I enjoy connecting with you here. I greatly appreciate the ways you add yourselves and initiate conversations within these pieces. Thank you so much.

Twice per year, I like to invite people to give a gift to support this work. Donations large and small allow me to keep writing free of charge, and that support also contributes toward the larger vision of what I am doing in Southeast Michigan as well.

If these pieces have been meaningful to you, and you are able to give, would you like to contribute? No gift is too small, and every bit is appreciated!

Click here to support Smuggling Grace.

Your presence is also a gift. Many thanks to you all!
Renee Roederer

Traveling Kindness

plane

Over the last few days, I’ve experienced some wonderful moments of kindness and human connection from complete strangers. This happened while traveling to the Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. In all of these little moments, I’ve found myself pondering how much can be shifted or deepened in a simple moment of kindness or connection. Three vignettes. . .

1) On Friday, I walked up to the Enterprise Rent-a-Car counter to complete a reservation and pick up a car. The person behind the counter was really wonderful, so beyond going through forms and handing over a credit card, we struck up a personal conversation too. We talked about where I live (and of course, how cold it still is). When I shared that this was my first time in Asheville, she told me she moved here just six months ago and absolutely loves the area. “Oh, where did you move from?”

She told me about where she used to live, which happens to be the place where another person in my life is likely to move soon. I began to talk up this person and this opportunity (both of which are so easy to do!) and she became very excited about all of this. She handed me her card, “Well, I want you to tell this young person that I’m really proud of them!”

Lovely.

I loved passing that along. “I just want you to know that [Name] at the Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Asheville is very proud of you.”

2) I was supposed to fly home yesterday, but in the end, that just wasn’t going to be in the cards.

When I woke up, I had a text that my first flight was going to be delayed. I wasn’t going to be able to make my connection in Atlanta, so I thought I should probably call Delta. It turns out that lots of people were being rerouted, delayed, or stranded where they were because of severe weather in the Northeast. When I called, I learned that the hold time was two hours long! There was an option for Delta to call me back, so I chose that.

About two hours later, I received that call, and I began to talk with an agent. I could make that first flight to Atlanta, but all the flights out of there to Detroit were completely full. We began to think about other connections, but those were looking iffy too. I said, “If all things are equal, and it’s likely that I’m going to have to stay overnight somewhere, I think I’d still like to fly to Atlanta because I have people I could stay with there. Then I can fly out the next day.” (Bonus visit! Which, by the way, has been wonderful!) So that’s what we ended up doing.

Then as we were finishing, she said to me,

“I just want you to know that you’ve been my favorite customer so far today. . .” It was really kind. Her voice trailed off a bit though so it was clear there was more to that story. “Oh, I bet people have been really irate today, haven’t they?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

All morning, she had been dealing with irritable people one after one. I really hadn’t done anything especially kind in comparison. I was just pretty chill about the whole thing.

She said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I answered gently, “Take care of yourself today. It sounds like it’s going to be a long day.”

It was lovely to connect personally over the phone in this way.

3) When I arrived at the Asheville airport, I was there pretty early, so I ate some food and spent some time at the front before going through security. When I did check in and go through security, I learned that I still had the keys to my rental car in my pocket! I had turned in the car and hour and a half before, but I had accidentally held onto the keys.

I finished security and called Enterprise. I said I would come to the counter, hand the keys over, and go through security again. It all worked out.

I headed toward the security line the second time. To give you a sense of how small the Asheville airport is, there was literally no one in line for my second journey. Just me. So I walked up to the first TSA agent, and in a sing-songy way, I said, “I’m baaaaaaack!” I handed her my boarding pass and license once more, and that’s when things shifted in the moment.

“You were born the same day as my son,” she said, seeing this license in a new way the second time. She said my birth date aloud — month, day, and year. Then with such tenderness in her voice, she said, “You’re 36 now.”

“Mmh hmm,” I answered, smiling.

“You could be my daughter,” she said declaratively with some awe in her voice. She said all of this with appreciation, authentically grateful for my presence in front of her.

I kept smiling. This was a really sweet connection I didn’t expect.

She added, “He’s coming over here soon!” She is really looking forward to this, and it’s lovely.

As I stepped away, I said, “Well, please tell your son that he has a twin in the world.”

This little interaction just filled me. All of them did. Three moments with complete strangers. I think we want to live in a world where these kinds of experiences can happen more often. And, frankly, they can. They do. Whether giving or receiving them, or both, they can be cultivated. And they really shift things.

Renee Roederer

 

Never Underestimate Belonging

Yesterday, I spent time with some of my most beloved people. Then, while driving home, I found myself reflecting on how I felt afterward, including how I felt physically.

We often say things like, “Oh, that just fed my spirit,” or “That really lifted my spirits.” All of that is true, but these kind of experiences are ultimately embodied. We feel physically enriched when we’ve been in the presence of people we love.

Never underestimate belonging.

Then, during the drive home, I listened to a podcast episode of Hidden Brain, entitled, The Lonely American Man. This is a very important episode. It delves into research and a number personal stories that reveal the cultural socialization of boys and men to shut down emotions and cease language of intimacy in their own connections with one another. Ultimately, this leads to painful forms of isolation, impacting physical and mental health.

The opposite is true as well. The episode also gives examples of what is possible when we cultivate spaces for boys and men to be vulnerable, emotional, and connectional with others.

Never underestimate belonging.

This then reminded me of an important TED Talk by Susan Pinker. It’s entitled, The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life. Susan Pinker discusses research revealing how small interactions with acquaintances and unknown neighbors can have a large impact on health and wellness.

Never underestimate belonging.

We are living in an era of social upheaval. Anxieties and tensions are higher, and in the midst of these, people are working for collective change and greater safety. That work often requires disruption of systems and confrontation of forces that are doing harm. This is all vital.

But also, never forget that it is a radical, transformative act to cultivate spaces where people can belong –

where people can feel at home –

in their bodies, in their relationships, in their communities, in their callings, and in their purpose, toward collective purpose.

Never ever underestimate belonging.

Renee Roederer

Invited

rocks

Can one moment of peace impact the larger scope of a day?

This morning, I woke up in a place where birds are singing loudly, and water is running quickly over rocks in a creek. Both sounds are quite inviting.

Can one moment of peace impact the larger scope of a day?

I’m going to take a walk and find out.

 

 

 

“For You”

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). 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

God Bears Wounds

Believe

This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is based on John 20:19-31. You are invited to first read the scripture text here.

This morning, when the scene of our scripture passage opens, we might be surprised to remember that it is Easter day itself. It is the very day of the resurrection, but the disciples of Jesus are hiding behind closed doors and living in fear. Mary Magdalene, one of their own, has shared incredible news with them. She has already told them that she has seen Jesus alive, but they have yet not seen Jesus themselves. Perhaps some of them might risk wondering if it really could be true. . . Others, as we know, dismissed her story entirely. They believed it to be an idle tale.

So there they are hiding behind locked doors, scared for their lives, and the resurrected Jesus chooses to meet them right there. He shows up on the other side of that locked door right in their midst. And what does he say? He speaks words of comfort: “Peace be with you,” he says. Then the story tells us that after he greeted them with these comforting words, he “showed them his hands and his side.”

That’s an interesting thing to do, isn’t it?
He showed them his wounds from the crucifixion.

The disciples rejoiced in his presence. They had been locked away from life, and yet, life met them right where they were. Jesus, risen to new life, stood among them, and he commissioned them to service. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit. This moment changed everything, and all of them were called to new life. All of them were astounded, and all of them were sent forward from his presence.

Well, all of them except Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t there in that moment when Jesus appeared to his disciples behind the locked doors. We don’t know what he was doing. Perhaps he was behind locked doors somewhere else, or perhaps he was living outside with greater courage.

But this is what we know: He missed it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear all of this amazing news secondhand without encountering Jesus himself. Maybe Thomas had grief. Maybe he had isolation after missing out. Maybe he had doubt about it all.
It seems to be that way. Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” So Thomas continued to stay connected to these disciples, believing something different than they did and perhaps feeling something different than they did.

Whatever he believed, and whatever he felt, Jesus met Thomas right in that place too. One week later, all the disciples were gathered together, and this time, Thomas was there. Interestingly, the door was shut yet again, but Jesus appears in that house with them. He stood among them, and once more, he said, “Peace be with you.”

Then Jesus looked straight at Thomas. Jesus met him in his grief. He met him in his isolation. He met him in his doubt. Jesus said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Do not doubt but believe.
Believe, Thomas. . . that is, trust, Thomas. . .

Jesus is standing before Thomas, meeting him right where he was struggling.
 Jesus is standing before Thomas, as one who has known suffering and pain,
one who has known grief and isolation in his body,
and that very one – the one who suffered and died – is risen to new life.

Both of these realities are overwhelmingly powerful. Jesus is risen from suffering and death. And God, found in the human embodiment of Jesus, is a God who still bears wounds. This God is one who knows what it means to suffer and chooses to bear those marks of woundedness forever. This is the God who meets Thomas, and this is the God who appears to us today.

Thomas is overwhelmed. Both of these realities – the suffering and the resurrection – are absolutely powerful. Thomas is overcome, and he exclaims with joy and wonder, “My Lord and my God!” He has moved from doubt to the highest profession of faith. Thomas sees the living God with wounds. He sees life standing before him, meeting him in his own place of woundedness. This changes everything.

Jesus didn’t leave Thomas out of the resurrection experience, and so I imagine that Jesus didn’t leave Thomas out of the commission either. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In our scripture text, we don’t hear Jesus saying those words again, but I’m sure the calling remains constant. Thomas was included in that also.

And as we are gathered here this morning, we may very much be like Thomas. Perhaps we carry own grief, isolation, or doubt, but we are bold to tell one another that there is a God who is living and breathing. That there is is one among us who is truly human and truly God, who is standing before us today, knowing what it is to suffer and even experience death. That is the one who loves us to the core of our being, and that is the one who is sending us out today.

Perhaps we hear those words for ourselves this morning. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And here’s where it becomes challenging and life-giving at once:

If we are sent today from this place as the Father has sent Jesus, and
If we are sent today from this place with the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we are being sent forward toward the world’s woundedness.

We are called to stand in the presence of great suffering and pain. We are called to believe the stories behind it — never doubting, but believing. These stories of human pain are real.

And we are called to speak the new life of resurrection which God breathes into the world and desires for every human being. That is how high this calling is. It is challenging and life-giving at once.

The God we worship chooses to bear wounds, and this God cares for those who carry their own wounds. But so often, people doubt not only God but the stories of the wounds themselves.

I have a friend named Sarah Watkins who wrote something succinct on Facebook, but I thought it spoke volumes in its power. She said, “If you want to be a good ally to someone, believe them. Do you know how often people who are marginalized and abused are doubted about their own experiences?”

She goes on to say,

“I believe you were assaulted.
I believe you were blocked from voting.
I believe you are in constant pain.
I believe the cop pulled you over because of your skin color.
I believe your boss/supervisor/colleague harassed you.
I believe you.”

We can believe. And when we do this among our neighbors, I think we are all called to new, resurrected life.

I’ll close with another story. When I think of people I have felt most privileged to meet, Dr. Allan Aubrey Boesak easily comes to mind. Dr. Boesak is a prolific writer and theologian. Most importantly, he is a genuine fellow human being who stands alongside any who have been marginalized and oppressed.

I have seen this on display has he has told stories about his experience living under Apartheid in South Africa. Allan Boesak was a tireless advocate for justice in that context, working to change laws and restore dignity to so many who faced discrimination and were even killed because of the color of their skin.

I have heard Allan Boesak speak a couple of times, and once, I had the great privilege of leading worship with him. Then I heard him speak at the Next Church conference a couple years ago in Atlanta. He ended a keynote lecture there in a powerful way. He said that at the end of our lives, and at the end of time when God has reconciled all things, perhaps God will say to us, ‘Show me your wounds.’

He said,

In that moment – even as people of resurrection – if we have none to show, perhaps God will ask us, ‘Wait. Was there nothing worth fighting for?’

And in that moment, he said, even if we stand there with no obvious signs of solidarity, this very God will show us his hands and his wounded side, and we will know that we were worth fighting for.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

As we leave this place, we have work to do.
We have stories to believe.
We have truth to tell.
We have human lives worth standing beside.
We have resurrection to live.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Renee Roederer