Handel’s Liberation “Hallelujah!”


This is a repost that I like to share at this time of year.

Handel’s Liberation “Halleluiah!”


It’s a word from a chorus many know well, especially at this time of year. I’m grateful that I’ll have the privilege to sing Hallelujah a multitude of times this week. Ann Arbor’s UMS Choral Union has the longest annual tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah in the entire world. We’ve done this every year consistently since 1879. We’ll do so again this weekend.

While I haven’t sung this 139 times in a row, I’ve sung the Hallelujah Chorus innumerable times. Yet I’ve learned something new in the opportunity to sing The Messiah in its entirety. Based on where it’s placed in the greater work, the Hallelujah Chorus isn’t a chorus joy-filled triumphalism. It’s about liberation.

It’s about human liberation from oppression — deliverance from oppression caused by other humans. This becomes clear when we hear what precedes the famous chorus:

The bass soloist sings,

Why do the nation so furiously rage together?
And why do the people imagine a vain thing?

Then the chorus sings,

Let us break their bonds asunder,
and cast away their yokes from us.

Then the tenor soloist sings,

He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn,
The Lord shall have them in derision.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron,
Thou shalt dash them like a potter’s vessel.

That’s when the chorus responds with “Hallelujah!”

It might seem like an odd time to jump in and rejoice. But if we view this less as the powerful (including God) doing destruction for the sake of destruction, and instead, view this as liberation for the oppressed (God standing with them in power) the Hallelujah Chorus has a completely different purpose and tone.


For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. . .

Not standing above and dominating as an oppressor,
but standing among the people as a powerful Liberator —
a Liberator who invites the participation of the people in their own liberation.
(“Let us break their bonds asunder”)

King of Kings and Lord of Lords. . .

Not a tyrant kind of King or Lord,
but King and Lord that is revealed as fully human —
a vulnerable child,
a poor carpenter,
a revolutionary,
a healer.

Throughout our performances, I’m going to think about all of these things when I sing that glorious Hallelujah over and over. And I’m going to pray for liberation in our world and commit to the reality that bonds will be broken.

And the audience will add their voices too.

Renee Roederer

Late in Life Siblings

I grew up as an only child and always wanted a sibling. I never received one in its most traditional form, but good things also come to those who wait.

Today, I spotlight three late in life siblings who gift me so much just by being who they are. All three of these relationships carry depth and meaning; we can talk about things that matter for a long time. But I especially want to lift this up today: These late in life siblings bring me the joy of utter silliness.

So much silliness! I laugh constantly with all three of these people. This, I think, is what it must feel like to have siblings as playmates, but as adults.

— Cody is my first cousin and functionally, very much my brother. It’s wonderful to have so much shared history together. We also have many shared interests. And we have our own style of humor that seems to build upon itself endlessly with a plethora of ongoing, imaginative inside jokes. We crack each other up in a way that is particular to each other. Our spouses, who love us deeply, don’t always think we’re as funny we tend to find each other. (It’s okay. We’re amused on our own. And we love our spouses deeply too, who are also quite funny in their own ways).

— Lindsey is my sister-in-law, and she absolutely hilarious to be around. I think Lindsey laughs harder and more often than anyone I know. When you’re around her, you feel like you’re really funny. I especially love spending time with her and Ian together. Earlier this year, she came to visit, and one night, we laughed harder than I’ve laughed all year. Maybe in multiple years. I will never forget how wonderful that felt.

— Ben is my bop friend. We all need that friend we can bop around with — you know, the one we can simply call and say, “What are you doing right now? Do you want to….?” Once when Ben and I were at same dinner, multiple people looked at us at the end of the night, and said, “Oh, this whole time, I thought the two of you were related!” So now, two only children have declared themselves to be siblings by choice. We also have a growing anthology of inside jokes, often built upon stories we’ve told each other.

These three are such a joy. I’ve always wanted this.

Renee Roederer



After pausing the music, then giving the sopranos a direction, our choir director said, “I know you can do it,” with a big smile.

That’s when I saw something really sweet:

I watched the body language of the big group of sopranos who smiled back immediately with a sense that they were truly internalizing what he just said. I could see that happen. Just one comment. But a comment of confidence from a person who is trusted, funny, caring, genuine, and inviting us to create.

That opened up a larger thought for me about encouragement, connection, and mirroring.

No one is able to define us — no person, no group — nor should it ever be that way. Nobody should have that power. Nobody should be able to reduce us or tell us who we are.

— And at the same time —

I don’t think any of us comes to know ourselves, really and truly on the deeper levels, without the encouragement, connection, and mirroring of others.

We need to see ourselves seen. That is how we know we are loved. That is how we come to know and trust some of our best attributes, gifts, and particularities. That is how we know we belong and that we are believed in, even in the moments when we make mistakes or fail.

We need to give this gift to each other.

And I also wonder, even larger than the interpersonal, is it possible to do this with whole groups of people? Providing encouragement, connection, and mirroring in directions that convey…

hope is not a pipe dream…?

change is possible…?

we have the attributes, gifts, and particularities to build a better, safer, more loving world…?

Renee Roederer


world map

When I was six years old, I sat in a very small building with a handful of other kids, most of them much older than me, and together with a Vacation Bible School teacher, we looked at a world map.

I can’t recall what we were discussing on that day. But I do know that the very small, Southern Baptist congregation of my early childhood thought a lot about missionaries and prayed regularly for them. I also recall that there were photos of Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary who had lived in China for 40 years, in the church itself. So it’s quite possible that we were talking about missionary work (… which was often religiously-sanctioned colonialism).

At some point, while looking at this world map, I said to the teacher and the other kids, “When I grow up, I want to live in Switzerland!” I’m not sure how I had come to this conclusion or what I might have known about Switzerland at age six. But I suspect I had seen some photos or scenery on tv because I began to talk about how beautiful it is.

But I didn’t get very far because the teacher cut me off. He was also my neighbor across the street and the husband of the woman who sometimes babysat me. He felt he needed to address me and all the other kids with utmost seriousness. He even seemed a bit offended.

“Don’t ever say that,” he said. “We live in the United States, and it is the best country on earth. We are so lucky to live here,” he added, which seemed to shame me for my ungratefulness. “The United States is the best country on earth.” I think he probably said that statement more than once. Or at least, he said it strongly.

In that moment, I felt badly for not upholding the greatness of my nation. But mostly, I felt sad because I really wanted to be able to live in Switzerland. And I wanted to be able to tell people I wanted to live in Switzerland. But that was clearly the wrong thing to do. I learned quite early that the United States always had primacy.

And then, already ever the people pleaser at age six, I immediately found a way to redirect any criticism. I told the classroom some other news too: Earlier in the day at VBS, “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”

“I want to be baptized,” I said.

That changed the mood.

But also, I meant it. I had been raised Christian since birth, yet in this tradition, you typically have a moment when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior for yourself. That’s the framing, and that’s the language for it. The teacher asked me a few questions, probably trying to make sure this was a genuine moment, and then, he concluded that it was. A few weeks later, I was baptized at age 6, a very young age for a Southern Baptist.

Now, I return to this scene again…

I recall this moment looking at the world map… this moment when national supremacy and faith formation were built into the same conversation … I remember hearing that the United States is the best nation on earth and internalizing that this should never be questioned… or that it might be wrong even to make space to admire the beauty of another nation.

Now, I return to this scene again…

I thought about all of this last night when I read the horrific accounts of the U.S. Customs and Border Control sending tear gas into Mexico, causing non-violent asylum seekers to run in order to protect themselves and their vulnerable children. I’ve also heard that one of those young children died.

I thought about how I grew up feeling a distanced sense of pity for people of other nations who knew war and hunger but didn’t know Jesus (even though there were fellow Christians in those nations). My distanced sense of pity was also an internalized dismissal which seemed to say, “Things are bad there, but that’s just how it is.” I accepted violence. I accepted poverty. I numbed any of the obvious feelings that would question those things. “That’s just how it is for those people.”

Somehow, I didn’t grow up feeling much of a shared humanity with people elsewhere. They just seemed really far away.

I wonder if this internalized sense of distant-pity-mixed-with-dismissal was alive and well in others last night when people responded to the news with comments like,

“That’s too bad, but they knew what they were risking when they decided to come here,” as if it ever crossed our neighbors’ minds that they might be attacked with chemical weapons at a border where there’s a legal process of entry to seek asylum.

Or, “they should have entered legally!” as if asylum is not a legal process, or as if legality is a ever benchmark determining whether people live or die.

Or, “but they were cutting through the fence,” as if chemical weapons are a proportional response, a justified response, or an inevitable response.

Chemical weapons are never a proportional, justified, or inevitable response. Not to fellow human beings. Not to asylum seekers. Not to migrant toddlers.

This primacy — this sense that the United States is the best and only nation that gets to count, or matter, or deserve empathy; this internalized belief, sometimes conscious, sometimes unquestioned and unconscious, that white people are superior to others and more worthy of resources; this warped theology built upon a belief that God loves Americans more than people of other nations — it kills.

This primacy kills.

Renee Roederer

If Love Had Other Names


In the English language, we have one primary word for love. Just… Love. There are certainly synonyms and words that expand upon it, but we typically use one word while other languages are a bit more expansive.

I’ve decided that it would be wonderful if these kinds of experiences and feelings of love had names:

— There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering that you are known in your specificity and loved in your limitations, and that without saying anything, people anticipate and accommodate what you need, including barriers that might be challenging for you.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

— There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering that people think about things and frame things in particular ways because they’ve internalized stories you have told, and when they reveal this to you, there’s a beautiful surprise of recognizing that they have internalized pieces of you, just as you have internalized pieces of them.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

— There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering you have commonality with a person, that simply being in their presence returns you to a part of yourself, a piece you didn’t even know was missing.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

–There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering that people now see you — really see you in some of your more challenging moments — not in an exposed way but in an expansive and affirming way, demonstrating a recognition that you have suffered and prevailed, and showing you a surprising amount of compassion, awe, and respect.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

Renee Roederer


The Occasion to Listen Only


Monday night, I stepped into Palmer Commons for our weekly choir rehearsal. But I sat in the back. I wasn’t going to sing that night, but rather, just listen.

Ian and I sing with the University Musical Society Choral Union. Among other large works we perform, often with orchestra, our choir has the longest, annual tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah. That’s what we’re working on right now. This choir has performed it every single year since 1879.

I walked in with a headache that had been present throughout the day. That headache had a way of making visual surroundings a bit overwhelming, so I decided I was going to have an auditory rehearsal only. I closed my eyes nearly the entire time and listened.

And it was a wonderful experience.

I know this piece well, but still, I heard parts from other sections that I had not really noticed before. And though I try to listen while singing also, it was helpful to hear the sound as a whole without my own voice.

This made wonder, in what other contexts might I make the decision to listen only? If I do, what might I hear differently? What have I not noticed before?

Renee Roederer