Small, Enormous Kindnesses

Subway

Last week, I walked into Subway to grab a quick bite before heading to a choir rehearsal. I had experienced quite a day — a load of stress in the morning, followed by some help with that same stress in the afternoon. I was ready to enjoy a sandwich, then sing to my little heart’s content.

I simply expected to go through the motions on this plan, then get back in my car and drive away. But my experience opened up in a wonderful way.

And it was all because of a person working at Subway.

When I stepped inside, I was the only customer. When he started to make my sandwich, he asked a simple question, “So how was your day?” It was nice to be asked, but mainly, it was how he asked. I could tell he asked with intention, like he really wanted to know.

“Well, it started out rough, but it actually got better.” I went on to tell him about a helpful phone conversation I had with someone. He took real interest. Then I had the chance to ask him how his day was going. He shared some things too.

This personal encounter was so refreshing. When I sat down to eat, other folks came in, and again, he asked all the people how their day was going. This pattern of asking this question with interest really seemed to have a wonderful effect. He was cultivating an occasion where simple, authentic kindness was positively impacting people.

It was truly refreshing.

This is everyday communion.

Yesterday, I wrote a piece about the Eucharist, pondering if among other things, the Eucharist is a proclamation of eucharists — an announcement that moments of everyday communion can be cultivated and found all over the place.

I think this moment was a wonderful expression.

Good gifts.

Eucharist.

Every day,
Every moment,
Every meal,
Every relationship.

Renee Roederer

This post is a part of a series this week. Feel free to check out the other pieces too:

Abundant Bread Crumbs
The Time He Held Up the M&Ms
Solidarity Eating
“The Cup of Salvation!”

Abundant Bread Crumbs

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If we pay attention, especially if we allow ourselves to enter relational space and participate in connection, we will discover that communion is taking place all around us.

I am a person who has the sacred opportunity from time to time to lift bread and a cup before of a community while speaking life-giving words: “This is my body. This is the cup of salvation. Do this in remembrance of me.”

This is Eucharist, which literally means, Good Gift.

This kind of Eucharist, this kind of Good Gift, is a Sacred Prelude to a host of eucharists. There are many good gifts of food, nourishment, and connection, and I would say that the same spirit is present in them. After all, every moment of the story of Jesus is about incarnation — the Sacred discovered to be embodied, right in the midst of ordinary moments.

This makes me ponder. . . Among other things, the Eucharist may be an announcement — a proclamation — of eucharists. This is an invitation to experience God in the midst of one another. Where can we find such moments of everyday communion? If we look for them, I imagine we’ll find them all over the place.

Yesterday, in fact, I saw a Eucharist in the midst of the Eucharist.

Four children had gone forward along with the rest of the community to receive the Eucharist, but beyond that first bite, they were excited to discover that they were given huge pieces of the bread to take with them. Not just a little morsel, but an abundance of bread. So they came to the back of the worship space and showed their pieces to each other with joy on their faces. Then, they ate together with smiles, making bread crumbs all over the place.

I suppose in some traditions, this might be seen as risky – children holding something sacred and then making crumbs of it. But I don’t see it that way.  This is the kind of welcome Jesus makes, to children, to all of us. This is the kind of invitation that allows us to find God’s presence joyfully in one another, marveling at the good gifts we’ve been given.

Good gifts.

Eucharist.

Every day,
Every moment,
Every meal,
Every relationship.

Renee Roederer

This post is part of a series this week. Feel free to check out the other pieces too:

Small, Enormous Kindnesses
The Time He Held Up the M&Ms
Solidarity Eating
“The Cup of Salvation!”

Returned to Ourselves

healing-ministry

Some of you know that Father Greg Boyle is a person I really appreciate. Though I haven’t spent much time with him in person  (at some point though, I might!) he has been one of my greatest influences. He’s the founder and spiritual leader of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries provides jobs, training, tattoo removal, therapy, and a variety of classes for people who are leaving gangs and people who have been recently incarcerated. In the midst of these opportunities, Homeboy Industries has created a large, extended family of kinship — many, many meaningful relationships over time.

Earlier this week, I was listening to the rerun of Krista Tippett’s interview with Father Greg on On Being. It was aired again last weekend. During that interview, he uses a beautiful phrase about the mutuality of relationship. He says that in kinship, we serve as enlightened witnesses, helping each other ‘return to ourselves.’

Toward the beginning of the podcast, he uses some language from Cesar Chavez. Once, a reporter said to Chavez, “These farm workers sure do love you. . .” And to that, he replied, “The feeling’s mutual!”

That line came up again when he discussed this beautiful experience of returning to ourselves. To bring it home, he told a story about one of the homies named Louie and a mutual blessing they shared with some humor. I want to share Greg Boyle’s words below:

“You want to be as spacious as you can be, that you can have room for stuff. And love is all there is, and love is all you are. And you want people to recognize the truth of who they are — that they’re exactly what God had in mind when God made them.

Alice Miller, who’s the late, great child psychologist, talked about how we’re all called to be enlightened witnesses — people who, through your kindness, tenderness, and focused, attentive love, return people to themselves. And in the process, you’re returned to yourself.

Like I have a homie named Louie who just turned 18. And he’s kind of a difficult kid. You know, he’s exasperating, and he’s whiny. And he works for me — although work may be too strong a verb. But homies lately have asked me for blessings, which is odd — it’s like in the last three years — and they always ask me on the street or in my office. And they never say, “Father, may I have your blessing?” They say, “Eh, G, give me a bless, yeah?” And they always say it the same way.

So this kid Louie, I’m talking to him, and he’s complaining about something. And finally, at the end of it, he says, “Eh, G, give me a bless, yeah?” I said, sure. So he comes around to my side of the desk, and he knows the drill. And he bows his head. I put his hands on my shoulder. Well, his birthday had been two days before, so it gave me an opportunity to say something to him. And I said,

‘You know, Louie, I’m proud to know you.
And my life is richer ’cause you came into it.
And when you were born, the world became a better place,
And I’m proud to call you my son.
Even though — ‘

And I don’t know why I decided to add this part —

‘– at times, you can really be a huge pain in the ass.’

And he looks up, and he smiles, and he says, ‘The feeling’s mutual!’

And suddenly — kinship so quickly. You’re not sort of this delivery system. But maybe I returned him to himself, but there is no doubt . . . that he’s returned me to myself.”

Friends, I hope you’ve had this kind of experience lately.

Or I hope you can recall this kind of experience — of returning and being returned — in a way that fills you right this instant in the present moment.

Suddenly, kinship so quickly.

Renee Roederer

Weird, Wild Quantum Entanglement

Have you all ever heard of Quantum Entanglement? It’s one of the weirdest discoveries of science — namely, that two particles can become inexplicably connected, to the point that even across great distances, what happens with one always impacts the other.

So why wouldn’t it also be true that we human beings are more connected than we assume?

Renee Roederer

My Aquakening

quaker

I recently told a friend, “I think somewhere within myself I’m becoming a Quaker.”

“You’re having an Aquakening!” he replied. “Lots of my friends are.”

Of course, I laughed. What a silly, wonderful, and apt term: An Aquakening. My friend is not a Quaker, and in actuality, neither am I.  I also don’t have any tangible plans right now to become one, at least officially. It’s just that lots of my hopes for church these days are beginning to look a lot like the Religious Society of Friends.

I realized this months ago when I wrote down a list of things I dream about for church. I recognize that others may have a very different list or feel quite alive in church cultures different than what I might articulate. But here is one thing I dream about most of all —

In its faith convictions and its practices,

I want to participate in the life of a church community that values egalitarianism as a core, identity value.

Of course, egalitarianism —

a recognition of the worth of all, particularly, uplifting marginalized people;
an invitation for full participation and leadership;
and a practice of sharing power collectively —

is never lived perfectly in any community. Hardly. This is something that must be reflected upon, worked through, and course-corrected all the time. But I wonder, what would happen if egalitarianism were held as a core, identity value to the point that a church community would not really be itself apart from this perspective and practice. . .?

What might this look like? Well, here’s the list of wonderings I created a few months ago. I find myself desiring. . .

1) Highly participatory worship, where everybody has an opportunity to speak, with a conviction that it’s best when multiple people add their voices.

2) Egalitarianism as a high shared, community value and norm, rooted in faith and practice, as articulated above and below.

(An aside: In my own tradition, the Presbyterian Church (USA), this seems to be more of a method than a norm, i.e. we’ll practice this in some ways when we can. The PC(USA) actually has some of the best written language for sharing power — the Book of Order, one of our Constitutional documents, talks a great deal about that — but in practice, in a variety of ways, I don’t think we often do this well.)

3) Moving toward much less difference between clergy and laity, both in both role and perception, perhaps even being clergyless,  i.e. I’d like to see more church communities organized in ways where agreed-upon group norms, procedures, and shared practices guide the collective, rather than a person, class of persons, or even a particular role.

This is not to diminish the value of people having strong, theological education. But I wonder, how do we more intentionally hold this education with and for the collective, as opposed to it being held primarily in a class? In actuality, I think this is often the case. And ultimately, I’m getting at this: How might we better empower the collective with theological education, so that more and more people have it, share it, and live from it together?

In my statement above, I also do not mean to diminish the reality that some will have particular gifts for leadership. Of course! This is to be celebrated. But again, how can that leadership be connected more deeply with and for the collective body, so that it compounds the egalitarianism? So that all people have particular ways of leading? What I intend to lift up is the particularity of leadership. What I intend to disrupt is the norm of hierarchy.

4) A conviction that church is always embodied as a community on behalf of a larger community, which is to say that the vision for church always exists on behalf of the neighborhood, town, city, and world to which it belongs. Without that connection, it ceases to be itself.

I dream of a church that is primarily building-less, where the concept of church means more and more, an embodied group of people who live and love alongside neighbors, rather than a place we go or don’t go to (“Do you go to church?” “I go to church.” “I don’t go to church.”) What if that understanding, conception, and framework could completely open up in a different, transformative way? Even if folks meet from time to time inside a building?

And the vision of community on behalf of a larger community always means that social action and justice alongside neighbors will be one primary reason for the church’s existence. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to walk in the way of Jesus. This means kinship with and among the marginalized, healing (both personal and collective), and the transformation of our connections — with God (who is Triune, and also a community) and one another, both in interpersonal relationships and society at large.

These things are on my mind all the time. When I wrote them down months ago, I looked and realized, “Oh, huh. . . The Quakers do all of these things.”

Maybe I need to learn more about that.

Renee Roederer

 

 

Grateful

Hello, friends.

 Just a quick little word to say how grateful I am that you follow and engage with my writing here. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for adding yourselves to these reflections. I’m very grateful for you.

See you here again after the holiday,

Renee