Family Is Expansive

 

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[Image Description: I took this photo in Austin, Texas at Lady Bird Lake. A support pillar of a bridge reads, ‘Live a Great Story’ in black print. This print is inside a white circle, and is surrounded by colors of blue, yellow, green, and red. The pillar itself is surrounded by water, and two people are paddle boarding in the distance. Also in the distance are green, leafy trees on both sides of the water and a light blue sky with darker clouds.]

–We sat around the kitchen table, adding chairs and making space for more each time people walked through the door. We placed ourselves in a circle around two gorgeous, homemade birthday cakes, and we were there to celebrate his special day.

He made introductions of all of us to one another.

“This is ________” There was a pause. “How do we describe who we are?” he said, both of them smiling at each other, and laughing in the connection. “He’s my chosen, adult son,” he ended up saying. Then he said the same about one other person in the circle.

“This is Ian,” he said when he arrived around the circle to my husband. “I’m just meeting him for the first time, but he’s married to Renee, and she’s family, so he’s family.”

Basically, my dear friend introduced every single one of us to each other as family. And for those two hours, laughing hard, and having a serious sugar rush (Seriously, that cake was phenomenal) we were truly a family gathered around the table. And it felt like it too.


–I have a chosen parent. When I was much younger, he chose me in this way. Though I had technically reached legal adulthood (not much older), in many very real ways, he participated in raising me. He continues to be one of the most formative people in my life. I’ve discovered a lot of who I am and who I want to be in relationship with him.

When I was with him a few weeks ago, we spent some time at a sports tournament. He was standing around and talking to another person there. I walked up while they were both in conversation, so I introduced myself. I said my name and mentioned that I was visiting this weekend. That’s when the conversation partner asked,

“Are you related?”

No one has ever asked us that before.

The man was looking at me when he asked the question, and for a brief second or so, I tried to figure out how to answer. I didn’t want to just say a simple, firm “No,” but I also didn’t want to be confusing in some way.

But that’s when he jumped in and said,

“Yes. By choice. But yes! Chosen family.”

And it was lovely.


–I invited her to church with me.

This was the church I had loved but had lost, at least, for a time. I had received a recent invitation to return and participate as much as I would like, and that meant the world to me.

So I went to worship, and I brought her along with me. We sat in the pew, praying, singing, listening to the sermon, and a few times, connecting with one another through church giggles. She’s very funny. At one point, we locked arms, standing close together while singing.

Later, after the service, I went upstairs to find someone, knowing she would delight in seeing my return. And when I did, I introduced the guest I brought with me:

“This is my kindred, _______,” I said, saying her name after the word ‘kindred.’ In that moment, I didn’t simply introduce her as my friend. She is that certainly, of course. But she’s also so much more than that. She’s a member of my family.

Kindred is not an often used word. So… maybe that was an odd choice of words for an introduction… But it’s what came out. And it’s definitely accurate too. This person and I have some shared, overly specific, parallel life experiences. It’s uncanny, frankly, and on a regular basis, I marvel that we actually found each other. Kindred spirits, indeed.


–He’s an older friend, a mentor, and colleague, and he’s soon to be my work partner.

As soon as we met each other, I marveled at all we had in common. There’s plenty of life experience unique to each of us, and areas of identity and life history that are not in common (as an older, African-American man, he has taught me a lot) but we do have a similar orientation to how we’ve built community and a sense of family.

“You scoop people,” one of my youngers said this semester. “How do you do that? You choose people and then keep them for life.”

It is true that I do this, and that I aim to do this. And my older friend, mentor, colleague, and soon to be work partner does the same. Only he has done it much longer. He keeps in touch very intentionally with five hundred former students. This is amazing to me.

Once, he said this about his oldest set of former students, who are ten years younger than him:

“I’m a paternal figure for them. But we’re also friends.”

And I sat there and nodded in recognition, because I knew exactly what that was.


–A couple weeks ago, three of the most beloved people in my life each initiated conversations with me about the exact same thing, asking why I had chosen not to have children but instead build a large family by choice.

And all three of those conversations were such a delight to share.

In large part, this pathway has emerged directly from what I have received. I have received family by choice. I myself was received, chosen. (In just a mere sampling, I have written about that here, here, and here). Why not continue to expand this gift?

This was exactly what I wanted, and on a regular basis, I marvel at all the choosing and being chosen, which continues to weave through my life in a rhythm of giving and receiving in every direction. I will keep choosing that over and over again.

Renee Roederer

 

Preaching Collectively

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[Image Description: Eight figures of people, cut from paper, are holding hands in a circle, and a light is emerging from inside the circle. They are positioned toward the right side of the image which also has an orange background.]

I preach frequently in a variety of congregations on Sunday mornings, and I believe this wholeheartedly:

My words are part of the sermon, but the sermon is not my words. The sermon is not equated with what I say or what I have committed to paper. The sermon is a moment — a revelatory moment we all share together as we gather around a sacred text.

And recently — often, during a charge and benediction — I have found myself sharing this with people. The thoughts that emerged in our minds… the things we decided to do… the people we decided to contact… the action we decided to take… the prayer that arose… the desire that revealed itself… the calling that became a bit more clear… These are all the sermon collectively. When we lean into these, and when we act on them, we are all preaching the sermon. And we ourselves are preachers of the sermon.

I didn’t say this on this last particular Sunday. But I also didn’t have to say it. We all felt it.

After the sermon, we had a time to share joys and concerns collectively before a member of the congregation led everyone in prayer. People spoke so deeply from the heart. I’ll keep all of those details confidential, of course. But one person shared a number of serious needs in the lives of those close to her. Then she began to speak lovingly and passionately about the need to treat people struggling with mental illnesses with more compassion and tangible care. And it moved me so deeply.

She was preaching the sermon.

After the service, about ten people stayed with her, surrounding her and praying for her and the people she mentioned. It was a circle of compassion — so beautiful.

“This is church being the church,” I thought.

They were preaching the sermon.

They were certainly preaching to me because I won’t soon forget that moment. I’ll continue to remember it, take it in, and act on it.

Renee Roederer

 

I’m Back!

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[Image description: A photo of tree branches with small, light pink flowers. The photo is taken from under the branches, revealing a blue sky with light clouds above. This photo comes from Montreat Camp and Conference Center. I was there at the beginning of April to meet with my cohort from the Young Adult Initiators program.]

Hello, Friends! I’m back to my blog this week and glad for it.

I took a few weeks off from writing to focus myself in a few other directions. First, I’ve been traveling a lot since the end of February. It was a whirlwind, in fact! And it was also very lovely. Some of the trips were invitational for cohorts and speaking gigs (I like this a lot and would do more of it!) and some trips involved time with chosen family in various parts of the country. It was all a gift.

And… some other things came along in April too. I interviewed for an exciting part-time job and received the offer. So that’s a bit of a teaser, I realize, but stay tuned! We’ll have a social media announcement soon, and then I’ll share more here too.

How has this seasonal entry into the spring months been for you? I’d love to hear that. Feel free to leave a comment or send me a note at revannarbor@gmail.com.

Have a great start to your week! I’ll be writing here again throughout this week.

Renee Roederer

Inch Wide, Mile Deep

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[Image description: A book is on top of a brown, curved table at an angle. It’s title is Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. The lettering of the word ‘Emergent’ is blue, and the lettering of ‘Strategy is green. There is a salmon-colored box below these letters which reads ‘Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds’ with the name of adrienne maree brown below. In the background of the book cover, birds are flocking.]

I’ve been reading Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne marie brown. I (and many others!) find this book to be a remarkably refreshing, empowering paradigm shift in how we understand our relationships, our connection to the earth, our activism, our organizing, and our processes for affecting change.

There is so much I could share, as this has opened up reflections for me in many directions. But today, I want to share a piece of the book that has been sitting personally with me all week.

adrienne marie brown says,

“We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.” (page 20)*

Inch wide, mile deep… I absolutely love that.

She is encouraging us to move away from a paradigm we might recognize very well (do you?) — that is, plunging into task-oriented work in a huge array of areas based on the urgency of the many needs around us (those needs are very real, and when we experience burnout, we might find ourselves driven more by ‘shoulds’ than feelings of relational care). In the midst of this, she encourages to move toward a paradigm that is based on relationships — going deep with them, going deep with the care of them — because that is how transformation really happens.

It’s also much more sustainable. Whether its in our employment, our vocation, our neighborhood vision, or in larger scale movement work, mile wide, inch deep rhythms… often lead to high burnout and low impact.

But inch wide, mile deep… That’s refreshing, transformative work.

And all week, I’ve found myself desiring this. To plant myself/ourselves particularly — not widely, but deeply — to be all-in on a few things, very specific inches,

trusting that those roots go deep,
trusting that those roots find nourishing soil,
trusting that those roots intertwine with other roots,

finding connection to the people planted in other inches.
(and intersecting)
(and providing collective sustenance).

Renee Roederer

*adrienne marie brown also says this about the ‘inch wide mile deep’ language:

“I first experienced this ‘inch wide mile deep language when it was used to speak about the work of the Detroit Future Youth program at Allied Media Projects. I’ve since heard it used to speak of work that prioritizes depth in community organizing, and understands that meaningful scale depends on deep transformative work, rather than surface widespread work.”

 

 

#AutismAcceptanceDay

Elegant Valentine Gradient Background

[Image description: A solid, red background.]

An invitation to visit these hashtags today on Twitter:

#ActuallyAutistic
#RedInstead
#AutismAcceptanceDay

#ActuallyAutistic people are talking about how they want to be celebrated, accepted, perceived, and included on their own terms, as opposed to the orgs that try to speak for them and in very different, often remarkably harmful directions.

This is a conversation we need to have.

Renee Roederer

These Things Happen

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[Image description: A white, block iPhone adapter, lying flat turned slightly to the right.]

Yesterday morning, while getting in my car, I was holding the block adapter of my phone charger, and when I dropped it, it bounced off an object, did a flip, and landed in my coffee mug,

whereby I felt the realized horror of each object throughly ruining the other.

Renee Roederer

I Visited This Tree

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[Image Description: A tree with many branches is in the foreground on a sloping hill. In the background is a road and a beach along Lake Michigan. A red lighthouse is in the distance.]

When I was in Wisconsin last week, I made the occasion to visit a particular tree.

I had already driven down to Racine to have lunch with a friend, which was so enjoyable. It was a long time since I had been in the city, but years ago, I visited often. Some of our closest folks lived there for a number of years. They’ve since moved elsewhere, but since I had the occasion to be in Racine, I was glad to visit some of the special places we used to go, including the Lake Michigan Pathway — a walkway right along the beach. All of this brought back wonderful memories.

Then I decided to walk to a certain tree.

In 2013, I was sitting under this particular tree when I had the initial phone conversation that led to us moving to Ann Arbor. We were visiting our people in Racine when the opportunity arose. I sat under this tree, facing Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin side, and of course, facing the state of Michigan too, though unseen to me. A place called “Lake Michigan Pathway” seemed like the perfect location to have this phone call, because we wanted to move to Ann Arbor very much.

Though we lived in California at the time, I suppose it all started right here in Wisconsin under a tree by a Great Lake. It was good to visit this tree again because I wanted to pause and think of my unfolding sense of calling and belonging in Ann Arbor. I wanted to give thanks for six years in this town, the people I’ve met — at this point, people I can’t imagine not knowing. That’s how it always is in a place… It’s peopled.

I’ve had some serious highs and lows here. I’ve met people who taught me a lot. I’ve had occasions to practice ministry in ways that were totally new to me at the time, and often, are still new to me. We’ve befriended people in multiple congregations. We’ve made memories in a house, our first one. We’ve invited people in in ways that feel like home.

And we’re still going at it.

So here’s to Ann Arbor, the unfolding calling, and the unfolding practice of community-building. And here’s to that tree.

Renee Roederer