God Has Arms

heart

Image Description: Two people, standing side by side, are intertwining their hands to make them into a shape of a heart.

This is a repost from a piece published here on September 12, 2018.

“But why doesn’t God have arms? I just… I wish God had arms.”

That’s what I lamented as we drove through the Texas Hill Country. The scenery was lush with long, green grasses, wildflowers, a creek, and pastures with longhorn steers. But I wasn’t noticing any of that beauty.

At age 26, I sat in the back of a Volvo and felt devastated about David’s cancer. Like a slow moving storm, I was experiencing the kind of lament that hovered over anger and despair in the five stages of grief, not moving much lately, just churning and pouring it all down.

It was all anticipatory grief. David was still with us and was his typical self too — funny, endearingly irreverent, curious, committed; still voraciously reading, still reassuring and loving of me. He was, in fact, concerned lately about how much pain I was feeling in all of this. The anticipatory grief of this particular, impending loss was enormous on its own, but along with it, this seemed to pull up previous losses I had not fully grappled with before. The cumulative grief demanded to be felt.

So feeling invited to do so, I sat in the back of Ben’s Volvo and lamented. I wanted to be comforted in all of this, and God was supposed to be this cosmic force of ultimate love in the world, right? But… was God just… a neglectful parent? Another example of this gnawing absence I was feeling? I mean, what good is a God that has no arms?

Maybe in some ways, that was a silly detail to fixate upon, but fixate I did. Yet in its own way, it was an apt fixation. When grieving like that, who doesn’t want to be held? Not metaphorically — which was my point — but actually held?

The Volvo arrived at Mo Ranch, a Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center in Hunt, Texas. We were there for College Connection, a week long event that in involved play, worship, shared meals, and reflection among college students. I was there to be a volunteer leader, assisting in worship and facilitating a small group.

Though I had not met him before, the keynoter for the week was a very beloved speaker in Presbyterian circles, well known for his work in youth ministry as a pastor and now, as a seminary professor. I heard him speak throughout the week and experienced him to be engaging, deep, funny, joyful, and inviting.

For most of the conference, I put on a face in public and pushed through my own leadership commitments. But privately, I felt miserable. Why doesn’t God have arms?

I just kept lamenting that, which was of course, a symbol for everything I was feeling. Then before the last worship service, I let myself voice that aloud once more.

The keynoter had become a friend during the week, and before that last service, we sat outside the hall, waiting for it to be unlocked so we could set up the space. With time then to spare, he asked me how the week had been for me. So I told him the truth. I talked about David, how much he meant to me, and what a gift he was in my life. I talked about cancer and the devastation of impending loss. I voiced the whirlwind of my feelings, and then, I eventually said it again:

“But why doesn’t God have arms? I just… I wish God had arms.”

The keynoter heard me meaningfully. And somehow, that conversation allowed me to enter that worship space with more vulnerability. This was a healing and wholeness service after all, and I let my public, putting-on-of-a-face fade.

I had a small role in that service. We had a time of anointing one another, placing a bit of oil on the foreheads of those who requested it with prayer. I participated in that. But when I was finished, I walked to the back of the hall and just sat in a chair totally dejected.

My eyes were closed with tears falling down my cheeks, so I didn’t really see this coming. But when he was finished with his part, seeing my sadness, the keynoter came to the back with me. I didn’t see him walk there. I only… felt his arms.

He absolutely bear hugged me. And I just melted into him.

I let the sadness be there, really and truly. But then I smiled. I already knew what he was doing before he said anything aloud.

But soon after he started to embrace me, he voiced it it. With great presence, he said,

“God does have arms.”

Renee Roederer

A Prayer by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber

candle-in-glass-holder

Image Description: A candle is burning in a glass holder.

Yes!!! to this prayer, crafted by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, based on the story of the raising of the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7:11-17). She published this in her post, I’m Dabbling in Compassion, which I highly recommend.

God of compassion,

As you did in Nain, enter our city gates. Enter into the somber roads down which our hearses drive and the glad streets down which our children run. Enter the parks where the junkies shoot up and the yuppies listen to jazz. Walk uninvited into starter mansions and public housing and dorms and cheap motel rooms that charge by the hour. Stroll into the cool-air freezer section where the pregnant women escape the heat and the bus stop benches where the weary wait. Enter every law office and adult books store. Step into the spaces we say we feel your awesomeness and the places where we claim your forsakenness. Enter our city gates, God of Compassion as you did the city of Nain. And bless.

Bless the things we mistakenly think are already dead. Bless that which we have already begun to carry out of town to bury. Bless our rocky marriages and our college age kids who smoke too much pot. Bless the person at work who we love to hate. Bless the young adult who wonders if they are too young to really be an alcoholic, and bless the 6o year old woman who’s had too much work done. Bless the public school lunch ladies and the guy who stole my kid’s bike. Bless the chronically sick. Bless the one who has no one. Bless what we call insignificant and which you call magnificent. Bless it all and love what only you can love: the ugly, and abandoned and unsanitary in the wash of humanity upon which you have nothing but a gleaming compassion when we have none.

God of Compassion who saw the Widow of Nain, we thank you for seeing us. Seeing our loneliness and our bravery. Seeing the times we can’t say what we need to. Seeing the ones who have never felt like they are enough but who you know already are and always have been. Seeing the moments when we are more than we thought we could be. Seeing what no one else can or will. Thank you for seeing as beautiful what we call ugly and that in your compassion you wipe away all tears. Teach us to see each other.

Reach out and raise us God of compassion. Touch us as you did the wood on which the widow’s son lay and speak those same words to us: Young man arise. Little girl, get up. To we who think we are not worthy to be loved and medicate ourselves with food and booze and shopping, say “rise up”. To us who have been hurt by those who say they follow you say “rise up”. To those who feel unworthy of forgiveness say “rise up”. To the ones who care for the least of these and who feel too burnt out to keep going, say “rise up”. To we who are holding onto resentments like a security blanket say “rise up”. To those who hide their failings behind their good works say “rise up”. To the unloved child who has no idea that one day they will change the world say “rise up”.

And when again God of Compassion, you have raised the dead…when again you have made whole that which is broken, when again you have ripped out my heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh, when again you have reached into the graves we dig ourselves and loved us back to life…don’t stop there. Help us, Lord. Like the young man of Nain help us to sit up and speak. Give us words that are not empty affirmation, but give us strong words, as real as the very soil from which you raised us.

Give us the words lord, but also (especially in my case) give us the pause before the words. Please.

And then, as you did the son to his mother, give us one to another. Make us one in this fractured world. Our country is divided, neighbor against neighbor, world-view against world-view and we are so sure we are right and they are wrong. It’s a mess down here, Lord, and we’ve prayed that whole “Thy kingdom come” line a LOT already so we might stop asking nicely. We need your Kingdom of love and grace and mercy to speed the hell up. And if that’s not possible then open our eyes to where your kingdom already is taking root and growing among us, turn our eyes from our despair to any amount of light which is spreading, however small.

And help us to know when we do not have enough compassion for the road ahead, that you do, and that that is enough.

AMEN.

-Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber

“Isolation Be Damned”

Earlier this week, while scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post by @_the_open_space, that I found to be real, raw, beautiful, and inviting all at once. May connection be fullness for us, even if it’s just one, initial, small, honest step in a direction. That step and that direction could open up a larger process toward healing.

Here’s the post:

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The text reads:

I will consider isolating when I feel overwhelmed by my inner & outer worlds.

I will sense myself folding inward & swallowing my feelings into some wide, open void of emptiness.

It will hurt on more levels that I can even comprehend or express.

I will yearn for the familiarity of numbness to ease both the original overwhelm & the sorrow of resolving my pain in this way.

I will consider writing this all down & sharing it with you.

And when I do, isolation be damned.

This week, I’ve started a Patreon campaign. If you’d like to participate in supporting my writing and my community work, you can check that out at my Patreon Page.

Mental Health Meds Have Changed My Life

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Image Description: A cartoon drawing of a pill — one half is pink, and the other half is light blue with stars, triangles, and circles of different colors. There’s a banner written in purple that says, “It’s ok if you need meds every day.” I found this image on Instagram, shared by @thesocialchanger. There’s a small print signature in the image which reads, “Starstar Party.”

As the image above says, let it ring true:
It’s ok if you need meds every day.

But seriously. Let it ring true:
It’s ok if you need meds every day.

Whatever they are and for whatever need they address, there is no shame in taking these meds, nor is there any shame in having these needs.

And if it helps, I’ll make it more personal. Just as the title says pretty clearly, mental health meds have changed my life. And this is no exaggeration. I requested a particular prescription about six months ago, received it, and my whole body has moved toward greater health.

Though it had been years since I’d taken this medication, this not the first time I had done so (that’s why I requested it by name). But this was probably the biggest physical shift I’ve ever felt upon making the decision to take it. And it was almost immediate.

I’ve written on this blog before about my journey with C-PTSD. This is a mental illness, so if you were to get out your handy, dandy DSM-5 (who am I kidding… most of us would do a Google search) you’d see a list of symptoms. In years past, I’ve dealt with most of these. They were most pronounced for me in my mid-20s.

At this stage of my life, my experience has mostly been physical. I could frame my experience through the lens of diagnosis, or I could frame it through the lens of story. Both are true. Through a lot of trauma, my nervous system has endured quite a bit, and I’ve had to take a lot of care with it for more than a decade. I’ve experienced a great deal of healing in this regard, but there have still been some big vulnerabilities. Since the nervous system governs the whole body, I found myself having many physical reactions to stress in my mid to late 30s. When life became even moderately stressful, I would lose a great deal sleep (never good) and I would experience a lot of stress-initiated illness too.

And… what a shift… After I started taking meds, I began sleeping through the night every single night. Sleep is the single most difficult physical challenge I’ve had — and by the way, for years — so this massive change feels nothing short of miraculous to me. And those big, physical reactions to stress stopped happening in the ways they had before.

Major shift.

As the image above says, let it ring true:
It’s ok if you need meds every day.

I wish I would have made this decision about two years ago. I’m glad I’ve done it now.

I’m doing other things too:
-Therapy,
-Eating well,
-Moving in helpful ways (I started running in the fall, and I’ve run 75 miles!)
and as I always value,
-Engaging and appreciating community connections.

But goodness, these meds have made a shift.

So let me say this clearly:

If you are taking meds, for whatever reason or for whatever need, or
If you think that might help you, for whatever reason or for whatever need,
including mental health,
there should be no shame or stigma in doing so.

And it’s okay to talk about these things too.

This experience has brought me to greater health and fullness of life. And I’m proud to talk about it.

Renee Roederer

This week, I’ve started a Patreon campaign. If you’d like to participate in supporting my writing and my community work, you can check that out at my Patreon Page.

 

Hell House

haunted-house-on-hill

Image Description: A light blue house with white trim on a hill. The sky is gray and dark. The photo is taken at an angle which makes the house look askew.

More than a decade ago, I stood outside in a parking lot on a dark, October evening with a number of college students. I want to imagine that we were cold while we waited in line, but who am I kidding? This was Texas. Still warm enough, I think we were certainly intrigued and maybe a little nervous while we waited.

We had decided to go to a Hell House. This was becoming a bit of a phenomenon. Some churches were mashing up the genre of a haunted house with the fundamentalist theology of hell. Onlookers were invited to walk through the rooms where they would see dramatized versions of people committing terrible sins and then… they would end up in hell. (By the way, there was no nuance of complexity in the life situations, and I also don’t consider some of these things to be sin). We would also walk by their hellish fate and see that they were tormented for all of eternity. The clear message was, you don’t want to end up like them, do you? 

This tour concluded with a room where members of the church were present to pray the sinner’s prayer with you so you would spend your eternity in heaven instead of hell.

We did not stay for that part. We ended up at this Hell House because we watched a documentary together with the same name, and we were curious to see it in action. We processed before and afterward. We were also from a church community, but we had a different view of this.

Last week, I read an interesting article in the New York Times by David Bently Hart entitled, Opinion: Why Do People Believe in Hell?  He writes,

No truly accomplished New Testament scholar, for instance, believes that later Christianity’s opulent mythology of God’s eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts. It’s entirely absent from St. Paul’s writings; the only eschatological fire he ever mentions brings salvation to those whom it tries (1 Corinthians 3:15). Neither is it found in the other New Testament epistles, or in any extant documents (like the Didache) from the earliest post-apostolic period. There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment. Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there.

On the other hand, many New Testament passages seem — and not metaphorically — to promise the eventual salvation of everyone. For example: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18) Or: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Or: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) (Or: John 13:32; Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; and others.)

Hart believes that the concept of hell is psychologically alluring. (It’s for others, of course.)

I also think of my late friend and colleague, the Rev. Keith Wright, who wrote a book entitled, The Hell Jesus Never Intended. He looks at the Bible exegetically and also raises questions ethically. The concept of hell, as it was interpreted in that Hell House, isn’t found clearly in the Biblical texts as some would like to believe.

This is all on my mind because the Revised Common Lectionary, a calendar of Biblical texts to be read in worship, will soon include the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks about adultery, lust, and anger and says things like, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Only in the Greek text, he says more literally, “It is better to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into Gehenna.”

Gehenna was a forever burning trash heap on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom. It’s this-earthly. And it makes me wonder…

Are there ways — a myriad of them — in which we find ourselves living a bit of a half-life, when instead, we are invited continually into fullness? And are there ways — a myriad of them — in which we create hellish conditions for some, right here and often systematically, when instead, we are called continually to participate in collective justice and wholeness?

I think so. And I’m glad those invitations remain.

If anything is consistent and eternal, perhaps it’s those. I’m going to keep pondering these things this week…

Renee Roederer

This week, I’ve started a Patreon campaign. If you’d like to participate in supporting my writing and my community work, you can check that out at my Patreon Page.

I’m Starting a Patreon

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Image Description: Purple jacaranda trees are in bloom, lining both sides of a street in Pasadena, California.

Hello, Dear Friends!

I want to thank you for helping me to create and share reflection pieces, storytelling, and poetry on my personal website Smuggling Grace (www.reneeroederer.com), Facebook, and Instagram. It gives me great joy to share these pieces, and I hope they add encouragement to you. I’m also grateful for the ways people continue to add their own words and experiences to the conversations these pieces cultivate. Thank you!

I’ve decided to start a Patreon account for my writing and blogging. My writing will always remain free and accessible, but if you’d like to support me in this work, it helps fuel my community work too.

If you’d like to become a patron, your financial support at any level ($2, $5, $10, $15, $25, $50 a month) supports my writing and opportunities for me to support others in community too. In my work as a Community Chaplain, this Patreon writing account aids me in bringing more coffee into my life (you know I love that), taking students out for meals and conversation, facilitating conversation among Michigan Nones and Dones and other communities I love, visiting alumni I have mentored, and perhaps putting a bit of money toward benefits too.

Would you like to become a partner in this work?

If so, visit here: Renee Roederer’s Patreon Page

I thank you!

 

Scales

sun

Image Description: Two hands are cupped together in the shape of a heart to frame the sun in the sky. Public domain image.

This week, all of my pieces have been based on the theme of light.

Keeping that theme going, my good friend, the Rev. Allison Becker, has been writing a lot of poetry lately that I find to be touching and powerful. I shared one of her pieces a couple weeks ago, and with her permission, I’m sharing this one as well. You can find more of her work at Light the Lamp.

Scales 

Find the one

Who will not be appalled

By your dragon scales

But who also knows you

Weren’t made to wear them

Who champions your

Shedding endeavour

Holding up the lamp to see

Who will rub ointment

On the wounds beneath

Who walks with you

And removes the barbs

 

Find the the one

Who reminds you:

You are underneath

Supple

Soft

Strong

Featherlight

Meant a dove

Not a dragon

 

Find the one

committed to

Their own

Restoration

Washed

In the pure

Distillation

Of truth

And who remains

There

Until healed

And free

 

Find the one

Settling not

for distortions

Or lies

About self

Or other

 

Find the one

Who runs

After the

Light

Until both are free