Choosing Hope

hope

Sometimes, I don’t know exactly what to do, except to just…. choose hope.

This is intentional; this is hard work. Sometimes, it feels foolish. Sometimes it feels just right. It’s not something that I would place on a person or community when they’re feeling down or reasonably afraid — “Just snap your fingers and choose hope!” That’s insensitive and harmful. But when we can choose it (sometimes, we can’t, but sometimes, we can) it can help others do the same.

Yesterday, I looked through my social media feeds and saw fear and near-despair. The news cycle is very difficult. Some are wondering how these things will affect their lives. People are feeling all the stories, and along with them, a sense of helplessness.

So perhaps we have to look to where we can to find hope, maybe even unexpectedly.

-Yesterday, I found that in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — not only that she won her race unexpectedly, but most of all, just in who she is herself.

-Yesterday, I found that in the words of Rep. John Lewis, who certainly knows what it is like to face adversity and even violence. In a Tweet, he said, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble”

-Yesterday, I found that in the words of M Barclay. They said it so much better than I can, so I want to leave you with their words:

“I know so many incredible humans who are strong and brave and tender and creative and smart – and who are committed to collective transformation. I believe in them/you.

I believe in the witness of the saints who were taken from the world because of their commitments to justice but still left us with words that inspire and speak truths and remind us that none of this is new, really. Their impact lingers and invites.

I believe in what I call God – which is the Spirit of Love and Mystery and Compassion and Courage that permeates everything that is and that is always but a breath away in even the hardest most awful places. And I believe this has existed always and will continue to exist always and no one can do anything to stop that.

I believe in our collective ability to provide for each other – to tend to one another’s needs in various ways. To create care and support and swap resources and hold each other up. Everyone has something vital to offer to the whole.

I believe in the power of protest which is also a kind of prayer. I believe in imagination and the importance of dreaming our future into being. I believe in refusing to allow the horrors before us to be normalized while also believing in the importance of continuing to tend to the ordinary.

I believe, collectively, we are capable of getting through this time together – even if it gets worse. We have already lost some. We will lose more. And this is horrific and unacceptable and the grief weighs so heavy. We must honor all of that deeply while not letting it keep us from doing the best we can to keep more loss at bay. And more people of privilege need to be willing to give up more for the sake of others. And I believe some will.

I know this is exactly what some people want – the situation before us. But I also believe in those who don’t – those for whom protecting each other, and seeking wholeness, and calling for accountability of corrupt power, and tending sweetly and fiercely to one another’s souls in the midst of destruction are what life is about.

I don’t know much else but I know I believe in these things. And even in the depths of despair at the situation we find ourselves in today, that’s enough to keep on. And we need everyone to keep on. If you are struggling, maybe take some time to write out what you believe in – something you can return to when you’re not sure about anything else?”

When you can, choose hope.

When you can’t, look for those who can.

We’ll keep trading off, hoping for each other.

Renee Roederer

I Love This Poem

fingernails

A friend shared this wonderful poem on social media yesterday, and I’m so glad to have encountered it. It’s by the Rev. Micah Bucey, minister at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village.

I love it, and I want to share it here too.  This is kinship.

A Prayer of Queer Thanksgiving

I sing praises to this little boy, no more than seven or eight,
Who just pranced right up to me and interlaced his own tiny, nail-polished fingers
With my own, and cried out, “Twins!”
I sing praises to his choice of glittery green,
Which perfectly complements my shimmery purple.
I sing praises to his guts, his gumption, his presumption
That I am a friend, a familiar, a fellow fairy — family —
Even though we’ve never met.
I sing praises to the street that brings us together
And to the fabulous whomever he, she, they will become.
I sing praises to the well-coiffed mother, bubbling over and teary-eyed,
As she exclaims, “He saw you all the way across the street and just had to say, ‘Hello.’”
I sing praises to the baseball-capped father, looking on with quiet pride,
As he asks, “Do you paint yourself or do you have them professionally done?”
I sing praises to the grandma and the grandpa, holding hands and smiling wide,
As they look one another in the eye and celebrate what their love has made.
I sing praises to the dozens of witnesses to this family reunion,
The ones who hurry by and the ones who slow down,
The ones who look up from their phones to watch history being made,
The ones who set aside their cynicism for one, brief, shining moment,
So they can join in the smiles,
Join in the connection,
As I squeeze the tiny fingers of this seven-or-eight-year-old unicorn and proclaim: “Twins!”
And I sing praises to the cloud of invisible witnesses that surrounds us,
And in the singing and the praising, I feel them appear around us.
This is fantasy, but this is real.
This is fantasy, but fantasy is what painted our nails in the first place.
I see Marsha, brick in hand, ready to take no shit,
And Sylvia, microphone primed, ready to take us to task.
I see Christine, done up and glamorous, no hair out of place,
And I hear Marlene and Sylvester and David, crooning as Billy tickles the ivories.
I see Langston and Lorraine and James and Oscar, scribbling away,
As José and Eve and Michel critique and queer and complicate.
I hear Divine and Candy and Jackie and Andy and Hibiscus whispering,
“Don’t be so serious. Let this just be the silly thing it is.”
I feel the breeze as Alvin twirls by,
And I feel the squeeze as Alan computes the logic of it all.
I see Harvey and Audre and Michael and Harry,
And Gilbert and Edie and Jane and Dick,
Satisfied and still nudging, content and continuing to fight.
I hear Leonard and Howard composing a hit,
As Michael choreographs a group number,
And Frida lines us all up for what will surely be a kooky portrait for the ages.
I feel the forces, see the faces of the famous and the foreign,
And the cloud opens wider to reveal our mess of martyrs.
I see Matthew and Brandon and Roxana and Joan and Ali.
I see faces I’ve never seen before,
I hear names I’ve never known,
I hear voices I’ve never heard before, shouting, “Twins! Twins! Twins!”
We are nothing alike and we are everything alike,
We are on the street together and we are more than worlds apart.
We are a rainbow and we are a cloud,
Born of color and tears, of triumph and tragedy,
Feeding the arc of a moral universe that has trampled us,
Even as we decorate the damn thing and teach it how to bend.
We are serious and sassy, glittery and grim,
Furious and filled with fear that fools itself into fabulosity.
We are everything I describe and nothing I describe.
We are everything I see and so much I do not see.
We can pick out one another on the street,
And we can be strangers in the same parade.
We are more than fits inside our ever-expanding initials,
And we are only as much as we allow ourselves to be.
We are a rainbow and we are a cloud,
Bending and bursting, beautiful and terrifying.
And I sing praises to the rainbow and I sing praises to the cloud.
I sing praises to the colorful progress,
And I sing praises to the storm that shouts, “Progress is a myth.
Stop acting so small. You are the Universe in ecstatic motion.”
I sing praises to the Universe that we are,
To the rainbow that we’ve been, to the cloud we will all become,
And I feel that word fizzing up inside me, though it often frightens more than frees:
“Family.”
I sing praises to this family
That claims me for who I am and gently shoves me into who I can become.
I sing praises to the saints who don’t want to be saints,
To the martyrs and the heroes who ask for none of the notoriety.
I sing praises to the bloodless ties that keep us afloat until the blood ties catch up.
I sing praises to the clouds that cry out, “Families belong together,”
And know that it means so much more than what some want it to mean.
I sing praises to this fleeting moment on the street,
A moment that begins between two nail-polished people,
And then prisms out, extending the rainbow, creating the cloud.
We are twins and we are nothing alike.
We are seeking a tribe and we are extending the tribe.
We have so much to teach and we have so much to learn.
We have eternal praises to sing and we have eternal thanks to give.
Our greatest gift is the light of our color and the salt of our tears,
As we recognize one another like children on the busy street and insist on saying,
“Hello. I see you. I feel this between us and I can’t quite explain it.”
I sing praises to our gift of family recognition,
And until all families bend to the love of difference,
Until this country bends to love of family,
I sing praises to this growing familial cloud,
Rainbow saints painting paths for their yearning children,
And I pray not with my own hands clasped together,
But with my polished fingers interlaced with any other child I can recognize.

Amen

You can find the poem in its original setting on Rev. Micah Bucey’s Facebook Page.

Adding Dr. King’s Letter

mlk

I think this is incredible.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), of which I am a part, is gathering this week in St. Louis for the biannual gathering of the General Assembly. This is a communal and procedural process by which the PC(USA) makes a lot of its decisions. Sometimes, people bring overtures for consideration which were formulated long before the gathering begins. Other times, overtures for consideration come directly from committee work while gathered together.

Yesterday, a powerful (and surprising!) overture came out of committee and is moving forward. It advocates that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail should be added to the Book of Confessions, one of the constitutional books of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

I think it’s fantastic.

Dr. King wrote this letter in the margins of newspapers from a jail cell, responding to the criticism of eight, white pastors who claimed he was a troublemaker, saying that they could not agree with his “methods of direct action.” He was arrested for marching without a permit. Dr. King had his lawyers smuggle out the letter, in which he argues that people have “not only a legal but a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

The letter is very convicting. I believe it could instruct us during a crucial time. It would also honor Dr. King and his influence 50 years after his assassination.

Here’s a story about it: Assembly Urged to Add Dr. King’s ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail’ to Book of Confessions.

Renee Roederer

What That Felt Like

Yesterday, I published a piece on this blog which was very significant to me personally. “I’m Reclaiming My Epilepsy,” I said, expressing a desire to inhabit the identity of my experience with epilepsy throughout my childhood.

I shared some of the particular challenges of this experience, including how my epilepsy was always present, yet also, held primarily in secret and out of view. There is much more I can share about all of this, of course, and I hope to do that in conversation. (This is also an invitation to ask me more about this experience. I am so grateful that I’m having occasions to talk about this.)

Truly, so grateful.

Along with that, I’d like you to know this:

In all of my 36 years, I have never talked about this in any public forum until yesterday. Thank you for reading. Likewise, and probably more significant, I’ve never talked about this so broadly. Yesterday, in the span of 24 hours, many people who have known me, including people who have known me well, heard this for the first time.

As I shared in the piece, this experience hasn’t really been a secret during my adult years. It occasionally comes up naturally in conversation, and it’s always meaningful to me when it does. But beyond those smaller moments, I’ve never had the occasion to share so broadly, not like I did yesterday. Now, many more people know about this unique experience I had, and they know me a little more deeply too.

I am grateful for this.

Yesterday, I spent the day seeing people see me. As you can imagine, given the particularities of the story I told, that was remarkably significant. People showed me interest, gratitude, curiosity, celebration, and above all, compassion and embrace. I was moved by it all. This is what I expected; in part, the choice to share was a joyful act of trusting the loving relationships I’ve entered over time. But this was still received so profoundly.

People entered my story with me, and then, another wonderful thing happened. Several people told me some of their stories too — entirely different experiences unique to their lives, yet resonant with the commonality of being difficult to voice. I was moved by these stories and honored by the opportunity to hold a piece of them. Vulnerability often opens space for more vulnerability, and vulnerability often leads to meaningful connections.

And I’m realizing that connections change the stories, or at least how they are held and how they are felt.

I’ve been pondering this quite a bit, in fact. I now have an expanding community around knowledge of this experience. Likewise, I’ve invited people to see this identity as I seek to reclaim it. I’ve never had this before, but now, I will never not have it. That changes things.

For all my growing up years, I feared, what will people think about me if they know I have epilepsy? This thing… that honestly, at the time, I didn’t even fully understand.

Later, I came to understand more fully what epilepsy was and how it affected me, and much of the shame faded. Still, though, when I pondered people knowing my story, I probably continued to frame it as an occasion where people would likely associate epilepsy with me.

In one sense, I suppose that is true. But after receiving what I experienced yesterday, I recognize that this is even more true: People are now going to associate me with epilepsy. That is, they are going to interpret their own connection to epilepsy – knowing what it is, how it functions, or even just hearing the word itself – through the lens of loving me. People now have a connection to epilepsy because they have a connection to me. I felt this in relationship yesterday, and this was a piece I didn’t quite anticipate.

So all of this is immensely healing and clarifying, filled with connection and gratitude. That’s what this feels like.

Renee Roederer

I’m Reclaiming My Epilepsy

share your story on sticky note

I’m reclaiming my Epilepsy. This matters a great deal to me.

Those two words might come as a surprise, I realize. Most people have never heard me place words like ‘my’ and ‘epilepsy’ together. From time to time, I’ll bring it up naturally in conversation, but most people don’t know I had epilepsy as a child. More significantly though, beyond the mere knowledge of it, most remain unaware of how deeply this impacted and shaped my life. So, while it’s fair to say that this hasn’t quite been a secret during my adult years, it hasn’t been in full view either. It’s very meaningful for me to bring it into full view now.

The pairing of words like ‘my’ and ‘epilepsy’ may be new to many. But I’ll share that this pairing is somewhat new to me also. I don’t mean to imply a new recognition that I had epilepsy. I had Childhood Absence Epilepsy throughout the duration of my elementary school years, first spotted by a teacher and diagnosed in kindergarten, then fading around sixth grade. This, I’ve known for a long while. What is new is the recognition that I’ve never felt so much affection in bringing these words together. The placement of ‘my’ in front of ‘epilepsy’ is an embrace of that epilepsy, and most of all, it is an embrace of a large, formative piece of my own identity. With those deeper feelings, I choose this more than I ever have before.

The truth is, for most of my life, I couldn’t bring myself to say words like these aloud. Apart from an embracing word like ‘my,’ I especially couldn’t utter words like ‘seizure’ or ‘epilepsy’ (or hear anyone else utter them) without an enormous, visceral feeling of shame instantly flooding my body. This persisted well beyond the years of actually having epilepsy.

If you know anyone well with epilepsy, either a child or an adult, you may be aware that this is a condition with a lot of stigma attached. This may be a remaining vestige of the history of epilepsy, misunderstood for thousands of years with an array of negative associations placed beside it. We are often afraid of what we cannot understand. Even today, people with epilepsy sometimes internalize this. And of course, along with this history of stigma, there can be a certain lack of dignity in feeling that you cannot fully control your body. I know that all of this affected me.

Much more though, I felt this intense level of shame around my epilepsy, because for the entire duration of having it, and many of the years that followed, I kept this entirely a secret. From both peers and adults.

My epilepsy was always present and yet simultaneously out of view. If you’re wondering how this could be possible, Childhood Absence Epilepsy involves many seizures daily that are short in duration — the older language of the 1980s was ‘petit mal seizures’ — and these can easily be mistaken for simple daydreaming. I know from my medical records (I requested those much later as an adult) that my seizures sometimes lasted as long as 30 seconds, but I assume many of them were also shorter. Every day, this experience was present, but also, out of view. Except… for those occasions when I would have a seizure around other people while I was in the middle doing something else. In these moments, I felt deeply embarrassed. Yet, even then, people didn’t recognize these as seizures. They were brief moments of pause — somewhat unexpected, and potentially out of the ordinary, but I don’t think people often connected the dots.

I told a few peers about my epilepsy when I was a senior in high school. But I didn’t really begin to share this as a narrative of personal experience until I was in my mid-20s. At first, that was a remarkably challenging, new thing to do, but it felt very freeing.

This has since become fully talk-about-able. Like I said above, over the years that have followed, I’ve found myself bringing this up in conversation from time to time. I don’t feel the same shame in uttering these words.

But something has additionally shifted over these last few months. During that time, I’ve had a number of different occasions to talk about this experience at much greater depth, and this has been a profoundly meaningful experience for me. At one point last semester, I met a student who also grew up with childhood epilepsy, and she wanted to hear my story. I meet with students all the time, and my full range of life experience impacts those conversations, but I have never sat down with a student specifically from this place as an identity.

This felt wonderful.

So I just started sharing this narrative more broadly and at greater depth and with even more intention, including among some of my most beloved people who only knew a sliver of this story. And I realized, this is the first time I’ve ever had a community around this experience. This means so much to me. I’m going to keep talking about this and expanding that community.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had epilepsy as a condition, but in these days, I reclaim it as an identity. There is empowerment in that choice. There is a great deal of healing in that choice. I see this not as the beginning of making peace with my experience, but rather, the culmination of having done that for years.

And I want to keep talking about this, primarily because I want to be the person who experienced this. I want to give from this part of myself, even as I know that I am being received so beautifully as myself.

This Saturday, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to participate in the Summer Stroll at the Detroit Zoo, a fundraiser for the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. I’m on N.J. Phillip’s team (a pleasure!) and I’m really looking forward to being there. Unfortunately, I can’t stay the whole time because I had already planned another event, but I hope to raise at least $100. First and foremost, I want to support this important organization, but also… I want to get the t-shirt. I think it’s about time I wear all of this a bit more on my sleeve. 🙂 #Har. If you want to help me out with this, please let me know.

This last weekend, without even purposefully looking for it, I just happened to stumble across the notebook where I wrote out my epilepsy experience as a narrative for the first time. I was 25 when I wrote it, and it was a pleasure to read this from my younger self. When I reached the end, I was struck by three sentences in particular, because I think they are speaking wisely right into this chapter. The same thing I wrote toward the beginning of my sharing is precisely what I feel as I expand my sharing:

“I thought for most of my years that my healing needed to be from epilepsy. No, what my healing has required is a healing toward epilepsy. I need to be allowed to be the person I was.”

Yes, Renee. With joy, let’s do that.

Renee Roederer

As an addendum to this, I wrote a follow-up piece one day later, to share how wonderful it felt to share this story. Over the course of the next 24 hours, I had the gift of connecting with so many loved ones in profoundly meaningful ways. I’d like to send you in the direction of that post as well: What That Felt Like.

Socialization is a Ministry in and of Itself

coffee

Something I notice:

Some churches try to avoid having an internal self-understanding of being “just a social club.” In part, they push up against this because they’ve seen what can happen when church is “just a social club.”

I think it’s good and wise to avoid this tendency. Church communities can lose some of their distinct identity when they are gathered around their own social needs alone. When folks stop gathering around shared convictions and a larger sense of calling, it seems that justice, social concern, and relationships with neighbors are some of the first things to go. The church community begins to exist for itself.

So, some churches wisely try to avoid this. I agree with that wisdom.

But I want to swing the pendulum back, at least in one respect. Sometimes, when churches have new ideas about ministry, like new opportunities for relationship-building and action in their neighborhoods, I notice they become very nervous that these connections will become primarily social.

“What if we start a discussion group around this shared concern, but we never talk about faith?”

“What if people come to talk about their [sobriety/kids/caregiver role] but we never talk about Jesus?”

“What if people come for the [food/music/face painting] but we don’t see them again?”

or something that actually is self-serving,

“What if we hold this event for the community, but no one ever comes to our worship service? What if no one ever becomes a member?”

I think we’re forgetting that socialization and community-connections are ministries in and of themselves. I think one of the most meaningful and impactful things things a church community can do is provide avenues for connection and socialization.

Take, for instance, this crucial study, which reveals that Americans Are Lonely A Lot, and Young People Bear the Heaviest Burden.

Or this Ted Talk which discusses how deeply socialization impacts our health and longevity: The Secret To Living Longer Could Be Your Social Life.

Churches recognize that they can have ministries like food pantries, clothes closets, and soup kitchens without the requirement to enter faith conversations or later, join the church. They see a calling around these expressions of ministry and know that they meet vital needs in and of themselves. They don’t need to serve another purpose. But I don’t think churches have largely come to recognize how impactful they can be in providing opportunities for socialization. In the formation of relationships, there are so many opportunities for growth, health, and collective change.

Renee Roederer