Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Resisting Mr. Trump


Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965)

What is the content of my character? The question haunts me. I’m in the golden to fading-golden years of my life. Until early this year, all my ducks (as many as I could herd) seemed to be lining up in a neat row, with plans and documents in fairly good order.

The appearance of Mr. Trump on the overtly political stage distressed me in 2016. Today it horrifies me that he’s still there.

This isn’t about who wins the next election. It isn’t even about Covid-19. It’s about resistance and the content of our character.

Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to lose sleep over the content of his character.

I wonder about myself.
Do I understand true resistance?
And what is the content of my character right now?

For decades I minimized the circumstances of my childhood. I thought that if I got on with my life as an adult, the baggage of the past would gradually fade away.

That didn’t happen. It never does. I had to resist openly. I had to open my mouth, and say what I needed to say to the people who most needed to hear from me–my parents. Which I did on the eve of my 50th birthday.

I grew up under the strict, sometimes harsh tutelage of a father who contantly reminded me that he was in control, and I was not. But power is never a sign of ‘rightness’ or even (as in my ordained father’s case) ‘righteousness.’

When I look back at my internal resistance to my father’s heavy-handed methods of control, I wonder how I did it. Stubborn? Yes. I was stubborn–though not in the way my father thought I was.

Instead, I learned to embody stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it worked to my advantage. Overall, however, it did not. My body paid a high price.

It would not be fair or true to say my father and Mr. Trump were cut from the same cloth. Still, there are obvious overlaps, including unhealthy narcissism. The kind that tries to eradicate healthy narcissism in others.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Trump wins the next election or not. He has already wreaked havoc here in the USA and abroad. It won’t do for me to hold my nose and wait for November.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2020
Photo of 1965 March from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama found at americanyawp.com

Small Bodies | Mary Oliver

Here’s a small parable for today. What do you think it’s about? My comments follow.

Small Bodies

It is almost summer. In the pond
The pickerel leap,
and the delicate teal have brought forth
their many charming young,
and the turtle is ravenous.
It is hard sometimes, oh Lord,
to be faithful.
I am more boldly made
than the little ducks, paddling and laughing.
But not so bold
as the turtle
with his greasy mouth.
I know you know everything—
I rely on this.
Still, there are so many small bodies in the world,
for which I am afraid.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
From her 2008 collection, Red Bird, p. 31
Published by Beacon Press 2008

Without top-dog animal predators, the natural world would cease to function efficiently. Without judicious pruning, trees wouldn’t develop strong, healthy branches or fruit.

But what about this ravenous, bold turtle with his greasy mouth? And what small bodies does Mary have in mind? Is this only about the pickerel, young teal and little ducks?

Mary Oliver opened her heart to nature – observing, describing and pondering what it might be telling or showing her. I imagine she discerns allegories or sees mirrors of what she experiences in human nature, including herself.

Given our current situation here in the USA, Mary might make connections between our pandemic world and the pond. We, too, have ‘so many small bodies’ vulnerable to predators and greasy-mouthed turtles. So many that, like Mary, I don’t know what to do or say except this:

I know you know everything—
I rely on this.

To be small and needy today is as dangerous as being a small duck in a ravenous turtle’s pond. Predatory behavior thrives at every level of governmental, public and private life. Especially when the pond is well-stocked with small bodies unable to fend for themselves, the number of ponds is drying up, and greasy-mouthed turtles grow ever larger and more ravenous.

Mary’s poem wasn’t meant to be a sermon. Still, it asks me to consider how I’m looking out (or not) for small bodies in our USA-style shrinking pond with its ravenous turtles.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 May 2020
Photo of baby Wood Ducks found at pinterest

dawn song and the daily avalanche

Lying still breathless
Lest I interrupt dawn song
I resist daylight
And the daily avalanche
of sour notes and red beets

once upon a time
the days had rhyme and reason
nonsense and outrage
held together by thick ties
of trust and loads of good will

last week’s grievances
lie steaming in a hot heap
of rotten garbage
waiting for today’s dumpster
held up by desperadoes

What holds a moment, a day or a week together? What keeps it from feeling like one slow (or fast) day after another? What gives it the feeling of real life when much of real life must be held in check, and there’s no guarantee of a proper tomorrow?

I don’t object to being held in check during this pandemic. I do, however, wonder how we now go about having what can be called a day or even a week? Perhaps it doesn’t matter anymore.

Outside I hear a resident cardinal calling from a nearby tree. The opening bars of a lovely dance?

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 May 2020
Photo of dawn song duet found at allevents.in 

How are you?


Photo taken on our last visit to Longwood Gardens, October 2019

It’s been so long
Since I laid eyes on you
Or heard the sound of
Your voice or felt the warmth
Of your body unfiltered
Through electronic wavelengths
From other planets
Unreachable if not lost
In some black hole

How are you? I
Can’t help asking everyone
In particular plus anyone
Caught in webs of good
And evil intentions
Now unraveling and
Morphing into something
Worse than promises
Of our certain liberation

And how am I?
I was never one to enjoy
Unproven fictions now seeping
Through locked doors
Demanding allegiance whether
Justified or not as promising
Moments shatter into shards
Of competing universes
Threatening to undo us

Just in case: Three questions for me, should I be called to serve on a jury anytime soon:

Do I wear a facemask in public?
Yes. I value my life and yours.

Am I prepared to die?
I’d like to think I am, but I’m not sure.

Does the current situation give me hope?
No. My hope does not rest on the current situation.

Not-so-random thoughts passing through my mind these days. I pray each of you is grounded in what matters most these days. And don’t forget to enjoy nature’s bounty!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 May 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser on October 2019, Longwood Gardens

Smudge and the Good Morning News

Our recalcitrant child. No, he is NOT allowed in the sink! Just on it….

You want me to do WHAT?

 

If you insist….

Other good morning news:

Just as I was finishing breakfast, the doorbell rang. D answered. He’d just returned from grocery shopping. A not-so-young man reached out his hand to give D something. It was D’s wallet in a Ziploc bag! It had fallen out of his jacket pocket as he loaded bags of groceries into the car. After he left, I retreated to the kitchen with tears of gratitude in my eyes. It’s one thing to do something unexpected for someone else. It’s another to be on the receiving end. Especially as one of those ‘elderly’ people.

Also this morning, as I was drinking my breakfast smoothie, I signed up to follow Longwood Gardens on Instagram. Today’s theme is wisteria. Glorious lavender wisteria! Get the photos for yourself. Just go to the very bottom of the link above. Or, if you’re already on Instagram, add Longwood Gardens to your account. There are several other ways to get the photos. So take a look at the link above! No excuses!

Yesterday morning I had a scheduled phone conversation with my favorite cardiologist. I enjoyed it so much, I’m considering a request that there be No More In Person Visits! Bottom line: I got cleared for another six months. Nothing new, and my heart and blood pressure are doing well for now, all things considered.

Best of all, the sun is out today! Not as blistering hot as yesterday, but sunny enough for a nice late afternoon walk with D.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 May 2020
Photos of Smudge taken by ERF, March 2020

Resistance is Never Futile – especially now.

No predetermined outcomes, and death is always a possibility. Yet resistance is never futile. It’s about our character. Not just then, but now.

I have a theological hero. He wasn’t the most well-behaved man on the face of the earth. He was human just as I am.

Yet he’s one of my heroes. He showed me how to listen to myself, to Christian scripture, and to what’s happening around me. With a newspaper in one hand, a Bible in the other.

Actually, it’s about more than listening. It’s about looking in a mirror and discovering painful reflections of myself. Often as a collaborator, not as a member of the faithful resistance.

Karl Barth came of age during the early years of Hitler’s reign. A citizen of Switzerland, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of theology in Germany.

Barth cut his theological teeth on Hitler’s final solution for Jews and others. He was one of a small number of resisting theologians, and an influential member of the ‘confessing’ churches movement that refused to support Hitler.

His theological work is, in part, a critique of Hitler’s brutal treatment of Jews and others, plus a vision for something different. Here’s what it would cost:

  1. Total allegiance to following Jesus of Nazareth, a practicing Jew whose total allegiance lay with Yahweh.
  2. Commitment to one simple theme: Hospitality to strangers. This habit of life challenges every human interaction, including Hitler’s behavior, and the churches’ treatment of Jews and others strangers.
  3. This stranger (neighbor) is the person or group of persons you’d rather not see or meet today. Maybe they’ll give you a mortal headache. Or beat you up and leave you lying on the side of the road to die. You never know. It’s easy to wish you could banish ‘those people’ who annoy, threaten or terrify you.

Hospitality toward strangers sounds sweet, even though it’s neither sweet nor harmless. True hospitality toward strangers is a life-changer for the hostess or host, not just the stranger. It can lead to life; it can also lead to death. As it did for Jesus Christ.

During the past decades, we’ve become polarized into stranger groups. It still happens today in churches, between religions, in public and private institutions, news media and families. Many groups vet members formally and informally by political or religious tests of various kinds.

Given today’s challenges, what would it take to show hospitality toward strangers?

I’m not naïve. All strangers aren’t safe. Neither is every friend or family member. Wisdom and discernment are necessary, though they can’t guarantee a desired outcome. Nonetheless, we need each other, no matter what the cost. It’s about the content of our character.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2017, edited and reposted 14 May 2020
Image found at islamforchristians.com

Missing in action

Searching for myself
In this other-worldly place
My mind wanders
Down one path
and up another
Without a map
Or proper clothes
For a fading woman
Whose goal is
To get through today
Intact

Yesterday’s dreams
Sleep fitfully
In another time and space
Missing in action

I haven’t posted for several days, in part because of a few nagging health issues that required attention.

The biggest hurdle, though, has been coming to terms with my present reality. First, as a senior citizen with chronic pre-existing health conditions. And second, as a citizen of the USA, with the reality of Covid-19 as presided over (or not) by Mr. Trump.

The question I asked several weeks ago still nags at me. What will I do if I develop signs of Covid-19? What do I want, and what do I not want?

Last week I looked through old photos of my life with D and our family. I thought about what I want and do not want, should I need to be quarantined. I also consulted with a trusted friend who is going through a similar discernment.

In short, what I wrote in my Living Will eight years ago isn’t going to work for Covid-19. So I’m starting over.

I’ve decided to use Five Wishes as my framework this time. In large part because they offer a framework for talking about this with family members. I don’t want to be intubated, or moved to a hospital. What would that mean? Are we up for this?

In some ways, I’d rather stay lost in my old photos. They bring me laughter and joy. They remind me that I’ve lived a life I never thought I would have, and visited or lived in places I never expected to see. I want to be anchored to that reality instead of trying to figure out how I’ll stay alive for as long as possible.

A life isn’t made up of years. It’s made up of small and large moments. A mosaic, not a graph or timeline. D took the photo above in January 1976, the year I graduated from seminary. One small piece of our mosaic.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 May 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser in southern California, January 1976
 

Much ado about nothing

Laboring to stay focused
My mind wanders up and down
Back alleys of my mind

A young deer stares at me
From a flimsy one-page shelter
Of May meadow blossoms

Outside air is chill and damp
With the barometer falling
From a sky of prescient clouds

I feel the beat of my heart
And the urgency of getting
Something done today

Just beside my computer
A bright light stares my way
Flooding me with happy beams

My eyes wander back
To the deer who has yet
To blink an eye or make a move

Outside the earth rejoices
At the gift of clean and quiet air
Not what we expected

I grew up believing I was born to make a difference (for good, of course). Which, in my world, meant I was not born to sit around doing nothing. Especially when the world seemed to be falling apart.

Nonetheless, right now I’m practicing the option of doing nothing. Or at least ‘almost nothing.’

Hoping you enjoy a nice chunk of quiet downtime today or tomorrow. Nonstop pandemic distractions aren’t necessarily good for our health.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 May 2020
Photo found at rewildingeurope.com

Love Sorrow | Mary Oliver

This poem from Mary Oliver struck a chord in me. Partly due to the current pandemic, with its waves of sorrow. But also because of my personal history. My comments follow.

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird, a collection of poems
“Love Sorrow” is on p. 64

Dear Mary,

Your poem about loving sorrow brought back memories of my childhood and adult life. Especially things taken or withheld from me before I understood they were mine. Plus bits and pieces I lost or gave away throughout my life.

Sorrow, especially if it showed, was an indulgence I needed to give up. Or get over. What’s done is done. It won’t do to make my friends uneasy, or get into trouble with adults who wanted me to be someone else. I learned early to swallow or deny sorrow. Especially in public.

I think you would be horrified though not surprised at the world as it is today. We’re drowning in sorrow and anger, trying to figure out how this tsunami pandemic caught us so unprepared for death and dying, as well as living mindfully.

I don’t want to drown. I want to live and grow, especially now as time is running out.

Thank you for showing me how to befriend my sorrow. How to welcome her into my life, and learn to live with her as the child she is. And how to watch her begin to relax and grow into a strangely wonderful companion.

With gratitude and admiration,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 May 2020
Image found at 123rf.com

Crossings of No Return – revisited

Has everything changed with Covid-19? This post from January 2017 reminds me that some things never change.

Crossings….

The word resonates with finality
Hints of danger and uncertainty
Sorrow and desperation
Weary clothes and
Hungry faces

One foot in front of the other
Backs burdened with life’s necessities
Bodies and bellies heavy
With tomorrow’s children
Silently pleading

They say our world is disappearing
Melting and boiling away before our eyes
Erupting into a chaotic crisis
Unknown in modern times
Are we ready for this crossing?

What lies ahead for this world and for us as citizens of this world? Our insular, isolated, boundaried ways of life don’t work well anymore, and our ways of governing seem to have reached their own point of no return.

Years ago I crossed a line of no return. I chose to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe there’s a magic wand answer for any of this world’s upheavals. Yet I do believe we see a direction in the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ. Not the superstar, but the human being sent to this earth to live and to die as one of us and as God’s beloved son.

Jesus made a crossing of no return when he came to live with and among us. He wasn’t president, emperor or chief. Nor was he a privileged member of the religious or political elite, or a child of God immune to human emotions and agony.

His life was short. Yet in his short life I find a direction that hasn’t changed even with our current global upheavals. Taking my cues from Jesus, I’m to love God, my neighbors and myself. Acknowledge my human limitations and need for others. Be ready to accept and offer hospitality from and to strangers. Bear the cost and share the compassion of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Do I feel strong? Rarely. Do I feel ready? Rarely. Do I feel like giving up? Sometimes. Yet the steady, courageous, compassionate and steel-eyed clarity I see in narratives about Jesus’ life on this earth remains my True North. The one point on my compass that won’t change no matter what it takes to get from here to there.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 January 2017, lightly edited and reposted on 5 May 2020
Photo of South American immigrants found at nytimes.com

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