Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

I’ve been singing this in my head all week! My favorite line: “She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot.” All put together in a rollicking score by our daughter, Sherry Fraser of Two Ton Boa. I’ve included the lyrics below my comments.

Sherry published this in May 2000 (Kill Rock Stars). It was later re-recorded by her old boyfriend, John Wozniak of Marcy Playground, as the trailer to the movie “Cruel Intentions.”

I prefer Sherry’s original recording. Not just because she’s my daughter (!), but because this is a woman’s song. It captures the anger and fury of a woman who’s being used and abused, plus her determination to “take a mighty swipe at the high hogs….” All in a lively, upbeat rag that throws the words right down there in front of you—dished up hot on your plate whether you like them or not.

I’ll never have Sherry’s voice. But I have her spirit and her determination. Thank you, Sherry, for showing me how it’s done.

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

She’s an eight ball
She’s rolling faster than a whitewall
She’s got an avalanche packed in a snowball
She’s losing all her leeches like a stonewall…she’s loaded up

She’s the underdog
Gonna take a mighty swipe at the high hogs
While they’re sipping on their tricks in a thick fog
Making eyes at the girls like bullfrogs…I’m telling you sir

She’s coming up from, coming up from,
Comin’ up, coming up from behind, yeah!
She’s coming up from, coming up from, coming up
Coming up from behind

You’d like her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your wall street pockets are jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your rich kid games

It’s a longshot
She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot
But she’s taking steady aim at the big shots
It’s hard to miss the ruling bullies on the blacktop…

You better pocket your turf
She’s coming up from behind

You had her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your gold lined pockets were jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your wretched games

She caught your sick lie
It was creeping in the shadow of your white smile
Lurking underneath the cover of your bedroom eyes
Were you greasing up plans for your small fry?

You want her talking up to you
Where you float like a royal balloon-o
Your ego swollen to the size of the moon…well
I think you found somebody to cut you down to size!

Wishing you a happy weekend!


©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2018

A vexing situation – Sexuality

When I arrived at the seminary in 1983, it didn’t take long to figure this out. The seminary had an unspoken policy when it came to sexual behavior. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

This left me in a quandary. I’ve just walked into a seminary with a still-fresh wound inflicted by the former president. It wasn’t about homosexuality. It was about another sexual preference, though no one in her or his right mind would have called it that back then.

He had an arrangement with a second ‘wife’ with whom he enjoyed getaways for at least a couple of years. It seems no one knew what was going on until one of the seminary’s capable staff members noticed a strange charge to his credit card.

The well-kept secret was out, and his time at the seminary came to an abrupt end. No one was happy about it. He was a highly respected man, well spoken, still in the prime of his life, and one of ‘ours.’ Which means he was a member of the church denomination that had birthed the seminary.

When I was interviewed to become a professor at the seminary, the still-fresh wound was never mentioned.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ already had a life of its own at the seminary. It seemed  to work. The seminary seemed to have good standing with constituents in the area. And if the word got out (which, of course, it did), the seminary had done the right thing. And attention quickly moved on to the bright future ahead now that this sad and unfortunate anomaly had been dealt with.

How did the seminary community process this crisis? I don’t know. I don’t recall much conversation about what had happened or how it might have changed the seminary’s thinking about sexual ethics and the abuse of power.

Doing the right thing when it comes to matters of sexuality is dicey at best. I don’t find the usual assumptions and exhortations from pulpits or other platforms helpful, though I believe we must talk about sexuality openly and honestly.

And there’s the rub. Because sexuality is complex, attempts to be open and honest can quickly devolve. Though we say we want an open conversation, we prefer a controlled environment. Many of us also arrive with our own unexamined baggage or our belief that we’ve got our own sexuality under control.

Trust, already in short supply, can quickly become nonexistent. Sometimes followed by resort to tired stereotypes and untested assumptions about people. It takes great skill and commitment to keep an open conversation open.

It seems we’re allergic to conversations that make us uncomfortable. Not simply as speakers, but as listeners. We prefer boundaries, no matter which side we’re on. Sometimes we argue about boundaries instead of talking about ourselves and our own painfully isolating secrets.

From my perspective, the seminary wasn’t skilled as a community when it came to creating safe space for open and honest dialogue about sexuality. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the unofficial, accepted way of dealing with things. This covered the seminary’s past history as well as the past and current histories of students, faculty and staff. Unopened, unexamined pieces of luggage full of confusion and heartache.

To be continued.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2018

Yesterday evening – a prayer of lament

Most evenings I take time to jot down how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m so weary I can scarcely keep my eyes open.

But yesterday evening was different. I’d spent time that evening going through old files from years of teaching and being a graduate student. Part of me was laughing and enjoying seeing some of the cheeky things I’d written in my younger years. The other part of me kicked in near the end—a little voice that wouldn’t let me go.

So when I sat down in the late evening with my journal, this is what I wrote to God—a prayer of lament, I think.

Oh God, I feel so empty tonight—so out of touch with the woman I am today. It seems my best work and my most memorable efforts are all in the past. Filed away in boxes of paper crammed with words—so many that I scarcely recognize myself back then.

Where did they all go? — Those words, ideas, images, insights, sparkling clear roadmaps to my past life and thinking and feeling.

They seem much more alive and important than anything I might manage to eke out today or tomorrow. Such high hopes and noble ambitions. And now this?

Please look kindly on my confusion through the eyes of Your merciful providence, and give me gratitude.

Then I went to bed and promptly fell asleep. A bit sobered, yet grateful for memories of so many good women and good men. And for the privilege of having touched their lives, and been touched by theirs.

I’m not the woman I thought I was when I arrived at the seminary to study or to teach. Or even when I began this blog.

Today I’m working on a piece for later this week. It’s about one of the most difficult subjects I’ve had to deal with personally and institutionally, as a member of various churches and as professor and dean at the seminary. Sexuality.

Thanks for reading and listening. And for helping grow me into the woman I am today.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 March 2018
Photo found at

grim and determined

grim and determined
she waits outside the closed door
peering straight ahead
and leaning on her walker
hands wrapped in weathered gloves

~~observed this morning in a waiting room

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2018

rising far above

rising far above
earth’s chilling chaos
the sun smiles warmly. . .

inviting me to bask in its light
instead of teetering on the brink
almost but not quite addicted
to insurgent adrenalin
coursing through veins and heart

chaos begets chaos of similar
proportions while inhumanity
goes for the jugular of decency
draining me of common bonds
erased by more urgent notifications

arriving by the millisecond
I emit gasps of horror about
this or that gross inhumanity
perpetrated against him or her
or us or them here or over there

breakdowns firings and hackings
poisonings fake smiles and killings
threaten to deliver our undone humanity
to the evil we deplore yet cannot
banish from titillated eyes and ears

rising far above
earth’s chilling chaos
the sun smiles warmly. . .
inviting me to bask
in its healing light

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 March 2018
Photo by David Henke, found at
Sunrise over the Delaware River on Easter Sunday 2011

the red cardinal

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was the first-born of four daughters. I had to watch my tongue constantly. Smile when expected. Stifle tears. Do as I was told. Set an example. And take the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started when I was in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist with whom I’m still connected.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate, or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think that getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal was singing his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, I don’t believe this makes my life easier. In fact, I’d suggest it makes it more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

Many thanks to Candice for this topic! Though I’ve already written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

Attic Memories

The attic is bare, and our downstairs spaces are now crowded with boxed books, old photos, cards, letters and files. They’ve invaded the basement and every room below the attic. All this because it’s time to give the attic a new life. After a bit of dry wall repair, painting, carpeting, and a handrail on the attic stairs.

D began the project weeks ago, sorting things out. Keep, toss, or give away. Especially books. Academic books occupied at least 75% of the attic. In rows, like a library. His and mine going back to our college years. Scholarly, earnest, serious books we used as students, professors or administrators.

During the last two days I spent most of my time in the attic, going through my piles of accumulated evidence and memorabilia from teaching, travel and family life.

Here are things that made me teary, exhausted or both.

  • Seeing how many places D and I visited for vacations or professional trips. Takeaway: Marrying D was a great way to see and hear about the world.
  • How many postcards I’ve purchased as a way to bring some of our travels home. Though they’re small, they remind me of more than appears on the postcards. Keepers.
  • Reminders of my large extended Renich family. Sadly, I don’t anticipate more official Renich family reunions. I loved looking through old reunion photos and family newsletters. More keepers.
  • My long emails to Diane when I visited Kenya for the first time (1997). I was terrified Diane might die (of ALS) while I was gone. I also wanted to take her with me in my emails. I wanted her to see in her sharp mind’s eye exactly what I was seeing. Irreplaceable.
  • How many recorded notes I kept over the years. Formal and informal. Back then it was about having a written record of appointments, meetings, interviews and important events. I didn’t trust my memory. But I did trust my bankruptcy court note-taking skills. It also helped me keep my listening and observational skills sharp. No, I didn’t keep all the notes. And yes, it gave me little pangs when I let most of them go.
  • I was astonished (if not exhausted) at how many students touched my life. And the wild, wide diversity of countries and cultures they brought into the classroom. Not in an online setting, but in person. Many struggling with English as a second language. Many going through life crises and changes in professional status. Too many now gone from this life. And many I probably wouldn’t recognize if I saw them today.

Despite the emotional and physical exhaustion of the last few days, I’m grateful for this look back into a world I won’t experience again. Sometimes it’s difficult being on the outside. Still, I don’t want to go back. I love life as it is—even though it’s not always neat and tidy.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 March 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser


How oddly ordinary to see them there
Crammed into files and boxes
Waiting for one more
Chance to be adjudicated
To be declared bankrupt
Without assets to proceed
Or recover on their own

All that remains
Are tasteless survival rations
Props and half-baked substance
Dumped and stirred into a
Great stew and foamy ferment
Of yesterday’s failed efforts to
Make this world a better place
In which to die
Or live diminished

Starving youth and children
Keep calling back wanting only
A fair go at being somebody
Or helping some body and soul
Hurting in this world weary
Of waiting for what most certainly
Will not arrive on time

Only You and they know fully
The challenge the exasperation
The hurdles and setbacks of
Trying to make it to first base
Without being called out
Fired from the team or

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 March 2018

Women against Women

Quaker Woman Preaching in New Amsterdam

It’s the late 1970s in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m a religion student at Vanderbilt University, studying for my Ph.D. The pastor of my United Presbyterian church has asked me to preach on Women’s Day. It’s my first sermon ever, and he wants me to preach about women’s issues and women’s liberation.

I worked hard putting together a lively sermon, then shook in my trousers as I stood in the pulpit and delivered the goods. Because there were a number of ‘liberated’ women in the congregation, it never occurred to me that I would get any kickback.

Indeed, comments and hugs after the service reassured me that all was well.

I was wrong. One of my best female supporters was seething with rage. She was older than I, highly educated and married to a professor. She didn’t hesitate to speak her mind to our pastor and to me.

My sermon sounded angry, and I wore trousers in the pulpit. I also think she might have liked to preach a sermon herself. Not only was she highly educated, she’d been a member of the church longer than I. Why had I, a relative newcomer, been singled out?

Fast forward to my first year of teaching at the seminary. It’s spring 1984. I’m in Philadelphia, teaching at a multiracial, multicultural seminary that has over 30 percent women students. I’ve been invited to speak to the Women’s Auxiliary, a group of faithful, diligent, smart women who support the seminary in dozens of ways, including fundraising efforts.

We met in a parlor-like room. The group included many pastor’s wives who had been around the seminary for years. I’d been asked to talk about myself and how I see women fitting into the work and mission of the seminary.

When I finished, we had time for discussion. Though most of our conversation was constructive and positive, I’ll never forget one woman’s painful, angry comments.

Here I was, younger than she, teaching at the seminary. And here was the seminary supporting women for ordination. And here was the Field Education Office, wanting to send a young woman to do her field education work under the supervision of her husband.

And here was this older woman, educated, experienced and clear about her role at the church as the ‘first lady.’ In fact, she believed she could have been a pastor. She was probably correct.

Nonetheless, she didn’t want seminary women working with her husband, taking over the place that rightfully belonged to her as his spouse. She didn’t trust women, including the women at the seminary. Over the years she had found a way to make space for herself in ministry without the “Rev.” and all the trappings that go with that. I’ve sometimes wondered whether she trusted her husband, the pastor.

I’ve seen this anger many times in older, well-educated, even brilliant women who for many reasons never followed their dreams. How sad when we make it women against women instead of holding each other and weeping for what we’ve all lost.

The valley of the shadow of death runs deep through the history of women against women. And still threatens to undo us.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 March 2018
Image  found at

warming to the sun


warming to the sun
thick snow relaxes
its grip on winter


listening to silence
broken by heartbeats
I hear God calling


when least expected
the tired old dam bursts
sweeping me away

What is this strange season? Just when I think I’ve got it, I have nothing. Nothing but unformed words that want to be written.

No great prospects for anything in print. Nothing but words that point in a direction I know rings true, but cannot capture.

Elusive as air, what I want to say comes and goes through my heart. Scattered clouds of connections and insights of a semi-experienced warrior feeling her way along.

I trust my heart and my fingers to find my way in this uncharted wilderness. Breathing deeply, I relax my mind and body’s fierce grip on wornout habits of self-preservation.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 March 2018
Image found at

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