Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built | James DePreist

DePreist’s star along Portland, Oregon’s Main Street Walk of Stars

James DePreist is on my mind again, thanks to a note from a long-time friend. DePreist was a world-renowned orchestra conductor, a survivor of polio contracted while conducting the Bangkok Symphony, and a nephew of his world-renowned Aunt Marian Anderson. He was born in Philadelphia in 1936.

DePreist died in 2013. You can read about his life in The New York Times obituary or on Wikipedia. At the time of his death, he had been conductor of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon since 1980.  He had also written two volumes of poetry in his own free style.

Of all his poems, this one has challenged me most. Not just in the past, but today. Given our current situation regarding Black Lives, and Covid-19, it resonates loudly. A timely invitation to examine walls I’ve built, and deal with questions now “breeching my barricades.”

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built,
robbed
of strength-drenched testing,
protected into an unprepared defense
of self.
Failing in my futile fortress to see
contentment’s numbing trap
I
answerless
must battle the questions now breeching
my barricades.

Poem written by James DePreist
©1986 and published by University of Portland Press in This Precipice Garden, p. 6

This is where I find myself today. Answerless. Not so much for my childhood upbringing in Georgia, but for my adult years when I thought I knew better.

While it’s true we never know how much good we’ve done, it’s also true we never know how much pain or damage we’ve inflicted. And then there’s always the question about now. What now? What next? How must I change, what will it cost, and what will I gain?

Thanks, as always, for visiting and reading. I pray you’re finding ways to deal with questions now breeching your barricades.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2020
Image found at en.wickipedia.org

The dam has been leaking for years

In honor of Covid-19 victims in the USA, from NBC News

The dam has been leaking for years
Giving up secrets great and small
Holding back others for fear
They’ll be rejected or tossed into
Another bin of bankrupt fake news
Now delivered daily from the top down
Burnished with self-righteous contempt
For humanity and all self-evident
Truths now being exposed as lies

The so-called mighty are falling
Taken down by the truth of a virus
Delivered daily without fanfare
And without so much as a knock
On the door or nod to fake protocols
Of a society already drowning in
A flood of its own making

One day at a time
One human being at a time
One lust for wealth at a time
One unanswered call for help at a time
One refusal to repent at a time

***

I don’t feel defeated. I feel lost. And challenged to change, thanks to Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

I’m relieved to be one of many citizens immersing themselves in the untold, untaught, neglected history of how we in the USA got to this point. How can it be that we still don’t honor and practice equal rights for each citizen of this nation?

So yes, I’m feeling lost in my own backyard, though not without hope. The kind that feeds on truth, and grows a bit stronger each day.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 August 2020
Image found at abcnews.go.com

Reaping the Whirlwind

When did it begin —
This habit of being
More interested in myself
Than in the heart-rending
Realities of others?

White baby becomes
White child groomed
To be a ‘good’ Christian
And obedient little girl
Never questioning
Or fighting against
Rules upon rules
Spoken and unspoken
Shaping each day
By hook and by crook
Plus forced acceptance
And respect for all men
In authority over them

Never forget this, my daughters:

To be an adult citizen
Of the United States
With full rights and a vote
Is an uncommon honor
Not accorded every
Girl child in this nation
Only white children need apply to this
Fake Order of The Righteous Remnant
Happy to believe the sad myth that
They are the light of the world
A Great City set on a Great hill
Above this Great yet shrinking land
Still starving for ministrations of Mercy
And Justice for All

The system that became today’s USA was rigged from the beginning. As were so-called ‘history of the USA’ books for school children. Looking back, our true history is clear, as were bits and pieces of our national blindness and apathy decades ago.

I pray you and I will remain courageous and determined, no matter what comes next. It’s dangerous to be a light of any color set on a hill, especially while also attracting those determined to extinguish the light of truth.

Thanks for visiting and reading. Even a new President, should we be so blessed, won’t be able to wave a magic wand. In the end, it’s up to us. One day at a time. One heartfelt conversation, one small deed at a time. May God have mercy on us all.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 August 2020
Image found at http://www.thestar.com (Toronto)

Dear Smudge | Photos of a Prince

Recently Rescued, August 2014

Prince Oliver Smudge the Second, Aug 2014

Dear Smudge,

Sorry if you’re offended, but lots of people haven’t met you yet. I know. We all look better when we can pose for the camera. You’ll survive.

From the beginning we knew you were special. So did you. You out-smart every cat we’ve ever had. When it comes to new tricks and new boundaries to push, you take the cake!

Having taken the cake and eaten it, you’ve also become adept at finding ways to sleep it off. Anywhere and everywhere. I don’t pretend to have documentary proof of every spot you’ve decided belongs to you. But I do have a few.

Fair warning: You may not find these photos very flattering. But right now you’re downstairs sleeping off your wild night, so I’m upstairs taking advantage of this momentary lull. Sorry if this offends you, but….

Because I don’t usually like unposed pictures of me, I feel your pain. But I also find these rather endearing! Someday you will, too. Trust me.

Love and a few friendly nose-bumps,
Queen Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2015, reposted 3 August 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Justice doesn’t trickle down, any more than wealth at the top trickles down. Yet church-related efforts at justice sometimes seem to try trickling down. Through the cracks and around the edges.

Why? Because this is a politically-charged issue. The stakes are high, and it seems injustice is winning. Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 have together exposed our glaring weaknesses as a nation. Especially when it comes to race.

This past week I began a 40-day “journey through America’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism.” It’s titled “An American Lament.”  You can take a look or down download it here. It was originally an exercise for Lent.

No one ever taught me to lament. Especially about my personal history with slavery, segregation, and racism.

I’ve always thought of myself as a seriously ‘with-it’ woman. In seminary, in the 1970s, I studied both sexism and racism. At university, in the 1980s, I focused my dissertation research on women’s issues. I mistakenly thought that by understanding feminism, I had an advantage when it came to understanding racism.

However, the very first day of this 40-day exercise, I listened online to a riveting, challenging address about racism and Christian churches in the USA. It was recorded in 2018, the year of mid-term elections. The full title is “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.”

I highly recommend Rev. David Platt’s address for pastors, church leaders, church members, and anyone who cares about racism in the USA.

As for the rest of life these days, I’m walking every chance I get (way too hot on many days), listening to birds, helping stomp out lantern flies, talking with neighbors (outside and with a mask, of course), and learning more than I wanted to know about my history with racism.

Cheers to each of you for making it through another week!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2020
Quote and image found at blockislandtimes.com

A Prayer of Lament 2

I wrote the poem below just after the 2016 Presidential Election. It still resonates as a lament about the outcome of the election. It’s also about today.

It’s easy to point to Mr. Trump as the cause of our current troubles. Yet Mr. Trump didn’t get here alone. His supporters, wealthy or not, religious or not, played their roll by covering for him, lying for him, and making loyalty to him the sign of being a good citizen.

Mr. Trump also had help from white Christians, including those who didn’t vote for him. Their preferences have included looking the other way, acting like nothing’s wrong in the White House, raging, apathy and indifference, cozying up in order to get what they want, or holding their noses until the next election.

White Christian slave holders and non-slave holders enabled white supremacy from the beginning of our nation. Worse, they often did this by misappropriating or ignoring Scripture.

It’s easy to look the other way, blame others, and live our privileged lives in a giant fairy tale that still passes for “American History.” Mr. Trump is a product of this history. He didn’t, however, make it happen.

So here’s the lament again, this time for all of us. Especially for white citizens in the USA who claim to follow Jesus.

We’ve lost our way —
or never found it

Bitter bargains struck
Trust betrayed
Loyalties unexamined
Bodies scorned
Contempt exalted
Rage rewarded
Fear ignited
Self promoted

Spoils of a winning war

Good Shepherd, have mercy on us all.
Amen

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 July 2020
Image found at parkhillsrca.org

Faith — is the Pierless Bridge 2

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Two months after breaking my jaw in 2016, I posted Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem. Given today’s troubles, I’m as uncertain now as I was then. How am I to live my life? My comments follow, lightly edited.

Faith – is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not –
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side –
It joins – behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

c. 1864

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily describes an impossible Pierless Bridge stretching out, with no horizon in sight but the sky and water. It doesn’t seem to have visible supports or buttresses. Instead, it seems to stretch out not in front of me, but with me, step by step, as I make my pierless way across the water.

My feet vacillate, uncertain where to go. I’m far from the shore, maybe not far to go. But I don’t know how much farther, or what I’ll find when I reach the goal.

Boldness and courage seem paramount. Closing my eyes, I feel my way along. Not with my hands, but through the bare soles of my feet connecting with what must surely be a mammoth construction of steel, boulders and cement. How could there not be a pier?

I open my eyes, hoping for a glimpse of the goal, but see nothing ahead and nothing behind. Even more distressing, what’s supporting me is no larger and no more visible than one slender, fragile thread of a spider web.

Closing my eyes, I grope along, too far out to turn back. I don’t feel bold or courageous. The way is precarious. I’m full of questions  and more than a bit of doubt.

I don’t have a map or a friendly GPS system to tell me when to leave one foot behind and shift my weight onto the other foot. I just know I’m being drawn and supported by something or someone greater than myself.

Is this journey about strengthening my faith? Perhaps the point isn’t my faith, weak or bold. In fact, I can’t believe that by the time I’ve arrived at the goal, my faith will be strong.

Before my faith and before my birth there was someone or something else. I imagine the Source of my life greeting me from within the Veil to which Faith leads me. Here is the One who birthed me. The One who boldly and courageously watches for me from the other side of my human life, spinning out as needed a fragile yet steel-buttressed thread of Faith—my Creator’s Faith in me. Faith that leads me home, just as I am and yet will be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2016, reposted 29 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Thank you, Mr. Trump – Again

I have not changed my mind since I first published this on 20 June 2018. 

Thank you, Mr. Trump.

I don’t really want to say those words to you. Yet I must. It seems the abuse of power has more educational value than all the well-intended lectures and lessons of this world.

Just think about it for a half-minute. Who would have thought we could all so quickly know the meaning and the impact of things that are ‘systemic.’ Evil is systemic.

Simply put: What happens in one corner of the world has tentacles that reach to every other corner of the world, sooner or later.

Good is also systemic. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe good will triumph, though at an exceeding high cost. Perhaps we’re paying it now?

In the meantime, systemic evil seems to be our sad and sorry tutor these days. As I see it, thanks to your moves and counter-moves and flourishes of your pen, we now recognize and feel the impact of systemic evil.

Soy farmers get it; steel manufacturers get it; those without a living wage get it; people who live on the streets get it; human beings from the wrong side of our southern border get it; people with skin that isn’t your color get it; people in mansions get it; and so do people in power. All this and more.

Of course some ‘get it’ more than others. And some are happy to get it at great cost to others. This becomes crystal clear as the consequences of evil multiply and hive off faster than ants or bees. Though even the bees are feeling systemic neglect as well.

Perhaps the word evil is bothering you. No problem. I can use another word. How about systemic lying? Systemic cheating? Systemic abuse? Systemic violence? Systemic greed? Systemic robbery? Systemic inhumanity? Systemic distrust of scientific research? Systemic neglect of those most in need of help? Just to name a few.

We don’t live in air-tight surroundings. We live in complex webs of connections, even when we think we’re living disconnected. Or off the grid. Which is, in itself, another form of denial.

No President of the United States has made the word ‘systemic’ so clear in so little time as you have, Mr. Trump. As a theology professor who struggled often to explain how systemic evil works in the world, I have to hand it to you. You’ve done a masterful job in very short order.

There’s just one hitch. You give every sign that you believe you’re an island unto yourself. Able to push and shove the world around at will or by hook and crook, hiding beneath your POTUS status and your highly proclaimed ability to practice the art of the deal.

Sadly, your relentless pushing and shoving is painfully and abusively open to inspection every moment of every day, whether you attempt to hide it or not. I wish I could feel sad for you. Instead, I’m mourning what’s happening to my friends, my neighbors, my family, our country and our integrity as one nation among many.

Not that we were perfect before you became POTUS. We were not. Nor will we ever be. Still, it seems that what we’ve become as of today or even tomorrow will never, ever be called ‘great.’

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 June 2018, reposted on 28 July 2020
Image found at ideas.hallmark.com

From This River, When I Was a Child | Mary Oliver

Photo of the dock and river; taken by DAFraser in July 2010

A Mary Oliver poem for all of us. My comments follow.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found

that the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?”

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost
joyfulness. For the children who will not
know what a river can be—a friend, a
companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

© 2008 Mary Oliver
Poem found in Red Bird, p. 44
Published by Beacon Press

When I read this poem, I tear up. It takes me back to my childhood in the South. We lived on a branch of the Savannah River. Our smaller yet substantial river was named the Vernon River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Vernon River spoke to me multiple times. Especially when I was feeling sad, misunderstood or inundated by the noise of four daughters living in one house with two parents. Plus small pets, parakeets, and the occasional baby flying squirrels rescued from certain death when they fell or were pushed out of their nests.

We lived in rural Chatham County, at the end of a narrow country road, 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. I had three younger sisters. Frequently I needed a companion. A hint of heaven that was there for me, night and day.

The Vernon River did all that for me. No, I didn’t drink the salt water. But I swam in it. Better than a bath on a hot, humid day! Plus miraculous skin-healing properties of salt water free for the taking. Crabs to be caught, boiled, picked and eaten. Salt-water breezes to soothe my sad, sometimes lonely soul. The soft splash of tides coming and going like clockwork. The sound of seagulls chasing shrimp boats early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

When I read Mary’s poem, I’m out on the dock again. Alone. Sitting on top of the picnic table. Feeling the goodness of earth and heaven come together in one grand moment of peace.

Am I “somewhat” overplaying what I’ve lost? Or what the children of today may never experience?

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2020
Photo of dock and river taken by DAFraser, July 2010

The heaviness of being

Dear Friends,

Early yesterday morning D and I drove into downtown Philadelphia. Not the governmental center of the city, but a huge medical center of towering buildings. We parked in a huge garage and walked to the building where I had an appointment with a skin doctor. He removed some of my precious skin. Hopefully it will be the last visit for now.

What used to be a somewhat routine visit was now a Corona-Virus Visit writ large. For two weeks prior to my visit, I received multiple phone calls with instructions about what to do and not do before the visit, and what to expect when I arrived.

The streets and sidewalks were full of masked citizens coming and going, carefully avoiding close contact, perhaps smiling from time to time behind their masks. On the whole, however, most seemed grim and determined to get where they were going as quickly and safely as possible.

The heaviness of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter underscores the heaviness of being I’m feeling these days. I had an interesting conversation with a masked woman sitting near me in the waiting room. The procedure was fairly straight-forward. Masked D was relieved to see masked me coming down the escalator. Still, it all felt disembodied. Regimented though considerate, with an edge of danger in the air.

No matter what Mr. Trump or anyone else says, there is no going back to Normal. Instead, I’m treating each day as a challenge to be met, with small daily goals to keep me on-track in a trackless world without a clear finishing line.

I grieve what we’ve lost, and what we thought we had but did not. I don’t, however, grieve the call to self-reflection. How did we come to this unholy disaster? Will we be wiser if and when this pandemic is over? How will we then live?

Praying your Sabbath is filled with rest and a nagging restlessness to “hear the sound of the genuine in you.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 July 2020
Quote from Howard Thurman found at pinterest.com

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