Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Death and Dying

For Horace O. Russell

National Bird of Jamaica – the ‘Doctor Bird’ found only in Jamaica

Grief arrived last night
on the other end of a phone call
from a dear friend

Grief not just for us and the family
but for the world our friend knew and loved
from the bottom of his generous heart

Colleague, Brother, Church Historian
Master of all things Jamaican
Wise and Eternally Optimistic

I hang up the phone
and weep for us and for this world
made better by your faithful presence

It’s impossible to capture in words the worldwide reach of our colleague’s life.

Horace O. Russell served the seminary as Dean of the Chapel, and Professor of Historical Theology. I worked with him as a teaching colleague and as an administrator. He was also the retired Senior Pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Russell was Jamaican by birth, and world citizen by choice. He and his gifted British wife made their mark not just on the seminary, but on the church worldwide. Thankfully, his wife and another family member were with him when he left this world.

Today I’ve been thinking about Dr. Russell’s generous, optimistic support for me, and about the senior seminar we co-led more than once.

During these seminars, Dr. Russell sometimes shared case histories he’d written about his pastoral work in Jamaica. They sometimes made life in these United States seem a bit dull.

The actual outcome of each case wasn’t revealed until each student worked with it and shared what she or he would do next, and why. Never a dull moment, and always plenty of surprises at the end. His ability to enlarge our vision was one of his many gifts to the seminary.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Dr. Russell carried a small camera at all times (so it seemed to me). Usually he didn’t wait for people to pose. Informal was the way to go. No matter what we looked like in the photos, he was generous with prints of these historical records. Here’s where we were on this date; this is what we were doing; and this is what we looked like.

Today I’ve been going through my collection of his photos, torn between gratitude and grief. Grateful to know his suffering has ended, and that he was not and is not now alone.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2021
Photo of Jamaica’s national bird found at jamaicanconsulate.rs

Life on whose terms?

Falling asleep,
my body cries
for attention
and the comfort
of doing nothing
while awaiting new life
and energy that endures
forever and ever

Listening to the news,
I hear the beginning
of the end in post-Easter air—
especially if Jesus of Nazareth
isn’t allowed to rise from his
unseemly death and confront
our lackluster attempts
to live life on our own terms

I’m struck by how busy things become each year as Easter Sunday approaches. Part of the busyness is about special church services for those able and willing to attend.

But that isn’t what catches my eye. Instead, we have the tug of Easter egg hunts, Easter dinner arrangements, fancy Easter clothes or even mini-vacations that can suck the life blood out of Easter.

I like to enjoy life on my terms. However, Easter challenges me to look beyond myself and my limited resources. I wonder what it would look like for me to keep up with Jesus instead of the current idols of this world?

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2021
Image found at anona.com

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver

Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

~~~~~

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadows,
    leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
    clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44

~~~~~

I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.

All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.

Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.

No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.

Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?

Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
Image found at threadreaderapp.com

Peace | Dorothee Soelle

Last night we lost yet more citizens to a so-called ‘lone gunman.’ This time in Boulder, Colorado. Today I woke up thinking about one of Dorothee Soelle’s poems from the Vietnam War era. The war lasted officially from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975. My comments follow.

Peace

1

Asked to write a poem about peace
I feel shame for those who ask
do they live on a different planet
what are their hopes
and for whom

Gases meant for rice farmers
have been tested
they can be harmless
if the humidity and the wind
are right

So I’d suggest
we talk about the wind

2

Speaking of the wind
it can be lenient
rice plants can be merciful
sometimes
how friendly the jungle rain is
it delays attacks
and the twenty-fourth of december
lowers the casualty count
all these things provide cover
for st sebastian
for peace

3

He’s leaning against a tree
the wood has been sold
the land leased
the water poisoned
the rain kills birds
somebody takes aim at him
he raises his arms against the black wood
it is not finished

Dorothee Soelle, Revolutionary Patience, pp. 33-34
English translation © 1977 by Orbis Books

Sometime during the night yet another citizen of the USA walked into yet another public business and committed mayhem. This time in Boulder, Colorado. We miss the point if we think this was a lone male. No matter what prompted his actions, he is one of millions of men and women in the USA outfitted for killing with firearms, without warning.

And here we are in Lent. How ironic. Dorothee Soelle is correct: The death of one man (in this case, St. Sebastian) did not end the killing. Nor did the death of Jesus of Nazareth end the enmity burning like fire in the veins of many who see no way out except to take aim and fire.

“Surely he has born our griefs, and carried our sorrows….” (Isaiah 53:4, King James Version)

May God have mercy on us all.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2021
Image of painting by Roger Wagner found at mutualart.com

Haunted by fear

Forcing my eyes away
From today’s headlines
I catch myself also avoiding
What’s already captured
In our history and multi-media

It begs me not to forget
And not to believe the lie
That by solving this one
Crime we will solve all
Crimes against humanity
Or prove ourselves more
Committed to human rights
Than other countries that
Never seem to get it right
In our self-righteous eyes

Daily distractions
Continue unabated
Headlines and reports
boldly steal attention
from what’s happening
in our back yards and streets
now haunted by fear
of unannounced annihilation

Is this our pro-USA reflex action kicking in? The one that doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth about our nation? Many news reports seem determined to focus on the perpetrator at the expense of victims. Especially when the so-called ‘lone’ perpetrator is a white male.

The most recent killing targeted mainly Asian women. Much news coverage went into various profiles of the perpetrator, though not the significance of his victims’ race and gender. I applaud news organizations that chose to investigate connections between our nation’s history, and our past and current treatment of Asian citizens and immigrants.

Another lone white male gunman? I don’t believe it. I see it in large part as the result of coddling white boys and men of all ages and ranks in life when they ‘misbehave.’ And then, adding insult to injury, refusing to pursue justice for their victims.

On top of that, there’s this. Many life-denying behaviors have deep roots in family histories and wartime experiences. We haven’t dealt adequately with this reality. It seems we prefer looking the other way because it’s easier than facing reality, and our own unintended collusion.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 March 2021
Photo found at democracynow.org

Who am I now?

My computer screen
Is as blank as my mind
Weary and disoriented

Even the weather
Can’t decide whether
It’s mid-winter or early spring

Days pass in a chaotic
Parade of not knowing the
End from the beginning

Inviting me to look beyond
Myself and my small world
To the dead and the dying

Since early March 2020, I’ve taken Covid-19 restrictions seriously. I’ve also had both shots, so I’m now in a relatively safe category. Plus I’m white, have a retirement income, and live in a relatively safe neighborhood.

So how do I assess what’s good and right for me to do with regard to Covid-19? Are we at a turning point for the better? Or are we on the verge of yet another spike in deaths and confirmed cases? What about the majority of citizens who haven’t received a vaccination?

Or from another angle, have we begun an undeclared war in this country? A war in which Covid-19 attitudes and behaviors stand in for Us against Them? A war in which winning is defined by overt defiance, fake bravado, and making the headlines?

Nation-wide, I wonder what our churches and religious organizations are doing today to push back against the kind of thinking that helped get us into this mess in the first place.

Yes, we had a POTUS who failed the test of leadership when we most needed it. Now we have President Biden and a new team. However, it takes an entire country to meet a pandemic crisis head on. This includes churches and church leaders with guts and vision to do what still needs to be done.

To our chagrin, we are not a country that offers liberty and justice for all. Strangely, we have Covid-19 to thank for making this unwelcome truth painfully visible. So what can we do about this as individuals?

Just some of what’s going through my mind these days. More questions than answers. How about you?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2021
Illustration by Brian Stauffer for foreignpolicy.com

when life goes south

when life goes south
as they love to say
the weary get up
and get going

anywhere
it doesn’t matter
just so there’s
a sunrise tomorrow

and stars above
when evening calls
to carry me away
beyond these hollows

seeking to prepare
I don my travel clothes
now old and worn
from years of waiting

in the distance
a lone owl sings
its screeching song
chilling my weary bones

Time is short no matter when it began.

Signs of old age are incontrovertible. Also not to be argued: I’m in the exit line. How close to the last moment of the last day or night? I don’t know. But I’m feeling it. Partly due to pandemic unknowns. But more because of a year of not being the ordinary human being I think I was in February 2020.

It’s never too early or late to prepare for the end. In fact, I’d argue that something like preparation begins the moment we’re born into this world, whether we realize it or not.

Today the sun is out, still melting mounds of stubborn snow in our back yard. Our resident pigeon pair is already hoping for an early-bird hatching. A male red-wing blackbird has been visiting our feeder along with all the other regulars. A good day for an afternoon walk. Time is short, and I love life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 March 2021
Image found at forbes.com

Living with loss

It’s always in my face
until it isn’t anymore
With a smirk and a sigh
energy slides to the floor
of my waning ambitions

Time races by
without much effort
as I sit watching birds
and freezing rain
drift through the air

It’s time for lavender crocus
to push their sweet petals
through layers of packed snow
now coating the back yard
like a fake movie set

I sit at the kitchen table
reluctant to move
taking in the calm of
a day just begun
despite my growing lassitude

I must admit to a case of weariness. Physical, mental, emotional weariness.

I don’t mind messes. In fact, I’m challenged by them. I used to enjoy sorting things out into neat piles. Not for my own pleasure, but because things go better when they’re arranged in a sensible way. So we know who’s who and where things are and how to access truth.

We seem to have less sense than usual about us these days. Not as individuals, but as citizens of these weary, mostly disunited states. It isn’t too much to say we’re in a hunkered down war-like posture. We’ve been there for decades, growing wearier by the day.

No one has declared open warfare, though we’ve come close. On a regular day, those who feel the heat most often are our best barometers. Women, children, the unemployed, prisoners, immigrants, and sometimes anyone who lingers too long to watch the sunset.

It feels as though our government has become the new war zone that guarantees we’ll not cross over to the ‘enemy.’

And yet, for this and much more, Jesus of Nazareth turned his face toward his enemies and toward death. One wearying day after another.

I pray we’ll find reason to hope not in ourselves, but in a power greater than we are. Even though it means learning to die.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 March 2021
Photo found at gardeningknowhow.com

What we don’t have

In the opening pages of his Journal of an Ordinary Grief, Mahmoud Darwish writes these haunting words:

What are you doing, father?

I’m searching for my heart, which fell away that night.

Do you think you’ll find it here?

Where else am I going to find it? I bend to the ground and pick it up piece by piece just as the women of the fellahin pick up olives in October, one olive at a time.

But you’re picking up pebbles!

Doing that is a good exercise for memory and perception. Who knows? Maybe these pebbles are petrified pieces of my heart. And even if they’re not, I would still have gotten used to the effort of searching on my own for something that made me feel lost when it was lost. The mere act of searching is proof that I refuse to get lost in my loss. The other side of this effort is the proof that I am in fact lost as long as I have not found what I have lost.

Mahmoud Darwish, Journal of an Ordinary Grief, pp 3-4. Translated from Arabic, with a foreword by Ibrahim Muhawi. Archipelago Books, English translation published in 2010; first published in Beirut in 1973.

When I read these words I can’t help thinking about our national crisis. Not Covid-19, or even political wars waging night and day in cities and towns everywhere.

Our most pressing crisis is our identity. Who are we as a nation?

Mahmoud Darwish’s father struggles with an “ordinary grief.” Ordinary because the grief never goes away. It’s the grief of a Palestinian whose heart has been broken. The grief of an old man without a country. Grief that won’t let go of memories because they’re the last link to what once home. The place where hearts were nourished and cherished. Memories now represented by pebbles. Bits and pieces of stone standing in for what was lost.

The USA is no paradise. Those brought here or captured against their have already attested to this.

They and their descendants are still looking for something. Dare we join them in their search? Stone by stone, bullet by bullet, bone by bone. Small connections to the past, and reminders of what they and we still don’t have: liberty and justice for all.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2021
Painting of old man found at lettalkknowledge.wordpress.com

Thank you, Marian Anderson

 

Today is the anniversary of Marian Anderson’s birth in 1897. You may remember that James DePreist, musician and poet, was her nephew. Some might even remember that she was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Anderson died on  April 8, 1993.

This morning I watched and listened to a number of YouTube videos. Most focused on Anderson’s amazing voice. After listening to more than one recording of “They Crucified My Lord,” I chose the one you see above. It isn’t dressed up, and we don’t hear or see the audience. Instead, we’re invited to hear and feel the full weight of Anderson’s interpretation. One tragic note at a time.

I hear connections between Anderson’s interpretation of this song and James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.  Not just in the music itself, but in her subdued yet determined delivery of the song. Often followed by silence from the audience.

I wonder. How many white people felt pierced in their hearts, as I do now, when they heard and saw her interpretation of it? We’ll never know. However, the fact that this song was often met with silence instead of enthusiastic hand-clapping suggests the message was clear to all.

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t say a ‘mumbling word’ and was known to be innocent of charges brought against him. It follows that we dare not applaud this travesty (lynching in its changing costumes) that continues to haunt us in the USA.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 February 2021
Image and song thanks to YouTube.com

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