Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

What the world needs | Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman made things straightforward, simple and down to earth. My father did not. I was raised in a Christian culture (presided over by my father) that saw life outside our ‘safe’ space under attack by twin demons: complexity and danger. Especially if life outside made me come alive.

  • Dancing? No way! Definitely the first step toward raucous, immoral behavior.
  • Lipstick? No way! A sure sign of debauchery. (Until it suited my father to make it imperative.)
  • Dating unchurched and thus unreliable (might grope or rape me) males? No way! (Not that dating was high on my list.)

So here I am today. A supposedly grown-up white woman still figuring out how, at this age and under our current circumstances, to go and do what makes me come ALIVE!

All things  considered, I don’t plan on going anywhere for a while. However, reading and writing make me come alive. Along with music and poetry. Talking with my children and grandchildren. Stopping for a street-side chat with neighbors. Hearing from friends all over the world. Playing with Smudge.

Then there are lovely morning walks. I’m just back from one with D, seeing and hearing birds sing at will. No officious patrol cars tracking them down and locking them up for looking suspicious or disturbing the peace.

The end of the matter is this: I’m most alive when I’m an uncaged songbird! I want to spend my short life singing songs of truth, especially when I’m surrounded and it looks like the sky is falling.

These are trying times. It’s the 4th of July. I wish I could say Hurray for the USA! We’ve come a long way baby! Break out the champagne! Let the fire crackers fly through the air!

But I cannot. Why not? Because right now this contentious, at-risk world needs people who have come alive. Women, men and children willing to tell the truth about their lives regardless of the cost. Willing to listen long and hard to songs they’ve never heard before. Willing to look into the eyes of strangers, smile, and say “Good morning! Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

Hoping you have a thoughtful 4th of July filled with songs and stories you’ve not heard before.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2020
Image found at quoteswave.com

Just for today

Finally
After months of fighting
acceptance

Comes knowledge
That this is the way things are
and didn’t have to be

Plus willingness
to accept limitations
and whatever today offers

Ready
To give and receive small gifts
No matter the outcome

Refusing
To look the other way
While lifting my voice in prayer

Content
With what I can do this day
Unlike any other

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve heard friends and strangers talking about prayer. In particular, how we pray right now, given the current situation in the White House, in governing and non-governing bodies, and in our neighborhoods.

It’s time for lament. The kind that looks into the reality around us without trying to go back to the way things were. Lament that acknowledges our personal grief, anger, rage, and our betrayal by POTUS and others more concerned with glory than with grace. Lament that implores our Creator to have mercy on us, no matter the cost.

I’m in lament mode. I’m also beginning to understand how to get up in the morning and let the day be what it is. An opportunity to be invested in something larger than myself, without getting sidetracked by the mucky morass that wants to capture and kill my energy.

Praying you’re finding your way in this day unlike any other.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2020
Photo found at m.economictimes.com

Alternative tv | Dorothee Soelle

Four miners in mine shaft wearing hard hats and headlamps

Dorothee Soelle wrote this poem in the 1970s, an era roiled by the Vietnamese War. I was in my 30s. How old were you? My comments follow.

Alternative tv

The old man on the screen sang
in a loud and shaky voice
and had probably never been very clean
in addition he had hardly any teeth left
a miner with black lung
of course he spoke dialect and his grammar was bad
why after all should he
show his best side to the camera

When god turns on his tv
he sees old people like that
they sing
in a loud and shaky voice
and the camera of the holy spirit
shows the dignity of these people
and makes god say
that is very beautiful

Later
when we have abolished tv as it exists
and are allowed to look at the skin of aging women
and are unafraid of eyes
that have lost their lashes in weeping
when we respect work
and the workers have become visible
and sing
in a loud and shaky voice

Then we shall see
real people
and be happy about it
like god

Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love, p. 171
English translation of selected pieces from the German text © 1983 Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545
First published as Im Hause des Menshenfressers, © 1981 by Rowohlt Tashenbuch Verlag in Hamburg, West Germany

Now that I’m in my mid to late 70s, I find this poem more truthful than ever. I don’t often see aging women or men on TV, just as they are. Maybe in a news piece or documentary. But rarely, if ever, in flashy shows or advertisements. They’re busy reflecting our captivity to spending money on ourselves, our houses, our lawns, our cars, eating out and eating in, or getting ‘fixed’ so our embarrassing flaws don’t show.

As Dorothee Soelle points out, our Creator is watching Alternative tv. The kind that accepts us just as we are when we’re willing to show up just as we are. Happy to be in the presence of one who understands and loves us in all our real flesh.

As always, thank for visiting and reading. These are hard times for all of us. I pray we’ll find ways to help bring about hope, peace, and reconciliation, and courage to show up for our Creator and each other, just as we are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 June 2020
Photo of miners found at WestVirginiaInjuryLawyers.wordpress.com

The human shadow revisited

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                            Mature Dawn Redwood at Longwood Gardens

Five years ago I posted comments on George MacDonald’s sonnet for June 9. Today I rediscovered it, right on time. It helps me think about my actions during this tumultuous uprising through which we must go together, or die. My lightly edited comments from five years ago follow.

June 9

Faith is the human shadow of thy might.
Thou art the one self-perfect life, and we
Who trust thy life, therein join on to thee,
Taking our part in self-creating light.
To trust is to step forward out of the night—
To be—to share in the outgoing Will
That lives and is, because outgoing still.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

What does MacDonald’s opening line mean? “Faith is the human shadow of thy might.”

I can’t help thinking about the grand trees I saw yesterday. It was a hot, humid day begging for shade and breezes. We found it beneath huge trees reaching toward the sky. Could their welcome shade be like faith? An earthly shadow of God’s creative reach?

I imagine myself stepping out of burning sun (MacDonald’s ‘night’), into the shade. Into faith that exists only because of ‘thee’ and ‘thy might.’ I didn’t create the shade. I can’t touch it. I feel it in every part of me. It calms the boiling molecules in my body. It gives me energy to move forward and outward.

Imagine this. Perhaps the Creator’s towering tree-like presence reaches out large limbs that support a leafy umbrella offering respite and relief. I’m not the tree. Yet by standing within the tree’s shadow, I join myself to its life. To my true home. Unlike the tree, I can’t see this with my eyes, yet I know it by faith. Faith that dwells within the shadows of the Creator’s presence.

This means stepping forward “out of the night” is like stepping into the shade of a majestic tree. It’s a way of sharing in the life of the tree, of gaining strength and energy found only within its life, its ‘will,’ its outgoing nature.

The Creator’s will, like the tree, is outgoing. Reaching away from itself to create and recreate all nature including human nature. To become part of the Creator’s life is to ‘join on’ by stepping forward ‘out of the night’ (or out of the burning heat).

Only then do I exist truly and share fully as a human participant in the life of this world with all its upheavals and joys. Not because of my own great ideas, but as a participant in this strangely beautiful and demanding partnership with our Creator.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 June 2015, lightly edited and reposted on 9 June 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, 9 June 2015, Longwood Gardens

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

Covid-19 has been disproportionately deadly to populations already struggling to survive. Especially, but not only, Black Americans. The blatant killing of yet another Black citizen is pushing us to the brink of chaos.

I’ve spent the last few days listening to and reading responses to our current situation. Today I’m passing along a few notes, and the link above to Pastor Charles Montgomery’s excellent discussion this morning. It’s well worth watching.

Pastor Montgomery begins with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question: Where do we go from here: chaos or community? (The title of his last book before his assassination in 1968)

If we want to understand what’s happening today, Pastor Montgomery suggests we begin with three reasons for our current chaos.

  • polarization caused by fear
  • politics fueled by anger (and  driven by fear)
  • radicalization inflamed by injustice, real or perceived

These three tensions are pulling at the fabric of our nation. Trying to tear us apart.

What’s the alternative? Choosing not to live in fear, but to love God and one another.

This echoes the question Jesus asked one of the religious elite, and then answered with a story-question, Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37). The unexpected answer: The Samaritan who dared to stop and become the neighbor of a Jewish man beaten up, left to die on the side of a road, and bypassed by the religious elite. Go thou, says Jesus, and do likewise.

The Samaritan got involved. Not out of sympathy, but moved by empathy. He understood what it was like to be ignored, belittled, or even left dying on the side of the road.

Furthermore, he didn’t waste any time. He used what he had at hand, and did what he could until this man was healed.

If I want to be like the Samaritan, Rev. Montgomery suggests I ask myself questions like these:

  • What captures my attention when I see someone different who’s in trouble? What’s the first thought that goes through my mind?
  • Who are my friends? Not just at church, but in my neighborhood, on Facebook or WordPress.
  • With whom do I talk? What do I read? (Or do I cocoon myself in a ‘safe’ small world?)

Distance is a barrier to peace. Empathy comes close to pain without minimizing, ignoring, dismissing, or questioning the other person’s character. It remains present, asks questions, offers support, prays, dresses wounds, uses what it has at hand.

Empathy doesn’t try to fix the situation. Take charge. Pontificate. Or ignore.

Please pray for us, and for millions of others in similar situations.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 June 2020
Video posted on Facebook.com

Exercise in concentration | Dorothee Soelle

It’s relatively easy to say I’m committed to resisting Mr. Trump. This includes resisting the noise that comes from and around him.

Like many Americans, I like to think we can ‘get things done’ if only we persist, act up, sound off, form a committee, create a ministry with a mission, advertise a lot, or pound the street recruiting foot soldiers.

In some senses, we can get things done. Yet there are moments in history when we need more than committees and ministries. This isn’t about organization. It’s about the content of our character.

Dorothee Soelle understood how difficult it is to resist without it being all about me and my ideas. Her exercise in concentration offers a more difficult starting point.

Exercise in concentration

If I’m absolutely still
I can hear the surge of the sea
from my bed
but it isn’t enough to be absolutely still
I also have to draw my thoughts away from the land

It isn’t enough to draw one’s thoughts away from the land
I also have to attune my breathing to the sea
because I hear less when I breathe in

It isn’t enough to attune one’s breath to the sea
I also have to ban impatience from my hands and feet

It isn’t enough to calm hands and feet
I also have to give up images

It isn’t enough to give up images
I have to rid myself of striving

It isn’t enough to be rid of striving
if I don’t relinquish my ego

It isn’t enough to relinquish the ego
I’m learning to fall

It isn’t enough to fall
but as I fall
and drop away from myself
I no longer
seek the sea
because the sea
has come up from the coast now
has entered my room
surrounds me

If I’m absolutely still

Dorothee Soelle, in Revolutionary Patience, pp. 42-43
Third printing, May 1984
© 1969 and 1974 by Wolfgang Fietkau Verlag, Berlin
English translation © 1977 by Orbis Books

A worthy challenge. Otherwise, I’m lost in a forest of my own making.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 May 2020
Photo found at macmillandictionaryblog.com

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

What’s on my mind these days

Without answers, here’s what I’m wondering about these days when it comes to Mr. Trump.

  • How and why did we come to this sad bargain that turned a self-proclaimed genius loose on us and on the rest of the world?
  • Why do I find myself wishing for his demise sooner, not later?
  • How, if ever, can I forgive the folly of this self-proclaimed genius who ignores expert advice, and leads his followers down paths of destruction?
  • As a follower of Jesus, how am I to pray for or against this leader motivated by greed, contempt and self-righteousness?
  • And what does it mean to follow Jesus when many who claim to follow Jesus think this means following Mr. Trump, or at least overlooking his lies and greed?

Everything isn’t about POTUS. It’s also, in a different way, about us. However, my blood runs cold when ‘common people’ are forgotten pawns in a deadly game of Chess held together by a made-up patchwork of throw-away lies, neglect, and innuendo.

Covid-19 didn’t change things. It made them impossible to ignore.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 April 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Beautiful Music Monday

Conductor Emeritus Kenneth Jennings (1925-2015) leads over 900 choir alumni during the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the St. Olaf Choir in June of 2011.

Most of you probably know this hymn as “Fairest Lord Jesus.” It was my father’s favorite hymn, known to him by its older name, “Beautiful Savior.”

When I’m dying, I want music to carry me away. Then I want to join the choir. I want to sing music like this. Music that makes all things and all voices beautiful. I want tears to flow. Mine. The way they did this morning when I listened to this on You Tube.

I don’t understand why hymns like this reach so deeply into me. But there it is. And here we are today, surrounded by deaths of many kinds. Bodily and spiritual death. Death of hope and trust. Never easy, especially when it seems to be piling on without mercy.

I hope you enjoy listening to this amazing choir following the lead of their beloved conductor Emeritus, Kenneth Jennings. Like angels, they’re singing together on key, accompanied only by each other, following their leader. A force together that they could never be on their own.

Here are the lyrics as sung by the choir, following their opening wordless rendition of the tune.

Fair are the meadows, Fairer the woodlands,
Robed in flow’rs of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer;
He makes our sorr’wing spirit sing.

Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, Praise, adoration,
Now and forevermore be Thine!

I pray you’ll find beauty and music in the week ahead.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 April 2020
St. Olaf Choir Alumni’s rendition of Beautiful Savior found at YouTube.com

A Prized Possession

A prized possession sits in front of me. It’s small, worn and faded. I found it years ago, when I was working at the seminary. It was sitting on a give-away table.

I’ve always had a weak spot for books, especially when they’re free. So I picked it up and couldn’t put it down—a small hymnal, pocket-book size.

The stamp on the inside cover says “Property of Trinity Church, Vineland, N.J.” Title: The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America 1940.

My relationship with this little book has been sporadic, though with a theme. It keeps me centered and focused when I’m going through tough times. I first appreciated it fully after I broke my jaw in April 2016. When I couldn’t find words or sleep, it offered something to calm my heart.

Now, in April 2020, I’m using it regularly. My life and death aren’t unfolding as anticipated. The hymn I read and sang today is spot on. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. It offers a joyful, realistic description for any day of the year—especially now.

Even if you aren’t overtly religious, these words might be for you, too. The sun doesn’t rise and set on orders from any human being. I find that immensely reassuring in these troubled times.

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Day-spring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day’s return,
‘Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, radiancy divine;
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display
Shining to the perfect day. Amen.

Words by Charles Wesley, 1740
© 1940, 1943 by The Church Pension Fund
Published in The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America – 1940

Praying we’ll all make time to breathe deeply today, and be grateful.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 April 2020
Photo of sunrise in Acadia National Park, Maine, found at pinterest.com

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