Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

No matter who wins the 2020 Election

Here’s a short list of things that matter to me, going into the 2020 Election.

First, a battle is on for the heart and soul of this country, no matter who wins the 2020 Election. Conflict isn’t going away. It may, in fact, get worse.

Second, those of us who’ve been raised to believe in the rule of justice, or the rightness of law and order need to think again. We can’t afford to dismiss the way our current justice and legal systems too frequently favor white (or any color) money and stature.

Third, we already have among us a great company of witnesses. They’ve lived with injustice most if not all their lives. In the unlikely case you don’t know who they are, meet your black, brown, American Indian, and immigrant neighbors. Many are skilled in the kind of spiritual discipline it takes to live in an unjust world.

Fourth, it would be foolish to ignore neighbors and strangers. Some know me better than I know myself. Still, even they can’t do for me what I must do. They might, however, stand with me in spirit, and pray for me.

As a white woman, my life has been shaped by so-called national realities, and figments of human imagination. Now I must question them. Daily. In writing if needed.

As a senior citizen, I can’t afford to tie my hopes to the outcomes of the 2020 Election. No matter who wins, we’ll have a mess to clean up, a pandemic to attend to, and divisions in this country that are eating away at our soul.

Praying we’ll get through another week, one day at a time, and that we’ll find small ways to make a difference.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

This uncivil war

Up and down
All over the map
Ecstatic one moment
Discouraged the next
Willing myself
To get up in the morning
And begin yet again

So many opportunities
So little time
So little access
To things I think I need

How will it all turn out?
Does it really matter?
Is my small loaf without fish
Enough for today?

A million questions
Race through my mind
As life falls apart
And trash piles up
Just outside my
Window on the world

Deep inside I know
Only a brutal housecleaning
Will tame this deadly nightmare
Of consequences we now
Live to regret
One day at a time

Is the American Dream dead? Can we survive this uncivil war? Actually, we’ve been fighting it from the beginning. Today we can watch the latest episodes unfold right before our eyes, thanks to ever-present news media, and unnumbered sources of information and dis-information.

If you’ve visited my blog during the last several years, you know I’m not a fan of Mr. Trump. Tragically, what we see today is in keeping with everything we already knew about him.

Yet in the middle of it all, there are opportunities for people of good will to work together on issues that have scarred our hearts and souls from the beginning. The evidence is clear. White citizens like you and like me disenfranchised and brutally murdered American Indians, exploited and terrorized slaves night and day, and serially mistreated every ethnic minority that has set foot in this country willingly or unwillingly.

Surely we can come up with another way of going at this. One day at a time. One risk at a time. Pondering our next moves. Not alone, but with others hungry for change. Giving up something of value in order to receive something much better.

After all, white people and their black and brown neighbors also have a history of resisting evil. Even in the most tragic circumstances. What might we learn from and with each other?

Praying for courage to change the things I can. No more and no less.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2020
Azar Nafisi quote found at http://www.idlehearts.com

Are you a pioneer?

Starting from scratch
And working her butt off
Dreaming of something
From ashes or nothing at all
She listens and suggests

From behind
From the back row
Occasionally from the podium
Often without a map
Or a mentor

Doing what needs to be done
Bringing people together
Focusing on the end game
Encouraging without pretending
All is well when it is not

Searching endlessly
For ways around roadblocks
Listening calmly to contrarians
Then opting for creativity
Rather than neat outlines

Taking risks small and large
Living with consequences
Finding a way forward
Through next steps
All this and more

Who is this woman?
Do I recognize her?
Try looking in the mirror.

Several days ago a friend of many years challenged me to do two things.

  • First, read a letter I received in the 1960s. It was from Erwin N. Griswold, former Dean of Harvard Law School. He left to serve as Solicitor General of the USA under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Griswold sent the letter on the occasion of my retiring as a secretary in the Dean’s Office. He couldn’t be there for the party. I still weep when I read it. You can read it here.
  • Second, make a list of all the ways I’ve been a pioneer. I was flabbergasted. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as ‘the first’ this or that. I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer. Yet, as my friend pointed out, I’ve been in a wilderness often, which is precisely where the food is.

Yesterday I spent all morning working on the meaning of ‘pioneer’ and making a list. Four things are clear to me today.

  1. I was and still am a pioneer. Not just in my family, but in churches, in classrooms, in positions of leadership, and in my volunteer work with Dawn’s Place.
  2. Ever since I was born I’ve gone against the flow, internally if not externally.
  3. A recent serendipitous encounter with a Black woman in Georgia is important, not just ‘happenstance.’
  4. This is what I’m to focus on in this last part of my life. Not being a pioneer, but doing what I can to support the next generation of pioneers.

How do you think about yourself? Are you a pioneer? The short clip at the top is outstanding. Especially if you aren’t sure what a pioneer looks like.

Happy Tuesday, and a huge Thank You for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2020
Video found on YouTube

A Prayer of Lament | Pastor Leah Wenger

Reverend Leah Wenger has served for nine years as Pastor at The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. Her prayer of lament (below) can be found with others on the Mennonite Church USA website. Each lament responds to the violence of racism in the USA.

Most churches aren’t accustomed to prayers of lament. A Psalter I own has changed many Psalms of lament into something else. Is that because we don’t like negativity?

Here is Rev. Leah Wenger’s prayer of lament, followed by a few comments.

Battered, Broken, Betrayed.
I stand Before you
Between the lines
Breathe on me Breath of God

Because I have Betrayed
My Brother and sister
By my silence
Breathe on me Breath of God

But what is Breath
when it is stolen
Humanity Beyond recognition
Buried in Blood

Bring us transformation
Beauty for Brokenness
Expose me for my blindness
Breathe on me the breath to see

Be Brave and Bold
Beyond what others can see
So when I can’t Breathe
God Breathe on me

When I cannot see my Betrayal
Bring me to the light
I Beg for the wisdom to Be Better
Bless me with the strength
to never stop Becoming

Beyond the patience to listen
Bring me into action
I can’t Breathe
So God, Breathe through me

Prayer from Pastor Leah Wenger,
Urbana Executive Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Prayer found at the Mennonite Church USA website

Can an entire nation lament the ongoing violence of racism in the USA? Perhaps not.

Nonetheless, it would be most appropriate for white churches in the USA (and their members) to lament. Not for a day or an hour, but for a lifetime of being major players in this sick drama. Sometimes we’ve joined the enemy outright. Other times we’ve looked the other way, or called what we see anything but ‘racist.’

We’re at a crossroad. We are not, however, out of options. Pastor Leah’s prayer is good place to start. It breathes life. The life of our Creator who understands and knows us inside out. Today is a good time to stop, lament, look around, and get moving in a different direction.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2020
Image found at mem.intervarsity.com

Is Mr. Trump the Problem?

Or is he a convenient and problematic distraction?

After working on An American Lament and reading Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, I can’t in good conscience say Mr. Trump is The Problem. Nor is he the Solution.

Our Problem began the moment white people arrived on these shores, proclaimed this “our” country, and wedded politics with religion.

Yes, we can say this was ‘allowed by law’ back then to explorers of so-called ‘undiscovered’ lands (a figment of the imagination). However, it stretches my imagination to say this means we’re legally a White Country run by and for White People with the occasional Great Exception.

Jesus, like all children of Israel, was one of the Disinherited. He was a man without a country and without the protection of the reigning monarch. When they came for him, he endured a mock trial and was hung on a ‘tree’ with other convicted men. This scenario has been played out over and over in the history of slavery in the USA.

Today, many white citizens claim to be following Jesus and following Mr. Trump. Yet choosing to serve both is not an option.

Nor is it about which party we choose to follow. We can no more ‘follow’ a party than we can ‘follow’ Mr. Trump or any other POTUS. Not if we say we’re following Jesus of Nazareth. Though we vote, we aren’t pledging allegiance to the winner. Our allegiance is already clear.

Unfortunately, the white Christian church has too often chosen to follow and actively support those with Presidential Power. Though there are remarkable exceptions, they haven’t become the rule. Instead, many white churches have retained the name “Christian” while marching to the drumbeat of politicians, big donors, and fat endowments.

Howard Thurman argues that each Christian church (of any color or ethnicity) must be the one place in life where privileged and underprivileged persons work together. Not on great projects, but to ensure an environment that supports fellowship between the so-called privileged and the underprivileged. Not a program here and there, but the kind of everyday fellowship that produces “a sense of mutual worth and value.” On both sides.

I can’t help thinking about programs such as AA or AlAnon. Places where each member is considered worthy and valuable. Not because each member is herded through a process, but because, in Thurman’s words, it’s “a real situation, natural, free” (p. 88).

A tall order for any church, regardless of its membership.

Happy Monday, and thanks for reading!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 September 2020
Photo found at theviresvision.wordpress.com

Considering Loss on the Eve of Our Wedding Anniversary 2020

Wedding Day, 11 September 1965
11 September 1965

Fear of loneliness
Drifts in and out unbidden

Heavy eyelids droop
Head hangs low over keyboard

Tangled thoughts intrude
Try to distract me as though
I were the intruder

I am not.

Pulling myself together
I rouse myself to the occasion
Reaching for stars and light
I do not own.

What if he dies first?
What if I die first?

I don’t know.

So what do I know?
Only this –
That if he dies first, I will grieve.

And what will be the shape of that grief?
A hole that stretches from here to eternity
An unreachable planet long ago and faraway
A place I can no longer visit
An ocean of heaving sobs
Seaweeds of bitter regret and sweet longing
Washing up on the shore of each long day and night

Tomorrow David and I will celebrate our 52nd (now 55th) wedding anniversary. I thought I knew a thing or two about love the day we married. I did not. Nor will I know all about love the day one of us dies.

The older I get, the more precious each day becomes. I remember dreading retirement. Not simply because I would miss my colleagues and students, but because I would be spending much more time with D. More than I’d spent with him most of our married life.

Could we live with each other in the same house, including the same kitchen, every day? Would we get bored out of our gourds without deadlines and meetings and endless reports? Would one of us decide to find a part-time job just to get away from it all?

Happily, we’ve survived so far, including Kitchen Wars. But that would be another story.

I’ve had death on my mind in the last weeks, given events here and around the world. Death is about more than statistics, more than a moving memorial service, more than a huge display of candles and flowers. More than a gut-wrenching news story of the moment.

Somewhere, each moment of every day, someone is grieving. I want to honor the value of just one person’s life and the value of grief. The kind that can soften us, making us more human than we were before.

It looks like Monday, our anniversary day, will be a beautiful Longwood Garden day. Maybe another walk in the Meadow? We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2017, reposted for our 55th Anniversary, 11 September 2020
Photo taken at our wedding reception, 11 September 1965

the red cardinal revisited

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 his first-born of four daughters. I watched my tongue constantly. Smiled when expected. Stifled tears. Did as I was told. Set an example. And took the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started 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.

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 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 sang 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, this doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it’s more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

I still owe Candice thanks for this topic! Though I’ve written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging. Especially today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018, lightly edited and reposted 7 September 2020
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and we have yet another timely poem from Maya Angelou. My brief comments follow. Please note that periods indicate indentations in the poem.

Glory Falls

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
….which lies upon our necks
….and underfoot.
We have woven
….robes of silk
….and clothed our nakedness
….with tapestry.
From crawling on this
….murky planet’s floor
….we soar beyond the
….birds and
….through the clouds
….and edge our way from hate
….and blind despair and
….bring honor
….to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
….horror that we feed
….upon our own
….tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

On Monday, we celebrate Labor Day. Typically a holiday to celebrate the end of summer, the beginning of the school year, and all people who count as laborers. Who, of course, have Monday off unless they’re indispensable. A day for fun, relaxation, sports, the beach, the boardwalk, hiking in the mountains, and hotdogs.

In light of this, Maya Angelou’s poem may seem out of place. Yet given our history of slavery, her poem is a grim reminder of the cost slave laborers and people of color paid and still pay today. It also suggests a connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection. This connection can generate growth away from the horror of hate and despair. It can free the soul to “soar beyond the birds and through the clouds,” despite the horror “we feed upon our own tomorrow.”

Is there room for me in this poem? For you? I don’t know the answer for you. However, I believe this poem invites me to become brave. Not just in my personal homework, but in our current political context that reeks of unfinished business.

I’m grateful for your visits, especially given all that’s going on around us these days. I pray we’ll find ways this weekend to nurture our spirits and bodies with courage and strength. Plus enjoy unexpected moments with friends, neighbors and strangers. And grow just a bit closer to the persons we were meant to be.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 September 2020
Book Cover image found at amazon.com

How to outlaw teaching slaves to read or write

Below is one example. Other states had similar methods. Sadly, this is only part of the unasked-for baggage our educational systems struggle with today.

A Bill to Prevent All Persons from Teaching Slaves to Read or Write,
the Use of Figures Excepted (1830)

The North Carolina General Assembly first prohibited anyone from teaching slaves to read or write in 1818, then strengthened the law in 1830 (in the bill reprinted here). The following year, another bill made it illegal for not only slaves but free people of color “to preach or exhort in public, or in any manner to officiate as a preacher or teacher in any prayer meeting or other association for worship where slaves of different families are collected together.”
__________________
Whereas the teaching of slaves to read and write has a tendency to excite dissatisfaction in their minds and to produce insurrection and rebellion to the manifest injury of the citizens of this state: Therefore

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, that any free person who shall hereafter teach or attempt to teach any slave within this State to read or write, the use of figures excepted, Shall be liable to indictment in any court of record in the State having jurisdiction thereof, and upon conviction shall at the discretion of the court if a white man or woman be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned and if a free person of colour shall be whipped at the discretion of the court not exceeding thirty nine lashes nor less than twenty lashes.

Be it further enacted that if any slave shall hereafter teach or attempt to teach any other slave to read or write the use of figures excepted, he or she may be carried before any justice of the peace and on conviction thereof shall be sentenced to receive thirty nine lashes on his or her bare back.

Credit text: Legislative Papers, 1830–31 Session of the General Assembly.

For nearly three decades I taught and worked with seminarians in a multiracial, multinational community. Most students were able to thrive. Still, there were some I couldn’t reach. Today I wonder how this legacy of punishing black and brown students and their teachers is being passed on.

These are heavy days and heavy nights. Reaping the Whirlwind comes to mind yet again. Not because of what’s happening now, but because of what was set in motion centuries ago. I pray each of us will become part of a solution.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2020
Image of NC Freedman’s School (1860s) found at ncpedia.org

Bitter fruit of ignorance

Weariness and
Overload conspire
Eyes numb
Mind on go
Finds a mess
In everything

Neat and tidy lists
Stare at nothing
Wondering
If I’m lost
And whether
I’ll ever return

Feelings of
Futility wash over
Heart and brain

I want to cram
A lifetime of
Undigested history
Into my heart and mind
Even though
There isn’t time
Or space
To accommodate
The bitter fruit
Of ignorance
Looking the other way
Making false assumptions
Keeping secrets
And smiling
In weak attempts
To make all things
Come out right

Sounds pretty gruesome. And yet…

I wouldn’t change for a second the opportunity to examine the history of racism in the USA, the way it shaped me from the day I was born, and what needs to happen now, not later. Yes, it would be nice to have a President who cared about this as well.

Unfortunately, this buck doesn’t stop with POTUS. It stops with me. I owe it to myself, my neighbors, strangers, and my Higher Power who weaves all things well. Even though I don’t always get it, I’m committed to muddling through as needed.

Right now, the muddling is about what this 76-year old retired theologian, educator, administrator, writer might do. All things considered.

Thanks for stopping by today. Check out this link to read about W.E.B. Du Bois.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2020
Quotation found at azquotes.com

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