Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

Are you willing to be condemned? | Lent, Holy Week and Life

I learned condemnation from my father. When I was very young I heard and felt it in his voice and punishments. Or was it the day I was born female? I wasn’t the son my father hoped for.

If only you would keep your mouth shut and play the piano more often! I really like it when you play the piano. It makes everybody happy and proud. And don’t forget to listen to the men. I like that, too!

No, sweetheart, you don’t need to read all those books. Though we’re proud when you make the honor roll. Still, I don’t think you’ll find what you’re looking for at a big university.

You want to be what???? A theologian? A professor? But you’re married aren’t you? Well….if your husband approves of it, who am I to stand in your way?

How dare you cut your parents off until you’re willing to talk with us again? You need to wake up and remember who you are! You were always rebellious and angry. Too bad you couldn’t be more like your sisters.

Am I willing to be condemned? It’s the question I’ve lived with for years. Not because I live in the past, but because I’m always in the present.

Condemnation can arrive cloaked as something else: being overlooked, underestimated, disbelieved, targeted for harassment.

So…For what am I willing to be condemned? For being the woman I am, fully accepted and loved by our Creator. Not always right; not always wrong. Always one of our Creator’s beloved daughters.

In the meantime, my goal is to keep True North in view, and put one foot, one word, one poem, one truth in front of another.

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 April 2020
Image found at kissclipart.com

In April | Rainer Maria Rilke

Here’s a small poem packed with beauty and hope. An invitation to pay attention to what’s happening right before our eyes. It’s Spring here in the USA. Time for reminders of new life in the midst of huge loss, suffering and anguish.

As most of you know, we’re in for a tough two weeks or more. It’s easy to get drawn into the drama around COVID-19. Easy, and not very uplifting.

Each morning I receive a poem in my mailbox. Here’s today’s poem, with a bit of hope for each of us.

In April, by Rainer Maria Rilke

Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.
After long rainy afternoons an hour
Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings
Them at the windows in a radiant shower,
And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings.
Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep
By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies;
And cradled in the branches, hidden deep
In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.

This poem is in the public domain.
Published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Praying you’ll experience a calm heart this week, and enjoy the beginning of Spring (or Fall). I fell off the wagon a bit this past week. Too much attention to news outlets, and not enough to nature and my own beautiful, grown-up self.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2020
Photo found at worldbirdphotos.com

That time of year again

I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that paid much attention to Lent. A few childhood friends, usually Roman Catholic, talked about giving up things like cake, ice cream or cookies. They almost always fell off the wagon within a week or so. So why bother in the first place?

Nearly three years ago I revisited Lent. The short litany below challenged me to give up several things I greatly desire.

I let go my desire for security and survival.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.

Quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 147 (Cowley Publications 2004)

Several weeks ago I attended a Sunday morning worship service at a nearby African American church. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I was warmly welcomed, and also felt somewhat lost. The pastor had invited me to hear a guest speaker/preacher.

I was happy to be there. Most attendees were African Americans. They didn’t worship according to spoken or unspoken rules and traditions of churches I’ve been in most of my life. I was out of my comfort zone, not always sure what to do next.

I’d like to believe I’m not part of racial tension in the USA today. Yet I know this isn’t true. In some ways, it chose me; I didn’t choose it. Still, I’m aware of my resistance to changing the comfortable routine I enjoy, especially on Sundays.

So I’ve been asking what I can do to get out of one of my favorite comfort zones, churches that worship the way I worship. It matters where and with whom I worship, and according to whose traditions. It also has the potential to change me yet again, from the inside out.

I don’t know how this will play out. Nonetheless, I’m beginning again with the prayer above, and another visit to this church.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 February 2020
Image found at bonhoefferblog.wordpress.com

Thank you, Anita Hill

I’m reposting this in honor of women who stand up to power today,
and in light of news about the Harvey Weinstein case.
 

In October 1991 I listened to your courageous testimony about Clarence Thomas. Your words took me back to my first boss. It was 1960. I’d just graduated from high school and was now a clerk in a bankruptcy court. We called the boss ‘Judge,’ though he was actually a referee in bankruptcy. He’d held this governmental appointment for years. He was about 60 years old; I was 16.

By 1991 I’d told only my husband the truth about my first boss. From the beginning, the Judge was on a mission to take me down a notch or two by way of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate behavior toward me. He knew I was under-age, that my father was an ordained minister, and that I was a Christian. He said he was a Christian, too, and reminded me from time to time of his church membership.

I didn’t know what hit me. I got through three summers plus one full year, thanks to the friendship of other women working in the office, and the kindness of a few male attorneys who knew the Judge and witnessed some of his behavior toward me.

Back then the term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented, or connected to Abuse of Power as an issue in the workplace. In addition, my childhood home where I still lived didn’t offer a safe place to talk about anything related to sex.

Flash forward to October 1991, and your testimony before the Senate Committee. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for at least two things.

  • First, your personal account was the first I’d ever heard from a professional woman talking about repeated sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior in the work place.
  • Second, your courage gave me courage to begin talking about this without fear or shame.

I’m sad this happened to you. I’m sad things happened to me. I’m sad things like this still happen every day to others.

Am I angry? Yes, I am. Angry that even in today’s reports from powerful women about powerful men, we’re still using the language of “if this is true.” Which conveniently overlooks the power imbalance that was in place when the alleged behavior happened. To say nothing of optics and the appearance of evil that seems now to be embraced, not avoided. Embraced, and laughed at in a zillion cartoonish ways.

We are not the world’s latest sleazy entertainment opportunity. We are women with every right to stand up and tell the truth about what happened and didn’t happen to us. And why it must stop now if we’re ever to be Great. Not again, but for the first time ever.

May God grant us serenity to accept what we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Thank you for showing me how this is done. Not just then, but throughout your professional career.

Respectfully,
Elouise Renich Fraser

For a 2016 PBS News Hour video discussion between Gwen Ifill and Anita Hill, click here. It’s outstanding.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2017, reposted 25 February 2020
Photo found at gq.com

I believe in god | Dorothee Soelle

Here’s one of the most compelling personal credos (statements of belief) I’ve ever read. Soelle wrote it after World War II and during the Vietnamese War. Even if you’re not an outwardly religious person, I hope you’ll give it a read. It’s down to earth and challenging no matter what your beliefs might be.

Credo

I believe in god
who did not create an immutable world
a thing incapable of change
who does not govern according to eternal laws
that remain inviolate
or according to a natural order
of rich and poor
of the expert and the ignorant
of rulers and subjects
I believe in god
who willed conflict in life
and wanted us to change the status quo
through our work
through our politics

I believe in jesus christ
who was right when he
like each of us
just another individual who couldn’t beat city hall
worked to change the status quo
and was destroyed
looking at him I see
how our intelligence is crippled
our imagination stifled
our efforts wasted
because we do not live as he did
every day I am afraid
that he died in vain
because he is buried in our churches
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to authority
and our fear of it
I believe in jesus christ
who rises again and again in our lives
so that we will be free
from prejudice and arrogance
from fear and hate
and carry on his revolution
and make way for his kingdom

I believe in the spirit
that jesus brought into the world
in the brotherhood of all nations
I believe it is up to us
what our earth becomes
a vale of tears starvation and tyranny
or a city of god
I believe in a just peace
that can be achieved
in the possibility of a meaningful life
for all people
I believe this world of god’s
has a future
amen

Dorothee Soelle, Revolutionary Patience, pp 22-23, 3rd printing May 1984
English translation © 1977 by Orbis Books
Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY

Wishing each of you a thoughtful, challenging day.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 February 2020
Image found at cia.gov

The distance between then and now

The distance between then and now
Boils down quickly to a handful of
Opportunities lost in translation

Heavy baggage dumped in swamps
Still unopened and never claimed

On-demand smiles of yesterday hidden
Beneath faces lined with sadness and grief

Moments of vulnerability unexplored
In favor of stiff upper lips and privacy

The openness of childhood and youth
Shut down in favor of family reputation

Yet miles of heart-stopping space open
Like the Grand Canyon between us and
old photos tugging at our lonely hearts

I feel sad and happy every time I look at this old photo. I’m sitting on the bench surrounded by my mother, her father, and her father’s mother. Four generations. The poem reflects how difficult I find it to become a human being. Especially when working on family-related issues.

Becoming human may be our greatest achievement. Not wealth or happiness or helping people all over the world, but the ability to become who we are from the inside out. Sort of like the velveteen rabbit, so that by the time we leave this world, we’ve become Real human beings.

Here’s to heaps of practice and a few great breakthroughs every now and then!

The photo at the top was taken by my father in 1944. We’re in California, visiting with my Grandpa Gury and my very proper Great Grandmother Gury (an immigrant from France). I’m sitting in the middle; my beautiful mother is on my right.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 February 2020
Photo taken by my father, JERenich in 1944, California

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper | Poet and Abolitionist

Thanks to Poem-a-Day for introducing me to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poetry. And thanks to Black History Month for bringing it to mind. My comments follow.

Aunt Chloe’s Politics

Of course, I don’t know very much
About these politics,
But I think that some who run ’em
Do mighty ugly tricks.

I’ve seen ’em honey-fugle round,
And talk so awful sweet,
That you’d think them full of kindness,
As an egg is full of meat.

Now I don’t believe in looking
Honest people in the face,
And saying when you’re doing wrong,
That “I haven’t sold my race.”

When we want to school our children,
If the money isn’t there,
Whether black or white have took it,
The loss we all must share.

And this buying up each other
Is something worse than mean,
Though I thinks a heap of voting,
I go for voting clean.

First published by Ferguson Brothers in Sketches of Southern Life (1891), now in the public domain
Published online by Poem-a-Day on 23 June 2019, by the Academy of American Poets

“Honey fugle” means to deceive by flattery or sweet talk, to swindle or cheat. Click here to see the full definition.

I love Aunt Chloe’s straightforward language. Rigged voting machines and gerry-mandering didn’t begin yesterday. Nor did pie-in-the sky promises and ‘street money’ handed out to influence our votes. As Aunt Chloe points out, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is if the money isn’t there to fund those lovely promises. Everyone loses, no matter the color of our skin.

Aunt Chloe nailed it decades ago. Her words are presented in a no-nonsense voice that invites us to believe her and do something about it. Maybe it’s as simple as getting off our political bandwagons and taking a look at ourselves.

So….The next time you hear politicians making promises too good to be true, think of a flugel horn (profuse apologies to lovers of flugel horns). It may sound sweet and mellow. Nonetheless, sweet music and stars in our eyes won’t buy groceries, pay for medical bills, or turn manipulation into truth. Instead, the cost will continue falling on all of us.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 February 2020
Image found at Wikipedia.org

At loose ends with myself

I posted this poem with brief comments a few days after mid-term elections in November 2018. Now there’s another election coming up in November, with large stakes for all of us. My biggest challenge today is to stay on target. Not just with my health and well-being, but the reality of our current state of our disunion. I want to ignore it, and cannot. My poem and earlier comments follow.

At loose ends with myself
Wandering up and down
The stairs of my distraction
Overturning this and that
Within my overactive mind
A clock ticks relentlessly
Counting down the corridors
Of tasks undone and words
Never recorded yet dissipating
Into a gray atmosphere silent
And secretive not yet menacing
Though the thought occurs
to me that I am being unraveled
strand by limp strand falling
to the floor of unknown reality

Unraveled. A word rich with possibilities. Terrifying and welcome all at the same time. Loss of control. Change of direction. Once-blind eyes coming out of misty half-truth and patched-together personas. Fragility unbound and hanging out there. Human. Vulnerable. Out of control in the best possible way.

All this and more went through my mind today. It isn’t just about getting older. It’s about getting real. Becoming a real rabbit, a real human being, a real baby. Not just a make-believe look-alike.

Here’s to more loose ends of the fruitful kind. Those that lead to something greater than you or I could ever become on our own.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 November 2018, reposted 12 February 2020
Image of unraveling butterfly found at movestrongkbs.com

On the other side of yesterday

Morning rain drops and
tears of cleansing spread
welcome relief on streets
torn with grief and disbelief

An ambulance screams
by my window racing
to aid the sick the dying
and the dismembered

A distant bell tolls mindlessly
chiming out its last breath
of hope for better tomorrows –
Or at least a reprieve from public preening
blind to yesterday’s attempted slaughter
of truth and justice for all

No, Mr. Trump, you did not receive justice.
Nor did many of your friends honor you with truth.
Sadly, enablers are a dime a dozen.

I applaud each leader and member of congress who dared stand up and be counted on the side of truth and justice.

I do not applaud congressional and religious leaders who cheered and applauded Mr. Trump’s rant at yesterday’s nonpartisan, interdenominational and interreligious prayer breakfast. We are all dishonored by behavior like this, no matter what our political preferences may be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 February 2020
Photo found at bbc.co.uk.jpeg

The Resistance

Bursting dams explode
Fueling unhinged tongues

Roiling water floods old landscapes
scarred beyond recognition

The end of this world collides
with the untimely birth
of a new world ruled by
winners of a rigged lottery

How shall we then live
with death-dealing word-bombs
hanging over our heads
seeking to silence the resistance?

I woke up this morning with yesterday’s impeachment vote on my mind.

I’ve known resistance all my life–as a girl child, and later as an adult woman. This includes fierce resistance inside me when my full humanity isn’t honored, and sometimes polite, unrelenting resistance brought to bear against me as an adult woman with a mind of her own.

I’m also one of the so-called fortunate whose skin is white, whose citizenship is not in question, who isn’t living on the streets due to gentrification….and I could go on, but won’t. You get the picture.

I was deeply moved by Senator Romney’s courageous statement and vote yesterday to impeach our President on one count. The morning news was full of POTUS comments and other tirades against Romney. The news was also full of support for Senator Romney. He isn’t a saint (which I find comforting). He simply and directly told the truth and cast his vote as he saw it, against every other member of his party.

Silence is deadly. So is speaking out, especially when it’s costly. As I see it, I have a choice. Shut up and sit down, or stand up and open my mouth. I choose the latter. How about you?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 February 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

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