Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

What we need to stop doing

This morning I read a hilarious and sobering opinion piece from Damon Young in the NYTimes. It’s titled “Yeah, Let’s Not Talk About Race.” Damon Young offers a strangely funny lament (my choice of words, not his) about what happens when he’s out on his evening walk around the neighborhood.

If you can access this piece, here’s the link. 

Here’s why his piece struck a chord with me. It’s a cry for honesty and for justice. In a nutshell, he’s tired of being expected to listen to uninvited comments from white people who aren’t willing to pay for his time or do their own homework. Especially when he’s out walking at the end of the day.

No, he isn’t mean. He’s just suggesting we might want to back off. Put another way, he’s letting us know we can’t atone for our sins of commission or omission by talking with him. Nor can we receive absolution from him. It doesn’t matter how much we care about him and other black and brown people. Or how eager we are for him to answer our questions for free. Not that he’s looking for our money. He isn’t.

You might say this behavior toward him is the price of being a celebrity. I don’t think so.

Furthermore, we don’t have time to try atoning for our white color by interrupting persons of other colors just to signal  or prove to ourselves (?) that we’re one of the good guys or gals. Or that now we’ve got it, when we don’t.

Seriously, the problem of presumed or arrogated white superiority has been our problem since the founding of this nation. It’s high time we white citizens began addressing it with each other.

I’m not saying a conversation with a black or brown friend or colleague is out of bounds. Still, I want to know I’m having the conversation because I’m a learner, and my friend of any color isn’t afraid to tell me the truth about myself as a white woman.

Happy reading and talking about things that matter!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2020
Image found at NYTimes.com

What we need to hear

Maybe I’m the only one. The only white PTSD survivor who didn’t get it. Do I feel humiliated by this? No. Chagrined? Yes. Yet above all, I’m challenged to find out more.

Here’s what I didn’t and still don’t get.

I know this is hard for many enlightened and well-meaning Christians to hear, but here’s the truth: If you are white, you have no clue as to the PTSD-like realities black people in this country face every single day. —James Ellis III

It’s one thing to accept this as information. On the other hand, are we willing to let this sink into our understanding of the way things play out here in the USA? Not just in public places, but in white (often lightly colored) churches?

The quote above challenges me to learn more about “PTSD-like realities” black people face daily here in the USA. The easiest connection (for me) is to think about post-Viet Nam War veterans with PTSD who showed up in my theology classes in the 1980s. Yet even that isn’t the same as what’s happening today on our streets. Neither is my own history with childhood PTSD.

One quote doesn’t explain everything. But that isn’t James Ellis III’s point. His point is that we white, so-called “enlightened and well-meaning Christians” have a hard time hearing and accepting truth about Black Lives.

How tragic if we fail. Not because we didn’t try, but because we don’t like hearing bad or disturbing news about ourselves. It’s easier to push it off on the government, or ‘those white people’ over there, or even on Black citizens themselves.

James Ellis III’s article, from which the quote above comes, was first published in May 2020. Read it here, if you dare. It’s titled “A Lowdown, Dirty Shame: Ahmaud Arbrey’s Murder and the Unrenounced Racism of White Christians.”

Praying we’ll find our way out of this mess. Not the mess created by our government, but the mess we’ve created for ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Invitation | Mary Oliver

This morning I’m tempted to rush into battle mode. So many things are going so wrong. This poem from Mary Oliver helped restart my day–though I’m still not sure what will come of it. My comments follow.

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake  of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver; poem found on pp. 18-19 of Red Bird
Published by Beacon Press

The line from Rainer Maria Rilke is found at the end of his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo. There, as here in Mary Oliver’s poem, we’re offered no clear interpretation of “You must change your life.”

Here’s how I’m thinking about it today:

This shared world, filled with beauty, seems intent on self-destruction. Would we throw it all away by refusing to act, just once, with beauty and courage? Do the unexpected? Change the conversation, or our knee-jerk reactions to things that annoy and offend us?

Perhaps the most courageous thing I can do today is as simple as a smile. Especially in tense or fearful situations. We say a smile is worth a thousand words. It’s what most of us are starving for every day. True, smiles won’t heal or resolve every problem. Nor are all smiles to be trusted.

Still, Mary Oliver challenges us to stop, listen and (I think) smile at these crazy beautiful goldfinches. They just can’t stop singing for sheer delight and gratitude! Trying, perhaps, to tell us something we desperately need to hear from each other?

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2020
American Goldfinch songs found on YouTube

Living and Dying in Fake History

Lift up your eyes,
not your voices—
Weep with those who weep

Open your ears
to strangers

Resuscitate your heart
grown still and cold from neglect

Or have we already sold our souls
for greenbacks, glory
and false faith in firearms?

Listen

Hear the voice of our Creator
lamenting loudly over
distant hearts
grown accustomed to
the way we thought things were
yet will never be
in this life or the next

I’m in the process of reading several accounts of national history, including church history. Each study corrects fake history written to silence victims, and glorify victors who were as human as we are, and less than pure in their motives. They raise the obvious question: How did we get here centuries and decades later? And what must we do next if we want something better?

Reading won’t magically change the way I am in the world. Hopefully I’ll think more clearly and act with greater intent.

In addition, my soul won’t be in it if I haven’t also lamented loudly, listened silently, asked questions, meditated on what I see and hear, and make changes in my lifestyle.

What’s happening today isn’t just a matter of historical data or who we want to be the next POTUS. It’s about the content of our character, beginning with me and with you. How willing are we to stand up before friend and foe alike, on behalf of new friends and strangers?

Easier said (or written about) than done. But as they say rather glibly these days, “We’re all in this together.” Aren’t we?

Happy Monday, despite the lopsided agonies of Covid-19, the struggle against Black Lives Matter, and the failure of POTUS to lead by example. Which doesn’t let us off the hook.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2020
Quote found at azitanahai.com

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

haunted streets and swollen cathedrals

The Conversion of Saint Augustine of Hippo
by Fra Angelico, between 1430 and 1435

signs and symbols
of wealth and poverty
thrown together
in a mixed stew
of pride and prejudice
haunt the streets
and swollen cathedrals
of life and death

take your pick
it’s free or
at least as painless
as possible
this habit of
indulging while
looking elsewhere
as though this
just happened
out of the blue

yes sir
no sir
thank you ma’am
and excuse me
for a moment if
I digress
to point out
obvious trinkets
decorating the outside
contaminating the inside
sick unto death

false pride and bankrupt prejudice
bursting now on streets
and in back alleys
everywhere

This is a comment on public or private displays of spite and outrage over what isn’t working well in this nation. And yet….so much needs to change. What’s a body to do? Yes to pointed protests. And what about our inner lives?

Augustine of Hippo leaves no space for disinterested onlookers or commentators on world or local history. In City of God, he suggests that every war ‘out there’ is at least an invitation, if not a mirror in which we are to discern our personal (invisible) wars. To his credit, he was at least as hard on himself as he was on anyone else.

This means my past as a white woman matters. Somewhere in me I still have unresolved warfare, some raging since my childhood. Other pieces were stirred up along the way. Life isn’t simply a gift to unwrap and enjoy in a personal orgy of bliss. It’s also an invitation to face hard truths about myself and my relationships.

Do I like this? Not necessarily. It’s difficult and time-consuming. The work of a lifetime. Right now the focus is on my inherited ‘whiteness,’ and how I’ve dealt with it (or not), and what comes next. What does it mean to tell the truth about that?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2020
Image found at wickipedia.com

James Baldwin on Race Relations

It’s 1943, one of the years Harlem race riots break out. It’s also the day James Baldwin’s father was laid to rest.

In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father. The chapter ends with his account of what sparked the 1943 Harlem riots, the nature of the rioting (only in the ghetto, chiefly against white businesses, not white people), and the nature of Black America’s long relationship with White America.

His account of this relationship is telling. Here’s how he describes “the Negro’s real relation to the white American.”

This relation prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind—and the heart—that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and, above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one’s own reactions are always canceling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene….The idea of going through life as a cripple is more than one can bear, and equally unbearable is the risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison. And the trouble, finally, is that the risks are real even if the choices do not exist.

In some  ways, this is discouraging. As a white woman, it suggests I’m in bondage to a perpetual dilemma. Even more distressing is the possibility that this was brought on by my need to forget, not see, disremember, dress up in different clothes, and ultimately, dismiss as someone else’s battle or disease to fight.

Nonetheless, I find James Baldwin’s description of the relationship between Black and White Americans/America compelling. I’ve often heard Black women and men say they know us (White people) better than we know ourselves. I believe them, though they may not know me personally.

Put another way, I can’t count on being White-but-not-really due to my years of serving at a multiracial, multiethnic, multinational seminary. Instead, I can only be the White woman I am, a beginner every day of my life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2020
Moon Over Harlem painting by
William Henry Johnson found at americanart.si.edu

Poor little rich white girl

Poor little rich white girl
from everywhere
and nowhere in particular
Shrinks in horror
And confusion from
Imperious or friendly voices
Vying for her attention
Her full support
Her obedience
Her submission
Her silence

To be or not to be?

Fear wins the lottery
As she retreats into
Familiar shadows
Of false safety
Unraveling her soul
From the inside out
One stitch at a time
Drifting into slumber
Overflowing with dreams
Of what might have been
Once upon a time before
The clock struck midnight

Covid-19 has disrupted my life. Black Lives Matter has galvanized me. Not because I think we’ll overcome racism in my lifetime, but because I grew up as a poor rich white girl. I was ignorant, confused, and filled with shame about being white and female. Questions about obvious inequalities on display every day of my life went unanswered.

As a preacher’s kid I was fully immersed in the culture of conservative Christianity as interpreted by my father, plus other male preachers and Bible teachers I encountered along the way.

When I married D and left home, I chose to follow a different understanding of Christian faith. Yet even this didn’t give adequate attention to underlying disasters and sins of this country. These included treatment of native American Indians, and treatment of Black women, men and families captured and put on sale to serve as slaves to white Americans.

Being silent today is not an option. Neither is carrying on life as usual.

So I’m asking questions. What does all this mean for me at this time in my life? How will it affect my reading and writing? How will it affect my relationship to the church? What can I do, and What must I NOT do? This isn’t about my generation; it’s about our collective future. With and without me.

I’m also wondering how all this impacts your daily life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2020
Photo of me with my younger sisters; taken by JERenich in 1953; mixed rural neighborhood outside Savannah, Georgia

Coming down from a high | Day 1 Photos revisited

P1090805 The High Dessert in Oregon, on the way to Mitchell, Oregon – October 2015

It’s time for a teeny tiny (safe!) vacation from Covid-19 precautions. Click on photos to enlarge them. And ENJOY! 🙂

Have you ever seen the high desert in central Oregon? The one many early settlers had to travel across to reach the West Coast? Without maps and only occasional guides?

No? Neither had I until last week. I’d seen wheat ranches in Oregon, sea stacks and beaches on the coast, snow on Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, lush forests and state parks drenched with green mosses, waterfalls, creeks running alongside mountain roads, puffins on the sea stacks, and spectacular sunsets. But until a year ago I hadn’t even heard of what I saw last week.

Ten days ago D and I flew out to Portland, Oregon for a visit with our daughter and her husband. It included a two-day road trip to the high desert to see the Painted Hills. Did you know there are painted hills in the USA? I didn’t. Here’s our first photo–a tiny peek as we approached the Painted Hills entrance on Day 1 of our adventure.

P1090807
Painted Hills is one of three units in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We visited two of the three units—Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.

The photos below are from our first day at the Painted Hills Unit. We arrived in the late afternoon on a picture-perfect day. Warm weather with a cool steady wind, dry air, and very few visitors.

P1090827

P1090828 Can you find the spot where DAFraser zoomed in for this close-up? Also, look for animal trails and tracks. No humans allowed!

Here we’re on our way to a lookout at the top of the trail.
Notice the moon hanging in the brilliant blue sky!

P1090875

When we were walking on this path we stopped to listen.
All I heard was silence and the beat of my heart.
“…All nature sings, and ’round me rings
the music of the spheres….”

P1090897 Velvet tones and texture, stripes like a soft woolen blanket; colors of the West

P1090847

 

P1090891

P1090870

Polite signs like this kept reminding us to stay on the path!
In this case, turn around and go back the way you came.
Which we did!

End of Day 1, back at our motel:

P1090905 Wild turkeys on the road up to our motel, after chasing unwelcome cat away….

Hoping you find a way to vacation safely today, even if it’s only in your lovely mind and heart!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 October 2015 and 27 June 2020
Photo credit: Elouise (top photo), DAFraser (all the rest), October 2015
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit

I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger | Rhiannon Giddens

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a small, steady stream of visitors to an earlier post on Rhiannon Giddens. It featured “Julie,” Giddens’ song about a black daughter and a white mother living in North Carolina during the brutal 1898 uprising against and slaughter of Black people. As she put it, “Julie” is her way of conveying the complexities of her own life as the daughter of a white mother.

A few days ago I listened to Giddens’ rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger” (above). I heard this haunting song frequently when I was growing up the Deep South. Now, having heard Giddens’ stunning interpretation, it’s playing at will in my psyche, night and day.

I’m guessing most of us struggle with multiple identities, as well as what it means to be human in one setting or another. I find myself bouncing back and forth between the ignorance and naivete of my childhood in the South, and my radically different experience of life here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Especially when I was working at the seminary, and now experience in my home church.

In many ways, going home sounds like heaven. Partly because it would be the first safe home of my life. The first place where I know I don’t have to prove who I am and am not, or endure the agony of not knowing who I am. To say nothing of concerted attempts to put and keep me in my place. Or the internal desire to look the other way when someone else is supposedly being put in his or her place.

The difference, of course, is that I’m not mixed race, black, or facing the realities my black and mixed race friends and their families face daily. This human-made, aching chasm in our nation is begging for attention and understanding. The kind persuasively conveyed in music that softens us and invites us into a stranger’s perspective and our own self-examination.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

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