Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

I just struck gold!

Who was Amelia Boynton Robinson, and who is that young man sitting next to her? And do you know who’s in the photo on the right? Or what year it was? To find out more, check it out right here. It’s the second entry from the top. You can read more about Amelia Boynton Robinson’s life right here.

For the last few weeks I’ve been searching for gold, interpreted by me as

  • easy to read/watch
  • lively and informative
  • brief, riveting commentary with real photos of real people
  • a semi-crash course only better
  • attention to women as well as men
  • inspiring without glib promises
  • tuned into today’s challenges
  • excellent communicator

It’s impossible to take in everything all at once. So I’m now following Chris Preitauer’s blog.

Beginning at age 7 I grew up, went to college and had my first ‘adult’ job in the Deeply Segregated South. I saw and heard a lot. Sadly, I didn’t formally or informally hear much about Black Lives. Nor was I encouraged to get curious about why. In the 1950s and 60s, Black citizens were treated differently than White citizens. Not just in the Deep South, but in the not so Deep North.

So yes, I’ve found gold! Someone from my era (sort of) who became involved.

I hope you’ll look at a few of his pieces. They’re to the point, challenging, and inspiring without pretending our current challenges will be easily resolved.

Thanks again for visiting, reading, and leaving your footprint!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 June 2020
Photos found at ChrisPreitauer.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

Still I Rise | Maya Angelou

A family of African American war workers in a makeshift bedroom in Little Toyko, Los Angeles in the 1940s. (Los Angeles Daily News/UCLA Archive)

“Still I Rise” is Maya Angelou’s tribute to the courage and endurance of African American women. It’s also the title of one of her books of poetry. My brief comments follow.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 30.
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|

Maya Angelou’s poem is worth reading out loud and slowly, using every ounce of imagination to join her. Not necessarily as a sister, but as a beginner or better yet, a follower.

I struggle over what I can and cannot do to join her in these closing days of my life. For now I’m reading poetry, watching documentaries, reading news articles and editorials, and listening online to black friends and strangers talk about what’s happening.

For centuries, racial injustice has bled into today’s mega-epidemic of prisons, soaring rates of Covid-19 deaths among African Americans, closed or understaffed medical facilities, corporate greed, random killings, modern-day enslavements, distrust, fear and weeping rage. Unaddressed, this blatant, calculated and habitual injustice also stokes our current epidemic of unleashed white supremacy.

As noted above, try reading Angelou’s poem out loud and slowly. What do you hear?

Praying for discernment, courage and peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2020
Photo found at http://www.latimes.com

What’s going on? | Update and freebies

Onlookers raise their fists following a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Floyd, an African-American man, died in Minneapolis police custody. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

Unless we face reality as a nation, and maintain momentum, we’re in trouble. No matter who the next President is.

Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color, the sad and sorry outcome of our history with Black Americans. Despite this, Mr. Trump and some of his followers seem content with the way things are. He has politicized the killing of George Floyd by, for example, invoking different standards for his militaristic ‘peace-keepers,’ and those seeking change for all of us.

Change won’t be easy. Yet it could be productive if we face reality and maintain momentum. I’m heartened by news reports about state officials outlawing tactics used by officers and others to subdue (kill) Black men and women.

Last Wednesday, in the midst of all this, our electricity went off. D and I were watching a riveting documentary called “I Am Not Your Negro.” It’s about James Baldwin. We finished it today, after the electricity came on. It’s powerful, brutually honest, and puts the burden of proof on us as citizens. Especially on white people like me.

Today I found a site that offers a number of documentaries and movies FREE for this month. They’re about the way we’ve treated Black Americans in this country. “I Am Not Your Negro” is offered to a selected number of cities. However, “Just Mercy” is available for anyone, along with “Selma.” Click here to find out more.

Finally, last Wednesday afternoon, the tri-state area experienced sudden, intense downdrafts and storms that ripped through cities and communities. Our county was hard hit, with huge trees blown over, power lines down, and a number of deaths.

No electricity, no internet access, no telephone, no TV. It’s good to be back!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 June 2020
Photo found at chicagotribune.com

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

Acid | Mary Oliver

When I first read this poem, I shuddered. I didn’t like it. Then I discovered “Of the Empire,” which seems cut from similar cloth. My comments follow.

Acid

In Jakarta,
among the venders
of flowers and soft drinks,
I saw a child
with a hideous mouth,
begging,
and I knew the wound was made
for a way to stay alive.
What I gave him
wouldn’t keep a dog alive.
What he gave me
from the brown coin
of his sweating face
was a look of cunning.
I carry it
like a bead of acid
to remember how,
once in a while,
you can creep out of your own life
and become someone else—
an explosion
in that nest of wires
we call the imagination.
I will never see him
again, I suppose.
But what of this rag,
this shadow
flung like a boy’s body
into the walls
of my mind, bleeding
their sour taste—
insult and anger,
the great movers?

© 1992 by Mary Oliver
Found in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 130-131
Published by Beacon Press

I don’t think Mary’s intent was for us to like this poem. Instead, she describes an incident in Jakarta, and what happened to and within her. It’s so disturbing that she can’t forget it. As she puts it, she carries this image “like a bead of acid” so real that for a moment she’s able to become this child.

Mary puts her own experience in Jakarta out there like a mirror, and invites us to ponder her closing question. What am I going to do with this “shadow” flung into the walls of my mind? This image that bleeds  a “sour taste—insult and anger, the great movers.”

It doesn’t matter how I feel about the person in front of me. What matters is the blatantly visible truth, and how I choose to respond to it.

None of us can change the world single-handedly. Perhaps we could begin by noticing encounters that distress us, and go from there.

We don’t have to go abroad to understand this poem. It’s alive and well right now. The perfect storm is upon us here in the USA. Covid-19 plus yet another brutal murder of a black man.

Am I prepared to take this storm seriously? Or am I going to keep trying to get back to business as usual, distract myself to death, or worse–give up all hope of something better?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 May 2020
Flower Market in Jakarta found at TripAdvisor.com

Longwood on the cheap and an update

I know. It isn’t quite the same as being there in person. But it’s the closest I’ve gotten to Longwood Gardens since last fall. Be sure to turn up the volume so you can hear the birds!

This morning I walked in our neighborhood and saw a few friends from years back. The humidity was atrocious. The birdsong, however, plus all the lovely green leaves were to die for. And yes, I wore my face mask.

I haven’t been out for any great adventures since the first Sunday of March. I’m grateful D is doing all our grocery shopping. Our ages put both of us in the high risk category for Covid-19. My health issues make me a higher risk than D. So I’m here at home virtually every day. I write, walk in the neighborhood, talk to family members on the phone, and keep in touch with our neighbors.

Speaking of family, our daughter turned 50 today! She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon. Our son, his wife and three children live about an hour away. But it might as well be Portland, given Covid-19 restrictions.

Even introverts don’t like being caged. Well….not exactly caged, but I’ve definitely had my wings clipped. I don’t foresee being out and about anytime in the near future.

I felt great relief after I wrote my most recent piece, It feels so good. Resisting Mr. Trump isn’t directly about resisting him personally. It’s about how I choose to spend my time. So I’ve made some choices, and will see how it goes.

I hear people talking about ‘getting back to normal.’ From my perspective, there is no going back to ‘normal.’ Instead, our country has a looming crisis on its hands. It didn’t begin with the current administration. It began centuries ago and has continued unabated ever since. Ignorance about our country’s history is rampant. So is ignorance about science and the way we’ve ignored and put off questions about the planet and our responsibility to look after it and the people who inhabit it.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the privilege of blogging. When I look back at my beginning posts, I’m stunned by how much you’ve contributed to my life. Some by reading faithfully; others by visiting from time to time; all a great encouragement to me.

Thank you. And may our Creator bless each of you with renewed vision for what you might do with your one, lovely life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 May 2020
Longwood Gardens video found on YouTube

It feels so good

It shouldn’t be difficult
This discipline of
Resisting

Resist the devil
And he will flee from you

Just say No
How hard can it be?

Close your eyes or
Turn off the TV
If you don’t like
What you see and hear

Write an angry letter
And be done with it

Unconvincing words and deeds
Scream the truth
As she stumbles her way home
Once again numb and high
On the self-righteous thrill
Of having given someone
A piece of her mind
Now lost somewhere
In the universe of babble

It feels so good—enabling Mr. Trump with my anger as well as my attention. Yet it does nothing to change what is beyond my control.

Or put another way, what am I neglecting when I give away so much energy, with no positive return?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2020
Resistance art found at pinterest.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

Resisting Mr. Trump


Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965)

What is the content of my character? The question haunts me. I’m in the golden to fading-golden years of my life. Until early this year, all my ducks (as many as I could herd) seemed to be lining up in a neat row, with plans and documents in fairly good order.

The appearance of Mr. Trump on the overtly political stage distressed me in 2016. Today it horrifies me that he’s still there.

This isn’t about who wins the next election. It isn’t even about Covid-19. It’s about resistance and the content of our character.

Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to lose sleep over the content of his character.

I wonder about myself.
Do I understand true resistance?
And what is the content of my character right now?

For decades I minimized the circumstances of my childhood. I thought that if I got on with my life as an adult, the baggage of the past would gradually fade away.

That didn’t happen. It never does. I had to resist openly. I had to open my mouth, and say what I needed to say to the people who most needed to hear from me–my parents. Which I did on the eve of my 50th birthday.

I grew up under the strict, sometimes harsh tutelage of a father who contantly reminded me that he was in control, and I was not. But power is never a sign of ‘rightness’ or even (as in my ordained father’s case) ‘righteousness.’

When I look back at my internal resistance to my father’s heavy-handed methods of control, I wonder how I did it. Stubborn? Yes. I was stubborn–though not in the way my father thought I was.

Instead, I learned to embody stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it worked to my advantage. Overall, however, it did not. My body paid a high price.

It would not be fair or true to say my father and Mr. Trump were cut from the same cloth. Still, there are obvious overlaps, including unhealthy narcissism. The kind that tries to eradicate healthy narcissism in others.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Trump wins the next election or not. He has already wreaked havoc here in the USA and abroad. It won’t do for me to hold my nose and wait for November.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2020
Photo of 1965 March from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama found at americanyawp.com

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