Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

A vexing situation – Sexuality 3

It’s now 1986. I’ve been an assistant professor of theology for three years. A new academic dean has just arrived, as have recent newspaper articles about one of our recent graduates. She had been one of our more conservative students, and was now an ordained pastor.

According to newspaper accounts, our graduate, happily married with two sons, left her conservative denomination to become pastor of a church for gay men and lesbian women. She had become disenchanted by her denomination’s anti-gay/lesbian rhetoric as well as concrete actions taken against homosexual women and men. I applauded her courage, as did some of my colleagues.

Our new dean circulated to the faculty a copy of the newspaper account along with a brief memo letting us know we would be talking about this. In the account, our former student identified herself as a graduate of our seminary.

Thus began a long conversation in the faculty that ended after nearly 10 years of anguished discussion about what we as a seminary should do. Not about this one graduate, but about gay men and lesbian women who might be already enrolled or applying for admission to our seminary. And about what faculty could or could not teach in the classroom.

The seminary hadn’t made attitudes or beliefs about homosexuality (or heterosexuality) an official requirement for admission in the past, so why did we need to clarify our ‘standing’ at this time? And why, given the recent history of the seminary’s heterosexual president, as well as hints of stories that might be told about one or two male professors of the past, were we suddenly consumed by angst about homosexuality? Wasn’t heterosexuality of equal weight and importance?

During my first three years at the seminary I became known, along with several colleagues, as a ‘safe’ person to talk with about matters of sexuality. Especially homosexuality. That meant I knew how to listen, how to be supportive without being directive, and how to help seminarians think about options. It didn’t take many conversations to realize I had no clue about the inner and family lives of gay and lesbian seminarians.

Some, now full adults, had never come out of the closet with their families, much less their friends. The thought of appearing before a board or session of a church to be interviewed for ordination was terrifying. Some ordination exams were public. Open to members from other congregations. Questions could be asked by anyone in the room, including questions about candidates’ personal lives.

I attended scores of these public exams. Nothing was more brutal than knowing ‘visitors’ from other churches could sway the outcome of an exam. The sessions sometimes functioned as semi-political social and theological warfare. If that sounds harsh, so be it. The possible consequences for the woman or man standing up front were harsh. Especially if the moderator wasn’t skilled and politically savvy.

Finally, in 1996, the seminary published internally a new policy on human sexuality and moral conduct. It included implications for present and future members of the seminary community and for faculty members in their responsibility as teachers.

I like clarity. I like knowing what’s expected of me. Yet this new policy sent a double message.

To be continued.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 April 2018

sounds of silence

not even
the refrigerator
hums tonight

a clock
ticks seconds away
barely audible

in my ear
the soft buzz of silence
fills the air

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 April 2018
Photo  of installation art found at dripart.com

Gumdrops, Spring and Dr. King

Like gumdrops
Filling a candy jar
Seconds of daylight
Pile up helter skelter
Cheery gold and lavender
Green, purple and red
Steal the show
From winter’s icy grip
One precious drop at a time

Snow and sleet this morning; sun promised this afternoon. Crocus and forsythia bloom no matter what falls from the sky. Relentlessly, they’re taking back their space and sending winter packing.

On 4 April 1968, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I can’t think of another religious or political leader who has, in my lifetime, spoken truth to power as effectively as he did. Not once, but many times over.

Dr. King’s approach offers an alternative to Mr. Trump’s Make America Great Again. Dr. King’s option is about hope for our future, though not because we’ll all be Great in the Trumpian way.

Instead, like the silent approach of spring, we’ll join others to steal the show from our long national winter of discontent. It will take no more and no less than small acts of nonviolent hope, listening as we’ve never listened before, and one courageous vote at a time.

We don’t have to wait until we’re part of an army or national movement to do what needs doing. Nor are we promised rose gardens or fame in return for our service. Instead, we’re promised the soul-satisfying, dangerous work of living and speaking truth to overweening, soul-destroying power.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 April 2018
Photo found on pinterest.com

Easter Lilies and Justice

Easter Lilies

Dear Diane,

Easter Sunday always reminds me of you. Not just because you were born on Easter Sunday in 1949, but because the Easter lilies at church always take me back to your funeral service and heaps of Easter lilies around the casket at the front of the church.

Today was no different. I walked in, saw the Easter lilies and tulips, and dissolved into tears as we sang the first hymn. It all came flooding back, along with a story Dad told me when he was in hospice care.

The story was about you and his flower garden in our back yard. Maybe you remember it. That was when we lived on the river. The flower garden had tons of flowers, including Easter lilies and Dianthus, all planted by Dad. He used to say the Dianthus were there because they reminded him of you.

Dianthus

One day Dad noticed that some of his special Easter lilies were missing from his flower garden. When he went back into the house he found them–in flower vases and glass jars here and there!

It didn’t take long to find out you had done this dastardly deed. He said you listened quietly without tears. Then as you turned to walk away you asked, “Where are the flowers for the children?” Cut him to the quick, he said. And I have to admit, he had tears in his eyes as he told the story.

Do you remember that square patch of flowers near the rear of the back yard? It wasn’t very large. Maybe 5 feet wide. It had posts with twine supports for some of the flowers. Most were bright zinnias.

Dad told me, with tears in his eyes, that he planted that flower garden just for the children. We could pick them anytime, as many as we wished. All because you had the guts to ask the most important question of all. “Where are the flowers for the children?”

Today I wonder the same thing. Sadly, we’ve gone downhill when it comes to things for the children. Flowers for the children tend to show up after children or teenagers are killed with guns. Survivors are asking all of us so-called grownups, “Where are the safe places for the children?”

That’s another subject, except for this: It takes guts to stand up and fight for the rights of children and young people. I’m rooting for the children and young people.

Love and hugs, plus Happy Easter and Happy April Birthday—not that you’re counting anymore!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2018, adapted from an earlier post
Photo credit: wallpapersup.net (Easter Lilies); robsplants.com (Dianthus)

Life flew south last winter

Life flew south last winter
Though I’m looking for its return
In vain I imagine it on
A southern beach somewhere
Soaking in rays of warmth
For this spring-starved season
Plus stories of birds and beasts
To lighten my waning energy
Sleeping day and night

Waking from a dream I search for
Resurrection of bones and sinews
With sight and sound and the mind
I used to have but find instead a
Stranger has taken up my space
Demanding attention as the radio
Drones on about life out there
Though I no longer visit
Or entertain at home

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 March 2018
Photo of Baltic Sea Club found at pixabay.com

by the feet

Dear Friends,
I’ve revised this old post, added the photo, and am sending it out as my Good Friday offering. It still speaks to me–given the number of family members missing from my old photos. As they say, life isn’t for sissies. Neither is death. And we have a faithful Shepherd who won’t abandon us.
Elouise

Telling the Truth

George and Louisa MacDonald with their 11 children
plus eldest daughter Mary’s fiancé

Maybe it’s my age. Or the ever-present reality of death in our media-saturated world. I’m grateful for these words from George MacDonald. Good Friday invites me to consider death with my eyes wide open.

March 21 and 22

O Lord, when I do think of my departed,
I think of thee who art the death of parting;
Of him who crying Father breathed his last,
Then radiant from the sepulchre upstarted.—
Even then, I think, thy hands and feet kept smarting:
With us the bitterness of death is past,
But by the feet he still doth hold us fast.

Therefore our hands thy feet do hold as fast.
We pray not to be spared the sorest pang,
But only—be thou with us to the last.
Let not our heart be troubled at the clang
Of hammer and nails, nor dread…

View original post 329 more words

On this side of death

On this side of death
Life seems far away
Cold and unforgiving
A half-remembered song
Of dreamers now turned
A certain age still pushing
The limits of what body
And soul can take without
Warning or a notice in
The mail reminding us
The deadline for renewal
Is approaching

This morning the calendar
Says Spring is in the air
Yet all I see are fog and the
Stubborn snow of Winter
Still frozen on the ground
Hanging on for dear life
Reluctant to cede even
Half an inch of space to
Birds announcing it’s time
For warmth and loveliness
In the face of barrenness
And last Fall’s rot

Cars rush by outside
Perhaps they know what
I don’t know about what’s
Happening and where to
Find it when wheels are
Greased and running smooth
No hiccups or tremors
Or faintness of muscles and
Limbs aiming to make it
From one room to the next
Without colliding into
One’s own precarious
Body and soul

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 March 2018
Photo of the Gazebo at Longwood Gardens found at tripadvisor.com

The underbelly of the Church

Below is a quote from Simone Weil about the social and patriotic power of the Church. Not church as we know it on Sunday mornings, but the Church as a powerful institution within a political setting.

Weil wrote during the Nazi era. Her words are troubling, given the rise of the white Evangelical church’s political influence in the USA. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, but also in public arenas where religious language virtually baptizes political figures as agents of God, up to and including Mr. Trump.

In light of the Nazi era, this turn of events is more than troubling. Many, though not all German Protestant and Catholic churches, including pastors and revered theologians, colluded in the rise of Hitler. Their open support amounted to baptizing Hitler as God’s agent sent as their Great Leader at this time. Yes, there would be some bloodshed. But in the end, life will be better for those who survive, and Germany itself will gain esteem throughout the world.

Here’s what Simone Weil had to say about herself and the Church during the Nazi era. I read this as a comment on both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany, though she refers to the Catholic Church. Highlights are mine.

All things carefully considered, I believe they come down to this: what scares me is the Church as a social thing. Not solely because of her stains, but by the very fact that it is, among other characteristics, a social thing.

Not that I am by temperament very individualistic. I fear for the opposite reason. I have in myself a strongly gregarious spirit. I am by natural disposition extremely easily influenced in excess, and especially by collective things. I know that if in this moment I had before me twenty German youth singing Nazi songs in chorus, part of my soul would immediately become Nazi. It is a very great weakness of mine. . . .

I am afraid of the patriotism of the Church that exists in the Catholic culture. I mean ‘patriotism’ in the sense of sentiment analogous to an earthly homeland. I am afraid because I fear contracting its contagion. Not that the Church appears unworthy of inspiring such sentiment, but because I don’t want any sentiment of this kind for myself.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Published by Harper Perennial in 1950 to celebrate 100 years since Weil’s birth

I couldn’t agree more. I’m also troubled by the silence of many white Evangelical churches that (rightly) choose not to get on the Trump bandwagon. Silence often enables the abuse of power. I don’t want to catch the silence virus. Hence this post and others to remind me that I have a voice, it counts, and I must exercise it regularly.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2018
Image found at books.google.com

A vexing situation – Sexuality 2

Almost all my life I’ve been aware of sexuality, especially my own. Since my birth in 1943, I’ve been a member or participant of multiple religious communities that have talked about sexuality only when necessary. Usually when cultural pressures seemed to endanger ‘our’ young people.

I don’t remember sermons or safe conversations about everyday situations such as how to have a safe conversation with someone whose heart is aching or carrying a heavy secret. Nor have I had much training in how to watch or change my behavior so that I’m as clear and safe as possible when it comes to my sexuality.

For me, this unspoken agreement not to talk openly about sexuality made things worse. Especially after I arrived at the seminary in 1983, one of a small number of female faculty members. I felt alone and confused, left to figure things out by myself.

So here I am, a new assistant professor at a theologically conservative seminary with socially responsible roots and programs, along with a still-fresh wound from the former president. My new colleagues and students have their luggage from the past, and I have mine.

Perhaps the approach of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the seminary’s way of allowing us to feel safe. Which, of course, many of us did not.

The first three years of my appointment I was exhausted, confused, anxious and fearful. Not because of what I knew, but because of how much I didn’t know. Not chiefly about how to teach or how to deal with classroom situations (though that was no cakewalk), but about being an academic advisor to each of my assigned advisees.

They appeared at my door, several times a year. Women and men with multiple issues about scheduling, grade point averages, work load, childcare, job requirements, immigration requirements, culture shock and yes, secrets. Heavy, untold stories about past history, realities about current history, sometimes things they’d locked away in a closet as though that would take care of it.

I think back to those three years as my Apprenticeship in Real Life. Classroom dynamics were nothing compared to the atmosphere in my office when an advisee or other student decided to tell me a secret about his or her sexuality. My job was to respond appropriately and with integrity.

Did I stumble around? Absolutely. Was I confident? NO! Did I have all the answers to life’s burning questions? No. Did I make mistakes? Yes, I did. And I learned a lot.

The most painful thing I learned was that my own sexual issues from childhood were still haunting me. Things I thought I’d left behind were suddenly right there in front of me or inside me. They demanded a hearing, even though I was there to listen and offer guidance to others.

I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning a personal curriculum that eventually humanized me. My closely guarded secrets about childhood and teenage years as well as secrets about my adult years weren’t the end of the world. They were keys to joining the human race, especially in the one area of my life I couldn’t understand no matter how much I tried to normalize it.

And I wasn’t there yet. In fact, things became more difficult after my first three years of teaching.

To be continued.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2018

peach-pink sunrise

peach-pink sunrise
paints bare spring tree-tops
warm flame

No, this isn’t what it looked like outside my bedroom window Sunday morning. But the colors are at least close. The flaming tree-top effect happened quickly before going back to regular fringy brownish tree-tops. A spectacular way to begin the week.

All except for this: Our old house is reverberating this morning with drills and hammers and the sound of men going up and down to the attic–carpenters and electricians. The modest makeover should be done in a few days. Phew…..

Happy Monday!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 March 2018
Photo found at theaccidentalpeach.wordpress.com

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