Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: a national challenge

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

What ‘human rights’ don’t look like

Recently a friend sent me the following list. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. It was compiled by Dr. Valerie Bryant, a Black therapist in Brooklyn, NY. In the list she names black citizens threatened or killed in recent years while engaging in the behaviors she names.

Think of Dr. Bryant’s list as a roll call clarifying the difference between living black or brown, and living white in the USA. It’s also an invitation to reflection about ourselves, and the meaning of human rights.

…As a white person when you go out in the street, you don’t have to think twice of being murdered by a police officer or citizen acting like a police officer.

Or as a white person,

I can go birding (#ChristianCooper).
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and
#AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and
#RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
I can be arrested without the fear of being murdered. (#GeorgeFloyd)

***These are NOT human rights if only white people have them.*

With compassionate rage
Valerie Bryant, PhD
Fort Greene Bklyn 11205

How would my world change if I woke up with different colored skin than I now have? Can I remember how I was taught to think or talk about skin color?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 June 2020
Image found at stlpublicradio.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

This house of cards

Nothing
Keeps me awake
Nothing

Every cell in my body
Wants to shut down
Pull up the covers
Abdicate responsibility
For this day

Gray clouds and
Lazy drizzle
Mask consequences
Long repressed
Between layers
Of paper-thin sheets
Crammed into closets
Rotting into
Nothingness
Moldy leftovers
Of a thousand
Ill-conceived plans
Now haunting
This house
Of cards

We live in a nation besotted with lethargy. Except, perhaps, when we’re enraged or enthralled. Or speaking with people with whom we already agree. Everything else is too difficult. Too complex.

Complexity is not one of our favorite things. Becoming fully informed seems a dying art. Withholding quick agreement is cause for suspicion. We like to be liked. Now. And we love to be catered to in word, if not in deed.

When did code words or hearsay repeated over and over become tests of truth? Or shows of outrage? Or the level of venom and loathing on Twitter?

Then again, what about lethargic retreats into silence because somewhere along the way, someone convinced me that Silence is the Best (Safest) Policy? How willing am I to let go of my desire for security and survival? It seems the longer I wait, the higher the stakes become.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 December 2019
Photo found at medium.com

Our current discontent

This morning I woke up wondering how we’ll survive as a nation, no matter who wins the next presidential election. It’s Advent. However, my mind went back to Lent, and a March 2017 post about what I was giving up for Lent.

As I see it, our nation is being tested yet again. We’ve been tested many times. It seems that whatever happened or didn’t happen back then, despite our best intentions, contributes now to our growing state of dis-union.

So how will we survive not just the next election, but the year leading up to it? Political strategies and post-election plans are important. Still, they aren’t magic wands that can solve our national problems.

The most important things are what we carry in our hearts, and what we have chosen to give up.

So I’m drawn back to what I gave up for Lent. The challenge isn’t any easier now than it was then. I’m to give up desires that have haunted me all my life. Not because this will solve personal or national problems, but because this frees me to behave differently this time around. Even though I’m terrified about the consequences.

So here they are, in the form of a prayer litany. Still staring me in the face daily. How willing am I to bring these strange gifts and lay them down before a newborn baby? Not just once, but as many times as necessary.

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)

Do I like doing this? No. It does, however, make space for me to take risks. The kind that make my heart pound because I’m not in control of what happens next.

With hope, and thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2019
Sunrise at Acadia National Park, Maine, USA; found at pinterest.com

Still searching for myself

I’m most alive when I write –
If only for myself.
I don’t understand this deep urge
To put myself on paper,
To make visible things
I’ve held closely guarded –
As though I could keep my life
Safely contained
Within the walls of my mind
Secret, lonely, fearful.

Was or am I a big mistake
Parading as reality?
Worse yet, a fraud trying to be
What she was never meant to be?

I wonder –
Is this related to being white in the USA?
Or better – being white and female in the USA?

My mind has been on race and skin color for the last several days, triggered by one of the books I’m reading. It’s titled White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Dr. Carol Anderson, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. The book was published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Press.

Chapter titles:
1. Reconstructing Reconstruction
2. Derailing the Great Migration
3. Burning Brown to the Ground
4. Rolling Back Civil Rights
5. How to Unelect a Black President

I don’t understand the depth of our racial divide here in the USA, or of today’s white rage that seems to be spilling over at every turn. I do, however, understand that white rage is deeply embedded in this nation’s history. It’s part of our nation’s history from the beginning. Our old, old story. The one it seems we’d rather bury underground than face head on.

I don’t have answers, so I’m going to keep reading Dr. Carol Anderson’s well-researched, well-written book, and see what happens. Not out there, but in me.

Comments are welcome, whether you’ve read this book or not.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2019
Bookcover image found at amazon.com

Suffering

Dorothee Soelle, German poet and theologian, wrote the following poem during the Vietnam War era. The poem, titled “Travel Notes,” has seven parts. Below is the first part, followed by my comments.

Hospital in Haiphong

Doan is three years old
in his head a fragment
of that handy bomb
that leaves buildings undamaged
never puts a factory out of production
doesn’t even harm bridges

Doan is three years old
in that handy bomb
are millions of tiny fragments
just for doan
meant for his feet
designed for liver and lung

Doan is three years old
his mother is gone
the president of the united dead
sent her an invitation
to a high standard of living and a lasting peace
he sent a handy bomb

Doan can’t write yet
so I’m writing this letter
to the workers in st paul Minnesota
asking if they couldn’t make
a toy boat out of plastic
instead of bombs because
doan is only three years old

Dorothee Soelle, from Revolutionary Patience, pp 71-72
English translation published by Orbis Books 1977
First published in German by Wolfgang Fietkau Verlag, Berlin 1969 and 1974

I discovered Dorothee Soelle’s writing in the late 1970s when I was studying theology in graduate school. As one of only several well-known women theologians (also a poet), she made her mark by teaching, publishing, and practicing what she preached.

All poems in Revolutionary Patience  are about the Vietnam era. So is one of her best-known books, Suffering. It’s her cry against apathy toward sufferers, and against views of God that accept suffering as ordained by God. She discusses the nature of suffering, how to recognize it, and how to listen in person to people who suffer. The goal isn’t to fix them, but to support their empowerment as change agents.

The most crucial skill Soelle  describes is silence. Listening without an agenda. A skill anyone can use with a child or adult so traumatized that at first he or she has no words. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the words.

When I read Soelle’s writing today I think of myself and every child, teenager, woman or man marked by childhood trauma. I ask myself whether I’ve yet ‘arrived.’ Or am I stuck somewhere, still under the unseen yet keenly felt power wielded by perpetrators or by their stand-ins?

The poem above also reminds me of migrant children caught in the web of our recent national and international humanitarian disaster. They and their families are already marked for more suffering. Not because God wanted it that way, and not because they deserved it.

I wonder how much we’ve learned from the Vietnam era. Do we know how to deal with suffering that’s taken place on our own soil since the beginning of our nation? Especially suffering hidden beneath piles of bureaucratic red tape, political expediency, finger-pointing, inattention, and rewritten history.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 April 2018
Photo of Vietnam Refugees at Guam found at afsa.org

hovering

hovering
betwixt and between
slow drip to nowhere

This morning small icicles were dripping outside my bathroom window. Destined to be gone by the end of this sunny day.

I wrote the haiku thinking about icicles. Yet the truth goes deeper. It reflects how I feel about our national preoccupation with the Washington DC ‘Reality Show.’ Guaranteed to make multiple appearances on popular late-night commentary shows dedicated not to commentary or thoughtful analysis, but to making one side or the other a laughing matter.

On top of which we now have a newly released tell-all book, guaranteed to bring gasps of horror and indignation, not thoughtful analysis.

And what of our future, our cohesion as a nation? Are we caught up in a slow drip to nowhere? Mesmerized by the theatrics of reality-show performances supported by friend and foe alike? Laughing our way to nowhere?

It’s good to ask questions. But not if the answer that most pleases us is a lame joke that takes the edge off our responsibility to be actively informed citizens. The future of our nation and our planet deserve out best efforts. Especially when it feels like the tide is against us.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 January 2018
Photo found at beachfrontbroll.com

Listening to Extreme Poverty

An article this morning about Australian Professor Philip Alston’s survey of extreme poverty in the USA did me in. It’s Advent. A time for hope, joy and expectation. Yet for over 41 million Americans there is no expected arrival of anything but escalating hunger, despair, disease, death, and promises not kept. Professor Alston’s written report will go to the United Nations next May.

It’s easy to blame politicians and corporations. Or the super rich. But that doesn’t cut it.

Taking time to listen deeply is a spiritual discipline. I love pondering a beautiful flower or sunset. It’s something else, though, to ponder a problem this large. What is this reality trying to tell me?

There’s a growing divide between those who care to understand extreme poverty, and those who choose to ignore it or put the blame somewhere else. For example, we know charitable agencies, churches, outreach programs and governmental services work daily to ease the anguish and dehumanization of USA-style extreme poverty.

We may also believe that if extreme poverty isn’t addressed systemically, our personal efforts are mere bandages–a waste of time, effort and money. Yet the message of Christianity and other faiths includes the importance of showing hospitality to strangers. Especially those in distress.

So what can I do about any of this?

I don’t have answers. The easiest thing would be to shake my fist at politicians and super-rich ‘one-percenters.’

I’m reminded of Dorothee Soelle’s book on Suffering. What’s needed from me isn’t outrage, shaking my fist, or solutions to solve the problems of people trapped in extreme poverty. What’s needed is simpler than that, and a thousand times more difficult.

I need to listen in silence, the way Dorothee Soelle listened to victims of the Viet Nam war. That might mean listening to long, painful silence before words are found and haltingly spoken with anguish or rage.

Yet if I don’t learn to listen patiently for the story of a person trapped in the despair, humiliation and disenfranchisement of extreme poverty, I won’t understand my story. ‘Their’ story is another piece of my story, whether I like it or not. It’s also part of the story of the USA, whether we like it or not.

The photo at the top shows the sanctuary of a church in San Francisco that opens its doors weekdays from morning through mid-afternoon for homeless persons to rest and sleep. It came from the article I read this morning.

Praying each of you will have a hope-filled Sabbath rest.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 December 2017
Photo of St. Boniface in San Francisco found at msn.com in “A Journey through a Land of Extreme Poverty: Welcome to America” 

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