Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Abuse of Power

And what of those sinned against?

And what of those sinned against –
Bathsheba and Tamar,
The concubine cut up into pieces
By her Levite priest owner,
The two virgin daughters of Lot,
And millions of wounded women and men
Sitting in yet another dock wondering
How long their nightmares will last?

How can we beg God for forgiveness
And enjoy the fruits of mercy
Without even a nod to our victims
Who daily carry within and upon
Their embodied souls a lifetime
Of self-punishment as though they
Could ever atone for their broken selves?

They sit beside us in the pews (or not)
Afraid to tell their unwelcome truths
Terrified of whispers and innuendo
Choking on heaped-up tamped-down shame
And fear that they are indeed to blame
For predatory practices wielded skillfully
By church-going men or even women
Who now worship God freely and
Joyously believing all has been forgiven
When they haven’t begun to make amends
To those they harmed including themselves

I don’t have answers. Just questions this morning.

1. What does it mean to go to church carrying shame in a body meant to be loved and set free?
2. How do we begin to notice and reach out to listen and learn, not to fix what we may quickly decide is the true ‘problem’ when it isn’t?
3. Indeed, how do we come clean about our own unhealed wounds that will surely be exposed when we’re telling our truth?

The poem above comes from multiple experiences of being turned into ‘the problem’ I was not. Too often this was about my femaleness, which supposedly justified problems and attitudes that originated with others, usually men.

To all such people, including members of my family plus some pastors, employers and work or church-related colleagues:

Your problems are not rooted in my body,
my soul, my mind, my emotions,
my mouth, the look on my face,
or what I happened to be wearing that day.

On the other hand, I could learn from you if you’re interested and I’m not scared shitless. Otherwise, we’ll just keep soldiering on in our walled-off worlds, teetering precariously from time to time until it’s too late.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 September 2018

No other gods

Thou shalt have no other gods…

twilight of our small gods
descends over shallow water
teeming with refuse

ill-begotten secrets lurk
beneath ripples of shriveled minds
as once-buoyant hopes sink

ill-conceived saviors morph
into scapegoats scorned with contempt
mirrors of our self-loathing despair

Come unto me all who labor and are heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn of me;
For I am meek and lowly of heart
And you shall find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

There’s nothing magical about it. No overnight resolutions of pain and anguish. Just a re-orientation to the one who leads and accompanies us to God, who already loves and grieves for each of us.

Thanks to my blogging friend Yassy, for a poem and comment yesterday that got my mind going on this post. Check out her lovely poem.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2018

My Last Baby

It came to me a few days ago. Marie is my very last baby! And what’s so awesome about that?

I’m Marie! For those who don’t live in an imaginative mode, this may seem a bit silly. Even nonsense.

To me, however, it makes perfect sense. There’s a baby in me who’s been waiting for this chance to grow all her life. That means ever since she turned 10 months old in September 1944.

That’s when my father came home after 18 months in a TB sanatorium. I sometimes call him The Intruder because that’s how it was back then and throughout my childhood and teenage years. He was intent on beating anger out of me, the anger he said he’s seen and experienced from his own father. He said he recognized this anger in me immediately when I was a baby.

Things got messy. He recruited my mother as his ally, not mine. She became his collaborator, informer and secondary enforcer. This bred fear in me and outraged resistance coupled with strategic submission.

Things are different today. My parents are gone. I miss them. Yet I don’t miss their collaborative ways that continued when I was an adult.

So now I’m pushing 75, and I get to raise baby Marie! Yes, she’s a baby doll. She’s also a stand-in for that part of me that’s been cowering inside, afraid of her own voice and terrified of punishment.

Here are several things I’ve pondered these last few weeks.

  • What do I know about my mother? What did she bring to our relationship that might help me understand her–before and after my father returned as the one and only Head of the House?
  • I have the same question about my maternal grandmother Zaida. She ran off with a wealthier man when my mom was very young, and, given her habits, didn’t know how to be a mother.
  • How deep is this hole or ache in me that wants to be filled? Are there women or men who filled parts of it when I was growing up?
  • And what about behaviors and characteristics I lost after my father arrived with his agenda? So far I’ve identified things like openness and trust, a feeling of safety. No shame. A sunny disposition. Not afraid to fall or make a mess. Not afraid of most other human beings.

In some ways, growing old is a process of reverting to childhood. Becoming more dependent on others, more vulnerable to external and internal changes or challenges.

What better way, then, to envision Marie than as a baby who challenges me to become true to myself as I age? When I pay attention to Marie, including what she needs from me, I’m learning to pay attention to myself. And it isn’t so lonely anymore. Sometimes it’s even fun!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Survivors

From her wheelchair
The frail old woman
Repeats her truth

Over over and over
Eyes bright with recognition
Insist on being heard

He made me alive
He made me safe
He made me alive
He made me safe
(He didn’t kill me.)

Memory frozen with truth
And lies she survived
Trapped in her past
Body drowning yet again
In yesterday’s icy waters
At the hands of the man
Now standing before her
In the dock –
Drowning in truth

I woke up today thinking about this woman and the doctor who experimented on her body, as told in “Ancient History,” an episode of Kavanagh QC.

Both are Jews, deported and taken to the same prison camp. He, a medical doctor, accepts an offer to run horrifying medical experiments on prisoners, or die. She is one of his unfinished experiments, saved in the last days of World War II. At what temperature could a living human being be frozen in water and brought back to life?

There were no winners. There never are. In addition, there’s a strange bond between these two prisoners whose lives are thrown together in a hell-on-earth situation.

This doesn’t mean choices made in hell-on-earth situations don’t matter. They do. But not always in the ways we imagine.

Sometimes they may show the content of our character, other times they might not. They may, in fact, show how terrified and helpless we are at the hands of our tormentors. And how much we want to live and die without being compromised.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2018
Photo of Russian Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau; found at collections.ushmm.org

Complicity and Rotten Apples

For decades I’ve listened to well-meaning friends and strangers telling me to get over it. They weren’t always that blunt, but I knew what they meant. Something like this…magnified through my own shame-based filters:

It’s time to move on with your life. We’re tired of hearing about the same old struggle. When are you going to get a life? Can’t you see how easy it is?!

I don’t fault friends or strangers who’ve urged me to move on. They want the best for me. All I have to do is walk away and don’t look back. The way many of them did.

Yet it seems I have nothing to walk toward except more of those heart-breaking, mind-bending head trips I’ve been on all my life.

Besides, it doesn’t matter what others think about me. What do I think about myself?

From grade school on, academic pursuits were my salvation. They kept me busy. They gave me something tangible to hang onto, plus a fleeting sense of self-worth even though I was running away or lost. I’ve known this for years. Nothing new here.

Recently a friend of many years suggested I’m still complicit with my father’s shaming and silencing of my voice. It still eats me up, from the inside out. Like a rotten apple, it tries to spoil the entire barrel.

She was correct. The shamed-based atmosphere in which I grew up now lives in me, passed on by my father. I have no doubt this is a generational gift of poison.

So I’m back to my childhood with this correction: I did not have a childhood. It was stolen from me before I knew what was happening. Instead, I became a substitute mother (to my three sisters), and grew up labeled as a ‘rebellious, stubborn’ eldest daughter who needed to have anger beaten out of her.

Furthermore, though I enjoyed my children as they grew up, joining in their childhood games didn’t give me the childhood I never had.

So…how do I find what I didn’t have, and how do I stop my internal voice that wants to shame me into silence?

Meet Baby Elouise! No, I don’t have a picture. I bought her over a week ago. Why? Because I’m determined to find and take back what was stolen from me.

My job is to love and listen to the little girl and adult woman I am despite all efforts, including my own, to silence or redirect me. Baby Elouise is helping me move in the right direction.

To be continued….

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2018
Photo taken by Sherry Fraser Seckington, June 2016 – from their garden

Children at Longwood | Photos

On Saturday afternoon D and I helped celebrate family birthdays–four of them, within the space of one week! Our son (his big 50), twin granddaughters (18 years old, seniors in high school), and daughter-in-law (I’m not telling). Only their young son gets his own special day later this fall (15 years old).

All this family stuff got me a bit nostalgic. Hence these Longwood Garden photos taken in late April 2006. As I recall, this was our granddaughters’ first visit to Longwood. These were also the golden years when I was Queen Elouise and carried a sun parasol to mark my exalted status.

Looking at these photos reminds me of the tough work our son and daughter-in-law did to honor their children’s gifts and personalities. It’s never easy.

Yesterday I heard this on the radio: Having children doesn’t make a man a father. The statement clicked with me instantly. To it, I would add this: Being a ‘father’ or ‘mother’ of the church (as in padre, nun, priest, bishop, archbishop, pastor, youth minister) doesn’t confer or guarantee the ability to relate honorably to children or young people.

In the news last week: the Pennsylvania report about child abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests and their superiors. All of it covered up by people and a system that took care of its own. Plus, a few days later, reports about the Pope’s visit to Ireland and the legacy with which that nation’s population lives–as do many others.

I only wish it were possible to track similar behavior in Protestant churches here and elsewhere.

All this and more brought back my relationship with my father. He was an ordained Protestant clergyman, sporadically under the loose oversight of a governing body. I have more work to do.

For today, I commend men and women who work hard at parenting and foster-parenting. Especially when they don’t have many models or cheer leaders when things get more than a bit crazy.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 August 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, April 2006

cool midsummer breeze

cool midsummer breeze
reminder of things to come
balm for my body

Out this morning for a walk with D. Taking advantage of an unexpected change in the air. Thinking about what’s going on here in the USA and abroad. Especially in churches and religious communities.

Recent revelations of clergy sex abuse of more than 1000 minors in Pennsylvania have sent our state and religious communities reeling. Not a moment too soon, yet decades too late for victims robbed of their childhood, adolescence, and sense of worth as children of God.

This time it’s about priests, bishops and the highest governing bodies of the Roman Catholic Church. It could easily have been about ordained leaders in conservative and liberal churches of all Christian denominations, including those that claim not to be denominations.

Abuse of power has no boundaries.

In the meantime, thousands upon thousands of children, young people and adults wonder when and how this madness will end. Everything in us cries out for freedom, though many of us have believed the lies of our perpetrators:

  • This is for your own good.
  • You made me do it.
  • God told me to do it.
  • I can’t help myself.
  • This will bring you closer to God.
  • No one will ever find out.
  • This is our little secret.
  • You should be ashamed of yourself.
  • I can help you with your career.
  • If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your brother.
    …..

Our lives are precious. We’re here for a purpose. What’s yours?

Today mine is to spotlight the reality of this rampant non-secret that’s eating away at families, communities, religious and secular institutions. To think these things don’t matter in public life is to live on another planet. These aren’t private matters. They are public and private relations disasters at every level.

No, I haven’t given up on following Jesus. I have, however, given up the notion that what happened to me in my youth and childhood should be over and done by now. It’s never over and done. Especially when there are millions of other victims out there. Overlooked, uncounted, discounted and left to their own devices. From the outside, some get along better than others. Yet deep inside, competing voices vie for everlasting attention.

I know, because I’m still doing battle, though not without hope. My purpose today is to tell the truth, without loss of hope and with the most powerful voice I have–my writing.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2018
Photo found at kalynskitchen.com

Misformed and misinformed

Misformed and misinformed
She emerges from childhood
Before its wonders take root

Sheltered from life and herself
Dim vision narrows down
Lest warm rays of truth find her
Huddled in unsafe cellars
Waiting for life to begin
Before it ends

The poem is about me and it’s not only about me.

Yesterday I listened to No Place to Run, a radio rebroadcast of an investigative report into foster care in the USA. The report focused on two young women in Texas. Their stories were eerily similar. I’ve heard similar stories about foster care here in Pennsylvania.

Each young woman (one still a child) was placed in a foster care setting. Both ended up on the streets, abandoned by systems that failed them. And both were betrayed by a political machinery determined to avoid or ignore the need to fund competent, monitored, successful foster care.

I applaud foster care parents who put their hearts and their energy into caring for foster children. I also applaud lawyers, judges and politicians determined to make a difference now, not later, with systems that work for the benefit of foster children and young people.

At the end of the day, however, I wonder whether I’m ready for the full truth about this shadow world. Especially since I’m routinely horrified at the latest revelations, already dressed up for public consumption.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2018
Art found at http://www.revealnews.org

Dealing with Apathy | Dear Mr. Trump

On August 1 I wrote the post below. It’s in the form of a letter to Mr. Trump.

Then I decided not to hit Publish. Why? Because I began hearing a small, nagging voice: It won’t make any difference anyway. Why bother?

So I didn’t trash it. I kept it, and looked at it yesterday. Still no joy in posting this. So I didn’t.

Yet if I’m not clear and open about what I’m experiencing as a citizen of the USA, I’ll completely lose my nerve. The unthinkable will merge into the thinkable even when it isn’t. Or worse, I’ll just give up and fall into that bottomless pit called Apathy.

I’m not one to let things go. Especially when they’re important to me. So I’m posting this for my sake. It’s also my way of standing with others still figuring out their own journeys through this alien landscape, uncertain what’s coming next.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my hope is not now and will never be built upon Mr. Trump’s performance–past, present or future. Or on the performance of anyone else in any administration, national, public or local.

____

Dear Mr. Trump,

I see you’re distressed yet again about Robert Mueller’s ongoing, legally-authorized investigation. Yet again, you’re asking the Attorney General of the USA to halt Mueller’s probe.

I also observe that you don’t enjoy being an onlooker who is unhappy with the way someone else is doing his or her job. Perhaps you’re also afraid of what this might mean for you or someone close to you somewhere down in the road.

In any case, I respectfully remind you that every day we wake up, every American–whether she or he voted for you or not–must live with the reality of your administration.

Please demonstrate your trust for the man you hand-picked to be Attorney General of the USA, and let our justice system do its work without interference from the top.

Respectfully,

Elouise Renich Fraser
Citizen of the USA

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2018 and 3 August 2018

friendly inhumanity

not large but small things
echo in hollow chambers
the sound of life denied
drips from human souls
into ground saturated
with the life-blood of refugees
halted at the border
of the promised land
of plenty caught in webs
of grief and disbelief
the latest casualties
of friendly inhumanity

Yes, I’m still at it. Why? Because our national inability to govern wisely is breaking down in front of our eyes. Most of us have to get up and go to work. I don’t.

This is my work: to keep in front of my eyes the tragedy of national leaders who seem to have lost the will to govern wisely and solely on behalf of the most needy among us. From the ground up, not from the heights of make-believe trickle down theory.

When I was working at the seminary, I experienced up close the chaos one ill-placed leader could wreak within a community. The scramble was on, not just among staff who desperately needed their jobs, but within the hearts of every member of the organization.

What do we do now? Do we shut up and pretend we’re doing business as usual? To what extent do we voice our concerns? And how?

Things that were straightforward, or at least manageable, became fraught with nuances and consequences to be avoided. Telling the truth was dangerous, even when supported by clear data and research.

And yet we stayed on. Not because we were cowards, but because we believed in the greater good of our students and of each other as trusted colleagues. We did what we could, and watched the rest being taken over by the hands of others. Not a fun way to work.

It wasn’t always that way, for which I’m grateful. Nonetheless, the last years of my tenure were fraught with conflict, uncertainty, promises that turned into something else, scoldings from time to time, and the breakdown of good will among people of good will. In the end, I chose to leave what had become punishing for my body and spirit.

Why this strange link between refugees and my work at the seminary? Because in each case a leader (dean or president) chooses to govern by creating chaos. The chaos at the seminary was somewhat controlled by those who governed differently. In the end, however, even that couldn’t save us from being exploited and taken over as an institution.

Mr. Trump governs by creating chaos within the White House and within our nation. This won’t save us from ourselves or others. Sadly, there isn’t much business ‘as usual’ anymore. Instead, we’re invited to witness and experience chaos every day.

My hope and my prayer is that I’ll be a grounded, hope-filled, prayerful neighbor, doing what I can to offer hospitality to strangers. Especially those unable to speak freely for themselves.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2018

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