Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Academic Politics

In the presence of my enemies

It’s January 2006. I got to my office early, and was preparing to drive to the airport and catch a flight to Houston, Texas, to be with my sister Diane who was dying of ALS. She had opted for comfort care at home. No food and no medication. Just fluids and whatever would comfort her. This might be my last visit with her.

As I was about to leave my office, the phone rang. It was D. His premonitions were correct. The president of the university had just requested D’s resignation. So here it was, after several years of difficult personnel and budget issues.

No, D didn’t want me to cancel my flight. Instead, I flew to Houston in a stupor of spousal pain and rage, and gave D a call that evening. I continued as dean at the seminary. D was now free to follow his heart and eventually accepted a position with an international organization he’d helped birth.

Now it’s August 2008. I’m on a platform in the university gym along with other dignitaries. We’re in full regalia, ready for the fall convocation, installation of new faculty, and installation of the new chancellor of the university. The man chosen as the next provost, one of D’s friends and faculty colleagues, would be installed as the new chancellor. My job was to offer the installation prayer.

Inside, I was a mess. When the time came, I stood at the lectern facing the university faculty along with our seminary faculty. A number of university faculty had been unhappy with D’s administration. Some bitterly so.

On the outside I was a professional. On the inside I was in melt-down, shaking in my spirit and fully aware I was facing some university faculty who felt like enemies, along with many others who still grieved D’s resignation.

The newly minted chancellor stood next to me, and I invited everyone to stand with me for the prayer. It was simple and direct. And yes, it was a prayer for me and for D, not just for the new chancellor.

The prayer made use of Psalm 23. I couldn’t find the original script. It went something like this:

Because the Lord is your shepherd and knows everything about you, you will never lack for anything you need.
When you’re weary, may you find rest in green pastures, and follow your shepherd to pools of quiet waters.
When your soul is troubled, may you find restoration, and be guided in paths of right relationships that bring honor to your shepherd.

When you go through times of deepest darkness and despair, may you fear no evil;
Your shepherd will be with you, to find and comfort you no matter what happens.
When your shepherd prepares a banquet for you, and your enemies are looking on or sitting at the table, know that you are an honored guest in the Lord’s house, worthy of the best wine in the world.

Finally, remember that this goodness and mercy will be with you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord, your good shepherd, forever.

Amen

I don’t understand all the dynamics of this event. Nonetheless, when I sat down I was calm inside, ready for whatever came next.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 June 2018

A vexing situation – Sexuality

When I arrived at the seminary in 1983, it didn’t take long to figure this out. The seminary had an unspoken policy when it came to sexual behavior. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

This left me in a quandary. I’ve just walked into a seminary with a still-fresh wound inflicted by the former president. It wasn’t about homosexuality. It was about another sexual preference, though no one in her or his right mind would have called it that back then.

He had an arrangement with a second ‘wife’ with whom he enjoyed getaways for at least a couple of years. It seems no one knew what was going on until one of the seminary’s capable staff members noticed a strange charge to his credit card.

The well-kept secret was out, and his time at the seminary came to an abrupt end. No one was happy about it. He was a highly respected man, well spoken, still in the prime of his life, and one of ‘ours.’ Which means he was a member of the church denomination that had birthed the seminary.

When I was interviewed to become a professor at the seminary, the still-fresh wound was never mentioned.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ already had a life of its own at the seminary. It seemed  to work. The seminary seemed to have good standing with constituents in the area. And if the word got out (which, of course, it did), the seminary had done the right thing. And attention quickly moved on to the bright future ahead now that this sad and unfortunate anomaly had been dealt with.

How did the seminary community process this crisis? I don’t know. I don’t recall much conversation about what had happened or how it might have changed the seminary’s thinking about sexual ethics and the abuse of power.

Doing the right thing when it comes to matters of sexuality is dicey at best. I don’t find the usual assumptions and exhortations from pulpits or other platforms helpful, though I believe we must talk about sexuality openly and honestly.

And there’s the rub. Because sexuality is complex, attempts to be open and honest can quickly devolve. Though we say we want an open conversation, we prefer a controlled environment. Many of us also arrive with our own unexamined baggage or our belief that we’ve got our own sexuality under control.

Trust, already in short supply, can quickly become nonexistent. Sometimes followed by resort to tired stereotypes and untested assumptions about people. It takes great skill and commitment to keep an open conversation open.

It seems we’re allergic to conversations that make us uncomfortable. Not simply as speakers, but as listeners. We prefer boundaries, no matter which side we’re on. Sometimes we argue about boundaries instead of talking about ourselves and our own painfully isolating secrets.

From my perspective, the seminary wasn’t skilled as a community when it came to creating safe space for open and honest dialogue about sexuality. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the unofficial, accepted way of dealing with things. This covered the seminary’s past history as well as the past and current histories of students, faculty and staff. Unopened, unexamined pieces of luggage full of confusion and heartache.

To be continued.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2018

Much Madness is divinest Sense —

emily-dickinson-much-madness-image

Here’s another gem from Emily Dickinson, along with my personal response below.

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

c. 1862

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Dear Emily,

Please  forgive me for barging in. You don’t know me and I don’t know you personally.  Still, your poetry challenges me to think deeply. This one, in particular, brings me comfort Read the rest of this entry »

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