Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Black Lives Matter

Thank you, Marian Anderson

 

Today is the anniversary of Marian Anderson’s birth in 1897. You may remember that James DePreist, musician and poet, was her nephew. Some might even remember that she was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Anderson died on  April 8, 1993.

This morning I watched and listened to a number of YouTube videos. Most focused on Anderson’s amazing voice. After listening to more than one recording of “They Crucified My Lord,” I chose the one you see above. It isn’t dressed up, and we don’t hear or see the audience. Instead, we’re invited to hear and feel the full weight of Anderson’s interpretation. One tragic note at a time.

I hear connections between Anderson’s interpretation of this song and James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.  Not just in the music itself, but in her subdued yet determined delivery of the song. Often followed by silence from the audience.

I wonder. How many white people felt pierced in their hearts, as I do now, when they heard and saw her interpretation of it? We’ll never know. However, the fact that this song was often met with silence instead of enthusiastic hand-clapping suggests the message was clear to all.

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t say a ‘mumbling word’ and was known to be innocent of charges brought against him. It follows that we dare not applaud this travesty (lynching in its changing costumes) that continues to haunt us in the USA.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 February 2021
Image and song thanks to YouTube.com

o

James Baldwin | The Fire Next Time

In the mid-1960s I first read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a collection of two published pieces. Each deals with how to survive as a black person in the USA. The first is a painfully realistic letter to James Baldwin’s nephew. The second describes Baldwin’s own struggle as a black Christian, beginning at age 14.

Now, at the end of 2020, I’m reading Baldwin’s small book again. Sadly, most white citizens of the USA still haven’t figured out how to do the right thing by our black citizens.

Instead, we’ve formed factions for which we ‘need’ an enemy (who isn’t necessarily our enemy). Something or someone to squabble about. A diversion from painful realities. Sadly it seems to offer a way of winning, even though we’re all losing.

Remember divide and conquer? As children, we played it all the time.

Sadly, people in power love to see us fighting each other instead of fighting against an unjust system in which some human beings continue to pay an unjust price. Given our history, it seems white citizens would rather fight each other than deal with injustice to people of color.

Early in his second essay, Down at the Cross, James Baldwin describes our perennial problem. I’ve highlighted the line that caught my attention.

There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

The Fire Next Time, pp 21-22;
First published by The Dial Press, NY, 1963
Vintage International Edition first published 1993

If this is the biggest question we white citizens face, it doesn’t matter which way we voted. What matters is whether we can learn to “accept and love ourselves and each other.”

We don’t need our perennial “Negro problem” in order to feel good about ourselves. Why not? Because this never was a “Negro problem.” It’s been a White problem from the very beginning.

Highly recommended, even if you read it way back when.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

breathless morning sky
fiery orange shades of red
light pierces darkness

Often we live and die in self-imposed darkness. Not the dark of night, but the darkness of our understanding, our motives and our ignorance.

For several weeks I’ve been reading James Cones’ latest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It’s a tough read. Cone challenges my white understanding of the role too many Christian churches and politicians have played in the history of lynching.

When I grew up, Jesus’ death was all about appeasing God’s anger for our sin. Dying as an innocent on an ordinary criminal’s cross was payment for our sin. Yes, we deserve to die, but Jesus died for all of us, so that God’s anger toward us wouldn’t be our undoing.

If, however, Jesus’ death was a lynching, what does that mean for Christianity in the USA?

According to our history of lynching, white Christians have managed to do to black women, men, children and unborn babies what Roman and Jewish leaders did to Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, it was death on a Roman cross/tree. Yes, it was death on a White cross/tree.

Now, in our supposedly more enlightened age, we think we’re beyond lynching. After all, Jim Crow style lynching is illegal.

Is it? Really? Look around. We’ve developed neat, more anonymous ways of doing the deed. Out of sight and out of mind, except for the occasional uproar over what’s been happening for decades.

White fear and a deeply ingrained false sense of superiority lie at the heart of our White problem. It isn’t about God’s anger at sin, so-called “Christian” values, or even our own wellbeing.

Each morning, like clockwork, we’re invited to let light pierce the darkness of our understanding. It doesn’t take much light. Just a candle here and there in a window will do. That, plus time to appreciate the light we’re offered each day, and a trustworthy guide to prick our consciences and challenge our sight.

Thanks for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 November 2020
Photo found at unsplash.com

caverns dripping water

caverns dripping water
fall silent beneath the earth
dry wells languish

Voices we can’t afford to silence are being silenced. Our own descent will surely follow. How many of us are there? Was that before or after the latest Covid-19 numbers were released?

Things like this go through my mind. Especially on a rainy day. This morning I sat at my kitchen table watching the bird feeder. From nowhere a huge swarm of house sparrows landed—at least 40, maybe 50 of them. They squabbled and fought each other for seeds from the feeder and seeds on the ground.

Suddenly, all but one took instant flight. Why? I don’t have a clue. But the remaining sparrow looked around and decided to high-tail it out of there, too.

They say we’re in for a harsh winter. Maybe the sparrows know more than we think they know.

Life is short, full of sweetness and full of sorrow. It seems many of us have a deficit when it comes to acquaintance with sorrow and grief. Others know them all too well.

It behooves us to keep the water flowing. Not just the rivers and streams, but the flow of human connections that soften and shape us into the persons we are. We can’t afford to bolt from the feeder. It might not always taste good, but without it, we will surely languish and die.

Speaking of water, the lovely eye of water in Longwood Gardens (above) is a mirage. Recycled water becomes a loud, stunning eye of water, then a lovely quiet stream that hurries over a small yet spectacular waterfall. Then it rests in a beautiful pond before being pumped to the top and recycled over and over.

It’s mesmerizing. And also a reminder of how much we owe nature and each other for the level of sanity we still enjoy. To say nothing of what we owe the patience and longsuffering of our Creator.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 November 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, May 2012

My peace I give unto you | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

Blessed are the eyes that see
The things that you have seen,
Blessed are the feet that walk
The ways where you have been.

Blessed are the eyes that see
The Agony of God.
Blessed are the feet that tread
The paths his feet have trod.

Blessed are the souls that solve
The paradox of Pain,
And find the path that, piercing it,
Leads through to Peace again

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, p. 45
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

Studdert Kennedy, also known as “Woodbine Willie,” wrote this poem for men serving in World War I. He didn’t write from a safe distance, but from the trenches. In 1914, 31 years old, he volunteered to serve on the front line. A British chaplain to men living and dying daily in a war they didn’t begin or have the power to end.

The poem is a tribute to soldiers who, like Jesus of Nazareth, walked the path that led through Pain to Peace. Not a ‘beautiful’ death, but an agonizing death that included feeling forsaken by God. It also included the Agony of God who witnessed everything.

Despite beautiful, celebrated artistic depictions of the cross, Jesus of Nazareth’s death was a public lynching. Which immediately brings to mind uncounted black Americans lynched publicly by white people. Without just cause.

I’m half-way through James Cones’ book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. In it, Cone makes the case for linking Jesus’ cross with the lynching tree. I think Chaplain Studdert Kennedy would approve reading this poem as a tribute to black Americans lynched, like Jesus of Nazareth was lynched. Making their way with Jesus through the paradox of Pain, to Peace.

No, we don’t have Peace in the USA, no matter who wins this election. Nor will we ever have Peace without Pain. I’m praying for grace to make my way through Pain, to Peace. What about you?
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 October 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

What it looks like to be brave

This is my first attempt to clarify what it looks like for me to be brave today.

Being brave means

  • Not second-guessing myself or my language.
  • Not wondering whether people will like or believe what I say or write.

Given my age and health, bravery is chiefly about spoken and written speech.

  • How willing am I to be blunt, no matter who is listening/reading?
  • How willing am I to become a learner, not just by reading books, but by listening to what others say about me as a white citizen of the USA?

Signs I’m being brave:

  • Giving up more rules for good white girls and women, enforced directly and indirectly since the day I was born
  • Engaging in conversation or not, as I choose
  • Taking care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually
  • Speaking my mind and engaging in conversations that matter
  • Feeling both clear and out of control

Being brave isn’t measured by

  • What my father would say or think
  • What my church friends, pastor, or former colleagues and students would say or think
  • What my readers think about what I write

So what’s at stake?

  • It isn’t whether we can get along.
  • It’s whether white citizens of the USA are willing to look into our long history of racism without making excuses or trying to explain things away.
  • It’s also whether churches and religious institutions will take racism seriously, no matter whether they supported it directly or indirectly.

It’s also about

  • What I do or write in response to what I’m learning and seeing daily.
  • Being clear about what I need to hear about from the pulpit regarding racism.

In the final analysis, the goal isn’t to change other people. It’s to change me.

Thanks for visiting, reading, and commenting if you’d like!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 October 2020
Quotation found at pinterest.com

Am I brave?

Where is my center?
The one thing that matters
Above all else

What is truth?
Not what I see with my eyes
But enact in my life

Brave
I want to be brave again
I think

Yesterday’s bravery looks on
With bated breath
Was it for real or not?

Since childhood
I’ve prepared for this moment
Without a map

Now I’m a grown-up
Battle-worn and wondering
Can I do this again?

I don’t generally think of myself as a brave woman. Determined? Yes. But not brave.

My life has been a series of interruptions by men. Some were accustomed to taking over and talking over others. They seemed to be the truly brave players on the scene. People like my father, my first boss, some male pastors with whom I’ve worked, male teachers and professors, male board members, presidents, vice-presidents and colleagues. Sometimes male students.

They seemed to sound ‘brave,’ if not always wise. At best I might have called myself ‘disciplined.’ But even that sounds weak. Especially now, in a world reeling from a dearth of true bravery. The kind that moves ahead without knowing how this is going to end. Without hanging onto ‘power over’ other people. Without the need to prove something personally, or make sure this turns out right.

Most Christian churches with majority white members are likely in need of brave leaders. I’m not an official church leader. I’m a retired theologian. Nonetheless, it’s time to step up. Time to become brave yet again. This time without apology or fear of what people may think about me.

There’s too much at stake to put my trust in niceness, or even in making sure I’ve gotten every word in the right place, spoken or written in the right way, at the right time.

I’ve begun reading Brenda Salter McNeil’s Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now. I’ll say more about it in a later post. It’s a great read so far.

Thanks for visiting and reading. On another note, my poem, Haunted, has been published in a South Georgia newspaper. In addition, my primary care physician asked for it–to use in a small discussion group the practice has begun.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2020
Image found at StarTribuneBaltimore.com

My week in review – with Smudge

Smudge watching our squirrel-proof birdfeeder

This past week felt like an out of control rollercoaster. Up one moment, down the next. Clearly running out of steam. I thought I had this Covid-19 lifestyle all sorted out.

There’s something diabolical about maintaining a Covid-19 lifestyle while watching Covid-19 cases rise, POTUS tank, voting procedures being weaponized, fires on the West Coast, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, and general disarray throughout a country that now feels more like fiefdoms. Oh…not to forget the plot to kidnap a female governor and begin an internal uncivil war. This is not a joke.

Nothing is so discouraging as watching POTUS & Crew flounder daily. No, I don’t watch or listen to the news all day. Just once a day is more than enough.

Thankfully, I accomplished several things this week. First, I voted by mail, using a friendly drop box at a nearby library. Done! Second, I had my annual “Wellness Visit” for old folks. The major goal is to identify elderly citizens who need further follow-up or help. I’m happy to say both D and I got a pass for the coming year. We also got flu shots. Mine hurt for several days. D’s didn’t. Life is so unfair.

While talking with my wonderful primary care doctor, she asked about my writing. I told her about my poem, Haunted, including the fact that I sent it off along with a letter to the editor of a local south George weekly newspaper. She requested a copy of the letter and the poem! Why? Because some members of this family practice have begun a voluntary small group meeting to talk about issues including racism. I was stoked and grateful.

As for the photo below, I didn’t see the dead mouse until I finished breakfast. No, Smudge didn’t eat it. The poor little mouse is now somewhere on its way to dust. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the way Smudge chose to announce his overnight triumph!

Little things mean a lot. Especially now.

Praying you’re finding your way through these strange days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 October 2020
Photos of Smudge taken by ERFraser, late September, and 9 October 2020

Chains

Chains of fearful submission
Rattle through the nighttime
Terrorizing citizens caught
In the act of looking the other way

This simple act caught on screen and
Controlled by centuries of false freedom
Binds tongues and stokes the proud
In these days of wine and funerals

Whiteness permeates communal air
Contaminating the atmosphere
Dripping with the stench of refuse
From centuries of proud fear

Sunday church comes just in time
For another needle of painkiller
Soothing hard hearts and closed minds
Ready for another week of denial

This is my personal statement, based on a lifetime of church service and membership. Both conservative and not so conservative.  

Ever since this nation’s founding, independent and denominational white churches in the USA have enabled the war against full citizenship for people of color, American Indians, and many immigrants. How did churches do this? Chiefly by staying within so-called safe “non-political’ bounds, and practicing forms of charity that required sacrifice without causing a political ruckus.

Denial has a way of becoming deadly. It’s a downward slope leading to disaster. Many white churches in the USA are in denial. Some may talk about change. Others who care deeply about these things read books and get involved personally.

Rarely, however, is there difficult institutional change. The kind that’s visible, that stirs up uncomfortable controversy and leads to even more difficult change. Yet that’s what it means to follow Jesus the Jew on his way to death. He was crucified (hung on a cross/tree) for living the Good News for All and telling it like it is. Not with rancor, yet without mincing words or minimizing the cost to him or to his followers.

I’m praying for visible changes of heart and habits of life. We’re in this for the long haul, no matter how the upcoming election plays out. 

Thanks for visiting, and for doing what you can where you are. As for me, I’m reading James Cones’ book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2020
Book cover image from amazon.com

This uncivil war

Up and down
All over the map
Ecstatic one moment
Discouraged the next
Willing myself
To get up in the morning
And begin yet again

So many opportunities
So little time
So little access
To things I think I need

How will it all turn out?
Does it really matter?
Is my small loaf without fish
Enough for today?

A million questions
Race through my mind
As life falls apart
And trash piles up
Just outside my
Window on the world

Deep inside I know
Only a brutal housecleaning
Will tame this deadly nightmare
Of consequences we now
Live to regret
One day at a time

Is the American Dream dead? Can we survive this uncivil war? Actually, we’ve been fighting it from the beginning. Today we can watch the latest episodes unfold right before our eyes, thanks to ever-present news media, and unnumbered sources of information and dis-information.

If you’ve visited my blog during the last several years, you know I’m not a fan of Mr. Trump. Tragically, what we see today is in keeping with everything we already knew about him.

Yet in the middle of it all, there are opportunities for people of good will to work together on issues that have scarred our hearts and souls from the beginning. The evidence is clear. White citizens like you and like me disenfranchised and brutally murdered American Indians, exploited and terrorized slaves night and day, and serially mistreated every ethnic minority that has set foot in this country willingly or unwillingly.

Surely we can come up with another way of going at this. One day at a time. One risk at a time. Pondering our next moves. Not alone, but with others hungry for change. Giving up something of value in order to receive something much better.

After all, white people and their black and brown neighbors also have a history of resisting evil. Even in the most tragic circumstances. What might we learn from and with each other?

Praying for courage to change the things I can. No more and no less.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2020
Azar Nafisi quote found at http://www.idlehearts.com

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: