Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Christian Faith

On being Black in America | Frederick Joseph

Late last week a friend sent me the quote below from Frederick Joseph. She found it at Blavity, which she describes as “an excellent source to learn what is newsworthy to the black community.”

Here’s what Frederick Joseph had to say:

As a Black person in America, I’m tired.
Tired of waking up and not knowing
what new trauma will seep into my bones.
What new video of injustice will be etched into my memory.
What new name will become a hashtag.
Whether I will become a hashtag.

~~~

I don’t know what it’s like to live in black or brown skin. Nonetheless, here’s a first attempt to imagine how it might feel if the new “black or brown” were now “white.”

Feeling my White way along
this unfamiliar path I stop
to consider what it would
take to live for just one day
and one long night in the skin
of a Black person in the USA

Trapped with nowhere else to go
I’m caught in the glare of unsought
publicity turning uglier while the
latest news bulletin breeds fear
in the hearts of women and men
caught on camera in White skins

Newsy chats with experts and officials
don’t calm my racing heart already
sinking beneath words doled out about
future solutions while I want only
the honor of being recognized
today as the Full Citizen I already am

As a white citizen, I know the tug of wanting to keep going based on myths, hopes, dreams and a heavy dose of addiction to sham. We would rather live on tomorrow’s promises that yesterday and today’s reality. So where do we go from here?

I don’t know. However, I’m going to start checking out Blavity. Otherwise, I might miss what’s most important to the very citizens whose lives are routinely in jeopardy.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 June 2021
Photo found at alphanewsmn.com

A prayer for our nation | Zephania Kameeta

Dear Friends,

Today is Memorial Day. A day to honor those who served or lost their lives in various wars. I love our country, and I honor those who served with honor.

Sadly, many of us have denied, forgotten or minimized how little our country does for living veterans. Their bodies and spirits fight daily against disabilities and diseases directly related to their military service. I reject the argument I heard again just this week: These disabilities and diseases are part of what they signed up for.

It is not an exaggeration to say our military personnel of color have suffered the most neglect. Not just in terms of health, but in terms of post-war benefits. Our country applauded them while they were serving in active duty. Yet adequate funds for housing, education, health and other benefits have been withheld from most of them for decades.

I remember how distressed our black ex-military seminarians were when their academic support from the USA was diminished far below that being received by our white ex-military students. It wasn’t the first time this had happened to black ex-military personnel.

This is a problem for the USA government. However, it’s also a problem for all of us in the USA. We’ve lost our way with ex-military personnel (and their families), women military personnel, and everyday citizens of all colors. They are entitled to their just rights and honor.

I love this country. I also love Reverend Zephania Kameeta’s rendition of Psalm 114 for today’s world. An honored and honorable church leader in Namibia, he offers a timely challenge for all of us.

Psalm 114

When the oppressed people left the house of colour worshippers,
when the despised left the state of slavery and racism,
they became the Lord’s holy people,
the oppressed became his own possession.

The oppressors looked and ran away;
the worshippers of race and colour were paralyzed.

The mountains skipped like goats with joy;
and the hills jumped about like lambs in happiness.

Tremble, earth, at the coming of our Liberator,
at the presence of our God,
who hears the prayers of the poor,
who changes despair into hope and sorrow into joy!

A prayer from Why O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, by Zephania Kameeta, p. 41
© 1986 World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Thanks for stopping by this Memorial Day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 May 2021
Photo found at parkhillsrca.org

What I never wrote to my father

Dear Dad, thenextfamily.com


When it came to disciplining me, my father often referred to several verses in the King James Version of the Bible. One of his key verses was Proverbs 16:18 (KJV):

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

He believed he was responsible for beating pride out of me. From his perspective, my anger proved I was a prideful daughter intent on getting my way. According to him I thought I knew better than he when it came to punishment, rules or decisions.

If I didn’t comply with his will, another proverb told him what to do. I’ve changed the personal pronouns. Proverbs 23:13-14 (KJV) says,

Withhold not correction from the child:
for if thou beatest her with the rod, she shall not die.
Thou shalt beat her with the rod, and shalt deliver her soul from hell.

Before you get angry with my father, think about this: Like many other parents, he passed on what his father did to him. I can’t exonerate him. He  did what he did. He was responsible for what he did; I was not. I do, however, have compassion for him. I know from experience how difficult it is to raise children.

Here’s the so-called Good News Version (TEV) of the same verses in Proverbs 23:13-14:

Don’t hesitate to discipline children.
A good spanking won’t kill them.
As a matter of fact, it may save their lives.

Nonetheless, even a “good spanking” can kill a child’s spirit. Do you or I know a child’s inner spirit? The spirit of this child may be terrified because her main agenda is to grit her teeth and get through whatever you or I decide to do to her vulnerable body.

What is a “good spanking” anyway? Sometimes I needed discipline. Yet I never needed my father’s version of corporal punishment. Corporal humiliation is never a “good spanking.” It’s humiliation of the weak by the powerful. An abuse of power.

Whatever this “good spanking” is about, it isn’t about humiliating a child’s body or spirit. If the point of the proverb is to say parents mustn’t hold back when it comes to disciplining their children, that can be done in other ways.

As an adult, I’m responsible for welcoming children and young teenagers into my life. They’re strangers I’m privileged to get to know and learn to discipline appropriately. It isn’t always easy. Yet hospitality offers another way to relate to them and to myself.

  • Hospitality welcomes children and young people God sends into my life.
  • Hospitality isn’t overbearing and doesn’t make quick assumptions.
  • Hospitality asks questions and listens.
  • Hospitality gets interested in what children and young people think and feel.
  • Hospitality doesn’t pry, or spy on others.
  • Hospitality listens, affirms, and collaborates to solve problems.
  • Hospitality isn’t rude, bossy, impatient or quick to take offense.
  • Hospitality creates and maintains reasonable, healthy boundaries.

In other words, hospitality is the shape of love.

Here’s what I never wrote to my father:

Dear Dad,
Please treat me as a human being created in the image of God. That’s all I want. I don’t want to fight with you or disappoint you. I want to be myself and count on you to help me without humiliating me. I want to be proud of myself and proud of you.
Your first-born daughter,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2015, edited and reposted 20 May 2021
Image from thenextfamily.com

A personal letter

fraser_s_0238b

~~Mom Elouise and Daughter, 1974, Altadena, California on a Sunday morning

Death and dying are on my mind these days. Not just because of Covid-19, but because of how I’m feeling about my own death, plus regular reports of friends dying or facing end of life decisions. I’ve lightly edited this post from February 2017. 

Today was our adult daughter’s last full day visiting us. Tomorrow she flies back to the West Coast. I’m teary, lethargic, achy, sad, and already lonely.

I’m also feeling the certainty of death these days. Nothing in particular. Just the awareness that every time I see our daughter it might be for the last time. So what do I want to say to her before she leaves?

I lay awake a bit last night thinking about this. Whatever I say, I don’t want to pretend I’m taking life for granted, as though neither of us is going to die just yet. I also don’t want to say simply, “I love you.” Even though I will and I do!

Here’s what I want her to know.

  • I want you to know how honored I am to be your mother, and how much I admire you as a woman. You’re a fighter. A brook-no-nonsense human being. An artist in every way, especially as a musician.
  • You’re an intelligent, gifted woman who knows how to engage others, and when to disengage. An astute political observer. A woman who knows how and when to get help. A survivor of trials and tribulations. A wise observer of human nature and of yourself. A faithful ally and friend.
  • I’m grateful you’re in my life. You’re a touchstone. Sensible and funny. Kind and clear. And you’re my daughter! I still don’t understand how you became the woman you are today. I do know it was “through many dangers, toils and snares….”
  • I gave you to God decades ago, knowing I would never have the answers to all the challenges you would meet. Instead, I pray for you regularly, that God’s grace that has kept you so far will lead you home. No matter whether you go first or I do.

One more thing. I feel old age coming on. Not like a flood, but with slow certainty, accompanied by a number of health issues that challenge me. I don’t want to give up. I want to be fully alive, and alert enough to enjoy my family and friends as long as I can.

Not so many years ago I was afraid to let my heart show to my family members. I was afraid to let them know how much I’ll miss them if they die before I die. Better to stay cool and calm than show my feelings. That way maybe the pain of loss won’t be so great. But that’s another topic.

Thanks for reading and listening with your hearts.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2017, reposted 17 May 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, 1974, Altadena, California

Just as I am

My unquiet mind
Spins out of control
Restless and uneasy

Unvoiced conversations
Saturate space yearning
For calm silence

When did it begin?
When will it end?

An old habit from childhood,
I explain myself to myself
As though minus these many words
I would not exist or be believed
Or convince myself or others
Of my worthiness

Like comfortable old clothes
I pull them close
Trying to assure myself
That I am worthy
Just as I am

The older I get, the more likely it is that ‘just as I am’ can’t possibly be good enough. Too much water down the river and over the dam. Too many roads not taken. Too many opportunities turned down because I was too busy, or afraid. And too many mistakes and unhappy chapters already written into my life.

I want to believe that the older I become, the less I need to prove my worth as a human being. I want to say without hesitation, “It doesn’t matter what you (or I) think about my life.”

I also want to accept the daily invitation to be who I am today in the eyes of my Creator. Not who I wish I were. And not who I might have been in the eyes of my father, my worst boss, or any other human being who has tried to make me into their image of me.

Surely the Judge of all the earth will do right. Not just by me, but by each of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 April 2021
Photo found at medium.com

Weariness

Cape May Warbler

Weariness
Floods my body

Lethargy tells
Me to stop now
Before I collapse
Without anything
Coherent on this
Page of my life
Waiting to be
Lived

I hear birds
Outside the window
Their insistent beautiful
Songs float through
Early morning air
Searching for a
Place to land

Half asleep
My mind floats at will
Reassuring me
That all will be well
That is well

I want to believe
Yet cannot stop pondering
The fate of all that
Is not well now
And forever

I don’t think I’m hitting rock bottom. I am, however, weary in body and spirit. Sometimes I’m standing still. Going nowhere. Other times I’m on a roller coaster swinging wildly between slow, difficult climbs uphill, and furious descents to whatever awaits me.

My mind tries naming things I’ve accomplished this day, this week, this month, this year. Yet the litany of things done doesn’t relieve the anguish of this heavy, relentless tug at my body and spirit.

We here in the USA are in a mess. We don’t know how to get out of it. Whether we like it or not, it colors every day of our lives.

Nonetheless, I believe our Creator and Redeemer understands the big picture, and invites me to trust that all will be well. One day, one breath, one weariness and one joy at a time.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 April 2021
Photo found at birdsandblooms.com

For Horace O. Russell

National Bird of Jamaica – the ‘Doctor Bird’ found only in Jamaica

Grief arrived last night
on the other end of a phone call
from a dear friend

Grief not just for us and the family
but for the world our friend knew and loved
from the bottom of his generous heart

Colleague, Brother, Church Historian
Master of all things Jamaican
Wise and Eternally Optimistic

I hang up the phone
and weep for us and for this world
made better by your faithful presence

It’s impossible to capture in words the worldwide reach of our colleague’s life.

Horace O. Russell served the seminary as Dean of the Chapel, and Professor of Historical Theology. I worked with him as a teaching colleague and as an administrator. He was also the retired Senior Pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Russell was Jamaican by birth, and world citizen by choice. He and his gifted British wife made their mark not just on the seminary, but on the church worldwide. Thankfully, his wife and another family member were with him when he left this world.

Today I’ve been thinking about Dr. Russell’s generous, optimistic support for me, and about the senior seminar we co-led more than once.

During these seminars, Dr. Russell sometimes shared case histories he’d written about his pastoral work in Jamaica. They sometimes made life in these United States seem a bit dull.

The actual outcome of each case wasn’t revealed until each student worked with it and shared what she or he would do next, and why. Never a dull moment, and always plenty of surprises at the end. His ability to enlarge our vision was one of his many gifts to the seminary.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Dr. Russell carried a small camera at all times (so it seemed to me). Usually he didn’t wait for people to pose. Informal was the way to go. No matter what we looked like in the photos, he was generous with prints of these historical records. Here’s where we were on this date; this is what we were doing; and this is what we looked like.

Today I’ve been going through my collection of his photos, torn between gratitude and grief. Grateful to know his suffering has ended, and that he was not and is not now alone.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2021
Photo of Jamaica’s national bird found at jamaicanconsulate.rs

Life on whose terms?

Falling asleep,
my body cries
for attention
and the comfort
of doing nothing
while awaiting new life
and energy that endures
forever and ever

Listening to the news,
I hear the beginning
of the end in post-Easter air—
especially if Jesus of Nazareth
isn’t allowed to rise from his
unseemly death and confront
our lackluster attempts
to live life on our own terms

I’m struck by how busy things become each year as Easter Sunday approaches. Part of the busyness is about special church services for those able and willing to attend.

But that isn’t what catches my eye. Instead, we have the tug of Easter egg hunts, Easter dinner arrangements, fancy Easter clothes or even mini-vacations that can suck the life blood out of Easter.

I like to enjoy life on my terms. However, Easter challenges me to look beyond myself and my limited resources. I wonder what it would look like for me to keep up with Jesus instead of the current idols of this world?

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2021
Image found at anona.com

Gethsemane | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver places this poem just after The Poet Thinks about the Donkey. Clearly an invitation to compare them. My comments follow.

Gethsemane

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
maybe
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 45

This one stings. How many vigils have I slept through? Or how often do I look the other way when injustices are playing out before my eyes.

When I was growing up, I had nothing but scorn for those three sleepy, self-absorbed disciples who couldn’t stay awake and keep watch for their friend Jesus. Surely they believed him. They’d already shown themselves capable of going to extreme lengths on his behalf.

Mark 14:32-42 doesn’t say Peter, James and John were reluctant to stay with him and keep watch. It says they couldn’t keep watch as Jesus asked them to do not once, but three times. Meanwhile, Jesus is left alone to face his coming betrayal.

In contrast, all nature (except human nature) was wide (wild!) awake that night. The only witnesses to Jesus’ agony, betrayal, trial, and eventually death on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. The same city that welcomed him on the little donkey not a week earlier.

Mary suggests the stars and moon, trees and insects all kept watch that night. I like to think they offered some peace, perhaps even solace as he prayed, weeping and agonizing for all of us and for himself.

In the final stanza Mary offers grace to them, to herself and to us. The three disciples were “dear bodies” and “utterly human.” They weren’t deadly co-conspirators. They were human, just as we are. Weary.

Praying we’ll be as understanding about Jesus’ three companions as we are about ourselves, even as we lament Jesus’ coming betrayal by Judas, also one of his chosen disciples.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2021
Painting found at touchstonemag.com

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver

Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

~~~~~

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadows,
    leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
    clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44

~~~~~

I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.

All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.

Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.

No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.

Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?

Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
Image found at threadreaderapp.com

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