Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Christian Faith

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

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention | Mary Oliver

Here’s my pick for today: a lovely poem from Mary Oliver about life and death. Why today? Because it’s my 77th birthday! See my comments below.

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention

“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
joyfully.”

And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
selfishness.”

Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, found on p. 9 of Thirst 
Published by Beacon Press 2006

Rue: regret
Lassitude: fatigue, weariness, apathy
Vainglory: excessive vanity, inordinate self-esteem

I know it isn’t spring or summer, but neither do the roses. They do their thing, then disappear until it’s time to start all over.

Death is making the rounds these days. Not just death that follows old age, but death from Covid-19, suicide, broken hearts, incurable illnesses, street fights, unleashed hatred or anger, and more. Still, death isn’t our worst enemy.

We’re not on earth to live forever. We’re here to discover and fulfill our earthly purpose as human beings. Welcoming the stranger, accepting our own strangeness, giving and receiving help, taking our personal histories seriously.

In some ways, the roses have it easier. It isn’t easy to be human. We need each other if we’re going to thrive.

Still, like roses, we’re meant to be extravagant. Giving, giving, and giving again. Not obsessively or compulsively, or because we feel guilty, or for personal gain. But as an overflow of beauty and grace.

Think about it! Fragrant roses, baby birds, clouds, sunrise and sunset, fields of tulips, new-fallen snow, and gnarled old tree trunks soaring toward the sky. All this and more with thanks to our Creator.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2020
Photo found at etsy.com

Haughty eyes and lying tongues

This morning a Bible college classmate from the 1960s, a Trump supporter, forwarded an urgent message from a former Republican Congresswoman. In it, the Congresswoman calls Christians to pray for five things, all related to the (wrongful) outcome of the election.

Her bottom line: Democrats in seven key states stole or tried to steal the election from Mr. Trump and his followers. Her language pits conservative ‘evangelical’ Christians who voted for Trump against voters of any religion who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump.

Her language is incendiary and blatantly partisan. It’s also skillfully filled with conservative church language designed to ramp up self-righteous anger, especially at other Christians, in order to achieve a political outcome.

I don’t buy it. At the same time, it’s a troubling sign of our times.

In her strongly-worded message, the Congresswoman quotes from Proverbs 6:16-19, applying this to those who, in her scenario, fixed the election outcomes so Mr. Trump would lose. Here’s the passage:

Proverbs 6:16-19

There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

This strongly worded caution about the way we treat one another isn’t just for Democrats. It’s for anyone and everyone, including Republicans, Independents, non-voters, the Congresswoman herself and Mr. Trump.

Praying this day will bring us closer to each other as United States citizens dealing with huge problems that increase by the hour. We need each other now more than ever.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 November 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

What I’m thinking about | 2020 Election

How are you doing today?

I’ve been better. This week is still a roller coaster, though I’ve kept busy with other things than the election. Here’s what I’m thinking about today. (No, the photo above is not a mistake! Read on.)

First, the drama playing out right now is sobering. Am I paying attention? Or am I caught up in the number of votes tallied so far. No matter who is named the next POTUS, this election is as much about us as it is about the candidates. What will that mean for our efforts post-election?

Second, I can’t remember another election in which citizens had to wait in long lines for so many hours to cast their votes. Why weren’t their regular voting places made available? Voter suppression is real. It’s about who’s in power, where you live, the color of your skin, the size of your income and more. All those long lines weren’t just unfortunate realities. Will we ever correct this?

Third, Trump has shown and will keep showing his true colors. Unfortunately, so have many churches that seem wed to Mr. Trump no matter what he does. The slow roll-out of votes and tallies has opened a window to realities I’d rather not hear or see. One of them is the church. What is the church these days? When is a ‘church’ not a church, but a political player with a political agenda?

On Monday of this week I had a routine appointment with my cardiologist. As it happened, he and his associates had just moved out of a wonderful suite of offices in a large hospital. They’re now near the hospital, in what was the chapel for the seminary I served for 28 years. (See above.)

Walking into the front doors was a shock. The beautiful, graceful chapel now had a set of small offices dropped into it. I could see parts of the soaring ceiling, and the top third of the soaring windows that graced each side of the chapel. I couldn’t help tearing up. Nothing was the same.

That night I woke up at about 2am and had a good cry for what was and will never again be. Today, my hope for this election is that we’ll find a way to finally care about who we say we are. One nation under God, with liberty and justice for ALL.

Watching for whatever comes next,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 November 2020
Photo found at hippostcard.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

What will we sing at our funeral?

After the post-election fight
(There will surely be one)
After things said and done
(Never to be taken back)
Who are we?
Who are you?
Who are ‘they’?
Who am I?
Do we know how to live together?
Do we know ourselves?

The election pales before
Post-election realities
We can’t turn the clock back
The ticking never stops
Hours chime down
And then ahead despite
Agonies of loss and outrage
From either side of this drama

This country simmers
On the brink of boiling over
Into a million public and private
Wars of attrition and retribution
Burning to the ground every sign of
National good will or peace on earth

“My country, ‘tis of Thee sweet land of liberty?”
What will we sing at our funeral?

I pray I’m wrong. Yet there are already signs of kick-back. White Power individuals and groups are moving to take things into their own hands. Meanwhile, POTUS looks the other way, or acknowledges them publicly in ways that encourage them.

Who will be our true leaders in this unmapped territory? What are my values? What does it mean to follow Jesus no matter where this path takes me?

If my preferred candidates don’t win, will my values or direction suddenly change? Or am I willing to join and keep learning from children, women and men who live all their lives, as Jesus did, without the assumption of good will or peace on earth?

Praying we’ll find our way together,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 October 2020
Map found at pinterest.com

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

the long walk home, 3 years later

I first posted this in August 2017. Mr. Trump had been in office for less than a year. Now he’s up for re-election, and today’s world is far removed from anything that feels like home. Are we going to make it from here to there? And what will happen to us along the way?

*****

I wonder—
Do breathless trees
dusky skies
and lengthening shadows
remember what they see
beneath fading twilight
swathed in heavy garments
unsure of her destination

Is this a woman? I think so. She seems to be taking the long walk home. Which may or may not be that dark cottage hovering in the background, watching as she makes her way.

Is she alone? I think not. The trees, skies and passing shadows reveal more than what’s happening on the ground or in the background. If this world is God’s poem (thank you, Mary Oliver), we have reason to hope. Not because of the play of light in the trees, on the ground or in the background, but because of the Light that shines even in our darkest hours.

Sometimes, perhaps always, we must leave home to find our true home. Or better, to be found by God’s everyday angels in this world that belongs not to us, but to God.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 November 2017, reposted 30 September 2020
Autumn Landscape at Dusk, 1885, by Vincent van Gogh found at Wikiart.com

A Prayer of Lament | Pastor Leah Wenger

Reverend Leah Wenger has served for nine years as Pastor at The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. Her prayer of lament (below) can be found with others on the Mennonite Church USA website. Each lament responds to the violence of racism in the USA.

Most churches aren’t accustomed to prayers of lament. A Psalter I own has changed many Psalms of lament into something else. Is that because we don’t like negativity?

Here is Rev. Leah Wenger’s prayer of lament, followed by a few comments.

Battered, Broken, Betrayed.
I stand Before you
Between the lines
Breathe on me Breath of God

Because I have Betrayed
My Brother and sister
By my silence
Breathe on me Breath of God

But what is Breath
when it is stolen
Humanity Beyond recognition
Buried in Blood

Bring us transformation
Beauty for Brokenness
Expose me for my blindness
Breathe on me the breath to see

Be Brave and Bold
Beyond what others can see
So when I can’t Breathe
God Breathe on me

When I cannot see my Betrayal
Bring me to the light
I Beg for the wisdom to Be Better
Bless me with the strength
to never stop Becoming

Beyond the patience to listen
Bring me into action
I can’t Breathe
So God, Breathe through me

Prayer from Pastor Leah Wenger,
Urbana Executive Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Prayer found at the Mennonite Church USA website

Can an entire nation lament the ongoing violence of racism in the USA? Perhaps not.

Nonetheless, it would be most appropriate for white churches in the USA (and their members) to lament. Not for a day or an hour, but for a lifetime of being major players in this sick drama. Sometimes we’ve joined the enemy outright. Other times we’ve looked the other way, or called what we see anything but ‘racist.’

We’re at a crossroad. We are not, however, out of options. Pastor Leah’s prayer is good place to start. It breathes life. The life of our Creator who understands and knows us inside out. Today is a good time to stop, lament, look around, and get moving in a different direction.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2020
Image found at mem.intervarsity.com

This season of lament

I’m frozen
Cut off from reality
Not sure where I am
Or where I’m going
Deep sadness wells up
Ancient dikes breach
Cracks in dishonest walls
That tried to contain a world
Held together by lies and
Decay deliberate and brutal
Now breaking through
Elephant-size breaches
Lying before me in shambles
Buried by an unrelenting
Avalanche of disinformation
Grinding us down to
Our lowest common
Denominator

The odds aren’t on our side. Especially if we rely on our limited understanding. Which is all we have on any day of the week.

There is no Top Genius of this world. No Strong Man or Strong Woman of this world who knows or understands the past, present and future with utmost clarity. All we have is what’s left of what we received the moment we were born, and what we’ve been given or taken. For good and for ill.

So here I am with you, in a season of Lament. Without a clue whether we’ll be spared the consequences of actions never taken, taken too quickly, or taken in spite.

Am I without hope? Not unless I try to carry on with life or business as usual. So yes, I’m muddling through with everyone else. Praying, and watching for moments of grace and unexpected connections. Small signs that our Creator is still at work.

Praying your day contains some of those small signs.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

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