Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Christian Faith

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

Is Mr. Trump the Problem?

Or is he a convenient and problematic distraction?

After working on An American Lament and reading Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, I can’t in good conscience say Mr. Trump is The Problem. Nor is he the Solution.

Our Problem began the moment white people arrived on these shores, proclaimed this “our” country, and wedded politics with religion.

Yes, we can say this was ‘allowed by law’ back then to explorers of so-called ‘undiscovered’ lands (a figment of the imagination). However, it stretches my imagination to say this means we’re legally a White Country run by and for White People with the occasional Great Exception.

Jesus, like all children of Israel, was one of the Disinherited. He was a man without a country and without the protection of the reigning monarch. When they came for him, he endured a mock trial and was hung on a ‘tree’ with other convicted men. This scenario has been played out over and over in the history of slavery in the USA.

Today, many white citizens claim to be following Jesus and following Mr. Trump. Yet choosing to serve both is not an option.

Nor is it about which party we choose to follow. We can no more ‘follow’ a party than we can ‘follow’ Mr. Trump or any other POTUS. Not if we say we’re following Jesus of Nazareth. Though we vote, we aren’t pledging allegiance to the winner. Our allegiance is already clear.

Unfortunately, the white Christian church has too often chosen to follow and actively support those with Presidential Power. Though there are remarkable exceptions, they haven’t become the rule. Instead, many white churches have retained the name “Christian” while marching to the drumbeat of politicians, big donors, and fat endowments.

Howard Thurman argues that each Christian church (of any color or ethnicity) must be the one place in life where privileged and underprivileged persons work together. Not on great projects, but to ensure an environment that supports fellowship between the so-called privileged and the underprivileged. Not a program here and there, but the kind of everyday fellowship that produces “a sense of mutual worth and value.” On both sides.

I can’t help thinking about programs such as AA or AlAnon. Places where each member is considered worthy and valuable. Not because each member is herded through a process, but because, in Thurman’s words, it’s “a real situation, natural, free” (p. 88).

A tall order for any church, regardless of its membership.

Happy Monday, and thanks for reading!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 September 2020
Photo found at theviresvision.wordpress.com

the red cardinal revisited

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was his first-born of four daughters. I watched my tongue constantly. Smiled when expected. Stifled tears. Did as I was told. Set an example. And took the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal sang his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, this doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it’s more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

I still owe Candice thanks for this topic! Though I’ve written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging. Especially today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018, lightly edited and reposted 7 September 2020
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

Bitter fruit of ignorance

Weariness and
Overload conspire
Eyes numb
Mind on go
Finds a mess
In everything

Neat and tidy lists
Stare at nothing
Wondering
If I’m lost
And whether
I’ll ever return

Feelings of
Futility wash over
Heart and brain

I want to cram
A lifetime of
Undigested history
Into my heart and mind
Even though
There isn’t time
Or space
To accommodate
The bitter fruit
Of ignorance
Looking the other way
Making false assumptions
Keeping secrets
And smiling
In weak attempts
To make all things
Come out right

Sounds pretty gruesome. And yet…

I wouldn’t change for a second the opportunity to examine the history of racism in the USA, the way it shaped me from the day I was born, and what needs to happen now, not later. Yes, it would be nice to have a President who cared about this as well.

Unfortunately, this buck doesn’t stop with POTUS. It stops with me. I owe it to myself, my neighbors, strangers, and my Higher Power who weaves all things well. Even though I don’t always get it, I’m committed to muddling through as needed.

Right now, the muddling is about what this 76-year old retired theologian, educator, administrator, writer might do. All things considered.

Thanks for stopping by today. Check out this link to read about W.E.B. Du Bois.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2020
Quotation found at azquotes.com

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind — | Emily Dickinson

chaos-in-markets-britain

I wrote this immediately after the November 2016 election of Mr. Trump. It still rings true–no matter who wins the November 2020 election. 

Here’s a timely poem from Emily Dickinson. What’s it like to be at loose ends? My comments follow.

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind –
As if my Brain had split –
I tried to match it – Seam by Seam –
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before –
But Sequence raveled out of Sound
Like Balls – upon a Floor.

c. 1864

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

Things undone aren’t easily put back together. Especially when accompanied by relentless news reports and photos I’d rather not see. Faces of jubilation; women and men in shocked disbelief; children weeping from fear. The presidential election was a massive Cleaving in my Mind.

Is this our new reality? Out of control. Out of bounds. Out of patience. Out of solutions. Out of hope. Out of compassion. Out of generosity. Out of truth-telling. Our deficits are phenomenal.

Yet I’m called to faithfulness, courage, boldness and creativity.

There isn’t a magic or even supernatural solution to all this confusion. Human confusion is our normal state of being. Confusion about who I am, who you are, what’s going on, who’s in charge, what’s right and what’s wrong, what will bring me happiness, and how to get out of this mess.

I know one thing: I won’t get out of this confusion. Though my thoughts and emotions are important, they don’t offer answers that dispel all confusion. Even my best efforts won’t drive confusion away. They may, in fact, make things worse.

The answer isn’t about what I do, feel or think. It’s about who I am. Right now. True, this affects what I do, feel and think. Yet the starting point is always ‘Who am I right now?’

Thankfully, this hasn’t changed. No election can take this away. I’m God’s beloved daughter child. Not by privilege, but by grace. I’m not God’s only or special child. God has more than enough love, patience, mercy and kindness for each of us. In a strange way, it isn’t about us; it’s about God.

I don’t know what this looks like from one day to the next, or exactly where it’s leading. I do know that moving forward one tiny step each day as God’s beloved daughter child is more than enough. All I need to do is keep taking baby steps. Especially when the mist is so dense I can’t see where this is leading, and ocean swells rise deep within me.

Knowledge about who I am doesn’t reconstruct my brain and it won’t restring the tiny beads that just skittered all over the floor. It does, however, refocus my anxiety and confusion. I am responsible for three things: loving God with all my heart; loving myself, and loving my neighbor as I love myself.

I don’t need to understand everything. I do need to keep inching forward step by step, based on the situation I’m facing. I can’t control human confusion—mine or anyone else’s. But I can speak with my neighbor, comfort a child, offer a listening ear or send up a silent prayer.

I pray this finds you listening and trusting, no matter how bleak or uncertain things look right now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 November 2016, lightly edited and reposted 1 September 2020
Image found at wsj.com (Wall Street Journal)

Jesus and the Disinherited | Howard Thurman

His days were nurtured in great hostilities
Focused upon his kind, the sons of Israel.
There was no moment in all his years
When he was free.

Poem fragment quoted on p. 34 of Jesus and the Disinherited. From Thurman’s privately published volume of poems, The Greatest of These, p. 3.

This summer I’ve been reading Howard Thurman’s relatively short book (less than 100 pages), Jesus and the Disinherited. It’s more relevant today than ever before. A sad commentary on our nation’s untenable situation, past and present.

Thurman’s book describes

  • What happens inside the disinherited
  • What their most difficult struggles are about, daily
  • And why Jesus (not Paul) is the person to whom they are drawn when it comes to real life as they know it.

Like the disinherited of today, Jesus faced fear, deception, hate, and the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This didn’t happen one challenge at a time, but every day, no matter the circumstances. In addition, Jesus was one of the disinherited. He was not a Roman citizen, or an official religious leader of Judaism.

It’s one thing to study our history as a nation (which we must), or the history of slavery in this country (which we must), or our individual backgrounds that led to the prejudices and blindness that shape our lives today. All of this is important.

Still, one thing has eluded me. I’m finding it in Howard Thurman’s book, even though he didn’t write the book for me or other white people. He’s clear about this: This book is for people who are black and disinherited, every day of their lives. What white people will do or think when it comes to the disinherited of today is up to them.

I highly recommend Thurman’s book as a way of recognizing everyday racial realities from the inside out. For me, it makes crystal clear what I’ve lived with all my life. This isn’t just about different approaches to life. It’s about the disinherited, and what it takes for them to survive in this country.

I hope you’ll consider reading it. It won’t change everything overnight. It can, however, strengthen our understanding of what our black and brown citizens and church members are up against every day of their lives. It also shows the importance of listening. Silently. Without attempts to explain or justify ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 August 2020
Photo of book cover found at amazon.com

Sursum Corda | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

What kind of day did you have so far? Mine was productive, though not the way I thought it would be. Here’s one of my favorite Studdert Kennedy poems. It seemed appropriate, given the state of things today.

*Sursum Corda

There are cowslips in the clearing,
With God’s green and gold ablaze,
And the distant hills are nearing,
Through a sun-kissed sea of haze.

There’s a lilt of silver laughter
In the brook upon its way,
With the sunbeams stumbling after
Like the children at their play.

There’s a distant cuckoo calling
To the lark up in the sky
As his song comes falling, falling
To his nest—a happy sigh.

Sursum Corda! How the song swells
From the woods that smile and nod.
Sursum Corda! Ring the bluebells
Lift ye up your hearts to God.

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, pp. 95-96
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

*Sursum Corda -“Lift up your hearts.” The opening phrase of a traditional Christian liturgy dating back to the 3rd century. Normally used before celebrating the Eucharist.

Can there be beauty in a warzone? Especially with people dying all around, often in prolonged agony.

Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, wrote this poem during World War I. He served as a chaplain, witnessing and participating in the laments, loneliness, pain and deaths of British soldiers. He dealt with the horror of war by writing poetry.

Many of his poems are heartbreaking. They deal with harsh realities of early 20th century warfare on the ground, and the daily struggles of human beings separated from their families. They also include some reality talk with God. This poem, like a number of others, found something to celebrate. A reason to hope, despite the daily suffering and dying that surrounded everyone.

Even though nature can’t solve all our problems, it’s there for the taking. A gift. Just look around. Lift up the eyes of your heart! In your memory, listen to the birds and admire the bluebells. They’re sending us an invitation to look and listen to the larger picture of nature, not just to our own small worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2020
Image of cowslips found at first-nature.com

The dam has been leaking for years

In honor of Covid-19 victims in the USA, from NBC News

The dam has been leaking for years
Giving up secrets great and small
Holding back others for fear
They’ll be rejected or tossed into
Another bin of bankrupt fake news
Now delivered daily from the top down
Burnished with self-righteous contempt
For humanity and all self-evident
Truths now being exposed as lies

The so-called mighty are falling
Taken down by the truth of a virus
Delivered daily without fanfare
And without so much as a knock
On the door or nod to fake protocols
Of a society already drowning in
A flood of its own making

One day at a time
One human being at a time
One lust for wealth at a time
One unanswered call for help at a time
One refusal to repent at a time

***

I don’t feel defeated. I feel lost. And challenged to change, thanks to Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

I’m relieved to be one of many citizens immersing themselves in the untold, untaught, neglected history of how we in the USA got to this point. How can it be that we still don’t honor and practice equal rights for each citizen of this nation?

So yes, I’m feeling lost in my own backyard, though not without hope. The kind that feeds on truth, and grows a bit stronger each day.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 August 2020
Image found at abcnews.go.com

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Justice doesn’t trickle down, any more than wealth at the top trickles down. Yet church-related efforts at justice sometimes seem to try trickling down. Through the cracks and around the edges.

Why? Because this is a politically-charged issue. The stakes are high, and it seems injustice is winning. Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 have together exposed our glaring weaknesses as a nation. Especially when it comes to race.

This past week I began a 40-day “journey through America’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism.” It’s titled “An American Lament.”  You can take a look or down download it here. It was originally an exercise for Lent.

No one ever taught me to lament. Especially about my personal history with slavery, segregation, and racism.

I’ve always thought of myself as a seriously ‘with-it’ woman. In seminary, in the 1970s, I studied both sexism and racism. At university, in the 1980s, I focused my dissertation research on women’s issues. I mistakenly thought that by understanding feminism, I had an advantage when it came to understanding racism.

However, the very first day of this 40-day exercise, I listened online to a riveting, challenging address about racism and Christian churches in the USA. It was recorded in 2018, the year of mid-term elections. The full title is “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.”

I highly recommend Rev. David Platt’s address for pastors, church leaders, church members, and anyone who cares about racism in the USA.

As for the rest of life these days, I’m walking every chance I get (way too hot on many days), listening to birds, helping stomp out lantern flies, talking with neighbors (outside and with a mask, of course), and learning more than I wanted to know about my history with racism.

Cheers to each of you for making it through another week!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2020
Quote and image found at blockislandtimes.com

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