Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Difficult Conversations

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

Things I wonder about

How much and how often should I tell my story?
Or is it time to be the strong woman I was and am
Say directly what I’m thinking
rather than dropping a thousand hints, suggestions
or thinly veiled leading questions
in the vain hope of miraculous intervention
that won’t require me to take risks
or pay prices I don’t want to pay

Since when was I afraid to take risks?
My female life has always been about risk-taking
With due deference to powers higher than I
Or so I thought back then

What is deference anyway?
Maybe it’s my masquerade for fear
My easy way out of what’s looking like
A fraught, uncomfortable collision
Of what?
And at what cost?

Does everyone have a yearning to go back
and begin again, without apology or kissing up
to the so-called powers that be?

When something is blatantly wrong,
why doesn’t someone else step forward who has
credibility and guts to take the first step?

Do I have guts?
If not, have I lost my credibility?

I’m a late learner, not without reason. Even so, what am I to do now? I could rehearse my life story. It was worth writing. Reading it today strengthens and softens me.

I’ve learned the hard way what it means to tell the truth. In person. Face to face. Today, as back then, I don’t deserve to be shamed, humiliated or silenced. By anyone.

So what’s happening now? Not just in Washington, DC, but in our backyards, churches and places of worship, private and public spaces. Do I have the guts to speak up now, and refuse to sit down? I’ll let you know when I find out.

As always, thanks for visiting and reading.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 November 2019
George Orwell quote found at maura4u.com

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

A Gift from Maya Angelou

This morning I woke up with one of Maya Angelou’s poems on my mind. She wrote it for Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993. She could have written it for today. It’s nearly 6 minutes long, well worth every second. There’s a link below to a printed version of the entire poem.

Why this poem? Because of the last lines. They grabbed my gut when I first heard them. Her words took me back just two years earlier. We were deep into planned conversations at the seminary where I was then on the faculty. In addition to Rodney King being on our minds, we’d had our own share of distressing racially charged incidents. Feelings were running high.

We were placed into small groups and given a set of questions to guide conversation. We met several times in mixed groups, with student, staff and faculty involvement throughout.

I’ll never forget a black student’s comments to me. I’d asked for examples of times when black students felt ignored, unwelcome or uncomfortable. At that time the seminary had at least 35% black African-American students. His response stunned me.

He said that when he passed me in the hallways I never looked him in the eye or greeted him. It didn’t matter where I was going or what I was doing. It didn’t matter that I’d never had him in a class. He felt unwelcome and unacknowledged as a human being.

He wasn’t angry. He felt offended, and put on guard. Not looking him in the eye, not even saying ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How’s it  going today?’ was, for him, a signal that he didn’t count in my world. Or worse, I thought he wasn’t worth getting to know.

Such a ‘simple’ thing. It was hard for me to hear, yet right on the money. I agreed to try this out for several days. Not just with him, but with other students as well.

The first few days were tough. I discovered I was especially reluctant to greet male students of any color. A sign of fear, especially around black men, and fear of sending mixed messages or worse. At the same time, it was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Here’s the very last stanza of Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning.” You can see why it caught my heart.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 August 2017
Video of live reading found on YouTube

White Privilege Unfurled

On the day I was born, I received unearned privileges not available to everyone. Equally true, my life has been difficult because of unearned privileges available to men but not to me.

I was born White and Female. This complicates everything: gender and race; gender and politics; gender and academia; gender and the church; gender and role expectations; gender and power; gender and social events. Sometimes I’m welcomed with open arms even though I often experience something less than full welcome into the fold of privilege.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about white male privilege. I’ve spent considerably less time thinking about my white privilege. It’s easy to say I was born white, so it isn’t my fault. Which, of course, it is not.

Yet I know I’ve been the recipient of privileges friends and strangers of color do not receive. Many privileges are invisible to me. They’re the climate in which I live. I don’t need to think about them when I get up in the morning, or when I appear in a check-out line. More to the point, I count on them daily.

Today the USA is roiling, internally and externally, from a wound that has festered from the beginning. The assumption and reality of white privilege.

Here’s what I’m doing to clarify for myself what my white privilege looks like. Not yours. For me, this includes awareness of male privilege. Sometimes white male privilege only; sometimes all males.

For starters, I’ve located a website offering free material as well as formal leadership training (not free). I found two downloadable papers that will help me personally. Not simply with self-understanding, but with ideas about how I might change my daily habits as well as personal assumptions and goals.

Dr. Peggy McIntosh is the author of the papers and founder of The National SEED Project. In each paper she describes unpacking her own privilege. The papers include end notes in which she clarifies issues that arise when people begin to talk about privilege.

If you’re interested in knowing more, here are links to the website and two free downloadable papers.

Happy reading!
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Unfurl

On being married to D

I like to think I have no illusions about myself. Nonetheless, this past week proved otherwise. It was all about cleanliness in the kitchen D and I share every day.

I’m an expert from way back when it comes to cleanliness. After all, I was Mother’s Big Helper, her #1 Daughter trained to know and do everything the right way.

Not only do I know how to do cleanliness, I can tell you horror stories about what will happen if you ignore my gentle ‘reminders.’ I can also show you exactly how to do tasks in a way that maximizes efficiency and cleanliness.

So this past week D failed to live up to my standards, and I failed as well. With flying colors.

In the still-hot aftermath, I hit my journal, trying to vent and turn a corner in what felt like anguish and despair. I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why I married this man more than 51 years ago.

The venting wasn’t productive. So I began thinking about the kind of man I married and the kind of woman I am. And perhaps, just why some things are so difficult for us.

D was raised by his mother. She and his father divorced when D was about 3 ½ years old. His father lived far away and wasn’t present in D’s everyday life. The relationship between his parents was never easy or without anger. At home with a single mom and three children, the kitchen was clean; it was not, however, a classroom for doing things the right way.

I grew up with parents who not only stayed together, but never once had open conflict about anything. Furthermore, though I had a father present in the house, the house was my mother’s domain. She was responsible for keeping it clean, neat and orderly. He was not.

The kitchen, in particular, was a hub of activity with four daughters to feed and train as good housekeepers. The emphasis wasn’t on cooking; it was on cleanliness and doing things the right way.

Despite being a polio survivor with significant health issues, my mother was an expert housekeeper. She made sure her #1 Daughter was trained as expertly as possible.

Why? Because she didn’t want me to grow up as she did, without anyone to show her how to be a mother, much less a housekeeper. When my mother was 8, my grandmother left with another man and filed for divorce.

My mother routinely redid my work in her kitchen. I wasn’t as efficient or neat as she thought I should be. No matter what I did, it seemed something was not quite right. I felt frustrated and humiliated.

As I got older, I felt angry. So when I became a wife and mother, I made sure to soften my mother’s approach. Yet I still came along after D, insisting that my way was the better way. Especially in the kitchen.

Just realizing this softened my heart and got me ready for yet another difficult conversation with D. Not about my mother, but about the two of us and how to manage differences that trigger conflict between us.

It’s never easy. Yet going back to my childhood helped unlock some unfinished business that still spills over into our marriage.

Today I’m grateful I can make choices based on our happiness instead of my mother or my father’s expectations. Or my own.

Thanks for listening!
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Illusion

The Shape of Forgiveness | Part 2

“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey”
“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”
Lewis Smedes, in The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How, published by Moorings, 1996

When I was a child, my father required me to beg forgiveness from him and from God. Most often after a beating, or as the so-called resolution of a sisterly argument about an alleged offence. This was often tricky, because I knew the facts as presented weren’t quite all the facts.

I’m grateful forgiveness isn’t a required event. Especially forgiveness of my father.

I didn’t know it then, but my process of forgiveness began the day I confronted my now-deceased parents about being shamed, humiliated and silenced. The process isn’t yet completed, but I’ve made unexpected, life-giving progress.

The meeting I set up with my parents took place the eve of my 50th birthday in 1993, more than 23 years ago. During the meeting I asked for my father’s apology, with no expectation that he would apologize. My husband, my sister Diane, my mother, and a trusted pastor witnessed the conversation between my father and me. It lasted for 1 ½ hours.

My father refused to apologize for anything. He wasn’t interested in revisiting what happened between the two of us or between him and my sisters. He’d already done all his business with God, privately. Nothing I said or did would change his mind.

I was on my own, without my father’s blessing. Disappointed but not surprised. Still determined to work on my healing.

We say punishment should fit the crime. Even so, I believe forgiveness must fit each situation, especially those with life-changing consequences. This isn’t about mistakes or forgetfulness. It’s about the Big Stuff we wish had never happened to us.

Forgiving my father has been a long, sometimes painful process. I’m not yet there. Still, looking back, I see several areas of progress. Sometimes with lightening-speed insight; most of the time with determination, grit and courage to take the next painful look at him and at myself.

Since that historic meeting in 1993, I’ve made progress in at least the following areas.

  • Acceptance of the life-changing enormity of what his behavior meant for me then and now
  • Interest in my father’s life story
  • Appreciation for his wounds, including his determination not to ask for help
  • Awareness of his deeply rooted shame
  • Compassion for him as another human being

I was surprised at how much more comfortable I became around my father, even though his opinions about me never changed. I enjoyed being in interview mode, though I didn’t always like what I heard. I was also comfortable being in the compassion mode. Especially because he carried many griefs, sorrows and disappointments similar to mine.

Nonetheless, I knew this change for the better wasn’t yet forgiveness, much less reconciliation. It was more like a cessation of warfare and a sometimes uneasy truce. I still had work to do.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2017

Going to Seminary | Part 11

women-arriving-at-the-tomb-by-artist-he-qi

Women Arriving at the Tomb, by Artist He Qi

It’s spring 1974, nearly the end of my first year in seminary. The role of women at home, in faith communities and in society is a hot topic Read the rest of this entry »

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