Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Following Jesus

mountain of sorrow

mountain of sorrow
strewn with graves of the slaughtered
cannot forget

I wrote this after watching a special report last night on the PBS News Hour. It included video of hastily dug stone-marked graves for men and boys slaughtered on Sinjar Mountain during genocidal war against Yazidis in Sinjar District, Iraq.

It caught my attention because it happened in the last several years, just ‘yesterday,’ right before our eyes. Genocide is an attempt by some human beings to disappear other human beings from the face of the earth. Uncounted numbers of men, boys, women and girls were found unworthy of belonging to the human race. Their crime: being Yazidis.

Advent has its dark side. A Jewish baby born to a young unmarried Jewish woman will one day be judged by his own people and others, and declared unworthy to belong to the human race.

His crime? Speaking the truth about people who populated his world. Sometimes it was unwelcome truth, delivered in unconventional ways. He didn’t hold back or grease the hands and reputations of religious leaders, politicians, or everyday human beings like you and like I.

Nor did he hold back in showing us how to live, speak, and die for truth. Especially when other human beings are being disappeared.

This challenges me. I don’t want to be among the disappeared. Nor do I want to collude in the disappearance of others. What does this mean for me, looking ahead?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 December 2017
Photo found at thestar.com

I was just a beginner…

I was just a beginner when it happened. In a supposedly safe place. I had a title and stature within an academic community.

From my childhood I’d experienced worse. Regularly. In ways that raised deep shame and self-blame in me. Bad girl.

But this was different. I was an adult. A colleague among adults who were followers of Jesus Christ.

It happened in a crowded hallway between classes. Without a whisper of warning. Just walking to my next class, in conversation with an adult man.

He wasn’t a stranger and he wasn’t my father. He professed to be a supporter of women’s full humanity, and our right to fair and equal access to theological education as students and as professors.

Perhaps he wasn’t thinking? I could give a thousand questions you might have asked me. None would have erased the sudden chill and shame of feeling an uninvited hand patting me on my butt.

I switched my briefcase to my right hand, moved over slightly and kept walking through the hallway as though nothing had happened. Indeed, it never happened again. I maintained my distance, without giving up my friendly demeanor.

My friend touched my body in a way I wouldn’t dream of touching his. It wasn’t a hand on my arm, but my butt. I believed that any attempt to draw attention to this would have made things worse. I felt trapped.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not my big #MeToo story. I’ve already told that in earlier posts—not just about the Shopkeeper, but about my father’s attempts to subdue me, and my first employer’s determination to humiliate me as a young woman just out of high school.

So why tell it? After all, it happened in the blink of an eye.

I’m telling it because we need to attend to the daily impertinences and seemingly small ways in which women, girls, boys and men who aren’t considered manly are reminded of their place and who has power over them.

I’m also telling it because there are millions of everyday people aching to let someone know what happened or is now happening to them. Are we able and willing to listen from our hearts? Without offering solutions or trying to re-write the stories we hear?

Sometimes silence and listening without judgment are the best gifts we give each other. In fact, to listen well is to follow well. The way I imagine Jesus Christ following us and being there when we’re ready for help.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…. (from Psalm 23)

I’m grateful for the women, men, young people and even children who have listened to my story, and shared with me their own experiences. In some ways, this is the table God has set before me in the presence of my enemies—who are more like I am than I could ever guess.

Praying you have a wonderful Sabbath rest.
Elouise 

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 November 2017
Photo found at theanvilnewsletter.blogspot.com
Daily Prompt:Neophyte

No, I will not give up!

The mood in our country is ever more divisive, thanks to the old divide and conquer strategy. It seems Mr. Trump is a mastermind at this. Not just at getting us to quarrel with each other, but at maintaining his position as the Man in Charge, trickling glory down or withholding it, at his time and in his way.

My readings in the Psalms this past week were encouraging, yet troubling. They were all about what happens to the wicked. In particular, those whose god has become great wealth, who take delight in the adulation of adoring publics, and who seem to believe God is made in their image and thus on their side.

Mr. Trump, already a follower and lover of great wealth, displays leadership traits that are confusing at best, willfully destructive at worst.

Most troubling is his habit of changing the subject strategically so that it’s not about him, but about someone else or somewhere else or the flag or patriotism or immigrants. It seems his happy moments are fleeting. Never enough to fill the deep hole in his heart.

I serve but one God. Is it possible to do this without confessing my personal failings? Of course not. Nonetheless, I don’t buy the argument that everyone has their weak spots or failings. As though we should give others a free pass, particularly our leaders.

Hebrew and Christian Scriptures have somber warnings to religious and political leaders about the way they govern. This includes strategies such as pitting the strong against the weak, rich against poor, social class against social class, women against men, immigrants against residents. The possibilities are endless.

The strategy of muddying and distorting reality keeps us riled up and at each other’s throats. So distracted that we cannot effectively call out leaders for failure to lead on behalf of everyone. We’re too busy jumping on the us-versus-them bandwagon.

I don’t know how to engage mammoth power. Or perhaps I don’t appreciate the power I do have. Which would be my one brief life, a pen and my prayers.

This feels like less than two small loaves and a small fish. Barely enough for me; not nearly enough for those who gather each day wanting to hear truth and hope. Especially in times of political, social and geographic upheaval.

Being a faithful Christian citizen has rarely felt so heavy. The bottom line is simple: Whom do I serve? And am I ready to do this at any cost? My spirit is willing; my flesh is weak. Which is why I depend on others like you, regardless of your political or religious persuasion.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m in this for the long haul. Today I’m grateful for the company of others learning to live each day without giving up the fight for justice, or hope for today and tomorrow.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 October 2017
Image found at flicker.com/photos/nicola
Daily Prompt: Succumb

yesterday’s memories


bluer than blue
greener than green
yesterday’s memories
filter deep water
refocus depth of perception
brilliance and light
shadows and darkness
in this transient season
not of our making
or understanding

Photos of reflections on water often capture more depth of perspective and color, along with greater detail than we could see in the moment the camera clicked. And, strangely, there’s often truth and beauty in these photos that captures my heart even more than it did when the camera clicked.

In the end, Truth lives beyond our individual perceptions. All the more reason for humility, openness, and listening ears. For me, this means at least a twofold commitment to spiritual elasticity that

  • doesn’t give away or abandon Truth,
  • and fully understands and even loves that it cannot see or own all Truth.

It isn’t all up to me. My part is to follow Truth and report what I’m seeing. Not what you’re seeing.

The Truth I follow is a person, Jesus Christ, who leads by way of life wisdom, not folly. The path is difficult. Never crystal clear, not engraved in stone, always dangerous and always evolving. I pray for spiritual elasticity to yield and stretch faithfully, in keeping with Jesus’ life, death and deceptively brief ministry on this earth.

A few thoughts for this weekend and Sabbath rest, given the world in which I find myself today. Not bereft of beauty, comfort and hope, and equally no longer the world I thought I knew. Now, more than ever, I need and am grateful for companions on this journey.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 October 2017
Photo taken by DAFraser, May 2017 at Longwood Gardens
Daily Prompt: Elastic

A Child’s Prayer Revisited

Near to me,
not far away,
lies a world
where we can be
all that we
were meant to be.
Won’t you come
and go with me?

I wrote this prayer over two years ago. It gave voice to the little girl in me who wanted nothing more than to find a new beginning. To be all that I was meant to be.

I’m still that little girl. Changed on the inside and the outside, yet still Elouise.

And then there’s the world in which we live and die. Also changed, it seems, into an arena of avalanching disasters. Some beyond our control; others the consequences of our internal choices, overt actions, apathy or fear.

And so I hear this prayer differently today. It’s more pointed and demanding, though not in contradiction to my prayer back then. In fact, I’d say its truth is clear to me now in a way it wasn’t in February 2015.

It’s never a coincidence when the desires of our hearts are also the desires of our Creator’s heart. And so this little prayer isn’t really mine. I hear it today as our Creator’s prayer to us, offered and summed up in the earthly life and work of Jesus.

I imagine Jesus inviting all children everywhere to come close to him. It doesn’t matter how young or old we are. What matters is our willingness to stay close to Jesus.

Not our sweetness and light images of Jesus, but Jesus who makes his way through the pages of the Gospels. On his way to a world not far away. Engaged in one interruptive teaching and activity after another. Some verbal, some enacted and some lethal.

Yes, it’s costly. Jesus never promises it will be all sweetness and light. He does, however, promise to stand by us through thick and thin. Are we up to it?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 September 2017
Daily Prompt: Coincidence

Dear Mr. Trump,

I woke up today wanting you to know that I’m praying for you, and how I’m praying for you. Hence this open letter.

As I see it, we have two kinds of leaders in the USA: those elected to office, and those who elect them. Clearly, given your electoral college votes, you won the vote, and were duly sworn in last January as President of the United States.

We, as unelected citizens, are also leaders. Did we not go to the polls and exercise our guaranteed right to lead by casting our votes? No matter who wins the election, we citizens lose if we vote carelessly or not at all, assuming we’re given a fair opportunity. We also lose if we fall back into apathy or cynicism and wait things out. Or try to take things into our own hands.

As a follower of Jesus, I am exhorted to pray you as the President of the USA. I can’t say ‘my’ President, because you serve all of us.

As our President, you have visible power and office. That means you have access to your executive pen, the bully and praise pulpit, the power to hire and fire designated people, and a stage that magnifies your voice far beyond what it would be if you were not President of the USA.

As President, you might be tempted to think you’re in control, or that you can change or ignore situations to your liking. Or at least do what you can to make things more comfortable for you and yours. You might also want people to like you. Especially the people to whom you made promises. You might even hope for some to hate and fear you.

And so I pray for you the way I pray for myself as a citizen leader. I pray you and I will let go of our desires for power and control, esteem and affection, safety and survival, and especially the desire to change situations not in our control. The most important thing you can do is lead well, as the follower of Jesus you say you are. Which would be the most important thing I can do, as well.

Right now, even though it’s stormy, you’re a mighty visible oak. Still, tree rot often begins on the inside. Then one day, often without warning, the mighty visible oak crashes to the ground, often taking with it trees close to the mighty oak.

Gone. Not with a whimper, but with a resounding earthquake that travels to the other side of the world and back, creating tsunamis and chaos in its wake.

I like to think of us citizens and residents of the USA as tiny acorns that survive. Not all of us will make it. But the future does lie with us, doesn’t it? Which is why I can’t pray for you alone.

Please know that we’re trying to make as much sense of life as we can, hoping and praying you will grow into your office one day at a time, one step at a time. No matter the cost to your personal comfort or reputation. Which is what it means to follow Jesus.

Respectfully,

Elouise Renich Fraser

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 September 2017
Photo taken by DAFraser, 11 September 2017, Longwood Gardens Meadow
Response to Daily Prompt: Mighty

Invitation to a feast

So much anguish
In the world tonight—
Fear and uncertainty
on one side
Belligerent bravado
on the other

Death a daily reality
not to be held back
including death of hope
and relationships

Injustice flourishes–
A parasite eating its sick ways
into our shared psyches
and places of meeting

Yet there You are in our midst—
Showing us how to dance on injustice
instead of trying to ferret it out
from its beguiling masks
of self-righteousness

How difficult it must be
to prepare a table before all of us
around which we might together
take a faltering step or two
following You—
The lord of the only dance in town
that matters

Proverbs 17:1 (The Good News Bible):
Better to eat a dry crust of bread with peace of mind

than have a banquet in a house full of trouble.

***

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 September 2017
Image found at mein-brot-bracken.de
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Crumb

Resistance is Never Futile

Never. What’s at stake isn’t a predetermined outcome, and death is always a possibility. Yet resistance is never futile. It’s about our character. Not simply as individuals, but as communities and nations.

I have a theological hero. He wasn’t the most well-behaved man on the face of the earth. He was human just as I am. Some of his theological ideas still irritate me. That’s an understatement.

Yet he’s a theological hero. From him I learned to listen to myself, to Christian scripture, and to what’s happening around me. With a newspaper in one hand and my Bible in the other.

Actually, it’s more than listening. I call it looking in the mirror and discovering painful reflections of myself. Too often as a collaborator, not as a member of the faithful resistance.

Karl Barth came of age as a theologian during the early years of Hitler’s reign. Though he was a citizen of Switzerland, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of theology in Germany.

Barth cut his theological teeth on Hitler’s final solution for Jews. He became one of a surprisingly small number of resisting theologians, and an influential member of the so-named ‘confessing’ churches that refused to support Hitler.

His theological work is, in part, a critique of Hitler’s brutal treatment of Jews and a vision for something different. There were several parts to Barth’s vision for humanity.

  1. First, absolute allegiance to following Jesus Christ as witnessed to in Christian scripture. Jesus of Nazareth—a practicing Jew whose total allegiance lay with Yahweh. No matter what the cost.
  2. Second, a careful reading of Hebrew and Christian scripture in which he discerned a simple theme that brought every theological idea down to earth. Hospitality toward strangers. This theme challenges all human interactions including Hitler’s treatment of Jews and the churches’ treatment of Jews and others strangers.
  3. Finally, who is this stranger? (Or, who is my neighbor?) According to Barth, the stranger is that person or group of persons you’d rather not see or meet today. Maybe he or she gives you a mortal headache. On the other hand, that person might beat you up and leave you lying on the side of the road to die. You never know. It’s easy to wish you could banish ‘these people’ who annoy, threaten or terrify you.

Hospitality toward strangers has a sweet sound about it. However, as developed by Barth, it’s not sweet and harmless. True hospitality toward strangers is a life-changer for the hostess or host, not just the stranger. It can lead to life; it can also lead to death. As it did for Jesus Christ.

We can already see the USA becoming polarized into stranger groups. It’s happening in churches, between religions, in public and private institutions, news media and families. Many groups vet members formally and informally by political or religious tests of various kinds.

It seems a good time to think about what it would take to show hospitality toward strangers today. Especially, but not only if we’re followers of Jesus Christ.

I’m not naïve. All strangers aren’t safe. Neither is every friend or family member. Wisdom and discernment are necessary. But not political or religious tests. We need each other now more than ever. No matter what the cost. It’s about the content of our character.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Criticize

To fill a Gap —

Here a short poem from Emily Dickinson. Appropriate, I think, for the second Sunday in Advent. My personal response follows.

To fill a Gap
Insert the Thing that caused it –
Block it up
With Other – and ‘twill yawn the more –
You cannot solder an Abyss
With Air.

c. 1862

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

Irreplaceable loss. The Gap can’t be disguised, no matter how hard you try. Denial magnifies gaping emptiness, draws attention to it. The missing Thing is one of a kind, Irreplaceable.

Emily’s poem reminds me of my vain attempts to ‘make it better.’ Or worse, Read the rest of this entry »

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