Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: God

Fear has no wings – For our granddaughters 2019

I wrote this over two years ago., and am posting it again for our two beautiful granddaughters.

I was born into a Christian sub-culture driven by fear. Fear of the world, and fear of God whose all-seeing eye follows us day and night.

This was both comforting and terrifying. The world ‘out there’ was harsh and unforgiving. A dangerous place for little girls and big girls. I needed a Guardian.

Yet God’s all-seeing eye was taking notes. Was I being naughty or nice? Was I pleasing God or making God sad, angry or disgusted?

It was super-important to be productive as well as untouched and untainted by ‘the world.’ Evil lurked around every corner. Fear was the best preventive medicine I could take.

Fear helped me keep rules. Fear helped me develop keen eyes for what would please people in authority over me. Fear surreptitiously kept my hand to the grindstone. I wanted to be ready for the day when God would judge me for what I had done and not done.

I grew up without wings. Instead, I developed a remarkable talent for trying harder and jumping higher. Failure or even the whiff of failure was devastating.

Now, many failures later, I’ve begun developing tiny wings. Baby wings. The kind I trimmed back most of my life, trying to stay in the nest and out of trouble.

Being born plopped me into an aching world fraught with pain and anguish, troubles upon troubles. It’s impossible to stay out of trouble if I’m alive and breathing. Whether it’s my fault or not isn’t the issue.

Today I accept trouble in my life. Not because it’s good, but because it helps me develop baby wings. It helps me look up and around, gaining a glimpse of where I might fly next. I don’t want to waste more time trying to jump higher.

Here’s a favorite quote from Simone Weil’s Waiting for God. The highlighting is mine.

There are those people who try to elevate their souls
like someone who continually jumps from a standing position
in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day—and higher every day—
they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven.
Thus occupied, they no longer look to heaven.

We cannot even take one step toward heaven.
The vertical direction is forbidden to us.
But if we look to heaven long-term,
God descends and lifts us up.
God lifts us up easily.

As Aeschylus says,
‘That which is divine is without effort.’
There is an ease in salvation more difficult for us than all efforts.

In one of Grimm’s accounts, there is a competition of strength
between a giant and a little tailor.
The giant throws a stone so high that it takes a very long time
before falling back down.
The little tailor throws a bird that never comes back down.
That which does not have wings always comes back down in the end.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 April 2017, reposted 6 June 2019
Photo of baby golden-eye ducks found at urbanpeek.com

To the Gardener after reading Psalm 1

Your words, so beautiful to read,
Crush me beneath the weight of
Life already lived – a great muddle
Of garden-rich vegetables plus toxic
Stew of tongue and cheek hurled
My way, often from my own mouth.

At this age I’ve little left but memories,
Plus ever-present directives from
Well-meaning people and ill intentions
From the other kind. To say nothing of
My own sometimes distressed mind
And body seeking solace and reassurance
That I matter to somebody if not
To myself.

Here, then, is my request:
I long to start over as a small tree
Planted by rivers of clear, pure water,
Guarded and pruned by Your hands
Alone. If this is not possible, I would
Also settle for a long and lovely
Winter’s nap.

From one of Your elderly fans,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2019
Image found at JackMaxwellArt.com

heaviness of years past

It’s Monday morning
I’m still trying to
Find myself

Not lost
Perhaps misplaced
Somewhere back there?

Yesterday in church
I wept for the heaviness
Of years past

Wounds and scars
From a thousand misfired
Bullets

Invisible reminders
Deep within of tales not told
Or understood

The most difficult thing I’ve done as a follower of Jesus is to step out of my hiding places. Not primarily to face my friends or foes, but to face myself. In my family of origin, hiding was the best way I could cope and survive as a child and teenager.

As a young adult and later as a professional, I carried a weight of fear in my guts. Fear that some grand tribunal would subpoena me to testify against myself.

Sadly, I thought this process would be about my small and large transgressions, as determined by their eyes. In my worst fears, I would be shamed and punished before an audience of my peers plus strangers. They would make an example of me, much as my father tried to make an example of me as the eldest of four daughters.

Instead, as a 40-something, I found myself in Al-Anon groups of women and men struggling as I was. Listening to them helped me listen to my story. Maybe I didn’t need to fear some unknown grand tribunal.

These new friends didn’t absolve me, and they didn’t try to fix me. Instead, they listened, and showed me how they worked on their own wounds and scars. By honoring themselves, they honored me.

So there I was in church yesterday, weeping. Realizing that no matter what I do, I will be welcomed with open arms when I die.

Where will I go? I don’t know. Nonetheless, I believe I will be in the presence of The Only One who understands me fully and loves me from the inside out. I’ll also be free of wounds and scars. Free to be the beautiful woman I am.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 March 2019
Photo found at fromthegrapevine.com, Flowers on a tombstone, Czech Republic

The Collage revisited

“Writing when Awake is dangerous.” I wrote this piece years ago, while Awake. When you get to the collage, click on it for a close-up.

*****

I agonized about whether to begin this blog.  Not because I had nothing to say, but because I was terrified.  Of what?  I’m not sure.  Probably the concreteness of truth.  Even though I lived with it all my life, putting truth out there in concrete words is different.

The words below are from my journal.  I made the entry on 19 July 2012, about 18 months before I published my first post, Dear Dad.  It’s a one-hour, non-stop writing exercise.  What you see is nearly every word I wrote—reformatted.  I made the collage in the early 1990s.

I’m at my desk, keyboard in my lap, eyes closed most of the time—except to check the clock.  The collage is on the wall just above my desk.  Nothing but bits and pieces cut out of old magazines.  It’s not a lovely work of art, but a crude icon.  It reminds me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

* * *

8:53am
Showing up.
Facing my fear and inhibitions.
All my life.
Small, invisible, insignificant, scared,
trying to fit in while desperately longing to stand out—
to be counted as somebody—
to make a difference.
A big difference.

Telephone ringing.
I’m a writer.  First.
Not afraid to let the phone ring,
to close the door,
to do what wants to be done.

Write.
Big.
Bold.
Unashamed.
More willing to live with the
consequences of big and bold,
than small and insignificant—
lost in the noise.

Shout it from the rooftop.
Hit the front pages of the newspaper.
Unavoidable and compelling.
A wake-up call not just for ‘them,’
but for me!!!!
Especially for me.

To tell the truth—
not for the faint-hearted
or for those like me given to
strategic choices of words that mask,
hide and protect the reality of what is—
whether we/I like it or not.

The truth not just about what happened
and is happening,
but the truth about what it takes—
the cost of belonging to the human race.
From the inside out—
not simply about them,
but about me.

Without fear or holding back;
without malice of mindfulness;
and without any agenda but one—
to bear witness in a way that
forges solidarity with others.

I’ve always wanted to belong—
to be normal—rather than strange,
set-apart, holy or the preacher’s kid.
The only way to get there, I think,
is to strengthen to completion
the bridge I can build
between myself and people I may never know.

A bridge of understanding,
of sisterly compassion,
of challenge,
and seemingly unending damage and pain.
A bridge of respect for survivors.
A bridge of honesty about my past
and the people who damaged me
and prepared me for the life I now live.

Am I looking for healing?
When that means acceptance, yes.
If it means pressing a restart button, no.
Things done and internal wiring completed
can’t be undone so easily.

If, however, it means healing
of my self as God’s beloved daughter child,
Yes.
This life was entrusted to me.
Not to anyone else.
Only I can live it.
Which includes/entails telling
the sad and sorry truth about growing up female.

Suddenly feeling drowsy.
Do I want to just stop and start over
on another topic/project?
Yes.
This feels way out of control and out of reach.
So yes, I have a strong desire
to put my head down and snooze.

(I just caught myself not sitting up straight.  Interesting.)

It’s now 9:15 am—
not quite halfway through this exercise.
I need to sit a bit and collect my scattered self.
I am a writer!

Centering Prayer.
Mindful breathing.
Surrender.
This is a practice I need as I write.

9:21am.
Back to it
Not sure where I am except for this:
To belong to the human race takes audacious courage.
Courage to do what doesn’t come naturally and is not always rewarded.
Bottom line:  Which price am I prepared to pay?
There’s a price for me either way.

Still struggling with drowsiness.
I ate breakfast before writing—
and now I’m struggling to stay present.
Feeling a tingly desire to go to sleep and not wake up!
Wakefulness—mindful wakefulness—
is worse than a nightmare.

9:26.
The clock seems slow today.
I need to just sit.  Drink Water.
Keep my body and mind awake,
open and receptive.

Drinking water.  Good.
I’m thirsty.  For what?
For something to calm my heart and mind
that wants to shut down just now.
Something to keep me going.
Alive.  Functioning.  Processing.  Growing.
Eliminating what is poison or no longer of use to me.
Water.

9:31am
The collage comes to mind.  I’m looking at it, getting teary.

The Collage

  • Life can be murder
  • Without Clear Proof
  • The Secret Within a Secret
  • DANGER
  • Somewhere in your house a battery is dying….
  • Lost.  Lost.
  • Failure
  • Stuck in Neutral
  • Defend Yourself
  • Sometimes you can tell what’s missing.
  • Much Less Than Meets the Eye
  • Someone Who Really Likes to Stay in Touch
  • For a Child’s Sake

The collage wakes me up!
Brings tears to my mind [sic].
This is reality.
My reality—about which only I can bear witness.
There’s no prettying up the truth.
There may be understanding,
but in no way is this a pretty picture.
Or a pretty story.
Telling it will not be pretty.
It will be dangerous.
And it keeps telling me it wants to be told!
Not hidden away like some shameful piece of my life.

I don’t like having to tell the truth
about things that may seem ‘sensational.’
They weren’t.
They were the sad and sorry everyday reality
of my everyday life.
Some things can’t be omitted.
To leave them out is to betray myself.
In some ways this writing is a plea for understanding.
This is who I am.
Late start telling the story,
but right on time in God’s economy.
9:51am

Journal entry written 19 June 2012
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2014, re-posted 11 February 2019

Why Mary Oliver’s words matter

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Mary Oliver via one of her books of poetry, Thirst. Spare on words and extravagantly beautiful, her forty-three poems grabbed my heart and my imagination. The collection focuses on her grief after the death of her longtime partner, and her struggle to find words that capture the reality of her faith.

Mary Oliver challenges me in ways similar to Emily Dickinson, with one exception. Oliver’s poetry, also heavy with meaning, is remarkably and painfully direct. In each poem she invites me to enlarge the way I see, experience and respond to what seems everyday and ordinary.

Since her death on January 17, scores of visitors have visited this site looking for posts about Mary Oliver. At the top of the list: It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, a poem about prayer.

In the last week I’ve read and listened to multiple tributes to Mary Oliver. Her poetry is stunning; her challenge to us as human beings is direct and piercing: Wake up, Observe, Report. Not simply about nature, but about this world and its creatures as part of God’s great poem. A reality we ignore to our great loss.

Here’s one of Mary Oliver’s shorter poems. I love the way it makes simple what isn’t always easy.

Musical Notation: 2

Everything is His.
The door, the door jamb.
The wood stacked near the door.
The leaves blown upon the path
that leads to the door.
The trees that are dropping their leaves
the wind that is tripping them this way and that way,
the clouds that are high above them,
the stars that are sleeping now beyond the clouds

and, simply said, all the rest.

When I open the door I am so sure so sure
all this will be there, and it is.
I look around.
I fill my arms with the firewood.
I turn and enter His house, and close His door.

Mary Oliver, from poems in Thirst, p. 38; published by Beacon Press (2006)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 January 2019

The purpose of my life today

Yesterday I visited a new blogging friend. He’d asked me to stop by and comment on his post. I don’t always get carried away when giving a comment. But this was different.

The post conveyed why it’s increasingly difficult to believe in deities. All religions take part in the madness of history, including present-day versions of old wars and massacres. Each in the name of its particular god, gods or God.

Here’s my response to the post, with minor changes and corrections, no additions. It helps me describe what it means today for me to live as a follower of Jesus who, after all, had no ‘Jesus’ to follow.

My journey has given me the gift of acknowledging a power greater than I, and I have chosen this way of living. I’ve also, thanks to my higher power and friends who supported me, discovered many new ways of naming and thinking about this being we call God. There are many gods and many Gods. I fear more from the human gods who, as I have done so often in my life, think they know what is best for me, for my country and for your country. I leave the other Gods to those who have studied them more than I.

Your post is very well written. I appreciate your openness to dialogue. Also, as you can see above, I like SS’s comment. There are many small, known and unknown women, men and children who make a difference in the name of God every day. I want to be part of their number. Not because I have to, but because I want to and choose to do that.

One day I will die. Sooner, not later. What’s the purpose of my life? It’s to die well. That doesn’t mean there’s a script. It just means that every day of my life I show in some concrete way that I know my days are numbered. I also have faith and hope that my higher power who shapes my life today (it’s not easy) will welcome me home. No matter what God looks like.

Being a ‘professional’ theologian of the Protestant Christian tradition, I’ve been humbled many times when reading about the atrocities of the Christian church (no matter which branch). I’ve also felt like vomiting when I’ve read some theologians’ writings about women and other ‘less human’ beings. There is, however, nothing so powerful as truth. So I attempt each day to live as fully and freely as possible in the light of the truth I’ve received. It saved my life, and I want to pass it on before I die.

Blessings to you and on your blogging life. If you allow it to do so, it will find and change you in ways you never thought possible.

Today is Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement. The Jewish synagogue across the street is already filled with members. A good day for each of us to accept God’s forgiveness, and pass it along to ourselves and others as needed.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2018

Yesterday evening – a prayer of lament

Most evenings I take time to jot down how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m so weary I can scarcely keep my eyes open.

But yesterday evening was different. I’d spent time that evening going through old files from years of teaching and being a graduate student. Part of me was laughing and enjoying seeing some of the cheeky things I’d written in my younger years. The other part of me kicked in near the end—a little voice that wouldn’t let me go.

So when I sat down in the late evening with my journal, this is what I wrote to God—a prayer of lament, I think.

Oh God, I feel so empty tonight—so out of touch with the woman I am today. It seems my best work and my most memorable efforts are all in the past. Filed away in boxes of paper crammed with words—so many that I scarcely recognize myself back then.

Where did they all go? — Those words, ideas, images, insights, sparkling clear roadmaps to my past life and thinking and feeling.

They seem much more alive and important than anything I might manage to eke out today or tomorrow. Such high hopes and noble ambitions. And now this?

Please look kindly on my confusion through the eyes of Your merciful providence, and give me gratitude.

Then I went to bed and promptly fell asleep. A bit sobered, yet grateful for memories of so many good women and good men. And for the privilege of having touched their lives, and been touched by theirs.

I’m not the woman I thought I was when I arrived at the seminary to study or to teach. Or even when I began this blog.

Today I’m working on a piece for later this week. It’s about one of the most difficult subjects I’ve had to deal with personally and institutionally, as a member of various churches and as professor and dean at the seminary. Sexuality.

Thanks for reading and listening. And for helping grow me into the woman I am today.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 March 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

fake smoke and cold mush

fake smoke
wafting from a thousand fires
signifies nothing

yesterday’s hot memo
is today’s cold mush
tasteless

Is this speaking truth to power? I don’t know. I do know it’s a reminder to myself that my voice matters. Especially now. Not as a way of manipulating reality, but as a way of staying honest and getting on with life at the same time.

Granted, this is life in a strange key. Academics and analysts who study patterns say we in the USA have been moving toward this social/political stand-off for a while. Still, current events are disconcerting. Sometimes it feels like a slow-motion, high-impact train wreck.

Hence my verses above. Spoken because for me, silence won’t do in this climate of intimidation tactics, fake smoke, hot memos and cold, tasteless mush.

Have I given up? Only if I fail to use my voice and cast my vote. And only if I act as though I or some other human being were God or even God’s Special Agent as defined by me.

Sabbath rest sounds like a good idea. Time to acknowledge I’m not in control, and that my voice matters. As does yours. Or, put another way, it’s time to let our lights shine.

Thanks for reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 February 2018
Photo found at nilemuse.blogspot.com

I don’t think I like your religion

I’ve included a few comments below about the context for Morton’s lyrics.

Religion

I don’t think I like your religion
Don’t always make the best decisions
Not sayin’ you don’t have good intentions
I know that you are only human

But you blame your God when it’s your own fault
Where is the love that your God spoke of?
Your God has nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them

That’s what you were told, let’s just be honest
You didn’t even take the time to find it yourself
You just took their words to be true
You don’t even know why you believe what you do

But you blame your God when it’s all your fault
Where is the love that your God spoke of?
Your God has nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them

Your God has nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them
Nothing to do with them (repeated twice)

P. J. Morton lyrics to Religion, recorded on his Grammy-nominated hip-hop album, Gumbo

This past weekend I listened to a public radio interview with hip-hop artist P. J. Morton. His father, also a musician, is an ordained clergyman. Morton talked about his commitment to hip-hop, his religious upbringing, and the way it influences his music. I didn’t make notes, but here’s part of what I heard during the interview.

The religious language of white evangelical Christians who supported Trump for president reminds Morton of the way white slavers kept Black slaves in their place. Thus, “I don’t think I like your religion.” This kind of religion became a vehicle for inhumane political ends during slavery. Today, this kind of religion is still a vehicle for inhumane political ends. It’s supported now as then by unexamined, faulty assumptions about the God of Christianity.

Morton’s response is simple: Don’t blame God “when it’s all your fault.” Don’t expect God to bless your decisions. They’re based on faulty, unexamined notions about God. What you call God’s will, supposedly being worked out through Trump, is your own uninformed will dressed up in religious language. God is not your puppet. And Trump is not God’s agent sent to do your faulty bidding.

You are, after all, “only human.” Even though you may have good intentions.

Too bad the Grammys chose to overlook Morton’s prophetic music.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 January 2018
Studio-recorded video found here on YouTube
Interview excerpt found here, plus a link to an audio of the full interview with Michel Martin on NPR’s All Things Considered

Sabbath Rest Memories | Photos

One year ago D and I, with our daughter and son-in-law were enjoying a huge once-in-a-lifetime cruise down the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. Here are random favorites that depict the heart, if not the full reality of Sabbath rest. The ducks at the top are showing how it’s done. We spotted them at Kinderdijk. The photos below were taken on the way to Cologne and in one of the parks there.

For starters, here’s a photo of me sound asleep, doing Nothing.
Just looking at this makes me go all limp.
And what about those snazzy socks!

Here are some rather limp cattle we passed along the way.
They didn’t even look up or ask what we were doing!
Just kept napping, chewing their cud, and chilling out.

Not to be outdone by cattle,
this water fowl family is getting into the spirit of things, too.
Doing mostly nothing but enjoying an outing together.

And here’s a young couple also doing nothing
but resting and enjoying this beautiful view of the river.
I wonder who they are?

Here they are again!
We saw them quite often during the cruise.
They smiled a lot. Definitely a sign of Sabbath joy.

Well look at that!
This Sabbath rest thing seems to be popular with everyone.
Especially when it means enjoying nature.

Here’s our trusty photographer, aka D,
taking a picture of himself in front of a reflective screen.
He’s enjoying relaxed time in his very relaxed outfit!
You don’t have to dress up for Sabbath rest, you know.

Nearby was this calm bunny taking great joy in a favorite snack!

There’s that good-looking couple again!
They look like they’re enjoying each other and nature and
a complete break from their normal busy, creative lives.
Just as I’m trying to do right now.

You might say nature enjoys Sabbath every day.
But sometimes it outdoes itself with beauty. Natural beauty.
This looks like Sabbath-day best to me.

And this little bee is having the feast of a lifetime.
You might say its cup is running over with joy and delight.

Back on the cruise ship, D got this evening shot of
the Cologne Cathedral, spires pointing upwards.
A silent reminder of the source of our life, our rest and our joy.

Blessings of peace and rest to each of you.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 July 2017
Photos taken by DAFraser, Summer 2016 Viking Cruise

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