Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Hospitality to Strangers

Dancing in the face of partisan politics

Pray tell me
How do I dance
In the face of partisan politics
Straining to separate me
From other human beings

And how do I dance with freedom
In the face of threats
To undo me
Or you
Or us

Age and health
Weigh heavily on me
As does diminished ability to move
Freely on my own

And this dance floor seems too small
To hold my aching heart
Longing for more
Than I can ever accomplish

Or perhaps
The ‘more’ is already here

Behind and around me
Invisible
Doing what You intend it to do
Making its way unseen in
Bits and pieces I gladly gave away
And passed along so that
They don’t belong to me
Anymore

As health issues come creeping or crashing into my life, I feel like fighting back. Making sure I’m still out there, doing my thing. I feel the tug of wanting to make a difference.

Perhaps it’s time to rest, dream and even drift through each day. Grateful for living this long. Grateful for opportunities to connect with neighbors near and far.

It seems slow dancing is what’s called for. Listening to internal and external music. Connecting with family, neighbors and strangers. Reading. Listening. Praying for the next generation. And writing my heart out. Preparing for whatever is around the next corner.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 November 2018

Falling raindrops

Falling raindrops
Losses unnumbered
Tears of anguish
Sink beneath ground
Mourning our dead
Prone to collapse
If not eruption

It’s Monday morning, one week from midterm elections here in the USA. I belong to the President John F. Kennedy assassination generation. November 22, 1963, two days after my 20th birthday. A harsh introduction to political realities in these somewhat united states.

And now we’ve just experienced the latest in a string of brutal, overt attacks against people who are our neighbors, whether far or near. This time it was a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ironically, the hometown of Mr. Rogers.

November 22, 1963 was my wake-up call. Not about religion, but about politics. My vote seemed tiny back then. Yet as a white woman living in a nation that routinely disenfranchises and disregards women of all colors in overt and covert ways, my vote counted then and it still counts.

Walking to my voting station counts. Encouraging others to vote counts. Helping others get to the polls counts. Showing hospitality to strangers counts, whether it’s voting day or not.

This doesn’t make up for lives taken by gunfire, abuse, neglect, unleashed hatred and outright murder. Still, their lives are with us when we choose to remember them. As I see it, I’m not just voting on my behalf; I’m voting on their behalf. From the beginning of this nation until now.

So here we are one week from midterm elections. What’s your plan?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 October 2018
Photo found at hipwallpaper.com

friendly inhumanity

not large but small things
echo in hollow chambers
the sound of life denied
drips from human souls
into ground saturated
with the life-blood of refugees
halted at the border
of the promised land
of plenty caught in webs
of grief and disbelief
the latest casualties
of friendly inhumanity

Yes, I’m still at it. Why? Because our national inability to govern wisely is breaking down in front of our eyes. Most of us have to get up and go to work. I don’t.

This is my work: to keep in front of my eyes the tragedy of national leaders who seem to have lost the will to govern wisely and solely on behalf of the most needy among us. From the ground up, not from the heights of make-believe trickle down theory.

When I was working at the seminary, I experienced up close the chaos one ill-placed leader could wreak within a community. The scramble was on, not just among staff who desperately needed their jobs, but within the hearts of every member of the organization.

What do we do now? Do we shut up and pretend we’re doing business as usual? To what extent do we voice our concerns? And how?

Things that were straightforward, or at least manageable, became fraught with nuances and consequences to be avoided. Telling the truth was dangerous, even when supported by clear data and research.

And yet we stayed on. Not because we were cowards, but because we believed in the greater good of our students and of each other as trusted colleagues. We did what we could, and watched the rest being taken over by the hands of others. Not a fun way to work.

It wasn’t always that way, for which I’m grateful. Nonetheless, the last years of my tenure were fraught with conflict, uncertainty, promises that turned into something else, scoldings from time to time, and the breakdown of good will among people of good will. In the end, I chose to leave what had become punishing for my body and spirit.

Why this strange link between refugees and my work at the seminary? Because in each case a leader (dean or president) chooses to govern by creating chaos. The chaos at the seminary was somewhat controlled by those who governed differently. In the end, however, even that couldn’t save us from being exploited and taken over as an institution.

Mr. Trump governs by creating chaos within the White House and within our nation. This won’t save us from ourselves or others. Sadly, there isn’t much business ‘as usual’ anymore. Instead, we’re invited to witness and experience chaos every day.

My hope and my prayer is that I’ll be a grounded, hope-filled, prayerful neighbor, doing what I can to offer hospitality to strangers. Especially those unable to speak freely for themselves.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2018

Dust of the earth

This body
Like my heart
A house of Your creation
Stands ready to greet a stranger
Whose form and visage
is unexpected

Lost
Dust of the earth
Sorrowful yet not without hope
She stands
Waiting

I found this scrap of a poem in one of my old journals from two years ago. It makes more sense today than it did back then. In May 2016 the strangers were my broken heart and jaw, along with my face reflected in the mirror. A face I scarcely recognized.

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 23 this past week. Especially this line: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

I still believe the enemies are my enemies, not necessarily God’s enemies. And I still believe I’m invited to join the table with those who are my enemies, or seem enemy-like to me.

Nonetheless, last week I got thinking about aging, and the way these health and well-being strangers keep showing up at my front door. So I’ve reluctantly expanded ‘my enemies’ to include them.

This means I’m learning to receive them as strangers, and listen to what they have to say. Perhaps we can one day be friends. Or at least acquaintances?

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 May 2018
Photo found at islamforchristians.com

White Supremacy

I’ve lived in majority White neighborhoods most of my life. I’ve also lived through the drama of early desegregation, beginning with the 1960s. Back then the drama was chiefly about Black and White Americans. However, it now includes other immigrant and refugee populations. Especially those without financial security or steady jobs with decent wages and health benefits.

Despite the dreams and goodwill of many US citizens, things don’t seem to have changed that much. Especially in our cities. But also, increasingly, in the suburbs. Not in the shopping malls, but in our neighborhoods. It’s good to attend a church that’s visibly open to all comers. But even this doesn’t take the place of neighborhoods.

It’s simple. If I don’t have daily contact in my neighborhood with people who don’t look or act like I do, I won’t get very far on my own. I know this, because I now have Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Jewish neighbors. Plus other White Protestant neighbors. I have no Black neighbors.

My attitudes and behaviors are important. Nonetheless, I can’t solve this alone. This a national problem and disgrace, especially given decades-old legislation against discriminatory practices in the housing industry. The problem began early in this nation’s history, and has only become more deeply entrenched as we’ve made ‘progress’ toward what I would call semi-integration (sometimes takes good pictures, but it isn’t real).

Here’s a fact I heard this weekend on a reputable radio station. With the exception of President Obama, none of our recent Presidents took housing discrimination on as the monster it is. In addition, Mr. Trump has further weakened these efforts with his choice of staff, his tweets, his attitudes, and his macho White Supremacy approach to governing.

In other words, we have great legislation and ineffective or nonexistent follow-through. Neighborhoods don’t happen on maps; they happen in hearts and everyday lives. On streets, porches and sidewalks. In back yards and corner grocery stores. We need to rub elbows with each other. Share the news; help with the snow shoveling; watch the kids from time to time. Talk about the weather and then maybe about something more important than that.

Over the weekend I heard an interview that gave me a starting point. A place and way to begin writing about this. So here’s the deal for today. I bring you a quote. That’s all. It gives me a chill every time I read it.

The Anglo Saxon planted civilization on this continent and wherever this race has been in conflict with another race, it has asserted its supremacy and either conquered or exterminated the foe. This great race has carried the Bible in one hand and the sword [in the other]. Resist our march of progress and civilization and we will wipe you off the face of the earth.

Major William A. Guthrie, 28 Oct 1898, in Goldsboro, NC, speaking to a crowd of 8,000 at what was called “A White Supremacy Convention.” From Raleigh News and Observer, 29 Oct 1898. Quotation excerpted from Wikipedia article on The Wilmington (NC) Insurrection of 1989. 

Nuanced for the year 2018, versions of this quote are still filling the airwaves and social media. The question is how to combat this assault on our common humanity and on our increasingly isolated neighborhoods.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 April 2018
Photo found at whqr.org

An epidemic of unforgiveness?

A few months ago I posted a series on forgiving my Dad, The Shape of Forgiveness. Since then, this question has been on my mind: Are we, here in the USA, caught in an epidemic of unforgiveness for which we have no remedy?

In the last post of the series I wrote this:

God forgives each of us daily. This is an act of stunning creation, not just for us individually, but for the families and communities in which we live. I want to be part of this ongoing spirit of forgiveness because I want to be part of God’s creative act, not part of the destructive problem.

Yet sometimes I hear or think words that seem to shut the door on a creative tomorrow: I’ll never forgive him – her – them!

Are we locked into a pattern that undercuts creative endeavors to find common ground, much less forgiveness?

I’m not looking for acres and acres of common ground. Right now I’d settle for a tiny patch anywhere in which we could safely listen and speak about our anguish. Perhaps we would begin finding ways to heal, ways to know each other and ourselves differently and better.

More recently, I’ve begun thinking about my experience in 12-step programs. It wasn’t indoctrination. It was a carefully sequenced program that helped me discover how to deal with myself first. My life had become unmanageable.

Twelve-step programs taught me to let things be so I could discover a better way. I wasn’t in charge. My higher power was. I didn’t have to slam doors or flounce out of the room in self-righteous indignation. Or solve everyone else’s problems. Or prop up the self-defeating behavior of others. Or defend my behavior and condemn others.

Instead, I learned to find safe people, talk with them about things that troubled me, and explore ways to change self-defeating habits. Slowly, I began to join the human race. I stopped standing on the sidelines trapped in patterns of harsh judgment of others and of myself.

How about a Citizens Anonymous program for recovering citizens and friends of citizens? A program that would help us put down our addictive bottles of news headlines, gossip, outrage, harsh judgment, denial, diversions, taunting, and other ways we sooth ourselves when we’re feeling out of control. Maybe together we could find small patches of common ground and nurture something new.

Just a thought. Or maybe this is already happening somewhere? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for listening.
Elouise ♥ 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 August 2017
Image found at callofthevedas.com

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

Crossings of No Return

Crossings….

The word resonates with finality
Hints of danger and uncertainty
Sorrow and desperation
Weary clothes and
Hungry faces

One foot in front of the other
Backs burdened with life’s necessities
Bodies and bellies heavy
With tomorrow’s children
Silently pleading

They say our world is disappearing
Melting and boiling away before our eyes
Erupting into a chaotic crisis
Unknown in modern times
Are we ready for this crossing?

I can’t help wondering what lies ahead for this world and for us as citizens of this world. Our insular, isolated, boundaried ways of life don’t work well anymore, and our ways of governing seem to have reached their own point of no return.

Years ago I crossed a line of no return. I chose to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe there’s a magic wand answer for any of this world’s upheavals. Yet I do believe we see a direction in the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ. Not the superstar, but the human being sent to this earth to live and to die as one of us and as God’s beloved son.

Jesus made a crossing of no return when he came to live with and among us. He wasn’t president, emperor or chief. Nor was he a privileged member of the religious or political elite, or a child of God immune to human emotions and agony.

His life was short. Yet in his short life I find a direction that hasn’t changed even with our current global upheavals. Taking my cues from Jesus, I’m to love God, my neighbors and myself. Acknowledge my human limitations and need for others. Be ready to accept and offer hospitality from and to strangers. Bear the cost and share the compassion of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Do I feel strong? Rarely. Do I feel ready? Rarely. Do I feel like giving up? Sometimes. Yet the steady, courageous, compassionate and steel-eyed clarity I see in narratives about Jesus’ life on this earth remains my True North. The one point on my compass that won’t change no matter what it takes to get from here to there.

What does this look like day by day? It’s all in my outlook. Each encounter might become an opportunity to ask for help or to offer help as I’m able and ready to identify myself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Most important, I’m not a savior. I’m another human being who won’t make it in this life on her own.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 January 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Crossing

Nation of Strangers

Nation of strangers
Forced choices
No winners
In this cacophony
Of bitter loss
And gleeful victory

Strangers to ourselves
In a never-never land
Indivisibly standing
Beneath competing flags
Disunited yet One
In Strangerhood

I thought I knew you
Until I didn’t
You my neighbor
My sister my brother
My one-time ally
Whose words now chill my heart

Niceness covered a multitude
Of pain and betrayal buried
In fear-filled hearts
Smiles helped us get by
Until we couldn’t any longer
Forced choices

Dare I go public
With fear and grief
Or do I smile and make nice
Nod when I hear
Everything will work out for the best
No matter what the cost

How do I retain integrity
Honor my neighbors
My womanhood
My patriotism
My Christian conscience
My personal and public dignity

I don’t want to be a Stranger
Or find you’ve become a Stranger
Dare I begin now
By looking you in the eye
How do you feel today?
Tell me about it — or not.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 November 2016
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Or

“Cherish is the word I use….”

Cherish image, happy_married_couple

I, Elouise, take you, D….
To love, honor and cherish….

Cherish is the word I use
To complain as in
You don’t have a clue
How to cherish me Read the rest of this entry »

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