Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Hospitality to Strangers

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 »

Muslims shielding Christians | CNN newsfeed

CNN reported this out today with an interview and more details about this incident. Take a look right here. Also, check out the short text below the video. Most of the passengers were women! Yes, there were also men. And most of the passengers were women!

To see my post yesterday about this event, click here.

So why is this important? It raises the bar high when it comes to courage and risk-taking in our highly charged global situation. With you, I’m starving for stories like this. Indeed, we’re all starving for proactive kindness and solidarity with people we may not even know. Strangers, and neighbors near and far.

Thanks, CNN!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 December 2015

What I never wrote to my father

Dear Dad, thenextfamily.com


When it came to disciplining his daughters, my father often referred to several verses in the King James Version of the Bible.

I love the King James Version (KJV). All my scripture memory work was in its now unfamiliar language. To my ears it’s still beautiful, though somewhat dated, and evokes awe in its choice of pronouns and verbs (thee, thou, goest, comest). Once memorized, it flows easily by heart.

Yet it has limitations. In addition, the language chosen by the 54+ men who translated it between 1604 and 1611 is often stark.

When it came to dealing with me, one of my father’s key verses was Proverbs 16:18 (KJV):

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

My father believed he was responsible for beating pride out of me. From his perspective, my anger proved I was a prideful little girl intent on getting my superior way. According to him I thought I knew better than he when it came to punishment, rules or decisions.

If I didn’t comply with his will, another proverb told him what to do. I’ve changed the personal pronouns. Proverbs 23:13-14 (KJV) says,

Withhold not correction from the child:
for if thou beatest her with the rod, she shall not die.
Thou shalt beat her with the rod, and shalt deliver her soul from hell.

Before you get angry with my father, think about this: Like many other parents, he passed on what his father did to him. I can’t exonerate him. He  did what he did. He was responsible for what he did; I was not. I do, however, have compassion for him. I know from experience how difficult it is to raise children.

Last week I was reading the Good News Version (TEV) of the same verses in Proverbs 23:13-14:

Don’t hesitate to discipline children.
A good spanking won’t kill them.
As a matter of fact, it may save their lives.

I would still suggest that even a “good spanking” can kill a child’s spirit. Do you or I know a child’s inner spirit? Do you know the spirit this child may be too terrified to show because right now because the main agenda is to grit her teeth and get through whatever you or I decide to do to her vulnerable body?

What is a “good spanking” anyway? Sometimes I needed discipline. Yet I never needed the kind of corporal punishment I received. Corporal humiliation is never a “good spanking.” It’s humiliation of the weak by the powerful. An abuse of power.

Whatever this “good spanking” is about, it isn’t about humiliating a child’s body or spirit. If the point of the proverb is to say parents mustn’t hold back when it comes to disciplining their children, that can be done in other ways.

Here’s how I see it. As an adult, I’m responsible for welcoming children and young teenagers into my life. They’re strangers I’m privileged to get to know and learn to discipline appropriately. It isn’t always easy. Yet hospitality offers me another way to relate to them and to myself.

  • Hospitality welcomes children and young people God sends into my life.
  • Hospitality isn’t overbearing and doesn’t make quick assumptions.
  • Hospitality asks questions and listens.
  • Hospitality gets interested in what children and young people think and feel.
  • Hospitality doesn’t pry or spy on others.
  • Hospitality listens, affirms, and collaborates to solve problems.
  • Hospitality isn’t rude, bossy, impatient or quick to take offense.
  • Hospitality creates and maintains reasonable, healthy boundaries.

I think hospitality is a form of love. I love my father.

Here’s what I never wrote to my father:

Dear Dad,
Please treat me as a human being created in the image of God. That’s all I want. I don’t want to fight with you or disappoint you. I want to be myself and count on you to help me without humiliating me. I want to be proud of myself and proud of you.
Your first-born daughter,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2015
Image from thenextfamily.com

gracious morning sun

NaroMoruConf2

gracious morning sun
rises on spacious lawn set
for tea and crumpets

* * *

Well, maybe not tea and crumpets. But the social equivalent thereof. This is gracious Kenya service at its natural, well-groomed best. It’s early in the morning. You’re looking at the Naro Moru River Lodge. It’s late August 1999. D and I are there for a fall faculty retreat, along with 20-25 faculty and administrative colleagues from the seminary near Nairobi where we taught that fall.

This was my introduction to the laid-back beauty of post-British rule services for vacationers and tourists. That included in-country and foreign visitors such as D and I. I’d never in my life been treated to such gracious service. It existed in the Deep South when I was growing up, but not for me. I felt almost like Queen for a Day. Actually for a weekend.

When I think about hospitality to strangers, I think of simple things. Yet this and other experiences like it, though not simple, are also signs of hospitality. I found myself enjoying the weekend while feeling strangely out of place and out of time. More than a little self-conscious because I was a stranger, unsure about my place at the table. Hospitable as it was.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, August 1999
Naro Moru River Lodge, Nyeri, Kenya 

Early Marriage | Part 5

~~Elouise, Diane, Sister #2

Today I’m taking a short break and a deep breath. When I began this series on Early Marriage, I wasn’t sure I would survive writing these posts. That may be a bit over the top. Nonetheless….

Writing about Courtship and Engagement was a lark. Fun, with hardly any anxiety. But this is different. It’s more difficult to find the right words, partly because I’ve kept the truth hidden for so long. But also because words convey more than facts.

When I think about my past, there are any number of Elouises in my life. Each has a different age and outlook on life and what it means to be who I am. In a way, writing these posts means getting to know myself again. Almost as though I were a stranger to myself.

For years I was hard on myself. Even harsh. My self-talk was along the lines of “You stupid so-and-so (fill in the blank)!” I didn’t know what it meant to be an ally. Not just for other people, but for myself over against my inner critic.

Writing about my past is about more than simply ‘telling the truth’ about myself. It’s also about how I now perceive myself back then. Am I still my own worst critic? Or might I be changing into my own best ally, or at least making progress in that direction.

It seems this is connected to the way I write about my past self. Am I writing in a way that welcomes and has compassion on myself back then? I don’t need to justify myself; I do, however, need and want to empathize with myself in the past.

Is it possible for me to become the ally I didn’t have back then? Can I talk with that girl or that young married woman and let her know I’m standing with her?

I’m not talking about a general ‘wouldn’t-it-be-nice’ need to become my own ally. I’m talking about immersing myself in the specifics of each post and actually empathizing with the child or young woman I was then. What would I say and do if I saw her today? And what tone of voice would I use?

This is already happening. How do I know? I don’t feel the shame and embarrassment I used to feel when I write. I still struggle with some of it, but I also feel empathy and compassion for the woman, teenager or child I was then. Sometimes I have conversations with myself in my head, telling myself what I desperately needed to hear back then.

I’m not saying this makes everything wonderful and OK. It doesn’t. Instead, it puts me at ease, no matter what age I might be remembering. It’s OK. I can tell that girl or young married woman that I’m present, and I’m on her side.

This includes standing up for myself right now. It’s strange to describe an inner world that only I experienced, while my outer world often seemed to be totally functional. I can’t point to readily visible damage that would ‘explain’ or make acceptable the level of dysfunction within me.

I can, however, stand calmly and confidently with myself, even when others don’t understand what I’m pointing to, or why it was disruptive and damaging in my life. I don’t need to prove anything. I need to find the best words I can to describe my inner world, and to comfort the young woman or small child who already lived through it all.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to write in this way, especially at this time of my life. Somewhere back there and in ‘here’ a little girl or young married woman is laughing and crying a bit. I think she’s overjoyed because I finally found and acknowledged her.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 April 2015

An Offensive Story | Part 1

Scandalous. Painful to read and painful to hear. The story is about Lot, his two virgin daughters, two visitors (strangers), an unruly mob of men, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Read the rest of this entry »

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