Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

breathless morning sky
fiery orange shades of red
light pierces darkness

Often we live and die in self-imposed darkness. Not the dark of night, but the darkness of our understanding, our motives and our ignorance.

For several weeks I’ve been reading James Cones’ latest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It’s a tough read. Cone challenges my white understanding of the role too many Christian churches and politicians have played in the history of lynching.

When I grew up, Jesus’ death was all about appeasing God’s anger for our sin. Dying as an innocent on an ordinary criminal’s cross was payment for our sin. Yes, we deserve to die, but Jesus died for all of us, so that God’s anger toward us wouldn’t be our undoing.

If, however, Jesus’ death was a lynching, what does that mean for Christianity in the USA?

According to our history of lynching, white Christians have managed to do to black women, men, children and unborn babies what Roman and Jewish leaders did to Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, it was death on a Roman cross/tree. Yes, it was death on a White cross/tree.

Now, in our supposedly more enlightened age, we think we’re beyond lynching. After all, Jim Crow style lynching is illegal.

Is it? Really? Look around. We’ve developed neat, more anonymous ways of doing the deed. Out of sight and out of mind, except for the occasional uproar over what’s been happening for decades.

White fear and a deeply ingrained false sense of superiority lie at the heart of our White problem. It isn’t about God’s anger at sin, so-called “Christian” values, or even our own wellbeing.

Each morning, like clockwork, we’re invited to let light pierce the darkness of our understanding. It doesn’t take much light. Just a candle here and there in a window will do. That, plus time to appreciate the light we’re offered each day, and a trustworthy guide to prick our consciences and challenge our sight.

Thanks for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 November 2020
Photo found at unsplash.com

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention | Mary Oliver

Here’s my pick for today: a lovely poem from Mary Oliver about life and death. Why today? Because it’s my 77th birthday! See my comments below.

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention

“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
joyfully.”

And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
selfishness.”

Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, found on p. 9 of Thirst 
Published by Beacon Press 2006

Rue: regret
Lassitude: fatigue, weariness, apathy
Vainglory: excessive vanity, inordinate self-esteem

I know it isn’t spring or summer, but neither do the roses. They do their thing, then disappear until it’s time to start all over.

Death is making the rounds these days. Not just death that follows old age, but death from Covid-19, suicide, broken hearts, incurable illnesses, street fights, unleashed hatred or anger, and more. Still, death isn’t our worst enemy.

We’re not on earth to live forever. We’re here to discover and fulfill our earthly purpose as human beings. Welcoming the stranger, accepting our own strangeness, giving and receiving help, taking our personal histories seriously.

In some ways, the roses have it easier. It isn’t easy to be human. We need each other if we’re going to thrive.

Still, like roses, we’re meant to be extravagant. Giving, giving, and giving again. Not obsessively or compulsively, or because we feel guilty, or for personal gain. But as an overflow of beauty and grace.

Think about it! Fragrant roses, baby birds, clouds, sunrise and sunset, fields of tulips, new-fallen snow, and gnarled old tree trunks soaring toward the sky. All this and more with thanks to our Creator.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2020
Photo found at etsy.com

squabbling sparrows

outside my window
squabbling sparrows fight for food –
silence reigns within

Onlooker. That’s what I am these days. Not when it comes to local stuff, but the other stuff. Frankly, I’d rather be a sparrow right now than a politician or public official.

Whatever this year has been on the outside, I’m grateful for time to examine my life as a white woman. All without the expectations or interruptions of ‘normal’ daily life.

Put another way, I don’t want to be out there squabbling over the 2020 Election, or suddenly find myself without a job or a sensible plan for the future.

Being a senior citizen has its drawbacks. For one, we don’t get much overt respect, especially in our modern-day young and (especially) white culture. When respect happens, it tastes really good. So far, D and I have been able to navigate this bizarre Covid-19 world. It helps that we’re both introverts with tons of books, and the desire to read and write.

Back to the standoff  and squabbling that’s playing out before our eyes. It’s deadly. No good will come of it. I’m praying justice will be done when Mr. Trump is no longer POTUS, and he can no longer evade courts of law. Still, the behavior of his extremely disaffected followers isn’t a promising sign.

While watching the sparrows squabble with each other, I heard and saw a large blue jay squawk its worst as it landed on the bird feeder and sent all the sparrows fleeing. Everything wasn’t great before the male jay arrived, but at least there was food on the table. And no big bullies in sight.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 November 2020
Photo found at thespruce.com

empty wasp nest

swaying in chill breeze
an empty wasp nest hangs
ready for nesting birds

D took this photo in September 2020. So now you must imagine the tall shrub leafless. Also imagine the virtually but not totally wild possibility that birds might make a nest in one of these.

We almost took the wasp nest down this fall. Then I found out Paper Wasps don’t return to their meticulously crafted nests. If this nest remains intact through the winter (it probably won’t), could it become a welcome bird house next Spring? Probably not, but I can dream.

The now empty nest hangs just outside my office window. When I first saw it, I freaked out. At the very least, it was an eyesore. At worst, these diligent wasps might attack me the next time I step onto the front porch!

When I’m out walking with D, we see these nests in tall trees around our neighborhood, always from a distance. Right now I could open my office window and tap this one, now abandoned, with a yard-long ruler.

You may well be wondering….

Is this a diversion from the news of the day? Probably. But I’m enjoying it immensely. Think about it! There may be more hope for the future hanging outside my office window, than there is inside the White House today.

Hoping your Wednesday is relatively peaceful, all things considered.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 November 2020
Photo taken in September 2020 by DAFraser

Absence

absence eats slowly
into edges of presence
morning rises late

It isn’t just the season. It’s my life slowly diminishing one day after another.

The 2020 Election has opened a door for substantial change. I want to be part of the geriatric action. I wonder how many others raised in my generation (1940s and 50s) feel this as well. Here we are, often carrying painful bodily and emotional damage. What will this Election mean for us?

I’ve been thinking hard lately about my schedule, and how to manage daily routines without cutting into writing time. I’m not there yet, but I’m seeing a little light. Which is all I need right now. A little light of day and a little light of hope for our future as a nation.

Praying for small and large gifts of kindness, gratitude and hope to rise like the sun, against all odds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 November 2020
Photo of November sunrise in Ashland, Oregon found at outdoorexposurephoto.com

Haughty eyes and lying tongues

This morning a Bible college classmate from the 1960s, a Trump supporter, forwarded an urgent message from a former Republican Congresswoman. In it, the Congresswoman calls Christians to pray for five things, all related to the (wrongful) outcome of the election.

Her bottom line: Democrats in seven key states stole or tried to steal the election from Mr. Trump and his followers. Her language pits conservative ‘evangelical’ Christians who voted for Trump against voters of any religion who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump.

Her language is incendiary and blatantly partisan. It’s also skillfully filled with conservative church language designed to ramp up self-righteous anger, especially at other Christians, in order to achieve a political outcome.

I don’t buy it. At the same time, it’s a troubling sign of our times.

In her strongly-worded message, the Congresswoman quotes from Proverbs 6:16-19, applying this to those who, in her scenario, fixed the election outcomes so Mr. Trump would lose. Here’s the passage:

Proverbs 6:16-19

There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

This strongly worded caution about the way we treat one another isn’t just for Democrats. It’s for anyone and everyone, including Republicans, Independents, non-voters, the Congresswoman herself and Mr. Trump.

Praying this day will bring us closer to each other as United States citizens dealing with huge problems that increase by the hour. We need each other now more than ever.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 November 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

empty bird feeder, a cat and Mr. T

the bird feeder swings
empty in morning sunshine
a cat sleeps soundly

~~~

What will this auspicious day tell us
about ourselves
or will it all be about Mr. Trump
whose dis-fortune has waxed eloquent
in decades and years past

Some may wish to disappear
Just withhold needed food
And we will all surely starve
From our homemade C-19 stew
Without a roadmap or remedy in sight

There’s nothing so naked
As hanging out in the public eye
Bereft of sustenance
Without a plan
And without a leader

The saddest part is that no matter who wins this election, Mr. Trump still has over two months in office.

Thank you for your visits during this year of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter. I can’t tell you how life-giving it has been to write and post my thoughts. Today I’m feeling worn out. Not yet ready for whatever comes next.

For now, I’m going to cook, walk, enjoy the sunshine, listen to music, play with Smudge, and maybe even play the piano.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2020
Photo of Smudge taken by ERFraser, 2014

sweet hush of silence

sweet hush of silence
fills the old woman’s ear
lulling her to sleep

I wrote this haiku just before I went to bed last night. Not because it’s fun (though it is!), but because the process requires focus on the present moment. Letting go of everything. Beginning to ‘see’ what’s staring me in the face. A gift, waiting for me to acknowledge its presence and then capture the moment on paper.

On 1 December 2017 I wrote my first haiku. It’s in my first haiku mini-notebook with about 100 others. Here’s what I wrote that day.

silence descends
over dismal swamp —
a child weeps

Though I haven’t written one a day for many months, I’m drawn to them during our current upheavals: Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, Loss of Protected Habitat, Building the “Wall” and Divide and Conquer moves having babies.

Gail Sher wrote one of the most helpful books I’ve read about writing. It’s called One Continuous Mistake. Actually, the title is about life and writing. Without mistakes, how will we learn? How will we discover and accept our humanity?

Haiku opens up insights and connections I wouldn’t otherwise notice. I’m not an expert. Still, I’m fascinated by the way writing haiku helps me see deeply into what’s in front of me, especially in nature and in human nature.

These days, writing haiku beats the TV screen, ubiquitous radio news feeds, and photos used to create shock, if not awe. It also reminds me that this is not my final home. I’m coming to feel more comfortable about being a wayfaring stranger passing through this life. Haiku helps me look for more than meets my eye.

Hanging in there with all of you. I can’t wait until this election is over, if not done with. Then the real work can begin, no matter who becomes the next POTUS.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 November 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

seeping through pores

Seeping through pores
The virus takes root
Invisible at first
A sense of not being
At home or abroad
In this sea of strangers
Wandering in and out
Filled with good will
They come and  go
Dry and desolate
A thought takes root
Without reason
The only welcome visitor
Whose words unheard
Make perfect sense
In this dying hope for miracles
That never arrive on time

In recognition of our national upsurge in suicides attempted and/or completed, and in honor of family members and friends who ended their lives on this earth, or made the attempt and failed.

Always a thousand unanswered questions. Always a sense of ‘what could I or we have done differently?’ Always a desire to go to sleep and hope for something better when I wake up.

Multiple resources are available online. Hotlines and chat rooms are open night and day.

I first posted this poem with comments in June 2018. Now it’s October 2020, and the number of USA deaths by suicide is climbing. How would you respond if a family member or friend confided in you? What would you say? What would you do?

Every situation is different. However, based on experience, here’s a way to begin conversation immediately. Don’t forget to take notes, including the date and time.

  • What’s your plan?
  • How would you do that? (Describe the process and preparation as of right now.)
  • Have you talked with anyone else about this? (If so, with whom did you talk, and what did they say?)
  • Do you have the suicide hot-line number? (If not, give them the number. You can’t force them to use it.)
  • Promise you’ll call me before you carry out your plan.

We’re not trained to have these conversations. Nonetheless, it’s important to make this real and present. The worst thing would be to commiserate (I call this ‘polishing the furniture’), and then hang up because it seems your friend or family member is feeling ‘better.’ Now we have two people in denial. Hardly a good outcome.

Bottom line: An awkward one-to-one conversation is the best possible place to begin. Honor their pain. They’ve just reached out for help. Not for a feel-better conversation.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 June 2018, expanded and reposted 30 October 2020
Signs of Suicide found at mentalhealthfirstaid.org
Chart found at Wikipedia.eng

Am I brave?

Where is my center?
The one thing that matters
Above all else

What is truth?
Not what I see with my eyes
But enact in my life

Brave
I want to be brave again
I think

Yesterday’s bravery looks on
With bated breath
Was it for real or not?

Since childhood
I’ve prepared for this moment
Without a map

Now I’m a grown-up
Battle-worn and wondering
Can I do this again?

I don’t generally think of myself as a brave woman. Determined? Yes. But not brave.

My life has been a series of interruptions by men. Some were accustomed to taking over and talking over others. They seemed to be the truly brave players on the scene. People like my father, my first boss, some male pastors with whom I’ve worked, male teachers and professors, male board members, presidents, vice-presidents and colleagues. Sometimes male students.

They seemed to sound ‘brave,’ if not always wise. At best I might have called myself ‘disciplined.’ But even that sounds weak. Especially now, in a world reeling from a dearth of true bravery. The kind that moves ahead without knowing how this is going to end. Without hanging onto ‘power over’ other people. Without the need to prove something personally, or make sure this turns out right.

Most Christian churches with majority white members are likely in need of brave leaders. I’m not an official church leader. I’m a retired theologian. Nonetheless, it’s time to step up. Time to become brave yet again. This time without apology or fear of what people may think about me.

There’s too much at stake to put my trust in niceness, or even in making sure I’ve gotten every word in the right place, spoken or written in the right way, at the right time.

I’ve begun reading Brenda Salter McNeil’s Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now. I’ll say more about it in a later post. It’s a great read so far.

Thanks for visiting and reading. On another note, my poem, Haunted, has been published in a South Georgia newspaper. In addition, my primary care physician asked for it–to use in a small discussion group the practice has begun.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2020
Image found at StarTribuneBaltimore.com

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