Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Racism in the USA

A Prayer of Lament | Pastor Leah Wenger

Reverend Leah Wenger has served for nine years as Pastor at The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. Her prayer of lament (below) can be found with others on the Mennonite Church USA website. Each lament responds to the violence of racism in the USA.

Most churches aren’t accustomed to prayers of lament. A Psalter I own has changed many Psalms of lament into something else. Is that because we don’t like negativity?

Here is Rev. Leah Wenger’s prayer of lament, followed by a few comments.

Battered, Broken, Betrayed.
I stand Before you
Between the lines
Breathe on me Breath of God

Because I have Betrayed
My Brother and sister
By my silence
Breathe on me Breath of God

But what is Breath
when it is stolen
Humanity Beyond recognition
Buried in Blood

Bring us transformation
Beauty for Brokenness
Expose me for my blindness
Breathe on me the breath to see

Be Brave and Bold
Beyond what others can see
So when I can’t Breathe
God Breathe on me

When I cannot see my Betrayal
Bring me to the light
I Beg for the wisdom to Be Better
Bless me with the strength
to never stop Becoming

Beyond the patience to listen
Bring me into action
I can’t Breathe
So God, Breathe through me

Prayer from Pastor Leah Wenger,
Urbana Executive Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Prayer found at the Mennonite Church USA website

Can an entire nation lament the ongoing violence of racism in the USA? Perhaps not.

Nonetheless, it would be most appropriate for white churches in the USA (and their members) to lament. Not for a day or an hour, but for a lifetime of being major players in this sick drama. Sometimes we’ve joined the enemy outright. Other times we’ve looked the other way, or called what we see anything but ‘racist.’

We’re at a crossroad. We are not, however, out of options. Pastor Leah’s prayer is good place to start. It breathes life. The life of our Creator who understands and knows us inside out. Today is a good time to stop, lament, look around, and get moving in a different direction.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2020
Image found at mem.intervarsity.com

Bitter fruit of ignorance

Weariness and
Overload conspire
Eyes numb
Mind on go
Finds a mess
In everything

Neat and tidy lists
Stare at nothing
Wondering
If I’m lost
And whether
I’ll ever return

Feelings of
Futility wash over
Heart and brain

I want to cram
A lifetime of
Undigested history
Into my heart and mind
Even though
There isn’t time
Or space
To accommodate
The bitter fruit
Of ignorance
Looking the other way
Making false assumptions
Keeping secrets
And smiling
In weak attempts
To make all things
Come out right

Sounds pretty gruesome. And yet…

I wouldn’t change for a second the opportunity to examine the history of racism in the USA, the way it shaped me from the day I was born, and what needs to happen now, not later. Yes, it would be nice to have a President who cared about this as well.

Unfortunately, this buck doesn’t stop with POTUS. It stops with me. I owe it to myself, my neighbors, strangers, and my Higher Power who weaves all things well. Even though I don’t always get it, I’m committed to muddling through as needed.

Right now, the muddling is about what this 76-year old retired theologian, educator, administrator, writer might do. All things considered.

Thanks for stopping by today. Check out this link to read about W.E.B. Du Bois.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2020
Quotation found at azquotes.com

Two Poems from Maya Angelou

For several weeks I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’s bestseller, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Alongside this I’m reading again some of Maya Angelou’s poems. I find them tough, true and invitational. They invite me to see things through the eyes of others.

First, a sing-song poem for children living in Harlem, home to many African Americans, located in northern Manhattan in New York City.

In this first poem I hear seeds of resistance, resilience, pride, and discernment about how things are, and what it takes to stay alive. Try sing-songing it as though you were hopping or singing along with one of the children in the photo above. Can you imagine yourself in his or her feet? Why or why not?

Harlem Hopscotch

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
Good things for the one’s that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left,
Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.
Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, the rent is due,
Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the people out of work,
Hold for three, then twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
That’s what hopping’s all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost. I think I won.

Here’s the second poem, also about life in the USA. This time from the perspective of an adult living on the edge. The note says this poem is to be sung. Can you find a tune that would work? Or make up a tune?

Contemporary Announcement

Ring the big bells,
cook the cow,
put on your silver locket.
The landlord is knocking at the door
and I’ve got the rent in my pocket.

Douse the lights,
hold your breath,
take my heart in your hand.
I lost my job two weeks ago
and rent day’s here again.

Both poems are from Maya Angelou, one of the Poetry for Young People series, published by Sterling Children’s Books in 2013; pp 14 and 15.

Here’s to a thoughtful, relaxing, challenging and uplifting weekend!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19  October 2018
Photo found at blackthen.com

Listening to Rhiannon Giddens

Have you met Rhiannon Giddens? She was recently chosen to become a MacArthur Fellow which includes receiving a MacArthur Genius Grant. You can see a list of all recipients since 1981 at the link above.

So why was Ms. Giddens chosen? Not for anything she had already accomplished, but as an investment in her originality, insight, and potential as a musician. The award has been given out every year since 1981, always to a group of persons with potential in a range of areas. A committee chooses the recipients; there is no application process.

Ms. Giddens is the daughter of a White father and a Black mother. They met and married in North Carolina in the 1970s, just three years after the USA legalized interracial marriage. The song above, accompanied by Ms. Giddens on her banjo, uses two voices. Julie is a Black servant; Mistress is her White mistress. Each verse is in a different voice. This is Ms. Giddens’ way of drawing on her bi-racial identity. Particularly given the history of North Carolina that led to the brutal massacre of 1898.

The song takes us back to 1898 and the moments leading up to the arrival of White men intent on killing as many Black men, women and children as possible. In the last stanzas we learn the truth about Julie and her Mistress.

Lectures and books about our current racial issues are important. Yet they don’t move me or give me as much insight into the tangled mess we’ve inherited than do music, poetry or stories of this depth from artists such as Ms. Giddens.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 April 2018
Video found on YouTube

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

White and Female

I used to think I only had to deal with being born female; being white was just an accident. I wrote this piece in the mid 1990s. I’ve grown since then, yet the issues named here are alive and well where I live. I’ve reformatted and edited it lightly so it’s easy to read.

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My family is white. Read the rest of this entry »

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