Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

A Lesson in Deep South Manners | 1950s

Sister #2 and I hanging onto the front-yard Mimosa tree, 1950s

I don’t remember her name. Her mother was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner.  Her father took care of yard work and repairs to the Turner’s house.

Dr. Turner was a retired physician. Auntie Turner had worked as his nurse. Once upon a time they owned and lived in the big house. Then they gave it to the mission organization my parents served, and moved out. Now they lived in the old servants’ quarters. The simple wood frame two-story structure sat behind the big house. No one lived on the second floor anymore.

One day the Turner’s cook brought her oldest daughter to work. She was my age. After polite introductions, she and I ran off to play in the front yard by the river. She came several times. When Sister #2 played with us it was even better. That meant we could run races, play dodge ball, hide and seek, or Simon-says.

Our front yard stretched into the neighbor’s front yard which stretched into the next neighbor’s front yard and beyond. All the back yards (where the driveways and garages were) had fences. Most front yards didn’t.

The front yards were beautiful. The river, marsh grass and docks were right there next to us. Our next-door neighbors were often at their main house in the city. They told us we could play in their front yard any time we wanted to. So we did. They were very friendly.

We didn’t dare go beyond their yard, though, because the man in the next big house was mean. He shot Bambi one night with his rifle and Bambi died. Bambi was our new puppy. Sometimes Bambi barked little puppy barks. Mr. S didn’t like barking dogs, even though his great big guard dog barked and even snarled. Mr. S also gave rowdy drinking parties on his dock. We stayed away from Mr. S.

But we didn’t stay away from the huge water oak in our neighbor’s yard. We also had one in our yard. The two oaks became our start and finish lines for all kinds of races and made-up games.

One morning we had great fun racing back and forth between the oaks and then seeing who could twirl around the longest before collapsing on the ground.

The next day Mother quietly told us we weren’t to play with our new friend anymore. In fact, she wasn’t coming back. Ever. Mother looked uncomfortable. I was shocked.

I could tell she wasn’t giving us the full story. She said something like ‘It will be better for all of you if you don’t play together anymore.’ Furthermore, we were to say nothing to anyone else about this and ask no questions. Just do as we’re told.

I still don’t know the full truth. It was clearly about skin color. Our friend was colored; we were white.

I don’t think Mother came up with that by herself. I also don’t think our mean neighbor said anything. But the fact that he was unpredictable, white and rowdy with lots of money probably entered in.

And then there was Auntie Turner. She was never shy about telling us (especially Mother) how things are and how they must remain. Especially when it came to the way Mother took care of the big house, and our manners.

This was my low-key, ice-cold introduction to the social politics of race in the Deep South. My first lesson in Deep South manners and morals. Always ‘for my own good.’

No mixing of coloreds with whites.
Don’t tell the full truth.
Keep your mouth shut.
Don’t ask questions.
Just do as you’re told.
It’s dangerous if you don’t.
You can’t be too careful.

I wonder what Auntie Turner told my friend’s mother, and what she then said to her daughter. I wish I knew.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2015, lightly edited and reposted 17 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich in the 1950s; Sister #2 and I hanging onto the Mimosa tree in the front yard.

Betrayal

This week a study guide in An American Lament made painfully clear how much I don’t remember. Thanks to Rev. Darryl Ford for pulling key data together. I’ve outlined major turning points below, with a brief comment (mine) at the end regarding churches.

April 9, 1865, Close of the Civil War. U.S. Congress takes steps to level the scales of racial injustice.
1866, Fourteenth Amendment passed – full citizenship for slaves
1869, Fifteenth Amendment passed – racial discrimination in voting banned (men only)
1870 to 1875, Reconstruction policies passed between 1870 and 1875, protecting legal rights of African Americans: voting, holding office, serving on juries, receiving equal protection; plus Federal troops ready to send South to enforce these laws and protect African Americans from harassment at voting booths by white supremacist groups

Early results encouraging, especially in southern states with larger African American populations.

1876, Presidential election subverted. The Hayes Compromise of 1877 (informal): federal troops sent to southern states (to enforce new freedoms for African Americans) will be removed in return for electoral votes needed by Rutherford B. Hayes. See political cartoon above.

1877, Reconstruction era buried; Jim Crow era begins, putting ex-slaves at the mercy of former masters. Laws regarding equality were now seen as absurd or un-Christian.
1883, The Supreme Court agreed, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was deemed unconstitutional.
• No further civil rights legislation was signed until 1957.

Jim Crow era
• Discriminatory laws passed for every area of life including towns and spaces in which black people were not allowed to live.
• Segregation took over every area of life – prisons, hospitals, schools, hospitals, orphanages; textbooks used in schools; books for black students stored apart from books for white students; two Bibles in the Atlanta courts—one for black witnesses; one for white witnesses

Where were American churches? Largely silent and complicit, too often delivering sermons supporting segregation.

Where are American churches today? Too often defined by identity politics, or by the importance of being ‘good people’

Being racist isn’t only about burning crosses or participating in lynchings. It’s also about closeting oneself as an individual, reducing the problem to “bad actors” seen in the news. Or desiring political favors/power more than integrity.

By looking the other way, or offering heartfelt exhortations about being good and generous individuals, we muddy the water. We fail to look into the mirror and acknowledge that we, too, are part of what’s still wrong in the USA. Put another way, we turn this social problem into a personal issue regarding individual choices, rather than seeing it for the centuries-long systemic issue it has been from the beginning.

Thanks for visiting, reading, and doing what you can where you are.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2020
Political cartoon found at en.wikipedia.org

Half truths + Half lies = Lies

From a 1950s Texas textbook for school children.

And what about real life?

Half-truths
Half-lies
Does it really matter?

Yes means ‘Yes…but’
Not now means ‘maybe
In the sweet by and by’

Mind your manners
Sweeten your voice
Remember who you are not

You do care
About your children
Don’t you?

Or your job
Or your good reputation
Or your life

Sly words
Strung like pearl
Bullets

If you flee
They will find you
In the end

Now….
What did you want
To say?

It’s difficult to convey the slyness of slavery. It happened on both sides, though for different reasons. The scales were, of course, heavily weighted in support of sly masters and mistresses.

Words are indispensable. Easily twisted by the powerful into lies. Or toned down and prettied up in American History textbooks of the 1950s and 60s. (See photo at the top)

We may say we’ve moved ‘beyond slavery,’ yet the record shows we have not. As a nation, we haven’t begun to recognize, much less take seriously its legacy in our lives today. No matter where we are or what we’re doing.

Pointing to heroes and heroines is important, yet it isn’t enough. What about exploring the unsung courage, strength and ingenuity embodied in unnumbered black lives that mattered then, and matter now? Or looking into some of those textbooks and pictures that tried to make us one happy family?

Praying for courage to face the past as part of facing our future.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2020
Image found at kut.org

weak as water

weak as water
the old woman bends
bowing to the floor
intent on finding
her lost coin

so quickly ages
drift just beyond sight
daring us to recall
or recoil from truth
about the past

Two sides warring with each other. Wanting to know and not wanting to know. Looking and looking away. Betrothed to truth and living in half-truth which is falsehood.

I don’t know any other way to describe what’s happening in me as I work through An American Lament. Yes I knew and I didn’t know about the history of slavery and racism in this country. Yes I want to know more, and please clear the table now. I’ve had enough.

Do I regret beginning this journey? No. Yet the internal duel shines a spotlight on what’s at stake, and challenges me. Not as a reader or leader, but as a white follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, a Jew, son of Mary and Joseph, on his way to die as a criminal would die.

Is this really what I want (with all my heart) to do with my one precious life?

Prayers for wisdom, courage and grace in these troubled times,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 August 2020
Image found at freebibleimages.org

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built | James DePreist

DePreist’s star along Portland, Oregon’s Main Street Walk of Stars

James DePreist is on my mind again, thanks to a note from a long-time friend. DePreist was a world-renowned orchestra conductor, a survivor of polio contracted while conducting the Bangkok Symphony, and a nephew of his world-renowned Aunt Marian Anderson. He was born in Philadelphia in 1936.

DePreist died in 2013. You can read about his life in The New York Times obituary or on Wikipedia. At the time of his death, he had been conductor of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon since 1980.  He had also written two volumes of poetry in his own free style.

Of all his poems, this one has challenged me most. Not just in the past, but today. Given our current situation regarding Black Lives, and Covid-19, it resonates loudly. A timely invitation to examine walls I’ve built, and deal with questions now “breeching my barricades.”

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built,
robbed
of strength-drenched testing,
protected into an unprepared defense
of self.
Failing in my futile fortress to see
contentment’s numbing trap
I
answerless
must battle the questions now breeching
my barricades.

Poem written by James DePreist
©1986 and published by University of Portland Press in This Precipice Garden, p. 6

This is where I find myself today. Answerless. Not so much for my childhood upbringing in Georgia, but for my adult years when I thought I knew better.

While it’s true we never know how much good we’ve done, it’s also true we never know how much pain or damage we’ve inflicted. And then there’s always the question about now. What now? What next? How must I change, what will it cost, and what will I gain?

Thanks, as always, for visiting and reading. I pray you’re finding ways to deal with questions now breeching your barricades.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2020
Image found at en.wickipedia.org

Reaping the Whirlwind

When did it begin —
This habit of being
More interested in myself
Than in the heart-rending
Realities of others?

White baby becomes
White child groomed
To be a ‘good’ Christian
And obedient little girl
Never questioning
Or fighting against
Rules upon rules
Spoken and unspoken
Shaping each day
By hook and by crook
Plus forced acceptance
And respect for all men
In authority over them

Never forget this, my daughters:

To be an adult citizen
Of the United States
With full rights and a vote
Is an uncommon honor
Not accorded every
Girl child in this nation
Only white children need apply to this
Fake Order of The Righteous Remnant
Happy to believe the sad myth that
They are the light of the world
A Great City set on a Great hill
Above this Great yet shrinking land
Still starving for ministrations of Mercy
And Justice for All

The system that became today’s USA was rigged from the beginning. As were so-called ‘history of the USA’ books for school children. Looking back, our true history is clear, as were bits and pieces of our national blindness and apathy decades ago.

I pray you and I will remain courageous and determined, no matter what comes next. It’s dangerous to be a light of any color set on a hill, especially while also attracting those determined to extinguish the light of truth.

Thanks for visiting and reading. Even a new President, should we be so blessed, won’t be able to wave a magic wand. In the end, it’s up to us. One day at a time. One heartfelt conversation, one small deed at a time. May God have mercy on us all.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 August 2020
Image found at http://www.thestar.com (Toronto)

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Justice doesn’t trickle down, any more than wealth at the top trickles down. Yet church-related efforts at justice sometimes seem to try trickling down. Through the cracks and around the edges.

Why? Because this is a politically-charged issue. The stakes are high, and it seems injustice is winning. Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 have together exposed our glaring weaknesses as a nation. Especially when it comes to race.

This past week I began a 40-day “journey through America’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism.” It’s titled “An American Lament.”  You can take a look or down download it here. It was originally an exercise for Lent.

No one ever taught me to lament. Especially about my personal history with slavery, segregation, and racism.

I’ve always thought of myself as a seriously ‘with-it’ woman. In seminary, in the 1970s, I studied both sexism and racism. At university, in the 1980s, I focused my dissertation research on women’s issues. I mistakenly thought that by understanding feminism, I had an advantage when it came to understanding racism.

However, the very first day of this 40-day exercise, I listened online to a riveting, challenging address about racism and Christian churches in the USA. It was recorded in 2018, the year of mid-term elections. The full title is “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.”

I highly recommend Rev. David Platt’s address for pastors, church leaders, church members, and anyone who cares about racism in the USA.

As for the rest of life these days, I’m walking every chance I get (way too hot on many days), listening to birds, helping stomp out lantern flies, talking with neighbors (outside and with a mask, of course), and learning more than I wanted to know about my history with racism.

Cheers to each of you for making it through another week!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2020
Quote and image found at blockislandtimes.com

Thank you, Mr. Trump – Again

I have not changed my mind since I first published this on 20 June 2018. 

Thank you, Mr. Trump.

I don’t really want to say those words to you. Yet I must. It seems the abuse of power has more educational value than all the well-intended lectures and lessons of this world.

Just think about it for a half-minute. Who would have thought we could all so quickly know the meaning and the impact of things that are ‘systemic.’ Evil is systemic.

Simply put: What happens in one corner of the world has tentacles that reach to every other corner of the world, sooner or later.

Good is also systemic. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe good will triumph, though at an exceeding high cost. Perhaps we’re paying it now?

In the meantime, systemic evil seems to be our sad and sorry tutor these days. As I see it, thanks to your moves and counter-moves and flourishes of your pen, we now recognize and feel the impact of systemic evil.

Soy farmers get it; steel manufacturers get it; those without a living wage get it; people who live on the streets get it; human beings from the wrong side of our southern border get it; people with skin that isn’t your color get it; people in mansions get it; and so do people in power. All this and more.

Of course some ‘get it’ more than others. And some are happy to get it at great cost to others. This becomes crystal clear as the consequences of evil multiply and hive off faster than ants or bees. Though even the bees are feeling systemic neglect as well.

Perhaps the word evil is bothering you. No problem. I can use another word. How about systemic lying? Systemic cheating? Systemic abuse? Systemic violence? Systemic greed? Systemic robbery? Systemic inhumanity? Systemic distrust of scientific research? Systemic neglect of those most in need of help? Just to name a few.

We don’t live in air-tight surroundings. We live in complex webs of connections, even when we think we’re living disconnected. Or off the grid. Which is, in itself, another form of denial.

No President of the United States has made the word ‘systemic’ so clear in so little time as you have, Mr. Trump. As a theology professor who struggled often to explain how systemic evil works in the world, I have to hand it to you. You’ve done a masterful job in very short order.

There’s just one hitch. You give every sign that you believe you’re an island unto yourself. Able to push and shove the world around at will or by hook and crook, hiding beneath your POTUS status and your highly proclaimed ability to practice the art of the deal.

Sadly, your relentless pushing and shoving is painfully and abusively open to inspection every moment of every day, whether you attempt to hide it or not. I wish I could feel sad for you. Instead, I’m mourning what’s happening to my friends, my neighbors, my family, our country and our integrity as one nation among many.

Not that we were perfect before you became POTUS. We were not. Nor will we ever be. Still, it seems that what we’ve become as of today or even tomorrow will never, ever be called ‘great.’

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 June 2018, reposted on 28 July 2020
Image found at ideas.hallmark.com

From This River, When I Was a Child | Mary Oliver

Photo of the dock and river; taken by DAFraser in July 2010

A Mary Oliver poem for all of us. My comments follow.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found

that the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?”

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost
joyfulness. For the children who will not
know what a river can be—a friend, a
companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

© 2008 Mary Oliver
Poem found in Red Bird, p. 44
Published by Beacon Press

When I read this poem, I tear up. It takes me back to my childhood in the South. We lived on a branch of the Savannah River. Our smaller yet substantial river was named the Vernon River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Vernon River spoke to me multiple times. Especially when I was feeling sad, misunderstood or inundated by the noise of four daughters living in one house with two parents. Plus small pets, parakeets, and the occasional baby flying squirrels rescued from certain death when they fell or were pushed out of their nests.

We lived in rural Chatham County, at the end of a narrow country road, 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. I had three younger sisters. Frequently I needed a companion. A hint of heaven that was there for me, night and day.

The Vernon River did all that for me. No, I didn’t drink the salt water. But I swam in it. Better than a bath on a hot, humid day! Plus miraculous skin-healing properties of salt water free for the taking. Crabs to be caught, boiled, picked and eaten. Salt-water breezes to soothe my sad, sometimes lonely soul. The soft splash of tides coming and going like clockwork. The sound of seagulls chasing shrimp boats early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

When I read Mary’s poem, I’m out on the dock again. Alone. Sitting on top of the picnic table. Feeling the goodness of earth and heaven come together in one grand moment of peace.

Am I “somewhat” overplaying what I’ve lost? Or what the children of today may never experience?

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2020
Photo of dock and river taken by DAFraser, July 2010

It’s not just the Corona virus — bad theology is killing us

During the last few months I’ve been listening to/reading what Black church leaders are saying. It isn’t pretty. We here in the great USA have made our bed. Now we’re sleeping and dying in it (especially if you happen to be black or brown) whether we like it or not.

I’m a theologian and a follower of Jesus Christ. I care about the so-called guiding principles of government, AND the guiding heart of our government and its citizens. Especially, though not only those citizens who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The current disaster has been building ever since our forefathers and foremothers arrived or were forcibly brought to this country. Bad theology didn’t cause the Corona virus. Rather, the reality of living and dying in the USA with the Corona virus makes clear what’s been at stake from the very beginning. White supremacy. And, in particular, well-to-do white wealth and access to healthcare, housing, jobs…. This didn’t happen overnight.

The title at the top is from a statement by Reverend William H. Lamar IV, Pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Whether you’re a follower of Jesus Christ or not, please read his clear, bold statement. Well worth the few minutes it will take to read it. Just click on his opening line:

There comes a time when being nice is the worst kind of violence.

Praying you’ll have a fruitful day with moments of peace, plus strength to do what’s right.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 July 2020
Photo of Rev. William H. Lamar IV found at nbcnews.com

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