Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Self-reflection

What we need to stop doing

This morning I read a hilarious and sobering opinion piece from Damon Young in the NYTimes. It’s titled “Yeah, Let’s Not Talk About Race.” Damon Young offers a strangely funny lament (my choice of words, not his) about what happens when he’s out on his evening walk around the neighborhood.

If you can access this piece, here’s the link. 

Here’s why his piece struck a chord with me. It’s a cry for honesty and for justice. In a nutshell, he’s tired of being expected to listen to uninvited comments from white people who aren’t willing to pay for his time or do their own homework. Especially when he’s out walking at the end of the day.

No, he isn’t mean. He’s just suggesting we might want to back off. Put another way, he’s letting us know we can’t atone for our sins of commission or omission by talking with him. Nor can we receive absolution from him. It doesn’t matter how much we care about him and other black and brown people. Or how eager we are for him to answer our questions for free. Not that he’s looking for our money. He isn’t.

You might say this behavior toward him is the price of being a celebrity. I don’t think so.

Furthermore, we don’t have time to try atoning for our white color by interrupting persons of other colors just to signal  or prove to ourselves (?) that we’re one of the good guys or gals. Or that now we’ve got it, when we don’t.

Seriously, the problem of presumed or arrogated white superiority has been our problem since the founding of this nation. It’s high time we white citizens began addressing it with each other.

I’m not saying a conversation with a black or brown friend or colleague is out of bounds. Still, I want to know I’m having the conversation because I’m a learner, and my friend of any color isn’t afraid to tell me the truth about myself as a white woman.

Happy reading and talking about things that matter!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2020
Image found at NYTimes.com

Invitation | Mary Oliver

This morning I’m tempted to rush into battle mode. So many things are going so wrong. This poem from Mary Oliver helped restart my day–though I’m still not sure what will come of it. My comments follow.

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake  of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver; poem found on pp. 18-19 of Red Bird
Published by Beacon Press

The line from Rainer Maria Rilke is found at the end of his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo. There, as here in Mary Oliver’s poem, we’re offered no clear interpretation of “You must change your life.”

Here’s how I’m thinking about it today:

This shared world, filled with beauty, seems intent on self-destruction. Would we throw it all away by refusing to act, just once, with beauty and courage? Do the unexpected? Change the conversation, or our knee-jerk reactions to things that annoy and offend us?

Perhaps the most courageous thing I can do today is as simple as a smile. Especially in tense or fearful situations. We say a smile is worth a thousand words. It’s what most of us are starving for every day. True, smiles won’t heal or resolve every problem. Nor are all smiles to be trusted.

Still, Mary Oliver challenges us to stop, listen and (I think) smile at these crazy beautiful goldfinches. They just can’t stop singing for sheer delight and gratitude! Trying, perhaps, to tell us something we desperately need to hear from each other?

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2020
American Goldfinch songs found on YouTube

Living and Dying in Fake History

Lift up your eyes,
not your voices—
Weep with those who weep

Open your ears
to strangers

Resuscitate your heart
grown still and cold from neglect

Or have we already sold our souls
for greenbacks, glory
and false faith in firearms?

Listen

Hear the voice of our Creator
lamenting loudly over
distant hearts
grown accustomed to
the way we thought things were
yet will never be
in this life or the next

I’m in the process of reading several accounts of national history, including church history. Each study corrects fake history written to silence victims, and glorify victors who were as human as we are, and less than pure in their motives. They raise the obvious question: How did we get here centuries and decades later? And what must we do next if we want something better?

Reading won’t magically change the way I am in the world. Hopefully I’ll think more clearly and act with greater intent.

In addition, my soul won’t be in it if I haven’t also lamented loudly, listened silently, asked questions, meditated on what I see and hear, and make changes in my lifestyle.

What’s happening today isn’t just a matter of historical data or who we want to be the next POTUS. It’s about the content of our character, beginning with me and with you. How willing are we to stand up before friend and foe alike, on behalf of new friends and strangers?

Easier said (or written about) than done. But as they say rather glibly these days, “We’re all in this together.” Aren’t we?

Happy Monday, despite the lopsided agonies of Covid-19, the struggle against Black Lives Matter, and the failure of POTUS to lead by example. Which doesn’t let us off the hook.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2020
Quote found at azitanahai.com

What the world needs | Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman made things straightforward, simple and down to earth. My father did not. I was raised in a Christian culture (presided over by my father) that saw life outside our ‘safe’ space under attack by twin demons: complexity and danger. Especially if life outside made me come alive.

  • Dancing? No way! Definitely the first step toward raucous, immoral behavior.
  • Lipstick? No way! A sure sign of debauchery. (Until it suited my father to make it imperative.)
  • Dating unchurched and thus unreliable (might grope or rape me) males? No way! (Not that dating was high on my list.)

So here I am today. A supposedly grown-up white woman still figuring out how, at this age and under our current circumstances, to go and do what makes me come ALIVE!

All things  considered, I don’t plan on going anywhere for a while. However, reading and writing make me come alive. Along with music and poetry. Talking with my children and grandchildren. Stopping for a street-side chat with neighbors. Hearing from friends all over the world. Playing with Smudge.

Then there are lovely morning walks. I’m just back from one with D, seeing and hearing birds sing at will. No officious patrol cars tracking them down and locking them up for looking suspicious or disturbing the peace.

The end of the matter is this: I’m most alive when I’m an uncaged songbird! I want to spend my short life singing songs of truth, especially when I’m surrounded and it looks like the sky is falling.

These are trying times. It’s the 4th of July. I wish I could say Hurray for the USA! We’ve come a long way baby! Break out the champagne! Let the fire crackers fly through the air!

But I cannot. Why not? Because right now this contentious, at-risk world needs people who have come alive. Women, men and children willing to tell the truth about their lives regardless of the cost. Willing to listen long and hard to songs they’ve never heard before. Willing to look into the eyes of strangers, smile, and say “Good morning! Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

Hoping you have a thoughtful 4th of July filled with songs and stories you’ve not heard before.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2020
Image found at quoteswave.com

haunted streets and swollen cathedrals

The Conversion of Saint Augustine of Hippo
by Fra Angelico, between 1430 and 1435

signs and symbols
of wealth and poverty
thrown together
in a mixed stew
of pride and prejudice
haunt the streets
and swollen cathedrals
of life and death

take your pick
it’s free or
at least as painless
as possible
this habit of
indulging while
looking elsewhere
as though this
just happened
out of the blue

yes sir
no sir
thank you ma’am
and excuse me
for a moment if
I digress
to point out
obvious trinkets
decorating the outside
contaminating the inside
sick unto death

false pride and bankrupt prejudice
bursting now on streets
and in back alleys
everywhere

This is a comment on public or private displays of spite and outrage over what isn’t working well in this nation. And yet….so much needs to change. What’s a body to do? Yes to pointed protests. And what about our inner lives?

Augustine of Hippo leaves no space for disinterested onlookers or commentators on world or local history. In City of God, he suggests that every war ‘out there’ is at least an invitation, if not a mirror in which we are to discern our personal (invisible) wars. To his credit, he was at least as hard on himself as he was on anyone else.

This means my past as a white woman matters. Somewhere in me I still have unresolved warfare, some raging since my childhood. Other pieces were stirred up along the way. Life isn’t simply a gift to unwrap and enjoy in a personal orgy of bliss. It’s also an invitation to face hard truths about myself and my relationships.

Do I like this? Not necessarily. It’s difficult and time-consuming. The work of a lifetime. Right now the focus is on my inherited ‘whiteness,’ and how I’ve dealt with it (or not), and what comes next. What does it mean to tell the truth about that?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2020
Image found at wickipedia.com

Poor little rich white girl

Poor little rich white girl
from everywhere
and nowhere in particular
Shrinks in horror
And confusion from
Imperious or friendly voices
Vying for her attention
Her full support
Her obedience
Her submission
Her silence

To be or not to be?

Fear wins the lottery
As she retreats into
Familiar shadows
Of false safety
Unraveling her soul
From the inside out
One stitch at a time
Drifting into slumber
Overflowing with dreams
Of what might have been
Once upon a time before
The clock struck midnight

Covid-19 has disrupted my life. Black Lives Matter has galvanized me. Not because I think we’ll overcome racism in my lifetime, but because I grew up as a poor rich white girl. I was ignorant, confused, and filled with shame about being white and female. Questions about obvious inequalities on display every day of my life went unanswered.

As a preacher’s kid I was fully immersed in the culture of conservative Christianity as interpreted by my father, plus other male preachers and Bible teachers I encountered along the way.

When I married D and left home, I chose to follow a different understanding of Christian faith. Yet even this didn’t give adequate attention to underlying disasters and sins of this country. These included treatment of native American Indians, and treatment of Black women, men and families captured and put on sale to serve as slaves to white Americans.

Being silent today is not an option. Neither is carrying on life as usual.

So I’m asking questions. What does all this mean for me at this time in my life? How will it affect my reading and writing? How will it affect my relationship to the church? What can I do, and What must I NOT do? This isn’t about my generation; it’s about our collective future. With and without me.

I’m also wondering how all this impacts your daily life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2020
Photo of me with my younger sisters; taken by JERenich in 1953; mixed rural neighborhood outside Savannah, Georgia

I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger | Rhiannon Giddens

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a small, steady stream of visitors to an earlier post on Rhiannon Giddens. It featured “Julie,” Giddens’ song about a black daughter and a white mother living in North Carolina during the brutal 1898 uprising against and slaughter of Black people. As she put it, “Julie” is her way of conveying the complexities of her own life as the daughter of a white mother.

A few days ago I listened to Giddens’ rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger” (above). I heard this haunting song frequently when I was growing up the Deep South. Now, having heard Giddens’ stunning interpretation, it’s playing at will in my psyche, night and day.

I’m guessing most of us struggle with multiple identities, as well as what it means to be human in one setting or another. I find myself bouncing back and forth between the ignorance and naivete of my childhood in the South, and my radically different experience of life here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Especially when I was working at the seminary, and now experience in my home church.

In many ways, going home sounds like heaven. Partly because it would be the first safe home of my life. The first place where I know I don’t have to prove who I am and am not, or endure the agony of not knowing who I am. To say nothing of concerted attempts to put and keep me in my place. Or the internal desire to look the other way when someone else is supposedly being put in his or her place.

The difference, of course, is that I’m not mixed race, black, or facing the realities my black and mixed race friends and their families face daily. This human-made, aching chasm in our nation is begging for attention and understanding. The kind persuasively conveyed in music that softens us and invites us into a stranger’s perspective and our own self-examination.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

Just for today

Finally
After months of fighting
acceptance

Comes knowledge
That this is the way things are
and didn’t have to be

Plus willingness
to accept limitations
and whatever today offers

Ready
To give and receive small gifts
No matter the outcome

Refusing
To look the other way
While lifting my voice in prayer

Content
With what I can do this day
Unlike any other

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve heard friends and strangers talking about prayer. In particular, how we pray right now, given the current situation in the White House, in governing and non-governing bodies, and in our neighborhoods.

It’s time for lament. The kind that looks into the reality around us without trying to go back to the way things were. Lament that acknowledges our personal grief, anger, rage, and our betrayal by POTUS and others more concerned with glory than with grace. Lament that implores our Creator to have mercy on us, no matter the cost.

I’m in lament mode. I’m also beginning to understand how to get up in the morning and let the day be what it is. An opportunity to be invested in something larger than myself, without getting sidetracked by the mucky morass that wants to capture and kill my energy.

Praying you’re finding your way in this day unlike any other.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2020
Photo found at m.economictimes.com

It’s been an age

Tree

This is one of my favorite poems, at least as true today as it was when I posted it in November 2014. Today has been filled with a mixture of happiness and contentment, along with a lurking feeling that we’re all at sea, and the ship of state is stressed.

How do you see yourself and others today? I hope you’ll give yourself a great big smile before the day is done. Then give away at least one more smile. All we can count on is the present.

It’s been an age since I first met you—
You there, looking back at me
Three score years plus eleven to be exact
You haven’t changed a bit, they say
You and I know better
Sometimes I can’t believe it’s you
I hardly know you
Could we start over do you think?
Would it be as much fun?

I don’t know.
Was it fun for you?
Are you as puzzled as I am?
I seem to have more questions than answers today
Where and when did we find each other?
We seem to get along
But then we always did even when we didn’t
So who am I to say?

All I know is looking back at me
Wondering where the time has flown
And who this beautiful woman is
Smiling at me through the mirror

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2014, reposted 18 June 2020
Photo Credit:  DAFraser, December 2012
Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon

I just struck gold!

Who was Amelia Boynton Robinson, and who is that young man sitting next to her? And do you know who’s in the photo on the right? Or what year it was? To find out more, check it out right here. It’s the second entry from the top. You can read more about Amelia Boynton Robinson’s life right here.

For the last few weeks I’ve been searching for gold, interpreted by me as

  • easy to read/watch
  • lively and informative
  • brief, riveting commentary with real photos of real people
  • a semi-crash course only better
  • attention to women as well as men
  • inspiring without glib promises
  • tuned into today’s challenges
  • excellent communicator

It’s impossible to take in everything all at once. So I’m now following Chris Preitauer’s blog.

Beginning at age 7 I grew up, went to college and had my first ‘adult’ job in the Deeply Segregated South. I saw and heard a lot. Sadly, I didn’t formally or informally hear much about Black Lives. Nor was I encouraged to get curious about why. In the 1950s and 60s, Black citizens were treated differently than White citizens. Not just in the Deep South, but in the not so Deep North.

So yes, I’ve found gold! Someone from my era (sort of) who became involved.

I hope you’ll look at a few of his pieces. They’re to the point, challenging, and inspiring without pretending our current challenges will be easily resolved.

Thanks again for visiting, reading, and leaving your footprint!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 June 2020
Photos found at ChrisPreitauer.com

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