Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Self-reflection

Are you a pioneer?

Starting from scratch
And working her butt off
Dreaming of something
From ashes or nothing at all
She listens and suggests

From behind
From the back row
Occasionally from the podium
Often without a map
Or a mentor

Doing what needs to be done
Bringing people together
Focusing on the end game
Encouraging without pretending
All is well when it is not

Searching endlessly
For ways around roadblocks
Listening calmly to contrarians
Then opting for creativity
Rather than neat outlines

Taking risks small and large
Living with consequences
Finding a way forward
Through next steps
All this and more

Who is this woman?
Do I recognize her?
Try looking in the mirror.

Several days ago a friend of many years challenged me to do two things.

  • First, read a letter I received in the 1960s. It was from Erwin N. Griswold, former Dean of Harvard Law School. He left to serve as Solicitor General of the USA under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Griswold sent the letter on the occasion of my retiring as a secretary in the Dean’s Office. He couldn’t be there for the party. I still weep when I read it. You can read it here.
  • Second, make a list of all the ways I’ve been a pioneer. I was flabbergasted. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as ‘the first’ this or that. I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer. Yet, as my friend pointed out, I’ve been in a wilderness often, which is precisely where the food is.

Yesterday I spent all morning working on the meaning of ‘pioneer’ and making a list. Four things are clear to me today.

  1. I was and still am a pioneer. Not just in my family, but in churches, in classrooms, in positions of leadership, and in my volunteer work with Dawn’s Place.
  2. Ever since I was born I’ve gone against the flow, internally if not externally.
  3. A recent serendipitous encounter with a Black woman in Georgia is important, not just ‘happenstance.’
  4. This is what I’m to focus on in this last part of my life. Not being a pioneer, but doing what I can to support the next generation of pioneers.

How do you think about yourself? Are you a pioneer? The short clip at the top is outstanding. Especially if you aren’t sure what a pioneer looks like.

Happy Tuesday, and a huge Thank You for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2020
Video found on YouTube

On the death of many things

It’s the day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, and centuries after our founders declared themselves the owners of what did not belong to them.

troubled in her soul
the old woman weighs options
floating through her head

the clock ticks and chimes
outside cars rush by on wheels
today’s news falls heavy

even this poem
doesn’t know where to begin
or end

The arrival of Covid-19 turned the world into a tinder box. It also put on display the arrogance and ignorance of POTUS. Sadly, we’ve become accustomed to daily lies and innuendos, spread by all means possible.

Due to Covid-19 realities, I‘m in a boat with many senior citizens. Will there be a reliable, affordable vaccination before I die? In the meantime, writing has become my link to myself and to the world.

Late last week I had a particularly teary day, and went to bed feeling powerless. Even though reading books, writing, and working on An American Lament are important, I still felt restless and discouraged, especially in light of Black Lives Matter.

The next morning I checked my blogsite and found a comment. The commenter had been doing research on a slave market in her town, and stumbled on Haunted, an old photo and poem I published in August 2019. I teared up. Not because she left a comment, but because of what she said about herself and about the connection she felt with me. She lives in Deep South Georgia. The old slave market has become an issue. Will it remain in the center of town?

We talked on the phone this week. As a consequence, I’m turning another corner in my life. I spent most of my childhood and youth in the Deep South. I was, and still am determined to be my own person. I want to do what I can before I die. This unexpected connection is talking to me, pushing me. Some things can’t wait.

Besides, what better way to honor the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, along with the courage of Black citizens standing up for what’s right for all of us.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 September 2020
Image of the road ahead found at airstream.com

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

This season of lament

I’m frozen
Cut off from reality
Not sure where I am
Or where I’m going
Deep sadness wells up
Ancient dikes breach
Cracks in dishonest walls
That tried to contain a world
Held together by lies and
Decay deliberate and brutal
Now breaking through
Elephant-size breaches
Lying before me in shambles
Buried by an unrelenting
Avalanche of disinformation
Grinding us down to
Our lowest common
Denominator

The odds aren’t on our side. Especially if we rely on our limited understanding. Which is all we have on any day of the week.

There is no Top Genius of this world. No Strong Man or Strong Woman of this world who knows or understands the past, present and future with utmost clarity. All we have is what’s left of what we received the moment we were born, and what we’ve been given or taken. For good and for ill.

So here I am with you, in a season of Lament. Without a clue whether we’ll be spared the consequences of actions never taken, taken too quickly, or taken in spite.

Am I without hope? Not unless I try to carry on with life or business as usual. So yes, I’m muddling through with everyone else. Praying, and watching for moments of grace and unexpected connections. Small signs that our Creator is still at work.

Praying your day contains some of those small signs.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.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

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind — | Emily Dickinson

chaos-in-markets-britain

I wrote this immediately after the November 2016 election of Mr. Trump. It still rings true–no matter who wins the November 2020 election. 

Here’s a timely poem from Emily Dickinson. What’s it like to be at loose ends? My comments follow.

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind –
As if my Brain had split –
I tried to match it – Seam by Seam –
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before –
But Sequence raveled out of Sound
Like Balls – upon a Floor.

c. 1864

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Things undone aren’t easily put back together. Especially when accompanied by relentless news reports and photos I’d rather not see. Faces of jubilation; women and men in shocked disbelief; children weeping from fear. The presidential election was a massive Cleaving in my Mind.

Is this our new reality? Out of control. Out of bounds. Out of patience. Out of solutions. Out of hope. Out of compassion. Out of generosity. Out of truth-telling. Our deficits are phenomenal.

Yet I’m called to faithfulness, courage, boldness and creativity.

There isn’t a magic or even supernatural solution to all this confusion. Human confusion is our normal state of being. Confusion about who I am, who you are, what’s going on, who’s in charge, what’s right and what’s wrong, what will bring me happiness, and how to get out of this mess.

I know one thing: I won’t get out of this confusion. Though my thoughts and emotions are important, they don’t offer answers that dispel all confusion. Even my best efforts won’t drive confusion away. They may, in fact, make things worse.

The answer isn’t about what I do, feel or think. It’s about who I am. Right now. True, this affects what I do, feel and think. Yet the starting point is always ‘Who am I right now?’

Thankfully, this hasn’t changed. No election can take this away. I’m God’s beloved daughter child. Not by privilege, but by grace. I’m not God’s only or special child. God has more than enough love, patience, mercy and kindness for each of us. In a strange way, it isn’t about us; it’s about God.

I don’t know what this looks like from one day to the next, or exactly where it’s leading. I do know that moving forward one tiny step each day as God’s beloved daughter child is more than enough. All I need to do is keep taking baby steps. Especially when the mist is so dense I can’t see where this is leading, and ocean swells rise deep within me.

Knowledge about who I am doesn’t reconstruct my brain and it won’t restring the tiny beads that just skittered all over the floor. It does, however, refocus my anxiety and confusion. I am responsible for three things: loving God with all my heart; loving myself, and loving my neighbor as I love myself.

I don’t need to understand everything. I do need to keep inching forward step by step, based on the situation I’m facing. I can’t control human confusion—mine or anyone else’s. But I can speak with my neighbor, comfort a child, offer a listening ear or send up a silent prayer.

I pray this finds you listening and trusting, no matter how bleak or uncertain things look right now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 November 2016, lightly edited and reposted 1 September 2020
Image found at wsj.com (Wall Street Journal)

A lesson in humility

Great Blue Heron by John James Audubon

Aging waterfowl
Gaze into moving mirrors
Searching for treasure

This morning I watched
As daylight faded quickly
Into today’s tasks

Life slips into dreams
Grown old before their time
Bowing to reality

Growing old is a lesson in humility. Not so much about who I am, but about what I can do in the space of one day. Upkeep is a harsh taskmaster. Not to be ignored. And yet…

Life keeps slipping by, whether I’m ready or not.

This week I’m working through the sixth (of seven) sections in An American Lament. I’m also thinking about how to participate in ways that require more than my everyday bravery or courage.

What I most want to do is listen to the untold, under-appreciated stories of at least one traveler in a life and time I thought I knew, but didn’t. One story at a time. Unfiltered.

I wonder…How do you hope to spend your one precious life?

Happy Monday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2020
John James Audubon’s Great Blue Heron print found at http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com/

Governance by and for the people?

I’m sitting here
Wondering
How long
We have until
The end of governance
By and for the people
As we’ve never known it?

How long until
The end of faking it
As though we were one nation
On the streets
In the pubs
Or on the beaches
To which many
Seem wedded?

Then again,
Perhaps I’m wondering
About the wrong things
Asking myself
The wrong questions

How about this instead?

How long do we have
Until the last gasp
Of looking the other way
In nearly invisible glances
Drips end-stage poison
Into our veins
Insuring apathy forever
And the death of desire
For a more perfect
Union?

Confession: I didn’t watch Mr. Trump’s RNC “convention.” I have, however, paid attention–though not with much enthusiasm, and in small pieces.

I’m struck by how quickly our country has fallen under the spell of this man whose speech and behavior have crossed the line on innumerable occasions. It doesn’t matter whether we’re Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Where has all our mojo gone?

Apathy is a silent poison. Strengthened every time we look the other way, or get mesmerized with The Show. Entertained even if horrified, outraged or fill in the blank. Addicted comes to mind.

Every day I wonder how much energy I’m using up in relation to Mr. Trump. Especially when I need my best energy for staying on course. Doing what I can to promote and support a more perfect union. Not for some, but for all of us–citizens, immigrants and refugees alike.

Thanks for reading, visiting, and doing what you can to promote and support “a more perfect union.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2020
Image found at slideplayer.com

Jesus and the Disinherited | Howard Thurman

His days were nurtured in great hostilities
Focused upon his kind, the sons of Israel.
There was no moment in all his years
When he was free.

Poem fragment quoted on p. 34 of Jesus and the Disinherited. From Thurman’s privately published volume of poems, The Greatest of These, p. 3.

This summer I’ve been reading Howard Thurman’s relatively short book (less than 100 pages), Jesus and the Disinherited. It’s more relevant today than ever before. A sad commentary on our nation’s untenable situation, past and present.

Thurman’s book describes

  • What happens inside the disinherited
  • What their most difficult struggles are about, daily
  • And why Jesus (not Paul) is the person to whom they are drawn when it comes to real life as they know it.

Like the disinherited of today, Jesus faced fear, deception, hate, and the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This didn’t happen one challenge at a time, but every day, no matter the circumstances. In addition, Jesus was one of the disinherited. He was not a Roman citizen, or an official religious leader of Judaism.

It’s one thing to study our history as a nation (which we must), or the history of slavery in this country (which we must), or our individual backgrounds that led to the prejudices and blindness that shape our lives today. All of this is important.

Still, one thing has eluded me. I’m finding it in Howard Thurman’s book, even though he didn’t write the book for me or other white people. He’s clear about this: This book is for people who are black and disinherited, every day of their lives. What white people will do or think when it comes to the disinherited of today is up to them.

I highly recommend Thurman’s book as a way of recognizing everyday racial realities from the inside out. For me, it makes crystal clear what I’ve lived with all my life. This isn’t just about different approaches to life. It’s about the disinherited, and what it takes for them to survive in this country.

I hope you’ll consider reading it. It won’t change everything overnight. It can, however, strengthen our understanding of what our black and brown citizens and church members are up against every day of their lives. It also shows the importance of listening. Silently. Without attempts to explain or justify ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 August 2020
Photo of book cover found at amazon.com

A million distractions

A million distractions
rise daily from fertile ground
I close my eyes
trying to concentrate on Now

Now laughs at me
wonders whether I’m alive

Focus is for the birds
not for live human beings
swept up and along in
warped boats struggling
to stay afloat long enough
to be appreciated if not loved

The crowd roars its approval
begs for more showers of poison
from tongues wed to never-never land
coming your way today
unless you’d rather be
a bird

Just a few thoughts that reflect my desire to be over and done with the 2020 Election for our next POTUS. Why? Because  we have unfinished business. It isn’t about one thing. It’s about our entire history as a nation. We’re in a national ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment, invited to light a candle deep inside the hidden yet not-so-hidden history of this nation. Put another way, we’re invited yet again to stop walking over our history in Trance mode.

So yes, today I’d rather be a bird! Focused on what matters most.

This morning a couple of cardinals visited our recently-hung bird feeder. Clearly focused on food! Hoping this day offers food for our souls, and that we’re alert enough to accept it.

Happy Tuesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 August 2020
Photo found at kaytee.com

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