Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: the content of our character

Human indignity for all?

Is this the best we can offer?

Indignity: treatment or circumstances that cause one to feel shame or to lose one’s dignity. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin. Which, in my book, amounts to indignity for all of us.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was simple: human dignity for all.

Or, as Dr. King put it when writing in 1963 about his own children:

I dream that one day soon
they will no longer be judged by the color of their skin
but by the content of their character.

The quote comes from the opening pages of Dr. King’s book, Why We Can’t Wait.

Today, 57 years later, we’ve gone backwards. Especially, though not only for African Americans.

Yesterday D and I went to see Just Mercy, a recently released movie. It’s based on Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption. Stevenson, a Harvard-trained attorney and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, writes about one of his first cases as a young black attorney working in the South.

The movie depicts what happens to two black men placed on death row before receiving a fair trial, and what it takes to deal with the status quo. The judicial system’s message is clear: You won’t get out of here alive, no matter what evidence is produced in your trial or on appeal. But what happens in the end, and how?

February is Black History Month here in the USA. Just Mercy is being shown in several cinemas in the Philadelphia area. If you haven’t or can’t see the movie, check out a copy of the book. It’s at least as clear, heartbreaking and challenging as the movie.

This movie was my choice yesterday evening, rather than watching/listening to the President’s State of the Union address. It was a splendid choice.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 February 2020
Image from the movie found at rogerebert.com

The Survivors

From her wheelchair
The frail old woman
Repeats her truth

Over over and over
Eyes bright with recognition
Insist on being heard

He made me alive
He made me safe
He made me alive
He made me safe
(He didn’t kill me.)

Memory frozen with truth
And lies she survived
Trapped in her past
Body drowning yet again
In yesterday’s icy waters
At the hands of the man
Now standing before her
In the dock –
Drowning in truth

I woke up today thinking about this woman and the doctor who experimented on her body, as told in “Ancient History,” an episode of Kavanagh QC.

Both are Jews, deported and taken to the same prison camp. He, a medical doctor, accepts an offer to run horrifying medical experiments on prisoners, or die. She is one of his unfinished experiments, saved in the last days of World War II. At what temperature could a living human being be frozen in water and brought back to life?

There were no winners. There never are. In addition, there’s a strange bond between these two prisoners whose lives are thrown together in a hell-on-earth situation.

This doesn’t mean choices made in hell-on-earth situations don’t matter. They do. But not always in the ways we imagine.

Sometimes they may show the content of our character, other times they might not. They may, in fact, show how terrified and helpless we are at the hands of our tormentors. And how much we want to live and die without being compromised.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2018
Photo of Russian Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau; found at collections.ushmm.org

Great Expectations | Photos

By whose expectations do we live? This post from two years ago, lightly edited, is still relevant, particularly in light of current political and global realities. In September 2015 D and I were on a grand 50th wedding anniversary trip, driving through Scotland. Which more than exceeded our expectations–in every way! But that’s another topic.

D took the photo above in Edinburgh, directly behind the Sir Walter Scott Monument. We’re looking down into the East Princes Street Gardens. Notice the benches. They line the sidewalk from one end to the other. Each bench includes a plaque to honor an everyday person or family member(s) now deceased yet remembered warmly by friends and relatives.

The plaque below caught my attention and made me laugh and smile. How did the Rev Alan B. Cameron MA BD STM, the piping hot Scot ‘prove Romans 8’? I don’t know, but his life of faithful generosity made an impression. Perhaps despite great trials?

Above the Gardens looms the huge Edinburgh Castle and grounds. It’s packed with tributes on stone plaques. The plaque below stood out to me. Though it isn’t small or simple, the words describing Mary of Lorraine are human-size, even though she was “Queen of James V, Mother of Mary Queen of Scots and Regent of Scotland from 1554-1560.” I’m taken by the warm tribute to her character and behavior. Perhaps Mary of Lorraine was related to Rev. Alan B. Cameron, “the piping hot Scot?”


Finally, we have a different kind of tribute in the outer wall of the Edinburgh Castle, overlooking the city.  These aren’t to human soldiers, but to their faithful canine companions. I can make out three of the dogs’ names on the gravestones–Scamp, Tinker, and Feora (?) who was a Band Pet. Even though I’m a cat lover, my heart melted.

Faithful. That’s what I want to be. Not faithful to others’ expectations of me, but faithful to God as one of God’s beloved daughters and sons. I’m drawn to the simplicity of the tributes above. In the end, it’s all about faithfulness–to God, to oneself and to others. Including the faithful bond between human beings and their canine (and feline!) companions.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, published on 23 September 2015 as Small Signs of Faithful Lives | Photos; edited and reposted 21 October 2016
Photo credit: DAFraser, September 2015 in Edinburgh, Scotland
Daily Prompt: Expect

Resistance is Never Futile

Never. What’s at stake isn’t a predetermined outcome, and death is always a possibility. Yet resistance is never futile. It’s about our character. Not simply as individuals, but as communities and nations.

I have a theological hero. He wasn’t the most well-behaved man on the face of the earth. He was human just as I am. Some of his theological ideas still irritate me. That’s an understatement.

Yet he’s a theological hero. From him I learned to listen to myself, to Christian scripture, and to what’s happening around me. With a newspaper in one hand and my Bible in the other.

Actually, it’s more than listening. I call it looking in the mirror and discovering painful reflections of myself. Too often as a collaborator, not as a member of the faithful resistance.

Karl Barth came of age as a theologian during the early years of Hitler’s reign. Though he was a citizen of Switzerland, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of theology in Germany.

Barth cut his theological teeth on Hitler’s final solution for Jews. He became one of a surprisingly small number of resisting theologians, and an influential member of the so-named ‘confessing’ churches that refused to support Hitler.

His theological work is, in part, a critique of Hitler’s brutal treatment of Jews and a vision for something different. There were several parts to Barth’s vision for humanity.

  1. First, absolute allegiance to following Jesus Christ as witnessed to in Christian scripture. Jesus of Nazareth—a practicing Jew whose total allegiance lay with Yahweh. No matter what the cost.
  2. Second, a careful reading of Hebrew and Christian scripture in which he discerned a simple theme that brought every theological idea down to earth. Hospitality toward strangers. This theme challenges all human interactions including Hitler’s treatment of Jews and the churches’ treatment of Jews and others strangers.
  3. Finally, who is this stranger? (Or, who is my neighbor?) According to Barth, the stranger is that person or group of persons you’d rather not see or meet today. Maybe he or she gives you a mortal headache. On the other hand, that person might beat you up and leave you lying on the side of the road to die. You never know. It’s easy to wish you could banish ‘these people’ who annoy, threaten or terrify you.

Hospitality toward strangers has a sweet sound about it. However, as developed by Barth, it’s not sweet and harmless. True hospitality toward strangers is a life-changer for the hostess or host, not just the stranger. It can lead to life; it can also lead to death. As it did for Jesus Christ.

We can already see the USA becoming polarized into stranger groups. It’s happening in churches, between religions, in public and private institutions, news media and families. Many groups vet members formally and informally by political or religious tests of various kinds.

It seems a good time to think about what it would take to show hospitality toward strangers today. Especially, but not only if we’re followers of Jesus Christ.

I’m not naïve. All strangers aren’t safe. Neither is every friend or family member. Wisdom and discernment are necessary. But not political or religious tests. We need each other now more than ever. No matter what the cost. It’s about the content of our character.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Criticize

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