Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: the cost of becoming human

A vexing situation – Sexuality 2

Almost all my life I’ve been aware of sexuality, especially my own. Since my birth in 1943, I’ve been a member or participant of multiple religious communities that have talked about sexuality only when necessary. Usually when cultural pressures seemed to endanger ‘our’ young people.

I don’t remember sermons or safe conversations about everyday situations such as how to have a safe conversation with someone whose heart is aching or carrying a heavy secret. Nor have I had much training in how to watch or change my behavior so that I’m as clear and safe as possible when it comes to my sexuality.

For me, this unspoken agreement not to talk openly about sexuality made things worse. Especially after I arrived at the seminary in 1983, one of a small number of female faculty members. I felt alone and confused, left to figure things out by myself.

So here I am, a new assistant professor at a theologically conservative seminary with socially responsible roots and programs, along with a still-fresh wound from the former president. My new colleagues and students have their luggage from the past, and I have mine.

Perhaps the approach of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the seminary’s way of allowing us to feel safe. Which, of course, many of us did not.

The first three years of my appointment I was exhausted, confused, anxious and fearful. Not because of what I knew, but because of how much I didn’t know. Not chiefly about how to teach or how to deal with classroom situations (though that was no cakewalk), but about being an academic advisor to each of my assigned advisees.

They appeared at my door, several times a year. Women and men with multiple issues about scheduling, grade point averages, work load, childcare, job requirements, immigration requirements, culture shock and yes, secrets. Heavy, untold stories about past history, realities about current history, sometimes things they’d locked away in a closet as though that would take care of it.

I think back to those three years as my Apprenticeship in Real Life. Classroom dynamics were nothing compared to the atmosphere in my office when an advisee or other student decided to tell me a secret about his or her sexuality. My job was to respond appropriately and with integrity.

Did I stumble around? Absolutely. Was I confident? NO! Did I have all the answers to life’s burning questions? No. Did I make mistakes? Yes, I did. And I learned a lot.

The most painful thing I learned was that my own sexual issues from childhood were still haunting me. Things I thought I’d left behind were suddenly right there in front of me or inside me. They demanded a hearing, even though I was there to listen and offer guidance to others.

I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning a personal curriculum that eventually humanized me. My closely guarded secrets about childhood and teenage years as well as secrets about my adult years weren’t the end of the world. They were keys to joining the human race, especially in the one area of my life I couldn’t understand no matter how much I tried to normalize it.

And I wasn’t there yet. In fact, things became more difficult after my first three years of teaching.

To be continued.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2018

A Child’s Prayer Revisited

Near to me,
not far away,
lies a world
where we can be
all that we
were meant to be.
Won’t you come
and go with me?

I wrote this prayer over two years ago. It gave voice to the little girl in me who wanted nothing more than to find a new beginning. To be all that I was meant to be.

I’m still that little girl. Changed on the inside and the outside, yet still Elouise.

And then there’s the world in which we live and die. Also changed, it seems, into an arena of avalanching disasters. Some beyond our control; others the consequences of our internal choices, overt actions, apathy or fear.

And so I hear this prayer differently today. It’s more pointed and demanding, though not in contradiction to my prayer back then. In fact, I’d say its truth is clear to me now in a way it wasn’t in February 2015.

It’s never a coincidence when the desires of our hearts are also the desires of our Creator’s heart. And so this little prayer isn’t really mine. I hear it today as our Creator’s prayer to us, offered and summed up in the earthly life and work of Jesus.

I imagine Jesus inviting all children everywhere to come close to him. It doesn’t matter how young or old we are. What matters is our willingness to stay close to Jesus.

Not our sweetness and light images of Jesus, but Jesus who makes his way through the pages of the Gospels. On his way to a world not far away. Engaged in one interruptive teaching and activity after another. Some verbal, some enacted and some lethal.

Yes, it’s costly. Jesus never promises it will be all sweetness and light. He does, however, promise to stand by us through thick and thin. Are we up to it?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 September 2017
Daily Prompt: Coincidence

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