Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Theology

Transformation

Shepherds and sheep
Transformed at the sight
Of one small baby in a
Rude bed – the table set
Unexpectedly for all who
Dare follow this child into
Our upside-down world of
Rags to riches-and-glory–Now made small and lost
In an upside-down kingdom
Of lowly shepherds and dumb
Sheep besotted at the sight
Of a tiny homeless babe
Birthed in a stable beneath
Stars in the night sky

I know. It isn’t Christmas. Nonetheless, during the past week I enjoyed revisiting Dinah Roe Kendall’s collection of her paintings, Allegories of Heaven. In it she explores the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” The collection includes Kendall’s brief comments about her paintings, and short excerpts from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message.

These days I’m learning to spend half an hour each day with myself. Not with a list of things to do, but with something I love or with nothing at all except the view from my attic windows. Which is why I began looking at this collection — a Christmas gift I received years ago.

The simplicity and awe of both shepherds and sheep grabbed my attention and prompted my thoughts in the poem. It’s never too early or late to consider this invitation to join the upside-down kingdom and become part of the revolution.

How to do this at my age? I’m not sure, but I know it will put me in good company no matter where it’s found.

Looking forward to a new week!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2019
Artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall found at art.com

How I set my table


As few utensils as possible
More than enough room for everyone
More than enough food for everyone
No pre-ordained seats for the chosen
No reserved seats for the religiously correct
No throne at the head of the table
No place-cards for the righteous few
No special utensils for the wealthy
No printed program at each place
Just a welcome sign of hospitality

Back in the early 1970s, when I was beginning my theological training, the term ‘evangelical’ was in the air. Many conservative Christians saw this as a dangerous distortion of the Gospel.

I saw it as Christianity focused on difficult issues such as poverty, social justice, racism and sexism. Not just praying about them, but marching in protests and becoming part of local efforts to raise awareness and push for change.

I knew I’d found a home. Nonetheless, after identifying myself as an evangelical Christian, some judged me as a betrayer of true Christian faith.

Back then, evangelical Christians also reached out to other denominations and faith-based organizations to maximize their impact on issues of common concern. This meant we were ecumenical. An additional betrayal of ‘true’ Christian faith.

Times have changed. The press and some Evangelicals have politicized the term over the years. We who are not part of the religious right wince when we hear ‘Evangelicals’ used in political discourse.

Statisticians now tell us Mr. Trump would not be president if it weren’t for white Evangelicals. According to the latest statistics, 80% of all white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Without them, he would not have won the electoral vote. For many of them, he’s still the answer to their desire for an overtly Christian nation. Not simply in numbers, but in political realities that matter to them.

I won’t and can’t distance myself from my Evangelical friends. Nonetheless, I’ve decided it’s more than enough to say I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I also happen to be white, female, a wife, mother and grandmother, musician, poet, writer, and a Christian theologian who cares deeply about the way I live as a follower of Jesus each day.

The list at the top expresses my continued commitment to focusing on truth about myself, about Christian faith as I see it, and about this world God loves so much. It also expresses my commitment to listening to others around the table. Especially when we don’t always agree.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 October 2017
Image found at pinterest.com

Daily Prompt: Express

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

Waiting for God

My soul-mind-body health barometer is a nasty piece of business. Totally independent of my plans and wishes, it does its duty whether I like it or not. It won’t be bribed or bought off with promises to do better tomorrow.

And then there are those pesky paydays. Days when what I wish were true about me has to face harsh reality. Inconvenient reminders of how I’m progressing in soul, mind and body. Or not.

I seem to have arrived on this earth with a predisposition to try harder, more often, more consistently, in better form, with a better attitude. Never give up. Just keep practicing. Little by little today; giant leaps tomorrow. Yes, you can reach the sky. Just pick yourself up and try again!

This morning, however, my soul-mind-body wants something different. The kind of difference Simone Weil writes about in Waiting for God.

There are those people who try to elevate their souls
like someone who continually jumps from a standing position
in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day—and higher every day—
they would no longer fall back down,
but rise to heaven.
Thus occupied, they no longer look to heaven.

We cannot even take one step toward heaven.
The vertical direction is forbidden to us.
But if we look to heaven long-term, God descends and lifts us up.

God lifts us up easily.
As Aeschylus says, ‘That which is divine is without effort.’
There is an ease in salvation more difficult for us than all efforts.

In one of Grimm’s accounts,
there is a competition of strength between a giant and a little tailor.
The giant throws a stone so high
that it takes a very long time before falling back down.
The little tailor throws a bird that never comes back down.
That which does not have wings always comes back down in the end. 
― Simone Weil, Waiting for God

And so I’m challenged today to wait for God. To give up jumping through hoops and trying harder, hoping for something better. I anticipate God’s descent to lift me up, and kindle quiet thanksgiving in my heart.

We cannot take a step toward the heavens. God crosses the universe and comes to us.
― Simone Weil, Waiting for God

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 November 2016
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Anticipation

Thou carest more

Child Praying with Mother, Basco Light House Philippines, Ivatan Art Batanes Yaru Gallery-17
Do you want nothing but the best? If so, George MacDonald tells us exactly how to get it. My comments follow his sonnet. Read the rest of this entry »

Who is my neighbor? | today’s headlines

Seen in this morning’s headlines: “Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack.” How so? By refusing to be divided into two groups—Muslim and Christian.

The article was sobering and uplifting. It also left me wondering this: Read the rest of this entry »

Terror and Faith | 9/11/2001

Today I couldn’t stop thinking about this piece I wrote in response to the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center. I still believe every word I wrote back then, and find them both comforting and challenging given our current world situation. Thanks for reading and commenting if you’d like. Elouise

Telling the Truth

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,

View original post 498 more words

My Reclamation Project | Part 2 of 2

Jazz-music-seamless-pattern--Stock-Vector-jazz-pattern-guitar

Several things stand out in my dream:

  • It’s early morning; I’m walking uphill, not downhill. (encouraging signs)
  • Though I don’t describe it, I’m wearing shoes. I’m not barefoot. (encouraging sign)
  • I’m in a semi-official capacity without being the leader of the team. (I like this)
  • My father is doing something I never saw him do in his entire life. (It astonishes me)
  • Three themes stand out: reclamation, improvisation and music. (How are they connected?)
  • The sound of music is important in the dream. (Yay!)
  • At least one of my sisters appears in the dream. (I’m surprised)
  • My instruction to team members takes an unexpected theological turn. (I’m speechless)

Assumptions I’ve made:

  • All participants in this dream, including me, are reclamation projects.
  • The team will do for others what others did for them–reclaim persons put out with the trash.
  • I’m not part of the team, and I’m not in charge. Someone sent me to do a task, not to lead the team.
  • My task won’t take forever; it’s the last phase of orientation for new team members.

Two questions came to mind right after I woke up:

  • Is this about blogging? Lately I’ve had several dreams about blogging.
  • Why did I go all theological with the team there at the end?

Here’s how I’m thinking about the dream today.
I’m one of Jesus’ reclamation projects. I also have countless others to thank for helping pick me up from various trash heaps.

Some trash heaps were designed specifically for women. Sometimes I seem to have chosen a trash heap on my own. I say it that way because part of being reclaimed means understanding the dynamics of coercion, seduction and being set up for failure. Nonetheless, I’ve been reclaimed many times over.

In fact, it’s reassuring that this team is going to look for discards (people). I’m happy others are out there looking. Maybe they’ll find me again someday.

My father was a great improviser. Not of music, but of solutions to things that didn’t work properly (machines, not people). He kept a shed and back yard full of what some people would call ‘junk.’ The kinds of things Depression-era women and men valued for their as yet unknown future use.

So here I am, a reclaimed woman, musician and now a blogger who happens to be a theologian. What do I offer women and men who visit and read what I write? And where does my ‘junk’ come from?

I offer the mostly improvised music of my heart, mind and soul. I use memories, bits and pieces of knowledge I’ve collected, old photos, new photos, and other people’s writings that move me. I also use my experience, including what happened and happens to me on the inside. Things like secrets and less-than-beautiful behaviors.

I can’t do this alone. I need others who show me how they do it, or who ask me tough questions. I need to hear them play their music. It doesn’t matter whether it’s overtly theological or not. If it moves me, it rings true. It brings joy, tears, thoughtfulness, challenge, clarity of sight, grief and sadness, or the knowledge that I’m alive and not alone.

As a blogger, my reclamation project is about recovering parts of my life that got trashed along the way, internally and externally. It’s also about being alert for pieces of your lives that inspire me to write yet more unscripted posts that reclaim some of my personal ‘junk.’

Whether it comes from you or from me, it’s music. It doesn’t banish the pain of life, or focus only on what’s beautiful to divert attention from what’s real. Rather, it’s music that accompanies all of life, inviting both sadness and joy to be heard, heeded and shared.

My father’s unexpected improvisation on his guitar is a sign. It shows what can happen when other music, especially from strangers, inspires me to improvise songs I didn’t know I’d lost along the way.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 August 2015
Image from 123RF.com

Why can’t I stop writing? | Part 1

The more I write, the more I want to write.  Do I have a life outside of blogging?  Absolutely.  Yet it seems I can’t stop writing.

Why can’t I stop writing? – Answer #1
Writing is the way I Read the rest of this entry »

“When I no more can stir. . .”

Late last week I felt like a dry well.  Not sure what I wanted to write next for the blog.  I decided Read the rest of this entry »

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