Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Unfinished Business

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

It’s difficult to focus on 9/11

Dear Friends,
Today, our 53rd wedding anniversary, is also the 17th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.

At the end of October 2001 the seminary held a community forum in the chapel. I agreed to speak from the platform. I didn’t know where to begin or end. So I began where I was and went from there.

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,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I’m not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

What is your only comfort in life and death?

My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

(from the Heidelberg Catechism, 1563)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 October 2001

* * * * *
Notes:
(1) The forum was held in the seminary chapel; a large wooden cross hung on the wall behind the platform.  Hence the reference to Christ’s death being in the room.
(2) The three lines beginning with “From the throne of his cross” are from John Stainer’s 1887 oratorio, The Crucifixion.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2018

Going to Seminary | Part 13

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Summer 1972 – Columbia, South Carolina, 1 year before we began seminary


It’s early spring 1973.
My father’s response is unexpected and disheartening. I’ve just told him I’m going to go to seminary to earn a degree in Bible and Theology. I’m not sure how he’ll take this news. I’m nearly 30 years old, and have been married to D for over 7 years. We have two young children not yet in school.

My father looks at me without saying anything right away. Then he tells me it doesn’t matter what he thinks. I’m now married to D. If D thinks my going to seminary is appropriate, that’s all that matters. It’s none of his business.

No congratulations. No sign of being proud of his eldest daughter. No interest in why I would do such a thing as this. Not even a raised eyebrow. Just an emotionally flat inability to engage with me about this.

My mind returns often to his response. He seems finished with me. Especially when it comes to decisions I make about my future. From my side, I have a closet full of unfinished business to which I now add another item.

Every time I visited him while I was in seminary he wanted to know what I was studying. Sometimes he asked me what I was learning, or what was new in this or that area of theology.

Yet even then, he didn’t seem interested in my responses  or my opinions. Sometimes he let me know he already knew all about that. Sometimes he listened long enough to find a hook, a way of changing the subject to what he already knew or had done or thought about something.

I often wondered how he would relate to me if I were his first-born son. Would he feel ambivalent about his son going to seminary? Of course not. But that wasn’t reality. I was.

And then there was D. My father was overtly happy and excited about D going to seminary. It was painful to watch him interacting with D. He was always full of questions about what D was studying, theological issues, and what D’s plans were for the future. In many ways, D functioned as his surrogate eldest son.

It was even more painful listening to him talk about D with others. When it came to me, he didn’t seem to know what to say. Was I disgracing him in some way? He never said so. But his silence spoke volumes. I assumed it was about his comfort level with what I was or was not doing.

Today I know it wasn’t about me. It was about my father. Perhaps I triggered shame in him. Especially shame about his unfulfilled dream of getting a seminary degree.

A few years later, before I’d finished seminary studies, my father admitted he felt jealous of me. I was doing what he always wanted to do. I was studying theology at a seminary. For a degree.

My father never gave me his blessing, before or after I married. The pattern continued throughout my seminary studies, even though he enjoyed the way my studies gave him a way to talk about his studies and what he already knew and often assumed I did not. Always in teaching mode, of course. I was still his little girl ‘student.’

Back then I didn’t know how to interrupt my father or ask him tough questions. I didn’t know my own voice. It was years before I was ready to have an adult conversation with him.

Though I didn’t realize it then, my seminary studies began growing me up as a theologian and as an adult woman. One course at a time, one distressing or exhilarating experience at a time, one risk at a time, one discovery at a time.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 January 2016
Photo credit: DAFraser (and his tripod), dress and tie by Elouise

Early Marriage | Part 25

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Through the Looking-Glass, Cambridge 1969

I’ve been dreading this post. That’s partly because I’m looking back at old photos from 1965 to 1969. Not wanting to leave them or their memories behind. So I’ve decided this won’t be the last Early Marriage post. It will be the next-to-the last, with a few more photos!  

Early marriage and motherhood were magical. Yes, there were unexpected, often distressing ups and downs. Yet I was surrounded by people I trusted, and felt reasonably capable of being a mother without becoming overwhelmed.  

Not that everyone and everything was perfect. It wasn’t. Still, I was glad to be married, redirecting my energy toward at least part of my new family of choice. I was also relieved that, on the whole, I’d managed to get through all those first-time-I-ever-did-that experiences. It was like hitting the jackpot several times–once and done. 

Not that the rest of my life has been a downer. It hasn’t been. In fact, sometimes it had more drama and excitement than I wished for. But for me, getting through all those first things was an accomplishment in itself. It gave me confidence that we would be able to do this marriage and parenthood thing together–D and I. 

I wish I could report that everything we worked on in our relationship was successful. I cannot. Between us, we carried a lot of unfinished business when we moved on to the next chapter of our life together. But that’s for another post and the next series. 

For this post, I’ve chosen several old photos I especially enjoy. They convey hope for the future, beginning with the photo of our son at the top of this post. They aren’t picture perfect. They do, however, capture the beauty, tenderness and craziness of life during early marriage. 

First, a couple of shots taken in and around Boston. No other city has offered us views of autumn wealth such as these.

1966 Jun Bird CastleB

Upscale Bird Castle in Cambridge, price unlisted

1966 Nov Pick a Pumpkin

Pick a pumpkin–any pumpkin! Cambridge 1966

1966 Nov Fall in Cambridge MA2

Fall in November, Cambridge 1966

1966 Nov Yes its fallB

Fall leaves along a road near Cambridge, Nov 1966

Finally, several photos that show our ability to have fun and fly by the seat of our pants!

1967 Sep David in the stocksB

D in the Stocks! Somewhere near Cambridge, 1967

1969 Jun Scott and David Picnic 9.5 months

Out for a day at the park, Cambridge 1968

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A little incentive goes a long way, or Spider Walk 1968. Note the vaccination!

1969 Jun Scott taking off walking

Taking off for a first walk! Fall/Winter 1968-69

1969 Jun Scott Trip to Beach

Trip to the beach with our favorite son and beach towels – 1969

Bidding you all a fond farewell for now!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 July 2015
Photo credit: Elouise (two pictures of D, and trip to the beach); DAFraser (all others)

Is that You at the door? | Dear God

Dear God,
I ended my last letter with a question: “When I go to the door to open it to You (the stranger), how will I know it’s You?” I’ve been puzzling over my question all week. Read the rest of this entry »

Daydreams | Part 2 of 2

Part 1 focused on my infatuation with a gifted young man.  I can’t say I actually met him at the mission conference.  He probably never knew my name.  Yet I daydreamed about a possible future with him, Read the rest of this entry »

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