Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Vulnerability

Sursum Corda | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

What kind of day did you have so far? Mine was productive, though not the way I thought it would be. Here’s one of my favorite Studdert Kennedy poems. It seemed appropriate, given the state of things today.

*Sursum Corda

There are cowslips in the clearing,
With God’s green and gold ablaze,
And the distant hills are nearing,
Through a sun-kissed sea of haze.

There’s a lilt of silver laughter
In the brook upon its way,
With the sunbeams stumbling after
Like the children at their play.

There’s a distant cuckoo calling
To the lark up in the sky
As his song comes falling, falling
To his nest—a happy sigh.

Sursum Corda! How the song swells
From the woods that smile and nod.
Sursum Corda! Ring the bluebells
Lift ye up your hearts to God.

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, pp. 95-96
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

*Sursum Corda -“Lift up your hearts.” The opening phrase of a traditional Christian liturgy dating back to the 3rd century. Normally used before celebrating the Eucharist.

Can there be beauty in a warzone? Especially with people dying all around, often in prolonged agony.

Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, wrote this poem during World War I. He served as a chaplain, witnessing and participating in the laments, loneliness, pain and deaths of British soldiers. He dealt with the horror of war by writing poetry.

Many of his poems are heartbreaking. They deal with harsh realities of early 20th century warfare on the ground, and the daily struggles of human beings separated from their families. They also include some reality talk with God. This poem, like a number of others, found something to celebrate. A reason to hope, despite the daily suffering and dying that surrounded everyone.

Even though nature can’t solve all our problems, it’s there for the taking. A gift. Just look around. Lift up the eyes of your heart! In your memory, listen to the birds and admire the bluebells. They’re sending us an invitation to look and listen to the larger picture of nature, not just to our own small worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2020
Image of cowslips found at first-nature.com

Half truths + Half lies = Lies

From a 1950s Texas textbook for school children.

And what about real life?

Half-truths
Half-lies
Does it really matter?

Yes means ‘Yes…but’
Not now means ‘maybe
In the sweet by and by’

Mind your manners
Sweeten your voice
Remember who you are not

You do care
About your children
Don’t you?

Or your job
Or your good reputation
Or your life

Sly words
Strung like pearl
Bullets

If you flee
They will find you
In the end

Now….
What did you want
To say?

It’s difficult to convey the slyness of slavery. It happened on both sides, though for different reasons. The scales were, of course, heavily weighted in support of sly masters and mistresses.

Words are indispensable. Easily twisted by the powerful into lies. Or toned down and prettied up in American History textbooks of the 1950s and 60s. (See photo at the top)

We may say we’ve moved ‘beyond slavery,’ yet the record shows we have not. As a nation, we haven’t begun to recognize, much less take seriously its legacy in our lives today. No matter where we are or what we’re doing.

Pointing to heroes and heroines is important, yet it isn’t enough. What about exploring the unsung courage, strength and ingenuity embodied in unnumbered black lives that mattered then, and matter now? Or looking into some of those textbooks and pictures that tried to make us one happy family?

Praying for courage to face the past as part of facing our future.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2020
Image found at kut.org

The dam has been leaking for years

In honor of Covid-19 victims in the USA, from NBC News

The dam has been leaking for years
Giving up secrets great and small
Holding back others for fear
They’ll be rejected or tossed into
Another bin of bankrupt fake news
Now delivered daily from the top down
Burnished with self-righteous contempt
For humanity and all self-evident
Truths now being exposed as lies

The so-called mighty are falling
Taken down by the truth of a virus
Delivered daily without fanfare
And without so much as a knock
On the door or nod to fake protocols
Of a society already drowning in
A flood of its own making

One day at a time
One human being at a time
One lust for wealth at a time
One unanswered call for help at a time
One refusal to repent at a time

***

I don’t feel defeated. I feel lost. And challenged to change, thanks to Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

I’m relieved to be one of many citizens immersing themselves in the untold, untaught, neglected history of how we in the USA got to this point. How can it be that we still don’t honor and practice equal rights for each citizen of this nation?

So yes, I’m feeling lost in my own backyard, though not without hope. The kind that feeds on truth, and grows a bit stronger each day.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 August 2020
Image found at abcnews.go.com

Thank you, Mr. Trump – Again

I have not changed my mind since I first published this on 20 June 2018. 

Thank you, Mr. Trump.

I don’t really want to say those words to you. Yet I must. It seems the abuse of power has more educational value than all the well-intended lectures and lessons of this world.

Just think about it for a half-minute. Who would have thought we could all so quickly know the meaning and the impact of things that are ‘systemic.’ Evil is systemic.

Simply put: What happens in one corner of the world has tentacles that reach to every other corner of the world, sooner or later.

Good is also systemic. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe good will triumph, though at an exceeding high cost. Perhaps we’re paying it now?

In the meantime, systemic evil seems to be our sad and sorry tutor these days. As I see it, thanks to your moves and counter-moves and flourishes of your pen, we now recognize and feel the impact of systemic evil.

Soy farmers get it; steel manufacturers get it; those without a living wage get it; people who live on the streets get it; human beings from the wrong side of our southern border get it; people with skin that isn’t your color get it; people in mansions get it; and so do people in power. All this and more.

Of course some ‘get it’ more than others. And some are happy to get it at great cost to others. This becomes crystal clear as the consequences of evil multiply and hive off faster than ants or bees. Though even the bees are feeling systemic neglect as well.

Perhaps the word evil is bothering you. No problem. I can use another word. How about systemic lying? Systemic cheating? Systemic abuse? Systemic violence? Systemic greed? Systemic robbery? Systemic inhumanity? Systemic distrust of scientific research? Systemic neglect of those most in need of help? Just to name a few.

We don’t live in air-tight surroundings. We live in complex webs of connections, even when we think we’re living disconnected. Or off the grid. Which is, in itself, another form of denial.

No President of the United States has made the word ‘systemic’ so clear in so little time as you have, Mr. Trump. As a theology professor who struggled often to explain how systemic evil works in the world, I have to hand it to you. You’ve done a masterful job in very short order.

There’s just one hitch. You give every sign that you believe you’re an island unto yourself. Able to push and shove the world around at will or by hook and crook, hiding beneath your POTUS status and your highly proclaimed ability to practice the art of the deal.

Sadly, your relentless pushing and shoving is painfully and abusively open to inspection every moment of every day, whether you attempt to hide it or not. I wish I could feel sad for you. Instead, I’m mourning what’s happening to my friends, my neighbors, my family, our country and our integrity as one nation among many.

Not that we were perfect before you became POTUS. We were not. Nor will we ever be. Still, it seems that what we’ve become as of today or even tomorrow will never, ever be called ‘great.’

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 June 2018, reposted on 28 July 2020
Image found at ideas.hallmark.com

The heaviness of being

Dear Friends,

Early yesterday morning D and I drove into downtown Philadelphia. Not the governmental center of the city, but a huge medical center of towering buildings. We parked in a huge garage and walked to the building where I had an appointment with a skin doctor. He removed some of my precious skin. Hopefully it will be the last visit for now.

What used to be a somewhat routine visit was now a Corona-Virus Visit writ large. For two weeks prior to my visit, I received multiple phone calls with instructions about what to do and not do before the visit, and what to expect when I arrived.

The streets and sidewalks were full of masked citizens coming and going, carefully avoiding close contact, perhaps smiling from time to time behind their masks. On the whole, however, most seemed grim and determined to get where they were going as quickly and safely as possible.

The heaviness of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter underscores the heaviness of being I’m feeling these days. I had an interesting conversation with a masked woman sitting near me in the waiting room. The procedure was fairly straight-forward. Masked D was relieved to see masked me coming down the escalator. Still, it all felt disembodied. Regimented though considerate, with an edge of danger in the air.

No matter what Mr. Trump or anyone else says, there is no going back to Normal. Instead, I’m treating each day as a challenge to be met, with small daily goals to keep me on-track in a trackless world without a clear finishing line.

I grieve what we’ve lost, and what we thought we had but did not. I don’t, however, grieve the call to self-reflection. How did we come to this unholy disaster? Will we be wiser if and when this pandemic is over? How will we then live?

Praying your Sabbath is filled with rest and a nagging restlessness to “hear the sound of the genuine in you.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 July 2020
Quote from Howard Thurman found at pinterest.com

It’s not just the Corona virus — bad theology is killing us

During the last few months I’ve been listening to/reading what Black church leaders are saying. It isn’t pretty. We here in the great USA have made our bed. Now we’re sleeping and dying in it (especially if you happen to be black or brown) whether we like it or not.

I’m a theologian and a follower of Jesus Christ. I care about the so-called guiding principles of government, AND the guiding heart of our government and its citizens. Especially, though not only those citizens who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The current disaster has been building ever since our forefathers and foremothers arrived or were forcibly brought to this country. Bad theology didn’t cause the Corona virus. Rather, the reality of living and dying in the USA with the Corona virus makes clear what’s been at stake from the very beginning. White supremacy. And, in particular, well-to-do white wealth and access to healthcare, housing, jobs…. This didn’t happen overnight.

The title at the top is from a statement by Reverend William H. Lamar IV, Pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Whether you’re a follower of Jesus Christ or not, please read his clear, bold statement. Well worth the few minutes it will take to read it. Just click on his opening line:

There comes a time when being nice is the worst kind of violence.

Praying you’ll have a fruitful day with moments of peace, plus strength to do what’s right.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 July 2020
Photo of Rev. William H. Lamar IV found at nbcnews.com

strange and stranger

The last two weeks have been strange and stranger. This morning I set aside time to review instructions for an appointment to get yet another unhealthy bit of my skin removed. The amount of paperwork I just tried to wade through was ridiculous. Legalese from beginning to end.

It reminded me yet again that our health-care system has become a bastion of data (often not correctly entered). It has also become a frighteningly verbose machine responsible for staving off legal challenges that might properly be brought against medical facilities or personnel.

If it’s so dysfunctional for me, it must be totally dysfunctional for thousands of citizens or visitors in this so-called “land of the free and home of the brave.” I say the brave people are those who, against all odds, just keep going. Health care or no health care.

We’re not the nation we’ve been told we are. Nor is our data safe in so-called ‘secure’ records that could be highjacked in a heartbeat. Sadly,  many informal health-giving personal connections we used to have are fraying, some beyond repair.

In the midst of this, POTUS is showing up again behind his Covid-19 pulpit in the White House. His latest campaign strategy. I’d rather hear from Governors of states dealing with tough facts and truth about Covid-19, whether their citizens agree or not. It’s sad when a disbeliever in Covid dies of Covid. Yet it happens every day, and too many still think this is much ado about nothing. Fake Covid-19.

D is driving me into downtown Philly on Friday to get this bit of skin removed and analyzed further. Am I apprehensive? Yes and no. I’m not happy about having this procedure yet again. Still, I know and trust this doctor. My worst apprehensions are about navigating the medical center in downtown Philly–getting in and getting out. As quickly as possible. With my trusty chauffeur at the wheel!

Right now I’m going to get my disgustingly healthy smoothie lunch together, and think about doing a proper (or improper!) post for tomorrow.

Cheers for showing up and reading!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 July 2020
Photo of Love Park in Philadelphia found at flickr.com

The High Cost of Living in the USA | Part 2 Revisited

This old post gets regular random visits these days. So here it is again, with one exception: The high cost of living in the USA is much higher today than it was two years ago.  

The high cost of living in the USA has fallen on African Americans from the beginning of this nation. The goal has been and still seems to be this: Keep ‘them’ in their places and optimize the gains of those in power. Including the power of those of us who think we have no power.

The high cost didn’t go down when slavery was outlawed. We simply notched it up with lynching, and then discovered mass incarceration. Some argue that mass incarceration is simply the latest way to get cheap labor and ‘disappear’ black or brown Americans without getting into legal trouble.

Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes and no. Yes if you’re able to reach and maintain inner freedom and courage in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. Perhaps we’ve looked to the wrong heroes to show us what true freedom and bravery looks like.

More than one of my younger African American male seminarians said he didn’t think he’d live to be an adult. Besides a history of slavery, lynching and entrenched racism, we witness or read about random gun violence every day, entrenched poverty, and limited options regardless of ability. Add to this the availability of drugs and alcohol, and the mistake of being black or brown in public spaces.

In April 2018 a new Memorial to Peace and Justice opened. It makes visible our history of slavery, lynching and now mass incarceration. I want to visit this new Memorial before I die. Why? Because it’s also about part of my heritage.

In summer 1950, my family moved from California to rural Savannah, Georgia, just a short walk from what we called ‘colored town.’ I wasn’t aware of animosity between races. I was, however, painfully aware of economic disparities on display every day. Not just in our rural community, but in the city.

I now know, thanks to this interactive map, that the state of Georgia is #2 in states with the most lynchings on record between 1882 and 1930. From 1877 to 1950, Georgia lynched 586 black men, women and children. How many were lynched in your state?

I’m told I enjoy white privilege. It’s true. When I get up in the morning I don’t have to worry about things like being seen in public as a white woman. For me, this ‘privilege’ is white ignorance or worse. By breathing the air around me, I learned to be blind and unresponsive to what’s right before my eyes.

I don’t think the solution to our problem lies in miles of data. I’m rooting for poets, songwriters, storytellers, and truth tellers. Including truth-tellers like those who birthed this new National Memorial.  Plus pieces of lost history embroidered on small bags.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 May 2018, edited and re-posted 17 July 2020
Photo found at Wickipedia; y Shameran81 – Courtesy Middleton Place, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55786120

James Baldwin on Race Relations

It’s 1943, one of the years Harlem race riots break out. It’s also the day James Baldwin’s father was laid to rest.

In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father. The chapter ends with his account of what sparked the 1943 Harlem riots, the nature of the rioting (only in the ghetto, chiefly against white businesses, not white people), and the nature of Black America’s long relationship with White America.

His account of this relationship is telling. Here’s how he describes “the Negro’s real relation to the white American.”

This relation prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind—and the heart—that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and, above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one’s own reactions are always canceling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene….The idea of going through life as a cripple is more than one can bear, and equally unbearable is the risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison. And the trouble, finally, is that the risks are real even if the choices do not exist.

In some  ways, this is discouraging. As a white woman, it suggests I’m in bondage to a perpetual dilemma. Even more distressing is the possibility that this was brought on by my need to forget, not see, disremember, dress up in different clothes, and ultimately, dismiss as someone else’s battle or disease to fight.

Nonetheless, I find James Baldwin’s description of the relationship between Black and White Americans/America compelling. I’ve often heard Black women and men say they know us (White people) better than we know ourselves. I believe them, though they may not know me personally.

Put another way, I can’t count on being White-but-not-really due to my years of serving at a multiracial, multiethnic, multinational seminary. Instead, I can only be the White woman I am, a beginner every day of my life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2020
Moon Over Harlem painting by
William Henry Johnson found at americanart.si.edu

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