Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Women’s History Month

The underbelly of the Church – because it matters NOW

I’m feeling small these days. Are you? The challenge at the end of this post is meant for all of us who feel unprepared or small.

Below is a quote from Simone Weil about the social and patriotic power of the Church. Not church as we know it on Sunday mornings, but the Church as a powerful institution within a political setting.

Weil wrote during the Nazi era. Her words are troubling, given the rise of the white Evangelical church’s political influence in the USA. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, but also in public arenas where religious language virtually baptizes political figures as agents of God, up to and including Mr. Trump.

In light of the Nazi era, this turn of events is more than troubling. Many, though not all German Protestant and Catholic churches, including pastors and revered theologians, colluded in the rise of Hitler. Their open support amounted to baptizing Hitler as God’s agent sent as their Great Leader at this time. Yes, there would be some bloodshed. But in the end, life will be better for those who survive, and Germany itself will gain esteem throughout the world.

Here’s what Simone Weil had to say about herself and the Church during the Nazi era. I read this as a comment on both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany, though she refers to the Catholic Church. Highlights are mine.

All things carefully considered, I believe they come down to this: what scares me is the Church as a social thing. Not solely because of her stains, but by the very fact that it is, among other characteristics, a social thing.

Not that I am by temperament very individualistic. I fear for the opposite reason. I have in myself a strongly gregarious spirit. I am by natural disposition extremely easily influenced in excess, and especially by collective things. I know that if in this moment I had before me twenty German youth singing Nazi songs in chorus, part of my soul would immediately become Nazi. It is a very great weakness of mine. . . .

I am afraid of the patriotism of the Church that exists in the Catholic culture. I mean ‘patriotism’ in the sense of sentiment analogous to an earthly homeland. I am afraid because I fear contracting its contagion. Not that the Church appears unworthy of inspiring such sentiment, but because I don’t want any sentiment of this kind for myself.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Published by Harper Perennial in 1950 to celebrate 100 years since Weil’s birth

I couldn’t agree more. I’m also troubled by the silence of many white Evangelical churches that (rightly) choose not to get on the Trump bandwagon. Silence often enables the abuse of power. I don’t want to catch the silence virus. Hence this post and others to remind me that I have a voice, it counts, and I must exercise it regularly.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2018, reposted 26 September 2019
Image found at books.google.com

The underbelly of the Church

Below is a quote from Simone Weil about the social and patriotic power of the Church. Not church as we know it on Sunday mornings, but the Church as a powerful institution within a political setting.

Weil wrote during the Nazi era. Her words are troubling, given the rise of the white Evangelical church’s political influence in the USA. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, but also in public arenas where religious language virtually baptizes political figures as agents of God, up to and including Mr. Trump.

In light of the Nazi era, this turn of events is more than troubling. Many, though not all German Protestant and Catholic churches, including pastors and revered theologians, colluded in the rise of Hitler. Their open support amounted to baptizing Hitler as God’s agent sent as their Great Leader at this time. Yes, there would be some bloodshed. But in the end, life will be better for those who survive, and Germany itself will gain esteem throughout the world.

Here’s what Simone Weil had to say about herself and the Church during the Nazi era. I read this as a comment on both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany, though she refers to the Catholic Church. Highlights are mine.

All things carefully considered, I believe they come down to this: what scares me is the Church as a social thing. Not solely because of her stains, but by the very fact that it is, among other characteristics, a social thing.

Not that I am by temperament very individualistic. I fear for the opposite reason. I have in myself a strongly gregarious spirit. I am by natural disposition extremely easily influenced in excess, and especially by collective things. I know that if in this moment I had before me twenty German youth singing Nazi songs in chorus, part of my soul would immediately become Nazi. It is a very great weakness of mine. . . .

I am afraid of the patriotism of the Church that exists in the Catholic culture. I mean ‘patriotism’ in the sense of sentiment analogous to an earthly homeland. I am afraid because I fear contracting its contagion. Not that the Church appears unworthy of inspiring such sentiment, but because I don’t want any sentiment of this kind for myself.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Published by Harper Perennial in 1950 to celebrate 100 years since Weil’s birth

I couldn’t agree more. I’m also troubled by the silence of many white Evangelical churches that (rightly) choose not to get on the Trump bandwagon. Silence often enables the abuse of power. I don’t want to catch the silence virus. Hence this post and others to remind me that I have a voice, it counts, and I must exercise it regularly.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2018
Image found at books.google.com

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

I’ve been singing this in my head all week! My favorite line: “She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot.” All put together in a rollicking score by our daughter, Sherry Fraser of Two Ton Boa. I’ve included the lyrics below my comments.

Sherry published this in May 2000 (Kill Rock Stars). It was later re-recorded by her old boyfriend, John Wozniak of Marcy Playground, as the trailer to the movie “Cruel Intentions.”

I prefer Sherry’s original recording. Not just because she’s my daughter (!), but because this is a woman’s song. It captures the anger and fury of a woman who’s being used and abused, plus her determination to “take a mighty swipe at the high hogs….” All in a lively, upbeat rag that throws the words right down there in front of you—dished up hot on your plate whether you like them or not.

I’ll never have Sherry’s voice. But I have her spirit and her determination. Thank you, Sherry, for showing me how it’s done.

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

She’s an eight ball
She’s rolling faster than a whitewall
She’s got an avalanche packed in a snowball
She’s losing all her leeches like a stonewall…she’s loaded up

She’s the underdog
Gonna take a mighty swipe at the high hogs
While they’re sipping on their tricks in a thick fog
Making eyes at the girls like bullfrogs…I’m telling you sir

She’s coming up from, coming up from,
Comin’ up, coming up from behind, yeah!
She’s coming up from, coming up from, coming up
Coming up from behind

You’d like her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your wall street pockets are jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your rich kid games

It’s a longshot
She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot
But she’s taking steady aim at the big shots
It’s hard to miss the ruling bullies on the blacktop…

You better pocket your turf
She’s coming up from behind

You had her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your gold lined pockets were jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your wretched games

She caught your sick lie
It was creeping in the shadow of your white smile
Lurking underneath the cover of your bedroom eyes
Were you greasing up plans for your small fry?

You want her talking up to you
Where you float like a royal balloon-o
Your ego swollen to the size of the moon…well
I think you found somebody to cut you down to size!

Wishing you a happy weekend!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2018

grim and determined

grim and determined
she waits outside the closed door
peering straight ahead
and leaning on her walker
hands wrapped in weathered gloves

~~observed this morning in a waiting room

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2018

Women against Women

Quaker Woman Preaching in New Amsterdam

It’s the late 1970s in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m a religion student at Vanderbilt University, studying for my Ph.D. The pastor of my United Presbyterian church has asked me to preach on Women’s Day. It’s my first sermon ever, and he wants me to preach about women’s issues and women’s liberation.

I worked hard putting together a lively sermon, then shook in my trousers as I stood in the pulpit and delivered the goods. Because there were a number of ‘liberated’ women in the congregation, it never occurred to me that I would get any kickback.

Indeed, comments and hugs after the service reassured me that all was well.

I was wrong. One of my best female supporters was seething with rage. She was older than I, highly educated and married to a professor. She didn’t hesitate to speak her mind to our pastor and to me.

My sermon sounded angry, and I wore trousers in the pulpit. I also think she might have liked to preach a sermon herself. Not only was she highly educated, she’d been a member of the church longer than I. Why had I, a relative newcomer, been singled out?

Fast forward to my first year of teaching at the seminary. It’s spring 1984. I’m in Philadelphia, teaching at a multiracial, multicultural seminary that has over 30 percent women students. I’ve been invited to speak to the Women’s Auxiliary, a group of faithful, diligent, smart women who support the seminary in dozens of ways, including fundraising efforts.

We met in a parlor-like room. The group included many pastor’s wives who had been around the seminary for years. I’d been asked to talk about myself and how I see women fitting into the work and mission of the seminary.

When I finished, we had time for discussion. Though most of our conversation was constructive and positive, I’ll never forget one woman’s painful, angry comments.

Here I was, younger than she, teaching at the seminary. And here was the seminary supporting women for ordination. And here was the Field Education Office, wanting to send a young woman to do her field education work under the supervision of her husband.

And here was this older woman, educated, experienced and clear about her role at the church as the ‘first lady.’ In fact, she believed she could have been a pastor. She was probably correct.

Nonetheless, she didn’t want seminary women working with her husband, taking over the place that rightfully belonged to her as his spouse. She didn’t trust women, including the women at the seminary. Over the years she had found a way to make space for herself in ministry without the “Rev.” and all the trappings that go with that. I’ve sometimes wondered whether she trusted her husband, the pastor.

I’ve seen this anger many times in older, well-educated, even brilliant women who for many reasons never followed their dreams. How sad when we make it women against women instead of holding each other and weeping for what we’ve all lost.

The valley of the shadow of death runs deep through the history of women against women. And still threatens to undo us.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 March 2018
Image  found at marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com

For all the women I have loved

During the last few months I’ve been going through old teaching and administrative files, carbon copies of reference letters I wrote decades ago, boxes of notes and cards you sent to me, and old directories with head shots of students, faculty, and church members. More than once I’ve been reduced to tears.

Several years ago I made a list of women whose lives made a difference in my life. It was so long I had to stop.

This is ironic, since most of my life I’ve been beholden to men. They were or might one day become my gatekeepers. It was important to treat them well and with due deference. Most were white. A precious few were interested in my future instead of their own and how I would help them get there.

Yet I was born into and grew up surrounded by women who cared for me no matter what. They didn’t all have motherly skills, but each had something to give me. Something to pass along that would help me grow—if I could only relax into the role of learner.

Today’s post is for all the women who were and are my shining stars —

  • my sisters, daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughters
  • my mother, cousins, aunts, grandmothers and great-grandmother
  • classmates, playmates, teachers and faculty colleagues
  • committee members, informal kitchen cabinet members
  • therapists, doctors, nurses and external consultants
  • accomplices in strategic disobedience and brilliant projects
  • pastors, church friends, workplace mentors, friendly enemies
  • puzzling combatants, bright stars, struggling survivors
  • angry recipients of insults and injury
  • new mothers fighting isolation and depression
  • aspiring preachers and teachers finding strong voices
  • devastated applicants turned away due to marital status or fear
  • determined women moving ahead against all odds
  • heartbroken wives whose husbands just walked out the door
  • heartbroken mothers who just lost a child or baby or husband
  • tearful survivors of trauma in need of help
  • closeted lovers of women not sure where to turn for help
  • gifted women passed by in favor of an average male applicant
  • poets, writers, musicians, preachers and teachers
  • drama queens, dreamers and world-changers

Like a galaxy of stars, you are brilliant in my life. Scarcely a day goes by without one of you showing up in my heart. I’m so glad I kept all those notes, cards and sometimes silly photos. Reminders that the history we made, no matter how small it seems today, still matters.

With respect, love and prayers for history-making women everywhere,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 March 2018
Photo found at galeri.uludagsozluk.com

The Afflicted

~~~Simone Weil in Marseilles, early 1940s

This quote from Simone Weil got my attention this morning. Especially in these days when we’re exhorted to reach out to each other. It all depends….

The capacity to pay attention to an afflicted person is something very rare, very difficult; it is nearly a miracle. It is a miracle. Nearly all those who believe they have this capacity do not. Warmth, movements of the heart, and pity are not sufficient.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Are we ready for affliction? Ready to experience it? Prepared to live and die with it?

I’m talking primarily, but not only about we the white people of the USA, narrowly defined by political and religious affiliations. Are we ready?

Or are we still hanging onto our bootstraps mentality. Proud, tall and lily-white. Still finding it difficult if not impossible to attend to the afflictions of strangers or even acquaintances.

Perhaps we’re afraid we’ll look into the mirror of their afflictions and discover our own afflictions. Or worse–the source of their afflictions, carried in us like a deadly live virus all dressed up in fancy clothes.

During this period of Lent, the afflictions of Jesus show us the truth about ourselves. He was afflicted, and though we may have felt sorry for him, we wrote him off.

Isaiah 53:3 (New Revised Standard Version)

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted
with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide
their faces
he was despised, and we held him of
no account.

Perhaps the true leaders of tomorrow will be the afflicted. Those of no account. Even though they have experience, skills and knowledge we’ve discounted for generations. Strangers who have survived among us for decades with affliction as their constant companion. Even in so-called safe spaces.

As a follower of Jesus, I have one Savior. I am also, however, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses I haven’t heeded. Virtual strangers. Women, men and children whose everyday lives are layered with affliction.

What does it mean to give an afflicted person my full attention? Have I ever done this?

Questions like these are on my mind as we witness the painful removal of legal requirements, funding sources, and small islands of hope and trust that helped level the playing field for the last several decades.

This strange never-never land may not end well. Nonetheless, I want to end with a bang, not a whimper.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 March 2018
Photo found at http://www.nybooks.com

HERarchy


When I was growing up, it seemed the only way to succeed in my white conservative Christian circles was by toeing the line. Never acting out or acting up. It was the only safe way to get ahead in life or at least keep up with the boys.

As it turned out, it wasn’t safe. I didn’t get ahead. And I never could keep up with the boys.

Being the ‘good girl’ type (at least on the outside), I didn’t experience vicious playground hazing. Probably because I wasn’t threatening to girls who seemed to know all about boys and makeup, movies and sex.

Though I desperately wanted to be included, I didn’t want undue attention. So I modulated my voice, made sure I didn’t offend anyone, smiled a lot, and kept my mouth shut. I was no big deal. No threat to anyone.

That’s why I’m blown away when I listen to my daughter – so like and so unlike I am. She wasn’t a rebel growing up. She was simply herself. Bold and introverted. Intuitive and creative. Her music began early and still takes my breath away. How did this voice happen?

Below are most of the lyrics from one of her recorded songs, followed by a YouTube recording. It’s Sherry’s take on playground politics among girls young and old. Another way of describing the Divide and Conquer Club.

HERarchy

Misfit, misfit, got no sense
Sitting like a chicken on the chain link fence
Never picks a side, all she does is cry
How many teardrops can she hide
you MISFIT MISFIT throw the dog a biscuit!
How many kicks until she licks it?
1, 2, 3, 4, FIVE

This situation’s hopeless
No matter what I do
These small-town girls will hate me
Since I stepped outside their rules

I see their
Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing sweet words like pistols
Firing on my back like heat-seeking missiles

pleading crying cannot satisfy
the cruel appetites of GIRLS! GIRLS!

What do they see?
Why are these crosshairs on me?
What do they hear?
The voice of envy sneer…?
I’m a spotlight thief!
I won’t take tea
I won’t take lessons in how to be
Seen
Not heard
I’m a misfit little bird
Dodging bigger beaks
On a playground for

GIRLS! GIRLS!

Look who’s all alone –
It’s the one-woman show!
Who’s got a stone?
Don’t you know –
Our status grows
When we tear into a threat
With a fine tooth comb!
She’s all alone –
Somebody please throw the dog bone!

Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing mind fucks like pistols
Breathing down my neck like heat seeking missiles

Running hiding
can’t get by
the vicious social politics of
GIRLS! GIRLS! ….

©Sherry Fraser (Two Ton Boa), recorded on Parasiticide, published 2009

Here’s the entire recording. Sherry wrote the lyrics and music, and sings the lead.

Here’s to more women willing to shine a light on what’s happening in our social and political playgrounds today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2018
Photo of playground girls found at dreamstime.com

Misfit and Misbehaving

It’s the early 1950s. I’m about 11 years old. I’ve just taken my assigned seat in my 6th grade classroom at a private church school. I look around the room and it hits me in the eyes.

All but three girls are wearing matching white skirts with a bold flower pattern around the hem of each skirt. The flower pattern is in five rainbow colors with not one, but two skirts in each color. My two best girlfriends are wearing blue flowered skirts.

Our teacher, clearly caught off guard, says there must have been a fire sale on this particular pattern. The skirts are homemade. Obviously this was a planned event.

I’m mortified. Why didn’t I know about this? My mother is one of the best seamstresses around, and could have whipped one up for me. I try to make it OK in my mind. Especially since only three girls in the class aren’t wearing the uniform. The other two are the least popular girls in the class. Surely there was a mistake.

My two best girlfriends try to make it OK. I wasn’t left out because they didn’t like me. It was because the club had decided there could only be pairs, and I was the odd girl out. Besides, I was at least a year younger than they.

Which wasn’t the full story. Along with the other two misfits, I was a scholarship student. My parents couldn’t afford to pay tuition. It didn’t matter that I was bright, intelligent, interesting, faithful, truthful or any of that.

Things got worse during recess. The club had designated certain parts of the public park (a lovely downtown square in Savannah, Georgia) as their special places. They had rules about who could play with whom during the first part of recess, and where they would meet for regular club meetings during recess.

The following day was a ‘regular’ day which meant the club didn’t wear skirt uniforms to class. My friends talked the club into letting me join as a substitute club member. I would have to have a blue-flowered skirt. However, I could take part in activities in the park only if one of my two friends was absent that day. And I would have to vote the way my friend would have voted. That way the voting wouldn’t be off-balance.

Long story short: My mother agreed to make a skirt, but couldn’t find the same flower pattern. I wore my painfully obvious substitute skirt once or twice before the club disbanded.

In the end, this episode wasn’t about how smart, friendly or truthful I was. It was about white money and white family history. Which is to say the white Protestant pecking order and the subservient pedigree of white hens.

What I now understand:

  • It’s important to divide white women from each other as early as possible.
  • This will serve the goals of white male supremacy.
  • The tactics of divide and conquer are cheap, easy and effective in almost any setting.

Tomorrow is the beginning of Women’s History Month. I wonder how willing I am to refuse being divided in order to change history?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 February 2018
1950s young teen fashion images found at pinterest.com

It might be lonelier

emily-bp-blogspot-com-blue-peninsula

I see myself in this poem. And my mother. And other women I’ve known who seem to wear a mantel of sorrow, even when they’re happy. My comments follow.

It might be lonelier
Without the Loneliness –
I’m so accustomed to my Fate –
Perhaps the Other – Peace –

Would interrupt the Dark –
And crowd the little Room –
Too scant – by Cubits – to contain
The Sacrament – of Him –

I am not used to Hope –
It might intrude upon –
Its sweet parade – blaspheme the place –
Ordained to Suffering –

It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight –

c. 1862

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily already knows Loneliness and perhaps wants something else. Yet she fears that giving it up will lead to even greater Loneliness. Her life might not have enough room for Peace, Hope or Delight—in addition to Loneliness.

Change of that magnitude would make too much noise, demand too much space. Intrude upon the Lonely, Dark existence she experiences in her crowded little Room. Or worse, she might lose the little everyday happiness and security she already has in her crowded little Room. I take this to be her life, a life of creative solitude and family duties.

In addition, Emily says her little Room might be too crowded for Him. Who is He? Perhaps a man or someone else who wants to be in her life? Or perhaps the One who offers her the Sacrament of Peace and Hope, with or without anyone else in her life? I don’t know.

It seems a sense of Fate hangs heavy over Emily’s life, taking up almost all the room or energy she has for human emotions of Delight. Yes, she may welcome relief from time to time, but the cost of giving up her Ordination to Suffering seems too heavy to bear.

Emily hasn’t renounced happiness. It still manages to creep in. Yet giving herself completely to Delight might annihilate her. She wouldn’t be able to count on predictability or control. Perhaps she wouldn’t be able to write as much. Perhaps she wouldn’t be safe from betrayal or disappointment. Her worst fears might be realized.

In the end, Emily would rather drown with land in sight, than arrive only to “perish – of Delight.”

This poem may not be gender-specific, yet in my experience a similar debate rages inside many women. Especially when the heavy hand of authority keeps reminding them of their Fate. That to which they were Ordained–duties and distractions that don’t allow space or time to exercise personal gifts and welcome Delight into their lives.

This is Women’s History Month. I celebrate women the world over who had a late start or haven’t yet found Delight, Hope and Peace in this world. If women seem complicated and unpredictable, maybe that’s because we’ve lived multiple lives for too long. Masking and denying our true selves to survive. Creatively. The way Emily survived.

I celebrate Emily Dickinson’s creativity. Her poetry speaks to me about courage and commitment to truth. Best of all, her enigmatic voice lives on, suggesting a different, slanted way to view the natural world and the dynamics of our inner and outer lives.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2017
Photo found at bloggingdickinson.blogspot.com

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