Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Thank you, John Lewis

Today has been more than a bit somber. My most recent burning memory of Representative John Lewis is his sterling leadership during last fall’s Congressional impeachment investigation of Donald Trump. The 5-minute video above shows him supporting further impeachment investigation.

And now Mr. Lewis is gone. He was the last Black leader living who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, shortly before the 1963 Civil Rights Act became the law of the land. In his speech (below) he clarifies his opposition to the legislation.

The young Lewis is speaking to citizens gathered in Washington to demand racial justice. John Kennedy was President. As you can hear, John Lewis wasn’t one to tone things down. He speaks without apology, and without pretending the proposed legislation was what Black people needed. He was correct.

This nation has lost one of its true patriots. If you’d like to read and hear more, Vox has posted six speeches (including the two above) that capture John Lewis’ remarkable service to this country. You can find them here.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 July 2018
Videos found on YouTube 

I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger | Rhiannon Giddens

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a small, steady stream of visitors to an earlier post on Rhiannon Giddens. It featured “Julie,” Giddens’ song about a black daughter and a white mother living in North Carolina during the brutal 1898 uprising against and slaughter of Black people. As she put it, “Julie” is her way of conveying the complexities of her own life as the daughter of a white mother.

A few days ago I listened to Giddens’ rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger” (above). I heard this haunting song frequently when I was growing up the Deep South. Now, having heard Giddens’ stunning interpretation, it’s playing at will in my psyche, night and day.

I’m guessing most of us struggle with multiple identities, as well as what it means to be human in one setting or another. I find myself bouncing back and forth between the ignorance and naivete of my childhood in the South, and my radically different experience of life here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Especially when I was working at the seminary, and now experience in my home church.

In many ways, going home sounds like heaven. Partly because it would be the first safe home of my life. The first place where I know I don’t have to prove who I am and am not, or endure the agony of not knowing who I am. To say nothing of concerted attempts to put and keep me in my place. Or the internal desire to look the other way when someone else is supposedly being put in his or her place.

The difference, of course, is that I’m not mixed race, black, or facing the realities my black and mixed race friends and their families face daily. This human-made, aching chasm in our nation is begging for attention and understanding. The kind persuasively conveyed in music that softens us and invites us into a stranger’s perspective and our own self-examination.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

In the Evening, in the Pinewoods | Mary Oliver

Who knows the sorrows of the heart?
God, of course, and the private self.
But who else? Anyone or anything else?
Not the trees, in their windy independence.
Not the roving clouds, nor, even, the dearest of friends.

Yet maybe the thrush, who sings
by himself, at the edge of the green woods,
to each of us
out of his mortal body, his own feathered limits,
of every estrangement, exile, rejection—their
death-dealing weight.

And then, so sweetly, of every goodness also to be remembered.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, p. 63

A few weeks ago, out walking in the evening, I heard a wood thrush. One of the most haunting, beautiful sounds on earth. It was singing in the woods behind a nearby church and graveyard.

So many deaths right now. So many regrets, angers, crushing sorrow and disbelief.

I’ll never forget the cries of a mother Canadian Goose nesting just outside my office at the seminary. A noisy raptor had been circling and screaming for too many minutes. Father Goose was sitting nearby, clearly agitated, watching the sky from time to time.

Yes, the inevitable happened. The raptor stole the baby from the nest, unmoved by the parents’ frantic, furious cries and attempts to save their newly-hatched chick.

When I arrived at the seminary early the next morning, Mama Goose was sitting immobile, holding silent vigil on grass in the back courtyard of the seminary. Her loyal partner sat nearby, watching her and waiting. It looked and felt like a mourning ritual. They were there for most of the day before they flew away.

So much sorrow and anguish right now. That’s why I need to hear a wood thrush from time to time, along with its many neighbors calling out to me: There’s more to life than meets the eye. Mourn, have faith, and carry on.

Written a few days after the loss of one of my forty-nine first cousins, and in view of my own mortality and the current situation in this world.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

The Teachers | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, like the mockingbird above, wants our attention. My comments follow her poem.

The Teachers

Owl in the black morning,
mockingbird in the burning
slants of the sunny afternoon
declare so simply

to the world
everything I have tried but still
haven’t been able
to put into words,

so I do not go
far from that school
with its star-bright
or blue ceiling,

and I listen to those teachers,
and others too–
the wind in the trees
and the water waves–

for they are what lead me
from the dryness of self
where I labor
with the mind-steps of language–

lonely, as we all are
in the singular,
I listen hard
to the exuberances

of the mockingbird and the owl,
the waves and the wind.
And then, like peace after perfect speech,
such stillness.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, pp. 27-28

Yesterday I did nothing but what I felt like doing. This wasn’t about luxuriating. It was about sanity, clarity, and an airing of my restless need to DO something about everything going wrong in this world.

The list of possibilities seems endless because realities now facing us seem endless. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, every agony of the last centuries is now haunting us. Our day of reckoning? It remains to be seen how we’ll end up as a nation.

Nonetheless, I can’t afford to ignore the sight or exuberant sounds of mockingbird and owl, waves and wind, and stillness.

Listening to other people and to nature are learned skills. Mary Oliver’s poem suggests a connection, perhaps even a dance between listening to human voices and listening to nature. Not so we can defend ourselves, but so we, too, can be led

…from the dryness of self
where I labor
with the mind-steps of language–

lonely, as we all are
in the singular….

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 June 2020
Singing Mockingbird found on YouTube
Recording belongs to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

Covid-19 has been disproportionately deadly to populations already struggling to survive. Especially, but not only, Black Americans. The blatant killing of yet another Black citizen is pushing us to the brink of chaos.

I’ve spent the last few days listening to and reading responses to our current situation. Today I’m passing along a few notes, and the link above to Pastor Charles Montgomery’s excellent discussion this morning. It’s well worth watching.

Pastor Montgomery begins with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question: Where do we go from here: chaos or community? (The title of his last book before his assassination in 1968)

If we want to understand what’s happening today, Pastor Montgomery suggests we begin with three reasons for our current chaos.

  • polarization caused by fear
  • politics fueled by anger (and  driven by fear)
  • radicalization inflamed by injustice, real or perceived

These three tensions are pulling at the fabric of our nation. Trying to tear us apart.

What’s the alternative? Choosing not to live in fear, but to love God and one another.

This echoes the question Jesus asked one of the religious elite, and then answered with a story-question, Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37). The unexpected answer: The Samaritan who dared to stop and become the neighbor of a Jewish man beaten up, left to die on the side of a road, and bypassed by the religious elite. Go thou, says Jesus, and do likewise.

The Samaritan got involved. Not out of sympathy, but moved by empathy. He understood what it was like to be ignored, belittled, or even left dying on the side of the road.

Furthermore, he didn’t waste any time. He used what he had at hand, and did what he could until this man was healed.

If I want to be like the Samaritan, Rev. Montgomery suggests I ask myself questions like these:

  • What captures my attention when I see someone different who’s in trouble? What’s the first thought that goes through my mind?
  • Who are my friends? Not just at church, but in my neighborhood, on Facebook or WordPress.
  • With whom do I talk? What do I read? (Or do I cocoon myself in a ‘safe’ small world?)

Distance is a barrier to peace. Empathy comes close to pain without minimizing, ignoring, dismissing, or questioning the other person’s character. It remains present, asks questions, offers support, prays, dresses wounds, uses what it has at hand.

Empathy doesn’t try to fix the situation. Take charge. Pontificate. Or ignore.

Please pray for us, and for millions of others in similar situations.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 June 2020
Video posted on Facebook.com

Beautiful Music Monday

Conductor Emeritus Kenneth Jennings (1925-2015) leads over 900 choir alumni during the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the St. Olaf Choir in June of 2011.

Most of you probably know this hymn as “Fairest Lord Jesus.” It was my father’s favorite hymn, known to him by its older name, “Beautiful Savior.”

When I’m dying, I want music to carry me away. Then I want to join the choir. I want to sing music like this. Music that makes all things and all voices beautiful. I want tears to flow. Mine. The way they did this morning when I listened to this on You Tube.

I don’t understand why hymns like this reach so deeply into me. But there it is. And here we are today, surrounded by deaths of many kinds. Bodily and spiritual death. Death of hope and trust. Never easy, especially when it seems to be piling on without mercy.

I hope you enjoy listening to this amazing choir following the lead of their beloved conductor Emeritus, Kenneth Jennings. Like angels, they’re singing together on key, accompanied only by each other, following their leader. A force together that they could never be on their own.

Here are the lyrics as sung by the choir, following their opening wordless rendition of the tune.

Fair are the meadows, Fairer the woodlands,
Robed in flow’rs of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer;
He makes our sorr’wing spirit sing.

Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, Praise, adoration,
Now and forevermore be Thine!

I pray you’ll find beauty and music in the week ahead.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 April 2020
St. Olaf Choir Alumni’s rendition of Beautiful Savior found at YouTube.com

“From us, for you.”

Have you seen and heard this gift from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra?

Even if you have, watch it again! As often as needed. I had tears streaming down my face by the end. Kudos to the wonderful artists who put this together for all of us. And to Beethoven for making it all possible.

Today is make-a-creative-soup day. That means a great big pot that will last for several days. It’s also laundry day for all towels and washcloths. Plus make a veggie smoothie for today and tomorrow. With music in the background — the best part of all.

Praying for peace and health in this country. Peace of heart, mind, soul and body, plus sanity and clear vision for medical personnel who oversee this pandemic day after day.

Elouise

©  Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2020
“From us, for you” was found on YouTube

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat | Edward Lear

Time for a mid-week break and a bit of nostalgia! Were you treated to this poem when you were a child? My father used to recite it from his phenomenal memory. Of course the entire poem is non-sense, given the history of cats and birds! But then again, we can always dream, can’t we? See below for the text.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
By Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I think I’ll read this to Smudge tonight!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2020
Video found on YouTube

hoard of robins | Happy Monday!

hoard of robins
juicy holly berries
bright morning feast
scramble for preferred seats
squawks of indignation

As heard and seen on my early morning walk, along with

  • hoards of kindergarten students shrieking in the playground
  • a friendly dog walker with friendly dogs
  • my first sighting of a presidential election campaign bumper sticker
  • wasted acorns languishing on the sides of the road
  • autumn leaves piled up in a large trampoline with no visible way of escape
  • grade school children on a run-and-shriek-it-all-out-of-your-system break
  • and a handful of gorgeous autumn leaves still hanging on

If you watch the video above, you’ll need to supply your own squawks of indignation!

Hoping your Monday is/was happily filled with unexpected beauty.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 November 2019
Video of Robins in Portland, Oregon found on YouTube

Thank you, Louis Armstrong….

Louis Armstrong’s birthday is today (born on 1 Aug 1901), so this is in celebration of his life. It’s also going out with hope that we’ll learn to look each other in the eye as neighbors. The kind whose “How do you do” is a way of saying “I love you.” Elouise

Telling the Truth

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong, for recording this amazing song, first released as a single 60 years ago today. Your smooth and grainy, gravelly voice is an inspiration. The seniors among us remember what it was like in the USA in 1967.

  • Viet Nam war drags on with no end in sight
  • About 2500 mothers of drafted soldiers storm the Pentagon, demand a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
  • LBJ doubles down–determined not to ‘lose’ this war
  • Edward W. Brooke, Attorney General of Massachusetts, seated in the US Senate as the first elected Negro Senator in 85 years
  • Muhammed Ali refuses to be drafted into the Viet Nam war, is stripped of his world heavyweight boxing championship
  • Anti-war protests break out across the United States
  • Blood poured on draft records by a Roman Catholic priest and two companions
  • California Governor Ronald Reagan suggests that LBJ ‘leak’ the possibility of nuclear weapons…

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