The Pass Hall


 There’s something about wanting something your whole life, “seeing” it though it has not yet appeared, that is life-giving and that seems to open the door to receive and retrieve the vision.

 All my life I wanted to be a dancer; we couldn’t afford it, but I read everything I could about dancing and dancers, and as a teen, when I was able to pay for dance lessons myself, I became what I had seen. I did very well, even going so far as to be able to study on scholarship at the Dance Theater of Harlem.

 Then, as a pastor, I always wanted our choir to do all kinds of music – so as to invite children from the neighborhood could see and hear all that was available for them to wish for. We did Gospel music very well, but I wanted to expose the children in our community to more. I was able to get members of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to play for us for one of our concerts and I for the first and only time in my life had a complete orchestral score from which to direct. I had “seen” that, from the time when I was little. We sang music from the most classical to the most soul-stirring Gospel, and the children were there, sitting in the front. Our choir was invited to be the featured choir for “The Lion King” promo and was also invited to sing in concert with country singer Lyle Lovett. We laughed. Country music? And yet, it was what I had “seen” and what I had seen came to fruition.

 So I was weeping when Sheryl Lee Ralph received an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in “Abbott Elementary.” She had “seen” where she wanted to be and her vision guided her and landed her in a role that earned her a cherished award. I listened yesterday to actress Jenifer Lewis, who grew up in abject poverty, talk about how she had “seen” herself being famous, in spite of not only living in poverty but struggling with bipolar disease. She never stopped “seeing” what she wanted to be, and it came to be. And I recall Viola Davis who, likewise began to see herself doing great things with her life despite being desperately poor – after, she says, she “wrote a love letter” to herself.

 All of that made me think of my mother, who, for as long as I could remember, wanted a house with a “pass hall.” The house we grew up in was a bungalow; you walked from the front porch right into the living room, and my mother hated it. It seemed that there wasn’t a week that went by without her saying she wanted a house with a pass hall.

 And then, after all those years of saying her vision out loud, it happened. Our family was able to move to a home that had a pass hall. We would walk into that house and on the left side was the living room; on the right was a study that became my dad’s office. The pass hall took us past the stairs and into the kitchen, where we walked through and turned left to get into the dining room. I remember the walk-through, but what I remember more is the tears that I saw in my mother’s eyes as she walked into that pass hall. It had happened. The vision had come to be.

 She died a year later, but she died having seen her vision come to pass, and what this remembrance says, or is a reminder of, is that having a vision, being able to “see” what you want and what God has for you, is a driver of hope and faith. Surely our ancestors saw themselves out of slavery, into schools on the highest levels, doing what the system they would never do. Surely the vision stayed with them, in spite of the way they were treated and in spite of the roadblocks to freedom, justice, and dignity that were put in their way.

 When you’re able to “see” what your spirit is feeding you, you have a power within that the world cannot touch; it did not give the vision and therefore, it cannot take it away. It just grows inside of your spirit, like a fetus, continuing until there is nothing left for it to do than to be born.

 If we, even in this most difficult time, keep the vision of justice and freedom and dignity for all, in spite of those whose only desire is to preserve the system as it has always been, we will see victories, our “pass halls,” so to speak. We are not powerless as long as we have the capacity to see what the world cannot see and what the world thinks is crazy for us to think about. Our lives and our hopes and what God has in store for us do not die until we do. Our task is to live on purpose and not give in to despair and hopelessness and know, not just believe, but know that the vision is truly “for an appointed time.” We are strengthened by knowing that the vision, that which we “see,” is on its way.

The Complexity of Hope

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As this country winds down from the Obama administration and readies itself for the incoming administration, nothing feels secure. Nobody quite knows what the new president will do or not do. His refusal to show his tax returns has maddened some to the point that they say they are not going to pay their taxes. His arrogance shows itself daily; his rants on Twitter seem so immature and, frankly, inappropriate for a head of state.

His antics, actions, and words, are, quite honestly, troubling and frightening. His refusal to severely admonish Russia for whatever role it had in hacking American cyberspace feels …like treason. His treatment of the press is an assault on one of the basic freedoms guaranteed to Americans; one wonders what the press will be able to do under his leadership – if they will be able to practice responsible journalism, though, to be honest, the press has for a while slipped from being a truth-seeking entity to being merely entertainment. Cable news programs are not really news; they are all-day talk shows.

This man who will be inaugurated president has insulted almost everyone who can be insulted – from women, to blacks, to immigrants to people with disabilities. Because of his rhetoric, little children feel free to hurl racist epithets at their classmates, and reports indicate that, since the campaign, hate crimes have been on the rise. (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hate-on-the-rise-after-trumps-election) Immigrants – legal and illegal – including children of immigrants who were born here are afraid of being deported. Muslims are afraid of being assaulted.

The cold war between Russia and the United States ended years ago, and the threat of a nuclear war felt like it was really a thing of the past, but now, not so much. The new president is buddying up with Russian president Vladimir Putin, whom he apparently likes because Putin likes him, but both the incoming president and Putin seem to be of the same ilk: arrogant men in pursuit of power at any cost. They are “getting along” now but one has to wonder how long the warm fuzzies between them will last. When one or both of them get angry at the other, when the quest for ultimate power by one or both of them takes precedence over civility, what will happen? Who will suffer? And it’s not like the two of them are the only hot-heads in power; Kim Jung-un of North Korea seems to be just as volatile as Putin and the president-elect, and China has already been riled by actions the president-elect took when he accepted a call from Taiwan, in violation of the One China policy which has been respected for decades.

This country does not feel as safe as it has felt before now, and it’s not just because of the threat of terrorism. It’s largely because the incoming president has ushered in a spirit of hatred and bigotry – or maybe he has just unearthed it from the underground – and he has done so arrogantly.

And yet…today comedian Steve Harvey, loved and respected by so many people, black and white – visited the president-elect in Trump Tower. He said after the meeting that he did so because “President Obama called me and told me I should meet” with the incoming president. Harvey said that the talk was good; that his host seemed “sincere” and that he seemed like a nice person. He repeated that President Obama “said we should talk.” Harvey talked not only to the president-elect but to members of the transition team and to Dr. Ben Carson, who will head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (HUD) Harvey said the incoming administration wants to address the problems of the inner cities, something about which Harvey and others have long been concerned about and worked to improve.

He also said that President Obama said that “we have to come from behind our computers”and work, so “I came from behind my microphone” because, he said, we have work to do.

For a moment I couldn’t believe that Steve Harvey was in Trump Tower. I hardly knew what to think.  But he kept on saying, “President Obama said I needed to talk with…” and Harvey did it. If the president can do something for the inner cities, then, said Harvey, he’s good with it. Political commentator Ana Navarro, who said again that she thinks the incoming president is a “despicable human being” said she respects the office of president. If he can get people jobs and do all that that he said he would do, then she will respect that.

It seems that Steve Harvey has decided to hope. To hope, says Rebecca Solnit in her book Hope in the Dark, ” is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is because the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” (p. 4)

Watching all that has been happening has been difficult and disconcerting; it has certainly widened the lake of uncertainty in which Americans are swimming. And yet, Steve Harvey reminded me of this thing called “hope,” daring to talk to someone whom you do not trust or like, for the sake of a transformation for the betterment of someone other than ourselves.

It may be that this time is a time in which we all…learn to hope and thus, learn to live in a new way.

A candid observation …

 

 

Why a Crazy Faith Can Beat Trump

It is the day after “Super Tuesday” and Donald Trump has come out victorious, as he promised he would.

Many people who laughed at his candidacy, saying he couldn’t win, are worried. The GOP, it seems, is worried. Trump has said all along that he will win. He has drummed those words into the minds, hearts and souls of people in his base who are angry and who feel marginalized. He has made them believe that they can and will win, no matter what the naysayers say, or who they are.

He has replaced their despondency with hope. And hope wins, every time.

It was hope in “change we can believe in” that pushed President Barack Obama into the White House. Back then, the biggest change we were being asked to believe in was that a racist white nation could elect a black man to the presidency. We believed, and we won. Not even racism was an effective weapon against genuine hope, filled with something called “crazy faith,” a faith that says the impossible …is not impossible. at all.

In my book, Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives, I share one of my most favorite stories in the Bible: that of Moses holding, really, a “stick” (the Bible calls it a rod) over the Sea of Reeds, expecting the water to part. God knows the people whom he was leading through, out of, the wilderness, thought he was crazy. They looked at what seemed impossible, and most probably chided Moses for being so stupid.

But Moses held on, and, I imagine, in Trump fashion, kept saying to the naysayers, “the waters will part.” We don’t know how long he stood there. We don’t know how much of a beating he took from “rational” friends who most probably put him down. But we do know that according to the story, the Sea of Reeds did part. The waters parted, the ground on which the Israelites were to walk was dry (where water had been only moments before) and the Israelites got through to the other side. The waters came back together in time to drown the Egyptians, who were after them, to kill them.

Crazy faith got the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds.

I would imagine that Moses had to keep on saying to himself, and then to them, in Trump fashion, “We can do this! We can win. We can beat even this body of water that is here to keep us from moving forward to liberation.” Moses had to make himself believe it so that he could make the Israelites believe it.

Donald Trump is saying to people who believe they have been ignored that they can turn the tide, that they can win, that they can “make America great again.”

What non-Trump supporters have to do is get their message straight, believe it to their cores, and keep on saying it until people believe it.

Donald Trump is not God.

Donald Trump is a very smart man, who knows how to manipulate people and the media for his own good. He does in fact know how to broker a deal.

But he is not God. His power is not absolute. People who do not want him to be president have to adopt a message, keep it, internalize it, believe it, and, with crazy faith in place to keep their hope alive, participate in this system of government which at least hypothetically leaves room for the voices of people to be heard.

At this point, on the non-Trump side, this is a crazy faith battle. There is no time to sit and call Trump names or put him down. That is counter-productive anyway. It is time to get strategic, and to get a mantra in place that will woo doubters to the edge of the Sea of Reeds, believing that the water will part.

Crazy faith is always accompanied by an action, and this is critical. Those who are willing to believe that Donald Trump is not God must be willing to participate in the process to get through the Sea. People will have to work, have to register people, have to make sure people get to the polls. Sitting back is not an option. Moses held the “stick” over the water, but people in the wilderness, confused and afraid, had to decide to participate in the crossing over or there would have been no miracle.

There is no time to be afraid, despondent or discouraged.

Donald Trump has launched a perfect time for the exercise of crazy faith. It is by and through crazy faith, and not by sophisticated political discourse and debate, that Donald Trump can be stopped.

Donald Trump is not God. A faith that defies hopelessness is greater than any obstacle er face.

The power to beat him is in the people, a people filled with fire and this thing called crazy faith. It is that faith which gives us our power.

A candid observation …

 

(Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is the founder of Crazy Faith Ministries, and is available to speak on this topic and topics related to the intersection of politics and religion. See the website, http://www.crazyfaithministries.org for information)

And crazy faith

When Dark Nights Come

My mother used to say, all of the time, that life isn’t fair.

It isn’t.

I keep thinking of the “newly homeless,” people who used to have jobs, good jobs, who are now homeless. I think of the parents and family of people who have been killed by senseless gun violence in this nation within the last year. I know a family whose son was a good student and athlete and was headed to college ….but who died during basketball practice. In a historical sense, I keep thinking of Solomon Northrup, the free black man who was stolen and sold into slavery, as depicted in the movie, Twelve Years a Slave.”

Talk about unfair. Dark nights do come, no matter who we are.

When I watched that movie, I kept wondering how Solomon did it? How did he …well, how did any slaves …make it through that horrific experience? How did he keep from going insane or losing hope? I wondered if he woke up every day thinking that this would be the day of his deliverance…and how he kept going when the day at hand turned out not to be that day.

What did he tell himself? What did he do with the feeling of life being unfair as he was beaten and almost killed and treated like a brute?

I can’t even imagine.

But stories like that are good to know; Northrup’s story is as compelling for me as was Nelson Mandela’s. How did he stay sane and hold onto hope for 27 years? I read his book, Long Walk to Freedom and was reminded that within us all there is that strength given to us at the moment we were created.

If we can remember that the strength is there…and if we can turn our attention away from our angst and toward, perhaps, the suffering of others, it seems that light begins to seep through.

Even the tiniest bit of light in the midst of darkness gives hope.

It seems that, when dark nights come, we need to look up and out…and remember that dark nights are not unique and that they are temporary – even if temporary is a long time. Darkness, eventually, is overtaken by light …which is always moving toward us.

As my mama would say that life wasn’t fair, she would also say, “this too will pass.”

So true, dark night, so true.

A candid observation …

 

The Gift and Power of Struggle

I will never forget the struggle of my sister, who fought against cancer with a nobility and grace that was inspiring and humbling, both at the same time.

She had been diagnosed years ago, was on the brink of death, but fought it then. After she passed the crisis stage, and was gaining her strength, I asked her if she ever thought she was going to die. All of the doctors, after all, had thought she would …but she looked at me, straight in the eyes, and said, “no, never.”

She went years in remission before the dreaded disease returned two Thanksgivings ago. She was not happy it had returned, but she was ready for the battle, and battle she did. Several times doctors thought she had played her last card, but she rallied each time. It was as though she was saying that she might be going …but she would go on her terms, not on the terms of the doctors.

She died last year, but I cannot say she lost the battle. She fought and won, I believe, because she stopped fighting when she was ready.

Elbert Hubbard wrote that “there is no failure except in no longer trying; there is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.”  My sister was not a failure because she never stopped trying, she never felt defeated from within, and she had an inherent  purpose to live for a long time. Her focus and willingness to struggle gave her not only more days but quality days. She refused to give in. It wasn’t denial; it was determination and faith and hope that kept her going. She knew very well how sick she was, and yet, she “looked to the hills from whence came her help” (Psalm 121) and held on with the expectation that she would be able to hold on.

She was willing to struggle.

Sometimes, when it comes to race in our country, I wonder why it is we are not willing to struggle and to come face to face with our very personal disease. I have read much of the vitriol that has been spewed since President Obama won last week’s presidential election, and have been saddened. It is all so clearly race-based, but nobody will say it. Nobody wants to admit and face and deal with our issue. As opposed to my sister, who, invaded by a deadly disease, engaged in the struggle to fight it, America runs from the disease called racism and denies it exists. And so we are being consumed, even today in the 21st century, by this ever-present reality. It is like an autoimmune disease of our society, affecting our central nervous system and thereby affecting the very things we need for a full and vital life.

Why in the world do we run from it?  Well, a big reason is because we, America, are not a community. We call ourselves  the “united” states but we are not. We are far from it. Post-election, several states are circulating petitions to secede from the United States. There is no community. We are a conglomerate of different races and ethnicities, but we are far from having the commitment necessary to be a community. We do not respect the differences of each other; in fact, we live in ignorance about who each other is, and so, far from commitment and community, we live in ignorance and therefore, in fear of each other. M. Scott Peck, author of several books including The Road Less Traveled and The Different Drum, says that commitment is the willing to co-exist, and says it’s crucial in order for there to be true community.

We don’t have that in our country, and so, in this 21st century, racism is as ugly and as potent as it has ever been. People are referring to President Obama as the “n” word; they are calling him “monkey” and worse, and they feel all right doing it. Racism has never lost its place as an accepted way of thinking in America and since we are so unwilling to struggle, it seems highly unlikely that it will ever go completely away.

In any struggle, we have to see ourselves as we are, not as we would like to believe we are. Real struggle begins then, because with the admission that we have some faults and some issues, we have to do some real work. We don’t want to do that …and so bad, toxic emotions and feelings fester within us as individuals and within this nation as an entity.

The gift and power of struggle is that if we are courageous enough to engage in it, we come out stronger. We are no longer afraid of what used to frighten us. We are able to stand in the face of adversity because in the process of struggle, we learn our own strength. America likes to talk about being strong, but she is not. She is a nation divided, and therefore, is weakened more than we would like to believe.

We don’t want to struggle because we don’t want to hurt, but hurt is a part of the process of life, says Joan Chittister in her book, Scarred by Struggle; Transformed by Hope. It is in having the courage to struggle that we learn to feed on hope, and in that feeding, we become stronger.

I wish America would be willing to struggle. I wish she would stop being afraid and stop living in denial. It is so past time for us to be talking about the virulence and presence of racism here. To struggle with it genuinely would be painful, yet after the pain, there would be a new America. We would be able to move on to other things, which we must needs do, but we limit ourselves just because we do not want to struggle. We do not want to change. And because we do not want to struggle and change, we won’t, not anytime soon.

A candid observation …