A Personal Story of Crazy Faith

English: en:Mary McLeod Bethune
English: en:Mary McLeod Bethune (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am in the midst of my own “crazy faith” experience, and it is so intense that I thought I’d better write about it!

For those of you who do not know, I wrote a book called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives. In the book, I talk about people, including Moses, Mother Teresa, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Washington and Emily Roebling, who built the Brooklyn Bridge. I talked about their amazing, crazy faith, believing that something most people deemed crazy and impossible to be absolutely possible.

It was their crazy faith, I wrote, that drove them.

The image that sticks with me this day is that of Moses, standing at the Red Sea, having only his faith that is telling him that somehow, he and the Israelites will get to the other side before they are trounced upon by the Egyptians. And I am thinking of the crazy faith that Mother Teresa had as she worked and lived amongst the poor, believing that all she needed would be provided and that she and her nuns would be not only all right, but taken care of by this God who had given the vision.

Well, it seems God has jokes. I am living my own “crazy faith” experience, as I just wrote. We are doing a CDF Freedom Schools® program and we don’t have near the money we need to do it! All we have is God …and crazy faith.

Being in this situation is making me understand, not from an intellectual point of view, but from a visceral place, what “crazy faith” is.  I see the stares people give me, the ones who know how little money we have. I see the doubt in their eyes; I can imagine the conversations they have when I am not around. I can only imagine what kinds of stares Moses got, or Mother Teresa, or Emily Roebling as she took over the brass tacks of getting that Brooklyn Bridge built as her husband lay ill. I can imagine how Mary McLeod’s stomach must have turned as she baked sweet potato pies to get money to give to a man for a piece of land she knew was to be hers, in order to build a school for kids that nobody wanted or believed in.

I think the skin must have peeled from their knuckles, figuratively speaking, as they looked “impossible” in the face, and yet they kept going.

My knuckles are skinless, but I have not heard God say anything like, “Oops! I told you the wrong thing.” No, what stirs in my soul is the plight and condition of too many black, brown and poor children, in public schools that are not really serving them well. I see little kids, pre-third grade, with eyes wide open, expectant and eager to learn, only to be disappointed by their educational experience and the fact that they feel, that early, this thing that circulates in our society that tells them that they are inferior, second-class citizens. I see their faces, and I hear God saying, “keep moving.”

CDF Freedom Schools have a track record of producing children who, no matter how poor, learn to read and learn to love to learn. In its literature, the program says that the program has been called “a curriculum of hope.” The Freedom School environment is one where children who have lived with neglect from home and society feel a safe, warm, nurturing place, interacting with people who believe in them and who remind them that they really can do anything they want. The integrated reading curriculum, the culturally relevant books …the entire program is a testament to what real investment in black, brown and poor children can do.

It has been shown that if children do not learn how to read, they begin to “act out” by third grade, and many face lives of, as Thoreau said, “quiet desperation,” trying to find their way, their voice, in the world. Many simply end up on a path of destruction; CDF has identified the “cradle to prison” pipeline, which too many children wind up in …largely because they cannot read.

Freedom Schools challenge the notion that these children cannot learn, and they have statistics to show that they are on the right track. About 65 percent of all children who participate in these schools show dramatically improved reading scores. Hooray for the proof…

If nothing else, I have a passion for our children, for any child who is left to the side and neglected. I hate it when reports come out saying how poorly African-American children do in school, because I know that our children are just as capable as other children. They are just working from a different paradigm… I so desperately want to have a foot in the door of making a difference for these children. Last year, over 12,800 attended Freedom Schools, nationally. This year, our 50 students will be among the number. That is the goal…

And so God whispers to me, “keep going.” Tears roll down my face, I get so nervous. I wonder if Moses cried, or if Mary McLeod Bethune cried? If they didn’t, I cry for them…because if they felt this pull, this pressure, that comes before God acts, I’m sure they wanted to cry, even if they didn’t. At the end of the day, it was their faith in God that made them stay the course.

They are my role models, and the God who has jokes …is forever my guide.

A candid observation

Girl Talk: “Being” vs.”Doing”

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Image via Wikipedia

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said something to the effect that everybody wants to “be” somebody instead of wanting to “do” something that will change the world.

I would probably edit her observation to say that we want to “be” somebody who is physically beautiful, rather than be like an unattractive woman who actually changed the world.

I didn’t like Margaret Thatcher’s politics, but she was a woman who knew herself and who walked in her strengths. It seemed that she was not at all consumed with looking a certain way so that she could be labeled as an attractive woman. In spite of her skill as a leader of a major world power, one almost never hears little girls saying they would like to be like her, or like Hillary Clinton, or like Mary McLeod Bethune.

No, young girls, egged on by their mothers, would rather “be” the next Paris Hilton (for whatever reason, I do not understand), or like Marilyn Monroe or Beyonce Knowles. The desire to “be”  is based much on how these women looked, not what they have done in or for the world.

If we complain that we considered to be sex objects rather than human beings, then we have ourselves to blame as much as the men about whom we complain. I have watched snippets of parents putting their very young daughters in beauty pageants, teaching them to capitalize on their looks, rather than learning their gifts and talents and building upon those things.

The tendency of white parents to push their daughters forward as sex objects is no less regrettable than black parents pushing their sons to aspire to be professional athletes.  In both cases, the little girls and boys become objects that will be used to make someone else big bucks, even after their beauty or athletic ability has long gone.

The hardest part about watching us women trying to “be” somebody else rather than to “do” something of significance in and for the world is that it is always futile to try to be somebody else. No matter how hard one tries, all one can be is oneself. Yes, we can get tummy tucks and dye our hair and get breast implants and any number of other things to enhance or change what people see, but in the end, I find myself wondering if we do that at the expense of taking care of how we feel.

It is good that beauties are all around us. Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson, Natalie Morales – there are so many beautiful women who are also doing things.

It would be a good thing if we began to teach our daughters that it is OK to look at someone and admire how they look, and even take tips on how we might fix our hair or makeup…but that it is never OK to lose ourselves in trying to be someone else.

At the end of the day, the beauty and sexiness for which we crave are so fleeting. Long after beauty fades and being “sexy” doesn’t work anymore, the world would be better if it had more women who decided that, just as they were, they were better than just “OK,” and who forged ahead to help pave the way for real change in a very troubled and complex world.

A candid observation …