Leap: A Conversation Between Two Friends About Leaving Religion

“Oh look at you!  You look great!” Grace said as she gave Sophie one of her best hugs, Sophie noticed that her friend was still using the same lemony scent as always.

“Thanks, I’ve been working out again and it makes a difference, doesn’t it?” Sophie sat down across from her long lost friend and wondered if she’d have the nerve after all to ask the question she wanted to ask.

“Yes, for sure.  It’s tough to get back in the habit if you fall off the wagon, way to go.”  Grace said and sipped on her usual triple-shot-latte.  They caught up with kids and work and husbands – or exes, as it was with Grace, and in a bit of a lull she asked Sophie how so-and-so from the church was.   Last she heard, their mutual friend was diagnosed with a treatable form of breast cancer.

“I’m not exactly sure, to be honest.  I’ve sort of not been to church for a few weeks now and I don’t have any more information about it than you do probably.” Sophie relaxed, an open door for her question!

Grace took a moment to process Sophie’s words. Not going to church?  She wasn’t sure she heard right.

“Well, then, so much for that bit of news.  But what’s up with skipping church?” Grace asked.

It took a few seconds and she plunged right in. “I don’t know how you did it Grace.  How did you manage to leave?  Are you glad you did?”

Grace was surprised by Sophie’s questions and thought for a moment before she answered. There was a tone of desperation in her friend’s voice as if she were fishing for something specific.

“Well, it wasn’t an easy thing to do, first off, and anybody else I’ve spoken with says the same thing.  It’s a process, but, yes it’s worth it.” Grace said

“But I mean, did you miss everyone?  How did you survive without your friends?” Sophie blurted out the questions.

“Um, yeah, I did miss people.  I still miss some.  Some, like you I’ve managed to be able to keep in touch with.  It all depended on how people reacted to my change of heart.  I knew I would lose some friends in the process, but I went on to make new friends too.”  she answered, and then added, “What’s going on with you, what’s with the questions?”

Sophie fiddled with the lid to her coffee while she spoke, “I just don’t think I have the faith anymore.  You know Bill has always been passive and he finally quit church over a year ago.  I didn’t bother him over it, I figured he’d come back around at some point. I asked him about it a few times and he said he got tired of the politics. He said there was enough of it at the office, he didn’t need at church either.  And, well, we both started reading other news sources, Bill wanted something with another perspective, and I was shocked at the differences. In some instances the stuff I was reading from the church was quite at odds with the real world.   I started to just watch and listen and I came to see Bill’s point about the politics.  People vying for places of position and keeping things secret. I read some of the books Bill was reading and I came to realize just how outdated religion really is, and well, science does a better job explaining the presence of things than religion does. But it seems difficult to make a final break, like I’m abandoning my friends and who will take their place?”

Grace thought about her friend’s questions for a long moment before she responded.  She recalled being in a similar place when she declared her own atheism.  It was scary and unsettling and god how she wished she had someone to speak with.  She was glad she could be that someone for Sophie, in this moment.

“Well, like I said, you just have to figure that some people will write you off.  It’s hurtful and you’ll be angry over it but you can’t resent them for it.  Honestly, I think some of the people that react the strongest are the ones who would leave as well if they had the strength.  It’s one of the toughest things to do, to leave such a tight knit social group. We all have a deep desire to belong somewhere and often times we think ‘the church’ is the only option.  There is a bit of a grieving period, a kind of loss that goes with the process. But it doesn’t last forever.   There are alternatives too, ya know.  I’ve joined a couple of local community projects that provide the same sense of belonging, and I feel like I’m contributing more than I was sitting in church three hours a week.  At least that’s been my experience.  Does that answer your question?” Grace took a sip from her quickly disappearing latte and sat back, allowing her friend time to think about what she just said.

“It does.”  Sophie began slowly, “I was afraid you’d say exactly what you said.  That I might lose some friends forever.  It makes sense what you said about belonging and come to think of it, I am already finding my own alternatives, I just didn’t know why or what it was about.  I’ve started to form closer friends at work the past few weeks I’ve been out of church.   You know, in church we spend all our energy focusing inward and excluding anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the same way.  I am finding out as I get to know some of the girls I’ve excluded that they are genuinely nice and care about issues and one another.  All in all, it seems that the world is a much less frightening place than the church makes it out to be.”

Grace chose not to respond to the last comment and she let her friend keep control of the conversation.

“I suppose I just have to make the leap and admit that religion and I are no longer compatible. It’s a big leap after a lifetime of thinking just one way. But then I see you and a couple of others who have made the same choice and they haven’t been struck down by lightening and they really do seem happier.  I want that.”  Sophie said.

“Then it seems you will have it, you are well on your way already.”  Grace said.

“I think I just needed to hear some things out loud.  You really helped to affirm what I was already thinking.  And now I have to go pick up kids from a birthday party.  Thanks for meeting me Grace, it was good to catch up and good to know my feelings are normal.”  Sophie said.

“Anytime.  We should get together again soon.  I know I would’ve loved to have someone to talk to when I left religion.” Grace said.

“I would like that very much, I’ll send ya a text early next week.”  Sophie said.   The friends gave each other a couple of parting hugs and left to do their errands.   Sophie had more peace about her decision than ever.   It is a leap, but it just might be worth it.

Frankie

*I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about the need for us as atheists to understand the innate desire to belong and feel loved. I surmised that many who might leave religion do not simply for the sense of belonging that the church provides. This short fiction story is a twist on that idea. As a writer I wanted to explore what a conversation might be like between two friends: one who had already admitted to atheism and one who was considering the idea.   I thought it would be helpful to have some sort of visualization about these kinds of conversations – they are important in the scheme of things and we must allow compassion and empathy to guide us.

“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your own knowledge.”  Kahlil Gibran


Clarity With Atheism

A family member died this past week and I watched with a breaking heart as some prayed for a miracle that never came.  I watched with an empathetic mind as some wrestled with the very real struggle of justifying the death:  “God must have wanted him in heaven more than on earth,” was the go-to phrase. As I watched and empathized, I was reminded of the ways in which religion would cheat a soul.  I was reminded of the freedom and clarity that come with atheism.

I remember the days of praying with desperate hope for a miracle that would delay the finality of death (even though there was no evidence anywhere for me to believe that a miracle would occur).  I remember hanging on to any glimpse of good news:  the blood counts were down, the iron counts were up, the kidneys are working again – each was a sign that a supernatural healing was just around the corner.  Death would be cheated this one time.

Death is never one to allow itself to be cheated.   It always came, always claimed the soul it taunted for months.  No amount of praying would dissuade it from its duty. No god could stop its arrival.

I remember my struggle to make sense out of a no-win situation when the inevitable would happen.  I recall finding excuses because the reality was too hard to accept; buffering my psyche with outdated memes “thy will be done”  “god is in control”  “so-and-so is with the lord now.” I remember admonishing my self – obviously my faith was weak.

What a mental mess we allow ourselves to be as we work through the conflict of believing in the supernatural and dealing with the fallout when the supernatural doesn’t manifest itself.

As I watch family members work through the conflict – trying to fit together the notion that an omnipotent/omnipresent god refused to defy nature this one time and keep death from claiming its prize – I am thankful for the clarity that atheism brings to such circumstances.  There’s no emotional roller coaster, no disappointment in a benevolent being, no chastising myself for weak faith.  No futile reconciliation exercise in order to come to terms with the failed hope of a miracle healing.

I am saddened by the loss of life. But I am consoled by the many ways in which that life will live on: through children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, and neighbors. I am inspired to live my life better. I accept the reminder that time is short, we are mortal, death will not be cheated.  I am grateful for the lesson that there is clarity with atheism.

Peace comes with understanding, it does not pass it.

Frankie


#BlackLivesMatter: A Mother’s (Day) Story

Lennia handed off the lunch bag to Jameson and waited for her hug.  He gave it without hesitation and accepted the usual kiss on the cheek, the hug was a bit tighter, the kiss had a corresponding tear that tried to creep out of one of her eyes but she wiped it away.

“You have a good day, baby.  And mind your teacher and keep your head down.  Momma loves you.” She looked him in the eye as she said it, her son was as tall as she was now, at thirteen, and he nodded his head and muttered, “Yes’m, I promise.”

“That’s my baby.  See you later Jameson.” and like every other mother up and down the block that morning, she sent her child out into the world.

She went to the toilet immediately and vomited.  Black-Lives-Matter-square2-1024x1024

Every day Lennia sent her son to school, every day since that Jones boy got killed, she had thrown up her breakfast and worried the next eight and a half hours for her child to come home safe.  She’d lost fifteen pounds by now and while she could afford ten of them, her friends were growing concerned that she was getting too skinny.  “Your Tommy gonna be wonderin’ where your ass went girl,” Jazmin kidded her.

She couldn’t help it. Something in Lennia had snapped when she heard about the Jones kid that was shot by the police. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he got scared and ran.  Two small squeezes of a finger on a small piece of a metal trigger and his fifteen year old body was stopped, dropped, and would never get up again.  Lennia knew it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, but for some unexplained rationale this one made her realize that it could have been her baby lying in a puddle of blood.  It could be her baby lying on a cold table, a blueish face, surreal, eyes closed never to open again.  It could be his funeral pamphlet she was shopping for.  There were no guarantees.

It wasn’t enough just to be polite anymore.  It wasn’t enough for the kids to keep their head down and mind their own business.  It wasn’t enough for the Jones boy, it wouldn’t be enough for her Jameson.  She knew her son – he would be scared and probably run as well.

Jameson was a good kid, a bit on the quiet side which made it difficult for him to make friends. Lennia worried about whether or not he felt like he fit in.   She worried that he might get in with the wrong crowd at some point just to feel like he belonged somewhere.  She worried that his gentle spirit would make him a follower and not a leader.   She was sick over the fact that she couldn’t be with him all the time to protect him.

She was better for a bit right after he left, the adrenaline rush from vomiting gave her a measure of focus.  But that would wear off and then the tightening of her chest would set in and make breathing a chore of consciousness. She could be sweeping and it would hit her, frozen in fear, standing in the kitchen with nothing but panic for a companion.  She could be folding towels and the weight of worry would drive her to her knees, “Please god, keep my baby safe.  Please god, keep my baby safe. Please god, keep my baby safe.”  She could be taking a shower and unable to move until the hot water ran out and the cold water finally registered in her brain.  She could be sitting down at her sewing and the pounding of her heart would become louder than the pounding of the needle moving up and down over the fabric so that she would end up with a crooked stitch that needed to be ripped out and done over again.

Lennia couldn’t count the minutes and hours of time she was losing to her anxiety attacks, but she knew they were robbing her.   She couldn’t explain to her toddler daughter why she was crying, but she knew it upset her.  She couldn’t get her husband to understand why the housework wasn’t getting done, but she knew she was slipping.

The clock became her focus.  Nine.  Eleven.  Twelve twenty (lunch time).  One.  Two.  Two Thirty (he’ll be out of school in ten minutes).  Three fifteen.  The hours took their time to come and go as if they were torturing Lennia, testing her patience, making her a prisoner to their beginnings and endings.

Another rush of adrenaline helped her through the last half hour of waiting.   She knew Jameson had to walk home and the thought of him exposed and vulnerable sent her into a frenzy:  she paced the kitchen floor, compulsively checking the window with each pass to see if his face was there. “Damn this knotted heart.” she would think. “Curse this horrible world.” she would lash out. “Get home safe to me.” she would mutter with a plea.

When she did see his face, Lennia raced to the entry.   She had gotten good at calming herself down before Jameson opened the door but there was no mistaking the wild, primal wave of relief he saw each time in his mother’s eyes or the hug that cut off his own breath and smelled of desperate worry.

“I’m home safe momma, it’s okay.” He said these words to comfort her, knowing that they didn’t matter, her only solace was his warm, breathing, upright body.

“So you are, baby, so you are.”  she said and released him.

Lennia was almost herself the rest of the day.  Her baby was home safe under her roof where she could see him and hear him.  She hummed while she fixed dinner.  She laughed at the sit-com on TV.  She cooed over her daughter. She would even make love to her husband.

But the next morning, as soon as she told her son goodbye and closed the door after him, she went to the toilet immediately and vomited.


* Author’s note: The characters in this story are entirely made up, but the inspiration came from Toya Graham who was hailed as a hero for stopping her son from rioting in Baltimore.    The incident stayed with me and as I swept my own floors I became acutely aware that because of skin color, I don’t have to worry the way some mothers  must necessarily  worry about merely sending their babies off to school.   I publish this short story for them on this Mother’s Day because, damn, that’s a hard way to live.   May we find solutions.

Frankie


Thank You, And Keep Your Head in The Clouds

The Apology

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

groveandglen

Think me not unkind and rude

That I walk alone in grove and glen;

I go to the god of the wood

To fetch his word to men.

Tax not my sloth that I

Fold my arms beside the brook;

Each cloud that floated in the sky

Writes a letter in my book.

Chide me not, laborious band,

For the idle flowers I brought;

Every aster in my hand,

Goes home loaded with a thought.


There was never mystery

Bu’t is figured in the flowers;

Was never secret history

But birds tell it in the bowers.


One harvest from thy field

Homeward brought the oxen strong;

A second crop thine acres yield

Which I gather in a song.


Emerson understands that a creator, an artist, is necessarily bound to walk with nature and daydream.   We simply cannot function without the secrets we find tucked away and disguised.  They are our inspiration.   We don’t work the same way that others work, but please don’t hold that against us.  We are each twice blessed with a physical harvest from your work and the soulful harvest from our work!

Kahlil Gibran put his own twist on the idea a few decades later while discussing Buying and Selling in “The Prophet.”

And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions, who would sell their words for your labour.

To such men you should say,

“Come with us to the field, or go with our brothers to the sea and cast your net;

For the land and the sea shall be bountiful to you even as to us.”

And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, – buy their gifts also.

For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.

We artists are as much worker as any who would toil with their body instead.   Ours is a soulful work, full of investment and bleeding and daydreaming in order that we can share a second harvest – one of imagination, thoughtfulness, and beauty. In our world today, it feels as though we sometimes have to fight to carve out the ability to dream, but that’s okay.   This place is better off for all our efforts, I am certain of it.

Oh! And Thanks!  I’ve just reached one hundred followers.

Heads in the clouds kids…

Frankie

*photo is my own, taken recently in one of my favorite local hiking areas.


The Biggest, Fattest Corporate Lie: One Nation Under God

I’ve just come across an excerpt from a new book  “One Nation Under God:  How Corporate America Invented Christian America” written by Kevin Kruse.  I’ll be tripping to my local library this week to check it out.   It’s message couldn’t be more timely for our Nation.

The excerpt focuses specifically on “How one reverend’s big business-backed crusade altered the political landscape.”  It’s an important read because it details the origins of the incongruent marriage between christianity and the corporatocracy.  Here are some quotes from the article:

“Fifield and like-minded ministers saw Christianity and capitalism as inextricably intertwined, and argued that spreading the gospel of one required spreading the gospel of the other.”

“Notably, Fifield dismissed the many passages in the New Testament about wealth and poverty, and instead assured the elite that their worldly success was a sign of God’s blessings.”

“The first step would be making ministers realize that they, too, had something to fear from the growth of government. “The religious leaders must be helped to discover that their callings are threatened,” Haake argued, by realizing that the “collectivism” of the New Deal, “with the glorification of the state, is really a denial of God.” ”

“The magazine (Faith and Freedom) repeatedly denounced the Social Gospel and, just as important, clergymen who invoked it to advocate for the establishment and expansion of welfare state programs.”

With quotes like these, I can now understand memes like these:

republican jesus

According to Mr. Kruse, one individual and a whole lot of corporate money hijacked our democracy under the guise of maintaining our individual independence from government intervention.   What really happened is that we gave up our independence in the name of religion to the coporatocracy and they relentlessly colonized the American public to the point of third world status.

As I read the excerpt, I couldn’t help but notice the effects of Mr. Fifield’s movement in America’s Unseen Revolution where the financial elite control policy making and legislation (a shift from democracy to oligarchy).   Within the framework of Mr. Fifield’s  ‘One Nation Under God’  message, modern corporate leaders are allowed to claim a disproportionate sense of doing gods work with “a messianic belief in privatization and profits” (John Perkins, Hoodwinked).  One could correctly conclude from the message that God has ordained the third world status of America by empowering corporate leaders.

Corporate leaders are doing a superior job of making loads of money on the foundations of Mr. Fifield’s movement, and they are doing it to the exclusion of the rest of the American population.

We have a few weapons in our arsenal as citizens of the Republic:   We can educate and inform ourselves – no matter how uncomfortable the material.  We can vote for leaders who aren’t afraid to impose boundaries on Wall Street.  We can choose to keep religion within the four walls and privacy of our homes and out of government decision making.

I am not the only one who understands that our nation is at a crucial point in its history – with the next election we will decide whether to continue as a democracy or give over completely to oligarchy.  It is information such as Mr. Kruse’ book that will sway the balance.

Here’s to a healthy nation,

Frankie


Maslow’s Triangle and Religion: How The Psychology of Belonging Keeps Us Trapped in Church

It is  my personal opinion, based on quite informal observations, that perhaps the biggest reason so many fear leaving religion is because they fear losing their sense of belonging.

Abraham Maslow observed that all humans have a specific set of needs and they must be met in a specific order for us to reach our full potential, or self-actualization as he termed it.

maslowpic

At the bottom of the Hierarchy of Needs are the absolute minimum necessities for us to survive:  food, shelter, and safety.  Ask any homeless person (I’ve been there myself), its difficult to focus on creating the next big thing or writing the next big novel when you are worried about where you’re going to sleep that night or if you’ll have food tomorrow.   We are stuck at the bottom of the Maslow’s gig until we consistently have full bellies and safe shelter.   Once these are obtained, we can then focus on the next level of needs which is having a sense of belonging and being loved.   We must achieve at least some self-esteem and knowing that we are part of a group, then we can move on to the next and final level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, which is reaching our full potential, being successful, and helping others meet their goals.

I often wonder if many people stay in the church simply because it is their only source of belonging and sense of community.

It is a powerful feeling to know you are wanted and even needed by others.  I think this is especially true in the church setting where typically small congregations provide acute environments that affirm feelings of importance.  If a person began to question the indoctrinated principles their particular denomination espouses, if there are no alternatives to take the place of this sense of belonging, it is highly likely they will stay within the confines of religion – trapped – because the psychological need to belong and feel loved is real and strong.   It is not necessarily a conscious choice I suspect.

confession bear

From another angle, there is the ‘big fish in a small pond’ dynamic that I believe keeps some trapped within the walls of religion.   Its a mighty big world out there, and if I venture into it, I am just another part of the school.  Inside a church or mosque or temple though, I have some import.   I might be a children’s church director, or imam, or rabbi to a small community – I am a big fish in a small pond.   Any human would have a rough time giving that up.

I write about these psychological dynamics because it seems to me that as atheists, we should be sensitive to this issue. I think that sometimes when we hear so much cyclical arguing about ‘the bible says therefore it is’ that its only an argument fought from the corner of fear.   I think what many are really saying is “I know my place in here, I know I belong, I know I am needed, I know I am important and I am too afraid to give it up.”

Statistics show that more and more people are questioning their faiths, some of them may turn to us who have already trod the path for answers.  We should be aware of the power of the need to belong.  We need to offer support where there might not be any.  We need to form bonds within our communities so that we exemplify the idea that belonging is also achieved outside the four walls of a building.

It’s not easy to leave the confines of religion for many many reasons.  I suspect the psychological need to belong presents one of the greatest challenges to leaving the four walls of the church.   I am confident that we atheists can rise to the occasion and be sensitive to the issue, provide support, and form bonds to help our brothers and sisters.

Peace kids –

Frankie


Here’s the Real Challenge, Gweneth, but Thanks for the Effort! #FoodBankNYCChallenge

One of the big headlines this past week in celebrity news was Gweneth Paltrow’s pledge to survive on $29 of food in a week.  Here is the instagram snap she shared of all the food that amount of money can buy.

gwennie

Ms. Paltrow is taking part in a sort of ice bucket challenge gig to bring awareness to the issue of SNAP assistance (food stamps), or more to the point, how small an effect SNAP assistance really has on helping a person to survive, .  I mean just look at the picture.

LOOK                   AT                          IT.

Contained within that one picture is not just a week’s worth of food.  It’s an entire lifestyle.

You see, there’s a psychological framework that we all work within and an astute man by the name of Abraham Maslow put it in a tangible illustration called Maslow’s Triangle, or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

maslowpic

At the base of the Triangle, as the very very very very foundation of our needs, we must be safe and fed and have a roof over our heads.    Maslow observed that until our physical needs are met, we are trapped at the first level of Need. We cannot meet our social needs of feeling loved and having a sense of belonging until we reach a point where we consistently have full tummies, safe sleeping quarters, and clothes on our backs.

Here’s what we miss:   Statistically, if a person is utilizing SNAP to meet their basic needs, chances are their entire life is stuck at the first level of Maslow’s Triangle.

It’s not just the food you see, its the lifestyle that goes with the food.  It’s knowing I have food at the beginning of the month, but I’ll be eating ramen noodles the last week of the month – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It’s wondering if I can find a job this month, or if I’ll be able to keep the one I have, or maybe trying to deal with my work hours being cut.  It’s wondering if my babies will be safe in the neighborhood playground because I can only afford certain housing.  It’s working with a damnable toothache because I cannot afford dental insurance let alone the trip to the dentist.   It’s sharing a bed in the winter because I can’t afford the heating  bill.  It’s going without nail polish, using the same mascara for a year, and wearing torn underwear – the kids need clothes you see. It’s excruciating pain when my child comes home crying because he was teased for having holes in his shoes.  It’s fighting with my husband over steak or beans for dinner again.  It’s laying in bed, in the early morning hours, worrying, anxious, trying to figure out how I can come up with ten measly bucks so my daughter can go on the school field trip.

It’s the day in and day out grind, just barely surviving, just making ends meet (or learning to live with yourself if you can’t – a silent surrender to your circumstances, a compromise you never thought you’d make), its scratching out even a meager existence any way possible  –  THAT’S what this picture really represents:

gwennie

Education is the key to understanding.  I am grateful that some attention is given to the issue, but we must realize that it’s not just the food, or lack of it, that our brothers and sisters deal with.   They deal with the mere act of surviving on a daily basis, without physical safety, without choices, and without understanding. They cannot contribute to society in a meaningful way since all their attention is focused on meeting their basic needs one day at a time, they have no energy left over for anything else   I would challenge Gweneth, and any others, to look beyond the picture in order to comprehend the lifestyle.   THEN we might be able to effect some real change.

Here’s to making a difference.  Here’s to awareness.  Here’s to less of us struggling to merely survive.

Frankie


America’s Homeless: Taking the Fall for Alan Greenspan, Hank Paulson, and Co.

This past week a well meaning, albeit misinformed youth, posted a link to his facebook page about putting welfare recipients to  work instead of just giving them welfare money.  “Make them earn it” the message says, “They shouldn’t be allowed to be lazy.” it continues.

I quietly fumed inside.

This past year in my hometown there’s been a loud outcry for something to be done with the homeless population, all of them focus on making homelessness a criminal activity and a scourge on our local society.

I am deeply concerned and saddened.

Over and over the message I hear and see is that being homeless or receiving welfare benefits are a huge crime.  They are the ones ruining our nice clean cities.  They are the ones abusing the system and taking advantage of our hard earned money.

They are the ones taking the fall for the ills in our society simply because they are right in front of us.

corporate-welfare5

The real perpetrators, the real criminals, and the true manipulators of the system, people like Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson are the responsible parties. they escape our focus however because they live quietly tucked away, out of sight of the public and certainly not on our everyday radar.

They are the ones however who deliberately allowed the past two economic crisis to occur and led us into the Great Recession.  It doesn’t take much reading for any citizen to discover that they are the ones who went out of their way to mutilate the economic system entirely in their own favor.   They consciously broke laws.  They ignored loud warning signs from economists that the system was going to crash.  They are the ones who deceptively invented ways to shift massive amounts of money from the pockets of the middle class to their own offshore bank accounts.

This disconnect.

This idea that welfare recipients are ‘milking’ the taxpayer while Wall Street members still receive obscene bonuses.

This stain.

This concept of blaming the homeless for the degradation of society when it was Wall Street who shuttered our homes and our stores.

This shame.

This……is one of the greatest social injustices we’ve ever created as Americans.

It is a situation easily remedied though, if we’re willing to take the time.  It means being aware and educated.  It means addressing problems such as unemployment and de-regulations instead of treating the symptoms such as homelessness.  It means electing leaders who are not afraid to let the right people take the fall.

We are a better nation than this, I am sure of it.  Let’s act like it kids.

Frankie

P.S.  Keep an eye out for a new website I am launching next week intended to help us be aware and educated as I admonished “Twentyfirstcenturyrevolution”.   It’s new information and provides some real focus to our current socioeconomic problems.  Here’s to finding solutions.


Cheating Teachers: Ain’t No Surprise To Me

In a big mess of a deal, several Atlanta teachers and school administrators were sentenced (too harshly in my opinion) to jail time because they cheated on the State Standardized Tests.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  At. All.

Several years ago I went back to college after having all my babies with the lifelong goal of teaching in my sight.  There is always something about academia that excites me and I couldn’t wait to get into a classroom and passionately share my enthusiasm for….History!  I was so looking forward to igniting at least a handful of bright minds about the subject, I was so looking forward to making History at least ‘not boring’ for the rest of them.

Then something happened that caused me to seriously reconsider my career choice:  No Child Left Behind.  My observations of classroom transformations, witnessing my own children navigate through them, and long talks with teachers who were stuck implementing the legislation convinced me that I would never make it as a successful teacher within the new parameters set down.

You see, successful teaching is largely a creative venture.  There is really no right way to go about it except to hold high expectations and be observant of one’s students at all times.  That way we are aware when an “A-ha” moment is about to occur and can help the pupil to it.  Lev Vygotsky, a renown child development psychologist, keenly observed the teacher’s role as providing a bridge for the learner to be able to ‘connect the dots’ as it were. Writing sage Kahlil Gibran echoed the sentiment in his work “The Prophet” when he says “No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.”    It’s work to make those connections happen.  It’s bleeding, investing, time-consuming creative work to set down the kinds of paths needed so that our students can learn. Those paths were blocked, blown up, and utterly demolished with the advent of NCLB.

Tests are everything now, thanks to No Child Left Behind. They determine whether or not a school gets funded.  They determine whether or not a teacher is successful. They make lots of money for the test makers who have a close ally in DC. They remove any sort of creativity from the teaching experience and put our educators in positions to cheat in a system based on monetary values.  They have robbed our children of the value of learning to think.   They have eroded our schools so that they are nothing more than faceless information factories.

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This group of Atlanta educators have a fair slice of my personal empathy. I’ve not been surprised at all that cheating of this kind has occurred.   Not one of us should be.  The confining, restrictive, and narrow paths of standardized testing necessarily invites criminal activity.

Teaching is a creative process and should have wide spaces to work with.  Anything less is detrimental to learning. Hopefully – Maybe – Fingers Crossed – one day this stain on our national education system will be removed, hopefully, maybe, fingers crossed, without too much residual damage.

Here’s to all those teachers out there who managed to stay in the classrooms after NCLB was implemented.  You are braver than I am and you have my utmost respect.  And to the group in Atlanta, I understand.

Frankie


J K Rowling, Professor Dumbledore, and A Writer’s Family

Did you catch the big fuss this week about a comment someone made concerning Professor Dumbledore?

J K Rowling has gone on the record long ago about her beloved Professor and that she always just thought of him as gay. A fan this past week asked her about it, saying “I can’t see him that way.”    Rowling’s response is widely heralded as brilliant: “Maybe because gay people look just like…people?”

I loved that she didn’t feel the need to defend her character.  She simply responded with a logical observation and remained steadfast in her creation of Professor Dumbledore.  What an excellent example to us writers.

After all, we writers invest untold quantities of energy into our creations and as I wrote not long ago we become bonded to our characters.   It can’t be helped, our days and nights are fixed upon them as if they were our compass, guiding us through their story, leaving a trail of crumbs for us to follow and use for inspiration. And if Albus Brian Wulfric Percival Dumbledore presented himself to his creator as gay, then that was that.  Who is J K Rowling to question him?

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I understand it more than most perhaps.  I am nearing the end of a manuscript (only a week or so of tears and toiling and laboring left, wahoooo!) and one of my heroines is transgender.   I simply could not imagine her/him any other way.  There was no questioning or wondering.  She arose out of the ether as a counterpart to the main character and behold!  this is who she is.  And just like she wouldn’t let her mother change her, she wouldn’t let me change her either.  He stood steadfast in the knowledge of who he is and who am I to challenge that?  I couldn’t, nor would I want to.  I love him just the way he is and if caught in a pinch, he can defend himself much better than I can.

Ms. Rowling’s response is an example to all writers:  there’s no need to defend our characters, they speak for themselves, our job is to merely give them the voice.

Here’s to our characters kids!  May we be as loyal to them as they are to us…

Frankie

P.S.  Coming beginning Summer 2015 on e-book format:  Caysee and Mac Ride the Train:  A Story of Friendship, and Freedom by Frankie Wallace


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