Sunday, August 31, 2008

In Memoriam: Reverend C.L. Franklin

'The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest' and 'Dry Bones in the Valley' are two dynamic messages of the Reverend C.L. Franklin which have endured for several decades and which are remembered with incredible affection in the black church.

Reverend C.L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin, was considered one of the profound and popular influences on black preaching.

He was the pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, and one of the most prominent preachers in the nation. Rev. Franklin was one of the first ministers to put his sermons on radio and record albums.

A colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin was the principal organizer of a march for Civil Rights in Detroit in 1963. A march which culminated in a speech in which Dr. King prefigured his 1963 March on Washington 'I Have a Dream' message.

C.L. Franklin died in 1984. His legacy to the black church is not so much in its scholarship or intellectual depth, but his talent to nurture the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a people just a little over 100 years out of slavery. He challenged all who heard him at the point of their temptations to substitute their humanity for materialism and greed; his was a pulpit ministry which kept his hearers from giving into despair over their oppression and led them into a celebration of their relationship with God in ways which affirmed their personhood and strengthened their faith.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Dwight David Eisenhower
1890-1969
President
1953-1961

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

We Can Dare to Hope

When Barak Obama was one of a dozen or so announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, there were a number of African-Americans, including myself, considered it to be yet another symbolic effort.

Iowa changed that, and then the other states. The tight race with Hillary Clinton changed that. And last night made it certain that while symbolism was involved, substance was involved. And now, we have reached a watershed moment in our nations history.

Forty-five years after Martin Luther King 's "I Have a Dream Speech"

One hundred forty-five years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed

the first African-American in the history of our country is nominated by a major party as a candidate for the highest office in the land.

African-Americans and others, were conditioned not to hope. Tonight we saw that it is perfectly alright to hope. This doesn't solve all of our country's problems and its not supposed to.

But every attempt to achieve resolution to any problem begins with hope.

Leonard Pitts, one of my favorite columnists, says it better than I can:

"In the first part of the momentous speech he [Martin Luther King] gave at the Lincoln Memorial, the part schoolchildren don't memorize and pundits never quote, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded a watching world that in writing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the founders were 'signing a promissory not to which every American was to fall heir."

"This note," said Dr. King, "was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." His evocation of this great American promise may be less well known than Dr. King's description, moments later , of his great American dream, but there is, nevertheless, a straightforward clarity to it that it compels. Because where race is concerned, what is American history if not the story of how that promise was repeatedly broken? As Dr. King put it five years later in the last speech of his life, "All we say to America is 'be true to what you said on paper'."

"But America never did."

"Except that now, here comes Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan and a Kansan, striding to the podium to accept the nomination of his party for president of the United States. It comes 45 years to the very day after Dr. King said he had a dream America's promise might someday be fulfilled, 100 years and a day after the birth of the president, Lyndon Johnson who helped nudge that dream toward reality. The timing requires you, if you have any music in your soul, any ''soul" in your soul, to reappraise both the promise and the dream."

"The realization coalesces something some of us never dared hope and others never dared fear the idea that one day America would take its promise seriously.

We can dare to hope.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Burden of Being First

Last night's convention session was one of the most interesting I ever watched. Not just because of Hillary Clinton's performance, which was virtually golden by any stretch of the imagination. But because it literally amounted to the Democratic Party finally receiving permission to accept Barak Obama as its candidate for president.

There is a sense in which it appeared that delegates and even the presenters were holding their collective breath until Mrs. Clinton finally gave her blessing to their choice.

Much of this is fairly understandable. For months now the Democratic Party has been in the unique position of asking itself "which history do we want to make?" Given the rules and the goal line that kept changing, and the way the game has been played. The choice was made to have an African-American as the candidate for the highest office in the land. The first ethnic minority candidate to head the ticket of a major party for the first time in our U.S. history.
Ever since that happened its seems as if some party officials and some loyalists have been asking, "Now are we sure we made the right choice?"

Clinton supporters, who have not been able to accept the concept of winning and losing, have been insistent that they be 'heard' (and no one has yet to define what that means). And there has been the question as to whether or not the Clinton, themselves, have been able to overcome bruised feelings and egos, to give full throated and unqualified support to Senator Obama.

At the same time, there has been concession after concession by the Obama camp, even to the point of having Mrs. Clinton's name placed in nomination!

How strong does this make Obama as a presidential candidate? And if all of this has played out in any fashion close to what it appears, what type of 'history' are we really making?

If the second place finisher in a close race has to 'concede' that he or she has lost, amid clear objective measures for winning and losing, what has actually been won?

This is a picture of what it means for ethnic minorities to make 'progress' in our country. Even in the most liberal circumstances there is a sense in which ultimately someone has to 'let' a representative of the group in question be the 'first' and receive qualified 'support'. The question of whether or not that minority is 'qualified' usually remains a question that haunts the trailblazer for years, placing them perpetually in the position of having to 'prove' themselves.

It is interesting that both Ronald Reagan's Deputy Chief of Staff, Michael Deaver and even George Stephanopolous, President Clinton's press secretary admit that neither president or their staffs new what to do when they first entered the Oval Office! Why now does Obama have to be 'ready on day one?'?

Being first is hard. Being first and a minority is even harder. Being the first ethnic minority is harder still. Maybe we should list that as a presidential qualification...

It's not only important to be make history. I think its important to be on the right side of history when its being made.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This Election is a Referendum On America

Of course there is more to come from the Democratic Convention, regarding their platform and the significant differences between Barak Obama and John McCain. But if last night was to be both a paean to the Democratic Party's rich history of liberalism and a corrective to the negative attacks on Michelle Obama, then you can consider it a success.

I'm not sure how heartless you would have to be to not be moved by Senator Ted Kennedy's appearance and his courageous determination to be back to the Senate in January. Or to find fault with the story of Michelle Obama's family, her life and her commitment to service.

I'm having a hard time figuring this one out:

For a couple of decades now, we've been saying that what's most important in our leaders are character, a commitment to family, to community and to faith.

We've said that we want minorities to take control of their lives, get an education and instead of 'playing the victim' show themselves to be responsible, adhere to mainstream 'values'.

We've said that we want to see Black men be responsible husbands and fathers and not to use the social pathologies in their past as an excuse for their failure.

So now we have a man who grew up in a single family home, eventually raised by his grandparents, who attended Ivy League schools and has a history of being a community organizer, becomes a professor of constitutional law, gets involved in politics. Wins a state senate seat and becomes a U.S. Senator and is now running for president.

He and his wife have traveled virtually the same path, from working class poverty to a solidly middle class life. He's become what he has become without bitterness with regard to race, or the challenges of his upbringing. They are not only churchgoers, but unashamedly people of faith, members of a church that is part of a mainstream denomination, and have displayed loyalty, some may say to a fault, to their church. In much the same way some other Christians who have problems with the issues related to or who disagree with some of the teachings of their church remain loyal to theirs.

He and his wife responsibly care for their children and educate them.

Yet they have been branded as 'exotic', 'dangerous' and 'un-American'...?

What type of political logic suggests that they would want this country to be something less than the country that provided them all of the opportunities that have given them the life they have now?

Disagree with Obama's policies. Say that he's too young, too inexperienced and untested. Those positions are fair. Arguable but fair. But any other argument reveals some deeper problems.

Political pundits say that this election is a referendum on Barak Obama.

I believe that this election is a referendum on America.

____________________________________________________

Here's the link to my Dallas Morning News column from Saturday.
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/viewpoints/stories/dn082308edi-britt.edi.f579691.html

Monday, August 25, 2008

Texas Faith - A New Online Interactive Forum

I've been invited to take part in Texas Faith, what is sure to be an interesting weekly interactive discussion. Texas Faith will involve clergy, lay people scholars and readers of The Dallas Morning News and dallasnews.com. Dallas Morning News writers Bill McKenzie, Jeffrey Weiss, Rod Dreher and Wayne Slater, will serve as moderators and will pose an email question me and a host of , other panel members from across Texas. We will respond online throughout the week, readers will chime in with their own opinions.

The responses to the weekly question will be posted on www.dallasnews.com/texasfaith.

Hope you will follow and participate.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The National Anthem

There are different expressions of patriotism. We may relate or choose not to accept those expressions; they may differ from the traditional, but they can be legitimate interpretations of the varied experiences of citizens who love the its promise and the hope which life in this country holds for all of its people, whether fully realize or not.

The Olympics are ending, we are beginning the election season in earnest and will choose the next president and leader of the free world.

The late Marvin Gayes' rendition of the National Anthem, expresses the passion, pain and promise of our country's offer of hope to every generation and to the world. A struggle in which we must all engage, if we that hope is ever to be realized.

I hope you can relate to it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Theodore Roosevelt
1858 - 1919

President
1901 - 1909

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."


Friday, August 22, 2008

How We're Contributing to a Growing Underclass Part 2

OK, I'm going to trust you. Click on the link below first to see another way we are helping to stock the pool of underclass in our society.

www.wfaa.com/video/index.html?nvid=244124

I cannot imagine why more and more parents aren't livid when it comes to this. Note that the report isn't saying that 75% of students aren't prepared to do freshman work at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or Southern Methodist University - we're talking about community college.

Granted, high school graduates have any number of reasons for choosing community college over four year colleges or universities. But whatever the reason, students ought to be prepared to read and write on grade level when they get to community college.

There is something worse, however. The Dallas County Community College District has been telling us this for years! Which means that there is a systemic problem when it comes public education. And it is one that we consistently ignore.

Now, brace yourself as see the Dallas Independent School District's solution to the problem:

http://www.wfaa.com/video/?z=y&nvid=273188&shu=1

In order to correct a problem that is leaving our children uneducated, and unprepared, the academic strategy is to require less of them! A very simple question to all of the Ph.D's and E.D.'s at the district: Is this how you began your academic careers?

The fact is, I understand why this is being done. It is no fault of good teachers and sincere administrators that students face domestic and societal pathologies that leave many of them unprepared and unsupported when it comes to schoolwork.

Politicians have placed downward pressure on public school administrators who in turn put pressure on teachers to get students to pass state mandated standardized tests. And parents, some of whom work jobs with long hours, some who work two or more jobs, and some parents whose time in school was, shall we say, less than successful don't or can't provide the support that public schools used to depend to help students learn and keep them in line. I get that.

But look at what is happening to a system (public education), which is probably our country's greatest gift to modern civilization:

middle class families are moving to the suburbs (both black and white), meaning that our urban schools are populated by some of our poorer students

we syphon out dollars from public schools through vouchers and charter schools leaving fewer resources for urban public schools

we have a 50% drop out rate among the poorer students left in public schools and we have a 'teach to the test' strategy of education that leaves them trained, but uneducated

Consequently, we are intentionally or collaterally creating a class of students who are prepared for nothing but low-wage, dead end jobs and a severely truncated quality of life.

The answer cannot be to look for less from the students who are currently in public schools.

What can be done? We could seriously enlist the aid of business, parents, faith based organizations and community organizations to build a real constituency for public schools. This can't be an artificial, rubber stamp committee for education 'experts'. This must be a group which holds the schools accountable and who, in turn, are willing to be held accountable for aiding schools in stemming the drop out rate and preparing kids for meaningful education and graduation. This is a group that will join community schools in promoting education as a way out of poverty, and a pathway to a better quality of life.

We can also pay teachers like education professionals instead of clerks and promote classroom teaching a noble profession, instead of a pathway to professional academic bureaucratic careers. And we can begin when children enter school talking with them and with their parents about what it will take to get their children in college, thereby changing their mindset and expectations from 12 years of eduction, to at least 16.

There are other things, but without doing at least some of the above, we are adding to an underclass. Some of these kids will make it no matter what. They are bright, they will acquire other support systems and mentors.

But others, some who graduate valedictorian and salutatorian, will go to college and find out that their high school diploma is really a certificate of public school attendance. It will be devastating...and criminal.

Oh, to be fair, the Dallas Independent School District did try to reassure the public regarding its intentions:

http://www.wfaa.com/video/?z=y&nvid=274086&shu=1

It wasn't the strategy; it was the MEMO!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How We're Contributing to a Growing Underclass Part 1

We may be able to do something about the underclass that we are creating in this country if we didn't keep adding to it.

We add to it in a number of ways. One way is the way in which the formerly incarcerated are dealt with. Let out of prison with employers loathe to hire them, restricted leasing policies in apartment complexes, we have pretty much cut them loose to return to their neighborhoods of origin where the social pathologies tend to be worse than when they went into prison.

But adjunct to that re-entry population is another class of formerly incarcerated known as 'exonerees': a demographic of the prison population released because of eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, government misconduct and most dramatically, advances in genetic science - known as DNA evidence - which has proven them to be innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted.

I recently met two of these men through the Innocence Project of Texas. Charles Chatman and James Woodard, both of whom have served 27 years in prison for crimes for which they have been convicted and released from prison through DNA evidence. Chatman and Woodard are two of nineteen men who Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watson has found to be wrongly convicted and incarcerated, during the era in which Henry Wade, a former Dallas County DA who served for 30 years had prosecuted.

These men have had the same problems as those who have been guilty and released and are now on probation. Not only that, but they still have a criminal conviction on their record, one which can only erased by a pardon by the governor, a process that can cost money and take years.

Even the process of having their conviction expunged, is no guarantee that they can resume their lives as innocent men.

They have difficulty finding work because employers don't make a clear distinction between exoneration and probation. And accessing compensation for the time they spent in prison, unfairly and wrongly convicted ($50,000, for each year of their incarceration), is not only time consuming, but expensive - they have to hire a lawyer, which could cost up to a third of their compensation, and upon which they have to pay taxes, as if they haven't already paid society enough!

These are men whom we have placed in a virtual no man's land: they are out of touch with a society that has passed them by (Chatman didn't know how to use a cell phone when he was released). But neither do they fit in with the rest of the prison re-entry population because they were not guilty of the crime for which they were imprisoned.

Currently Watkins is having more than 200 such cases researched, the more he finds, the larger the underclass grows. Ironic, isn't it? The search for justice, contributes to the greater injustice of making the innocent indistinguishable from the rest of an already growing underclass.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Our Distracted Culture

I picked up an interesting book recently entitled, Distracted, The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, by Maggie Jackson.

Jackson's premise is that our technologically saturated culture is eroding our capacity to focus and engage in reflective thought regarding just about anything. In the name of progress we may be sliding down a slippery slope with our BlackBerrys, email, and PowerPoint explanations of complex subject matter.

"Is this progress?", she asks, "We have reason to worry. Kids are the inveterate multitaskers, the technologically fluent new breed that is better suited for the lightening paced, many-threaded digital world, right? After all, they are bathed in an average of nearly six hours a day of nonprint media content, and a quarter of that time they are using more than one screen, dial, or channel. Nearly a third of fourteen to twenty-one-year-olds juggle five to eight media while doing homework. Yet for all their tech fluency, kids show less patience, skepticism, tenacity and skill than adults in navigating the Web, all while overestimating their prowess, studies show...

"While undoubtedly the reasons for this state of affairs are myriad, what's certain is that we can't be a nation of reflective, analytic problem solvers while cultivating a culture of distraction...

"An executive at a top accounting firm, who was researching the future workforce, confided to me his deep concerns that young workers are less and less able to concentrate, think deeply, or mine a vein of inquiry. Knowledge work can't be done in sound bites, he warned."

I find it interesting because it answers any number of questions which have plagued me for quite some time regarding public discourse in our country, such as the unwillingness to engage in sustained thought and our penchant for quick answers to things like poverty, the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, race and education, among other things.

For nearly ten years now, we have lauded simplistic inarticulate speech as 'plain spoken'; we have made the word, 'intellectual' a pejorative and more and more we have reduced public education to test taking proficiency, and higher education to specific training in particular fields.

The social and political systems which call for the most overhaul, require something other than snappy, bumper sticker logic and yet it is those who provide such, claim our minimized attention in such a way that they become our heroes, our role models and our political leaders.

Jackson offers a prescient warning for those of us who don't recognize the danger:

"...a dark age is not a one-dimensional time of unending disintegration. Rather, it is a distinct turning point in history, a period of flux that often produces great technological and other gains yet ultimately results in a declining civilization and a desert like spell of collective forgetting."

Maybe we're on the precipice of such an age, maybe not. But our future depends on our capacity to focus and to demand substance of ourselves, our children and our leaders.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Let the Real Season Begin!


It's football season! I know the Olympics is going on and baseball talk is narrowing in on it's penant races - but America's most popular sport is just beginning. This is my time of year!


Baseball fans and golf fanatics wax eloquent with metaphors that compare their sport of choice to life, but football is the sport that manages to dominate the country's attention when it truly gets underway.


So I don't know about you, but its been a long time since February - I'm ready for some football!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Well Done Pastor Warren!

Watching Rick Warren moderate the Saddleback's Civil Forum on the Presidency, was extremely interesting and it was interesting because of Rick Warren.

Warren is the evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and seems to have found the key to being religiously conservative without being obnoxious. He also found a way to host the forum without getting in the way of the forum. His questions were challenging, but he presented value issues, without using them as wedge issues the way most Christian conservatives have for more than a quarter of a century.

I'm not a Rick Warren 'fan'. I do think that he is a committed Christian, with an engaging spirit and a thoughtful, strategic pastor whose perspective on our faith, and contemporary church, offers much that is of value to the church at large. I didn't agree with the obvious perspective from which some of the questions were asked. But he asked those questions in ways in which they could be heard and in ways that made you look forward to hearing the answers.

Warren was at appropriate times humorous, serious and he was somewhat substantive. He came off neither as a grave theologian, a policy wonk, or a representative of church leaders looking for a combination president/pastor-in-chief. He presented himself as a citizen of faith.

I found it very interesting! Was I surprised? No. I know a number of Christians like Warren. Some are more liberal than I, others are more conservative. They have no political 'agenda' so to speak. They have core values, based on their faith in Christ, their enlightened self interest as citizens and their love for their country and their church.

For the most part, their ministries don't have the reach of a Rick Warren. And, for the most part, they don't get involved in public life in high profile ways. But they are around. And whether they are labeled conservative or liberal, they are progressive enough to express their views in public debate and express those views without being stuck in polarizing positions.

The problem is, that for nearly 25 years they haven't been the ones doing the talking. It was both interesting and refreshing to see Rick Warren model, in some respects, another side.

Warren has been seeking to extend the impact of his ministry to speak not only to issues of personal morality, but he is teaching that believers have a spiritual imperative to address social issues through advocacy and service. So he is finding ways to address issues of hunger, racism, environmental stewardship, poverty and AIDS. The man whose book sales are reported to be somewhere near $25 million and could settle into the type of irrelevant celebrity of some other mega church pastors, has made the decision to deepen his ministry and not just broaden it.

Whatever you think about mega churches and their pastors, Warren acquitted himself well on Saturday night. I think those of us who are members of the church community ought to say well done.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Franklin D. Roosevelt
1882-1945

President

1933-1945


"But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings. "

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Poverty is Growing

The Dallas Morning News' article on the challenge of providing housing for poor people in suburban areas, is similar to a recently released study by the Brookings Institute , entitled, Reversal of Fortune a New Look at Concentrated Poverty in the 2000s, which looks at the impact of concentrated poverty among the working class in urban areas.

The analysis by the Institute reveals an array of issues associated with poverty in neighborhoods in which 40% or more of the residents within a given census tract are poor according to federal poverty thresholds, and suggests that gains made in erasing concentrated poverty in the 1990's have been reversed in within the past decade.

In fact the study says, "The number of tax filers nationwide living in areas with high rates of working poverty increased by 40 percent, or 1.6 million filers, between tax years 1999 and 2005. By 2005, 12.3 percent of low-income working families lived in high-working-poverty communities—ZIP codes where more than 40 percent of taxpayers claimed the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit)—up from 10.4 percent in 1999."

What that means is that poverty is growing. It is growing at a rate that cannot be accounted for by the more simplistic rationales that many use to avoid serious questions about dealing with the poor, like morality and laziness.

The study by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, shows the issues that face these communities in which the poor are clustered:

  • Their existence discourages private investment and, ironically, raises the cost of goods and services
  • Educational opportunity is hindered
  • Not only do these neighborhoods tend to foster higher crime rates, but they also have higher negative health outcomes
  • They inhibit wealth building. Wealth building through high home appreciation isn't a realistic expectation in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty
  • These communities generate higher costs for local governments, in areas such as welfare, public safety and health care - this type of poverty is expensive.
Do we really need more reasons to develop comprehensive, strategic approaches to redevelop distressed neighborhoods and develop programs in education, job training and economic development to strengthen these neighborhoods?

The facts are we may concentrate the poor in distressed neighborhoods - but ultimately we all feel the strain.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Does it Feel to Be Poor?

I'm not a fan of popular spiritual gurus. It's my own bias. In their television appearances their views tend to be more truncated and far too simplistic and it's sometimes hard for me to take them seriously.

However, the Washington Post's series on the working poor "Hovering Above Poverty, Grasping for the Middle Class" has a contribution from Deepak Chopra which I think warrants attention.
He raises the question "How Does it Feel to be Poor?"

Interestingly, I don't think I've ever heard anyone ask that question before.

Any number of people make assumptions and based upon those assumptions we develop our own answers and in doing so form our own opinions about the poor. Many people consider the poor to be the inconvenient drag on our country's potential.

It's also true, that in our work at Central Dallas Ministries, we get to hear a great deal more about how people feel about the poor. And there are times when the reaction is very disappointing.

When did we get so hardened in our attitudes and stereotypes? And why have so many of us decided that the poor are so different from the rest of us that we can be so dismissive of them?

The poll covers a couple of things that are very interesting to me.

Many people assume that one reason that people are poor is because they are not 'religious' enough. There are, indeed, disciplines of the Christian faith, and other faiths, which will help us make wise financial positions and keep us from making foolish ones. But the conflation between faith and financial security is not absolute. Nor is the idea that people are poor because they don't believe in God. The poll says that 78% of the respondents say that faith and belief in God is very important in helping them get through tough financial times. Now that doesn't mean that they are all devout, nor does it mean that they attend church every Sunday. But of course you can't make those blanket assessments about the faith of the rich either.

The other thing that people tend to think about the poor is that they are just looking for a government hand out. The poll says that 53% of those surveyed don't believe that government programs have been much help and that 63% believe that people can get ahead through hard work.

Its interesting that those who are least benefiting from the American Dream are tenaciously committed to it!

The entire poll can be seen at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/business/hardesthit/images/assets/Poll.pdf.

Granted all surveys are point-in-time snapshots and don't tell the whole story. And I can stipulate that everyone of us can point to examples that run counter to the results of the survey. But what we believe about the poor tells us more about us than it does about the poor themselves.

How does it feel to be poor?

What does it feel like to be thought of as a person who has no hopes or dreams?

What does it mean to be thought of as a person who is lazy, instead of someone who can't afford health insurance or who had to make the choice between falling behind in rent in order to buy medicine?

What does it feel like to be viewed as someone who has children because they are promiscuous, rather than someone who was devastated by divorce, or who has been widowed, or abandoned by a spouse?

What does it feel like to be seen as someone who is uneducated, rather than someone who has been poorly educated because they were only taught to take standardized tests?

Isn't there another way of looking at the poor, instead of the antipathy we seem to be developing regarding their very existence?

I think we should at least consider something Chopra says, "...the poor subsidize America's enviable lifestyle. Every underpaid hotel maid, McDonald's cook, migrant farm worker, and school janitor living below the poverty line is contributing money to the rest of us. Without the poor there would be no American dream, and yet they are the least likely to benefit from it. If I am being asked what sustains me in economic hard times, my answer isn't conventional religious piety but a new vision of possibilities. Such a vision must be spiritual at its core. Begin with the notion that all souls are equal, and that each person can evolve in consciousness. Give the poorest people -- and everyone else -- the tools to expand their own awareness, and heartless questions about how it feels to be poor won't be necessary anymore."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On Hope and Responsibility

Cornell West, Princeton professor, public theologion and cultural critic has a book that provides interesting insights into where we are in this society and how far we must go to achieve more justice and equity.

The book is called, Restoring Hope, a series of conversations between himself, politicians, activists and celebrities whose engagement in social change has been as significant as their contributions to popular culture.

The following excerpt from his conversation with Harry Belafonte is particularly interesting and has meant a great deal to me.

"The last time I spoke to Paul Robeson was at his home in Philadelphia. He was quite beat up by then, and broken, and quite ill.

"I talked to him about sacrifice. And I said to him, 'Paul, was it worth it? The price you paid with the House Un-American Activities, Committee, and what they did to you? The way all your colleagues in the black community, the black elite and the black intellectuals, how they distanced themselves from you? How they never sought to support you and to praise you? All that you've been through? Was the journey, in the final analysis, worth it?' And he said, 'Absolutely,' 'There may have been moments when things were painful,' he said, 'but even with the victories that we didn't achieve, the journey was worth it because I met so many magnificent men and women on the way who made it all worthwhile.' He said, 'However, there's one thing that I wish I had known then that I know now.' And I said, 'What is it?' He said, 'Harry, in the final analysis, every generation must be responsible for itself.'"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Can Public Housing Contribute to City-Wide Economic Development?

You can't talk about redeveloping and revitalizing distressed neighborhoods without talking about affordable housing. And you can't have a serious converation about affordable housing and public housing.

The traditional concept of affordable and public housing was to relegate it to certain sections of the city. The problem is that instead of getting the poor and those in need of public housing out of sight and therefore, out of mind, the problems associated with poverty and economic distress became more visible. The crime rate, poor school test scores and the other issues associated with poverty were concentrated in such a way that they ultimately impact the entire city.

In 1995 a federal court ruled that such practices by the Dallas Housing Authority ultimately forced African-Americans to live in clusters of poor neighborhoods South and West Dallas, and ordered the disbursement of public housing throughout the city to the north.

Is that really the answer? What is the statistical evidence that this actually reduces the pathologies associated with poverty?

Tod Robbins has an excellent article in the Dallas Morning News regarding this issue that should challenge conventional notions of redevelopment and revitalization by those who live North and South. Its not only worth reading, its worth the re-examinations of concepts of community, economic development and how to deal with the pernicious, pervasive problem of concentrated poverty. Take a look. I'd like to know you're response...

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/northsouth/viewpoints/stories/DN-housing_10edi.ART1.State.Edition1.4d9eba4.html

Sunday, August 10, 2008

From 'What If?' to 'Here's How!'

When confronted by news of yet another social 'problem', have you ever wanted everyone to stop the 'What if' and get to the 'Here's how!'? I know I do.

That's why I feel tremendously proud of our efforts at Central Dallas Ministries to put a dent in the problem of homelessness.

At the beginning of the year, I was asked to add to my responsibilities the supervision of a fledgling program we call Destination Home. Destination Home is a permenant supportive housing program built on philosophy of 'housing first'. Now that may sound too much like non-profit, sociology, insider speak, but it essentially means this - we believe that we can help solve the problem of homelessness for a number of people by giving them access to the dignity that comes with having the privacy that comes with a roof over their heads, and a key in their pocket. We don't make it a rule that they participate in a recovery program, church service or Bible study. They must simply be chronically homeless and verifiably disabled, and they cannot have a criminal background. The qualifications that I just mentioned are qualifications that come with the HUD funding that provides the money and the apartment owners that provide the units. Destination Home residents rent their own furnished, utility paid apartments and follow the same rules as every other tenant. And like every other tenant they can live in these apartments as long as they want.

Destination Home residents provide 3o% of their income for rent, if they have income and we provide case management and access to services that help lead them to the type of independence and interdependence with which most of us live our lives. They take advantage of what we offer as they want to, and feel they need to, but the goal of the program is for them eventually not to need us at all. Currently there are nearly 50 Destination Home residents, by this time next year we hope to have at least 105.

There are three things that make me especially excited about this program.

First the residents themselves. They come from every spectrum of life, just like the rest of us!
The problems which put them on the street, are the same problems that we encounter: loss and grief, illness and medical bills, family and financial problems. Some have substance addictions, but they are the substance addictions with which most of us are familiar.

Their disabilities are disabilities that are no more foriegn than those that many of us who have families, or insurance have to live with. In other words they are like the rest of us. The difference is, unlike us, for whatever reason, they have lost what my friend Ernie Cortez refers to as the thick network of relationships that enable most of us to live successful lives. The thing that makes me excited and proud about these residents is that they have found the courage to begin again and they value the opportunity for a new start.

Some of them are now pursuing dreams, hobbies, learning new skills, joining churches and helping new residents find their way. They attend AA meetings, they make regualr doctors appointments and they are discovering a life that is safe and managable.

The other thing that I think is remarkable our staff . They are finding the balance between helping DH residents and doing for them. But what is clear is that they are excited about being a part of an initiative that is making a real difference. They are not working with 'clients', they are really befriending people who simply need assistance to achieve a quality of life that they have previously not known.

The staff talks about how they are learning from the patience and the gratitude that the Destinaiton Home residents show for the least little thing. They look forward to work everyday because they know their making a difference.

The other thing that has me excited is the reaction to the churches involved. So far three churches have joined the effort to come alongside CDM and Destination Home residents to help reintegrate them into community. These are not congregations looking for publicity, but they do deserve recognition for their unique help.

Richardson East Church of Christ has helped immeasurably. Especially with the first residents: helping assemble furniture, moving it in and helping residents get settled. They have pretty much placed themselves 'on call' to CDM develop this program. But their's has not only been a traditional mission outreach . Members will occasionally come by and share a meal with the residents after church, just taking the time to get to know them and spend time with them. It is probably the most helpful thing that they do. We are tremendously grateful to them.

Watermark Church provides Bible Study for a small group of residents and helps with food and other household donations. They too have been committed from the beginning.

New Mount Zion Baptist Church began helping when they heard about the concept! Before the first resident moved in, they began collecting 'Welcome Baskets' of houselhold goods, mops, cleansers, etc. They have allowed space in worship for the program to be promoted and explained and the pastor has included them as a part of their ministry. As a matter of fact, there have been DH residents that have become members of New Mount Zion.

These communities of faith are a mix traditional and non-tradtional, but they show a committment to sharing their faith by building community, and sharing life with men and women whose lives are being rebuilt day by day.

Central Dallas Ministries has more plans to help the homeless help themselves. Its a big job, there are more than 5000 homeless people in Dallas County. We can't do it by ourselves. But we can put a dent in the problem. We can show the rest of Dallas what it means to move from 'What if?' to 'Here's how!' I think that's something to be proud of.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Abolitionist
1818 - 1895
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Olympics and Politics

The 2008 Olympic opening ceremonies begin tomorrow night and that is nearly always an exciting event.

Let me confess that I'm an not an avid Olympics fan. I watch certain contests: track and field, gymnastics, swimming and a few others. If there is a human interest story or two, I'll follow that on the news. But, for the most part, I'm a pretty casual observer.

I'm usually interested in the drama that is sometimes associated with the host country as well as the attempt to present the Olympics as an international phenomenon that transcends politics. Usually that backdrop and the drama prove that the Olympics is anything but transcendent when it comes to politics. And I really question whether or not that can ever be the case.

Don't get me wrong, I actually believe that the Olympics is a wonderful stage that provide a thrilling mixture of national pride, athletic struggle and competition. But I think its also asking too much to believe that the purity of the contest be above the political struggles that dominate our existence in the interval between Games.

When Jesse Owens competed in the 1936 Olympics, it was clearly viewed as a contest between American democratic ideals and Nazi Germany's ill conceived notion of a 'superior Aryan race'. Owens four gold medals are viewed, even today, as a historic athletic feat, and a symbolic triumph of American values over an evil system.

Forty years ago Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black gloved fists in what has been characterized as defiant protest of the plight of African-Americans. It was a jolt of politics interjected by two men who refused to ignore the realities of their everyday existence for the sake of sport.


In the Olympic Games of 1972 in Munich, Germany, the horrific murder of eleven Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorist, scarred those games in such a way that, arguably this human tragedy and catastrophic political event is just about all that many of us think of when we think of that Olympiad.

Even Muhammad Ali's rehabilitated image, as he carried the torch and lit the cauldron in the opening ceremony at the 1996 Olympics was a signal at how political wounds had heald somewhat, relative to the pain of the Viet Nam war. Did it prove that the poetry of athletic competition was superior to the prose of political turmoil? Was it a sign that athletics is a way of sanitizing our reality, if only for a moment, and help us ignore the ugliness that can sometimes underscore what lay beneath the surface of our patriotism? Maybe there is something like that to all of this.

But perhaps even in our trying to forget - we are forced to remember.

Now in Beijing, China we are faced with how to celebrate human athletic prowess against the backdrop of a country whose record of human rights has been judged nothing short of abysmal by the rest of the world. The Olympics was awarded to China, with the promise that there would be gains in human rights forthcoming. Hardly anyone is satisfied with the progress thus far. But how do you challenge the host country of the Olympics without embarrassing them and dragging politics into the greatest athletic event in the world?

I don't know that there is an answer to this. But maybe its too much expect that we wouldn't think of politics on a world stage between countries for whom this represents not only recognition, but respect of power and place in the world.

To think that you can do that without engaging in politics (or religion for that matter, but that's another story), may be a little naive. But if the metaphor of athletics shows that we can strive to create a world where we can compete, with dignity, and honor, and both winners and losers can be treated with respect, perhaps that's the best we can hope for.
And to be honest, that's not all that bad.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Uglier Side of Political Discourse

One of the columnists that I enjoy reading is Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald. He has, what I consider to be a valuable perspective on politics, culture and life.

In this highly charged electoral season, Pitts gives us insight into what has become wrong with political discourse in our country. As I read it, I began to understand why so many people I know get 'tired' of an electoral season which appears to be interminable in its length.

While I enjoy politics, even of the rough and tumble variety. I think what we have begun to see over the past several years is a revival of an anger, bitterness and even hatred for which we should all be too sophisticated. Yet, we see it over and over again - and it becomes the reason why we may not see 'the best and the brightest' offering themselves for public service through electoral office more often.

I hope this offering from Pitts resonates with you as it did me.

http://www.miamiherald.com/living/columnists/leonard-pitts/story/630724.html

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Street by Any Other Name

Alright, is this the controversy we really need to have?

Industrial Boulevard, is a major artery west of downtown Dallas that is due for a major face lift as the area around the Trinity River is redeveloped. Where currently we have a glut of bail bond offices, liquor stores, gas stations and some light industrial, there will be parks, a lake, trails and a toll road.

The name 'Industrial Boulevard' doesn't fit the new vision for the area, so some city innovator decided to try a new experiment in hi-tech civic consensus building - an Internet poll to determine a new name, for an area of Dallas with a bright future. What could go wrong?

Overwhelmingly, Hispanic citizens voted to rename the street in honor of Cesar Chavez, the man who fought tirelessly for the rights of migrant farm workers in California. Make no mistake about it, Cesar Chavez is a real American hero. He is deserving of recognition, certainly worthy of having a street renamed in his honor.

Whoever, came up with this bright idea, obviously wanted names that would call to mind some type of nature aesthetic that would reflect the picturesque plans intended for the parks and lakes that are part of the plan for the Trinity River. Perhaps, 'Lakefront', or 'River view'. That didn't happen so the city council ignored the will of the people.

Does Cesar Chavez have anything to do with the Trinity River development? Not at all. Is there a direct correlation between Cesar Chavez's work and the parks intended for the area? No. But what difference does that make? No visitor from anywhere in the world would ever ask, "Why did they name it 'Cesar Chavez', instead of 'Lakefront'?

Now Dallas Hispanics have relented and changed their focus. They're asking that Ross Avenue, a main business corridor that runs through downtown Dallas, east into heavily Hispanic communities. Now we have another problem. The historic nature of 'Ross Avenue', which no one has ever discussed before.

Don't get me wrong. I love history. I think that it is a shame that in Dallas we don't preserve or appreciate our history as much as we should. But to object to renaming of Ross Avenue to Cesar Chavez, is equally as wrong headed as the objections to renaming Industrial Boulevard.

Chavez led the United Farm Workers Union and through non-violent protests, boycotts and hunger strikes brought to the attention of our country and the world, the plight of exploited migrant farm workers. He caught the attention of Robert Kennedy during his presidential campaign, as he toured the country to see first hand the conditions of poor people throughout our nation. His was a human rights warrior, of much the same consequence as Martin Luther King, or Medgar Evers. Obviously we've reached some threshold where changing the world, isn't enough to qualify you for honor in our city - unless you have lived in Dallas.

I like the writing of Darwin Payne and he wrote an op-ed column in the Dallas Morning News, defending keeping the name Ross Avenue. He sites some interesting examples of persons and events that are of local interest - none of which come to mind when you think of the name of the street, unless you are a local historian, or unless you or your family have lived here for more than a hundred years.

The Dallas school district headquarters is on Ross Avenue. Ironically, in Dallas, we have minority children who attend schools named for Confederate Civil War generals: Albert Sydney Johnston and John B. Hood, immediately come to mind. These are men, who fought for a cause which if successful, would have denied access to the public education of the very children who now attend those schools, children who rarely learn of the exploits of the many heroes of color who have transformed the world in which they live . It's worth the trouble and the loss of local 'history', to rename Ross Avenue if those same children are moved to ask "Who is Cesar Chavez?".

They definitely aren't asking, 'Who are the Ross'?' And too few of us know enough to tell them.
Perhaps, this must come to some political fight. But really, is it worth it? Rename Ross Avenue Cesar Chavez Avenue. The intentional or unintentional insult to our Hispanic citizens is not worth the trouble this is causing.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Are You Okay with This?

We generally refer to them as the working poor: low wage workers who struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

The Washington Post, working with the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University, has begun a series of articles examining their lives and chronicling their efforts to keep their heads above water in an economy in which they are becoming increasingly more vulnerable.

In a nationwide poll, conducted from June 18-July 7 included 1350 people between 18-64 who worked at least 30 hours a week and earned no more than $27,000 a year.

Low wage workers account for 25% of all U.S. adults and they work in jobs that make them nearly invisible to the rest of us. They work in nursing homes and day care centers, they are at reception desks in hospitals or they are on assembly lines in factories. They often have no health care coverage, no vacations, no sick days and during an election year when the focus is on the travails of the middle class the only real attention that they have gotten was the help some of them got with the recent increase in the minimum wage.

These are workers who tend to be younger, less often Republican, less likely to be registered to vote, own their homes or be married. They are typically female and Hispanic. Many are armed with only a high school diploma and they are mired in an economy which stagnated their wages and has widened the income disparity gap more than anytime since the early part of the 20th century.

About half said they would only be able to survive a month before landing in financial trouble if they suddenly lost their jobs, a third said they could last maybe two weeks.

The safety net that the federal government provides is critical to their survival. Half said they took advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), half with children were dependent on Medicaid, or State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP).

But there are two other things that caught my attention in this article. One was that these are people who remain hopeful. They still believe in the American Dream and believe that hard work and perseverance will pay off and that not only are their lives comparably better than their parents at this stage, but that life will be better for their children.

Their faith is vital to their optimism. Melissa Delgado, whose husband was laid off from his construction job and who has had to reapply for a job at a lower pay rate when the supermarket she worked for was taken over by another company in a buyout, says, "Everything's going to turn out okay, I always say the Lord doesn't give you more than you can handle."

The other thing that I claimed my attention is that this group will increasingly become larger if there is not some effective intervention. The very things which frustrate the hopes and dreams of low wage workers as they struggle to reach the middle class, actually threaten the middle class. Globalization, job off shoring, lower trade barriers, increasing advances in technology and the decline in union memberships are not only hurting low wage workers, but also erode the economic security of the middle class.

The things that work will work to help the bottom two thirds of the American populace: the middle class and the poor are the things that always have worked: greater human capital investment - in education, workforce training and retraining, affordable health care, housing and neighborhood redevelopment and revitalization and closing the digital divide, living wages.

Unless, of course, you're okay with all of this...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Heaven IN Earth

I grateful that my work at Central Dallas Ministries allows me to fulfill my calling to the preaching ministry. While I no longer give leadership to a local congregation, I love the opportunities I get to preach at other churches.

But I not only love to preach, I love preaching. I've spent my adult life as a preacher, and I have a number of what I refer to as 'preaching heroes': pastors I grew up listening to, who helped shape my view of effective pulpit ministry. And there are a number of current preachers that I love listening to when I get the chance.

One of those preachers is George Mason at Wilshire Baptist Church here in Dallas. Ironically, I heard him on the radio this Sunday morning while I was on my way to preach at another church. I hadn't heard him for quite awhile and I had almost forgotten how helpful his sermons are.

For those like me who, at times, carry on a 'lover's quarrel' with the church, who get irritated with the lack of understanding regarding just how redemptive a voice and presence the church is to be in the world, Mason's preaching - especially this sermon - reminds us why we should keep plugging away.

The sermon is entitled 'Heaven IN Earth' and the Biblical text on which it is based is Matthew 13:31-52.

The message reminded me, among other things, that often God's work in the world is not readily perceptive from a human perspective. Often we only see the results of God's silent activity.
The statistics of our world's trouble ring loud in our ears. We see much more of the pathology of world than signs of hope. I know the staff at CDM has a habit (often they don't know it), of picking up my spirits when they tell me of trainees who have gotten living wage jobs, or neighbors whom we've served in public housing who are moving to home ownership, or youth and adults who have enrolled in or are graduating from college. God was at work and I didn't see it - but I get a chance to see results of that silent, imperceptible work.

Sometimes I don't think the church gets it. The idea that we are a part of this world, a world in which God is working, sometimes through our divisions and almost always in spite of them. There are times when God works through those who don't even claim Him, but He is still working. So our goal should be to claim the whole world in which He works. Not just the Baptist part, the Catholic part, the Church of Christ, or the Church of God in Christ part. Not just the saved part or the unsaved part. God works in all of the world and we should be at work in all of that world with Him.

This morning George said, "...we can't separate the treasure of heaven from the rest of the earth. So we go buy the whole earth. We cherish the whole world and everyone in it for the sake of the presence of God we discern in it. We don't try to buy one square yard of earth and build a shrine over it while condemning the rest of the property.

"The church doesn't pick and choose who can be here and who can't, as if we can own the spirit by getting the godly in and keeping the out. W must buy them all, so to speak. We must welcome the whole world because we have found that God is hidden in a field that we are not allowed to subdivide. So we go to Kenya and to North Africa and to the Delta and to the Valley and to South Dallas and to North Dallas and to lake Highlands and Lakewood and to Highland Park - are you getting the idea? We go everywhere and claim everyone and everything, because no one and nothing anywhere is untouched by the presence and power of God."

Amen George...and thanks!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Benjamin E. Mays

1894-1984

Former President Morehouse College

"It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal. But it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure but low aim is sin."



Friday, August 1, 2008

The Global Poverty Act

The Global Poverty Act (S. 2433) awaits passage by the full Senate. It is a bill that has to be passed before the current session ends this month, or the process will have to start all over again in the next Congress. It has already passed the full House and the Foriegn Relations Committe and Senate leadership needs public support to move this bill to the floor for full Senate consideration.

The success of the Global Poverty Act depends upon increased bipartisan cosponsorship of the legislation. The bill currently has 31 cosponsors, 26 Democrats and 5 Republicans.

Bread for the World Bread, a Christian organization advocating for changes in public policy to fight world wide hunger and poverty, is leading the charge in getting public support for passage of this bill. Bread for the World, is led by David Beckman a leading voice in the fight against hunger.

At present United States global development policies and programs fall under the purview of more than 25 different federal agencies. The Global Poverty Act, looks to increase coordination, provide clarity and accountibility to make our government's foriegn assistance programs more effective. The act calls for the president to develop and implement strategically coordinated efforts which will enable U.S. aid, debt relief and trade policies to help achieve a goal of cutting in half the number of people who live on less than $1 a day by 2015. The legislation would also require regular reports to Congress on our country's efforts to fight extreme hunger around the world.

The Global Poverty Act establishes no new programs. It recognizes, however, that without combining, good trade policy, debt cancellation, and public-private partnerships, extreme hunger and poverty cannot seriously be dealt with. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this legislation would cost less than $1 million to implement.

I think it is time that we understand that doing all that we can to eliminate extreme hunger and poverty makes good sense in every way that relates to our national interest.

Find out more information on Bread for the World's website: http://www.bread.org/take-action/call-congress-today.html