Sunday, November 30, 2008
Some of mine are no longer with us, men primarily, of whom some may have heard, some you may have never heard of, but their insight and skill in the pulpit inspired and ministered to me as a Christian and as a Gospel preacher.
Still others are with us and I count some of them as friends and colleagues.
One of them is George Mason, of Wilshire Baptist Church here in Dallas. George provides a wisdom and instruction, that is both timely and timeless!
George's sermon after the November 4th election, entitled 'Sorting through Our Gods', is something I think all of us who are believers should heed. Here are some excerpts:
"I heard a fellow Baptist preacher use a blowtorch just this past Sunday. He took the biblical verse Blessed be the nation whose God is the Lord to mean that America is a Christian nation and there is no place among us for leaders who would show respect to other religions. He was clear that we should vote only for a Christian, and only for one whose positions on certain issues are in line with the ones he listed. It’s about the righteous versus the unrighteous. And there was no question whom he was telling them to vote for and whom to vote against. The congregation applauded. I think you would boo me, if not stone me, for doing that. Rightly so.
"The Internet has been inundated with accusations that our president-elect is secretly a Muslim and that voting for him is voting to put away the God of Christianity and replace it with the god of Islam. My friends, this rhetoric is unbecoming of Christians, who should have no fear of our faith failing, since it is founded upon the Rock of Ages, not upon Plymouth Rock. We live in a nation that, while grounded in Judeo-Christian principles, gives place to all religions, along with the freedom to practice without interference from government. We can leave it to God to sort through the religions. That does not mean Christians should be silenced or sidelined, but neither does it mean we should be arrogant and privileged. It means that every individual should “choose you this day whom you will serve” without anyone in Washington or Austin or Rome or Jerusalem or Mecca telling you what god you have to serve or what religion you must follow. When you try to sweep away other religions by intolerance and disrespect, you are using a blowtorch that will backfire and burn you in the process."
"Ideology and idolatry are close kin. The hope of the world is found in the Lord and in the Lord alone. Left, right and center are not points on a spiritual compass. Politics and politicians come and go—some for better, others for worse. But the God who made you and saved you in Jesus Christ is everlasting.
"You choose the Lord and put away the god of the polls when you order your life according to the biblical principles of hope rather than optimism, and justice rather than self-interest. Now is the time to get back to the basics of faith and faithfulness."
As wonderful as some of us feel the election turned out, its important that we keep it in perspective.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
It is a law designed for birth parents, most often young, single women, unprepared for and unwilling to assume the rigors of caring for their infants or newborns. Its a good strategy. The parent are able to take the child to a Nebraska hospital and with no questions asked, leave the child there with medical staff who would turn the infant over to child protective services. Fewer children run the risk of criminal abandonment, abuse and neglect. The problem is Nebraska specified no age limit in the legislation!
Who knew that people from other states would bring children 10 years and older and leave them at Nebraska's doorstep?!
Two things that are important: While its probably a given that Nebraska's legislature should have checked the wording of similar legislation throughout the country to avoid such a crisis, we certainly must laud their effort and motive.
In 2006, more than 905,000 children were found to be victims of child abuse. Nearly 75% of those were first time victims. Sixty-four per cent of those children were victimized through neglect and the age range of that victimization was 24 per 1000 children in ages birth through 1 year and 14 per 1000 children for ages 1-3. There is obviously a problem and Nebraska sought to address the problem in a proactive manner that is not quite as concerned with the parents unfitness as it is the well being of the child. Again, we should commend Nebraska for the effort.
However, there is a second issue: There is obviously a real problem out there when it comes to parenting that must addressed somehow. The Nebraska episode tells us about the parents willing to take extraordinary measures to 'give up' on their kids. Not newborns and infants, but in the case in Nebraska kids as young as 10 and as old as 16 and 17.
Children can be a chore. I tell friends that my children were kidnapped by body snatchers at the age of 12 and replaced by little monsters. I didn't get my real children back until they were about 25!
It is particularly difficult to resist 'old timers' syndrome and begin the 'back in my day' solution to parenting (along with everything else!).
The reality is that no parents - not even two parent families - were meant to do child rearing by themselves. To raise children in an even marginally effective manner, it really does take a village. I know that there was a period during which that African aphorism was demeaned and misrepresented as some kind of 'communist', 'socialist' rhetoric. But the fact that parents have not employed, or some communities have not provided adequate or easily accessible to the necessary resources and wisdom of the village is one reason Nebraska saw this amazing and sad phenomenon.
Social services, non-profit programs, churches, municipal programs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, enrichment programs in schools, trusted relatives: aunts, uncles, grandparents; trusted neighbors and extended family all contribute to the physical emotional, intellectual and spiritual health of our children. Its called community and it works.
Of course there are no guarantees; there are no perfect parents. Under the best of circumstances children make bad choices, at times with consequences that are irrevocable. But almost no child stands a chance without the intervention of some kind of loving community.
At the church I pastored, we intentionally focused outreach to the children and youth in a public housing development in our area. We brought them to Vacation Bible School. Many kids joined our church through VBS, but just as many if not more, became a part of the life of our church whether they joined or not. They attended Sunday School, sang in the choir, participated in some way in nearly every thing we had to offer. We provided back to school supplies, gave Christmas toys by name. Included them in Easter plays and Christmas plays. One year we moved the Christmas Sunday service to the elementary school near the housing development and even I was amazed to see that the youth workers found a way to include nearly 100 kids in the Christmas play!
Some of these kids had parents who seemed not much older than their children. They had no life experience and some who succumbed to addictions and unhealthy lifestyles. The church had to become 'parents' for these children. We had members who checked on their school progress, got to know their teachers, got to know their parents. At times, a few members took these children home with them. Members, on their own, provided clothes and school supplies.
When VBS morphed into an annual Youth Retreat, there were members would pay for some of the kids to go to the retreat. Members who couldn't afford the full cost, partnered with other members to pay for their registration. Some kids who were old enough, worked the concession stands at SMU football games to earn their registration.
One couple 'adopted' other children in their neighborhood, feeding, clothing and working with them in school. One of the first Christian Rap Groups in our church, was formed almost entirely by a group of boys whose parents were no where close to being members, but they were boys who had been 'adopted' by a family in the church and virtually lived with them.
There were great successes and sad failures. Some kids graduated from high school, went on to college and now live stable lives. Some kids ended up on the street. As a church we made mistakes. Feeding all those kids once a week before or after Bible Study wreaked havoc on the church budget. Not every member was happy! At times I wasn't very happy! I insisted on more accountability, but also insisted that we find ways to do more for these children in substantive ways. There were times I had to defend our church's expenses for ministry to these youth and children. There were members who complained about 'those kids', and 'the little hoodlums'. Not all the kids were grateful. And believe me, that many young people were rough on church facilities! With the day care center we operated it meant that our church operated seven days a week!
But it was a church full of excitement! And while they were with us, they weren't getting into mischief and they were cared for, corrected and comforted when things went wrong. And for many of these children, we were not the only positive influence. Together, with those other influences - we were the village. And the parents (and grandparents), no matter their resources or capacity, were not alone.
We need a more 'safe havens' for all of our children. And we better figure it out soon.
This isn't Nebraska's problem alone. These youth and children belong to all of us.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Even the most well intentioned will sometimes ask why we have to talk about race or racism, as if it no longer exists, or to the degree that it does exist is relegated to grainy newsreel footage and photographs tucked away in the musty pages of old books and magazines.
Well, how about this: Bob Jones University has recently apologized and asked forgiveness for its racist policies!
Yes, THE Bob Jones University, as in the Bob Jones University of Greenville, North Carolina.
Can anyone say, 'It's a new day!'?
At the behest of an organization called Please Reconcile.org, 500 alumni encouraged the university to make this radical step.
Bob Jones University did not enroll African-Americans as students until 1971 and banned interracial dating and interracial married couples until the year 2000.
Was the apology genuine? You be the judge:
"For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.
"In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.
"On national television in March 2000, Bob Jones III, who was the university’s president until 2005, stated that BJU was wrong in not admitting African-American students before 1971, which sadly was a common practice of both public and private universities in the years prior to that time. On the same program, he announced the lifting of the University’s policy against interracial dating."
Why is it significant? Its not because there are not other, or even better seminaries than Bob Jones (either conservative or liberal). Nor is it because most of us didn't know that BJU was not racist in its policies. It's because any type of efforts to diminish the opportunity of any group of people because of a sense of superiority, on no matter what grounds, is abhorant to thinking Americans. Bill Kristol, the noted conservative columnist, acknowledged as much when he commented on President George W. Bush's speaking engagement at BJU in 2000. Kristol wrote, "It's one thing to lurch to the right. It's another thing to lurch back 60 years. You could make the case that 'compassionate conservatism' died Feb. 2 when Bush appeared at Bob Jones U."
Bob Jones U's confesstion is significant. It is significant because without using lame, tortured logic and twisted explanations, or self serving prose, officials admitted that they had been complicit with and nurtured a culture designed to deny the humanity of other men and women.
Their's is an admission that their bigotry and segregation wasn't a matter of natural 'preference', nor was it simply the preservation of a 'way of life'. It was a systemic and systematic effort to deny opportunity to others because of the color of their skin. And they participated in that culture for nearly 200 years. It wasn't accidental, it wasn't historic happenstance, it was intentional and they acknowledged it and admitted they were wrong.
Institutions sharing a history and heritage of racism and bigotry, such as the American Medical Association and Bob Jones University, are not engaged in isolation incidents of prejudice and the consequences of their engagement are not benign. Both the AMA, BJU and the institutions share their guilt but not their admission, prove that in matters of health care and education, they sought to advantage one group and while keeping another group at a disadvantage. They admit that for more than a century they were part of a cultural conspiracy to deprive a group of U.S. citizens, (in these two cases) the best of their attention regarding health care, education and religious training.
What will Bob Jones U do, 'post - confession'? I don't know. What are adequate acts of repentance? I'm under the assuption that it will be figured out.
But I think there is a better, more important question:
What other institutions need to make this confession?
Whoever they may be, the confession is good for the soul of an institution as well as the indivdual; its good for the soul of the country.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--
O, Pioneers!I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
The free? Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's,
Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes,I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Lost among repeated conversations regarding the president-elect's choice for Secretaries of State and Treasury, whether or not the auto industry should be bailed out and how he will handle the financial crisis in general, is the yet unanswered question: where will the new first family worship?
As with almost any other family, this is a personal matter. But given the near unprecedented controversy surrounding Barack Obama's faith, his church and how both influence his politics where the new Chief Executive and his family go to church will be a matter of great attention in the near future. Like, the first Sunday they all go to church after inauguration...
There evidently something of a competition for the Obama's church membership. The Washington Post reports, "When Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist in Northwest Washington decided to woo the Obamas, a friend in the local faith community had some advice: 'He just laughed and told me that I should get in line.' "
You can well imagine what a coup it would be to have the newest and most popular couple in town as members of your church!
The report continues, " 'I can't recall another situation where there is this kind of interest before the president even takes office in terms of where he is going to go to church, and churches campaigning for his attendance,' said Gary Scott Smith, author of "Faith and the Presidency" and a history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. 'This is unique in American political history.' "
However, I'm a little partial to columnist's Sally Quinn's suggestion: what about the Washington National Cathedral?
Quinn's rationale? "It's the place where, in recent years, presidents have gone for the inaugural prayer service the day after being sworn in, where ex-presidents are mourned at their death, where presidents and Americans as a people congregate during moments of crisis, as they did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 'The reality is that the cathedral serves as a sacred space for the nation,' says Sam Lloyd, dean of the cathedral. 'A place the nation looks to in critical times.' Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness."
I think the idea has some merit. Inclusive and interfaith enough for there not to be the appearance of endorsing one denomination over another. But I believe it also provides the incoming president and his family with the spiritual nurture and support that has been integral to their lives.
Ms. Quinn goes on to say, "The Jeremiah Wright episode, though hopelessly misunderstood by most Americans, drove Obama to give his speech on race in America. 'The most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning,' he said. For the first time, many white Americans were exposed to rhetoric inside a black church that shocked and surprised them. But what it really did was to expose a deep religious divide in the country.
"Last year was the 100th anniversary of Washington National Cathedral. It was celebrated for an entire year, with the theme being reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu flew in from South Africa to kick off the large anniversary dinner. The church spent a week considering the subject of racial reconciliation, with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) delivering a Sunday sermon and playing a key role. There have been large conferences on gender and equality, with participation by women's advocacy groups from this country and the developing world."
Again, I like the idea. But while I believe its important to have a man of faith as the leader of the free world, I hope that each of these churches and the rest of us keep something in mind illustrated by the following story:
One Christmas Eve, a Washington D.C. church received a telephone call. The secretary put the call through to the pastor saying the man on the other line was interested in attending service that evening but wanted to know something about the church.
The pastor took the call and the voice on the other line said, "We're visiting D.C. and want to come to church on Christmas Eve. But we want to know whether this is the church the President attends and would he be there for the service."
"Well", said the pastor, "the President attends this church quite often, however, I'm sure he is very busy and we just don't have any word as to whether or not he will be at services on this evening. On the other hand we are quite certain the Lord will be here and His Presence is usually sufficient to carry on with worship."
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Wyshina Harris was laid to rest on yesterday. Wyshina was a beautiful, generous young lady who was shot and killed on last Saturday on her way to work.
So often, in the black community, we take it on ourselves to remind young African-Americans that all of us - relatives, neighbors, church members - all of us want them to 'make it'. We all want them to be successful. But once they have made it, we want them to know its important to give back. To share their success: their time, their talent and their treasure with those who are trying to make it.
Hardly anyone would think that Wyshina 'made it'. She had gotten out of the Turner Courts public housing development, but she was still a single mother trying to make a life for herself and her two young children. But Wyshina didn't try and wait until she made it to give back. While she was trying to make it, she was trying to take people along with her. She was giving to young people in our After School Academy and she was helping to recreate the community by organizing them to take control of their neighborhoods. That's right - she was morphing into one of those community organizers who had be so derided this past summer.
I went to view her remains Friday and thought about her wonderful spirit and the gift that God had given to all of us in her. I went to the viewing because I wouldn't be able to attend the funeral services. I had committed weeks ago to officiate a wedding of a young man whom I served as pastor for more than 20 years.
"Q" as we call him, is the same age as Wyshina. He overcame some of the anger and bitterness he experienced when his parents divorced, went to college at Texas Tech and received not only his bachelors degree, but two masters degrees. Until the recent DISD layoffs he was giving back as a teacher.
He and his beautiful bride had no idea about Wyshina. They had no idea that while I was presiding over their joyful celebration, several miles away there was another family mourning a tragic loss and the circumstances surrounding it. And the family at the 'homegoing service', had no idea of the proceedings in Grapevine that spoke of hope, new life and a great future.
They were happening at virtually the same time and in a very strange way, I was a part of both of them.
How do you reconcile the two? I don't know. Perhaps you don't, only except to say that there is truth to the cliche that 'Life Goes On'.
There was another thing remarkable about the wedding, that was impressive in this context:
The groom is black. The bride is white.
I think that too is part of the irony. Perhaps it is a harbinger of things to come. Not immediately. But certainly eventually. Perhaps (even though an interracial marriage is no earth shattering phenomenon now), it means a more definitive closing of attitudes and mindsets that made isolated life in Turner Courts a part of Wyshina's reality.
Perhaps the more we see people like 'Q' and his bride, the more we will realize that the joy and love of humanity transcends our petty differences and artificial boundaries. Perhaps it means that life not only 'goes on', but it goes on in glorious and surprising new ways, with glorious and surprising new realities. I don't know about the bride's family, but I do know 'Q' 's family would not have welcomed this wedding 15 years ago.
We don't know the color of Wyshina's murderer. That doesn't matter. Whomever it is, he or she should be brought to justice.
But what I saw yesterday is, for me, slow but sure comfort, that the person who murdered her cannot take away all joy, or make life totally miserable, or a total tragedy.
People of every hue, stripe and background transcended artificially imposed differences to express their love for and celebrate the life of a fallen soldier in the fight to make life better for all of us. People of every hue, stripe and background joined together to celebrate the new life of a new couple.
Tears of sorrow, mingled with tears of joy.
Life inexorably moved on.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaimed the rule of the land. 'And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.' I still believe that We Shall overcome!
"This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born."
Thursday, November 20, 2008
He had relatives, friends and family. He died at home.
Dying at home is, oddly enough, probably the thing that stands out most. Until last year he was homeless. He was a member of Central Dallas Ministries permanent supportive housing program called Destination Home. While officially the cause of death is listed as 'natural causes', the real cause was years of life on the street.
The fact that he died at home really kind of lends an air of dignity to his final days. He didn't die on the streets. He didn't die in a fire in some vacant building. He didn't die in a shelter. He died in his own apartment, among his own things, in a life that was characterized by the dignity and care of friends and a network of relationships that enabled him to experience something that had been missing for a very long time.
Many people will ask 'What happened to his family?', 'Where were these friends, when he was on the streets?' I guess these are fair questions that should be asked, but I can tell you, as a former pastor that due to personal demons, bad choices, careless handling any number of people get lost. In the world as it should be, they would be rescued and reclaimed by people who care. In the world as it is, it just is not always the case. When that network of caring people is lost then its no longer a matter of who should have done what; it's then a matter of who will do what it takes. Central Dallas Ministries' Destination Home is a 'housing first' approach to ending homelessness that works throughout the country. It gets people off the street and provides them with housing and then seeks to address the other needs that they may have. The residents pay 30% of whatever income they have for rent, the rest is covered through a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
We hope to have our neighbors in our program a long time. The 'supportive' element to permanent supportive housing will be temporary, we hope. We look forward to the time when they need us to navigate the waters of everyday life, less and less. But the 'permanent' element, means just what it says - as long as they need a place to the dignity and self respect that comes with a home, they are welcome to stay. We know that some will be with us longer than others, but we want them to have the dignity that comes with home.
Even if, sometimes that means dying at home.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Certainly, there need to be conditions on the money, but those conditions need to lead to developing new technology in the industry that save the current jobs at risk, and create opportunity for new jobs.
Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson's reason for the strategic change in the use of the $700 billion bailout money, from shoring up bad bank assets, to capitalizing banks, so that they will have the confidence to make loans follows the same 'trickle down' theory of economics that hasn't worked in the past eight years. Mitt Romeny's prescription for the auto industries problems will only lead to a greater economic collapse. Now is the wrong time for a 'You made your bed now lie in it' economic philosophy.
Corporations have the status of individuals in this country. But they are not individuals, and the failure of these companies impact the lives of real, flesh and blood human beings.
What we are desperately in need of our policies for the use of that money, that fee up the capital in the pockets of homeowners who are losing their homes and workers that are losing their jobs.
What has been proven is that homeowners and workers who make good wages, save, spend and invest. The fiscal policies associated with increasing the wealth of the wealthy has helped put us in the position that we're in and the answer to getting out of this meltdown, does not lie in rescuing the wealthy from their own excesses.
Allowing the Big Three to go under, isn't like McDonald's or Cosco's going under. If it's true that nearly 3 million jobs are in stake in some way and collaterally probably even more.
Abandoning auto makers to 'market forces', is not like punishing an unruly child. If we allow them to fail, we all get punished. Most of us have been punished enough.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
"Jan.1, 2007, the day Craig Watkins was sworn in as Dallas' first African-American district attorney, marked a seismic shift in local politics. Perhaps even more significant than the election of Ron Kirk, our first black mayor, Mr. Watkins' first two years in office illustrate a commitment to just and effective enforcement of the law; citizens expect as much and rightly so.
"Mr. Watkins has taken his charge one step further – an equal commitment to justice. The Dallas D.A.'s office is as committed to seeing the innocent go free as it is in seeing the guilty prosecuted – and Mr. Watkins has redoubled those efforts in 2008.
"For that reason, Craig Watkins is my nominee for Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.
"To date, 19 men, unfairly prosecuted and falsely imprisoned, have had their Dallas County convictions overturned through DNA technology that was unavailable at the time of prosecution. Most of them were found guilty because of faulty eyewitness testimony. But all were innocent."
I've been MIA from the Texas Faith online panel for a couple of weeks, but here's this weeks question:
"The U. S, Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on a case that has interesting religion-in-public-square implications. The case is Summum v. Pleasant Grove City and it’s been bumping up through the court system since 2003, when the founder of a religion called Summum asked the town of Pleasant Grove City in Utah to accept the donation of a stone monument with his faith’s precepts, to be placed in a city park next to a decades-old monument with the Ten Commandments. The city said no and the case was off and running — with several sets of federal judges ruling for Summum.
"The constitutional and social questions are important: How does a government body decide the credibility of a religion? How does the law protect the rights of minorities without imposing a tyranny of minorities? What kinds of objects belong in public parks?"
"If you were on the U.S. Supreme Court, how would you rule and why?"
You can read my reply to this week's question here. You may have a better answer than mine. Feel free to respond here or at DMN Religion blog site.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Here you see the an autopsy of a political defeat. The reason for the defeat: denial.
I happen to like politics and even though I do have a particular political leaning I also happen to like a good contest. I think it serves America best when there is one and my personal opinion is the Presidential Election of 2008 may have turned into one. It didn't (objectively speaking) and the post election apologetics constitute an interesting post mortem.
I understand that the party in power usually gets the blame when things are bad. It happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980, it happened to George H.W. Bush in 1992 and while partisans don't like it, it's fair. And there is an element of that same situation nearly 30 years later. But I think there are some other elements at work as well.
For the most part, the Republican Party, as has been stated repeatedly is badly in need of a make-over. It shouldn't morph into 'Democratic Party lite', but the GOP lost because it is woefully out of touch with America as it is now.
The party of Lincoln no longer appeals to minorities. While arguments can be made for government growing too large, cries for smaller government are interpreted by African-Americans, Hispanics and others as eliminating the supports still necessary to redress issues of poverty and racism. Republicans cannot continue to blithely (and inaccurately) insist that we have reached an era where every man is 'judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin', its on its way, but its not there yet. This begins to be an excuse for not making serious efforts to provide 'outreach' to minorities that go beyond displays of affection and acceptance of cultural differences or weak apologies for being on the wrong side of the vote on the Martin Luther King National Holiday.
African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans have to have a serious voice in developing the party platform. There were 36 African-American delegates at their convention, that doesn't inspire confidence that they are welcoming the presence of those who look or think differently from those who currently constitute the majority. And yes I know, the Democratic Party has what is commonly referred to as 'quotas' when it comes to their delegation. Equality after hundreds of years of inequality only comes through intentionality.
When people mention the difference between the two major parties, rarely do they mention the picture that is consistently presented to the country. Think about the convention: the diversity of the Democratic Party was breathtaking - it looked like America. Sorry, the Republican Convention didn't. America is no longer white, graying, upper middle class. As long as the GOP insists that this is the future of our country, it will continue to risk irrelevance. They simply cannot make tangential overtures to black Americans; speak in the most vicious language regarding undocumented immigrants, allow pundits and operatives to publicly denigrate the poor and say, 'Well, we tried, they just aren't interested!'
Republicans have to find a way to exorcise the ghost of Lee Atwater. The mean spirited, win at any cost, say anything no matter how hurtful type of campaigning ultimately has the attractiveness of a 10 car pile up: you may not be able to turn away, but that doesn't mean you want to be a part of one.
Republicans didn't lose because of the economic downturn - we expect our president to be able to handle crisis;
Republicans cannot continue to insist that Sara Palin didn't cost votes - America saw that she wasn't qualified and rejected the idea of her becoming president at a moment of national tragedy;
Republicans didn't lose because of George Bush; didn't McCain continue to say (albeit rather late) that he wasn't George Bush;
Republicans lost because they had no new ideas for a new America. Everything piled on top of that.
There are legitimate alternatives to Democratic ideas and there are opportunities for Republicans to make themselves attractive to a post-Reagan era America, neither include fear and mean spiritedness. The GOP has to find them.
You can argue that the Democrats ideas weren't that new either - but ultimately you have to come to grips with the fact that they won this election, whether by design or default.
That argument won't help next time either.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
In short, I don't foresee a day in which the black church is not needed institutionally in black politics, or the black preacher not needed as a prophetic voice to the black community and the nation. I do see the day when we will be needed differently. And I don't think that's a bad thing.
The future of the black church, the future of black politics and the legacy of the civil rights era are going to go through profound changes nationally and locally. I look forward to it. I think it will both challenge our community and our country in significant and healthy ways.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Wyshina Harris is education outreach manager at Turner Courts' after-school academy.
What were your expectations when you arrived at the academy?
I had the perception that the kids don't want to learn. ... That is so not true. This program provides kids with structure, love and safety.
Yes. I knew this was my stepping stone. People here are trying to move up, move out. We try to teach the kids: This is not it. Turner Courts is not it.
How could organizations or individuals help the academy continue to be effective?
Don't come in and give a bike at Christmas and expect these kids' lives to be OK. Help them with their homework for a year. If you're going to do it, do it all the way. It's great when people give. Just don't give and leave.
What do you hope the kids will gain from this experience?
If nothing else, I want one of the kids to grow up and say, "I made it because of the academy."
Friday, November 14, 2008
Let me see if I can give you a decent thumbnail (readers from Dallas can feel free to reply and fill in the blanks).
Back in May the school district had a bond election. Generally that's considered a great thing. Facilities, on the whole, get much needed improvements, new buildings, etc.
I voted against it.
I did so because the district, so fraught with examples of lax financial management which, to be fair, had been a part of past administrations and had only come to light during current superintendent Michael Hinojosa's term, had failed to have a timely audit. That's right: the school district was about to ask for more than a billion dollars without telling citizens the state of its fiscal affairs. They were saying in essence, "Let's get the bond package passed first then we'll get the audit completed."
The bond package did indeed pass. The audit was eventually completed, but the auditors found numerous examples of shoddy book keeping and accounting problems.
By September, DISD accountants discovered a $64 million shortfall! It appears that those in charge of the books were so focused on an overdue audit from 2005-2006, that they overlooked the lack of money to pay 750 new teachers. An earlier projected shortfall of about $50 million was covered by the districts reserves (leaving it short by half) and looked to cover it by a larger than expected state revenue. That didn't quite happen.
I am not making this stuff up, I promise!
Further projections were done and the district made an announcement, "When you play out our financial situation, its really not quite $64 million, its more like $84 million. Ahh, we're going to have to do better, but in the meantime there are going to have to be some cuts."
Now the 700 teachers were hired to address the recommendation of a group of citizens adjunct to the district called Dallas Achieves. To be honest their work has been pretty admirable, those who work on the various committees had some pretty good suggestions, including the one that you think would have been a no brainer for the administrators of the school district: more teachers will result in smaller class sizes which will facilitate a more effective learning experience. Dallas Achieves should be commended for telling the district what it should have known. Dallas Achieves should not be held responsible for telling district officials, before you hire more teachers you need to have money!
Hundreds of teachers were laid off. A number of support staff were either laid off or transferred.
And Michael Hinojosa remains safely ensconced in his position as superintendent.
Now a group of high powered, successful business leaders have been called together to untangle this mess and help DISD get its financial house in order. Mind you, all of this is happening while the underpinnings of the U.S. economy are crumbling right before our eyes!
One of the business leaders has said it is not the role of these leaders to assign blame. There assignment is to help fix the finances. And he's right - its not their job to assign blame, that's the job of citizens.
I'll write more about all of this later, but there are two very important things to point out: I am a proponent of public education. The concept as originally intended, is a tremendous contribution to democratic life. Pubic education is the equivalent of a 'farm team' for major league baseball. Through public education we grow and groom a new generation of politicians, scientists, engineers, clergy, business leaders, moms and dads. We create, new generations of employers and employees at this level. For a number of reasons, over the past 30-35 years, its stopped working as well as intended and certainly as well as it needs to. We have to address that. Educating children, however, starts with really competent committed parents and professional educators who love teaching children.
The second point aligns with the first: public schools and the systems in which they operate, are not corporations or private businesses, they are democratic institutions. They are ultimately accountable to the public and in which the public has a highly vested interest.
The business leader who is helping to untangle the knot in the districts finances is right - to a degree - their assigned role is not to place blame. That is our responsibility, and for far too long the public has abdicated its role in public education.
Michael Hinojosa is indeed responsible. He is ultimately to blame. But citizens, you and me, allow him and other officials to operate in a vacuum that makes such blunders possible. The question is what do we do, especially in Dallas, to make this democratic institution viable again?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Most of us are optimistic about the change in administration - and rightfully so. We cling to the hope that a fresh face, new ideas and a new spirit of bi-partisan cooperation will make things better for all of us. But President-elect Obama, was right: the change needed in our country is not brought about by the election of a new president. This really isn't about him, its about us. Weathering this fiscal storm is as much about what we can do for one another as it is about what Washington will do for us.
Today it was reported that jobless claims have soared to over 500,000, the highest number of Americans filing for unemployment since September 11, 2001. The unemployment rate has climbed to 6.5%.
While we await the January 20 inauguration, what can we do?
These are the times that we turn to one another as neighbors. Times are hard for all of us. But we can rediscover something of the spirit of community that we saw as many of us contributed to the Obama campaign. It showed what we can do when we're enraptured by a cause.
When people told me that Obama had no 'executive experience', I told them that he was the head of a corporation that generated $650 million in revenue and employing more than 4000 people, with the specific goal of getting him elected president - and he's just about done it.
Those who saw hope and promise in his candidacy, half of whom donated less than $200 to the effort, now need to continue that expression of hope to strengthen those agencies and organizations which feed and comfort the most vulnerable among us in these desperate times.
We must do it now, as the holidays approach and we we await the policies we hope will right this economy. Now we must dedicate ourselves not just to the success of a candidate, but to one another as citizens, as community. If you're looking for a cause for 2009, this is it.
And there's no better time to start than now.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
A year or so ago, when we were marveling at a rapidly rising stock market and scoffing at anyone who suggested that it was basically an uber pyramid scheme, it was suggested that poor people needed more self discipline, a greater concern for family, more accountability and they needed to correct misplaced priorities. Now we find out that one reason we are in this mess, because working people, financial institutions and other corporations, needed to exercise more self discipline, more accountability, greater (more realistic) concern for their families' financial future and better priorities.
At first, we questioned whether it was the government's role to bail out consumers whose decisions got them in such trouble that they were losing their homes. Then we decided that corporations had to be bailed out because the economy was threatened. Then we decided that we couldn't bail out corporations without bailing out the middle class (i.e. consumers).
Can government do all of that?
Another question: do we now have greater sympathy toward those who were poor before the collapse and remain poor now? I mean, all of us who made poor decisions and exemplified misplaced values - bought homes and cars we couldn't afford; sold or bought 'derivatives' without knowing how the value was calculated and what value was left in them before they were bought or sold? Those of us who sucked the equity out of our homes to pay for vacations, or second homes? In other words, all of us who now need, ad hope for, government help?
Someone questioned (before the collapse), whether or not 'these people' should be taken care of by churches and charitable organizations. After all this was their mission, the writer opined, this was the reason they existed. This was not the role of government.
Take a look at what John DiIulio, the former director of the Federal Office of Faith-Based Initiatives said in Dallas in 2001, "Even if all 353,000 religious congregations in America doubled their annual budgets and devoted them entirely to the cause of social services, and even if the cost of government social welfare programs was magically cut by one-fifth, the congregations would barely cover a year's worth of Washington's spending costs." If we were to place that burden on churches and other religious institutions we would, according to DiIulio, "...abdicate the legitimate responsibility of government."
I wonder how many of those who blamed the values of the poor on their poverty feel the same way now - now that we all, directly or indirectly, are on welfare!
Should the government be doing all of this? The government is us. We don't have anyone else. We really never have.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Take Regino Romero, a cook at the Crystal City Hilton Hotel outside of Washington, D.C. Romero works full time, makes $13.84 an hour, is a single father with three children. His job comes with benefits, pays $450 a week. He's renting out the basement of his town home for $400 a month and has listed the third bedroom of his apartment to rent at $350 a month.
Regino is struggling to reach the middle class, but the break up of his marriage, low wages and the mortgage meltdown have him stuck. He's not alone.
"Romero's dilemma is not unlike that of many low-wage workers struggling to cope in an economy that has left them behind. A national survey by The Washington Post, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found that large percentages of low-wage Americans struggle to pay for life's staples. Eight in 10 find it hard to pay for gasoline or save for retirement, while more than six in 10 said it was tough to afford health care. And roughly half said they were having difficulty affording food and housing."
"Workers are more productive than ever, as the output per person has hit new highs in the past eight years. But rather than funding wage increases for most employees, the fruit of that new efficiency has largely bypassed all but the people in the best-paying jobs, as inflation-adjusted incomes for typical Americans edged downward from 2000 to 2007."
"Now, as the global financial system strains to absorb its biggest shocks since the Great Depression, the once faraway world of Wall Street is making things worse for low-wage workers."
Regino Romero is a tax payer. He is not middle class. Repeated bailouts while helpful in the short term, also result in Regino and others like him falling further and further behind.
Many people are quick to point out how the working poor ought to be more responsible, plan ahead and be more self reliant. Doesn't that go for the corporations whose government aid could reach over a trillion dollars?
After all, that's Regino's money too!
Monday, November 10, 2008
"What manner of man will this be, this possible Negro Presidential candidate of 2000? Undoubtedly, he will be well-educated. He will be well-traveled and have a keen grasp of his country's role in the world and its relationships. He will be a dedicated internationalist with working comprehension of the intricacies of foreign aid, technical assistance and reciprocal trade. … Assuredly, though, despite his other characteristics, he will have developed the fortitude to withstand the vicious smear attacks that came his way as he fought to the top in government and politics … those in the vanguard may expect to be the targets for scurrilous attacks, as the hate mongers, in the last ditch efforts, spew their verbal and written poison."
The October unemployment figures are staggering. The unemployment rate is up 6.5%, the highest unemployment figure since March 1994. It signals the loss of more than 240,000 jobs in October, bringing the total job loss number to an estimated 1.2 million for 2008.
"Today's report underscores the importance of restoring the health of our banking system and credit markets so that employers can rebound and create jobs,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said in prepared remarks. “It will take time for the impact of the economic rescue package to be felt on the broader economy and the labor market."
No kidding! Of course, that assumes that banks will at some point begin using the $700 billion given them in September to actually start making loans.
Even the construction industry is feeling the pinch, "Construction had by far the highest unemployment rate of any industry and the largest increase, up from 6.1 percent a year ago," Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America, said in a news release.
And then, try this on for size: we may not be considering the total picture. In other words, unemployment may actually be worse than the numbers report. According to Daniel Gross of Slate Magazine, "In the past year, the two key measures of employment—the unemployment rate and the payroll jobs figure—have been poor but not awful. The unemployment rate has risen from 4.5 percent a year ago to 6.1 percent. And in the first nine months, 760,000 payroll jobs were lost. This is unwelcome but not catastrophic. So why do things feel so bad? It's not because, as Phil Gramm suggested, we're a nation of whiners. And it's not a matter of columnists and spin doctors shading the numbers to make things look worse."
"Rather, these two figures are undermeasuring the weakness in the labor market. By some measures, in fact, the job situation is worse than it has been at any time since 1994."
One area that appears to be recession proof: the health care industry. "...health care employment continued to expand in October, with an increase of 26,000. Over the past 12 months, health-care employment has grown by 348,000."
Texas tends to be somewhat counter cyclical when it comes to the economy, but this time even we are starting to feel the pinch, losing an estimated 4000 jobs in September, according to the Dallas Morning News.
"The fact that we went down one month, I don't really pay much attention to that at all," said Cheryl Abbot, an economist in Dallas with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics."
"But what I think all of us need to realize is that if you look at the trend of the unemployment rates and the job growth rates, we're not independent of the national economy," Ms. Abbot said.
The Texas Workforce Commission is scheduled to release October jobs data for the state on Nov. 21."
None of this is good news. Government, businesses, non-profits and academic institutions are going to have to demonstrate levels of creativity and cooperation, we've not seen in a very long time. It will take time to turn this economy around.
Shortly after 9/11, we were encouraged to exhibit a 'market patriotism' ('Don't worry; go shopping). Now a new type of patriotism is demanded of us - patience.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
I joined the email conversation, after being unable bear the weakness of some of what our friend was saying. Until finally he wrote something that kind of blew me away. Here is part of his message:
"...disobedience happens on both sides of the political spectrum….because again, the focus has been on the selfish, human desires looking for government to solve the problem."
"If we really practiced what we profess to believe, then neither McCain or Obama is a candidate qualified to lead a Godly people."
As an American, I was insulted by the statement. As a black man, and as a Christian I am angered by the arrogance of such a statement.
One of the things I wrote in reply was, "I checked the ballot - we weren't electing a 'pastor in chief'. We elected the chief executive of our country and we don't have (nor have we ever had) perfect candidates or presidents."
I don't consider myself an intellectual or a theologian, I do recognize a lack of theological depth and intellectual honesty in so much of what comes from that side of the church aisle.
Don't get me wrong, theologically I am more conservative than liberal, but what I have known and experienced and what I have learned about the God of the Bible from which I preach and from which I have been taught all my life, simply will not comport with the distorted nature of what some evangelicals believe and promote.
Interestingly enough, all of those who are 'qualified to lead a godly people', decided that they didn't have the courage or the stamina to withstand the scrutiny, of a presidential run. Perhaps they couldn't raise the money (I remember, a year or so ago, Chris Matthews of MSNBC, bemoaning the presence of big money in politics and then sighing and saying, 'I guess if you can't raise the money, maybe you shouldn't run for the office').
I didn't like what McCain became during his presidential run; I did not agree with his choice for running mate and I disagreed with his vision for our country. But he is qualified to be president. Obama is a Christian, you may not like his former pastor, but it is the height of self righteousness to believe that because you don't agree with his policies regarding abortion, or because he will neither engage in demeaning or discriminating against homosexuals, that he is not 'qualified' to lead the 'godly people' of the U.S. This is the type of religious bigotry and insanity that we say characterizes Middle East Islamic extremists. I find it deplorable.
What is missed by Fred and others who believe as they do, is that on November 4, this country peacefully transcended the violent hatred, bigotry and oppression which characterized most of the history of this country when it comes to race.
We redeemed a caricature of country in the eyes of the world: a world which waited with tip-toe anticipation to see if we could reject the racism that they knew was a part of our past and present - even as we lectured them on human rights - and elect a leader whose skin is dark and whose name is Muslim. And we did! That's why we not only celebrated this victory in the streets of cities across this nation, but there was celebration in the streets of cities all over the globe.
When black people fought for the right to vote in Selma, Alabama, they were trampled by horses hooves, shocked with cattle prods, beaten with billy clubs and humiliated with tear gas, by police! A white clergyman named James Reeb, was beaten to death, by white terrorists because he dared showed solidarity with black people; it took the federalization of the Alabama National Guard to protect protesters who finally marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Because she picked up a black rider after the march, a white woman, Viola Liuzzo, was murdered by white terrorists.
Forty-three years later, after the blood of these two brave Americans, mingled with the blood of Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner, Emmit Till and Martin Luther King, watered the political, spiritual and social soil of our nation and produced a young black politician - the son of a white woman and an African immigrant, possessed of a quiet certitude and tremendous courage not yet fully appreciated, offered himself up to his fellow citizens as a candidate for the presidency of our country. Old people who thought it would never happen; middle age people who said, 'Maybe someday, but probably not in our lifetime and young people who said, 'Why not?', joined together and cast ballots that said, 'Yes we Can'. They voted for him and he won. Evangelical Christians were in that number, so were progressive Christians, so were Muslims, agnostics, atheists, gay and straight people. They all said 'He's qualified'. The Constitution of the United States, which provides no color or religious requirements to be considered to occupy the office, says, 'He's qualified'.
The truly Godly people, who have prayed to see this day and who have long asked God for the day when they could feel that their voices were heard as true Americans; the truly Godly people whom he does lead as President, said he was qualified.
And now they say, 'Amen' and 'Thank God', because that's what truly Godly people do.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The cabinet has to be chosen. My suggestions for some of these positions would be, Tom Daschle, former Senator from South Dakota, Chief of Staff; Tom Corzinne, New Jersey Governor Secretary of Treasury; although it probably won't happen, Duvall Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts as Attorney General.
But I think that issue number one that has to be tackled as soon as he gets to work is employment. I believe it not only has to be an immediate hit (like a public works program), but it has to be long term.
It appears that the job picture may be more dismal than we imagine. The 'bad news; worst news' picture in September was A) the unemployment rate has grown to 6.1%. It means we've lost more than 760,000 jobs since January. B) the worst news is, the economy's in the tank!
The idea that if you give businesses a tax break, they'll use the money saved to create new jobs has not only been disproved by the past eight years (worker productivity up, job growth tenuous and vulnerable, wages stagnant); but it has also been shown by what banks have been doing with the $700 billion worth of bailout money.
No, our new president has to help create business opportunities for existing companies that result in the demand for new workers and create an atmosphere for entrepreneurial development in sectors of the economy that are currently underdeveloped.
One place to start is with the environmental industry.
We can't be fooled by slumping oil and gas prices (although, I have to admit it has been a huge relief!). The green collar jobs arena is both critical in helping to stimulate the economy and the redevelopment of our inner cities, as well as protecting the environment. This means that his appointments to the Department of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, even Secretary of the Interior and Department of Agriculture all become crucial in this regard. It will take creative synergies between these departments in order for this to be successful and comprehensive.
Our outgoing President is going to leave President Obama with a full plate of crucial issues. 'Most important' is going to be in the eye of the beholder and depend on circumstances that we won't know until January 20. But getting this country back to work with jobs that enable families to envision a stable future is crucial, and protecting our environment is key to the health of our planet and critical to the growth of our economy. Public investment in the environmental sector enables our country to impact all three.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I held that memory, later on that night when I was shedding tears looking at the rerun of President-elect Obama's victory speech and wondered, 'What will she think of her opportunities, four years from now; what will she think about them in eight years?'
Not that I'm predicting the outcome of the 2012 election , but looking at the sea of faces in Grant Park, that huge, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, gender diverse crowd staring in nearly silent, solemn wonder at what they had witnessed, was the true picture of our country's make-up representing the future that we can achieve. They were aware of the history we that had been made; proud of what it meant for themselves and others, and feeling an integral part of it. There cannot be any doubt that a new world of possibilities has been revealed.
There will be plenty of analysis of this campaign and what it means in the next months and years. I'm sure I'll join in on it, because this election and has implications for how we view and deal with poverty, immigration, ethnicity, faith, culture, wealth and other issues that drive our search for community.
But what's most important, to me, is that the results of this election shows our country, in spite of all our problems, is tired of being afraid: afraid of our future, afraid of one another, afraid of the rest of our world, afraid of our history, afraid of our own politics. This is a nation desperately in need of believing that we are capable of being bold in a way, which defies the habits of our history and the expectations and caricature of us by the rest of the world.
What we as a country proved last night, ironically, is the truth of what John McCain said in the last days of his campaign - a rhetorical flourish that I really liked: "We're not afraid of history; we make history!"
America collectively held its breath, wondering whether or not we could truly, boldly make history in a way that could shake up the world. And the answer came back resoundingly: "Yes We Can!"
I hope both my granddaughters remember that when they begin to think seriously about what they can become in the brand new world in which they live.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
If you've already voted, feel good about your self and thank you for your contribution to our country's future.
Share this with someone who claims to be 'undecided'!
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
"We must throw open the doors of opportunity. But we also must equip our people to walk through these doors."