Thursday, December 31, 2009

Anniversary of a New Year's Showdown in Dallas

I really thank Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow, for posting this on the Dallas Metro Blog. It's a great story. Peter Johnson, a friend of mine, has told me about this and it always makes me proud to see how some in Dallas stood up to establishment leaders, in and outside of our community. But more importantly, the stood up with South Dallas residents in recognition of their dignity. Those of us working now, stand on their shoulders.

By the way: it was a very proud moment for me, when I ended up sitting at a table with J.B. Jackson (mentioned later in Steve's post). Mr. Jackson (who has a street named in his honor in South Dallas), said when I introduced myself, that he had read about me, heard about me and encouraged me to keep up the good work!

It was quite a moment for me...

"Longtime local civil rights leader Peter Johnson called to remind me that today is the 40th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and important events in race relations here."

"It was 40 years ago today that a group of activists threatened to disrupt the next day's Cotton Bowl parade unless the mayor met with Fair Park homeowners, who felt they were being cheated out of their homes."

"The tactic worked. And Peter told the story well in a 1994 guest column for the paper. I'll excerpt it below."

"I requested [from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta} additional time here to help some Fair Park homeowners whose land was being sought by the city for additional parking at the Cotton Bowl. African-American homeowners were being offered 50 cents per square foot for their property, while white property owners were offered $2.

"Mayor Erik Jonsson refused to meet with the homeowners. The city's black leadership felt the homeowners should accept the 50 cents per square foot and go quietly. But a growing number of younger men were moving closer to violent confrontation. Despair and frustration were everywhere. Some senior citizens talked of protecting their property with guns. I requested staff help from Atlanta and was denied."

"That was when I decided to organize and train a local staff. The first hurdle was persuading my new friends to accept non-violence. But after several workshops, they did, and we turned our attention to bringing major social change to Dallas.... "

You can read the rest of the story here.

Thanks again Steve! And thank you Peter!

This New Decade Will Be What We Make It



If you are one of those who don't accept that 2010 is the beginning of a new decade, that's fine. You don't have to convince me. Personally, I'm trying to understand why 2011 doesn't start a new decade. But that's neither here nor there.

The video above, shows that we have been through ALOT, in the past ten years. So much so its dizzying. It seems like only yesterday that we were holding our collective breath, wondering what 'y2k' was going to be. Many expected a technological meltdown. There were some who believed that the 21st century would signal the end of the world. I remember that our 'watch night' services, were pretty scarcely attended for years, even when we began having joint services with my father's church. But when the year 2000 was about to dawn, the place was packed!

There is so much that we could never have imagined: September 11; the Iran AND the Afghanistan wars; the first Black president; the economic meltdown...whew! And that's just the top of mind stuff!

I'm always optimistic at the beginning of a new year. New decades for me, are exceptionally exciting. They are the borders we cross into new frontiers. Good things and bad things are bound to happen and the past becomes a foundation upon which we build the rest of our lives. That foundation can be built out of materials of anticipation and hope. It's great to have more time to fix what could be fixed and get on with the adventure of living.

All that being considered, I was a little jarred when TIME magazine described the first decade of the 21st century as 'The Decade from Hell'.

"Calling the 2000s "the worst" may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation's entire history. Between the West's ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it's no wonder we feel as if we've been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it's in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer."

Economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman calls the past ten years, 'The Decade of Zero!


"...from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true."

"It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened."

And a recent article citing a poll on the country's mood as we go into 2010, describes the majority of Americans' attitude at the end of this decade, 'gloomy'.

Again, its been a tough decade for our country. We begin the next 10 years, a country in greater debt; with high unemployment; growing poverty; a shrinking middle class; more partisan and less civil than we've probably ever been. At the same time we are changing - culturally, in our domestic politics, in our relationships with the rest of the world, economically, in virtually every way imaginable.

I think that what we are learning in this country, is something that we teach our children: we have to share.

We have to share resources

We have to share power

We have to share this planet


Our sense of entitlement has been shaken. Andyy Serwer's article pinpoints the ways in which we contributed to many of our own problems:

"In large part, we have ourselves to blame. If you look at the underlying causes of some of the most troubling developments of the decade, you can see some striking common denominators. The raft of financial problems, our war with radical Islam, the collapse of GM and much of our domestic auto industry and even the devastation brought about by Katrina all came about at least in part or were greatly exacerbated by:

• Neglect. Our inward-looking culture didn't heed the warning signs from around the world — and from within our own country — that Islamic terrorism was heading for our shores.

• Greed. Our absolute faith in the markets, fed by Wall Street, combined with the declawing of our regulators to undermine our financial system.

• Self-interest. The auto industry disintegrated while management and labor tangoed from one bad contract to the next, ignoring their customers and their competition, aided and abetted by their respective politicians.

• Deferral of responsibility. Our power grid needs an upgrade and our bridges are falling down because we have not mustered the political and popular willpower to fix them. New Orleans drowned because authorities failed to act before Katrina busted the inadequate levees."

"It was almost as if we as a nation said in previous decades, "Why do today what we can put off until the first decade of the 21st century?" But we didn't rise to those challenges. What we just lived through, then, was the chickens coming home to roost."


There are some reactionaries who feel as if any criticism of America is something less than patriotic. The facts are, we cannot return to the policies that have produced the problems we wrestle with today. But the unfamiliar terrain of the next decade can bring about an America that is more substantial than in past.

"There is no guarantee that the next decade (get ready for the Teens!) will be any better than this one. It's likely that China will continue to grow faster than the U.S., and we may continue to see our global dominance erode. But very significantly, we still hold many of the world's trump cards. We still have the world's strongest military, which means we can and must lead in maintaining order and crafting peace. We are the leaders in technological innovation. And we are still the nation that most others emulate. If we remember those points and avoid the easy outs of deferral and neglect, then the next decade should be a helluva lot better than the last one."

I have tremendous confidence in our country's capacity to reset itself. To recommit itself to fundamental values which really made us great. I'm not talking about the return to the pursuit of economic and military superiority in the world. Nor am I talking about the superficial translation of our children 'doing better' than their parents, being evidenced in a mindless hunt for material gain and wealth.

There are values that we've extolled that throughout our history that committed patriots have pursued at great cost. Those who did so thought that an America with citizens committed to the public good; to make ours a land where we could fulfill personal ambitions along the lines of excellence in ways transformed society in ways that not only enriched people but enobled society; where we genuinely cared for one another; where capitalism didn't have to be predatory; where we recognized that the lofty ambitions espoused in the constitution were ambitions that we had to willfully and intentionally grow in to and not take for granted.

This country has never been perfect. It has never fully realized its creed. But what we tend to forget is that we've been at our best when we've stretched ourselves towards those ends.

There is a segment of this country - a vocal and visible section - that is angry, disenchanted and afraid. Partly because, as the proverb says, we've climbed a ladder and found out it was leaning against the wrong wall. But another year, means we have time to get it right.

The economy will come back. The anger and bitterness will lessen. We will begin to discover tolerance. The wars will come to an end. And we'll begin to see some of our other great problems solved. But we have to work at it.

Together.

I'm looking forward to the next decade already!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rocket Science in Texas: Approving Food Stamp Applications

This little interesting nugget regarding hunger in Texas. The state is being sued because its violating its own rules regarding the timeliness with which food stamp applications are processed.

That's right - sued...

"Legal aid lawyers sued the state Thursday for ignoring deadlines in its own food-stamp rules, saying Texas still hasn't gotten serious about ending delays that block needy people from getting help."

"The suit, filed in state district court in Travis County, asked that the Health and Human Services Commission be ordered to comply with the rules, which require decisions on non-emergency food stamp applications to be made within 30 days."

"Last month, the commission processed about 58 percent of applications statewide on time – in North Texas, it was 41 percent."

""Some of these people have been waiting for six months. It's ridiculous," said Robert Doggett, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin. "We're asking for a judge to order the department to make these decisions timely.""

""Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said the state is "moving as fast as we can" and expects remedial measures to eliminate excess wait times by February."


""We've made a lot of progress since this summer but we still have a ways to go – and we know that," she said.""


I'm glad the commission knows it needs to improve. Can you imagine how long people would have to wait if they didn't?!

Central Dallas Ministries has distributed almost 2 million pounds of food in 2009. People are hungry. Its unconscionable that it should take this long to provide people with something as essential as food!

But economically it doesn't make sense. As I've written before: food stamps are money that is spent on food! It goes right back into the economy. You can't deposit a 'SNAP' card in the back. It does no good to bury it in the back yard. If you could steal one and use it, it could only be used on food. Food stamps don't purchase food at a discount. The customer with food stamps pays the same amount of money as the person using cash. The increased sales, increase the bottom line of the grocer. The longer you delay getting food stamps in circulation, the longer you delay the monetary flow that occurs when people spend money.

I don't get why any of this is so hard to understand, or why it doesn't increase the sense of urgency on the part of the Health and Human Services Commission. The fact that they appear not to get it, shows just how far they have to go to improve.

And I'm not just talking about February.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dallas' Double Standard

I'm all for the continued development of downtown Dallas. I may question the way our city leaders go about it. I chiefly have problems with the idea that it often appears that the consequence of current and past philosophies has been to 'price out' those who may not have money, or an interest in art, culture and high-end town homes and apartments. But I understand that tourism and the monied interests contribute to a growing tax base. It's just that real, vibrant city life intentionally makes room for everyone and I don't see enough of that.

But my main problem is that the impression is given, more often than not, that downtown's development must come at the attention to the redevelopment of our city's poorer communities. Take the current example:

"Fed up with decrepit, vacant downtown buildings that have become little more than pigeon stalls, Mayor Tom Leppert announced a crackdown Tuesday on seven properties that city officials say have become health and safety hazards."

"Owners of the buildings, including the Grand Hotel at 1902 Commerce St. and a historically significant structure at 508 Park Ave., have less than 30 days to bring their buildings up to code or face penalties that officials say could reach tens of thousands of dollars a day."

"The owners "are simply sitting on their properties and putting no money into them. Many of them live somewhere else and they just don't care," Mr. Leppert said."

Now don't get me wrong - the mayor is right in his concern. There are a number of vacant buildings in downtown Dallas, which stand as a blight and an obstruction to our city's downtown revitalization by their very vacancy. When I was on the Urban Rehabilitation and Standards Board (a city commission), a number of years ago, the euphemistic technical term was 'urban nuisance'.

There are seven such buildings about which the Mayor is concerned. And it appears that City Hall is willing to get tough! "City attorney Tom Perkins said the city sent owners and agents of the buildings a letter Monday citing various violations. The 30-day clock for making repairs is ticking, he said."

"After that, "we are prepared to pursue them with all legal remedies available to us," he said."

"In some cases, officials may seek to levy a fine of $1,000 per violation per day, Mr. Perkins said."
My, my...

So what's my beef? It's simple: where's the since of urgency when it comes to such 'urban nuisances' in poor neighborhoods? Remember Mayor Leppert's observation? "The owners "are simply sitting on their properties and putting no money into them. Many of them live somewhere else and they just don't care..." He also called them "safety hazards"...

Thanks to Tod Robertson, there are a few other properties in South Dallas with owners and buildings which fall into the same categories. The problem is, according to Robertson, there are council members who are oblivious to the problem of absentee landlords whose properties contribute to the blight in poor neighborhoods.

"City Council member Sheffie Kadane posed the question earlier this month, "Where's the problem?" as the council and city staff discussed the effects of neglect on neighborhoods when absentee landowners fail to maintain their properties."

Interestingly enough, Robertson is able to identify the properties and the addresses and houses where absentee owners live...





Of course some of the respondents to Tod's column blame the residents of South Dallas:

"I bet the rich folk feel like idiots for thinking they could invest into South Dallas. Now, not only are they losing money on the deal but they get domonized [sic] as well. The only way my investements [sic] will touch South Dallas is if South Dallas starts tacking responsibility for their own crappiness. Perhaps an apology to the land owners demonized here is in order." And from the same respondent later... "This video is nonsense. It provides pictures of nasty looking homes owned by people in nice looking homes. So what!..."

And from another reply from someone named 'Dave', "Could it be that these owners are going through foreclosure? Could it be that the crime rates in the areas you highlighted have resulted in property destruction - ie. stolen copper plumbing, and other recycleables [sic]? From the quick tour you gave, most of the properties you "toured" appeared to be properly boarded..."


Of course, its the fault of poor people. These people who live in nice homes far away can't possibly be holding onto these properties in the hopes of the redevelopment of the area so that they can make a profit. The poor people, deficient in morals and unappreciative of the 'investment' being made in their community, don't know how to look out for someone elses property. And after all, the properties are boarded up, so what's the big deal?!


But, according to the Mayor Leppert, the owners of urban nuisances downtown, live somewhere else and 'don't care'. Interesting.


Children live, play and, yes loiter around such properties. Some of these properties are one street over from the liquor related businesses that proliferate the neighborhood. Senior adults, some of whom I served as pastor, live within blocks of some of these houses. Stray animals roam around these properties. Drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless all use some of these houses for who knows what - well we know, don't we. I wonder whether or not 'Dave' and the other respondent, so comfortable behind the thick anonymous comfort of the blogesphere, would be so cavalier and supportive of these property owners if they lived next door to these 'houses'?!


I wonder if the people who own these 'investments' will be fined $1000 a day, until they are brought up to code? I wonder if they've ever been confronted with the 'safety hazard' their beneficence to these poor communities produce?


I wonder if the redevelopment of South Dallas is just as important as the revitalization of downtown?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Christmas Gift We Can All Share


After months and months of delays, we finally have a move in date! CityWalk, a mixed income, vertical community which includes residential, retail and Central Dallas Ministries administration offices, as well as other office space has just gotten its certificate of occupancy. This means CDM offices will be moving to 511 Akard Street on January 19. FINALLY!!!

I haven't written much at all about Central Dallas Ministries' biggest project, CityWalk@Akard , mainly because Larry James has written so much about it. If you've read his blog, then you know how incredibly proud and excited we all are about our new digs!

But there's even greater news than that. I choose to think of it as the biggest shared gift that CDM employees, volunteers, donors and supporters have ever received.

John Greenan, the Executive Director of CDM Community Development Corporation, is responsible for helping put together one of the most complex real estate deals anyone has ever heard of in order to make this project work. It has been a work of pure genius. And John, along with an incredibly dedicated staff, have been working hard to make sure that this project is ready to go before the end of this year. Receiving the permission to occupy, means that the first tenant will celebrate the first of the year as a downtown resident!

Absolutely incredible.

You see among the more than 200 rental units at 511 Akard, 50 of those units are SRO (Single Room Occupancy) apartments. They are dedicated housing for the formerly homeless. Our primary focus for the project was to provide quality homes for people who otherwise would be on the streets. Other cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle actually do that and it somehow hasn't cratered the social or financial infrastructure of those places. At CDM, we figure that the best way to end homelessness is to provide homes for people who live on the street. Call it 'rocket science'....

Following this 'housing first' model, we looked to develop a project that would have working class, the formerly homeless and those who could afford market rate downtown living all in the same place. We would be right there in the mix, along with opportunity for retail development. As I said a real, 16 story, virtual community.

Now to the 'big gift'. On December 29 our first SRO tenant will be moving in.

John's blog, City Walk Talk to which not only he, but his staff contribute. Just before Christmas, Naquanna Comeaux, tells about the excitement caused by the official word, but also something about our first resident.

"On Wednesday, Dec. 23, the same day that we received our “green tag” or temporary certificate of occupancy for CityWalk, we were able to tell one of our first residents, Joyce Bennett, that she could move into her new, fully furnished CityWalk apartment on Tuesday, Dec. 29."

"Joyce was at our office when we told her she would be moving in next week. As soon as she heard the news, she immediately clamped her hand over her mouth in awe as tears began to well up in her eyes. “This is the first time I’ve ever been speechless!” she beamed."

"As our staff began to exchange hugs with our new resident and each other, Joyce could barely contain her excitement. “You just don’t understand, you just don’t understand,” she kept saying before she was able to compose herself enough to begin telling her story."

"Joyce currently lives with relatives, where she sleeps on the floor and has no personal belongings except for her clothing. She said that because she is homeless, she is treated much like an outsider in her family and is, at times, even excluded from family events. Through it all, she held on to her faith, which kept her going every day as she looked for permanent, affordable housing."
Joyce's story makes this initiative a Christmas present we can all share...
I'm proud to be on a team that is devoted, creative, determined and visionary as is the team at CDM. Larry James' faithfulness to translating justice into practical transformative action that models what it means to really care for 'the least of these', is an inspiration to us all. Our new home (and what will be a new home to many others), will indeed help change Dallas!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Mary McLeod Bethune
1875 - 1955

Educator, Presidential Advisor, Leader

We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Specials that Help Make Christmas Special!

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, so I guess I'm feeling a little sentimental. So, for a little while, enough about health care, birthers, deficits and the like...what's your favorite Christmas special.

As I said, I'm a little sentimental (please don't tell anyone!), so I'll share with you the Christmas specials I actually watch. I was shopping not long ago looking for a DVD for my granddaughter and ran into a 20 something guy who was raving about one of the specials here. I immediately credentialed by appreciation for the movie (and dated myself at the same time), by telling him I watched it the first night it came on television! Believe it or not, unless Providentially hindered, I watch them every year!

Here's my top four ranked in reverse order.

The first is 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer'. Yep! Long before 'animatronics', and CG (computer generated) graphics, this type of puppet animation was cutting edge. The story holds up too. It puts imagination behind a legend and its a typical Christmas 'feel good' story, with an important message: even misfits have something to offer (if only we could share that message all year long!)...






No. 3 is 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. Those of us who grew up in the age of Charles Schultz remember that there was something genius regarding his capacity to get us to sympathize with Charlie Brown, love Lucy and want to dance like Snoopy! There was a great deal of good theology in his classic 'Peanuts' cartoon. This clip, in which Linus tells the real meaning of Christmas moves me to this day.






No. 2 is 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas'! Seriously, is there anyone out there who doesn't love Dr. Seuss?! The transformation of the Grinch by the residents of 'Whoville' who refuse to have their Christmas joy 'stolen', is a reminder of the spirit of Christmas that should reach beyond our materialism and greed...




And No. 1 (drum roll please!)...

'It's A Wonderful Life'. Who hasn't, at one time or another, wished they had never been born?! And who hasn't, at one time or another, found out they were more meaningful to more lives than they have ever imagined? And yes, year after year, I tear up when they sing 'Auld Ange Syne'...

I guess by the end of the story, I realize that I have had 'A wonderful Life' after all...



I hope some of these clips speak to the kid in you, I know that's what they do for me - and I hope it never changes! By the way, my honorable mentions include: 'The Preacher's Wife', with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston (anyone who would like to see why I think Whitney was born to sing gospel music - no matter how great she is at anything else ought to see this!) and 'A Christmas Carol' (the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Scrooge).

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir could sing the phone book and it would cause one's heart to soar.
Strictly speaking, this song isn't 'in keeping' with the season - but from the Christian perspective its message is essentially Christmas. That's a sermon for another occasion. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this as much as I do...


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Memoriam: Ms. Mattie Nash, former Dallas City Councilwoman

Ms. Mattie Nash was a former Dallas City Councilwoman and a tremendous force for good in West Dallas. She died this past Sunday night at the age of 87.

I got to know Ms. Nash when we served together on our city's Urban Rehabilitation and Standards Board. She inspired all of us with her energetic presence, her wisdom, her compassion and her relentless advocacy on behalf of her community.

I know its a trite saying, but its true: those of us who seek to provide any leadership in low income communities, 'stand on the shoulders' of such stalwart leaders like Mattie Nash. I was blessed to know her. Dallas was blessed to have her in our midst.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Art Imitates Life or Vice Versa?

Oddly enough I was just talking about the parallels between 'The West Wing' television series and the 2008 presidential election.

Maybe you might find it interesting too...


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer: Great Courage

On August 6, 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was formed as an alternative to the segregated Mississippi Democratic Party. Organized in conjunction with the Freedom Summer voter registration drives of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and COFO (the Council of Federated Organizations), the MFDP following democratic party rules, elected 68 delegates, including 4 white delegates and went by bus to the 1964 Democratic Party Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They contended that a Mississippi delegation, elected in a segregated process, violating party and federal law could not be lawfully seated and sought to be seated as the true delegation from their state.

This placed President Lyndon Johnson, seeking election to the Oval Office in his own right (having succeeded President John F. Kennedy after his assassination in the previous year), in an awful position: allow the MFDP to be seated along with the Mississippi Democratic Party and alienate the white south, or reject the MFDP and lose the black vote.

The MFDP's claims were referred to Credentials Committee of the Democratic Party.

What follows is the gripping testimony of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. Hers is a story which tells of how valiantly people struggled less than half a century ago to gain the right to vote and respect as citizens by their fellow citizens.

I dare you to listen and come away thinking that voting is not important.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Charles de Gaulle
1890 -1970

President of France
1958 - 1969

"Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unify South Dallas: The Work Continues

Unify South Dallas, continues its meetings after a successful effort in bringing before South Dallas residents, Mayor Tom Leppert to address an agenda of issues which they developed.
These are clips from that the meeting in November in which the tenor and tone of the meeting is laid out and the Mayor responds to agenda items that relate to the city's role in supporting the Dallas Housing Authority's application for HOPE IV funds; transportation and neighborhood redevelopment issues and the proliferation of liquor related businesses in South Dallas.

We've got the agenda, now the work begins!

The next meeting will take place Saturday December 19, 2009, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, at the Eban Village Community Room, 3023 Park Row Avenue. Hope to see you there...













Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Justice Revival Aftermath: The Difference Between Justice and Charity

It's been a shade over a month since the Justice Revival ended. Did I say 'ended'? The event has ended. Now we will see how many of our participating congregations have an appetite for the work of justice.

That's the question I've raised in my monthly column.

"Can churches still provide the spark that ignites a spiritual-based revival with social implications in Dallas?"

I'm convinced of it, but only if we know the difference between justice and charity.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Does a Goal Become a Priority?

An article in the Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News brings to light a challenge, if not a problem that our city is having regarding how to make an impact on homelessness. Where can we provide housing for them?

City leaders have officially adopted the goal of providing 700 units of 'permanent supportive housing' for homeless people in our city. According to the article, on any given night there are more between 600-1000 people living on the streets, under bridges, in a vacant abandoned housing. Permanent supportive housing is a strategy which provides rent subsidies and the necessary services which get people off the streets and into homes. In many cases these homes are located in multifamily housing complexes. Central Dallas Ministries provides such housing in a program that I supervise called 'Destination Home'.

Destination Home is a PSH that follows a 'housing first' model. It is HUD funded and is targeted toward the chronically homeless and disabled. It has been a successful model since its we began it nearly three years ago. Those who are in the program must be certified as disabled and must meet the HUD definition of 'chronically homeless'. Beyond that, they must pass the apartment owner's criminal background check, comply with the lease that they sign and meet the program requirements - which for the most part requires them to see their case manager twice a month and be a good tenant. That's it.

Have there been problems. Of course. There have been the same problems that the landlord has had with other tenants. Which is minimal. Most of the program participants have been in the program at least two years, and recognize the chance that they have to begin their lives all over again. There have been very few tenants who have been put out of the program and fewer who have been evicted. Currently there are some 40+ people in the program with nearly 10 others at various stages of application, approval or move-in. They live in furnished apartments and are served by Central Dallas Ministries and area churches. The goal: reintegrating the formerly homeless into the life of the community.

Again, problems - of course. More like challenges. But the challenges are surprisingly few. Health is a major issue. At least three people have died - theirs were deaths associated with years of life on the street, without regular health care. But beyond that, we've found that with regular, compassionate case management; case management that is more like friendship than like subject to object social service programming, these men and women live independent or rather interdependent lives. We (CDM) not only look after them; they look after one another.

So here's the point: if it makes sense to employ this type of strategy in stemming the rising tide of homelessness in our city, why is Dallas struggling to achieve the goal of 700 additional units of such housing? The reason is, its a goal, not a priority.

Priorities have money behind them and a strategy to achieve the stated outcome. Dallas has done neither. As a result, neighborhoods are hunkering down in their opposition to such PS housing. Why? For the most part, it is poorly proposed and the prospective communities are not educated regarding the needs and how it can be further integrated into economic development efforts.

One such effort was rejected in the South Dallas/Fair Park area of Dallas and received overwhelming opposition. I didn't quite understand it until I attended a meeting of the Mayor's Task force to deal with the issue. While the non-profit that proposed the project did indeed approach the community, the neighborhood had been ill prepared, even for the meeting. Secondly, the residents were left feeling, 'We already have homeless people all over South Dallas, now they're going to bring in more?!'

The DMN article relates the challenges of for-profit developer Larry Hamilton who wants to take the long abandoned Ramada Inn, immediately south of City Hall into nearly 200 units of PSH. The problem? Residents of the Cedars, an affluent neighborhood, currently living near a shelter and the Bridge, the city's new Bridge, a homeless assistance center with coordinated services to help refer homeless citizens to medical, mental health services, jobs and job training, as well as providing them food and shelter at night. They're objections stem from the usual stereotyping of the homeless, totally ignoring the fact that Larry Hamilton is one of the foremost developers of high end housing in downtown Dallas. Having met and talked with Hamilton about his plan for the Ramada, no one will know that the formerly homeless are living there - except of course, the formerly homeless who live there.

So...if those living in communities that are distressed don't want housing for the formerly homeless and those who are in more economically healthy transitioning areas don't want the formerly homeless among them - where do house them?!

Some how Seattle has found a way to do it. New York City has found a way to do it. Houston has found a way to do it. Why is it such a challenge in Dallas? Again, in Dallas, it remains a goal and not a priority. It needs to be a priority.

It needs to be a priority because its economically sound. In Seattle $86,000 is spent on the homeless who are not in PSH. The city spends less than $13,500 for those who are. All told the city saves $4 million. Dallas is estimated to spend about $50,000 on the chronically homeless annually. PSH is projected to cost about $8000 - $10,000 a year. It seems like a pretty simple argument when it comes to housing the homeless to those who say it will cost to bring them 'in here'. 'They' are already here; 'they' already are costing us - big time. We can spend less and get people off the street and into safe affordable housing, with services coordinated and customized to meet their needs (pretty much like the rest of us), or we can continue spending money at exorbitant rates on solutions that don't solve the problem.

What could the city do?

First, every city council member could enlist the aid of churches and non-profit organizations to educate their constituents on the need and advantages of PSH. People are afraid, because they don't know. PSH are not flop houses or shelters designed to house drug addicts, prostitutes and paranoid schizophrenics on a first-come-first-served basis. It is a strategic program in which participants are carefully screened (and, by the way, when you move into a neighborhood, you never know how 'normal the people who live around you are, anyway). These education sessions ought to take place before there is a plan to build any housing in any community.

Second, the city should officially campaign on the necessity of ending homelessness in Dallas. We have stigmatized the homeless. The stigma ought to be on a rich city that allows homelessness to exist as a fact of everyday life without aggressively addressing the problem. The homeless ought to be far less ashamed than the rest of us for not doing more about it.

Finally, we need to put money behind the goal of 700 units of affordable housing. There ought to be a pot of at least $5 million (maybe partially funded from a percentage of every ticket sold at Dallas' new multimillion opera center) to develop and sustain these properties through a combination of grants and low interest loans.

The homeless aren't going anywhere. And I'll be glad to argue that they shouldn't have to. They are not aliens imposed on us from other planets. They used to be professionals. Some are the veterans we claim to love so much. Others are have lost jobs and homes through personal misfortune or the economic downturn. Others have medical and, yes mental problems. But that means they are just like many of us.

The difference is they have no home.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 'Dream' for Today


On Tuesday, December 15, from 6-7:30 pm, the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture will host what promises to be a very interesting interfaith dialogue. It will focus on the contemporary significance of of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

"The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's occupies a unique position in American consciousness: at once both a critical epoch to be remembered and unfinished business to be completed. During these early days of the Obama presidency, some say that memory of the movement is receding, whereas others say that a national conversation about race and class needs to be recast for the future. Through presentation and discussion, with emphasis on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches and the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize, this two-part program will explore the possibilities of both honoring the past accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement and confronting its future."

You can find more information about it here.

I, along with Rev. Joe Clifford, of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas; Rev. Jan Mar, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; Rabbi Joe Maneshe, of Congregation Shearith Israel and Imam Nihat Yesil, of the Dallas Islamic Center.



If you have time and an appetite for a discussion on the realization of the promise of King's Dream and it's the energy and hope it provides even now, please come by. I'd love to meet you!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Getting to Know the Neighbors

"We don't do neighborhoods like we used to."

"We don't do cookouts or block parties or Halloween or even look out for one another very much. How come? Maybe it's because we're too busy, or our neighbors are different from us, or it's a bother to stop for a conversation. Maybe it's lots of things."

"Ultimately, I think it is fear. I think we don't risk being known by our neighbors because we think it's safer to keep to ourselves and mind our own business. We think, "I'll just do my thing and hope my neighbor does his and we don't infringe on each other.""


This is an excerpt from an earlier post which cited an op-ed piece by Jon Myers, a former educator. For me it was challenging, especially since right after I read this, I received an invitation from our neighborhood association to a holiday gathering.

Myers is right. No matter the neighborhood, one of the reasons crime persists, communities decline and we live with this sense of isolated dread, is because we are far more interested in being homeowners than neighbors. So I went to the holiday gathering hosted in one of the homes in the neighborhood.

We are among the new homeowners in the area, having moved here three years ago and most of the ones at this gathering have been here for less time than my family. The get together was held, ironically, in one of the first houses we thought of buying in the area. It is owned by a single mother who works for the school district. I didn't buy because I thought far too much work would have to be done to get the house livable. But this young mother has made the house absolutely beautiful. While in her kitchen, I noticed a Christmas greeting that had a picture of a mother and a daughter. They were members of a church where I served as interim pastor for about 6 months a couple of years ago. It's a small world.

The world got even smaller when I another guest and I started talking. He's a member of a church where I preached a few weeks ago. Reads my column in the paper and is married to the cousin of a very good friend of mine who pastors a church near Boston, Massachusetts. Wow!

I met him, this past summer as he was landscaping the home he recently bought. At the time, he was still doing the remodel, but he let me and my wife go through it. It's near finished now, but he has put a lot of hard work into it and everyone was raving at how beautiful it now looks inside and out.

Another neighbor has recently brought a beautiful house down the street from us. Its a young couple and he evidently is a great cook. We all shared I likes and dislikes about barbecue in from Memphis, to Kansas City to North Carolina.

My neighbors behind our alley were there. They are a young Hispanic couple, with two children. My granddaughter has gone there to play with their children. They also live in one of the first homes we looked at in the area. They too have done a great job. They bought the house partially remodeled and are finishing the work. They've recently put up a beautiful wrought iron fence, with great looking gate. As we shared our stories, some of us know the same people, others of us have traveled to the same places.

Some of us have similar stories with interesting twists. We all have work to do in getting the houses to look the way we want. Some of us have skills we can share, advice we can give and references we can provide. We have concerns about economic development in the area. Property values. Crime and safety. We exchanged email addresses and telephone numbers so that we can stay in touch, get involved and stay involved. We've all moved into a wonderful older neighborhood, with great looking houses and we all talked about how fortunate we felt to live here.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive about giving up a portion of a Saturday to go hang out with strangers. After all, there's stuff to do and rest to get caught up on. But this was a really good time. And it wasn't just because it was the holidays.

It was good to get to know some of the people who live around us. They're our neighbors after all!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Hans Christian Anderson
1805 - 1875

Author


"Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan's egg."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Let's Get Our Indignation Straight, Shall We?




OK, OK, if you want to say Senator Harry Reid went too far the other day comparing Republican inaction on health care reform to the calls to 'go slow' on slavery and civil rights, I get it. Maybe you don't get line of reasoning. Maybe you don't consider health care for those who can't afford it a civil right. Perhaps you're comfortable with health care as a commodity and you've never been in a position where medical care was a financial issue with you. Perhaps you are just another Harry Reid 'hater'. I get all of that...

But enough with the feigned indignation and the contrived sense of insult! We've just gone through a year when political leaders spoke at rallies where the President of the United States was called 'Hitler', a Nazi, a Socialist and where people called for his death and those same leaders - in the Republican Party said, 'You know, you can't control the people who come to these things...' Where was the indignation when legislators spoke at rallies where people carried signs like this?

No Chairman Steele, I'm not insulted by Reid's comparison. I'm insulted that your party spent the summer talking about the President's birth certificate, calling the public option socialism while frightening old people with non-existent threats to medicare and presenting no credible legislative alternative.

By the way, I missed the aggrieved sense of moral outrage and angst on behalf of black people when Senator Lamar Alexander made this ridiculous statement...





Your silence on these things doesn't insult me as an African-American. It insults me as an American.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How Do Ya' Like Them Apples?!

I was invited to give the invocation at the National Council of Jewish Women's Immigration Luncheon, held this past Tuesday.

The guest speaker was current San Diego Union Tribune and former Dallas Morning News editorial columnist Ruben Naverrette. Naverrette's take on immigration is very interesting. The labels 'liberal' or 'conservative' are trite and not quite applicable with him - at least in his presentation. A better word is 'pragmatic'.

Ruben's example of an undocumented immigrant apple picker going to the emergency room is a great example. When an undocumented immigrant goes to the emergency room because he doesn't have employee provided health care, it means you and I are subsidizing health care for the apple orchard farmer who hired the undocumented immigrant. However, if we make the apple orchard farmer 'the bad guy' and require him to provide health insurance then we have to pay more for his apples!

At the same time, he hires undocumented immigrants because he has to compete with imported Chinese apples. Which, in turn is a different commentary on the American spirit, because now it appears that we are afraid of competition!

While a sensible immigration policy is incredibly complex, at some point we have to understand that we have used cheap immigrant labor to keep prices down - to make our goods and services affordable. The idea that Americans will be hired to do this same work at the same wages as the undocumented AND without benefits, if we just deport all the 'illegals' is pretty ridiculous!

But maybe rather than sensible, effective immigration reform, there are people interested in paying $5.00 for an apple!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wisdom and Grace

There are a few people on this earth who exhaust the superlatives we try and use to explain how wonderful they are.

Maya Angelou is such a person.

This clip is an introduction of her book, "Letter to My Daughter". Her wisdom, her eloquence, her grace and charm are just breathtaking. I just wanted to share this with you.

We may not have her with us much longer, but what a treasure we have among us while she is still here!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Embracing Complexity

This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie 'Thirteen Days'...




I like this scene because it demonstrates a point in time when the complexity of a situation demonstrated a need for a deliberative process that yielded a strategy that defied conventional wisdom - and yet prevailed. The Cuban Missile Crisis, as we know call it now, was a metaphor for a world on the brink of self destruction. President John Kennedy's solution was not perfect. It was effective. It was designed to get Russia to remove its missiles from 90 miles off of American shores, allow Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev to save face, demonstrate American military might and political determination, while avoiding all of the pitfalls of the Bay of Pigs disaster. Oh, and I might add, avoid a nuclear war which would have destroyed the United States, Russia or both.

Tall orders - and a confluence of circumstances never before faced by a U.S. President. It called for deliberation and consensus. And it worked.

That's why New York Times columnist David Brooks recent offering is so important. Brooks is, by no means, an Obama apologist. But he gets something that liberals and conservatives are missing in their criticisms of this administration.

"All presidents have to adjust to these realities when they move to the White House. The only surprise with President Obama is how enthusiastically he has made the transition. He’s political, like any president, but he seems to vastly prefer the grays of governing to the simplicities of the campaign."

"The election revolved around passionate rallies. The Obama White House revolves around a culture of debate. He leads long, analytic discussions, which bring competing arguments to the fore. He sometimes seems to preside over the arguments like a judge settling a lawsuit."

"His policies are often a balance as he tries to accommodate different points of view. He doesn’t generally issue edicts. In matters foreign and domestic, he seems to spend a lot of time coaxing people along. His governing style, in short, is biased toward complexity."

A "governing style...biased toward complexity" is something we've grown unaccustomed to. We've grown used to 'alarms' and 'alerts', that require 'swift' action. We're used to seeing 'Mission Accomplished' signs before we've considered the fact that we are not at war with countries with whom we can demand unconditional surrender. And we've not realized that we cannot simply declare by edict what countries will and what countries will not be considered world powers. We've dismissed the idea that the have a world economy and that sheets of paper cannot replace manufacturing as our own economic base. Thus, the Obama presidency looks different than the Obama campaign. Just as the Bush presidency wasn't a mirror of his campaign. It was true of Clinton; and Bush before him; and Reagan before him and so on.
Mario Cuomo still goes unheeded and, therefore, unappreciated, "We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose".

The Obama Administration's modus operandi has its pros and cons: "The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did."

"The disadvantage is the tendency to bureaucratize the war. Armed conflict is about morale, motivation, honor, fear and breaking the enemy’s will. The danger is that Obama’s analytic mode will neglect the intangibles that are the essence of the fight. It will fail to inspire and comfort. Soldiers and Marines don’t have the luxury of adopting President Obama’s calibrated stance since they are being asked to potentially sacrifice everything."

There are corollary pros and cons in dealing with health care, the economy, gay, Hispanic, African-American and immigration issues. And seeking to deal strategically with these issues while trying to balance the competing interests that must support, provide legislation, implement and superintend that implementation is something that cannot be done by speech making or fiat.

But Brook's conclusion is something we must bear in mind as we evaluate this still new presidency.

"Barring a scientific breakthrough, we can’t merge Obama’s analysis with George Bush’s passion. But we should still be glad that he is governing the way he is. I loved covering the Obama campaign. But amid problems like Afghanistan and health care, it simply wouldn’t do to give gauzy speeches about the meaning of the word hope. It is in Obama’s nature to lead a government by symposium. Embrace the complexity. Learn to live with the dispassion."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Critical Thinking vs. Criticizing Thinking

Rod Dreher is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Rod is on the conservative side and I tend to find myself disagreeing with some of his stances, but enjoying his writing. Rod, tends for the most part tends to seek the most rationale side of an argument sometimes with a simple not to his ideology in an effort to bring understanding to the issue with which he is dealing. I may not like where he comes down on a subject, but I usually can understand how he got there.

This ability to look at more than one side of an issue or subject is the hallmark of critical thinking - something that is not only in desperate short supply these days, but something which is more and more becoming disparaged. In a few short years we have gone from appreciating thoughtfulness and reflection, to believing in quick decisions and snap judgements.

A recent column by Dreher is painfully on the mark:

"Whether they realize it, ordinary people have become more comfortable with the idea that truth is relative and that emotion is a reliable and sufficient guide to finding it. For many of us, what's true is whatever is pleasing and useful."

"For at least a generation, this sort of thing has panicked conservative thinkers, who blame liberals for mainstreaming moral relativism and lack of respect for truth, except in the culturally Marxist sense of being a tool for social or political change. Relativism in this sense is no longer a specialty of the left. Here's the nut of an exchange I've had many times over the past year with fellow conservatives:

""Barack Obama is a Muslim."

""No, he's not."

""You have your opinion; I have mine."

"There is no way to argue with this, if by "argument" you mean the exercise of analyzing premises and data to reach a deliberative conclusion. This is argument as mere contradiction. You might say that approaching life this way will lead you into a world of trouble, but then again, you have your opinion, and they have theirs."


It would be hilarious if it weren't for the fact that this is the way public debate is carried out. Opinion becomes a valid substitute for facts; engaging in real debate is an exercise in 'elitism'; sloganeering and bumper sticker religious slogan compete with theological rigor - or at least rudimentary scholarship. In one race for the Texas Legislature, one candidate has actually been criticized for having a degree from *gasp* Harvard!

Don't get me wrong: critical thinking doesn't require advanced academic degrees. It does mean that one doesn't exalt experience, dogma and opinion to the level of ultimate truth. It means a willingness to examine facts in the light of history and some objective fact (or facts) which can form the basis for some 'argument'. Not simply a statement of some cherished belief or ideologically laced opinion dragged out into the public square as an empirical truth by which all should live.

Whether we are liberal or conservative, religious or irreligious, we all have some things about which we are right; we all have some things about which we are wrong - but a progressive society rests on the capacity to persuade, not just opine.

By the way, I've gotten word that Rod is leaving DMN! I'm going to miss being agitated by him. There's nothing like a great argument!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Walt Whitman
1819 - 1892

Poet, Philosopher, Essayist


"The future is no more uncertain than the present."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hunger in Dallas

So what does hunger look like in Dallas?

Pegasus News, another online news venue provides a picture by looking at what we see everyday at Central Dallas Ministries.

"Central Dallas Ministries, one of more than 300 food pantries in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, is overwhelmed in the weeks leading up to the holidays. The average number of food recipients for 2009 was 4,575 individuals per month at the Ministries, and that number is expected to double during the holidays. The North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), which distributes food to the Ministries and 291 member agencies, doubled its staff and trucks to confront the drastic increase in need."

"Rising property taxes, food costs, utility expenses, car payments, health care costs, and other economic burdens have pushed ordinary people -- employed and unemployed -- to food assistance."

You can read the rest of the story here.

Every day during the year, people in religious and resourceful cities like Dallas go without basic needs - like food. If you can help, please do. You can find out how by going to our website and making a donation.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

American Hunger

“It’s embarrassing,” said Mr. [Greg]Dawson, 29, a taciturn man with a wispy goatee who is so uneasy about the monthly benefit of $300 that he has not told his parents. “I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like we really needed the help right now.”

A group of friends of mine and I were talking several month's ago, and one of us said, 'You just wait, this recession will take all the stigma out of food stamps! People will be glad to have them!'

Whoever said it was prophetic...

The first paragraph and the excerpts below are from an article in the New York Times which tells us what many already know: people we never thought would need public assistance for food are steadily (if reluctantly) receiving aid.

"With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children."

"It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs."

"Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare."

"There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times."

"The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps."

"In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40 percent of children receive aid."

"Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri. Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent access to adequate food."

"Support for the food stamp program reached a nadir in the mid-1990s when critics, likening the benefit to cash welfare, won significant restrictions and sought even more. But after use plunged for several years, President Bill Clinton began promoting the program, in part as a way to help the working poor. President George W. Bush expanded that effort, a strategy Mr. Obama has embraced."

"The revival was crowned last year with an upbeat change of name. What most people still call food stamps is technically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP."

"By the time the recession began, in December 2007, “the whole message around this program had changed,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that has supported food stamp expansions. “The general pitch was, ‘This program is here to help you.’ ”"

"Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites."

"The richest counties are often where aid is growing fastest, although from a small base. In 2007, Forsyth County, outside Atlanta, had the highest household income in the South. (One author dubbed it “Whitopia.”) Food stamp use there has more than doubled."

"This is the first recession in which a majority of the poor in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, giving food stamps new prominence there. Use has grown by half or more in dozens of suburban counties from Boston to Seattle, including such bulwarks of modern conservatism as California’s Orange County, where the rolls are up more than 50 percent."

"...the recession left Sandi Bernstein more sympathetic to the needy. After years of success in the insurance business, Ms. Bernstein, 66, had just settled into what she had expected to be a comfortable retirement when the financial crisis last year sent her brokerage accounts plummeting. Feeling newly vulnerable herself, she volunteered with an outreach program run by AARP and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks."

"Having assumed that poor people clamored for aid, she was surprised to find that some needed convincing to apply.“I come here and I see people who are knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed,” she said. “These are people I could be having lunch with.”"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Surprised by Satisfaction

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."


T.S. Eliot
The Four Quartets
Little Gidding

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Is NOT the Way 14-1 was Meant to Work


Years ago, when those of us who worked for single member representation in Dallas were successful, we looked forward to the day, when mature politicians would represent their districts responsibly. I think everyone knew it would take time.

Along the way there have been accusations of 'fiefdoms' being established. There have been criticisms about 'ward politics'; a lack of concern for 'Dallas as a whole'. Then, of course there has been the corruption. But now something totally out of left field!

This is not the way to represent your district.

Shawn Williams, editor of Dallas South News, has posted a story about a conflict between District 5 City Council representative Vonciel Jones-Hill and District 4 City Council Representative Dwaine Carroway. It seems that Mr. Carroway's efforts to address crime and save a city operated skating rink in this adjacent district is rubbing Ms. Jones-Hill the wrong way. Not only that, but to add insult to her injury, Councilman Carroway is working with the Friendship-West Baptist Church (Dr. Freddie Haynes, is pastor) and Operation BLACC (Brothers Loving and Leading the African-American Church and Community).

In response to their efforts, Councilwoman Jones-Hill has sent a memo asking (forbidding?) Carroway, Friendship-West and BLACC, that they not hold any meetings in her district without her 'foreknowledge'.

According to Williams, a portion of the memo reads as follows:

"Please do not schedule, or permit to be scheduled, any meetings, of any nature, for any person, or organization, at any City of Dallas facility within Dallas City Council District 5 without my prior knowledge."

Uh, now...what?! Seriously?!

I'm not sure what prevents the Councilwoman from working with Councilman Carroway, or Friendship-West Baptist Church or BLACC. Carroway's district is so close to Jones-Hill's that crime in impacts residents in either district. The loss of the skating rink is a loss to children, youth and families from all over this particular southern Dallas area. Friendship-West draws members from nearly every direction from Dallas. And, like any other church has relationships with other churches, with members with business interests, friends and relatives in the area.

So...what's the problem?!

If any of this is even remotely true, this is not the way to represent a district!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hate Crimes on the Rise



America becoming 'post racial'?

Maybe we need to take a deep breath and start working on it in 2010. So far we've not gotten the hang of it. A recent report says that hate crimes have spiked as we end the first decade of the 21st century.

Conservative religious leaders did their best to defeat the federal hate crimes bill passed by Congress earlier this year. This included ominous warnings of pastors being arrested in their pulpits for preaching the Gospel, if they preached their convictions stemming from their interpretations of the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. Actually, given some of the venomous, mean spirited, hypocritical, unreflective and almost hateful rhetoric I've heard in some pulpits, that might not be such a bad idea, but - again - take a deep breath. The legislation harbingers nothing of the sort.

Yet FBI statistics show that hate crimes based on sexual orientation, race, and religion is on the rise.

"Following close behind religiously motivated hate crimes were racially motivated attacks against African-American targets, which rose more that 8 percent in 2008 -- the year that saw the first African-American in history secure a major party nomination, and then win the general election to become the first black president. The rise in anti-black crimes -- from 2,658 in 2007 to 2,876 in 2008 -- contrasts with a decline in attacks against whites, from 749 in 2007 down to 716 in 2008."

"As has been the case for several years, racially motivated attacks account for about half of all bias crimes (51.3 percent) and religiously motivated attacks were next at 19.5 percent, followed by crimes linked to sexual orientation, at 16.7 percent of all attacks."

Still another report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund says that continued attacks on African-American citizens are the most prevalent criminal assaults and crimes against property based on hatred.

"African Americans remain by far the most frequent victims of hate crimes. Of the 7,624 hate
crime incidents reported nationwide in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, 34 percent (2,659) were perpetrated against African Americans, a number and percentage of incidents that has changed little over the past 10 years",
says the LCCREF report.

It provides the following examples:

On Election Night 2008, Ralph Nicoletti and Michael Contreras, both 18, and Brian Carranza, 21, of Staten Island, New York decided shortly after learning of Barack Obama’s election victory “to find African Americans to assault,” according to a federal indictment and other court filings. The men then drove to a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Staten Island, where they came upon a 17 year-old African American who was walking home after watching the election at a friend’s house. One of the defendants yelled “Obama!” Then, the men got out of the car and beat the youth with a metal pipe and a collapsible police baton, injuring his head and legs. The men went on to commit additional assaults that night.

Justin Sigler, 19, of Natchitoches, Louisiana, pleaded guilty in December 2008 to conspiring with two other individuals to violate the civil rights of a man in Lena, Louisiana who was the first African American to move into a home in the neighborhood. Sigler and two others fired shotguns at a target on a field adjacent to the victim’s property before one member of the group turned his shotgun away from the target and toward the victim and his house. The next evening, Sigler, dressed in a white robe as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, went with his coconspirators to a field adjacent to the victim’s residence and shouted, “White Power!” and “White Knights!”

Benjamin Haskell, 22, Michael Jacques, 24, and Thomas Gleason, 21, all of Springfield, Mass., were arrested on January 16, 2009 for allegedly burning and entirely destroying the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American congregation’s nearly completed
new church building. The building was burned to the ground on Nov. 5, 2008, hours after the election of President Barack Obama. Investigators determined the fire was caused by gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building. The three men were indicted by a federal grand jury on January 27, 2009 for conspiring to burn the church in retaliation for the election results.

For those who think that these incidents are unrelated to a mood of intolerance in our country, the report goes on to say, "According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the number of hate
groups operating in the United States increased more than four percent in 2008 and has grown by 54 percent since 2000."


The facts appear to point to an inveterate fear of lose of power and preeminence among a growing demographic in the U.S. We've seen flames of that fear fanned in political rallies, in protests in our nation's capitol and the subtle and not so subtle rants of television 'news' pundits. It is definitely seen in the vitriolic posts and responses shouted behind the thick curtain of anonymity afforded by the Internet.

What are we to do?

First, we ought to realize that the significant progress made in race relations over the past several decades does not indicate a coming 'post racial age'. That is naive. The very idea of a Black man in the White House has spawned all manner of evidence that from sophisticated but thinly veiled efforts to delegitimize Barak Obama's presidency to the outright hatred of bigots who have no problem referring to him as a monkey or terrorist are based on race hatred. But its obviously done more than that.

The election of an African-American as president has caused some of the least hinged elements in our country to see a danger in the prospects of political and social equality. Rather than see it as an embarrassment to publicly foment hatred, they believe that there is something about this progress in our country that makes it acceptable to not only be disrespectful, but to commit violence.

Such attitudes should never be tolerated, whether they are expressed in private conversation or in public protests. They should be met with sharp and quick rebuke by those who see it for what it is - a dangerous, dangerous expression of hatred that will rip the fragile fabric of our society apart if tolerated or ignored.

It has become incredibly interesting to me, especially in light of these two reports, that violence committed by minorities, particularly African-Americans, is seen as a collective pathology to be associated with the race. However, the centuries of violence perpetrated by whites on Black people and other minorities is to be seen as isolated incidents of extremists and bigots, even when it is condoned by social custom and public policy.

This is why hate crime legislation is needed. It is designed to serve as a deterrent to those who think they have a right to commit violence and intimidate people because of race, sexual orientation and religion. Some may say this is the criminalization of thought. I see it in the same way Martin Luther King saw it:

"The law may not be able to keep a man from hating me. But it can sure keep a man from lynching me!"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A God By Any Other Name?

True story.

I was called at my office at the church several years ago, by the City Secretary of Dallas. She has been a good friend of mine for more years than I can remember, long before she was City Secretary so, of course I was concerned.

It seems that in an effort to be religiously inclusive, the invocation for the next day's city council meeting was scheduled to be given by...the Wiccans! Now in common vernacular this group is generally associated with witches - as in 'bubble, bubble, boil and trouble'. It's not entirely accurate from what I understand, but again, we're talking about public perception.

There was no good solution. To 'uninvite' the Wiccans, would be to stir up controversy. To go through with their giving the invocation would be to...well this is Dallas, so you get the picture.
I was assured it was not a laughing matter, as the press was asking how on earth the City Secretary's office didn't know who it was they had invited to pray in a public meeting...so I stopped laughing. She was calling because they were taking the least controversial action, which amounted to postponing a decision on letting the Wiccans pray. In the meantime, they needed someone to come in and offer the invocation, which is why she was calling me. She knew that I was one pastor she could call who could give a 'non-sectarian' prayer.

As usual, I didn't grasp the magnitude of the dilemma. One council member, a VERY conservative woman with whom I had not had good dealings in the past and with whom I agreed on virtually nothing except the most rudimentary tenets of the Christian faith, reached out and shook my hand saying, 'I am SO GLAD to see you here today. Thank you so much for doing this!'

After the prayer, then Mayor Ron Kirk and I were interviewed on the controversy, by local television reporters.

I bring this up because of a recent article in Newsweek magazine.

A federal judicial appointment is stalled because of his stance on the use of God's Name in invocations at public governmental functions.

"[Judge David] Hamilton, (President Obama's first judicial nominee) nominated last March, has seen his confirmation stalled until last week in the U.S. Senate, in part because his opponents claim he's a judicial activist for an opinion he wrote about God's proper secular title. In a 2005 case, Hinrichs v. Bosma, Hamilton determined that those who pray in the Indiana House of Representatives "should refrain from using Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal," and that such prayer must hereinafter be "nonsectarian.""

"Bosma questioned the practice of opening state legislative sessions with sectarian Christian prayers that included a prayer for worldwide conversion to Christianity. Hamilton found this to be a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it was government speech that favored one religious sect over another. In a post-judgment order, Hamilton also wrote that the "Arabic word 'Allah' is used for 'God' in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures" and that 'Allah' was closer to "the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language's terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers" than Jesus Christ. Hamilton, himself a Christian, also added that "if and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court.""

Such an issue is not uncommon. It has raised its head not only in prayers before council and county government bodies, but a false sense of militancy among some of my clergy colleagues who tend to wax eloquent in defence of their 'right' to pray in Jesus' Name, for instance.

I feel somewhat differently. Not that it is right or wrong to pray in Jesus' Name, but I think we have a somewhat naive sense of what that means. Among the scriptures used to support praying verbally '...in Jesus' Name', is found in John 14:13, "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." It becomes a type of password, a near magic talisman that assures that the prayer will be answered. It is also viewed by supporters of this mode of praying that it is also a testimony regarding our belief in the 'one True God.' I get all of that.

But, the reality is that simply praying in Jesus' Name, doesn't guarantee an answered prayer. For those of us who believe, praying in Jesus' Name means praying with the authority of His Name. It is not carte blanche to get anything simply by making sure we end our prayers with the proper wording.

Secondly, we are going to have to learn that we are a pluralistic society. That means that we have to share the public square with people of other faiths. How far does that go? How does that look? I don't know. But we're going to have to figure out how to share the public square. We'll have to learn to make room for other faith traditions and modes of religious expressions. We don't have to agree with or adopt them, but people who have a different faith are citizens. They bring to the public square the same influences that we Christians do and there are times when those influences are going to have to be acknowledged.

But there are problems associated with even this line of argument.

Whose religion is going to be considered legitimate and whose is not? Is our conversation more about a civic faith and the traditions of our culture? Or is this really a matter of religions competing for primacy in public life? Or is it a political agenda masquerading as religious concern? I don't believe we've sorted this out and until we do, all faiths run the risk of being used politically, even as much as they seek to influence the political process.

In the meantime a knotty issue continues.

The Newsweek article comes close to understanding the harsh reality of this challenge and Judge Hamilton's stalled confirmation:

"The Supreme Court has sliced and diced religious symbols and prayers into the impossible-to-apply paradoxes of secular-religious and heartfelt-thus-unconstitutional. For the millions of Americans, both religious and secular, left standing out in the public square with just a teddy bear in a Santa hat, this is an insult."

"Opponents of Judge Hamilton should acknowledge that he was not privileging Allah over Jesus. He was trying to thread the constitutional needle that deems God's name—whatever the language—secular, but Jesus' name sectarian. The truth is, Hamilton has gone out of his way to impose a constitutional test that defies both logic and common sense. That makes him more "neutral umpire" than "judicial activist" by my lights. It takes a brave man to impose a test guaranteed to promote the unpopular fiction that America is one nation, under a secular deity to be named later, indivisible."