Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Paul Quinn College Really Worth Saving?

Paul Quinn College's loss of accreditation, is for many, a death knell for the school. For some it is an opportunity to review whether or not the commitment of Dallas to support the presence of a historically black college is real. But, at the end of the day, it is not really Dallas per se, that must prove its commitment, as much as it is African-Americans who live in Dallas. To be honest, if its not important to us, then it shouldn't be here.

Michael Sorrell, who for the past two years has an extremely impressive job of leading the troubled school, now needs the help of alumni and black Dallasites to rally to support Paul Quinn. Dallas area pastors Frederick Haynes of Friendship West Baptist Church, Denny Davis of St. John Baptist Church in Grand Prairie and Kerry Wesley of Antioch Fellowship Baptist Church, are among those who have, annually, for years, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and more in other fundraisers to sustain Paul Quinn. Ironically, all are alumni of Bishop College. Bishop, also the school I attended, suffered the fate which Paul Quinn currently endures and eventually closed in 1988.

Mike Hashimoto of the Dallas Morning News asked a very important question regarding this school's existence - 'Why?'. Why should the school exist and in light of the challenges it currently faces, why should it continue. While there are those who seek to highlight a significance that has yet to materialize and those who speak of Paul Quinn as an asset that is only now understood as it lies on virtual life support, Mike is right in that no one has answered that question: 'Why should Paul Quinn be saved?'

If I can attempt an answer: we ought to save it because as black people, we cannot claim to love our history and not prepare for our future. To attempt to do so is to let down those heroes and heroins, both black and white, who built these institutions and handed them to us as a sacred trust.

I'm thinking about the people, like the woman Booker T. Washington mentions in his autobiography 'Up From Slavery'.

As Washington crossed the country raising money to build Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an old woman, an ex-slave, approached him. In broken English she said, 'I kno's who you is! You's that man goin 'round tryin' to raise money to eddicate these boys and gurls. Now I ain't got no money. All I's got is these six hen eggs. But you take these hen eggs and you build that collitch and eddicate them chillun.'

We let that old woman down in 1988 when Bishop College closed.

We'll let her down again if we allow Paul Quinn College to fail.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Well Now this is Interesting!

Washington Post reporter Jacquiline Salmon's interview with Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, may present a radical shift in tone for the organization. The interview's worth reading and future developments are worth watching - and I mean that in the most hopeful sense. Personally, I didn't like the sectarian bent the organization was taking. And while it may not change totally, this seems to be much more refreshing attitude. Perhaps there can be an even more radical attitude like, "We don't have to agree totally, but we can be civil and respect one another"?

At least this appears to be a start in that direction. Let's wait and see...

Here's an exerpt from the Q & A:

"Below is my interview with Jim Daly, president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family in February. Daly was in Washington, D.C., to participate in President Obama's conference on fatherhood at the White House. Focus on the Family, a Colorado-Springs Christian mega ministry founded by child psychologist James Dobson, has become one of the standard bearers of the conservative movement."

"Daly, 47, steps in as the public face of the organization, replacing James Dobson, the outspoken chairman who stepped down in February, although Dobson will keep his radio show and speak out on issues. Daly has been at Focus on the Family since 1989 and has headed Focus on the Family's international field director for Australia, Africa and Asia."

What did you think of the fatherhood presentation this afternoon?

It was outstanding. There wasn't anything lacking in the president's presentation. He reaffirmed the importance of fathering and the damage done when fathers are lacking in the home. And it's something that is core to Focus on the Family as well. Thought it was gracious for the White House to extend an invitation to Focus on the Family. We're certainly going to have enough areas to disagree on certain policies. But one of the things I want to do as president of Focus is when there is common ground that , we can pull together and say, "This is good. This is a good thing." And personally, I am 47, like the president. I also didn't have a father. So I can identify with what he describes as that hole in your heart. Anything we can do to help kids fill that void, I applaud. It's something we're trying to do every day at Focus and I think it's wonderful for the government to also lend its support in that way.

You can read the entire interview here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Mother Teresa
1910 - 1997
Humanitarian, Peace maker, Lover of the Poor

"Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."

Friday, June 26, 2009

United We Serve

This pretty much speaks for itself...

Whether with Central Dallas Ministries, or some other organization...find or develop ways to get involved!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Bail Out I Can't Support!

Sick of news about the bailouts? You consider them to be unfair? Interference with the market? Meddling with capitalism? I've got another bailout for you to think about. It has to do with the Voting Rights Act.

That's right, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the Act says that in 17 states that have a history of terrorism at the ballot box, the federal government must approve changes in the way voting is conducted. And in an innocuous case of a little unincorporated area located northwest of Austin, Texas, a suit was filed which reached the U.S. Supreme Court and the implications of their ruling could set the stage for overturning Section 5.

Don't get too excited! The Court didn't reverse the four decades old ruling. But the 8-1 decision allowing the Canyon Creek community to change polling places without federal oversight, opens the door to consider whether or not there needs to be special protection of the voting rights of minorities. The technical term for receiving approval from the federal government changes in voting procedures is called 'preclearance'. The word for exemption from 'preclearance? You got it: 'bailout'!

On its face, and taken in isolation, there seems to be nothing wrong with the ruling. The citizens of Canyon Creek simply wanted to change a polling place from the garage of one of the residents to a school. In Canyon Creek, there is no history of discrimination in voting. But, in order to change polling places they needed the permission of the federal government. I guess that was too onerous a procedure. The Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District 1's district board members, funded by the Project on Fair Representation, a conservative advocacy group that challenges race-based government policies, challenged the need for Justice Department preclearance or sought to strike down Section 5 altogether.

Prior to this past Monday's ruling, nothing smaller than a county could seek such an exemption.

There are three things disturbing about this ruling:

First, there is the language of the majority. Chief Justice John Robert's majority opinion, reads as if the election of Barack Obama as president, brought to an end the era in which the rights of voters, particularly minority voters needed to be protected. "...Roberts, writing for the majority, forged a consensus between the court's liberal and conservative wings by limiting the ruling's impact — and by acknowledging Section 5's accomplishments even while questioning its legal relevance to modern America."

""Things have changed in the South. (Minority) voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions ... are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.""

Perhaps the Chief Justice's clerks forgot about the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004!

Scondly, the vote was 8-1 in a ruling that decided to expand the jurisdictions eligible for exemptions from Section 5. The justice who wanted to strike down Section 5? None other than Clarence Thomas:

"There is no evidence that public officials stand ready, if given the chance, to again engage in concerted acts of violence, terror and subterfuge in order to keep minorities from voting...the lack of current evidence of intentional discrimination with respect to voting renders [Section 5] unconstitutional.

I...Oh never mind!

Thirdly, southern states have been chomping at the bit to get Section 5 overturned. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, for example, said after the ruling, "I look forward to the day when this provision is either ruled unconstitutional, or, if ruled constitutional, then applied to all 50 states rather than singling out a few.” For the most part, the 17 states for whom this statue exists, feel stigmatized and 'embarrassed' by their legacy of terrorism at the ballot box that made the voting rights act necessary in the first place.

I'm sorry. I'm just not in sympathy with those who feel that it only takes a generation to wipe out the vestiges of one of the darkest chapters in our country's history.

Nor am I particularly moved by those who say that they are 'tired' of conversations about race. In the compromise of 1877, the backroom deal that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency, ended Reconstruction. The withdrawal of troops from the south to ensure the protection of newly freed slaves took place 12 scant years after the Civil War ended. Most historians attribute the willingness to compromise with 'war weariness' and 'fatigue' with the issue of slavery and the freed blacks. But that compromise not only withdrew northern troops from the soil of the south, it ended the vote for black people and halted the election of blacks to public office. It took 100 years before those rights were regained. A key element in regaining those rights? The 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That legislation was passed when I was 9 years old, by the way. Which mean that it wasn't all that long ago, when an African-American took his or her life in their hands by merely voicing their intent to vote in some of those 17 states.

Are there beatings and murders to intimidate minority voters now? No. Poll taxes? No? Ridiculous tests like counting jelly beans in a jar, or reciting the Constitution and interpreting it? Not anymore. But there are more than a few ways in which minorities are intimidated at the ballot. And until the dominant culture learns that citizens of color and different ethnicity are not privileged guests in this country but at home, the Voting Rights Act and Section 5 should stay in place.

I can say 'No' to this bailout and without stammering.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Voices of Faith Leaders on Iran

Jeff Weiss, is a Dallas Morning News reporter whom I have known since the early '90's. On and off he's interviewed me for stories, or on background for stories that he's written for years. For a number of those years he had covered religion for the paper and I have grown to really appreciate his curiosity and perspective on the values of different religious traditions. One thing he's helped me to understand is that things that I consider to be common knowledge about my faith tradition and denomination, are not necessarily common knowledge. He's also provided great insight in his stories on other faiths that have provoked my curiosity as well, and increased my level of understanding and appreciation for them.

I came across this piece that Jeff wrote for the Politics Daily, and again it is thought and curiosity provoking. Entitled, "Where Are the Voices of Faith on Iran?", he comments on the paucity of commentary by religious leaders on what is happening in that country as they are experiencing religious/political turmoil. And just on the face of it, it appears Jeff may be right, there hasn't been much perspective provided by high profile, religious leaders on this issue - at least not in the mainstream media.

My own point of view, at least at present, is neither expert, nor is it fully formulated, so for right now, I'll take a pass. But I have found some others that may (or may not) be useful to Jeff or for any other reader....

Susan K. Smith, senior pastor of Advent United Church of Christ, in Columbus, Ohio, writes, "The fact that there is such tumult in Iran seems not to bother the clerics who are actually in control. Were they bothered or concerned with the desires or wishes of the people, they would simply have to demand a new election. As it is, the clerics have endorsed the election results, and that, it seems, is feeding the frustration of the people...That being said, I think President Obama is doing what he must do - and that is, voice his concern about what is going on but be steadfast about not meddling in the affairs of Iran."

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and journalist for Times of India say, "What has happened in Iran lately, more so since the election of President Ahmadinejad, is rule by fear, hate-mongering, anger and violence, everything that is contrary to decency and civilization. Why should it surprise anyone that he resorted to manipulating the elections and making a mockery of democracy?"

"If Ahmedinajad retains power, can he be trusted to abide by any agreements we might make with him on nuclear arms? One who has no respect for the verdict of the people is unlikely to have respect for any agreements. This is not to say that President Obama is wrong in attempting to dialogue with the Iranian Government."

And Willis Elliott, a minister in both the American Baptist and United Church of Christ posits, "Against the political monarchy of thirty years ago, Iranians took to the streets to demand an Islamic republic which would grant freedom to think and speak and write. What came of the collapse of the political monarchy was something even tighter, namely, a virtual religious monarchy ruled by mullahs through a "supreme leader" ayatollah fronted by a political-puppet "president" elected from a pool vetted by the "supreme leader." The unintended consequence of the revolution of '79 was the replacement of a secular monarchy by a theocracy Potemkin-clothed as a democracy, with even less of the basic human freedoms than the people had under their Cyrus-dreaming Shah Pahlevi, who had replaced the two-year Westernized secular democracy of Mossadeq (whom the mullahs saw as enemy, as did Britain and America after he appropriated the Anglo-American Oil Company, "nationalizing" oil). Given the declining age of the electorate, another try at secular democracy seems probable. I'm hopeful for a soon better distribution of power in Iran's evolution of government."

Of course this is no hard core journalistic research, these are clergy and religious people quoted in one source. And I really have no answer as to why national denominational leaders are not interpreting the drama in Iran more visably. There could be very legitimate reasons. But what these leaders and commentators do assure us that there is some thought to what is happening. World peace is at stake, which means what type of nation among nations we must be hangs in the balance. With so much at stake, a spiritual perspective is more than important, its crucial.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hope Without Audacity

This is a very interesting post. You may not agree with all of it (OK, some of you will agree with NONE of it!), I don't necessarily, but Dr. Drew Westen, of Emory University is saying something I've been thinking for a couple of weeks now. It appears that the Obama Administration is flailing about on the issue of health care reform, without doing the one thing the President does best - if I can use what may be a reductionist term for this - teach people why health care reform is urgent...

Westen says, "One of the great character strengths of Barack Obama, and one of his greatest strengths as a leader, is his ability to treat people with civility and respect and to try to inspire others to do the same...But our strengths and our weaknesses tend to flow from the same wells. In a paradoxical sense, as daunting as the problems the President has inherited, his greatest stroke of luck as a candidate and now as President was that the prior administration had so thoroughly destroyed our economy, our strength and reputation around the world, and the security most voters had felt in their homes, their jobs, and their health care that they were ready for more than a reshuffling of the deck. They wanted a new set of cards, one that wasn't marked."

His (Dr. Westen's) stinging rebuke, has a ring of truth to it, "...on issue after issue, the President is selling hope without audacity, leaving centrist Democrats from purple states and districts fearful of attacks from the right on everything from deficits to "socialized medicine.""

But the professor of psychology and psychiatry and author of the book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, isn't offering a blanket attack on the president. He is, however, admonishing him to guard against missing another 'teachable moment' as he got nothing in the earliest days of his administration for his efforts at bi-partisanship.

Obama has done this before. He did it with his speech on race in Philadelphia when "...he broke with the politics of avoidance that he turned the corner on the bubbling issue of race and won the Democratic nomination." He did it again when the complications and consequences of the economic crisis were being realized. Obama clearly separated himself from John McCain by showing the country that he understood what was at stake: "The truth, he stated with the razor sharpness of a good prosecutor making his closing statement, is that what McCain was saying in response to the extraordinary financial crisis that was unfolding "fits with the same economic philosophy that he's had for 26 years...It's the philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise. It's a philosophy that lets Washington lobbyists shred consumer protections and distort our economy so it works for the special interests instead of working people...We've had this philosophy for eight years. We know the results. You feel it in your own lives. Jobs have disappeared, and peoples' life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet. The cost of everything from gas to groceries to health care has gone up, while the dream of a college education for our kids and a secure and dignified retirement for our seniors is slipping away. These are the struggles that Americans are facing. This is the pain that has now trickled up.""

Now the same thing must be done with health care. By explaining his motives and teaching the country exactly what is at stake, he can give fellow Democrats courage and opposition head on. Westen says it even better, he needs to say it over and over, "...until it sticks in the minds of voters the same way Ronald Reagan made "government is the problem, not the solution" stick in the minds of voters for 30 years."

"No one should have been allowed to play with our financial futures the way the banking industry did. No one should have been allowed to amass fortunes in the oil industry or in oil speculation as everyday Americans were loading themselves down with credit card debt to pay four dollars a gallon for gas. No one should have lost a job or a home because someone wanted to turn a quick buck and didn't give a damn what the impact might be on millions of families, shareholders, or pensioners. No industry should have been incentivized to increase its profits every time it denied insurance to someone with a "pre-existing condition" or stamped "denied" on a legitimate medical claim."
"Those are stories the American people need to hear. Those are stories conservative Democrats need to hear echoed from their constituents if they are going to do what's right by them."

The electoral facts are, a president gets about two years to govern, after that he's campaigning again. There's no time to waste.

Mario Cuomo said, "We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose."

It really is time to be audacious...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Celebrating the Heroism of a Fallen Father

Stephen T. Johns, died on June 10 of this year, the victim of senseless hate and violence when James W. von Brunn, entered the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. intent on wreaking havoc in that place of peace. 

Johns, a security guard, was a husband and a father. He was at work providing for his family. Had it not been for this tragedy, he would be with his children, enjoying this day. Instead, they celebrated his life on Friday as they laid him to rest...

"The slaying of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum guard Stephen T. Johns was the latest sign that discrimination and racism remain as potent as ever, ministers at the security officer's funeral said yesterday."

"About 2,000 mourners filled the pews of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington to pay tribute to Johns, who was fatally wounded June 10. The guard had opened a museum door for white supremacist James W. von Brunn, 88, who then walked in with a rifle and shot him, authorities allege."

"...The Rev. John L. McCoy, senior pastor of Word of God Baptist Church in the District and the family's minister, said the museum had one more victim of hatred."

""Officer Johns now belongs to the six million-plus who perished in the Holocaust.""

"Nesse Godin, 81, one of several Holocaust survivors at the service, said Johns and the other officers would greet her and other volunteers with a kiss on the cheek and a hug each morning when they arrived."

""He was a wonderful man," she said."

"The museum was closed until 3 p.m. yesterday to allow busloads of employees and volunteers to attend the funeral. Museum officials said they were reviewing what kind of memorial to create in Johns's honor at the museum."

"Rabbi Tamara Miller, director of spiritual care at George Washington University, was in the emergency room when Johns was brought in. "I felt compelled to come here today not just as a rabbi, but as a Jewish person who gave comfort and care that was a light on what was a very dark day.""

We hope the family finds comfort in knowing that their father's sacrifice has such meaning and is appreciated so much. We can hope as well that they see that sometimes heroism is found in the everyday stuff of life. 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Roy Wilkins
1901 - 1981

Director, National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP)


"The talk of winning our share is not the easy one of disengagement and flight, but the hard one of work, of short as well as long jumps, of disappointments, and of sweet success."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Spreading the Gospel in Poor Communities - Part III

Julie Lyon's analysis that the answer to the issues plaguing South Dallas is a matter of personal conversion and that 'spiritual problems have spiritual solutions' has more than a little merit. Certainly no Baptist preacher would deny the role of personal spiritual transformation in turning lives around. 

But I confess to a problem with idea that the reason why poor communities continue to be poor is due merely to the sinfulness of the poor. The very idea that salvation is a prerequisite for prosperous, or even honorable living is a pretty fallacious one. Extrapolate that logic and one has to conclude that everyone in Highland Park is saved and there is are no addictions, corruption or immorality there. 

Spiritual problems do indeed call for spiritual solutions - but not simplistic ones.

This may come as a surprise to a number of people who read her op-ed and interview, but there really are Christians living in South Dallas. They were sustained by their faith in during dark days of segregation and bigotry when they worked menial jobs as domestics and manual laborers. They were the founders of many of the older churches in South Dallas and other poor areas. So its not as if there is a need to move Christians into South Dallas to 'save' it. 

If the Dallas Morning News, or anyone else for that matter, is going to explore the spirituality of those who live in poverty, then we also have to look at the spirituality of a city that allows that poverty to exist and in many cases exacerbates it. 

  • The 300 liquor related businesses in South Dallas (and the idea that we are appalled to find  alcoholism in South Dallas)
  • Schools that train students to take tests, but fail to educate them
  • Generational racism, bigotry and oppression and its crippling social, economic, psychological and spiritual impact on the lives of those upon whom its visited
  • The chop shops, smoke houses and crack houses that any 10 year old can point out, but that the police can't close down
  • Decades of over investment in North Dallas and collateral disinvestment in South Dallas
  • The hopelessness and despair that result from isolation from the rest of the city and contribute to the poor choices of youth and adults
  • Neighborhoods scarred and separated by highways, polluted with the noise of heavy traffic and made undesirable by industrial commercial usage
  • The awful tragedy of homelessness
If the personal failings of some of those who live in South Dallas call for casting out demons, how much more are these systemic, social and institutional failings 'demonic' and sinful in their nature and their impact?

All of these are problems that plague South Dallas. The solutions are political, economic and, yes, 'spiritual', because they go to the heart of what we think about people and how they deserve to live. These issues and many more characterize these communities of concentrated poverty  and are, by their existence, testimonies to what we believe about justice, love and brotherhood. 

When I preach in South Dallas (I still do, but not as often), I along with my peers exhort and admonish our congregants regarding the need to live responsible lives; lives which transcend the pathologies of the community many of them called home. I came to call it 'the Gospel to the Projects'.

But over time, I came to understand that that is not all there is to the Good News. Its not just liberation from histories and habits of sin associated with sexual promiscuity, addiction and crime among poor people in poor communities. I began to wonder, who was preaching the gospel to the decision makers of Dallas? Who was reminding them of their responsibility to be just and fair with the wealth, power and influence they had? Who was sharing them the good news about God's concern for the poor - not just in ways that made them objects of charity and mission projects, but in ways that addressed the systemic issues through public policy, economics and justice? Who was casting out their 'demons' of greed, materialism and the isolation of willful ignorance of and indifference to human suffering and purposelessness? 

Who was preaching the Gospel to the Penthouse?

And, in light of last week's op-ed and interview, who is talking to them about what their faith says about their engagement in transforming the poorest of our city's neighborhoods? Where is their Julie Lyons?

Our challenge is to build a greater  city together, by building community across this city and overcoming the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and simplistic reasonings by which we  avoid the fact that South Dallas was created by the entire city. Its easy to say that the answer lies in the conversion of the addicted and the immoral. Its much more difficult to come to grips with the fact that the answer lies in the spiritual sensitivity of each of us. 

Its much easier to absolve ourselves of public responsibilities by pointing to the merit of the poor based on their 'morality'. Its much more difficult to realize that our attitudes towards them reveal our own spiritual condition. 

Ultimately it shows that we too are in need of hearing 'good news'...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spreading the Gospel in Poor Communities - Part II

There are a number of people that I think of when I reflect on more than two decades as a pastor near the Ideal Neighborhood in South Dallas. Two of the people I think of sometimes are 'Bo' and 'Eva' (not their real names). They were not members of the church. Today we would call them 'homeless'. They both were addicts, they 'lived' in an abandoned house on a street behind the church that has long since been torn down. They would sometimes appear on Sunday morning, quiet, trying to be inconspicuous, but made much more so, by their dirty clothes and their unbathed bodies. 

Sometimes they would come down the aisle after church asking for prayer. Sometimes they would wait around after church and ask for money. Many times we had members who would share food with them they brought with them to cook as we waited for an afternoon service or sometimes it would be our day care center's food (much to the chagrin of the director come Monday morning!).

They were two people we tried to reach with compassion and Christian love. Most often I would wonder what good it was doing. Neither 'cleaned up'; they never got jobs; they never became homeowners, apartment renters or stable citizens. They are probably dead now. No one in their conditions last on the streets this long. 

I was a much younger preacher then and didn't have the connections or knowledge of services that I have now. But I like to think that we became the one place that they knew where they wouldn't be mistreated or hurt in anyway. 

'Bo' and 'Eva' were two of a number of people who roamed the streets at that time. Some of them clearly mentally ill, like the old man who used to wander the streets in little more than rags, yelling at no one in particular. 

They were people we were never able to help. Not in any substantive way. But they were in the community where we were. For them, and for some people like them, you do what you can: you pray, you offer food, you listen to them and you welcome them whenever they show up.

I am really proud of the way the congregation responded. As far as I know, before I became pastor, there was not much in the way of interaction with some of these people. But as we taught and tried to emulate Jesus' compassion for the poor, some of the one's I least expected exhibited a patience and gentleness that I hardly expected. 

Another couple I remember were twin girls who lived in the Rhoades Terrace public housing development. That was a place where we did major promotion for our Vacation Bible School. 
I'm not sure when they joined and there wasn't much in the way of their membership that make them stand out. They sung in the choir, came to Sunday School, participated in youth events. 
But I do remember that they weren't from a very happy home. 

I remember though, before I left the church (I hadn't seen them in a very long time), they came to church one Sunday. They were both beaming! One was a young mother, the other had graduated college and had a teaching career I believe. The point is they do credit their time at the church with helping them live stable lives. 

Julie Lyon's op-ed in Friday's Dallas Morning News, makes some general observations, which - as is the case with general observations - have some truth to them. For example:

•Every well kept, owner-occupied home is inhabited by a family with a strong church connection.
•Virtually every inner-city kid with high academic achievements whose name appears in the pages of this newspaper cites a relationship with Jesus Christ as one of the biggest factors in his or her success.
•No one gets out of drug addictions such as crack cocaine and heroin without spiritual intervention and the strong support of a church.
•Few escape a family legacy of poverty without the discipline and hopeful perspective afforded by a church upbringing.

But there are other observations that she makes that don't take some realities into account:

"In South Dallas, you will find more church houses per block than anywhere in the city. But most of these congregations, safely ensconced indoors and serving just a few families, barely touch the communities they're in. They could play a big part in the revitalization of South Dallas, but first they'd have to push outside their comfort zones and, as Jesus Christ said, lay down their lives for their friends. Because money alone won't remedy the problems right outside their doors."

First of all, I was a full-time pastor from day one. And probably the youngest of about only three full-time pastors in the area at the time. Most churches of the older churches had middle aged drive in memberships.  Our church gradually began to reflect my age and tended to be a little younger with quite a few young people in it.

Smaller churches tended to have more people from the neighborhood in them. They tended to have bi-vocational pastors who were at their church mainly on Sundays and Wednesdays (or whenever they had prayer meeting). Because of our day care center and because we grew younger and more active we were open pretty much seven days a week. 

Most churches don't have professional ministry staff. They have volunteers who work jobs where they don't get off in early afternoons. Because they tend to be drive in congregations, most things that do take place in those churches happen in late evenings. Check out a bulletin of nearly any church in these areas and you will find that most weekly activities don't start until 7:30 pm. It gives members from outside the community time to go home from work, get dinner, gather children when necessary and drive to church. 

There isn't a lot of time for many of the 'church houses' on every block to do the training, organizing and coordinating, to 'push outside of their comfort zone'. 

I can assure you, that I have been frustrated on more than one occasion, by an inability to engage some of the pastors. But I had to learn that they not only have the same mission that I had, they had the same battles that I had with less time to deal with it: inexperienced leaders, internecine internal church political battles, denominational responsibilities, hospital visitations, financial challenges (because we were open all week, you should have seen our summer light bill!), facilities...just like all churches. 

I'm a little sensitive for all of these colleagues and fellow church members, when it is suggested that they aren't doing what they can. Can they do more? Certainly. Can they do differently? You bet. But they all have had their 'Bo's' and 'Eva's' and 'twins'. Some of them have done better jobs with them than we did with ours. 

They're pastors just don't have blogs to tell you about them. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spreading the Gospel in Poor Communities - Part I

I was challenged and intrigued by Julie Lyon's op-ed and interview in the Dallas Morning News regarding the role of spirituality in the transformation of the poor in general and South Dallas in particular. Ms. Lyon's, a white journalist, who is a member of a predominantly African-American church in South Dallas, speaks very well - even authoritatively, about the need for the spiritual to address issues that are essentially spiritual.

I was intrigued because I've met her pastor on a number of occasions; the church which neighbors their church is pastored by one of my very good friends, and I served a church as pastor in that area for more than 20 years. It is another reminder of how small this world is and how interconnected we all are. The Morning News' new 'gapblog', also contained a number of comments that I also found interesting. They contain a number of assumptions about the area - and about the poor in general and what it takes to work in an area like that. These are assumptions which appear to be borne of some compassion, but there are some which also rise from stereotypes that show why more progress hasn't been made.

As a former pastor (and as a preacher and Christian still), let me say that I agree totally with Ms. Lyon's and Rev. Eddington's (her pastor), emphasis on personal spiritual conversion. I believe that a personal relationship with God, through faith in Christ, is a foundation point for personal transformation. I respect other religions and faiths which do not have the same perspective on scripture as my own. So far, in 34 years of preaching, what I have learned about other denominations, faiths and spiritual points of view, only enhances and deepens my own faith journey.

The streets Ms. Lyon's talks about, are streets that I have walked with church members and pastors for years. We've walked those streets in evangelistic campaigns, Vacation Bible School promotions, listening campaigns for education, sick visitations and prayers for new families who have moved into the neighborhood after new homes were built. In every case I can assure anyone who would listen, that spiritual problems can only be handled by spiritual solutions. My perspective on the matter is, however, that I never encountered one problem in those South Dallas neighborhoods that wasn't spiritual.

The churches in South Dallas - even the youngest ones, are filled with all types of men, women and children. They tend to be mostly drive-in memberships, the older congregations have members with generational ties to the neighborhood. Ours was a typical working class congregation with a few upper middle class members. But there were obviously poor people among us. Some came from the housing projects, others were older members, some young people whose parents were not members of any church. 

Some members who joined our church were single parents, some were whole, intact traditional families. 

There seems to be an assumption that churches in poor communities don't preach family values. The idea seems to be that there is a type of tacit acceptance of immorality of the community, if not a condoning of it. Personally, I find that assumption pretty offensive. I do not believe that you will find more vigorous, fervent exhortation towards moral behavior, the preservation of the family, a life lived with dignity - holiness, as it is called in church, than in these churches. But the fact is most of these churches are in triage mode. They cannot minister to the congregation, or community as it should be, they must minister to people as they are. All changes are not immediate, or miraculous, in the popular sense. There are substance abusers who relapse, there are young people who have children out of wedlock. There are divorces and people who live together out of wedlock and irresponsible people who won't work and take care of their families.

But there are also children who are baptized, weddings for people who come to the altar in serious commitment. There are vacation bible schools, youth retreats, marriage retreats, finance seminars, tutoring, day care and after school centers. There are graduations from college and graduate schools, as well as high schools. People buy new homes and new cars. They have babies in the context of marriage. Members 'adopt' children whose parents are too poor to provide school clothes and supplies. They give Christmas gifts to children who might not have them otherwise and, yes, poor and middle income alike, share the gospel in the neighborhood, as well as with their friends and family. 

I guess my point is that the presence of these churches - 'struggling' as they may appear, have a life much like any other church. 

Our church participated in the strategy that resulted in new homes being built in the area. As a matter of fact the strategy was born and most of the work was done in our church. Other churches, Rhoades Terrace Bible Fellowship and New Hope Baptist Church, worked with other churches across the city to bring the resources into the neighborhood. While we did that, we witnessed, we preached, we taught and we nurtured the spiritual lives of our respective congregations. 

One family who bought one of the homes right across the street from our church. I remember one of our Sunday School classes went on a Sunday morning to spend time with them and share their faith. At that time they weren't interested. They had prayer with them and came back to the church. 

Months later, the family went through a spiritual crisis that resulted in their realization of their need for faith in Christ. They joined our church. Shortly after I left, I got word that they became leaders in the church and are there to this day. 

When Jesus changed lives through preaching, meeting human needs and miracles. His formula: He dealt with what the people in front of him were dealing with. He transformed every need into a spiritual need. In doing so, He showed us that there is more than one way to bring people to faith. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What About Forgiveness?

Still another controversy brewing at Dallas Independent School District. This time it has to do with the proposal for the name of a new school.

The name of Adelfa Callejo, longtime Hispanic attorney and activist has had her name recommended for a new school. The controversy? Ms. Callejo, a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries last year, said that Barack Obama would not be supported by the Hispanic community in Dallas because he is black. She suggested that the roots of such antipathy on the part of the Hispanic community lie in the fact that African-Americans didn’t support Hispanic issues when blacks were the majority of the population in the district, and those feelings couldn’t be set aside in the primary race.

It was a sad statement. I was incensed when I heard it. I was more incensed because I remember several years ago, when I was a part of the leadership of the Dallas branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, fighting for equal representation of blacks and Hispanics on the council, Ms. Callejo and her nephew Michael Gonzales were fervent supporters of the effort.

It has, of course, produced a range of reaction on the school board: a call for an apology before considering naming a school after her, by one African-American trustee; an outright refusal to consider her by another black trustee; a vague and benign acknowledgement of the unfortunate nature of the comment. Perhaps the most sophomoric response was by school board member Nancy Bingham who suggested that her statement resulted in ‘hurt feelings’.

Such an evaluation of her statement shows clearly no understanding of the tense and tenuous nature of relationships between African-Americans and Hispanics. Actually it shows little understanding of the race problem at all.

Ms. Callejo’s statement, was not just ‘hurtful’ and her comment was not just impolite. It was inflammatory, it was insensitive and it was unfair. In those struggles in which African-Americans have been at the forefront, the struggles to eradicate the vestiges of racism, bigotry and oppression, have yielded benefits for all people - including Hispanics. 

 Ultimately, this becomes another 'issue' which continues to drive a wedge between two communities, which need to be staunch allies. Breaches caused by comments such as those made by Ms. Callejo, not only help widen an unnecessary gulf between black and brown people, it creates a vacuum which will be filled by interests that don't have the benefit of these two communities at heart. And it would be the height of hypocrisy to suggest that there aren't African-American leaders who have not voiced similar (as a matter of fact, nearly identical resentment), without the benefit of a microphone. There are more than a few people, black, brown and white, who are willing to use those words to their own advantage.

But this controversy is particularly disappointing, because Adelfa Callejo has a history as an advocate for not only her people but as an ally for the rights of all people.

Did her statement last year reveal her true feelings? Was she caught up, as were many, in the hype of a bitterly contested historic campaign? Is she merely guilty of an impolitic reflection, as were many of us, during that time? Does she regret her words now? It seems like she might.

Here are my thoughts on the issue:

First of all, if we’re going to get serious about the names of schools, why don't we rename those schools, honoring those whose activities and affiliations were clearly not in the interests of minority children, their communities and families, but which serve predominantly minority children and their families. Schools such as those named for Confederate generals, – John B. Hood, Albert Sydney Johnston – and others who were even in the Ku Klux Klan, like Robert L. Thornton?

Secondly, we need to rethink the idea of naming school buildings after living persons. Perhaps this should be a posthumous honor, as with the images on our currency (imagine if we had decided to put Nixon’s picture on a dollar or a coin after his first term!).

Thirdly, what Ms. Callejo said was mean spirited, bitter, unfair and not true. But I don’t know when, or where she has said anything else like it. I don’t know if she regrets it. I do know she’s championed issues important to blacks and Hispanics. I have seen her fight with other prominent black leaders on issues that opened opportunity for all citizens of Dallas. In fighting for those issues, were her motives perfect? There's no such thing as a pristine motive. 

Were I to advise Ron Price or Carla Ranger, I would say, take this opportunity to show that we will not fall prey to the prurient interests that would keep blacks and Hispanics divided. It’s a chance to talk about the need to overcome the divisions that do indeed exist between blacks and browns; divisions that are exploited by others for their own interests.

It’s a chance to make sure that Ms. Callejo, won't just be remembered for what some consider her worst words or deeds.

I’d ask Carla Ranger and Ron Price to forgive Adelfa Callejo, whether she asks for it or not. Make this a teachable moment for all of Dallas. Do it in a way that says, in no uncertain terms, that what was said was unacceptable, but also says, in equally emphatic terms, that we respect her and her community – and declare that we won’t obscure the weightier matters of education in Dallas.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In Memoriam: Dr. C.B.T. Smith 1915 - 2009

Dr. Clarence Booker Taliafero (C.B.T.) Smith, retired pastor of the Golden Gate Baptist Church in Dallas, passed away Saturday, June 13. He was 94 years old.

I’m not sure whether his death will attract the same amount of public attention as did Dr. Caesar Clark’s last year. But Pastor Smith’s ministry was characterized by the same depth of commitment, the same pervasive generational influence and the same transformational impact on those of us who heard him as Clark’s

For a period of better than 35 years in Dallas, there were about five African-American pastors in the Baptist church, who were legendary in their pulpits and pulpits across the nation. Their voices were clarion calls to salvation, discipleship, and challenges to live our lives with a dignity that glorified God. To this day we recall their names with a fond wistfulness and a near envy. CBT Smith was one of those preachers.

For more than five years now, I’ve gotten a chance to know Pastor Smith, not nearly as well as I’d like to, but better than I'd ever imagined. I have marveled at his wisdom, his devotion, his love of the Christ, the Bible and His Church. I had the wonderful privilege of being able to be a speaker with him at a discipleship conference in Kansas City, Kansas, a few years ago. In his late 80’s then, he exhibited a clarity of thought, a boundless energy – he took care of himself, no care takers, no handlers – and a friendliness, transparency, humility, charm and accessibility that only made you want to spend more time with him.

What has been most amazing in recent years was to be with him when he preached. In his old age, his voice was clear, strong, his spirit infectious and his messages edifying, comforting and, yes, convicting.

Those of us who had been hearing him through the years always knew him to be a great preacher. But it seemed as if he got better with age, as is testified to by the fact that up until this final hospitalization, he had been traveling across the state and country, fulfilling preaching engagements. I think it is because we were seeing someone who was daily more aware of his walk with God.

Last year, not long after I got out of the hospital, I was talking to a friend of mine who was in regular contact with him, and we were talking about how he was doing after the death of his beloved wife, Rosie. My friend said, that he was doing well, and said that as they conversed, Dr. Smith said, ‘You know, I was just working on this sermon…” and he went on to tell him about it. We were both amazed! After nearly 70 years of preaching, with sermons most of us have never heard, he was still working on new sermons when he was almost 90 years old!

As a colleague, as a church member, as a Christian, I’ll miss Dr. Smith. He was a truly lovable man, a tremendous role model. A great preacher and a beloved man of God.

Magnificent, Once Again

"The church has always been at its worse when it has destroyed the unique to make place for the commonplace.

Contemporary examples are abundant. In recent years, we have witnessed the strange and sad career of the American church in the public square. Too often, the church has drifted from its core mission. It has experienced an identity crisis, at times becoming little more than an instrument of the state or a political party or an economic system. The magnificent has been subverted by the mundane.

Or consider prayer: Pascal said that God has instituted prayer so as to confer upon man the dignity of being a cause. How often have we transformed prayer, the soul’s magnificent leap into the arms of God, into selfish bargaining for personal health, wealth, and success?

Or preaching: In the life of Jesus, preaching was a means of saving lives through mass communication. But in recent years, preaching has been downgraded into a shrill, sharp weapon used by petty men to promote arrogant piety, intolerance, and blind patriotism.

But not only has the church drifted from its mission; certain forces in the culture have seduced it with offers of power, money, and status. Political operatives have utilized church rolls to enlist Christians for unholy political agendas.

It is here that the culture needs to collide with Christ, here that we need to revisit Paul’s testimony from Corinthians. He declares “we preach not ourselves.” This faith, this holy drama which has given meaning to our lives is from God and not of our making. And as we preach and worship and sing and steward resources and make decisions, we do so as earthen vessels or jars of clay. God’s treasure exists in each of us imperfect vessels. We are not perfect, no matter how polished we appear. We are clay jars, we are fragile, and we break when we’re dropped.

In the words of one sage, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.” But look again. In the middle of this passage Paul startles us with something that sounds like a preacher singing the blues: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

A contemporary bluesman might hear Paul and respond, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all.”

But in the face of our own despair, and confronting the systems of this world that seek to rent or buy us, we must stand with the theologian Karl Barth who said that on every page of the Bible there is one word for this world’s power systems. That word is “no.” The good news is “no, you cannot have my soul.”

No, you cannot destroy the church of Jesus Christ. No, you may cause confusion but you cannot rend asunder that which God has joined together."

Excerpt from the sermon, 'Magnificent, Once Again'

Delivered by Dr. Robert Franklin,
Former President Interdenominational Theological Center
Atlanta, Georgia
at the Installation Service for Dr. Brad Braxton, pastor
Riverside Church, New York

Saturday, June 13, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

A. Philip Randolph
1889 - 1979

Labor, Civil Rights Leader, Freedom Fighter

"Justice is never given; it is exacted and the struggle must be continuous for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Putting Your Money Where it Should Do the Most Good

Imagine a school where the most money is invested in the greatest classroom asset - the teacher...


I mean invested in such a way that the teacher is paid like an education professional and not a clerk! Men and women might aspire to, well, be real teachers!

Most teachers I know, don't go into it for the money. But, as I heard someone say at one time, there ought to be some money in it for them.

A charter school in New York, The Equity Project, proposes to transform education by paying teachers a livable salary for their profession, giving them greater responsibilities - multiple roles, additional school days and a longer school year - and holding them accountable for doing what they have been trained to do - educate children.

"The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide."

"The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success."

"“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek, 31, a Yale graduate and former middle school teacher who built a test preparation company that pays its tutors far more than the competition.""

"In exchange for their high salaries, teachers at the new school, the Equity Project, will work a longer day and year and assume responsibilities that usually fall to other staff members, like attendance coordinators and discipline deans. To make ends meet, the school, which will use only public money and charter school grants for all but its building, will scrimp elsewhere."

"The school will open with seven teachers and 120 students, most of them from low-income Hispanic families. At full capacity, it will have 28 teachers and 480 students. It will have no assistant principals, and only one or two social workers. Its classes will have 30 students. In an inversion of the traditional school hierarchy that is raising eyebrows among school administrators, the principal will start off earning just $90,000. In place of a menu of electives to round out the core curriculum, all students will take music and Latin. Period."

According to their website, The Equity Project Chart School has, spent "...over 15 months recruiting master teachers who meet eight rigorous qualifications. These teachers will then meet TEP’s redefined expectations. These expectations center on (a) a professional work-day that includes daily peer observations and co-teaching (b) a work-year that includes an annual 6-week Summer Development Institute, and (c) a career arc that fosters professional growth through a mandatory sabbatical once every five or six years. These redefined expectations are unified by one principle: student achievement is maximized when teachers have the time and support to constantly improve their craft."

Teachers are required to meet high qualification standards to work at the school, which includes:
  1. Expert Subject-Area Knowledge
  2. Teaching Expertise and Experience
  3. Strong Curriculum Development Ability
  4. Outstanding Verbal Ability
Will that be enough to challenge conventional notions of what it takes to provide quality education in schools, especially urban public schools? Time will tell.

But if successful it could say something else about what it means to really educate children. It means that not only do you have engage students, you also have to have teachers who see the classroom as something more than a stepping stone to administration, because that's where the money is.

It could also speak volumes regarding who is and who isn't necessary when it comes to education.

"Mr. Vanderhoek’s school, which was approved by the city’s Education Department and the State Board of Regents, is poised to be one of the country’s most closely watched educational experiments, one that could pressure the city and its teachers’ union to rethink the pay for teachers in traditional schools", the New York Times article goes on to say.

"“This is an approach that has not been tried in this way in American education, and it opens up a slew of fascinating opportunities,” said Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “That $125,000 figure could have a catalytic effect.”"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NOW I Understand!

Now the idea of being well rounded, exposed to other cultures, knowledgeable of the value of the contributions of other people around the world and how their governments work, was always considered to be a good thing.

But now I've been enlightened! Disengagement from the travails workings of world is admirable!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Texas and The Unemployment Insurance Stimulus: In for A Dime...That's About It

It's been a little hard to follow, but evidently some part of the federal stimulus will be used to increase unemployment benefits for Texans.

According to the Dallas Business Journal, "The Texas Workforce Commission said Monday that the agency has distributed more than $100 million worth of additional unemployment benefits via stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that went into effect in February.

The stimulus plan furnished an additional $25 per week to qualified job seekers as they work to find permanent employment."

"Eligible Texans began receiving the benefit increase in mid-March. The increase is effective for all initial claims filed through Dec. 26, 2009."

Evidently the legislature recognized, that even $25 a week helps a unemployed worker. 

Back in April at least one Republican senator had figured out the long term benefits of the stimulus, "Senators voted 22-9 in favor of a bill by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, that would authorize state officials to receive the stimulus money to shore up Texas' trust fund for unemployed workers..."

"Eltife told senators that the state will benefit for several years if it agrees to accept the federal aid despite what critics say. In addition, required changes – such as an anti-fraud provision – are likely to result in long-term savings for employers, he predicted."

""I want to make this point very clear: The stimulus money will help fund these changes for over nine years. That is nine years of helping fellow Texans who lose their jobs in these tough economic times," he said."

""I know there are concerns that once these changes are made, they could become permanent. But in this bill we would create a task force ... that would study and make recommendations to the workforce commission as to whether continuation of the changes is warranted.""

He also figured out that the stimulus would help Texas businesses, "Eltife said the balance of the unemployment trust fund will dip to $19 million by October at its current rate of payments – $839 million below the minimum level."

"That means the Texas Workforce Commission will have to borrow $2 billion next year to handle claims and shore up the fund."

"Acceptance of the stimulus funds will lower the amount needed to $1.5 billion, according to Eltife, who noted that will reduce the amount businesses are required to pay into the fund."

""It will lessen the burden on businesses significantly," he said."

Evidently this wisdom didn't prevail. Perry’s office defended the governor’s actions.

“Governor Perry believes the best way to address unemployment is to create new jobs, rather than discouraging job creation by raising taxes on employers through federal mandates tied to stimulus dollars,” Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said. “Texans who lose their job through no fault of their own are covered and will remain covered under the current unemployment insurance system in our state.”

"Perry has accepted $16.5 billion from the stimulus package. But he rejected $555 million for unemployment insurance, saying it would require the state to expand coverage to qualify for the additional federal funds and then face additional costs once federal assistance stopped."

"Texas’ state legislators tried and failed to expand unemployment coverage under state law to qualify for the funds that Perry rejected."

Texas' unemployment rate at 6.7% is considerably lower than the nation's at 9.4%, but try consoling the 800,000 plus Texans who won't be going to work tomorrow. And while you're at it, try convincing them that the Governor's decision is better for them in the long run. 

I think they'll consider that a bit of a stretch. What do you think?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Obama's Cairo Speech

The past few days has been filled with analysis and discussion of President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo. Critics and pundits have labeled it as 'brilliant' and as setting a new direction for American foreign policy in the Middle East, heralding a new bridge building approach to the Muslim world, or it has been branded as naive and even 'un-American'. 

I don't pretend to be a foreign policy expert, nor am an expert on Islam. I do believe, however, that America is going to have to take a new perspective on its relationship with the nations of the world.

Think, for a minute of how we have thought of 'globalization'. In almost every sentence in which its used, it has to do with commerce. Think of how we refer to our international interests - or our interests abroad - again, it has to do with international finance. 

In our going to war in Iraq, one of the weaknesses in our intelligence was a lack of understanding of the language or the culture. We only had an understanding of the conflict, our own interests and the need to bring democracy to the region. 

At some point we have to acknowledge that we are not the only country with self interests. And we have to understand that the perspectives of others can differ with ours without being dangerous, unenlightened or evil. 

Every country and every culture has extremists. We should vigorously seek to resist them at home and abroad. And where the harm or murder, we should seek justice. But we should differentiate between extremism and culture, government and faith. And we should know that systems different than ours are not inferior to ours. There is a difference between unity among nations and a uniformity among nations. 

If we define peace as the absence of tension, then we are the losers no matter our international interests. And in order for there to be a new foundation for diplomatic relationships with people whose governments, cultures and faith are radically different from ours. We must begin a dialogue that demonstrates understanding and respect - beyond money. 

In an HBO special about the first Gulf War, Michael Keaton, playing a CNN producer tells an Iraqui official, 'As long as we're talking, we're not killing one another.' 

Maybe Obama's Cairo speech was naive and simplistic. It definitely needs to be followed with creative action. But if he can engage other nations in the conversation, maybe its a start to bringing the killing to an end.