Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
"When the office was officially formed in mid-February, urbanists rejoiced: “It’s past time,” said Elnora Watson, president of the Urban League in Jersey City, N.J., as she walked the halls of Congress recently. “Way past time,” added Ella Teal, another Urban League president from the neighboring city of Elizabeth. “Cities will lead America,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker said at an April speech on city government in Washington. “When it comes to industry, innovation, education and the arts … cities are where it’s at.”"
"But celebrations about the potential triumph of urban policy may be premature. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has begun referring to the office as “urban affairs,” rather than “urban policy,” a small but notable downgrade."
Unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, failing businesses and schools, along with home foreclosures still need the intense focus of Washington, if we are to pull out of this recession. And while the president's efforts to deal with the economy are yielding some results, we can't afford to see him neglect or inadequately tend to our cities.
The Root's Dayo Olopade has a point, "Symbolism alone will not solve all of the pressing issues facing American cities. But many urban interest groups retain high hopes for the new office. “We’re all waiting and watching,” says Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, president of Green for All, which promotes green jobs for people of color. “For issues like retrofitting and weatherization, we need that office to be successful.” Team Obama is rarely shy about advertising its own successes. And the White House will undoubtedly hype several legislative and diplomatic victories during the 100-day sprint. So it’s worth waiting and watching to see if cities are indeed “the solution”—or if substantive, transformational change remains an urban legend."
But let's remember, President Obama has more than 100 days!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
It's Sunday, and this video is not 'religious', I know.
But there is something profoundly 'spiritual' about the point where the hopes and dreams of ordinary people inform the judgement of those who make decisions that impact their lives and the lives of their families.
Those of us who lead institutions or influence them, have a responsibility not to forget people like this man at the bar. True greatness is achieved by those who work to make lives like his (and the lives of those who are trying to get where he is) better.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
"In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute."
Friday, April 24, 2009
The reintroduction of the DREAM Act, provides the country with an opportunity for a serious debate about real immigration reform. I think passage of the DREAM Act is an important preliminary step. It makes no sense, and it is highly unfair, to send children to a land that they do not know, nor to which they have any allegiance.
It also makes no economic sense. These are young people in whose education, health and welfare, we have already invested. What sense does it make to increase the asset that they can be to this country by allowing them a pathway to citizenship that include further education or even service in the military? These are not children we don't know. They are graduates of our high schools (in some cases valedictorians or salutatorians), they have stayed out of trouble and only look for a chance to make a contribution to the country that they have called home virtually all their lives.
Don't want the DREAM Act? Preliminary steps are only necessary because you don't make hard choices. A real, sane, pragmatic immigration reform policy would make it unnecessary.
Until our lawmakers are willing to do that, the DREAM Act is the most sensible thing on the table.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Are they now to be considered an unaffordable luxury?
Apparently, there is some discussion questioning the need for them. Learning Centers were created under the old desegregation order that was done away with when a federal court declared that DISD had declared 'unitary' status in 2003 (50 years after the Supreme Court Decision ordering desegregation with 'all deliberate speed'). Learning Centers have additional resources, smaller class sizes and educational enhancements that other schools don't have - before and after school and extended day programs, as well as community liaisons.
The 'overfunding' of learning centers threaten the district's ability to access President Obama's stimulus allocation for public schools and apparently jeopardizes DISD's Title I funding also.
Of course, there also appears to be more than one side to the story. According to school board trustee Carla Ranger, the district can obtain a waiver to avoid the equitable funding issue. Ms. Ranger says that the Texas Education Agency has awarded these waivers every year since 2003.
There are all sorts of reasons NOT to provide funding for schools to address racial disparities. Especially if you limit the racial disparity question to mere numbers. DISD is 'desegregated' as are most big city public schools because the majority of students are minority. And, at the risk of oversimplification, the rationale that Learning Centers have not produced demonstrable or appreciable improvement in grades and test scores, could be addressed by looking at how the funding 'disparity' is being allocated. Is the district paying more money to more experienced and effective teachers to teach in these schools, for example? What innovative teaching programs and what new technology is being employed to produce the desired results? And is the 'overfunding' being used to address the fact that many of these schools are in areas of concentrated poverty?
Equally problematic is the prospect of exacerbating tensions between black and brown communities, since most of these learning centers are located in predominantly black neighborhoods. By appearing not to do everything he can to preserve this funding, Michael Hinojosa, the superintendent, could be courting more conflict than is worth the $105 million the district would reportedly gain.
School board president, Jack Lowe, as do others, see this as a matter of 'fairness'. It took more than 30 years for DISD to realize that Supreme Court rulings and federal law actually applied to our public schools as well as the rest of the country. Now the district sees the fierce urgency of 'fairness'.
Why not argue for a change in state law? Why not hold up the commitments made by the district when it was released from judicial oversight? Where did the idea come from that laws and policy were so immutable? This is the same school board that risked violating state law in order to extend their terms of office without consulting the state attorney general's office. This same district can't look to change a policy that would so drastically impact schools which they say aren't doing well in spite of extra funding?
There are two things about this that trouble me: one is to have adults who have not fully thought out the consequences of unitary status. Anyone who thought that gains under federal court oversight wouldn't be challenged once that oversight was removed, and had no strategy to address that challenge was living in a fantasy world. Secondly, it disturbs me that a district facing fiscal choices in the wake of last year's $84 million fiasco, would be so irresponsible. Why would anyone even think of facing the choice between schools in poor neighborhoods losing any funding, or the district losing Title I funding and stimulus money? Why on earth isn't anyone pushing to keep every dime we have? Whose job is it to look for, create, lobby for, or beg for whatever exemptions on whatever basis necessary?
We may not like the fact that race and economics play a part in the education of our children, but they do. And we cannot educate the children we would like to have. We've got to educate the ones we have. We need every dime that we can lay our hands on to do accomplish that. The only thing really 'unfair' is not being aggressive in that pursuit.
Unless, of course, we think we've accomplished the mission.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I'm comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
However, it begs the question, "Just how 'Christian' is America anyway?" There are some believers who are convinced that America was founded by Christians and as such is in some way representative of a 'chosen people'. Others who may not believe so extremely, but who believe that only explicitly Christian values are relevant in our culture and mores.
A few weeks ago, President Barak Obama caused a stir when he said that, "America is not a Christian nation..." Lost in all of the criticism was the fact that he also said that America was neither a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation. It was, he said, a nation bound together by its ideals and its values. Obviously, the president wasn't teaching a Sunday School lesson. He was making a statement regarding this country's place in the world and how interviews itself politically and globally. In short, its still safe to go to church. And its still perfectly fine to celebrate Christian contributions to our culture and society. But we also have to make sure that we make this nation a place that makes room for others who don't believe as we do. That includes, I might add, other Christians!
It's an interesting debate and can be quite an awakening to those who are open minded. Take for example, what Brian McLaren, pastor, progressive Christian thought leader and activist, says,
"I agree wholeheartedly with historian Richard Hughes, author of "Myths America Lives By" and of the upcoming "Christian America and the Kingdom of God." When we in the US flatter ourselves with a mythologized national identity -- seeing ourselves as the Chosen Nation, as Nature's Nation, as a Christian Nation, as a Millennial Nation, and as an Innocent Nation -- we make it more likely not only that we will behave unjustly, but that we will be ignorant and un-self-aware as we do so. So I was glad when President Obama simply told the truth."
"When people tell me that we are or have been a Christian nation, I want to ask, "When?" Was it in the colonial era or during westward expansion, when we began stealing the lands of the Native Americans, making and breaking treaties, killing wantonly, and justifying our actions by the Bible? Was it in the era of slavery or segregation, when again, we used the Bible to justify the unjustifiable?"
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and a former special counsel to President Richard Nixon, has a more nuanced traditional perspective than MacLaren's.
"As for America being a Christian nation, a simple yes or no doesn't cut it. We were established as a free pluralistic society with a clear separation of church and state. But the body of English common law, along with the general consensus of the people, both largely informed by Judeo-Christian revelation, were the underpinnings of this free society. To forget this fact -- or worse, deny it -- is to imperil our freedom."
"Simplistic slogans, whether from the right or the left, do a disservice to the genius of our founders and to 233 years of history and tradition."
The thing is there are intelligent perspectives on both sides. And there is room for the conflicting perspectives beneath the surface. Where we get in trouble with this question is when we try and ignore the ironies and contradictions that go along with answering 'yes' or 'no'. And when Christians, without perspective, seek to answer the question in a way that makes a state's religious orientation a substitute or an excuse for their own behavior, attitude, or the evasion of our responsibilities.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
But this is also a picture of me getting in trouble!
This picture was taken on a Monday I believe, after we had celebrated our first Annual Youth Day after I became pastor. For those not familiar with an Annual Day in the Black church, it is a day in which a sponsoring ministry provides a special program (traditionally on a Sunday afternoon), with visiting churches, guest choirs and a guest preacher. And, also according to tradition, the offering goes to supplement the church's budget.
This is me leading our young people in breaking tradition.
You see, at that time, we really had no ministries that reached out to the poor. So, when people needed can goods, jobs, help with utilities, etc., we would refer them to other agencies. But we didn't provide any support to any of the agencies to which we referred people.
This is me making the decision that it had to change.
Our youth had raised $500 (remember, this is a small church, a little more than 25 years ago) on their Annual Day. I made the decision that the money should go to the Bethlehem Foundation, a non-profit started by another African-American church in Dallas which had helped our members, as well as others we referred to them. There were a few deacons and trustees who shared their 26 year old pastor's view. They were the young ones - the fathers of some of the kids in the photo.
So we gave the $500 to the Bethlehem Foundation. The young lady accepting the check (I can't remember her name, but she died some time ago), was a staff member there. They couldn't come on that Sunday, so they came Monday and we had a presentation with some of the kids whose parents brought them back for the presentation.
There were some older deacons and trustees who, shall we say, didn't get the memo. Seriously, they missed the meeting when we decided that it wasn't right to take advantage of the services and not support the agency. What was the rest of the week like with the older leaders?
"You mean you gave them the WHOLE $500?!", "Who did you ask, before you gave our money away?", "Why didn't you TELL us?"
It wasn't comfortable. But I endured. And I found out that the rest of the membership really appreciated the fact that we were supporting work that was helping the community and us.
It actually opened us up to a greater sensitivity to the needs of our members, and was the first of a great deal of work that changed the face of our community. We eventually put the Bethlehem Foundation in our budget, along with several other ministries. It was never enough money to suit me. Sometimes we weren't able to do everything we budgeted, but we were always aware that it was a part of our stewardship as a church. It was the beginning of a great 22 year adventure for us - and to be honest, we never missed the $500!
I'm actually glad I got in trouble that day. That was the best $500 we spent that year.
But no, it wasn't the last time I got in trouble!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
You will do yourself a disservice if you miss The American Experience's special series, "We Shall Remain" on your local PBS station.
This story of the Native Americans and their valiant struggle for survival in our country despite what could only be described as ethnic cleansing at best, an attempted genocide at worst, can only grow in respect for their spirituality, determination and courage.
In this country we have a habit of only wanting to repeat the history that shows a dominant culture in its best light. In doing so, we downplay and discount the tremendous contibutions of all the peoples who have made America great. The desire, or the attempt to oblitirate the history of Native Americans, Hispanics, African-Americans and others, in a misguided effort to homogenize American citizenship and avoid unflattering accounts of oppression, brutality and injustice denies all of us the inspiration that comes from stories of courage, determination and will, all of which is part of the history of all people who live here. Their stories tell of America's greatness too.
To try and tell America's story without telling the story of these peoples, is to fail to really tell America's story.
Check your listing for the next broadcast of "We Shall Remain". It is well worth it!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
How about moving first base 10 feet closer to home?
If you're raising your eyebrows at that, think about public school. How about decreasing the drop out rate by not allowing teachers to give a grade below 50? Or 70? Or what about no grades for homework - no matter if you turn it in or not?
Monday's Dallas Morning News reports, "Many North Texas districts have minimum grades that can be given to students; in the Dallas district, no grade lower than 50 is allowed in any subject. At least one Dallas high school and numerous districts around the state have set a minimum of 70 in their grading policies, meaning students can't fail their classes."
What's the rationale?
"Leslie James, assistant superintendent for policy and planning in the Fort Worth school district and a representative for the school alliance, said many districts have shifted to minimum passing grades to provide a "safety net" for certain students...students who are hit with poor grades are more likely to cause disciplinary problems in school and eventually drop out."
I've not really agreed with Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound very much, but I think she's got it right this time: "If we can't guarantee that our teachers have the ability to assign grades that students have earned or not earned, then everything else we are doing is for naught."
"Her legislation would bar school districts from forcing teachers to assign a minimum grade to failing students regardless of their class work and test scores. It would require that districts adopt a grading policy calling on teachers to issue grades that reflect student mastery of subjects they take."
Seriously? This is the drop out prevention policy - just don't give the kid a bad grade?! These are not just schools with low-income children. One of the wealthiest school districts in Texas, the Plano school district is flirting with the same grading policy.
With colleges already telling us that public schools are sending them students unprepared for college classwork, why are we giving them fewer tools to work with. And with society moving more and more to a knowledge based labor environment, why are we creating this artificial atmosphere for them?
Sooner or later we're going to have to figure out what we really want: educate children or push them through the door in enough time to say adults haven't failed. Accomplish the former, and we'll all be proud. Settling for the latter means all of us flunk!
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
"There isn't anything in the world that can't be made better."
Friday, April 10, 2009
Meacham's Newsweek magazine article, The End of Christian America, analyzes the substance behind the numbers found in the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) that reveals that fewer Americans identify themselves as Christians today than in 1990, by a margin of 86% to 76%. Also interesting is the number of people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic (over 3.5 million).
In a country as 'over-churched' as America is considered, and with evangelical Chrisianity such a strong force in American politics and culture, how could it appear to be so, well, unattractive? Even our President in his recent trip abroad, said that 'we [Americans] don't consider ourselves a Christian nation', reflects a finding in the ARIS survey. Only 62% of Americans see our country as a Christian nation in 2009 down from 69% in 2008.
The upshot of Meaham's piece is that the notion that a less Christian America does not mean a post-Christian America. The weaknesses of the American Christianity is that it has become too vested in politics as a means of addressing culture. The failure of politics to deliver on the conservative interests of evangelicals has resulted in a greater retreat and entrenchment on the right, just as political losses in the late '60's caused liberals to run even further to the left.
The article is full of important insight and ARIS' study is instructive as well. But I think it should not just stimulate discussion, it ought to be the rationale for a great deal of reflection on the part of clergy and church leaders.
Which is why I don't think the findings in the study are a bad thing.
ARIS' survey, the Pew Study on faith in America, as well other studies and books are all telling us the same thing: there is something less attractive about the faith as practiced the past 25-30 years. It is less intellectually vigorous, less spiritually challenging, less politically relevant, less socially responsible and less genuine than the more authentically consistent expressions of yesterday. At times, it seems as if there are those of us who believe that the answer to every problem, no matter how complex, is a scripture, a slogan and a wave of the American flag. In so many important ways, we give the impression of growing more out of touch by the day.
This is not an argument that the 'old time religion' is best. It is, however, my understanding that at its best religion in America has always tried to interpret the changes in our country, and help people see the hand of God in its affairs. It has been the critique of power and not companion of the power elite. It has reminded men of our responsibility to and for one another and not upheld isolationalist individualism. The great social progressive social movements of the 19th and the early 20th century, that led to public policy changes that aided the poor, fought for abolition of slavery and women's suffrage, provided sanitary living conditions and fought against the exploitation of child labor, were led by churches that were essentially conservative in their faith.
The theologians who interpreted those times have been replaced by 'media darlings' who have focused on a market based spirituality which capitalized upon the distorted free market capitalism that led to this country's economic collapse. What's more, I've seen local pastors without their charisma and savvy try and keep up with these celebrities in an effort to keep their parishioners.
The findings in this survey are a good thing, if they get those of us who lead churches to wake up and realize that what we've been doing hasn't worked. That neither shrillness, nor divisiveness are good evangelism strategies, whether you're liberal or conservative. And that while Christianity has much to say about our engagement in politics, it is not a political party. Nor is God a Democrat, Republican or a Libertarian. He transcends our ideologies and demands that those who believe in Him be shaped in the image of His Son, not vice-versa. And authenticity in this faith demands that we draw distinctions between political partisanship, ideology and the essential doctrines and disciplines of our faith. All too often we haven't done that, and this survey may be showing us the result.
Columnist Cal Thomas got it right when he said, "No country can be truly 'Christian', only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that 'All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing'."
Perhaps that's what that lost 10% have found out...
Thursday, April 9, 2009
How did the federal government respond? It didn't."
"The only federal program that provides cash to both emergency feeding programs and homelessness prevention services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Food and Shelter Program, wasn't expanded by a penny. Even though the program enables thousands of nonprofit agencies (many of which are faith-based) to aid millions of struggling people nationwide, its budget hasn't been increased for six years. Given that costs for food and housing have skyrocketed over that time, the program has, in effect, suffered from massive cuts; the charities that depend on this money are reeling from the strain, many teetering on the verge of collapse."
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Called 'reconstitution', it is supposed to be the remedy for schools with a subgroup of the student population, defined by race, gender or socioeconomic status which falls short of minimum achievement on Texas' standardized test, four consecutive years.
So far Texas House Bill 1238 is gaining broad based, both the African-American and Hispanic caucuses, Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT), former Texas Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff (of Raise Your Hand Texas. Ratliff was one of the most effective and fair minded Republican leaders in state government), Austin Interfaith (the Industrial Areas Foundation organization in Austin), as well as educators, parents and community leaders from across Texas' capitol city, not to mention Central Dallas Ministries fledgling effort in Austin, Urban Connection-Austin, led by our man on the ground Dean Smith.
One aspect of their proposal which is critical, is the engagement of the public in the process. Public education can never really work, where administrators develop proscribed methods of involvement which ultimately keep parents and the community at arms length. Public schools are democratic institutions. They require parental engagement and community support that goes far beyond being an audience for the aspirations of principals and educational careerists.
When parents are welcome, when there are processes that provide opportunities for learning by and alongside their children's teachers. When they understand the grading system (beyond learning how to read a report card), and its implications for their children's future; when parents know that they are part of a community of lifelong learners and stakeholders who understand that everyone else's success depends on their child's success, those parents, whether rich or poor, become the most passionate advocates for public education. I've seen it happen and worked with parents who have been transformed through their child's education and a creative partnership with their school.
Contrary to the opinion of some, we have not tried everything in this regard. That's why 'reconstitution' is not a viable, workable option.
Such wide support for HB 1238 proves what many of us have known for years: you can't punish your way to success in education.
Critics of public education who advocate a 'scorched earth', 'slash and burn' approach to fixing schools, act as if there's another group of kids we can educate if we mess up these. We don't. We either find a way to help them succeed, or we suffer the consequences for decades to come.
The responsibility of real adults - parents, politicians, community leaders, religious community, educators and others - is to do what adults are supposed to do when the encounter great problems: they don't ring their hands, pass the buck, continue the same unsuccessful patterns and then raise their hands in surrender.
Real adults figure it out!
Thanks to our friends in Austin for committing themselves to finding real workable solutions to real problems.
Oh, and what if these proposals don't work? You don't close the schools - you try something else. In other words, keep working and figure it out.
Monday, April 6, 2009
It is gratifying to know that progress is being made on all fronts. Dr. Paige, her interns and I first went to speak with State Senator Royce West about the vital need for support services. So far Texas leads the nation in men freed from prison through DNA evidence. While it is incredibly important to correct this injustice, it is not enough to open the doors to their prison cells, place a comforting arm around their shoulders and provide a heartfelt apology. Nor is it enough, to recognize, as one city official told me, that 'no amount of money can make up for what has happened to them.' The fact is the state has an obligation to help these men get on their feet and reintgrate into society. And there is no way to fulfill that obligation without spending money.
Shortly after our visit, Senator West filled Senate Bill 1848, designed to, "...develop a comprehensive plan to ensure the successful reentry and reintegration of wrongfully imprisoned persons into the community following [the exonerees'] discharge..." The bill includes compensation for physical and mental health care services, as well as job training.
The bill has made it out of the Senate Committee (without opposition, by the way!) and is on its way to a vote by the full senate after which it must wind its way through the House and make its way to the Governor's desk.
Senator Rodney Ellis, Democrat from Houston, who has long been a champion of this fight, is pushing through the legislation which will provide an innocence commission to identify faults in interrogation procedures, including eyewitness testimonies and how lineups are used in arrests and convictions.
We're not there yet, but we're closer than we were. You can read more about the progress being made in this Dallas Morning News editorial.
Congratulations to Dr. Paige, to her interns and to the Innocence Project of Texas for their incredibly hard work. Congratulations to those incredibly brave men who are able to endure the pain and stigma of their wrongful conviction with such incredible grace and courage. They continue to be a source of inspiration!
Thanks to Senator Royce West, for having the political courage to lead this charge. Great job Royce, absolutely great!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Whatever other significance we attach to this episode in Jesus' Life. It shows us that there is that He is the One who expects something radically substantial from the people of God. Where that is missing, we see something radically different from the benign, inoffensive and timorous Character who makes us comfortable in our complacency.
This is the Jesus who troubles those of us who want a convenient religiosity and a faith that sanctions our compliance with tradition, commerce and custom.
We have to live with the fact that we can dismiss Him; but He does not excuse us!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?"
'Raisin' is a play about a black family, but it is a distinctly American story about the struggle for identity, meaning, purpose within the context of family and ultimately proving that there are things far more important than money.