Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We Can All Take the Credit or Accept the Blame

There's been a little angst regarding The Dallas Morning News' editorial board's 'Bridging the Gap' project.

For two years now, there has been a special initiative to focus on the disparity between North and South Dallas. It's important since South (or southern) Dallas represents some 80% of the city land mass, but is woefully underdeveloped representing less than 20% of Dallas' tax base. Most of the city's poorest neighborhoods are found in southern Dallas - more particularly the South Dallas/Fair Park area and West Dallas. It is amazing, that the attitude of many who respond to issues raised about this disparity have a 'damn 'em all to hell', 'serves 'em right' attitude towards the poor in this region of our city. When investment in southern Dallas is brought up, some northern residents complain about the amount of tax money that must be spent on people who 'don't deserve it'. It is amazing that they have a difficult time seeing that economic development in the southern sector expands the tax base and lessens the tax burden on everyone. Of course that's simply the economic rationale.

And its not the only angst being expressed.

There are some in southern Dallas who are somewhat troubled by DMN's 'sudden' interest in the area. Much more to the point, they feel the paper is taking undue credit for some of the progress that has been made in the area. Take, for example, yesterday's op-ed by southern Dallas City Councilman Tennell Atkins. His is pretty much an example of the sentiment that has been expressed by some leaders and residents.

While I can understand it, I don't quite agree.

There are a number of leaders who have worked tirelessly on issues of poverty, education, violence, housing and economic development in South/southern Dallas for literally decades. They have done so without much fanfare and, with all due respect to Councilman Atkins, without much support from the city council or the Dallas Morning News. They've worked hard in to organize their neighbors, agitate their church members, chastise their neighbors children. They have reported crime, blight, nuisances and lack of services. These are residents who have volunteered countless hours in area schools and churches. And for a long time, they have done so without notice.

But I don't see DMN's focus as stealing their thunder. Indeed, I see it as affirmation of the work and advocacy that I and others have done. The writers for the paper see nothing more and nothing less than what many southern Dallas residents have had to live with for decades. As a matter of fact, it could be argued if the larger Dallas community had listened and taken what we've all tried to say seriously enough early enough, things wouldn't be as bad as they are now.

For instance, the South Dallas Hope Initiative pointed out the need to do something about the metal recyclers on Lamar Street. They, along with the heavy commercial truck traffic, and the declining tax base due to the loss of homes and business and the S.M. Wright Freeway that runs parallel to Lamar make this area an 'environmental justice community'. This means that it is an area in which any federal dollars spent on massive transportation projects must be preceded with plans for mitigation to avoid reducing the environmental impact on the area in an effort to avoid causing further damage.

Tod Robberson, a writer for the Morning News, has mentioned this in a couple of blog posts this week. For him to do so, doesn't in anyway take away from SDHI's findings. It validates them and presents those findings to the larger Dallas community. Nor does it eliminate the need for further advocacy or action on the part of the residents in that area of south Dallas. It means that residents now know that 'the newspaper of record' for the city, has a point of reference for an issue that can be a serious impediment to the redevelopment of this area. It also means that neither City Hall, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA), or the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), can ignore the claims of SDHI or the neighborhood, because the newspaper's research and reporting reveals virtually the same thing.

As for taking credit in their two year retrospective, I view it somewhat akin to several people calling 911 to report an accident. If ten people see the same accident and all ten call 911 when the emergency crews arrive at the scene who takes credit for getting them there? At the end of the day, everyone who called goes home knowing that they did something to render aid.

And most importantly those involved in the accident get the attention they need.

Let's not spend so much energy on determining whose getting credit. Let's keep calling for help!

The more time we spend complaining about who's getting credit, the more blame there is to go around.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Unify South Dallas: Advanced Citizenship

The Unify South Dallas coalition has continued their meetings over the past several weeks.

What's really been impressive is not just the information received but the amount of respect the group is receiving for the quality of information provided and the engagement of the young people involved.

The September 19 meeting covered economic development in the area of housing. Most people know that two public housing developments are in stages of demolition with all of the residents having been relocated. What most people don't know, however, is that "unless the Dallas Housing Authority can secure funding in the current round of HOPE VI grant applications, Turner Courts may never be replaced, and former residents may never be able to return!"

This past Saturday the focus was on large scale commercial economic development projects, such as the Mill City Renaissance project, as well as Frazier Revitalization Initiative. Both organizations represent significant redevelopment in the South Dallas area. Each of which also represent significant opportunities for entrepreneurship and jobs.

Residents and leaders of neighborhood associations are learning about the importance of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts. Both of which have implications for the future growth of South Dallas neighborhoods. Sounds like pretty elemental stuff. But when city officials and politicians hold community meetings, they overwhelm residents by throwing around acronyms familiar to them, but Greek to the people to whom their talking.

In the next couple of weeks all of the information learned in these previous sessions will be collated and presented to those who have attended. That information will be used to develop an agenda of issues to be presented to elected representatives who will be asked to work with the community on what is important to them.

Where will it lead? Hopefully it will lead to a more informed and engaged community. Its quite a challenge, but the organizers of Unify South Dallas deserve kudos for the effort.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Learn AND Enjoy



Television doesn't get much better than a Ken Burns documentary. He has a way of making history come alive. Whether it is the Civil War, baseball or jazz, Burns' ability to provide context to a subject and help us see historic events through the eyes of ordinary people, epic and iconic figures is both instructional and inspirational.

Now his masterful touch has been added to the history of our country's national parks. "The National Parks: America's Best Idea". I've never been to a national park, but after watching the first installment, he's got me interested.

For those of you who have been, this series provides an even deeper appreciation of what is unique about America among all other countries: the public stewardship of our great national resources.



And for those football fans among us, of whatever age, Showtime's Full Color Football is a wonderful look back at the days when the old American Football League competed with the National Football League for players, fans, money and status.

Its a great look at how this upstart league helped break the color line in professional football, became the forerunner of the type of wide open, down field exciting play that we enjoy now and the colorful characters that made football fun. 'Ocho Cinco' would have been right at home in the AFL!

You don't have to choose. You can enjoy them both!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Morning Joy

There probably nothing more appropriate to say, other than that this is one of the finest voices of our age.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Indira Gandhi
1917-1984

Prime Minister of India
1966-1977, 1980-1984

"My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A DREAM for America

Yesterday I was invited to have remarks at a press conference in support of the DREAM (The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors) Act.

Entitled 'A DREAM for America: Back-to-School DREAM Act Day', it was part of a national effort of over 100 plus initiatives across the country to call on Congress to support this significant and sensible legislation.



The following are my remarks.

We live in a great country. A country so great in fact, that its promise is almost always larger that its practice. But it is a country in which engaged citizens who are willing to project themselves into the public square can move this nation closer to the realization of the greatness of that promise. The DREAM Act is one of those initiatives designed to do just that. I support the DREAM Act, because I believe it to be legislation that speaks to American’s fundamental commitment to justice, fairness and compassion. And because it just makes sense.

The status of children of undocumented aliens, who have been educated in this country, who have shown themselves to only want the opportunity to pursue a future in which the can achieve their potential – potential conceived, in many cases – in the only country they have ever known is entirely within the bounds of reason and compassion.

These young people are not strangers to us. The have entertained us with the exploits on athletic fields; we have enjoyed their music; they have played with our children; they are protecting our country on foreign battlefields and they only ask the opportunity along a pathway to productive citizenship in a land that they love and which they call home.

We are living in tough economic times. We live in times in which we are rightfully concerned about the security of our nation. It is during times such as these that we are tempted to find a people who represent something threatening to our country’s future. There is a tendency to scapegoat easy and vulnerable targets and in the process frustrate the fulfillment of the promise of America’s greatness. The paranoia and xenophobia expressed during times like these makes it easy to talk of some mythical ‘us’ credited as ‘owners’ of the USA. The truth of the matter is, that ‘us’ has never really existed. This country has been built by people who have traveled here because of the promise of a better life; brought here to harvest its natural resources and build its monuments; or drawn here to ensure the continuation of that better life. That is the legacy of our country's continued striving and struggle for supremacy in our world.

We now face the challenge of how and whom we will allow those whom have traveled here, been brought here or drawn here to stay here, as workers or as citizens. The youth who would benefit from the DREAM Act a part of the challenge. They did not cause the problem and we cannot and must not, seek to punish them in an effort to get to their parents. That is a sign of America’s weakness, not its greatness.

While we await the time when our Congress summons the political courage and will to pass substantive, sensible and comprehensive immigration reform legislation, we can give these youth the chance to see what we know exists in this country: the willingness to extend the opportunity to DREAM as we struggle to become as great as our promise.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Clinton Global Initiative

This is one of the most fascinating annual events!

The Clinton Global Initiative began yesterday and continues Thursday (September 22-24).

"In 2005, President [Bill] Clinton established CGI to turn ideas into action and to help our world move beyond the current state of globalization to a more integrated global community of shared benefits, responsibilities, and values. By gathering world leaders from a variety of backgrounds, CGI creates a unique opportunity to channel the capacities of individuals and organizations to realize change. To fulfill the action-oriented mission of CGI, all members devise practical solutions to global issues through the development of specific and measurable Commitments to Action."

The CGI brings together and recognizes non-government organizations (NGOs), world leaders, business leaders, and compassionate individuals from across the globe who have committed their time, talent and treasure to work on issues such as poverty, the environment, economic and human capital development. In this gathering creative and substantive conversations are held regarding how these efforts can be leveraged into meaningful public and foreign policy efforts which can result in a more equitable and sustainable world.

I've considered this to be one of the most inspirational gatherings I've ever heard seen and well worth taking the time to watch and listen to the webcast. It not only brings much needed recognition to wonderful work going on all over the globe, it results in these efforts gaining increased funding and encourages other organizations, individuals and governments to make similar commitments in areas of their concern.

I think this is important because there are remarkable things happening all over the world. There are people who are giving their lives to make life better for others. All too often we can focus on the problem and never realize that there are remarkable individuals, organizations and even heads of state, who are devoted to eradicating nearly every form of suffering, disease, negative environmental impact and strengthening underdeveloped cultures. Even further, it shows that everyone has something to offer and everyone can make a difference.

This includes women like Xiaoyi (Sheri) Liao who has "...promoted a "Green Life" standard of living and a grassroots approach to environmental sustainability. Since 1996, Liao [has] established an environmental program on Chinese public television, launched an environmental awareness campaign that led to the creation of the first garbage-sorting operation in the Beijing community, and cooperated with the Xuan Wu municipal government to found the first Green Community in China, which later became a national model accredited by the Chinese government. Liao [has]also worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce global mercury emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants."

Or organizations like the World’s Children’s Prize program which "...in nine years become the world’s largest and fastest growing education initiative on human rights, democracy, and respect for the environment. After making a Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in 2006, Barloworld Limited and The ForeSight Group helped expand this program on a global scale, reaching out to over 17 million children across 92 countries. Over the last 18 months alone, the number of children involved has risen by 55% and the number of educators by 85%."

These are just a couple of examples, but you can check out the website to find more about this great event.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Khadijah Williams Update


Thanks to the reader who provided an update on Khadijah Williams.

Khadijah is the young woman from Los Angeles who overcame homelessness and is now a student at Harvard University.

We wish her well. Hers is a story of determination which can serve as an inspiration for us all. If you want to know more you can check out her website.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dallas Morning News' Bridging the Gap: A Significant Effort

The Dallas Morning News Sunday edition includes in its 'Points' section a review and analysis of its 'Bridging Dallas' North-South Gap' emphasis. I have to say I'm impressed.

Because I know a number of the editorial staff who have devoted the past two years to this effort and didn't doubt their individual commitment, I have to admit I was a little wary of the institutional commitment. But this is turning out to be a pretty robust investment of journalistic time and talent.

Southern Dallas is an area which has suffered decades of neglect, disinvestment and most of the social pathologies associated with poverty. Racism is not the source of all of southern Dallas' problems, but it is, at least a context, in which blight, crime, the academic achievement gap and economic underinvestment have been tolerated for so long. Serious conversations regarding economic development and strategic planning, almost always encounter a market paradox: during good economic times people are told you can't make enough money in southern Dallas; when times are bad, there isn't enough money to invest in southern Dallas.

This is why I'm impressed with DMN's effort. Not only did they stick with the 'Bridging Dallas' North-South Gap' project; they've not allowed themselves to be the tool of either the business community or city hall to use the market paradox to explain away the lack of attentiveness by the city, unresponsive political representation, or the short sighted nature of its inclusion in plans for Dallas' future. Nor do they allow this to unduly influence their analysis of or their proposals for southern Dallas.

At the same time, because negative issue at play in the southern portion of the city cannot be explained away by racism, they've tried to strike the balance between calling for personal responsibility and public allocation or reallocation of resources.

DMN's editorial staff has also focused on measurables - it's Ten Drops in a Bucket focus. Ten specific, definable issues or problems in neighborhoods throughout southern Dallas that either citizens or city government can do something about. They are not, in and of themselves, comprehensive redevelopment projects, nor are they meant to be. They do, however, give a sense of movement to the project and displays a sense of accountability on the part of the newspaper, by putting some of its institutional capital on the line in spot lighting these issues and helping to get something concrete done.

Sharon Grigsby, Tod Robberson and Colleen McCain Nelson, are to be congratulated. They're going to get some criticism and some of it might be justified. But they've help push the editorial department of the Morning News in a direction few have ever thought they would see it move.

I think its a very significant effort.

Again, DMN's commitment to this effort is refreshing. Check out the online version here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gratitude for Two Lights

Early yesterday morning, our family was awakened with the news that my niece Karen and her husband Leaman's 2 month old son Kaylon had died. We all went to the hospital to comfort them and share in that indescribable loss.

This was the second difficult pregnancy that Karen has had. Kaylon is the second of two boys born prematurely. The first child, Leaman, Jr., is hale and hearty and they were looking forward to Kaylon, coming home to join him. Recent complications necessitated a surgery that he did not survive.

I watched these two young people suffering the most unnatural loss there is - the death of one's child. My wife and I remembered that it was two years to the day that we buried our oldest son, Jason.

We would do anything possible to spare Karen and Leaman this pain.

How do those of us who suffer such tragedies deal with them? How do we find strength to carry on?

Ironically, or providentially, I discovered a little known (at least to me) sermon, by Martin Luther King, entitled, 'God is Able'. It contains a passage explaining better than I ever could, how we come of us soldier on. If your fellowship is among those of us who have known loss, struggle and suffering (and who hasn't), I hope this helps you as much as it is helping me.

"In India Mrs King and I spent a lovely weekend in the State of Karala, the southern most point of that vast continent. While there we visited the beautiful beach on Cape Comorin, which is called "Land's End," because this is actually where the land of India comes to an end. Nothing stretches before you except the broad expanse of rolling waters. This beautiful spot is a point at which meet three great bodies of water, The Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal. Seated on a huge rock that slightly protrudes into the ocean, we were enthralled by the vastness of the ocean and its terrifying immensities. As the waves unfolded in almost rhythmic succession, and crashed against the base of the rock in which we were seated, an oceanic music brought sweetness to the ear. To the west we saw the magnificent sun, a great cosmic ball of fire, as it appeared to sink into the very ocean itself. Just as it was almost lost from sight, Mrs King touched me and said, "Look, Martin, Isn't that beautiful!" I looked around and saw the moon, another ball of scintillating beauty. As the sun appeared to be sinking into the ocean, the moon appeared to be rising from the ocean. When the sun finally passed completely beyond sight, darkness engulfed the earth, but in the east the radiant light of the rising moon shone supreme."

"To my wife I said, "This is an analogy of what often happens in life." We have experiences when the light of day vanishes, leaving us in some dark and desolate midnight - moments when our highest hopes are turned into shambles of despair or when we are the victims of some tragic injustice and some terrible exploitation. During such moments our spirits are almost overcome by gloom and despair, and we feel that there is no light anywhere. But ever and again, we look toward the east and discover that there is another light which shines even in the darkness, and "the spear of frustration" is transformed "into a shaft of light.""

"This would be an unbearable world were God to have only a single light, but we may be consoled that God has two lights: a light to guide us in the brightness of the day when hopes are fulfilled and circumstances are favorable, and a light that guides us in the darkness of the midnight when we are thwarted and the slumbering giants of gloom and hopelessness rise in our souls. And so we know that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the darkness as well as the light."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Edward R. Murrow
1908 - 1965

Broadcast Journalist, Network News Pioneer

"Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another Very Special 'Night to Remember' with Steve Martin

Steve Martin is one of the funniest comedians around. Among my favorite movies are the Father of the Bride movies (both of them!). I watch them almost every time I get a chance (for those of you who don't understand you have to have daughters - or be a grandfather!).

Here's a bit from Father of the Bride 1...



On October 27, at 8:00 pm, Central Dallas Ministries is really proud to present Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at the Morton H. Meyerson Concert Hall.

At our organization's website, you can find information on how to purchase tickets. We look forward to seeing you at what we know will be a great evening!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fear Tactics May Be Turning Out to be a Hard Sell

There is a legitimate public policy debate to be had around Barack Obama's and the Democrats health care proposal. Someone could be taking the Republicans plan, even though they complain that Democrats are not considering it, and they could present it to the American people. There are many who believe that the sum and substance of the policy continues to allow the free market to treat health as a commodity, allowing the insurance companies to make off with billions of dollars while leaving anywhere near 37-50 million Americans uninsured or under insured. But, if there is real alternative Republican representation to be considered, then the country deserves to read about, hear about and support it or not.

Instead, we have been treated to a tragic theater of scare tactics: death panels, forced abortions, hysterical claims of socialism and rationed health care. The President of the United States has been demeaned and disrespected in the process. When pointed out that some of these attacks are race based, then cries of being unable to criticize a black president without charges of racism are unfair. (personally, I find it odd that all of these rallies, with the president depicted as Hitler, a socialist or a facist have almost no minorities among them, but, there you go).

Fortunately it looks as if the American pubic isn't buying what the extremists are selling.

"A majority of Americans believe many of the claims about health care legislation are distortions or "scare tactics," according to a new Bloomberg poll."

"Take the so-called "death panels" charge raised by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and others. The House bill calls for "advanced care planning consultations" that would reimburse doctors for talking with patients once every five years about end-of-life care. Sixty-three percent of those polled believe the "death panel" moniker is a distortion or scare tactic compared to 30 percent who said it is a legitimate criticism."

The news from the poll is not all rosy toward the Obama administration. For instance 52% believe that the country is on the wrong track.

Most (48%) are pessimistic about the governments health care plan and most (56%) are pessimistic about a plan being passed by the end of the year.

But, according to the poll Obama's 'net favorable' is 61% and his job approval rating is at 56%.

More to the point of health care, most of those polled believe characterize rationed health care, socialized medicine and government funded abortions as 'distortions and scare tactics'.

The entire poll can be seen here.
So if the distortions and scare tactics aren't working, will we now get down to real substantive policy debate? Or will the opposition just yell their claims louder?

Based on what we've seen so far, I suggest that you cover your ears...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

That's Incredible!

Incredible.

That's what it is when adults play games with the education system - incredible. Oh, don't get me wrong. Adults do it all the time. Standardized test scores. Budgets. Graduation rates. School rankings. All legitimate aspects of the education process. All impacted by both the process and politics of education - and all vulnerable to corruption by adults with less than honorable motives making points with one another at the expense of children's instruction.

I thought I had seen the worst with attempts to rewrite history in an effort to make sure that we 'correctly' made sure that the exploits of only the 'right' historical figures received due attention in Texas schools.

But then came Obama's speech to school children earlier this month. And apoplectic parents with fears vigorously stirred by vitriol by politicians and right wing pundits were urged to keep their children at home. They're children, you see, had to have their innocence protected from THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! Would he talk about health care? Or would he talk about the proper allocation of TARP funds or the bailout of the auto industry?

No one knew!

Our foreign born, un-American President, whose purpose it inject into the veins of democracy the fatal virus of socialism and god-knows-what else, might subliminally lead our children off the dangerous cliff by his, intelligence, his eloquence, his charisma. Because, you know, he has these subversive qualities.

And then - the speech!

"Stay in school", the President said. "Work hard", said he. "You may not like every subject, but that doesn't matter. Do our homework. Respect you teachers. Your country depends on you doing your best, so you can make a significant contribution to your nation and to the world", the President continued. "Obey your parents", he went on. And, what else did he say...?

Oh yeah, "Wash your hands"!

Wow! One more speech like that and this country might fall off the brink into, uh, uh...greatness?

Ever since that speech, birthers, death panelers, tea baggers and every other ideologue has been falling all over themselves painting the president darker and darker. After all if it wasn't this speech, it would have to be another. Then came the Joint Session of Congress health care speech and Joe Wilson and 'you lie' and they had their reprieve. Because up until then, there were more than a few, who were looking pretty...well lets just say, not so good.

But aside from over reactive, if not just over protective children parents, no one looked worse than educators (I'm sorry, the Glen Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world cannot look worse, although they are trying!). The educators - and really the administrators, were the ones who caved into the political agenda with a torturous logic to explain why an address by THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, could be classified as an intrusion into their periods of instruction. Especially when he was saying, what they themselves would hopefully be telling them all year long.

One such administrator looking particularly, well, lets just say, not so good, is the Superintendent of the Arlington Independent School District. He, was one of those who decided that President Obama's speech wasn't instructive enough to be included in the school day. He allowed children to miss school to hear the speech at a local church, but not in school.

But later on it was discovered that in a week or so, about 600 school children were scheduled to have the school day interrupted to attend the new Cowboy Stadium to hear Roger Staubach, Emmit Smith and George W. and Laura Bush speak to them about 'service learning'.

You got it. THE George W. Bush! The former PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

Let's just say there have been, uh, well...complaints.

This is what happens when adults play politics with education. They make choices about the instruction of children that don't make sense.

Now, because of the...complaints...the Superintendent of Arlington Independent School District, is cancelling the field trip to Cowboys Stadium.

That's right, now most of them don't get to hear any PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, tell them to stay in school, do their best and obey their parents and teachers.

Or wash their hands, for that matter!

I've been accused of being somewhat Jurassic when it comes to some of my attitudes toward work and even public education. I just don't think there's anything hard or even complex about showing up to work, doing your job and taking pride in what you do. I also don't believe that its rocket science to expect children to learn at high levels. That exposure to different experiences and diverse cultures is not a bad thing and that parents help them sort their way through these exposures by providing them with the values through which they filter the impact and import of those experiences.

A man named J.J. Pearce was the superintendent of the school district where I received my public education. My principals: Mr. Fields, Mr. Green and Mr. Markham were all not just administrators, they were educators. Only one (Mr. Fields) was African-American. I, don't think that I am romanticizing my memories of them when I say they were tough in both roles.

I have a sneaking suspicion of what they would all say to parents who objected to their children hearing THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES address their children in a public school setting (who at one point would have been none other than Richard M. Nixon).

"The day of the address is a regularly scheduled school day. Your child is expected to be at school. Any absence on that day not accompanied by authorized notification, will be recorded as an unexcused absence."

AND we would have had a chance to hear BOTH PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. They are both historic, once in a lifetime experiences. They are BOTH educational experiences. They are BOTH opportunities for instruction and inspiration.

Now they are simply both examples of what happen when we allow the political agenda of adults to interfere with the education of our children.

Incredible.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

I've not commented publicly (or at least posted) on South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson's rude outburst during President Barack Obama's address to the Joint Session of Congress.

It is easy to take Wilson's crass behavior in isolation. After all, this was a political breech of decorum. While it is true, Democrats and Republicans have booed, or expressed their disagreement with incredulous laughter or even apparent inattentiveness. Most of us have never seen such classes behavior during a joint session of Congress.

Equally dismaying is that there are conservatives who have come to the defense of Wilson. As if that behavior is not only suddenly acceptable - its even right. Even when grudgingly admitting the boorishness of such an act, the admission is qualified with, 'Doesn't anyone remember when Democrats...'.

The fact is no one legislator, in living memory ever chose to voice his or her displeasure in such a way as to single themselves out to be the identifiable source of rudeness and disrespect. And no matter how supportive others try to be, if they are fellow congressmen or women, they obviously must know that there is such a thing as appropriate and inappropriate behavior, because, whatever they thought - they didn't engage in or repeat Wilson's outburst.

Because white people individualize charges of racism, they have a hard time (or at least feign having a hard time), understanding why African-Americans see this as racist behavior. It goes beyond the issue (although no one who doubted Obama's fiscal projections or other aspects of his health care plan shouted out 'you lie! It only came up when prospects of 'illegal' immigrants accessing health care benefits was mentioned). It is not only the right - it really is the responsibility of the minority party to serve as what is called 'the loyal opposition'.

What should be happening is that Republicans ought to present an opposing point of view. Whether it sees the legislative light of day - they have every right, indeed the responsibility, to share with us whatever savings and whatever lower costs their plans would provide.

No, its not disagreement, no matter how vehemently, with the president's positions that anyone minds.

What is dangerous to public discourse is the incivility, the personal animosity, the extremes to which some of our fellow citizens are going to delegitimize even the right of Barack Obama to hold the office of president. It is the unwillingness of political opportunists and otherwise talentless entertainers to paint the president as someone dark, sinister, foreign and 'un-American', someone from whom even children must be 'protected'.

It fans the flames of hatred in the hearts of those for whom the Office of President has been and should remain, the province of white men. And it is the dehumanization of the president, in the eyes of other citizens that objectifies him to such an extent, that he need not be accorded even the basic respect of even disapproving silence on the part of at least one congressman, who disagreed with him. As a matter of fact, Wilson, unlike any colleagues who might have felt the same way, didn't think the discipline of thought necessary, he just blurted out what he felt - in defiance of the tradition of the occasion, respect for the chamber, or how it might appear to colleagues who might be offended or an onlooking world - Obama wasn't the president then, he was just a 'liar'.

The reason black people see racism in the act, is because we are used to the objectification and otherwise 'disciplined' people, unable to control their emotions when it comes to 'intrusion' into positions to which we have previously not had access. It becomes easy not to accord a man or woman of color the same respect, the same courtesy, the same deference as they would someone who is white. And it is a softer type of racism, simply because its easier to mask it behind the veneer of 'ambition', 'professional disagreement', or even 'politics' or 'patriotism'.

There is a suspicion across the country that uproar about health care really isn't about health care. Republicans have had the majority needed to pass the type of health care reforms they currently tout and didn't. As a matter of fact the health care reform they did pass under the Bush Administration, the prescription drug coverage for Medicare, is projected to cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Towering deficits can't be that much of a concern.

No, this gives all of the appearance of something much uglier about current American culture. Something which makes it suddenly excusable to flirt with lines which border civility and decency because one is 'angry' and feels their 'freedoms' are 'threatened'. And its becoming acceptable in those who when it comes to sexual behavior, or money, or the exercise of responsibility in their public office, are said to be held to 'a higher standard'...




In the end it as akin to what is seen below: thoughtless, crass, course, ignorant, self-indulgent, rude and, yes, racist behavior.

Kanye West Storms The VMA Stage


The difference is we don't have to buy Kanye West's records. The public policy decisions of Joe Wilson and his ilk impact us all, whether we or not we think so.

And not for the better...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Rainy Weekend in Dallas

It's been a little rainy in Dallas this weekend. Unusually so. Not quite like this, but you get the picture. Enjoy!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Alexander Hamilton
1755 - 1804

First United States Secretary of the Treasury

1789 - 1795


"Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike."

Friday, September 11, 2009

The History of Our Progress

"That large-heartedness -- that concern and regard for the plight of others -- is not a partisan feeling. It's not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character -- our ability to stand in other people's shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise. This has always been the history of our progress..."


President Barack Obama
Address to Joint Session of Congress
September 9, 2009
____________________________


"Eight months into the Obama years, we've already reached the point where an evil craziness is about to take off. Unless enough Republican leaders, conservative movement honchos and talk show jocks denounce it, we could see an uncontrolled hatred of Barack Obama run rampant. And who knows where that will lead."

"Look at the last week."

"When GOP Rep. Joe Wilson called Barack Obama a liar in the middle of the president's health care address Wednesday night, the South Carolinian was not only breaking House protocol, he was legitimizing loathing of the president by right-wing followers who look to their leaders for their cues. He was doing the same thing some respectable people of Dallas did when they harassed Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson in the early 1960s on the streets of our city. He was creating an excuse for others to give into their darkest demons."

"Similarly, the backlash in Texas and elsewhere against the president speaking to students Tuesday was about more than disagreeing with Obama over policy. It was about questioning his right to lead this nation."

"Why else would parents pull their students out of school that day? Or demand that their schools not let him speak? A reaction like that was more than an objection to the wording of a study guide the administration was sending along with the speech."


Bill McKenzie

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Protecting Something Essential


"...our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter -- that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves."


President Barack Obama
Joint Session of Congress
September 9, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

We Owe it to Ourselves to Get This Right




Some special friends of Central Dallas Ministries found some very good news. A group of men, convicted of crimes they didn't commit, will begin the process of receiving increased compensation this month. How much will the get?

"The former prisoners will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year – making it by far the nation's most generous package."

""I'm nervous and excited," said McGowan, 50. "It's something I never had, this amount of money. I didn't have any money – period."" c

Along with the annuity payments, McGown will receive a lump sum payment of $1.8 million.
Others exonerees could receive as much as $2.2 million in up front payments.

"His payday for his imprisonment – a time he described as "a nightmare," "hell" and "slavery" – should come by mid-November after the state's 45-day processing period."

"The annuity payments are especially popular among those who spent years in prison because they lack experience in managing personal finances. A social worker will set them up with financial advisers and has led discussions alerting them to swindlers."

"The annuities are "a way to guarantee these guys ... payments for life as long as they follow the law," said Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney representing a dozen former prisoners."

Finally, these men, whose release came with virtually no immediate compensation and no support services will finally be getting the financial help and support they need. If you question whether or not such compensation is deserved, remember that these men were imprisoned, in some cases for almost 30 years; the most productive years of their lives were spent behind bars, locked away for crimes of which they were not guilty. It ought to be expensive to correct such an expensive mistake.

It is true, no amount of money can pay for their freedom, but that should be no excuse for not doing all we can to make up for the compounded injustice of wrongful conviction and the virtual abandonment these men have experienced.

On the flip side, there are some mistakes in this regard for which there are no opportunities for correction - at least for the victim. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004, for the arson murder of his children. He apparently was not guilty. He may not have been voted 'Husband of the Year' nor would he have won a citizenship award, but, as far as I know, those are not executable offenses.

And the response of those who can make right decisions in these cases or prevent the wrong ones from being made is not encouraging at all.

"In a 2005 Supreme Court case that actually had nothing to do with the execution of innocents, Justices David Souter and Antonin Scalia locked horns over the possibility that such a creature could even exist. Souter fretted that "the period starting in 1989 has seen repeated exonerations of convicts under death sentences, in numbers never imagined before the development of DNA tests." To which Scalia retorted: "[T]he dissent makes much of the new-found capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt." Scalia went on to blast "sanctimonious" death-penalty opponents, a 1987 study on innocent exonerations whose "obsolescence began at the moment of publication," and then concluded that there was not "a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.""

"This language suggested that if anyone ever found such a case, the Scalias of the world might rethink matters. As of today, the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, claims there have been 241 post-conviction DNA exonerations, of which 17 were former death-row inmates who now have been spared the death penalty. The gap between their data and Justice Scalia's widens every year. And for those who insist that not even one of those alleged innocents is indeed innocent, we now have a name: Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by the state of Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a 1991 house fire that killed his three young daughters."

"David Grann, who wrote a remarkable piece about the case in last week's New Yorker, sifted through the evidence against Willingham to reveal that the entire prosecution was a train wreck of eyewitness testimony that changed over time: a jailhouse snitch who was both mentally impaired and stood to benefit from testifying against Willingham, "expert" psychiatrists who never examined the accused but proclaimed him a "sociopath" based on his posters and tattoos, and local arson investigators whose conclusions were less rooted in science than a sort of spiritual performance art. And at every step in his appeals process, Willingham's repeated claims of innocence were met with the response that he'd already had more than enough due process for a baby-killer."

I believe we need to really examine what we are doing in our criminal justice system. Again, there are obviously guilty people who are in prison. But there are apparently more innocent people that we know about - even on death row.

More than 200 people exonerated across the country; 40 of them in Texas; 20 in Dallas County; most minority, most poor, most of whom unable to afford to be able to mount an effective defense; maybe 17 wrongfully executed, one about whom we are sure.

This is beginning to go beyond what we 'owe' these people. Its beginning to be about what we owe ourselves.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sage Analysis and Advice

In 1998, I was priviledged to be a memeber of the first class of Harvard University's Summer Leadership Institute. Suffice it to say it was a significant event in my life and career as a pastor.

Sitting in sessions and having the opportunity to dialogue afterward with the likes of Cornell West, Evelyn Higgenbotham, along with faculty from the Divinity School, schools of business and government, among others was incredible. The opportunity to interact with (at that time) 40 pastors and community leaders from across the country was exhilirating.

One of the most exciting presenters was a young man named Lawrence Bobo. Bobo is an American Academy of Arts and Sciences scholar and is a sociologist in the Department of African-American Studies, at Harvard. His is an interesting take on the current appearant travails of the Obama presidency and the countrywide hysteria among Republicans and conservatives:

"President Barack Obama is being pilloried from all sides. The far left doesn’t understand why corporate America and Wall Street bankers have not yet been rendered penniless by the government. What remains of the so-called Clinton left can’t understand why anyone would have a civil conversation with a Republican. The independents and a dwindling number of thinking Republicans hear the continuous roar of criticism and are beginning to assume that, heck, there sure is a lot of smoke; therefore, there must be a fire..."

"If Obama has made a mistake it has been, to borrow the title of writer Walter Mosley’s recent book, “the right mistake.” In general, Obama’s first months sought to fashion public policies the value of which all the American people can see and understand. Specifically with regard to the recent massive health care reform effort, he tried to keep Republicans in the tent to fashion a plan that Americans across the political spectrum can embrace. If this effort is failing, it is not because it was misguided or improper to make the attempt..."

"The deeper charge is that political naiveté and weakness are the real dilemmas now confronting Obama’s health care reform effort. Without attempting to parse every aspect of the evolving legislation, let me say that the real problem here is much simpler. It involves a noxious combination of a failed media, political extremists on the right and a seemingly natural inclination for vicious internal fighting on the left. The end result is stagnation at a moment when we as a nation can least afford it..."

"The absurd and alarmist claims made by critics of the Obama health care reform plans were too long treated as serious charges. Moreover, the readiness to transmit to the world the image of Obama with Hitler’s mustache and to seriously treat claims that he is a “socialist,” or now, according to the bigot Rush Limbaugh, a “fascist,” border on the criminally reckless..."

"[As to the 'right-wing extremists']These people lost a free and fair election. Obama is right to sense that their hold on American politics will continue to diminish. Part of the “right mistake” here is for Obama to continue to hold out the hope and possibility of bipartisanship in order to reveal just how irrational, counterproductive, extreme and arguably dangerous many of the forces now driving the Republican Party have become."

And his recommendation going forward? In part he's beginning to say what a number of people are saying...

"The moment for letting others carry the message is behind us. The president must take ownership of this issue and of the direction in which he wants this discussion to head."

"As for Obama’s critics on the left, it may well be the case that the Republican Party is so thoroughly in the grip of extremists that “deal making” is impossible."


Read the rest of Dr. Bobo's essay here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Barack Obama's Subversive Education Speech *sigh*

Below is the full text of President Barack Obama's speech to be given to schools across the country tomorrow. As I read it, I couldn't help but remember that when the President has spoken about family values, and the importance of education before, and it was apparent or assumed that he was talking to poor and minority children he was commended for his courage and for the example that he set.

Now that it appears he may be to a wider audience, there are parents who feel they need to 'protect' their children from what he has to say. Let me use some restraint and simply say that they are setting a pretty sad example.


Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009


The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

A Peek at a Civil Health Care Conversation

Imagine this: an intelligent health care conversation. With a politician. And constituents not in full agreement. With an civil back-and-forth dialogue.

You mean to tell me this can't happen throughout this country?!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

You Can't Overturn Elections with Temper Tantrums - It's Time to Stop!


I'm asking that all pastors, politicians, and right thinking citizens, no matter their political affiliation speak up against the tragic and pathetic displays of hatred, racism and unpatriotic disrespect of the President. It is not a matter of free speech. It is dangerous. It does nothing to foster understanding, or reconciliation, nor does it provide the rest of the world with a true picture of the democracy we say we cherish and want them to adopt.

There are people who are overdosing on FOX News and conservative radio blather, and fanning flames of racial resentment and vitriol, because, essentially their side lost a free and fair election.
Its high time to call this what it is: it is the worst display of America's worst side. And its gotten far, far out of hand. The cries of 'socialism', 'Nazi', 'Hitler' and such, must stop. Not only is it foolish (the same people who drive on publically financed roads, to rallies and townhall meetings, obviously don't know what socialism is!). It plays into the worst attitudes of some of the worst people in our country.

Eric Folkerth is the pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas. His eclectic blog "When EF Talks" is always full of interesting stuff. But I admit, I missed this post and not only shouldn't I, but everyone should. Here's a piece that deserves consideration...

"...some of us remember John Kennedy. Members of the church I serve remember the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and how the pastor of Northaven at the time, Bill Holmes, preached a sermon decrying the culture that pervaded Dallas at the time. He cited tangible examples of how Dallas had become an intolerant place and suggested that, while Dallas didn't "kill Kennedy," the culpability for that intolerant society did rest on all who lived here then."

"For this, he got death threats and had to go into hiding. No kidding."

"BTW, sort of proves the point of his "Dallas in an intolerant city" claim, doncha think?"

"Some folks I see regularly remember that time. And they see eerie and frightening parallels to what's happening around America right now. Step back from the past year, and ask yourself where this is all going. Where, if not directly to an assassination attempt, or militant uprising, does anybody think this is going?"

"Enough is enough."

"Once again, as I have before, I call on all persons to stop the hate-mongering. If somebody brings a side arm to a Presidential rally, denounce it. If somebody calls the President a Nazi, a Socialist, a Muslim, a Foreigner, a Monkey, denounce it. If somebody lies about the facts of a policy decision (such as the lie about "Death Panels") denounce it. If somebody refuses to stop telling those lies on national media: boycott them. If somebody seems to condone violence against the President, or behaviors that could lead others to take up violence, reject them."

"Because this is getting out of hand. Seriously."

"And some of us remember that in another time when conservatives could not control their lunatic fringe, a lone crazy killed an American president, right here in our city."

The rest of his post is particularly powerful...

We've gone long enough, trying to 'understand' why people are 'so angry', or 'frightened'. They are angry and frightened because they are listening to people who make a lot of money making them angry and frightened.

They are not misunderstood...

They are not patriots...

They are not the 'forgotten middle class'

They are dangerous.

And they are dangerous people in dangerous times. And its time to stop trying to make sense out of their lunacy. The fear that a president will say something 'inappropriate' to young children, needs to be the last straw. This is about finding a way to overturn an election with a collective temper tantrum. Its about not getting your way, stomping your feet and jumping up and down and crying 'It's not fair!', 'It's not fair!'. This is about politicians who want votes so bad, they lack the integrity to tell people that you don't bring guns to political rallies, you don't shout down someone in public debate and you don't yell insults to elected representatives because they you want to 'show them' how 'passionate' you are.
Its not debate...
Its not negotiation...
It's not compromise...
It's not real politics...
And its dangerous.
Somebody needs to talk to these people and tell them that we live in a country in which anger and passion has its place, that hysteria is not civic discourse - and none of this is a substitute for reasoned debate among citizens.

Eric is right, on a number of levels. It hasn't been that long ago that we've seen all of this before. Its no prettier now than it was then. As a matter of fact, its much uglier and much more replusive.

Its time to stop.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Benjamin Disraeli
1804 - 1881

Earl of Baconsfield

Prime Minister of England

1874-1880

"Real politics are the possession and distribution of power."

Friday, September 4, 2009

So Can We Stop Fooling Ourselves Now?





This interview is the first time I heard about President Obama's upcoming address to school students across the nation. My first reaction, "Great! Kids will hear the President of the United States tell them how important their education is to their own future and to the future of the country. Young minority students will hear the President talking to them, about their responsibility to pay attention in class, to do their best and to challenge themselves to not settle for anything less than their absolute maximum effort they can give! That ought to be pretty inspirational!"

Here's a letter that was sent from the White House to principals throughout the country announcing the first of its kind event:

Dear Principal:

In a recent interview with student reporter, Damon Weaver, President Obama announced that on September 8 -- the first day of school for many children across America -- he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens..."
The rest of the letter can be read here.

Jim Greer, Republican State Chairman, was inspired to send an interpretive of this letter and the President's intent to Republicans and conservatives which, quite frankly is almost as disturbing as anything I've ever read:

"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."

"While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda. The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates."

WHAT?!!

But that is the reaction of a Republican state official, whom one may expect is particularly partisan and is simply trying to stoke the fires of the 'loyal opposition'. Right? Certainly education loving, patriotic citizens are responding more reasonably to the prospect of the President of the United States encouraging their students to stay in school and learn. Right?

Not so much...

"By midday, local school districts say, they were inundated with hundreds of phone calls from parents urging them to not show Obama's speech at school."

'Some parents threatened to keep their children home from school if the video was aired."

"We had no idea that there would be a public outcry," said Laura Jobe, a Mesquite ISD spokeswoman. "It caught us by surprise""

"Cody Cunningham of the McKinney ISD said: "We rarely hear of parents pulling children out of history or government classes where they're studying the politics or historical significance of a previous president.""

WHAT?!

Listen to what a local radio talk show host and newspaper columnist is saying about the broadcast...

How much sense does this make? In public schools, with curricula, teachers salaries, facilities and equipment, supplemented with federal tax dollars, people are worried about 'socialism'? The illogical nature of the fear and pandering suggests another problem that we are too afraid or too ashamed to face.

The fear mongering, racism and hysteria of all of this, from the 'birthers', to the 'tea partyers', to the health care town hall meeting disruptions and now this, show a side of America that maybe we need to see. We need to avoid the easy path of dismissiveness. The most convenient thing in the world is to say that these people constitute a fringe, or that they are simply afraid for their families. There is something in all of this antithetical to what this country stands for. It is going to something much more sinister and much more dangerous. There are obvious words that cannot be used in public to express the hatred we are seeing in our country for this president. And because it is the political arena and we are more 'sophisticated' now, different ways of saying the same thing have evolved. So the presidents legitimacy as a citizen is questioned, his past is questioned, his ability to speak eloquently is ridiculed, they see something nearly demonic in his ability to draw a crowd, and something nefarious in the capacity to attract diversity. His education is branded as suspicous or elitist. He is painted as something foreign, foreboding and subversive.

And the people who promote and provoke this stuff are shameful.

When white people have thought that a 'black leader' was threatening, in ways subtle and not so subtle, they would ask a black friendto disavow admiration and respect for that leader. "He doesn't really speak for you, does he?"

I'm waiting for Republicans and conservatives to disavow these people, without qualifying the disavowal with, "Well you know people are afraid and frustrated..." That's like saying an athlete recovering from an injury is 'day to day'. Aren't we all day to day? Aren't we all 'afraid and frustrated'.

It is one thing to disagree, and even disagree vehemently with public policy positions. Its perfectly within the bounds of political reason to criticize a president because you may not like his style or how he runs the country. It is quite another thing to publically and intentionally dishonor a president in ways that fan flames of hatred. These are virtually the same people who said after the elections of 2000 and 2004, "We won; get over it. This is the way the system works." What we are seeing now are the deliberate attempts to delegitimize a duly held election, because people are, quite honestly, not comfortable with the color of his skin.

It stopped being surprising long ago. It is now becoming one of the most shameful episodes in American history.

About 40 years ago, when someone who claimed to have problems of with black people but defended themselves by saying, 'But I'm not a bigot', the acid test would be, 'Yeah, but would you want your daughter to marry one?'

In the 21st century, the test is, 'Yeah, but could you respect one if he or she were president?'

My fellow Americans - we have our answer...at least we know.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What A Blessing!

I'm taking quite a few liberties with this post, but I think I've probably earned the right.

Some of the former members of the youth department of the church I pastored got together by Facebook, text and more conventional means of communication like the telephone, and decided to have a reunion last Sunday. While it was organized it wasn't a formal church sponsored occasion. I believe my daughter, Adrienne, spearheaded the effort, but this was entirely of their own initiative.

I didn't make it, but what was great about it was that it didn't matter. Many of them hadn't seen one another in years and they wanted to get together where they had spent so much meaningful time together - at church.


I can't tell you how proud I am of them. I served as the pastor of many of them from childhood to young adulthood. They were talented, creative, challenging, some badly in need of discipline, in trouble at home and at school.

They sang in the choir, they were ushers, they gave individual presentations in church, acted in plays on Christmas and Easter, took part in Vacation Bible School, argued, a few of them fought, they came and went sometimes - but we always considered them ours. I and their youth director Margi Taylor, along with others, scolded, preached and praised them. We challenged them to be good in school and taught them to be responsible. We, as adults, were often unsophisticated, not well organized all of the time. There were times when we stretched the boundaries of our imagination and creativity (like the time we had Christmas service at a local elementary school instead of church that included a program that crammed a little almost 100 children and youth, in order to keep anyone from feeling left out!) At one time or another, we all fussed about the money it cost and then spent it anyway.

And now here they are. Nearly all of them have some college in their background. Most of them post graduate degrees. They are working, doing internships after returning to school. There are some who are providing leadership to the community. One is a practicing attorney. His brother is a professional musician and teaches in community college. Some teach and work in public school, others are just hard working men and women.
Some are married, some have children, some are single and very career oriented. Most of them are still in church, though not all at New Mount Moriah. Some of those who do remain at the church, however, have assumed significant roles of leadership.

And they all make me very, very proud.

Don't get me wrong: we lost some, to the streets and worse. But what news about this 'unofficial' reunion showed me, was that we probably saved more than we lost. We didn't just try to keep them active. I insisted on substance and the youth workers we had, volunteers all, were committed to that. And although we wondered and endured quite a bit of criticism for that focus at times, they obviously caught a lot more than we knew.

Not only that, they had excellent parents, or grandparents, or guardians, or surrogate parents from the church. By surrogate church members I mean unofficial 'parents' at church, who took them home, sometimes picking them up from school, providing school supplies or school clothes (this was before the days of uniforms). There were two couples who visited the schools of some of these youth and knew their teachers. They remaind close to them through college and into young adulthood. This, without a formal program and with nothing in the way of a line item in the church budget for most of this. These youth had nurturing adults in their lives. And a nurturing institution, if you will, in the church. There were times when a few would just come up to the church and hang out -with or without supervision (yes, THAT would sometimes drive us all crazy!). In retrospect, they loved the place and us, probably more than we know.
Seriously, I doubt that they remember very few, if any sermons preached, very few, if any formal lessons. I believe what they will never forget is that they had adults in their lives, away from home and school, to whom they mattered very much and that those people were Christians.

I bring it up, not just to point out my own personal and spiritual pride in them. I bring it up because this church is in one of the poorest sections of the city. Off the beaten path, it is now in an area which is undergoing some redevelopment. At that time, however, until we asserted ourselves as a church, it was in significant decline. You could find just about every pathology associated with concentrated poverty and some of these youth and their friends saw it and were impacted by it...and overcame it.

So, when people ask me if I remain hopeful about the work I'm blessed to be engaged in, I've got one more reason to add to a pretty strong list: I know what God can do through His people!

I've seen the proof...