Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Over the Thanksgiving holidays I took some time to look at it.
Although it was 50 years ago, the depth of poverty. The hopelessness on the faces of adults - and children. The bleakness with which they had to regard their present, let alone their future.
Originally shown the day after Thanksgiving in 1960, Murrow's and CBS executive Fred Friendly wanted to show Americans the intractable poverty and despair of the seasonal migrant workers who harvested the bounty they just consumed.
Looking at this work a half a century later there are some incredible parallels. Some things that have not changed which we should not countenance in our midst today...
- There was the insistence that any work is good work, no matter the wage, no matter whether that work provides enough to feed one's family
The sentiment that 'the market' determines the wage and that market 'uncertainty' as the rationale for treating workers unfairly.
- Warnings against government interference in the industry.
- Complaints that immigrants (foreign workers in the documentary) depress wages and contribute to the substandard quality of life for - in this case - migrant workers.
- The assertion that abjectly poor migrant workers were 'happy' in their circumstance.
- Warnings against the tyranny of unions (ironically, its a GOP government official who sees unionization as a solution to the migrant workers plight).
It's easy to pretend that if there is no intervention, no repair of broken systems, no access and no opportunity, that the rest of us can live unaffected. Unfortunately, that's a state of denial which we cannot afford.
Fifty years after 'Harvest of Shame', those migrant workers are a metaphor for today's poor. It is still true that uneducated, undereducated, untrained and unskilled low wage workers represent an untapped workforce potential for emerging new economies. Their depressed wages prevent them from being the consumers of goods and services that strengthen the economy. Their condition backs the rest of our culture into a credit based 'prosperity' (the rest of us only have so much cash) to buy more goods and services.
But most importantly, we are robbed of the social capital that healthy, hopeful, families represent. We never benefit fully from their contributions to our culture, our civic life and our national well being because their daily living is focused on survival at its most basic level.
In short: we are all diminished.
The recent near collapse of our economy has caused many of us to believe that we can tend to our own lives and that of our families with no concern for others. Interestingly enough, Harvest of Shame reminds us that the quality of life on which we all depend and which most of us take for granted, comes at the expense of people whose lives don't count for far too many of us.
It also reminds us of something of which we really ought to be ashamed: there was a time when someone thought that we could be moved to care about that. I'm not so sure how true that is these days.
You can watch the entire documentary here.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Praise the Lord.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who have pleasure in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures for ever.
He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy,
they are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant for ever. Holy and terrible is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
a good understanding have all those who practice it. His praise endures for ever!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
"I’ve been surprised by the lack of media attention given to the golden anniversary of that pivotal campaign, one of the most celebrated of the entire post-World War II period. With Kennedy, the door to the great 1960s era opened a crack, and it would continue opening little by little until the Beatles flung it wide in 1964."
"Kennedy’s great gift was his capacity to inspire. His message as he traveled the country was that Americans could do better, that great things were undeniably possible, that obstacles were challenges to be overcome with hard work and sacrifice."
"I don’t think he would have known what to make of the America of today, where the messages coming from the smoldering ruins of public life are not just uninspiring, but demeaning: that we must hack away at the achievements of the past (Social Security, Medicare); that we cannot afford to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure or establish a first-class public school system for all children; that we cannot bring an end to debilitating warfare, or establish a new era of clean energy, or put millions of jobless and underemployed Americans back to work."
"Kennedy declared that we would go to the moon. Chris Christie tells us that we are incapable of building a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River."
"Whatever one thinks of the tragically short Kennedy administration, we’d do well to pay renewed attention to the lofty ideals and broad themes that Kennedy brought to the national stage. We’ve become so used to aiming low that mediocrity is seen as a step up. We need to be reminded of what is possible..."
"“The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises; it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook. It holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”"
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Thanks to CitySquare's friends from Whataburger, community leader Ms. Edna Pemberton, the Concord Baptist Church, Dallas City Councilman Tennell Atkins and other community businesses and supporters - as well as our outstanding staff and program participants of Destination Home.
Bringing the community in will go a long way towards helping those who would otherwise be out on the street, that there are people who care about them and are willing to help them achieve the self sufficiency of which they are capable...
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Author Tim Keller writes a challenging post in the Redeemer City to City blog. His soon to be released book, appears to be worth checking out as well. Read the rest of his offering here.
"I've written a book that will be coming out this month called Generous Justice. A number of people have asked me why I wrote it, and others have asked about the title itself. My answers to these two questions go together."
"One group of people I hope will read the book is the young adults who express a passionate interest in social justice. Volunteerism is the distinguishing mark of an entire generation of current American college students and recent graduates. TheNonProfit Times reported that teens and young adults are creating enormous spikes in applications to volunteer programs. As a Baby Boomer it is interesting to me that volunteering rates were high in the 1970s but had fallen off until the last half of the last decade when they began to rise again. Of course I consider this an excellent trend."
"However, many people have imbibed not only an emotional resonance for rights and justice from our culture, but also a consumerism that undermines self-denial and delayed gratification. While they may give some of their time, they spend large amounts of money on entertainment, their appearance, electronics, and travel. For a great number, then, volunteering is part of their portfolio of life-enriching activities, but it is not a feature of a whole life shaped by a commitment to doing justice, including radical generosity with one's finances."
"One of the things that struck me as I was studying the Bible's teaching on justice was how often financial generosity is considered part of doing justice. Job says, "If I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless...if I have seen...a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep...these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high." (Job 31:13-28)"
"Many people believe that "justice" is strictly the punishment of wrongdoing, period. They don't think we should be indifferent to the poor, but when we help them they would call such aid charity, not justice. But Job says that if he had failed to share his food or his fleece – his assets – with the needy, which would have been a sin against God and by definition a violation of God's justice. Of course, we can call such aid mercy or charity because it should be motivated by compassion, but a failure to live a lifestyle of radical generosity is considered injustice in the Bible."
"Our culture gives us a mixed message. It says: make lots of money and spend it on yourself; get an identity by the kind of clothes you wear and the places you travel to and live. But also do some volunteer work, care about social justice, because you don't want to be just a selfish pig. However, Christians' attitudes toward our time and our money should not be shaped by our society; they should be shaped by the gospel of Christ, who became poor so that we could become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9)."
Monday, November 15, 2010
A friend of mine sent me this email over the weekend. It's poignant as we come upon the holidays and our usual special focus turns to the tragedy of homelessness and our seasonal compassion. Don't get me wrong, its laudable, but I don't get the sense that we truly grasp what allowing this condition to go insufficiently addressed says about us and our priorities.
Last year I had the unfortunate experience of visiting an upper income church the Sunday before Thanksgiving that left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. With people hurting and in pain, a 9% unemployment rate, and hunger on the rise, the sermon focused on all the ways that the congregation needed to give more to take care of themselves. He emphasized expansion of the education building, and more fellowship dinners, and how they want to have the best youth programs around and that they need great facilities to do so. And all of that is true.
But what made me cringe was the way he acknowledged the economic pain being experienced by so many in his climactic conclusion. In a booming voice designed to compel action... he said “I know that there are a lot of people hurting out there right now, I know that times are hard and unemployment is high. But I also know that this congregation is full of people who have done very well despite the economy... and you need to open up your checkbooks to help us make our facilities nicer.”
Not a single mention of what the church should be doing to help those who have lost their jobs. Not a single mention of our need as Christians to be taking the lead in touching those who are hurting. Not a single mention of how we can minister to those who are frightened about how they are going to feed and clothe their children. But a huge emphasis on how they make their building nicer because we are not hurting like all those “other people” are.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you two powerful stories about the Austin City Manager that may be of use to you as you wrestle with how to help your congregation be more focused on the “least of these” during a season of Thanksgiving. I suspect the City Manager’s actions were prompted by his faith orientation, and I am proud of him for taking such moral leadership. But I am saddened that this story wasn’t about church leaders instead of a governmental leader. In essence, the City Manager chose to go undercover as a homeless person to experience it firsthand and it was an eye opening experience. A brief video clip is at www.statesman.com/opinion. Two news articles about his experience are below. They are worth reading.
They walk among us, but they are invisible
Published: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010
What would you do if you were suddenly invisible?
That is a question being raised by Austin City Manager Marc Ott, who in 24 hours went from being a highly recognized figure in Austin to a homeless person whom folks ignored and avoided as Ott passed them on city streets.
To better understand the plight of the homeless, the city manager exchanged his expensive suit and polished leather shoes for worn soles and clothing to live as one of Austin's 2,000 homeless. And just like that he went from being somebody — city manager, husband, father — to being nobody as people crossed the streets to avoid him, looked the other way when he approached and avoided making eye contact.
You can read more details about Ott's brief stint in April as a homeless person in Ken Herman's column today, also on these pages, and watch a video in which Ott recounts those events. Last week, Ott returned to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless to finish what he started by sleeping there overnight.
It is right that we contemplate the plight of the homeless as the economy sputters, but that is especially true this week, which has been designated National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Austin has serious challenges regarding the homeless that warrant our attention and action.
There is the matter of getting a good count. Official figures from February 2010 place our homeless population at 2,087. But advocates who collect those figures every year say that poor weather and a lack of resources, including too few people to do the counting, resulted in an undercount. They said that on any given day in Travis County, the population swells to 4,000 folks.
One of the greatest challenges in serving the homeless is finding homes for them. Certainly, the city's temporary shelters are maxed out. But advocates, such as the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition and Front Steps, say that Austin should focus on generating permanent housing as a way of reducing the number of chronically homeless people. That also would decrease the city's heavy reliance on temporary shelters, such as the ARCH.
The idea is to get the chronically homeless off the streets by placing them in affordable, permanent housing and, at the same time, match them with medical, job skills and other services they need to overcome the factors that keep them impoverished and homeless.
Austin has expanded such housing, called permanent supportive housing, but more is needed. That takes money. Ott wants to get it from a 2012 bond election. That won't be easy if it requires a tax increase. Aside from taxes, the fate of the bond package might well turn on location.
From an economic standpoint, it makes sense that the city and advocates for the homeless historically have looked to communities east of Interstate 35, where land and housing is generally cheaper, to locate housing for the homeless. But from an equity standpoint, it is unfair and unjustified to continue doing that because those communities have borne the brunt of the city's dumping when it comes to locating landfills, bus depots, halfway houses, shelters and other facilities that detract from property values or endanger public safety.
Failure to address that issue likely will result in failure to pass bonds as voters won't be willing to approve money for undesirable projects that will be located in their backyards.
There are ways that Austin residents can help. With cold weather coming, some groups are accepting blankets and coats, while others need volunteers. But the most urgent need is funding, and no donation is too small. So give your tax-deductible dollars to those organizations that are working to improve conditions for the homeless.
And all of us can do this: We can see them as people instead of acting as if they're invisible.
Day on the streets gives Ott striking view of the city
Updated: 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010
Published: 11:56 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, 2010
Seven months after the experience, Austin City Manager Marc Ott finally is ready to talk about it.
After not shaving for a week, Ott put on old clothes, stuffed some stuff in a duffel bag, and spent an April day and night doing his best to understand what it is like to be homeless in downtown Austin.
"For me, the experience started immediately in the sense that the way I characterize it is I became invisible," he said. "And what I mean by that is as I walked along the way and would encounter people, unlike a normal day for me, no one wanted to make eye contact with me. They'd look the other way or down or move to the far side of the sidewalk or cross the street."
Ott opted for simulated homelessness because he was uncomfortable talking about the issue without knowing more about it. See him talk about it on my video at statesman.com/opinion.
"It was as much personal as it was professional for me," he said. "Afterwards, I remember not wanting to talk about it much. ... There was a lot to digest."
But it just sort of came up during a recent Downtown Austin Alliance meeting at which Ott was supposed to talk about the kind of stuff a city manager talks to a downtown alliance about.
"I mentioned homelessness as an issue ... and I just never stopped talking about it. It wasn't planned," he recalled. Ott's story is about homeless people and good people who help them and how much more there is to do and a city manager now energized by experience to get it done.
Back in April, after walking through downtown, Ott headed to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH).
"And as I sat there it occurred to me, it struck me, that at any given moment ... the ARCH must be one of the most diverse places in our entire city, because I saw a little of everything. I saw black and I saw white and I saw brown," he said. "You saw all of this diversity in there, and it seemed to me, at least, the obvious thing they had in common was they were all struggling on a daily basis."
He recalled the "overpowering" burden of spending "a lot of time doing nothing. ... It was driving me crazy, to tell you the truth."
And he recalled feeling "embarrassed" as he waited in the lunch line at Caritas, "wondering about what other people must be thinking, the people that were driving by in their cars."
Ott also found himself attuned to how the homeless react to food on a plate. "You saw some people bow their head. And you saw other people address their food pretty aggressively in there," he said.
And he saw people offering food to each other.
"I was struck by that notwithstanding however dire the circumstances, that even under those circumstances, people don't necessarily lose their humanity ... their need to help or give something to somebody else," Ott said.
After lunch at Caritas, Ott went back to the ARCH, where he joined others in art activities upstairs. Later, there was some time outside the building where the homeless smoked, played dominoes and did whatever they could to pass time.
Later, the lottery that determines who gets one of the ARCH's 100 beds or 115 mats for the night was held. Ott drew a number in the low 30s, guaranteeing him a spot, but he opted to spend the night on the streets."You take your chances on the street, and you try to do what you need to do to stay out of harm's way and stay out of APD's way," he said of his night on the streets.
This past Wednesday, Ott returned to the ARCH to spend the night on a mat on the floor. He was deeply disturbed by the experience, including the roaches, the mildewed showers and conditions "that make me mad, to tell you the truth."
Ott is not blaming Front Steps, the organization that runs the ARCH. In fact, he is impressed with its efforts and level of caring. But, Ott said, change is needed at the ARCH, perhaps requiring additional city money.
"We've got to do something about it," he said, adding, "I don't control everything that effects that place. But I can't be silent about it. I know that."
On the April night on the streets, Ott approached, but didn't enter, one of the many homeless camps near downtown. He took refuge under Interstate 35 for a while. He got home around sunrise.
"Doing what I did did not make me an expert by any means," he said. "I'm not going to make any extraordinary claims because I spent 22, 23 hours out there doing what I did."
Indeed, homelessness cannot be simulated. There's nothing like the real thing. But a day of it can be an eye-opening experience.
"We talk about wanting to be the most livable city in the entire United States," Ott said. "I believe it's virtually impossible to realize that vision without successfully dealing with this challenge of our homeless population and providing affordable housing for everyone else as well."
"We can do more, and we can do better, and we should," he said.
By the way, there are nearly 6000 homeless people in Dallas County. We to can and should do more and better...
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
"The implication is that putting the Federal Deficit represents a massive, intractable crisis -- a national emergency that requires all of us to sacrifice. For many "deficit hawks" the federal deficit has morphed into an enemy that threatens the nation like a foreign army. They claim that victory in their war on the deficit requires "shared sacrifice" -- that "we" simply cannot afford to continue on the current path to fiscal perdition."
"These people have lost their memories. They seem to have forgotten what caused the deficit. And they have certainly forgotten that we know how to eliminate the deficit without making the middle class pay the bill."
"Recall that just ten years ago, at the end of the Clinton administration, the Federal budget was generating a long-term surplus. It was in the black as far as the eye could see. The big question of the day was, "what do we do with the surplus?""
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
"From the conversations I've had, it seems that this has flown under the radar because many of those who had opposed it were under the impression that this was no longer on the table even though the City Plan Commission recommended approval back in May. It's particularly perplexing that councilman Salazar hasn't been a vocal opponent of the salvage yard, which seems contrary to everything the city, residents and neighbors would want for West Dallas. I mean, you've got to be absolutely naive to think that once in, this would be an easy business to dislodge. We've seen the difficulty of removing entrenched industrial properties along Lamar so why would anyone want to dump another problem onto West Dallas?"
How do you get the message across - just because people are poor it doesn't mean that you should disregard their families or their communities.
Why is that so hard to understand?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I spent most of early Sunday morning listening to pundits and talking heads trying to interpret the 'message' of last Tuesday's election. Aside from a laudable election turnout strategy, my own interpretation aligns with two assessments:
1) I agree with Jon Stewart, most of the metaphors for the TEA Party victories (tsunami, landslide, avalanche, etc), are metaphors for catastrophic events that kill people...
2) This Boston Globe editorial interpretation which generally describes our current national mentality.
"After devoting long minutes to careful analysis of Tuesday night's election returns, I now know what Americans want:We want roads and bridges that are always in good condition but do not require tax money for upkeep.We want world class schools with teachers who are so dedicated that they will work for minimum wage. (Note: the best one should be in my neighborhood)."
"We want 60-inch plasma TVs that cost $200 and are produced by workers in Ohio making at least $30 per hour."
"We want our military to win every war, every heart and every mind, everywhere, at no cost in lives or money."
"We want cheap, clean, efficient mass transit that goes through someone else's neighborhood.We want no-fat triple-decker hamburgers that are good for you and taste great."
"We want fast, efficient, friendly government services provided by clerks who work happily for free."
"We want "clean" coal and domestic crude that does not produce pollution or require digging or drilling."
"We want SUVs that get 100 miles per gallon and produce jobs in Detroit."
"We want Social Security benefits to go up and Social Security taxes to go down."
"We want cheap labor from legal citizens who don't mind living in poverty."
"We want clean drinking water and pristine parks and the right to dump anything, anywhere.
"We want colleges that are inexpensive and not too hard but produce world class leaders."
"We want football where every hit is brutal but no one gets hurt and baseball where everyone hits 40 home runs but no one uses steroids."
"We want government to deliver all these things — then cut taxes and then cut taxes some more."
"Mostly, we want what we want, and we want it now."
"Personally, I want leaders who will tell us frankly that all these things are not possible, that the blessings of infrastructure and education given us by our fathers are wearing out. I want thinkers who can paint a picture of a greater America that could exist in 50 or 100 years, and then unite us with a roadmap to get there. I want America to have a shared vision and an understanding that we all benefit when we all contribute, and that we all suffer when we demand only for ourselves. I want leaders who will tell the truth: that there is no free lunch."
"But then, I also want the World Series to end in early October, yet I know that some things are just too grand to even wish for."
Monday, November 8, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
While my work in the community led me to address complex social needs of both the people in my church and the surrounding neighborhood, I also knew that the faith out of which I worked and that which sustained so many of the people with whom I worked was profound in its simplicity. Simply stated, it was this...