Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's Been a Busy Summer

This has been a busy summer!

Aside from our summer program at Roseland Homes public housing development (which included a basketball camp); WorkPaths, our job training program graduating another 10 week technology based 'soft skills' training cohort and starting another; our children and youth enrichment programs there; our firming up our relationship with J.W. Ray Elementary school (which involved participating in their teacher training and helping organize their 'meet the teacher' event), we also expanded our summer food program with a continuing and growing partnership between CDM's Nurture Knowledge and Nutrition program and Frito Lay/Pepsico.

Below is an excerpt of the email we received from our friends at Pepsico letting us know how the effort went and the results - nothing short of exciting!

"More than 290,000 healthy meals were served to kids across every weekday of the summer. We heard from the YMCA that in some of the neighborhoods, kids literally look in dumpsters for food. Instead, this summer, they got healthy food, a chance to play with their friends, learn something and even burn some calories. Seeing the kids this summer was a great reminder that we can't underestimate the power of healthy food in kids' educational and physical development."

"The summer program also created more than 100 summer jobs in an economy that is going the opposite direction. The coordination of the 90+ AmeriCorps members was a monumental effort in itself and many of them told us their experience this summer was life-changing."

"So far, we’ve hired 4 of our summer drivers into the Frito-Lay system. One of them told us he had to leave a full-time job in Ohio a year ago to bring his 4 kids to Dallas to care for his sick dad. He told himself he'd have a full-time job after 12 months. He got the full-time offer from Frito-Lay 12 months to the day of his arrival in Dallas. When he told us what it was like telling his oldest son he got a job, I saw a powerful illustration of what you mean when you talk about the "dignity of work.""

"Lives were changed this summer and it obviously wouldn't have been possible without CDM's unique expertise and willingness to solve difficult problems. Not only did you identify the need to address summer hunger and help design the country's first urban mobile model, I'm not sure there is another nonprofit in the country that has the expertise in both Summer Feeding and AmeriCorps to execute a program at this scale."

"We have a lot of work to do to refine the model and push for regulatory changes but we are in a great position when the USDA is praising what we've created together as a break-through solution to a long-standing problem."

"Thank you for your on-going partnership and for all you do for the Dallas community and beyond!"

Thank you guys at Pepsico for a fantastic summer, and helping our donors investments pay off in such a huge way!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Opinion vs. Reason

Lee J. Cobb was an incredible actor and this was one of his best movies. And as one who has always been a big fan of Henry Fonda, his role as producer and actor in "12 Angry Men" is probably some of his best work.

This scene is just classic...

It's pure genius that these men remain nameless (with the exception of Fonda and the old man's character until the end of the movie).

I watched this last night and wondered...what else is going on in the lives of people today who are so 'angry' that they want to dismiss facts and distort the constitution in order to achieve their own personal agenda. Cobb's character is a great illustration of how easily reason can be replaced by personal opinion and bigotry in order to address other issues that make one feel helpless...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
1841 - 1935

Supreme Court Justice

"A child's education should begin at least one hundred years before he is born."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thanks Again to Leonard Pitts

I've absolutely no problem saying that I couldn't have stated this any better myself. Thanks once more to Leonard Pitts!

"A few words about who ``we'' is."

"``This is a moment,'' said Glenn Beck three months ago on his radio program, ``...that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement. It has been so distorted and so turned upside down. . . . We are on the right side of history. We are on the side of individual freedoms and liberties and damn it, we will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that movement, because we were the people that did it in the first place!'' "

"Beck was promoting his Restoring Honor rally, to be held Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial, 47 years to the day after Martin Luther King famously spoke there. You'll notice he didn't define the ``we'' he had in mind, but it seems reasonable to suppose Beck was speaking of people like himself: affluent middle-aged conservatives possessed of the ability to see socialism and communism in places where it somehow escapes the notice of others."

"If you agree that assumption is reasonable, then you must also agree Beck's contention that his ``we'' were the architects of the civil rights movement is worse than nonsensical, worse than mendacious, worse than shameless. It is obscene. It is theft of legacy. It is robbery of martyr's graves."

"We're in an odd moment. Having opposed the freedom movement of the 20th century, some social conservatives seek, now that that movement stands vindicated and venerated, to arrogate unto themselves its language and heroes, to remake it in their image."

"Thus, you get claims that ``racism'' is now what Shirley Sherrod said in a speech to the NAACP. And people calling Sarah Palin the new face of feminism. And conservatives touting the likelihood that King voted Republican -- as if the party in 1957 bore any resemblance to the party now."

"But even by those standards, Glenn Beck's effrontery is monumental. Even by those standards, he goes too far. Beck was part of the ``we'' who founded the civil rights movement!? No. Here's who ``we'' is."

"``We'' is Emmett Till, tied to a cotton gin fan in the murky waters of the Tallahatchie River. ``We'' is Rosa Parks telling the bus driver no. ``We'' is Diane Nash on a sleepless night waiting for missing Freedom Riders to check in. ``We'' is Charles Sherrod, husband of Shirley, gingerly testing desegregation compliance in an Albany, Ga., bus station. ``We'' is a sharecropper making his X on a form held by a white college student from the North. ``We'' is celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Pernell Roberts of Bonanza, lending their names, their wealth and their labor to the cause of freedom."

"``We'' is Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, Cynthia Wesley, Andrew Goodman, Denise McNair, James Chaney, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, shot, beaten and blown to death for that cause."

"``We'' is Lyndon Johnson, building a legislative coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to defeat intransigent Southern Democratic conservatives and enshrine that cause into law."

"And ``we'' is Martin Luther King, giving voice and moral clarity to the cause -- and paying for it with his life."

"The we to which Glenn Beck belongs is the we that said no, the we that cried ``socialism!'' ``communism!'' ``tyranny!'' whenever black people and their allies cried freedom."

"The fatuous and dishonorable attempt to posit conservatives as the prime engine of civil rights depends for success on the ignorance of the American people. Sadly, as anyone who has ever watched a Jay Walking segment on The Tonight Show can attest, the American people have ignorance in plenitude."

"This, then, is to serve notice as Beck and his tea party faithful gather in Lincoln's shadow to claim the mantle of King: Some of us are not ignorant. Some of us remember. Some of us know very well who ``we'' is."

"And, who ``we'' is not."

Pitts could have named countless other 'we's, black, white and brown.

Not one of them would have been Glenn Beck.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Operation Family Fresh Start

The start of a new school year brings with it all of the expectations and excitement associated with boys and girls preparing for their respective futures. Especially those who are in public school.

And once again there the usual challenges...

Standardized testing, the bane of existence for many educators (not to mention parents and students), is still a prominent measure of how kids do in school. And once again, we are challenged with how to close the achievement gap between black, brown and white children.

There is good news: minorities children are doing better. There are also frustrations: 'better' does not mean the gap is closing.

This past Sunday a Dallas Morning News article on the progress being made in the 'TAKS' (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test, tells us as much. "The startling reality is that while achievement is rising for all groups of students, so are the disparities between them."

""Every subgroup has made some progress, but the gap between African-American and Hispanic students and white students has grown, there's no question about it," said Ken Zornes, executive director of the Texas Business & Education Coalition and a former Dallas school board member."

"Texas was one of the first states to report test scores for individual ethnic and economic groups, in the early 1990s. The idea was to show – and to demand – progress for all groups of students, including those who had historically struggled. That same theory applies to the federal No Child Left Behind Act."

"Some education experts say that Texas could produce higher test scores for all students if the state's school rating system demanded it."

"Currently, a school's or district's rating, from "exemplary" to "unacceptable," depends almost entirely upon how many student pass the TAKS. Commended rates don't matter at all, though district officials and lawmakers are talking about placing more emphasis on the higher standard."

The degree to which the problem of academic progress in testing is chiefly related to poverty, some would say more so than race. That looks to be the discovery made in the Richardson Independent School District.

"Richardson officials say they're aware of the achievement gaps, but they don't think the disparities are mostly driven by race or ethnicity. Rather, it's poverty, Superintendent Kay Waggoner said."

"Lots of Texas educators and national experts agree. They say racial gaps reflect the fact that Hispanics and blacks tend to have lower family incomes than do whites and Asian-Americans."

"The population of the Richardson school district has changed dramatically since 2000, when whites made up half the student body. This year, white students will make up less than a third of the district's expected enrollment of about 33,000."

"As Richardson's black and Hispanic populations increased, so did the share of low-income students – from 34 percent a decade ago to 55 percent this past year. And the district's test scores declined, Deputy Superintendent Patti Kieker said."

There are many reasons for children living in poverty. But the impact of poverty and how it affects the way children learn, not to mention the impact on our society in the future cannot be ignored.

Last year Central Dallas Ministries, implemented a strategy to try and help improve the academic performance of low income children by seeking to address the issue of instability in their home environment. The strategy involves 'packaging' an array of CDM's 16 different programs, focusing them on a select group of children and their families in the Roseland Homes public housing community. We call it Operation Family Fresh Start.

Working with children who participate in our after school program, in our larger after school program and our enrichment based After School Academy, we assess both children and their parents, to identify where the children's academic progress and the needs of the household.
Operation Family Fresh Start provides children with education and enrichment programs and the parents information, accountability, support and community.
What's the result after one school year?

In the group of children participating in our traditional after school program, 72% (28 of 39 children) showed improvement in at least one subject area (math, reading, language arts or science). In the ASA (a smaller sampling, owed to the inability to get information from the school 18 of 19 or 95%) showed improvement. In the traditional program, 54% ended the school year with a grade of 80 or above. In the ASA it was 90%.

Parents received medical and counseling services, addressing behavioral or ADHD issues with their children diagnosed or treated, in some cases, for the first time. Some parents received legal services, others enrolled in job training, four families even joined church! About 14 families achieved at least one of their stated life goals with support of case management.

In the scheme of things these are not earth shattering figures. But going into a new school year, and still learning about this strategy and how work with these families, it is clear that we have the capacity to help them achieve the self sufficiency that many of them want.
We've got a lot of work to do, in other words.
But there are encouraging signs: this year, nearly 50 families have signed up to participate in the strategy. Some of those who participated last year are experiencing a new sense of community, stepping up to volunteer and become a part of the work that we are doing in the Roseland Community.
And a new principal J.W. Ray Elementary School (school most of these students attend) has brought a fresh air of excitement, cooperation and collaboration. CDM, the principal, faculty and staff have committed to work together to help provide better information, to produce even more substantive outcomes and make a deeper impact in the lives of the students and their families. This 'fresh start', was seen in the palpable enthusiasm and energy of the staff as they moved 'Meet the Parent Night' out of the school to Roseland Homes to show their solidarity with and concern for their students.

If it is true, and I believe it is, that poverty is a major factor in stifling academic achievement, the more we can do to mitigate its impact the more successful these children can be. Operation Family Fresh Start, is not an 'answer'. It's a means of replicating what most poor families don't have and that most of us take for granted: a network of resourceful relationships that help us provide a future for our children.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thanks to Robert Egger! 'Nuff Said!

To my great chagrin, I couldn't go, when some of Central Dallas Ministries' staff went to Washington D.C. a few years ago to visit D.C. Kitchens, a wonderfully effective non-profit doing great work in our nations capitol.

Robert Egger, President of D.C. Kitchens has compiled this brilliant reply to a Rush Limbaugh slur against non-profit staff, calling them fat lazy idiots. Normally, I would find the clip and post it, but frankly, I'm tired of Rush and his ilk and really don't think its worth the time. Besides, Eger has far more credibility with me than Limbaugh (after all D.C. Kitchens actually does something!). I think his reply to Rush's 'thoughts' are ample rebuttle.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Is a 'Churchless' Faith Possible?

As one whose commitment to Christ and love for His Church has grown since leaving the pastoral ministry six years ago, it is pretty jarring for me to say that one of the most interesting and inspirational things I've read about faith comes from one who has left the organized church!

Anne Rice, author of 'Interview with a Vampire', accepted Christ and returned to the Catholic Church years ago. Earlier this summer, Rice renounced Church/Christianity - but not God or Christ.

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

If you're like me and simply relegated this as some vaguely curious cultural 'white noise', you simply rolled your eyes and moved on to something else...anything else.

But this interview in Christianity Today, is an interesting and insightful apologetic regarding why Rice feels the way she does and has taken the action she has taken.

I don't agree with her actions but boy can I understand the rationale behind it. And it helps that there is no bitterness, no mean spiritedness in her explanation. This is not a harangue against 'organized Christianity'. But more than a few of us who carry on a 'lover's quarrel' with the church have been left shaking our heads at some of what has been seen among our ranks.

Here's an excerpt of the Q & A interview:

Do you regret returning to the Catholic Church in 1998?

No, I really don't. For me personally, it was a good, rich experience. I was brought up in the Catholic Church. I felt I needed to go back to this church and investigate what it was, what it stood for, and to leave it again.

What will it look like to follow Christ without being part of the institutional church?

The most important thing Christ demands of all of us is to love our enemies as much as our neighbors. That is the radical core of his teaching. If we do that, we can transform our lives.

Christ reaches out to us individually. He's saying "Come follow me; I am the way, the truth, and the life." These are beautiful things. I read Scripture every day, I study it every day, I'm mindful of it every day. I don't claim to have the right interpretation of every passage, but I wrestle with it, and that's what I think he wants us to do.

Within the larger church there have always been people with diverse views, since the history of the church is a history of contention for the truth. Why do you find it untenable to be a part of a church that is so very pluralistic in its very process?

I don't feel called to examine various denominations and decide what is the most comfortable or the best. I don't feel called to have to defend that kind of decision publicly. I feel called to declare that I'm a believer. I have my Bible, and I'm deeply committed to Christ. I don't contest people who do it the other way.

There may be a time in the future when I'll feel the necessity to join a community. Keep in mind that I am 68 years old. I live in a Christian household. My two assistants, members of my family, are believers, so I'm not isolated at all. I am with people for whom Christ is the center of their life. I also have a community online. Since I made the decision, it's become very clear to me that there are thousands of believers who have walked away from organized religion. The body of Christ is much bigger than any one organized church. The decision to walk away from the church is just as valid as shopping for a denomination that you feel more comfortable with.

My understanding of Rice's disaffection with the Church stems from the fact that I've had similar sentiments expressed by a number of church members since I'm no longer a pastor. And since I know longer have the same instinct born of the self interest of one for whom religion is both profession and calling, I can listen a little less defensively.
It's relatively easy to discern those who are frustrated because the Church doesn't wholeheartedly affirm their political or cultural ideology. It's not, however, as easy to dismiss those who are having difficulty in discovering the sense of peace and purpose that should come from the spiritual nurture the church is intended to provide. These are not people with a deep, formal theological context from which to deal with their frustration. They're not familiar with the scholars who address such issues. They are men and women with a yearning to make sense out of life, who feel that they've been blessed with gifts, talents and abilities and want to use them to make a difference. They feel, that the church should instruct, inspire, organize them to address issues of poverty and despair. Some are willing to address it systemically out of a faith conviction; others are willing to make a serious commitment of their time, talent and treasure to make life better for others and in so doing, learn more about God, themselves and their fellow man. Some are older people who feel the God speaking to them through the traditions and culture which they are so familiar, or to which they may have been recently introduced, are propelling them outward. They look for a fresh and prophetic word to under gird what they feel to be a calling on their lives.
But many of these people find the church engaged in irrelevancies they find distasteful. They are willing to listen to a perspective on the world that addresses sin as sin. They are willing to trust a pastor's conviction or a denominational stance that may even be different than their own personal perspective and wrestle with it in order to discover a truth to govern their lives. But they are weary of mean spirited attacks on those who disagree. Manipulative internecine internal political battles. Ecumenical wranglings and endless debates on 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin'. There are some who do not mind conflict, but who simply don' want to waste their lives on an agenda that frankly they don't see to have anything to do with their lives.
Now, again, I still love and see value in the organized church. I believe that local congregations are legitimate expressions of God's Presence in the world and that they are invaluable communities in which believers find comfort, hope, security and maturity. As right as Anne Rice and many who believe as she does are, I think that they simply tend to forget, that organized religion is organized by flawed human beings. Human beings, whose failures show the need for something bigger than ourselves, but who, in spite of their flaws, are used to do incredibly good things, totally out of proportion to the limits of their humanity. Through those flawed expression of God's Power to reconcile a sinful world to Himself, we get a glimpse, every now and then, of what He will do if we commit ourselves to Him, and if we are patient enough with one another, we can grow to understand that, His Spirit operative among us aside, we are all a work in process.
What I would do, is ask of the Anne Rice's of the world, not to judge those of us who cling to our understanding of the venue through which the Love of God is passed onto the world, too harshly. And I would encourage those of us, who still love the 'institution' of the church to be equally as slow to be judgemental. Instead, I would invite us all to reflect on what St. Paul has said, in II Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine...".
Ultimately, that's enough work to keep all of us busy for quite awhile...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

John Wesley

Gospel Minister, Bible Scholar

"Passion and prejudice govern the world; only under the name of reason. It is our part, by religion and reason joined, to counteract them all we can."

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Potential Risk of For-Profit Colleges and Universities

Central Dallas Ministries' Public Policy Department has recently begun a public awareness effort to educate our staff and neighbors about the potential perils of for-profit colleges and universities.

Often there is the misperception that working class and low income people aren't interested in education or improving their lot in life. What is true in more cases than many realize, is they are lured into these education institutions with promises of quick graduation, easy access to student loans and jobs at the end. All too often the truth at the end of their experience is the easy access to student loans and the debt they accrue with them.

This news segment from a west coast CBS affiliate reflects what we are hearing more and more to be the rule rather than the exception.

Over the past couple of weeks, we've met with young people and adults in Roseland Homes, the public housing neighborhood where our Education program is headquartered and those who have accessed other CDM services about for profit colleges. Our goal is to help them make more informed choices regarding higher education.

More to come. But we'd like to know: Do you have any experiences with for-profit colleges (good or bad)? What about your friends or relatives? We want to hear from you!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fear and Intolerance

Where have all the constitutional purists gone?! You know the ones I mean. The one's who have nearly lifted the United States Constitution to the level of scripture. Who support the idea that interpretation of this great democratic document must be according to its 'original intent'. The one who hold it inviolate. Who decry change and variance (while ignoring the meaning of the word 'amendment'). You know, those folk.

It turns out that most of them have grown silent in the wake of recent calls for its violation. All last summer, in protests against health care, stimulus, bank bailouts and virtually anything else proposed by the Obama administration it was this great, magnificent treasure that was being trampled over, by this...this...this...'President'. It was the Constitution that he was making a shambles of and it was to its immutable nature that appeal was made to show that this...this...'President' was acting like a 'socialist' or worse. How dare he take action which would 'change' this cherished Constitution!

Of course, it appears that the Constitution is inviolate by convenience. Take for instance recent calls to tamper with the Constitution by seeking to eliminate the clause that establishes 'birth citizenship'. The first section of the Amendment says,

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Among other things, this was the Amendment and the clause established to give citizenship to newly freed slaves, more specifically those born in this country. But long before this Amendment, ratified in 1868, was fully applied to former slaves, the Supreme Court interpreted it to give corporations the same rights as actual persons. Those rights have culminated in the recent Supreme Court ruling which gives corporations the same rights as individuals have to contribute to political campaigns.

Yet when it comes to actual human beings, Senator Lindsey Graham has said that the birth citizenship clause of the constitution is a mistake. Not because corporations are reproducing, but because human beings are! There is a 'conspiracy', evidently, foreigners come to the United States to have babies who by virtue of their birth become U. S. citizens. Now, I don't say that this doesn't happen. But it is a call for a change in the revered Constitution that is directly aimed at a particular people. To put it another way: its interesting that this was never a problem with Irish, English, Italian or Swiss immigrants. This is a call for a change in this country's most 'sacred' document because of undocumented Hispanic immigration. Of course, it will impact other immigrants here illegally. But that isn't the issue. It's being proposed because of one groups national origin. If the Constitution is as regarded as we say, isn't it a misuse of our reverence to point proposals for change at a particular people?

And, of course there are those who have hopped on the Graham bandwagon. Fear, desperation, bigotry and ignorance, flourish during hard times. A people who were never a threat before our country was drilled in fear and drowned in red ink, are now a source of suspicion and attempts at state usurpation of federal authority of immigration law. No one is asking - and of course no one is telling - how long this will take to change this clause in the Constitution, what the ramifications are, what the potentials for abuse are. The very proposal is a cheap and cowardly way of avoiding what takes real political courage: proposing real, sane and enforceable immigration reform. It's much easier to play into the bigotry and fear always rampant during tough times.

And then there's 'the Mosque'. So close to Ground Zero, that those of us who have never been to New York have our hackles raised by the very idea that these 'foreigners' would dare construct a Islamic place of worship on the site where America's greatest tragedy has taken place.

Except these are not 'foreigners' proposing this 'mosque'. And its actually a community center. Oh, and its not on Ground Zero, its two blocks away.

Yet, America is so psychically scarred, that it cannot consider someone of the Muslim faith 'American'. And no religion other than Christianity can possibly be valid. After all, those who attacked us on 9/11 did so in the name of this religion. And so, this religion has got to be evil. After all, no less great a theologian and scholar than Newt Gingrich, compares this to building a monument to Nazism next to the Holocaust museum.


Have we forgotten that for centuries, some of the most vile terrorism that took place in this country took place in the name of and in some cases sanctioned if not abetted by American Christians? What has prevailed is the understanding that these were not 'Christian' acts. And that real Christians stood up and declared it to be antithetical to the faith.

And then there's the Constitution.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."

One of the founding principles upon which this country was established was that of freedom of religious expression. The idea that this would be a country in which those who worship God, can worship Him free from interference, by government. That right has been respected not only by government (Congress), but by every branch of government. The free exercise of religion, however, cannot be free if it only applies to Christians.

Fortunately, there have actually been plenty of politicians and a good number of other Americans who understand that if we interfere with the right of Muslims to build this mosque, or this extension of their mosque in this place, then we are on the slippery slope of denying this freedom to others - even Christians with whom we disagree.

As long as they adhere to the local laws governing this construction, these Americans have every right to build this place of worship and fellowship. In fact I believe that the construction of this Muslim center, honors the very freedoms for which 3500 people died on that awful day in 2001.

This is no threat to America or to our way of life. This is no threat to Christianity. If our faith is as enduring and as resilient as it has shown itself to be throughout the century, it needs no antiseptic vacuum in which to thrive and flourish. But equally as important, if American democracy is what we say it is, then it is not worthy of the xenophobia and paranoia we see exhibited today.

This Constitution in which we have such legitimate pride, protects us from making policy based on fear and prejudice. Ultimately, we amend it to clarify and expand the freedoms we have as citizens, its never been a fence to keep people out. It's always been an invitation to enter into full participation in the grandest experiment in the history of mankind. Only we can make sure that it remains just that.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why Would You Want to Use the 'N-Word'?!

Here's the thing, I really don't care that Dr. Laura Schlessinger is ending her radio program. Several years ago, I listened to her and, at some point, I don't remember when, I simply grew tired of her. As one who may be accused of moralizing by some, her moralizing grew tiresome and trite, so I stopped listening. As a matter of fact, I forgot she was even on the air.

Until last week...

This was the week when self important entertainers who've grown to take themselves far, far too seriously and believe themselves to be beyond conventional manners and taste, get reminded that there are people who consider them neither experts nor entertainers. They are reminded that outside their 'celebrity' bubble they are simply tolerated, until they've crossed those taste and manners boundaries. How they respond at that point, tells whether they realize whether or not they've over estimated their significance.

Many of you have heard the clip, if not the broadcast (calling it a 'show' accords it to much credit as entertainment). Dr. Laura's 'N-word rant' as it is being euphemistically called, was a self indulgent exercises of petulance and insensitivity to infantile to be elevated to the level of racism. It was childish tirade spewed by someone who thought herself and her perspective too lofty to be challenged. "Oh, YOU have the temerity to question MY use of the word?! Let me show you how many times I can use it and how unconcerned I am that you are offended by the very idea that I'm saying it!"

Oh, ok...

She did apologize. The very next day in fact:

"Yesterday, I did the wrong thing," she said. "I didn't intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the "n" word all the way out - more than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again - that was wrong."

Schlessinger said she "was so upset [she] could not finish the show."

"I pulled myself off the air at the end of the hour," she said. "I had to finish the hour, because 20 minutes of dead air doesn't work. I am very sorry. And it just won't happen again."

How upset was she? Yesterday she announced on the 'Larry King Show' that she was leaving radio. Why? Because she was so profoundly sorry that she wants to make sure it never happens again? Because she embarrassed herself? Because she wants to show the depth of her remorse?

"The reason is I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm sort of done with that."

She's resigning because she can't use the 'N-word' whenever she wants?! That's what was on her mind? That's what was in her heart? Because the same First Amendment give her the 'right' to use the word, doesn't give people offended by her use of the word the right to object? Or protest? Or boycott her sponsors? That's why she's resigning? Then what was the point of the apology? Wash she 'upset' because of the blow back she knew she'd receive because of her self indulgence?

Well, ok, I guess...

What bothers me is not her leaving the radio. We'll miss her (well maybe not so much), but there's another issue in my mind. For a few more days now, we'll have this tiresome discussion about who can and who can't use the 'N-word'. Silly defenses of its use, like Whoopi Goldberg who will say using the word will 'take the power out of it'. And worn out discussions about how Black people use it affectionately as well as derisively. How Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx have used the word but how white people can't. Or why 'some' white people can.


Here's the question I have: if you are white, why do you want to use the word? No matter how many blacks use the word, and no matter why we use it, why would YOU want to use it? Of what are being deprived by my objection to your use of the word? What point are you trying to make to a black woman, that you can't make without using the word?

The 'N-word' is only one of the words that can't be used without raising strong opposition. There are words you can't use to describe women, for instance, that you cannot use when addressing a woman. You don't complain about not using those words.

What difference does it make to you how many times you hear black people say it; see it in our literature; in our movies; in comedy routines by our musicians. Why do YOU want to use it?
Is it in your heart too? Is it on your mind? Do you resent the idea of not being able to use the one insult that you think will do me the most emotional, psychological pain, or shame me the most?

Is there something about the use of that word that makes you feel superior by its use? Or inferior by my objection? Or is it something that you think is 'cool' that you just want to be in on? Why do YOU want to use THAT word?

Here's the thing. As Chris Rock, a comedian to whom the word is no stranger says, you can't use the word because you can't! That's just the rule. There are a lot of rules out there and that's one of them! You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded room and you can't use that word. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but that's just the rule.

Dr. Laura can resign because she wants the 'freedom' to be ill mannered and disrespectful whenever its on her mind or in her heart to do so. Fine. She has that right. We all do. But remember, those who are hurt and offended have just as much right to take offense, to protest, to object. And to call boorish, rude, puerile, insufferable idiocy what it is. Even when its wrapped in the flag and couched in some misguided sense of sophistication.

Now, if only we could get some of these other 'entertainers' to just...go away.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stimulus is a Bail Out for Those Facing Homelessness

There are those who persist in suggesting that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has had no effect on the economy. This, in spite of the fact that a recent study has shown that without federal intervention, unemployment which now stands at 9.5% would be at 16%.

Of course some politicians who have been among the chiefest critics have been among the most conspicuous recipients!

The stimulus has also been responsible for preventing homelessness among those vulnerable to a recession that is proving as stubborn as it is severe.

An article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, examines the success and the challenge of getting funds out of the door to keep people who have lost jobs in their homes, or helping them find housing when they've lost jobs and housing.

The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing grants are used for just such a purpose. While there is red tape that have made the process difficult for some non-profits to manage, we at Central Dallas Ministries have been able to help a number of individuals and families avoid eviction, foreclosure and interruption utility services. In fact, as the Dallas extends the funding, we've been approved to continue the program beginning with the next round of funding in September.

Does it really make a difference? An instance cited in the article gives an example...

"...when Emma Smith walked into Central Dallas Ministries with two daughters, a granddaughter and nowhere else to go, caseworker Michelle Kopel had to go with her instincts."

"Smith was laid off from her job as a school crossing guard last year, which establishes a "sudden and significant loss of income." When it comes to her "ability to achieve housing stability," Kopel pointed to the goals Smith laid out while in her office: go back to school to get her GED, find a job, send her daughter back to community college."

"In other words, Kopel said, "she's not looking for a handout. She's just looking for help.""

"Smith walked out of her second lengthy appointment with a brand-new, three bedroom apartment."

""Sometimes you have to go with your gut," Kopel said. "I had a good feeling.""

"Smith said she couldn't see herself in a shelter with her grandchild and children."

""It was a relief when she [Kopel] said, 'I got you a three-bedroom.' I couldn't do anything but start crying," Smith said."

The recession isn't over. There is a persistent failure to acknowledge that the hole that had been dug by an economy which was undercapitalized by tax cuts for the rich, unfunded expenditures, Wall Street gambling and easy credit for nearly eight years, is not going to be overcome in two. The qualified success of the stimulus doesn't mean that we've averted all of the problems we've created and encountered. But because of the stimulus, some families are able to weather the storm a little while longer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Don't Forget! CDM Presents Kirk Franklin for 'A Night to Remember' !

Just another reminder, appropriate for a Sunday morning, that Kirk Franklin will be Central Dallas Ministries' guest Gospel artist for our annual 'A Night to Remember' concert.

October 25, at 7:15 pm, at the Morton Myerson Symphony Center. If your interested in being a sponsor, call Lisa Goolsby at 214-303-2138, for more information.

Make plans to be there!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Orson Welles

Actor, Director, Writer, Producer

"Race hate isn't human nature; race hate is the abandonment of human nature."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Congratulations! The Beast is Starving. Now What?

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm has submitted her budget to the city council and now the debate begins.

Will there be a tax increase or not?

Suhm was able to present a balanced budget proposal to the council, even though just three months ago she faced a projected shortfall of more than $131 million. In and of itself that was a masterful piece of fiscal wizardry that combined lay-offs, furloughs, salary cuts and cuts in services. I've known Ms. Suhm for some time and I know that the tough choices made were not made lightly. The majority of the council didn't have the guts to call for a tax increase of any sort.
Or do they?

Perhaps there was indeed some second guessing once they say that proposed lay-offs of 450 city employees, parks, recreation centers and library services were far deeper than comfortable.

"...during a briefing Monday on Suhm's proposed budget, five council members said they will vote for some tax increase."

"And three more members, Angela Hunt, Delia Jasso and Pauline Medrano, say they remain undecided but are open to the possibility."

""I have serious concerns about where our budget is heading. We've been deferring fundamental maintenance for the last three years. It will end up costing us more in the long run," Hunt said."

"Hunt, Medrano and Jasso all said they want to hear from constituents before making a decision. If they decide to support a tax increase, that will make a majority on the council."

"Many council members who are seeking to increase the tax rate say they are particularly worried about the effect Suhm's budget has on parks and recreation centers, where maintenance and operating hours stand to be cut deeply."

"Even as the council met Monday, about 200 park workers who have received layoff notices gathered a few hundred yards away at the Dallas Convention Center for a city-sponsored workshop on finding new jobs."

"Mayor Tom Leppert continued Monday to be the most vocal opponent of a tax increase. But what once seemed like solid support from a majority of the council has withered."

The facts are, there comes a point where one has to examining the diminishing returns of continual budget cuts, especially when they begin to impact basic services that affect the quality of the lives of citizens. Is Dallas there yet? Maybe not. But the budget isn't the tipping point. That comes if police and fire response times get slower. It comes next summer when recreation center and libraries have severely reduced programming for populations which really depend on them.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist gives an example of such a tipping point reached by this extreme tax aversion mentality:

"Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno."

"Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: In a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain and returning them to gravel."

"And a nation that once prized education – that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children – is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead."

"We're told that we have no choice, that basic government functions – essential services that have been provided for generations – are no longer affordable. And it's true that state and local governments, hit hard by the recession, are cash-strapped. But they wouldn't be quite as cash-strapped if their politicians were willing to consider at least some tax increases."

It is the bill of goods we've been sold for the past 10 years: we can do anything we want in this country - have a world class health care system, prosperity for the middle class (represented by credit based consumerism, not savings), the best of art and culture, safety and security and we won't have to pay for it. We can rescue those who fall behind through charity, we can tolerate the cheapest labor with the confidence that the price tag will always be low. We were so certain of this, we paid no attention to stagnant wages, an overheated housing market and an overall economy made of paper mache and based on the idea that if we just allowed the wealthy to become more wealthy they would take care of the rest of us until we became one of them. Now in the midst of all the pain caused by those bankrupt notions, there are those who believe that rather than pay to maintain what we've created during those years is to cut even deeper. Or as Krugman puts it...

"In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: Given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation's foundations to crumble, they're choosing the latter."

"It's a disastrous choice in the short run and the long run."

"In the short run, those state and local cutbacks are a major drag on the economy, perpetuating devastatingly high unemployment."

"It's crucial to keep state and local government in mind when you hear people ranting about runaway government spending under President Barack Obama. Yes, the federal government is spending more, although not as much as you might think. But state and local governments are cutting back. And if you add them together, it turns out that the only big spending increases have been in safety-net programs like unemployment insurance, which have soared in cost because of the severity of the slump."

Eventually we feel the pain of this ideological 'austerity' in places like Colorado Springs and Dallas and Fort Worth, and cities throughout this country, where we congratulate those in charge for artful budgeting and forget something equally important...

The 450 employees laid off buy less. They miss mortgage payments and car notes. At Central Dallas Ministries we see them at our food pantry. Some of them delay getting medical care making health issues worse. Children in low income communities where recreation centers are closed and library funding is cut have fewer alternatives to mischief and few police to deal with them when they get in trouble. Seniors who live in housing inadequately cooled in summer or heated in winter have fewer options than those homes.

"...services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole."

"So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we've taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere."

Soon the 'starve the beast mentality' becomes the means by which we court what we've sought to avoid - the need to raise taxes because we've cut taxes so deeply.
In Dallas, Mary Suhm has done the bidding of the majority of the city council. Now that they've gotten the picture, its time to realize that sound fiscal management includes a balance of cuts and revenue. After continual cutting, you've got to be courageous enough to correct the imbalance. Expecting to achieve balance by doing the same thing we've done in the past is the worst form of insanity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

So What's Your Favorite Television Commercial?

A little respite from all the serious stuff out there today...

I don't actually have a favorite T.V. Commercial - but this one comes awfully close!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meaningful Church

There are many faithful ministers with whom I talk, who bemoan the lack of substance seen in what I call 'the 21st Century Church'. There seems to be an uncomfortable focus on entertainment and escapism. Many sermons stop just short of being mass counseling sessions or not much more than motivational speeches. In any good message one can find some of these elements, but far too much of what is being exhibited today is predominated by an apparent emphasis on making the worshiper 'feel good' about themselves, vs. challenging believers to change and become agents of redemptive change in the world.

I need to be very careful to say this isn't every church. And churches the likes of which I speak have always existed. But television, the Internet and a general culture of consumerism have led to a compromise of many a congregations commitment to spiritual maturity, service and concern for the poor.

Lest you think that I'm the only one who feels sees this, United Church of Christ minister, G. Jeffery MacDonald speaks to just this issue in a New York Times op-ed piece.

"The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century. Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason."

"In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly. A few years ago, thousands of parishioners quit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., and Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz., when their respective preachers refused to bless the congregations’ preferred political agendas and consumerist lifestyles."

"I have faced similar pressures myself. In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else."

You can read the entire essay here.

When I was a young boy in elementary school, I had a music teacher (in that day, music was a part of the public school curriculum). The teacher in that class took us to field trips to the symphony. She introduced us to Bach, Verdi, Chopin, Beethoven. She taught us tunes from classical musicals and Broadway show tunes. One day, fed up with this force feeding of culture, we complained that we didn't want to listen to that stuff anymore. We wanted James Brown, the Supremes, the Temptations (yes, this was awhile ago!), to which our music teacher wisely replied: 'You can get that stuff anywhere. You here it all week long. This is where you come to get something different'.

While there are some justified criticisms that all too often the church's message has come off as intolerant, unkind and unwelcoming, the answer is not to become so focused on 'seekers' that we lose sight of the mission of the Body of Christ.

The mission of the church is to provide an alternative culture challenging attitudes of selfishness, greed, materialism, bigotry, fear, complacency and individualism. That's a tough enough job. But we don't really hear a message like that anywhere else. If we don't hear it in church, where do we go?

Monday, August 9, 2010

FDR's Second Bill of Rights

A powerful, forward thinking and progressive understanding of what it means to have true national security. America's tradition is an expansion and clarification of the fullness of opportunity offered by democracy.

It's interesting that nearly 70 years after this proposal many still don't get it...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Guy de Maupassant
1850 - 1893

Novelist, Poet

"It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living."

Friday, August 6, 2010

We've Come A Long Way; We've Got a Long Way to Go

On August 28, from 2pm -4pm, at Southern Methodist University in the Hughes-Trigg Theater, I'll join KERA-TV host Lee Cullum, historian, author and Professor Emeritus of Communications, Darwin Payne, President and CEO of North Texas of the Super Bowl XLV host committee, Bill Lively in a panel discussion in connection with the Dallas Morning News' celebration of their 125 anniversary. Ours will be a discussion of Dallas' history over the past 125 years.

In preparation for the afternoon, I'm reading some of books on Dallas' history and talking to some local historians. One of the books I'm re-examining is "Civic Culture and Urban Change: Governing Dallas", by Royce Hanson. I knew Dr. Hanson when he was with the University of Texas at Dallas several years ago and bought his book shortly after he wrote it. Going over it again, I saw something that caught my eye.

In the chapter dealing with Dallas Independent School District, Hanson discusses how Dallas' aversion to activist government, its culture of business management in civic affairs and the autonomy of the school district distinct from city government, actually ended up with the very constraints it sought to avoid being imposed upon it when the Supreme Court handed down it's Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

The intransigence of Superintendent W.T. White, federal judge William T. Atwell (both of whom have schools named for them), and later, federal judge T. Whitfield Davidson, in opposing the high court's ruling led to a decades long struggle before Dallas came into 'compliance'. In fact, by 1961, Dallas still hadn't complied and it was apparent that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was not going to tolerate the lethargic pace at which the local court was deciding the Supreme Court actually had Dallas in mind when it called for the desegregation of public schools.

The Dallas business leaders didn't want the type of federal intervention seen a few years earlier in Little Rock, Arkansas, so a task force of seven white business leaders and seven leaders from the black community reached an accommodation of the desegregation of schools (a strategy that called for the desegregation of a grade a year until desegregation was complete).

To sell this to the white community, the business community had a documentary produced called 'Dallas at the Crossroads'. Now, I'd heard of this documentary before, but I'd never seen it.
But we live in an age of technology and information access, so here it is...

Walter Cronkite, 'the most trusted man in America' narrates. The emphasis: peace, order, the image of Dallas, the rule of law, the health, the inevitability of change and the safety of children. Interesting omissions: the word 'morality' is mentioned once. 'Desegregation' is mentioned once. African-Americans (blacks, Negroes) are never mentioned. Indeed they are never seen in the documentary.

The film was shown to over 1000 white organizations in an effort to market the idea that non-compliance with the Supreme Court order, threatened the peaceful order of Dallas society. That it was 'good for business' to go along with desegregation.

On September 6, 1961, seven years after the Brown decision, 18 black children entered the first grade in previously all white elementary schools. There were no incidents of the violence feared.

In some ways, the efforts of this bi-racial committee are to be appreciated. They did indeed avoid the violence and public spectacle that attended desegregation elsewhere. One does have to remember the times. And one does have to remember that a climate of racially motivated violence existed. Unsolved bombings of homes in black neighborhoods were not unusual. Though no violence was associated with the desegregation of schools on this day. That climate was so virulent it ultimately resulted in the assassination of John F. Kennedy two years later.

Yet, there are some eerily familiar strains of contemporary issues to be heard when watching this documentary. Calls for 'states rights', the assertion that local law can preempt federal law. The scene of ugly, angry mobs, used to contrast the calm and discipline that city fathers wanted to characterize Dallas, are disturbingly familiar.

And the fact that today, that there are those of us who feel the need to make economic arguments to produce changes that are essentially moral principles is disappointing.

But these things are unfortunate reminders that, as far as we've come, we are probably not as far along as we'd like to believe.

As Hansen states, the federal courts remained school masters of DISD for the next 40 years, through seven district superintendents, finally achieving 'unitary status' (desegregated) in 1994. Forty years after Brown v. Board and after the district's student population was majority African-American. It wasn't until 2004 that the district was no longer under federal court supervision.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The ROI with Permanent Supportive Housing

The uproar over where to locate permanent supportive housing is, indeed interesting to say the least. The consistent drum beat that it drives down property values, increases violence and destroys neighborhoods in general is pretty interesting.

By and large, with no other development, multi or single family, we don't know where our neighbors come from, what their physical or mental state happens to be. Nor are we concerned about what type of public subsidy (tax abatements or any other kinds of tax incentives) are provided for-profit developers. Yet, knowing and having these things brought into the open drives some people near apoplectic!

Is it simply that we are not all in agreement that we don't want our tax money utilized in ways with which we disagree? The last time I checked, this country usually doesn't determine how our public dollars are spent by show of hands. Military spending, government research, even public television are usually decided by elected bodies making decisions to spend 'our' tax monies in ways in which there is not unanimous or even majority agreement. And, like it or not, there is spending which occurs that is in accordance with a general agreement of what is in the public interest. I've yet to hear a cogent argument of how it is in the public interest to leave people on the street. Small minded generalizations that everyone who is homeless and mentally ill - or in any other way disabled (do those who have neighbors living on disability actually refer to them as 'living off the public'?!) - is so because they are lazy and irresponsible, is not only not true, it is a cruel mischaracterization of those who have met with misfortune that those who castigate them have had the good fortune to be able to avoid. And about whom they would not necessarily give much thought, if it weren't for the fact that 'their' money was in some way 'supporting' them.

So what happens with the public money that subsidizes and provides case management for the formerly homeless?

It pays rent. In the case of Central Dallas Ministries' PSH program, it pays rent to a private landlord. That landlord pays the utilities, the salaries of his staff, provides furnishings and maintenance for the people (in our program and others) who live on his property. The landlord makes his living from this private investment. Which means he provides a living for his family. That includes paying a mortgage, keeping his children in school, his own utilities and property taxes as well as income tax.

A portion of the HUD grant pays for CDM staff to provide the case management. The staff in turn, pay rent or mortgages where they live. They provide food and clothing for their families. They have transportation, so cars are bought. If a loan is taken out, they're taken out with a financing company so car notes are paid. And they pay taxes. We provide benefits for them and they contribute to health insurance and retirement.

What of the program participants? They contribute at least 30% of their income to rent. For most of them, that means disability. If they don't have SSI, or their SSI needs to be appealed, we help with that. What happens with the other 70%? Case managers help them develop a life plan, so that they can have some degree of self sufficiency. So they buy groceries. Some need SNAP cards (food stamps) to help supplement their ability to buy food, so we help them apply for that. No one hoards food stamps. It's real money to be spent at real grocery stores. They buy clothes. Allocations for public transportation is paid for at DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit), which means that real money goes there. They are helped to maintain regular medical treatment. Which means they no longer have the emergency rooms of the county hospital as the first resort. That saves money. Regular treatment also saves in health care costs. Because they have their own place to live, it means they can take whatever medication they need regularly. That saves money. They aren't on the street, exposed to the elements, which also makes them healthier. Some can work - even though they are on disability - which increases the amount they contribute to their rent and increases their ability to care for themselves. They go to church. They attend AA or NA meetings (a few have even become sponsors). In short, more and more, they become assets to the community. Some go back to school. They become better consumers (where and what you spend your money on is limited when you live on the streets or in a shelter). They are no longer victims of crime, nor do they get accused of being perpetrators of crime.

Is it perfect? No. But neither is the neighborhood in which I live - or yours.

Is this a good investment of tax dollars? I believe so. There are some who will never be convinced. Just as I will never be convinced that huge tax breaks to the wealthy is a guarantee that it will trickle down and produce real prosperity for those below them.

The difference is, I can prove that PSH is an investment in human capital and recirculated throughout the economy. Cruel, uninformed, fear based, hysterical comments and ideological mantra don't prove that leaving people on the streets helps anyone.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Doing More Than the Least We Can Do

Tuesday was one of those days I like to tell people about when I talk about our work at Central Dallas Ministries. We don't have days like this every day. But they happen often enough to remind us of why we do what we do.

Just last week, we completed our move of over 100 formerly homeless people into their own apartments. The owner of the apartment complex has provided furnishings, 'starter packages' of pots, pans, dishes, etc. and people who would otherwise be on the streets or in shelters have the opportunity to begin their lives over. He's provided office space for our staff of case managers, outreach coordinators and is providing community space for our program participants and the other residents in the complex. In the end, we will not only be able to transform the lives of the people we have in our program, but we'll be able to make a difference in the lives of everyone who lives there. He and his partners are so impressed with the way the program is being run and how we are working with the participants, he wants to expand the program on this site and at other apartment complexes they own and manage.

We took Larry James, our CEO, on a tour of the property and introduced him to one of the neighbors whose lived there about four months. She was thrilled to have these visitors 'invading' her space. And she proudly showed us around her new apartment and with pride told us she decorated it herself. She's in AA, she goes to church with her sponsor and she's enjoying the having the dignity that comes with a roof over her head and a place that she can call home.

Quite a day!

Quite a contrast to the distressing news we keep hearing about neighborhoods who are fighting to keep people like the one's we serve out of their communities. The Cliff Manor situation, where residents have behaved so inhospitable to the prospect of 50 formerly homeless people in their midst, is in fact, on its way to resolution. With or without the desired welcome by neighbors in the North Oak Cliff area, the facts are that the Dallas Housing Authority, who own Cliff Manor, cannot refuse available housing to those who are disabled or homeless. It's a Fair Housing issue. As Larry wrote in a recent blog post: "To deny such people housing due to neighborhood objections is a violation of federal law. Most of the population in question are disabled. Thankfully, we have laws that protect the disabled in this country. Denying housing to these folks also violates the Fair Housing Act. Denying housing to the qualified homeless invites, possibly guarantees, a federal law suit."

The hysteria, fear mongering and stereotyping of the homeless, leaves no room for the possibility - indeed the fact - that there are hundreds of people on the streets and in shelters, who are chronically homeless, with some form of disability, that can live productive lives if they can be given a chance. That means people who will work with them and community willing to accept them. No one in Dallas should be proud that it takes the prospect of a lawsuit to get people to relent to the eventuality of poor people living in their neighborhood. Such laws represent the minimum, the bare minimum standard of protection and the guarantee of opportunity.

It's sad.

Yet, there are signs of hopefulness. Signs I didn't see at the infamous meeting several weeks ago in which people were so mean spirited (someone called it 'compassionate'), that they didn't even want to see the people they were vilifying! Churches are preparing to help make the Cliff Manor move-in successful. They are preparing welcome baskets, looking at ways in which they can minister to the people who are moving in and even educating their membership on poverty and homelessness. Imagine that! Preachers and pastors teaching their members how to treat the people that Jesus spent so much time around. What a concept! The church actually showing that human life has a value much more intrinsic and important to the God they worship than property values. My!

By the way, these are not just 'storefront' churches - they are mainline denominations, working with what might be referred to as nontraditional and non-denominational churches, developing a strategy to be neighbors to their new formerly homeless neighbors.

And in north Dallas, my friend George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, here in Dallas, recently preached a powerful message to his congregation in response to that community's fear of the permanent supportive housing in their neighborhood. In a sermon entitled 'More Than the Least We Can Do', George challenges attitudes that suggest that Christians can live oblivious to the needs of others and still live in fellowship with God.

"One of the reasons we go to church week in and week out—which is the same as the priest and the Levite who were on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem in the parable—is so that we will develop the way of thinking necessary to stop on the way to church or from it and help the man in the ditch, not in order to hone reasons to justify ourselves for not helping."

"Listen to this from a preacher, because you may never hear it again: If going to church becomes an end in itself, stop going to church. If you use church to fulfill your obligations to God and justify your personal salvation so that you will not care about people in need, then church is getting in the way of your salvation instead of making it possible. The church is the body of Christ, and if the Spirit of Christ is not in the body, then it isn’t really the church."

"You want to know where Christ is? He is wherever a man has fallen among thieves and is left in a ditch to die by good people who pass him by. If you want to be with Christ, you have to be with the man in the ditch. You have to be with the one who least deserves it, and then you have to do more than the least you can do."

You can view the entire message here.

At some point, we have to realize that you don't end homelessness by 'random acts of kindness' or by merely being 'compassionate'. And we have to realize 'the least we can do' is not enough. We are all less than we can be, if we don't make it possible to help one another be all that they can be.

Being a part of something like that makes for a very good day!

Monday, August 2, 2010

9500 Liberty - A MUST See

At the endorsement and urging of Jessica Davila, my colleague in my advocacy work at Central Dallas Ministry, I took the time to go see 9500 Liberty, and am I glad I did!

9500 Liberty is an arresting documentary which relates how Prince Williams County in Virginia, fell prey to the type of hysteria, bigotry, fear mongering and xenophobia which is fueling so much of the unreasonable anti-'illegal' immigration movement today. It may also serve as a cautionary tale to those who think that Arizona's misguided legislation is the way to deal with the undocumented immigrants in our country.

But 9500 Liberty is more than just an 'anti-anti-illegal immigrant' documentary. It is also an encouraging citizens of good will and good conscience can overcome misinformation, hate wrapped in garments of religion, demagoguery and political opportunism, to effect change and fashion reasonable immigration solutions on a local level. It also is a revealing look at the extent to which those who are cruelly called 'illegals', contribute to our society and to our economy (again, I wonder how many people think the jobs that undocumented laborers do for less will actually be transformed into living wage with benefits employments for citizens, if we could actually afford to deport all of the undocumented!).

Of course, there are those who believe that it is perfectly alright to heap invective and humiliation on people because of their documented status, won't have their minds changed. This movie gives plenty of instances in how easily people can be manipulated into believing that expression hatred in the name of Christianity is 'God's Will'. But it will show those who are willing to actually put some thought into it, that immigration reform has more consequences than many of us can imagine. The point in the documentary where the citizens of PWC find out how much it will actually cost to enact their 'anti-illegal immigrant resolution' while avoiding racial profiling is particularly telling. As is the ripple effect of the economic impact on the township when the undocumented, their families and their supporters leave because they are afraid and unwanted.

My take-away from the movie - good people MUST speak up, tell the truth, present the facts and most importantly ACT! Failure to do so, is the only way everyone, even those who don't agree with you, lose...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Memoriam: Pastor Willie J. Smith (1949 - 2010)

Last month, Pastor Willie J. Smith, was laid to rest. As news of his passing was made known to Bishop College family members throughout the country, we shared with one another our personal and our collective sense of grief as we realized that one of our beloved friends, colleagues, pastors and spiritual nurturer would walk among us no more.

'Smitty', as we affectionately called him, was a giant in the pulpit, both in terms of his gift and his height. He was 6'5 or 6'7, but he was as friendly and gentle as we was tall.

As with most college friends, there are those of us who remain in better contact with one another than others. But we all hear about the work that we, who at one time were very young adults entering into the ministry and finding our paths to church leadership, achieve some measure of success and take on significant challenges. We were all proud of him, as he succeeded the legendary Dr. S.M. Lockeridge as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, California. Though I was among those who had not seen or talked to Smitty in a number of years, his passing reminds me of wonderful days we spent together in school; the opportunity we had to have him come to the house for dinner when he was here and the immense pride I had in being able to introduce him and his wonderful gift for preaching with my fellow pastors here in Dallas.

I join countless Bishop College family members, clergy and friends in prayer for his family and the Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego as God guides them through this period of grief.
I thought, it would be nice today to share Willie once again with a larger group of listener's and encourage all of us who serve God in anyway to 'use what we have, until Christ fixes' what is broken in our lives!

Bless you Smitty!