Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Blessing: Dr. Ceasar Clark


In his era and to this day, Dr. C.A.W. Clark was in a class by himself when it came to preaching! In church on Sunday morning, throughout any given week in revival, on a college or university campus; whether the audience be laymen, or clergy, Ceasar Clark's legendary proclamation of the Gospel thrilled, delighted and inspired countless men and women for more than 60 years. 

This sampling doesn't come close to giving a just example of the tremendous gift God invested in this man. When I was a pastor, I told my younger associate ministers who never heard him, that I sorry that they never had a chance to be blessed by his ministry. Brief as this excerpt is, I'm glad you have a chance to be blessed at least this much!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


Jean-Paul Sartre
1905-1980


Existentialist, Playwright, Author

"Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do."


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Darker Side of Dallas' White Christmas

On Christmas night, when most of us in Dallas were lost in the romance of an extremely rare 'White Christmas', two homeless citizens froze to death on the streets...

What if we decided as a city to never let that happen again?

That's the substance of CitySquare's CEO and President, Larry James' op-ed, in this morning's Dallas Morning News. 


"What if we began by working with the leaders of the various emergency night shelters to provide housing for every one of their customers before Christmas 2013? What would that take? Simply put, the community will and political insistence to support such an endeavor. We need a determined, patient policy and the funding commitment to get it done."

"If we target the first 2,000 homeless people, we could place all in housing for the year and surround each person with high-touch care with a budget of less than $25 million. Once housed, these friends of ours could receive orderly case management. One short-term outcome would be the discovery that a number of the chronically disabled homeless currently receive some public benefit, a part of which could go back into underwriting rent and services. The scale of our effort would drive costs down."

"Our efforts could be time-stamped. In other words, anyone participating in the benefit would be required to document residency in Dallas or Dallas County prior to a start date. This would prevent the program from attracting the homeless from outside our area.
Property owners in the private, multifamily housing industry would benefit from such a community housing effort. Other players would include the Dallas Housing Authority, already a leading light in our progress to date."

"Like all other public investment (for instance, the beautiful Omni, where the great event was staged on Christmas Eve), spending this relatively small amount of public funds would result in significant churn in our local economy. Furthermore, the savings realized on public services (ER, EMS, hospital in-patient, jail, police, mental health and nonprofits) would be substantial. In essence, the investment would more than return to us all, but especially to some of the weakest among us."

"The annual cost would amount to less than 2.5 percent of the city of Dallas operating budget. When factoring in county contributions, the picture is even better."

"It’s not impossible."

"This could be done."

"Our challenge is one of priority."

"It’s a matter of what we decide to do. It’s all about how serious we really are, all of us, including those who have no place to call home."

Read the entire column here...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joy to the World - Merry Christmas to All!


'The Preacher's Wife' is one of my favorite Christmas movies. I've watched it nearly every Christmas Day since I bought (not to mention several times during the year). Courtney Vance (Rev. Henfy Biggs), Denzel Washington (the angel, Dudley) and Whitney Houston (Julia Biggs), are stellar! 

This is absolutely my favorite scene! Whitney's incomparable talent shines through. She was a great singer - but she was an even greater Gospel singer and it shows here. 

If you've never seen 'The Preacher's Wife' do yourself a favor and watch it today! 

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


.John Brown
1800-1859


Abolitionist, Martyr

"Be mild with the mild, shrewd with the crafty, confiding to the honest, rough to the ruffian, and a thunderbolt to the liar. But in all this, never be unmindful of your own dignity."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Poverty in Dallas: Worse Than We want to Think About


Poverty in Dallas is worse than most of us know. Certainly worse than most of us want to think about. D Magazine 'Frontburner' has an interesting interesting article that, if nothing else, reminds us that eliminating poverty is going to have to be an all hands on deck proposition...
"Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week show that Dallas County children, on whole, are poorer than not only most other Texas children, but most other children in America’s largest cities."
"Close to 30 percent of children in Dallas County between the ages of five and 17 live in poverty, the numbers show, nearly a five percent increase since 2007. The below chart shows the poverty rates for those aged children, in Dallas-area counties:

You can read the rest of the article here...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Sword that Heals


Martin Luther King, Jr. 
"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.  It is a sword that heals."



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ignorance and Want - They're Hidden But They Live...



It's one of my favorite Christmas films and my favorite versions. And these are a couple of my favorite scenes. 

Charles Dickens almost prophetically captured man's capacity to embrace smallness of spirit. Or is it simply something inveterate in human nature? 

Ebeneezer Scrooge changed however. My prayer is that such interventions continually happen. Maybe one day, we'll actually be able to keep Christmas all year long!

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Need to Feel This




The inexplicably horrendous massacre at Shady Hook Elementary School has been a body blow to our nation. We are not only struggling to try and explain why this has happened - we are a people who need explanations - but why it keeps happening.

Of course the people whose lives are irrevocably changed and in some cases damaged are those of the parents, siblings and close friends of those who died last week. No parent 'gets over' the death of a child. It is almost cliche, but there is nothing more unnatural than burying your children. I can identify with that, but I also can identify with some others in Newton.

I, like other pastors, can identify with clergy and counselors who are trying to console those who are grieving. There are no easy explanations. There are no simple answers. Many will argue for tougher gun control laws and more effective mental health care, but a mother, father, grandparent, aunt or uncle will as 'Why did it take the life of these children to bring this country to action?' Still others will summon the magnanimity to say that if it took the death of their child to bring the nation to action then it was worth it to save another parent from this grief.

We won't be able to blame either for their reaction.

As a 25 year old preacher, an associate minister of a relatively small church in south Dallas, I was called as interim pastor and a few months later as pastor, to lead that church after the death of the pastor and two church members (one of which was his sister. Her son also in the car, survived). Ministry to my late pastor's family was one thing. There were extenuating circumstances beyond my experience, that made it particularly difficult.  Ministry to the church was something else. The idea that we must move forward as a congregation, while at the same time not forgetting the man who had, for 12 years, comforted them in similar situations, baptized and married their children and been their spiritual leader.

Those days are a blur to me now. If I said anything that was helpful, it was because God miraculously allowed those inadequate utterances to have meaning. If I led in anyway that kept that church at an even keel, it was because I had the support of wiser men and women who stood strong as I literally learned the names of people I had been going to church with for 9 months! Comfort and support was what we gave to one another, not something I did for them.

Looking back on it, this was hard. I didn't know enough to realize it at the time. Healing did come. It came with time. It came as we learned how to be a community, beyond platitudes and religious catch phrases. It came as we struggled with grief and I learned to stop comparing myself to my predecessor and members learned that embracing a new pastor didn't mean disloyalty to the previous one. It came as some members 'acted out' until they learned that life could continue - together, differently. Healing came, with births, deaths, comings and goings; it came as we embraced and discarded traditions and as we learned anew how to live together. Healing came, as we worshiped and served others, and learned how to serve one another.

While I've never experienced anything like Newton, this situation and other smaller ones helped me understand that faith, community and family make a difference. The people who 'make it through' are those who either have people to lean on or who have people who will not permit them to try and get through incredibly tough times without leaning on them. It's those who isolate themselves in their grief and pain that never quite seem to pull through.

Pray for the people of Newton, Connecticut. Pray for the students, teachers and faculty members you know. They feel the impact of this more acutely than we imagine.

Pray for this country. There is, in our nation, a tendency to want to get past the emotion and make rational, logical decisions. I think we need to feel this. I think we need ask ourselves and one another, what personal right do we value more than the lives of our fellow citizens? We don't need this to be an abstract question. We need to look at the faces of the children and teachers who lost their lives and ask ourselves what steps would we want taken to eliminate the prospects of this happening to our loved ones.

And we need to know that the comfort of pastors, counselors, friends and loved ones, comes all too hard at times like these.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God is Speaking - What's Our Response?




The public conversation about the shooting at Shady Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut is not only healthy, it's vital. The day before the shooting, the school where my wife works and my granddaughter is a student was on lock down because of a report of a gun on campus. Our oldest son was killed by gun violence five years ago.

The shopping mall in Oregon.

The mass shooting at the mosque in Wisconsin.

The Arizona shooting in which Representative Gabby Giffords was shot.

The shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Columbine.

Virginia Tech.

Anyone waiting for God to speak, it's important to know that He has already spoken. He's waiting for us to take action. The question is what will we do?

If anyone doesn't think we need to do something different, here is a grievously eloquent message that we need to reconsider our ways...


Charlotte Bacon, 6, 2/22/2006, F

Daniel Barden, 7, 9/25/2005, M

Rachel Davino, 29, 7/17/1983, F

Olivia Engel, 6, 7/18/2006, F

Josephine Gay, 7, 12/11/2005, F

Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6, 4/04/2006, F

Dylan Hockley, 6, 3/08/2006, M

Dawn Hocksprung, 47, 6/28/1965, F

Madeleine F Hsu, 6, 7/10/2006, F

Catherine V Hubbard, 6, 6/08/2006, F

Chase Kowalski, 7, 10/31/2005, M

Jesse Lewis, 6, 6/30/2006, M

James Mattioli, 6, 3/22/2006, M

Grace McDonnell, 7, 11/04/2005, F

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, 7/25/1960, F

Emilie Parker, 6, 5/12/2006, F

Jack Pinto, 6, 5/6/2006, M

Noah Pozner, 6, 11/20/2006, M

Caroline Previdi, 6, 9/7/2006, F

Jessica Rekos, 6, 5/10/2006, F

Avielle Richman, 6, 10/17/2006, F

Lauren Rousseau, 30, 6/8/1982, F

Mary Sherlach, 56, 2/11/1956, F

Victoria Soto, 27, 11/4/1985, F

Benjamin Wheeler, 6, 9/12/2006, M

Allison N Wyatt,  6, 7/3/2006, F

Saturday, December 15, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Neil Armstrong
1930-2012


NASA Astronaut and Engineer

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand." 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Texas' Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner Issues Advisories to Payday Lenders

I've written earlier about payday lenders lack of compliance with city ordinances and state legislation (you can find those posts here, here and here).

Apparently Texas' Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner has taken notice and has issued two advisories to the industry.

________________________________


One advisory addresses the issue of circumventing local payday lending ordinances...


Credit Services Organization Bulletin

December 11, 2012

The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) is concerned about a business practice that some credit services organizations (CSOs) are using. The business practice appears to be designed to avoid compliance with Chapter 393 of the Texas Finance Code. Continued use of the practice could result in the Texas Legislature taking adverse action in the upcoming legislative session and could also lead to civil liability on the part of the CSO.

The business practice at issue is as follows. As contemplated by Chapter 393, the CSO assists the consumer in obtaining credit and charges a fee for this service. But the CSO does not take a post-dated check from the consumer or, in the case of a loan secured by the consumer’s motor vehicle, the motor vehicle’s title. By not requiring the consumer to provide a post-dated check or the motor vehicle’s title, the CSO contends that the activity falls outside the definition of “credit access business” (CAB) and therefore escapes the regulatory requirements imposed on CABs in Chapter 393 of the Texas Finance Code. The Texas Finance Code does not specifically prohibit this practice; nevertheless, this transaction could be seen as an attempt to evade the regulatory requirements of Chapter 393 and an attempt to circumvent the law.

The OCCC believes that this business practice conflicts with the legislative intent manifested in house bills 2592 and 2594 passed in 2011. The purpose of these bills was to provide a licensing and regulatory framework to govern credit service organizations who obtain credit for Texas consumers. The OCCC believes that the legislature intended that the bills cover transactions where the CSO obtains an extension of credit for a consumer, even where the CSO does not require the consumer to provide a post-dated check, debit authorization, or motor vehicle title. If the legislature finds that this business practice conflicts with its intent, it could consider passing additional legislation that would put further regulatory restrictions on CSOs that obtain extensions of credit for consumers.

This practice could also subject a CSO to civil liability under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act or under Chapter 393. If a consumer brought suit against a CSO who was engaged in the business practice described above, it is possible that a court could find for the consumer and enter a judgment against the CSO.

The OCCC is concerned about the potential legislative reaction to this practice and the possibility that the legislature will see this practice as a subterfuge intended to circumvent the regulatory requirements of Chapter 393. The OCCC is also concerned about the civil liability a CSO engaged in this practice could face. The agency strongly urges any CSO currently engaged in this practice to consider the legislative and legal consequences.

_____________________________________

The other addresses the issue of transferring auto-title loans to stores outside of cities with regulatory ordinances in order to evade compliance with those ordinances...

_____________________________________

December 11, 2012

The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) is concerned about a business model used by some credit access businesses (CABs) in the cities of Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. These three cities have enacted ordinances restricting certain renewal activities by CABs and limiting the number of installments a transaction may have. The practice discussed in this bulletin appears to be intended to avoid compliance with the city ordinances. While the OCCC does not have authority to enforce the city ordinances, it is concerned about a practice whose intent appears to be circumvention of the law.

It appears that a number of CABs are engaged in the following practice. A CAB branch located within the city limits offers the consumer a no-interest, 30-day loan funded by the CAB and secured by the consumer’s vehicle. If, at the end of the month, the consumer cannot pay off the loan, the CAB informs the consumer that the consumer’s vehicle will be repossessed if the consumer does not pay the loan off. The CAB then proposes that the consumer go to another branch location outside the city limits and obtain a CAB loan to pay off the original loan and keep the vehicle from being repossessed.

The OCCC is concerned about the lack of transparency involved in this practice, which effectively draws into a CAB transaction a consumer who might not otherwise engage in one. This business model could also be perceived as a deceptive practice because it appears calculated to bring the consumer into the store with the promise of one product, but later effectively requires the consumer to go to another location to purchase another product.
The OCCC also believes that this business model may conflict with the legislative intent manifested in house bills 2592 and 2594 passed in 2011. These bills establish the three-party model upon which the CAB transaction is based and require separation between the lender and the CAB. When, as here, the CAB acts as a lender, the CAB is stepping out of the role of credit access business and into the role of the lender, contrary to legislature’s intent. Significantly, it is likely that if the legislature finds this practice conflicts with its intent, it could consider passing additional legislation that would put further regulatory restrictions on CABs.

The OCCC is concerned about the possible legislative reaction to this practice and this business model’s lack of transparency. The agency strongly urges any credit access business currently engaged in this practice to consider the legislative and legal consequences.

_____________________________________


If you or someone you know have complaints about the practices payday or auto-title lenders, contact the Office of the  Consumer Credit  Commissioner:


2601 N. Lamar Blvd Austin TX 78705
512- 936-7600
Fax: 512-936-7610
Consumer Helpline: 800-538-1579
Email: info@occc.state.tx.us

To find out more about these and other OCCC findings check here.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't Ignore Michigan's Assault on Labor


The Michigan state legislature passed and it's governor, Rick Snyder signed it's landmark 'Right to Work' law in an attempt to eviscerate the iconic significance of that state's labor unions. 

I live in Texas, which, like a number of southern states is a right to work state. That designation is not necessarily a kiss of death. But that's true because of workers rights codified into law by the work of labor unions. 

Stories indeed abound about the corruption of unions, their lessening influence, especially during the last half of the 20th century, of their institutional concern with self perpetuation and the threat they pose to shareholders and tax payers with their unreasonable labor demands. 

Little is written anymore to their legacy enjoyed by most of us: the five day work week, competitive salaries, safe working conditions, vacations, standard employee benefits and retirement pay. Most of us take these benefits for granted, but we have them because of unions. 

Texas, more specifically and relevantly (since this is where I live) north central Texas does quite well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage in in the U.S. for the first quarter of this year was $984 a week. In north central Texas it was $1085. Texas' economy tends to be counter cyclical and is focused on energy and finance. But make no mistake about it, the influence of labor is felt even in a right to work state like Texas. 

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, in a speech that explains her vote against Michigan's new law, gives us another reason why this law passed. The law bypasses concern for the quality of life of its citizens in order to provide political retribution for the recent national elections. The financial support and political clout of unions were the counter weight to the financial 'free speech' of the Super PACS. This was payback. Senator Whitmire's passionate discourse reminds them that in an effort to neuter the union's political influence this measure hurt people...it hurt families. 





An honest, even political public debate can be had over the role of unions in the 21st century - especially since the impact of the Great Recession. Is it better to fight for higher paying jobs for a few at the expense of jobs that employ more people at lesser wages? Is the public good better served by corporate profits benefiting investors, or by increasing the number of wage earners by re-investing profits through increased hiring or increasing the wages of workers. What sacrifices must unions make in collective bargaining? And what is the appropriate role of unions in our political process? These are a few honest questions that we haven't begun to answer yet. 

Michigan's law is not an answer. It's a statement. And it's one about which we should all be worried, because the fate of unions will impact us all, just as their victories have benefited us all. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You Call This 'Conservative'?



Ideology is expensive, and it could cost Texans $76 billion!

Governor Rick Perry's decision to opt out of Medicaid expansion is based on political ideology (and/or political ambition). There is no sane explanation for not recapturing the $76  billion the state will lose by not participating in the health care exchange and the near full funding of Medicaid expansion that comes with it. 

Texas leads the nation in uninsured individuals. That too is costly. Medicaid provides health care coverage, primarily for the poor and the elderly. That includes children with chronic health problems, such as asthma. It includes the cost of care for senior citizens in nursing homes. Two million Texans would be covered by the health care exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act (it doesn't matter to me, that President Obama says he likes the term 'Obamacare', I refuse to use it!). Another two million would be covered by Medicaid expansion. How a state in which 25% of the population are uninsured can say 'Thanks, but no thanks' to money taxpayers have already sent to Washington is a mystery that has yet to be explain. 

Perry wrote in USA Today, "Setting aside the obvious fact that health insurance is readily available under current conditions — the problem has been price, not availability — these exchanges represent nothing more than another federal power grab in the guise of a supposedly free market."

"States were given the option to set up and execute their own exchanges — at their own expense. The fine print, however, specified that the exchanges would have to follow all rules and guidelines imposed by the federal government, with little to no flexibility. The kicker: Many of these rules and regulations are unknown." 

Interestingly enough, some 23 states have figured out what the rules and regulations are...

Governor Perry, along with other GOP governors across the country who are balking at the exchange and the Medicaid expansion, have taken a stance which defies logic: why would he - and they - consign individuals making $15,000 a year. or families making less than $40,000 to needless emergency room health care, when an acceptable alternative is available?! And why would he - and they - consign insured tax payers to the paying for the uninsured - twice?!
Insured tax payers pay for the uninsured through higher taxes (total federal, state and local spending on the uninsured is estimated to cost more than $35 billion) and higher insurance premium costs (up to $1017 a year;). 

How is that 'fiscally conservative'?

If you believe, as do I, that Texas cannot afford to be victimized by a political ideology that costs more than it pays, join CitySquare, Dallas Area Interfaith and other organizations throughout the state, in urging the Governor and our state legislators to stop this foolishness and do something that only makes good sense: opt into the Medicaid expansion and the health care exchange.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


Johnny Carson 
1925-2005



Host of the Tonight Show
1962-1992

"My success just evolved from working hard at the business at hand each day." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Lawful and Welcoming Society...What a Concept!

Former President George W.  Bush

Earlier today, in a speech given at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, former President George W. Bush affirmed his support for a sensitive and sane, immigration policy. 
Here's hoping state and national policy makers are listening...
"George W. Bush – who’s listed the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform as one of the regrets of his presidency – encouraged lawmakers on Tuesday to debate the topic with “a benevolent spirit” and to “keep in mind the contributions of immigrants.”"
"“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” Bush said in a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas."
"Bush gave the remarks at the daylong conference organized by his namesake public policy think tank, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Dallas Fed. The event, focused on immigration and economic growth, features analysis by economists, business leaders and other policy experts."
"The former president stopped short of advocating for a specific immigration policy, although he pushed for a guest-worker program while in the White House. He instead highlighted the important role immigrants play in the economy and said that they “invigorate our soul.”"
"“Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas,” he said. “They fill a critical gap in our labor market. And they work hard for a chance at a better life.”"
"The conference comes after President Barack Obama romped to victory over GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 election, in part because of strong Hispanic support in swing states and backing from 71 percent of Hispanics nationally."
"Given that the demographic is expected to grow for years to come, Republicans in Texas and across the U.S. have started reevaluating how to appeal to Hispanics. That’s despite Democrats looking to build upon that support and create a clearer path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S."
"While the Bush Institute event Tuesday was planned well in advance of the presidential election and the subsequent flurry of immigration talk, Bush’s comments put him in the familiar position of helping lead the GOP’s outreach to the Hispanic community."
"“Growing up here in Texas, like many in this room, I had the honor and privilege of meeting the newly arrived,” Bush said. “Those who I’ve met love their families. They see education as a bright future for their children. Some willingly defend the flag.”"
"“As our nation debates the proper course of action related to immigration,” he added, “I hope do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contributions of immigrants.”"
You can read the rest of the article here...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Life Lessons




Aeschylus

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”



Saturday, December 1, 2012

For Those Who Change the Wind


Lawrence Guyot
1939-2012



Attorney, Human Rights Activist

“There is nothing like having risked your life with people over something immensely important to you.”