Sunday, March 24, 2013

Think of It - A World without Hate...

It would do us good to use our imaginations to focus on a world in which we became preoccupied with love, peace and non-violence. What a more productive use of our time, than focusing on the right to own killing machines, or more technologically efficient ways to kill people by remote control, or vilifying those who are different, or castigate those who are poor!

What if we could undo our world's legacy of hate...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Grateful Our Paths Cross

One of the great things about my work at CitySquare, and frankly what has been my privilege throughout my ministry, has been the opportunity to meet fascinating people! Some of them famous, some not so famous, some not famous at all. But they have all been people who have been passionately committed to something that has made life better for others; they have been people who have challenged my thinking and helped me understand my own commitments and life journey. In many ways, they have been my window to a different world or a different time.

Recently I met Alfonso Romo Garza. Alfonso has founded an organization named 'Educaruno Fundacion' which sponsors a contest, 'Desina el Cambio'(Design for Change),  in which children - yes, children - are challenged to make a difference in their own community, beginning with how they feel about a situation they want to make better,  using their imagination to produce a solution, a commitment to do something about it and to share what they have done It is powerful! It is the very essence of true education. If we were more committed to this process than to seeing that every child answers every question 'correctly' on a standardized test, we'd be producing more genius.

Alfonso is passionately committed to seeing this genius unlocked in the children of Mexico and throughout the world. And meeting him, listening to him and learning about his organization was a delight.

I will soon have the opportunity to meet Eboo Patel. Patel is President of Interfaith Youth Core which seeks to build bridges of cooperation among people of faith. Patel is an author, lecturer and passionately committed to helping the world to see that interfaith dialogue and understanding can only heighten our personal faith journeys and need not be a source of division and antagonism.

I'm grateful for a number of things in my life. One of those things is the opportunity to have my life enriched through my encounters with people who are trying to make the world better for us all!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shame! Shame! Shame!

So the assault weapons ban won't be voted on in the U.S. Senate. 
It's not just a shame. It's cowardice. 
To propose this legislation, is a sign that someone among Washington's Senate understands that assault weapons are killing machines that are not manufactured for hunting, target practice, or gun collection. The sole purpose for their manufacture and use is to slaughter other human beings. 
Newton caused a momentary pause for this country to reflect and make a decision on whether or not we would be a nation with a commitment - a real commitment - to the sanctity of life. Certainly anything can be used to kill. And there are other kinds of guns. The sane and the insane take life. But there are some weapons which ought only be used by trained soldiers in war. And we ought not be swift to enter into conflicts that call for their use. 
The Constitutions Second Amendment isn't meant for this. And elected officials who have used it's supposed 'violation' should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to played by the NRA and the gun manufacturers lobby. 
Here is an account of the explanation of why the bill was dropped...
"The decision to drop ban indicated that Democrats could sense that the overall bill likely had no chance of passing with an assault weapons language included."
"“I’m not going to try to put something on the floor that won’t succeed,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.  “I want something that will succeed. The worst thing in the world would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there. I am working to put something together than can get 60 votes on the floor.”"
"Reid guessed that the measure, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had support from fewer than 40 senators, far less than the 60 votes needed for passage"
"The assault weapons ban will still get a vote. It will be voted on as a standalone measure as an amendment to the base gun control bill. But stripping it off the base bill leaves it vulnerable and decreases the chance of it passing, as it will not receive the same support that it could have if it was bundled with the other less controversial measures."
"Last Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the assault weapons ban bill during their markup of gun legislation."
"Feinstein today told reporters she was informed of the decision by the Democratic leadership on Monday night and was “disappointed” in the decision and that her efforts at the end of the day were not good enough."
Diane Feinstein has nothing for which she need apologize. Harry Reid does. 
America deserves to know the names of all who believe that our government needs to sanction greater access to the killing machines that have exposed our country to so much horrendous slaughter. 
There are times when votes are not just points which show who wins and who loses. There are times when votes are moral markers. In those times it's wrong to give elected officials the chance to abstain.

Lessons From the Diamond

It's almost baseball season. Really, for me, it means that by the time we get to the All-Star Game, it won't be long until training camp for the NFL.

But I've grown to appreciate baseball. It's an interesting game and it's place in our society is intriguing and, yes, inspirational.

My favorite quote regarding baseball is from former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, one of the most eloquent speakers I've ever heard. These words regarding baseball's lesson in community are profound and express a compassion for the game, but also for the highest ideals of brotherhood.

I  hope you can appreciate them as well....


"It is a community activity. You need all nine people helping one another. I love bunt plays. I love the idea of the bunt. I love the idea of the sacrifice. Even the word is good. Giving yourself up for the good of the whole. That's Jeremiah. That's thousands of years of wisdom. You find your own good in the good of the whole. You find your own individual fulfillment in the success of the community — the Bible tried to do that and didn't teach you. Baseball did."

— Mario Cuomo from Ken Burns' 'Baseball'

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chicken Little & The Minimum Wage

'The sky is falling! The sky is falling!' Went Chicken Little's warning wail. Of course the sky didn't fall and Chicken Little lost all credibility.

So when will those who cry 'The sky will fall!' when it comes to raising the federal minimum wage cease to attract serious attention? When has the 'sky' fallen since the minimum wage was introduced in the 1930's?

You actually could have knocked me over with a feather when President Barack Obama proposed a minimum wage of $9 an hour in this year State of the Union address. Not because I don't believe in it. I just never thought he would do it. I was shocked all the more when he proposed that the minimum wage be tied to the rate of inflation. Again, not that I don't support it - I just never thought he'd say it.

Whenever the minimum wage is proposed, warnings that it will be bad for business; bad for adult employees, bad for employers and generally destroy the fabric of American civilization. There are even those who propose that there should be no minimum wage. Interestingly enough, no one supporting it's abolition is in favor of working for minimum wage or less. And if they truly thought about it, no one really wants to live in a world without one.

All wages are impacted by the minimum wage. Employers find a way to compensate for the increase without raising the prices of goods and services dramatically. And to the degree that it does impact the price of goods and services, indirect influences of the minimum wage compensate for the increase.

My only argument with Obama's proposal is that it doesn't propose a raise high enough. It should be $10 an hour.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, "Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would benefit millions of workers whose characteristics—in terms of their gender, age, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, work hours, family income, and family composition—contradict some prevailing beliefs about minimum-wage workers. In the first year, with an increase from $7.25 to $8.20, 14 million directly and indirectly affected workers would see higher wages. This number would rise to about 21 million workers with the second incremental increase to $9.15 in 2014, and to more than 30 million workers with the third incremental increase to $10.10 in 2015, as shown in Figure A."

Aside from this, several states already have minimum wages exceeding the federal minimum wage. Washington's minimum wage is already $9.19 an hour. California's minimum wage is $8 an hour. Nevada, Illinois and Vermont are all states with minimum wages above $8 an hour. Interestingly enough, Alabama, the poorest state in the nation has no state minimum wage. 

No one should work a full time job and be poor. We Americans are a funny lot. We don't want to pay for education. We don't want to pay for public assistance. We don't want to pay for health care. And we don't want to pay wages for work that would lift people above the poverty level. 

The minimum wage won't cause the sky to fall. But that type of thinking will...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

'No Self Respecting God'

If you've been reading CTW for awhile you know that George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church is one of my favorite preachers.

I haven't taken the opportunity to avail myself of his wonderful gift for plainly, yet profoundly proclaiming the Word of God.

His sermon, 'No Self Respecting God', is a reminder of why I love the parable of the Prodigal Son. It's because I know what it's like to experience the Grace that gives us another chance. I also understand why my heart goes out to those that some people look down upon. It's because I know what it's like to experience the Grace that gives us another chance.

The God who should have shown me 'tough love' has dealt gently with me all of my life. I try and do the same when I encounter people who need 'tough love'. I admit I fail at that sometimes. When I do, God deals gently - mercifully - with me.

Mason explains why some Christians have a hard time with this.

"...when we have a problem with the father in Jesus’parable, our real problem is with
God. God simply doesn’t conform to our image. Which, of course, is exactly the problem, since we have it backward: we are supposed to conform to the image of God, not the other way ’round. Anne Lamott has it right. She says: You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

"Hate may be too strong a word in the context of this parable. It’s closer to the idea that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God loves only people who fall within the limits of your own love."

Sometimes we do get this backwards. We think that God approves of those of whom we approve; He accepts others based on our own standard of repentance.

I'm so glad that's not true...

Thanks again George! Be blessed by the video of the sermon here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

'Justice' by Langston Hughes

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Congratulations to My Catholic Friends!

I feel privileged to count among my friends members of the Roman Catholic Church. I felt especially happy for them today when I heard the bells of Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in downtown Dallas, crack the crisp March air this afternoon, at the news that the Church's Cardinals had chosen a new Pontiff. After five ballots former Cardinal  Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires - now Pope Francis - succeeds Benedict XVI, who resigned last month. 

This is clearly an historic moment: the resignation of one pope, the first in 600 years to do so and the first non-European cleric in 1300 years. Also the first Pope from a Latin country and the first one from the Americas. 

A truly historic period. 

Congratulations and may God Bless...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"It's True Anyhow"!

Years ago I was at a church - can't remember if I was the preacher on this occasion or not - and I heard someone say something that has stuck with me ever since. If you know anything about the black church, you know about what is referred to as the 'call and response' nature of worship. As the preacher - whomever it was - was preaching, someone in the congregation shouted out...'It's true anyhow!'. What that worshiper meant, was whether you agreed or not, whether what the preacher was saying comforted you or made you uncomfortable or whether or not you participated in the 'call and response', the words of the minister were 'true anyhow'!

Dan Pollotta's TED talk, regarding how we think about charity and how we fund them is wrong...dead wrong. 

Over the past several years, we have steadily, and somewhat successfully, tried to impose a 'business' paradigm on non-profits. In doing so we set most of them up for failure. 

A young man came to me to talk about starting a non-profit. When I began to tell him about the challenges of raising money and of how funders, many funders, looked for non-profits to be frugal and even show a 'profit' at the end of the year in order to show their 'stewardship'. He was non-plused. 

At the end of the day, Pallotta is right. After nearly 10 years working at CitySquare, I have come to realize the tremendous creativity and innovation within this sector, which is rarely allowed to flourish because of the difficulty of bringing solutions to education, hunger, housing, homelessness and healthcare to scale. The limiter is almost always a lack of money. The failure to fund big dreams and to pay more attention to whether or not overhead is kept low, means the inability to retain talent as it looks to the private sector to actually make a living, simply because they pay more, or to operate in substandard buildings with used furniture in order to give evidence of their 'no frills approach to service, deprives all of us. It also applies to programming itself. The type of scrounging that many program operators are forced to do because 'stewardship' can at times get to be so granular a philosophy that it means scrimping on paper, pencils and paper clips, is, in the end 'unprofitable'. 

One of the reasons I love CitySquare is that we persist in trying to do big things. We can set, as I once heard, BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals - sometimes in spite of our financial reality. 

In public policy for instance, we have managed to get local ordinances and state laws passed. We were able to get our city's Farmer's Market to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). We have been able to use documentary screenings to increase public awareness about education, hunger, poverty, nutrition, health and immigration, to name a few - and we've leveraged that awareness into public action. 
We have partnered with leaders in low income communities to advocate with local political leaders for neighborhood redevelopment in our lowest income communities and tied that advocacy into opportunities related to human capital development. And we are currently developing a strategy which will organize low income communities as a constituency for their neighborhood public school 'feeder pattern' - the elementary, middle and high school in that community. We work with interns, volunteers and allies locally, statewide and, sometimes nationally. We work with academic institutions, like Southern Methodist University, University of North Texas in Dallas and Paul Quinn College. 

CitySquare's downtown 'vertical community', CityWalk@Akard, is a microcosm of the traditional neighborhood. It is a mixed income, mixed use development, in the heart of downtown Dallas - combining housing, retail and office space. That office space will, this year, become a veritable satellite campus for Abilene Christian University which will partner with our organization to provide academic depth, analysis and evaluation to our work, while at the same time training the next generations of social entrepreneurs. 

Our new 53,000 square foot Opportunity Center, (which should come online before the end of this summer) will become a campus in which job training, wellness, food distribution will take place on a larger scale, working with other non-profits, as well as WorkSource Dallas County. 

Yep, we set Big Hairy Audacious Goals at CitySquare. Like any number of other non-profits we can do more. But it takes staff, materials, equipment to plan and to implement. All of that calls for money. And, the fact is, if we were able to operate like a business, vs. only being held 'accountable' by business standards, we could set and achieve Bigger, Hairier, more Audacious Goals. 

What Dan Pollatta says in this video, may turn what you think about charities on its head. But, it's true anyhow!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings Calls for 10,000 Men to Stand Against Domestic Violence

Domestic violence.

It is a problem in every city of every state across this nation. It's not peculiar to any race, ethnicity or social class. It is a moral, legal, social and health care issue. 

According to 'The Family Place', a non-profit organization that helps victims of domestic violence...
  • In 2011, the Dallas Police Department Family Violence Unit reported 13,733 family violence calls resulting in 1,239 aggravated assaults, 16 murders, 11,529 assaults, 127 offenses against children, 66 rapes and 632 other related offenses including kidnapping, stalking, vandalism and robbery.
  • According to the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, in 2011, there were 9,344 requests for Protective Orders, 1,173 victims screened for Protective Orders, 1,259 qualified applicants, 713 Protective Orders filed, and 713 new Protective Orders granted.
  • The 2011 Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance Point-in-Time Homeless Count found 5,783 people living on Dallas streets or in shelters, up slightly from the 5,750 counted in 2010. The 2011 count included 1,106 children and 51 unaccompanied youth. Domestic abuse/family problems were listed as the reason for homelessness by 27% of the population. Without these emergency shelter services, these victims would be forced to return to their batterers or other unsafe housing and would be at great risk for further victimization.
And this says nothing about the women, children - even men - who suffer in silence. 

Men can do something about the instances of domestic violence we cause. We hold one another accountable. We can report instances of domestic violence. We can stop. 

All of Dallas should be proud of Mayor Mike Rawlings' effort to get 10,000 men to stand up against domestic violence at a rally on March 23rd at Dallas' City Hall. I'll be among those men who show their appreciation for his leadership and support this effort to bring an end to this terrible scourge. 

There are any number of issues that we feel powerless to influence...

Domestic violence shouldn't be one of them. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wealth Inequality in America...It's Worse Than You Think!

Not so very long ago, the country was engrossed with the emergence of the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement. This apparently inchoate, untidy group of protesters who literally blocked Wall Street, who demonstrated by setting up camps in public spaces across the nation, raised their voices against the power yielded by 'the 1%' - the 1% of the country which controlled most of our nation's wealth.

These 'Occupiers' were not just young people. They were college graduates, with undergrad and post-grad degrees, hundreds of thousand dollars in debt and unable to find work. They were middle aged - afraid that they wouldn't be able to retire, or who had been laid off of jobs unable to find employment. They were elderly, protesting exorbitant health care costs, or afraid that their grandchildren would live in a world that wouldn't give them a fair shot.

The were a cross section of America, black, white, Hispanic, old and young, Democrat, Independent and even some Republican who believed that the inequality of wealth in America was choking out opportunity. 

Most wondered whether or not the movement would survive. Many mistakenly sought to gauge their 'success' with whether or not their adherents joined or formed a political party and whether or not someone representing their issues, would seek political office. They insisted that they would raise public consciousness to the issue and make their voices heard in the streets until America grappled with the issue of strangling wealth inequality. 

The problem, however, wasn't quite as bad as they tried to make it. 

It is far, far worse!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sometimes 'Thanks But No Thanks' Really is Alright...

I like Gordon Keith. One of the on air personalities of Dallas' premier sports radio station is sometimes profane, sometimes irreverent, more often than not very, very funny. And yes, more preachers than you feel comfortable knowing listen to and like 'The Ticket'! 
Sometimes peeking through Gordon's wit and humor, there peeks through some thoughts that are very provocative. Keith is becoming somewhat ubiquitous, popping up on television and on the op-ed pages of the Dallas Morning News, where one of his thought provoking opinions appeared today. 
Just for background, Tim Tebow, the much maligned back up quarterback of the New York Jets, declined an invitation to speak at Dallas' First Baptist Church. Apparently, the pastor, Robert Jeffress has taken exception to Tebow pulling out and the pastor has suggested that Tebow is a wimp for having done so. 
"Do you remember the old black-and-white movie The Invisible Man? The defining characteristic of the Invisible Man wasn’t that he was a Crimson Tide fan or that he got political at open-bar Christmas parties. His defining quality was that he was invisible. So in the movie, the Invisible Man had to be wrapped in bulky Ace bandages, cinched trench coats, and novelty-store sunglasses. He looked ridiculous, but since we can only see the Invisible Man when we put clothes on him, it was a good workaround. But we should never mistake the clothes for the man."
"God is like our Invisible Man. Through the ages, we’ve draped many suits on him, then spent a lifetime mistaking our clothes for the real him. It’s no surprise we pick the stuff from our wardrobe that appeals to our psyches the most. Anne Lamott once said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Show me a person who emphasizes the judgment of God, and I’ll show you a person who likes making judgments. Show me a person who goes on and on about God’s view on sexuality, and I’ll show you someone who is very interested in the goings on of sexuality. It’s all understandable, but I don’t think many realize that they do it."
"Jeffress has taken the palette of the Bible and painted his portrait of God, and he thinks it’s correct because it’s “biblical.” The problem is that the Bible is a collection of other men’s portraits of God. All instructive. All important. All of them portraits. Necessary clothes for the Invisible Man. Jeffress is entitled to his portrait of God, but it doesn’t mean Tebow has to fly in to D/FW and publicly buy a numbered print (read the rest of Keith's column here)"
Tebow's faith is well known. So is the convenient appropriation of his faith by nearly every corner of American Christendom, more particularly that corner that believes God needs celebrity endorsers to legitimate the Christian faith or their version of it. 
Frankly, which one of us (pastors) hasn't gotten someone well known to come to our church to essentially say 'Me too'. On one level, there's nothing wrong with it. On another level, no speaker, famous or otherwise, is obligated to share his or her testimony with any set of Christians in order to bolster the ego of the congregation or it's pastor. And it's certainly out of bounds to equate a decision not to accept such a speaking invitation as cowardice because the invitee is uncomfortable with the motives of the one's issuing the invitation. 
Tebow's refusal to come says a lot - mostly positive - about him! 
I don't agree with everything Gordon Keith has written in his op-ed, but I will say this. The Bible is clear: the purpose of the Christian faith for followers to be shaped in Christ's image (Romans 8:29) - not vice-versa. And wherever you believe the opposite is being done, it's the wisest thing in the world to steer clear of that space - no matter who invited you!