Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Congratulations to all of my friends who have worked on the DREAM Act, and fought for comprehensive and sane immigration reform. It's finally paying off!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Nina Simone

Musician, Songwriter, Activist

"There's no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were."

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's Time for the Legislature to Step Up and Protect Vulnerable Texans

The 83 session of the Texas Legislature began this month. Among the public policy issues that we've been working on at CitySquare has been strengthening the laws to regulate payday and auto title lending in our state.

Those laws,  HB 2592 which provides for notice and disclosures for consumers to enable consumers to make more informed choices and HB 2594 which calls for licensing, oversight, examination and enforcement authority to the OCCC (Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner) and also requires quarterly reporting and annual report to OCCC of important data enforcement of fair debt collections practices as well as federal military lending laws, while good, still don't address other in the industry.

Short term lenders have become disturbingly adept at circumventing local ordinances as well as the new state laws.

And with more research, we find that this business model is more troubling. The auto title loan industry in Texas repossessed more than 25,000 cars because of consumers being late repayment (in one case, only late for one day).

According to a study done by the Texas Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities, Goodwill, YWCA, 79% of respondents reported that it took more than one month to repay a payday or auto title loan. Nearly 100% of borrowers, coming to these agencies for financial assistance, report that these loans make it difficult to pay their other bills.

In Killeen, Texas, clients of Goodwill, 80% of borrowers said they did not receive the disclosure information required by HB2592.

Interestingly enough, Killeen is a military town. State law requires that military personnel be charged no more than 36% for a 90 day loan. The industry skirts this federal law by making 91 day loans...or longer.

More troubling news?

4 out of 10 borrowers rollover loans 5 or more times (Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner consumer disclosure)
After 5 loan rollovers, a borrower has paid $690 in fees and still owes the entire $500 loan
This high-cost debt cycle often drives borrowers to social service agencies to meet basic needs
In the first three quarters of 2012, Texas auto title businesses repossessed 645 cars every week

It's important that we reign in the practices of this industry. These businesses make poor people poorer. People in desperate financial circumstances don't deserve to have those circumstances made worse. Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and now El Paso are cities which believe this so strongly they have passed the strongest ordinances in the nation to regulate these businesses. 

It's time for the Texas State Legislature to catch up...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mayor Corey Booker Coming to Dallas for CitySquare!

We're excited about Newark, New Jersey Mayor Corey Booker being the keynote speaker at CitySquare's Annual Prayer Breakfast!

I wrote about Booker last year. Those of us who have been following his career as one of the most dynamic mayors in our country have respected and admired him from afar. And we think that he has strengthened Newark employing some of the same values that we espouse at CitySquare.

We're still looking for sponsors for the event and tickets are going fast! You'd better hurry, you don't want to miss this!

And for those who don't know about Corey Booker, here's a sample...


One of my friends at the Dallas Morning News, editorial writer Bill McKenzie, appears to have discovered Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker. 


Corey is a bright star on the political horizon, and, barring anything unforeseen, is limited only by his ambition and his desire to serve. Booker is a charismatic, intelligent, eloquent politician. And as Bill points out here, is quite capable of engaging an audience...

"For those who may not know Booker, he is an African-American who at various points has been a major high school football star, a Stanford football player, a Rhodes Scholar and a Yale Law grad. Oh, yes, and he's run into a burning building to save a neighbor."

"While he did not grow up in poverty, his father did. Booker's journey is thus quintessentially American.

Who he really reminds me of is Bill Clinton. Booker struck me as someone who can put together a narrative like Clinton and hold your attention. President Obama can do this sometimes, but he too often sounds like a college prof delivering a lecture -- a stern one at that."

"Booker, by contrast, used humor, and self-deprecating humor at that, in his speech at the University of Pennsylvania. He made fun of his, er, hefty build compared to Obama's lean figure. As he did, he jokingly said about the skinnier Obama: I hate him. Then, he laughed and said, I can see the headline now: Booker says he hates Obama."

"Of course, he was teasing, but he did it in a way that poked fun at himself and put the audience at ease. I don't recall Clinton using humor at his own expense, but he certainly could make many people comfortable as they listened to him."

For those who have never seen or heard him (and those who have!), here's Cory Booker!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Another 'Sacred Effort'

I think this is a speech worth remembering. President Barack Obama's call for an inclusivity and a commitment to move this country forward together, is a challenge for all citizens to work together to make our union more perfect. It was, as Frederick Douglass called Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, '...a sacred effort...'

One Hundred fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr's 'I Have a Dream' speech, the re-election is both an affirmation of how far our country has come and incentive to do what is necessary to go even farther...

Inauguration Day - Exciting as 2008? Maybe/Maybe Not

So with those 35 words, Barack Obama, begins his second term as President of the United States. He is the first Democratic president to be elected and re-elected with more than 50% of the votes of the electorate, since Franklin Roosevelt (he's also the first president to be take the oath of office four times since Roosevelt - due to Chief Justice John Roberts' flubbing the lines in 2008, resulting in a 'retake' later). 

President Obama officially took the oath of office 12 noon Sunday (he is Constitutionally required to take the oath on January 20). He will take the office ceremoniously today. 

No matter who is president, I tend to like inaugurations. It is a demonstration to the world that political leadership can change in an orderly, peaceful process. It is a time when we get a view of a newly elected president as actually 'presidential'. The inauguration speech, is a glimpse into his view of the world and the office he has just now assumed. It is a very special day in the life of our country. 

But is this inauguration day as special as 2008? 

After all, Obama is now not only the first black president. He is the first black president to win re-election. 

In 2008, an estimated 2 million people withstood freezing temperatures to witness see a truly historic event: a black man taking the oath of office and become known as 'the most powerful man in the world'.

But is it as special this time?

It is predicted that less than half as many in attendance for the ceremony this year. And there are citizens who are feeling it to be far less special than the historic occasion of the first inauguration.

This is good news and good news.

This portends that the country has grown accustomed to even the optics of a black man being President. The 'novelty', as it were, has worn off. And whatever the varying degrees of discomfort on the part of many Americans, there are millions who will grow up taking for granted that a black man can be President of our country. It will make it easier to think of those optics as not being 'novel'. A woman. A Hispanic. A minority female. The door of our collective imagination is now open and will not close. And we take it for granted now. This is a good thing.

It could also mean, that among even Obama supporters, as proud as we are of this achievement, for our country and for him personally. We are now beginning to look at him as President. Which mean everyone has heightened expectations. There is no previous administration on which to blame the country's woes. Congresses' intransigence is no longer a surprise. There will be parameters on the 'romance' of the visual of Obama in the Oval office.

But now we will look for him to lead. And, perhaps, there is a better understanding on the part of supporters, that they will have to provide him a daily constituency for their agenda. Whatever his 'base wants, they will have to, as it is said to be said by Franklin Roosevelt, 'Go out and organize and make me do it', whatever 'it' is.

That's good news too. Because seeing Obama as president only serves to make him a more powerful president.

I was recently asked whether or not I was more or less excited about the second inauguration, than I was the first time. I replied that I may be different, but I've always viewed the President as a politician. As such, he has to have people who can provide him political cover in order to be effective. The degree to which Obama has unfinished business from his first term, is greatly related to the degree to which the issue interests who voted him in, saw him as 'the One' carrying their water for him and holding him almost solely responsible for carrying it out.

Maybe the lack of euphoria is related to the fact that not only has recovery from 2008's Great Recession, been slower than everyone has liked; or that the exposure of America's ugly racist side is now known - even with a black president; or that we still have a war, costly with blood and treasure and an unsettled world which feels as if it is growing more unstable everyday. Perhaps their is a sobering thought that Obama has made a history in which we are all responsible to participate. His oath of office is now a solemn oath among us all that we must learn how to take advantage of the victories he's able to win in the halls of government that many of us will never see. Maybe it is the growing realization that he is now our president, whether you voted for him or not.

This too is a good thing.

If neither of these reasons true. Then it means we're simply not paying attention.

And then we're really in trouble. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Martin Luther King's Unfinished Business Belongs to Us

I LIKE this column by North Carolina State University's associate professor Blair L. M. Kelley. It calls on us to remember Martin Luther King's failures as well as his success.

Here's an excerpt...

"King has become the single greatest icon of the civil rights movement—his words are studied, his great marches are remembered, his name marks our boulevards; his shadow, now literally cast in stone, looms large on our national consciousness. He has become the benchmark for great leadership, so much so that nearly every leader that has emerged after him is compared to him, and found wanting."

"As an icon, King is often thought of as flawless, so that we rarely reflect on his failures as a movement leader. Our collective memory of King only touches on the high points. The images we remember are the moments of his greatest triumphs as a leader: the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, the Birmingham Campaign that same year, and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Each of these efforts resulted in positive change, clear victories in the courts or in the halls of Congress."

"We tend not to remember the moments when King faltered or searched for the right direction. We don’t recall the indecision about what to do next after the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the challenge of the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement campaign, or his unfulfilled Poor People’s Campaign — cut short by his tragic assassination in 1968. These moments are forgotten when King is not remembered in his broader context..."

"It is especially telling that Chicago, Illinois was the site of one of King’s most difficult campaigns. King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were drawn into the struggle in the urban North after the Los Angeles riots of 1965. While the southern movement had been making strides in dismantling segregation and disfranchisement, the problems of black residents in the urban North and West had not gained sustained national attention. At the invitation of activists in Chicago, King moved to that city."


"While in Chicago, King and the SCLC hoped to draw attention to poor and inequitable housing conditions, pointing to the fact that although the city did not have formal segregation laws, de facto housing patterns left many of the city’s African Americans in slum conditions. King also worked to stem gang violence, holding workshops on nonviolence. King had a young leader in his organization, Jesse Jackson, spearhead Operation Breadbasket in Chicago: an effort to call on local businesses to hire black employees on an equitable basis."

"But King’s efforts in Chicago did not meet with immediate success. Local white residents resisted calls to integrate their neighborhoods. King described one march on the city’s west side, saying that he had “never seen as much hatred and hostility on the part of so many people.” City leaders attempted to defuse protests, coming to agreements to address unfair housing conditions, then later refusing to make good on their promises. The majority of the nation turned a blind eye to the inequities of black urban life, feeling no moral call to transform black life once southern segregation had been dismantled. Instead, many in the national media pointed to theories of black pathology rather than addressing the systemic problems King had decried."

In the long run, King’s turn toward Chicago would make a difference. In the decades following his death, black organizations would use their newfound political leverage to elect black mayors in the cities of Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles..."

"In the almost forty-five years since King’s assassination, we still find ourselves at a racial crossroads. Some might argue that we have reached the Promised Land with the dismantling of the legal barriers that kept African-Americans from realizing their full citizenship. Some might argue that the election and successful reelection of the first African-American president is the realization of King’s dream."

"But this year, as we celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. I’d like for us to remember the shortcomings as much as we glorify his success. After all, these struggles have lessons to teach, and might provide insight into the things that we still must do. They hint at what King might have done had he lived."

I will argue this, however. Any 'unfinished business' left by King is for those of us who believe in his efforts and inspired by his victories, to take up. Great leaders have big agendas, big enough that they will most likely ever be completed in the leaders lifetime. A real celebration of King's life and work, and an authentic appreciation of where he came up short, will lead to an army of citizens who will see that his work is ours to finish.

Suzii Paynter Tapped to Head the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

You might have to know Suzii Paynter to be as excited as I am that she has been named to lead the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Suzii is a passionate advocate for justice. She understands the necessity for Christians to be a prophetic voice for the poor and underserved. She is a committed servant whose love for God easily translates into service to all men. She is literally a joy to be around. And this signal honor is not only well deserved, but speaks volumes of the type of strides they will make during her tenure. 

My friend George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church here in Dallas probably says it better...

"Suzii is always about ministering to those who need us; advocating for justice for "the least of these"; seeking mercy and healing and redemption for those who are hurting; in short, being the presence of Christ."

Congratulations Suzii! And congratulations to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on a wonderful choice!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Nancy Hicks Maynard

Journalist, Co-Publisher of the Oakland Tribune

"The issue is a power relationship with journalism groups having their say about what story is important in America. Who gets to tell 'America's story'?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ironies and Inconsistencies Abound with the Death of Compassion

I probably have done what I have promised I wouldn't - read too many responses to blog posts and newspaper articles and columns - but it is truly sad to see the lack of compassion among Americans.

Are there homeless people dying in the streets? There is a smug and snide comment.
Are children failing in school? It's the fault of unwed mothers and parents who don't care. Besides (if they are minorities) 'these people' are congenitally prone to become criminals.
Are people poor? It's they're own fault.

It's more depressing than the issues themselves.

It's challenging to understand the reasoning behind some stances. Poor people aren't to have babies out of wedlock. Yet they aren't to have abortions. Yet if poor people give birth to children out of wedlock, then they must find their way in a world in which some of the very people who clamored about the moral demand for their birth, don't want these children to have health care, cut back on education funding and job training for their parents. They want the market to determine whether they get McDonald's or a real grocery store in their neighborhoods, but it's the fault of the people who live in poor communities if their diets increase the rise of diabetes and heart disease.

Without equal investments in their schools in their neighborhoods, we want poor children to grow up to be as educated, or more educated, than their more affluent peers. We want them to stay away from all of the temptations of youth because they are poor. All of their role models must be virtuous. And they must be impervious to any negative influences in their neighborhoods.

We extol the virtues of motherhood. Middle class and affluent mothers who stay at home to care for their children are 'brave' and have great 'character'. Poor mothers who stay at home to care for their children are 'lazy' and setting a poor example.

If poor or low income parents (particularly single mothers) work and have jobs that don't allow them to get home in time for PTA meetings, or parent teacher conferences, poor or low income parents don't care about their children's education. If their more affluent counterparts have careers that prevent them from being similarly involved in their children's lives they are prey to becoming 'victims' of the stress placed upon them by outmoded domestic gender roles. They get sympathy for their struggle to try and 'have it all'.

The homeless are essentially no one's problem. Their life and death on the streets cost us nothing - as long as you don't count jail, emergency hospital visits and hospitalizations, or if you decide not to count the cost in lost human capital. After all these are people with drastically diminished capacities as consumers. Which means they are unable to pay rent, food, clothes, or any of the other commodities the rest of us take for granted. Other than that, they cost us...nothing.

Similarly those without health care are no one's problem. We don't want affordable health care, because it is government 'taking over'. Yet ultimately, it's government that determines who are doctors are, where our hospitals are and how they operate, the medicines we have access to and how much we pay for them. Those who decry 'Obamacare's' mandate, have 'the right' to not be 'forced' to pay for health care. Which means that they are exercising a 'right' that doesn't infringe upon the rest of us. That is, until the rest of us pay for them...twice!
We pay for them in higher taxes, we pay for them in higher insurance premiums. They cost us three times if you separate out the actual costs for health care we pay to make up for the what the uninsured don't pay as they exercise their 'rights'.

No. We simply have lost the capacity to care. For anyone except ourselves. At least until it comes to a time when we are ourselves, in need. At which time, of course, we reject nothing offered to us. Because we 'paid for it'. And of course, none of these 'other people' ever have.

The death of compassion, may end up being the death of us all...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Martin Luther King, Gun Control, the Second Amendment & the Content of OUR Character

As we near the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, I am taken by the strange irony of the fact that our country is in the throes of grappling with the response to the tragic deaths of 20 children and six of their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.

It would seem as if this, when combined with the gun violence in a mosque in Wisconsin, the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year, the deaths and near assassination of U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Arizona and several other mass murders, would awaken our country to the need to make assault weapons similar to those used in these violent episodes less accessible, if not eliminate their availability altogether. The idea that any of us, public and elected officials, even clergy, consider the 'right' to own killing machines (because after all, that is what all guns are), such a basic human right, that limiting the availability of the most devastating of them an infringement of those rights says much about what is wrong with America now.

On Monday, homage will be paid to life and the work of Dr. King. And rightfully so. And, once again, we will hear, ad infinitum ad nauseum, the clause from his 'I Have a Dream' speech, used and misused by those who appreciate his legacy and those who have co-opted his image to advance an agenda antithetic to his 'dream'.  It's the phrase in which we speaks of the day when his children - all children - will be judged by the 'content of their character' and not the color of their skin.

But this should cause us to think: What is the content of the character of those for whom even the mass murder of 5-6 year old children, is not enough to see that we need a radical shift in values. If babies can be brutally massacred, because of these killing machines, then is our 'right' to own them more important than the lives of these and potentially future children? Or their mothers? Or their fathers? Or their teachers?

And what is the content of the character of those who say the answer to the problem is to arm everybody?! So we now go back to the day when when we shoot one another in the streets? Should something like this ever happen again, do we trust teachers, who may have never injured anyone intentionally in their lives, be able to calmly take out someone in battle gear with a semi-automatic assault weapon?

Certainly, we have a right to self-defense. But when we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. we celebrate the life of a man of non-violence, which extended even to the idea of self defense.

Take for instance the night during the Montgomery bus boycott when his home was bombed.
A moment to call for self-defense, or vengeance or even a demand for the protection of the public safety officials. But here was his response:

"After the successful beginning of the boycott on Monday, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) came into being that afternoon, and Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the presidency. As MIA leader, King became the focus of white hatred. On January 30, 1956, the King home was bombed."

"King had been speaking at a mass meeting at the First Baptist Church. When he heard the news, he told the crowd what happened, and left the church."

"Nearing his house, King saw blacks brandishing guns and knives, and a barricade of white policemen. King went inside and pushed through the crowd in his house to the back room to make sure Coretta and his ten-week-old baby were okay. Back in the front room of the house, some white reporters were trying to leave to file their stories, but could not get out of the house, which was surrounded by armed, angry blacks."

"Taylor Branch, in Parting the Waters, tells what happened next:

"“King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. ‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’”"

"When the crowd of several hundred was silent, he continued, “I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”"

King's second amendment right certainly included an armed response to this type of violence. But his commitment to something greater than himself suggested a sacrifice of that right in order for true justice to prevail.

Don't the lives of 20 children and six teachers mean that we can sacrifice something of that right? Doesn't the maiming of Gabby Giffords, her pain and suffering and that of her husband, not to mention the child and the adults who died that day last year, mean that we can sacrifice an ill interpreted portion of 'the right to bear arms'.

And if we don't think so, whether common citizen, or politician, or public official, or preacher...what does that say about the content of our character?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Non-Violence: The Ultimate Gun Control

Today, President Barack Obama will announce measures his administration will take to curb gun violence in our country. Initial reports about what will be included in his proposals are promising.

There are those who suggest that any measure to limit access to the multi-round killing machines that have taken the lives of innocent people in Arizona, Wisconsin and Sandy Hook shootings, is referred to as a 'slippery slope'. I think we've already fallen down a slippery slope that suggests that any politics that promotes as 'absolute' any 'right' (such as the second amendment), that literally makes it easy to kill and maim other citizens, must be reevaluated.

How many more innocent people must be injured or murdered before we realize that we can no longer put our country's values on autopilot while establishing a culture in which isolation, resentment, anger and hate ultimately lead to deadly violence. We cannot keep people from killing one another. We can take giant steps toward taking the 'mass' out of 'mass killings'.

As we approach the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday (his actual birthday was January 15), we must also consider a renewed focus on non-violence. It is the ultimate gun control and ultimate cure to a society in which injury of the spirit and the death of hope is gradually becoming things we accede to as the norm.

King's haunting reflection on his day, should provide sobering reflection on ours: "Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. "

To not understand, that the very technology that has increased our access to information, entertainment and commerce, is rapidly outpacing the moral capacity of mankind and refuse to do anything to curb the results that we have already seen, is not only insanity - it's suicide.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Ironic History of Gun Control

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Here's another reason why I love Melissa Harris-Perry's show! A passionate, yet rational discussion of one of the most heated topics of our time. Yet one which is also complicated because of a complex historic relationship with guns, gun violence, the second amendment, politics and yes, race. 

Here's a little trivia: One of Black Panther founder, Huey P. Newton's college professors was Edwin Meese III, who would go on to become Attorney General in the Reagan Administration!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Welfare to Work and the Failed Search for Cheap Solutions

Is work better than welfare?

Of course!

Is the pride and the sense of purpose associated with having a job, better than going through the sense of shame some people feel when having to apply for food stamps, or TANF?

Without question!

If you're fortunate enough to have a job that provides health care benefits than to rely on Medicaid?

You bet!

Is the fact that we have millions of poor Americans an indication that these public supports are failures and should be dismantled?

It's not even a serious consideration...of course not (for those that need me to answer the question)!

But once again, this time from an apparently well meaning source, we have another argument for the debilitating 'dependency' created by 'the welfare state' and the virtues of providing work instead.

Peter Cove, founder of America Works, a for-profit welfare-to-work company, says in an op-ed column published in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, that "...government’s unprecedented expenditures failed to bring about the decline in poverty Johnson had promised. Instead, they made things worse. Neither City Hall nor I comprehended that the community action organizations on which we lavished taxpayer dollars would entrench dependency by urging people to get on the welfare rolls. War on Poverty funds paid for social workers, community activists and lawyers to organize the poor, but these organizers, far from lifting poor people out of dependency, helped them sign up for more — and more expensive — welfare programs."

Well, maybe...

I think a number of things tend to get lost in the condemnation of Johnson's efforts to end poverty.

We tend to forget, for instance that the commitment to the war on poverty, was eclipsed by a commitment to another war...the Viet Nam war. According to The Navy Department Library, the cost of the Viet Nam War in 'constant 2008 dollars' from 1965-1975 was $686 billion. The Cato Institute says that since 1964 to present (2012) we have spent close to $15 trillion fighting the war on poverty and failed in the attempts. One might also point out, according to The Navy Department Library, that we have, during virtually the same period during which we've spent an alleged $15 trillion dollars to fight poverty. Meanwhile, from 1965 to the present, we've spent more than $2.5 quadrillion dollars on war and have not achieved lasting peace!

We also tend to forget, that episodic catastrophes  natural and domestic throw people into poverty: Katrina and 2008's Great Recession had both immediate and collateral impacts resulting in each case with the creation of 'new' poor.

Nor do the adherents of Cove's thinking take into account policies which help create or exacerbate poverty. Mass incarceration, for instance, devastates whole communities. The failed 'war on drugs', associated 'mandatory minimums' as well as the growing awareness of the numbers of wrongfully incarcerated prisoners, are creating single parent families and in some cases families headed by grandparents and great-grand-parents. The resultant prison re-entry population, which don't cost our society in terms of public financial supports (because those who return to the poor communities from which they were incarcerated, are ineligible for many of them), cost nonetheless in post incarceration supervision. They are, in the meantime, ineligible for a number of work opportunities, not to mention housing and some job training programs.

The fact is poverty and work as a solution are not as simple as we want to make either of them. And our continued attempts to solve those problems inexpensively, only reveal our unwillingness to deal with problems with which we are in some ways complicit.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Beautiful Life

It's been a pretty long time since I welcomed the New Year in saying 'Good-Bye' to someone. The last time was 1987 when my paternal grandmother died.

This time it is a very dear friend.

Clyde was one of my most trusted associate ministers when I was a pastor. He encouraged me, respectfully challenged me (although there were times it didn't seem that way!). He protected me and consoled me. We were nearly alter egos. Clyde's courageous life struggles were impressive. He battled addiction. He battled staggering health problems, most of which stemmed from addiction. He battled demons associated with his upbringing that were many times the source of relapse and loss of material security that many of us take for granted. But he did battle and he did so in ways that always made be proud to be his pastor and his friend.

Clyde was a diabetic, he had sclerosis of the liver, heart disease, he was on dialysis and high blood pressure - and those were the things I knew about! Yet, in the church he joined in 2011, Clyde led a prison ministry in which he not only preached in Texas prisons, but he literally reorganized the coalition of churches, recruited new members and re-engaged members who had fallen away. He inspired them all with his commitment, his passion and his love for God.
This was a volunteer position, but Clyde worked at it as if he was a full time paid staff member.

And he would sometimes complain about the workload - while loving every second of it!

Clyde came to the church I served as pastor, fresh out of jail. He first attended Bible study for several weeks. He came by later and talked with me about his experiences. Clyde had been a drug dealer, a drug user and a pimp. He had spent time in prison. But he wanted to turn his life around and he wanted to join our church.

When Clyde joined he was a faithful church member, before he announced his call to the ministry. With very little formal education, he had an unsettling, almost eerie understanding of God's Word. He also had an uncanny understanding of human nature. He was almost always right in sizing up people. But he was amazingly compassionate. Because of his life in the streets, he knew many of the people who would come by asking for assistance. Clyde got many of them to attend church and his sensitivity toward them meant that he would keep up with them throughout the week.

Clyde could be abrupt. He could sometimes be almost profane. He didn't suffer fools gladly. And he was fiercely loyal. He didn't have the best relationship with his mother. But when she grew ill, Clyde cared for her with a tenderness that was almost breathtaking. His grandfather died shortly thereafter and, again, Clyde cared for him before he died. Both incidents took a spiritual and physical toll on him to which most of us could hardly relate. The church in many respects had to care for him afterwards. And yet, in spite of his brusqueness, members of the church grew to love and appreciate him in a way that only made me grow in my admiration for them!

Clyde, had limited formal education, as I mentioned, but he worked at preaching. He read everything he could get his hands on that he thought would help him become a better preacher. He listened to preaching. He went to hear preachers and studied the preachers he listened to. And in he rapidly became a preacher that people loved to listen to because he preached in a relational style that made the congregation feel as if he was one of them engaged in a battle, but not battling on his own. If he could continue to fight his past and work his present and still remain hopeful for his future, so could they.

He taught Bible Study. He led in evangelism and worked with the men of the church. And he was faithful and supportive in every area.

He was close to my family. He helped my children get through some difficult periods in their lives with his presence and his advice. In the past year since my step-father's death, he even called MY mother every week just to see how she was doing!

Clyde was at home in our home, for dinner, or to talk. We talked regularly and I loved getting a chance to hear from him and see him. The last time he was at our house was November 6th. He had his girlfriend (a beautiful and most improbable relationship with a wonderful woman I've known since we were both children. A relationship which, believe it or not lasted 20 years!) came over for dinner and to watch the election returns. I knew each time I saw him, that he would never really get well. But I always thought he would be around longer.

We talked last, when I was on my way back from Austin. He told me about the last medical problems he was having and that he had an appointment with the doctor to see how they could resolve it. Clyde went into the hospital that Thursday and never came home. He died on December 29.

I'll miss Clyde. We don't get a chance to have many relationships that special. There were more than a few members who never understood how we, with our different backgrounds and upbringings, could be so close. We never talked about it. We just loved and trusted one another. He is one of the people I think about, when I hear others speak disparagingly about the inability of people to change. Or how people from South Dallas, don't want any better or can never be any different. The Clyde's of our world aren't really rare. We just don't take the time to know their story.

Saturday morning I'll be preaching my friend's funeral. It'll take the same type of strength it took to preach the funerals of my son, my father and my step-father. I'm not worried. That is the type of strength that shows up when you need it.

Right now, I'm just grateful to God, that He gave me the chance to be a part of such a beautiful life!