Sunday, June 30, 2013

'A Man Called Peter'

One of my favorite movies is "A Man Called Peter". The movie, a bio pic about Scottish American Pastor Peter Marshall,  is adapted from the book of the same name by his widow, Catherine Marshall. 

Watching this movie was my introduction to Marshall (1902-1949), who served as pastor of Washington D.C.'s New York Presbyterian Church from 1937 until his death. He was also appointed Chaplain of the U.S. Senate in 1947. 

Marshall's preaching was rich, lush and imaginative, made all the more compelling by his Scottish brogue. In studying his life, I'm learning that a number of sermon illustrations I've used for years were illustrations he used. In the move Richard Todd does a very good job of capturing Peter Marshall's style and voice, so that its pretty easy to imagine Marshall in the pulpit by watching this film. 

A couple of pieces of trivia from this movie: this movie was the last movie for Jean Peters (who plays Catherine Marshall). She went on to marry billionaire Howard Hughes. It was also the first movie for Ann B. Davis who is best known for playing 'Alice', the maid in the 'Brady Bunch'!

Here is a link to the audio of an actual sermon preached by Marshall. It's a masterpiece!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Who's Your Miss Divine?

There are those of us who had a Sunday School teacher, or a character in our church as we grew up who served as our 'Lizzie Divine'. A funny story, told with reverence and regard for our past. We all have one...or more.

What are yours?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Paula Deen's Slur Not as Problematic Our Nonchalance...

For those unable to get behind the Dallas Morning News' 'paywall', here is my column published in today's paper...

Gerald Britt: Nonchalance over Deen’s use of racial slur exposes real issue

Celebrity cook Paula Deen’s admission that she’d used a hateful racial slur in reference to black Americans is not a particularly shocking revelation. Her transparency during a deposition was explained like so in a statement released by Paula Deen Enterprises: “She was born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus.”
I think there is a better use of time than finding ways to visit rage upon those who, in the past, used hate speech for which they are now ashamed.
More disturbing is that, more recently, Deen thought nothing of suggesting that blacks dress as slaves to work an antebellum-themed wedding. Did she give any consideration to how this would demean her employees and some of her fans?
More disturbing still is some of the public reaction to the controversy. Some suggest that those offended by the use of the slur are being “overly sensitive.” Others say that the N-word is just a word, possessing only the power people give it.
There is no such thing as “just a word.” Words matter. Words have meaning and power. Words start wars. Words move people to laughter or tears. Words evoke images in the minds of the people who speak and those who listen.
If words don’t matter, why do we read books or listen to speeches or song lyrics? Why are playwrights and authors paid millions of dollars if words don’t matter?
Deen used that word, she says, having lived in a culture where its usage was common. But it’s a word intended to dehumanize and objectify Americans whose history and heritage included slavery and segregation. It was a spiked weapon that so marginalized black Americans that it was used to justify injustices, diluting the venomous cruelty of the most heinous acts of brutality.
The word normalized the humiliation of segregated schools, lunch counters, neighborhoods, employment and transportation. The word consigned an entire race to a category of otherness and deemed its membership unnecessary to consider with any regard or respect. No matter one’s age, gender, service in defense of our nation or contributions to art, literature or sciences, no one toward whom the word was directed was of any consequence.
Deen begs understanding because she was raised in a culture that tolerated such bigotry and humiliation as a cultural norm. So were those whose lives were broken by that humiliation and bigotry. There are people alive today who lost relatives and friends because of such cultural norms. There are those who remember and resent still how those norms scarred and scandalized our country.
What about the free speech argument? Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism, critique or consequence. The Food Network’s cancellation of Deen’s show is such a consequence. Freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee that you remain employed by sponsors dependent on a diverse consumer base. Whether excessive or not, the Food Network has the right not to employ someone with a penchant for insulting and offensive behavior.
Perhaps racism was less a factor and this was more about a Southern woman being insensitive, clueless and rude. Is it more acceptable to think that the culinary icon should be numbered among those too lazy to use more discreet language or too unimaginative to avoid unkind speech or employ degrading imagery to entertain wedding guests? When did boorishness become such a cherished right in our culture?
The nonchalance of some regarding this whole affair is downright disappointing.
Gerald Britt is vice president of public policy at CitySquare. His email address is, and he blogs at

What Grand Canyon will You Walk?

Ok, I'll confess, after he walked the expanse of Niagra Falls I thought the idea of the Grand Canyon was...crazy!

When I found out that Nik Wallenda was actually going to do it, I wanted to see it, but I couldn't bear to watch it live.

Clearly he has more courage than I. It helped that I wasn't going to be at home to see it, so I recorded it and watched it later...after I found out he was successful. And no, if he didn't make it I wouldn't have watched it. As you've heard that's 1400 ft across and 1500 ft down!

I can be a skeptic. I wanted to find something wrong with the daredevil feat. I wanted to be a little cynical about the 'Praise you Jesus' as he walked the cable. But I could only come away with one thing...

At some point we all have a tightrope to walk. We all have something we want to achieve, something that, in failing, makes us think that we will have lost everything.

For Nik Wallenda it was the Grand Canyon (ok, someone had to point out it wasn't actually the Grand Canyon...but you get my drift)...what is it for you?

And why aren't you walking?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

CPPP's 'A Fighting Chance' - Feeling Like an American

I find it interesting when the emotional defense against providing public supports for our neighbors trapped in poverty is the self righteous notion that 'poor choices' have led to their circumstances.

Who among us hasn't made 'poor choices'?

But, of course, we like to project that we've never repeated mistakes, or that we've overcome them by our own grit and hard work. I suppose there are a number of people for whom that is true. It certainly isn't for me, nor is it true for most people I know. 

Most people need the type of support that allows them to imagine a better future for themselves and for their families. 

Delores' is just such a story...

Thanks to the Center for Public Policy Priorities for providing this story. It's a clip from a documentary called 'A Fighting Chance'. All of the stories in the documentary don't have as happy an ending as Delores'. But hers is a story that reminds us that public support programs serve a takes people who have made mistakes and helps them to '...feel like an American'

We all should feel more like Americans when we learn about stories like hers...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Courage to Care

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
C.S. Lewis

Saturday, June 22, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Ida Tarbell
1857 - 1944


"Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists - with it all things are possible."

Friday, June 21, 2013

All of our Neighbors Deserve 'A Place at the Table"

On Sunday evening, at 7:15 pm, I'll be the guest of Watermark Community Church for their 'Hunger Month'. Watermark, where Tod Wagner is Senior Pastor, will sponsor a number of service opportunities to alleviate and call attention to food insecurity and hunger in our community.

I and Texas Hunger Initiative's Marc Jacobson will be joining Minister Jeff Webb for a screening of the documentary 'A Place at the Table', with actor Jeff Bridges and Food Network's chef Tom Colicchio.

The extent of hunger in a prosperous city like Dallas, is often overlooked, or it is assumed that food pantries and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly 'food stamps'), are sufficient sources of food in poor neighborhoods. Unfortunately that's far from the case. To talk about hunger and food insecurity is to talk about more than a scarcity of food, it is to talk about illnesses like obesity and diabetes related to food deserts and food swamps (neighborhoods where fast food restaurants outnumber establishments that sell fresh, healthy and nutritious foods and meals. It's to talk about work productivity, student achievement, health care disparities, economic development and even national security.

CitySquare is working hard to address this issue, with our food pantry that distributes nearly 2 million pounds of food a year, served 20,000 meals just last week with our 'Food on the Move' program and our own advocacy to get the Dallas Farmers' Market to accept SNAP cards, as well as more grocery stores in food deserts.

Hunger is a solvable problem and we need serious committed partners to work with us. We're proud to have Watermark as a CitySquare partner and I look forward to joining them Sunday night. Hope you can make it...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Male/Female Wage and Employment Inequality - More Complex Than We Think

A recent study by the Pew Center caused a great deal of consternation, when it revealed that "...40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family..."
Of nearly 14 million women surveyed, 37 percent were married women, 63 percent were single parent households headed by women. 
The issue is interesting, in that it is a phenomenon that seems to have become more pronounced during the recession, based on a 2009 Center for American Progress report,  but is also one that seems to be systemic, as well. 
A report by Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz, shows that we are not just facing an employment gap between men and women, but a wage gap as well. An argument that is particularly intriguiging considering the fact that value of wages for both men and women are on the decline. 
Shierholz's report follows....

The Wrong Route to Equality – Men’s Declining WagesThe improvement in women’s wages relative to men’s is in part due to men’s declining wages

In the late 1970s, after a long period of holding fairly steady, the gap in wages between men and women began improving. In 1979, the median hourly wage for women was 62.7 percent of the median hourly wage for men; by 2012, it was 82.8 percent. However, a big chunk of that improvement – more than a quarter of it — happened because of men’s wage losses, rather than women’s wage gains.
With the exception of the period of labor market strength in the late 1990s, the median male wage, after adjusting for inflation, has decreased over essentially the entire period since the late 1970s. Between 1979 and 1996, it dropped 11.5 percent, from $19.53 per hour to $17.27 per hour. With the strong labor market of the late 1990s, the median male wage partially rebounded to $18.93 by 2002. It then began declining again; at $18.03 per hour in 2012, the real wage of the median male was 4.7 percent below where it had been a decade earlier.
This cannot be blamed on economic stagnation. Between 1979 and 2012, productivity – the average amount of goods and services produced in an hour by workers in the U.S. economy — grew by 69.5 percent, but that did not translate into higher wages for most men. Over this period, the real wage of the median male dropped 7.6 percent. This is a new and troubling disconnect: In the decades prior to the 1970s, as productivity increased, the wages of the median worker increased right along with it.
Furthermore, looking at the median wage understates the losses many men have experienced since the 1970s. For men with a high school degree, real wages have fallen by more than 14 percent. It is not the case, however, that men’s wages have fared poorly since the 1970s because men do not have the right education or skills. In the last 10 years, even workers with a college degree have failed to see any real wage growth.
Nor are men’s losses are due to women’s gains. The forces that were holding back male wage growth were also acting on women’s wages, but the gains made by women over this period in educational attainment, labor force attachment, and occupational upgrading, along with greater legal protections against discriminatory pay, initially compensated for adverse forces. In the last decade, however, women’s wages have also dropped.
Unlike the postwar period, when economic policy supported the expansion of good jobs, for the last 35 years, the focus has been on policies that were advertised as making everyone better off as consumers through lower prices: deregulation of industries, the Federal Reserve Board’s prioritizing low inflation over full employment, weakening of labor standards including the minimum wage, a “stronger” dollar — which costs manufacturing jobs by making our goods relatively more expensive around the world and imports relatively cheaper to US consumers — and the move toward fewer and weaker unions. The decline in unionization alone explains about a third of the rise in male wage inequality (and about a fifth of the increase in female wage inequality) over this period.
Together, these policies have eroded the individual and collective bargaining power of most workers, depleting access to good jobs. In other words, these policies have served to make the already-affluent better off at the expense of the rest.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dream Variation by Langston Hughes

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently, Dark like me— That is my dream!
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Fathers' Day!

My Dad !
When I was ....................................

 4 years old:  My daddy can do anything.

 5 years old:  My daddy knows a whole lot.

 6 years old:  My dad is smarter than your dad.

 8 years old:  My dad doesn't know exactly everything.

10 years old: In the olden days when my dad grew up, things were sure different.

12 years old:  Oh, well, naturally Father doesn't know anything about that. He is too old to remember his childhood.

14 years old:  Don't pay any attention to my father.  He is too old-fashioned!

21 years old:  Him?  My Lord, he's hopelessly out-of-date.

25 years old:  Dad knows a little bit about it, but then he should because
 he has been around so long.

30 years old:  Maybe we should ask Dad what he thinks.  After all, he's had a lot of experience.

35 years old:  I'm not doing a single thing until I talk to Dad.

40 years old:  I wonder how Dad would have handled it.  He was so wise and had a world of experience.

50 years old:  I'd give anything if Dad were here now so I could talk this
over with him. Too bad I didn't appreciate how smart he was. I could have learned a a lot from him.

Author unknown

Oh Say Aren't You Ashamed? This Sunday's Lesson Taught by Sebastian De La Cruz

The only thing that surprises me more than what comes out of the mouths of children, are the mean, hateful spiteful things that come out of the mouths of adults.

I am a Miami Heat fan (if it hadn't been for the childish brouhaha that came from Cleveland Cavalier fans when LaBron James played out his contract with the team and decided to opt for Miami instead of renewing with Cavaliers, I'd probably never have paid attention to them), so I'm paying a little more attention to the NBA championship than I might have otherwise, since the Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs.

And, frankly, I wouldn't pay much attention to the National Anthem prior to the start of the came, unless there had been a celebrity singing it. I caught the tale end of little Sebastian De La Cruz's rendition of the nation's song and, to be honest, paid little attention, other than to think the little fellow had a nice voice.

But the next day, I read that the 'twitterverse' was bombarded with complaints from racists that little Sebastian had been selected to sing 'The Star Spangled Banner'. Seriously. Some, supposedly patriotic 'adults, found fault with the boy's singing our nation's anthem, because they thought his Hispanic surname meant that he was 'illegal'.

I wish I could say something stronger than, 'They ought to be ashamed of themselves'. But really, they should. Of course those tweets were 'anonymous' or using twitter handles that masked their true identity. The Internet provides a heavy thick veil for some very sad and cowardly people who would be too ashamed, or afraid, to say the vile things they write within earshot of a co-worker, a neighbor or, yes, a fellow church member.

I will tell you who should be very, very, very proud - the parents of Sebastian De La Cruz. This little boy showed more grace and class than all of the 'adult' critics who said vile, mean things because they thought he was undocumented...

Impressive and surprising poise from a 10 year old! 

And as his reward? He got to sing the National Anthem again, in game four!

So while racist tweeters get to go back to their jobs, or among their friends and neighbors without having revealed how mean spirited and hateful they are - because they use twitter handles or are anonymous, little Sebastian De La Cruz, gets feted and celebrated because at 11, he's actually more mature than those who said such nasty things. 

I'm writing this post for Sunday, because those of us who are Christian, must love those racists...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

William Sloane Coffin 
Pastor, Theologian, Activist

"The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Broken Windows, Broken Dreams, Broken Family

There's something very poignant about this story. On the one hand, it reminds me of how my grandfather would often eat ice cream with my brother and me, late at night, long past the time we were supposed to be eating ice cream. On the other hand, it's touching story of the frustrating last resort of a man for whom 'progress' means the loss of more than just the 'American Dream'. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

JFK's Historic Speech on Civil Rights

On this day 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy gave one of the bravest speeches on Civil Rights ever given by a sitting president. 

It was given on the occasion of Vivian Malone and James Hood, being admitted to Alabama University under protection of the National Guard, in opposition to Governor George Wallace. 

It is true that Civil Rights demonstrations prodded and pushed President Kennedy to be assertive if not aggressive on this issue. But it in this broadcast to the nation, Kennedy unambiguously and unequivocally described defined the issue of segregation as a 'moral issue, as clear as the scripture...'

JFK was a political figure, some of us believe him to be a great one, but politics and its moral impact do not have to be mutually exclusive. There monumental times when that which is political squares with moral law. When that happens, and men of courage recognize it and act upon it as moral agents, history is changed. 

Many of the statistics cited by President Kennedy exist today, 50 years later, adjusted by population growth and economics. It is still political. It is still a moral issue. The question is do we have the courage to recognize it and act upon it as moral agents. Let's hope it doesn't take another 50 years to find out. 

You can find an actual clip of the speech here...

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Hungry and the Hard-Hearted in Texas

Laws passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature are a mixed bag - as are all legislative sessions. 

There are those of us who are dismayed by the craven capitulation of House representatives to the payday loan industry. The failure to strengthen legislation due to the full court press of lobbyists representing the industry is yet more evidence of what is wrong with the political process. 

But one thing they did get right was passage of the law to increase free breakfast program in public and charter schools throughout our state. And that's where the rub comes in. The 'My Opinion' segment of this weeks "Inside Texas Politics" program features Chris Krok, expressing an opinion against the free breakfast program! The idea is that it will increase 'dependency'...(you can see it at about 9 minutes into the video). 

For old-timers who remember the old Superman TV series: in the words of Daily Planet editor Perry White, 'Great Ceasar's ghost!'

Clearly Mr. Krok doesn't know that nearly 20 percent of Texas households face food insecurity. In fact in the 30th, 29th, 9th and 20th congressional districts food insecurity approaches 30 percent! Are we to believe that the reason why nearly 20-30 percent of Texans don't have enough to eat is because they don't try hard enough?

The examples Krok gives are laughable. He's had a hard time and has overcome so everyone else should be able to. He's seen one person say he had other priorities while standing in front of his SUV. Was he not supposed to have one? What was the make and model? Was it his? Was it borrowed? He raises the question whether or not these people whose children might get a free breakfast have cable or cell phones. So in order to be 'poor' you can no longer have technological necessities. Let's exacerbate the isolation of economic poverty by insisting that the poor be cut off from communication as well!

Free breakfasts have been around since 1966 and has been an entitlement since 1975. Making sure children have access to a healthy breakfast have a broad range of benefits. It is hard to believe that we can be concerned about test scores, teacher accountability and college and workforce readiness and not see this as an public school investment that we can't afford not to make!

As for creating a 'culture of dependency', it's interesting that it's only when it comes to the poor that we have such concerns. 

Two years ago, John Hoffmeister the former CEO of Shell Oil, reiterated his 2008 testimony before Congress that big oil companies don't need the tax subsidies they receive from the government. Of course, oil executives have since defended as essential, the $21 billion in tax subsidies  - despite record profits. 

'Culture of dependency'? I think there are some other areas to be concerned about before you get to hungry children. 

The Texas Legislature in expanding the free breakfast program, has essentially recaptured federal dollars (a rationale we need to consider when it comes to Medicare Expansion). And it ensures that children don't have to start the school day distracted by hunger. 

Anyone of us can point to extreme examples of bad behavior to avoid doing things that make sense. We can pull out snippets of our own success narratives to show how others can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And when you want to mask insensitivity in 'common sense conservatism' it's easy to talk about a culture of dependency. 

Thank goodness those people didn't prevail in the 83rd Texas least on this issue.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Father Andrew Greeley


Catholic Priest, Author

"Practically speaking, your religion is the story 

you tell about your life."

Friday, June 7, 2013

South Dallas Revitalization: We Know the Problem - Do We Have the Will?

Last Sunday, Tod Robberson wrote a very good article regarding the need for Dallas to have a more strategic, engaged, focused attitude toward South Dallas. In doing so, Tod makes the point that many of us who have lived, worked and loved South Dallas for decades have made - you cannot piecemeal redevelopment and you have to attack and overwhelm poverty and it's impact. 

"Here are a few to get the conversation going — and, we hope, to encourage the city’s philanthropists to get involved:
"Establishment of Baby College, an ongoing, well-structured series of parenting classes modeled after those Canada introduced in Harlem. Abysmal parenting practices and bad nutrition are what put infants at an instant developmental disadvantage from which they rarely can catch up. Good parenting skills are fundamental to raising a new generation of healthy, mentally active babies who get all the right kinds of brain stimulation they need."
"Expansion of early learning centers wherever neighborhood day care centers exist today. The prekindergarten years are crucial to proper brain development. Young children need age-appropriate instruction, not baby-sitting."
"Specialists at the nonprofit group Educational First Steps know exactly how to convert day care centers into learning centers. Anyone who wants to see a model of this success should visit the Good Street Learning Center on Hatcher Street."
"Help for at-risk students. Lincoln coach John Carter’s Turner 12 program has demonstrated remarkable results putting youth on a path to graduation and college. The program relies on mentors, a disciplined study regimen at home and heavy emphasis on parental involvement. Turner 12 needs to be expanded and duplicated."
"Change the ratio of rental to owner-occupied properties, with emphasis on absentee landlords. Revitalize South Dallas has some good ideas for how to get property owners who don’t live in South Dallas to raise their standards. Likewise, Habitat for Humanity has an excellent program to expand home ownership among poor families and a demonstrated track record of success around Lincoln. City Hall should think of ways to fund projects based on Habitat’s model instead of plowing millions of dollars into rental public housing."
"An entrepreneur mentoring program to help aspiring business people succeed. We’ve seen scores of corporate executives and managers volunteer in the Lincoln community at Habitat construction sites. Mentoring is a way volunteers can go beyond swinging a hammer and put their management expertise to use."
"Some philanthropists are comfortable to just write a check. Others might see a donation of their time and expertise as more valuable than cash. All of them want to know their largesse won’t go to waste. That’s why we’ve started our list with ideas that have demonstrated records of success and sustainability."
"Philanthropy must not be defined solely by deck parks or beautiful bridges. And it must not end at the Trinity River and Interstate 30."
I would like to take Tod's recommendation a little farther, though. While I agree that philanthropy is going to pay a necessary part in redevelopment - so will the market. For too long, Dallas - no matter who the mayor has been, no matter who sat on the council - have found excuses for not investing, or incentivizing the investment in South Dallas. As a pastor in South Dallas, when times were good and we asked for such investment we were told it wasn't profitable; when times were bad, we were told there is no money. What Tod points to in his article; what Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell and I pointed out in our column, is that even when it comes to education in poor communities like those along the Lincoln Feeder Pattern, you cannot have success by simply figuring out ways to hike test scores. We need healthy, economically viable communities that promote safety and security. Some of that calls for individual responsibility, of course, but policies, infrastructure, equitable delivery of city services, public safety, etc., are not just matters of personal responsibility, they call for a strategic utilization of public resources and indomitable public and political will. 
This will call for a special type of visioning and an almost incessant communication of that vision that knits all opportunities together: the Inland Port, the S.M. Wright Freeway Redesign, Fair Park Redevelopment, economic development along main commercial arteries like Martin Luther King Blvd, Malcolm X Blvd, Robert B. Cullum and Second Ave. and Hatcher and Scyene. Closed schools must be reopened or repurposed, and more new housing that will attract young families must be a part of neighborhood redevelopment. 
For more than 60 years, we have watched poverty overwhelm communities to the south. We now blame those same communities when the pathologies of that poverty manifest themselves and families don't manifest middle class values and aspirations when they are literally in survival mode. The strategic and intentional disinvestment of our neighborhoods to the south which resulted in the growth and prosperity of neighborhoods to the north must now be reversed. Everybody knows this. Catch business leaders and politicians in their more sober and honest moments will tell you this is what it takes. Now its a question of whether or not we have the will to make it happen...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Robert F. Kennedy (1925- 1968)

When was the last time you remember an aura of profound hope for our country? Most of us will recall the last few months of the 2008 presidential campaign. And it's true, those days spoke to a need to see America differently. A need to realize the greater potential of the democracy's promise as it became ever more clear that we could - we would - elect our country's first black president.

Of course, those heady, euphoric days yielded to the realities of governance and revealed the unseemly underbelly of the nation's racism and a growing ugliness in our politics that we are still struggling to overcome.

But the weeks and months that preceded the 2008 election were reminders of an earlier time; a time which seemed more uncertain, if that's possible. In 1968 it wasn't a financial collapse that citizens feared, it was unraveling of the very political and social fabric of our country. Five years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, just about two months after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the announcement by the besieged President Lyndon Johnson that he would not seek re-election (mainly because of incredible and continually surmounting civil unrest because of the Viet Nam War), Senator Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, after winning the California primary.

No presidential candidate other than his brother almost ten years before and Barack Obama 40 years later, so captured the imagination of this country. Robert Kennedy arrested the need of Americans to believe in America again. He not only spoke of the country with an eloquence that few politicians have ever been able to muster, he spoke in a way which touched the collective heart of Americans and made them yearn for a future more peaceful, more harmonious, than probably even the Founding Fathers dared to imagine.

It was due in part because of the unfulfilled hopes invested in the unfinished presidency of his brother. It was a weariness, frustration and hatred of a seemingly interminable war, in which victory could not be defined and the lost and broken lives of young servicemen and women, made our nation's future ever more precarious. And then the death of Martin Luther King, which showed how deep and pervasive the strain of hatred ran in our country. RFK became the embodiment of those hopes and dreams for a better day.

Kennedy focused America's attention on the poverty among us. Not just as a campaign platform, but he allowed himself - a wealthy man by inheritance - to be viewed by the country being visibly moved by the plight of the abject poverty of whites in Appalachia, of blacks in the Deep South and migrant farm workers in California. He spoke of the profound sense of surprise he had and shame we all must feel to have allowed poverty to exist in a land as prosperous as ours. He spoke of the injustice of racism and projected the idea of an America bigger than her bigotry and although an early supporter of the Viet Nam war, he was able to publicly wrestle with his past decision and admit that he had been wrong.

I was 11 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. I vaguely remember watching his victory speech that night before I went to bed. I can't remember whether I learned of the shooting that night or the next day and barely remember the announcement of his death. I remember however, how lost and hopeless everyone seemed afterward. There was little, if any doubt in the minds of adults in my world, that America had lost it's best President, before he could even be chosen as his country's standard bearer.

Every age looks for 'The One'. Every now and then, in sober moments, we realize that 'One' comes from among us - and that more often than not, someone has to decide to be 'The One'.
Perhaps, as we commemorate the 45th anniversary of Robert Kennedy's assassination or the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, or as the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, we will allow ourselves to consider the fact that maybe we might actually be 'the next One'. Maybe in a smaller, more limited sense, but 'the One' in our sphere of influence which prods our peers and family to a finer more noble place. If that isn't true, then these men and the many who dreamed and served and worked with them, may have lived and died in vain.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Religion and Politics Pt. III

When we talk about mixing religion and politics, my first reaction is that it tends to be volatile because we Christians are so bad at it.

There is the camp that among Christians that believes that we are here to conquer the world, even if it has to be a hostile takeover;

There are those who believe that Christianity is wholly personal and that aside from the most perfunctory exercises of citizenship, we should pray and spread the Gospel far and wide;

There are those of us who believe that the primary purpose of the Gospel is to provide us with a moral platform for a prophetic ministry emphasizing social justice

And there are those of us who believe that Christianity is to affirm American tenants of capitalism and meritocracy - signs that the blessings of God rests upon the hard work and rugged individualism and is evidenced by the success we experience in its pursuit.

There is a brand of politics which fits all four (and there are subsets of each one of these. It's also true that expressions of the Christian faith find different categories across the planet).
And in each one of these categories there are those of us who have been intolerant, self righteous, obnoxious and over zealous (myself included).

But politics (like religion), is not simply about our individual ideological (or theological) stances. They ultimately are about our life together. My friend and mentor, Ernie Cortez, is fond of quoting Aristotle and saying 'We are political beings.' True politics, he goes on to teach is the art of debate, argument, negotiation and compromise. The latter two, don't always lend themselves to the sphere of religion. We find negotiation and compromise signs of weakness and unfaithfulness. But in community, with people who don't believe as we do; in the marketplace of ideas and in a democratic republic, negotiation and compromise, rather than Divine Revelation is how we must get things done. We argue and debate in an effort to persuade vs. diminish or browbeat, which some believers tend to resort when engaged in the public sphere.

And then there is the 'God has led me to...' take your pick: support a particular political party; advocate for a particular policy or even run for political office. When those who don't share a Christian faith commitment read that, the logic runs, 'If X is called by God to run for office, does that mean that his opponent is doomed to failure (or worse?!). Does it mean opposing him or her means opposing God? If God has ordained a candidacy or policy, why do we even need to vote?'

It should be clear by now that there is also the question of which part of the Christian Church speaks for Christians? Which denomination, or sectarian group actually holds the key to Universal truth? Is it the Catholic Church? Or Baptists? What of Presbyterians or Episcopalian? What of Churches of Christs? Or Churches of God in Christ? Who actually knows what God is saying about pressing public issues? Is the issue of abortion more important than that of poverty? Is economic oppression a greater issue than war? And who is it that makes that decision?

We, as Christians, tend to approach complex issues with a certitude that others simply do not have and that we - as Christians - often have no right to assume.

So yes, we believers, particularly in America - tend to do politics poorly.

Here's what I think we should be doing: gathering as much information about what we care most deeply about as we can and, armed with that information, prayerfully enter into the public arena prepared to debate, argue, negotiate, compromise and collaborate with a pluralistic society that often does not share our values. We should do so humbly, knowing that there is much that we do not know. We should do so respectfully, treating others the way we wish to be treated. We should be willing to engage again, without resentfulness, bitterness or acrimony when we lose (because the nature of politics means to lose sometimes), knowing that opponents on one issue can, at times be allies on another. We don't do this often enough, so there are times when the discussion of politics comes up involving people of faith, even those whose faith commitment is similar to ours hate to see us coming!

When decisions that come from the public square violate our faith principals, we should resist. If they violate the human dignity of others - Christian or not - we should engage in protests and demonstrations, but in the process we shouldn't degrade ourselves or our opponent. We should nobly seek the highest good for all.

Sounds like heady objectives right? They are. But these are just a few steps in which we can let our light shine.

All of that being said, does this means Christians should stay out of politics or political discussions? No more than businessmen, single issue educators, scientists or healthcare professionals. We all belong in the square, arguing our perspectives and values. And although we all argue as if we are 100% right, we must all have the humility to know that we be at least 50% wrong.

It could be messy, but that's politics...and religion!

Saturday, June 1, 2013