Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Civic Sermons" has Arrived!

                                                              Buy "Civic Sermons" on Amazon in paperback!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Bill Maher
"Freedom isn't free. It shouldn't be a bragging point that 'Oh, I don't get involved in politics,' as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn't insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!


"And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭6-14‬ KJV

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Call for Sanity as We Mourn Two of New York's Finest

David Kattner, a 26 year veteran of the Dallas police department was arrested Sunday for sexual assault.

Officer Aaron Rodarte, was arrested for DWI and evading arrest.

Officer Julian Harris was arrested for felony domestic assault.

Dallas police officers provide free tickets for Slurpees at 7-11 'caught' for doing good deeds.

Officer Eric Hearn holds and comforts a baby while a citizen has a tire changed.

A Plano officer stopped a man for an expired car registration sticker. The 25 year old husband and father, said he had no excuse, he just didn't have the money to pay for the sticker. The officer wrote out the citation for the young man and handed it to him. When the young man opened the ticket, he saw the police officer had included a $100 dollar bill.

Which one of these officers is representative of the departments from which they come? I would argue all of them. Police officers do not come from some strange planet. They are not constructed in a laboratory. They come from among us. And, all things being equal, they have the same vices and virtues that all of us have. And while they have the same virtues the authority they carry with the badge means that they are held all the more accountable when the exhibit their vices.

Two policemen were tragically murdered in New York City. They were shot and killed by their assailant, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, as they sat in their patrol car. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu the two victims, also became symbols for those who wish to delegitimize the protests surrounding what many believe to be racialized shootings of unarmed black men across the country.

First, their efforts came in assailing the character of those who had been killed. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford have had their names smeared as miscreants and ne'er do wells. Either hardened criminals (for shoplifting in Michael Brown's case) or a practicing assassins (Tamir Rice, the 12 year old Cleveland boy shot to death by a police officer, as he brandished a toy gun). In almost every case the police officers were cleared by grand juries, hence the protests and riots across the country.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have been maligned because of their involvement in these incidents. Seen as race baiters and trouble makers, just their very presence evokes cries of foul by observers who seem not to know that Jackson and Sharpton don't just 'show up'. They are asked in by the families of the deceased victims. And it is also the height of insult to suggest that blacks would not be aggrieved if neither Jackson or Sharpton told them to be.

Some misguided soul on Facebook, took the time to list (from about 1997 on) a number of murders committed by blacks which hadn't received national attention! Could it be that the reason why he was so easily able to get those names had to do with the fact that their victims had achieved justice by their assailants arrests? He also conveniently forgot to let anyone know of the disposition of these cases regarding their guilt or innocence.

Still, on the flip side, there are those who have called for less policing. The problem, they say, is with the police themselves and this existence of a paramilitary force within our urban core. This is a totally insane idea! Black and brown people do commit crimes, and someone has to be on patrol to deal with those who are truly causing the problems which make our communities undesirable. I for one, would hate to live in a world where the presence of police officers were scarce and rare.

In fact the absence of police engagement can be seen in the violence caused by the rioting and looting in Ferguson, where some who lived in that city as well as those outside it, used Michael Brown's unfortunate death as an occasion to burn and loot their own neighborhoods.

We have to find answers to these problems and they cannot be found by blaming those whose lives have been torn apart by the deadly force used on unarmed victims and the anarchy imposed by citizens whether frustrated or opportunistic.

I think it begins with understanding that even if you believe that those officers who killed the four young men mentioned (as the many, many other killings by other officers), acted criminally, with criminal intent, they do not represent all policemen. The vast majority of police men and women are truly peace officers and committed to protecting and serving. They need our support. They need our cooperation. And every now and then it wouldn't hurt to show some appreciation. They know that their names are smeared every time an brother or sister officer goes rogue or when an unexplained and unexplainable violent act is perpetrated against a citizen. The good officers want the bad ones rooted out!

Secondly, those who defend every act of every police officer need to understand that police are not made. There is no law enforcement manufacturing equipment anywhere I know of. Our law enforcement officers come from among us. They are our  brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers. They have the same vices and virtues as the rest of us. Is it so hard to believe that some of them, in the exercise of their 'duty' intentionally - or in some rare cases 'unintentionally', go too far?
I celebrate the calls for accountability, but at the same time, I recognize that there are many, many good officers. I know some of them. Many of them are great church leaders, as well as fathers and mothers. They welcome the calls for accountability, and for trust between the police community and those who live in our urban areas, accountability there must be.

What's clear about the NYPD police murders is that the Brinsley was mentally deranged. There was nothing in anything he said about his motivation to kill police that should be taken seriously or attributed to the protests calling for reform. Those who say so are either trying to fan flames of racial hatred or possess irrational fears that need desperately to be worked out. Brinsley is like Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), or James Eagan Holmes (Aurora) a sick young man who visited his demons on two unsuspecting cops who were simply doing their jobs. To make more of it than that is to plant the seeds of the very violence you claim to fear.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Holy Gift!

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭18-25‬ KJV)

Friday, December 19, 2014

What Business Are You In?

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance,and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
Ebeneezer Scrooge and The Ghost of Jacob Marley
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens

Thursday, December 18, 2014

President Elizabeth Warren? Think its Possible?

  One of my very first mentions of Elizabeth Warren came during her eventually successful bid to become United States Senator from Massachusetts. I had the opportunity to moderate a meeting when she came to Dallas, promoting the work of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau which she created to reign in the most excessive practice of big banks and payday lenders. Suffice it to say I've been smitten with her for quite awhile.

Warren's intelligence, her capacity to explain issues related to finance and fiscal policy understandable, and to come up with creative policy proposals to deal with those issues, is a simply amazing.

Elizabeth Warren appearing before Congressional Oversight Panel 2008

So it's not surprising that as we approach the Presidential election of 2016, that she has been mentioned more and more often as a contender for the Oval Office. Now, of course it is widely believed that Hillary Clinton is the front runner for the Democratic nomination. But for any number of reasons, support for Senator Warren is growing. Even New York Times columnist David Brooks is touting the Senator as a possible 2016 presidential contender.

"The political class has been wondering if Warren, a United States senator from Massachusetts, will take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. This speculation is usually based on the premise that Warren couldn’t actually win, but that she could move the party in her direction. But, today, even for those of us who disagree with Warren fundamentally, it seems clear that she does have a significant and growing chance of being nominated."

"Her chances are rising because of that word “fight.” The emotional register of the Democratic Party is growing more combative. There’s an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat."

"Events like the Brown case in Ferguson and the Garner case in New York have raised indignation levels across the progressive spectrum. Judging by recent polls, the midterm defeat has not scared Democrats into supporting the safe option; it’s made them angrier about the whole system. As the party slips more into opposition status, with the next Congress, this aggressive outsider spirit will only grow."

I don't know how much of a chance Senator Warren would have in a political 'fight' with Hillary Clinton (or anyone else for that matter). But I wish she would run, if only to make the case for a more rational fiscal policy that would restore the middle class and protect the poor. Frankly, even as a huge Clinton 'fan', I don't know who else could.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Blue on Black Violence and the Protest of Star Athletes

Andrew Hawkins

I have few words to express the way I feel about these photos. Let me give you one: pride!

I never played football at the highest level (certainly not basketball!), but these pro players provide me with an immense sense of pride by not allowing they're celebrity status to distance them from their community. They show that no matter their wealth, status and their prominence, they understand the pain inflicted on the black community and they understand that they are a part of that same community.

Of course the pain of these losses, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, are felt far beyond the black community. Whites, Asian Americans, Jews, Catholics are joining in these protests. They understand the historic nature of such injustices. They have been touched in profound ways by these killings. Some have black friends and family members who have suffered humiliating injustices and who live with the pain of that humiliation. Still others know these men and their families personally. Others know full well, that if justice was denied these men, it is only a matter of time before justice is will be denied them!

Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy shot to death after a seconds long 'encounter' with a policeman in Cleveland; John Crawford, the young man shot to death by police almost immediately after police encounter him with a shotgun in an Ohio Walmart; Eric Garner, choked to death by a policeman for allegedly selling single cigarettes; Michael Brown, the unarmed teen, shot to death by a Ferguson policeman, after a physical altercation. Brown, Garner and Rice's shooters all were no-billed by grand juries, sparking the question that has turned into a cry, "Black Lives Matter" in protests all across the country.

Kobe Bryant
These pro athletes and college athletes (like the Georgetown University Women' Basketball team) have joined those protests, peacefully using the prominence of their personality in refusing to let the memories of these men die...and I am proud of them.These protests are not a condemnation of every police officer.

Police union's effort to denigrate and get pro teams' officials to infringe upon these athletes right to protest, show a misunderstanding of the pain being inflicted on the black community. Particularly in Missouri and Ohio (where the President of the Patrolman's Union actually called it 'pathetic' when athletes 'think they know the law.'). The calls for these athletes' censure deserve protest and condemnation.

Everyone of us knows law enforcement officials who have been kind and helpful. I personally know police officers who have not only been blessings to the black community, but who have gone out of their way to help me understand their work. I have served as a pastor to several families of officers.  I'm grateful for them and don't hesitate to call on them when needed. All of that being said, this gratuitous taking of black lives must stop! The tired, questions of black on black violence must stop. We don't need to add to black on black crime by blue on black killing. We need accountable law enforcement that allows us to breathe and which understands just how much black lives matter!

Athletes, college and pro understand that!

Georgetown University Varsity Women's Basketball Team

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Here Come 'the Dones'! - Well, There They Go...

It's been ten years since I left the pastorate. People ask me if I miss it and I generally answer that there are certain aspects of being a pastor that I miss. Preaching, teaching, organizing and inspiring people to use their gifts for the Kingdom. I do not particularly miss committee meetings, or 'business meetings', or some aspects of dealing with financial aspects of church work. I can do it and as a pastor I think I got pretty good at it, but it was not my favorite part of pastoral work. As much of a drain as it may have been emotionally, I enjoyed comforting members during times of illness and grief. I absolutely loved interaction with our children and our seniors!

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But let no one fool you, pastoring a church is hard work! And its gotten harder in the past ten years. What pastors must deal with in terms of culture is incredibly difficult. Barna and Pew researchers have come up with categories of those who represent, frankly, new challenges to pastors and churches in general. For instance there are the 'Nones' people who describe themselves as 'spiritual but not religions' Not a part of any particular church or denomination. They have rejected the 'schisms' or divisions into which the church has fallen and the competitive nature of churches, or the 'branding' of church. I get some of that. I say that with the clear caveat that I am 'old school' enough to understand historical rational for the divisions, but also rejecting the idea of what I see as 'generic' forms of worship that deny the influence of culture, ethnicity, mixed with the challenges of recognition of diversity. To me, churches that fit in this category are like unlabled cans - you don't know what you're getting until you open them up. It can be great, but it can also be disappointing.

Now we hear about a new category, 'The Dones' as in those who are 'done' with church! They are Christians who have apparently been active, indeed they tend to me some of the most active members of the church, who have come to the conclusion that they are 'done' with formal religion. The amazing thing about these Christians is that they do not leave to look for other churches. They leave never to come back!

You can read more about the Dones, here and here.

At first blush that is remarkable on so many levels. I find it interesting as a former pastor. My relationships to other church members has taken on a different caste. I feel as if I am able to 'hear' the hurts of many church members (and former church members) in a different way. To be sure some people are really over dramatizing their issues. Some people are selfish. But there are people that have been honestly, sincerely hurt, if not injured, by their church experience. There are people, long standing servants, whose questions about God border on the unanswerable (and are honestly unanswerable), and they are experiencing profound disappointment. And there are those who have mistakenly found in a preacher/pastor 'the voice of God' and when that preacher/pastor fails, it is for them as if God has failed. Still others are simply overworked and overwhelmed, they work for God more than  they pray to Him and there comes a time when they can't take it anymore. They would never tell you that, but that is there problem.

Still 'the dones' seem to be a little different. Perhaps they are turned off by the perceived (or actual) hypocrisy they find in the church. Perhaps they crave an opportunity for service that they feel doesn't fit their 'gift', or maybe they are looking for a genuine fellowship. Or any number of life crisis that produce life searches of a critical nature. And, we must admit, most reasons may be profoundly more superficial than any I have outlined.

Here's what I would suggest to any church dealing with 'the dones'...

  • Remember that the natural response to Christianity and it's claims is loss...if you are authentic, you will most likely be unpopular. Remember Jesus' greatest loss of followers happened after a miracle, the feeding of the 5000 (John 6) The next  morning there were a great number of them who followed Him by boat across the lake and Jesus began laying down hard doctrine about eating his flesh and drinking his blood - total identification with Him - and most of His disciples left Him at that time. Jesus' remarkable response to His original 12 was, 'Do you want to go to?' Popularity is not the Divinely promised state of the Christian faith, it is rejection. 
  • Many people have their own issues for leaving a church, or the Church. In as much as you can identify the reasons. Show that you care. Do all that you can to show them that doubts about faith, or the desire to do more for ones faith are both natural, counsel them how to deal with both. I had a member who started preaching, who was filled with enthusiasm but didn't have much talent for preaching. Even though I gave him opportunities he wanted more. I tried to counsel him against making a bad move and, 'getting ahead of God', but he wouldn't listen. Eventually he left to join a church where he could fulfill his ambitions. It didn't work out and eventually he left church altogether. I would reach out to him when I saw him, but he never returned.
  • Finally remember that those who say that they're done with church forever don't know how long 'forever' is. We all need community, with all of they're flaws we need other Christians (Hebrews 10:25) and they need us! 'Dones', I'm willing to bet, will eventually return, Maybe not to your church, maybe not to any traditional church, but the nature of the Kingdom and the world will drive them back to the safety and forgiveness of the church, no matter what you might have done to them or for them.

I don't think anyone's 'done' yet!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Christmas Movie with Lessons for a Lifetime

I have a Christmas tradition that reminds me of my values - of what's meaningful and what's truly worth caring about. Almost every year, without fail, I watch Frank Kapra's 'It's a Wonderful Life'. It's a movie about George Bailey, a man full of ambition and wanderlust who is tied to his father's savings and loan business after the death of his father, while he watches his brother and their friends fulfill their lifelong dreams. When his uncle misplaces a bank deposit while the bank examiner is waiting at their office, Bailey becomes desperate - he even goes to Mr. Potter, Bedford Falls' businessman, banker and miscreant, for a loan. Bailey then attempts to commit suicide only to be rescued by Clarence, his guardian angel who gives George a glimpse of what life would be like had he never been born. Of course after the vision, George is profoundly grateful and the town comes to his rescue, donating more than enough money to get him out of trouble.

Who hasn't felt like George Bailey at times? Who hasn't felt that the world would be better off without them? This is the movie that makes you think once or twice (if not more) about that.

But this is just one of the lessons to be learned from the movie. Another overarching theme has to do with how one feel about ones fellow man. How do you feel about everyday people struggling to get along? Are they humans with hopes and dreams, struggles and joys, like you? Or are they manipulative units to add to someone's bottom line, with a value that fluctuates with their capacity to consume.

The latter ways are the views of Mr. Potter. It's the view of many people today. And I think it's a pretty sad way to try and live with people. I like George Bailey's view of life much better. It's not easy. It can lead to some envy and some jealousy. But just like George Bailey, I believe it ultimately leads those sincerely dedicated to a life of service, generosity, contentment, friendship, grace and love,  to a life of profound community. And I think this is ultimately one of the messages of the Christmas season - that life, focused upon the Gift that God has given mankind is to be lived in community around that Gift! It's only as we live isolated, selfish, lives focused on ourselves and our needs that life becomes hard, cold and incredibly unsatisfying. The Christmas/George Bailey kind of life is not life for a season, it's for a lifetime.

Watch the clip and see if you agree... 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Back at it Again - with a Surprise!

It's been awhile since I've posted anything on CTW for a number of reasons...

I, like many of you, have been overwhelmed by a great deal of the news: Ferguson, Long Island, Cleveland, all of which highlight significant problems between blacks and law enforcement. But the beauty in the midst of these tragedies, are the number of people of all colors who see this as a problem. Protests, marches, demonstrations throughout the country, include people of all races and nationalities demanding change - and my friends, that's how change happens!

The other thing I've been doing is taking care of my health. As some of you may remember, last year I suffered two strokes. The doctors have yet to be able to tell me how or why they occurred. I had dropped almost 40 pounds, was working out six days a week, I was eating a much healthier diet. The strokes, one of which left me paralyzed on my right side, came out of the blue.

I'm much better now. Through therapy and exercise, I've regained full use of my right side, long since been back to work (thanks to Larry James and CitySquare!), a great doctor and the right regimen of medicines I have no affects from the illness.

While I was recuperating however, I was still writing - posts to my blog, my monthly column in the Dallas Morning News and preaching on occasion. In July I decided to fulfill another dream of mine. While I was regaining my health and strength, I decided to fulfill a dream of mine and write my first book!

Entitled 'Civic Sermons', it is a book of columns, blog posts, speeches and the like that have been set to scripture. In 'Civic Sermons'  I hope to provide readers with more than commentary on contemporary issues, but with the Biblical perspective and background providing perspective on those issues as well as my personal involvement in events that have shape Dallas.

The book, published by Austin Brothers Publishing,  is to be released in early 2015 and I hope you enjoy it! In the meantime, I'm back writing the blog again. I'll be sharing more about the book and more about the exciting work happening at CitySquare as well as, what may be for many one more surprise...stay tuned!