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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Building Mayberry 2015

Often when I'm asked about our mission at CitySquare, I tell people that "we're trying to build Mayberry."  If you ever watched "The Andy Griffith Show," you'll at least have an inkling as to my meaning.  For sure, Mayberry provides a window into mid-century, small town life in America. 

In some ways the "Mayberry experience" appears basically antithetical to all things 21st century urban!  But, there are principles expressed in the plots, characters and outcomes of just about every episode that relate directly to what makes a community work. 

Consider these. . .
  • People relate naturally, in spite of differences in class, educational attainment, mental capacity, professions, personalities and backgrounds.  An English immigrant, a apparent lunatic from the hills, a family of superstitious mountain-dwellers, a cornpone deputy sheriff, moonshiners, children, gossips, a barber, several pompous mayors, a special aunt, an unarmed officer of the law, a drunk--the list goes on and on--and people find ways to make the community work.
  • Law enforcement displays a very healthy self-understanding.  Andy and Barney function as genuine peace officers.  Sheriff Andy Taylor seldom carries a weapon.  He sees his job as community referee and he focuses on building relationships with everyone in the community.
  • People display deep pride in the community and its history that leads to community confidence and stability.  Filmmakers, leaders from outside public agencies, state law enforcement leaders, visitors of all sorts discover with high regard and amazement the relaxed, connected and talented community.  As a result, the really wise guests leave the community having learned important life lessons.
  • Mayberry inspires laughter, joy and love.  If you are from Mayberry, you have something special going on, and most of the time you know it!
  • At times the community experiences self-doubt.  Whenever the community begins to question itself on the basis of unfavorable comparisons to other communities, you can count on a result that leads community members back to an appreciation for the wealth of Mayberry.
  • Everyone is valued.  From self-absorbed politicians, to newcomers, to criminals and preachers, to Floyd the barber and aunt Bea and her friend Clara--everyone is welcomed. 
  • People "cover" for one another.  A commitment to avoid hurting another person, even in the smallest ways, is a key dimension of the community's social culture. Name the situation, somebody always has someone's back! Be it Barney who can't sing a lick or aunt Bea's "turpentine" pickles, everyone goes to amazing lengths to help neighbors save face and not be embarrassed or discouraged.
  • Teachers hold an honored place in the community and they are supported unconditionally.  
  • Naiveté and wisdom very often combine with good result--people can be "taken in," but not for long!  Justice results every time.  
  • Treating everyone and every living thing with respect and high regard seems to be the community's operative assumption. 
  • When there is a clear need, the community rallies, cooperates and realizing good results.
  • People don't mind "going above and beyond the call of duty for their beloved Mayberry. As a result, people sacrifice willingly.
  • People forgive failure, as they keep working on community life.
  • The community welcomes newcomers, but with a protective caution for the community.  Outsiders learn quickly that they must prove themselves when it comes to valuing the beloved community.
More could be noted.  But, you get my point.  Mythical Mayberry provides community developers and organizers quite a lot to consider.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Hard to watch, harder to understand. . .

What follows in the video is hard to watch, even harder to comprehend or imagine. Here's the lead from the Atlanta Constitution's report:

SARASOTA COUNTY, Florida — A police officer was caught on video tossing peanuts into a homeless inmate’s mouth as he was being booked into the Sarasota County, Florida, jail, the Herald Tribune reports. Randy Miller, 44, can be seen trying to pick up the peanuts from the ground after he missed them with his mouth. Sarasota Police Officer Andrew Halpin then kicked some of the nuts toward the man with his boot. A source told the Herald-Tribune that Halpin also gave Miller “dog commands” and laughed at him.

Read more here.


Monday, August 03, 2015

Wisdom from a summer intern


            I was going to start this essay with the phrase “Before I started at CitySquare, I thought that poverty…”, but there are two fundamental errors with this. 1) I yawned reading it. 2) I didn’t think about poverty. I ignored poverty because, you know, ignoring problems makes them go away. Except when it doesn’t, which is all the time.

            So there I was, just an entitled college-aged ginger kid strutting in the door of 511 like I owned the place. If you could have read my thoughts that day, you would’ve heard things like “CitySquare needs me,” “I’m sure it’ll be fine that I parked in 7-Eleven’s 15-minute customers only parking spot,” and “I’m going to be the Batman of interns.” In short, I was wrong, super wrong, and unfortunately wrong, respectively.

            Shortly, I moved my car, and then my journey started. I’ve stumbled more than any of the development team would’ve probably liked, but they were always prepared to correct my misconceptions and errors, which I greatly appreciated. Without that, I might still be thinking thoughts one and three up there.

            To keep it short, I came in subconsciously thinking that I was going to pour in to people because I obviously had so much to give. The exact opposite was true. I came in with almost nothing to give but my time and attention, but I learned more from a half-hour trip to the grocery store with Wendy, a ten-minute car ride conversation with Laureen about the toxicity of an “Us versus them” mentality, realizing just how necessary sending thank you notes is, an interview with a man who spent twenty years addicted to crack and eleven homeless who is now gainfully employed an engaged to be married, and the story of a woman who has volunteered every moment she could over the last five years despite having two separate strokes than I have in nineteen years of passing open and desperate hearts and hands in the street because I was too self-absorbed to care.

             Poverty isn’t a hole you dig yourself. It’s an unfathomably gigantic pit with an infinite number of different holes leading down. Some you can walk into, but others drag you down by no fault of your own. Despite the number of ways in, there are only a few ladders out. As it turns out, throwing canned food from the lip of the pit doesn’t do much good.

It’s difficult, and it requires boldness, an open mind and a caring heart, but the true solution is getting off our entitled butts and climbing down the ladder to offer a helping hand to the men and women who can’t find their way to it.

It’s not “Us versus them,” “Us and them,” or even “Us for them.” It’s simply “We.” The phrase gets thrown around a lot around here, but the longer I’m here the more I realize that we truly are all wealthy and poor in our own ways. We can all learn from each other, and we who are more fortunate monetarily are wandering in pits of our own. That man sleeping under an umbrella on the pavement might be the hand you need.

I’ve been humbled, I’ve been blessed, and I’ve been taught. Those are not the three things I was expecting to be in those blanks, but maybe that’s exactly why I was here. I’m sorry I was no Bruce Wayne, but thank you for showing me I wasn’t.
Caleb Bishop, Summer 2015

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A radical word, now all but forgotten. . .


Poverty Is Not the Problem


For Jesus, it is clear, poverty is not the problem; it is the solution. Until human beings learn to live in naked contact and direct simplicity and equality with each other, sharing all resources, there can be no solution to the misery of the human condition and no establishment of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ radical and paradoxical sense of who could and who could not enter the Kingdom is even more clearly illustrated by his famous praise of children.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Wyatt's big catch!

Recently, my oldest (11 years) grandson, Wyatt Toombs, hung a big Swordfish off the coast of Costa Rica.  The fish weighed in at 110 pounds and was too big for the boat to accommodate it! 

What fun to watch him work at landing this big fish!



Friday, July 31, 2015

Words from a summer intern


Poverty is…
A simple statement, but more complex than one might think. Two summers ago, I participated in the poverty simulation at CitySquare. I have been on several mission trips to some of the poorest countries in the world. These missions gave me a look into what life is like for a lot of people. On all of these trips there are two groups of people, the ones serving and the ones being served. What I really loved about the poverty simulation is that it gave me the chance to experience the other side of things and get a taste of what life is like for people living in poverty. I’m not ignorant enough to think poverty is only a problem in third world countries, but I don’t think I ever realized just how relevant it is so close to home.

CitySquare has opened my mind to the notion that it’s not the ones serving and the ones being served, or as they would say ‘us and them.’ Poverty is not a one-sided battle. We are all in this together. This organization is breaking down barriers that have been in place for years. I love that the people CitySquare serves are ‘neighbors,’ because they are. This world is not ours; we are all neighbors.  
On another note, internships get a bad rap. People complain that it’s a lot of work for little reward, or maybe that as an intern you’re just doing busy work. Lucky for me, my experience has been far from either of those. This summer has been such an incredible opportunity. I’ve learned so much working with the CitySquare development team. In terms of my education, this team has equipped me with skills that will be essential in my future. They have given me a chance to be a part of every aspect of how a non-profit works, from donor relations to event planning. Non-profit work is extremely relational and I’m glad I got to see that firsthand. I am beyond thankful for their willingness to work beside me, not above me.
It’s not often that one would find a non-profit whose employees and volunteers are all equally passionate about the work they are doing. The CitySquare team is dedicated to fighting the root causes of poverty. Instead of throwing money at the cause, they are actively involved in providing hope for our neighbors and building relationships. I can’t thank this organization enough for letting me be involved in the work they are doing. 
Addison Hurst, Summer 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

LAW Center at CitySquare: legal bargain!


Our average cost of providing legal services for poor individuals or families: $75/hour.

Therefore, with $100,000 we can provide some 1,300 hours of legal services.

It takes an average of 20 hours of legal services to complete a case.

So with $100,000 we could provide start to finish legal services for 65 neighbors.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Welfare myths hurt, not to be believed




Myths about "the poor" need to be debunked, rejected and not tolerated in national debate. 

Check this out from Mashable.com. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Growing inequality

CapitalRising Inequality; Rising Levels of Poverty (still!) – Let’s At Least Have Some Meaningful Conversations About This

News item: the number of children below the poverty line is now greater than it was in the great recession of 2008  (More US children living in poverty than before recession: report).
Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. It is of interest to everyone, and that is a good thing. Refusing to deal with numbers rarely serves the interests of the least well-off.
Read on to learn more and to be engaged in CitySquare's important, Urban Engagement Book Club during the remainder of 2015!
 
 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sound theology


The Litmus Test


The religious traditions were in unanimous agreement. The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test.

Monday, July 20, 2015

New responsibilities with City of Dallas


OFFICE OF THE MAYOR | CITY HALL | 1500 MARILLA ST. | ROOM 5EN | DALLAS, TEXAS 75201




MICHAEL S. RAWLINGS
MAYOR
CITY OF DALLAS
 





FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: SCOTT GOLDSTEIN
JULY 17, 2015 214.670.797

Changes announced on mayor’s poverty task force
Former chair assumes GrowSouth post; new leadership named

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on Friday announced a change in leadership and scope of his poverty task force, which was formed in early 2014.

Regina Montoya, a co-chair of the task force, will take on sole leadership responsibilities of the newly-reconstructed task force, as the panel’s mission shifts to further study the poverty that plagues Dallas and to develop sustainable solutions.

Larry James, the head of Dallas nonprofit CitySquare and the founding chair of the task force, will take on a key role with the mayor’s GrowSouth initiative. Although he will remain a member of the poverty task force, he’ll now be primarily tasked with forming the GrowSouth Collective Impact board.

Under the leadership of James and Montoya, along with former City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins, the poverty task force in August 2014 presented several recommendations to the Dallas City Council. Among them: leverage the federal earned income tax credit as an economic engine; emphasize early-childhood education; improve efforts to reduce blight; and support an increase in minimum wage for city employees and contract workers.

From his new post, James, who has been fighting poverty in the city for decades, will now work to connect the City of Dallas’ Neighborhood Plus plan with the Mayor’s GrowSouth initiative in specified areas. The envisioned Collective Impact board will oversee the work of three general managers who will focus on progress in the target neighborhoods of Parkdale/Urbandale, the Lancaster Corridor and the Education Corridor.

"The poverty task force last year presented substantive recommendations that we are continuing to pursue," Rawlings said. "In his new position, Larry James will be able to help implement those and additional policies through the Collective Impact model."

The mayor said his poverty task force will now be focused on better understanding the alarming poverty numbers in our city. It will also be charged with developing long-term solutions for the entire city.

"Portions of our city are booming with historic prosperity and development," Rawlings said. "Yet, the median family income for single-mother homes dropped by 30 percent from 2000 to 2012 and the median income for married couples with children dropped by more than half of that. This is a crisis and we must better understand its root causes if we’re going to address it. Given Regina Montoya’s leadership experience and her extensive knowledge of these critical issues facing Dallas, she will be in an excellent position to lead the work of the newly-reconstructed task force."

Newly elected City Council member Mark Clayton will also join the task force. He replaces Atkins.

***
Regina Montoya is a Harvard-trained attorney who has been nationally recognized as one of the top lawyers in the country. She served as co-chair of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' Task Force on Poverty, and she is a member of the Board of Directors of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Montoya was one of the first Latinas to earn partnership in a major corporate law firm in the United States, and she is a former award-winning television commentator. Montoya is currently working on a book about the importance of incorporating Latinos into the economic, political and social fabric of America, and she is a frequent public speaker on a wide range of issues, including health care, poverty, diversity and children.

Montoya has received numerous awards for her corporate, philanthropic and nonprofit accomplishments. She earned her B.A. from Wellesley College, where she is a Trustee Emerita, and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Larry James has provided executive leadership since joining CitySquare in 1994. James is known in the Dallas faith, business and media communities as a social entrepreneur and committed servant to the people of East and South Dallas.

He is a graduate of Harding University (B.A. 1972), Harding University Graduate School of Religion (M.A. 1973), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv 1977), Tulane University (M.A.—American History 1986) and Perkins School of Theology at SMU (post-graduate). His first full-length book, The Wealth of the Poor: How Valuing Every Neighbor Restores Hope in Our Cities, was published by Leafwood Publishers in 2013.

Since 1999, James and his wife, Brenda, have made their home in the inner city. James, a United Methodist Minister, serves the church in a dual appointment to CitySquare and Highland Park United Methodist Church.
 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Facing hard facts we don't like. . .


 

Oppression


In any situation of oppression, especially in those oblique, indirect and systemic ones where injustice wears a mask of normalcy or even of necessity, the only ones who are innocent or blessed are those squeezed out deliberately as human junk from the system’s evil operations…. That is a terrible aphorism against society because…it focuses not just on personal or individual abuse of power but on such abuse in its systemic or structural possibilities—and there, in contrast to the former level, none of our hands are innocent or our consciences particularly clear.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Glenn Lowe, R.I.P.

It's come to this.

Better, I've come to this.

Memorializing dear friends from high school days more frequently is not a trend that appeals to me. 

On July 3, Glenn Lowe passed away following a short, but intense illness.

Glenn and I were great buds all through junior high and high school. 

He was a great football talent, going on to play and star at the University of Arkansas in the old South West Conference.  Our football memories solidified our connection. 

Richardson High School class of 1968, football season of 1967--amazing times.  The Eagles went 11-3 that year, falling to state powerhouse Abilene Cooper in the state semi-finals, a game played in the biting cold at the Cotton Bowl.  They kicked us 42-6!  Still, I believe every starting player on that 1967 team received a college scholarship to play football. 

Experiences like that create lifelong connection. 

Sadly, we didn't see each other very often at all, but the heart connection remains as strong as back in the day.  I realized that last week when another teammate and star player at the University of Texas, David Arledge got word to me about Glenn's death. 

Funny, David and I picked up right where we left off 47 years ago! 

Glenn never met a stranger.  He was full of joy and laughter and goodness.  He was the guy who always stopped to pick you up if you were down or defeated or ready to quit.  He was a kind, humble. funny giant of a man.  He must have had a million friends.

He was also a heck of a football player, and he was loyal/supportive of all of  his friends!

An example of his loyalty will remain with me for the rest of my life.  We played the Longview High School Lobos in the regional playoff game that final, amazing season.  It turned out to be the toughest, most physical game in which I would ever play.  The game was a battle to the end.  We finally prevailed and won the game. 

At the very end of the  game, the Longview Lobo nose guard playing over me at center intentionally jumped offside and smacked me in the head, an obvious act of anger and frustration. 

Glenn took it all in. 

In our huddle before the next play he told us he was moving over to the guard position where David Arledge played. 

"Larry, you hit him high, I'll hit him low!" Glenn informed us all.

Our play worked flawlessly, except for one thing.  Glenn took the Lobo player down with a low block and I hit him high.  However, when I hit him high, I just kept hitting him with my head. 

I was ejected from the game.  Even the coaches laughed. 

Glenn was a real friend.

Something important slipped away from us two weeks ago. 

No matter what you say, that's tough.  It's hard. 

R. I. P., Big Glenn. 
____________________________

If you knew Glenn, a memorial celebration has been organized for 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at First United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Racism drives illness


Impact of Racism on the Health and Well Being of the Nation

The Impact of Racism on the Health and Well-Being of the Nation
A four part webinar series
The recent events in Charleston, South Caroline, Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, remind us that stigma, inequalities and civil rights injustices remain in our society today. Unfortunately, skin color plays a large part in how people are viewed, valued and treated. We know that racism, both intentional and unintentional, affects the health and well-being of individuals and communities and stifles the opportunity of many to contribute fully to the future and growth of this nation. Join the leadership of the American Public Health Association in a summer webinar series about racism's impact on health and disparities.

RegisterNaming and Addressing Racism:
A Primer

July 21, 2015 | 2 p.m. EDT 
Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, and Camara P. Jones, MD, MPH, PhD

This kick-off webinar featuring APHA’s executive director, president and president-elect will take a look at some of the nation’s leading health inequities. APHA President Shiriki Kumanyika will discuss how racism is one of the most challenging tools of social stratification we face when trying to improve the health of the public. She also will reflect on the evidence and research needs related to how racism limits our ability to make America the healthiest nation. APHA President-Elect Camara Jones will tell the Gardener's Tale and present a framework for understanding racism on three levels. This framework is useful for understanding the basis for race-associated differences in health, designing effective interventions to eliminate those differences and engaging in a national conversation. Register now!


Upcoming webinars in this series:
Community Violence Well-Being
August 4, 2015, 2 p.m. EDT

Unequal Treatment: Disparities in Access, Quality and Care
August 18, 2015, 2 p.m. EDT

Racism: The Silent Partner in High School Dropout and Health Disparities
September 1, 2015, 2 p.m. EDT



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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More on treasures in the attic

My quest for a manageable amount of "stuff" in my attic is motivated by my desire to save my amazing children from the real trauma of having to throw away so much of "Dad's stuff."  I'm very conscious of my mission here.

Among the unexpected experiences and emotions of my mining the attic, I've discovered lots of correspondence from across the years. 

And in that connection, I've noted a very discernable pattern. 

Early in my "career" I tended to save "positive" feedback from my constituents--mainly members of the churches that I served.  I've discovered so many letters and notes of encouragement from those early days.  Many bring tears to my eyes and surprises to the memory capacity of my heart and soul. 

Later in my work life--have I ever had a job?--I simply threw away the positive notes. 

As a matter of fact, I threw away almost all of the feedback.  I read it all, positive and negative. During this period,  I always tossed the positive.  Some of the negative remains.  I'm not sure what all this means, but it seems to me that as I've grown older, I've also come to benefit from clarity and from criticism. 

One thing I know for sure, really caring about people matters. 

And, it's not a bad way to build a life as over against a job or career.  I've never been perfect, far from it, but I have cared.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The danger of demagoguery

demagogue--a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices.

demagoguery-- an appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side;  a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people; demagoguery isn't based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it's based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people; for example, a politician who stirs up a fear of immigrants to distract from other issues is using demagoguery; one of the most negative aspects of politics, but it's also one that's all too common.

Think just here Donald Trump.

Trump is much, much more than a clown.  He is a dangerous man.

His statements on Mexico, on immigrants from Mexico and his harsh, hateful judgmental spirit appears to be working with some voters, as he fans the fire of xenophobia and the worst of our heritage as a nation. 

Possibly the irony of all ironies has to do with the fact that the United States, a nation of immigrants, has always witnessed vociferous, anti-immigrant spokespersons, usually self-appointed, voices like that of Mr. Trump. 

He is short-sighted and inexperienced at best.  I won't speak to the "at worst" here.

Simply put, he is dead wrong.

Try doing Dallas without immigrants from Mexico.  We all benefit from the labor of hard working Mexican immigrants.  We exploit them and their legal status to our benefit.  This ugly truth is why we have not achieved comprehensive immigration reform:  it is not in the self-interest of people like Mr. Trump to pursue a fair, enlightened immigration policy.  So, he makes speeches that appeal to crowds of angry people.

Check his "facts" and you'll find nothing to back up his outlandish statements.

To be honest, he is talking about friends of mine.  I find him most offensive and vulgar.

Young and old, rich and poor, the folks "the Donald" refers to have as much right to be in this nation as any of the rest of us.  In fact, a stronger case can be made that their claim to the rights to be here, (especially in Texas) go all the way back to the Treaty of Hidalgo 1848 and its almost immediate violation by the United States. 

My thoughts today are more in line with Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ):  "Take your seat, sir, and close your mouth." 

You know, it really is about my dear friends. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Where Grace bats last. . .

Almost every Friday, our President and Chief Operations Officer, Dr. John Siburt sends a personal message to our entire team here at CitySquare.  His words are always perfect.  Last week's message reads extra special.  I wanted you to have access to it. 
___________________________________________
 
As another week comes to an end at The Square, I could go on and on about the great work you are doing.  AmeriCorps was awarded funding again from the OneStar Foundation (woo hoo!).  TRAC rocked another housing audit.  Neighbors were fed. Neighbors were housed. Neighbors found employment. Neighbors received health care.  The great work continues… 

But instead of going in depth on a status report, I want to stop and reflect in the midst of a hot chaotic summer on why we do what we do. I was reminded of why we do what we do when I read this powerful reflection from writer Anne Lamott:

On July 7, 1986, 29 years ago, I woke up sick, shamed, hungover, and in deep animal confusion. I woke up this way most mornings. Why couldn't I stop after 6 or 7 drinks? Why didn't I have an "off" switch when I had that first drink every day?

Well, "Why?" is not a useful question.

I thought about having a cool refreshing beer, just to get all the flies going in one direction.

I was 32, with three published books, and the huge local love of my family and life-long friends. I was loved out of all sense of proportion. I gave talks and readings that hundreds of people came to. I had won a Guggenheim Fellowship, although, like many fabulous writers, I was drunk as a skunk every day. I was penniless and bulimic, but adorable, and cherished.
But there was one tiny problem. I was dying. Oh, also, my soul was rotted out from mental illness and physical abuse. My insides felt like Swiss cheese, until I had that first cool, refreshing drink.
So, not ideal. The elevator was going. It ONLY goes down; until you finally get off. As a clean, sober junkie told me weeks later, "At the end, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards."
And against all odds, I picked up the 200 pound phone, and called the same sober alkie that my older brother had called two years earlier, when he had hit his coked-out bottom. The man, a Jack Lemmon type, said, "I will come get you at 11:30. Take a shower, and try not to drink till then. The shower is optional."
I didn't; when all else fails, follow Instructions. I couldn't imagine there was a way out of all that sickness and self-will, all those lies and secrets, but God always makes a way out of No Way.
So I showed up. Before I turned on Woody Allen, he said that 80% of life is just showing up. And I did. There were all these other women who had what I had, who'd thought what I'd thought, who'd done what I'd done, who had betrayed their families and deepest values, who sat with me that day, and said "Guess what? Me, too! I have that too. Let me get you a glass of water." Those are the words of salvation: Gess what? Me, too."
Then I blinked, and today is my 29th recovery birthday. I hope someday it will be yours, too, or at least your 1st. Don't give up on yourself. In recovery, we never EVER give up on anyone, no matter what it looks like, no matter how long it takes.
Because Grace bats last. That spiritual WD-40, those water wings, that second wind--it bats last. That is my promise to you.
Happy birthday to me, and maybe to you. As my beloved ee Cummings wrote, "(I who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birthday of life and love and wings.)"
Don't. Give. Up. Because guess what? Me too.
CitySquare exists because after poverty robs opportunity, starves community, and steals hope grace gets to bat last.  After poverty has convinced our neighbors there is NO WAY back to hope, to community, to self-sufficiency, God makes a way where there is NO WAY. CitySquare exists to create a place where our neighbors can hear “me too."

I have struggled with that too…

I need that too…

I have been there too…

I hope for that too… 

It is a privilege to work in sacred space where grace, love, and hope get the last word.  

At CitySquare, “grace bats last…”   

So let’s keep showing grace to our neighbors.  

And while we are at it, let’s show some grace to one another too.
 



Sunday, July 12, 2015

God's search. . .



Watch What Jesus Does


God isn’t looking for servants. God isn’t looking for slaves, workers, contestants to play the game or jump the hoops correctly. God is simply looking for images! God wants images of God to walk around the earth…. God wants useable instruments who will carry the mystery, who can bear the darkness and the light, who can hold the paradox of incarnation—flesh and spirit, human and divine, joy and suffering, at the same time, just as Jesus did. Watch what Jesus does, and do the same thing!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Images: Cottages progress report

As I write, rain falls softly on ground at The Cottages at Hickory Crossing. . .AGAIN! 

Hopefully, the shower will pass without bringing another halt to the project.  Since beginning, we've lost about two months to snow and rain and mud! 

But, we're making progress on building this special neighborhood for 50 of our neighbors who have no place to call "home" today.  That will change very soon.  My anxiousness relates to the delay the weather causes these new residents. 

The photos that follow do document our progress, especially to those who follow this project closely. The community services building remains but a skeleton.  The Cottages community sits just across Malcolm X from CitySquare's Opportunity Center.
















 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

When laughter haunts

My friend, Obie Weathers, lives on Texas Death Row.  We've been exchanging letters for about a year now.  Texas sent him to Death Row at the age of 20.  He's 34 today.  Most of his days have been served in "administrative lockdown," which means he spends 23 hours a day in a cell by himself, as do his fellow inmates.  Recently, I visited him in Livingston, Texas, home of Texas Death Row.  What follows is his latest letter to me.  It moves me to read his letters because after 14 years Obie is a different man than when he arrived a teenager.  Make what you will of this man's words.  I find that it's impossible not to love him. 
_________________________________________________
 

One afternoon while practicing a mindfulness exercise whereby one allows their ears to rove, consciously making notes of each object the ears touch without becoming fixated on any object in particular, my mind became entangled in the jangling laughter of a fellow prisoner.
 
This laughter snagged me.  Something about it. . .amid the cacophony of the afternoon in this place of solitary existence where one's only mate is the silent death sentence and the e solitaires in their solitary cells stand at the cell's doors daily, all day, fervently and unconsciously (I surmise) attempting to ward off their mate's shadow like witch doctors, shamans, raising an incantation composed of jive talk, tall tale-tellings, bet calling, cat calling, the mad rants of mad men and recaps of late night's ball games; and the mind-numbingness with their crash slamming of metal gates into their metal frames, doors and cell doors opening and closing, slamming, crashing, screaming for more:  "Roll 44!  Roll 44!"
 
Something about this laughter made me aware of the shadow looming over me.  I've heard this  laughter before, countless times, and have thought deeply on the way it seems at once maniacal, bursting defensively from a deep place where it remains wrapped protectively around some last inner  jewel and always ready to spring uncontrollably, obsessively and deceptively cool though full of pain. 
 
This laughter is common here: this is the laugher of the hopeless; of the one resigned to fate, but, who still tries to fan from their presence the consuming shadow with laughter.
 
This day when I heard the laugher coming from a guy I know well and care for, I felt a deep pain, an empathy.  I felt that Perry's laughter was my own, that  his experience mine, so I began to explore my thoughts and feelings with in the space of poetic verse.  And what follows isn't a poem about a single guy on Texas Death Row waiting to die, it is s poem about all the people on Death Row waiting.
 
A Poem without a Happy Ending
 
I
 
(Two condemned prisoners talking)
 
"He's expecting a date, did you know?"
 
"Yeah, man; I heard."
 
 
II
 
Lost in laughter
so sad
Mad from despair
Stare into his eyes
He's not there
Hulled-out
I hear his echo
Retreating to the distance
History
His story is no more than the rest of ours
Elementary dreams
Junior High minds
Stunted by high school highs
We enter behind bars
Boys
Becoming men bereft of experience to become men
So than, what are we
But the problems we started with
Because we can't get past them
Like these bars
Can't see the stars because of them
So the nite is our life
Blind men
We say we see
But these tears are too thick
Keloids crisscross neuro-pathways
Stopping synapse traffic
So some of us steer our heads into those concrete walls
Prefrontal cortex still ain't sped up to the contex
Stuck in a vortex
And swimming with the current.
 


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Attic therapy

So, I've been spending hours in the attic over my garage. 

Sixteen years ago we moved into inner city East Dallas. 

And, we brought lots of stuff!  In fact, I built a garage to accommodate my junk.  My cars can't fit into my garage due to the junk!

Since our move, both of my parents died, which added all of their stuff to all of the stuff that Brenda's parents left behind when they crossed over.

Get the picture?  Lots of stuff.

But, back to my hours in the attic. 

I've been trying to sort, stack, box and clean.  And actually, I've been a bit morbid in a good way.  I'm doing the downsizing (lots of stuff going to the CitySquare Thrift Store!) for the sake of my children and their children.  If I can get it organized, surely it will be easier for them to throw most of it away when my time comes. 

Cleaning attics is therapeutic.  It's like counseling on steroids. 

I've dug up so many memories, of so many people who were so good to me, with few exceptions.

My wife.

My daughters.

My sons-in-law.

My in-laws.

Parents.

Grandparents.

My wonderful, magical, beautiful, fascinating, thrilling grandchildren!

Friends.

Work associates.

Neighbors.

Fishing buddies.

Church members.

So many memories, all encased in an attic.

Most of my stuff is junk. 

Lots of it has been fried by the Texas heat. 

But nothing erases the blessings or the wealth of my life captured in my junk! 

I'm a privileged man due to nothing that I've done.

Grace.  Pure grace explains my entire existence.

If you've ever cleared out an attic or a storage bin, you know what I mean.

Surely, this experience should prepare me for more significance in living, however long I have left on this side.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A note on life from the brother of Jesus (Part 5)

As noted recently on this page, from time to time over the next several weeks I intend to "dig into" the letter that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to first century Christians. 

Thought to be among the earliest, extant Christian writings, the brief letter addresses the challenges facing Jewish believers located primarily in the area around Jerusalem.  Clearly, these early devotees of Jesus experienced suffering, systemic economic oppression and some forms of persecution--possibly because of their opinions about the identity of Jesus and certainly due to the social and status implications of those strongly held opinions and life perspectives. These ideas, drawing on the social context and economic constructs, may lead us to read this familiar material in quite a new way. 
                           ___________________________________________________
 
James 1:19-21
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.



It turns out that self-control doesn't come all that easy.  Have you noticed?

Mix in a measure or two be feeling disrespected, powerless or taken advantage of and you have  a recipe for civil unrest both personal and communal.

At times, oppressed persons who seek to resist and to improve their life prospects through organized, community action can turn their frustrations on their friends.  All too often those who suffer lose patience, seek to gain control where they have a chance to do so.  For the community James addresses the necessary message was clear:  don't get angry.  Listen.  Not so fast on the analysis and criticism.  Prove your solidarity by the manner of your communications with each other, as well as to those outside, even your oppressors.

The person who, in the face of suffering and mistreatment and dispute, can listen first and intentionally--resisting the natural temptation to get out ahead of an argument--that person will almost always deliver powerful, positive impact and needed perspective in any relationship. 

The default position of effective community leaders involves a fundamental commitment to listen first and foremost.  The commitment to really hear others changes everything.  If I am eager or "quick" to listen--that is, I come to every encounter already "there" in terms of my decision to hear another person out, I can more easily become a factor in promoting understanding and defusing counter-productive tension and conflict. 

Being "slow to speak," not feeling the need to be heard first or foremost, disarms enemies and softens critics who possibly make assumptions about you that are unfounded.  A determination to listen carefully while refraining from "having your say," is a powerful tool in repairing or building trust and genuine communication. 

This skill-set is essential in overcoming misunderstandings so that genuine community can be realized, and even organized to stand against the threats that come from the outside and from those in power. 

In the same way, a commitment to be just as "slow to anger" as we are quick to listen, changes everything about a confrontational context.  Let anger be the last resort, and make sure that its genesis emerges from injustice or some real harm to another and not just a defensive tact to guard your own self-interest in a dispute or relationship. Anger channeled in surprising non-violent resistance against harm and unjust structures and circumstances changes things over the long haul for the better. 

All of us have experienced the deep emotions of "righteous indignation."  The trouble is we often rush there before listening, which leads us to anger prematurely and without clear understanding.  My claim to be "angry about those things that anger God," seems foolhardy in calm retrospect!  Most importantly, all the anger that I can muster does not lead to an experience of God's righteousness or justice.  God brings those things to pass in cooperation with a faithful, organized community, not because of my unchecked rage.  God is God and I am not!  Understanding my anger as an extension of God's values and God's anger is not a sustainable notion intellectually, spiritually or emotionally.  In fact such assumptions are downright dangerous.

I need to lay my anger down as I pick up the pain of my community and work for change.

At the same time, the witness of the oppressed and marginalized must not be compromised by lives that are "sordid."  The word here literally means "filthy" or impure.  When used of clothing, it often means "shabby."  Clearly, a moral stain on a life compromises one's ability to command an audience or move an argument in the right direction. 

Furthermore, community builders who seek respect from those they lead must set aside all wickedness, a word that carries with it connotations of hateful feelings, trouble and worry or anxiety.

Instead of such responses to oppression or the stress of unfair poverty, James urges us to practice meekness or humility and teach-ability as we welcome the truth of God and our better selves.  As we invite a higher power to join us in our struggles, we will find the salvation of our very lives.   The victory that we seek over the forces that oppress will be empowered by this word from beyond our lives that promises to give us the very life we seek.

Much to ponder as community workers.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The hard work of "unlearning"

White people want to fix things--that's our default position and it grows out of our privilege and power.  The following essay needs to be read.  So, read it.

The 1 Thing White People Can Do to End Racism

unlearn
 

A lot of white people recently have asked me how they can put an end to racism in the United States.

They see the problem. They want to help. They want to fix what is broken.

And, after some reflection, I think I have an answer — the one thing white people can do to end racism in this country.

Are you ready for it?

Okay, here it is.

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

That’s it. You can’t do anything that will solve racism completely in the United States.

That’s because contrary to what white culture tells us as white people, we aren’t the world’s saviors.

We don’t have all the right answers.

I’m not even sure we’re asking the right question as white people, to be honest.

The world isn’t waiting on white people to fix the problems of the world, to come up with a quick-and-easy solution for a deeply systemic problem.

It’s tempting, of course, and probably well-intentioned, to go to our black friends or to black churches and to ask, “How can we help?” or even to suggest “Have you thought about doing this or that?” Our first impulse is to seek integration of some kind with the black institutions that we have, up until the point of the latest tragedy, ignored.

As white people, our desire is to make a difference in the lives of the hurting, the wounded, and the oppressed. Because one of the insidious pieces of white supremacy is that white people read the Bible as saviors, casting themselves in the role of Jesus or Moses instead of Pilate or Pharaoh.

Read on here.