News you'll be interested to know


Thursday, March 31, 2005

Texans Can Act for Justice Today

Actions to consider:

Since this session of the Texas Legislature began, limited progress has been made in restoring funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). At the same time, Medicaid is significantly underfunded.

Please call or fax your state senator and say,

"Please do all you can to restore the cuts made to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Support Senate Bill 59 offered by Senator Averritt which fully restores CHIP. More than 18,000 Dallas area children have lost CHIP coverage since the cuts took effect in September 2003. This is intolerable for Texas and its hard working families.

"Funding for Medicaid is critical since it covers more than 2 million Texas children and is the primary source of revenue for the state's children's hospitals. Legislation this session must reflect realistic child population growth and needs, using realistic growth estimates.

"Restore what was taken away by the 2003 cuts to provider rates for outpatient services and Graduate Medical Education (GME). Increase the Medicaid physician rates to encourage more doctors to participate as Medicaid providers.

"Thank you for including funds for CHIP dental and vision services in the current proposed state budget. Please take the next step and fully restore funds for CHIP and the children of Texas. Without your action today, the proposed state budget will reduce CHIP caseload to below current levels in 2006 and further shift the cost of healthcare to local communities already falling behind the health care needs across the state.

"Be prepared to join your fellow Senators on the Finance Committee who voted to place a 12-month eligibility policy for CHIP on the Senate's "wish list" for funding this year. Restore the 12-month eligibility process to CHIP making it more user friendly for parents. "

Never doubt it for a moment, your voice and action make a huge difference. Act today.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


The bias against "illegal immigrants" here in Dallas amazes me .

My amazement is magnified when I am in churches where I often hear the most adamant opposition to the presence of immigrants in our community.

I find this amazing for two reasons--one theological and one practical.

First, the Bible clearly embraces the cause and the plight of the immigrant or, to use scriptural language, the "alien."

Consider this reading from the Law of Moses: "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)

The prophet Jeremiah echoes the Law of Moses by establishing the importance of not oppressing or mistreating aliens or foreigners in the land (Jer. 7:6). At one place in his writing Jeremiah lists the oppression of the immigrant alongside the prohibition of murder (Jer. 22:3).

Talk about national values!

The point is so obvious no explanation is called for: the ancient Israelites are enjoined to remember their own status as immigrants in the land of promise. The same injunction could be urged on every American, with the exception of Native Americans who lost their land to the likes of the rest of us who immigrated and ravaged their homes. We are indeed a nation of immigrants.

Second, the practical reality is that Dallas could not funciton without the labor, creativity and vitality of immigrants, many undocumented from south of our border.

Over the last weekend I read an article in The New York Times ("Science vs. Culture in Mexico's Corn Staple," March 27, 2005, A11) describing one of the unintended consequences of the combination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the increasing use of genetically modified corn seed has been the removal of countless rural Mexicans from their farmland. Without land there is no way to make a living.

Guess where many of these displaced rural Mexicans migrate? If you guessed California, New York or Texas, you guessed correct!

People want to work. People everywhere want better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, people come to America. Nothing new there. My ancestors and yours came here for this very same reason.

Last time I looked there was a lady with a torch standing in the open waters of a rather magnificent harbor just off Manhattan Island inviting the nations of the world to send us anyone who longed to be free. Fairly open-ended invite, wouldn't you say?

Thanks to our strident quota system, folks who come to Texas from Mexico usually come illegally.

What these hard working newcomers bring to our city, especially to our inner city communities feels and looks like anything but something illegal. I can't bring myself to refer to these friends as "illegal." About as far as I can go is "undocumented."

The Bible helps me here. The words of Moses instruct me to recall my own immigrant past.

The spirit of Jesus teaches me to be open-hearted to everyone.

Frankly, obeying these rules is not hard to do with the immigrants I know.

Question: in our recent national values debate, where is the space reserved for a serious discussion of this important issue? Where is the guiding word from the church on this serious national matter?

Sorry, but I just had to ask.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Blind to Justice

Poor children, laughing, running in the sun;
Blind to their own plight on the edges of unforgiving streets,
Unable to imagine the tough future
So soon awaiting them.

Children, crowds of bright-eyed little ones,
Shouting in glee to be free, to be out,
To play, to tumble, to live;
Tired parents, thin-lipped and proud, watching in deep sadness.

Parents locked in their own, often private, fierce struggle to hang on,
With rent to pay and work to finish, hours to press and pile up;
Will seems to seep out of life by evening, never enough to go around,
Hoping again against hard hope at sunrise.

Families longing for a chance, just an opening,
Blocked, hemmed in, pressed down,
As if on a steep, dark, precarious climb
To a very familiar nowhere.

So many children, so many parents,
An almost raging flow of faces
Flooding the outposts of kindness,
Weary kindness, masquerading as opportunity.

The hurried, distracted privileged almost unaware and on the make;
Ignorant of the suffering of meagerly supplied neighbors,
Unseen masses, the others, the abstracted "they," kept safely away,
As over against the "we" who know best about life and its navigation.

The common space faith could provide,
Acts as an ironic barrier, a reasoned argument for
Keeping things as they are,
After all, God knows and does not forsake his own.

Children running in the bright, bright sun,
Laughing and blind, for now, to the harshness of life,
Joyous and unknowing,
Not unlike the majority, blind to justice and its forgotten, unfinished work.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Public Health Insurance and Big Business

Adequate health care is essential to healthy community development. People who maintain wellness for themselves and their families tend to do well.

Today in America that is easier said than done for millions--over 45 million to be more precise.

Finding an enduring, workable solution to the disparities in health care delivery between rich and poor, white and non-white is an ongoing, national challenge.

What most of us don't realize is the simple fact that millions of us receive health care via publically funded programs. Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor (though in rapidly deceasing percentages), CHIP for children just above the poverty line (though these numbers are falling as well), Veteran's health beneifts, Social Security Disability and other publically funded policies help care for the health of Americans. Close, objective evaluation of these programs reveals that the efficiencies of each is fairly remarkable when compared to private insurance programs.

My partner and Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, John Greenan, directed me to the article below that appeared in last Friday's St. Petersburgh Times (3-25-05). What you will read is an example of how big business takes advantage of public benefits whenever it can, even though often lobbying against them at the same time. The story is a bit long and somewhat complicated, but I think you will find it interesting. I look forward to your comments.

Lured employers now tax Medicaid

Employees of companies given incentives to create jobs are relying heavily on health care for the poor. The biggest: Wal-Mart.By SYDNEY P. FREEDBERG and CONNIE HUMBURG, Times Staff WriterPublished March 25, 2005

Wal-Mart Corp., which is getting millions of dollars in state incentives to create jobs in Florida, has more employees and family members enrolled in Medicaid than any company in the state.

The giant retailer, which has 91,000 full-time and part-time employees in Florida, has about 12,300 workers or dependents eligible for Medicaid, the growing health care program for the poor and the elderly.

According to figures released Thursday by Florida's Department of Children and Families, Wal-Mart and four other large companies that receive state incentives have an estimated 29,900 employees or their family members enrolled in Medicaid.

The figures suggest taxpayers may be double-subsidizing low-wage employment by paying companies to create jobs and by paying for the health care of some of those companies' employees.

"This is another indication of how companies talk out of one side of their mouth about the free enterprise system and private initiative, but whenever they get the opportunity to exploit public resources, they'll do that," said Philip Mattera, research director for Good Jobs First, a nonprofit Washington group that studies corporate incentives.

"If you're going to give subsidies, they should be used to create the best possible jobs, not substandard or mediocre jobs," Mattera said.

Wal-Mart, which had $10.3-billion in earnings last year, said 86 percent of its 1.2-million employees nationwide have health insurance - 56 percent through the company's health care plan, the rest through another source such as another employer, a family member, the military or Medicare.

It said 5 percent nationwide get coverage through Medicaid - a number that drops to 3 percent after employees are on the job for two years.

"As the nation's largest employer, we will by default be the largest on many types of lists," said spokesman Dan Fogleman, adding that the retailer doesn't design its health plans to be supplemented by Medicaid.

Four other large companies getting state incentives appear on the top of lists of employers with the most workers eligible for state-financed health care. They are Publix Super Markets, Winn-Dixie Stores, Burger King Corp. and Walgreen Co.

In addition, 3,342 children whose parents or guardians work for those five companies qualify for Florida Healthy Kids and KidCare. Those state-financed programs help 245,000 children whose parents or guardians earn too much for Medicaid but can't afford or don't have access to other insurance. (About 10,000 parents earn too much to qualify for Healthy Kids and KidCare, but they are able to buy that insurance at $98 per child per month - the amount it costs the program.)

Combined, these five firms have been approved by the state for up to $10.8-million in tax credits and tax refunds for at least 3,805 jobs, according to an analysis by the St. Petersburg Times.

Unlike some states, Florida does not require companies seeking incentives to help pay for their workers' health insurance. Florida also does not track the number of employees who were hired with the help of incentives and get state-financed health care for themselves or their families.

The Department of Children and Families, which determines Medicaid eligibility, said some of the workers on the list may have private health insurance and may not rely on the state for health care.

"When people are simultaneously enrolled in Medicaid and private health insurance, Medicaid is the payer of last resort," spokesman Tim Bottcher said in a statement. "It would not be accurate to report that Wal-Mart has 12,300 "on Medicaid.'"

Medicaid, a $14.4-billion program jointly financed by state and federal funds, was originally a program for people on welfare. Now it primarily covers the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and families with children at the poverty level.

Typically, two children could qualify for Medicaid if their parents' combined income is less than $19,350 a year. A pregnant woman could make up to $17,704 a year and her baby would automatically be eligible for Medicaid for up to a year. A family of four is eligible for KidCare if the parents earn less than $38,700 a year.

Increasingly, working families with children qualify for taxpayer-funded health care because they don't have access to private insurance or they're not offered affordable insurance by their employers.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported in December that the Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, U.S. Air Force, Florida National Guard, Walt Disney World, BellSouth, Blue Cross, Bank of America and Dillard's also had Medicaid-eligible employees.

The St. Petersburg Times and its publisher, Times Publishing Co., have about 150 Medicaid-eligible employees and Medicaid-eligible dependents in Florida, the state said Thursday.

Wal-Mart said it pays its store workers an average of $9.36 an hour in Florida, adding that it offers competitively priced health care to full-time workers after six months and to part-time workers after two years.

A study last year by the University of California at Berkeley - disputed by Wal-Mart - concluded that California taxpayers spend $32-million a year providing health care to Wal-Mart workers and $54-million a year in other assistance such as free school lunches and food stamps.

Like many large companies in Florida, Wal-Mart benefits from an array of incentives designed to create and retain jobs. The incentives range from federal funds to extend utility lines to local property tax breaks to state tax refunds for creating "high-wage jobs."

A study by Mattera, the Good Jobs First researcher, documented more than $1-billion in state and local incentives for Wal-Mart nationwide since 1981. That includes $51-million for five Florida distribution centers and supercenters in Zephyrhills and Palatka, the study said.

Examining state tax incentives alone, the Times found that since 2000 the state has approved $6,799,000 in tax refunds and credits for Wal-Mart if it creates 2,053 jobs. To date, state records show, the company has been paid $2,389,000 of that.

Fogleman, the Wal-Mart spokesman, said that without Wal-Mart's jobs, many more people would be on Medicaid and other forms of public assistance.

Providing incentives to Wal-Mart is a bargain for taxpayers, Fogleman said, because in Florida alone the company last year paid $58.7-million in state and local taxes.

Florida is among nine states to report that Wal-Mart tops the list of companies with Medicaid-eligible employees. The others are Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

Increasingly, states and local governments are requiring recipients of incentives to provide or pay for portions of their employees' health benefits. Programs in Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina and other states require health insurance in varying degrees.

Florida has been reluctant to embrace health care rules for companies getting incentives, however. Businesses and their allies say such rules would impose an unreasonable burden, be difficult to enforce and discourage businesses from locating here.

A report paid for by Enterprise Florida, the state's main economic development agency, recommended last month that the Legislature add health insurance as a requirement for companies seeking tax refunds for "high-wage jobs" in Florida.

The Agency for Health Care Administration, which administers Medicaid, referred questions about health care standards for companies getting incentives to the office of Gov. Jeb Bush.

Jacob DiPietre, the governor's press secretary, did not address whether the governor favors health care rules for companies seeking incentives.

DiPietre said that under the state's most widely used incentive program, all 33 companies that have received tax refunds this year for creating high-wage jobs offer health benefits.

Bush has complained that Medicaid is devouring the state budget. The program has more than doubled in the past six years to about one-fourth of the state's $57.3-billion budget.

Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Charles' "Ordinary" Resurrection

Jonathan Kozol writes stirring non-fiction about urban characters, mainly children. If you haven't read Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope, you should and soon.

Kozol spent four years revisiting P. S. 30 and St. Ann's, both schools serving children living in the Bronx. Tough inner city neighborhoods shape the lives and the hopes of the kids and their families.

Kozol tells stories of hope in the moving book. Read it. ***

Resurrection is the theme of this day.

As a result, I've been thinking about a good friend of mine. Talk about a resurrection story of the more "ordinary" sort.

You should know Charles.

His life has been more than a trip, as he would gladly tell you. Born to poor parents in rural Mississippi, he hit the road young. I expect there is not much Charles hasn't seen, tried or been through.

I will always remember the first time I ever met him. He used a cane to walk back then--about 10 years ago now. His health seemed to be failing. His life had been hard. Fights, gun shots, knives, strung out, hyped up, left for dead, locked up, evicted, on the streets, from place to place, hospitalized for serious surgeries. . .he was in tough shape.

When I first got to know him, it struck me that he had a whole lot of street con in him. He was an artist at it too! Some of his games made people angry. I know he disappointed himself along the way. He came and went. But, he always came back to our community.

I wish you could see him now. There is a major difference in his life these days.

He still battles some health problems associated with his hard living in his earlier years. But he is doing really well.

Charles has a nice apartment. He has a wife. He has built for himself an auto detailing business that he runs primarily out of our parking lot. He has a regular clientele, all of whom have perpetually shiny cars and trucks!

He is clear-eyed, full of laughter, hooked on hope and always around. He has rediscovered faith and his spirituality, while still urban savvy and incredibly street-wise, can't be overlooked or dismissed.

Charles is a player today. . .in our community. Charles belongs to this community and the community is his in return. Fact is, we couldn't make it very well without him. I expect he would say the same about all of us who are his friends.

On a day filled with talk and music about a resurrection along time ago, my soul camps closer to the front page of the morning paper. I've been privileged to observe the miracle of Charles' life, his new life.

What a powerful experience, this "ordinary" resurrection.

[***If you decide to buy Kozol's great book, you can do so by visiting the Central Dallas Ministries' website at Once inside our site, click on Urban Engagement Books. Then go to the link. If you buy your copy through our link, CDM will receive a cash benefit from Amazon! You can help us by ordering all of your books through the link inside our website. Thanks for your support!]

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Hope in Community. . .Always Amazing

It hit me today like never before: I work in a genuine community center.

Okay, I can almost hear someone who knows this place saying, "Duh" under her breath.

Bear with me. Last Thursday afternoon I walked out the back door of our headquarters building as our large truck was being unloaded by volunteers. The sun was beaming. Spring had definitely arrived.

People were everywhere outside our center. Of course, the inside was packed as well.

Unless you've been here it is hard to realize how many families depend on our Resource Center to supplement their limited incomes. The place always amazes me when I take the time to reflect on what goes on here.

But outside in the vacant lot behind our building children were playing while attentive parents relaxed for a bit on the lawn. The lot is more like a meadow these days after almost a decade of attention and care that included the removal of a "cocaine campground" several years ago. What a struggle that was!

Some folks had already been in our center to explain some problem, to receive help with food or some other issue. Others were waiting for family members to complete their interveiws inside. Everyone seemed glad to be taking advantage of the good weather.

Neighbors were talking to one another. Our volunteers were laughing. The kids were running and jumping and laughing.

The place just felt good.

The people were poor materially. Every single one of them.

At the same time, I witnessed a wealth beyond anything material. A priceless kind of reaching into contentment that springs from togetherness, hope and the satisfaction of work, even when it pays far too little. Don't misunderstand. There is absolutely no glamour and goodness in poverty. Far from it.

But, I have learned and continue to learn that people with hope and a sense of belonging often achieve amazing results. I caught a glimpse of one dimension of that as I was leaving.

Basically, I walked right past a Kodak moment, got in my car and drove to a meeting. Still, in that image I am sustained.

Working in a community center in the center of the community is a rare and wonderful privilege.

I am so grateful.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Do Me a Favor. . .Think About Dallas Today

Help me out here.

Think about Dallas, Texas as often as possible as you go about your day.

Today may be a holiday for you. Or, maybe not.

I expect it is somehow a bit different from your normal day as we head into the Easter weekend. So, help me out and think about Dallas as often as you can.

This is one strange place, Dallas.

Think about it. The number of houses of worship in this city are matched only by the number of people who live on our streets.

Talk about disconnect.

On this Good Friday I'd have to say it's about time for a resurrection of civic heart and meaningful faith for all of us who call Dallas home.

Sad fact is, while some of us really have homes to call our own, far too many will curl up in the darkness of our streets tonight--48% will be women and children. Now there is a stat you won't read in any Chamber of Commerce publication!

Kinda hard to think about singing Hallelujah on Sunday given what we all know about tonight and the streets, don't you think? Sort of makes our songs sound a bit hollow, wouldn't you agree?

To help with your special Dallas meditation today, you may want to check out Zac Crain's essay in the most recent Dallas Observer

Zac, a very talented writer, does a fine job of describing our problem.

Like I say, do me a favor today. Think about Dallas.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Immorality of America's Healthcare System

Sorry, but there are just some things that individuals, businesses, churches, non-profits and civic organizations cannot handle. I wish it weren't so, but it is.

Some problems are just too big. Some issues demand a solution of the whole, from the whole, for the whole.

The moral dilemma is easy to outline.

Modern science can control diabetes. Modern medicine can successfully treat kidney stones, colon cancer and coronary artery disease--just to name a few of the more common maladies that need not snuff out life prematurely these days.

Not everyone can afford to pay for the treatments that can effectively address these health problems. Not everyone has insurance.

People who cannot afford the care end up in the emergency departments of our hospitals. Often these patients receive less than state-of-the-art care. Many receive stop-gap service that includes pain killers before being sent home. Others must wait in line for weeks before consulting with an appropriate specialist. Many times the treatment comes to late to save or even extend life.

The fact is if you can't pay, you don't receive equivalent care.

Is it moral for a nation to have the tools of healing, but to then apply them primarily based on income or ability of a patient to pay? Is it moral to build a healing system primarily on the back of market forces?

In our community-based clinic we see many patients who cannot pay. We treat hard working men who have been sent home from emergency rooms loaded up with antibiotics and pain killers to treat kidney stones. I recall one man who finally lost all kidney function thanks to the inadequate treatment he received only because he was poor.

Many otherwise kind individuals consider healthcare a luxury, a privilege and not a fundamental human right. I've had more than one person deliver this message in almost exactly those words. Each claimed to be a person of deep faith and serious piety.

The faith taught by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus ought to lead us in a very different direction. Their teachings have led previous generations down a completely different path, all in the name of faith.

Health, wellness and healthcare present us with huge and very expensive challenges today.

Our common challenge calls for a collective response. What is needed is an enormous new strategy. What is called for is honesty and realism. What is called for is leadership, unselfishness, community development and courage in the face of greed and discrimination.

Withholding care when it is available is not only unfair and cruel, it is immoral.

Life is a fundamental human right.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Reflections While Watching Spring Training. . .

I really enjoy baseball. The level of play doesn't really matter to me. From tee-ball to the majors, if there is a game underway, I'm interested.

So, for the past six days I have been on pilgrimage.

About a third of major league baseball shows up in the Phoenix-Tucson area this time every year for Cactus League games in preparation for the real season that begins in April.

I watched 5 games in as many days. I kept score throughout four of those games--something about recording results as they unfold is therapeutic!

Baseball is like a spiritual exercise for me. Just getting away and losing myself in a game, watching young players take their best shot at getting into the big leagues--if you like baseball, you will immediately understand my point. If you don't get it, take my word for it: It is very special.

This was my second year to make Spring Training in Arizona.

This year seemed different than last. Maybe I was familiar with the different parks and the routine and the process, I don't know. But, I do know that I observed everything this year with keener eyes.

Maybe it was the incredible steroid Congressional hearings. Surprise, surprise! Bloated, pumped up home run sluggers cheat and use illegal drugs to enhance performance. Now there is news for all of us who follow the game.

The fact is most of us have known for awhile that our heroes as kids made records without the help. They also chased down fly balls and made mind boggling throws that today's players sometimes don't even attempt. But then, they had their problems with alcohol, gambling and domestic violence. Baseball is played by people no matter which era!

Back to my point. Whatever it was, I saw new things this trip out west.

For one thing, I was extremely aware of my wealth. Just to be able to make a trip like this in a world like mine. . .well, I have more than I need.

And, so do a lot of other people.

I overheard an older gent behind me in the stands one day talking on his cell phone. He described how his stocks were really paying off. He was 62-years-old, retired and rolling in the dough.

Lots of rich guys like me watch spring ball.

Then, there was the complexion of the crowds at all of the parks. A conservative estimate would have to cut the demographics at 90+% white and less than 10% persons of color. I know by looking at the lineups in every game that lots of people who are not white like baseball. It was a crowd of privilege and advantage by birth that I was a part of.

A somewhat surreal dimension was provided every day by U. S. Air Force and Marine fly-overs by several different varieties of jet fighter planes. Weapons in the air that cost millions and millions of dollars. Weapons designed to protect the way of life that I have become accustomed to, including my spring ball.

Don't get me wrong. I loved the games and the hustle and the details. I will likely go back again.

But, somehow the stark contrasts and the memory of so many friends left behind in inner city Dallas gave me a different perspective on everything.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Jesus and the Values Debate

Not everyone who comes here to read, reads the Bible.

However, everyone who enters our current "values debate" (spawned by the so-called "culture wars" over the past decade or more) and who appeals to faith as an informing source for the argument needs to at least take a look at what Jesus said about poverty.

Today I leave on a week-long vacation. My posts may come to a complete stop for a few days. On the other hand, I may stay at it while away. At this point I just don't know. Whatever the case, I think a good old-fashioned Bible study might be in order at this point.

Here's the deal. Dust the cover off of your Bible. Turn to The Gospel According to Luke and follow along with the suggested reading guide below. You may want to plan on the exercise taking 10-15 minutes daily for several days. For each reading selection follow these practical steps:

1) Read each passage carefully and slowly at least twice--three times would be better.

2) As you read, jot down the main point the text seems to be making.

3) Ask yourself when was the last time you heard the words you are reading in church? In the current debate over Christian values and public policy?

4) Meditate on possible applications in your own life and in future discussions and actions about our national life and cultural values.

Reading Guide for Luke

Luke 1:46-55--Mary's song. . .note verses 51-53

Luke 3:10-14--the message of John

Luke 4:14-21--Jesus' first sermon

Luke 6:20-25--Jesus' sermon on the plain

Luke 7:18-23--John's question from prison

Luke 9:12-17--feeding 5,000 men

Luke 10:25-37--parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke 12:13-34--parable concerning greed (Tip: watch this text at the end)

Luke 14:12-14--Jesus' guest list

Luke 16:1-15--using wealth to assure yourself a future

Luke 16:19-31--a parable for urban America

Luke 18:18-30--the focused life (resist the natural urge you've learned in church to explain this one away!)

Luke 19:1-10--a small man with an open heart

As you reflect on this exercise, look back over this list.

It is safe to say that Luke understood Jesus to be extremely concerned about the poor.

It is safe to say that compassion for the poor was a high-priorty, a first order value for Jesus.

People who truly follow Jesus also are committed to relieving people of the burdens created by poverty and injustice.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The "Values Lobby" Needs to Read the Bible!

There they were, arrayed on page 2A of Sunday's edition of The Dallas Morning News (March 13, 2005)--members of the now powerful "Values Lobby." Confident of having delivered the 2004 election to George W. Bush, this lineup of Christian voices from the right expects the President to deliver on his election promises about promoting "Christian values" in the laws and policies of the nation.

Quite a lineup, indeed:
  • Richard Land--President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • James Dobson--Founder, Focus on the Family
  • David Barton--Founder, Wallbuilders
  • Ted Haggard--President, National Association of Evangelicals
  • Donald Wildmon--Founder, American Family Association
  • Lou Sheldon--Founder, Traditional Values Coalition
  • Richard Doerflinger--Director of pro-life activities, U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Oh, the report did throw Jim Wallis into the mix as well, even though he represents "a progressive Christian philosophy," definitely a minority in this group.

It is interesting to "unpack" the concerns of these Christian leaders. Actually, they only have a couple of values on their list--sort of slim pickins when you have he entire Bible to select from it seems to me!

But, it is true. The values debate boils down to two issues: abortion and homosexuality. That's it for these guys, underscore guys!

The challenge to the President is clear: appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade and work for a Constitutional Amendment that bans same-sex marriage in the United States.

For these leaders of the faith, no concern whatsoever is expressed concerning poverty, racism, education, health care, housing, equal opportunity, war, violence or homelessness. You choose the media--spoken, print, electronic--you will find no concern for anything but these two issues or matters related to them. In fairness I am quick to admit that the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does share other concerns, but not from the office listed above.

I have to say these guys cause me to scratch my head in disbelief.

Here's a challenge for you.

Run a word search in any exhaustive concordance to the English Bible on these words: poor, oppressed, rich, abortion, and homosexuality. You can even do your research online these days!

Count the verses in each category. Make yourself a "values scorecard." Tally them up. See what you find.

No matter what one thinks about abortion or gay marriage, no legitimate discussion of values, can occur in this nation if those are the only two issues under consideration.

Further, no conversation about national values can omit from consideration issues associated with poverty, wealth and injustice, and at the same time contend that it stands in the historic Judeo-Christian tradition.

Bible believing churchmen and churchwomen should be speaking out today as never before for the sake of a legitimate values discussion, a discussion American despartely needs to have.

After all, literally millions of our fellow citizens and fellow believers do not enjoy the luxury of such debate. They are too busy trying to scratch out a life for themselves and their children in a world made almost impossible by the very poverty so many others want to ignore.

[Just ahead: the values of Jesus]

Monday, March 14, 2005

More on Community

Human beings seem "hard-wired" for community experiences. We all need others to make it in life.

Middle and upper class people tend to become isolated by their economic options, opportunites and obligations. Many times the importance of being in community or solidarity with others isn't clear until some crisis strikes. In tough times the presence or the absence of real community often determines life outcomes. No matter how independent a person feels and acts as a result of wealth and opportunity, there comes a time when the commited presence of others is essential.

Under class people tend to become isoldated by the lack of options, opportunities and power. People who live in poverty alone face tremendous challenges. Risk runs high when you are poor and alone. Again and again I have observed individuals come to us all alone and in deep trouble, sometimes literally at the point of death physically, emotionally and/or spiritually.

I've learned that low-income folks know the importance of togetherness. Pooling limited resources for the sake of the group is a common part of urban life among economically disadvantaged people. Time after time I've been amazed by the open-handed generosity of people who have almost nothing.

This recognition of the essential nature of community is a spiritual gift. I believe this recognition and this unique capacity hold the key to renewing inner city neighborhoods. I also believe that our common need for community may be the ticket to bringing people together from across class and racial lines for the sake of lasting, sustainable, urban revitalization.

No matter what my class, when I feel a need for human connection and when I recognize that very same need in others who appear very different from me, I may have just discovered the basis for a new kind of unity. The end result could be a new kind of city.

Of course, to realize our goal we must reach out a bit, take a chance or two and begin to trust others. This may seem hard and risky. From my point of view the crisis of everyday life leaves us no other viable options.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Life-Giving Power of Community

During the past week, a close-knit group of people have been holding vigil at Children's Medical Center here in Dallas. The focus of everyone's concern is little seven-year-old Tatum Null.

For some unknown reason Tatum experienced complete liver failure and lapsed into a coma early last week. Friday afternoon doctors performed a liver transplant. She continues her struggle to live. The group continues its vigil.

Please pray for little Tatum. She is a very special person. This world needs Tatum.

As I have moved in and out of the group that waits for her improvement and recovery, I have been struck by the power of the community that has taken up residence in the "Family Waiting Room." Scores of people have been in and out all week long. Talk about extended family! The Nulls have been surrounded by an incredible group of friends and family, many from their church.

Of course, this is what community does best. It rises to the occasion of a member's need. The social capital in that room has been priceless this week. The family has been supported, carried, sustained and empowered to endure their ordeal by the presence of this genuine, authentic experience of community.

As I have experienced the joy and strength of this community on vigil for one little girl and her family, I couldn't help but think of how I have seen the power of community at work in the inner city.

Lots of poor folks struggle in isolation. Being alone only magnifies the problems and challenges they face individually and as families. Often when people come to us for "help," what they really need is simple human connection. Usually we are able to provide that. Whether in our resource center where hundreds of low-income volunteers work, or in an employment circle where new friends are found on a quest for a job, or in the church that seeks to engage the reality of the neighborhood, people tend to find belonging and support in the community that emerges.

As I have been waiting on little Tatum with her parents in the midst of their supportive community, I have thought of so many other friends of mine. Friends transformed by the love and the presence of genuine community. Very poor friends who came with virtually nothing, but who today are much stronger, much healthier and much more full of purpose and resolve.

The fact is people find power and strength and new life in community.

Tatum and her countless friends have reminded me of this wonderful truth this week.

Please pray for her full recovery.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Injustice Institutionalized

So, now comes the courageous Texas House of Representatives with a new tax reform plan.

The headline story in last Wednesday's edition of The Dallas Morning News shouted out at our city, "Tax bill would benefit richest, analysis finds" (March 9, 2005, page 1A).

Did anyone hear or notice?

The only surprise here is the fact that the paper ran the report as the day's top story.

Consider the hard, cold facts for the poor in Texas:

  • Only Texans in households making more than $100,000 would receive a net tax cut under this plan.
  • On the other hand, the poorest 1.7 million households--families earning less than $23,000--would experience a net tax increase of more than 5 percent.
  • The richest 840,000 households in the state--those making over $140,000--would enjoy at least a 3% net tax decrease.
  • School property taxes would be cut by 33%--a big boost to homeowners whose equity assures a big advantage in terms of a family's net worth. I guess you can't blame the legislators on this one, after all they have been under pressure to "fix" Robin Hood, the state school finance bill. Never mind that the plan actually benefited 88% of the school districts in Texas. But then, I guess if you are living in the more powerful 12% who had to pay to help out the poorer districts you get what you want eventually.
  • To pay for the cuts at the top the legislature suggests a 7.25% state sales tax, the highest in the nation. Great! Sales taxes disproportionately affect the poor. Texas likes regressive policies.
  • The net effect will be an increase of $1.1 billion on all Texans earning under $100,000 annually.
  • The wealthiest 20% of households will pay $437 million less.

Another interesting "wrinkle" in the plan relates to how different sectors in the economy fare under the new tax proposal. Businesses in the service sector--those that are labor intensive--will pay 20.5% more. Construction companies will pay 18.2% more. Now this should have a great affect on the wages of the working poor of our state, don't you think?

On the other hand, finance, insurance and real estate companies get a 11.5% ($897 million) windfall. Great for dividends!

Ain't Texas a grand place?

Of course, the poor among us still have the Senate to depend on for a more equitable plan. Now there is a confidence booster!

People who read the Bible--at least those who read all of the Bible-- ought to have something to say about this. Listen on Sunday when you go to church and let me know if you hear anything about this issue.

My money says the silence will be overwhelming.

Friday, March 11, 2005

David Shipler Spoke Truth to Power--Are Our Prophets Today Journalists?

Yesterday Central Dallas Ministries presented its 10th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Event to the city of Dallas. Our speaker was New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, David K. Shipler. He won the Pulitzer in 1987 for his amazing book, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land.

Shipler's latest book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, is one of the most important studies of poverty among working Americans in the past fifty years.

His lecture was amazing and profound.

Shipler stood tall and calmly, powerfully told the truth.

On Wednesday, March 9, The Dallas Morning News published an essay Shipler wrote ("When food is a luxury") about hunger and the interconnectedness of the issues facing low-income, working people in the United States.

What he wrote is posted below. As you read, ask yourself, when was the last time you heard anything like this in church?

If you spend a day in a malnutrition clinic, you will see a dismal parade of babies and toddlers who look much younger than they are. Underweight and developmentally delayed, they cannot perform normally for their ages. Some are so weak that if you hold them in a standing position, their knees buckle. When they lie on their stomachs, they cannot push themselves up. Long after they should be able to roll over, they can only flop around listlessly.

Doctors describe these conditions as "failure to thrive." If President Bush's budget is enacted, there will be many more children in America who fail to thrive.

The most direct reason is Mr. Bush's proposed cut in food stamps. But there is another cause of hunger, less obvious and no less damaging: his budget's diminished housing subsidies, which will leave more families exposed to escalating rents.

It may seem odd to think of housing causing hunger, but the link becomes clear when you talk with parents who bring their children into malnutrition clinics. They usually lack government protection against the private market's steeply rising housing costs. They can't get into public housing; they are languishing on a long waiting list for vouchers that would help pay for private apartments. Or they are immigrants ineligible for government programs. As a result, some find that rent alone soaks up 50 percent to 75 percent of their earnings.

They have no choice. They have to pay the rent. They have to pay the relentless electricity and telephone bills. In most of the country, they need automobiles to get to work, which means car loans and auto insurance. None of these can be squeezed very much.

The main part of the budget that can be squeezed is food. What happens then is documented by a soon-to-be-published study in which nearly 12,000 low-income households in six cities were surveyed. It found an increased incidence of underweight children in families without housing subsidies.

There has been a lot of talk since Sept. 11, 2001, about the need to "connect the dots" to share intelligence and combat terrorism. It's about time that the country did the same to fight poverty. The factors that retard children's futures are interrelated; connecting the dots is the clearest way to see the lines of cause and effect.

Housing costs contribute to malnutrition, which affects school performance and cognitive capacity. It weakens immune systems and makes children susceptible to illness, which diminishes appetites and increases vulnerability to the next infection. The downward spiral can lead to absences from school and expensive hospitalization.

Even when hungry children are able to go to school, they don't do well. "Learning is discretionary, after you're well-fed, warm, secure," says Deborah Frank, a pediatrician who heads the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center. She treats infants who look like wizened old men and older children who are bony and listless.

What is not visible may be more serious. Inadequate nutrition is a stealthy threat, because its hidden effects on the brain occur long before the outward symptoms of retarded growth. Several decades of neuroscience have documented the impact of iron deficiency, for example, on the size of the brain and the creation and maturation of neurons and other key components. If the deficiencies occur during the last trimester of pregnancy or the first two or three years of life, the results may last a lifetime.

Long after malnutrition ends, such children have lower IQs. In adolescence, they score worse than their peers on arithmetic, writing and cognitive tests. Parents and teachers see in them "more anxiety or depression, social problems and attention problems," according to a volume of studies compiled in 2000 by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

Youngsters who cannot succeed in school usually drop out and go on to fail in other ways. So the Bush budget exchanges a short-term gain for a long-term loss, overlooking the simple fact that the less we invest in children now, the more we will have to invest in prisons later. Connect the dots.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Reader Writes. . .

In response to my entry on February 24, 2005 ("A Real Must Read"), a reader posted the comments I've copied below. I felt a need to place my response here so that everyone could read and weigh in. My reply to his ideas are in bold font and sandwiched in between his lines.

Thanks for the challenge, but...

Why did Jesus not end poverty when He was on the earth? I expect he didn't because he couldn't. We always assume that he could have, but such magical thinking doesn't take him seriously enough as a human, nor does it place responsibility for this worldwide need where it belongs: on us. The fact that he didn't well illustrates the reasons, the causes and the forces that account for poverty in the world. Poverty is the result of choices made by people. Jesus never set out to control the minds or the lives of people against their will. People are poor because the world is filled with people who have made bad, often evil choices. Sometimes bad choices are made by the poor. Most often those choices are made by the rich and powerful who are motivated by self-interest. Jesus seeks to win hearts. He did not come to overrule freewill decisions. Those times when Jesus touched people, fed people or intervened in a miraculous way are examples of his compassion and his charity. Poverty will never be overcome or adequately addressed through charity or compassion alone. Systemic change is called for and such change requires tough, sometimes hard-nosed but faithful, lifestyle decisions. Jesus spoke to this very clearly. Read Luke.

Why does God allow this form of suffering in the world? I don't know. Frankly, I have a "bone to pick" with God about that. My hunch is that God remains inactive in the face of much human suffering because God does not control the evil choices of people with power. That seems to be the message of the prophets and of Jesus.

Why does He not bless us all equally? This question assumes that all wealth is a blessing from God. Might it not be the result of unfair advantage that accrues due to the privilege of birth, class, race and even geographic location? Why pin everything on God?

Does Jesus mean 'actually feed' food to His sheep or does He mean to teach the gospel? If you are talking about his conversation with Peter at the end of John's gospel, it likely means to care for his followers and to do so in a holistic manner. The context does not indicate a literal feeding. I don't think anyone claims otherwise as this question implies. At the same time, Jesus did feed people and he was concerned that people eat when they were hungry. He tasked his followers with being attentive to this same concern. Again, more compassion. By the way, my experience among "the poor" reveals that almost everyone operates out of faith in God, so there is not much evangelizing to be done.

If He means to 'actually feed' the sheep, why did He/does He not physically feed the sheep? See the answer to the first part of this question above.

Why did He say, "the poor you will always have with you..." See my blog on January 18, 2005 ("Our Entertaining Use of the Bible"). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 15:11 in his reply to his tight-fisted, greedy disciples who take issue with his anointing (Mark 14:3-9). Read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in this important text about the Sabbatical year. You will notice what God's expectation is: ". . .there should be no poor among you. . .if only you obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today" (15:4-5). God expects us to create societies in which equity and justice prevail. As this and other texts make clear, God placed in the Law of Moses provisions for the creation of an economic system that would lead the society toward justice. Ironically, we find ourselves more "churched up" than ever and at the same time the poor suffer terribly while the rich grow even richer. Don't be fooled, this is by design. The church today seems to have almost no word on justice to speak into our democratic society, a society that we could control or at least influence. I fear that people of faith have been almost completely co-opted by our culture and its materialistic values.

If filling the bellies of the hungry is the area where we, the church, can be most like Christ, why then would you encourage us to spend one more dime on a book and not put those monies into bags of food? Why not sell this $2500.00 computer and buy food? Why not sell all but three shirts and two pair of pants and buy food? Why not one shirt and one pair of pants? Why not turn off the AC at your office? your house? Why not sell your house? First, no one is saying that "filling bellies" is the mission. Establishing justice and fairness in the earth is our concern. The issues of bellies will follow justice. Charity is not the answer. In fact, charity is often a very sophisticated way for the powerful to retain their power while receiving accolades about their generosity. Charity can be a comfortable substitute for the realization of justice, something akin to Bonhoeffer's notion of "cheap grace." Second, having said that, I must admit you ask good questions of us here at the beginning of the 21st century. Most of us, myself being the first in line to receive your message, need to consider selling out, living more modestly for the sake of our on-going struggle to see justice and equal opportunity prevail. Jesus spoke to these issues and he spoke clearly (Luke 12:13-34--note the last three verses).

Jesus says "give up everything" and follow me. Does following Him mean being homeless, as Jesus was homeless? Why not? It might. For some of us, it should. Some people have actually done this. We typically consider folks like this radical at best and, if we are really honest with ourselves, downright nutty! We find it fairly easy to dismiss people who take Jesus at his word here about "laying up treasure in heaven" because most all of them come from faith traditions that we don't understand and have found easy to judge and reject. But, your questions are fair and some of us need to consider such radical steps--if not toward literal homelessness, then to a much more dependent lifestyle. But, there are many steps between our typical middle, upper-class, respectable "Christian" manner of living comfortably with our culture and its oppressive structures and the radical lifestyle your question envisions. I don't think we have any idea just how serious Jesus was with his words, nor how amazing the Kingdom he had in mind truly is. It is why he was executed.

Jesus taught us to pray "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Strong words. Words that tell me our work is to be about the earth until we find ourselves elsewhere.

Thanks for reading and posting here. Stay with me!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Justice for Rich and Poor Nothing Alike (Part Two)

So, if the police apprehend the person who broke into our Community Health Services building early last Sunday morning and then again on Sunday afternoon, what will happen to him? [Please refer to yesterday's entry if you're lost at this point! ]

If we decided to press charges, he would be held for several weeks in the county jail. Most likely the authorities would discover that he has a record already. He will be poor and, most likely, strung out.

Since he won't be able to afford an attorney, the court will appoint one to represent him at trial. No doubt his attorney will already have more cases than she or he could possibly manage in a fair manner. The combination of the public defender's case load and the overcrowded docket at the courthouse will likely lead to a plea bargain of some kind.

Bottom line: our burglar is going to prison for several years.

While serving time with the Texas Department of Corrections, our neighbor will not have access to counseling, drug rehabilitation or much of anything else that is really positive.

I know, I know. The guy robbed us! But, if our goal is to see him get out a changed person, we may need a better approach. Most likely the old strategy already has failed with our friend.

Unless a person is highly motivated and really focused on self-improvement, the current prison system just doesn't work very well at all.

Forgive me, but I couldn't help recalling a story I read last week in The Wall Street Journal ( "Imprisonment Doesn't Bar Pay for Select Group of CEOs," Wednesday, March 2, 2006, B1-2).

Joann S. Lublin led her story with these lines: "For a few executive felons, serving time is a lot like a paid leave of absence. They are being paid by the companies they once led while completing their sentences."

Among the "corporate cons" who pile up great pay while paying their debt to the rest of us is Martha Stewart. Though she has drawn no pay while in prison for lying to federal investigators, her guaranteed salary and bonus of at least $1.4 million resumed when she was released.

Andrew Wiederhorn, former CEO of Fog Cutter Capital Group, Inc., will pocket $5.5 million after serving 18 months for pension-law and income-tax felonies.

Steve Madden, CEO for Steven Madden, Ltd., earned $700,000 annually for almost four years while in prison for stock fraud and money laundering.

The juxtaposition of these corporate celebrities with our neighborhood vandal is interesting, isn't it?

Each of these people put their own self-interest above that of their communities, right? Each would most likely attempt to explain and justify what they did.

Like the high-profile, corporate crooks, if caught, our neighbor will likely end up behind bars.

I expect his treatment there would be quite different from that of Martha Stewart. And I know for a fact no one will be holding pay checks for him upon his release.

Money matters.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Justice for Rich and Poor Nothing Alike (Part One)

Today I am very frustrated.

Early Sunday morning--about 12:30 a.m.--a burglar broke through a window, invaded our medical clinic and stole two new laptop computers that we use to keep track of patient records.

I met the police, assessed the damage and went home disappointed, but not surprised.

Sunday around noon our medical director secured the building by closing up the broken window with plywood.

By 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon the thief returned, smashed through another large window, kicked in every door in our exam room area and generally tore the place up looking for something else of value.

We met the police again, cleaned the place up and added another huge sheet of plywood.

Most likely our "guest" will not visit us in this annoying way again, now that he knows we have little of street or pawn shop value for him to take.

I hate it when this happens. Thankfully, it happens only rarely.

I must admit, I would love to get my hands on this dude!

But even more, I'd just like to talk to him. Given the way things turn in my neighborhood, that might just happen. This afternoon while driving around, I visited with three guys who walk the streets here. They have a way of turning up information for us.

Even more frustrating to me than the act of the thief is the context and the motivating factors behind his action.

As to context, it is not unlikely that I know the guy already. If he turns up, he could be someone who knows me. If this is true and, if the past is any tutor, I can tell you he will be sorry and ashamed.

As to motive, of course, it is money. Money for rent, money for food and, most likely above all else, money to feed a habit--money for drugs. Crack is a cruel, cruel master and, as I am reminded again today, it affects us all.

I've noticed across the years that as the economy goes bad for the folks at the bottom, the break-ins seem to occur more frequently. I am reminded again of Agur's prayer.

". . .give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
(Proverbs 30:8b-9)

It happens.

But, there is more to the story, especially when you consider how the poor end up when they mess up as compared to the rich who do the same. Key in all of this is the absence of substantial hope for anything better than desperation and madness. Then there is the matter of unfairness in the system.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Frederick Douglass on Injustice and Power

A Kingdom thought for Sunday-go-to-meeting folks to pray over:

"If there is no struggle there is no progress. . . .This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quitely submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both."

(From a speech entitled, "West India Emancipation," delivered on August 3, 1857)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Facts About Texas. . .Often Hidden

In Texas, 25 percent of families with children (every fourth family unit!) live below the poverty line ($18,400 for a family of four).

Of the 513,000 families with children who live in poverty, 81% are headed by a worker. So much for the "lazy poor" mythology!

Twenty-three percent of Texas children have no health insurance--a number sure to rise given the current declining strength of the Children's Health Insurance Program thanks to our legislature's funding decisions.

In Texas, 21 percent of our children (that is more than 1 in 5) live at or below the poverty line--a statistical measurement that is set artificially and arbitrarily low.

Texas ranks 45th in the nation in Medicaid funding for nursing home care. Over 90% of Texas nursing homes do not meet minimum staffing levels set by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. I guess in Texas, when it comes to the aged, we are conservative with our compassion!

Only two states have a higher percentage of "poor" people than Texas: New Mexico and Arkansas.

In Dallas County the "housing wage" is $16.75. This represents the hourly wage necessary for a full time employee to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the area's fair market rent. This amount represents 325% of the current minimum wage ($5.15 per hour). A minimum wage worker in Dallas County would need to work 130 hours per week in order to rent such a home. Put another way, a minimum wage worker can only afford monthly rent of $268 or less, if housing costs are to be held at a feasible 30% of the worker's wage.

In Dallas County, a household earning $19,500 can afford monthly rent of no more than $488. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the area is $871.

A Social Security income recipient receiving $522 monthly can afford monthly rent of no more than $166. The fair market value of a one-bedroom apartment in Dallas is $678.

Low-income residents of Texas face an uphill battle on a daily basis. The number of families facing these challenges is staggering. Most Texans don't really understand.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Are We Awake?

The details and the implications of President Bush's proposed FY2006 budget are coming into clearer focus. The results, if adopted, will be terrible for the nation.

Bush intends to cut discretionary domestic spending by what will amount to $214 billion over the next five years. The cuts would total only $18 billion next year, but the kicker is that the budget plan involves imposing spending caps on programs for five years.

Consider the impact both in terms of real dollars (adjusted for inflation over the period in question) and in terms of who will be affected.

No Child Left Behind, the President's own education strategy, would see a 12% reduction in funds over the next five years--$11.5 billion lost.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program--recognized as one of the best for the money, especially as a preventative strategy to reduce the number of low birth-weight infants and thus, the high cost of neo-natal health care costs--would be cut by $658 million. Translation in real terms: 660,000 women would no longer receive coverage.

Head Start, the highly successful early childhood education initiative, would be cut by $3.3 billion so that by 2010, 118,000 fewer pre-schoolers would be ineligible.

Clean water and clean air funding will decline by 20% by 2010. My oldest grandchild will be 8-years-old by then.

Community development programs that allow cities to invest in tough, impoverished neighborhoods--like here in Dallas--will lose $9.2 billion and will shrink by 36% by 2010.

Most of these cuts would be in funding sent first to the states.

Just what Texas needs, more funding losses. I can't wait to watch the Texas Legislature make up the difference in lost revenue for programs that benefit low-income Texans. We have such a great track record in the state of caring for our neighbors at the bottom!

David Border, columnist for The Washington Post, reported these facts recently (Sunday, February 27, 2005) and then went on to point out something even more important. While these cuts are being proposed--cuts that will disproportionately affect the nation's poor, no plan is forthcoming on how to address the funding crisis for the real big ticket entitlement programs that serve the middle class (i. e. Medicare and Social Security).

So, let's see. Tax cuts, deep tax cuts, made permanent for the top. Harsh cuts running out half a decade at the bottom. No policy plan on sustaining things in the middle. Border reported that David Walker, the head of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, called current budget policy "unsustainable."

Anybody awake enough to notice a problem here?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Dismissive People

Once a person resorts to a stereotype in order to evaluate strangers, it can be extremely difficult to alter the mental file folder that has been created. If I can neatly categorize you and "your people," it makes my life easier and my worldview less confusing.

Stereotypical thinking, something we all do, enables us to dismiss folks and move on.

Unfortunately, none of us really enjoy dismissive people, even though we all are guilty of the crime we resent so much when we see it in others!

I have noticed recently how easy it is for us to dismiss people who have no homes.

In a radio message last week I heard Paul Harvey refer to the homeless in another American city as "bums." Fairly dismissive stereotype, don't you think? Maybe people like Mr. Harvey because he helps us iron out the wrinkles of inconsistency and complexity that life throws in our faces every day.

Let's be honest. Homeless people scare us. We don't understand them, nor do we know their stories. We don't know what to do about their problems. It is just easier to assume that they like their lives on the street or that most are mentally ill or strung out or both, or that they are paying for their personal mistakes, that there is nothing that can be done to really help, etc., etc., etc. I bet you can fill in another line or two here.

Research--hard, empirical evidence has a way of destroying stereotypes. Most people I talk to just don't believe that the homeless population here in Dallas could really handle having apartments of their own. This skepticism fuels the city's penchant for shelters and soup kitchens and bread lines.

The evidence shatters our misguided understandings.

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a study of one of their programs that provides supportive housing for people who have no homes. HUD's study found that after a year 84.5% of disabled and formerly homeless tenants remained in housing. I guess if you just dismiss your commitment to a stereotype and give your common sense some slack you can see how that would be the case. Street vs. Home? Street vs. Home? Duh!

Or, consider the results of a four-year study by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Almost eighty-four percent of formerly homeless mentally ill adults living in supportive housing--single room occupancy (SRO) apartments--remained housed after one year. Hmmm. Go figure.

In New York City, where city and state funding financed the construction or rehabilitation of over 8,000 units of supportive housing for homeless persons from 1990-1997, program evaluation found that approximately 80% remained housed after a year. Novel notion there, don't you think. Public money guided by enlightened public policy to solve a public problem that benefits everyone.

I guess people in Dallas will think what they want, leaders and service providers included.

But the facts are clear. Homeless people are pretty much like the rest of us. Like all of us homeless people need lots of things. And, like you and me, what they need most is a place to call home.

[For additional findings on homelessness in the United States check out this Congressional site:]

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Renovating American Spirituality

The growing gap between rich and poor in this country is the result of an almost bankrupt spirituality.

Most church people will disagree with me. After all, Christian book sales continue to set records. Crowds pack our mega-churches and our arenas to hear sermons or attend spiritual improvement seminars. More people than ever claim to believe in God and care about things of the spirit.

But, stop and listen carefully.

Almost no voice is heard today speaking out on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the oppressed.

Hardly a whisper is heard about the celebration of materialism in the face of gripping poverty.

As a matter of fact, much popular theology buries the poor in explanations focusing on individual responsibility and the power of God to truly bless the faithful or God's people. A longstanding American notion that God's election is proved up by one's financial status is alive and well. . . big time!

Sadly, we have lost our way. It really is just that simple.

I'm convinced America's faithful need a new prayer. A prayer that could provide the tools and the paradigm for the radical renovation of our spirituality.

I find just such a prayer in the ancient text of the Hebrew bible--hear the word of the Lord found in Proverbs 30:7-9:

"Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die:

1) Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

2) Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?'

Or, I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."

The prayer is simple. So straightforward is its sentiment that it is downright disarming.

Two things are needed.

First, help us tell the truth, Lord. Telling the truth assumes that we will face it, admit it and embrace it in all circumstances. Truth-telling would help us when it comes to urban issues and challenges, I can tell you that. Few want to hear or face the truth about our cities.

Second, give us only what we need for the day. Deliver us from wealth on the one hand and poverty on the other. Both can be deadly to the spirit.

Protection from riches opens a door to rich dependence on our Higher Power and and escape from counting only on our own abilities or strength. Protection from riches means that I will not forget the source of my true wealth as I deal with life and my fellows.

Protection from poverty closes a door leading to desperation and disgrace. I will not shame my creator if I can just have the bread I need for today. No more, no less.

Try this on the average American church today. Prepare for strange looks. Get ready to hear the simple truth explained away, as actions and lifestyles are rationalized.

I must confess, as I write, something inside cringes. I am so far from this spirituality of the simple and the adequate.

But, liberating truth resides in this short wisdom text.

It reminds me of something someone else once said.

Can you hear it?

"Give us this day our daily bread."