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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hip-Hop, Slavery, Rock n' Roll and the Fury of Islam

Not long ago, I listened to a BBC radio broadcast dealing with the influences of Islam on American music. Unfortunately, I was driving and did not take the time to pull over and properly document the program name or the reporter.

However, the salient points of the report proved unforgettable.

I didn't realize it but, according to this report, a large percentage of all African slaves transported to the New World in the 17th century were practicing Muslims.

The report went on to demonstrate the influence of Islam on the music of the slave quarters in North America, with particular emphasis on the music of the black church.

As the report unfolded, I was amazed by the similarities in sound and melodies that became clear as the music of Islam was compared to the music of the slave spirituals.

Even more fascinating was the obvious and enduring connection to Blues, Jazz, Rock and Roll and Hip-Hop, all examples of American's unique contribution to the world's musical expression.

A couple of my reflections have stuck with me since hearing the report.

For one thing, our connections and exposure as a people to the culture, thought and religion of Islam are not limited to our recent history. The influences go way back before the founding of the nation.

Ironically, some of the cultural and artistic influences that modern day, fundamentalist Muslims find most abhorrent in the West, and especially in the United States, are largely the result of the mixture of the North American slave experience and what was an early attempt, albeit unknowing after many years, to preserve and honor the sounds, influences and memories of Islam.

Who would have thought that Elvis, B. B. King, Miles Davis and Snoop Dog shared the same cultural and artistic family tree with Islam?

It is as if, once strained through the horrible filter of 17th, 18th and 19th century American slavery, Islam's music "corrupted" and "turned rotten" (at least according to modern day Islamic fundamentalists). One result has been to inflame a world of backlash among millions of modern day Muslims. This part of our national musical heritage, now exported back to the nations responsible for at least a part of its origins, rouses intense hatred, conflict and violence, at least in some quarters.

Of course, from my very Western, American perspective, the influences of African American music on my culture simply evidence the amazing creativity and resilience of the human spirit. No matter how despicable, unjust or violent the oppression, the people endured, at least in part, thanks to their music.
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Now that you mentioned it. . .

Interested in gaining some helpful insights into the history and anthropology of "Hip-Hop" music?

Check out this essay in a very unexpected publication: http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0704/feature4/.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

History: Housing Visions

Back in 1998, I wrote a little "white paper" mainly for my own benefit. My purpose at the time was to organize my thoughts about how Central Dallas Ministries might actually become involved in serious, on-the-ground neighborhood and community redevelopment. Once I'd completed the first draft, I kept working on it over the next year or so. I filed a copy and I circulated several copies among a few board members and staff.

At some point after 1999, when he joined us to found CDM's public interest law firm, John Greenan read the paper. Over the following two years or so, John began trying to figure out how to begin to bring some reality to the ideas I had sketched out and refined over the months.

Thanks to John's persistence and leadership, we organized the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation.

John doesn't practice much courtroom law these days--I think he still has one open case. As the Executive Director of our growing CDC, John is using is skills to create new and high-quality places for inner city folks to live and shop. At present the Central Dallas CDC has four major projects about ready for construction.

I came across a copy of my little vision paper not long ago. So, I thought I would post it here just for fun. Its title is "Hope Street."

As I read over it again, it is clear that much has changed and much has been accomplished. We speak a slightly different language these days, as we've learned how best to work with the larger community. We still hold to the neighborhood nature of our beginning vision. We've just tucked it away for the time being as we have begun with multi-family developments and permanent, supportive housing for the poorest among us. The values remain the same.
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Case Statement: A Vision for the Development of a Comprehensive, Neighborhood-Based Christian Community

The Vision

Central Dallas Ministries proposes to develop a comprehensive, neighborhood-based Christian community that will deliver a stable, on-going continuum of care, opportunity and growth for each resident. The development of decent, affordable housing within a targeted, multi-block area in south Dallas will be the central focus of the initiative.

The housing stock will include:

1) highly-programmed “safe” housing for members of the community who recognize their need for a special, life-stabilizing environment in order to overcome unique and difficult personal problems, such as addiction,

2) clean, safe and affordable multi-family housing for lease,

3) clean, safe, affordable multi-family housing for lease, lease-to-purchase or sale

4) clean, safe, affordable single-family housing for lease or lease-to-purchase and

5) clean, safe, affordable single-family housing for sale.

The on-going spiritual growth and health of the community will be achieved through the development of a network of house-based cell groups. These small groups, interlaced throughout the neighborhood, will meet weekly for Bible study, prayer, and intentional training in leadership development, Christian community building and preparation for home ownership.

Residents will be instrumental in expanding the work and influence of the Central Dallas Church.

The Desire Observed

Since 1994, Central Dallas Ministries has encountered over 100,000 men, women and children in outreach and emergency relief efforts associated with its Food Pantry. In addition, close friendships have been developed with hundreds of volunteers who live in the community targeted for service.

The growing life of the Central Dallas Church provides an even more intimate context for becoming acquainted and for developing in-depth relationships. After listening to thousands of stories both in interviews and in the normal day-to-day conversations with friends, these almost universally expressed desires have surfaced:

1) Neighbors who come seeking assistance and many volunteers who join our team to help in restoring a sense of community to our inner city neighborhood express a desire to escape the clutches of various addictions and compulsive behaviors. Many volunteers spend most of the day working in the Food Pantry because the environment provides the safety they need to maintain sobriety. The challenges always come at night and on weekends when they are forced to return to apartments, rooming houses, the borrowed couches of “friends,” housing projects, or in some cases the streets. Cut off from the supportive, therapeutic environment of the Food Pantry, these persons often lapse and return to the addictive behavior they desperately seek to leave behind. Isolation from the supportive community and the loneliness of nights and weekends often proves more than many recovering addicts can manage.

2) Many of our neighbors encountered first in the Food Pantry and/or in the Church also express the desire for obtaining better housing for themselves and their families. By “better” most mean affordable, clean, well-maintained, drug free and safe. Most of the people we meet are forced to use too large a percentage of their monthly income for housing. Most pay exorbitant rental fees for substandard housing. Most express fears about personal safety and the availability of drugs in close proximity to where they live. Many report the need for repairs that go unattended. Further, when asked about their dreams and personal goals, most include an opportunity to own a home of their own.

3) Many of our neighbors, volunteers and fellow church members tell us of their desire to grow as persons who contribute to the betterment of our community. Other more specific desires that are often expressed include

a) improved overall health and well-being,

b) continuing education for the development of new more marketable skill sets,

c) finding opportunities for business ownership,

d) personal emotional growth and enhanced interpersonal skills and

e) personal spiritual development.

Strategy for Further Development and Pursuit of the Plan

Central Dallas Ministries/Central Dallas Church seeks to identify and move to capture a five-block area in a south Dallas neighborhood to be determined on the basis of cost, availability, existence of and condition/type of present housing stock, need for community renewal and in answer to prayer.

In order to develop and pursue our plan we continue to take or will begin taking the following steps together:

1) We will continue to commit our vision, expressed desires and overall plan to God in prayer.

2) We will identify a “task force” from our community to begin work on the next steps necessary to complete our plan.

3) We will present the outline of the plan to the Central Dallas Church in public messages and to the Central Dallas Ministries Board of Directors in scheduled and called meetings.

4) We will develop a plan for identifying and preparing participants for involvement in the planned community.

5) We will continue to identify and consult with partners inside and outside the community including business and corporate leaders, financial institutions, government officials and agencies (city, state and federal), other non-profit organizations and churches.

6) We will develop a strategy for dividing the work ahead of us into manageable “bites” for assignment to those persons/groups possessing the necessary expertise to accomplish their part of realizing our vision, including:

a) a financial plan for the project,

b) a land procurement process,

c) building construction/rehab,

d) financing for condo/home ownership,

e) project management,

f) “safe” house program and management development,

g) new staff development,

h) home owners training/preparation services,

i) cell group development from Central Dallas Church,

j) others to be identified as we move forward.

7) We will develop a clear plan for “entry” into the target neighborhood.

A Call to Commitment and Renewal

We believe in the God-given capacities of people.

We know by faith and by experience that the people of the community God has been gathering around the Central Dallas Church and Central Dallas Ministries represent our most important asset in the realization of our vision.

We know God has called us join him in his work of restoring hope in the heart of our city.

We know that given opportunity and freedom to act upon opportunity, the people of our community can achieve great things together.

As God called Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, so we hear the clear call of God upon our lives to begin to live and act as those who rebuild the ruined places of Dallas.

Through the words of one of God’s ancient prophets we hear the call to be known as “restorers of streets with dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A public prayer. . .

The following prayer opened today's meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners' Court.

God of many names and of all people, we approach you this morning with gratitude, humility and a sense of genuine privilege.

Thank you for hearing our petitions.

We honor you as the Creator and Sustainer of our lives in this community. We know that you have shaped and informed every positive human value—the values that make life work in the manner that you intended for every single person in a world that continues to grow smaller and smaller, though tragically divided by conflict and war.

Forgive us, O God, for our rejection of your values. Heal us from the disease, the illness of substituting counterfeit, comfortable, anemic values of our own making for those values that flow from your strong heart and your lively Spirit.

We know you are a God who honors freedom. Forgive us for the ways we have worked to limit the freedom that you want to give to everyone in equal measure. Make us champions of true liberty in this community.

We acknowledge that you are a God committed to justice, equity and fairness. Forgive us for all the ways we find to practice injustice and oppression, while building systems that are anything but inclusive and equal. Make us a people sold out to justice.

We honor you today as a God who works to deliver hope to your world. Forgive us for too often dashing the hopes of the precious people around us. Equip us with new resolve and extraordinary energy to offer ourselves as channels of hope and compassion to those who see no hope and feel no compassion this morning.

Open our eyes and our hearts to those who know poverty in this community of amazing abundance. Quicken our memory this morning that we might not forget our brothers and sisters—young and old—who have no place to call “home” in this city of mansions. Lead us so that we will not forget the prisoners, or those who are ill and unstable, or the unemployed, or those who are desperate in their loneliness.

Now O God, bless our leaders convened in this sacred place of decision making.

Pour out your wisdom upon each of these servants of yours that they might promote those things closest to your heart, while standing against those forces that limit and deny your people freedom, justice and the hope that’s born of compassion and genuine community.

We pray together with boldness this morning, knowing that you have brought us to this moment by your sustaining love and your amazing grace.

Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday Meditation. . .

"The God whom Jesus bore within him was not the God of one nation. The reign of God which he meant to establish was not a new imperialism with the chosen people on the top of the pile. The gospels show us Jesus in the act of crossing the racial boundary lines and outgrowing nationalistic religion. He recognized the religious qualities in a pagan; he foresaw that the Kingdom of God would cut across the old lines of division; he held up the hyphenated and heretical Samaritan as a model of humane kindness. Every time a wider contact was offered him, he seized it with a sense of exultation, like the discoverer of a new continent. That world-wide consciousness of humanity, which is coming to some in protest against the hideous disruption and hatred of the War, was won by Jesus at less cost under the tuition of God and the Kingdom ideal."

(Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, 1917, page 161)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Amos. . .little heard, much needed

Eugene H. Peterson's The Message is a refreshing and challenging way to read the Bible. The sub-title of Peterson's interpretive translation is "The Bible in Contemporary Language."

It is that alright!

In addition to the interpretation of the original languages, Peterson provides a background introduction to each of the sixty-six books of the biblical text.

Not long ago, someone pointed me to his introductory comments on the words of the Hebrew prophet, Amos. They are worth sharing, at least for the strong of heart!
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More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion than in any other way. Sex, money, and power all take a back seat to religion as a source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering. The biblical prophets are in the front line of those doing something about it.

The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble, and compassionate. Prophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb. They sniff it out a mile away. Prophets see through hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy that assumes a religious pose. Prophets are not impressed by position or power or authority. They aren't taken in by numbers, size, or appearances of success.

They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigorously test all human language and action against what they hear. Among these prophets, Amos towers as defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God's name to legitimize their sin.

None of us can be trusted in this business. If we pray and worship God and associate with others who likewise pray and worship God, we absolutely must keep company with these biblical prophets. We are required to submit all our words and acts to their passionate scrutiny to prevent the perversion of our religion into something self-serving. A spiritual life that doesn't give a large place to the prophet-articulated justice will end up making us worse instead of better, separating us from God's ways instead of drawing us into them.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Development and Community Values

Real estate development is not easy.

This is true for market rate developers who bring forward upscale, glitzy, high-end projects designed to serve and attract middle and upper class urban consumers. No mater where or what type the project, challenges and obstacles always arise to the threaten success of most every deal.

Of course, for-profit real estate developers usually enjoy the powerful advantage of adequate investment capital, political influence and community support and, very often, the buy-in of public officials who invest city funds in hopes of realizing significant returns through a growing tax base, at least eventually.

Beyond the direct investment of community funds, upper end real estate deals often benefit from tax abatements and/or deferments, code exemptions or exceptions of various kinds, infrastructure development on the public tab and positive community influence moved to action by marketing dollars and public relations campaigns. A number of Dallas projects currently underway come to mind as I'm writing here.

Real estate and economic development aimed at benefiting low-income, inner-city neighborhoods and the people living in and around the urban core of a place like Dallas is much, much harder. In fact, the magnitude of comparative difficulty can only be fully understood by those who attempt to make such deals work!

Developers, interested in bringing new housing stock along with new, viable retail opportunities to low-income consumers, face unique obstacles and challenges:
  • Timely acquisition of property, including the ability to hold property while assembling remaining parcels for a proposed development plan
  • Funding for predevelopment costs--appraisals, preliminary designs, market analysis, public relations, legal costs, staff costs, etc.
  • Interim financing for planning, design, construction and bringing the project to market
  • Delays associated with working in a bureaucratic environment that often lead to significant price increases over time, forcing deals to be restructured and/or redesigned, sometimes again and again
  • If a project intends to develop and sell single-family homes, mortgage assistance funding is almost always required to make such deals work, dollars that often are either not available or are offered at a level that are inadequate
  • Community resistance that takes the form of "not in my backyard" thinking and political pressure and opposition
  • Limited public funding for such developments due to community and political priorities
  • Bias that takes various forms against low-income persons and their assumed capacity to improve their lives
  • Fear that such developments will lower surrounding property values

The list could go on.

One thing is very clear to me. Real estate and economic development efforts aimed at improving the lives and the living environments of residents of inner-city and core city neighborhoods are extremely difficult to accomplish.

Such projects will not be accomplished at any significant scale without the commitment of public dollars, the formulation of new incentives that encourage both non-profit and for-profit developers to enter the market, and the political support and will necessary to see a comprehensive strategy through to completion over a significant period of time.

If our goal really is the redevelopment of inner city communities, depending on free market forces alone will not get the job done.

One thing I know for sure: Developing quality real estate in inner city and urban core neighborhoods is not just about dollars and zoning and agreeable contracts.

It is primarily about community values.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Homeless

A few days ago I received an email from Karen Shafer, a woman who lives in suburban Dallas.

Over the past many months Ms. Shafer has developed a keen interest in the homeless population of Dallas. Beyond simple interest, she has made friends among the men, women and families who live on the streets of our city, making regular trips into their world.

Most recently, she has been instrumental in arranging for mayoral and city council candidates to join her on "night tours" of our streets to meet and to hear from this special part of our community.

But, back to her email message. She was forwarding to me an email she had received from a homeless woman, Tami. I thought it worth publishing. While my posting is not intended as an endorsement of all that she says, it is an honest effort to allow her to be heard, as she requests.

Here's what Tami said in response (slightly edited) to Ms. Shafer's question, "What do you need?"

Dear Ms. Shafer,

hi, it's me, Tami. we talked this past weekend about what the homeless
need/want. well here's what i would like to see happen for the homeless.

first, what we talked about, the city has five million dollars for the
homeless, and they are wasting it. they need to take that money, buy
up a lot of these empty houses and give them to the homeless.

Secondly, all these people that have all the power, the mayor, the
security guards, . . . need to stop treating us like trash. all we are to them is a reason to get up in the morning and get paid.


Thirdly, the rule of two sessions a day on the computers at the library should be changed. the homeless don't have anywhere to go all day (the ones that don't work) and if we aren't hurting anything by using the computers then we should get as many sessions as we want. Lets face it, the homeless make up the business at the library. The rich people don't hardly need to come to the library because they have personal computers at their homes.

back to the second item, we want to be heard, we all have voices and needs and no one is asking us what those needs are. i know that most of the homeless have given up, they go to work and then they smoke and or drink up their paychecks, but the rest of us just want to be heard, we want to belong.

the only reason i'm homeless is because i was a victim of the government. i was on hud in abilene, i had an apartment for almost a year. HUD send the landlords/owners of those apartments a small list of things that needed to be fixed, but the landlords/owners refused to fix what HUD told them to so they kicked me out of the apartment. i was going to move back to Plan, (where i grew up), but my husband and i ran out of money and we got stuck here.

I have never been treated so badly in my whole life as the way i've been treated here. anyway, that's what's going on on the streets. the homeless are being treated very, very badly and the points i outlined above need to addressed.

thank you for letting me tell you what's been going on. and i hope you can help. we are people, not animals, and not trash.

Thank you,
Tami


You may not agree completely with Tami's assessment of things on the streets of Dallas, but her opinion, based on her daily experience, should not be dismissed lightly.

Listening to one another is the first step to solving our problems. Dallas is a city accustomed to seeking out and paying attention to "expert opinion." Given that cherished community value, being willing and even eager to hear the homeless talk about homelessness seems like a no-brainer to me.

Community development 101: to solve a vexing community problem, consult the people who know most about the problem.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cuttin' across the lines: Party time in the community. . .

There is no way I can describe it to you.

But, I'll give it a shot just the same!

Dr. Jim Walton, our partner in the delivery of community health, wellness and medical services to inner city Dallas, takes care of over 20 severely injured patients. All have experienced terrible brain and/or neurological injuries. As a result, all are unable to walk and, in some cases unable to move much at all.

Dr. Jim makes house calls. You heard me.

Jim is a modern day Marcus Welby.

He practices medicine in this manner for at least two reasons.

First, he loves his patients and he gives them what he knows they need most, himself on their terms. So, he visits their homes, usually accompanied by one of our Community Health Workers and/or Charles Senteio, Director of Central Dallas Ministries' Institute for Faith Health Research-Dallas.

Second, he wants to keep these special patients out of the hospital for their own benefit and for the sake of the hospital systems in Dallas.

None of them are insured.

None of them can pay for their care.

None are eligible for public health benefits. Most, if not all, are undocumented immigrants who have been involved in serious accidents since coming to Dallas.

Jim's special work saves our local hospital systems hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars by caring for these special folks in their homes. Even more important, his patients do very, very well under his watchful and committed care.

Stick with me. The story gets even better.

On last Friday, Dr. Jim and his patients had a party.

More accurately, they were invited to a party.

The party was thrown for them by the "Homemakers Club" at Roseland Homes, a public housing development where we manage the community center for the Dallas Housing Authority.
Now, get the picture.

Latino patients, who almost never get out of their homes, make it over to the community center with some of their family members for a party. The cooks are the matriarchs of our community, assisted by a number of younger helpers and by members of our medical and community development staff.

You should have seen it!

Black folks, brown folks, white folks. . . young, old, in-between. . . all having a fine party. . . just because! Some meeting for the very first time. Others, old friends.

It was an absolute delight for us all!

Dr. Jim was loving every moment, for his patients; for his partner in the endeavor, Ms. Charlie Mae Ransom; and for the improving health and the maturing connectedness of the community.

I learned during the event that the Roseland homemakers have invited these special patients, now their new friends, to come to lunch every month for a party.

What an amazing place this is turning out to be!

Hope and healing are everywhere. Thanks to so many community builders.

You ought to drop in some time soon. I promise the experience will lift your soul!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Compassion, Connection, Community

I spotted him Sunday on my way home.

He hobbled up Haskell Avenue late in the afternoon. I've got to say I've never seen anyone walk like him. More accurately, I've never seen anyone in his condition walk at all.

He used two wooden crutches.

His right leg dangled from his torso in a rather unruly fashion. It twisted around in front of him as he "walked" along. Yet, somehow with each step he managed to "catch" the free hanging limb with his left leg as he propelled himself forward using the crutches.

He struggled up the street, but with a "stride" that told me he was very accustomed to his condition.

I couldn't help myself. I couldn't turn away from him.

As I drew closer, I noticed that he had made a slight turn toward a vacant building along the street. He moved with determination to the wall of the structure closest to him that ran perpendicular to the street.

When he made it to the wall just off the thoroughfare, he stopped and relieved himself.

Homeless.

No restroom facility open to this citizen of Dallas, at least none that he could find.

Crippled.

Alone, so far as I could tell.

No companion to steady his travel.

Just one man, throwing his leg, or what was left of his leg, forward as he walked into the rest of his life.

As I drove past him, my mind raced in several directions at once. The questions flew through my head in rapid fire.

How did he get here?

What happened to his leg?

How long had it endured in this condition?

Why was he homeless?

Where was his family?

Did he have anyone who cared about him or for him here in Dallas?

Why no wheelchair?

Where would the spend the night?

What could I do?

I know there is a reason why he is in the condition he's in. He may have made some really bad choices.

Or, maybe not.

He may be an alcoholic or a drug addict.

Or, maybe not.

As my mind and heart joined in their speculation, it hit me that none of that mattered at all. Not one bit.

Here was a man, a fellow human being, my brother who needed a home, a place to stay and some new friends.

He likely needs a lot more, as well.

But the scope of his need and the reasons back of them don't matter at all.

All that matters is compassion--the kind of compassion that allows people to connect without the crippling conditions of judgment or "evaluation." The sort of compassion that joins people in such a marvelous renewing way that leads to flourishing community among the poor, the wounded, the crippled, the struggling, the insecure and the frightened--categories with doors wide enough to invite and allow us all in as guests and, ultimately, members.

I'll see the man with the dangling leg again, I know I will.

As a result, things will change for him and, just as important, for me as well.

I'm looking forward to meeting him. I know he will have much to offer the rest of us.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Thoughts: Baseball

Just the thought of Central Dallas Ministries' Night at the Rangers Ballpark makes me smile. We enjoyed that evening a few weekends ago. It was a fun night with a good turn out from across our team. As always, I enjoyed it immensely!

The club is not playing well. . .yet. I remain optimistic. . . against any semblance of rational thought!

Actually, it is the game that keeps me coming back, not the outcomes of individual games. But, I've said this before.

Baseball is a game of childhood memories.

It is a game of right angles and leisurely conversations among friends, as well as perfect strangers.

Baseball, for me at least, is a metaphor for community life. Team work, surprise, order, strategy, problem solving, overcoming weaknesses, celebrating victories and all-out, slam-against-the-wall effort.

Baseball is the long play. It is the slow down. Baseball allows equally for deep, private thought and/or mindless daydreaming and the banter of silly chatter. Baseball can involve the concentration necessary to fill in a scorecard. Or, it can be a glancing experience, when the people around you are actually why you came to the park!

Baseball is about kids. . .and crazy adults with gloves, just certain that the next ball hit or fouled away will be theirs for the catching!

Baseball is salted peanuts, hot dogs, cotton candy, the 7th inning stretch and "Take me out to the ballgame" and, if you're really lucky, extra innings!

Baseball makes the Texas heat worth it.

I love this game.

It gives me hope, no matter how bad our team is hitting!

Baseball can be cruel, though.

As in a couple of weeks ago when my son-in-law called me from Yankee Stadium during a game against the Rangers just to rub it in that I wasn't there. Where's the justice?

[FYI--I took the photo with my Treo while sitting up in the "cheap seats"--not a bad vantage point to watch a game. But then, there's not a bad seat in this house in my view.]



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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Watch 60 Minuties Sunday. . .please pass this on to friends


Plan now to tune in to 60 MINUTES tomorrow evening on CBS televison. A segment of the program is entitled "Dumped on Skid Row."

Here is an advance publicity piece that we received from CBS television describing the segment:

Are some Los Angeles hospitals simply throwing homeless patients out on the street after discharging them, literally dumping them on Skid Row --even if they come from other places in Los Angeles and are in no condition to fend for themselves?

While there have been allegations of hospital dumping for years, people only started paying attention recently, after several shelters installed special cameras on the street to try to capture the practice.

Anderson Cooper’s investigation will air this Sunday, May 20, on 60 MINUTES (7PM ET/PT on CBS).

For more details you can check out the CBS News website at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/1998/07/08
/60minutes/main13502.shtml.

If you have any further questions, please contact Robin Sanders at sandersr@cbsnews.com.

I continue to be amazed at just how expendible the poor have become in this country.

I hope you'll watch the report.

Please pass this post on to your friends, family and associates.
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Friday, May 18, 2007

LeAnn Rimes


Please make a note!

Monday, September 24, 2007, Central Dallas Ministries will host its annual "A Night to Remember" gala at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in the Downtown Dallas Arts District.

This year's event features Grammy Award winning song stylist, LeAnn Rimes! Ms. Rimes hails from nearby Garland, Texas.

This annual event provides major funding for the work that CDM accomplishes througout the year.

I need your help in the following ways:

1) Spread the word about the event among your friends.

2) Plan now to attend yourself.

3) Help CDM sell sponsorships for the evening. Let me know and I will see that you get all the information you need to help us with this important part of the event preparation.

4) Communicate details of this event at work, in your church and throughout your community.

5) Call us to volunteer to be a member of our A Night to Remember Advisory Council.

It will be a great evening for a great cause!


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Myth of Abundant Welfare. . .


Think you could live on a few pennies over $1 per meal every day?

Try this: take the Food Stamp challenge now being offered up in Texas by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP).

Proposed in Austin, Texas as a part of CPPP's campaign to see the Food Stamp program fully funded and Texas fully enrolled, the exercise is designed to demonstrate how hard is it to afford a healthy diet on Food Stamps.

U. S. Representative Lloyd Doggett and the Capital Area Food Bank are leading the way throughout this week (May 15 - Monday, May 21) by eating and drinking only what $21 will buy.

Why $21?

Because that is the average weekly Food Stamp benefit for Texans who qualify.

One dollar for each meal.

Yep, those "welfare recipients" are flat getting rich on the dole, huh?

Nationally, U.S. Representatives James McGovern and Jo Ann Emerson have posed the same challenge to all U.S. House members and citizens across the country.

The Food Stamp Challenge is part of a push to increase the value of the Food Stamp benefit as part of the 2007 Farm Bill, which Congress will begin debating at the end of this month. The Food Stamp program serves working families who simply don't earn enough to sustain themselves and their children.

To sign up for the challenge, visit http://srv.ezinedirector.net/?n=1704368&s=56544953.

See how you manage on just $1 a meal.

Where will you go to purchase your meals?

What will you buy? What will you eat?

Will you gain or lose weight?

How will you feel?

For millions of Americans food insecurity is a major challenge. As a nation, we should be doing better and we should be doing more to improve the life situation of our neighbors.

For more information about the Farm Bill and Food Stamps, visit http://srv.ezinedirector.net/?n=1704369&s=56544953.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"It is just so difficult to think that they don't want us."

Last Saturday, voters in Farmers Branch, Texas overwhelmingly (68%) approved an ordinance requiring apartment owners to demand proof of citizenship or legal residency when considering leasing housing to potential tenants. The target of the ordinance: the undocumented men, women and children from Mexico who live in the small, inner ring suburban community.

From my perspective this is an amazing development.

For one thing, it seems out of place for a city to tackle what is obviously a federal issue. This fact seems to motivate Deputy Mayor Pro Tem and City Council member Tim O'Hare who told Campbell Brown during NBC's Today Show on Monday that those in favor of the new city law were standing in the tradition of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Say what?

I thought Ms. Parks and Dr. King violated local and state laws to entice the federal government to respond to the injustice with new national laws and protections. O'Hare's logic and his understanding of history astound me.

Then, there is everything else.

Supporters of the ordinance claim that these hard working, undocumented families use up the scarce resources of the community, including public education and health care. Few will acknowledge the fact that these families pay all sorts of taxes, including sales tax, federal withholding taxes, property taxes and Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim. Undocumented workers are in essence paying for my retirement, with no hope of receiving such benefits themselves no matter how hard or long they work.

Last week I read an article about the public schools serving Farmers Branch. Evidently, the high school is one of the best in the area. The student body is majority Hispanic.

The most common argument I hear--and at times, believe me, I do get an ear full!--is that "there should be no argument."

"We are a law abiding society and immigration is all about obeying the law."

Case closed.

Not quite.

Much is wrong with the way our laws regarding Mexican immigration have been applied, enforced and managed over the past decade or longer.

Somehow over 12 million undocumented immigrants, most from Mexico, managed to enter the United States. The vast majority of the adults have found jobs, work hard every day and serve the interests of American business as a cheap and often exploited source of labor. They are not made felons by entering the country.

The U. S. Congress has not been too keen on facing the challenge of crafting new, comprehensive immigration reform.

Until recently, with increased political pressure, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have done little to punish employers for hiring undocumented workers.

The IRS has been more than happy to bank the taxes paid by undocumented workers without comment, even creating a special "suspended file" for the funds paid on clearly bogus Social Security numbers. My understanding is that annually these funds are equivalent to 10% of the Social Security reserve fund.

Markets have done nothing but encourage the influx of more laborers without proper papers.

Major banks offer checking accounts and credit.

Our foreign policy has done virtually nothing to encourage the sort of economic development inside Mexico that would curtail the influx of immigrants to the U. S.

So, what is the proper response? Pass local, city ordinances to "uphold the law"?

The quote from the report in Monday's paper (The Dallas Morning News, "After immigrant rental ban's approval, some plan exodus," by Dianne Solis, May 14, 2007, A6) that really got to me came from a Mexican woman who is now moving out of Farmers Branch after living there with her family for years.

She said, the emotion leaping off the page and over my first cup of coffee, "It is just so difficult to think that they don't want us here."

Sorry, lady. It's all about obeying the law.

Maybe we need to remember the words and ideas of Henry David Thoreau expressed in his important essay, "Civil Disobedience." His thinking on the nature of law certainly influenced the likes of Dr. King and Gandhi.

Thoreau spoke of "actions through principles."

In other words, if the rules and demands of a government or a society run contrary to moral law and to individual conscience, it is my duty to reject, ignore and disobey them, according to Thoreau. That, of course, is what Rosa Parks did on that Montgomery bus. (By the way, I was taught this same value in Sunday School as a child here in Texas!)

Thoreau observed. ". . .it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right." Law should be respected, not because it is law, but only because it is right, just and fair.

"The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right," he wrote.

To be morally right and to pursue justice in life is the goal, and is more honorable than being law-abiding, like the bus driver who obeyed the law and told Rosa Parks to go the the back of the bus where the law, a really bad law, said she belonged.

Ironically, Thoreau wrote his famous essay in 1848. He was thinking of slavery and the invasion of Mexico, both violated his conscience.

Laws can be wrong.

Laws can be bad.

There are higher values than being "law-abiding." Honest people who argue that obeying laws must remain our supreme, inviolate national value need to rethink their position.

Those who are hiding behind the rhetoric of "a nation of laws," need to get honest about their real concerns.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The State of Black America 2007

The National Urban League released its annual report a couple of weeks ago, The State of Black America 2007: Portrait of the Black Male.

You can find the Executive Summary at http://www.nul.org/. You can purchase a copy from their website or via Amazon.com right here on my page (see thumbnail in column to the right that benefits CDM).

The Urban League does the nation a service every year by tracking and evaluating the progress, or lack thereof, among African Americans, as compared to whites, along six "weighted index values," including Total Equality, Economic, Health, Education, Social Justice, and Civic Engagement.

The 2007 report notes that African Americans status stands at 73.3% of whites status in the cumulative index. Economically they are doing 57% as well as whites; 78% as well in terms of health; 79% as well in the area of education; 66% in overall social justice concerns and 105% in the arena of civic engagement, the one category in which they out distance the white experience in America today.

Here are some of the noteworthy facts of life for black Americas in 2007:

++African American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males (9.5% compared to 4% for whites).

++Among young men (20 to 24-years-old) 76.5 of whites were employed, compared to 68.8% of blacks.

++For blacks over 25-years-old with less than a high school education 60% are unemployed, as compared to 53% of whites.

++African American men earn only 75% as much as their white counterparts.

++For African Americans under 18-years-old, 33.5% live in poverty, compared to 10% of white youths.

++Among black Americans, 47.9% own their homes, whereas 75.8% of whites own homes. In addition, blacks are three times more likely to obtain high-priced mortgages than whites.

++Black men are more than 7 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
Average jail sentences for African American males are 10 months longer than for white men.

++Young black men between 15 and 34-years-old are nine times more likely to die of homicide than white men the same age and they are almost seven times as likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

++Black children do well in early childhood--over two-thirds are enrolled in early childhood education programs, such as Head Start, compared to 64% of white children. However, black children, especially males, begin to drop out in middle school and high school at alarming rates.

++Twenty-one percent of teachers in majority black schools had less than three years experience, compared to 10 percent in majority white schools.

++Dollars spent per black student was 82% of those spent per white student.

The Urban League report goes on to suggest a number of steps to improve the lives of African Americans, and black males in particular. The report would be well worth reading.

There is much to do for all of us who seek a nation of opportunity and equal access for everyone.

Thanks to the National Urban League for this important, ongoing research.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Poverty Markets and Robbing the Poor

If you want a realistic look at predatory lending, high-cost financial services, and other "ordinary rip-offs" endured by low-income persons in the United States today be sure and visit this link to the cover story of the latest issue of Business Week, no liberal rag I might add: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/
content/07_21/b4035001.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_best+of+bw+this+week.

I expect the story will sicken you, as it did me.

Israel in the days of the Hebrew prophet Amos (circa 8th century B.C. E.) had nothing on the United States today! Might do us all good to read the words of Amos today, right after we read the Business Week article. Let me know when you hear either quoted in church.

What with largely unregulated loan sharks, disguised as reputable businesses; selling used cars complete with strategies to repossess a part of the business plan; rent-to-own electronics and appliances; payday loans; income tax services and extremely high interest credit cards; poor folks in this country discover just one more way to slide further and further into the darkness of not just poverty, but generational poverty. The Business Week report demonstrates that these businesses plan to exploit the poor as standard operating procedure on the way to remarkable profits.

Unchecked capitalism such as this, as well as the injustices it spawns, should be reigned in for the good of the entire society.

Behind this story is a fact that others in the business world should take note of. The subprime and predatory lenders have moved in on the poor for one simple reason: the poor have money and constitute a viable market opportunity.

Here's my question. If there is an opportunity for the shady, why not the legitimate?

For years we have been asking for grocery retailers to set up business in the poorer sections of Dallas, especially in the inner city neighborhoods of South Dallas. Our low-income friends need and purchase food more often and frequently than credit! The market is there. Where is the company willing to step up to the unique challenges of these areas of our city and deliver what would in many low-income neighborhoods be a smashing business success?

I doubt anyone starts breaking ground tomorrow, but I'll keep asking anyway.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Harsh Mothers' Day in Urban America

Severe poverty hit a 32 year high in 2005.

Most of the severely poor (under $10,000 annual income for a family) in the United States are women and children.

Life for most single mothers in the urban centers of our nation is indescribably tough.

Limited income never translates to the curtailment of need.

Children all need the same basics: nutritious food, decent housing, emotional nurture, safe places to play and to learn, access to routine, preventive medical attention, engaged parents.

Poverty cuts hard and persistently against every single one of these basic needs.

Poverty unsettles the equilibrium of communities, families, adults and children. Poverty throws everything out of kilter. Poverty introduces many negatives to the equation of life in our cities.

Over the past almost 40 years, I've watched poor women struggle to do their best by their children, often without the help of the men in their lives. I've seen lots of courage. Sadness has been a constant companion, as well. I've seen the love and the devotion, the pride and the fear.

I'm convinced that as women find ways to battle through poverty, they and their children achieve great and surprising things.

But the poverty is a power to be reckoned with.

My hat is off to every mom today who struggles on alone and poor in an increasingly difficult social and economic environment.

Shame on us as a people if we refuse to enter the struggle to see things improve for our weakest and most vulnerable neighbors.

We must do better.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jane Lowe

I'm thinking of you today, Jane Lowe.
Lots to remember as I stop to think of you;
Your dirt-floored shanty nestled under
That Claiborne Street overpass right downtown
New Orleans--folks driving by, but never seeing your truth.

Been now nearly thirty years since you made your rounds in that
Wild and wonderful city of light and song and fear,
Coming by my place in the mix to read my palm, tell my fortune
And share a story to draw down a tear and a laugh or two--

Always asking about my babies.

I remember your dirty face, your toothless, grinning mouth;

Your black and gray hair pulled back tight in a greasy knot,
All you owned--a treasure trove--piled high on your grocery cart;
And you, the most optimistic person I've ever known,
Who had so much pain and little else to show, or so it seemed at first.

At times you worked me for a buck or two,
A meal, a bit of cash for the bus, or
A bottle that I'm sure consoled you in the
Darkness of your lonely nights and
Very hard days on those stressful, amazing, wonderful streets.

You were my church, truth be known, smelly though it surely was
And full of frustration and gaping need; but I never could relate much to the holy folks come into town from elsewhere
To make their bucks and secure their futures, and pay my salary
But you just coming by to make sure I was okay, and to help yourself.

Cheap assurance you sure provided,
No doubt in my mind your wisdom about life was more than sound;
Your needs so simple, your laughter so real, old, homeless woman, I know you were an angel, sure enough,
Come down to those streets for me.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monica and Jose

People continue to ask me about my young friend, Monica.

To read the background on this update, go back into my archives for March 11, 13 and April 13 of this year.

Monica and her cousin, Jose, both seniors in high school here in Dallas, great students and wonderful kids, were picked up back in March by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers while attending a party in Greenville, Texas. Like I say, read the earlier posts for more details on what turned into a horrifying experience for them and their families.

Now to the update. Recently, both were informed of hearing dates on their cases. Later this summer these two great young people will appear before an immigration judge here in Dallas to have their cases heard. Most likely they will both be deported after being in the United States since they were little children. Monica came to this country when she was 5-years-old, thirteen years ago.

We have secured a great immigration attorney. However, there may not be much anyone can do to prevent my young friends from being sent back to Mexico. Their attorney is eager to try, but at one point told us the best thing that could happen would be for the U. S. Congress to pass the "Dream Act" (see post April 13, 2007), legislation designed to protect the children of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for years and who have stayed in school.

So, my young friends may not be with us or their wonderful families much longer.

"What can I do?" you ask.

Work on this list today:

1) Pray for Monica, Jose, their families, the judge and their attorney.

2) Write your two Senators and your Representative in Congress urging them to support passage of the Dream Act as soon as possible. Feel free to use the story of Monica and Jose as an example of why we need to see it passed.

Some who read this won't understand my position or my concern.

Anyone acquainted with Monica and Jose understands completely.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

18 and no where to go. . .

Ever wonder what happens to children in foster care when they turn 18?

In the 19-county region we're apart of here in North Texas, over 300 of these young people "age out" when they celebrate that birthday. Every year in Dallas 150 of these foster children find themselves on their own.

That's right. Not all children who are in foster care continue in a living relationship with their foster parents.

Aging out means that the state no longer provides funds for the care of these young folks, and for many foster parents that means the children are basically on their own.

For over six years now, Central Dallas Ministries has been reaching out to these special young people. Beginning as the fiscal agent for a fairly complex community collaboration known as Target Kids in Court, CDM now offers services to these youth as a part of our daily work.

Under the creative and able leadership of Evy Kay Ritzen, our Transition Resource Action Center, located on Live Oak Street very near Downtown, is the epicenter of our activity with this special population. Today the initiative is known in our community as TRAC.

Many of these youth have lived in multiple foster families, having never been adopted. Deep-seated emotional challenges are typical.

Housing, employment, education, managing relationships and mental health concerns are typical issues.

Our Community Development Corporation has been providing housing for a number of these young men and women with more units on the drawing boards.

We partner with lots of other groups and individuals to get our work done, including Dallas County, the State of Texas, Child Protective Services, Dallas Social Venture Partners, the Meadows Foundation (who provides us our wonderful service center) and many others.

TRAC is all about touching young people who find themselves in a very difficult situation at a very young age.

The data is not very encouraging for these youth.

Over 40% of this slice of the population end up homeless and on the street or in the criminal justice system.

TRAC is all about intervention, encouragement, equipping, loving, friendship and connecting youth to opportunities and new life.

In 2006, TRAC served a total of 842 young people.

During the first quarter of 2007, TRAC touched 424 of these youth!

The growth is frightening.

This past year, thanks to the efforts of the Crystal Charity Ball, CDM received an award that allows us to partner even more deeply with CPS. The grant will allow CPS and TRAC to hire additional case managers who will focus on 14 and 15-year-old youth to assist them in developing a plan of action for life before the magic age of 18. We feel this preventive intervention strategy will propel more young people to higher levels of success, and more quickly at that.

Most people simply are not aware of the challenges facing hundreds of teens in our area.

If you'd like to connect with one of these special young people or partner with TRAC, let me hear from you.

You can visit our website at http://www.centraldallasministries.org/ to learn more.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

So, go ahead, change the world!

Not long ago I ran across a provocative essay entitle, "Ten Commandments For Changing the World," written by organizers and community activists Angela Bischoff and Tooker Gomberg.

The intent of their advice was to offer tips on where to begin, how to create and maintain momentum and enjoy the process of working for change in and among communities.

As they put it, "Changing the world is a blast. It's all the more achievable if you have some basic skills, and lots of chutzpah. With apologies to Moses, and God, here are our top ten commandments for changing the world."

Here is their list of "commandments" for community workers and leaders who want to change the world:

1. You Gotta Believe. Have hope, passion and confidence that valuable change can and does happen because individuals take bold initiative.

2. Challenge Authority. Don't be afraid to question authority. Authority should be earned, not appointed. The "experts" are often proven wrong (they used to believe that the earth was flat!). You don't have to be an expert to have a valuable opinion or to speak out on an issue.

3. Know the System. The system perpetuates itself. Use the tools you have. . . . Learn how decisions are made. How is the bureaucracy structured? Who are the key players? What do they look like? Where do they eat lunch? Go there and talk with them. Get to know their executive assistants. Attend public meetings.

4. Take Action. Do something -- anything is better than nothing. Bounce your idea around with friends, and then act. Start small, but think big. Organize public events. Distribute handbills. Involve youth. It's easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than to ask for permission. Just do it! Be flexible. Roll with the punches and allow yourself to change tactics mid-stream. Think laterally. . . . Don't get hung-up on money matters; some of the best actions have no budget.

5. Use the Media. Letters to the editor of your local newspaper are read by thousands. Stage a dramatic event and invite the media -- they love an event that gives them an interesting angle or good photo. Bypass the
mainstream media with email and the Web to get the word out about your issue and to network.

6. Build Alliances. Seek out your common allies such as other community associations, seniors, youth groups, labour, businesses, etc. and work with them to establish support. The system wins through "divide and
conquer," so do the opposite! Network ideas, expertise and issues through email lists. Celebrate your successes with others.

7. Apply Constant Pressure. Persevere -- it drives those in power crazy. Be as creative as possible in getting your perspective heard. . . .

8. Teach Alternatives. Propose and articulate intelligent alternatives to the status quo. Inspire people with well thought out, attractive visions of how things can be better. Use actual examples, what's been tried, where and how it works. Do your homework. Get the word out. Create visual representations. Be positive and hopeful.

9. Learn From your Mistakes. You're gonna make mistakes; we all do. Critique -- in a positive way -- yourself, the movement, and the
opposition. What works, and why? What isn't working? Find out what people really enjoy doing, and do more of that.

10. Take Care of Yourself and Each Other. Maintain balance. Eat well and get regular exercise. Avoid burnout by delegating tasks, sharing
responsibility, and maintaining an open process. Be sensitive to your comrades. Have fun. As much as possible, surround yourself with others (both at work and at play) who share your vision so you can build camaraderie, solidarity and support. Enjoy yourself, and nourish your sense of humour.

Remember: you're not alone!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Things that make you go hmmm. . .

Go figure.

Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry told us that he thinks anyone who is licensed to carry a gun in Texas should be able to carry it anywhere, including to church, in a bar or a courthouse.

Perry was speaking to the tragedy that beset the Virginia Tech campus. If you are authorized to possess and tote a gun, you ought to be able to pack it anywhere you go, according to my governor.

You gotta admit, such a policy change would sure make Sunday School more interesting.

Sort of reminds me of Archie Bunkers' strategy to end airline high jacking in the 1970s: "When passengers board, just pass out the 45s and no one will have a problem."
____________________

The National Rifle Association filed a formal objection to President Bush for supporting a bill that would prohibit the sale of guns to suspected terrorists. The NRA feels as if this would be a threat to the Second Amendment rights of Americans to keep and bear arms, even if they are suspected of terrorist activities.

____________________

During recent discussions by the Farmers Branch, Texas City Council regarding undocumented immigrants, one of the chief concerns expressed in support of that city's proposed anti-immigrant ordinances had to do with national security and the threat of terrorists. Serious discussions were had at City Council regarding the danger of terrorists from Mexico. I'm checking the watch lists now for terrorists with Hispanic surnames. I'll get back to you when I find one ("Scenes from the Class Struggle in Farmers Branch," D Magazine, May 2007, pages 60ff).

____________________

The percentage of Americans living in severe poverty hit a 32-year high in 2005 (Affordable Housing Finance, April 2007, page 10). This according to McClatchy Newspapers' analysis of the 2005 census data. Almost 16 million Americans live in deep poverty.

What is "deep" or "severe" poverty? For a family of four it is an annual income of less than $9,903. For an individual, the severely poor earn less than $5,080.

The number of Americans mired in this deep, wretched poverty grew by 26 percent between 2000 and 2005. One of three severely poor Americans are younger than 17-years-old.

Seems to me that something beyond charity might be in order here.
___________________

Yesterday's edition of The New York Times carried a front page article on Liberation Theology's lingering influence in Latin America and Pope Benedict XVI's history with and response to the issues involved.

Fascinating read.

Got me to thinking how it is I can use religion and theology in service to my own cherished way of life to the detriment of others. At the same time, we often react with offense to differing theological perspectives from this same platform of self-justification. Across the years I've spent a good bit of time reading liberationist thinkers.

I remain amazed at the outrage of those who object in view of the needs of the people. For well over sixty years the issues of deep poverty, land reform, food crops vs. cash crops, clean water, economic development and housing have gone largely unaddressed and unresolved for the poor of Latin America.

I'm wondering how small Bible study groups aimed at finding answers to these pressing social dilemmas could be seen as a threat to the church.

_____________________

Hmmmmm.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Owen James

Owen James Frazer entered my world one year ago today!

As a result, May 7, 2006 will always be one of the very best days of my entire life!

From the first moment that I saw him, Owen drilled into my heart and carried me away, just like his two older cousins.

He reaffirms for me the amazing truth that no matter how many grandchildren you have, each one of them gets all of your love!

Owen is my third, and what an amazing and special little fellow he is.

Well, not so "little," actually.

At one-year-old today, Owen is almost three feet tall and weighs in at around 30 pounds! Talk about a "squeezable" little bundle of love!

Isn't it amazing how every child is different, their own unique person from the moment they arrive?

Owen is physically strong and big for his age. He has a gentle spirit and an extremely calm soul about him.

He can be as serious as a judge, as he carefully observes his world!

He can also laugh with cut-loose joy and hilarity when we tickle him or sing to him or play with him.

He reminds me of both of his parents.

He loves balls and toys and Einstein videos and dogs and Taco, the cat.

He's always excited when his dad comes home from work and he always seems glad to fall into my arms. And, he waves his arms when he sees me and he's even started to share my granddad growl that both of my grandsons seem to understand instinctively. Gracie just laughs at me and says, "Oh, Granddad! You're silly!" The boys growl back.

He started walking this week. . .it would probably be good for the walking part if we would all just put him down more often, but everyone fights to hold him!

He has been a "good baby" since he got here, whatever exactly that means! I think it has to do with crying and sleeping, etc. You know, parent concern sort of matters that relate to ease of care and hours of night time sleep! Everyone who really understands the meaning always seems to say this. And, I certainly agree, he is a good baby.

Like his granddad, he loves a good meal and good company.

Owen has no way to understand how much I love him, though I know he gets part of the story already. I'll spend the rest of my life letting him know how important he is to me and just how deep my love really is. It has no limits.

Grandchildren remind me of how much I love their parents. They also reveal what life is supposed to be.

Nothing is better.

Happy birthday, Owen!

Granddad loves you, boy!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Forgiveness

Community depends on our ability to forgive one another from the heart.

Practising the fine art of forgiveness is especially important as we work for justice, fairness and reform in our society. The fact is we will find many opportunities for extending mercy and forgiveness as we progress.

The capacity to extend forgiveness to others, to "give them a break," links us with a larger reality at work in the universe. I believe the essential openness to others that provides for forgiveness and multiple "second chances" is a characteristic that links us to our Creator and to the giant picture of eternity.

When it comes to forgiveness, often my problem relates to my inability to step back and take a longer view of my life and my relationships. People who have the gift of "long-sightedness" provide direction and leadership for healthy communities.

Productive, dynamic human relationships are rooted in a deeper, extended spiritual view of reality.

Beyond this, and much closer to home, the ability to forgive in a community begins with a willingness to forgive ourselves for our own failures and selfish mistakes.

I like how Dean Koontz puts it in Brother Odd:

"When you laugh at yourself, you gain perspective. Then you realize that the mistakes you made, as long as they didn't hurt anyone but yourself--well you can forgive yourself for those."

After thinking about that for a moment, he gave me one thumb up as a sign of agreement.

"You know what? Everyone who crosses over to the Other Side, if he didn't know it before he went, suddenly understands the thousand ways he was a fool in this world. So everyone over there understands everyone over here better than we understand ourselves--and forgives our foolishness" (page 239).

So, for the sake of the community of which you are a part, practice forgiveness today.

Start by forgiving yourself. Then, look to your neighbors.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Shareholders versus a living wage

You likely read the story that broke a few weeks ago.

The headline in The Washington Post read "Circuit City Cuts 3,400 'Overpaid' Workers" (March 29, 2007, by Ylan Q. Mui, D01).

The electronics and entertainment retailer fired 3,400 employees across the country, or about 9% of the company's workforce. Circuit City said their reason was simple: all were "making too much money." The company reported that the terminated workers would be replaced by others who were willing to work for less. The company admitted that the firings were not related to performance, but were part of a strategy to "improve the bottom line."

"Retail is very competitive and store operations just have to contain their costs," said Jim Babb, a Circuit City spokesman. "We deeply regret the negative impact that was had on these folks. It was no fault of theirs."

Workers were provided severance pay. After ten weeks, if they are willing to work for less, all will be free to apply for any openings with the company. The terminations occurred on the same day as the announcement of the decision and all were told to leave the stores immediately.

Again, according to The Washington Post story, the firings, along with several other moves, are expected to reduce expenses for the electronics retailer by $110 million in fiscal year 2008 and $140 million a year starting in fiscal 2009.

Steven Rash, 24, said he was one of 11 workers fired at a Circuit City in Asheville, N.C. Rash said he has worked for the retailer for seven years where he reported that he earned $11.59 an hour and worked from 15 to 20 hours a week. Though he has a full-time job at a bank, he said he needs to find part-time work to help pay his student loans.

"It's not just a part-time job," he said. "It's about paying the bills."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for retail salespeople was $11.14 in May 2005, the latest data available.

Following the round of firings, Wall Street responded favorably for Circuit City as shares closed at $19.23, up 31 cents, or 2 percent.

The on-going competition among Circuit City, Best Buy and Wal-Mart for customers drove this action by the big retailer.

How should I react to this story? I understand that businesses have to compete and make adjustments to turn a profit based on market forces and realities.

But, what about the workers? What about the families?

This incident parallels what we observe on a daily basis in the city. Hard working people find it more and more difficult to make a living, to earn enough to make life work for themselves and their families.

Who is to blame?

Ironically, most all of us are implicated.

We want cheap goods and services. As a matter of fact, for most of us, if we are honest, price is the number one consideration when it comes to making a purchase. We go to the stores where we can get the best deal without a thought about the means of production, delivery to market or the labor back of the product.

Further, most of us own a stake in the stock market. Our 401 k plans, our IRAs, our 403 b programs, all put us squarely in the game of bottom line watching and analyzing corporate strategy with little thought about labor.

I am wondering these days just how responsible such an approach, such a worldview really is?

I am also facing the fact that even though my faith has much to say about this, I find it fairly easy to ignore faith's directives in this culture of creature comforts and discount luxury.

Surely, there must be a better way. After all, what's more important to me, saving $15- $20 on a new flat screen or knowing that parents can do a better job of caring for their children?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

On the right track. . .

Last Thursday morning after our annual prayer breakfast, a man approached me with a question.

"Mr. James, you mentioned having 50 apartments available for homeless people," he said. "Can you tell me more about that?"

I explained to our guest (one of many homeless men and women we had invited for the morning) that, indeed, we did have the apartments available thanks to a grant we were awarded last year from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD).

"How do I get one?" he asked, getting right to his point.

I pulled out one of my cards and wrote "Marty" on it and handed it to him.

"Come by my office at this address on Monday and I will introduce you to Marty Mascari, the person in charge of this project. He will be glad to visit with you about an apartment," I told him.

I didn't think anything else about his request until I saw him bright and early Monday morning at my office!

"I've come to see Marty like you said," he explained as we shook hands.

It was a pleasure to introduce him to Marty, and the two of them are working out the details on his apartment.

My new friend's name is John.

No doubt, John will be an "anchor resident" in our new effort to get folks off the street and into, not just housing, but community.

John helped me to see that we are on the right track.

First and foremost, homeless people need homes.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Debra's Story

We encounter thousands of people during the course of every year.

Every person has their own fascinating story.

In the press of our days we know that we must never forget the individual faces. We must be eager to hear and explore the personal stories.

Over the past 13 years this amazing community has taught me that every time I stop and listen, I learn and I am changed.

The power and the beauty and the purpose is always discovered in the stories of the people.

Below is a link to a video about one of our dear friends at Central Dallas Ministries, as well as a letter that she wrote to our community.

Debra's story, like so many others, is amazing! I believe it will lift your soul, to say the least!

I encourage you to set aside a moment to hear how people like you played an important role in changing the direction of her story and, thus, her life!



Dear Friend,

My name is Debra. Three years ago, I was unemployed and living in an abandoned crack house with no water or electricity.

Because of your support of Central Dallas Ministries, I now have my own apartment and a stable job. I’m even able to give back to CDM as a donor! It is amazing that people like you care about people that you haven’t even met.

Thank you for that, and please keep caring!


Sincerely,

Debra



For more stories about CDM's neighbors, please visit:
http://www.CentralDallasMinistries.org/faces/

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Texans, CHIP Needs Your Help. . .NOW!!!

One of the really cool things about this blog is the readers who visit. The commitment to helping change life opportunities and options for our friends and neighbors whose limited financial ability sets up barrier after barrier to a full and productive life continues to encourage me!

Last Saturday (April 28), an anonymous reader posted the following very helpful advice and strategy for anyone who lives in Texas who would like to speak up and out for the uninsured children of our state. The following quote was "lifted" directly from The Dallas Morning News editorial that morning--I'm grateful for the paper's editorial board and policy on this one!
Your voice today could mean a better life for children and their families who need health coverage.

Take a moment to read.

If you live in Texas and if you decide to follow through with positive action, please leave me a note about what you did!

Your voice counts. . .use it!
________________________

Every time you pick up the paper and read about how so many Texas kids lack health insurance, you probably think something needs to be done.

But you feel hopeless, like "What can I do?"

Well, here's your chance.

Stop a moment, go to your computer and send an e-mail to the lieutenant governor and the senators listed here.

Tell them you want the Senate to ease the rules that restrict eligible working families from enrolling their young ones in the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Texas has the nation's highest percentage of uninsured children.

Senators can erase that ugly mark now that they have received the House's rewrite of CHIP rules. The House undid the restrictive guidelines the Texas Legislature approved in 2003.

The House plan:

•Requires families to re-enlist in CHIP every 12 months, instead of every six months.

•Allows enrollees to receive coverage immediately, not after the current 90-day waiting period.

•Raises the asset level for eligible families by $5,000.

These reforms are a good approach.

And Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's office tells us he's open to reviewing the 90-day requirement and the asset test. But he wants senators to rethink the six- or 12-month enrollment process. He favors a continuous eligibility system where the state would periodically check, perhaps electronically, a family's eligibility.

If that serves families better, we're open to it. But Mr. Dewhurst needs to present concrete proposals soon so our youngsters can get the health care they deserve.

Notably, the chambers of commerce in Texas' leading cities support more open enrollment rules, including allowing families to enlist every 12 months. We'd like to think those conservative voices will persuade the Senate to join the House in easing eligibility rules – or to make the rules even better for families.

Lawmakers listen to their constituents.

There is something you can do.

CONTACT

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at www.ltgov.state.tx.us

Sen. Florence Shapiro at florence.shapiro@senate.state.tx.us

Sen. John Carona at john.carona@senate.state.tx.us

Sen. Royce West at royce.west@senate.state.tx.us

Sen. Jane Nelson at jane.nelson@senate.state.tx.us

Sen. Robert Deuell at robert.deuell@senate.state.tx.us
__________________________________

In addition to this list of Dallas-area legislators who are members of the Senate Finance Committee, here are members from outside the Dallas area who need to be contacted as well:

CHAIR: Steve Ogden at steve.ogden@senate.state.tx.us

VICE CHAIR: Judith Zaffirini at judith.zaffirini@senate.state.tx.us

Kip Averitt at kip.averitt@senate.state.tx.us

Robert Duncan at robert.duncan@senate.state.tx.us

Kevin Eltife at kevin.eltife@senate.state.tx.us

Troy Fraser at troy.fraser@senate.state.tx.us

Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa at juan.hinojosa@senate.state.tx.us

Kyle Janek at kyle.janek@senate.state.tx.us

Eddie Lucio, Jr. at eddie.lucio@senate.state.tx.us

John Whitmire at john.whitmire@senate.state.tx.us

Tommy Williams at tommy.williams@senate.state.tx.us

One more thing: In addition to the action noted above by the Dallas Morning News, please ask these senators to urge Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden to schedule a hearing on House Bill 109 as soon as possible.

If you prefer sending letters (still the best way to make an impression with most elected officials), address them to each Senator you want to contact at: Capitol Station, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, Texas 78711.

Please act today!

And, as I said, please let us know what you decide to do!