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Friday, August 31, 2007

Rosalind

The tears flowed freely here last week.

On Tuesday morning, we learned that our dear friend, Rosalind Sanders had died at home following a massive stroke.

I was in a meeting talking about housing development for the homeless when the news interrupted the conversation and brought everything to a complete halt.

Memories of this woman washed over all who had known her.

Rosalind volunteered at CDM for almost 13 years. She was one of the first of our low-income neighbors (others might think of her as a "client"--for us she was always "Rosalind, our friend and ally") who joined us to build up the community by serving it, listening to it and responding to it with dignity, love and great respect.

She first came to CDM looking for all of that. Rosalind discovered what she was looking for in the community she loved and worked hard to improve. Unlike the rest of her world, the life she found among her friends here was exceptional, supportive, welcoming and authentically affirming.

As a single mother, she faced her challenges.

In addition, she endured a number of chronic health maladies. She worked hard to improve, with little success.

The people in her world whom she should have been able to count on often let her down terribly. Again, I believe this is why she spent so much quality time with CDM and with the Central Dallas Church. In our extended family she found the love that goes along with knowing and being known.

One of our long term team members put it best when she said, "You know, Larry, I just wasn't finished with Rosalind. . .I just wasn't finished."

Throughout the day, those of us who knew her, offered up prayers for her family and shed tears over her passing. We wondered what her children and grandchildren would do next. We shared memories and began to think about a funeral.

You can imagine my surprise when toward the end of the day I got the news that the earlier report was wrong.


Rosalind was not gone, she wasn't even ill!

There has been no stroke. That misfortune had befallen another person, the mother of one of the teens with whom we work.

Rosalind was alive!

We all were concerned for the children of the woman who had passed and the part of our organization closest to that very hard and troubling reality went to work on responding with love and nurture. . .

. . .but Rosalind was alive!

There was rejoicing all around, as relief set in throughout our organization.

After settling down with our good news, and still worrying about the loss in the other family not so closely related to us, we all began to give thanks for Rosalind, for the community of which she is such an important part, and for the fact that we would have more time together.

Strange. The report of her death validated the truth of our relationship.

We are friends and partners in community development.

We have more time, thankfully.

What gladness! I haven't seen her since the terrifying rumor ran through our lives, but when I do, I promise we will rejoice!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Poverty's ugly side

Last Monday, the day we "enjoyed" one of the largest crowds of people seeking assistance in our history as an organization, I witnessed a stark example of what I would call poverty's very ugly side.

In mid-afternoon, as I walked across the street to my car, I noticed a young mother, an older woman and a very young boy preparing to get into their car to leave.

The hot, Texas sun was doing its work to make us all miserable.

The little boy was frightened by a very small, stray dog that was following him. He was crying and generally distracted by what he perceived to be danger. With most dogs in our neighborhood, his fear would have been justified. This particular mutt seemed friendly enough to the adult eye.

He continued to cry and protest as his mother tried to get him, the older lady and her arm load of groceries into their old, beat up car.

In the heat of the moment I watched this young mother yank him by the arm and vault him roughly into the back seat.

I heard her yell at him, "Get in there and shut up!"

The older woman seemed passive to everything. The young mom was clearly irate.

Just a moment in our city.

Poverty is ugly. And yes, I know that affluent parents act in the same way with their children. My point here has to do with this one event in this little boy's life.

I know about being frustrated with children. I know about losing my temper. I know about apologizing to my children for my mistakes. I know all about how hard it is to be a parent and how imperfect I was and am as a dad and grandfather.

But, that little boy in the back seat. . .I can't get him out of my mind. He needs more and better.

Poverty provides people so little margin for error. It delivers life in pressure-cooker heat. So much piles up. So much is simply frustrated reaction. So much is lost when there is so little available in the first place.

Poverty has a very ugly side.

That little boy knows I'm right.


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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Two years

Two years ago today Hurricane Katrina roared across the Louisiana coast and into New Orleans.

What wasn't blown away drowned in the flood that followed. The levees failed. The city was devastated, with entire neighborhoods completely demolished.

I was in New Orleans on November 30, 2005--three months after the storm. What I saw, I still cannot describe.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with a young friend who grew up in New Orleans. Her parents still live in the city. They are among our dearest friends. Their home was destroyed. They had insurance. They want to rebuild, to reclaim what was lost. They don't want to give up.

But, now two years later, nothing has happened for them. Absolutely nothing. No funds have been provided from either the private or the public sector to help with the rebuilding they want to undertake.

No movement. No action. Only maddening stalemate. Only mixed and. often, conflicting information, and this for good citizens, brave people who want to restore a great American city.

For the sake of this discussion, and in anticipation of what I know will be the reaction of some, let's make some assumptions.

1) The Mayor and the entire city government from top to bottom in New Orleans are ineffective, corrupt and incapable of doing anything to help the situation.

2) The state government--from the state capitol, to the governor's office, to every agency--is inept, ineffective and unable to do anything worthwhile for the ravaged city.

3) Crime is rampant. The schools are in real trouble, and in danger of failing.

Okay. Now what?

The facts: A major American city lies in ruins, its citizens left largely to fend for themselves. A bureaucratic logjam paralyzes the entire city and surrounding region. No one seems to be doing anything that is able to gain any traction leading to renewal.

Here is a challenge tailor made for new, creative action by our federal government. The scale defies the capacity of local only or private efforts.

But the U. S. government takes no meaningful action.

Where are the congressional hearings?

Where is the "New Orleans Czar"--you know, the equivalent of the Director of Homeland Security? Maybe a "Director of Destroyed City Recovery."

Where is the systematic, methodical, "Marshall Plan" for this great American city? Who can bring us the new action strategy that would cut through all of the red tape in view of the terrible and continuing circumstances?

I refuse to believe that our nation cannot mount a coordinated effort to rebuild this city. Or, does the United States we have today simply walk away from an entire community that has been devastated?

I wonder what our reaction might be if New Orleans had been destroyed by an act of foreign terror? I have this feeling more would be underway today and I think I know who would be in charge.

But those in charge in Washington right now evidently don't believe the federal government can solve the problem or lead us toward a better day in a city in need of coordinated national attention. Movie stars and entertainers are more concerned about the city than our national leaders.

There is no doubt in my mind that we can do better. New Orleans should be in the midst of the greatest rebuilding effort in our nation's history. The disaster should be turned into one of the grandest opportunities for employment, economic development and community renewal in our nation's history.

Here's an idea. Why not allow undocumented aliens to earn "legal" status by taking jobs associated with rebuilding New Orleans? No slave wages. Good jobs, paying market wages, employing skilled and unskilled labor, including those needing documentation. At the end of a predetermined period of time, those who worked hard and evidenced "good moral character" could be given legal status. Why not?

Nothing happens without leadership.

Where is it today for a city I grew to love during the five years I lived there?

Do we have no shame as a people?

Has imagination and heart simply departed us?

Where are the patriots today?

Where will New Orleans be on this day in 2008?

Shameful poverty grows in America

A good number of readers "tune in" here to debate and debunk much of what I write and believe.

That's welcomed, actually.

Part of the genius of the blogging is that it gets people "talking" who otherwise might not have the opportunity. At times it grows frustrating and tedious, but I continue to believe in the process.

With all of this in mind, I couldn't help myself yesterday. I caught myself wishing (more than once) that some of my fiercest antagonists were with me.

Our main Resource Center was completely overwhelmed with people seeking assistance. I expect the final tally for the day came close to 400 families, maybe more.

People were literally crammed into our interview room. They wound their way down every hallway and stood in every open space and room. They sat up and down our staircase and we made room for them upstairs in our already overcrowded office area.

The crowded conditions were compounded by the stifling heat. People were lined up outside in the terrible sun. Our volunteers were running about distributing ice water, chilled down in bottles for ease of consumption.

I roamed through the crowd making apologies for the overcrowded conditions, our inadequate seating and the long wait for attention.

People were so very gracious and kind, so grateful for everything we offered.

So poor.

So patient and gracious to one another.

There was talk everywhere about work. . .

"Do you have something I can do?"

"I could help you with this crowd, I could make things go faster" an old man on crutches told me--he was asking for a job!

He must have been 80.

The entire experience was overwhelming, to say the least.

While all of this was going on, we had a tour underway--well actually, we had two tours underway. An early tour involved local folks with an interest in what we are doing. And then, a bit later in the day, we provided a tour to a group from the Mental Health Association and Bank of America from Tulsa, Oklahoma. This group is working very hard to develop permanent supportive housing for the homeless in Tulsa and had an interest in our efforts here.

What an "intersection" experience!

All kinds of people. Hundreds of poor, very poor people, mostly elderly; many families. All looking for food. All coming to our grossly overcrowded space.

No one can tell me that such "bread lines" ought still exist in the richest nation on the earth.

The day was beyond bitter sweet.

We need change.

We all need to work for it.

All who have voice need to speak up as never before.

We are failing one another badly in this country today.




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Monday, August 27, 2007

Wilderness Trek and urban youth

Almost every summer, thanks to the largess of the Brentwood Foundation and the hard work of Dr. Janet Morrison, CDM organizes a week-long trip to Colorado and to Wilderness Trek.

Edd Eason serves as the Executive Director of Wilderness Trek Christian Camping. The mission of Edd and of Trek is to put teenagers into the beauty and the stress of climbing and taking the peaks of 14,000 foot plus mountains of the Colorado Rockies. The experience tests the stamina, faith and community trust of everyone involved. Without exception these experiences have been incredibly positive for the inner city youth we've sponsored across the years.

A CDM group just returned from another trekking good time! Take a moment to watch and listen. You'll understand what I mean.

Both links will take you to the creative work of the youth who enjoyed the trek!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M76PEP--Y6w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fFrWM0-7nw&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjanetmorrison%2Eblogspot%2Ecom%2F

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Darkness















David Van Biema published a story this week in Time magazine describing the doubts of Mother Teresa and her long struggle with "spiritual darkness"--her personal experience of a "dark night of the soul."

The story points to a collection of her letters published in the new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday 2007), edited and compiled by Brian Kolodiejchuk.

The letters draw readers into the long (66 years) and terrible struggle the founder of the Daughters of Charity experienced in her personal faith and spirituality.

As she performed her amazing and often heroic work that gained her international acclaim, she struggled with deep and profound loneliness, doubt, darkness and silence. She confesses that her trademark smile was simply her "mask" or "a cloak that covers everything."

Not surprisingly, at least to me, the darkness settled into her life shortly after she began her life's mission among the poorest of the poor. Her story will be surprising to many and a relief to many others. Sadly, in my view, far too many will have no clue what she is describing in her letters and journals.

In the end, with the help of one of her confessors, she was able to reframe the silence of God and of her beloved Jesus as a participation in the darkness Jesus experienced in his own death and suffering--the dark silence of the Passion.

I am eager to read the book.




Saturday, August 25, 2007

Violence

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. . . . Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fear of the poor and the fear of the poor

Earlier this week following a meeting of our Board of Directors, I exited our headquarters building down the back stairs.

As I walked to my car, I noticed a blanket spread out on a patch of grass beneath a small shrub near the edge of the parking lot. Stretched out on the blanket was an old man. He appeared to be asleep, even though it was at least an hour before dark arrived and settled in.

I approached him to say hello and to make sure he was okay. As I did, I startled him.

He attempted to jump up, and he seemed to be trying to brace himself for something very unpleasant.

“No, no,” I began. “Keep your seat! I just wanted to say ‘hello’ and meet you!” I tried to reassure him.

He relaxed, smiled and shook my extended hand.

“They let me stay out back here. I’m sort of a night watchman,” he informed me, not knowing that I worked at CDM.

“I see,” I nodded.

“Sure wish I could get my hands on some peanut butter and maybe some bread,” he said. I guessed he was waking up and had decided that I had emerged from the building where he knew we operated a large food pantry.

“I can take care of that for you, I think,” I replied to his simple request.

I returned to the building and gathered a bag of food and drink for him. When I returned, he was sound asleep again. I placed the bag by his blanket and didn’t disturb him further.

As I drove away, he roused up again, discovered the bag of food and waved to me. I drove closer and visited with him about a housing solution. We’re still working on that.

What I cannot remove from my mind is the image of his face when I first approached his little bed. The fear on his face—I’ll always remember it. I know that look must be a learned response, an automatic reaction formed from his many experiences with people like me.

An old, very thin, very poor, very hungry man. . .scared to death of the likes of me.

So many people, it seems, are afraid of the poor.

What we never consider is just how afraid the poor are of those of us who are anything but poor.

The fear of the poor arises from what they suffer at the hands of people who live in the richest nation in the world.

A fear born of being ignored,

shunned,

rejected,

ridiculed,

analyzed,

debated,

embarrassed,

kicked out,

denied,

arrested,

abused,

stereotyped,

scorned,

judged,

imprisoned,

beaten,

and forgotten.

Experience had taught my new friend to be afraid of, of. . .me.

Lots of people fear the poor.

Realizing that people like me are, in fact, the fear of the poor ought to reframe our understanding and change the way we behave.

I remember reading somewhere that “perfect love drives out fear.”

God, have mercy. God, help us.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Crucifixion as silencer

Recently, I broke down and cleaned out my office, including all my "piles" of stuff set aside to read, use and/or file. Every time I engage in this purging process I find treasure and trash!

Much of what I uncover makes me wonder why I ever set it aside.

But, I always find jewels that make me sorry they got lost in my clutter.

Here are words that ended up in one of my journals--

I ran across the darnest quote today. . .it was in Barbara Ehrenreich's recent study (2001) of life for people "living" on minimum wage or slightly above, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America--she describes a tent revival (populated by very poor working people who were impoverished) that she attended in Maine while working for minimum wage as a part of her year-long study of real life in the good old USA among working people:

"The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful 'amens.' It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth (emphasis with underlining mine here--as an ex-preacher, this may be one of the most indicting things I have read about the church in many years--lmj) . . . .I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher's metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walked out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole." (pages 68-69)

Reflecting now on that passage from my long, lost journal, it occurs to me that only someone who understood the cruel realities of poverty could write like that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Poverty and self-awareness

John Greenan, one of my partners here at CDM, sent me a link to Chris Kelly's creative essay that appeared last Sunday (August 19) on The Huffington Post (Learning to Loathe Yourself: Peggy Noonan and How To Be a Conservative Pundit).

What impressed me about his post was not the embedded political debate, but his commitment to understand the reality facing people who live in poverty.

At the end of his lengthy comments, Kelly quotes George Orwell from The Road to Wigan Pier:

At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her--her sacking apron, 
her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold.... She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and 
looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have
ever seen.

It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that "It isn't the same for them as it would be for us," and that people bred in the 
slums can imagine nothing but the slums.

For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her--understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe."

______________________

The assumptions we make about others can be powerfully positive or downright crushing. It is essential that we come to grips with and take seriously the self-understanding of others.

Orwell's insights are brilliant. They afford the subject of his analysis the respect she had earned by living in her very concrete, extremely harsh and well-understood reality.

Frankly, many of us middleclass types just don't get it.



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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Change and thought

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.

Samuel Adams






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Monday, August 20, 2007

The numbers. . .

After awhile the numbers get to you.

We meet hundreds of poor people trying to make sense out of life and trying to carve out, edge out a bit of a better life every day.

That's correct: every single day.

Today we will visit with something over 200 families in our Haskell Avenue Resource Center alone.

That number doesn't include those who will come to our medical center for care or who will contact our LAW Center for hope and counsel or those young people who have aged out of foster care and who will engage one of our case workers in planning "next steps" for life.

Then, there are the adults who will visit our community technology center searching for work and better skills that might open doors to better jobs and pay checks. There are the children who attend our summer programs in two communities who anticipate another school year. Don't forget the growing number of homeless persons who seek housing or the families who will express their needs to their neighbors who lead the Roseland Homes Community Centers.

The people just keep coming.

The numbers can be overwhelming. The numbers are increasing.

All of this doesn't include other numbers: the number of dollars we have to raise to deliver the services, healing, counsel, training, interventions, relief and education our friends come seeking.

At times we feel as if we are caught between those seeking a better life and those who try to understand, but cannot possibly grasp the depth of the pain nor the challenges facing the poor in a city like Dallas, Texas.

The fact is we shouldn't even have to be here.

In a nation this wealthy, our existence as an organization provides a daily indictment of our community, our state and our nation, not to mention our faith communities.

Things should be different.

Things could certainly be better. But, they are not.

That's why we keep showing up. That's why we keep working in an attempt to respond to the needs defined and presented by our friends and neighbors and left unattended by the inadequate systems in place in our city.

I understand my job.

Still, no matter how long I do this, the numbers get to me.




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Sunday, August 19, 2007

"a God who lingers"

It was just a descriptive phrase offered up in a morning prayer.

But, like so many other "break through moments" in my own understanding of authentic spirituality, it hit me somewhere deep and with power.

A "neon" moment in a typical church service.

The minister prayed, describing the object of her devotion as "a God who lingers."

What insight!

My faith and my experience line up on that one. The God I seek to know and experience is surely "a God who lingers."

Not a God who comes and goes. Nor one who grows weary and gives up. Certainly not a spiritual power or force who flits willy-nilly about my life or the lives of others.

"A God who lingers"--now there is a model for my life.

I have found that the secret to effectiveness in just about every dimension of life is almost always discovered in the staying.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Soul power

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take "everyone on Earth" to bring justice and peace, but only a small determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these--to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

From "Do Not Lose Heart," by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tired out. . .

Do you ever get tired?

Silly question, I know.

But, I mean, really, really tired without the option of taking a break or a "time out?"

One of my associates here at CDM told me one day not long ago that he had taken off about three hours in the early morning hours earlier in his week to pursue his passion--running his canoe down White Rock Creek.

"I was able to get more work done in the half a day that remained than I had all the week before because I could actually think clearly!" he reported.

Where do I buy a canoe?

I always know when it is time for a vacation when. . .

. . .I snap at those who are closest to me and who are trying to help me.

. . .I have an extra difficult time getting to sleep at night and remaining asleep through the entire night.

. . .I find myself distracted and jumping from task to task without really finishing anything.

. . .I feel like running away, but not running in the mornings at the lake!

. . .I'm not interested any more. . .in anything, even baseball.

. . .I find it hard to read.

. . .almost nothing makes me feel better.

I'm tired right now. Not sure that I have ever been as tired.

Any suggestions about how to make it until the fall when I can finally take some time off?

I'm really not complaining here.

I'm asking for help!

What do you do when you are tired, really tired?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Amazing Grace

Former slave trader, John Newton wrote the famous spiritual, "Amazing Grace." Possibly, no hymn is more famous or has been performed as many times. This song and especially its origins capture an incredibly important part of our national story, a story that continues to shape our urban centers.

Grace is in short supply in our troubled world. Dr. Bob Biard, a member of the Board of Central Dallas Ministries, sent me this link awhile back.

Here's my counsel: click on the link, sit back and take in the amazing message emerging from this song, its context and its history. It will be more than worth your time.

In the process you will be introduced to an amazing guy named Wintley Phipps, the President of the U. S. Dream Academy, a very special non-profit organization that works with the children of men and women who are in prison in the U. S.

Oh, and be sure and note the amazing power of the music coming from the "black keys."

Take a moment. You will be glad you did.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMF_24cQqT0


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hold those checkbooks! Mission accomplished!

Thanks to one very sensitive donor and partner (and his lovely family) here in Dallas, we have the lift we were seeking paid for in full!

Thanks to all who considered our request. If you have made a donation by email already and would like your donation stopped or returned, please just email me at ljames@CentralDallasMinistries.org and we will take care of that for you.

David, thanks again! Your generosity will bless several families in a simple but powerful manner.

Help me purchase a lift for paralyzed patients


People often ask me, "What can I do to help?"

Well, here is something very specific that you can do today!

We need to purchase this lift to help in caring for a number of our patients who use CDM's Community Health Services as their medical home. All suffer some degree of paralysis. All are largely confined to home and to bed and wheelchair.

All are very poor.

This lift costs $1,100.

If you would like to help purchase this piece of much-needed equipment, please send your donations for this purpose to:

Larry James
Central Dallas Ministries
P. O. Box 710385
Dallas, TX 75371-0385

Or, visit our website and go to the online donations area at http://www.centraldallasministries.org/. You can note "blog campaign" on your donation entry.
Checks should be made payable to Central Dallas Ministries.

So, now you know how you can help in a great way today!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Labor and Capital


Labor finds itself on the short end of the American stick these days. Many factors contribute to this hard reality for working people. No society can thrive for long without a high view of the value of labor.

That's why I really like the recent "Walk a Day in My Shoes" campaign initiated by the Services Employees International Union (SEIU). Have you seen reports about this unique effort?

Through “Walk a Day in My Shoes,” SEIU invites presidential candidates to spend a day fully engulfed in the world of a ordinary American worker both at work and at home. It is all about making sure politicians experience the real world of American labor.is like for the rest of us.

In each case the workers expose the politicians to their daily lives and struggles that often make even the most routine tasks difficult. Forced to work second jobs, they have less time to spend with their families. They return home from work and just hours later have to get their kids off to school or day care on time and make it to their next job on time.

The common worries heard during these ventures into national reality include concerns about what happens to their savings (if they have any) if they or their children contract a devastating illness. Workers are anxious about becoming a burden to their kids if they can’t save enough for retirement. Most believe that the future facing their children will be even more challenging than what they have faced and endured.

The union believes that every candidate running for president needs to understand these worries, and feel them. The workers involved and those they represent expect real results on the issues that matter to them—a paycheck that supports a family, affordable health care, a secure retirement and a better life for themselves and their families.

“Walk a Day in My Shoes” is about making sure politicians truly know what the real world is like for millions of American voters. Only candidates who participate will be considered for an endorsement by SEIU.

Senator Barack Obama walked in the shoes of home care worker Pauline Beck on August 8th.

Senator Christopher Dodd walked in the shoes of Head Start teacher Colleen Mehaffey on July 26th.

Governor Bill Richardson walked in the shoes of family services worker Mark Fitzgerald on June 7th.

Senator John Edwards walked in the shoes of nursing home worker Elaine Ellis on April 11th.

Senator Hillary Clinton walked in the shoes of Las Vegas nurse Michelle Estrada yesterday.

Senator Joseph Biden and Gov. Mike Huckabee have accepted SEIU’s challenge and will be walking soon.

I like what one great American President said about the value of labor during his "Annual Message to Congress."

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." (Abraham Lincoln, December 3, 1861 )

Ordinary workers should be respected, their voices and concerns heard, their needs and their contributions valued.




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Monday, August 13, 2007

Immigration as advantage

Here's how I would manage the current national immigration situation if I were charged with developing a new and rational public policy approach to the complex challenge.

Step one: Begin to regard the border with Mexico as "open," in the same way that we regard our border with Canada. Everyone coming and going would need a passport or some sort of new, official documentation to travel back and forth across the border. Conversations would need to begin as soon as possible with the Mexican government and our Department of State in order to work out a mutually agreeable approach. Security could then be strenghtened to concentrate on the border and on workplace enforcement. The relationship between the U. S. and Mexico should be special and, like our connection with Canada, mutually beneficial. A great deal of attention needs to be given to this crucial aspect of any future solution to our immigration challenges.

Step two: Create a new universal identification documentation process that would provide all foreign laborers with legal, accessible and easily recognizable, but impossible to counterfeit, identification. Without such identification a person could not remain in the country or seek employment. Employers who hired workers without this form of identification would be fined much more than the current $10,000 per employee.

Step three: Acknowledge the benefit of Mexican labor on the U. S. economy. Making it easier, safer and legal for Mexican nationals to come and go in the U. S. to take advantage of work opportunities would benefit and strengthen both nations. Why is it that we accept the current corporate practice of placing jobs and industry "off-shore," but we want to block abundant and needed, low-skilled labor from entering the country? Providing a legal way for Mexican immigrants to work in the U. S. would mean an increase in the number of taxpayers and in American jobs, many for U. S. citizens, and in overall national economic growth.

Step four: Work out a reasonable approach to taxation for non-citizen residents. Payroll taxes would be automatic, possibly including Social Security contributions that could be turned into a benefit, if and when an individual became a U. S. citizen. Lower-income foreign workers could be given an option to enroll in public health benefits for which they would be expected to pay a modest payroll deduction. Public education, emergency health services, public safety and government services would be paid for in sales and property taxes, as is largely the case now. For immigrants desiring citizenship, a new "naturalization levy" should be considered, so that by the time a person is ready for citizenship, he/she has paid a national "membership fee."

Step five: Allow the children of long-time immigrant families (here longer than 5 years) who have come to the U. S. with their undocumented parents to stay in the country and seek legal identification, citizenship and higher education, if they choose. The provisions of the "Dream Act," currently being considered in the U. S. Congress provides just what is needed in this regard.

Step six: Create a process for identifying and certifying the "good moral character" of immigrants who have been in the U. S. for over 5 years. This knowledge should be factored into the initial round of new certification and identification of legitimate Mexican nationals who want to register for work in the U. S.

Step seven: Educate the nation about the realities of immigration relative to education, labor, economics, class, American history and national security. Set aside the hatred. Begin a new process with a view to what might be possible if everyone reframed the current stalled and unproductive standoff. Set in place a permanent national and international process that would make words like "amnesty" irrelevant to the discussion.

It is past time for new, creative thinking on one of the toughest challenges facing the nation and especially our large urban areas.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On the preaching of sermons



"Sermons should not be preached in churches.

"It harms Christianity in a high degree and alters its very nature, that it is brought into an artistic remoteness from reality, instead of being heard in the midst of real life. . .

"For all this talk about quiet, about quiet places and quiet hours, as the right element for Christianity is absurd. So then, sermons should not be preached in churches but in the midst of life, of the reality of daily life, weekday life."

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Perseverance


"My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging."

Hank Aaron

Friday, August 10, 2007

ABC News: Children, Families and Health Care--Part 4

Here's the final report from ABC News on the status of our health care system as it relates to the 9 million boys and girls, just like my three grandchildren, except for the fact that they do not have health insurance.

"Kids Go Uninsured as Politicians Argue" (June 17, 2007) http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=3288225.

We have no excuse.

Our children deserve better.

We must do better.

We can do much, much better.

And, in my view, communities of faith should be speaking clearly and continually into this space until we craft a better way.


.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Headlines

Every morning just reading over the headlines of page "1A" and "1B Metro" of The Dallas Morning News reveals a great deal about life in the city. I expect it is the same in every large city.

For example, take this morning's edition on Page 1A:

"Drivers offered clean break"--seems the state is about to launch a voluntary program that would pay auto owners up to $3,500 for every pre-1996 car "retired." The payment would come in the form of a voucher that could be used in purchasing a new or late model car, with the most benefit going to those who choose hybrids. Seems the state is very concerned about air quality in Dallas. No debate about smog and low air quality in our community. As always with major health issues, this one hits the poor, the elderly and the young the hardest.

"Split of 911 center sought"--the City of Dallas is planning to divide the responsibilities at our local 911 center. I didn't know it, but the current center handles both 911 emergency calls and 311 public concern calls not of an emergency nature. Surprise to me! All this time I thought real emergencies were handled apart from complaints about weeds and code compliance. Hmmm. Surely this will improve response times to life-threatening situations. I wonder if that will be the case in the heart of our city?

"More bucks for the bang"--Thanks to growing demand and several other factors, the price of ammunition in Dallas is on the rise. This could be a good thing. You know supply and demand and cost containment. Makes me wonder though, how many of the people I'll meet today will be "packing heat"?

"County by county, Hispanics take lead"--Not really a surprise here. The population of Hispanic folks across the state is rising and surpassing the number of Anglos across the state of Texas. For the first time Hispanics outnumber non-Hispanic whites in Dallas County. Hmmm. Could this be related to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment we are witnessing across the nation? (See story about Farmers Branch from Metro section below.)

"Bridge flaw may lie in steel plates"--The collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis last week may have been the result of a design flaw in the original construction. States were urged to take care in the amount of weight to be placed on bridges during repair operations. Our decaying national transportation infrastructure needs some attention, don't you think?

On page 1B of the Metro section:

"FB gets ready for legal showdown over ban"--Now that a federal court has ruled against municipal governments requiring landlords to demand proof of "legal" status from potential tenants or entering into any aspect of regulating national immigration policy, the city of Farmers Branch, Texas is seeking legal counsel from the Strasburger & Price law firm here in Dallas to led an appeal effort. Likely will cost them a bundle. To date the city has either spent or budgeted a total of $1,286,613. So far, the city has received donations in support of the effort totaling $39,448. Wonder how much the city has lost in sales tax revenue with the departure of Hispanic/Latino consumers? (See front page story above about the growth of the Hispanic population in Texas. Reckon there's a connection between the two stories?)

"Journal's recovery could ease grief"--Steve Blow's column about a visitor to Dallas from Minnesota who suffered from bipolar disease. His very unpleasant experience shines a light on our complicated city and one American family.

"Main Street makeover"--The city is creating a park right in the middle of Downtown (1.75 acres). Commerce, Harwood, Main and St. Paul will never be the same again. Grass, trees and "green space" will replace concrete, parking structures and old buildings.

"Gas delivery firm linked to 2nd fire"--A recent fire and freeway-closing explosion is linked to a company whose delivery of similar products caused a fire in the Houston area on Tuesday of this week. The incident in Dallas sounded like a war zone! You never know what is going to happen next around here!

Cities are complicated places. Interesting places.

Of course, woven throughout all the stories, and yet so often forgotten, are ordinary people who are in fact the only point.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jesse and Immigration Court

So, I met another wonderful teenager while I was in immigration court with Monica last week.

Jesse.

Graduated from Sunset High School in Dallas.

A very good young man.

High, high "moral character." Never in trouble of any kind.

Wonderful work ethic.

Great grades. Received an offer for a scholarship, but because he did not have a Social Security number, he didn't take the free ride to school, even though he wanted to.

"Since I don't have a Social Security number, I didn't think a degree would do me any good," he told me by phone when we talked later last week. "Why worry about college if I can't get a good job when I am done?"

Good thinking, Jesse.

So, the nation needs smart, bi-lingual laborers in every industry. So much so that we are recruiting in a number of Central and South American countries. But, in our brilliance, we are going to toss out kids who grew up here from the time they were babies and go recruit people we don't even know and in whom we have not invested a dime.

How utterly stupid!

Go ahead, Wyatt (that's my grandson). Put me in "time out."

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

We've found another great friend in this young man, and we will stick with him.

We are going to keep working to change the law that says he must go back to a nation he does not even know, one that he has never known. A very bad law that attempts to punish a very good young man.

Come meet Jesse and then, try to walk away from him.

I dare you!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Unity and the hopeless

Anyone thought of New Orleans lately? You remember, right? That city that blew away and then drowned?

You want to know the ugly truth?

Not much has happened there since the storm two years ago.

What is true of the city as a whole is even more evident among the poor--those hit hardest, both before and after the storm's arrival.

Anyone surprised?

Where is the national uprising for New Orleans? Where the outcry for a unified national response?

I kept hoping that the President would appoint a Czar for the rebuilding of the Crescent City.

It is not to be, I suppose, what with us on our way to spending a trillion dollars on a war half-way around the globe.

Duncan Murrell published an amazing essay in Harper's Magazine (July 2007, pages 35-51), "In the Year of the Storm," that chronicles his life in the city following the tragedy of Katrina.

Murrell's work is fascinating, inspirational and frightening all at once. Everyone who cares about New Orleans should read it. Murrell's insights are instructive about this one American city laboring under the burden of this particular natural disaster and the public neglect that preceded and followed it.

But there is more here. Murrell's insights speak to and about sections of every American urban community today.

Take for example what he writes as he describes a parade of local "marching societies," a New Orleans tradition:

"What's left is a second line, forming up in front of the church. Brass bands tune up, the old men of the social and pleasure clubs straighten themselves, and the rest fall in behind, shouting out to old friends and hugging the necks of family back for a time from Atlanta and Memphis. It's no ordinary second line, either, but a city-wide summit of neighborhood marching societies and brass bands parading for unity. Unity, that state of grace known by few yet expected of the hopeless."

It is true, you know.

We expect so much of the people who have the least.

We expect the poorest, those most pushed down and away and to the sides of our society to be untied in an unshakable hope that "things will work out alright eventually" or in the end. If they will only keep believing, keep trusting, keep praying, keep working hard and behaving properly, then just maybe things will turn around.

Ironically, and tragically, the poor aren't nearly united enough around the forces and the decisions that could actually birth legitimate hope, authentic renewal and a new day for the great urban areas of this nation. Something at work in the way power plays out in cities usually prevents any genuine "uniting" or organizing for effective, systemic change among the urban "have nots."

I know one thing. If and when this new brand of unity arrives, a city like New Orleans will not be neglected or ignored ever again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Our After School Academy: You must drop in via www

Dr. Janet Morrison does amazing things with children.

I wish I could take everyone on a personal tour of the "After School Academy" that she directs.

What an amazing learning environment she has created in one of the poorest, most challenging neighborhoods in Dallas, Texas.

Please take a moment and drop in on the blog site she and her kids are maintaining. You won't find a better site if you want to see inside an urban community where opportunities are slim, but where people are full of courage, hope and joy.

Take a look: http://ourasafamily.blogspot.com/.

One more thing: thanks to Janet's leadership our "After School Academy" is expanding to the Roseland Homes community this fall.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Barbara Brown Taylor

My good buddy, Mike Cope, posted this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith on his blog not long ago. A fitting entry for a Sunday morning.

If you are a church person, it's more than worth pondering.

“I know that the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the realities they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape.”

Check out Mike's site at: http://www.preachermike.com/.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Gerald Britt on the "Dream Act"



Gerald Britt serves as Vice-President of Public Policy and Community Program Development at Central Dallas Ministries.

The Dallas Morning News published his editorial essay on the "Dream Act" in yesterday's edition of the paper. I knew you'd want to read it. So, here it is:

I want to go on the public record as a supporter of the Dream Act. You may have never heard of it and, like me, would not have thought a great deal about it if you had. My support is provoked by two incidents that force me to confront an issue that finds me somewhat conflicted.

Two young Hispanic people, Monica and José, were picked up in Greenville at a senior skip day gathering earlier this year. However you feel about kids skipping school, senior skip day is an unofficial tradition that goes back to my ancient day.

The problem is, this brother and sister are not citizens. Their parents are undocumented, even though they have been in this country since Monica was 5. Now two young people – who have done nothing but go to school, prepare for a bright future and make their community proud – could be deported.

Similarly, young Victoria Chiwara is an immigrant from Zimbabwe. She and her family came to America seeking asylum. Her attorney missed a filing deadline, and this young lady, enrolled in community college in Tarrant County, with a scholarship to Baylor University, was threatened with deportation, until her friends and the media intervened.

The Dream Act legislation would provide temporary legal status to any child of undocumented immigrants who has no record of criminal activity and completes high school, enrolls in a two- or four-year institution of higher education or enlists in the armed forces. As I see it, this is legislation in the best interest of the children of undocumented immigrants and our country.

I understand anxiety among African-Americans that a focus on immigration reform comes at the expense of our own struggle for justice. The National Urban League's audit of black America's progress is a torrent of statistical social inequities showing that when it comes to poverty, employment, education, housing and incarceration, black people are not doing well.

But a commitment to total justice for black Americans cannot mean hatefulness toward others. The African-American legacy has always been the championing of human rights for all. Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened the door to equality for all citizens. The hope inspired by these august achievements makes our country attractive to people from all across the globe.

We and our allies have challenged America to make room for all people. This cannot apply only to the sons and daughters of former slaves and slave owners; it must also apply to immigrants.

The rhetoric of some in our post-9/11 world suggests the "illegal" presence of immigrants represents a security threat. We must not be swayed by 9/11 paranoia and xenophobia that scapegoats the foreign born and those of foreign ancestry. Forgotten is the fact that the 19 hijackers who caused the devastation in New York entered the country legally. And the most horrible terrorist act prior to 9/11 wasn't committed by an undocumented alien but by an American named Timothy McVeigh.

The challenge of immigration is rooted in America's failure to deal with race. Thomas Jefferson, another conflicted American, said that dealing with race is "like holding a wolf by the ears, you did not like it much, but you dare not let it go." We must deal with racial injustice, class inequity and immigration.

The Dream Act isn't the total answer. It is, however, a meaningful start.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Leann Rimes to visit Central Dallas -- Tickets on sale August 5!


Have you seen the cover of DMagazine for August 2007?

There she is!

Right there on the front cover!

LeAnn Rimes noted as one Dallas' best!

She will take center stage on Monday evening , September 24, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center as our featured entertainer for "A Night to Remember 2007!"

For more information on the concert, please visit:
http://www.centraldallasministries.org/antr/

Tickets go on sale via www.TicketWeb.com next Sunday, August 5!

To hear Leann sing a gorgeous acapella version of "Amazing Grace," watch the video below.

Your support during this wonderful night of celebration helps us do our work throughout the year.

I hope to see you at the show!






Thursday, August 02, 2007

Monica

We were back in federal immigration court again yesterday. This time with Monica. [Read her complete story from my archives by typing "Monica" in my search line above.]

The judge granted a continuance until November 28, 2007.

So, we have some time to continue our work to see the "Dream Act" passed in the U. S. Congress.

If you don't know about this very positive piece of legislation, search this site. Then, go deeper by doing a Google search.

When you are convinced it is a great idea, please write your two U. S. Senators and your U. S. Representative in support of the legislation that would provide documentation for young people who have been in this country since they were children and who desire to continue their education in college or join the U. S. Armed Forces.

The fact is, the passage of the Dream Act is likely the only legal relief that Moncia and others like her could discover.

Please care enough to investigate and to act, today!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Local Immigration Ordinances Cut Against Nation's Sense of Community

The folks out in Farmers Branch, Texas who crafted and led the effort that passed into law the local--underline just here "local"--ordinance that makes it illegal for landlords to lease apartments to individuals who do not have proof of legal residence in the United States received a near death blow last Thursday when U.S. District Judge James M. Munley struck down a similar ordinance passed in Hazelton, Pennsylvania.

The Hazelton ordinance was a symbol for the growing national movement among city and state officials across the nation to take immigration law and reform into their own hands. . . locally.

Bottom line, the judge's ruling establishes a clear principle: immigration law and enforcement is and must continue to be considered a federal issue. Judge Munley ruled in a 206-page decision that local authorities cannot go beyond federal law to impose penalties of their own making.

Hundreds of such ordinances have been enacted by local governments, as well as by state legislatures across the country.

Here are two of the judge's key conclusions:

"Allowing states or local governments to legislate with regard to the employment of unauthorized aliens would interfere with congressional objectives. . . ."

"We cannot say clearly enough that persons who enter this country without legal authorization are not stripped immediately of all their rights because of this single illegal act."

Munley's decision established the fact that immigration law involves much more than local issues, including factors related to the U. S. economy, labor, employers' rights to due process, international relations, and national security. Only federal authorities responsible for the direction of these larger, "national community" issues have the authority to pass legislation related to national immigration.

Communities like Farmers Branch, Texas and Hazelton, Pennsylvania may feel justified in taking immigration law into their own hands, but the interests of our national community will and should always trump local opinions and interests. If our history as a people teaches us anything, it teaches us this. Memories of the American Civil Rights Movement, national voting rights, fair housing rules, arguments about states' rights and even the nullification controversy preceding the U. S. Civil War come to mind just here.

The strength of our national life and the power of our national identity, our psyche as a people, resides in the fact that we are a national community. We do not act in isolation from one another. We live and we thrive as a community.

When our sense of community connection is gone, our unity and our collective strength will be gone as well.

A federal judge has ruled. The Farmers Branch City Council doesn't speak for our larger community as a nation.

Thank God.