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Friday, October 31, 2008

"Let's block off the street"

Common wisdom says that folks in this country can work hard, keep their noses clean and sooner or later they will "make it" through their sheer effort alone. While this assessment works out occasionally, it is not the prevailing reality for millions of poor people who understand generational poverty.

People who will protest my judgment here simply don't understand all of the forces that conspire against the urban poor. The factors that work counter to breakthroughs for low-income Americans are legion. Some relate to public policy, be it educational opportunities, enhanced skills training, health care, decent and affordable housing, access to higher education. . .the list goes on and on.

Most people who have no direct experience with America's poor just don't understand the enormous odds working against these individuals and families.

But, it goes far beyond public policy.

There is neighborhood reality that grows particularly painful as communities change.

Let me provide an example from my own personal experience. Actually, the entire matter was beyond disgusting.

I live in what has become a transitional neighborhood. When we moved here a decade ago, we purchased an 80-year-old frame house in a very challenged part of old east Dallas. Our particular block was a mess. All of the houses, save one, were built between 1910 and 1922. Adding to the diversity are three multi-family properties on our block. At the end of our block and just across the street you encounter neglected, run down multi-family properties and a row of bungalows built in the 1930s. In short, the neighborhood is a mixed up deal!

About six years ago, we were invited to a neighborhood meeting. More accurately the meeting was a block party with one basic agenda. A good number of my neighbors presented a plan to close one end of our street. Purportedly the reason was to provide traffic control against people who traveled up and down our block on their way to Fitzhugh, a major artery into Fair Park and toward Central Expressway.

The real reason: to separate our block from the low-income Hispanic families who live at one end of the street.

You got it: my neighbors wanted to build a barrier against the poor families who live at one end of our street.

Never mind that they caused no problems.

Never mind that they all worked.

Never mind that their children attended the public school in our neighborhood.

Never mind that they were an asset to our community, our city and our neighborhood.

Their crime?

They are poor.

They are immigrants.

They "aren't like us."

Thankfully, our meeting ended at about the time it began. The idea of segregating a part of our neighborhood didn't last past the opening statement for such a ridiculous proposal.

But, you know, I've thought about that meeting and its underlying bias and racism many times since it happened.

We just don't understand what poor people and their children face in this nation, what they have to put up with, what they have to battle and endure.

We just don't understand.

Until we are there, we never will.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can they come?

Several weeks ago, back in the summer, I received the following message from a young pastor who leads a new, young church in an undisclosed urban area.

He wants to lead his congregation in reaching out to the poor. He really wants his group to be committed to engaging the realities of urban poverty, including homelessness and extreme poverty.

He's finding that his vision and good intentions may not be enough to pull it off.

Here's the email exchange we shared. His comments are in italics, my embedded replies to his original message are in bold red font.

__________________________________

I need some counsel. As we’ve started to cultivate relationships with our poor friends, several of them have expressed the desire to participate in our house church gatherings. On one occasion, a couple of them have. Way cool!

We’re delighted that we’re rubbing shoulders with the poor in this way. But it’s messy. Ain't it the truth! If you keep it up, it'll get messier than it is now. . .kingdom does that. . .wears you out too!

I feel tension about it: 1) on one hand, our primary demographic is young adults in the . . . area; I’m concerned about our ability to connect to them in a house church gathering setting if more and more of our poor friends continue to come. Maybe the Lord has a different demographic that is being imposed or has come to challenge you. . .I am serious about that and understand your fear and trembling. . .the fact that you have the "problem" makes you and your current enterprise exceptional in a Shane Claiborne, et. al. sort of way. . . 2) at the same time, I’m thrilled that we have poor friends! It would not feel just or righteous telling Cindy, one of our homeless friends, “You can’t come to house church anymore.” It just doesn’t seem right. Never abandon your heart on this one.

How would you approach this? I 'd let whoever wanted to come, come. I think you'll find that the "non-Christians" among you (what exactly is that anyway????) would be impressed. I'd (you asked for my opinion!) want those looking for a church to know and understand up front our commitment to the poor.

Options we’ve considered: 1) start a house church for our poor neighbors; I wouldn't do this--class segregation is no different from racial segregation, plus reading James helps. . . . And Paul had a thing or two to say about the nature of the church and the poor. . .not that Paul answers all the questions! 2) continue to have our poor friends mingle with our young adult friends in a house church setting; I've found this works, especially if you address it together. 3) propose to our poor friends a weekly meal/hang out time where we can continue to cultivate relationships instead of in the house church setting, relationship. To what end? Friends who aren't good enough to be on the inside, but good enough to hang out with so as to make us feel as if we are doing Kingdom work. . .??? Middle class folks and educated folks too often operate under the notion that control is what we need. Usually, God doesn't work much in such situations.

If you’re able to respond through email, that would be great. Coffee would be even better. I know you’re a busy man. We see this as a significant strategic decision in our community and want to listen to as many wise voices as we can. Francis Shaeffer, not my favorite thinker, wrote a book 30 years ago or so--The Church at the End of the 20th Century--in which he said something like: the church needs the poor more than the poor need the church; the church needs the poor to sleep between its pressed, washed, starched sheets. It is about the kingdom, not about "decisions for Christ."
Let me know. Thanks. Feel free to take that "Thanks" back. ..but you asked! I wish I had time for coffee on the run, but if you want to meet me email. . . Love you guys!
Larry


_________________________________


I really don't think there is an acceptable, effective "middle ground" here.

What do you think?
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Courage, Man!

Young man, just a lad,
growin' up in a swamp of pain--
poverty so hard, so raw,
stumblin' just part of every day
you live.

Young boy, puttin' on
that smile--unforgettable glow
makin' me wonder what you got
to keep your feet in all this and not quite
fall today.

Just a kid, you keep walkin'
against all the stuff, all the
mess of this 'hood of yours,
and mine, no matter what
comes along.

Young man, true man,
such courage you put up
against it all, don't matter
what they throw at you,
you stay alive!

Young friend, so young,
you keep walkin' toward me,
includin' me in the game,
smiling all the while, teaching me
all about life.

Young fellow, bright-eyed,
eager to move on, grab it all
no matter what comes down,
you live strong and all around you
gets better. . .against such
unforgiving odds.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What is poverty?

My buddy in Memphis, Justin, sent me this link from YouTube.

The title, "What is poverty?"

The answer will surprise many.

The answer stands at the heart of what we have learned here in Dallas over the past almost 15 years.

What makes people poor?

Consider your answer before you watch.

I'd love to hear what you think, especially in light of your own experiences.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Join our fast today. . .


According to the 2006 census, there are almost 400,000 individuals living below the federal poverty line in Dallas County!

Of these, over 160,000 are children.

Further, Texas is "Number 1" in the nation for the percentage of families who deal with hunger or "food insecurity" over the course of a year.

In response to the reality that surrounds us every day, Central Dallas Ministries invites you to join us in promoting Community Hunger Day TODAY, Monday, October 27.

Embedded in our mission and our history is the understanding that meeting the basic, most pressing needs of our neighbors opens a doorway to community development and renewal.

Over the past twenty years, access to nutrious food has always been a big part of what concerns us.

Please visit ouir special site at http://www.communityhungerday.org/ to join hundreds of other people who care about hunger, as well as raising awareness and much-needed resources for the ongoing battle to wipe it out!

Here's what you'll find

By taking advantage of our extremely user-friendly template on the website, you will be able to set up your own personal fundraising page for CDM!

You'll be able to invite your community of friends, associates, family members, neighbors to join you in a fast TODAY. You'll also be able to challenge your community to give generously to help CDM provide food for people who need it. Plan to contribute what you save by not eating.
Your sacrifice will allow others to have the food they need.

Each dollar donated through this effort will supply one of our neighbors with 6 nutrious meals!

Here's the exciting part about the strength achieved via community: we believe there are at least 2,000 individuals willing to reach out to 10 other people and ask for a $50 commitment from each of them on Community Hunger Day.

The amazing result we believe is possible: $1,000,000.00 raised to fight hunger!

Please join us TODAY.

Go to the website now!

Please let me know if you intend to help out.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Works of Mercy

The Works of Mercy are a wonderful stimulus to our growth in faith as well as love. Our faith is taxed to the utmost and so grows through this strain put upon it. It is pruned again and again, and springs up bearing much fruit. For anyone starting to live literally the words of the Fathers of the Church--"The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked;" "What is superfluous for one's need is to be regarded as plunder if one retains it for one's self"--there is always a trial ahead. "Our faith, more precious than gold, must be tried as though by fire."

Here is a letter we received today: "I took a gentleman seemingly in need of spiritual and temporal guidance into my home on a Sunday afternoon. Let him have a nap on my bed, went through the want ads with him, made coffee and sandwiches for him, and when he left, I found my wallet had gone also."

I can only say that the saints would only bow their heads and not try to understand or judge. they received no thanks--well, then, God had to repay them. They forbode to judge, and it was as though they took off their cloak besides their coat to give away. This is expecting heroic charity, of course. But these things happen for our discouragement, for our testing. We are sowing the seed of love, and we are not living in the harvest time. We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as Our Lord Himself was who died for such a one as this.

. . .our hearts are often crushed at such rejections. But, as a Carmelite nun said to me last week, "It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart."

from Dorothy Day, Selected Writings, edited by Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books, page 99)

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

You can vote however you like!

Janet Morrison put me onto this YouTube presentation that first appeared on CNN.

Take a look.

If this doesn't encourage you, nothing will!

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Voter' Guide for People of Faith


Sojourners magazine includes an "issues guide" for Christian voters in the November issue.

"Principles and Policies for Christian Voters" (Voting All Your Values) can be downloaded here.

I think you'll find it surprisingly comprehensive.

As always, I'd love your reactions.


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Friday, October 24, 2008

"So, where's the ministry?"

It happens to me again and again.

Always it involves church people.

It can be in the midst of or at the end of a site visit/tour. Most recently, it occurred in a meeting with a large church's board of elders.

It goes something like this.

I describe in great detail all that we are doing. Or, I escort folks around the inner city to see site after site where we are working with very poor people.

Included in almost every tour or discussion is exposure to our community health services, our public interest law firm, our after-school academy, our affordable housing developments, our 15-story building in Downtown where homeless folks will live, our summer and after-school lunch program, our food distribution center, the one-stop shop that serves the needs of youth who "age out" of the foster care system, the Central Dallas Church, our AmeriCorps efforts, the list goes on.

These efforts touch thousands of individuals and families.

Eventually, someone feels the need to ask the question.

"So, Larry, where does the ministry happen?"

Translation: where do you "share the gospel," "close the sale," "call people to convert to Jesus," "invite people to pray that Jesus would come into their hearts and 'get saved?'"

The question betrays a couple of fundamental misunderstandings.

First, it ignores the fact that 95%-plus of our neighbors already claim that they are Christians. Like everyone, their lives are not problem free or without challenge--now there is understatement! But, the vast, vast majority of the people we touch cling to faith in Jesus as one of their only certain assets. Often, our friends in the community point us to God, a very powerful dynamic to experience.

Second, there is power in the humility of voiceless engagement. I've said over and over again that at Central Dallas Ministries we tend to adopt a Franciscan approach to our work. Saint Francis told his followers to "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary."

This is our approach.

But, in my opinion--and it is an opinion shaped by my day-to-day experience over the last 15 years--there is something else going on here with many church leaders and members, something back of the common question so many ask.

In a strange way, "evangelism" and concerns framed by it provide people of faith a nice, respectable barrier, a secure place behind which to hide. Staying in this place of "safety" is not as costly or as dangerous as addressing the evil that keeps people and families shut out, left behind and in perpetual distress.

Frankly, focusing on more traditional "church stuff," as a primary concern in inner city neighborhoods where people battle extreme poverty, is not as personally demanding as facing and actively grappling with the facts of life among the urban poor.

Church folk from the outside, who come to the city with an agenda, often, no, usually, do not stay.

Evangelism, especially when imported from outside the community, has a way of placing the evangelist in a position of power, control and status above the target (at least in the evangelist's own mind!).

Community work is all about incarnation, and I think we know where that leads!

But embracing people in their communities, on their terms is how change happens. And, in this embrace we always find "the ministry."

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Logical consequences

Jim Wallis writes a very provocative essay ("Nightmare on Wall Street")in the latest issue of Sojourners magazine. Words worth careful consideration:

A telling word emerged in commentary about the collapse of the financial markets this fall—greed. It’s an old concept, and one with deep moral roots. Even venerable establishment economists such as Robert Samuelson said, “Greed and fear, which routinely govern financial markets, have seeded this global crisis. ... short-term rewards blinded them to the long-term dangers.”

The people on top of the American economy get rich whether they make good or bad business decisions, but their bad choices always make workers and consumers suffer. Prudent investment has been replaced with reckless financial gambling, creating what some have called a “casino economy,” where Wall Street high rollers absorb the winnings while leaving catastrophic risks to be borne—as now—by everyone in the economy. And the inordinate level of benefits accruing to top CEOs and financial managers—especially as the wages of average workers continue to decline—has become one of the greatest moral travesties of our time.

In the search for blame, some say greed and some say deregulation. Both are right. The financial collapse of Wall Street is the fiscal consequence of the economic philosophy that now governs America—that markets are always good and government is always bad. But it is also the moral consequence of greed, where private profit prevails over the concept of the common good. The American economy is often rooted in unbridled materialism, a culture that continues to extol greed, a false standard of values that puts short-term profits over societal health, and a distorted calculus that measures human worth by personal income instead of character, integrity, and generosity.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with government and business. The climate seems to shift between an “anything goes” mentality and stricter government regulation. The excesses of the 1920s, leading to the Great Depression, were followed by the reforms of Franklin Roosevelt.

The entrepreneurial spirit and social innovation fostered by a market economy has benefited many and should not be overly encumbered by unnecessary or stifling regulations. But left to its own devices and human weakness (let’s call it sin), the market too often disintegrates into greed and corruption, as the Wall Street financial collapse painfully reveals. Capitalism needs rules, or it easily becomes destructive. A healthy, balanced relationship between free enterprise, on the one hand, and public accountability and regulation, on the other, is morally and practically essential. Govern­ment should encourage innovation, but it must also limit greed.

Cokie Roberts, on ABC’s This Week, offered an appropriate judgment on those responsible for this fall’s financial debacle: “I’d like to see the CEOs of these companies marched down Wall Street in sackcloth and ashes.” Perhaps God’s own message to Wall Street can be found in the words of Micah: “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! ... They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance. Therefore, the Lord says: ‘I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves.’”

The behavior of too many on Wall Street is a violation of biblical ethics. The teachings of Christianity and other faiths condemn the greed, selfishness, willful blindness, and cheating that have been revealed in corporate behavior for decades and denounce the callous mistreatment of employees.

The strongest critics of the Wall Street gamblers call it putting self-interest above the public interest; the Bible would call it a sin. I don’t know about the church- going habits of the nation’s top financial managers, but if they do attend services, I wonder if they ever hear a religious word about the practices of arranging huge personal bonuses and escape hatches while destroying the lives of people who work for them or invest in their companies. We now need wisdom from the economists, prudence from the business community, and renewal courses on the common good from the nation’s religious leaders.

It’s time for the pulpit to speak—for the religious community to bring the Word of God to bear on the moral issues of the American economy. The Bible speaks of such things from beginning to end, so why not our pastors and preachers?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Work and the Earned Income Credit

The very best program for social uplift is a job. With the exception of persons dealing with severe, chronic disabilities, employment must be the central piece in any strategy to overcome poverty.

The basis for the highly successful Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) initiative is this fundamental belief in the supreme importance of work. Here at Central Dallas Ministries we have encouraged the low-income working men and women that we know to file a tax return to secure this credit. At one point, our public interest law firm secured a grant from the Internal Revenue Service that allowed us to do this work more effectively.

As a tax strategy to reduce poverty and its ill effects on the nation, the EITC was the idea of Richard Nixon, and was signed into law by Gerald Ford in March 1975. The program has received broad bipartisan support from its inception and has been expanded over the years.

The EITC provides a tax refund to all workers in poverty, who earn less than a certain amount annually--regardless of whether they pay income taxes. The EITC is designed to move people aware from federal welfare assistance and into lives of work. Bottom line: the EITC establishes a minimum annual salary for workers. If a worker earns less than the baseline minimum, she or he receives an earned income credit that raises annual earnings to the established minimum.


Ronald Reagan referred to the EITC as "the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress." He increased funding for the effort, as well as the minimum baseline several times. George H. W. Bush expanded the EITC as well.

Senator John McCain has been a consistent supporter of the EITC. Last Saturday (October 18, 2008), the Washington Post reported that, "In fact, in 1999, Mr. McCain opposed efforts to change the earned-income tax credit, which gives payments to the working poor, and called it a 'much-needed tax credit for working Americans.' And in this campaign, he has proposed to use the tax code to do more such 'wealth-spreading."

The Hoover Institute describes the EITC as: "...probably the most cost-effective anti-poverty program the federal government operates."

Using the federal tax code to incentivize work, lift families and promote economic growth is sound policy. The EITC has been supported by leaders from both major political parties. It is an effort that works, while rewarding work!


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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My glad reunion with "Joe"

John Greenan and I were attempting to find our way into a meeting last Friday at the Jubilee Center located just north of Fair Park.

I attempted to open what turned out to be a locked door. As we started to go around the building to another entrance, the door opened.

A strapping young man with a big smile greeted us.

As I began to explain what we were doing and what we were looking for, the young man pointed his finger at me and asked me, "Did you ever coach baseball?"

I stared back at the young man for a moment before I recognized him.

"Yes, I did, and you were on my team, weren't you? Tell me your name again." I asked.

"Joe [not his real name]," he replied.

A flood of memories rolled over me. The purpose of my presence for my meeting evaporated in light of our little "team reunion."

Joe, like all of the other 4th and 5th graders who played on the O. M. Roberts Rangers, as a part of the Texas Rangers Rookie League about 10 years ago, had never played organized baseball until those two amazing summers.

It turns out that Joe had been at Texas State University until family matters forced him back to Dallas where he is attending community college this semester.

"Coach, I had a baseball scholarship to Texas State, but decided to to play football instead," he informed me.

We reminisced for a moment about those two summers and the adventures of our little band of ball players. Co-ed baseball--boys and girls. It was a real hoot and a lot of fun!

John asked Joe what position he played. I think John meant when he got the offer to play at Texas State. Joe went right back to those summers with his answer.

"He put me in the outfield because I could run and moved a girl to first base!" he replied, still a bit indignant it seemed to me.

"Weren't you the player that took a line drive to the face?" I asked.

"Yes, I was!" he recalled.

"I remember, Dr. Jim Walton sewed up your lip," I reminded him.

We talked awhile longer and then he informed us that our meeting was through the door he had opened for us.

"Do you work here at Jubilee?" I asked as I entered the building.

"Yes sir, I do," he said.

"Are you AmeriCorps?" I asked with a sort of dawning realization.

"Yes, I am!" he said proudly.

"You're a part of the Central Dallas Ministries' AmeriCorps team and I didn't even know it!" I exclaimed. "You've made my day, Joe!

We went into our meeting and Joe went outside to supervise the after-school activities of a good-sized group of elementary school children.

It was hard to stop thinking about him and our experiences from so long ago.

I remember those two special summers. We had about 20 games during the month of June, all day games. Then, the season ended with a big tournament at the Rangers' Ballpark.

But, much more than baseball, I remembered Joe.

I can still remember the crack house in which he lived with his grandmother and other family members. I thought of how badly I wanted to get him out of that house. He was just 10-years-old when I first met him. I talked to him and his grandmother about the possibility of him moving in with us since we lived just down the street less than a mile away.

But, he would have none of such talk.

"Coach, who would take care of my grandmother if I wasn't here?" he explained.

So, he stayed put and I tried to stay in touch after the last season of baseball.

About a month later, just before the start of school, his grandmother's house caught on fire and he pulled her out of the blaze to safety. Little Joe pretty well knew what he was talking about.

Over the years, like with most all of those players, I lost track of him.

As we embraced on Friday, I just had to tell him one more time, "Joe, you've made my day!"

I got his phone numbers. I'm looking forward to a longer visit.

I've always known that baseball is much more than a game. Seeing Joe again made the case for me one more time.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Negative ads and Campbell's "crazy idea"


Sick of negative campaign ads?

Think there might be a better way to spend $30 million a week between now and November 4, especially in view of our nation's financial crisis?

You'll appreciate an idea presented by CNN's Campbell Brown.

Take a look.

Tell me what you think.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Working for justice: take the long view

The work of creating new space, the job of crafting new systems that allow for the renewal or resurrection of the poor must assume a long, patient view of reality. We face power differentials that cannot be overcome over night. We walk the long road here. We get discouraged, but we never give up. We refuse to turn aside. We commit to the long haul. We cannot come and go. We stay put.

The following two statements get at the heart of the proposition we have embraced. I saw them positioned side-by-side on Sojo.net, the email service of Sojourners magazine and community.

Good words for this Sunday. Solid wisdom for the long walk ahead of us.
_____________________________
I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.
- Psalm 140:12

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. - Martin Luther King Jr.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Social contract


The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

- Jane Addams

Friday, October 17, 2008

Play, play, play!


Ran into what is posted below in Heron Dance, a continuing source for contemplative thought and practice.
Sure makes sense over here in my part of the world. How about yours?

____________________________

I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.
- Rabindranath Tagore

We string and unstring our instrument because we don’t believe enough in our song.

Sometimes we’re afraid of our song. The metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly demands a lot, including courage, sacrifice and hard work. It requires resourcefulness. It is shy and retreats easily. It requires nurturing.

In return, it offers a deep experience of life.

The starting point, the process from which one discovers one’s song, is a dream. It arises out of our center. Its roots are in the pre-verbal, the half understood, the subconscious. There is a wisdom inside of each of us that often cannot be put into words but, with practice, can be used to guide and shape our lives and our work.

Our song arises out of that which is holy inside of us.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Coffee pot values

Early in my tenure at Central Dallas Ministries--it was summer 1994, first week on the job as I recall it--I bought a giant, shiny coffee maker.

I proudly placed my new pot in the middle of our interview room in the Haskell Resource Center, known back then as the "Food Pantry."

As I arranged my new offering to the community on a table, complete with all the coffee fixin's we would need, a long-time volunteer who drove in once a week from outside the community approached me with what I'd call aggressive bewilderment.

"What in the world are you doing?" she asked.

"I'm making coffee for our guests," I replied with delighted excitement.

A frown rushed across her face and stiffened her entire frame.

With a mixture of amazement and anger, she counseled me, "You can't do that! If you make coffee, these people will never leave!"

I informed her that my intention was not to rush people along, but to get acquainted with as many neighborhood residents as possible.

At that, she turned quickly on her heel and strode out of the interview room. Needless to say, as we opened volunteer and leadership positions to the community, she decided not to return.

I've relived that awkward, bewildering encounter again and again across the years.

The attitude back of her comment reveals volumes about one perspective on poverty. It goes something like this:

"Well, 'these people' (I always flinch at that phrase because I know what is coming next) are a real problem. It is our duty to share what we have, but if they were only more responsible, resourceful, not so stupid and lazy and not so dependent, we wouldn't have to feel obligated to be down here at all!"

Talk about joy in one's work!

The most important thing to folks with this attitude is the process, the project, the problem, the procedures and the penance.

My new coffee pot signaled a different set of values and a completely different perspective on life in the city and on poverty.

Our coffee pot values include welcoming people, longing to hear and know people, extending hospitality and receiving wisdom and knowledge from our neighbors.

Our coffee pot screamed to everyone, "Hey, slow down! Have a seat. Tell us your story. In this house you'll find that we really care about you, who you are, what you're dreaming and how we can find our way together."

I love coffee.

The pot's not new anymore, but it cooks a good brew every morning our doors are open.

May it always be so.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Primer on depression

I can take you there.

To the current, on-going "Great Depression."

It's been around for decades here in Dallas.

Sad thing is, its pace is picking up considerably.

You can see it in our Resource Center here in East Dallas.

Or, if you prefer a neighborhood expression, complete with lots of children and weary adults, I can take you there to several different versions of the same terrifying reality.

For here, let's look at our Resource Center.

Folks still call it the "Food Pantry."

Consider:

Through the first nine months of 2007, our volunteers served 14,487 hours and interviewed and served 31,603 individuals from 19,418 presenting family units. These "contact" numbers represented 7,968 unduplicated family units and 13,438 different individuals. Lots of people with food and life issues. Lots of work.

Through the first nine months of 2008, our volunteers logged 12,621 hours and interviewed and served 40,118 individuals from 23,272 presenting family units. These "contact" numbers represent 9,151 unduplicated family units and 16,037 different individuals. Even more people with nutrition and life issues. Lots of work.

Twenty-seven percent increase in individual contacts. Twenty percent increase in family contacts. A 15% increase in unduplicated families and a 19% increase in unduplicated individuals served in this one venue. It is also interesting to note that we experienced a 13% decline in available volunteer hours to do even more work.

Tough times for people who have little. But, not new times, not new at all.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stop blaming poor people

Blame for the subprime collapse that drives the current financial markets crisis should not be laid at the feet of the poor in America. Such knee jerk rhetoric is not only unfair, it just won't stand up under objective scrutiny. Simply put, this is not what happened.

I believe a recent essay that appeared on Slate.com is worth reading carefully.

One item of interest is the role of the Community Reinvestment Act. Here's a fact: CRA requirements apply almost exclusively to regulated, depository banks and not to the unregulated financial institutions that contributed most to the current meltdown. Interesting stuff.

Poor folks aren't to blame. We serve thousands here. Almost no one under 50 in my world owns a home.

Here's an excerpt from the Slate essay by Daniel Gross:

Look: There was a culture of stupid, reckless lending, of which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the subprime lenders were an integral part. But the dumb-lending virus originated in Greenwich, Conn., midtown Manhattan, and Southern California, not Eastchester, Brownsville, and Washington, D.C. Investment banks created a demand for subprime loans because they saw it as a new asset class that they could dominate. They made subprime loans for the same reason they made other loans: They could get paid for making the loans, for turning them into securities, and for trading them—frequently using borrowed capital.

At Monday's hearing, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., gamely tried to pin Lehman's demise on Fannie and Freddie. After comparing Lehman's small political contributions with Fannie and Freddie's much larger ones, Mica asked Fuld what role Fannie and Freddie's failure played in Lehman's demise. Fuld's response: "De minimis."

Lending money to poor people doesn't make you poor. Lending money poorly to rich people does.

Read the entire article here.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Join the fun! Accept the challenge!

Hope you'll join us during the lead up to our Community Hunger Day on Monday, October 27. Details about what you can do are here.

For a little fun, check out what one participant, Michael Ames is doing by going here.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blog Action Day

Check our this site.

Then, you can go to this site to find out more and to get involved!

Already, we've had calls from people wanting to contribute to CDM from this effort.

Great stuff! Fits well with our plans for Community Hunger Day on October 27, 2008. Hope you'll get involved with us as a participant in this special effort as well.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Hate speech

Politics gets nasty.

When I was a graduate student at Tulane University, I remember reading newspapers dating from the 1830s. The political rhetoric that filled those publications during national elections was incredibly vitriolic and hateful. The political cartoons were sometimes even more scathing! The attacks often turned downright personal. The material rivaled any hotly contested race today.

Politics just gets that way.

But today, it seems to me that we're crossing sacred boundaries to our own peril. Some of what is being said in this campaign cuts into the health of the nation's soul.

Earlier this week, we heard reports of racial epitaphs being shouted from campaign audiences against Senator Barack Obama. The use of the senator's middle name in a blatantly discriminatory and fearful manner, the veiled language of racism that identifies Obama as "not like us," charges that he was a terrorist and even voices shouting for his death were heard in more than one campaign speech and from more than one rally crowd. This all reminds me of the rhetoric surrounding the 1960 presidential campaign and the hate-filled language directed toward President Kennedy leading up to his assassination here in Dallas. It is all despicable.

For the leaders of such audiences, and by that I mean those who are at the podium speaking and those who organize the events, to refuse to stop immediately and challenge or correct such behavior is a serious moral problem. Such tactics destroy community, foster hatred and diminish the quality of life for every American.

This is not a partisan issue. It is not a political issue. This is a spiritual concern that points up just how far off course we have gone.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

God have mercy on us all. . .

Just how far off the mark can we get?

By now we've all heard, seen and/or read reports about the weekend junket attended by AIG executives that ran up a tab of $442,000 after the recent federal bailout of the failing company to the tune of $85,000,000,000.

Here's how The New York Times reported the event:

One particular point of contention during the hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was a weeklong retreat that a life insurance subsidiary, AIG General, held for its top sales agents at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., only a week after the government extended its $85 billion loan last month.

The $442,000 in expenses for the week included $150,000 for food and $23,000 in spa charges, according to documents obtained by the committee.

Joe Norton, A.I.G.’s director of public relations, said in an interview that the event had been scheduled last year, though he did not know whether executives had considered canceling the retreat after the bailout.

Read the entire story here.

I'm sorry, but we've got a problem when. . .

. . .it's really okay to give incredibly rich people enormous amounts of money and luxury experiences, but it's not at all okay to give very, very poor people money or access to the assistance that they need simply to live.

. . .we are outraged by the urban myth of the "welfare Cadillac," but we find it easy to turn the other way when we consider the price tag for runaway, out-of-control greed at work in the center of our public square.

. . .mega-rich executives command exorbitant bonuses and severance packages in the millions of dollars, but children living in make-shift, substandard housing don't have enough to eat, proper clothing to wear or decent neighborhoods in which to grow up. [Yesterday, I toured a friend through a neighborhood in Dallas where the average annual household income is just above $10,000.]

. . .the ultra-rich and powerful so completely control the national political and policy agenda that over the course of three presidential and vice-presidential debates the subject of the national disgrace of poverty and what to do about its various manifestations has not come up even once in a question and neither party has addressed the subject in any meaningful manner at all.

Yes. We have a major problem as a people.

May God have mercy on us all.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ending homelessness via homes

Thanks to The Dallas Morning News for publishing the Op-Ed essay in yesterday's edition written by new U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steve Preston and Jedd Medefind, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Mr. Preston and Mr. Medefind pointed to CDM's "Destination Home" effort as an example of how to cut into the homeless problem in our country. We enjoyed having both of them on a tour last week.

This is the sort of good news needed as we continue to address the difficult challenges of homelessness.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"Deregulating" toward fear and darkness in neighborhoods

Yesterday, I was in Austin, Texas working with leaders of our project there.

We call it Urban Connection--Austin. Dean Smith, our Executive Director, spends his days weaving new connections in one very challenged neighborhood north of downtown. We are very fortunate to have found Dean to lead this effort.

Like our work in San Antonio, I know what is happening "on the ground" in Austin will pay a huge return on investment in the lives of thousands who live in the shadow our state capitol.

During my trip, I met Anthony Williams .

Anthony is the president of the local homeowners association and extremely involved in work to improve his community. He joined us for a presentation to the leaders of the University Avenue Church of Christ, the church that has done more to support our move into Austin than any other.

Anthony sketched a very graphic and helpful picture of the kind of havoc that "slum lords" often wreak upon a neighborhood.

Largely unregulated by the city, these outside, usually absent landlords continue to collect rents while putting little, if anything, back into their properties. Leaking roofs, sub-standard plumbing and electrical service, landscaping and general upkeep go begging. Meanwhile, tenants have few real rights. Those who complain or call for help from city officials end up being evicted.

"Our neighborhood is characterized by fear and darkness," Anthony informed the group.

Property rights are an essential element in the social contract of our nation. But, like everything else, when unattended and allowed to go unregulated, people suffer and grow hopeless.

Ironically, when this happens, the rest of us tend to "blame the victims" for the shoddy appearance and upkeep of inner city neighborhoods. The real culprits aren't anywhere to be found, which is a huge part of the problem.

Think about it. If I am renting from a totally unresponsive property owner, why should I invest my hard earned, but limited funds to address a problem that I didn't cause and that rightfully belongs to someone else?

Deregulation at the street level turns out to be the genesis of lots of very real, day-to-day problems among the urban poor.

Anthony Williams is working hard to organize his neighbors to do something constructive in response. I'm glad he's on our team in Austin.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Exonerees

Friday afternoon I sat in our large conference room here at our headquarters for a few minutes and listened almost breathlessly as 8 men shared their stories of life behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

A couple of the gentleman involved in the conversation had left the building before I made it to the meeting. So, ten men seated around a table trying to make sense out of the meaning of their lives in face of the loss of decades of life thanks to being wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned.

Thanks to new DNA technology, each of these men had been exonerated and released from prison. (Read more about this issue and Texas here.)

Now they are trying to move back into the world, while dealing with an unimaginable emotional mix of conflicting feelings, fears and anxieties.

Central Dallas Ministries hopes to partner with these men to put forward new legislation that would ensure that such cases result in a clean record. Currently, as hard as it is to believe, even though freed, their conviction stays on their records! A Governor's pardon is not automatic and to receive the financial benefit that the state will pay, each must find legal help to pursue this rather laborious process.

Injustice is written all over this one, as is race.

For those of you who can't comprehend the notion of institutional racism, take a look at this entire, tragic situation.

We'll get involved. It's a fight faith won't allow us to walk away from.

More later.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sunday Reflection: Micah

"With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with fervent prayer,
with prayer upon prayer, day after day upon tired knees?

Will the Lord be pleased with
thousands of songs in gatherings of worship,
with lifted hands and ten thousands of hymns of praise and celebration?
Shall I push forward to religious service and mission
my children for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"

He has showed you, what
is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 [modern interpretation for church folks]

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Taxes

Wonder how the presidential candidates compare on their tax plans going forward?

Check out The Washington Post article here to see for yourself.

I'm more than confident we have varying, conflicting opinionsabout Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama represented in those who read this blog!

Good to see the two plans in black and white or, better, red and blue.

I suppose I don't need to encourage feedback on this one, do I?

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Important comment on CRA

Just to put it out "front and center," be sure and read the Op-Ed essay by Froma Harrop in today's edition of The Dallas Morning News regarding the Community Reinvestment Act and the current credit crisis.

For this sound analysis, go here. I love the facts of this matter.

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Guests from D. C.



Big day today at Central Dallas Ministries.

Cabinet Secretary Steve Preston (above left), U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Director Jedd Medefind (below right), the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will tour our "Destination Home" permanent supportive housing site in North Dallas. Plans include visits to our tenants' homes and a round table conversation with tenants and program facilitators.

Mr. Preston and Mr. Medefind were directed to our project by the regional HUD office in Ft. Worth as an example of a "housing first" effort that was working well.

Needless to say, we are honored and thrilled by the visit. I am eager for these Bush Administration leaders to see and evaluate what we are up to among a number of our formerly homeless neighbors.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Don't go blaming CRA requirements. . .come on!

During the current financial markets meltdown, I've heard and read (even here) a few people try to pin our problems on the federal Community Reinvestment Act requirements that lending institutions invest in the health, renewal and redevelopment of the communities in which they do business and garner profits.

This claim is absurd.

On Tuesday, I was involved in a national conference call with a very large national bank's community development advisory board. During our conversation, I asked the bankers in charge if blaming the CRA obligations made any sense at all.

Of course, the banks would just as soon these requirements go away since that would mean more profits for their companies. And, you'll recall that Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) tried to repeal all CRA requirements a few years back. You'll also recall that he's the economic advisor who recently characterized the concern ordinary Americans expressed about the state of our economy as "a nation of whiners" caught up in a "mental recession."

But, back to my phone conference.

The banker I asked summed things up this way, "As far as CRA requirements and the current crisis in the financial markets, anyone who claims that our problems are the result of the CRA rules just doesn't understand the crisis or the way those requirements are worked out in a community. Further, these rules have been around for decades (enacted in 1977) and they just aren't the problem."

Now this comes from a banker, mind you!

By the way, even Business Week gets this!

I followed up by asking where I might find hard data on the percentage of earnings required for reinvestment in a communities under the rules. I also asked where I might find the actual amounts spent to fulfill the regulations and to what sorts of projects they were directed.

I know from experience here in Dallas, that for most banks the numbers are not huge, nor are the outcomes overwhelmingly impressive in terms of community impact.

Blaming already grossly underfunded programs designed to extend a helping, equitable, non-biased, lifting hand to the poor simply doesn't line up with reality on the ground out here in the neighborhoods.

So, lay off the CRA rhetoric, would you?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fort Worth paper's review of CDM concert


To read a solid review of "A Night to Remember 2008" with Clint Black, check out The Fort Worth Star-Telegram here!

Great night!

Great music and community celebration!

Great supporters of our mission in inner city Dallas

In the process, Clint Black became a new and very helpful friend, plus he sang his heart out for 2 hours!