News you'll be interested to know


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Well-intentioned, but extremely short. . .

Last week I found the press release below in the local media. I've omitted the true identities by substituting "Company XYZ" along with other particulars so as not to single out any one person or organization. Actually, this is a story about us all. And, I mean, the folks back of this effort are surely good-hearted and downright sweet, but. . .well, read on:

“XYZ Cover-up” takes advantage of Post-Christmas opportunities to help others stay warm. . .Gently used blankets can help growing number of Anywhere, Texans in need

ANYWHERE (Monday, Dec. 22) - Post-holiday opportunities aren’t limited to sales. Company XYZ is holding “XYZ Cover-up,” a unique opportunity to put to use those “gently-used blankets” for the growing number of needy in Anywhere, Texas. From Friday, Dec. 26 through Saturday, Jan. 3, gently used blankets will be collected at Company XYZ's headquarters at 123 Avenue A here in Anywhere, Texas, for distribution to those in need.

“With the winter’s cold upon us, we realized how fortunate we were to have a warm home and business despite the challenging economy,” said XYZ General Manager Tom Smith. “It is vital that in this day and time we support those in our community who are not as fortunate, but truly appreciate anything that we can provide.”

With blankets being given as presents and being purchased at post-Christmas sales, households may find a blanket or two that could be used by someone in need.

“We decided to take full advantage of that time period between Christmas and New Year’s for folks to do some housecleaning and share their extra blankets with those in need,” said Mr. Smith.

A report released on Dec. 12 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that homelessness has increased an average of 12 percent in major cities nationwide in the last year. In Anywhere, the number rose 14 percent over the year ended Sept. 30, the report stated.

Working with area churches, homeless shelters and humane societies, XYZ will accept any blankets and distribute them to organizations helping those in need.

XYZ is open six days a week, from 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; and from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays with the exception of New Year’s Day and early closing on New Year’s Eve at 6 p.m.. For more information, phone 800.123.4567 or log onto

So, here we are safe, cozy, well-fed in our warm homes and businesses. Blessed.

The numbers of our fellow human beings who are homeless, without a home or a job, is growing at an astonishing pace annually, and right here in the heart of Anywhere, Texas. Current economic signs indicate that the trend will only turn upward in even more dramatic fashion.

The worst of winter is ahead of us. We knew it was coming, didn't we? It comes about this time every year.

The best we can do is round up some "gently-used" or, if feeling exceptionally charitable, new blankets that maybe Aunt Mrytle provided at the family Christmas tree, but we never really have liked lime green in blankets.

Rally round the flag folks! Blankets for the really poor! Cover ups for the freezing! Now, here is something we can feel really swell about. What a tribute to the generosity, the vision, the civic vigor of our city! Gather the kids, pack the SUV and let's go see some homeless people who are cold!

"Let 'em have blankets!" Sounds like a motto with real potential.

Throw-away items for our "throw-away" neighbors. Practical gifts for those who have nothing. Useful crumbs for those "living" at the margins.

My, my, don't it make you real proud?

Under a bridge or in back of a building tonight. . .sitting, hunkering down, lying down on the hard pavement, the wind whipping around the corners and into one's bones, I expect the homeless would appreciate a blanket, even if "gently-used," if that is all we have for them.

Still, in view of everything else I know about Anywhere, Texas, it seems a very short position for any of us to take.

Couldn't we do more?

Couldn't we actually make things so much better that no one would know what to do with their old blankets? But then, what would we do in ourselves this time every year?

Just wondering.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's Ahead in 2009?

The Urban Institute released six new reports on the current recession and various aspects of any recovery we might anticipate. Consider these "facts and forecasts" from their analysis:

  • Following the economic downturns of 1980-1982 and 1990-92, it took five years for unemployment numbers to drop back to the lower levels prior to those periods of decline. At best, we likely can expect the same with this recession.

  • By 2007, the inflation-adjusted incomes of families among the poorest 20% of U. S. households had not recovered to their peaks on the eve of the 2001 recession.

  • Unemployment benefits were claimed by up to 60% of the unemployed in the early 1970s, but by only 40% over the past twenty years.

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) is designed to help working families of low-income; enrollment could drop among the growing numbers of unemployed able-bodied adults without children.

  • Congress may need to consider using Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding to assist the growing numbers of unemployed, while relaxing the program's work requirement.

  • Although the earned income tax credit, the largest cash assistance program for low-income working families, successfully encourages work, particularly among single mothers, it is an unreliable safety net during times of rising unemployment and reduced incomes.

  • Each 1 percentage point rise in national unemployment will increase Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program enrollment by 1 million people. A 1-point jump also will translate to an additional 1.1 million uninsured adults.

For more information visit The Urban Institute site.

Challenges ahead. Your thoughts?


Monday, December 29, 2008

Cleaning off my desk before a couple of days off. . .

Think you'd like to have a copy of "Food For Thought: The 1st Annual Central Dallas Ministries Family Cookbook"?

I've got a free copy of this great collection of recipes to the first person who emails me asking for it at Be sure and provide your complete mailing address and I'll be sure to get it out to you right after the first of the year.


Speaking of recipes. Here's one for the Dallas Cowboys:

Step 1: Sign former PittsburghSteelers coach Bill Cowher to a long-term contract as Head Coach and General Manager.

Step 2: Sit back and prepare for some real fun!


One more New Year's Give-a-way: I also find that I have an extra copy of the new Poverty and Justice Bible on my desk.

Same deal: first email requesting that I send it to you will receive it early in 2009. Don't forget your snail-mail address!

A question prompted by my crazy desk: If you were limited to reading just one magazine, journal or periodical during 2009 (not including daily newspapers), what would it be? Help me here!

Getting ready for a Happy New Year in 2009 and wishing you and yours the very same!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comfort for those who labor

It is a strange text, but then, there are many in the Hebrew Bible's first entry. Genesis, or "beginnings," seeks to introduce us to some of the first people on earth.

Reading from my new copy of The Poverty and Justice Bible, I came across it all marked up in bright orange:

Lamech said, "I'll name him Noah because he will give us comfort, as we struggle hard to make a living on this land that the Lord has put under a curse. (Genesis 5:29)

It helps to know that the Hebrew name Noah sounds a good bit like the Hebrew word that we translate "comfort."

Nice play on words. The Hebrew Bible is filled with these little word plays that enhance the meaning of the message.

From the start people faced the challenge of wrestling a life out of the raw resources of the earth. The Genesis story tells of a curse placed on the ground due to the rebellion and mistakes of our first parents.

"Making a living" has never been an easy matter.

Lamech knew what was needed, what he hoped for when his son came along: Comfort in the work!

Noah comes to the world tagged as a community builder, a person who will lighten loads and lift spirits for the benefit of others--comforting the community will be a huge part of who he becomes.

Life can be very, very difficult.

At the same time, we are not meant to face life alone. The importance of being together, of receiving comfort from others, especially those gifted to share it, can't be over emphasized. When community is present and honored, the land loosens its grip on its wealth, people flourish in spite of the harshness of things.

Noah begins his life with a direction. Great advantage that.

To be called "Comfort" in the midst of hard circumstances is a very good thing. May we share and receive it in abundance in the year that is ahead of us.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cowboys' Final Curtain at Texas Stadium

So, last Saturday evening, Texas Stadium hosted its last regular season NFL Football game involving the Dallas Cowboys. Hard core fans held out hope that there would be future games during the playoffs, but after the loss to Baltimore, any chance for future home field advantage evaporated. This game saw the final curtain drop on the historic stadium.

ESPN invited Dallas sportswriter and legend, Frank Luksa rank the Top 10 greatest moments in the history of the stadium that involved the Dallas Cowboys. See what Frank thinks here.

I've always been a sports nut to say the least.

Wonder what all stands back of this love of sports and games?

How is it for you?

What has been your experience?

Part of the deal is cultural--you don't grow up in Texas and escape the place of football in the society. Texas high school football is legendary. I fell into that big time and loved my experience.

But then, it's not just football. It's baseball and, to a lesser extent for me, basketball, as well.

I've read fairly serious analyses of the impact of sport on community well-being, cohesiveness and positive identity.

What do you think about community well-being and sports?

Does sport help or hurt community unity?

Or, is it really no factor? Is the supposed benefit just wishful thinking or a convenient urban myth?

In any event, next year Jerry and the 'Boys move into their extravagant new digs in Arlington, right next door to the home of the Texas Rangers.

It is my opinion that football arenas on this scale end up not really helping the economic health of communities, certainly not low-income communities. Further, the relative return on investment to overall community economic development and improvement dollar for dollar is much greater for more routine projects, such as single-family housing, infrastructure development and improvements and new school construction.

What is your take on this issue?

I have to admit, I watched the Cowboys lose to Baltimore Saturday evening and experienced a bit of nostalgia, even though I never really liked the building that much. As with most things, its about the people, the memories and the togetherness, not so much the material stuff.

Am I the only "sports-oholic" who remains concerned about urban renewal, community development and economic justice?


Friday, December 26, 2008

Everyone counts! Everyone wins again!

I've read Rick Reilly's commentary for years. He left Sports Illustrated to join ESPN. I love what he writes.

But, I've gotta tell you, I've not read anything before like this.

Talk about a community intervention! Attitudes like this could change life for millions.

Don't miss it.

Then, tell me what you think.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"A Christmas Sermon on Peace"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first delivered "A Christmas Sermon on Peace" at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Christmas Eve, 1967. In his message, King delivers a timeless challenge to people of faith to rise above the evil and hatred of the present age to prove up the power of enduring, suffering love.

Here are selected portions of the moving address for your Christmas Eve reflection:

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some Utopian. If we don't have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. . . .

. . . if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical, rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools. . . .

. . . It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. . . .

. . .we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree. . . .

. . . I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I've seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens' councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we'll still love you. But be assured that we''ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

CDM welcomes Steve Palma, new CFO!

Here’s a thrilling new development: Steve Palma has joined the Central Dallas Ministries team as our Chief Financial Officer!

In view of our continuing growth and the increasing complexity of our financial challenges and opportunities, we set about late last summer searching for someone to fill this very important position. We received many resumes and we pursued a rigorous interview and investigation process. At the end, Steve was our unanimous choice to fill this important slot.

Steve brings a wealth of experience to CDM from the corporate world where he spent his career in finance, accounting, retail operations and real estate development for J. C. Penney, JCP Realty, Inc., Melville Corporation and, most recently, CVS/Pharmacy.

While at CVS, beginning in January 2001, he directed the lease administration process for over 6,200 properties and 1,500 closed and sub-leased locations, the construction budget for over 275 new and relocated stores and new store development strategy for the company. He retired from CVS in April 2007.

In addition to this amazing corporate experience, Steve co-founded M5 Technologies, a computer software company, and he owned and operated the New York Sailing School!

As CFO, Steve will be directing the accounting and development offices here at CDM. With one foot in "sources" and the other in "uses," I know that our entire financial operation will only grow stronger as we move into our future.
Hiring Steve is the latest indication of just how seriously our Board, our executive leadership and our entire staff take the stewardship of every dollar given in support of our work in the city.
Over the next several weeks, Steve will spend his time getting to know and understand every department and corner of the world of CDM.

We are most fortunate to have him on board!

Welcome, Steve!


Monday, December 22, 2008

mankind is no island

Almost 15 years ago when I needed a brand logo for Central Dallas Ministries, I called Shannon Hollingsworth, a bright young graphic artist working in Dallas at the time. It had been my privilege to watch her grow up in the church that I served. She created the logo that we use to this day!

Recently, Shannon sent me a link to a moving YouTube video entitled "mankind is no island."

If you haven't seen it, take the three minutes needed to view it here.

It is true, you know. We are all connected. It is just that we forget, ignore, refuse to take the time, reach out. . .love.

Can we, will we do better in the New Year? Do I hear a resolution as we prepare to welcome the Christ child?

What do you think?


Sunday, December 21, 2008

KERA asks good question. . .

KERA's Krys Boyd, host of the television weekly Think, interviewed my friend Mike Doyle, Cornerstone Assistance Network in Tarrant County, and me last week. The topic: how are things going and how are people coping in view of the dramatic economic downturn.

If you're interested, you can view the program here.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Provoke radio

Looking for challenging radio programming concerning faith and social justice?

Try Provoke Radio.



Friday, December 19, 2008

Can we sing a new song this Christmas?

If you're looking for a new Christmas carol, you might consider the one written by staff members at Sojourners. Here's what they say about their lyrics:

A popular Christmas song says “let your heart be light,” and that "our troubles will be out of sight." Even though Christmas is a time of wonder and excitement at the birth of our Savior, a troubled economy, violent conflicts, and extreme poverty weigh on our spirits and require our attention.

So instead of just the feasting and presents, what if we all take action this Christmas? Let’s not just sing about God’s love when we can commit to actions that will bring love, peace, and justice for our neighbors far and near.

And, here are their lyrics!

Have Yourself a Peace and Justice Christmas

Have yourself a peace and justice Christmas,
Set your heart a-right.
Flee the malls and focus on Christ’s guiding light.

Have yourself a peace and justice Christmas,
Give your time a way.
Share God’s love, And serve “the least of these” today.

Here we are, as we pray for peace,
We’ll live simply and give more.
We care for those far and near to us,
Which brings cheer to us, once more.

God brings down
The haughty from high places,
And lifts up the low.
God cares for the hungry and the humble, so –
Forget the stress and let the peace and justice flow!

Think this is a song you can sing this year?

Tell me what it would mean in your daily life to add this carol to your celebration and consciousness.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on our Urban RE:Vision Dallas dream

Watch local news reports on our RE:Vision Dallas dream here.

One thing my experience at Central Dallas Ministries has taught me is that nothing new, significant or world-changing ever happens without vision and large dreams.

John Greenan and Brent Brown have provided our community both in this project.

Stay tuned for outcomes!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The disconnect of "No!"

Last Friday evening, just after I stepped onto the Red Line train to North Dallas, a homeless man approached my area of the car with a cup in his hand.

"Can you spare me a little change, brother," he asked the fellow standing just in front of me.

The guy ignored the beggar, so, he moved to me.

I saw him coming, in more ways than one, so I greeted him and exchanged a lively handshake.

"So, where are you staying?" I asked.

I heard the word "bridge," and assumed he meant The Bridge, Dallas' new homeless assistance center Downtown.

"Oh, you're at The Bridge," I followed.

"No, man," he responded, "The Bridge is too crowded and they won't let us stay there. Me and my old lady live under the bridge," he explained. "I'm trying to get about seven bucks to buy us some dinner."

"Oh, I see," I replied.

"Can you spare me some change," my new friend pressed--he had the rest of the train to work and needed a decision from me.

I dropped the change I had in my pocket from the train ticket vending machine into his paper cup.

"Thanks, brother, God bless you," he said with a huge toothless smile.

As he shuffled down the aisle, looking for others to approach, I began to think about the impact of a "No."

People ask me all of the time, "What should I do about panhandlers on the street?"

I gotta tell you, I don't have a clue. I understand all of the arguments on both sides. And, I have no consistent position or track record in terms of how I respond. At times, I give freely. At other times I have turned away with a short "No," or worse, I have simply pretended not to see or to hear.

But, as I rode the train up the rail without the burden of navigating the heavy traffic, I thought about the power and the nature of "No" when spoken to another human being.

"No" is about judgment.

"No"--there is no possible way that verdict can be endearing, connecting or anything but total rejection in a moment.

"No," especially, I think, in a chance encounter does not help any one.

I have no answer for the gentleman who approached me Friday night as we cut through the growing darkness of a busy city. I don't understand how he got to the place in life that his best option is begging on a commuter train and sleeping under a freeway bridge. I have no brilliant intervention to offer. I have no chance to really do much with him.

But it occurs to me that "No" is not what he needed to hear, and it's not what I needed to say.

As I was lost in my thoughts, the train made a stop.

Another homeless man boarded. He carried a large, thick, well-used study Bible of some variety. A backpack attached to his back, he struggled to unfold and to count a wad of dollar bills that he clutched in his hands. I suppose he had made his supper money for the evening. He asked for nothing as he settled into the ride north.

I wondered how many "No" verdicts he had dealt with before collecting the treasure that would make his night a bit less harsh.

For a personal perspective provided by a homeless young man from the streets of Denver on the whole matter of how it feels to encounter rejection on the streets, take a look here.

(Matthew 5:42--Jesus)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


My mom, Mildred Oleta Sawyers James, died Sunday morning at about 10:30, just two days shy of the one year anniversary of my dad's death. They had shared 68 years together in an incredibly strong and wonderful marriage. It's my opinion that she just couldn't go forward very much farther without him. Partly because she loved him so much, partly because he created a world in which she depended so much on him.

The cause of her death was related to her chronic Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or MDS. She battled the disorder for about five years, including enduring countless blood transfusions and chemotherapy. She received great care from Dr. Manish Gupta, a brilliant young doctor with whom she developed a wonderful friendship.

During the last two months of her life, Hospice workers more than befriended her with gentle care, rich compassion and strong friendship.

Mom was a real character in her own right. Both of my parents were largely defined by their marriage and commitment to one another. Both had memorable qualities that set them apart.

My mom never met a stranger. She loved people. Her friends meant the world to her. She could be incredibly opinionated, especially about politics, narrow-minded religion and people who condemned others.

She would often ask me unanswerable questions about theology and the Bible, questions that if I could have answered, I surely would have landed on the cover of Time magazine!

She remained interested in what was going on in the world until the end of her life. A CNN-junkie, she was very pleased and excited to see the nation take another step beyond its racist past to elect the first African American as the president representing of all of us. My dad would have shared her joy, and likely did from the other side.

Unfortunately, I was an only child. The upshot of that cruel reality was her tendency to be a bit over-protective of me. My response basically was to go about my business and just not keep her very fully informed. I remember a million stories related to this! All fond memories.

Growing up, I loved sports and played about everything. I know it drove her nuts, especially football and baseball. I loved cars and, at times, speed! She would never fall asleep until I came home at night. We never really battled over these concerns of hers. I learned to listen, agree and then make my own choices! I deserved a serious whipping on many occasions! Still, grace prevailed.

I remember in about the 9th grade, it was a Sunday afternoon. I rode my bike over to meet a friend who had a new Honda motorcycle, a 150 I believe. He let me take it for a test spin. I got on Central Expressway without a helmet or a license to drive and streaked (well, streaked about as much as a Honda 150 could streak!) all the way to Allen. She never knew about that one! Didn't seem worth upsetting her even years later. Sorry, mom.

My mother loved my father and he loved her. Their lifelong love affair. . .well, it was something to behold. Of course, it helped a lot that my dad worshipped the ground she walked on. She felt the same way and, unfortunately for him, in his later years she transferred her anxiety and worry over in his direction. They really cared for each other, as they did for me and my family.

My mother loved Brenda like the daughter she never had. She loved our girls in a way I didn't fully understand until our own grandchildren came along. So many great stories here. And, the great grandchildren, oh my. She loved the three of them--we'll spend the rest of our time trying to help them understand that legacy of love for them.

She could be an insufferable braggart about all of us! She was just proud of everybody in her family and she loved to share "just the facts," especially with her best friends.

She loved her church and her friends. She displayed fierce loyalty and, as I say, a tendency to defend and protect people who were being judged or criticized by others. Since I had been her minister for fourteen years, she and my dad were huge supporters of the all of the other ministers who served with me and who followed me after I left the church. You'd best not criticize one of her ministers or you'd learn quickly the folly of your mistake!

Both of my parents were extremely generous. Since taking over their finances over the past couple of years, I've been amazed at all of the efforts they supported beyond their church--human and civil rights organizations, environmental efforts, medical research, veterans' organizations, Third World relief and development groups. This was certainly true of my mom. She found all sorts of ways to help me, usually without doing much damage to my sense of the importance of hard work, diligence and effort. She loved to give and her an my dad made a good team of it.

She enjoyed a great sense of humor and loved telling us stories from her childhood during the Great Depression and from the earlier days of her married life.

She loved to take road trips across the country. We never could get her on an airplane. She always told us that she didn't fly because she "wanted to see the countryside." I remember with great fondness one Christmas road trip to Colorado. She and my dad were packed in the backseat of our Jeep Laredo like E. T. in the closet! What a time of laughter and joy.

She was a perfectionist about her house, her looks and just about anything she did. The ultimate "neat freak," mom took tidy to a whole new level! She actually loved to clean house. She loved to cook. She loved flowers and plants. She loved being a homemaker. She turned a little bungalow at the southeast corner of Spring Valley Road and Greenville Avenue into a wonderful, warm and delightful home. She was so proud of the new home that she and my dad built in 1976, but she always loved that first little house in old Richardson. So did I.

She also loved to get dressed up, "cleaned up," as she would say, and dolled up! I told Brenda a few days ago that on the day of her death, if she were able, I wouldn't be surprised if she got up and put makeup on and "fixed her face." I know she did that every day toward the end as her way of trying her hardest to get well. She displayed so much courage and will to stay with us.

So many memories.

So much to tell.

Feelings overwhelm at times like this.

Now that both of my parents are gone, things seem really different. I feel the same loss as when my dad died last year, but more now. My mom is gone after a tough physical struggle, but so is my father.

Life will be both the same going forward and never the same again for me.

I'm so grateful for her, as I am for him. What blessings they both were to me.

When I was just a little boy, I can remember praying again and again that nothing would happen to my parents, that they wouldn't become ill or die and leave me all alone. Today I realize that my prayers were answered, answered for a long time.

Words can't convey how much I will miss them.

How very blessed I have been for so long.

Good-bye, mom.

Later, for sure.

[Family reception for Mildred James will be tonight, December 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Restland Funeral Home in Richardson. Her memorial service will be on Wednesday, December 17 at 10 a.m. in Memorial Chapel at Restland.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Sweetheart, just tell them I'm a professional beggar!"

A few years ago, when Joanna, our youngest daughter, was wrapping up her masters degree at Texas Tech University, she called one evening to ask me a question.

"Dad, I'm doing a paper on the sociology of our family. One of the questions relates to what our parents do professionally," she explained.

"What do I tell them you do, Dad?"

Of course, I understood her confusion. I'd been a minister in the church context for about 25 years. Now I was doing the Central Dallas thing. . .but, what exactly was that anyway?

I didn't hesitate in my reply: "Sweetheart, just tell them I'm a professional beggar!"

With that in mind, and in view of the Christmas holiday, take a look at this.

Merry Christmas! And, don't forget us in the New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Merton on humanity

I appreciate Troy Jackson's analysis of the importance of the thought of Thomas Merton, the spiritual leader who died 40 years ago this year.

What was it about 1968 and the loss of so many significant people?

Good focus for this Sunday:

I grew up an evangelical, so part of my spiritual DNA is to act first and pray later. I had few models of men and women in my church who practiced regular reflection, contemplation, and solitude. Fewer still took seriously the call to simplicity. Thankfully, over the past few decades, I have learned from and tried to emulate the spiritual depth found in Merton’s volumes of contemplative writings, and through the integrity of his life.

Merton’s words stand the test of time. He called a world filled with greed, violence, prejudice, and fear to pursue dialogue, silence, solitude, and prayer. He questioned the values and priorities of modernity, claiming modern

"mass man … lives not only below the level of grace, but below the level of nature—below his own humanity. No longer in contact with the created world or with himself, out of touch with reality of nature, he lives in the world of collective obsessions, the world of systems and fictions with which modern man has surrounded himself. In such a world, man’s life is no longer even a seasonal cycle. It’s a linear flight into nothingness, a flight from reality and from God, without purpose and without objective, except to keep moving, to keep from having to face reality. "

Continue reading here.

Your thoughts???

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why Do Good in a Hopeless World?

Lillian Kwon filed a story with the Christian Post Reporter on Tuesday, Nov. 25 2008 worth a look. "Why do good in a hopeless world?" is the question posed by biblical scholar N. T. Wright to students at Harvard University.


Mystery follows, but the emphasis is needed.

Check it out:

In a post-September 11 world where the AIDS crisis and now the credit crisis are ailing millions, "why should we try to make a difference at all?" asked Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright. "Why should we try to do good ... to create good things out there in the world when in fact all the hope that our society has lived on seems to be imploding all around us?"

Ultimately, it's the belief and hope that the world will be good and ordered as it was in the beginning.

"The point of creation in the Bible is that the world as we have it is essentially a good place," Wright said. "One of the worrying things about some creationists is that having said the world was created in [six] days, that's all they're really interested in, and then the name of the game is to leave the world behind ... and let it go to hell while we go off somewhere else called heaven. If you were a genuine creationist, you shouldn't be thinking like that. The point of the stories in Genesis is not the chronology of how it was done but the why that it was done."

Wright was speaking at a Nov. 18-20 evangelistic outreach at the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass. The event was sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a nationwide
evangelical campus organization, which aimed to engage students and faculty in dialogue on questions regarding life's ultimate purposes and Christianity's claims regarding hope.

Contrary to popular belief, heaven is not the end of the world or the ultimate goal, Wright stated. It's just phase one. Further down, there's a "new heaven and new earth" – in other words, a renewal or recreation of the cosmos, he explained. He called it a "world put to rights."

Read the entire report here.



Friday, December 12, 2008

10 Reasons to Support Central Dallas Ministries

Demand for our services is skyrocketing.

Here in Dallas we read this headline last Saturday in The Dallas Morning News: " 1 in 10 Texans faces loss of home."

We need steady partners--folks who will do all they can at year-end, but who will also be with us throughout the year.

Here are 10 reaons why you should conider joining our team!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gift idea full of goodness and hope!

I "lifted" this commerical message right off of Janet Morrison's weblog. Thought you might be interested in the unique opportunity!

Want something fun to give this Christmas?

Christmas is a time of giving to more than just those around you; Christmas is about helping others. However, this Christmas looks to be a little more challenging than most we've experienced. With limited funds, it will be difficult to provide gifts for family and friends, while also donating to your favorite non-profit organization.

But we have a solution!!

The 2nd-5th graders at the After-School Academy have been hard at work learning how to use Microsoft Publisher and creating pages for our First Annual CDM cookbook--Food for Thought!

The 8 1/2" x 11" cookbook is full of recipes from our Central Dallas Ministries' staff, volunteers, friends, family, and our community.

As an added benefit, you will also get some of the kids' very own recipes!
As I taught the technology class this semester, some of the kids insisted they wanted to type in the recipes. Week after week I tried to explain to them, "Just make the backgrounds! We will insert the recipes later!"

Finally, Melvin, seeming somewhat frustrated, explained to me, "I already know the recipe!!" He went on to explain how you, "open the box, pour the cake mix in, add other ingredients, stir, etc."

Probably just as frustrated as he was, I said, "Fine. Go ahead and write your recipe." (I should know by now that my ideas aren't always the best ones). As a result of Melvin's insistence, we now have cool recipes like:

"Brownies to Die For" To make the brownies with nuts, first you will need Cake Mix, 2 eggs, water, and oil. Now when you got that let's cook. Pour the cake mix, put 2 eggs, and nuts. Pour 1/2 cup of water. Now pour 3/4 cup of oil. Stir real good. Now get a pan but spray it with butter. Now pour mix in the pan. Put in oven. Take it out. Put the nuts in the cake. Now put the chocolate icing on it.

But that's not all!! (isn't that what they always say in the info-mercials? :)

The cookbook not only provides a variety of recipes, but shares the story of the CDM mission and the great programs that support our neighbors and friends in the community. The great thing for the kids who designed the cookbook is that...

All proceeds received from the sale of "Food For Thought" will go to support the After-School Academy in their efforts to provide technology classes, chess classes, art classes, interactive science, financial literacy, family game days, and so much more!!

Buy them for They are only $10 (please include an extra $2 if you would like them shipped to you). Hurry, though! Orders are due by THIS FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12!!

To place a quick order:

Go to

After filling out the first page, click "continue" to go to the second page.

You can either check one of the set amounts...or click on "Other" and tell what amount you are giving.

In the "designation" box, scroll down and choose, "Children's education and after-school programs."

In the comments section make sure to type in COOKBOOK (otherwise, we will have no idea you want a cookbook!) and...

Make note of whether you will pick up the cookbook(s) or whether you wish to have them mailed to you. If you wish to have it mailed, please include the address in the memo box.

The cookbooks will be ready December 19th-December 24th (noon) at 409 N. Haskell, Dallas, TX 75246, if you would like to pick them up yourself.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Poverty's physiology

Did you see the recent story in USAToday ("Study: Poverty dramatically affects children's brains," December 7, 2008) regarding poor children and the affects of poverty on brain functioning?

Clearly, the evidence is mounting that without specific and determined interventions, poverty and its associated realities remove any real opportunity for low-income children to compete on a "level playing field" when it comes to education. Poverty, especially the long term generational variety, positions poor children far behind middle class children by just about every measure. Challenging poverty directly and investing in efforts to overturn the negative affects of living in poverty for children must become a national priority.

Further, recogniton that many children of the poor learn differently and need the benefit of specific educational techniques and strategies will be necessary in overcoming learning disparities.

Here's part of the report:

A new study finds that certain brain functions of some low-income 9- and 10-year-olds pale in comparison with those of wealthy children and that the difference is almost equivalent to the damage from a stroke.

"It is a similar pattern to what's seen in patients with strokes that have led to lesions in their prefrontal cortex," which controls higher-order thinking and problem solving, says lead researcher Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. "It suggests that in these kids, prefrontal function is reduced or disrupted in some way."

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows how poverty afflicts children's brains. Researchers have long pointed to the ravages of malnutrition, stress, illiteracy and toxic environments in low-income children's lives. Research has shown that the neural systems of poor children develop differently from those of middle-class children, affecting language development and "executive function," or the ability to plan, remember details and pay attention in school.

Such deficiencies are reversible through intensive intervention such as focused lessons and games that encourage children to think out loud or use executive function.

"It's really important for neuroscientists to start to think about the effects of people's experiences on their brain function, and specifically about the effect of people's socioeconomic status," says Martha Farah, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the most studied: differences in language acquisition between low- and middle-income children. The most famous study, from 1995, transcribed conversation between parents and children and found that by age 3, middle-class children had working vocabularies roughly twice the size of poor children's.

Read more from the USA Today story.

We kid ourselves if we believe opportunity is equally distributed in this nation.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Speed Giving, the adaptive unconscious and "gut formation"

A popular consensus tells us that giving will be down in the non-profit sector during 2009, thanks to the economic woes of the nation and the rich. I wonder about that assumption, but we can hold off on the subject for another time.

Here's a question for today: How do people best decide where to place their donations? It seems a good, valid question given the heightened sense of both responsibility and scarcity at work today.

I am intrigued by a short piece from Fred Smith, Gathering President:

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of the purchase of a $10 million sixth century marble Greek statue by the Getty Museum. Having been subjected to a 14-month exhaustive analysis for authenticity by an electron microscope, electron microprobe, mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, and X-ray fluorescence, it was pronounced authentic, but not without some doubt.

Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was invited to look at the statue. What happened is the essence of "thinking without thinking" or what Gladwell terms the adaptive unconscious.

Hoving looked at the statue and within two seconds pronounced it a fake.

Another curator repeated the same experience in Greece. More importantly, they were right.

"In the first two seconds of looking - in a single glance - they were able to understand more about the essence of the statue than the team at the Getty was able to understand after fourteen months." Their brains had reached a correct conclusion without immediately telling them how it reached that conclusion. Both men had tapped into the adaptive unconscious.

There are givers who share the same uncanny ability. This is not to be confused with emotional giving, impulsive giving or irrational giving. It is simply judgment located in a part of the brain not accessible to most. It is the innate ability to discern with great speed and reach conclusions that might take others months or years. I have seen very few individuals in my life who have it, but I would put their results up against any other system for giving. In a time when the emphasis is on "strategic giving" with all the systems for analysis that go with it, let's not discount those who have been gifted with this rare ability to see clearly, quickly and with remarkable results.

Fred is a guy I've known and respected for many more years than either of us would want to admit, I expect! And, once again, he and Gladwell are on the money.

I have no scientific research to back it up, but what he describes here, I call the "gut factor."

Some of the most effective donors, in terms of outcomes achieved, come out of their gut with their decisions to give. I have seen the phenomenon here at Central Dallas Ministries many times over the years.

These special donors have advanced our cause and our work more than any others.

It is as if we share in an unusual, but common experience of gut formation!

We know instinctively what works and what doesn't.

These donors pick up on it and fund our dreams and plans.

Partnerships like this are really hard to beat.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dallas Observer on design charrette. . .

Dallas Observer reporter, Robert Wilonsky had some interesting thing to say about the design charrette on Friday at City Hall.

Check it out here.

Well, at least it was provocative! Reactions?


Spreading health and hope, one block at a time

What if we took a city block right in the middle of Downtown and created a plan for sustainable development that served the needs of those who lived there, but also modeled how communities ought to be developed going forward?

What if we made decisions that ensured that the block would be environmentally sustainable, safe, "green" and renewable from a holistic perspective?

What if the 500 units of housing we built included 40% affordable so that persons from every socio-economic status could live and work together?

What if the block included innovative work-live space and attractive, inviting retail options?

What if the block connected creatively and powerfully to high-quality public education for its children?

What if the block was safe and vibrant and extremely pedestrian?

What if the block included gardening opportunities that produced fresh produce? What if the block motivated a new pathway to the Dallas Farmers Market?

What if this block connected an important part of our Downtown sector to the wonderful Cedars neighborhood just across I-30?

What if from this block new ideas, new opportunities, new friendships and new strategies emerged that might contribute to the development of a new urban life in Dallas for all of its people?
What if the designed needs of the block required and provided "green jobs"? What if the very development of the block advanced the cause of re-tooling or enhancing employment skills for the poor and the under-employed in the field of green technologies?

All day last Friday, I was privileged to participate in an amazing design charrette organized by Brent Brown, bcWorkshop, and our own John Greenan, Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, and facilitated by Urban Re:Vision, our new partners who specialize in rethinking sustainable urban development. Included in the crowd were city planners, architects, community folks, real estate developers, environmental leaders, new urban community designers, public policy people, politicians and educators.

Our focus for the day: a city block just behind City Hall here in Dallas.

Mayor Tom Leppert got our day started. Watch his welcome here.

Next steps include an exciting international architectural competition to see what design firm can come up with the best approach to actually redeveloping the ground! There is growing interest in the project and its prospects for urban redesign in our city.
I'll keep you posted on our progress.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Rich and Poor

So, what happens when mega-rich folks go "undercover" among the nation's poor?

Take a look at the FOX network program, Secret Millionaire and tell me what you think.

Does the FOX program represent a real, scalable solution? Or, is this just another "reality show" with some specialized entertainment value teased out at the expense of the poor?
What are other options when it comes to driving forward sustainable solutions to the challenges of poverty?

[CDM note: For years now we've put youth groups and their adult sponsors through what we call "Urban Experience" to provide them an educational experience about poverty's reality in an urban setting.]

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Texas Values

Wick Allison, conservative journalist and Editor in Chief of DMagazine here in Dallas, has an interesting comment on his blog relative to the multi-billion dollar budget surplus that Texas enjoys these days. . .especially in view of the horrid living conditions facing our state's most vulnerable citizens.

Makes you think. What are "Texas values" these days?


Friday, December 05, 2008

Just "deportees"?

So, I'm wondering today where comprehensive immigration reform falls out on president-elect Obama's legislative agenda? No doubt, the current economic crisis will affect priorities. But then, the subject managing immigrant labor surely will play some role in any future economic recovery, at least I would think it should.

Frankly, I'm back to our neighborhood, to our children, those born of undocumented immigrants, and to their future in this country.

I'm thinking of the hard-working men and women, enticed to journey here by the promise of a better life and a good job. People I see every day.

I'm thinking of my faith and how that relates to a just labor policy for immigrants, especially those relatively low-skilled immigrants who keep a city like Dallas moving.

I'm thinking of how we've exploited their presence, their willingness to work hard for very low wages to build our community.

I'm thinking we need a fair policy that considers no one a "throw away" person.

I'm thinking of Monica today and others like her who need to see the DREAM Act passed through Congress now [for background here, simply type in "Monica" in the blog search box above to read more of her story--there is quite a lot to read about her and others like her and her family!].

So, where is the comprehensive reform package? Where do we stand on that matter?

There ought to be an equitable process that allows Mexican and other Latin American immigrants to assume documented, guest worker status in any number of industries running short on labor.

There ought to be a way to ensure that a fair wage is paid for an honest day's labor.

There ought to be a way to protect the children and the families of those who labor among us. People should not be made to live in fear.

At the same time, our nation should work with governments south of our border to improve their economies, to promote justice in those economies and to create new connections that pay off for us all who call this hemisphere home.

The whole matter brings me back to Woody Guthrie. I suppose I shouldn't have watched the old movie about him recently!

In his song, Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), Guthrie sings about the hard life of immigrant workers. He sings about the high, human cost of labor, labor that we have a history of under valuing and de-personalizing, as we find ways to write off the people who provide it before we send them away.

The song protests the inhumane treatment of passengers who died aboard a planed that crashed near Los Gatos Canyon on January 29, 1948. Twenty-eight migrant farm workers being deported to Mexico perished in the crash along with four U. S. citizens. Guthrie wrote the song out of respect for the Mexican victims who were never identified in news reports, but referred to only as "deportees." Of course, U. S. citizens who died were named.

Guthrie's song provides names for the migrant workers.

The Mexican victims of the accident were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. Of the 27 men and one woman, only 12 were ever identified. The grave site measured 84 feet by 7 feet, allowing for two rows of caskets.

Now for Woody's song:

Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

[Words by Woody Guthrie and Music by Martin Hoffman© 1961 (renewed) by TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc.]

Listen to Arlo Guthrie, Woody's son, and Emmy Lou Harris perform this moving tribute to those who were lost in the tragic flight.

So much work to be done for the sake of those who simply want to work for a better life.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Poverty and Justice Bible

The British and Foreign Bible Society are out with what they bill as "The Poverty and Justice Bible."

Using the Contemporary English Version, the editors of this special volume include a mid-section commentary on poverty and justice and their place in the text of scripture, both Hebrew and Christian. However, the stunning feature of this edition is that every passage dealing with poverty and justice is marked in bright, what should be called "inescapable orange!"

Care to guess how many verses come up orange?

Over 2,100!

Here's an excerpt from the "First Word" introduction positioned in the middle of the volume:

Not long ago, a Christian leader bumped into the inventor of one of those popular courses that introduce people to the Christan faith. They had literally collided while cycling by the beach!

"So what's your course about, then?" asked the Christian leader.

"Oh, its about the basics of the Christian faith, that's what it's about," came the reply.

"So you mean things like care for the poor, the sick, those infected with HIV/AIDS and the rejected of our world? Those kinds of things?"

"No, no," came the reply. "Not those, just the basics."

But how can the issues of poverty and justice be left out of "the basics" if they are so deeply enshrined in the Bible's pages? It's a question you might like to discuss with your friends or church. And turning the pages of The Poverty and Justice Bible will help you find the answer.

Why not order you a copy or several to share with others today? Visit the link to the right and below to benefit Central Dallas Ministries.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I Ain't Got No Home

The connection between faith and spirituality and the real world of work and justice is a hard one to negotiate for lots of Christian people. While there have always been voices of dissent to the contrary, the tendency among many evangelicals is to keep these two worlds completely separate.

For these folks faith is almost entirely concerned with issues and questions related to the next life or to the finer points of polity and practice inside religious institutions. Little if any attention is given to facing the harsh realities of this life, at least not as a central article of faith.

As a child, I remember singing the Albert E. Brumley song This World Is Not My Home. The upbeat lyrics were matched by the rousing melody when sung in four-part harmony, as was our custom.

Can't you just hear it?

This world is not my home, I'm just passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

O Lord you know I have no friend like you
If Heaven's not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

You can actually hear the entire hymn right here.

But, you know, there is another version of the song and another way to sing it.

Woody Guthrie's , I Ain't Got No Home, attempts to bring the two worlds together, making a connection that both lifts the soul and matters substantively in the here and now. The melody is much the same, a bit more subdued with a few new twists, but the lyrics refuse to ignore the present, its unfairness and its resultant pain:

I ain't got no home, I'm just a-roamin' 'round,
Just a wandrin' worker, I go from town to town.
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road,
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Was a-farmin' on the shares, and always I was poor;
My crops I lay into the banker's store.
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Now as I look around, it's mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin' man is rich an' the workin' man is poor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Listen to Guthrie's recording with graphics here or in a bit clearer rendition here.

Bringing the truth of faith to the hard, cold facts of work, opportunity and equity--or the absence thereof!--turns out to be a rather daunting task.

Clearly, the task is worth the struggle, a struggle that becomes much less difficult when faith engages to connect the day-to-day decisions of this world with all of the prospects of the next.

Woody got it right.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Homeless and lost

Can you imagine being in the situtation described below?

How does this happen to a person?

How does community break down so terribly around us?

A thousand "little" decisions, good and bad, when strung together can result in the loss of a life.

What might have happened had we been able to provide this man a home? How might his story have been different?

What opportunity to change a life, make a difference will I encounter, but miss, today?

God have mercy on us. God help us to do better as we count our many blessings.

"I received a notice that a homeless veteran by the name of J. L. Sharpe, born January 27, 1957 was struck and killed in an accident while walking along Stemmons Freeway October 17, 2008. Mr. Sharpe spent a short time in the Army in the 1970’s. He was wearing a plastic black watch on his arm and a blue lighter in his pocket, but there appears to be no information regarding where he was born, what he did for a living, or even what J.L. stands for.

"He will be buried Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery at 10:30 am in Lane A.

"Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran Burial Program has made all arrangements. Does anyone have any information regarding this person?"

Ron Cowart
City of Dallas, Crisis Intervention Division


Monday, December 01, 2008

Beauty close at hand. . .

About this time last year, Brenda and I made a trip to Wells River, Vermont. We spent a week in the carriage house retreat of our dear friends, James and Marla Walters. It was a fabulous, unforgettable time.

We took advantage of the scale of New England and drove everywhere.

This morning I walked out my front door and was assaulted by the beauty of the Red Oak trees that greet me every morning in my front yard.



Message here!

As beautiful and as unique as our trip to New England turned out to be, beauty is everywhere. More important, beauty resides wherever you are and wherever you have the will and the discipline to see it.

These images were captured in inner city East Dallas, not a likely listing on any travel guide for fall foliage! But the beauty is here nonetheless.

It is the same with communities and with people.

We have all the beauty, inspiration and power we need to make things new right where we are today!

This is the essence of community development.

Here is the challenge.

Open my eyes.

Take in the resources and the beauty.

Act accordingly with the physical environment and with all of the people who live and "play" here.

I love the Red Oaks!

I love this neighborhood!

Vermont is amazing.

But, then, so is my front yard.