It happened first on the street in New Orleans almost thirty years ago. My now, how time gets away!
The man approached me and said, "I'm not going to lie to you. I need a drink."
Taken back by his total honesty, I congratulated him for his truthfulness and stepped off the street into a bar and bought him a beer. And yes, I was a preacher at the time.
I've always been partial to people who tell me the truth about themselves, no matter where that takes us. So, across the years I've invested time and money in relieving the thirst of more than a few folks who honestly just needed a drink.
Too bad I hadn't discovered earlier the wisdom of Proverbs on this subject. Not that I share this tendency of mine with everyone, at least not until now. But, the wisdom of ancient Israel does help me just here.
When you have time, take a look at Proverbs 31:4-9.
What you'll find is guidance on who should drink and who shouldn't.
To cut to the conclusion: political leaders should avoid alcohol, but the poor should be given a drink from time to time to relieve their misery and help them forget their poverty. I promise that is what the passage says.
You see, rulers, the politicos need clear heads just to remember all the laws they have passed. If they drink, they may forget the good public policy they've crafted while sober. The results of such stupor would not be good for the oppressed and the poor (see verse 5 especially).
The clear implication is that leaders enact laws that protect the weak.
Now there is a novel idea!
In Texas and in Washington far too often our leaders approve legislation designed to crush the poor, or so it seems out here in reality land. Only after passing laws that do nothing to assist the poor and needy do they hit the pubs. Maybe they reverse the order so they won't have to think about what they've actually done!
The poor, on the other hand, should be given "strong drink" (verse 6). This counsel assumes that a drink helps when you are perishing or in distress. If you need insight for interpreting "perishing" or "distress," drive downtown and look around.
Evidently the Jewish wise man who wrote this understood that beer and wine help poor folks forget their poverty and their misery (verse 7).
I guess that's why lots of crushed people with no real options feel the need for a drink. I don't think I'm being unkind when I observe that many religious people don't understand very well the world of the poor.
The wise man of Proverbs wraps up his homily on strong drink with clear, direct words about the work of leaders and, I would assume, people of faith who know the heart of God:
"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy" (31:8-9).
At the risk of really being written off, let me add, I'll drink to that! [Editor's note: this post first appeared on June 1, 2005.]
Our brokenness reveals something about who we are. Our sufferings
and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather, they
touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality. The way I am
broken tells you something unique about me. The way you are broken tells me
something unique about you. That is the reason for my feeling very privileged
when you freely share some of your deep pain with me, and that is why it is an
expression of my trust in you when I disclose to you something of my vulnerable
side. Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal,
intimate and unique.
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the corner on "the porch" and I had a good visit with my homeless friend, Buck.
He asked me what we did at CitySquare and I tried to answer him.
As we talked, I threw out the offer, "Buck, I need to take you on a tour of CitySquare so you could see firsthand what we do!"
Last week, Buck reminded me of my offer.
"When are we going to do that tour, Larry?" he asked.
I pulled out my calendar.
"How about next Wednesday at 11:30?" I offered.
"I'll be here," he said. And, as he was leaving about an hour later, he reminded me of the tour date.
So, on Wednesday at 11:30, I show up. Ironically, I left the offices of one of the wealthiest men in Dallas to connect with Buck, one of the poorest.
No telling what happened to delay or block him. I'm sure I'll find out when I see him next. I pray he is okay.
As I waited on him to show up, another gentleman who I know approached me. In 5 minutes he poured out his heart.
"I need you to know that I'm working hard to get my heart right to get away from this corner," he explained.
"I'm working at my church to get my soul strong so I can pull away from all of this," he went on.
We talked for a good while. I offered him the housing resources of CitySquare and we made plans for him to come by our offices Downtown to get his name on the "waiting list" to get into an apartment. I really believe he will follow through. He is such a good man.
And, he understands respect and community and the role of faith in life.
I know I'll see Buck again. We will have our tour.
But, the visit I had with my other friend was a visit that was supposed to happen.
Already a group of Dallas folks are hard at work on a bid for the 2024 Olympics! If developed properly with determined sensitivity to existing communities, a winning bid could be leveraged to renew areas of Dallas like South Dallas-Fair Park.
What do you think?
Note: listen for a big Dallas mention toward the end
Master storyteller Willie Nelson revisits his past in the video for "A Horse Called Music," a hat tip to his 1989 album A Horse Called Music and a reimagining of its title track.
In the clip, Nelson strides through the countryside, finds the chapel where he was married, rides through the small town center and watches an old film. This version of Wayne Carson's song is warmer than Nelson's original cover, meandering peacefully in place of the earlier version's emotional strain.
Merle Haggard and Willie's son, Lukas, also join in on the track. "A Horse Called Music" is from Nelson's album Heroes, which was released in May. Read more.
Last week's edition of the Dallas Business Journal published a front page article explaining why Dallas area hospital leaders disagree with Texas Governor Rick Perry's opposition to expanding Medicaid care with increased federal funding. Here's what they had to say:
say Medicaid expansion is critical
by Bill Hethcock, Staff Writer and Matt
Joyce, Staff Writer
Date: Friday, August 3, 2012,
5:00am CDT - Last Modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012, 1:16pm CDT
Perry’s rejection of Medicaid
expansion in Texas will shift costs to the privately
insured, increase uncompensated care expenses and raise mortality rates, all
while more uninsured patients crowd North Texas emergency rooms.
That’s the consensus
of hospital industry leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area about the
impact of Perry’s decision to spurn $70 billion from the federal
government to expand Medicaid in a way that would make more Texans
eligible for the program.
Last Thursday turned out to be the hottest day of the summer. The thermometer hit 108 at some point in the afternoon.
As usual, I made my way to "the porch" of the abandoned house where I hang out every Thursday that I'm in town. I carried with me an ice chest of bottled water. I sat down to wait for people to pass by. One indicator of the heat's impact: I passed along about 100 bottles of water during the two to two-and-a-half hours of my visit.
Activity and interaction remained almost constant as I sat there or stood to greet friends and new people.
One young man talked incessantly about everything and nothing. I really couldn't understand his "speech," but he clearly felt the need to be heard. I understand that, don't you?
His mood swung wildly during the hour or so that he stayed with us. At times he sounded very angry, almost frightening. Then he would lapse into laughter and sweetness. My buddy, Art, tried to interpret the speech for me.
"He's a real good country boy, Larry," Art shared. "He just doesn't feel like anyone is paying attention to him."
A large part of the man's "speech" had to do with his needing and wanting a job, a common theme of the conversations I have weekly.
At one point, I sat down beside him to listen more closely.
"How long are you guys going to be here," he asked at one point.
We told him we would be moving along fairly soon.
"I know you are a preacher, but I was hoping someone could watch my things while I walked to that liquor store!" he confessed with a broad smile and a big laugh.
"What makes you think I'm a preacher?" I asked, amazed myself.
"Cause you are doing right out here," he replied.
I told him not to be too sure about my "rightness." I didn't watch his stuff, nor did I take him to the liquor store. I did tell him that I'd see him again, and I expect that I will.
At one point in my visit another man asked, "Are you a Christian?"
"I try to be," I replied.
"It's not about what you do," he instructed me. "It's about what's inside you."
I agreed with him.
"I knew you were a believer. You have no fear. You're fearless," he told me.
"Fearless? You mean out here?" I asked.
"Yes, you're fearless, you don't fear anything external," he explained.
"What's to be afraid of," I asked. "Just good people here," I continued.
The man shook his head.
Great learning here.
One, everyone wants to be heard, to have their story known, appreciated, respected and not ignored.
Two, no one wants to be regarded as someone to be feared.
Barriers are all about not understanding, about insecurity and about fear. Most based in lies, almost all unnecessary.
I saw so much care-taking, so much community out on that corner, all around "the porch" last Thursday.
Before I left I told Art, "You have real community here. All you lack are places to live."
"You're right," he said enthusiastically.
As I was leaving, a man who had been sitting there the entire time asked for another bottle of water. I gladly gave it to him, my last bottle.
Just as I turned to leave another man ran up the sidewalk toward me.
"Hey, brother, can I have a bottle of water?" he shouted.
"I'm fresh out," I explained. "You can get you some ice from my chest," I told him.
The man who had received my last bottle spoke up,"No, here you go, brother. You can have this one, I've already had some," he said as he handed the water over.
Community lives on that corner and on that porch.
Now all we need are more housing resources. Remember: shelters are not housing.
Grant Wells and I have known each other for almost 18 years.
Grant was among the first community volunteers who helped see that low-income families received the supplemental food they needed as they worked hard to keep their families going. Grant unloaded trucks, stocked shelves, cleaned the floors and did whatever else that we asked of him.
Grant is a very good guy.
But a series of problems and issues fell on this man's life, resulting in deepening poverty and debilitating homelessness.
For years we've attempted to help him find stable housing. No need to rehearse the whole story here.
Last week the world changed for Grant!
He signed a lease on an apartment, a home of his own.
Jesus once claimed that he had come to "preach good news to the poor." I can tell you the news conveyed to Grant that he now has a home surely satisfies the call of that claim. What news could be better to a man who has slept on the streets of Dallas for years?
I had to share a few photos of my buddy. Special thanks to Jonathan Grace, one of CitySquare's great AmeriCorps members and to our Homeless Outreach Team for doing such good work in partnership with Grant.
As many leaders from the faith community have stated recently, budgets are moral documents. How we decide to spend and plan to spend resources impacts people in various ways both good and bad.
It appears we stand at a crossroads moment of decision. Will we appropriate the resources necessary to promote opportunity, education, progress and fairness? Or, will we slash, cut and destroy program after program that moves us forward as a nation and a society?
Budgets reflect choices.
Budgets affect people .
Budgets spotlight what we value.
Budget discussions now underway in Washington and in Austin will have clear outcomes in the inner city communities/neighborhoods of Dallas, Texas. The decisions made over the next year will set the course for entire segments of our population in this city. For this reason, I'm compelled to talk about the current budget battle.
Congressman Raul Ryan (R-WI) put forward a budget that, if adopted, will wipe out much needed resources for Texas and for Dallas. In fact, the Ryan budget proposes cuts to the federal budget three times larger than the automatic cuts already set for January 2013!
Our poorest neighbors will suffer most. Our children will suffer. In fact, we will all be affected in a negative way.
Reducing Federal Deficits Without a Significant Revenue Increase Would Cost Texas Billions
If significant new revenue isn’t included, efforts to reduce federal deficits would almost certainly damage Texas’ economic recovery and future economic growth by drastically cutting federal investments in schools, roads and bridges, safe communities, and disaster relief. The House-passed budget from Congressman Paul Ryan is an example of the kind of approach Congress would take if it rejects deficit reduction that includes revenues. Under Ryan’s plan, Texas would lose an estimated 22 percent or $2 billion in federal funding for education, clean water, law enforcement, and other state and local services in 2014 alone.
According to a report released yesterday by theCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan policy research organization based in Washington, D.C., Ryan’s plan also would shift other very large costs to states by reducing sharply federal funding for Medicaid (in addition to repealing the health reform law), and likely by cutting deeply funding for highway construction and other transportation projects. Deficit-reduction shouldn’t come at the expense of Texas’ economic future. If Congress doesn’t take a balanced approach that includes revenues as well as spending cuts it will damage our ability to educate our children, build roads and bridges, and have clean water and safe communities – all key elements of a strong future economy.
Federal funding for states, counties, and cities very likely would be decimated by an unbalanced approach to deficit reduction in the next decade. That’s because there’s broad bipartisan agreement that significant deficit reduction is needed, but federal policy makers also agree in broad terms that deficit-reduction savings from other major parts of the budget – defense, Medicare and Social Security – should be limited during that period. Federal funding for states and local areas would thus be one of the few remaining sources of large potential savings.
These cuts likely would bring federal aid to state and local governments to historic lows. By 2021, under the Ryan budget, federal grant programs for states, counties, and cities likely would be less than half the average of the last 35 years.
These cuts would add to deep cuts Congress already made to state and local aid last year and deep cuts that Texas made in 2011 to education and other state services vital to economic growth. The $5.3 billion cut in state aid for pre-K-12 public schools has already reduced local school district staffing by more than 25,000 jobs, with more cuts expected for the 2012-13 school year. State budget cuts to Medicaid provider rates have endangered health access for low-income Texans, with only 31 percent of Texas physicians now willing to accept all new Medicaid patients, down from 67 percent in 2000.
This is important analysis.
Budgets affect people.
Severe budget cuts affect the poorest, weakest, most vulnerable people most severely.
Take the time to read the full report from the Center on Budget and Policy Prioritieshere.
Our challenge today is not only economic, it's moral and extremely human as well.
If we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us, so it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of persons we are. And it is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanity, is to sacrifice ourselves for something higher--that which we believe in and love deeply.
Kathy Bennett, our social work director at Community Health Services here at CtiySquare sent me the following information about a novella (soap opera) that our team produced with the help of our AmeriCorps team and an ExxonMobil intern. I think you'll find this creative piece most encouraging. We'll let you know when the finished product is set to air--complete with sub-titles!
We are using our ExxonMobil intern to direct this educational film in Spanish in the form of a Spanish novella (Soap opera.) We think this format is more interesting and appealing to the people we serve.
The completed video will have subtitles in English. I am happy with the response of our clinic family in all the help the patients and staff have given for this to be a success. Almost everyone in the video is a patient and everyone associated with it except for the interns are volunteers. We have a long list for the credits of people to thank. I would love to hear what you think of the trailer. Of course we are all hoping the video is as good as the trailer.
Larry's new book, now available from Amazon.com! Also, now in Kindle format! To place your order visit Amazon.com today! Also, available at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on the web. Click on the image above to order!
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
Today and throughout 2013, we need your support to continue our life-changing work in inner-city Dallas. Every day hundreds of our wonderful neighbors arrive at our doors seeking our assistance, offering their help and prepared to pursue a better life. Frankly, the folks we "serve" make essential contributions to the scope, nature and soul of the work we attempt. At CitySquare we honor and recognize the amazing value and richness of our low-income neighbors. During 2012, almost 55,000 different people received the benefit of our wide-ranging services designed to assist in the process of building better lives. We need your help TODAY as we continue to respond to the needs of our community. Even more, we need you to become our PARTNER in the work of compassion and community renewal--work that continues day after day at CitySquare.