Friday, June 30, 2006

Understanding My Immigrant Neighbors

As the national debate regarding immigration reform continues, I find the essay in the July 2006 edition of Texas Monthly by Immigrant X as told to John Spong, "My Life As An Illegal," extremely insightful.

In the past few weeks I have noticed that discussion of issues related to the nation's "war on terror" seem to be washing over into the debate about immigration reform.

I can see how securing the borders is an important objective as we consider enemies who seek to harm us. But the 11-12 million undocumented residents of the United States, mostly from Mexico and other points south of our border, present no such national security threat. Most have been in the states for years, some decades. The vast majority make positive contributions to their communities every day.

The story told by Immigrant X provides a helpful, very human, day-by-day glimpse into the world, dreams and motivations of hard working Mexican nationals.

As I read his story, several things stood out for me.

1) Immigrants from Mexico are in the U. S. in large part because of the ease with which the system made accommodations allowing millions to come and to stay. Regardless of what immigration law says, the way the system has been working encouraged the influx.

2) Immigrant X pays taxes. He uses a fake Social Security number and a Taxpayer Identification Number assigned him by the IRS that is legitimate. He is very careful to pay all that he owes.

3) Immigrant X is in the U. S. seeking exactly what all of us want for our families.

4) Immigrant X's goal is citizenship, even if he has to wait for years to receive it.

5) Immigrant X is constant in his focus on "doing everything right" (a phrase he used over and over again) as a resident of this country.

Pick up a copy of Texas Monthly or visit the on-line site at No matter what you think about the current debate, the article will give you a very human and intimate perspective on the issue.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Creating Destructive Myths About the Poor

Across the years I guess I've just about heard them all.

Folks who have little or no first hand knowledge about poverty or the people it crushes find it easy to make decisions and render judgments against the poor.

As a rule, we would do well to resist such self-justifying conclusions.
The scoundrel’s methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just.
But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.
Isaiah 32:7-8

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

God Indicts a Nation That Crushes the Poor

A message seldom heard in places of worship these days. . .a value message, lost and in need, badly in need of recovery. . .

The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.

The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people:

“It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses.

What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.

Isaiah 3:13-15

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More Wisdom Regarding the Poor

No comment required. . .

A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.
Proverbs 22:9
He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty.
Proverbs 22:16
A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
Proverbs 28:3
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.
Proverbs 28:27
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
Proverbs 29:7
If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure.
Proverbs 29:14

Monday, June 26, 2006

Poor People and God

A sample of proverbial, Hebrew wisdom about God and the poor. . .

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.
Proverbs 14:31
He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.
Proverbs 19:17
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21:13

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Passing laws and setting traps

At times, the poor despair under the weight of a social system that leaves them out, behind and forgotten. Political freedom offers our nation the opportunity to do better by those who are weak among us.

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.
Isaiah 10:1-3

"Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?” declares the LORD. “Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?"
Jeremiah 5:26-29

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Courts and the Poor

Watching poor folks deal with the courts can be extremely disheartening. Be sure though, God watches as well.

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.
Exodus 23:6
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.
Le. 19:15
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.
Proverbs 22:22-23

Friday, June 23, 2006


Discrimination takes many forms. Some are more common than others, especially in a consumer dominated culture such as ours.
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-4

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Getting God's Attention. . .

A simple form of worship offered up by a religious outsider who understood the heart of God and the central concerns of God. . .
One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision.
He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius stared at him in fear.
“What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.
Acts 10:3-4

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Aren't the prerequisites for perfection, as Jesus sees that quest, interesting?

Dare we actually consider such counsel?


Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mt. 19:21

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dinner Parties

Summertime reflections. . .the words of Jesus remain unforgettable, but so often ignored. Ironic, don't you think?
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Lk. 14:12-14

Monday, June 19, 2006

Real Wealth

More wisdom from Jesus. . .shaping the core of our souls. . .directing the steps of our journey.


“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys."
Lk. 12:32-33

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Inside Connections. . .Lifestyle Beyond Religion

The next two weeks takes me out of the office and away from Dallas.

While I am away, most of my posts will be short. Most, if not all, will simply be quotations from the Bible. So much of what is there, and very close to the heart of ultimate matters, deal directly with wealth, the poor and social/economic justice.

I'll be thinking about these ideas while I am away. Hope you'll join me.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish [Or what you have] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you."
Lk. 11:39-41 NIV

But the Master said to him, "I know you Pharisees burnish the surface of your cups and plates so they sparkle in the sun, but I also know your insides are maggoty with greed and secret evil. Stupid Pharisees! Didn't the One who made the outside also make the inside? Turn both your pockets and your hearts inside out and give generously to the poor; then your lives will be clean, not just your dishes and your hands."
Lk. 11:39-41 The Message

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Baseball and "Going Home"

I'm an incurable fan and advocate when it comes to baseball.

I gave it up when I was a freshman in high school to play football.


I can remember Little League, more accurately Boys Baseball, Inc., as if it were yesterday.

And, endless games of "home run derby" in the vacant lot beside our house in Richardson, Texas where I grew up.

Trust me here: I best not get started going on about baseball back then, or now for that matter!

A personal, semi-irrational goal is to visit as many major league parks as I can.

Today we set off to Seattle.

While there we'll go to Safeco Field and take in a Mariners' game against the San Francisco Giants.

Who knows? Maybe Barry will hit a homer into my lap! Don't you hate steroids?

A highlight of the trip will be a drive over to Spokane where I was born.

My parents moved from Spokane back to Texas when I was three-years-old. I haven't been back since we left in 1953.

On Wednesday evening we'll watch the Spokane Indians battle the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Indians' openning home series.

Spokane is a member of the Texas Rangers organization. That makes it even more fun. I am hoping we get to see the Rangers' 2006 first round draft pick, Kasey Kiker pitch. The Rangers sent him to Spokane in his first steps toward the big leagues.

I can't wait.

Friday, June 16, 2006

People Mystery

My experiences in the city have taught me to never discount, dismiss, discard or diminish the possibilities bound up in people--ordinary people, "troubled" people, strange people, different people, unusual people, gifted people--you just can't afford to make assumptions about people based on the details of how they process life!

The surest way to take the wrong turn, to waste your time or to fail miserably in the inner city is to make assumptions about anyone you meet. You just cannot come to the city "knowing" stuff. You must wait, observe, accept and expect.

I love the two quotes below. I found them in the latest on-line edition of Heron Dance. (check it out at and subscribe at

I SAW MIKE [Seeger] play without the Ramblers. He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for -- the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, and the guitar; even harmonica in the rack. Mike was skin-stinging. He was tense, poker-faced and radiated telepathy, wore a snowy white shirt and silver sleeve bands. Being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It's not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them. I was so absorbed in listening to him that I wasn't even aware of myself. What I had to work at, Mike already had in his genes, in his genetic makeup. Before he was even born, this music had to be in his blood. Nobody could just learn this stuff, and it dawned on me that I might have to change my inner thought patterns that I would have to start believing possibilities that I wouldn't have allowed before, that I had been closing creativity down to a very narrow, controllable scale that things had become too familiar and I might have to disorient myself.

Bob Dylan, from Chronicles

HEGEL SAID "BEHIND the facade of the familiar, strange things await us. Familiarity enables us to tame, control and ultimately forget the mystery.

John O'Donohue, from Anam Cara

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Observations on the way to an NBA Championship

Last Monday morning The Dallas Morning News' SportsDay section had a front page, giant font headline reading, "Stacked Deck" following the Dallas Mavericks' big Game 2 victory over the struggling Miami Heat, thanks in large measure to the lights-out shooting and overall play of Jerry Stackhouse.

Stackhouse scored 19 points for the night, but poured in 10 right before halftime.

Under the headline the paper published a great photo of Stackhouse on the floor watching his buzzer-beating 3-point shot from the corner swish through the hoop to send the Mavs into the break with a 50-34 lead. It was a thrilling moment as you can tell from the fans pictured in the courtside stands in the background.

I looked at the photo over my Cheerios.

The photo captured a lot really, including my imagination. Great journalism with a camera.

I studied the photo off and on all day long.

I count 45 faces in this section of the crowd. All are white faces. I did see one African American head in the stands, but the gentleman appears to be walking through the area.

Mavericks games, especially close to the court, are primarily Anglo affairs, except for on the court of course.

I did a little research on ticket prices to the hottest event in town.

Up near the top section of the photo the face value of seats for this game were $380 each.

I have a friend who sold his four seats to Games 1 and 2 for $2,500 each. Face value for entrance to the series before with the Phoenix Suns was a bit cheaper, but not much.

The seats nearer the floor--like the first three rows--are even more expensive and thus, bring even more on the open market.

I searched the websites of some ticket services and found out that if the series returns to Dallas for a Game 6, these tickets will sell for between $5,000 and $7,000 each. No telling what a Game 7 would bring!

Doing a little math, I came up with the following:

At face value the 45 people in the photo would have paid something like $20,250 to sit in the seats pictured.

Of course, who knows what these folks actually had to pay for their seats. At my buddy's rate and assuming everyone bought tickets from a service, the cost for seating in the section would be around $112,500 for the evening for 45 people!

Scott Farwell, a reporter with the Dallas Morning News called me after this game. Ironic, huh?

He is working on a story about the Mavs, poverty in Dallas, the gap between rich and poor, black and white and the attitude of young, poor kids toward sports as the "way out" of the troubles of poverty and life in the 'Hood. The reporter wants to know what to make of the games we are seeing from a broader perspective.

Interesting question.

I have a hunch people won't like his story or his questions.

It's just easier to watch the games.

[Note: You will find Scott Farwell's article, written with Paul Meyer, "Across city's divide, fans unite to cheer Mavs," on the front page of today's Dallas Morning News.]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Falling In Love with My Obligations

Not everything we face in life is pleasant, easy or necessarily agreeable.

I suppose we always have choices as we work our way through life. But, I've noticed as I grow older, my values increasingly impinge on my personal options.

It seems to me that when we eventually reach the place in life where we actually fall in love with our obligations, personal breakthroughs of all kinds follow in rather surprising ways.

On occasion people have judged me a bit too intense for their liking.

I can understand that. Heck, I'm too intense for my own liking most of the time!

So, I accept the judgment as largely correct in many instances.

I feel little urge to defend myself these days.

I can say that much of what I say and write, what I express, helps me to stay on course in my own personal struggle with the issues that overwhelm people trapped in poverty. At the same time, I am assisted immeasurably by the very same people with whom I try to stand.

But there is peace in simply accepting one's calling.

Contrary to much we encounter in popular culture, being bound and obligated is not a bad thing at all.

I am learning that much of life's joy is discovered in the battle, in the commitment to pursue one's clear duty; simply to show up and to keep walking.

[The water colors are from Heron]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Summer 2006: Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition Heading Toward 100 Sites!

For an update on Central Dallas Ministries' Nuture, Knowledge and Nutrition (NKN) effort take a look at the article and the editorial that appeared recently in The Dallas Morning News:

Download the article here as a PDF, or you can view the article on here.

You can also
view the editorial here.

NKN is a partnership with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services that provides free lunches and snacks for low-income children in our area. These children all qualify for the free and reduced meal program during the school year.

NKN teams with local community organizaitons, churches, recreation centers and others to provide the nutrious meals. Half-Priced Books provides thousands of children's books to be used by the summer programs with whom we team. The books eventually end up in the homes of the children who participate.

Before the summer is over we expect to be working at well over 100 sites across the Metroplex. We estimate that we will serve over 200,000 meals to around 6,000 children over the next 10 weeks.

NKN also provides healthy afternoon snacks to over 20 (and the number is growing!) after-school programs during the school year.

Anyone interested in being involved should contact our program director, Sonia White at or at 214-823-8710 ext. 134 or 135.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Unbelievable Growth in Demand for a Helping Hand

We've never seen anything quite like the current upsurge in demand for the "helping hand up" provided by our various services and opportunities here at Central Dallas Ministries.

Across the board, organization-wide all of our metrics are not only up, they are soaring upward.

Take our overcrowded Resource Center on Haskell Avenue, the home of our "food pantry."

Several years ago we renamed the center, since it provides so much more than simply food products to low-income individuals and families. It truly is a center for the distribution of all sorts of resources and referrals.

Comparing the first five months of 2006 with the same period last year, demand in this center is up 37%.

The month of May 2006 turned out to be our busiest month in our history. We served 4,036 individuals. Our numbers compared to May 2005 were up 62%!

A number of factors may explain the growth:

. . . reduction in services offered in other locations around the city

. . . growth in the number of families whose income is not allowing them to keep up with their monthly expenses

. . . growing awareness in the community of the work of CDM

. . . expansion of the number of individuals and families falling below the poverty line.

I expect the list of reasons is long.

The growth is not a good thing.

From a management perspective it creates major problems for us. There is no way to plan for or to anticipate this kind of growth.

As a result, we are in a tough place from a financial standpoint today.

Summers are always tight for us.

But with this kind of growth, we are facing huge challenges. More and more of our funding is coming by way of grants and contracts. These funds are restricted and can be used only for designated programs.

Historically, most of our food costs have been covered by unrestricted donations to our general fund.

But this year individual donations are down

I see no end in sight for the growing demand.

Anyone out there have a rich uncle?

Seriously, we need help in spreading the word about the rising tide of need among working, low-income persons who live in Dallas, Texas. And we need to find serious, dedicated new donors.

Last week representatives from Kraft Foods came by to deliver a check and to tour the Resource Center. They were amazed at the crowds and the process.

As we walked through the center, one gentleman commented, "This growth is great! You are doing a wonderful job."

I had to correct him.

"Thanks for the encouragement and for your support," I told him. "But, you know the growth is not a good thing. Increasing numbers of hungry and poor people can never be good."

Of course, he agreed.

It is easy to lose you way in terms of facing and responding to poverty. Sometimes an organization's charitable mission can blind it to the real bottom line: things should be different in a city and a nation like this.

Any rich uncles out there?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sunday Meditation: Hate Overcome By Love

Jeremy Gregg, Director of Development here at Central Dallas Ministries, sent me this stunning photograph of Pope Benedict XVI taken recently during his trip to Poland when he visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, site of the infamous Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

The power of this image is its ability to lead mind, soul, body and spirit in a reflective and experiential journey via meditation.

Hate remains an overwhelming force and persistent challenge in our world today.

Certainly it is aggressively at work in our cities.

Love stands over against hate.

With amazing strength and surprising beauty, love finds new ways to open pathways through, around and far beyond the foolish limitations of hate, racism and intolerance.

Hate is incredibly narrow.

Love is panoramic by comparison.

Hate dashes hopes and terminates promises.

Love opens up the world and flings, through the tears of heaven, the refracted light of a living God across the one sky that we all must share.

We must remember the death camps, the hate centers of Auschwitz and Birkenau. We dare not forget.

But as we reflect on the hatred, let us claim the certain victory of strong, daring, unstoppable love.

Love wins. . . always.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Walter has been back at my door a couple of times in the past week or so. He called me again last night.

With each contact he surprised me.

He was just "reporting in." Not that he owes me any report.

He and his wife have been living in one of the apartments that our community development corporation owns. They have lived there almost rent free for the past almost four months while they were "getting back on their feet."

Theirs is a story of drug addiction, petty crime and one misstep and failure after another. (Note: If you go back to my post on March 24, 2006 you can read some of my frustration in trying to be his friend.)

The last two times he has visited my house the conversation has been different, as was the phone call.

He told me about the jobs that he had landed. The most recent face-to-face visit included a report of being paid a decent wage. He was on his way to pay his rent. Our property manager is considering allowing him to pay by the week.

The main reason he stopped this last time was to tell me that he had "kicked his wife out." He reconfirmed that decision in his call last evening.

I encouraged him to stay with that course of action.

Sounds strange, doesn't it?

Crack cocaine has a way of turning the world completely upside down.

Crack is her problem, her lover and her game.

And, she is killing my friend with her obsession with dope.

It seems to me--pray that I am correct--that Walter is finally realizing that his attempts to help and rescue her actually hurt them both.

Walter cannot be her savior.

"Mr. James, I just love her so much," he told me, his voice breaking. "But I know that I can't keep doing this. She's killin' me, man."

He is correct.

His only hope is to care for himself, keep working hard and begin working on his own future.

Ironically, that is his only real hope for being reunited with her, if that is to ever happen.

Walter spent time as a player in the National Football League.

He is a strong, handsome, powerful guy.

I've been real tough on him, to the point of feeling badly about it more than once. But I've learned that a naive approach helps no one. The stakes are too high. The struggle of the street blows every Pollyanna approach clean away.

Every time he comes to my door, he is thanking me, as if he owes me something. The fact is he owes me nothing whatsoever.

I told him again that the two of us are really the same. Two men trying to figure out and make it through life.

All he owes me is to take good care of himself because our community needs him to be successful and healthy.

I need him to make it real bad.

He was talking about staying at work, about buying an old "clunker" pickup to work out of and moving to a better apartment. I applauded each of those steps.

I hope he follows through.

As with all of us and our noble plans and claims, only time will tell.

It is his move toward health and light and hope that has driven his wife away.

People cannot accept truth and health and hope and life until they face the lies, the illness, the despair and the death that grips them.

Walter appears to be on the path of a positive journey.

Again, time will tell. I expect that he and I will remain close.

Remember Walter today.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Grocery Stores

Most people in this country never think much about grocery stores.

We go there when we need food or other items we feel are essential or desired for living.

Most of us have our "favorite" grocery store, indicating that we have choices about where to shop.

I expect a number of factors enter into determining our "favorite" store. You know, things like hours of operation, location, quality, cleanliness, price, inventory selection, brand, etc.

Grocery stores become a part of our normal routine each week or so. Many of us drop in on our "favorite" store even more frequently.

For millions of Americans what I have just described would seem foreign, unknowable, extremely distant--the stuff of television ads, movies and unfulfilled hopes.

Many, many neighborhoods do not enjoy the presence of even one decent grocery store, to say nothing of several from which to choose.

In February, Tony Proscio of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, published an interesting and important report on the economic and social impact of grocery stores on communities. Entitled Food, Markets, and Healthy Communities: How food stores accelerate local development and enrich residents' lives, the report discusses how food markets can affect low-income neighborhoods and provides several strong case studies that illustrate their significant impact.

The presence of at least one high-quality food market is a critical component to a community’s physical and economic health.

Absent this basic and essential community resource, residents are often forced to travel far, pay more for groceries or settle for what is nearby: fast food restaurants or the low-nutrient, more expensive food prevalent in convenient stores.

People who find it easy to be critical of the dietary habits of low-income individuals and families often don't consider the grocery store vacuum existing in these neighborhoods.

Not only do grocery stores provide jobs and access to basic necessities, they often open the door for additional economic development in low-income neighborhoods.

The number of food stores in poor neighborhoods is one-third lower than in wealthier areas of a city.

Once a grocery store arrives in such a community, it will normally thrive. Research across urban America indicates that inner-city grocery stores outperform their suburban counterparts!

Here's an interesting metric: for each additional grocery store present in any given urban census tract, African American residents consume 32% more fruits and vegetables. Whites consume an additional 11%.

In addition to the benefits to diet and employment, the presence of good grocery stores puts people on the street, boosts the impression of a community's viability and enhances public safety and image.

Most people who have no experience of inner-city neighborhoods have not been aware of the problem of retail food options for the low-income residents of these vital areas.

At Central Dallas Ministries, we have been attempting to bring a major grocery retailer to several of the communities where we are working. It is a struggle, but as with high-quality housing for the poor and formerly homeless, we know that such a development would be a major win-win for everyone involved.

For more information, take a look at:

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Being Practical About Immigration

New York Times columnist, John Tierney wrote the following op-ed piece that appeared in the Saturday, May 27, 2006 edition of the paper.

Tierney takes such a "on the street" approach to the controversial subject of immigration that I am reprinting
his essay in its entirety. Some of what he says and reports disturbs me, especially in regard to the assumptions being made about the wages of those with jobs in our bulging service sector. People who work should reasonably expect to earn a living wage. But that is likely a discussion for a future post.

Tierney's thoughts and those reported here deserve our attention. Tell me what you think. One thing is for sure, the immigration challenge is not going away in this nation or in our major urban areas.

A link to the essay is also provided at the end of this post.

No Más Immigrants, No More Care?

Fauna Kane is a Republican in Southern California. Oddly enough, she is not furious about immigration.

She is not sporting the latest fashion statement, the yellow "No más!" button that Republican legislators wore at the state Capitol on Thursday night to welcome President Vicente Fox of Mexico. She has not been calling radio shows to denounce the traitors in the U.S. Senate who voted to liberalize immigration.

At age 95, Mrs. Kane takes the long view. When she hears members of the House opposing a guest-worker program and vowing to slow the flow of immigrants, she wonders what lawmakers are contemplating for their old age.

"Maybe the congressmen think their pensions are so good they'll be able to buy whatever they want when they're old," she says. "But if we didn't have foreigners, we wouldn't have anybody taking care of us."

Mrs. Kane has a room in Holiday Villa, an assisted-living home in Santa Monica with two dozen nurse's aides, cooks, housekeepers and other workers born in Mexico, El Salvador, Belize and the Philippines. The only native-born Americans are the director and one assistant.

"I'm the minority here," says the director, Mary Ann Anderson. "We depend on immigrants — legal immigrants — to provide care, and we're going to need more and more of them as the baby boomers age."

This is not the perspective of members of Congress up for re-election. They've focused on the immediate costs of immigration for city and state governments in border states like California, which do indeed foot the bill for providing services to low-income immigrants and education for their children.

But immigrants' children have a habit of growing up to become workers — and workers will be in demand as the baby boomers retire. The boomers haven't taken the traditional precaution for old age, which is to have lots of children.

The fertility rate of native-born Americans in many states, including California, has fallen to near or below the replacement rate, as it has in European countries that are struggling to support their aging populations. Worried European leaders have been trying to reverse the decline by offering subsidies to parents, like the hefty payments announced this month by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

But America is in better shape than Europe. Its population is still growing robustly, partly because of the arrival of adult immigrants, and partly because immigrants don't have to be bribed to have children. Their higher fertility rate helps offset the natives', bringing the overall national rate just about up to the replacement level.

Some "no más" natives complain that the country can't absorb immigrants the way it once could. But these natives also expect Social Security and Medicare to sustain them during their retirement. Now that birthrates are low and retirees are living so long, America needs immigrants more than ever.

If there were a moratorium on legal immigration, the Social Security deficit would rise by nearly a third over the next 50 years, according to Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy. Even illegal immigrants help the system's finances, because when they give employers bogus Social Security numbers, the taxes paid on their behalf end up in the trust fund.

With fewer immigrants, we'd have to either raise taxes or cut retiree benefits. And who would do the work they're now doing?

It's been argued that they could be replaced by paying higher wages to natives or by automating the jobs. But those higher salaries would be a serious strain on public agencies as well as on retired baby boomers with fixed incomes. And there are a lot of jobs that can't be done by robots, like caring for the elderly residents at Holiday Villa.

"If it weren't for the help from the people here, I think I'd be a bag lady," Mrs. Kane says. "I have people I can call in an emergency, but you can't count on your friends or family for little things like opening a tube of toothpaste or getting you to the doctor."

As the population ages, it's going to get harder to find young people to do those jobs unless the Republicans in the House go along with the Senate's plan to add legal immigrants. But Mrs. Kane can understand why those Republicans aren't worried about their golden years.

"They're not thinking ahead, but nobody does," she says. "I never thought this would happen to me. You think the good Lord's going to take care of you."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Phenomenal Mavericks. . .Movin' A City

I love sports.

So, to say the least, the Dallas Mavericks' win over the Phoenix Suns last Saturday night thrilled me and lots of other Dallas sports fans!

The Western Conference Champion Mavs advance for the first time to the NBA finals beginning on Thursday against the Miami Heat, Eastern Conference Champions.

I'll be watching every moment I can of the best of seven championship series. It promises to be a classic--two first-time teams in the finals, veteran coach Pat Riley versus rookie coaching sensation Avery Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal against the defense of the quick and deep Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki against Dwyane Wade.

Across the years I've thought quite a bit about the impact of sports on urban areas.

Okay, okay. I admit that part of the process is likely an effort to justify my own passion for sports. It has always been that way with me from the time I six or seven-years-old.

But, the fact is, sports can play a huge role in urban community life and development, at least symbolically, as well as socially.

In general, I am not in favor of providing sports franchise owners huge public abatements, tax breaks or inducements to build stadiums that cost in multiples of hundreds of millions of dollars. In almost every case such public "investments" do not provide the expected return usually promised. This is especially true for football stadiums that are utilized in such a limited way over relatively few dates.

(Though, I have to admit that stadiums located in downtown areas create an atmosphere that is exciting and add to the positive bustle of an urban core. Denver comes to mind just here. )

But, sports matter in the city.

The team spirit surrounding the Dallas Mavericks today helps us uncover a community pride and a latent desire to pull together across all kinds of lines that normally divide us.

This week the buzz on the streets of Dallas will be Avery, Dirk, and all the rest of the team and the entire organization.

People who never speak to one another will enjoy surprisingly lengthy conversations about this team and who knows what else before they are done! All good.

In the case of the Mavs, I have to tip my hat to owner Mark Cuban. Cuban created a special new section of seating and seating prices that allow lower-income working families to enjoy an evening at the American Airlines Center. He also assembled a great team to put on the floor!

Way to go, Mark! You're often "crazy" in just the right way!

Yes, sports provide a diversion. That can be a negative, if taken too far.

But for me, sports provide a necessary and brief respite, an escape, if you will, from the press of the city. Lost in a game, surrounded by fellow citizens, cheering on one common cause--it is like a living, graphic display of the untapped potential, the resting capacity of community soul and energy. Not everything about such experiences are positive, but much is.

The challenge comes back at work, in the midst of the reality of a city with lots of problems.

What might be possible if we all pulled together in working to support other "community teams" in their ongoing quests for success and championships of a slightly different sort?

You know. . .our public education team or our public health and wellness teams or our public safety team or our workforce housing and neighborhood development teams. . .the list is almost endless.

Think about what effect community spirit mobilized to accomplish agreed upon community objectives could have on mutually beneficial outcomes.

Call me crazy, but the game, the experience of the game just gives me hope and renewed energy. Maybe we can find or recover a larger heart for our city while watching some great basketball and cheering on this exciting team that we've grown to love.

Of course, the test will come when the games are over and we get back to life in the city we love.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"I just remember Sam. . ."

John Greenan runs the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, the sister non-profit organization that develops workforce housing for us. I've noted before in this space just how smart and creative John is.

Back in 1999, along with Ken Koonce, John helped create Central Dallas Ministries' public interest law firm. We call it the L. A. W. Center--Legal Action Works.

About five years ago, John began spending more and more time on our special brand of real estate development.

Our deals all turn out to be complex. It just works that way when you have no money!

Not long ago after a meeting with one of our housing partners, John and I stood for a moment in the parking lot discussing one of our pending deals.

As we talked about its difficulty, challenge and complexity, John said something I hope to remember always.

"You know, Larry," he said with a hint of a smile, "whenever I am tempted to quit or give up, I just think of 'Sam' (not his real name) and that keeps me going."

You see "Sam" is a disabled, homeless law client of John's. And John has promised "Sam" a place to live. John is a man of his word. "Sam" is going to have his home one of these days or John will die trying!

Things can get complicated, frustrating, discouraging and really, really difficult.

Remembering why we are out here trying this stuff always helps.

We can't quit.

"Sam" is believing we wouldn't quit for anything.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Had he lived, Clyde Erwin, my father-in-law, would have turned 85 today. He died the week before Christmas in 1997 after a lengthy illness and years of chronic heart disease.

Clyde was quite a guy. Actually, he was something else indeed!

Born on a farm outside Rhome, Texas in Wise County, Clyde was one of ten children.

Four of his siblings died in childhood with juvenile diabetes before the days of readily available insulin treatment.

Trying to imagine the impact of the loss of four children on a family is a tough assignment. This reality hit me the day we buried Clyde's brother, Howard, at the family gravesite in the Boyd Cemetery. We found the graves of the little ones who had died decades earlier.

Clyde loved his parents. But somehow the family didn't quite work for the surviving children. Clyde and his dad had their issues. I am sure that this relationship affected him in a painful way all of his life.

Like most Texas families coming through the Depression years, Clyde's family faced real poverty. They scratched out a living on their farm. Heart disease prevented his father from most work fairly early in life. Clyde worked from the time he was just a kid until he retired in the mid-eighties.

He earned a basketball scholarship to Texas Christian University upon graduation from high school in Rhome. But work and World War II blocked him from taking advantage of the opportunity. Clyde was a great, natural athlete.

He loved his family beyond words--a subject he found it hard to discuss without tears or proud laughter or both.

He and my mother-in-law, Beatrice Moore, were married for 55 years. She and their two daughters, Judy and Brenda were the joy of his life. My brother-in-law, Bill and I sort of messed things up for him! But, he loved us too. He was a master at giving us a hard time. We had lots of great times together.

He was also a good and brave soldier. He served in the U. S. Army and was caught up in the now infamous Battle of the Bulge in France and Germany. He told me that he woke up on Christmas morning in 1944 covered in snow somewhere along the front lines. Twice during his tenure in Europe every man in his company except him was severely wounded or killed.

Clyde should have earned a Purple Heart when a German round blew him out of his Jeep and sent him to the hospital behind the lines. For some reason he failed to complete the necessary paper work while there. Years later I worked to recover those records to secure the well-earned deoration. All of his records burned in a fire at a government records building in St. Louis, Missouri. As a result, he never received the recognition he deserved. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his valor in battle.

He never liked talking about the war. I never heard him speak of it without tears in his eyes.

One of his most touching memories was the day he returned home from Europe. Bea was staying with her parents, Guy and Lela Moore. Clyde arrived in Ft. Worth by bus from New York City. He hitched a ride out to Rhome and arrived at the Moore's home unannounced. The Moores prepared a breakfast feast, complete with white tablecloth and celebrated his return. It was a very glad reunion. The war ended in Japan before Clyde's leave was over.

Clyde could have been an engineer. He could build anything. Most of his plans were drawn out on the back of a napkin! He could repair anything. He could figure out anything.

For years he managed huge grain elevator operations in North Texas, including Cassady Mills in Richardson, his last mill job. He raised cattle and farmed in the last working years of his life.

He loved people, especially children. During his years (almost 20!) as the custodian for the Waterview Church of Christ, Clyde befriended hundreds of little kids. Everyone knew Clyde! After all he was affectionately known as "the Candy Man."

He and Bea had more friends than can be counted or remembered.

Of course, his grandchildren--Jennifer, Joanna and Kyle--were off the charts as far as Clyde was concerned. Many a day our girls returned home from school to find Clyde waiting in front of the house in his pickup. Off they would go for a treat, usually ice cream! They loved him dearly.

He always insisted that the grandkids refer to him simply as "Clyde." His father had done the same with his children and grandchildren--his name was Tom Erwin. So, for us it was always "Clyde and Granny."

I regret that he didn't live long enough to meet my grandchildren--his great-grandchildren, Gracie Bea, Wyatt and Owen. Little Wyatt reminds me of him! Both he and Owen favor him!
Clyde was a man of his word. He always followed through. You could count on him in any situation.

He was basically a conservative when it came to faith and church. . .that is, until someone was going to be hurt by some church practice or some traditional opinion. He defended and stood with lots of people who were judged as "unworthy" by many people or who found themselves in some sort of mess.

He enjoyed being the center of attention--that went back to his sense of never measuring up for his own father, I expect. We loved to pour it on too--both praise, celebration and just giving him a hard time. He had a great sense of humor and loved to "go on" with folks.

After retiring, he and Bea moved back to Rhome where they built a new home. Not long after their move, Clyde ran for City Council and was elected twice to the office of Mayor of his hometown! His campaign motto was simple: "Elect me and I'll put this town back to sleep!" He worked hard to do just that!

He also had a humility about him that was inspiring. People had a way of taking advantage of him. He never seemed to mind. He just served everyone to the very best of his ability.

He taught us all what compassion and tenderness meant in down-to-earth, day-to-day life. He was constantly involved in helping someone. He co-signed many loans for people trying to do better.

He had an amazing heart. He was a giant of a guy. His capacity to love matched his physical stature and size.

The last words I heard him utter were very simple. He lifted himself up in his bed, looked us in the eye and said, "I love you all."

Not long after that last confession of his heart, he was gone.

We all miss him. But he lives on. He showed us how to care for one another and others. I think of him almost everyday. He was a natural community-builder and the world's best neighbor.

Happy Birthday, Clyde. I miss you a lot.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Gift for My Littlest Grandson

Recently, I received a letter from another buddy of mine who is serving a prison sentence at the Texas Department of Corrections unit at Diboll, Texas.

Not a very pleasant place.

When he lived in Dallas, my friend was a member of the Central Dallas Church. That's where we first met. Come to think of it, he is still a member of that church.

Like most of us, his story is long, complicated.

It is also very sad.

Here is, in part, what he wrote, just as he wrote it.

The gift he sent to little Owen, my youngest grandchild, is posted here as well.


Glad to here from you and to here that you are a new "Grandpappe."

. . . this drawing is for "Owen James" the new kid on the block.

I know he's just a little one now, but Every Boy should have his own Dog!

This one comes from me with Love.

Sorry so short, but got to Run! I'll write more later. Write Soon.

God bless you & The Family.

J. D.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Five Friends

Five friends.

We sat together one afternoon this week in my office talking about the past and how it shaped our present and our dreams.

A very weird group of men.

Three of us have spent a total of over two decades locked up in prison. Two of us have no clue really about what that experience is like, what it would mean.

Four of us have been ministers. The fifth is as well, at least as I count such things.

All of us find ourselves deep in the work of community and human development.

One of us is headed for medical school by way of his current non-profit experience after earning the MBA degree from one of America's premier business schools and after a very successful career as a management consultant.

Two own a business--one an ex-offender, the other not.

One pastors a church.

One leads a non-profit organization. One or two appear to be on the way to creating such organizations.

One sold drugs on the streets of South Dallas.

One came out of the "projects" in Philly.

Three of us came from middle class families.

Each of us has learned from our pain.

One of us is "just out," having served 10 years after being successful in ministry for over a decade.

All of us are committed to seeing opportunity and life arrive for people who have been, well, dismissed by the larger culture.

Five determined people.

Three ex-offenders teaching two fairly naive brothers who soak it up.

Five friends trying to figure out how to deliver hope "inside" Texas prisons.

Five friends trying to do whatever it takes to keep kids from getting on that brutal train that stops behind terrible places complete with high walls and razor wire.

Five friends who share faith.

Our discussion ended too quickly. We gathered to meet a new friend who has a dream about how to head off kids so they will never know what he has known.

It was a magic time. We will get back together I know.

Five friends with nothing to conceal. No reason to hide. Total honesty.

Five friends who know "the power" that can obviously make things different.

If we can make it through life, there is hope for everyone!

In that circle I experienced one of those rare moments of absolute assurance.

Thanks, my brothers. Thanks.

Community is amazing.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

More on the politics of Jesus

Several fellow bloggers were a bit miffed at me for posting a quote from Marcus Borg a few days ago.

While my post was not intended as an endorsement of any and everything Borg has ever written, I suppose I understand the concerns of the more Evangelical folks.

My only point of my post was to direct attention to the "political" nature of the words of Jesus as reported by those who narrated his life and work.

Of course, Borg and his company are not the first to note the clearly social and political implications of what Jesus said and did.

I remember discovering the work of the late John Howard Yoder (The Politics of Jesus) many years ago. His words made a lot of sense to me when I was working in downtown New Orleans and they translated well to suburban North Dallas.

I also need to admit that my entire journey has been shaped by the writings of Catholic Liberation Theologians, led by Gustavo Gutierrez (A Theology of Liberation) and the work of the powerful and prophetic Protestant, African American scholar James Cone (Black Liberation Theology) with whom I studied one summer in New Orleans thirty years ago.

Time gets away from a fellow, doesn't it?

Setting aside these now almost "ancient" voices, I turn to post-modern, emergent church guru, Brian McLaren. His latest book, The Secret Message of Jesus, is a page-turner.

I thought what he has to say might go down better with many of my guests here.

For most of my life, I was like an American pastor I heard about when I was visiting London in 2004.

This American-born pastor was being interviewed on British television. The interviewer asked why so many Christians in America unquestioningly supported the U. S. war in Iraq, when that foreign policy (the interviewer felt) was so clearly against the teachings of Jesus. The American pastor seemed surprised and a little offended, so the interviewer explained, "Jesus talked about peace and reconciliation, turning the other cheek, walking the second mile, that sort of thing. How do you reconcile that with your war?" The pastor hesitated a moment and then replied, "Well, the teachings of Jesus are personal. They have nothing to do with politics and foreign policy." When I heard this story, a chill crept up my neck as I remembered saying similar things myself many years ago. Whatever you think about war in general and Iraq in particular, questions abut the public dimensions of Jesus' teachings are worth asking.

I've become convinced that although Jesus' message was personal, it was not private. I've been convinced that it has everything to do withi public matters in general and politics in particular--including economics and aid, personal empowerment and choice, foreign policy and war. The fact is, Jesus called his message good news, itself a public term that evoked the political announcements of the Roman emperors. When they would win an important military victory, they would send out messengers to announce good news. Caesar Augustus, for example, who ruled the empire from 27 BC to AD14, articulated his good news in the is inscription found in Myra, Lycia: "Divine Augustus Caesar, sone of god, imperator of land and sea, the benefactor and savior of the whole world, has brought you peace."

I've become convinced that if the good news of Jesus were carried in a newspaper today, it wouldn't be hidden in the religion section (although it would no doubt cause a ruckus there). It would be a major story in every section, form world news (What is the path to peace, and how are we responding to our neighbors in need?) to national and local news (How are we treating children, poor people, minorities, the last, the lost, the least? How are we treating our enemies?), in the lifestyle section (Are we loving our neighbors and throwing good parties to bring people together?), the food section (Do our diets reflect concern for God's planet and our poor neighbors, and have we invited any of them over for dinner lately?), the entertainment and sports sections (What is the point of our entertainment, and what values are we strengthening in sports?), and even the business section (Are we serving the wrong master: money rather than God?).

In my religious upbringing, I was not taught the public and political dimensions of Jesus' message--only the personal, private dimensions. Yes, Jesus loved me and wanted me to be good to my little brother and obedient to my parents. But Jesus' idea that God loves my nation's enemies, and so our foreign policies should reflect that love--that idea never crossed my mind. At some point, though, I began to get a hint that I was missing something. At that same moment, I think I began to catch a faint scent of the secret message of Jesus.

[From The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything by Brian D. McLaren, pages 9-11.]