Monday, July 31, 2006

Once More, For the Record

On Saturday, CBS Channel 11 here in Dallas put together a nice piece reporting on the decision by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to award Central Dallas Community Development Corporation $12 million in low-income, housing tax credits to be used in bringing the City Walk @ Akard project to the abandoned building at 511 N. Akard in Downtown Dallas.

The report was really thorough, balanced and longer than most stories we've gotten in the past. It also ran first as the 10 o'clock news' "top story."

One segment of the story involved an interview with a man whom I suppose already lives Downtown in one of the renovated, upscale high-rise buildings. The story had been positive until he began to talk. He referred to the recent incidents of violence and murder Downtown. He then described how he would be afraid to walk home at night by our building once it is completed and leased up. The clear implication was that formerly homeless persons and low-wage workers make for dangerous neighbors.

Just for the record, one more time, the violent crimes recently committed in Downtown Dallas in the wee hours of the morning have not involved homeless persons or low-wage earners. The violence has centered around popular night clubs and has involved people with money, cars, plenty of alcohol and more than one personal dispute that began inside the bars.

Just because a person lives on the street does not mean that he or she is a violent or criminal threat.

Just because a person has a low-paying job in the Downtown sector does not mean that he or she is a criminal lurking in the shadows ready to mug the first person who happens by.

After awhile, the negative stereotyping gets really tiresome.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Every time it happens I hate it.

Last Thursday morning I walked into Crossroads Community Services (CCS), a very important, partnership ministry supported by First United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church, both located in the heart of Downtown Dallas. CCS does amazing work among thousands of low-income and, in many cases, homeless individuals and families.

I parked across the street and walked over to the CCS building that houses a food relief center, a medical facility and the Stewpot, a meal delivery service for the homeless.

People were everywhere, both outside on the sidewalks and inside in every room and lined up the staircase to the clinic.

I was looking for my friend, Jay Cole. Jay serves as director of the center.

What I hate to experience is what I call "automatic deference."

I didn't meet a single person I knew while I was there.

I wasn't dressed up really--pair of slacks and a polo-type shirt, pair of lace shoes.

But everyone knew. From their perspective I didn't "belong" there.

Everyone was very nice. But everyone was deferring to me.

One woman asked if I "ran the place."

Lots of people had a familiar look on their faces, looks like I see around Central Dallas Ministries everyday. A look that camped somewhere between fatigue and resignation.

I also noticed that when I spoke to people with respect and warmth, faces brightened, as if hit by an unexpected surprise. I know that people who come to CCS receive respectful treatment routinely, but it was as if they didn't expect it from me, a guy who walked in off the street.

I am white.

I am rich.

Regretably, to them I am "the man."

Everyone deferred without reason, without an experience of my heart, my soul, my life.

Maybe the fact that I was there surprised people, I don't know.

I had the urge to shout to everyone in the building and on the sidewalks. I wanted to gather everyone up in a crowd and discuss the fact that we are all in this together. I wanted to convey my shame that this city of wealth can't do any better than create acceptable places where begging can take place.

I wanted to confess that, as a collective, Dallas has decided to do it this way and that we are content with little to no real progress among and for our poorest citizens.

Why defer to me? Given the way things are on the streets and out in many of our neighborhoods, why defer to anyone who seemingly possesses the power and the ability to influence decisions?

Oh, we've got our Calatrava Bridge designs. Our new opera hall is in sight. We're even going to build an urban park across the canyon of Woodall Rogers Freeway! And, yes, we will finally construct a new Homeless Assistance Center for some of the people into whose faces I looked last week.

Frankly, I'm excited about each of those projects!

But, what about other real solutions to other community, quality of life issues?

Solutions that would actually allow people to rise up from their entrenched despair? What about permanent housing, education, health care, employment, transportation and all of the other factors that would do away with "automatic deference"--what about those matters?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Low income, Housing Tax Credits Awarded!

Friday afternoon at about 3:15 p.m., after a lengthy and interesting meeting, the Board of Governors of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) voted unanimously to award the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation $12 million in tax credits by means of a "forward commitment." Simply put, this means that our allocation of credits will count against the tax credit funding available for projects in our region in 2007.

From the standpoint of the mission of Central Dallas Ministries and the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation the award means that we can go forward with efforts to develop City Walk @ Akard in Downtown Dallas!

Special thanks go to John Greenan, Executive Director of the CDCDC and one of the founding partners of our public interest law firm, Legal Action Works. John and his great team have worked tirelessly on this project, while continuing their hard work on several others.

We are also extremely thankful for all of the friends of the Dallas community who stepped up to speak out on behalf of the project. Yesterday was no exception. City Council Member and Mayoral candidate, Gary Griffith appeared and testified before the Board on our behalf.

Dr. Jim Walton, CDM Board Member and the champion of public health and health equity for the entire community and for our ministry, also stood to make a moving statement on behalf of the project. I think the Board of the TDHCA was most impressed when Dr. Jim told them that he and his wife, Dr. Rhonda Walton intend to take one of the market rate units and move to Downtown.
For the feel for the kind of community support we had for the project, go to our websites at www.CentralDallasMinistires. org or to and read the many letters posted there, including one from First Lady Laura Bush.

Yesterday was a time of real celebration!

When you consider where we were when we started working to realize our vision, you have to say the decision yesterday was amazing, even miraculous!

Now the real and harder work begins--State underwriting, syndication, completing architectural plans, bidding the construction, refining our management strategy for the building and raising more funding.

Remember us.

More later.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Common Beginnings. . .Different Outcomes

The gift of grandchildren changes your life!


What an understatement of the first order!

My oldest grandson called me yesterday morning before I left the house. He is two.

"Grandad? Hi!," he began.

"Hi, Wyatt!," I exclaimed, so very glad to hear him.

Our conversation went on about "Bob the Builder," a tumble he had taken off the slide, and other important matters, until his big sister wrestled the phone away from him to have her turn.

What a way to start the day! They are amazing and even more precious.

They remind me of lots of important things.

They also reveal new truth.

Like this one: Everyone starts out like Gracie, Wyatt and Owen.

We all came into life as babies.

All of us.

Every homeless person you meet on the street has baby pictures, or has had, somewhere.

With some important, serious and notable exceptions, the beginnings are basically the same for most of us. It's the "in between" that gets us off track.

Something to remember, I think.

Today we travel back to Austin to appear one last time before the Governing Board of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in our quest for an award of low-income, housing tax credits from the state.

If we are successful, the award will mean our plans to develop City Walk @ Akard in Downtown Dallas will go forward. The project will provide 200 units of housing for low-income working persons, including a 50-unit set aside for formerly homeless persons.

Please remember us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I stood in line for a very long time to see the first Superman movie. If memory serves me correctly, we were living in New Orleans at the time.

Yep, I checked just now, vintage 1978.

I love the hero, the zany plots and all of the other characters whether found in comics books, television shows or the movies.
I expect that much of my "addiction" has to do with the many fond memories of early television in my childhood.

So, naturally, I have seen the latest, "Superman Returns."

This most recent film is by far the best, in my opinion.

Special effects, casting, story line. I loved all of it.

But, the script really got me from a sociological and theological standpoint. This film is full of theology.

Talk about a vision of the "messiah."

Upon his return to earth after a 5-year hiatus, he discovers that his special friend, Lois Lane, has won a Pulitzer Prize for her much-acclaimed editorial essay, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

It is clear she wrote the opinion piece to come to terms with the fact that her hero was gone forever, or so she thought at the time. His return is startling to her, to say the least!

Superman finds that she has a new love and a young son. So things are different.

In his own attempt to deal with his loss and his emotions, he enters into a "conversation" with his long deceased father, Jor-El (note the Hebrew ending to the family names).

"Even though you were raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be great people, Kal-El. If they wish to be. They lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all--their capacity for good--I have sent them you. . .my only son," Jor-El explains.

In a face-to-face encounter mid-way through the movie, Lois and Superman talk through their issues.

"Let's start with the big question. Where did you go?" Lois asks.

"To Krypton. When astronomers thought they'd found it. . .I had to see for myself," the super hero replies.

Later, Lois presses him, "How could you leave me like that?

"I'm sorry if I hurt you. . .," he responds.

"I moved on. I had to. We all did. That's why I wrote it. The world doesn't need a savior and neither do I," she continued.

At that, the caped wonder takes Lois on one of their trademark sky rides through the night.

Attaining a fairly lofty height, he stops and asks her to listen. She tells him that everything is quiet and that she can hear nothing.

"Do you know what I hear? Everything. You say the world doesn't need a savior. . .but every day I hear people crying for one," he shares with her.

He then assures her that he will always be around and bids her good night.

The theology here is worth a closer look. The basics of it are fairly easy to identify.

People have about them a basic goodness. For sure, there is the Lex Luther side to us all, and that causes lots of problems because it figures prominently in every life to one degree or another.

But the fundamental view here is that human beings have amazing capacity for goodness and for community.

What is needed is light. . .a model, an alternative to confusion and strife.

Further, the world is in pain and, because this is true, it needs a savior--someone with solutions, actions that actually make things better, less painful and more just.

The trouble is, it needs that savior now--today. And it needs that savior here because of the suffering.

The point is the earth--its pain, its grief, its suffering and its need. There is no plan to escape the here and the now of the earth. The plan is to reclaim the planet for that which is good--for its true created purpose.

Any thought about what is beyond this world is left to another dimension and another discussion. But such considerations cannot be allowed to dominate a worldview, otherwise the concerns of this world will not be given their due consideration.

So, Superman goes to work doing his appointed work: relieving pain, diminishing suffering and shedding light.

Most Christians will likely find such a view unsettling and unacceptable, I expect.

Actually, this view of redemption ought to be studied carefully by every congregation representing the Christian church in this nation. This is such an important challenge to face and with which to wrestle.

Most churches in 2006 want to focus on the messianic work of Jesus, as they understand him.

Such a view is heavy on eschatology, end times, heaven and life after this miserable existence.

Thus, almost every thought of the savior has to do with spiritual atonement and eternal salvation. The mission is to enjoy a personal walk with an unseen God and find peace against the world via thoughts of heaven's reward. The journey back to Krypton!

It seems plausible to posit that the stronger a church or denomination's view of heaven, the less likely it is to be really engaged on the earth, except to rescue people from the world for the sake of eternity.

Such a view, now so prevalent, encourages people to withdraw from the world and its challenging pain and injustice. For some groups, it even means that political action in history is really all about speeding the arrival of the end.

The church could learn a lot from Superman. You remember, don't you. The champion for "truth and justice"?

In many ways, his life and mission seem closer to that of the reality of Jesus than most churches are able or willing to recognize.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer in the City & Needin' a Break

Dallas boils this time of year.

For some reason--is it my advanced age? global warming? general fatigue?--it seems hotter this year than ever!

I can't quite figure out why I live in such a hot place.

Habit, heritage, history, hope--who knows.

At times like this I really wonder.

I mean after awhile the city wears on a person anyway. Add in the heat and, well, let's just say I can get real cranky!

A radio reporter from one of our local stations, WBAP 820 AM, called me last week. He was doing a story on the heat wave and the homeless.

I wasn't able to reach him for a couple of days and by the time we spoke, he had completed his story.

I didn't hear his report.

But, he took the correct approach. He went out onto the street and interview some people who had no home. Novel idea. Talk to the people with the problem, not the people who think they know what to do about it!

Predictable outcome, actually.

They all told him it was hot as blazes and summer is tough. In its own way, tough or tougher than winter. Water is an issue. Shade is a concern. Bathing is more crucial.

Sad stuff. . .in an obscenely rich town with a church on every corner and a politician behind every bush--have you read about how many people are running for mayor in our fair city?

"Sad stuff" just adds to the heat index in my way of thinking.

So, I must admit when it gets this hot, I throw in the towel.

I go bear hunting.

Wanna join me?

Take a summer getaway break right now.

Beat the heat!

Here's how.

Scroll down my page past most of the news and publication links to the last one, the one that reads "Wildcam"

I picked this site up from The Today Show and National Geographic. It is a real winner. Er, uh, a real cool site!

That is the one you want. Click and enjoy!

Real time camera, trained on bears in Alaska, fishing their hearts out.

Hey, its a break. A real cool down.

It won't kill you to take a few moments and watch the bears.

Listen to the water.

Consider the amazing nature of this place we all call home.

When you go back to work in the blasted heat, think of how much greater value are the people around you in your city or town.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Do People Matter or Not?

My good friend, Charles Senteio possesses a wisdom far beyond his years. If you asked him where he received such a gift, we likely would begin talking about his parents.

Charles is program director for Central Dallas Ministries' Institute for Faith Health Research Dallas. He leads our efforts at community-based research, education and advocacy around health and wellness issues here in inner city Dallas.

We are very fortunate to have him.

He comes from a strong business and consulting background both academically and professionally. He is on his way to medical school. We will have him here with us for about another year. We are blessed as a result.

Just last week during one of our regular, weekly "core dumps" with our mutual friend, Dr. Jim Walton, Charles made a statement that caused me to pull out my journal and start writing--not what I normally do on social occasions when relaxation is the agenda!

"The health care problem of the poor is that they feel like they don't matter," Charles declared.

We sat in silence for a bit.

Let that assessment soak in for a moment.

When I feel as if no one cares about my issues, my situation, my problems, my life, my well-being, my survival. . .the impact on my soul can be profound. Such an evaluation creates a personal, psychic context, a self-understanding that takes on a power all its own--a negative power.

If I truly believe no one cares, that belief system begins to affect my behavior. It directs my use of scarce resources.

It may lead me to make negative choices.

My acts of self-determination may seem erratic, ill-advised or irrational to those who don't understand my starting point.

Media may then begin reporting on my life, my choices and my actions. The result can then become a self-perpetuating "feedback loop" of sorts, making certain that negative outcomes continue to "justify" the obvious lack of concern for my health and well-being since I don't make good choices myself.

Discussions about the importance of "personal responsbility" now become code for the "undeserving among us."

Research tells us that factors such as choice, opportunity, collective efficacy and control are all key determinants for a healthy life and community.

When I really feel as if I don't matter, the intangible forces that accompany a sense well-being and personal control simply elude me.

Far too often the results are negative from a health outcomes perspective.

At another time, in a future post, I'll discuss a recent essay I read about health disparities and race. The writer's thesis is shocking, but statistically verifiable: race can be a cause of death. This particular analysis points back to some of the same factors Charles raises with his simple statement about the number one health issue facing poor folks.

Charles' personal, life mantra is very simple: "Everybody matters!"

Our job now is to convince everyone, including policy makers, that this is an absolute truth.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Downtown Violence

Saturday morning The Dallas Morning News ran a frontpage story about violent crimes committed in Downtown Dallas ("Violence fuels worries about downtown," A1, July 22, 2006).

Reporter David Levinthal chronicles recent events involving shootings, stabbings and death on the streets of our downtown area. His report went on to discuss how developers fear the recent events could cool the resurgence of what has become a bustling area.

Community responses and various solutions to the growing problem are being discussed by city officials, including city police and Angela Hunt, the highly effective Dallas City Council Member representing most of the downtown area.

The article can be read in its entirety at:

My purpose here is very simple.

For the record, these terrible crimes were not committed by homeless persons.

It appears that gang activity was involved in one of the recent events. Intoxication, and personal altercations that began in bars and night clubs and spilled onto the streets stand behind some of the other crimes.

No one involved was homeless.

That is something to remember the next time you encounter a panhandler on the street or wonder about the feasibility of providing permanent housing for the poorest of our fellow citizens.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Contemplating An Open Mic. . .

President Bush's open microphone got him in a bit of trouble recently at the G8 Summit meeting. His private comments to British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the evening news, all of the morning news programs and, of course, the late night comedy shows.

I feel for him.

Can you imagine being under that kind of constant scrutiny?

The incident reminded me of a now infamous speech delivered by Tony Campolo several years ago at a big national youth ministry conference.

Campolo, the master of shock and prophetic comedy among Evangelicals, opened his address by screaming the same expletive that the networks had to bleep out of the President's audio.

Got the picture? Talk about sucking all the oxygen out of a room!

Tony then calmly stated, "Now, admit it. Most of you are more concerned that I used that word than you are that over 30,000 children died of disease and starvation last night."


Talk about capturing audience attention.

Of course, I do suppose one can care about how language is used, chosen or not employed while also caring about the issues of justice, compassion and hunger alleviation.

But, I think Tony is onto something. And, just maybe, we shouldn't spend much more time worrying over the President's language.

The media had a field day with the President's choice of words. That could be because of how important he says his religion is to him. I suppose the press would equate nicer language with a more genuine religious commitment. Lots of us would as well, wouldn't we?

I've come to believe that such an understanding is shallow and naive.

Don't get me wrong here. Language does matter in a civil society (and in the canons of Sunday School).

But lots of things are much more important.

I'm not so concerned about what a person says.

What I want to know is what do they do? What does a person stand for and care about? That seems much more important.

If I were the media, the fact that children went to bed hungry last night here in Dallas would be much more disturbing to me than how the President spoke when he didn't know we were listening.

The church ought to adopt the same priorities.

Growing up in church, I got the very clear impression that foul language, dancing, drinking, and mixed bathing (i. e. that would be "swimming," as I had to explain to my children as they were growing up in the same church tradition!) were the big issues.

Strange how in that system no one ever talked or fretted over poverty, racism, war, injustice or fair wages.

Looking back on my early experiences, I think I see the utilitarian value in this emphasis on private, individual piety. Makes a great shield against facing what really matters for life in this hurting world.

Trouble is, such an approach also hides us from what really matters to God, at least as I understand God today.

So, that's okay Mr. President. We can cut you some slack on this one.

Now, let's talk about hunger, housing, health care, wages, tax policy and peacemaking.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Public Schools

Last Friday the U. S. Department of Education released the results of a surprising study. So surprising that some claimed its release was conducted almost under cover so as to downplay the impact!

Commissioned by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the study was conducted by the Educational Testing Service.

The study's fundamental conclusion: with only one group and subject matter exception, children in public schools perform as well or better in reading and math than do comparable students in private schools. The exception was discovered in eighth grade reading.

The study took a careful look at math and reading scores from almost 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools for 4th through 8th graders during 2003. The report also noted that conservative Christian schools lagged behind public schools in 8th grade math.

Public school leaders and teachers' groups criticized the Department for the relatively low-key announcement of the findings that seemed to cut against recent policies that tout the superiority of private schools and encourage the use of education vouchers., especially for low-income and minority students. The Department of Education described the study as having "modest utility" and would have little effect on policy decisions.

This particular study compared student background, race, ethnicity and family situations in evaluating outcomes. Overall student performance in private schools usually appears to be superior to that of students attending public schools. But when private school students are compared to public school students of similar or comparable background, as in this study, the public school students performed better than their peers in private schools.

Most observers believe that had the results been reversed, the Department would have used the data to argue for public support of private, religious schools and school vouchers.

Interestingly, among private schools, students attending Lutheran schools did best, while those attending conservative Christian schools scored lowest.

No two ways about it. In the city our public schools are essential to hope, opportunity-creation, social connectedness and economic progress. In my view people concerned about seeing inner city communities improve, and even thrive, must care about and commit themselves to the success of public schools.

Suburban flight of various sorts, combined with admitted weaknesses and failures in public education, have injured or, in a number of notable cases, crippled public education in the inner cities of the United States.

Efforts to cut funding, and offers of alternative educational schemes that end up hurting our public schools are simply unacceptable in my view. The world is shrinking and the demands facing the next generation in regard to workforce development, public leadership and healthy civic life mean that children must be educated if they are to make their own positive contributions to the common good.

The children I know deserve our very best effort when it comes to education. Private education cannot achieve sufficient scale to serve the majority of our students. And now we have evidence showing that students in public schools out perform their private school peers.

We've been tutored to believe that public schools don't work. It's likely time for us to hire some new tutors.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Doing medicine, practicing health and wellness

The work of Central Dallas Ministries' Community Health Services (CHS) has experienced explosive growth so far in 2006.

The graphic here reports a comparison for the month of January over the past four years.

Since early this year, the growth has continued and now stands at almost 40% for the year as compared to the same time period last year.

Community Health Services has served over 2,212 more patients in the first five months of 2006 than at this same time in 2005.

Already one of the largest community-based health clinics in Dallas County, the program has grown tremendously as more and more uninsured, working people have found us. The effort got started in 1990 when the late Dr. Donald Smiley and Dr. Charles Graham, along with our dentist, Dr. John Turner began volunteering every Thursday evening from 6-9 p. m.

Thanks to a strong partnership with the Baylor Health Care System and with Health Texas Provider Network, the physicians group serving Baylor patients, the medical effort provides extremely high-quality health services to the community at very low or no cost to patients in need of care and economic uplift.

In addition to clinic services, including dental care, CHS promotes preventive care and community wellness.

For example, our Community Diabetes Education (CoDE) effort provides neighbohood-based training and education to assist diabetic patients in controlling their disease and maintaining health.

CHS is one of the busiest places in inner city Dallas. It also bustles with excitement and, of course, healing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Everyone has a story.

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Some stories are longer than others. Some known and "read" by lots of people. Some more typical and less well-known.

Where a person's story begins usually makes quite a difference. Take my story for example. Mine started in this frame house that my parents bought in Spokane, Washington. Back in the late 1940s, this house was brand new and located in a very nice part of town.

When I came home from Sacred Heart Hospital in January 1950, it was to this house in this neighborhood.

My father had a good job with the County of Spokane. My mother was able to stay at home and care for me. I lived in this very comfortable house, in this very welcoming neighborhood for almost three years. My folks enjoyed friendships there that have lasted a lifetime.

When I was three, my parents moved back to Texas where their families lived. I asked my dad recently (he is still going strong at 86 and has been married to my mother for over 66 years!) why they left such a beautiful place to come back to the heat of Texas.

He replied that I was the cause for the move and the timing. He explained that they wanted to resettle before I began school and that they wanted me to be able to grow up around our extended family.

All are details of the beginning of my story.

I took the photo above about a month ago when I made it back to my place of beginnings. It was the first time I had been back in over 53 years.

The house was still in great shape. The giant pine tree that my dad planted in the front yard fifty-plus years ago must be over 100 feet tall today.

As I took it all in, it hit me again that my story, from the very beginning, has been one filled with opportunity, amazing privilege and great advantage.

I can claim no merit in my story's beginning.

It just happened to me. It was given, not earned or justified.

One thing I know for certain: not everyone is so fortunate.

It is extremely important for me to embrace my story and to recognize the truth of its various dimensions. It is essential for me to recognize that my great advantage has relatively little to do with my effort, hard work or personal decisions. As a matter of fact, much about all of those things flow out of my beginnings, and the way my world responds to people who start like me.

If the game of life is like a 100 yard dash, my starting line was at about the 85-90 yard marker.

What about your story?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Minimum Wage More than Frozen in Place--Part Two

Every time the issue comes up, opponents argue that raising wage requirements for labor at the bottom of the economy would actually cost America jobs and contribute to a damaging new cycle of inflation that would stall the entire economy.

Others argue that raising the floor on wages would simply drive more jobs overseas.

Some are on record as saying that increasing what the lowest paid workers receive an hour would rob even more laborers of health benefits.

It is hard to counter these arguments without hard data.

Instinctively, I have always felt that such notions were basically wrong-headed.

It has always seemed to me that if people were earning more, they would spend more. This increased buying capacity would create more demand for goods and services and thus, more jobs, more profit and more economic well-being for everyone.

We find it easy to argue in this manner when we place more buying power in the hands of the wealthy. Why wouldn't the same principles apply to those at the bottom?

On my more judgmental days, I have written off such anti-labor arguments as thinly veiled defense tactics to cover simple, but deadly, individual greed. Forgive me.

But, now we have data. Hard data.

On May 2, 2005, the State of Florida increased its state minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour. Voters also approved tying wage levels to an ongoing, inflationary index. As a result, by January 1, 2006, the lowest wage level had risen to $6.40 per hour (that comes out to annual earnings of $13,312 versus the current $10,712 ).

A year later the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (RISEP) at Florida International University (FIU) along with the Florida Chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now commissioned a study of the results of the increase in minimum wages after one year.

Written by H. Luke Shaefer, University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and Bruce Nissen, FIU--RISEP, the report, based on empirical evidence, debunks every objection to raising the minimum wage.

The report answers five clear questions.

1) Since Floridians approved the new minimum wage law, have businesses been forced to cut labor costs by laying off workers?

To the contrary, the Florida unemployment rate has steadily declined since the new minimum wage took effect. In fact, between May 2005 and February 2006, the Florida rate fell more than twice as much as the federal unemployment rate (17.9% versus 5.9%). Private service providing work evidenced the steadiest growth of any employment sector with no dips on the trend line. Further, Florida's job growth rate has been stronger in the year since the new wage level was enacted than during the previous year.

2) Has the service sector, especially the hospitality, retail, accommodations and food service industries, been worse off? Has the agricultural sector been worse off?

No. All of these sectors have done well and each has evidenced growth. In fact, each of these sectors reported strong growth and economic health. While agricultural jobs did report losses, these were of a seasonal nature, as is the case annually. Furthermore, the ag job loss was less severe in the year under consideration than in the year before the change in minimum wage.

3) Since the new minimum wage took effect, have businesses been forced to move out of state at a greater rate than before?

No, not at all. To the contrary, the number of privately owned businesses in Florida grew by over 10,000 in the first full quarter after the new state minimum wage law was passed. Instead of losing businesses that employ people, Florida is gaining such establishments faster than at any time since before 2003.

4) Are low-wage workers better or worse off since the implementation of the new minimum wage?

While Florida remains a low-wage state, it is clear that since the new wage law took effect, wages in the state have grown to an average of just over $700 per week. An interesting additional finding is the fact that raising the minimum wage did not increase wages for those workers earning several dollars an hour above the minimum as many critics had predicted.

5) Has the higher state minimum wage put Florida at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to other states?

Since Florida ranks at the bottom of those states with minimum wage laws, it is clear that there is no competitive disadvantage. Of the four states with the largest Gross State Products, only one--Texas (fanfare just here, please!)--does not have a minimum wage law. Rather than being placed at a disadvantage, Florida led the nation in economic and employment growth.

Conclusion: The critics and naysayers are simply wrong.

Raising the minimum wage is not bad for the economy, its workers or its business climate.

Doing right is never wrong.

Pursuing a more just society is always right.

How labor is treated is a moral matter.

It is past time to raise the national minimum wage.

(For my Christian readers, see James 5:1-6. For my Jewish readers, see Isaiah 58:3. If there are similar passages in the Koran, and I expect there are, please advise me. For ministers who read here, use these texts soon!)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Minimum Wage More than Frozen in Place--Part One

A couple of weeks ago the U. S. Senate voted down an increase in the national minimum wage again. Sixty votes were needed. The bill got only 52 "Yeas."

This particular bill would have seen the bottom rung on the pay ladder move up a couple of dollars from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour between now and January 1, 2009.

The minimum wage level has been stalled at the lower rate since 1997.

Since that time, the purchasing power of $5.15 an hour has declined by 20%. Adjusted for inflation the current minimum hourly wage is as low as it has been since 1955! Remember President Dwight D. Eisenhower? How about the Brooklyn Dodgers? If the wage is not raised by December 2, 2006, it will have been frozen longer than at any time since the inception of the national wage measure in 1938.


Some members of our Congress are working as hard as they can to do two things: block any increase in the minimum wage and repeal the estate tax. Go figure!

Senator Hillary Clinton observed recently that since 1997, the Senate has raised its own pay by $31,600. Clinton's version of a minimum wage bill linked wages at the bottom to congressional pay increases. Going forward increases in minimum wage levels would be increased automatically by the same percentage as any increase in Congressional pay.

Fat chance!

The Economic Policy Institute reports that in 2005, the pay of top CEOs of major corporations is 821 times as much as the person earning minimum wage. The CEO earns more before the lunch break in one day than a minimum wage worker earns in an entire year.

Now add in rising utility costs, gasoline prices and health care issues and you have recipe for total disaster.

The entire picture is a national disgrace.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunday Extra: Religion, Violence, Politics & Certainty

The Dallas Morning News has a very interesting essay in its Points section this morning.

"God is winning," written by Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft, is reprinted from the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine.

Shah and Toft point out that the growth of religion and its influence around the world, and especially in the political sphere, has been at best a very mixed blessing. War, political oppression, terrorism and the shaping of international policy have resulted from the growth of religion's influence in an expanding democratic context.

According to this analysis, people, worldwide, are more religious than at any time in modern history. It also seems that those religions most certain of the correctness of their beliefs are the fastest growing and the most active politically and socially.

Examples of this sort of fierce certainty, leading to a level of violence and sectarian hatred that threatens to undo civilization, can be found in all of the major world religions, including Christianity.

Reminds me of what philosopher and historian Peter Watson ( The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, 2001 ) told the The New York Times Magazine last year in its annual, special issue on the greatest ideas of 2005.

When asked what he felt was the most destructive, negative idea in the the history of mankind, Wagner immediately replied, "Monotheism."

By that he meant that when I feel like my God and my understanding of God are superior to your God and to your understanding of God and true faith, we encounter the opportunity for what could become an almost irresolvable conflict.

Conflicts of this sort are being played out around the world today. Just turn on CNN and watch for half-an-hour.

We see various forms of this same conflict in the city as well.

Wonder where humility comes into play in the world's major belief systems as popularly understood today? What is the place of love, kindness and peace?

Read the full essay at:

CityWalk@Akard. . .Rough Shape. . .New Vision for Downtown

These photos begin to tell the story of CityWalk @ Akard.

The five shots reveal the condition of the building we are attempting to purchase for renovation. The building has been vacant for almost 15 years.

Evidence of homeless "squatters" is easy to see inside. Evidently, people scale the walls up to the porch/patio area and enter the building to spend their nights.

Our plan is to develop 200 apartments for low-income working persons. Fifty of our tenants will be formerly homeless.

For me, the shots of the current condition of the building's insides symbolize the current state of so much of our urban housing for many low-income citizens of Dallas.

The photos of the views from the building out into Downtown represent a new vision of what could be in terms of opportunity, hope and life.

We will find out the status of our tax credit application on July 28.

If awarded an allocation, Central Dallas Community Development Corporation will begin the long and challenging journey to turn the dream into reality.

Our vision for this spot Downtown will radically alter the reality on streets outside and in the spaces inside this wonderful old building.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sprinklers in the summertime

Sunday evening, late in the day, I watered my front yard.

The Texas heat has scorched my grass pretty badly this year. Water rationing is in place. So, things are beginning to really "brown up."

I have this old-fashioned sprinkler that will just about cover the entire lawn with one setting. It's one of those old, what I call, "poppin" sprinklers that makes a rat-tat-tat sound as it pops the spurts of water out across its 90 degree sweep. Two settings really gives me good coverage.

I let the water run for about 30 minutes in one position. Then, I move it to the opposite corner of the yard to finish up.

The last two times I have watered the grass I've had the privilege of "meeting" (not formally, since I don't know his name) a little boy from down the street. I would guess that he is about 12-years-old, but he could be a little older.

He loves to run and play in my sprinkler.

Time before last he rode his bicycle up and down the sidewalk being careful to time his arrival right in the midst of the sprinkler's best spray. He laughs and hollers and has a blast!

Last evening he was back, this time with a friend. The young girl who was with him may have been an older sister. They had real fun with the water.

I felt sort of bad when I went out to turn off the water that had been running for over an hour.

"You playing in the sprinkler?" I asked as I came out of my house.

"Yes sir," he replied.

"That's good! Sorry that I have to turn it off now," I explained.

"That's okay," he offered with a huge grin.

"Come back next time you see the water running," I invited them.

"Okay!" he said as he and his sister walked away up our street.

Cool, simple, wonderful exchange on a hot Texas night in the city.

Poor kids from an immigrant family. Great attitudes, great smiles, great hearts--looking for a little, ordinary play. Not an abundance of "stuff" in their reach, but great imagination and capacity for joy and playfulness.

I'm really glad to have them for neighbors.

Funny how it is that the older I get the more important really simple things are to me.

How about you?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Government as Resource and Ally

What follows was written back in early June following our first appearance before the Governing Board of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Our reason for being there was to advocate for our CityWalk @ Akard plan to purchase and renovate a 15-story building in downtown Dallas.

People who believe that poverty and the challenges associated with low-income communities can be adequately addressed without government involvement have chosen charity over community building, service projects over justice and anecdotal experience over long-term systemic change.

I witnessed the clear cut nature of this choice again last week.

On Friday, we testified before the Board of Governors of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in Austin. Our purpose was to urge the Board to move forward in awarding the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation low-income, housing tax credits in the amount of $12 million.

During the meeting, we were joined at the podium by our city council member, Angela Hunt. Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher and State Senator Royce West added their voices to our cause by having strong letters of endorsement read into the public record. The meeting could not have gone better.

As I reflected on the experience and on the very real possibility that we will land this award, I thought of all of the anti-government comments, conversations, debates and arguments I have listened to, and sometimes endured, across the years.

I know a number of loyal readers here will be ready to dismiss me, but the fact is we cannot rebuild the urban centers of this nation without strong, professional, fully-funded government involvement and leadership.

Just think about it realistically for a moment.

Consider the scale of just our single project.

We need $12 million in state tax credit support to leverage the remaining $11 to $17 million needed to do all that we hope to accomplish. Our plans will provide permanent housing for over 200 people downtown. We will be able to more than triple our medical outreach and we will be in a position to turn food and emergency assistance programs into more viable economic development for extremely low-income neighborhoods here in Dallas.

We cannot reasonably expect to raise all that we need out of the private sector. We certainly could not fund our plans through the church alone.

Pick the issue or the community outcome--diversity in demographics, mixed income and mixed use developments, physical infrastructure in rebounding neighborhoods, mortgage assistance funds for first time home buyers--the role of public decision makers is key and should not be limited or ignored.

We don't need more projects designed to benefit donors.

We need well-reasoned, planned developments that deliver a larger benefit to the community in question and in need.

To be sure, an important role must be filled by willing donors who freely give of their time, talent and financial resources.

But private charity without a collective, community-wide, coordinated effort led by the public sector is doomed to provide far too little way too late.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Growing Up Empty"

We looked at Loretta Schwartz-Nobel's book, Growing Up Empty: The Hunger Epidemic in America, at this month's Urban Engagement Book Club.

Schwartz-Nobel traveled and visited with all sorts of people in all kinds of places to get at the growing reality of hunger in America.

Middle class hunger.

Long-term, generational poverty and hunger.

Hunger among the working poor.

Hunger on the streets among the homeless.

Hunger and immigrants.

Even, if you can imagine it, a look at the very real problem of hunger among U. S. military families.

She is a great writer. The book is a sobering read. Her words move the reader at a very deep level.

But, does anyone care?

Here's what she has to say about hunger and the impact of public policy on its growth:

My strongest drive is to convey the fact that as federal aid is slashed, suffering and hunger increases among us and that as federal aid increases, hunger proportionately decreases. It is to show that, urgent and admirable as they are, all the grassroots efforts and all the food resuce efforts of the last quarter century still haven't defeated hunger in America because they alone can't make up for the shortfall caused by cuts in government programs.

That does not mean that we should stop our individual or group efforts. I know now, from personal experience, even on the smallest scale, every family's food stamps and each of our independent acts of giving can mean the difference between life and death. The answers will come from our collective action as a nation, from our politicians' responses, and from the individual things that every one of us does. It means not forgetting. It means spreading the word by telling those who don't already know. It means not turning from the people who need us and the work we were meant to do.
(pages 32-33)

Our day-to-day experience here at Central Dallas Ministries confirms the analysis provided in Growing Up Empty.

Hunger is on the rise. Our numbers are up 41% over this time last year!

Food security is in decline.

Does anyone notice?

(Go to to learn more about our monthly book club and discussion group now attracting around 100 participants each meeting.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tax Credits and Testimony--City Walk @ Akard

Today John Greenan, Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation and I will be in Austin to testify before the meeting of the Governing Board of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

We have submitted an application to receive a $12 million allocation of low income, housing tax credits from the State of Texas to be used in underwriting a substantial portion of the cost of our renovation and development of downtown affordable housing in our City Walk @ Akard project here in Dallas.

Accompanying us will be Mike Rawlings, appointed the "homeless czar" for the City of Dallas by Mayor Laura Miller.

We will read letters of support into the meeting record from Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Ann Lott, President and CEO for the Dallas Housing Authority.

The level of community support for our project has been gratifying and growing.

We plan to develop 200 high-quality, affordable apartments for low-income, working people in the 15-story building that has been vacant for almost 15 years.

Fifty of these units will be reserved for formerly homeless persons. Nine of the units will be offered at market rate. We also plan for some light retail on the ground floor and approximately 35-40 Central Dallas Ministries' staff members will office in the building daily.

The building also contains a 300-seat auditorium that we will restore for use by arts, music, dance and theater groups, as well as faith communities and groups who reside in the building.

We are optimistic about our chances to receive the tax credit allocation.

The final decision will be handed down on Friday, July 28, 2006. We will be back at the Capitol on that important day as well.

If you think of it along the way, remember us today.

Dallas really needs this development.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

urban struggle, urban violence

Three weeks ago, Tyree Sims, a 20-year-old young man who was close to many of us here at Central Dallas Ministries over the past several years, died after being shot in the back of the head while waiting at a bus stop here in our neighborhood.

When the shooting started, everyone else was able to get away, but Tyree didn't make it.

The identity of the assailant and the motive for this terrible act of violence is still unclear.

It is possible that the person responsible was "gunning" for our young friend.

Tyree's history with us was amazing, frustrating, amusing and fairly typical of the youth we encounter and are able to draw at least as close as the edges of our world and of the new community we are trying to build.

Janet Morrison, Director of Children's and Youth Education at CDM who had the most consistent contact with Tyree and his family, wrote these words about her young friend:

"I have taken Tyree to church, dealt with he and his brother as belligerent kids, helped him with resumes as an adult. Whenever I would see Tyree, he would harass me about something. Despite him making fun of my strictness with kids and teens and my high expectations of him and his friends, I always felt there was a respect there." [Janet's comments are taken from her blog:]

At times it is a struggle simply to stay alive in the inner city. Struggle forms a common bond here: food struggles, financial struggles, housing struggles, learning and work struggles, safety struggles.

So much potential.

So much energy and promise.

So much charisma.

So much wasted life.

So much pain and loss.

So much to do.

No time to waste on throwaway ideas or traditional approaches.

Say a prayer for Tyree's family, for Janet, for CDM and its many, many other children and for our city and your city.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Demand for assistance grows along with poverty

The Resource Center on Haskell Avenue is a place of hope, healing and friendship for thousands of families. In addition to being the highest volume food pantry in Dallas County, the Resource Center provides a thrift store to the community.

Each year, over 300 people who use the pantry's services come back to volunteer. In fact, over 95% of the people who volunteer at our food pantry also use its services. This is the unique genius of the Resource Center.

"We don't have clients. We have neighbors. Partnering with our neighbors, we are building a genuine community right here in the inner city," says Terry Beer, Director of the Resource Center (pictured here with his team members).

The volunteer team in the Resource Center, along with the thousands of neighbors they serve, has become the "think tank" of first resort as CDM has developed its various programs and community efforts. Listening to our volunteers and to those who come daily seeking our assistance has guided the growth of CDM across the past 12 years.

After the hurricanes of 2005, the Central Dallas Food Pantry was named the American Red Cross' first referral for families in need of emergency food, as well as the priority pantry for the 2-1-1 Social Services Line.

Already the largest food pantry in Dallas County, the program has grown tremendously over the past year, as these graphs reveal. Need is way up. The numbers are growing because poverty in Dallas County is growing.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Central Dallas Community Development Corporation: Single Family Home For Sale!

In addition to high-quality, affordable multi-family housing, our bustling community development corporation (CDC) is about to complete construction of our first single-family home.

A little over a year ago the Central Dallas CDC purchased the lot from the City of Dallas.

We secured a partner home builder and today the job is almost complete.

The lot is located here in inner city East Dallas on Santa Fe Street. The new brick, 3-bedroom house is a bit over 1,250 square feet.

It is a great addition to a neighborhood that is attempting a comeback!

The home is built to be purchased by a person or family who qualifies with an income that matches up with the affordable housing mission of the public/private partnership we enjoy with the City of Dallas' Housing Department.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about this home and the community should call 214.827.1000 ext. 21 and speak to John Greenan, Executive Director of our CDC.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Walter: The Latest

In his own way I really do believe Walter tried.

But, it just didn't work out. Or, at least, it hasn't worked out yet. Chances are it never will work out for Walter here.

I've noticed this across the years in the city.

People try and fail.

They try again and fail.

For some, success comes only after moving on or changing the scenery of their lives.

This may be the case with Walter. I hope so.

If you've been dropping in here over the past year or so, you've read about my friend Walter on a couple of occasions. A brutal combination of drugs, a highly dysfunctional relationship with a woman (who was also an addict), terrible family history and a highly developed gift of denial drove my friend into the ground.

The sad thing about Walter is the fact that he tried, at least in his own mind and in this own way, he tried.

Over the past two months I've had several conversations with him. A number were after his landlord (our property manager of one of the buildings we own in inner city Dallas) informed him that he would need to find another place to live.

Walter and his "wife" had been granted free rent for two months while they got themselves "on their feet"--or, at least, that was the plan.

After the grace period was used up, the expectation was that they would pay rent like everyone else in the complex. They never did.

My last installment here on Walter reported that he had separated himself from the woman and the relationship that was killing them both.

Unfortunately, by the time he took this action, he had managed to alienate and threaten most of the people who lived around him in the apartment complex. Other residents threatened to leave due to his troublesome behavior.

His efforts at work and earning a living were spotty at best. He did manage--better, he claims to have managed--to save up about $500 since the landlord refused to accept payment for back rent and now intends to evict him.

When I talked to him last week, I encouraged him to use the money he had to lease another place. He said that was his plan. We will see, I suppose.

Walter could have made it had he been more honest, worked harder and not allowed himself to be bound up with his woman partner. But then, had he been able to pull that off his life would have been completely different from the start and it would most likely have had a different outcome.

Walter illustrates the difficulty of what we are attempting here. He also shines a bright light on how inept we are so often.

His life also points up the fact that we need more systemic, community resources to bring to our efforts. Walter needed, and likely still needs, treatment for his drug habit. He needed work skills training. He needed a sound plan for housing. In short, he needed more help than we had available to offer him. Much of what he really needs is simply no longer available in Texas.

As people of faith and action, we need to change this present reality.

That said, Walter is not done. I hope he finds his way. I hope I have a chance to continue to talk to him. Time will tell.

This is really hard.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Table

Trust me, it was an unusual table for Dallas.

Long, narrow, rectangular tables arranged into another much longer rectangle. But it wasn't the furniture or the arrangement that made it so unique.

The table was set for the regular meeting of Healthy Dallas, a broad-based community collaboration dedicated to seeing community health outcomes improve dramatically.

What made the table so exceptional were those seated around it.

Physicians, pastors and professors were there.

Business executives, leaders of large non-profits and public sector professionals were there.

But so were a large number of community folk--moms, grandmothers, dads, residents of public housing developments--people who don't earn much money but who are focused on crafting better lives for themselves and for their beloved community.

A powerful table.

A table that holds out hope because of its openness, diversity and, more importantly, because it places such a high value on both.

A table that rewards action, that invites debate and aims for movement.

A table open to everyone.

A table rich, very rich in social capital.

A table set for change, for finding just solutions.

A table suggesting a future.

It will be at tables like this one that decisions are made and commitments forged that can actually lead to change, to a new kind of movement toward justice, fairness and genuine, hopeful renewal.

This is a table extending those seated around it far beyond the traditional, expected, charitable notions of "helping the poor." This table is about attacking disparities. This is a table where the bread of new life if broken, shared and anticipated with eagersness and fierce resolve.

No games taking place around this table.

At this table people share power.

Everyone brings something to this special and unique table.

Every contribution is recognized, unpacked, discussed, honored, revised and celebrated for the good of everyone around the table and, even more importantly, for those they represent.

As I sat at the table, taking it all in mostly in silence, it occured to me that I was seated in the midst of a clear expression of the spirituality of the city.

As a minister who spent almost 25 years working with congregations, it seems to me that this table, and tables like it across cities like mine, may be bright expressions of a new, emerging civic, urban "congregation" of people set on bringing new life to distressed and broken communities.

You should have been there!

You would have been very welcome.

[For more information see]

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Character. . .Benefit to Community

I often find great wisdom and motivating power in simple statements.

While on vacation, I discovered the following words stenciled on a Spokane coffee shop wall. I jotted them down for safekeeping.

"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."

Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The State of the State Down Here in Texas

Two weeks of vacation time, plus the July 4th holiday, provided a much needed break from the daily press of things here at Central Dallas Ministries. I can't remember when I last took over two weeks off at one stretch. I enjoyed the down time.

Back at work it doesn't take long to confront reality.

Last week the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the national Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 2006 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a national report that examines the well-being of children in all 50 states.

The detailed state report, down to each of Texas' 254 counties, will be issued this fall.

The preliminary report provides a glimpse at the facts of life here in Texas, one of the most wealthy states in the nation. Here are a few tidbits to consider:

  • The percentage of Texas children living in poverty in has increased by 5 percent since 2000. To be considered as "living in poverty," a family of four would earn $15,219 per year or less. In Texas, 23% of the children live in poverty, well above the national average of 18%.

  • Low-birth weight babies increased 7% from 2000 to 2003.

  • Infant mortality increased by 16% from 2000 to 2003. As a result, Texas dropped from 9th to 22nd place among the states for this indicator.

  • A great concern is that 1 in 10 Texas children live in extreme poverty (50% of the poverty level--less than $8,000 annually for a family of four), a 10% increase since 2000.

  • In addition, 1 in 2 children live in low-income families (200% of the poverty level), a 9% increase since 2000. Bottom line: poverty is on a significant growth path in Texas.

  • In 2004, only 75% of two-year-olds in Texas were immunized, down from 78% in 2003. Only Nevada had a lower percentage of immunized children (71%).

"Texas needs to get serious about fighting poverty and its siblings—low birthweight, high infant mortality, and low immunization," said Frances Deviney, the director of the Texas KIDS COUNT. "How can we continue to believe Texas is the greatest state in the country to live when we can’t take care of the most fragile among us?"

Of course, we cannot.

These statistics reflect on social conditions among low-income Texans that call for a comprehensive, community-wide response. Texas government, public policy makers, faith communities and leaders and concerned citizens from every quarter must come together to create a new movement devoted to simply doing better by our children. It will take everyone working together to push the bench marks back toward the positive.

It can be done, but do we have the will?

I do find it interesting that. in view of these rather disheartening facts, the facts of childhood poverty and health disparities between rich and poor children have not yet become major issues worthy of significant conversation by any of the candidates in the current race for Texas Governor.

Makes a person wonder if anyone really understands or, worse yet, cares about these matters. Possibly the candidates' campaign staffs have access to polling data that indicates such concerns are a low priority among those most likely to vote.

Sad, indeed.

KIDS COUNT is a national initiative funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the well-being of children across the 50 states. Each state runs its own KIDS COUNT program.

Texas’ KIDS COUNT effort is run through the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Austin think tank.

To read CPPP’s press release, visit To access the complete report, visit

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4 in a shrinking world among diverse communities

The American experiment is a remarkable social, political, economic, philosophical phenomenon. While other citizens from other nations across the span of history have made similar claims, the nature and character of the United States remains incredibly unique, or so it seems to those of us caught up in the experience.

Today, after two hundred and thirty years, the nation remembers and considers its uniqueness, as well as its dreams and continuing, unrealized aspirations and considerable challenges.

July 4--a day of national celebration.

Our world is shrinking. Thanks to technology, we live in a world increasingly aware both of its oneness and of its horrifying fragmentation.

Closer to home, in our national life and conversation, we are very aware of our common hopes, as well as our differences, our diversity and our divisions.

July 4, 2006 cries out for a bit of old-fashioned humility, don't you think?

We sang of this maturity of heart and soul this past Sunday in church. Voices joined in singing This Is My Song. I confess the words of this pre-World War II hymn drew tears to my eyes as I thought about our world, our nation and even our city.

Lloyd Stone penned the first two stanzas in 1933, as the United States clawed its way out of the Great Depression. His words provide an important reminder about the larger human community of which we are all apart.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Happy July 4th!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Worship That Moves God--Reprise

What follows is Isaiah 58:1-12 taken from Eugen Peterson's wonderful rendering in The Message. Brings the truth home to heart. Isaiah makes very clear the connection between a concern for the poor and any sort of viable faith that a person may possess or practice. Something to think about in the midst of our national and personal abundance.

Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!

Tell my people what's wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins!

They're busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me.

To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring.

They ask me, "What's the right thing to do?" and love having me on their side.

But they also complain, "Why do we fast and you don't look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?"

Well here's why:

The bottom line on your "fast days" is profit. You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist.

The kind of fasting you do won't get your prayers off the ground.

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after: a day to show off humility?

To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black?

Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?

This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.

What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins,

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.

You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Worship that "Moves" God

You may not hear much about it these days, but here is a powerful description of the sort of "worship" or liturgy that God finds moving.
Isaiah 58:1-12
Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
"Why have we fasted," they say, "and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?"
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: "Here am I."
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Perry Mason, My Hero

I've always been a huge Perry Mason fan.

I've admitted before that I grew up on Mayberry and Perry Mason.

The good thing about Perry, the most amazing defense attorney in history, is that he never lost a case. I think there may have been an episode where it appeared that he lost, but before the show was over the verdict was overturned and justice was served.

That's what made Perry so popular. The right always won out on his watch! There was never a dispute. No gray area here.

Perry and his crack assistant, investigator Paul Drake, supported by legal assistant Della Street, always figured things out, no matter how complicated or oblique.


How did Perry manage to pick so many winning clients? (My attorney friends tell me this is a key factor in being effective before the bench!)

But, in fairness to Perry you have to admit that he took on cases that always seemed hopeless.

I suppose the city inspires a longing for the definitive verdict, for the day when justice will be served.

Certainly we take on lots of apparently "hopeless" cases. We certainly know hopelessness around here!

I know that, in part, this is why I still watch every episode. I love watching hope appear in the nick of time.

Perry always seemed to draw the murder cases. The more hopeless the better.

At least our problems don't usually involve the loss of life.

But we do long for clearcut answers, solutions that serve the interests of those who are normally left out, left behind and ignored or written off, declared useless or worse without much of a thought or any argument.

Somehow old Perry brings some measure of comfort. He lights up a glimmer of hope, no matter what the details of the case.

But then, maybe I just love black and white television and memories of my childhood when things were just so much simpler.