Thursday, August 31, 2006


When you move faith outside the theoretical, it can get really tough.

The last several months have been a roller coaster experience for me.

I think I've learned some important lessons about faith. These lessons have been extremely concrete. . .not much place in this classroom for theory or speculation or debate. No Sunday School rhetoric allowed here!

Just great and small leaps separated by what appears to be important breakthroughs or set backs.

For example, over the last 6 months we have faced impossible odds, difficult situations and really hard problems with no certain or discernible solutions. In each case we have come face-to-face with a choice. Do we keep moving ahead, or trying to do so? Or, do we give up, stop, call it a game and go home?

Many of the dilemmas we've faced have brought us to the edge of just this sort of precipice.

We've learned to gather all the information available to us, work hard on homework assignments, talk to everyone and anyone who is interested, call in as many favors and gather as much support as possible from our community of interest.

Then, against whatever odds or doubts, we just jump.

Back to my lessons.

I've learned to flinch at success. That's because with every breakthrough we soon face a new, even larger and often unanticipated barrier, chasm or problem. This principle is inviolate. It happens every time.

I've learned that there are always new questions to ask. And, I can be sure someone will ask them. Most of these questions don't seem to have a self-evident answer and each sends us back to the drawing board or to the huddle for new investigation and strategies.

I've learned that most of our plans, estimates and expectations are about "a half bubble off plumb." Adjustments are the norm.

I've learned that nothing significant happens without trusted friends and close allies. . .nothing. Without trusted associates for whom you would gladly go to the wall and who end up again and again taking care of your back, nothing much worthwhile ever gets done.

I've learned that real faith in the real world, outside the theoretical, doesn't look much like what I was taught faith would look like. I've found that faith looks a whole lot like really hard work with lots of risk just built right into decisions that involve lots of money and the future of lots of people.

I've learned that faith means I don't get to be in control, feel in control or act like I even know what control means.

Faith is simply moving forward. . .no matter what.

Faith is what God expects me "to do" when I reach that place where I am always forced to leave the next "landing" completely up to someone else.

What a trip!

Please understand: no merit at all here. No room for arrogance or boasting! There have been far too many stupid mistakes, crazy ideas and examples of failure for anything like that! In this regard I am learning that faith is not about me.

Faith is just a decision about how to spend one's very limited time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


A man I know has worked for the same company for over 13 years. Today he earns just $9.50 an hour, even after all of these years of back breaking work for the same organization and owner.

This man is a father and a husband. He has beautiful children and a wife whom he loves.

He is a leader at work. When his crew is assigned a job, he oversees the work. He is held responsible for the outcomes. He never misses work. He travels when it is required. I doubt that there could be a better employee anywhere.

Still, after all the years and all the commitment and all the hard work, this man earns only $9.50 for each hour he works. Only recently has his employer begun paying extra for overtime. The man works all of extra hours he can every week.

This man is poor, not because he refuses to work, but because his employer does not pay him a fair wage.

Do the math.

Working 40 hours weekly, 52 weeks annually, the man can gross just $19,760.00 in wages. Of course, overtime would mean more earnings.

This man receives no benefits through his work--no health or life insurance, no retirement plan.

The facts of this man's life came to my attention just as the reports were coming out that while American worker productivity is at an all-time high (it is just not true that American workers are not productive), real wages and salary income is in decline.

The national labor data fits the profile of this particular worker.

Hello? Is anyone listening out there?

Here's the kicker: this man's boss proudly makes it known that he is a Christian.

Giant disconnect.

This man's situation has me thinking.

What if every Christian business owner and employer took to heart the values and teachings of the Bible when it came to their employees' salary, wages and benefits?

Might it make a difference?

Here's a novel idea: what if America's preachers forgot about who cared or who might be offended and simply decided to tell the truth about the biblical record and fair wages for hard work?

Labor is in trouble in this nation.

Millions of hard working Americans aren't making it today.

Work doesn't pay.

Work doesn't mean a person or a family will avoid poverty.

It should.

Faith needs to be redefined.

Don't talk to me about theology unless you agree to begin with what it means to your neighbor or, even better, your employee.

Blog campaign update: So far we have painted 17 homes green thanks to contributors from all across the nation! Thanks to all who have joined this special community of support. We are attempting to raise $100,000 by October 31, 2006. These special funds will help Central Dallas Ministries pay for food at a time when demand is at an all-time high and growing each month. We also will use a portion of the fund to pay the State of Texas the fee owed as a result of our recent award of low-income housing tax credits. See the rows of little houses at the top right of this site. You can click there to read more detail and to find out how to join this grassroots effort.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina and the Poor

A year ago today, as we braced ourselves for the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, I posted what follows. In the days that followed, I posted several times on the subject. You may want to revisit those posts in the archives here. No other subject matter has brought as intense a response as this one.

Remember New Orleans today and this week.

Mayor Ray Nagin reported on Sunday evening that approximately 1 million residents of metropolitan New Orleans had evacuated in preparation for landfall of hurricane Katrina.

Experts predict that Katrina will blast across the coastline of Louisiana as a category 5 storm of enormous proportions and then, by early Monday morning, bury the city of New Orleans with a predicted 28-foot storm surge.

This storm has been anticipated for decades. I know when we lived in New Orleans, everyone talked about "the big storm" that was sure to come eventually.

Katrina could be that storm. I pray that it is not.

New Orleans is a curious, wonderful, exotic city with unique strengths and major weaknesses. The geography is not favorable when it comes to managing hurricanes. Situated below sea level and surrounded by water, including a very large and very shallow lake to the north, the city sits in a topographical saucer that could fill up quickly, overwhelming everything and everyone.

Amazingly, a full 1 million citizens evacuated the city in fairly short order.

Still, over 200,000 stayed behind. . .primarily because they had no choice. The poorest of the community, as usual, found no option but to stay put.

The Superdome has been converted quickly into the world's largest homeless shelter.

Well-to-do travelers, trapped in the city, have gone up. That is, they have secured hotel rooms in the high-rise developments downtown and in other parts of the city. The symbolism is telling.

As I watched the reports by CNN, I saw thousands of the city's poor and weak and young and ill lined up waiting to get into the Superdome for what could be an extended stay.

Nothing new here.

The poor always suffer most.

My faith tells me that God sees.

Pray for the welfare of this important city and its people, especially those who had no choice but to stay "at home."



Finally, rain comes to Dallas!

Sunday afternoon, when it began, I had to go outside and just watch, standing like a fool, gazing upward into the clouds, lightning popping, thunder roaring.

It has been so long since we enjoyed rain, it seemed a foreign, only vaguely remembered experience from the distant past!

The last real rain we received around here resulted in the spring floods of much earlier this year. That was the Sunday afternoon that it took us over 4 hours to get home due to high water. Our house almost flooded when the drainage system in East Dallas nearly failed.

What is it about the weather these days?

Yesterday, the wind blew so hard at my parents' home in Richardson that it plucked up a skylight from their kitchen ceiling.

The rain poured in!

We had towels, a backyard plastic swimming pool (handy for the great-grand children!) and mops working full-time to keep up with the water pouring out of the sky into their house. Finally, a neighbor and I climbed onto the roof-- with one eye on the lightning and the other on the repair job--to reattach the misplaced fixture and stop the downpour!

Exciting times when it finally rains in Texas! Such extremes here!

Rain in the city is like a refreshing shower after a hard day's work outside in the blazing sun.

Something about rain makes it the very best street sweeper around. Washing away the dirt, the disappointment and the hopelessness of Texas summer heat. The washing just seems to make everyone happier, a little lighter of step, a bit more optimistic.

I'm thankful for rain today. It came at just the right time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A street corner shave

As I turned the corner at the end of my block yesterday on my way to church, I spotted a man just up the street.

As I drew closer, I realized that he was homeless. In fact, he had pushed his "home"--a converted baby stroller now outfitted to carry every possession he owned--over to the curbside under a small tree.

He was almost down on one knee, as he bent over, focused on one side of his bundle of possessions.

When I drove on by him, I could see what was going on.

He peered into a small shaving mirror attached to the side of his stroller. There at the curb, without water or soap, my neighbor was shaving his face.

He took great care. He was so intent about the job before him that my passing did not distract him.

I thought about him all day yesterday.

Here is a man with almost nothing from a material standpoint. I am sure many would write him off as mentally unstable, incorrigible in any number of ways, etc., etc., etc.

But, I didn't see him that way at all.

I saw a very poor man living on the streets, likely for a myriad of reasons--some his fault, many others completely out of his control.

Yet, he was still doing his best with what he had. He wanted to shave, to clean up a bit, to put his best foot forward or, in this case, face!

I know that I really can't know.

But when I see him again, and I will, that's just the way it works around here; I will attempt to get acquainted.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Our" Quality of Life Should Matter

Reflecting earlier this week on what it would be like to wake up as Mayor of Dallas, Texas got me to thinking about the importance of looking at life as a people through the lense of "us" or "we."

"I" or "me" or "my" or "mine" just doesn't get it.

Here we arrive at the fundamental problem with American politics and goverance today. It's not hard to see every day in the city.

Those of us who read The Dallas Morning News woke up to it yesterday. The new federal budget, passed and signed early in 2006 in Washington means that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott must lay off 1,750 employees who work in the child support payment division of his shop. Mr. Abbott estimates that because of these cuts child support collections would drop by $2 billion just this year.

Nice move.

Part of the federal "deficit-reduction bill" takes $2,000,000,000.00 out of the pockets of the most vulnerable children in Texas.

Let's see. Already Mr. Abbott had planned on laying off 87 employees because his boss, our governor, Rick Perry, told him and all other state agencies and departments to come up with ways to trim the state's budget by 10%.

Of course, the child support collections department shouldn't feel singled out. The federal and state cuts gouge the operations budgets of every agency and department in the state designed to aid the weak, the poor and the ill.

Even Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency that attempts to protect our children from abuse and neglect, is included in the list. Central Dallas Ministries just signed its second annual contract with CPS to provide services to some of these young people.

Just one more example, as if we needed another one, of the priority of "I" and "me" versus the common good for the "us" and the "we" of our city, state and nation.

I hope we wake up soon to the truth that when all are cared for more adequately, all of us do better. Robbing children of benefits today will come back to haunt us. The tab for neglecting children who need us to be responsible today will have to be paid at some point.

I pray that people of faith would embrace their sacred traditions and speak out for all of "us."

It is past time. What in the world are we thinking?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

City Streets

City streets,
Blaze now under an unforgiving summer sun,
To freeze, come February, solid against shuffling feet;
Pulsing concrete arteries,
Flowing asphalt veins carry life along to
Nowhere certain,
For wavering, too-often futile purpose.

People everywhere,
Some rushing,
Barreling along toward a day’s mission,
Others stalling, lingering at corners,
Seeking small refuge, a pause to know, to obtain;
Food, a concern to all—some for too much,
Many others for much too little.

Children in tow or nearly unattended,
Wide-eyed with wonder,
Pushed hard against pain, hope, hunger, fullness,
Whatever arrives, the next thing;
Holding onto adults, not knowing where the path ends,
Not caring—for this is not what children
Are born to do.

Work needing doing,
Focused folk with clear assignments,
And, to those who seek anything to fill a day,
To bring a check for getting by, there is hope;
To form a career, to feed a kid,
To have a home,
To avoid city streets for at least a night, again.

Streets fill up and overflow with sounds,
Music—too loud a celebration;
Old cars with smoke and squealing tires;
Children laughing, crying, playing;
Breaking glass, roaring buses, gliding trains,
Popping shots--cruel, automatic, rapid fire--destination unclear,
Add fear to those who hear, listening for such.

Church bells ring, calling some faraway faithful to pray,
While just outside on an old, low, failing wall,
Those without church or home or fitting clothes or recent bath,
Sit and watch parishioners march toward holiness;
Ignored by all but a rare few,
Not simply too busy, but so unattached
To this sort of thing or matter that
No space remains for caring.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Summertime and Inner City Baseball

Thanks to the work of Janet Morrison and her team, Central Dallas Ministries, in partnership with the Little Heroes baseball program, saw a good number of children from our summer and after-school programs play ball again this year!

There is just something about baseball that brings people together, develops social skills and strengthens an experience of community.

These players, 10 to 12-years-old, live in East and South Dallas in public housing developments where we work every day.

They had a great summer together!

We are grateful for the Little Heroes baseball program.

If you haven't been to the Little Heroes ballpark near Downtown, you need to go by and have a look. It is a wonderful community asset.

We are grateful to Todd Wagner and all of the other investors who brought baseball back to the inner city for the young ball players of Dallas!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blog Tag on Books

Recently, a fellow blogger sent me the following list of "prompts" and asked that I respond to each and then "tag" some fellow inhabitant of the blogosphere. If you are such a soul, consider yourself tagged!

Here are my responses today. . .could easily change tomorrow!

1. One book that changed your life: Jack Nelson, Hunger for Justice: The Politics of Food and Faith (Orbis Press, 1980)

2. One book that you've read more than once: Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Orbis Press, 1973)

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
4. One book that made you laugh: Willie Nelson, The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart Gotham Books, 2005

5. One book that made you cry: Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (Riverhead Books, 2003)

6. One book you wish had been written: The story of the post-modern Christian community's leadership in an amazing victory over injustice, poverty, classism, racism, hatred and war.

7. One book you wish had never been written: James Allen, Hilton Als, Congressman John Lewis, Leon F. Litwak, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Twin Palm Publishers, 2000)--I wish it had never been written because I wish even more that these horrible acts of human depravity and racism had never occurred.

8. One book you're currently reading: Randy J. Sparks, On Jordan's Stormy Banks: Evangelicalism in Mississippi, 1773-1876 (University of Georgia Press, 1994) --there is a story here; email me and I'll tell you!

9. One book you've been meaning to read: Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (The Penguin Press, 2006)

10. Tag five others: This post should tag many more than that!

Have at it, friends!

Or, if you prefer, share some of your answers here for all of us to review.

Blog Campaign Update: We've now "painted" and "sold" 16 little green houses (see above, top right)! Gifts from across the U. S. now total over $16,000! We have until October 31 to "sell" 84 more of these lovely homes! Spread the word by passing this post along to friends and fellow bloggers. Thanks to everyone who has been involved.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If I Were Elected Mayor. . .Part Two

If nothing else, considering what I would do if I were elected Mayor of Dallas succeeded in getting my mind out of my usual rut!

What follows is "Part Two" of my answer begun here yesterday:

9) Community unity and racial reconciliation would become a hallmark of the Mayor and the Council working in a deliberate and determined manner to stay on task. . .week by week in crafting a more inclusive and just community. The strength and power of diversity would be championed as a major asset in improving the quality of life in Dallas.

10) I would oversee the successful development of the new Homeless Assistance Center, including a management plan focusing on organizational excellence. The position of "homeless czar" would be made permanent, but nested outside of City Hall in a new "authority-type" space where public, private, for-profit, non-profit, business, arts, workforce training, housing and education sectors found places at a table of renewal. Homeless persons would be invited to the table from the beginning of the process and would remain involved so long as the HAC operates. In addition, I would make sure that permanent housing development continued for the extremely low-income citizens of Dallas.

11) I would continue the work begun by Mayor Miller in regard to air quality improvement in Dallas and the entire North Texas Region. I would explore with local federal and state legislators potential ways to incentivize citizen fuel economy, use of public transit and other energy saving, clean fuel solutions to our environmental crisis. I would oppose the development of new coal burning power stations unless they were outfitted with the latest and cleanest emissions control systems. Some of the current profit generated by energy companies should be invested in this manner for the good of every customer.

12) Dr. Ron Anderson and I would become even better friends. I would do everything in my power to support the work of the Parkland Health and Hospital System. At the same time, I would consult with Dr. Anderson and his team to consider the formation of major, city-wide, neighborhood-based wellness strategies to create a commitment to the long-term health and wellness of the citizens of Dallas. Such a commitment would involve every department in city government with special attention given to public safety and policing, parks and recreation, public infrastructure, code enforcement and community arts. My leadership groups would be invited into this important community wellness work. Alliances with the other hospital systems in the community would be developed and leveraged to achieve our goals.

13) I would find ways to reallocate and increase funding for crime prevention, community policing, neighborhood watch groups, community prosecutors and gang intervention and abatement. Organizations such as Dallas Area Interfaith and many other community based groups would be invited to coordinate efforts to work toward safer, crime-free neighborhoods. Such grassroots organizations would be welcome at City Hall. . .always.

14) I would work to make Dallas a model city in terms of connecting our neediest citizens to the public benefits designed to relieve need while offering the hope of an improved life. Dallas should become a city known for its streamlined processes in making possible swift and accurate enrollment, certification and deployment of these benefits. The city's health department should be redesigned to assure that the city leads the way in regard to securing these benefits for its weakest residents. Conversations should begin with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services to determine if that department's current reform efforts and technological redesign might take advantage of Dallas as a pilot city for some of the reform efforts in service delivery and automation. At the same time, as Mayor I would be relentless in my efforts in Austin and Washington to insure that Dallas gets its fair share of tax-generated dollars flowing back toward home, knowing that every dollar directed to our most needy citizens will quickly circulate in our economy, thus providing all of us a boost. Business leaders would be tapped to assist in this endeavor since they and their enterprises stand to gain a great deal from success in this neglected area of public policy.

15) I would work with other leaders to establish a minimum wage of $8.50 an hour for all workers employed by contractors working for the City of Dallas with a plan to see that wage marker rise as quickly as possible to $10.00 an hour.

16) I would consult with the Bush Administration and the Congress to offer Dallas as a "test site" for a comprehensive immigration stabilization strategy that combined increased border security, a new commitment to economic development south of the border in partnership with our city and a fair process for documenting persons already living and working in Dallas. A three to five-year plan outlining a process to integrate undocumented workers here might result in a very workable national plan.

In summary, the Mayor's office would be dedicated to the development of human and social capital to the end that Dallas would be known as one of America's friendliest cities for making a life and a home for everyone. Or, as we often say around Central Dallas Ministries, we would devote ourselves to "creating Mayberry" like communities and neighborhoods all over Dallas for the mutual benefit of every resident!

So, what would you do?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

If I Were Elected Mayor. . .Part One

Recently, Laura Miller shocked the world of Dallas politics with her announcement that she would not seek re-election as Mayor of our city. Quiet an interesting development to say the least.

My buddy, John Greenan, quipped the other day that he figured he was the only resident of Dallas not running for the position now that Ms. Miller had bowed out!

All of the hoopla surrounding the Mayor's decision got me to thinking.

What in the world would I do, if I were elected Mayor of Dallas?

It actually turned out to be a fairly fun and distracting game, as we waited on some crucial decisions about two major housing developments currently in the works.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

1) I would declare a moratorium on talking about Southern Sector development and go to work to set in place an official "Southern Sector Authority" (SSA), complete with the funding ability to get to work and to stay at work for the next 15 to 20 years. This Authority would also be able to incentivize development in housing, retail and manufacturing/employment beyond what is possible today. For the sake of full disclosure--another extremely important value of my administration (!)--I must note here that the notion of a special "Authority" came to me from John Greenan!

2) I would make sure that the Trinity River redevelopment project continued forward on pace and that all efforts relative to the river development affecting the Southern Sector be coordinated with the new SSA. In view of the extreme importance of the river's development and face lift, I would make sure that we were talking a lot about it and its progress. In the process I would work hard to make sure that the new river development and its amazing hardwood forest emerged as both a major Dallas destination and a well-used amenity for our citizens.

3) I would become DART's biggest champion! I would throw a party for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson in recognition of her stellar accomplishment in getting the latest appropriation approved for next steps and "stepped up" development of our regional transit system. Further, I would press leaders in non-participating municipalities to join the DART family or find ways to connect to it to other existing transit resources for the sake of community integration and enhanced economic, educational, civic and cultural progress.

4) I would begin formal and on-going talks with leaders of the Dallas Independent School District in an effort to forge stronger ties and accountabilities between the City and our public schools. The intention would not be to control public education, as is the objective of some mayors in some cities today, but rather to support, enhance and advance the quality of public education in our city. I would make it my practice to meet on a regular basis with the Superintendent of the DISD to discern how the city could be a more effective partner in our ongoing work of making the city as strong as possible. The partnership would involve city leadership working hard to leverage strategic alliances with area businesses, corporations and leaders from the private and public sector both inside and outside Dallas.

5) I would pursue the same sort of relationship with our highly effective Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD). In this connection, I would dust off the employment/jobs creation report commissioned and completed at Mayor Miller's insistence almost two years ago. I would take steps to see that the city partnered with DCCCD and Dallas WorkSource to draw as many of our citizens as possible into training programs leading to employment that paid a livable wage. WorkSource funds should be strategically aligned for great impact among those who need better jobs the most.

6) The County Judge and the County Commissioners would become very well acquainted with me and my team. I would attempt to initiate regular meetings with the Judge, as well as informal social and brainstorming sessions involving members of the City Council and members of the Court. The city and the county need to work together more closely to achieve beneficial synergies around many issues. Leaders of the Council Districts should interface on a regular basis with the Commissioners who also represent the same areas for the County.

7) I would create a "Dallas Leadership Panel" involving city, county, business, health care, housing, education, arts, religious and non-profit leaders. The panel would meet six times annually and would be directed toward key issues facing the city. Meetings would include thorough briefings on issues and challenges, brainstorming and relationship building. Think tank organizations, like the Foundation for Community Empowerment could play a vital role in informing meaningful conversations and in shaping clear action plans and accountabilities.

8) I would establish a "Religious and Non-profit Leaders Roundtable" involving faith leaders and non-profit executives of all traditions and of diverse missions. The purpose of this special group would be communication, understanding, information exchange and community engagement and reconciliation among people of faith, action and charity related to clear city challenges, problems and opportunities.

Tune in for Part Two tomorrow!

Monday, August 21, 2006

We've All Got to Do Better

Reactions to recent local news stories here in Dallas, Texas.

Last Monday our public schools welcomed students back for the beginning of the new academic year.

School leaders anticipated something in the neighborhood of 160,000 students to be in attendance.

The official attendance report for the first day came up 40,000 short of that projection.

What's up?

I'd like to know more.

Maybe administrators were just off the mark. I doubt by that much, though.

Some families have problems with school and getting kids there. Low-income families find school and education to be a particularly difficult challenge for a number of reasons.

Still, we've got to do better, including poor families.

The kids have got to go to school, no excuses.

We complain about the lack of funding for our local schools, and well we should. But every absentee student costs our district and our children a loss in state funding. Monday was a bad day for us all in that regard.

Get the kids to school! Everybody!

Saturday morning we were greeted by a front page story about the impact of the current, near record heat wave on the poor, especially the elderly poor.

Utility bills have soared this year. Many of our neighbors have had their electricity service terminated due to inability to pay. Thousands of air conditioners have been distributed by local health department officials, but that doesn't help those who have no power.

Every year it is the same. People die in the heat--18 so far this year here in Dallas.

We need a plan, an agreed upon, predetermined strategy for the summer.

TXU shouldn't cut off power in poor communities due to inability to pay when it is this hot without first investigating.

City, state and federal leaders, along with some of us from the non-profit sector should be meeting to plan our responses.

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced late last week that all Texas departments of government needed to review their budget plans and priorities to find at least a 10% savings across the board.

Everything from parks to mental health services would be affected.

Does this approach make sense for a state that is ranked dead last or nearly last in every indicator of "quality of life"?

Based on what I observe every day here in Dallas working among very low-income persons, this move is very hard to understand without an application of healthy cynicism.

We've got to do better.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


How could so many churches and so many people who consider themselves to be Christians miss such an important and pervasive vein running throughout the biblical text and the narrative of faith?

I've pondered that question for over 30 years. Concern for the poor is everywhere in scripture. The issues of justice turn up again and again in the story of God's dealings with God's people as reported in the Bible.

Still, the church generally appears to miss the point. Very few congregations make compassion, poverty relief and a commitment to justice a top priority for congregational life or for spiritual formation among members.


I'm constantly surprised by the words of Jesus. By surprised I simply mean that I continue to discover new twists and emphases that somehow escaped me in previous readings and meditations.

The latest I discovered in the well-known "parable of the sower."

You can find the full story at Matthew 13:1-23.

I'm focusing today on that part of the parable that speaks of the seed that fell "among thorns."

In Jesus' story these seeds are choked out by the faster-growing thorns that spring up all around them preventing their growth and fullness of life.

My surprise came when I re-read the interpretation that Jesus provided his closest followers.

I'll let Matthew's account speak for itself:

"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).

There it is.

The wealth of the modern church has deceived it almost completely.

The appearance of dedication remains in place. Like a grape vine that is green and leafy, but producing no fruit, so the typical church is filled with people who appear devoted, but when it comes to really pursuing the values of Jesus and the entire biblical tradition relative to the poor and to justice, the greed and the deceitfulness of wealth simply shut things down.

The contemporary church hears little about the poor, and does even less.

How could so many miss the truth so often about such a central dimension of the truth of God?

Jesus supplies the one-word answer: choked.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Environment--a concern for city dwellers

Bill McKibben (at left) offers a sobering essay in the August issue of National Geographic (page 33ff), "A Deeper Shade of Green."

He sounds like a cross between economist and prophet.

Wonderful writer.

Powerful message.

Bottom line: we tend to make judgments about everything in terms of what will grow the economy.

We do so at the very time that everyone is telling us that our real desire is for deepened community life.

Ironic, isn't it?

McKibben points out that this intersection of insatiable material desire and longing for knowing and being known occurs as the window of opportunity is closing on our being able to do anything very significant about the rapid deterioration of our environment.

You can find the essay at:

Take a look. Important matters.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hungry? Have you ever been?

Paying the bills in the summertime always turns out to be a challenge.

Donations drop.

Needs rise.

Nerves get stretched tight among our staff members who are charged with providing the services, raising the funds and evaluating the outcomes.

Currently, we have maxed out our credit line at the North Texas Food Bank where we purchase 99% of our food supplies for about 14 cents per pound--best deal in town! We owe them about $40,000 today. We are going forward on a C.O.D. basis because hungry people keep showing up at our door--well over 150 families daily.

Have you ever been hungry?

I mean really hungry over an extended period of time with no food available to you?

Many of my neighbors don't enjoy "food security"--that's the new phrase we toss about these days when it comes to hunger in the nation.

Many children go to bed hungry and get up that way. Many are happy school is back in session today because of the lunch, and in some cases the breakfast, meals they will receive while there.

Years ago, Edd Eason, our Youth Minister, organized a 30-hour fast for a retreat setting. The emphasis was on world hunger and poverty. So, for over a full day we went without food--about 30 hours as I recall.

It was very hard.

It hurt.

I'll never forget the experience of standing up to speak on Sunday morning before breaking my fast. Not an easy matter.

So, as a part of our on-going, on-line, blog donation effort (see upper right margin and the graphic of little houses that need to be painted green! ), here's a suggestion.

Declare a personal fast day in the next week or two. Don't tell anyone. Just decide not to eat for at least 12 hours--24 would be better.

Create a "fast fund container"--jar, envelope, drawer. Every time during the fast that you become aware of your hunger, make a donation to your container and offer up a prayer for those who live with hunger.

At the end of your fast, enjoy a healthy meal, spend some time in prayer and meditation about your experience and then send your collected "hunger awareness" fund to me at:

Larry James' Urban Daily
P. O. Box 710385
Dallas, Texas 75371-0385

Or, if you prefer, click above to donate online.

Another idea would be to calculate what you saved by not eating and make that your donation coming out of the time of "planned reflection."

Every penney you donate will be used to pay down our account at the Food Bank and/or to buy more food supplies for hungry residents of Dallas inner city neighborhoods.

What do you think?

Blog campaign update: several readers have become "Urban Daily homeowners" by donating $1,000 or more to the effort! With every $1,000 raised we paint a house green to mark our progress.

Anyone in the market for a green house today? How about making a down payment?

BTW--please forward this post to all of your friends who care about hunger and justice.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Unequal pay in the U. S. A.

For more information on the reasons behind the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States, take a look at Clive Crook's essay ("The Height of Inequality") in the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly at:

Here are a few tidbits to draw you toward his findings:

Between 1966 and 2001, median wage and salary income increased by 11%, after inflation.

Income in the 90th percentile increased by 58%.

At the 99th percentile the increase was 121%.

At the 99.9th percentile the increase stood at 236%.

Finally, at the 99.99th percentile--representing the 13,000 highest paid workers in the nation--the growth rate was 617%. Most of these workers are either celebrities or top executives.

Each of these figures report on wage and salary income only, and do not include investment income.

Here is the crux of Crook's report:

"Productivity growth has always been seen as perhaps the single most important indicator of rising, broad-based prosperity. But remarkable growth in top-end pay, together with the relative constancy of labor's overall share of income, has an obvious implication: the highest earners are now capturing most of the gain in national income caused by economy-wide productivity growth.

"This is quite disturbing. Historically, rising productivity has been a tide that lifted nearly all boats. For more than twenty years during the long surge of productivity growth that followed the Second World War, median incomes in the United States rose as quickly as the highest incomes. This came to be regarded as normal--and, seen from a global vantage point, it still is. The dispersed benefits of high aggregate productivity are the reason why jobs of almost every kind pay better in rich countries than in poor ones. . . .

"Over the past thirty-five years, that growth did not lift most boats, or even very many boats. Between 1966 and 2001, only 10 percent of American workers saw their incomes rise at least as fast as economy-wide productivity did.

. . .from 1997 to 2001, the top 1 percent captured far more of the real national gain in wage and salary income than did the bottom 50 percent."

Like I say, the article will be well worth your time.

Crook's review of Jan Pen's book, Income Distribution at the beginning of the article, with its fascinating image of workers on parade, makes the piece a must read.

Take a look.

As you read, remember: life at the very bottom is literally off the charts when it comes to lost "fair share" and real opportunity.

When it comes to overcoming poverty, we must remember that a large part of our challenge is truly systemic and structural, and thus, beyond the control of low-income individuals no matter how hard they work.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Harold Hazelip, Willie Nelson and the boy

Over 30 years ago I confused people big time with statements like, "My two heroes are Harold Hazelip and Willie Nelson."

Harold filled the role as my major professor in my first round of graduate studies. He was, and is to this day, a sophisticated, articulate, brilliant theologian and preacher. He taught me to think, to study and to explore ideas for myself.

He didn't just tell me what Augustine, Aquinas, Jerome, Kant, Schleiermacher, Barth, Brunner, Tillich and the Niebuhr brothers said, he made me read their words for myself. I remain indebted to him after all these years.

Willie filled my soul with music and the lyrics of real life as I was coming to understand it as a young, idealistic pastor. I soon realized that Willie's best music emerged during the particularly difficult, painful times of his life. I always understood him and I went to hear him whenever I could, just as I did with Harold!

Now Willie has a book!

The Tao of Willie: A Guide to Happiness in Your Heart appeared last year. I just received my copy this week.

I've not finished the little volume, but it won't take me long to do so.

Last evening, I came across this classic passage (pages 28-29):

At the beginning of this book, I wrote that if you love music, you are my friend. But I neglected to mention that there are also exceptions that stand in the way of friendship and brotherhood.

If you throw trash along the highways or foul our rivers, I'm sorry to say you are not my friend.

If you think that people whose skin is a different color from yours are beneath you, then you are particularly not my friend. . . .

If you mistreat those who are smaller or weaker than you, you are not my friend.

If you use the knowledge you've gained to exploit others, you are no one's friend (and run the risk of having no true friends at all).

Then, there is the humor.


The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese (page 65).


Question for you: What were the redneck's last words?

"Hey! Watch this!"

That's a good one. Considering all the stupid things we do in life, we should probably keep in mind that there is no lifeguard in the shallow end of the gene pool
(page 65).

I love his wisdom. . .and his wit!

I think of Harold often.

Willie's latest collection of his Capitol recordings is in the CD player in my car as I type.

Both good friends still manage to get me through my days!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Nation of Millionaires

The latest Harper's Index (Harper's Magazine, page 13, September 2006) contains a curious string of statistics--nothing new for the Index!

Let me quote:

"Percentage of Americans in 1983 who thought it was 'possible to start out poor in this country. . .and become rich' : 57

"Percentage who think this today : 80

"Percentage of U. S. income in 1983 and today, respectively, that went to the top 1 percent of earners : 9, 16"

Possibly it has always been this way in America, the Land of Opportunity; the nation of "self-made men" and, more recently, women, all eager to give the old heave-ho on the bootstraps in order to vault into the upperclass.

Trouble is, this just doesn't happen, at least not very often.

In fact, as the notion grows that such a move is possible, even likely; in reality the dream is more cruel illusion than ever before.

More and more of America's wealth finds its way into the hands of fewer and fewer of us in this country.

Yet, the myth remains a powerful motivator and a force for conservative thought and action (or inaction) among middle and underclass citizens. The idealism back of the idea serves as a powerful enforcer of the social, economic and political status quo.

The working poor seldom express interest in organizing to improve their lot. Low income Americans don't vote in significant numbers.

Religion moves alongside the American myth to direct everyone--rich and poor--to the afterlife.

Charity kicks in from time to time, when things seem particularly difficult, on a case-by-case basis. On we go as a people.

In each of the last five years it is estimated that over 1 million Americans have fallen below the poverty line. Again, that is over 1 million fellow citizens annually. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen with little chance of being closed any time soon.

Still, the myth of being able to make it, and make it big persists.

Fighting poverty must involve us in serious consideration of these facts of life in America today.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I wrote the following essay in June 1997. After you read the story, I'll explain what happened next.

He sat in a chair near our coffee pot. He dozed while waiting his turn to visit with a counselor. His graying hair captured my attention first. When I caught eye of his feet, I stopped.

My introduction roused him from his nap.

I sat down on a table by his chair.

"What happened to your shoes," I asked.

"Someone took them while I was asleep," he answered with a bit of a sheepish grin and a slight downward turn of the head.

"When?" I asked.

"Well, let's see," he paused and rubbed his chin in thought and calculation. "Couple of weeks ago," he reported.

"You've been walking around barefoot for two weeks?" I asked.

"Yes, I expect I have. Look at those feet," he invited, as together we inspected his swollen, weary feet.

Living in a shelter, lost in the city, here was a man basically alone.

"Why?" doesn't matter much, does it?

Yes, he may be battling the consequences of alcoholism. Certainly poverty, hunger and the prospects offered by dead end after dead end contribute to his situation.

But, here was a man old enough to be my father who walked the streets of my city without shoes.

We provided him shoes. I would like to believe we gave him much more as well.

What price do you assign dignity, respect and love? Our work is important.

A few days after this story appeared in our newsletter, I received a note written in an unsteady script that read as follows:

"Larry, I can't do any more at this time--a little to help buy the poor guy some shoes."

Enclosed in the handwritten note was $7 in cash.

I still have the essay, the note and the cash framed and sitting by my desk in my office.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The values of your spirituality

Tucked away at the end of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah's message, we find a vision for "new heavens and a new earth."

No matter what your view of the nature of prophetic or apocalyptic literature, what I find so stunning about these words are the values expressed here, values that relate to how life should work here and now.

As I read over them, I am reminded of Jesus' most familiar prayer where he taught his followers to pray "thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Consider Isaiah's powerful and hopeful vision. Notice carefully how the lives of people fit in his view of what life should bring to all God's creation.

As you read, ask yourself, "What values undergird my own understanding of spirituality?"

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the works of their hands.
They will not toil in vain
or bear chidren doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm or destroy
on all my holy mountain.
(Isaiah 65:17-25)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Doing Well. . .Offset by Doing More

Directing an effective non-profit organization can be a real challenge.

I've decided that if an organization's mission aims to put a real dent in poverty and the forces that create it and its needless suffering, then that kind of non-profit is even harder to lead.

Just yesterday I was talking with one of our key leaders. He told me that he fears people think we are doing so well here at Central Dallas Ministries that we don't really need any more help.

I know what he means. We've had more than one church tell us just that!

"You know, Larry," these conversations begin, "CDM is doing so well and has grown so much, we just feel it is time to direct our funding toward smaller, newer, weaker organizations."

I try not to argue. But I do point out the need for sustained support if we are ever to reach scale and have maximum impact.

Of course, the fact is, we are doing well.

Our growth graph itches out an unbroken upward path extending from 1988 to the present.

You pick what you want to measure.

Number of persons served?

Number of community persons who volunteer and who join us daily in attempting to work for real change in the city?

Number of high-functioning initiatives?

Revenue generated from year to year?

Every marker is on the plus side.

Great news, huh?

Yes, indeed!

But. . .don't you hate that word?. . .the upward trend lines to be considered here must also include those that relate to the numbers of people in need of assistance, opportunity and access.

Number of persons in Dallas living in poverty? Up.

Number of people who work, but still find that they need a hand up as they keep trying to craft a better life for themselves? Up.

Number of persons who need medical care? Way up!

Number of persons who need legal counsel? Growing rapidly.

Number of organizations coming to us interested in new partnerships, new collaborations? Many.

We are doing well.

However, our challenge is created by our determination and our responsibility to do more in the face of these growing needs, aspirations and opportunities.

Remember us, please.

Blog campaign report: So far, thanks to your generosity, we are moving in on $15,000 donated by our blog community toward our $100,000 goal by October 31, 2006! You'll notice the progress graphic to the right above.

For background see my posts on August 8 and 9, 2006.

Thanks to all who have contributed!

If you haven't as yet, please consider doing so by going or by mailing your checks to: Larry James Urban Daily, P. O. Box 710385, Dallas, Texas 75371-0385.

And, don't forget: forward our appeal to your friends and associates--building a closely linked network is the key to success here.

Those who have posted it on their blogs have really helped us!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The practice of law at Central Dallas Ministries

Since 1999, Central Dallas Ministries has been offering professional legal counsel out of our full-service public interest law firm. Founded by John Greenan and Ken Koonce, the LAW Center (Legal Action Works) represents the interests of the very poor in the courts of Dallas County.

Recently, one of our dedicated lawyers sent me the story I've copied below your your reading. I think you will find it moving. At the same time, I believe it provides a very accurate glimpse into the world of our practice here in inner city Dallas, Texas.

I have a client at the LAW Center who has just been notoriously difficult.

When I met her 10 months ago, she was a hardcore junkie. She hadn’t had a clean day in years. She had lost custody of her young son—he went to live with his dad in Lubbock pursuant to a court order. We fought to have an order entered that would at least entitle her to see her son under the supervision of a licensed counselor once a month. I told her that the ONLY way that we could ever go into the courts to try to change the existing order for her is if she (1) got sober and (2) got a job and began making her child support payments.

She tried and failed and tried and failed for seven months to get sober. I listened to her cry and rage and anguish over he son, her loss of control over her life, and her repeated unsuccessful attempts to beat her addiction.

She stopped calling me about three months ago, and (quite honestly), I figured I’d never hear from her again.

She called me yesterday and told me that she has been sober now for 90 days. She just got a job at Traildust working as a waitress, and she is in a program now at her church that focuses on community outreach. She is serving food to the homeless.

She sent her son a t-shirt from that program for his birthday, and when she went up for her first supervised visitation, her son hugged her and said, “Momma, I’m really proud of you.” (He’s seven).

I sent her flowers, but I know that all the flowers in the WORLD couldn’t touch that one sentence from her son. THAT will keep her sober. Not words from me about how she has to do X, Y, and Z to change a court order, not even the sage assistance of her drug treatment counselor.

It’s that sentence from her son that will keep her going.

I just wanted to share that with you. I think it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back and say, “look at what we helped to accomplish!”

Really, all it makes me want to do is say, “Thank you, Lord, that you allowed me to have the tiniest glimpse of her and her life and what you’re doing in it.”

I think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that WE are the lucky ones—not our clients—that we get to do this work.


Thanks to all who have been involved so far in our "blog fund" campaign to raise $100,000 by October 31, 2006! For details on this effort take a look at my posts on Tuesday, August 8 and Wednesday, August 9.

And please remember: spreading word about our effort to your friends and associates is as important as making a donation!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Don't be bashing Dallas!

It heats me up when people are critical of Dallas, and plenty of people find it easy to throw verbal stones our way.

Yesterday at lunch I learned something that stokes my fire even more.

Four suburban cities that ring Dallas to the northwest have made the conscious decision to accept no federal or state funding for public or affordable housing development. In essence the city councils of each of these cities have said, "We don't want 'those people' living in our communities."

Economic segregation is a cruel, evil, unjust reality in the Metroplex.

City leaders who do not plan for economic diversity impoverish their communities socially and, at the same time, add to the forces of racial and class discrimination, fuel economic deprivation, block access to new opportunities and deepen the challenges facing the poor.

Shame on them and every resident who tolerates such narrow, closed minded, injustice.

Thank God for Dallas!

Don't be knocking my city or its leaders!

Don't get me wrong.

None of us are perfect.

Our City Council, County Commissioners Court, School Board, Housing Authority and other community leadership groups are not perfect.

But, you know what?

For the most part they are trying hard. Most of the time, most of the members of these groups, or at least a significant and verbal portion of each group, are pressing for decisions that benefit people across a diverse spectrum in our city.

They fail at times.

Do we wish they did better? Certainly.

Do they need to hear from us when things could be improved? Absolutely.

Some few members would like to keep low-income, working people in selected and isolated areas of our city. We face economic and racial segregation inside the city limits of Dallas.

We get angry when leaders think in these terms. But others of our leaders really help blaze new trails for new approaches to old problems that often involve mixing our diverse population across the city. Just here I think of the leadership of Ann Lott, as she provides leadership for the Dallas Housing Authority. Or, Jerry Killingsworth who heads the Housing Department at the City of Dallas. I could name many of our City Council members just here and County Judge Margaret Keliher.

We know frustration in this city. We try to act against frustrating and unjust choices.

But, at least, on the whole, we aren't shutting people out as a standard, understood, agreed upon operating procedure.

We don't always do all we could. We have been known to leave federal and state dollars on the table that could really help the poor.

But, it is not like what I heard today about the inner-ring suburbs in north Dallas.

So, don't be bad mouthing Dallas, especially if you aren't living here.

Our "blog campaign" to raise $100,000 by October 31, 2006, is moving forward.

We hope to have a little "tracking device" in place soon so that we can report our progress as a blog community.

You can still help us by making a donation yourself here.

And, don't forget to forward my posts to your network of friends and associates.

Thanks to all who are joining the effort to make a difference here in Dallas' inner city.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One more day. . .

Yesterday this site received 85% more hits than average thanks to readers who passed along my request for help to friends and associates.

Thanks to everyone who is joining in the effort to assist Central Dallas Ministries in reaching out to some of the poorest citizens of Dallas who live in our inner city neighborhoods.

If you haven't already, please take a look at yesterday's post. If you have already read it, please pass it along to others today. Part of this process and experiment is to create a model for community development among the poor.

I need your help today.

Your gift from $1 to $100,000 will matter more than you can know!

You can mail your donations to us at:

Larry James' Urban Daily
P. O. Box 710385
Dallas, Texas 75371-0385

Or, you can donate online here.

Thank you for your concern, patience and partnership.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Help me

Okay, I'm going to ask.

What you are about to read is a first. Could be a last!

I need to raise at least $100,000 by October 31, 2006 in order to pay the required acceptance fee to the State of Texas to receive our low-income, housing tax credit award, to keep our architects working on our City Walk @ Akard project and to pay down our food supply account at the North Texas Food Bank.

I have resisted the urge since beginning this blog to use it as a promotional fundraising tool for the work I attempt to accomplish.

Actually, I am not giving up on that standard as I make my unusual request.

Let me lay out my thinking.

Lots of people who visit here on a fairly regular basis express strong opinions that people of faith should really play the leading role in ministry and uplift to the poor in our nation. Others express slightly different views, but no one has said that people of faith should not be involved.

Then, there are lots of people who visit this space whose lives may or may not be shaped by faith. I can't really tell. And, of course, everyone is welcome--we need everyone and every perspective here. Still, folks without faith care a great deal about the plight of the poor and underclass in our country, as well as around the world.

So, let's all get down to business.

I need to raise $100,000.

Here's how you can help me do it.

Stop reading.

Write me a check.

Or, if you prefer, reach into your wallet or purse and pull out a $1 or a $5 or a $10 or a $20 or a $50 or a $100 dollar bill and mail it to me right now.

I guarantee that every penny will go toward the fulfillment of our vision for City Walk @ Akard, our housing development in Downtown Dallas designed especially for low-income and homeless persons, and toward paying for food for low-income families.

I believe in the power of grassroots movements.

I don't think we will be successful over the long haul if we don't have that kind of involvement and "downward" engagement as we move forward into even larger, more costly and demanding efforts.

So, if you really care about the homeless and the poor in Dallas, send me a contribution.

It doesn't matter where you live. We need national help to create a model that others can use, adapt and act off of. You can help us build it.

You may or may not care, but every penny given is tax deductible and you will receive a written record of your gift, if you include your address.

I want to see how serious the readers in this blog community are about the poor.

Make your checks payable to Central Dallas Ministries and mail them or your cash donations to:

Larry James' Urban Daily, Central Dallas Ministries, P. O. Box 710385, Dallas, Texas 75371-0385.

Oh, and one more very important part of my very serious request:

Please forward this post to everyone you know who cares about poverty and real life solutions to its pain and challenge.

I'll keep you posted on the progress.

By the way, you can read more about both projects by scrolling back in the blog archives or by doing a search of my blog for "Resource Center" and/or "City Walk @ Akard."

Thanks for considering my direct request to join our team as a contributing partner. Such requests won't be frequent. However, when I make one, you can know that it is serious and important.

Monday, August 07, 2006

My mom and dad's combined hospital stay. . .

Early last Thursday morning, I picked up my parents from their home and took them to the new Baylor Regional Hospital in Plano.

My dad was scheduled for an angiogram to determine exactly where blockage was located in the artery supplying blood and life to his left leg. Going into the procedure, the doctor hoped to be able to open the artery by means of angioplasty and/or a permanent stint.

My mom, who suffers from a non-cancerous blood disorder, needed a blood transfusion.

As it turned out, the hospital staff--an incredibly warm, accomplished and helpful team--arranged for the two of them to be in treatment rooms right across the hall from one another. That made my job much easier!

Both procedures went like clockwork.

My mother was all done by about 1:00 p.m. and feeling better. My father, complete with new stainless steel stint implanted successfully with blood flowing freely into his previously troubled leg, got into a room for an overnight stay around mid-afternoon.

All of this had been easily arranged in the week to ten days prior to their coming to the hospital. No long waiting period. Very little time for anxiety or worry or feeling poorly unnecessarily.

My dad had seen his heart surgeon who referred him over to the doctor who performed the flawless procedure. My mom had made her plans two days before following a routine visit to her blood specialist, a smart young doctor who is becoming her friend.

There had been no delays, no roadblocks, no question whatsoever about scheduling, cost, or whether or not their needs would be met in a most timely manner.

Both of my parents, now in their mid-80s, carry Medicare health insurance cards. Medicare is the national health plan provided by our government to persons past the age of retirement. An extremely efficient operation, Medicare works flawlessly for my folks. [Blogger's confession: Every time I hear someone bashing President Lyndon Johnson and his "War on Poverty," I can't help but think of Medicare--a program he delivered to America.]

As I waited for them in the really inviting environment of the new hospital, I couldn't help but think of my friends who don't enjoy such health benefits.

I thought of the long delays in arranging specialty treatment for the poor right here in Dallas. I thought of our overcrowded public hospital, a hospital doing amazing work, but stretched well beyond its limits.

I thought of the ease with which my parents have been able to find just the physicians they need when they need them, while my friends at the bottom of the economic pyramid struggle to find doctors because so many don't work with Medicaid patients.

I also thought of the recent cutbacks in funding for the Medicaid insurance program designed for low-income persons.

Just thoughts while waiting for my parents.

Thoughts set alongside thoughts and memories of my friends in the city.

Should health care continue to be treated as a commodity to be consumed? Or, should a higher, nobler view of life inform our perspectives on what we provide and demand. . .for everyone?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sunday morning thoughts. . .

I often wonder if the church remembers Jesus.

When it comes time to plan its work, spend its money, provide instruction to its members or decide how it will "be" in our world; I have to wonder if the church remembers, knows, regards Jesus, the one the church and all of its members claim to follow.

Consider one short text:

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.

"I am willing," he said. "Be clean!"

Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
(Mark 1:40-42)

No one touched lepers.

No one, at least not intentionally. The Law of Moses made such an act a violation of the law and rendered such a person "unclean," and thus, untouchable as well.

No one identified with outcasts and untouchables to the point of joining them in their outcast misery.

No one but Jesus.

Jesus was not about doctrine, ceremony, religion, tradition, polling data, denominational politics or up-tight legal performance.

Jesus was into touching people who needed to be touched.

He never backed away from anyone.

He never considered the personal cost of personal involvement.

He never quit.

Jesus didn't care what people thought.

Jesus touched people.

So, today as I prepare to go to church, I wonder if the church remembers Jesus, the one it claims to follow?

Read back over my brief description of Jesus.

Do you know a church that acts like that today? If you do, I hope you'll be there this morning and often.

If you don't, just remember Jesus.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Take a fun break--spend a few moments with Vince!

Wanna get lost in some good, fun country music provided by a great tenor who also blows Bluegrass out with such ease it makes your feet dance regardless of what your grandma and your mama taught you?

Settle in with Vince Gill at his website and click on the playlist from one of his best albums, "Next Big Thing."

Here's where he can be heard:

And, before you start, crank those speakers up!

Enjoy today!

Then plan to join us at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center here in Dallas on Monday, October 30 to hear Vince live in a benefit for Central Dallas Ministries.

Buy your tickets right now at Ticketweb--

Friday, August 04, 2006

"I love math and science!"

I stepped out of my car day before yesterday into the hot blast of another early morning, humid, Texas day.

Folks were already making their way to our front door and to the Resource Center just inside.

As I walked across the street toward the building, I greeted an older gentleman and two elderly women who were with him. At the side of one of the women was a beautiful little girl. I expect she was about 10-years-old.

I welcomed them all, commented on the heat wave that is always Dallas this time of year and then, I turned to the little girl.

"I bet you're enjoying the summer," I said to her.

She smiled back at me, as her grandmother declared proudly, "This is my daughter's oldest girl."

"Are you glad school's not starting yet?" I asked.

"Oh, no. I can't wait to get back to school," she replied.

"Really!" I exclaimed with some surprise, remembering my own summers past and the thought of going back to school!

"You like school, do you?" I went on.

"Yes! I love math," she beamed.

"Well, that is great," I encouraged, now ashamed of my faulty assumptions based on my own attitude at 10, er, and 18, I'm afraid!

"And, I love science, too!" she volunteered.

"Stick with that math and science," I counseled as they walked on. "You stay with that and things will go well for you."

As I made my way up the steps to my office, I wondered if things would go well for her.

So much can happen between 10 and 22, you know?

When your steps are complicated, compounded and distracted by the day-to-day noise, clutter and obstacles brought on by poverty, racism and disadvantage, things often don't go so well.

My new little friend reminded me why we are here and why it is that we do what we try to do.

She also sobered me up early for my day.

If it is up to her alone, I know she will be more than just fine. She will achieve beyond belief. I pray that she does.

Trouble is life is never just up to us, whether we speak of privilege and advantage or oppression and disadvantage.

I will remember her for a long time, I know.

She and her family are the keys to our universe here.

And then there is our commitment to strengthening the community. For this one little girl to be successful, lots of other people around her need to be equipped for their own success and ready to do the important work of supporting, preparing and launching her into the rest of her life.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Vince Gill to Benefit CDM in October!

Central Dallas Ministries is excited to announce details about our annual "A Night to Remember" celebration at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center here in the Downtown Dallas Arts Distrcit!

This year on Monday, October 30, we proudly welcome award winning country and bluegrass recording star Vince Gill!

"A Night to Remember 2006" promises to be our most successful event to date.

The annual community gathering seeks to raise funds to help underwrite the important human and community development work of Central Dallas Ministries.

Vince Gill and his 22-piece orchestra will fill the Meyerson Center with sound and life!

Plan now to join us for this special night that will include the announcement of the recipient of the 2006 Hazel E. Brown Community Builder Award. The special tribute, named in honor of "Miss Hazel"--the long-time volunteer and community leader, is awarded annually to an individual, couple or group that best exemplifies the mission and work of CDM in the life of the city.

Save the date!

For more information contact Jenny Fogel at 214.823.8710 ext. 130. To purchase your seats today, please click on the pictures here. Or, visit:

Please help us by spreading the word about the event among your friends at work, church, school and in your neighborhoods!

Hope to see you and your friends at the Meyerson!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Getting Things Done About National Poverty

Each year, in just the one program designed by the Internal Revenue Service, the State of Texas makes awards totaling between $40 and $45 million to developers interested in providing fit and affordable workforce housing to residents of the state. Over the course of a decade of work, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs grants funding of almost half a billion dollars for new housing construction in the state. Other states have programs like Texas.

The low income, housing tax credit program (LIHTC) may be the most effective public/private partnership going in terms of outcomes and real gains for people and for communities. Certainly the program is an example of how public policy decisions can have positive impact on the lives of citizens. This particular approach also demonstrates how government funding can be utilized by community and faith-based groups to meet community needs at a scale that will make a difference.

Lots of people believe that government has no or little role to play in meeting the needs of the urban poor. As a matter of fact, many people feel that such concerns should be left to the work of churches.

Realistically though, as I consider the needs and the funding required, it strikes me that left to their own resources and devices, and given their expressed mission and current organization, churches can seldom rise above the level of charitable work in addressing the tough issues associated with poverty. However, by working with public entities and government organizations, faith-based and community oriented non-profit groups can affect long term, systemic change at a scale that makes real impact.

I remember years ago, when I was serving a church as senior minister, I attempted to convince church leaders to purchase an apartment building for the benefit of countless individuals and families that were coming to us for housing assistance. Try as I did, I was unable to convince church leaders that my vision had enough merit to redirect church funds for this purpose. We settled for distributing more manageable amounts of funds for monthly rental and utility assistance. We could have been more efficient and effective, but I realize now that we could never have achieved the necessary scale to make a real difference in the community given our limited vision and resources.

Interestingly, I am coming to recognize that neither side of the public/private equation works very well without the other.

The best public projects appear to be those that contract with local groups to get the job done.

The best private efforts will usually involve the infusion of public dollars to achieve the necessary scale to make a real and lasting difference.

People who feel the church should do it all err in two ways. They overestimate the capacity of the church and they underestimate the scope and scale of poverty's impact and effect.

At the same time, they leave lots of funds on the table--funds that have been paid by people like me every year on April 15!

Public/private partnerships make a lot of sense.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lessons Learned on a Family Vacation

My dear friend, Dr. Jim Walton shares insights from his recent family vacation to Guatemala in the post below. He and his wife, Dr. Rhonda Walton, and their four sons spent time recently in Central America. Jim serves the Baylor Health Care System as Chief Health Equity Officer and has been instrumental in the expansion of our Community Health Services here at CDM, as well as in the creation of Project Access Dallas, a growing and elaborate physician referral network. He also guides our innovative Institute for Faith Health Research Dallas.

What he writes here is eye-opening and challenging.

I grabbed the USA Today as we boarded the airplane for the second leg of our journey from Miami to Guatemala City. As I settled into my seat, I read a quote from the newly elected President of Mexico, stating that if he could advise the immigration-concerned U.S. Congress, he would suggest they redirect every dollar that might be spent on erecting a concrete barrier between the two countries and instead invest them in economic development activities in Mexico to see a greater impact on stemming the immigration tide.

As we taxied for takeoff, I thought about his comment and realized that it made sense to my way of thinking, but it would be provocative to many concerned U.S. citizens. I have been mulling these thoughts over in my mind over the last few days, while vacationing in Guatemala.

I realized that the America I know and love has become preoccupied with ideological debates dividing us between the labels of "conservative" and "liberal" or "red" vs. "blue." Maybe it is the new perspective that a foreign land and its people provide, but I wonder if it more relates to the type of vacation we have embarked upon.

My family and I came to Guatemala to work with a small orphanage of "special needs" children. Viewing our current American culture while helping to care for children born disabled in a developing country has provided me a fresh point of view. As I have witnessed my four young American sons spend hour upon hour of their vacation holding and playing games with severely disabled Guatemalan children, I caught a glimpse of a future America. Watching them and then listening to their reflections, I realized that we have "unplugged" our lives from the American ideological debates around the relatives and countrymen of these precious children (i.e. immigration of Central Americans).

In the process, our family gained perspective based upon first-hand observation of these wonderful people and their cultural heritage. Moreover, and possibly more importantly, I think I may be recognizing a new breakthrough strategy for unwinding the paralyzing debates that engulf so many of my friends. An international trip to spend time with some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable citizens is an easy remedy for what may be ailing so many of us.

Through the eyes of children one can easily experience a melting (or at least a partial thaw) of the hardest ideological perspectives. Simply counting the number of digits or limbs a specific child has or doesn't have reassures you that we are all connected in this grand global experience. Walking with a child with cerebral palsy liberates, while holding a toothless, autistic pre-teen changes your economic metrics and sense of return on investment.

"What are we trying to protect ourselves from?" I wondered, while holding a young boy blinded by congenital cataracts? The profound impact of these children upon the lives of my family has caused me pause and temporary relief from the embedded opinions I held prior to arriving.

Here, in a Guatemalan children's home for the disabled, I gained freedom from the arguments that boiled in my mind and shaped my opinions without personal experience and knowledge. I recommend that each person holding a strong opinion of our current American political arguments around immigration and health care for the poor, spend time in a foreign country to better understand what God is doing. Because it seems to me and my four sons that God is still at work within all human persons (in Guatemala and the U.S).