Monday, December 31, 2007

Now, the work of Christmas

A litany from Howard Thurman, heard in church on Sunday. . .

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Baby dedication for the poor

"When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. . . , and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'" (Luke 2:22, 24 NRSV)

"If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean." (Leviticus 12:8 NRSV)

When Joseph and Mary presented their baby at the Temple for his dedication and for Mary's purification, they offered the sacrifice reserved for poor families who could not afford the cost of a lamb.

Jesus was born into a very poor family. Jesus lived as a very poor person.

Something to think about in church today.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Taylor Branch to Dallas

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture will host its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration symposium on Monday evening, January 21, 2008 from 7:00 to 8:45 p.m. at The Belo Mansion. Central Dallas Ministries is very proud to be one of the community organizations co-sponsoring the event.

Pulitzer Prize-Winning author Taylor Branch will be the distinguished speaker. Branch's epic trilogy, America in the King Years, won him the coveted prize.

The title of Branch's lecture for the evening: "An Audacious Faith: The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr."

Following his presentation, our own Gerald Britt will be one of the panelists leading a discussion of Dr. King's legacy and Mr. Branch's commentary. It will be a wonderful evening in honor of Dr. King.

The Belo Mansion is located at 2101 Ross Avenue on the Arts District side of Downtown Dallas.

Admission is by reservation only and costs $20 per seat, with school teachers receiving a nice discount at $10 per seat.

To register call 214.871.2440 or go online at

If you are in or near Dallas on this special night, you should plan on attending.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The third Christmas

Our dear friend, Ann Arnold called last week. She learned of the death of my father and needed to touch base to make sure we were alright and to express condolences.

Ann and Wayne Arnold have lived in New Orleans, Louisiana for over 40 years.

Their daughter, Missy Arnold Wilson, and our oldest daughter, Jennifer, have been good friends since they were little girls.

We met the Arnolds when we moved to New Orleans in 1975. During our five years in that wonderful old city, Ann and Wayne showed us the ropes in more ways than one!

Wayne and Ann are heading into their third Christmas since Hurricane Katrina ravaged their city. Nothing much has changed or been done to address the disaster left in Katrina's wake.

I've been watching Brad Pitt on television over the past couple of weeks. Last Friday evening, Larry King interviewed him. He's been on all the major networks promoting his "Pink Project" as a part of his "Make It Right" campaign (

I wonder how our government would have responded had a major earthquake hit Los Angeles or San Francisco or Seattle and caused the same scale of damage and destruction? How about a massive nor'easter storm along the coast of New England? Or a devastating series of tornadoes ripping through the heart of Dallas? How would you feel if it were your hometown? Your house? Your children's school?

Last week we watched news reports from New Orleans that pictured irate residents of public housing protesting the demolition of several thousand units of housing that had been their homes. I know we can argue about plans and strategu. I might even agree with the developers who apparently intend to use low income housing tax credits to rebuild a portion of the city with a focus on mixed income neighborhoods. But, the point here is the understandable frustration of the people of New Orleans.

Nothing has happened to give residents even a glimmer of hope.

So, the city is now depending on private efforts. Brad Pitt is the best thing going in New Orleans these days.

Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

Don't get me wrong.

God love Brad Pitt.

But individual, grassroots only efforts will never be enough.

Forget the past lack of responsiveness. Don't even go down the path of who's to blame for the incredible lack of progress--believe me, it's hard to heed my own directive here!

Here's the point: What can be done going forward? How can the American people help Brad Pitt and our fellow Americans living in New Orleans?

New Orleans provides a case study in a major national disaster in an urban area and how it should be attacked.

1) The President of the United States should appoint a "Director of Recovery for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast." This new appointee must be a very strong and proven leader and should sit with the President's Cabinet and be authorized to marshal the resources of every government agency around the table.

This Director's job would be to develop a plan for rebuilding the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. He or she would certainly devise a strategy for working closely with the residents in the process, but the ultimate responsibility would be the Director's for bringing about the reconstruction of the city using every resource available. Every Cabinet agency and department would likely find a place in the massive effort.

2) Working with the Congress, the President should lay out an aggressive appropriations plan for funding the rebuilding process. The Director would coordinate and inform the funding strategy that would also draw in local, state and private investments in the entire plan. A nation that can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on war should be able to spend whatever is necessary to restore a major American city.

3) The President should make the renewal of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast a priority and he should challenge both major political parties to make the city's rebirth a key part of their respective party platforms in this election cycle. The challenge of New Orleans offers our leaders a wonderful opportunity to rediscover the strength of bi-partisan approaches to difficult national problems.

4) Any plan should contain clear benchmarks and measurable outcomes for judging progress and measuring success.

5) The plan would involve private, national, regional and local sources of funding, volunteerism and community development but only as complimentary to the larger, public effort.

Three Christmases in "the city that care forgot." Tragic how that well known phrase of celebration has turned in a horrible way to be a summation of the national response to its time of greatest need.

W must act to restore the care to this amazing national treasure. If we fail the "care test" here, we may fail in other cities in days to come.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Can't we beat this???

States can be a lot like people. Operating philosophies produce certain results. Neglect tends toward tragedy and amazingly disturbing outcomes.

Here's how bad things are in Texas these days: The Dallas Morning News ran a multi-page, feature report in its Points section last Sunday with the headline, "The bottom line" (December 23, 2007, 1P, 4-10P) chronicling the social nightmare that is playing out in the overly proud Lone Star State.

Want a study in the extended consequences of "trickle down," laissez-faire public policy?

Come to Texas.

The state is a model of how not to do it in just about every category related to the prevention and relief of human suffering and societal injustice. Talk about the power of a system gone wrong.

Here's how the editorial board of paper leads the story:

"Hidden among Texas' great abundance--the booming businesses and mega-malls--are statistics that all of us would just as soon ignore. But the state can't afford to forget the faces behind those numbers. . . . No liberal blog or legislator is spinning these numbers. In fact, they aren't even new. They are simply compiled from statistics published by sources including the Texas state comptroller's office, the U. S. Census Bureau and other government agencies. . . . Looking at the statistics, it's almost impossible to comprehend how a state with such a healthy bottom line has crashed to the bottom in so many social areas. How many lives must be ruined before we get the picture?"

Consider the facts, just the facts, about Texas:
  • A child is born in poverty every 7 minutes
  • A child is abused or neglected every 10 minutes
  • First in teen births and the most repeat teen births in the U. S.
  • 25% of Texas' children are born into poverty
  • 49th in the number of working poor (that is, Texas is second in the number of people who work and remain poor)
  • $14,700--the average annual income of the poorest 20% of Texas families
  • $203,200--average annual income of the richest 5% of Texas families (13.8 times as high as the poorest 20%)
  • 16% of Texans live with hunger or in fear of starvation, just ahead of New Mexico and Mississippi
  • 48th in the nation in state and local government expenditures for public welfare--$808 per capita
  • Second highest Gross Domestic Product in the U. S.
  • Number 1 in cancerous emissions into the air and toxic chemicals into the water.
  • Ranks 50th in the number of insured people in the nation--5.5 million Texans are not covered by health insurance or 24% of the population (compared to 15.7% for the U. S.)
  • 1st in the U. S. in executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976
  • 2nd highest incarceration rate
  • 60% of children under Texas Youth Commission supervision come from low-income families
  • 83% of these children have IQs below 100
  • 41% experience serious mental health issues
  • 52% come from families with a history of criminal behavior
  • 76% have parents who are separated or never married
  • 34% of Texas high school students drop out--8th highest in the U. S.
  • 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math
  • Texas ranks 41st in per capita spending on students in public schools, compared to 25th in 1999. [Did I hear someone say, "No child left behind"?]
  • 8th largest GDP in the world--$1.1 trillion in 2006
  • 1st in number of shopping malls in the nation
  • 12th in church or synagogue attendance

Not a pretty picture.

If I'm a Texas preacher today, I figure I have a few things to bring up with my congregation.

If I'm a Texas legislator, after I take a long look at myself in the mirror, I figure I've got a few things to work on.

If I'm a citizen of the state, and I am, I figure I need to be engaged at several levels.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Expectations of the child

I often wonder if anyone today actually understands Jesus.

Certainly, few out of my tradition seem to comprehend what his mother expected of him as she carried him to birth.

Mary's song, often referred to as The Magnificat, anticipates a very different sort of Savior than the one celebrated in many churches on this day.

Her lyrics arise from a strongly prophetic tradition. Her words reveal that the baby she will bring into the world will be a warrior for the poor, a strong advocate for the oppressed, a major source of inspiration for the marginalized.

On this Christmas day may we recover Mary's vision and understanding of the Christ-child:

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God
my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on
the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all
generations will call
me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done
great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with
his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the
powerful from their
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with
good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made
to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his
descendants forever."

The Gospel According to St. Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)


Monday, December 24, 2007

El Jesus, the illegal

Advent is a season embedded in the Christian calendar when we are taught lessons about waiting, a waiting that leads us to Christmas and the arrival of the child we've been longing to receive and greet.

Toward the chronological end of the narratives of the birth of Jesus we discover these words:

"When they had gone [the Magi], an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.' So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod" (Matthew 2:13-15a).

King Herod, the Jewish leader, issued a binding executive order that all the male children two-years-old and under in the environs of Bethlehem be executed. No doubt, to defy such an order would have been illegal and likely a capital offense.

Border security being lacking between Israel and Egypt allowed Joseph to become a migrant refugee in a foreign nation that shared a border to the south with his homeland.

This story always reminds me of friends I made in New Orleans and here in Dallas who fled to the U. S., usually without documentation, seeking safety from the death squads of Guatemala and El Salvador in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Overall though, the story reveals that Jesus himself, as a very young child, was the equivalent of an undocumented immigrant in Egypt. In many ways he was illegal.

Somehow this Christmas I'm believing the story could be instructional for people of faith as we continue to consider the issues associated with undocumented residents of our communities who've come seeking better lives, safety and new hope.

What do you think?


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The time between

So long as my memory lasts, I'll likely never forget the week linking the third Sunday in Advent with the fourth Sunday 2007.

While waiting for the arrival of the child of hope, my father died.

At mid-week we gathered with a crowd of friends, relatives and associates to begin the memorial and healing process. Dad's wake or "visitation" on Wednesday was not only memorable, but remarkable. Church folks, relatives, long-time business associates, people from all walks of life dropped by to express their love and sympathy. The rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the young, the old--all came to pay their respects.

They lifted us.

Two guests stand out from that evening.

Julio worked with my dad as the maintenance supervisor for one of their retail centers, as well as other properties. He and my dad became close friends. Julio loved dad and dad returned the sentiment. I expect that Julio visited my father 75 times over the past three months. He was a special friend and a valued partner to my dad. Of course, Julio was among the first to arrive Wednesday evening.

Tatum is a little girl from my parents' church. Still in elementary school, she and my dad shared a very special friendship. Not long ago, Tatum went through a major health crisis of her own that included a liver transplant. She loved my dad and he loved her. She came with her parents. She couldn't stop the tears. The bond between this old man and this sweet little girl was beyond amazing. Love is something, isn't it?

On Thursday, we laid my father's worn out body to rest, as he went on to a world we can only imagine at this point.

The crowd returned.

The love flowed.

The ministers were amazing.

John Siburt is a young, brilliant, genuine, loving pastor. The church is so fortunate to have him as their leader. His message was finely crafted and full of the kind of heart my dad always appreciated. My dear friend, Edd Eason spoke and did his typical touching, healing work. To me, Edd is like the brother I never had. Dan Stevens provided the music and, as always, his voice was inspirational.

Friday was quiet and lonely. But, good.

Saturday, while trying to wrap up preparations for our family Christmas, Brenda and I were involved in an automobile accident.

As we drove down LBJ Freeway, a car sped out of nowhere at a high speed and hit our car lightly before crashing into a retaining wall, spinning out of control back into the traffic, hitting another driver before coming to a violent stop on the other side of the highway.

Unnerving to say the least.

The driver of the runaway car was seriously injured, but the rest of us miraculously escaped harm. Cars can be repaired. I pray the other driver can be as well.

None of us have guarantees, do we?

So, during this particular "in between time" waiting for The Arrival, we are very aware that we are fragile, limited, vulnerable. Life is largely out of our control.

It is clear that we need each other.

It is certain that we wait together for a very good reason.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? But, we wait gladly.

Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

The importance of solitude for community

Years ago, a good friend commented to me that "our children live in a very noisy world." He was speaking of the life environment of inner city families and children.

Of course, he was correct.

Here is a paradox we would do well not to ignore: communities of health and strength are built and maintained by individuals who understand the importance of the "inner life." The ability to go inward, to find times for quiet reflection, to pray and to meditate--this is essential to the growth of authentic, life-sustaining groups.

Community development depends on the "soul-development" of each member of the community.

I read Heron Dance as a tool for journeying inward. The latest on-line edition contains the water color I've posted here, along with these words:

Writing at its best must come from deep within, for often that is where truth and originality lie; none comes entirely from the upper tenth of gray matter. It is when one reaches down into the dark realms of the past that great ideas surge forth.
—Sigurd F. Olson from Reflections From The North Country

When we follow the symbolic discipline of moving into the well of our Self, we find that we develop an increased capacity of inward perception. This capacity seems to be inherent in human beings and is a natural mode of awareness. Since it is inward, however, it tends to be little used in cultural situations where the individual’s attention is constantly being pressured by the outer environment. When, on the other hand, we establish an atmosphere that makes is possible for the attention to be turned inward in a quiet way, this capacity shows itself to be very actively and strongly present in persons who would have thought they did not possess it at all.
—Ira Progoff, from At a Journal Workshop

Friday, December 21, 2007

Death and our last acts of community

Lots of folks have theories and opinions about the so called "poor." I invite and encounter the theories right here almost every day.

Most who comment here don't really understand poverty or what life is like inside the limits defined and imposed, often cruelly, by this reality. I know for sure that I don't really understand. I'm not poor. I've never been really poor.

I come face-to-face with my ignorance when I relate to impoverished families who must deal with the practicalities of death in the city.

What is a very poor family to do when a loved one dies?

No money.

No ability to line up credit.

No real options that they control or direct.

A loved one passes. A lifeless body must be cared for. How?

[Disclosure: On funeral expenses in general this is likely not a time for me to attempt even an approach to objectivity, having just gone through making arrangements for my father's burial. I actually have a proposal almost drafted in my imagination in which all burials are standardized with a set fee limit and very modest amenities regulated by a public institution. I also know that my ideas will never be accepted! But, back to my original subject.]

Shysters move through our neighborhoods on a regular basis selling "insurance" policies that hold out a solution for this frightening challenge facing every poor family. The promises seem wonderful, until it is time to file a claim. Amazing how the fine print disqualifies almost everyone. I know there is a special place reserved in hell for people who exploit the aging poor around the issues arising at the end of life.

How does a family with basically nothing pay for a funeral and a burial?

Bottom line: if you are poor and if your daddy dies, what do you do?

You beg for help.

You call for a family meeting. Everyone pools their almost non-existent assets. You total up your ability to pay. Then, you beg. You go to friends and neighbors. You talk to your church. It may take you weeks, but you do what you have to do to lay your loved one to rest.

Whenever I am with grief-stricken families who have no financial resources, I see the agony, the pain, the embarrassment and the desperation.

Most of us can't imagine, especially some church folks who operate out of their air tight theories about poverty and the lives of poor people.

Years ago my good friend and partner, John Greenan, told me that we should purchase land and create a cemetery and a funeral home. He had in mind the community we love and live with daily. He knows that the final and ultimate act of community involves celebrating the lives of our friends and providing a dignified and kind burial.

John always seems to get it. He keeps it real.

Most of us who seem to care never think about this inevitable human dilemma.

How do I bury my father when I have nothing?

The question is real. The answer goes to very important work.

Across the years we've helped bury lots of people.

I'm looking for land so that we can do this important work more effectively and with much more dignity.


Thursday, December 20, 2007


Rockland is my friend.

I've known Rock for well over a decade. His life story is amazing, hilarious and, at points, frightening.

Rock is a reformed drug dealer, thanks to his focus on Jesus and family.

Back in the day, Rock was earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a month selling crack and other illegal substances. He drove great cars, wore great clothes and moved among the big shots inside the Dallas drug scene.

He knew lots of rich, white college kids.

The brother has been shot several times. He can lift his shirt and show you his scars.

One evening he found himself trapped in a Cadillac and caught in a crossfire resulting from a drug deal gone bad. It is a miracle he got out alive. The story is scary beyond belief, but hearing him tell it is so funny.

Then, he got grand kids.

Completely ruined his old life.

He told me that when these babies came along, he knew he had to change his ways. And, he did.
These days Rock is an active member of the Central Dallas Church.

Rock's health is not good. A couple of weeks ago, he was taken to the hospital in critical condition. He was experiencing life-threatening complications resulting from a medication he was taking for his heart condition. He spent several days in ICU.

I made a real bad mistake. I didn't go visit him while he was in such bad shape.

I had my reasons--most relating to my dad's condition--but, none really justify my failure.

When Rock got out, he called me.

"Larry, how's your dad?" he asked when I answered the phone.

I told him and offered my lame excuses for not coming to see him.

"You should have come by, Larry," Rock said. "I love you, Larry. You need to remember that! Stop and smell the roses, man. Check in on a brother when you can," he concluded.

I called him yesterday to tell him about my dad's passing. He and dad were friends too.

I'll work harder at staying in touch.

I love him too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Turner Courts--rough neighborhood, bright and eager students

Some say, and I happen to agree, that Rochester Park is about as rough and tough as it gets in inner city Dallas. The neighborhood the city forgets. This in spite of the fact that this community is among the most historic and significant in the city.

Right in the heart of this community, in the middle of a public housing development, sits Central Dallas Ministries' After School Academy where we've been at work since 2000.

I expect you receive all sorts of invitations to view video presentations online. So, forgive me, but the collection of still photography in this link from The Dallas Morning News is a must-see for anyone who cares about our urban communities, the education of children and the uplift of everyone who is striving for a better life.

Take a look. You won't be sorry that you did.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


My father died Sunday night at 11:36 p.m.

He had been ill for several difficult weeks. He was 87-years-old.

Morris Franklin James was a decent man in every respect. And, as a result, he never lost my respect as his son.

Dad and mother celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary back in November. When I told my mom that we had lost dad, her first, tear-filled words were very simple: "Ohhhh! I've lost my best friend."

Over the past several months my folks have been turning their business affairs over to me. I've been learning a lot about their life together that I didn't know before.

Even today, as we made preparations for dad's funeral, I found two very interesting documents.

One was a letter to his uncle about a business deal gone bad in more ways than one. From the letter it was obvious that my father felt that his uncle was not making honest decisions. In fact, my dad feared that my uncle was involved in illegal activity with some of their struggling company's limited assets and inventory. He called the older man to task over it and resigned his position.

The other document contained his notes from a speech that he delivered to the Richardson Rotary Club on January 7, 1957. At that time dad served as City Secretary for the booming City of Richardson. The purpose of his speech was to report on the rapid, but well-planned growth of the city. In reading over the speech I could hear laughter ripple across the crowd as he joked about the early real estate developers and their important role in the growth of his city. I may decide to post this document at a later time. I was amazed at the way he regarded and emphasized the importance of a commitment to the good of the entire community, a theme I return to often on these pages.

The two documents have at least one thing in common: I never knew about them or about the events they describe.

My dad majored on quiet humility, especially when it came to his own accomplishments and struggles.

I cried Sunday night. I know I will cry again and often. No man could be more fortunate than I have been throughout my life, thanks in large measure to the role of my dad in my life. I know that even though his work is finished, he will never really leave my side. His influence, his manner, his values, his love--these parts of my dad's life will never be gone from my own journey.

On Sunday afternoon, during our last visit before he slipped off into a deep sleep, I asked him how he was doing.

His response was typical. "I'm doing wonderful."

You're right, dad. You did wonderful for a very long time.

[Funeral services for Morris James are set for 10:00 a.m., Thursday, December 20, 2007 in the Memorial Chapel at Restland Funeral Home. A gathering of family and friends will take place the night before from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.]

Monday, December 17, 2007

After School Academy enjoys feature story

Yesterday's edition of The Dallas Morning News carried an in-depth report on Central Dallas Ministries' After School Academy at Turner Courts.

If you care about children and the challenges they face growing up in inner city neighborhoods, you'll defintely want to read the story.

You can find it at: dws/dn/opinion/columnists/cnelson/stories/121607

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Encourage Yourself"

Below is a version of the Donald Lawrence song "Encourage Yourself," rendered by one of the young ones in CDM's After School Academy.

Another version of the song by Sheri Jones-Moffett is also available here:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Radio Nowhere

Bruce Springsteen sings life.

Much of his music asks important and difficult questions. "Radio Nowhere" exemplifies Springsteen's longing for community, as well as his grief over its disappearance. Media creates artificial connections, making continuous noise without purpose or significant content in a way that begs the questions he poses in his latest album, "Radio Nowhere."

People need each other.

We need to connect.

We need to gather.

We need to know that the rhythm of life is still moving us along in a good direction.

In this song Springsteen wonders about our viability as a human community.

Important questions here.

I was tryin' to find my way home
But all I heard was a drone
Bouncing off a satellite
Crushin' the last lone American night
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?

I was spinnin' 'round a dead dial
Just another lost number in a file
Dancin' down a dark hole
Just searchin' for a world with some soul
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
Is there anybody alive out there?

I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear some rhythm

I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different voices speaking in tongues
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
Is there anybody alive out there?

I was driving through the misty rain
Searchin' for a mystery train
Boppin' through the wild blue
Tryin' to make a connection to you

This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
Is there anybody alive out there?

I just want to feel some rhythm
I just want to feel some rhythm
I just want to feel your rhythm
I just want to feel your rhythm
I just want to feel your rhythm
I just want to feel your rhythm
I just want to feel your rhythm
I just want to feel your rhythm

[Copyright © 2007 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)]

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Right Here" for you

As I mentioned a few days ago, the Stefano Elliott Band has a new CD on the market. The title track, "Right Here," describes the life of a homeless person.

I'm grateful to Mikey Cunningham for writing the song.

I'm grateful to Nino and the band for deciding to donate a portion of the sales on this collection to Central Dallas Ministries.

Thanks to the band, I have in my possession several copies of the new CD. I'd be happy to send you one, if you get word to me before they are all gone!

To request a copy email me at:

To hear the music online, visit:

Thanks again, guys. You are the greatest!


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Facing Racism

Mention racism on this site and immediately I get negative reactions from a few white folks.

It seems we are eager for everyone to understand that we "get it" and that we are no longer racist in our view of the world, and neither are any of the systems or institutions with which we have anything to do.

Usually those who respond as innocent of my charge will catalog the proof of the absence of personal prejudice in their lives. Many go on to argue that we are in a new day in the U. S., that racism has been overcome, and that to continue to discuss it is counterproductive at best.

On Monday the U. S. Supreme Court, in a case involving the very obvious disparities in mandatory sentencing rules imposed on courts by the Congress for offenses involving the use of powdered cocaine compared to crack cocaine, ruled that judges can use their traditional discretionary authority to impose reasonable sentences, even if federal guidelines direct some other verdict. In essence the court ruled that judges can ignore the sentencing requirements that make the use of crack cocaine more legally objectionable than the use of the powered variety.


So, sentences against African American crack cocaine users have been much harsher than those rendered against more affluent, white users of cocaine in powered form. In short, blacks have not received equal treatment under the law in thousands of cases.

My point?

Systemic racism often works against black Americans in a manner that often devastates families and communities. This racism may have nothing to do with the way some individual white people feel about their black neighbors. But, the power of the racism embedded in the Congressional mandate for mandatory sentences for certain crimes is blatantly racist and affects the African American community in a disproportionately negative manner.

For years I've watched crack users receive much stiffer sentences than those who used powdered cocaine. Both are devastating. Most users need lots of help.

What black folks don't need are stiffer sentences for the same violation of the law as whites.

The same kind of systemic racism can be observed when looking carefully at the administration of death penalty sentencing. Black who are convicted of capital crimes against whites receive death sentences at a significantly higher rate than do whites who kill blacks or blacks who kill other blacks.

Racism is insidious. It is still very much alive in our culture. Unfortunately, the fact that you really aren't personally prejudiced is simply not enough.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

D Magazine's blog roll

I don't appreciate self-promotion. Then again, I guess to be honest every blogger must own up to some of that ego-driven urge to speak.

Whatever the case, I'm proud to say that DMagazine recently included Urban Daily on its "Blog Roll" list that claims to identify those blog pages that its readers judge to be most important in Dallas.

Hopefully, being included on this list will help us get our message out to a wider audience. At the same time, I'm hoping that exposure to our focus neighborhoods will help bring about needed changes for the benefit of everyone in our city.

Thanks DMagazine! We needed that.

View the entire Blog Roll at:


Comparative international studies. . . report that once a nation has achieved a moderate level of per capita income, further increases in wealth bring only slight increases in perceived well-being. . . . Beyond the minimum level of income essential to meeting basic needs, the authentic relationships of strong communities are a far better predictor of happiness and emotional health than the size of one's paycheck or bank account. . . . Over the last half of the twentieth century, inflation-adjusted U. S. gross domestic product per capita tripled, yet surveys indicate the self-reports of satisfaction with life have remained virtually flat.

From David Myers, "The Secret to Happiness,", summer 2004 as quoted in Brian D. McLaren's latest book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and a Revolution of Hope, pages 210-211.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Funding and homelessness

Funding to adequately support the work of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its essential programs that help communities like Dallas and organizations like Central Dallas Ministries (CDM) serve and house the homeless is in danger of being written out of next year's appropriations legislation.

Congress and the President are at odds with each other about the level of funding for any number of federal agencies. The Congressional proposal includes crucial increases to housing and homeless assistance programs. The President intends to veto the overall spending bill.

Congressional leaders intend to offer an omnibus funding bill that split the difference between what the House and Senate have agreed on and what the President has requested. That may sound reasonable, but for HUD programs such action would be devastating.

Any cuts would mean the actual loss of housing assistance for some people currently being served who are the poorest of the poor in the United States. Cities like Dallas, Texas rely on the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), low-income housing choice vouchers and Homeless Assistance Grants to develop and maintain quality housing for our low-income neighbors. These funds are good for the poor and they are good for real estate developers who serve the market at the lower end of our economic scale in Dallas.

CDM has benefited from each of these funds in the past in our efforts to house people.

The President's plan would deprive tens of thousands of low-income families of decent housing. At the same time, landlords would lose as well.

The U. S. House and Senate conference agreement currently includes $1.586 billion for McKinney Homeless Assistance Grants, a $144 million increase over fiscal year 2007, and a $25 million set-aside for communities to implement rapid rehousing programs which move families into permanent housing linked to supportive services. Again, both funds relate directly to the housing develop plans we are pursuing today here in Dallas.

In fact, this modest increase for McKinney funding would be sufficient to continue existing homeless activities and fund fewer than 8,000 new units of permanent supportive housing--well below the pace of new units funded between 2001 and 2004. City leaders in Dallas estimate that we need a minimum of 1,000 new units here alone.

Currently, due to the failure of the Congress to pass a new budget, federal programs are operating under a continuing resolution that funds programs under fiscal year 2007 levels. It is expected that Congress will pass an omnibus spending bill before the continuing resolution expires on December 14, this coming Friday.

Please contact your Senators and your Representative in the U. S. House immediately. Ask them to support full funding for the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in FY2008, as originally proposed by the Congress. Urge them to not support any compromise that would cut into HUD funding for the extremely poor in our nation.

Personal and practical note: Yesterday, I met over lunch with two leaders here in Dallas to collaborate on how to produce more high-quality, permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless with special attention to the disabled and mentally ill. Our plans cannot be completed without public funding like that provided for in the original HUD budget plan.

Get involved. Contact your U. S. legislators today. Your active involvement will change lives.


Monday, December 10, 2007

AK-47s and civil society

So, it's happened again.

This time in Omaha, Nebraska.

An extremely disturbed young man with an AK-47 automatic assault rifle attacks an upscale store in a large shopping mall before taking his own life.

Unfortunately, events like this don't surprise us anymore, do they?

Maybe I just don't get it, but do we really need to be able to purchase and own AK-47s? Is this what the Second Amendment really had in mind? And, weapons like this have nothing to do with game hunting.

I can hear my boo birds already. "If you make guns like this illegal, you'll just create an underground market. You can't control guns by making them against the law," etc., etc., etc.

I don't buy it.

Assault weapons, designed for only one purpose--the taking of human life--should be against the law. The manufacture, sale and ownership of weapons like this should not be allowed in this country. Anyone caught making, selling, owning or using such a weapon, except the U. S. military or law enforcement officials, ought to be charged with a felony offense. Those who manufacture and sell such weapons for any non-military use should pay a price.

Gun violence continues to be a major problem in urban America. Here in Dallas it seems like we read a story a day about death by guns.

No one is arguing against hunting or the right to organize for national defense.

But, AK-47s? Come on.

Since writing this, we have watched reports on two more shootings in Colorado. At this time it is uncertain if they are connected. Early reports indicate that they may be. Both involve people of faith as targets of the shooter(s). One report I heard interviewed a witness who mentioned seeing the shooter with "an automatic assault rifle." No relationship between this type of weapon and any rational reading of the Second Amendment. When will this madness end? When will we demand steps be taken that could at least make such insanity much more difficult and subject to tighter regulation and penalties?


Sunday, December 09, 2007

An old lady with a baby doll

I sat by my dad as he tried to eat his lunch.

He has great difficulty swallowing. He has little appetite for any kind of food, especially that served up at the skilled nursing center where he lives right now.

He tries, but it is so hard for him.

Strange, how it breaks my heart to watch him, but at the same time it is so good just to be with him. Sort of like those times when I was much younger and we would occupy ourselves out in the garage for hours doing. . .I can't remember what. . .we were just together. I loved those times. I think he did too.

Now we sit and visit, but with long periods of silence between us.

I'm having to come to grips with the fact that he is dying. But then, aren't we all? At times like this I realize again the importance of just "being with" a person you love.

But, back to the lunch room.

We sat at a table with his roommate, R. V. Thompson.

Dad and R. V. worked together over 50 years ago at the City of Richardson. R. V. was the Mayor. My dad served as City Secretary, a position like City Manager today. At the time, Richardson's population numbered about 1,500 or so. A few stories have been heard between them as they've shared the same room. We feel fortunate that R. V. is dad's roommate.

Also at the table was a lady who cradled a baby doll in her arms as she ate. Sad, but sweet and moving. She found comfort in some far away memory of her own children--the ones she loved the most, no doubt.

The other man who shared the table couldn't talk much, but he too was a long-time Richardson resident known by my dad and R. V. It was just good being with them all.

It was also sad. But, you know, sad is okay.

As I sat with my father, I remembered lots of visits years ago to nursing homes with youth groups. Many, if not most, of the residents we visited enjoyed our visits, but it was clear that after we left most of the residents probably didn't remember that we had been there. It hit me as I sat with my dad that it didn't matter. They knew we were there when we were there. Just like my dad.

So much of what counts most in life is all about just being there. You know?

Just being there. . .that's hard to beat.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Turner Courts

Check out the WFAA Channel 8 news report by Craig Civale that aired last Thursday night near the top of the 10 p.m. news:

The residents of Turner Courts who were interviewed are our friends and neighbors.

The story about the extremely dark streets without working street lights and the change in DART's bus routes after 6 p.m. came to the attention of Channel 8 thanks to the efforts of our team at Turner Courts.

Janet Morrison, Wyshina Harris and Sylvia Baylor have been organizing neighbors to speak out about basic living conditions and public safety issues in the community where one of our After School Academies is located.

I say "good show" to all those involved in bringing the reality of this neighborhood to the attention of the larger community. I'm looking for future reports of progress and better communitiy services.

Friday, December 07, 2007

America, the welcoming

The ongoing national debate over the fate and status of undocumented immigrants is an extremely noisy phenomenon. I mean, if you listen to the talk shows and lots of media interviews, you might get the feeling that the entire nation is ready to remove the inspirational inscription from the base of the Statue of Liberty!

I've decided that the majority of Americans do want to see the borders secured and the law, whatever its requirements, obeyed.

Fair enough.

What is being overlooked, I believe due to the rumble and chaos of most reports on the debate, is that most of us would like to see new, fair policy put in place that would allow immigrants from Mexico and other nations south of our national borders remain in the country permanently.

A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll reveals this, in fact, is the case with the majority of U. S. citizens.

Sixty per cent (62% of Republican voters and 64% among Democrats) of those polled favor allowing the undocumented who have not committed crimes to stay in the country and become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements.

Forty-six percent believe that undocumented immigrants should be able to receive emergency medical treatment in our hospitals. Forty per cent agreed that immigrant children should be allowed to attend public schools. Almost one of four felt that some sort of limited driver's license might be a good idea.

Listening to a CNN report on the findings of this poll, I noted that most who called in or emailed opinions were vehemently opposed to the majority opinions expressed by those who took part in the poll. Out here in inner city communities where a growing number of immigrants reside, work and raise their families, we see the problem much differently than the angry callers who just want to "pack 'em up and send 'em back" to wherever.

Even the headline in my Dallas Morning News spun the data negative ("Many would deny illegal migrants social services," 14A, Thursday, December 6, 2007) in spite of the fact that most respondents favored more welcoming treatment of the undocumented.

A couple of weeks ago I opened my morning paper to read a front page story of a woman who I've known for years here in Dallas. She attended a Park Cities church for years and that is where I met her. She had organized an entire movement of "concerned citizens," many of them from local churches, to stand against the horrible threat of law-breaking, criminal immigrants and their deplorable children.

Disappointing, indeed, at least as I reflect on how my faith informs my heart regarding my response to immigrant residents of my city and my neighborhood. (Sorry, but the whole "what would Jesus do" question crosses my mind just here, as well as my father's stories about hard working Mexican farm hands drawn from his memory of experiences over 60 years ago.)

The recent poll gave me some new hope. Maybe most loyal Americans look at the issue much differently than my old friend from church.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Income distribution and generations

On November 13, 2007, The Economic Mobility Project, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts issued a report on economic mobility in the U. S. Included in the findings was the fact that two-thirds of American families are earning more today than their parents did a generation ago, yet the likelihood of these younger families moving up—or down—the economic ladder still depends in large measure on their parents’ position.

Researchers for the study included a group of experts from The American Enterprise Institute, The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundation and The Urban Institute. The project issued three research reports. One reports on family mobility over the past three decades, while the other two investigate differences in mobility by race and gender.

According to the first report, “Economic Mobility of Families Across Generations,” two-thirds of Americans saw increases in income, adjusted for inflation. the report also notes that Americans live in smaller families today, so higher incomes are spread over fewer people. In percentage terms, income gains were highest for children born to parents at the bottom of the income distribution.

An extremely significant aspect of the findings centers in the fact that Americans’ ability to move up or down the economic ladder is tied closely to their parents’ economic position.

Forty-two percent of children born to parents at the bottom of the income distribution remain at the bottom, while 39 percent born to parents at the top, stay at the top.

“Two out of three Americans have higher family income than their parents,” report author, Julia B. Isaacs of The Brookings Institution, noted. “Individuals can surpass the income of their parents either because economic growth has boosted all incomes or because individuals have moved to a higher step on the income ladder. So, there is considerable mobility but it’s also the case that a child’s economic position is heavily influenced by that of his or her parents.”

Looking at economic mobility outcomes by race calls into question whether the American Dream is a reality for black and white families alike. In every income group, blacks are less likely than whites to climb the ladder, and the majority of blacks born to middle-income parents are slipping out of the middle class, according to the research data analyzed in the report, “Economic Mobility of Black and White Families.”

While black children are experiencing some of the income gains that all Americans do—63 percent make more today, after inflation, than their parents did—there are dramatic differences between blacks and whites at each income level. The report found that only 31 percent of black children born to parents in the middle-income group have family income greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of white children in the same circumstance. Almost half (45 percent) of black children in the middle-income group fall to the bottom of the income distribution in one generation, compared to only 16 percent of white children. In fact, for every parental income group, white children are more likely to move ahead of their parents’ economic rank while black children are more likely to fall behind.

“Much of my research is focused on the challenges faced by low-income black families, but these data are very disturbing, because they suggest that most middle-income black families are having difficulty transferring their hard-earned gains to their children,” said Ronald B. Mincy, the Maurice V. Russell Professor of Social Policy and Social Work Practice at Columbia University and a member of the Economic Mobility Project’s Advisory Board.

“We are hopeful that this report will provoke some serious discussion about what is driving these very troubling findings.”

The report on the comparative economic mobility of men and women, spotlights the fact that the growth in family incomes is largely due to the fact that far more families now have two earners. Male earnings have been stagnant over the past generation. The report found that sons and daughters have approximately the same likelihood of moving up or down the economic ladder. The exception is women whose parents were at the bottom of the income distribution. Partly because they are more likely to be single mothers, nearly half (47 percent) of daughters born to parents at the bottom remain at the bottom, compared to 35 percent of sons.

The reports also introduce a new typology, developed by John E. Morton, Pew’s managing director of economic policy and director of the Economic Mobility Project, and Ianna Kachoris, senior associate at Pew, in collaboration with Isaacs, which describes how families experience mobility. According to the typology, thirty-four percent of Americans are upwardly mobile, meaning they surpass their parents’ family income and economic rank. Twenty-seven percent are riding the tide, children who surpass their parents’ family income but remain in the same economic position as their parents relative to others in society. Five percent of Americans are falling despite the tide, meaning they are making more than their parents’ family income, but are actually falling behind their parents’ relative economic position. Thirty-three percent are downwardly mobile, making less than their parents family income and falling behind their economic position.

“Today’s reports should give us both reasons for optimism and cause for concern,” said Morton. “The overall trends are generally upward and positive, but there are significant numbers of Americans for whom this is not the case, and for whom the American Dream seems to be out of reach.”

More information about the project is available at

I've "lifted" the language for much of this post from the press release issued by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The report's significance for our work in Dallas relates to what we see among the growing urban underclass. The growing gap between the well-off and the urban poor continues to be a troubling and incredibly difficult reality in the inner cities of the United States.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007



It can block us from accomplishing what we know would be best.

When fears affect judgment, progress and renewal stall out.

Poverty knows all about fear.

We see evidence of fear on a daily basis in the city.

Just look to our streets.

The City of Dallas has taken steps to criminalize homelessness. Panhandling, "loitering" (read here: trying to find a place to simply stop the endless, daily parade of walking to rest just for a while), and other "nuisance" behaviors are now illegal and can result in citations, trips to jail or Parkland Hospital's psyche ward. The condition of being without a permanent place to live can now be regarded as a criminal act.

Because of their schedules, "early out/early in," shelters don't really help much with the problem of fear on our streets.

Business interests fear the poor and homeless who walk our streets, believing that these unfortunate folks will destroy any chance of a Downtown resurgence.

Fear blocks even the best and most innovative development efforts. Just try, as a non-profit organization, to work out a reasonable financing plan on a project aimed at providing high-quality, permanent housing for low-income people, let alone the severely impoverished homeless poor.

Lenders know fear.

For-profit developers are reluctant to focus on affordable housing production, again, to say nothing of real housing for the homeless. They are scared off by the narrow margins, as well as what they fear will be the unique challenges associated with managing affordable projects.

Even the homeless are afraid. They are afraid of the police, ordinary people like me and you, service providers, other poor people.

So, we are left with a situation defined largely by fear, misunderstandings and the inaction of the status quo.

Fear makes it simpler to arrest the homeless, declaring them criminals, than to provide what is really needed: permanent housing with plenty of human support.

I'm looking for leaders who will point us beyond our fear.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Strange Fruit

Having spent some time considering James Cone's theological reflections on the connection between the Christian cross and the Southern lynching tree--ironically and hypocritically, the form of execution adopted by Whites who claimed to be Christians--I will conclude by simply sharing the lyrics to the moving song, Strange Fruit.

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Use this link to hear Billie Holiday's moving rendition of "Strange Fruit":

Our nation's legacy of racism and race relations leaves us with much work to be done together, today.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Bill Moyers interviews James Cone

Last Friday I posted a link to a speech James Cone delivered at Harvard University.

I'm not quite ready to drop the subject.

Cone's work has had a profound impact on my thinking across the years.

Everyone who claims to be a Christian needs to watch Bill Moyers' interview with James Cone.

The subject?

Again, it's the cross and the lynching tree.

Here's the link: ttp://

I'd like to get some feedback on this subject and on this surprising connection. What do you think?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A story from Rick Reilly

Rick Reilly is leaving Sports Illustrated and moving over to ESPN. I'll miss his backpage essay each week in SI.

Here's a true story Reilly spun on back on May 7, 2007. It will encourage you. The story reveals the power of human connection, one of the essential building blocks of healthy community.


Coaching the Grief-stricken

Maybe you could use a happy story after what happened at Virginia Tech, and maybe I've got one.

I have this friend, an Iowa truck driver named Mark Lemke. Last July he wrote to SI, nominating his 19-year-old son, Cory, for FACES IN THE CROWD. Said the kid set all kinds of golf records and he'd been meaning to write for a long time. Said he was finally doing it now because Cory had just died in a motorcycle wreck.

Well, I wrote a column (Aug. 21, 2006) about how I got Mark on his cellphone as he was driving his tractor trailer on an Ohio highway and how he wept while talking about losing his best pal. And I don't know if it was from thinking of my own 19-year-old son or what, but it's the only time I ever cried while I wrote.

And then we made up a FACES IN THE CROWD box for Cory and stuck it at the bottom of the column.

Anyway, a couple of months go by, and then Mark gets this call: "Mr. Lemke?" the voice says. "It's Tony Dungy."

Now, Lemke, 51, is just an ex-jock with a simple life that a motorcycle drove a hole through. The most he hopes for when he gets off the road is his wife Maud's sloppy joes and his favorite couch and maybe a frosty root beer and a Vikings game to take his mind off Cory for a few hours. So, naturally, he figures the call is a joke.

"No, it is Tony Dungy," the voice says. "I'm just calling to offer my condolences to you and see if there's anything I can do to help you."

Now, you've got to understand, this was in October. The Colts were into the teeth of their schedule, the most critical season in Dungy's life, not to mention Peyton Manning's, not to mention the millions of Colts fans'. They figure if their team doesn't win it all this year, the genie goes back in the bottle.

But Dungy has his own sorrow to swallow. His 18-year-old son, James, hanged himself three days before Christmas in 2005. And Lemke knows this. So maybe Dungy, who's the same age as Lemke, is a guy who can relate. So they talk, and the coach tells Lemke to keep in touch.

"The hardest thing for me is, I sit in that truck all day, and all I do is think about him," Lemke tells him one day. "You're lucky. You've got so many people around you to get you through the days."

"Yeah," Dungy says, "but it doesn't get you through the nights."

And pretty soon they've got this bond going. Dungy has a wife, five kids, the monster job, numerous charities he works with and a thousand things to do, yet he takes the time to answer every Lemke e-mail, gives him his cell number and returns every call. They go deep sometimes. Lemke gets hot at God for taking Cory. Dungy tells him that's normal, but he adds that if they keep their faith, "we'll see them again."

Then it's the playoffs, and Dungy is apologizing for not replying to Lemke right away. Sorry about not getting back to you, he e-mails Lemke one day. Sometimes I can go a few days without getting on my computer, especially if our defense is not playing well.

I ask you, who is that nice?

Next thing you know, the Colts are in the Super Bowl and Dungy is inviting a man he's never met, a Vikings fan, no less, to be his guest there. So Lemke finds a load that needs hauling to Florida and a load that has to come back, and he drives his 18-wheel rig to Miami. The day before the game he meets Dungy in person at the team hotel. They hug. They visit. They pray. The next day Lemke takes his seat in Dolphin Stadium and watches his new buddy win it all.

And this is only one stranger whom Tony Dungy has befriended. There's the former high school coach in Wisconsin whose son committed suicide. There's the young kid in Indianapolis who lost his mother and brother in a car wreck. Heartbroken people all over are suddenly getting a hand up from a man who himself should be a puddle but is instead a river of strength.

Yet Dungy refuses to talk to the media about these good deeds, which only makes them better.

"I'm awfully grateful to him," Lemke says. "He helped me keep my faith. He taught me that he and I, we're not alone."

After two weeks of hearing about how low man can sink, isn't it nice to know how high he can rise?

Tony Dungy stands as a reminder to every parent who's grieving right now that there is a way through the pain. And that way is through each other.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Retreat reading. . .

Want a feel for and a visual narrative on everything Vietnam?

Read Nelson Demille's Up Country.

I read it during my recent "retreat time" away from the city.

Demille's main character, Paul Brenner, a retiree from the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, accepts an unusual assignment that takes him back to Vietnam for the first time in over 30 years.

His purpose: to investigate a murder allegedly committed by a U. S. Army Captain during the midst of a bloody siege. The identity of this officer turns out to be quite a surprise.

It's a great read, especially if you're looking for insights into the Vietnam War and its horror and humanity.

The last paragraph of the book says a lot that draws me back to the city:

"The journey home is never a direct route; it is, in fact, always circuitous, and somewhere along the way, we discover that the journey is more significant than the destination, and that the people we meet along the way will be the traveling companions of our memories forever."

Friday, November 30, 2007

James Cone: the Cross and the lynching tree

Last year on October 19, Harvard Divinity School hosted James Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, to present the 2006 Ingersoll Lecture.

What follows is an essay based on the speech Cone delivered. His subject was provocative, as is typical with Cone: the cross and the lynching tree. The link to watch the video and get the entire, amazing message can be found at:

When I was in seminary, I had the wonderful opportunity to enroll in a summer school class with Dr. Cone. He has had a profound influence on my life and thinking.

Watch and read. Don't miss what he says.


One has to have a powerful religious imagination to see redemption in the cross, to discover life in death and hope in tragedy. “Christianity,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “is a faith which takes us through tragedy to beyond tragedy, by way of the cross to victory in the cross.” What kind of salvation is that? To understand what the cross means in America, we need to take a good long look at the lynching tree in this nation’s history — “the bulging eyes and twisted mouth,” that “strange fruit” that Billie Holiday sang about, “blood on the leaves and blood at the root.” The lynched black victim experienced the same fate as the crucified Christ.

The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, usually reserved for hardened criminals, rebellious slaves, and rebels against the Roman state and falsely accused militant blacks who were often called “black beasts” and “monsters in human form” for their audacity to challenge white supremacy in America. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree. “Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock…. Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame” (Hengel). The crowd’s shout, “Crucify him! (Mark 15:14), anticipated the white mob’s shout, “Lynch him!” Jesus’ agonizing final cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) was similar to the Georgia lynching victim Sam Hose’s awful scream, as he drew his last breath, “Oh my God! Oh, Jesus.” In each case, it was a cruel, agonizing, and contemptible death.

The cross and the lynching tree need each other: the lynching tree can liberate the cross from the false pieties of well-meaning Christians. The crucifixion was a first-century lynching. The cross can redeem the lynching tree, and thereby bestow upon lynched black bodies an eschatological meaning for their ultimate existence. The cross can also redeem white lynchers, and their descendants, too, but not without profound cost, not without the revelation of the wrath and justice of God, which executes divine judgment, with the demand for repentance and reparation, as a presupposition of divine mercy and forgiveness. Most whites want mercy and forgiveness, but not justice and reparations; they want reconciliation without liberation, the resurrection without the cross.

As preachers and theologians, we must demonstrate the truth of our proclamation and theological reflection in the face of the cross and the lynched black victims in America’s past and present. When we encounter the crucified Christ today, he is a humiliated black Christ, a lynched black body. Christ is black not because black theology said it. Christ is made black through God’s loving solidarity with lynched black bodies and divine judgment against the demonic forces of white supremacy. Like a black naked body swinging on a lynching tree, the cross of Christ was “an utterly offensive affair,” “obscene in the original sense of the word,” “subjecting the victim to the utmost indignity.”

— In a penetrating essay, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about “the terrible beauty of the cross.” “Only a tragic and a suffering love can be an adequate symbol of what we believe to be at the heart of reality itself.” The cross prevents God’s love from sinking into sentimentality and romanticism. “Life is too brutal and the cosmic facts are too indifferent to our moral ventures to make faith in any but a suffering God tenable.” The gospel of Jesus is not a beautiful Hollywood story. It is an ugly story, the story of God snatching victory out of defeat, finding life in death, transforming burning black bodies into transcendent windows for seeing the love and beauty of God.

— The church’s most vexing problem today is how to define itself by the gospel of Jesus’ cross as revealed through lynched black bodies in American history. Where is the gospel of Jesus’ cross revealed today? Where are black bodies being lynched today? The lynching of black America is taking place in the criminal justice system where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons and jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court. One-half of the two million people in prisons are black. That is one million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons, whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.

The civil rights movement did not end lynching. It struck a mighty blow to the most obvious brutalities, like the lynching of Emmett Till and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. But whenever society treats a people as if they have no rights or dignity or worth, as the government did to blacks during the Katrina storm, they are being lynched covertly. Whenever people are denied jobs, health care, housing, and the basic necessities of life, they are being lynched. There are a lot of ways to lynch a people. Whenever a people cry out to be recognized as human beings and society ignores them, they are being lynched.

— People who have never been lynched by another group usually find it difficult to understand why blacks want whites to remember lynching atrocities. Why bring that up? That was a long time ago! Is it not best forgotten? Absolutely not! The lynching tree is a metaphor for race in America, a symbol of America’s crucifixion of black people. It is the window that best reveals the theological meaning of the cross in this land. In this sense, black people are Christ-figures, not because we want to be but because we had no choice about being lynched, just as Jesus had no choice in his journey to Calvary. Jesus did not want to die on the cross, and blacks did not want to swing from the lynching tree. But the evil forces of the Roman State and white supremacy in America willed it. Yet God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree upon the divine self and transformed both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy, with repentance and reparation, there is hope beyond the tragedy — hope for whites, blacks, and all humankind — hope beyond the lynching tree.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Economic organizing--hard work

[Lee Stuart worked with South Bronx Churches (an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation) before he became Director of Development for The Hunger Project. I find his insights in the quote below extremely interesting, not so surprising and somewhat alarming. Overcoming entrenched poverty in entire communities is extremely difficult. If Stuart is correct here, it will only grow more challenging in coming days. I often have the feeling that many folks who drop by this blog don't understand or think in systemic terms when discussing poverty. To miss this dimension is to miss a large portion of the harsh reality of living in poverty.]

In organizing terms, what is happening is that the power of organized money is more and more trumping the power of organized people. In New York City, as recently as fifteen years ago, we could organize enough people to counteract organized money. Now, that is increasingly difficult to do. Methods of organizing that were developed to deal with a dominant public sector are not tuned to dealing with a dominant market sector, and much less a non-localized market sector.

All politics is local, but increasingly, economic decisions are made on a global scale, and local politics can do little but sit and watch as a century old sugar warehouse closes on the Brooklyn waterfront to make way for luxury condos, as a seventy year old plant manufacturing pots and pans in the South Bronx moves to Mexico and when tax breaks to an automobile manufacturing plant bankrupt the Tarrytown school system and the plant closes anyway.

Traditional community organizing, relatively powerless even in the old days of government strength, is even more powerless when the stage is global. Effective organizing is based on relationships and the types of relationships that organizing has depended on so far are undeniably local. In global economics, local doesn’t matter much. It feels as if we’re on the edges – good edges, to be sure and certainly important in the day to day lives of people, but edges nonetheless. (64)

Lee Stuart, "Theological Challenges to Community Organizing," Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture 42 no 3 (Fall 2007).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Right Here"

Music is power.

Last summer, my friend, Mikey Cunningham wrote a new song he titled "Right Here."

The sensitive and moving lyrics speak to hunger, urban poverty, homelessness and despair. Even more, the music begs several questions about our inability, our unwillingness to make meaningful human connections to impoverished people in our communities.

Mikey is a member of the Stefano Elliott Band, a local group of Christian musicians from the Southlake Boulevard Church in suburban Southlake, Texas. That may seem like a strange place for the incubation of such music, but then you likely don't know Mikey or his buds!

You can give it a listen by going to this link and then playing track 2:

I'd love to hear your thoughts and feelings after you hear it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Housing First" Works!

Newsflash: homeless people are not criminals, nor are they deserving of the treatment they usually receive. What people who lack homes need is decent, permanent housing.

As I've related here before, lots of national research and numerous case studies document the fact that once given a place to call home, an overwhelming majority of formerly homeless persons manage their lives very well without much additional intervention (87%, to reference one major study).

Well, we now have our own experience to report in validation of the reports from other cities.

Thanks to a grant from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Central Dallas Ministries is placing homeless persons in permanent housing in two undisclosed Dallas locations.

We have funding for 50 apartments. We have secured these housing units through an agreement with one property owner. We control 25 one-bedroom apartment units in each of two different locations. In each location our living units are part of a much larger, multi-family development.

So far we have placed 18 homeless men in permanent housing. These guys now have a key to the place they call home. Thanks to a couple of area churches, they also have what they need to set up housekeeping.

We've been at this for several weeks now. Before too much longer we will have filled all 50 of our apartments.

Guess what?

No problems whatsoever from our tenants. They are so grateful for the housing and for the freedom, you should hear them talk. Without a doubt, these gentlemen will become some of these developments' best residents.

Their stories are all a bit different.

All are dealing with various disabilities.

All are capable of life on their own. They proved that surviving on our mean streets, some of them for several years.

What they share in common is an extremely positive, appreciative response to having a home of their own.

Here's the chief solution for our Downtown "problems with the homeless." Develop the housing. Provide the support to move folks from the street to a quality, decent home. The problem can be solved. We are kidding ourselves if we say otherwise.

If I was a Downtown, upscale developer, I'd call CDM and ask how to make an investment in our future development plans.*

I'm just wondering if we have the will, the smarts and the vision as a community to simply practice the Golden Rule? If we do, the outcome will be wonderful for everyone.

(*By the way, my phone number is 214.823.8710 ext 116!)


Monday, November 26, 2007

Considering the enemies of justice and fairness

It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gordon Cosby

N. Gordon Cosby founded The Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. Here's a bit of his prophetic wisdom for this Sunday:

We see the realities of our world and recognize that the church has not become a strong and mighty witness for scores of displaced refugees and starving ill, ignored, assaulted masses. We are not calling the nations to bow before God in recognition of systemic oppression of the poor. We are not demanding that practices of reconciliation and justice be at the heart of national and global policies, nor even at the heart of our own schools, work places and neighborhoods. We are not lending our corporate voice to the voiceless and our power to the powerless. . . .

No longer do we wish to remain silent in the face of our immense needs. No longer will we condone the church's complicity in the violence of war, racism, sexism, addiction, and the growing divide between those with access to wealth and those with access only to poverty. No longer will we accept being separated from each other because we are of different races and cultures and economic classes.

[Taken from Becoming the Authentic Church: From Principle to Practice (2004), pages 10-11]

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Anyone who would like to have a really cool button supportive of immigration reform that benefits the millions of Mexicans in this country today who need legal work status, please contact me at
I'll send you one free of charge on a first come first served basis!

Caring for our "home"

Anyone who really cares about people, urban areas and the future needs to read Bill McKibben's essay in the October 2007 edition of National Geographic ("Carbon's New Math," pages 33ff) or go to this link:

Lots to think about.

Convicting to me on several levels: my love of fast, muscle-type automobiles (I drive a Hemi!); my gluttony of energy on many other fronts; my thoughtless use of non-biodegradable products; my love of air conditioning to the extreme. . .the list goes on and on.

We are insatiable consumers, as evidenced by another wild and crazy "black Friday" just yesterday. The sales numbers aren't in, but if the video footage is any indicator, Americans continued the grand tradition of spend, consume and waste.

One thing seems certain: we are all connected on this one planet as never before. And, urban dwellers, no matter where, share lots in common.

We all need to go "green."

Maybe a first step is to take the problem and the challenge a bit more seriously than we do at present here in Texas!