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!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

A special meal with extended family, and sometimes others.

Football before and after lunch!

Laughter. Great conversation and storytelling.

None of the anxiety or stress of Christmas. . .though I must acknowledge that I've never been responsible for the meal or much of the preparation that goes along with making the day special.
And, a time of personal reflection about the quality of life and its many blessings, no matter what its troubles, challenges or worries.

Working with and among folks who make a life with only a fraction of my wealth and opportunity has taught me so much about gratitude. I've watched my poorest friends and acquaintances express almost unbounded gratitude for the simplest things. It is humbling and convicting to observe the penniless celebrate what appears to be so little.

All week we've seen people preparing for their special family meals, as they have come in and out of our centers, carrying away our canned food. Expressions of gratitude have filled our week already.

It is cold this morning. Thousands will come in out of this weather to share a meal with strangers, prepared by strangers. There is a bitter sweet dimension to this day, isn't there? Joy will fill the industrial-size dining halls where the urban poor will consume their mass meals. Gratitude will abound, along with some fear, well-founded anger, frustration and laughter.

I'm grateful for much today.

I'm also mindful and aware that, if I am truly grateful, I have much to do to make things more acceptable to those who have so little.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dark streets and no transportation

I don't know if you can relate to what follows. Again, it comes from Ms. Sylvia's Love Thy Neighbor blog that I posted here on Monday.

Our own Dr. Janet Morrison provides this entry. Reading this really puts me in touch with what some of my friends face every day here in inner city Dallas, Texas. Most of us take basic city services for granted. In many neighborhoods the basics just aren't being covered. I'd love your reaction. You can visit the blog that features community writers at

Have you noticed how dark it is as you drive down Bexar Street by Turner Courts?

I didn't really notice it before, but now that we've had Daylight Savings time, it seems much more apparent. Probably because it's dark when the kids leave the After-School Academy...and it's darkest right there.

As I drove down Bexar, I noticed the street lights right along Bexar and the one on the corner of Bexar and Parsons are both really dim. I wonder how many more are like that. If anyone else is interested in doing anything about that, let me know. Maybe if we get several people together, we can get Dwaine Carroway, our city council member, down here and we can talk to him about it.

The other thing that bothered me is when I found out the DART buses don't run down there after dark anymore. That is something like 6:00! What about people going to or getting off of work?? That's not right. I heard it's because people have been throwing bricks or eggs and such at the buses (maybe some of that would decrease if our street lights worked). If that's true and people are doing that, I wouldn't want to drive in that either.

BUT...we don't need to just accept it! We need to do something! What can we do? Could we form some sort of watch group and communication with the police for kids/people who do that? Can we talk to DART? Maybe this is another issue for Dwaine Carroway. After all...he is OUR city representative!

We can't expect him to do it all by himself. We have to work together. But at least we could start the conversation. Who is interested?? Let me know or let Sylvia know and she can get in contact with me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Givers' Greed

Doing good can get complicated.

Managing a frontline organization that depends on donations for its continued existance can be extremely complicated.

Donors make the world go round. They can also clog up the system and grind things to an absolute halt! It is amazing how the good intentions of donors accomplish this feat fairly regularly.

Interested in learning more about what I mean? If you are interested in really bringing about change in a city, you've got to read this! Check out this link:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Women, work and moving up. . .

What follows was "lifted" from a blog created and maintained by one of the hardest working and most dedicated members of the Turner Courts community, Sylvia Baylor.

Appropriately tagged, Love Thy Neighbor, her words come right from the heart and speak about issues related to her life and neighborhood. Sylvia is one of our "team members" discovered in the community as we were working with the neighborhood children. She continues to devote herself to providing leadership and opportunity to others. As you'll see, she is doing both very well!

What she describes in this post is an employment training class that has grown out of our After School Academy. We find the parents of the children who participate in our after school program to be very interested in improving their own lives while supporting their little ones in their education. Great and encouraging synergy! Read her posts at:

Yesterday started the first day of the adult Job Readiness Class, what a joy.

Their were 13 women to attend: Sherika Ricks, Lori Cullom, Michelle Shepard, Alexia Cullom, Kaiesha Hallman, Kechia Strain, Jocquelyn Smith, Dana Arnick, Ashley Jones, June Mason, Gayle Barnes, Michelle Hallman and Lekeythe Hunter.

Very strong women that know what they want. I am so glad that they made up in their mind that they did not want to stay in the same situation forever.

They talked very deeply about what they wanted in life. I see that they are not destined to stay stagnated. I feel passionate about this class. I think that something good is going to come from this class. I pray that these women continue to keep up the good work and that they never lose sight of what God as placed in their paths.

True, we live in this community and it seems as if we are living at the dead end of the street but we have climbed over the top. I am determined to bring about a change in the minds of those that I come in contact with. I know that somebody is listening. If it is only one or two I have touched I have fulfilled my goal.

I am not here to be served, I am here to serve. This is what God requires of all of us. So I encourage everyone to pray constantly for each other.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

68th Wedding Anniversary

Today marks my parents' 68th wedding anniversary.

On November 18, 1939, they eloped to get married in Peacock, Texas. What's more amazing is that they came back home and kept it a secret for about a year! Makes me feel better about some of my teenage antics!

My dad was 19, my mom 18. They both grew up in Stonewall County, about 50 miles north of Abilene, Texas. Both were members of relatively poor farming families who, as children of the Depression, struggled to wrestle a living out of the red, dry dirt of that part of Texas. Cotton, cattle, wheat, feed grasses--that was their life.

After the War, they moved to Des Moines, Iowa seeking a better life economically. Then, they relocated to Spokane, Washington where my father worked for the county as a purchasing agent. I was born there after they'd been married a little over 10 years.

We returned to Texas in 1953. My dad worked as City Secretary (much like City Manager) for the little town of Richardson until 1959 when he joined a private real estate development firm that literally developed almost the entire the west side of Richardson. Until his very recent health problems, he was still going to the office one day a week to handle some company investments and to "help out" with things.

My mom was fortunate to be a "stay-at-home" mother. She kept things running smoothly in our home. My dad worked very hard. They both taught me what it meant to be a decent person in a world of difficulty and joy. They have always been sensitive to and concerned about the lives and status of laboring people and the poor. They taught me that every person deserved my respect without regard to possessions or the artificiall status that wealth tends to manufacture.

They have been members of the Richardson East Church of Christ (where I served as minister for 14 years) since 1961. They evidence this staying power in regard to just about everything they find to do.

They have what seems like a million friends!

They certainly found a way to make their marriage work. My observation across the years tells me that the keys for them were daily give and take, a willingness to listen, mutual respect, clear commitment, enduring romance and practical love.

Two young kids, some would say, foolishly running off to get married without their parents' approval. They sure have done well for themselves and for me and my family and so many friends who've enjoyed watching them make a great life together.
This anniversary will be unlike any other they've experienced.

They will be apart.

My dad is still in skilled nursing--he is very ill. My mom at their apartment home. We'll get them together for a little celebration later today. I know it won't be exactly what they would prefer, but the love will still be there, and the joy in each other's company.

Sixty-eight years is a long time.

Congratulations, mom and dad. We love you both.

As I consider the blessing they've been to me, it strikes me that the new country hit by Brooks and Dunn, "Proud of the House We Built," pretty well sums up the life they've enjoyed together.

I dropped to my knees
In that field on your Daddy's farm
Asked you to marry me
All I had to give was my heart
While other kids were divin' in the swimming holes
You and me dove off into the great unknown

We were barely getting by taking care of each other
And I became a daddy
You became a mother
It was an uphill battle nearly every day
Looking back I wouldn't have it any other way

I'm proud of the house we built
It's stronger than sticks, stones, and steel
It's not a big place sitting up high on some hill
Lot of things will come and go
But love never will
Oh, I'm proud, I'm proud of the house we built

Still working our way through the land of milk and honey
At the end of the day there's always more bills than money
I close my eyes at night and I still feel
The same fire in my heart out in that field

I'm proud of the house we built
It's stronger than sticks, stones, and steel
It's not a big place sitting up high on some hill
Lot of things will come and go
But love never will
I'm proud, Oh, I'm proud of the house we built

Oh, look at us together
Oh, we've come such a long, long way
I'm proud of the house we built
It's stronger than sticks, stones, and steel
It's not a big place sitting up high on some hill
Lot of things come and go
But love never will
I'm proud,
Yeah, I'm proud of the house we built


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Power's fundamental mistake

Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all His laws.

John Adams

Friday, November 16, 2007

Facts regarding immigrants and our health care system

Just the facts:

  • Documented immigrants--adults and children--must now wait 5 years after coming to the United States to apply for any public health benefits. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for public health benefits, except for some emergency Medicaid assistance at the point of service or emergency.

  • Five years after this rule changed, non-elderly, documented immigrant adults had experienced a 36% decline in health coverage.

  • From 1995 to 2005, the uninsured rate for citizen children declined to 15% from 19%, thanks to increases in Medicaid and CHIP enrollments.

  • During the same period, the uninsured rate for documented immigrant children rose to 48% from 44%, while Medicaid and CHIP coverage declined by 17% among these children.

  • Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia use state-only funds to provide basic health services to documented children and pregnant women who otherwise would be subject to the 5-year delay. States with high immigrant populations are among these states, including California, New York and Texas.

  • Many of the "new growth" states for immigrants, such as Arkansas, North Carolina and Iowa, do not offer these benefits.

  • The continuing belief that ineligible documented and undocumented immigrants are receiving massive public health benefits led to a provision in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that now requires U. S. citizens to present proof of citizenship when applying or renewing for Medicaid benefits.

  • Only 16% of total medical costs for documented and undocumented immigrants were covered through public sources. In terms of taxes paid, the annual cost of health care for documented immigrants per American household is $56 and $11 for emergency Medicaid services for undocumented immigrants.

    • [Sources: Center on Budget and Public Policy Priorities and the Center for American Progress]


      Thursday, November 15, 2007

      Health Care, Justice, Profit and Racism

      "The fact that we don't have universal healthcare is racist."

      Vijay Prashad, Associate Professor of International Studies, Trinity College and author of Keeping Up With the Dow Joneses

      "The fundamental issue is that we cannot continue to have a healthcare system with profit as its primary goal and expect it to help people become healthy."

      Praxis News & Notes (Fall 2003)
      The Praxis Project, Washington, DC

      Wednesday, November 14, 2007

      Stereotyping Mexican immigrants--an old game

      Not long ago, Everyday Citizen ( posted something I had written about immigrants and the DREAM Act.

      A reader responded with a comment that reminded me of the power, poison and persistence of popular stereotypes in promoting hate and inaccurate information. I'll stretch a bit and give the person who posted the comment every benefit of all my doubts and just assume that he/she doesn't know anyone from Mexico.

      But, I need to respond to part of the description because of the negative impact of such wrongheaded mythology.

      The reader wrote, "The majority of illegal aliens in this country are from Mexico and they know exactly what they are doing. For them, America is the land of the free - health care, welfare, food stamps, no taxes on their income . . . ."

      Nothing is free. The immigrants in question have been encouraged to come here by employers who pay them wages below market to benefit company bottom lines and consumers like me. Undocumented immigrants don't qualify for TANF, food stamps or Medicaid. And, they do pay taxes--some even pay taxes on their earned income. The Social Security Administration collects contributions on bogus Social Security numbers annually in an amount equal to about 10% of the entire Social Security reserve fund. These workers pay sales taxes on every purchase they make. As is true for all renters, monthly rent checks allow property owners to pay taxes. True, workers can go to Texas emergency rooms when in a health emergency, but we would be better served if they were free to take advantage of the public health system in terms of cost savings.

      The reader wrote, ". . .wouldn't all Americans love to have that kind of world." The most regressive parts of our tax laws affect the poorest among us, including immigrants, many of whom pay a higher percentage of their overall incomes than do many of us who are doing much better financially.

      The reader wrote, "And as far as educating them, we have bent over backwards and held our own children back because of their refusal to learn English."

      Again, the investment we have made in the education of the children of undocumented immigrants will not be lost, unless we decide to deport them all to a country they've never known. Today in Dallas, bi-lingual employees are needed in every sector of our economy. Why divest our nation of these valuable assets?

      As far as "holding our children back," I find that laughable. My daughters are teachers in public schools. One is certified in special education. The other is an elementary teacher with bi-lingual education credentials. She would not agree with your assessment of the impact of immigrant children on "our own children." She is amazed at how fast the children of immigrants learn English.

      I am wondering why we don't take advantage of the presence of so many Spanish speaking students to help the English only students master this second language? Could the answer be discovered in the very important, if misguided, distinction the reader makes between "our own children" and theirs? If that is the case, is education really the issue with this reader? I doubt it.

      Our fears are foolish, shortsighted and limiting. I pray we wake up to our own folly.


      Tuesday, November 13, 2007

      East Dallas homes for sale!

      The Central Dallas Community Development Corporation is building homes in East Dallas priced for first-time home buyers.

      I thought someone out in the blog sphere might be interested in purchasing one of our very cool, contemporary, new urban style homes located on beautiful Columbia Avenue.

      Priced from the low $100s, these bright new houses will provide four buyers a great opportunity in a great and rebounding community.

      Interested? Let me know how to contact you! Or, use the number on our sign pictured here.

      Monday, November 12, 2007

      Lourdes' Story

      Below you'll be able to read a short note and watch a video message from one of our neighbors, Lourdes.

      We met Lourdes during a personal and family crisis. When she found our public interest law firm, the L.A.W. Center, she discovered the allies and advocates she needed to address and successfully resolve her horrible situation.

      As you watch the video and listen to her experience, try to put yourself in her place. Her story is gripping. Thankfully, the outcome is very encouraging!

      Lourdes found the protection that she needed when she came to Central Dallas Ministries. Our attorneys took her case and provided her with the legal protection that she deserved to save her life and the life of her young daughter.


      "Dear Friend,

      My name is Lourdes. My daughter and I lived with severe domestic violence for years. Now, because of your support of Central Dallas Ministries’ Legal Action Works Center, my daughter and I are legally protected from future abuse.

      We are now able to live our lives free of fear!

      Thank you for caring about our safety.



      Sunday, November 11, 2007

      The angry God of my childhood community

      It occurs to me that I haven't spent much time unpacking my theological roots, at least not in any systematic manner, at least not lately since I've moved in such a radically different direction over the past several years.

      For sure, I have spent many hours dislodging many specifics of the legalistic heritage I inherited from my West Texas farm family.

      The strange, almost exotic emphasis on things like how to sing in church, the frequency of the Eucharistic celebration, the mode and meaning of baptism, the organizational details and glossary of the local church, the danger of being too cooperative with other congregations, the hard sell of a denomination that claimed it was non-denominational are all part of the list that goes on and on.

      And, when you stop to think it through, it includes some other really important matters...things like how to view to treat members of other races, ethnic groups and nations...the politics of war and peace, social justice and the poor--big ticket issues at home and around the world.

      The truth is, I may have spent too much time on these issues in an attempt, both to make peace with my rather bizarre religious heritage and, at the same time, to reform it in some meaningful manner.

      Most likely, I could have avoided wasting so much time had I stepped back earlier for a longer, more comprehensive view of the theological system passed along to me from childhood. I also realize that to some extent, everyone could find such an exercise profitable. And, I expect almost everyone will find some aspects of their "theological inheritance" wanting.

      But, I have mine with which to deal.

      I grew up in a church that was basically kind, welcoming and friendly--at least, that is how it seemed to me as a child. I later realized that this warmth was not necessarily shared automatically outside the church family. I also came to understand that, for the most part, the members of the church of my childhood were incredibly conservative socially and politically. In fact, many were extreme in their political and social worldview. If you are interested, I have stories!

      In reflecting on my positive feelings about the warmth of the church, I have come to realize that this was likely true because of the gracious soul of one minister in particular who shaped the spirit of the congregation for over a generation, even though he served for a relatively short tenure.

      Back to the longer theological is clear to me now that the community of faith of my childhood envisioned God to be fundamentally an angry deity. A God of judgment, punishment and severe actions was the God we attempted to satisfy on Sundays--morning and night, and then again at mid-week prayers and Bible study.

      Our concern for the details of salvation, church polity, worship style and religious exercises could all be traced back to this notion that God was a God who was defined and best understood as a deity seated on a throne of harsh judgment. Everything had to be just right or the God we served was bound to make it right at our eternal expense.

      From an early age I read, studied and memorized the details of the mighty acts of this avenging God. In an interesting twist of theological gymnastics, we spent a great deal of time reading the judgments and punishments of this God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible. At times, his judgments wiped out whole nations. At other times, his wrath focused on individuals or small groups who were somehow out of step with his law...the rules that could not be violated without great personal loss. Then, when we turned to deciding how to measure our faithfulness and acceptability as a church, we focused solely on the New Testament, with an emphasis on Acts of the Apostles as we searched for a "safe pattern" for our community. Ironically, we spent very little time focused on Jesus.

      We knew all about hell and eternal damnation. . .down to the sounds, smells and feelings. At one time or another, we all felt as if we were bound for the fire, only to be snatched out of the pit of suffering by completing a series of steps on our way to salvation. . .sort of.

      We learned quickly that salvation also involved "being faithful unto death"--a feat no one seemed sure how to accomplish. As a result, we threw ourselves into religious observances lined out by a clear pattern that had to be followed if we expected to reach the realms of eternal life.

      Our religion was defined almost completely by judgment...its single most important organizing paradigm.

      Actually, this turned out to be very convenient for us. As most of us moved up into the middle class, we found that our religious system allowed us to escape the hard realities of the real world. We found it easy to ignore the American Civil Rights Movement, the War in Vietnam, poverty, injustice, racism and countless other matters of here-and-now social importance. After all, we were faithful to the precise pattern we had learned in church and we were on the road to heaven, away from hell. We even sang with gusto that "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through!"

      The paradigm of judgment insured our complete irrelevance as a people in and to our community.

      It is this perspective defined by judgment that I have spent the last 30 years or more casting aside.

      At some point, I'll attempt a reflection on our view of the Bible and on the nature of scripture itself. Enough for now.

      Sorry, but this helps me process!


      Saturday, November 10, 2007

      Toward a different world--a neighborhood at a time

      "I'm working toward a world in which it would be easier for people to behave decently."

      Kathy Kelly
      Voices in the Wilderness

      Friday, November 09, 2007

      The other, persistent American story

      Howard Zinn is a masterful historian and a great writer of descriptive narrative. His A People's History of the United States 1492--Present should be required reading for everyone who cares about this nation, its past and its future.

      The American story is complex, with many chapters going unnoticed and unread. Zinn specializes in bringing the "other American story" out in the open. Recently, I re-read this section of his treatment of a part of the colonial period.

      Let me know if this sounds familiar in any way.


      The colonies grew fast in the 1700s. English settlers were joined by Scotch-Irish and German immigrants. Black slaves were pouring in; they were 8 percent of the population in 1690; 21 percent in 1770. The population of the colonies was 250,000 in 1700; 1,600,000 by 1760. Agriculture was growing. Small manufacturing was developing. Shipping and trading were expanding. The big cities--Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston--were doubling and tripling in size.

      Through all that growth, the upper class was getting most of the benefits and monopolized political power. A historian who studied Boston tax lists in 1687 and 1771 found that in 1687 there were, out of a population of six thousand, about one thousand property owners, and that the top 5 percent--1 percent of the population--consisted of fifty rich individuals who had 25 percent of the wealth. By 1770, the top 1 percent of the property owners owned 44 percent of the wealth. /div>

      As Boston grew, from 1687 to 1770, the percentage of adult males who were poor, perhaps rented a room, or slept in the back of a tavern, owned no property, doubled from 14 percent of the adult males to 29 percent. A loss of property meant loss of voting rights.

      Everywhere the poor were struggling to stay alive, simply to keep from freezing in cold weather. All the cities built poorhouses in the 1730s, not just for old people, widows, crippled and orphans, but for unemployed, war veterans, new immigrants. In New York, at midcentury, the city almshouse, built for one hundred poor, was housing over four hundred. A Philadelphia citizen wrote in 1748: "It is remarkable what an increase of the number of Beggars there is about this town this winter." In 1757, Boston officials spoke of "a great Number of Poor. . .who can scarcely procure from day to day daily Bread for themselves and Families."

      (from chapter three--"Persons of Mean and Vile Condition," pages 49-50)

      Thursday, November 08, 2007

      The "iron rule" of community development

      I love the work of Studs Terkel.

      Terkel is the quintessential oral historian of the past two generations. His books are classics, mainly because he records the stories of the people of the nation.

      Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Troubled Times (The New Press, 2003) is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the power and strength of the human soul.

      Here are excerpts from Ed Chambers, executive director of the Industrial Areas Foundation and one of the characters Terkel includes in this collection of living testimony.


      I learned not to do things for people, but to get people to do things. . . . People in the community having the power to do it for themselves, that's the iron rule. Never do for others what they can do for themselves. Never, never (pages 228-229).

      One of the things you gotta learn in this business is that all organizing is constant reorganizing. . . . These organizations that aren't constantly reorganized become part of the establishment and the status quo (page 230).

      That which you possess isn't as great as that which you are about to possess (page 231).

      I got my energy for this work from other people, so the self must stay in connection with others, new others, others that have more talent and more vision and more power than you have. That energizes you and keeps you going. Without that, you will ossify. You can call it what you want. You can call it community, you can call it necessity. You've got to be in relationship with real people. I try to stay in touch with everyday, ordinary citizens. I don't need celebs. The big power, you can't have a relationship with. They don't want you, they don't need you (page 213).


      Wednesday, November 07, 2007

      Home for One

      Chilean artist Carolina Pino has designed what she calls a Shellhouse for the homeless.

      The Shellhouse concept is a collapsible, triangular, orgami-like shelter made of cardboard. Thus, it provides a roof over one's head, but can be folded up and carried about during the day.

      Included in the design are plans for building a radio transmitter so that owners can communicate with others about their current locations. This ability is essential for obtaining and maintaining employment.

      Hmm. Parking lots for cars and bikes of various sorts. Maybe shelving for homes?

      Is this the best we can do?

      Tuesday, November 06, 2007

      Considering the circumstances of my demise

      No one who believes in life can choose the details of his or her ending.

      My parents continue to teach me about the tough reality of growing old. Movement to life's end can be halting, harsh, humbling, humorous and, at times, horrible.

      So, I find myself working on a check list of hopes relative to the conclusion of my own journey. Here's what I've come up with so far:

      1) I hope I live fully until the last minute, sixty seconds after which I long to fall over dead and gone. Then, let the party begin! I am currently working on a list of friends who will be invited to tell jokes on me at my funeral, that is, if they can rise from their own wheelchairs.

      2) I hope to be delivered from long stints in unfamiliar and dangerous hospital beds where the floors around are always too slick for common sense, weak legs and distended bladders. I suppose bugs in the rugs are more of a threat than broken bones on the linoleum.

      3) I hope never to be "delivered" to any "skilled nursing center"--since I now know that is simply code for "nursing home."

      4) I hope never to be "roomies" with anyone who doesn't remember his name or who insists on singing off key all night long.

      5) I hope when someone says to me with a stupid grin, "Well, I bet you have seen lots of changes," that I have the good sense to say, "Well, not nearly enough!"

      6) I hope I never need a pill box to keep all the meds straight, morning and night, that I can't keep up with in my head.

      7) I hope, if I have to have doctors, that they will have the good sense to talk to one another, at least occasionally.

      8) I hope I never end up on some chaplain's list for "rounds" and prayers that I haven't asked for. Why does that line, "May I say a prayer for you?" always make me angry?

      9) I hope my running buddy, Dan and my development partner, John and my long-time friends, Edd and Randy, as well as others I won't list here, come by to see me just because they want to and not because they feel obligated. I also hope they sneak in hamburgers and milk shakes!

      10) I hope I get sweeter and softer--however, I fear I'm already headed in the opposite direction!

      11) I hope I'll be able to communicate to my children, grandchildren and, if I live long enough, great grandchildren just how much I love them in a manner that will make them laugh and understand deeply without feeling any embarrassment.

      12) I hope I remember my name, at least every now and again.

      13) I hope I'll keep up with technology so that whatever is coming after my laptop will be something I use daily. I hope I can think clearly enough to write something or someone every day.

      14) I hope I still read the box scores during baseball season. I hope I can get out to a game or two or 10 every year.

      15) I hope that I die before I leave the battle I most believe in.

      16) I hope, even if I am forced to sit down, that I never give up.

      17) I hope I don't outlive those I love the most.

      I'll keep working on this list. You got one?


      Monday, November 05, 2007

      Help the Homeless Walkathon

      Our homeless friends and neighbors need your support and the support of your companies, congregations and neighborhoods.

      As you are aware, homelessness continues to be a major challenge for our community. Fortunately, positive steps are being taken to end chronic homelessness in Dallas. Here’s a partial list of developments for which we can all give thanks this year:

      • Homeless Assistance CenterThe new Homeless Assistance Center is under construction and will open in early 2008.
        According to our last “point-in-time” census, the number of men, women and children forced to live in shelters and on our streets dropped for the second year in a row.

      • Plans are underway for the development of permanent supportive housing for the poorest of our neighbors, including Central Dallas Ministires' own citywalk@akard project in Downtown Dallas.

      • The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is stronger than ever and is working on our city’s ten year plan to end homelessness with a goal to end chronic homelessness by 2016.

      But, we have much work remaining. So, I am writing to urge you to join us during “Help the Homeless Week”—November 11-17, 2007, as we turn a bright light on this terrible problem.

      Click here to download a letter from our new mayor, Tom Leppert.

      Click here to watch a video that Central Dallas Ministries created that features the stories of some of our neighbors who currently live on the streets.

      Click here to view an information sheet that I hope you will share with your friends, family and neighbors. As you will see, there will be several important activities during this special week.

      Please pay particular attention to our “Help the Homeless WalkAThon" on Saturday, November 17 beginning at 3:00 p.m. Visit our website at to gather more details and to register for this special time of community focus and collaboration.

      I hope that CDM's friends and investors will turn out in large numbers to support the homeless in our city.

      I also urge you to consider supporting this initiative with a donation to the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Donations can be made here.

      Thanks in advance for your support!

      Sunday, November 04, 2007

      Heaven and hell in the here and now

      Just an impression that has been slowly, but surely, dawning on me over the last 25 years or so. Surprising, acutally, since most people seem to go the other way as they age.

      But for me, it is true. I think Christian people spend far too much energy focused on what they believe will be their reality after this life is over. You know, the eternity question or affirmation.

      Funny, Jesus never talked much about the next world, except on those occasions when he had piercing words for folks who were mishandling their responsibilities in this world.

      He prayed that a new way of living would arrive so that God's will would be done here and now like it is happening and will happen in heaven--the other world.

      He did speak of how "the tables would be turned" on the other side, especially for the poor, the oppressed and those who have it tough in this life. But, in doing so he revealed to all who would listen just how much hell there is, again, here and now on this earth.

      People are always asking me how the church can help us. Or, how can people of faith be involved in inner city renewal.

      Not easy questions to answer.

      Part of the reason for the difficulty, at least in my view, has to do with the theological paradigm I'm talking about here, a perspective brought to the urban context by more than a few church folks.

      Some people come for tours of our work and see the healing, the training, the lifting, the construction, the liberating legal counsel and the community building--literally and in spirit--and then ask us, "This is good, but where does the ministry take place?" By that, of course, they mean the getting ready for the next world process. I'll have more to say about this in a later post.

      For now, you see my point.

      Maybe I don't understand, but it seems as if it's all about another world for lots of church folks. Never mind that almost 100% of our neighbors claim very lively faith experiences when they come to us. What they need is relief, hope and a pathway to better lives here and now.

      I remember encountering this point of view during my years as a minister in the local church. So, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I guess I thought that the stark conditions of so many thousands of men, women and children would somehow change worldviews, at least a bit.

      Here's my simple suggestion: Let's focus on this life.

      Let's try to bring the things of heaven into the experience of as many people on this earth and in this city as possible. Let's expect heaven to break out!

      In the same way, let's recognize that there is enough hell here in this life to go around. Let's make sure we remind one another of this hard, brutal, daily reality that faces so many of our fellows.

      Let's connect the dots on the relationship between bringing heaven to earth and driving hell away from each other and the communities that we love so much. In the process we just might find new hearts for real mission, not to mention a solution or two.


      Saturday, November 03, 2007

      Assigning blame

      Trent Stamp is the CEO of Charity Navigator.

      He has an interesting blog that asks important questions:

      Here's what he says about "whose to blame" in the battle against poverty:

      Want to know how best to NOT solve a problem? Simple. Wait for someone else to take care of it. Here's Exhibit A in why people in poverty in this country shouldn't expect those with the power and funding to help them anytime soon.

      From the September 25, 2007 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, we find out that U.S. lawmakers recently held hearings to announce that foundations need to do a better job of giving funding to people living below the poverty line, especially minorities and those living in rural communities. Some members of Congress even advocated changing the tax code so that only donations to groups that serve the poor were fully tax-deductible. According to our elected leaders, our poor are not being served by foundations and high-end donors who have abandoned them for other causes.

      Conversely, large foundations are aligning together to create a special initiative designed to get political leaders, especially those running for president in 2008, "to give priority to issues related to poverty and hunger." The large foundations apparently believe that our poor are not being served by our elected officials, and therefore our taxpayers.

      Who's right?

      They both are, of course.

      In the last few decades, our elected officials, our foundations, our high-end donors, and the taxpayer populace have all expressed that they'd rather have their funding go somewhere else than aiding those who toil in poverty.

      And of course, the only way that ever changes is when someone decides to take the lead and fix the problem, rather than pointing an accusatory finger at others. After all, someone once said problems of this size and scope "take a village" to solve.

      Friday, November 02, 2007


      Jeff attends our Urban Engagement Book Club meetings every month. He has for over two years.

      Jeff is a homeless guy--better, Jeff was a homeless guy. He is no longer!

      "Thanks for the apartment," Jeff said Thursday, as we shook hands and greeted one another.

      I didn't realize that he had joined our Destination Home initiative that uses HUD grant funds to place chronically homeless and disabled people into permanent supportive housing. We have funds for 50 units of this housing. So far, we've placed about 20 people, including Jeff.

      Jeff is a writer. He's been working on a script for a play since I've known him. It's a production dealing with homelessness. No surprise there. Kind of hard to do much serious writing on the street it would seem to me.

      As we celebrated his new home, we talked about finding him a computer so that he could work more efficiently on his play.

      The "before" and "after" with Jeff was so striking.

      Before, Jeff has always been present, but the dirt, fatigue and harshness of the street encased his body and dulled his soul in ways I know I cannot comprehend. His hair was always dirty and matted. His clothes filthy and a mess.

      After finding a home, Jeff's hair was still long and silver, but clean and shiny. His clothes matched his hair! He had a brightness about him I had not seen before. He told me he was sleeping like he hadn't slept in years. Sleep as a new blessing. . .wow. Blessing and beauty in the really simple things, huh?

      Duh! Having a place to call "home" makes a big difference.

      Try to imagine life without that, Larry!

      Confession time: I take just about everything for granted.

      Gotta tell you, tears filled my eyes as I took in his gratitude and joy! I'm so proud for him and of him.

      What a great friend. Of course, that was true before he found his new home.

      He's also a textbook example of the simple, immediate and powerful benefits of "housing first" as a model of care and response to most people who are homeless.

      I'm also very grateful for the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for their grant funds that we've worked so hard to land.

      I know there will be more stories like Jeff's.

      And, I'll let you know when the play is done and when auditions begin!


      Thursday, November 01, 2007

      Why DREAM?

      Want to learn more about the DREAM Act?

      Here's your opportunity! What follows is a press release from the Office of Hispanic Student Services at Southern Methodist University (SMU) here in Dallas.


      The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (D.R.E.A.M. Act) is bipartisan legislation in the Senate, sponsored by Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) and in the House, sponsored by Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Howard Berman (D-CA), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). It addresses the situation faced by young people who were brought to the U.S. years ago as undocumented immigrant children but who have since grown up here; attended events in your community, played in the same recreational areas as yours and other children, attended the local public school institutions, and kept out of trouble.

      In light of last Wednesday’s Senate vote of 52-44, which brought the Act to an end, the Law Offices of Eric Cedillo, the National Immigration Law Center (D.C.), and Southern Methodist University have joined forces to offer an information session and discussion panel with experts in the matter this evening, Thursday, November 1, 2007 from 7PM – 9 PM in the Hughes Trigg Student Center Forum on the campus of SMU.

      We are honored to host guest speaker, Raymond Rico, a Policy Associate at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). He has worked predominately on issues regarding comprehensive immigration reform, state and local laws pertaining to immigrants, researching and advocating against anti-immigrant legislation, and has most closely worked with a broad coalition of Washington D.C. based national organizations to educate and lobby congress and facilitates nationwide “United We DREAM National Coalition” meetings with state and local organizations to coordinate the national strategy to advocate for the DREAM Act.

      Born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas’ predominately Latino “Villa Argentine” neighborhood, Raymond received Political Science and Latin American Studies degrees and a minor in Public Administration from the University of Kansas. Raymond previously worked in Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius’ office, the Kansas Latino Affairs Commission advocating for the Kansas In-state-Tuition bill, and was selected as a fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellowship Program.

      Mr. Rico is joined by distinguished panelists: Adelfa Callejo, State Rep. Rafael Anchia, Professor Harold W. Standley (Latino Politics Professor SMU), and SMU and Dallas Area Student, Roberto Espinosa.

      For more details, Contact: Silvia Bustos at 214.768.1126 or by email at