Monday, September 29, 2008

Bail out failure and the poor. . .

Random thoughts on an afternoon that could become "historic" in a very bad way. . .

What does it mean to be in "leadership" in our media driven, poll-sensitive, "ear-to-the-ground" political version of democracy?

Constituency concerns and opinions should always be received, acknowledged and followed whenever the elected leader feels that such advice is sound in view of the nation's overall well-being and health.

But a huge part of leadership involves informing constituencies about "the rest of the story" or the larger picture that comes in the context of naitonal leadership alongside other national, elected leaders.

At times, being a leader means going directly against the grain of popular opinion created by ill-informed or inadequately informed constituencies.

Voting along ideological lines, especially in a time of national crisis, is worse than foolish.

Allowing political concerns and campaign "wisdom" to completely overrun the national good is immoral.

These are hard times.

Possibly the Congress will come back over the next few days to act responsibility.

I know that my very low-income friends will survive.

Here's what may sound like a surprising prediction: If the very worst comes to pass economically, our nation will see how the poor rise to the occasion to care more deeply for all of us than most of us in positions of relative wealth today have cared for those crushed by the weight of a poverty that has made life feel like the Great Depression has been here for a very long time.


Only in America

Word has it that Alan Fishman, the Washington Mutual CEO who took the top job 18 days ago before presiding over the largest bank failure in the nation's history, will walk away from his job with $13.65 million. Not bad for less than three weeks on the job, wouldn't you say?

Let's see, that's $758,333.33 a day.

I have lots and lots of friends who won't make that king of money in a lifetime of work.

Lot's of people may think that a legitimate dimension of so-called "free market economy."

In fairness I need to add that I read yesterday that the deal may be reconsidered.

If the agreement goes forward on these terms, I'd call it injustice at best. And in view of all the lost jobs tied into the failure and its fallout, I'd say its a very clear expression of just how out of kilter we are as a nation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Accountability and my constituency

My daughter, Jennifer, and my son-in-law, Brandon, were discussing the current race for President as they watched the evening news one night this past week.

As they talked, Wyatt, their four-year-old, interrupted with a question.

"What do you mean 'the American people'?" he asked.

They went on to explain in terms he could understand what an election was all about, who was running this time and what it meant for the nation.

Both of them told Wyatt who they had decided to vote for in the upcoming election.

Wyatt sat quietly for a moment.

Then, he looked up and, in his trademark husky voice, declared, "Well, I'm voting for Granddad!"

I love that boy!

No one has a better constituency than I do!

Talk about accountability!

Thanks for your confidence, Wyatt. I'll do my best for you.

And, never forget, I love you!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Close to "the poor"

The majority of us live much closer to "the poor" than we realize or want to admit.

With this in mind, let me point you to the posts of my partner here at Central Dallas Ministries, Gerald Britt.

Go here first.

Then, read part two.

Love to hear your reactions.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Exits with options

News that Lehman Brothers set aside about $2.5 billion for exit executive bonuses for the failed financial corporation isn't setting very well with much of anyone.

I expect that eliminating big bonus packages for executives won't solve the problems associated with the current capital markets meltdown. Still, these provisions for those at the top symbolize the failure of "free market" approaches to providing even handed, equitable community systems and institutions. Regulation is not a bad word.

Here's a taste of one report:

Financial crisis: Lehman Brothers staff’s $2.5 billion bonus bonanza provokes fury

Lehman Brothers’ British staff reacted with fury when told that colleagues at Lehman’s New York office were expected to share in a $2.5 billion bonus bonanza while they would be paid just until the end of the month.

The bonus, described by London staff as a "scandal", has been pledged by Barclays Capital, the British-based bank that last week acquired Lehman’s American operation and took on 10,000 staff, according to reports at the weekend.

A spokesman for the TUC said: "It looks like those that will suffer the most from the Lehman Brothers collapse are those at the bottom of the corporate chain while many of those at the top will be looked after."

[By Myra Butterworth, Personal Finance Correspondent Last Updated: 3:03PM BST 22 Sep 2008]

Read more here.

Clearly, the problems we face today in the financial markets can't be limited to just one or two bad apples, nor to one political party or the other. Plenty of blame and greed to go around here.

And again, those at the bottom will suffer most.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Putting things in perspective. . .

In 1960, Michael Harrington wrote, The Other America, a book that shaped the domestic policy of both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Likely time for another book like that.

There are definitely two Americas today.

Fact: Over the past 4 days at our inner city Resource Center, over 1,200 individuals stopped by seeking assistance with food, housing, utilities, transportation and other pressing needs.

Conclusion: Our economy is anything but "fundamentally sound" for these precious neighbors of ours.

Quote: "It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases."
- Bono, rock star and anti-poverty activist.
(Source: The American Prospect blog as quoted in Sojourner's Sojo Mail

What might happen if we woke up, rediscovered our best values as Americans and then moved forward?




Now, that's an amazing number, representing a huge amount of revenue.


The National Football League operates franchises in 31 U. S. cities (New York has two teams).

If you divided the funds being suggested for the latest phase of the financial markets rescue plan, you could send $22.6 billion to each of these cities for use in strengthening local economies, redeveloping aged infrastructure, improving public education, expanding higher education, promoting new employment skills development, restructuring doomed individual home mortgages, developing housing for the poor and homeless, addressing the national health care crisis at the local level, just to mention a few of the obvious needs facing all of our major urban areas. Or, you could divide the funds up based on population. I mean, Dallas likely needs more than Green Bay!

If you include the funding previously committed to the current "bail out" actions by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank, the number climbs to $1 trillion, increasing the available investment capital for our major cities to approximately $32.25 billion each!

The entire operations budget for the City of Dallas is about $2.6 billion or just a little over 1/10 of the smaller amount.

It appears that something must and will be done to stabilize the credit markets.

However, a simple giveaway to the big Wall Street firms and banks without clear and careful attention to the needs of all of our people, especially in the inner cities of America will prove to be a colossal failure that could spell an even worse fate for our national economy. Any plan worth its salt will go beyond simple "oversight" concerns or guarantees of limits to executive pay and severance packages.

Since 1980, our cities have suffered the ill effects of "trickle down" economic theory. You know, what benefits the very top will eventually serve and stimulate the bottom. In my view such theory is upside down. Stimulate that which serves the local, those enterprises, institutions, and corporations working close to the streets, and everyone does better.

Due to a failed system, the credit markets likely should be stabilized or taken over. Along with that, any worthwhile plan must not forget the folks back home who are in danger of losing everything.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Racism and the 2008 Election

We've tried to be polite and ignore the subject.

But, it's still here, isn't it?

We do ourselves no favors by refusing to talk about it.

A poll released on Monday indicates that the number of Americans who will cast their votes on November 4, 2008 solely on the basis of the race of the candidates could be enough to tip the election.

Can this be possible in 2008?

Take a look at the report.

Tell me what you think.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Failing capital markets and the extremely poor

Working on our housing effort in Downtown Dallas (City Walk @Akard) taught us a great deal about how hard it is to provide high-quality, affordable housing for the working poor and the homeless.

Even though we had millions of dollars lined up and secured, we found the entire closing process almost impossible, a clear signal to us that the credit markets were restricting dramatically earlier this year.

Going forward it seems clear that working out housing programs to benefit those most in need of good places to live will become more and more difficult, if not impossible, at least in the short term.
To be clear, the units I have in mind here are rental, not for sale.

As is usually the case, those at the bottom of the nation's economic life suffer disproportionately at times like the present.
Due to a lack of organization, necessary resources and political influence, folks at the bottom suffer, often in extreme circumstances.
Most of us don't or refuse to recognize or acknowledge their desperate plight. The poor have a way of suffering in relative silence and resignation.

A large part of our mission as a faith-based organization is to hear and acknowledge what is going on among our poorest neighbors and, then, to stand with them in attempting to make things better.
In short, it's always about much, much more than just charity.


Monday, September 22, 2008

So much for "free markets"

Decisions about how systems and institutions work have consequences in the lives of real people.

It's just a fact.

This is particularly true when it comes to public policy relative to work, wages, protection or the lack thereof from so-called "free markets," home ownership, education, nutrition. . .the list goes on.

So far this year in the U. S. we have seen the loss of over 600,000 jobs.

Home foreclosures continue to soar.

During the last chaotic week, we've witnessed the near meltdown of our financial markets, a series of events that rivals the circumstances preceding the Great Depression. Major, historic financial institutions failed or have been bought for a song.

People who argue ad nauseum for unregulated, "free markets" make assumptions about human nature that simply don't hold up. When living in an effective community in which the rights, needs and dreams of all are to be honored; common values, mores and standards of behavior need to be regulated.

We are now witnessing the results of a policy trend committed to deregulation that has been in play since at least 1980.

Completely "free markets" might be something to consider if we all were operating from the same position of strength and opportunity. But, of course, this is not the case today and will never be the case.

Regulation imposes safety guards against the exploitation that always results when systems are built to maximize profit for one group at the expense of other groups, usually much larger in sheer numbers, but much weaker in economic power and political influence.

No system of regulation is perfect. But, it doesn't need to be perfect, just workable, consistent and engaged in the important work of defining and enforcing standards of fairness and equity for everyone.

Consider the subprime mortgage crisis. Lots of people in this country have been talked into or better, pressured into mortgage agreements that allowed them to purchase homes far beyond their ability to pay. The agreements were designed not to assist the prospective homeowner, but the lender. In fact, some deals worked better for lenders when agreements failed after a couple of years thanks to credits and write offs that were built into the systems at work in such real estate transactions. Variable rate mortgages, coupled with sub-prime approaches to financing the deals at the outset, vaulted the nation to the brink of absolute economic disaster.

Greed kills.

Possibly home buyers should have been smarter. But, really now, let's face it, that is not what the system required or even desired. And then, there is the nation's attitude toward homeownership as an essential element in realizing the "American dream."

Since the mid-1990s, we've observed a commitment on the part of the federal government in both Clinton and Bush administrations to open up home ownership to more and more Americans.

As this policy unfolded, it became clear that a major part of this commitment would be financed by cutting funding from programs designed for the poorest Americans--we watched as the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) cut funding for programs aimed at people who likely will never own homes to benefit those who might play in the amazing expansion of ownership made possible by unregulated markets.

While everyone agrees that the number of Americans owning homes needs to increase, we grew more and more uncomfortable with how the new process was being funded with both public and private dollars. Furthermore, our government explicitly and implicitly encouraged private sector funders to get in the game on terms that were favorable to lenders, but not necessarily the new homeowners.

No regulation.

"Free markets" often cut people to shreds because they are not designed with the community, with everyone in mind. (By the way, can we agree that Wall Street is not the community for which we are most concerned here?)

Greed kills.

Paul had it right when he warned that "the love of money is the root of all evil."

I'm sure I'll catch it big time from lots of folks who read here who believe that freedom in the marketplace is the most sacred value of all.

Frankly, if you can make that argument this week, I know there is nothing I can say to change your mind.

But, I'm not writing for you. I continue to post because I believe sound public policy devoted to justice and fairness will be a big part of any solution to the problems facing both the poorest of the poor and the middle class in our nation. And, it is crucial to sustaining workable communities.

In fact, I'm trying to get these two groups to see how much they have in common these days! If these two groups ever partner with one another and consider how their mutual self-interests could work together, we'll wake up in a new America.

One last note. Through all sorts of situations and circumstances from Y2K to 9-11 to the War in Iraq to escalating fuel costs to our current financial crisis, the poor serve as my instructors. People who know grinding poverty teach me how to cope and to live one day at a time. Their friendship and faith is a priceless gift in my life.

Markets come and go.

The faithful endure.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

A story for our time. . .

Watching our financial markets implode has raised a question or two about the whole notion of so-called "free market" philosophy. Folks who argue for the complete absence of regulation or controls seldom factor in human nature. Greed remains a gigantic human challenge.

Jesus told the following story about a successful man, a person like most of us, a guy like the men and women you'll see in church this morning. It is a very dangerous thing to trust in the material. To do so is to buy into a basic human delusion that creates a false sense of security that overlooks some important basics of life.

Consider the story:

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:13-34)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Clint Black to support CDM!

Award winning country vocalist and songwriter, Clint Black will join Central Dallas Ministries on Monday evening, September 29, 2008, for our annual "A Night to Remember" concert and celebration.

Doors are at 6:30 p.m.

The show will be a barn-burner! Black is making his "reentry" into the world of country music and public performance. He has even launched his own record label and has new music to perform.

Best of all, he is coming to Dallas to join us in the celebration of the completion of 20 years of work in the inner city neighborhoods of Dallas.

That's right. . .this year Central Dallas Ministries celebrates the completion of two decades of urban engagement here in Dallas!

I hope you'll join us for the big night.

Even more, I hope you'll sign up as a sponsor.

Check out all of the options by visiting our website at

We need your support. Please join us for a great evening of music and fun!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Vote For Parkland!

Between now and election day on November 4, I will post again about the local bond item that will appear on our ballots here in Dallas County in support of our community's need and desire to build a new public hospital.

Under the expert leadership of Dr. Ron Anderson, the Parkland Health and Hospital System is among the finest public health care systems in the United States. Over the years, Parkland's partnership with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School has resulted in the training and education of thousands of physicians. Parkland provides the community the very best in trauma care, as well as excellent care for everyone from the poorest to the wealthiest of our neighbors.

Parkland Hospital's Board of Managers and the Dallas County Commissioner's Court unanimously approved a resolution to ask Dallas County voters to approve a $747 million bond program for Parkland.

If approved, the bond package monies will be used to:

--Construct an 862 adult-bed hospital that serves as a full service acute care hospital and houses a Level I Trauma Center and Burn Center.

--Construct an outpatient center adjacent to the hospital with associated diagnostic and therapeutic service, and integrated physician office space to enhance patient safety and physician access and productivity.

--Construct office buildings near the hospital for support personnel, designed to optimize productivity and minimize occupancy costs.

--Reconfigure parking to supply a cost effective mix of parking garages and surface parking lots to meet the parking needs of patients, visitor, physicians and employees.

For more information go here.

If you live in Dallas County, I hope you will support Parkland by voting "Yes" on November 4.

Between now and then, visit the website and determine to get involved in supporting the building of this new community asset.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Questions pressed on me by my experiences in urban Dallas or "questions my friends ask me". . .

1. Is the United States willing to elect an African American to be its leader?

2. Does anyone really understand poverty?

3. How many of our local, state and national leaders understand the challenges facing poor people when it comes to. . .

. . .finding and paying for child care?

. . .accessing health care?

. . .housing costs and quality?

. . .diet and nutrition?

. . .education?

. . .public safety?

. . .work and wages?

. . .transportation?

. . .hope?

4. How is it that when wealthy, upper class people bend rules, commit fraud, take short cuts to their advantage, set up systems that make them mega rich and break laws meant to protect all of us from financial disaster, they receive giant loans on extremely favorable terms, as well as awards that the rest of us eventually have to pay for to "bail them out"?

5. How is that when poor folks make mistakes in their lives they suffer alone, go to jail and/or never really recover?

6. Why do the biggest champions of charity seldom understand even the simplest principles of justice and equity?

7. Why is my very small, monthly food stamp allotment considered "welfare" and the bailout of a poorly run, failing corporation considered good public policy?

8. How can there be so many churches, so many small group Bible studies in a city like this and at the same time so little understanding of poverty or regard for those who live in it?

9. Why are city code rules "enforced" differently from neighborhood to neighborhood across the community?

10. Why do slum lords and absentee owners have more rights when it comes to the condition of their run down, ratty properties than the rest of the people who are forced to live in or around such eyesores?

11. What does it say about a city when over 90% of the students in the public school system are eligible for free and reduced cost lunches every day? How does poverty effect a child's ability to learn?

12. Why is the vast majority of growth and development still headed north in this area?

13. Why is the bulk of the land still open for development south of the city?

14. Why does US Highway 175 (an inner city freeway) take a 90 degree turn before the Hatcher Street exit? Where else in the city would such a safety hazard be tolerated?

15. What are the ongoing health consequences of the old lead smelter on West Dallas residents?

16. Why isn't there more discussion in Dallas about workforce training and skills development/improvement?

17. How many churches, synagogues mosques and other faith communities could justify their tax exempt status in terms of value added to the communities in which they are located?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A blind beggar, a crowded subway train and a prayer

On Monday, I found myself jammed into the extremely crowded "4 train" that I caught at the corner of Lexington and 125th Street in the Bronx. I was on my way to Yankee Stadium to see the Chicago White Sox play the Yankees in what in the seventh to last game to be contested in the historic, old stadium. Definitely stuff for a future, less serious post.

As we all stood literally nose-to-nose, the train stopped and even more folks crowded on. Among them, a blind man with a long, white walking stick. He carried a large plastic cup extended before him to receive offerings in exchange for the message hecalled out kindly to one and all. Unlike most street preachers, this man's message was much more subdued with a sadness about it that reflected his own disposition.

I noted that two rather dramatic scars crossed the side of his face, apparently the work of someone wielding a sharp knife at some point in his not too distant past.

He took his text from St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians as he called out that we all should concern ourselves with dressing in the "whole armor of God" so that we could stand successfully in these evil times against the source of all evil.

Being accustomed to such sights and sounds, I suppose, most people paid the man no attention whatsoever. A few others turned away in a sort of spontaneous embarrassment for the man. Other reactions ranged from curiosity and amusement to disgust.

The street preacher passed within a foot of me as he made his way right down the middle of our car. He preached and felt his way along step-by-step. To be honest, I didn't know what to make of the fellow. I do expect his chosen method of communicating his message may need to be rethought a bit. But, then, possibly that was not his concern or the point of his presence.

I'm not sure how many others, if any, saw what I saw next right at the end of my encounter with the man.

He got off the train at the stop just after he entered. As the train pulled away from the stop, I turned and looked through the window in the door. There he was. Head bowed. Hands folded and drawn up to this face, the strange, blind gentleman had turned back to the train as it began to move. He was praying for us. Undeterred by the total lack of response on our part, the man who couldn't see completed his tour by offering a prayer for everyone on our car.

As the train moved down the track, I watched as he crossed himself and turned to move up the platform toward the steps, tapping his way with his white stick and continuing to call out to those who had no time for listening.

The man's face and his gift of a prayer. . . that image will be with me for a long time, I know.

Answers to the little quiz posted yesterday:

1. Based on the 2006 census data, how many individuals live below the federal poverty line in Dallas County?

a. 382,161
b. 259,511
c. 90,965

2. Of those living below the poverty line in Dallas County, how many are children?
a. 45,943
b. 162,379
c. 105,677

The answers are "a" and "b"

Stayed tuned for a grassroots effort to challenge the food shortages facing low-income neighbors here in Dallas--coming September 29, 2008.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This is a test. . .

Multiple Choice:

1. Based on the 2006 census data, how many individuals live below the federal poverty line in Dallas County?

a. 382,161
b. 259,511
c. 90,965

2. Of those living below the poverty line in Dallas County, how many are children?

a. 45,943
b. 162,379
c. 105,677

Answers should go in the comment box!


Monday, September 15, 2008

What Work Is

Philip Levine writes poems about working class people. People much like many of my friends. People who possess a strong desire to work. People who don't earn much. People who are accustomed to waiting for any and every opportunity.

Levine comes out of his soul and his own experience from a generation ago growing up in Detroit.

But things haven't changed all that much, except that manual labor doesn't pay what it once did, relatively speaking.
Levine writes songs, he tells stories about ordinary working folks looking for even a glimmer of hope.

What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

[Philip Levine, "What Work Is," from What Work Is: Poems, pages 18-19]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Meditation: Consider the poor

Blessed is he who considers the poor;
The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.

The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive,
And he will be blessed on the earth;
You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.

The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness;
You will sustain him on his sickbed.

Psalm 41:1-3 (New King James Version)New King James Version (NKJV)
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tom Friedman: A Prophet We Must Hear

Friday at noon, I joined about 2,000 Dallasites at a luncheon hosted by the World Affairs Council to hear Tom Friedman discuss his new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America.

Friedman's speech challenged me deeply. Everyone needs to read his book, especially both presidential candidates. Clearly, we are in the midst of a gigantic community problem as a nation. (Note: order his book by using the link to the right and below. Your order will help CDM!)

Friedman ridiculed the so-called "Green Revolution." He noted that there has never been a revolution during which no one got hurt. At this point, we may have a green party, but we have no revolution.

What is needed is strong federal leadership that would include establishing and sending a strong "price signal" so that innovators would get serious about investing in clean, sustainable, renewable, national energy.

Even if the entire global warming thing is a hoax (which he points out it is not), Friedman believes that acting as if it is a real threat will lead our nation in exactly the way it should go for the sake of security, world leadership, peace and freedom.

Last Sunday, Friedman appeared on NBC's Meet the Press. I hope you'll take the time to watch his conversation with Tom Brokow here. Friedman made many of the same points during his speech here in Dallas.


Friday, September 12, 2008

"Telling others about God"

People interested in our work here in Dallas, especially church people, often ask us, "How do you share the Gospel with your clients?"

Sometimes, after taking an hour-long tour of our several locations and initiatives, including health care, legal services, workforce training, after school programs, and food delivery, someone will ask, "Now where do you do the ministry?"

This question always causes me to smile.

Of course, I know what is intended.

People want to know if we are "witnessing" to those who come to us for assistance. They want to know if we are teaching people about the Christian faith. You know, driving folks toward conversion or a "decision of Christ." This is especially true of more affluent church folks from outside the neighborhood. It is as if "sharing the faith" is all that matters, and once completed, they are "off the hook" and can return to their comfort and luxury without further concern.

I have to tell you, I wish it were that easy.

Across the last 15 years, I've come to understand that questions like these reflect a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the communities where we are working, as well as the individuals who compose these neighborhoods. In addition, these concerns misunderstand how we relate to all who come through our several doors.

Not long ago we received the following message from a prospective donor:

Again, I say thank you for the effort and time, which you commit to the ministry of people. In a recent meeting. . .we were able to discuss the opportunity of partnering with Central Dallas Ministries. Based on the principles and guidelines of our organization, we don’t believe that such a partnership would be the best possible use of the funds that we give to charitable causes.

The primary focus of ministries that we support must include spreading the gospel of Jesus to those that do not know Him; we believe that "loving God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself” is what we should try to do.

While Central Dallas Ministries strongly and actively promotes the second half of this philosophy, I don’t believe telling others about God is a priority to Central Dallas Ministries. People must have the opportunity to know and love Jesus, and we see humanitarian aid as an avenue to promote this agenda. It is an opportunity for them to see Christ in us, and for us to share with them an eternal hope that will greatly exceed what we can give them materially and socially.

I trust I have not offended you in any way, as it was certainly not meant to; however, I thought that I certainly owed you an answer and explanation, considering your efforts and consideration. I wish you and Central Dallas Ministries the best in your future endeavors and know that you will be a blessing to many.

What this person and group do not understand is the simple fact that the vast, vast majority of the people we work among claim a clear commitment to Jesus and self-identify as Christians.

The fundamental question in our community is not whether folks have faith in God.

The major questions we deal with have to do with survival as individuals and families.

In my view some of our "Christian groups" need to read more of Jesus and his early followers.

For us and our organization the key concern is not what others believe. The key issue is what we do because of our faith in response to the pain of our neighbors, most of whom are our brothers and sisters in faith.

I love what John wrote so long ago:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:17) Translation: talk is cheap, especially when it is holy talk or God-talk.

Or, consider these words from James, the brother of Jesus:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

Every day we engage, embrace, hear, encounter, hug, love, challenge, pray with, encourage, urge on, call (and did I say love?) the urban poor here in the heart of Dallas. The people we face day-by-day have and know Jesus. What they do not have is opportunity, enough food, education, a way to receive health care, respect and a realistic chance to care for themselves and their families.

To "share the gospel" and walk away is pure foolishness, as well as faithless.

I suppose we are very Franciscan.

St. Francis once challenged his followers with these words, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary." This is our creed.

If that is offensive, come live with us for a while and see how it works out a life at a time in our very real world.

By the way, today in a meeting with volunteers, one of our long-time partners who has come every week for 14 years to serve and to love shared a moving testimony about "prayer time" she had enjoyed with very poor neighbors who had come to our food pantry for help. Tears flowed and everyone understood what kind of ministry she was up to among our dear neighbors who came to unload burdens and receive hope for another day.

If that is not spiritual enough for some donors, I simply regret that they don't understand and that they have no willingness to experience our reality.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Support of unwed mothers

Last Tuesday evening, it was encouraging to see lots of signs being waved about by delegates to this year's Republican National Convention that read, "We Support Unwed Mothers!"

Such a sentiment expresses great promise!

Rather than shunning the unwed mother, especially the teenage mom, the idea that as a society we might stand with these children who are now having children is most encouraging.

Most notably, it begins to press the values of a "pro-life" value proposition out beyond the womb.

What do young women about to become mothers need to be successful?

A father who owns up to his responsibility to support his child and the child' mother can make all the difference in the world. Of course, such support often is not forthcoming.

A family that knows how to love children through difficulty and missteps, providing the support required, is certainly beneficial. But, when families face the challenges associated with extreme poverty, the practical, material, ongoing support that they can realistically provide is often very limited.

No doubt, the signs we saw at last week's political convention appeared, at least in part, because of the revelation about the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Fortunately, Bristol Palin appears to be surrounded by the kind of support that she needs.

But, what about the millions of other young women who find themselves in a very similar situation, but without the kind of support they need?

The signs seemed to call us to action! What will "support" mean for young women, especially in urban communities of poverty? How can we support them?

Here are a few suggestions based on my experience in inner city Dallas over the past almost 15 years:

1. Provide a clear pathway for these young mothers to continue and complete their education and career training. Most public high schools have developed such programs. Young mothers need to be encouraged to stay in school.

2. Provide access to affordable child care so that school and meaningful work will be a real possibility. Add in Head Start and other early childhood education options.

3. Provide access to quality and affordable pre- and post-natal medical care, counsel and parenting education. A number of states have had great results with visiting nurses and family home nursing programs funded with Medicaid dollars that pay great returns in the form of wonderful family outcomes and great reductions in costs to communities via the early investments in mothers and children. The problems assoicated with low birth weight infants can be avoided.

4. Provide access to fit, decent, affordable housing, so that mothers and children can experience safety and security along with the stability of having a home.

5. Provide legal counsel and direction to ensure that child support options are clearly understood and pursued. It takes two people to produce a child. It should involve two in the child rearing and support.

6. Provide access to nutrition resources so that the child will move through the early stages of human development successfully and on pace to health and productivity.

7. Provide access to early childhood education to ensure that the child enjoys exposure to experiential education. Children who develop a love for reading and learning will be set on a pathway to better lives.

8. Provide ongoing parent education to equip young mothers in the fine art of nurturing, disciplining and supporting their children.

How do we get these sorts of things done as a community?

It will take a multi-faceted effort.

It should involve us all.

Churches and other faith communities and organizations should band together to help out. Public agencies will need to be involved, as will public institutions such as schools, hospital systems and governments.

It won't be easy.

That said, actually carrying through with the promise back of the sentiment--"We Support Unwed Mothers"--could change our nation for the better over the next generation.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Introducing The CDM Online Magazine

HopeWe're so excited to bring you Central Dallas Ministries' first ever Online Magazine.

With articles, images, and videos all in one innovative online format, you'll get a front row seat to the vital and hope-giving work CDM is doing every day.

Click here to open the magazine and go to the heart of Central Dallas Ministries right from your computer:

As always, your feedback is encouraged!


Monday, September 08, 2008

With the poor

A quote from Bono:

The one thing on which we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard box where the poor play house.

God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives.

God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war.

God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

[Source: 54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast speech, February 2, 2006]

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Quote of the Week

"We stand by as children starve by the millions because we lack the will to eliminate hunger. Yet we have found the will to develop missiles capable of flying over the polar cap and landing within a few feet of their target. This is not innovation. It is a profound distortion of humanity's purpose on earth."
-Retired Republican Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon

Friday, September 05, 2008

Don't count the uninsured: problem solved!

Almost 50 million Americans enter each new day without health insurance coverage of any kind. That fact concerns the vast majority of health care and public health experts.

But, not everyone agrees.

Like President Bush, some people believe that since emergency departments across the nation cannot refuse to treat anyone who shows up in their waiting rooms, everyone enjoys health care "coverage."

This includes Dr. John Goodman (PhD, not MD). Here's what the good professor has to say about the uninsured:

"The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American [even illegal aliens] as 'uninsured.' "

Steve Blow did a feature column in The Dallas Morning News on Goodman last week. Read his entire story here.

Goodman has been a high level advisor to politicians who make decisions about health and wellness issues in our nation.

When I first read Blow's report, my mind shifted immediately to patients who come to our Community Health Services building here at Central Dallas Ministries.

I can't forget one hard working father who battled kidney stones. Uninsured, he went to the ER of a major hospital in town. The hospital treated him with pain killers and antibiotics. They never hospitalized him because they didn't have to. The law requires treatment on an emergency basis, not ongoing treatment for "self-payers" like him. By the time he reached our doors he was in the midst of end-stage renal failure.

We went to work to get him a kidney transplant and helped negotiate the rate and raise the cash to pay for the procedure that saved his life, sent him back to his family and to work. We were glad to help. But our response is not a replicable model for health care.

Sadly, our friend's case is not all that unusual. Emergency rooms were not designed to serve as "medical homes" to millions of uninsured Americans.

Then, what about prevention? You know, regular checkups that often lead to early detection. What about medications that can extend life and control the chronic conditions so many of us suffer with.

From a cost benefit analysis, this preventive strategy saves everyone lots of money.

Dr. Goodman, you've got to be kidding!

We need to do much, much better. All we lack currently is the will and the courage.



Thursday, September 04, 2008

Doubt public education? Time to reconsider!

If you've ever followed a link that I've recommended, please do it now.

You've got to watch the keynote address delivered by a young student of the Dallas Independent School District at this year's convocation.

Watch it here and then tell me what you think.

Public education is an essential element in the renewal of our inner cities. In Dallas about 95% of our students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. Poverty is our number one problem in the DISD.

The problem is not the children. You'll see what I mean when you watch this video.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Property Rights vs Human Rights

Over the past several years, since the time that our work led us deeper and deeper into the issues related to developing affordable housing for low-income working people and permanent supportive housing for our disabled homeless neighbors, I've learned more and more about the opposition to such work.

Just last week, while in discussions with city leaders about housing for the homeless, the power of the opposition became more evident than ever as we discussed the political realities of acting against the interests of home owners.

Property owners enjoy amazing power in our nation and in our economy.

The result?

A disproportionate percentage of affordable housing developments end up in neighborhoods and communities where the number of home owners is low and where the home owners who are present are not well organized.

NIMBYism is a well known problem for developers who seek to provide fit and affordable housing for communities. "Not in my backyard" is a cry we hear often, even before project plans are fully developed or made known.

We were dealing with it again last week at city hall. It became clear to everyone that a plan to develop a piece of property in the more affluent northern part of our city to benefit homeless men and women would be impossible.

What is it about property and property ownership?

Who says that ownership entitles people to completely lock up and fundamentally control housing development, city zoning and community planning functions?

Is it as simple as this: The rich just have more power because they are rich? Are the poor largely powerless simply because they lack material resources?

Is that how a democracy is supposed to work?

It certainly seems to be the way our democracy works here in Dallas when it comes to property owners and those who have very little in terms of material resources.

As I pointed out in the meeting at city hall last week, we must finally reach a point where someone needs to remind everyone that civil and human rights still count for something in this country and city.

And, if we determine that they don't, we should go to work making sure that they count again for everyone.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

People don't get it. . .

What follows are some of the "delightful" comments readers posted in response to The Dallas Morning News story about citywalk@akard, our Downtown affordable housing development that includes housing for formerly homeless individuals. Not everyone responded in such negative terms, but most did. Take a look for yourself:

Posted by Tiredofdowntown
Everytime I have to go to downtown Dallas I get a sense of dread and disdain. You cannot walk through downtown Dallas without being hit up for money by the dregs of society. Now they want to give these same people the right to live in a place they can't afford so they can continue their lifestyle of living off of other people's hard work. It just shows why Dallas is in decline and downtown Dallas will never become a desirable place to live.

Posted by Always Confused
Hmmm....Let me get this auto body shops on the way to downtown but low income housing is OK in downtown proper.

Posted by sickofstupidpeople
Can someone tell my how I can live in a place I can't afford? Where can I sign up to live beyond my means at taxpayer expense?

Posted by sickofstupidpeople
What the heck is economic diversity? I don't see any advantage of living next to lazy mooching welfare slugs who are unable to use birth control. ACORN and other poverty pimp groups are a bane on society. They suck away taxpayer money and destroy good neighborhoods

Posted by frisco steve
I wish you all success. I want everybody to be successful. But where is the profit if you rent out at below market value? Just doesn't make business sense. It sound socialist. Everybody get the same stuff, but you must pay according to your income level. What is the motivation for people to then excell to get ahead if they can do less and get the same thing?

Posted by Ken325
We do not want to adapt the homeless policy that California has. San Francisco would be a nice place if it didn’t smell like urine from the homeless people reliving themselves in public. Dallas should outlaw panhandling in Downtown. We should install donation boxes where the money goes to homeless shelters and halfway houses outside of downtown. When you give a handout to an addict all you are doing is enabling them to continue their bad habits. We need a get tough homeless policy from city hall not more pandering. We dam sure don’t need a homeless shelter or public housing screwing with efforts to make downtown livable.

Posted by AvoidTheGroid
"Crime rate set to rise rapidly by spring in downtown Dallas"

Posted by frisco steve
how much tax abatement are you getting to allow low-income apartments to bring down the value of your building? I hope enouogh to cover the cost of your apartments, and make up for the lost value when you decide to sell in 2.3 yrs.

Posted by woolfmancamo
. . .I think what the people on this message board are TRYING to say (and you are not understanding) is that we are not happy with the people who EXPECT things for free. You, yourself, sound like you have your head on straight. I commend you for working and making the most out of what you can. What I DO NOT and WILL NOT understand is the people who feel that they DESERVE the best without putting forth any effort. No individual DESERVES anything. They must work for it, just like the rest of the working people in this World.

Posted by frisco steve
. . .Has anybody given you an opportunity to live in a high priced condo downtown at the same rate you are paying today? I'm thinking not. Why cant those that need help be as content as you are to live where they can afford withouot being given a high rent place at a low rent rate? I'm not judging anybody by their income. I have been low income in the past, and lived the life. I'm just saying, earn what you get.

Posted by onejoey
Once again, rich people buying their way into heaven by imposing their "good works" on others.... If its such a worthy idea, why don't they build low/no rent housing in their neighborhoods?

Posted by gfu
what????? there's going to be a "bridge" built from The Bridge to 511 N. Akard? is it another Calatrava? :-(

Posted by UNT_Flyer
Boy, and I thought the effort to revitalize downtown Dallas was really making progress.

So many folks just don't understand our project, mission or values. Even more misjudge and cast aside those who are poor. At times, I've got to admit, it gets really tiresome and discouraging. Most days though the struggle, the fight is more than worth it.

I'm kept going by so many folks on our team here at Central Dallas Ministries. After reading many of these negative comments following the story about our construction launch media advisory, I received an email from a team member that read in part as follows:

"Not only do I love this sort of problem, I wish some of the dissenters could hear the excitement in the voices of the people who are calling. Their hope and faith are apparent. With few exceptions they end the conversation with a God bless you that is heart felt!"

Yep, I can keep going on the strength of that hope.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day

Work is sacred in my book.

All kinds of work.

The spiritual quality of work, the substance of human effort and purpose, the connection of labor to the maintenance and promotion of life, creativity and productivity--I'm fascinated by it all.

If regarded properly, there is no such thing as meaningless work.

We arrive at despair regarding work because of the false categories and artificial judgments that promote lies about what work matters and what work does not.

All honest, legal work, grounded in authentic human effort, matters. All such labor should be honored in our communities.

Labor connects us to others.

Production sustains and supports the entire human enterprise.

Labor is sacred.

Often, it is not treated as if it were, especially when it comes to livable wages, opportunities for advancement, access to skills training and continuing education or on the job training.

Food for thought this Labor Day.