Thursday, December 31, 2009

"I'm trying to be like you, Granddad."

I'll have to admit that I cringed when I heard him say it.

Wyatt, my 5-year-old grandson, and I were hanging out at my house. 

For the life of me I can't recall the exact context of his statement, his words erased just about everything else from my memory of the moment as soon as he uttered them.  I think I had been giving him some direction or advice about the particular "behavior of the moment."  And, he responded well to my advice/request. 

Then, he said it. 

Out of nowhere that I was aware of really but, then again, right out of his heart, Wyatt declared to me, "You know Granddad, I'm trying to be like you." 

He meant to explain his actions. 

He wanted me to know his thoughts. 

He needed me to know where he was on the inside.

Rocked my world to say the least. 

I know about the influence of men on their children, grandchildren and families, or I thought I knew.

Trouble is, hearing it out of the mouth of your oldest grandson provides an unforgettable delivery mechanism!

Men need to do a better job of "getting it." 

Grandfathers and fathers play such a key role in the development of their little ones. 

Wyatt's confession pulled me up short.  I started remembering my grandfathers.  They were very important to me. 

Now, I am there. 

But, so are lots of other men. 

I expect we all have a ways to go in terms of really "getting it" when it comes to understanding just how important we are to the little ones around us.

I love Wyatt more than I could ever explain, just like I love his big sister, Gracie and his cousin, Owen.

They train their bright eyes right on me. 

Clearly, I need to work on what it is that I am like and who it is that I am trying to be. 

One thing I know for sure, thanks to Wyatt's open soul, I must find a way to keep the lines of communication open  between us.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A quiet day, all a big mistake!

So, on Monday morning I left my house for work, not realizing that I failed to pick up my mobile phone.

By mid-morning the thought hit me, "This day is very quiet.  Wonder why?" 

I toured the new building Downtown.  Talked to several people in the office after a number of issues.  Read lots of email, made a few phone calls at my desk. 

Still, I was thinking, "This day is very quiet!" 

Only after driving to into far North Dallas (Plano, to be more precise--Collin County!) for an appoitment that didn't make due a failure in communication did I realize that I had no cell phone! 


I actually resorted to the retail paint counter at a nearby Home Depot to borrow a phone to call back to the office to figure out what was going on.  Of course, the office had been trying to call me to no avail since everyone was calling my cell phone, remember the one that I left at home?

Once I recovered from the feeling of complete isolation and "cut-off-ness" (that can't be a real word, can it?), I realized that I actually could settle into the quiet, forced and temporary as it might be. 

It felt really very nice not being in touch or available to everyone in the world at every single second of the entire day. 

I began to recall the good old days before cell phones were so available to everyone.  I remembered with fondness my first "car phone."  The thing was about the size of a brick cut in half and weighted about the same. 

At first I thought, "How did we ever work without them?" 

Quite well actually. 

And, maybe it is just me, but I think we may have worked more sanely with a much more even stride about our days. 

Could I go back? 

Would it be possible? 

Dare I try?

"Oh, oh, thanks, I must have dozed off in the remarkable quiet of this very strange day!" 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

CityWalk@Akard--all about people and homes

CityWalk @Akard is now leasing up!  To read a feature story in today's edition of The Dallas Morning News click here

Last week, after four challenging, at times maddening, years, the property located at 511 N. Akard in Downtown Dallas received the certificate of occupancy needed to open the basement through fifth floors to office and residential tenants. 

If you follow this blog, Central Dallas Ministries or the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, you know about CityWalk and its development.

Of course, the real story involves the people who will live and work in the 206 units of housing and the retail and office spaces available in the building.

Two hundred units will provide high-quality housing for low-income residents by the definitions of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.  Of those, fifty units are set aside for formerly homeless persons.  Six of the units, all located on the top floor, are market rate condos designed for sale.  All six have been sold. 

The basement through the third floor will house retail and office tenants, including the administrative and law offices of CDM and the offices of the CDCDC.  Additional business and non-profit tenants will join us on the building's first and second floors.  The basement will provide storage space for tenants as we open. 

The mixed-income, mixed-use nature of the project lead me to think of it as "a neighborhood in vertical."  It really is about like a city block that enjoys an unique mixture of uses, personalities and opportunities.  I can't image a more interesting place to live or to work. 

For us though, the real story involves the people who will live in the building who've come through rough, challenging times. 

People like Sharon Tillis.  Take a moment and read her moving story here on the CityWalkTalk blog

I'm eager to meet Sharon.  I know she will be a good neighbor.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meister Eckehart on love and others

My seminary days come back to me often. 

Today I picked up the following quotes from an article in the December website edition of Harpers magazine ("The Trinity of Love") concerning the life and message of Meister Eckehart, a 14th century Dominican priest.  I first read Eckehart when I was about 25-years-old.  His writings and sermons were among the sources that first exposed me to the rich mysticism of Christian thought in the Middle Ages.  Hear him:

If you love yourself, then you love all others as yourself. As long as you love a single human being less than yourself, you cannot truly love yourself—if you do not love all others as yourself, in one human being all human beings: and this human being is God and man.

–Meister Eckehart, Sermon No. 13, “Qui audit me” (Sept. 8, 1325) in Meister Eckharts deutsche und lateinische Werke, vol. 1, p. 195 (J. Quint ed. 1936)(S.H. transl.)

The Harpers' commentary following the quote challenges me: 

He then develops this idea in the context of a new doctrine of love in which love of self is carefully juxtaposed against the love of fellow humans and of God. He cites a passage from Paul of Tarsus in Romans 9:3 in which he wishes to be “cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” Self-sacrifice is thus defined as the essence of love and the overcoming of the self (in his words–thus is a human truly human).

But this “true” human is essentially also what Eckehart calls a “just man.” For him, the demand for justice must be everything, what he lives and breathes to achieve, more important than the outer formality of religion. And it is radical in its social implications, as Eckehart the noble says “I call you not servants, but friends.” But it starts with the abandonment of temporal connections in the quest for a mystical union with the spiritual. . . .says Eckehart—“the highest and most extreme thing that the human can give up, that is that he give up God for the sake of God.” These words may confound, and they certainly challenge the temporal and sacred authority of his time, but there is a clear internal logic to them, which challenges its audience to reject the paths they tread in favor of a new and mystical view of the world and humankind.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Living Christmas. . .

This from The New York Times on December 22, 2009.  Fitting Christmas meditation it seems to me.

Ben Kennedy

Published: December 22, 2009

Unless you live in Helena, Mont., you’re unlikely to have any notion of who Ben Kennedy was. And even if you live in Helena, you may have never knew his name. You might have seen him on the street or in the alleys behind buildings downtown, collecting cans and flattening cardboard boxes for recycling. He probably would have caught your attention if you drifted downwind of him, for, in truth, his scent was high and overripe. His hair was wild, and his mouth had long been going bald of teeth.

Ben Kennedy was a native of Belt, Mont., a few miles east of Great Falls. You could be forgiven for thinking he was homeless, but he died in his subsidized housing in Helena on Dec. 2, just short of his 87th birthday.

To read more click here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

What child is this?

[This post appeared last year on Christmas day.  It is repeated here at the request of a reader. LJ]

It is a very good question, and more than worthy of our reflection.

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that grappling with this question is especially important as we consider both our own understandings of this person named Jesus and, even more so, as we consider how he is to be understood by our children (the next generation).

Moreover, the answer to this question will be extremely important to those of us who are concerned for the health. well-being and just development of our communities. Of course, I realize that not everyone who works in the arena of community development comes at the task from a faith perspective.

But, I do.

So, the question is vital to me and to my understanding of my own work.

Just from the various birth narratives we gain important insights, some possibly surprising, about the nature of this amazing person.

Consider what the Christian literature claims about this child:

  • He will be a revolutionary leader whose values will shake up power structures for the benefit of the poor and the powerless (Luke 1: 46-55).
  • He was born in a stable thanks to the fact that "there was no room" in the inn for him or his parents--likely an indication of the family's poverty; this child was born in conditions not unlike those experienced every day in Dallas by the homeless who "camp" under our bridges and endure life with nowhere to really rest. On occasion, babies enter our world in such circumstances (Luke 2:1-7).
  • He was born to very poor parents, as is made clear when they offer two doves as a sacrifice of dedication, the gift reserved for the poor (Luke 2:22-24).
  • He was understood to be source of "salvation" to all people, not just one group (Luke 2:29-32).
  • So far as the community at large was concerned, he was born to an unwed mother (Matthew 1:18).
  • His arrival signals the coming of forgiveness of sin, the advent of salvation and the redemption of the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:38).
  • He was understood to be a new king who would rule on the basis of a new set of values (Matthew 2:1-2, 6).
  • He was an immigrant (King Herod would have considered him "illegal" for certain!), along with his parents who depended upon foreign hospitality for his safety and survival (Matthew 2:13).

    Christmas means many things to us. For me, at least in part, it is a time of reflection. The birth of Jesus and the circumstances surrounding his birth reveal so much about the purpose of his coming. The birth stories remind me of the fundamental values that direct our work in the city with and among the very poor.

    Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

White Christmas in Dallas!

White Christmas Eve in Dallas, Texas!

Nothing quite like snow to make Christmas special, that is particularly true for Dallasites.  Just 24 hours ago the temperature posted in the mid-70s.

Snow in our old neighborhood makes everyting seem bright, new and hopeful. 

The fireplace blazes. 

Wrapping grandchildren's packages. 

Preparing for the candlelight service at 11:00 p.m. down at the church.

Special night for everyone, almost.

We find the rub, the challenge, the deep concern in the "almost," don't we? 

This night's beauty depends so much on your current circumstance.  What's so beautiful, so special to me presents a real problem to someone with no home or family or assets. 

So, as the snow falls, as the party begins, as the worship concludes in the moving way I expect it will, I must remember and never forget. 

Merry Christmas!  And, God bless us everyone.

Finally! CityWalk@Akard opens!

The "Green Tag" to the left allows us to begin moving into CityWalk @Akard after four years of hard work, peristence, creativity, and at times courage and great faith on the part of John Greenan, Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, and his great team!

  Central Dallas Ministries will move headquarters to the new location on January 19!  Included in the move will be all our administration and development departments, our public interest law firm and, of course our partners, the Central Dallas CDC. 

It's been a long time coming, but the wait and the hard work finally paid off! 

I love what John wrote about receiving the authorization to move into the building:

  Central Dallas CDC’s Christmas Present is a Green Tag

This, friends, is a temporary certificate of occupancy for CityWalk, and there could not be a better Christmas present for us:

The temporary certificate of occupancy means the City of Dallas inspectors have now given us permission to occupy a portion of CityWalk—the basement through the fifth floor.

By the time you read this blog, we will have had at least one lease signed and before the end of the year, people will be living at CityWalk. Some of them people who are now living in their car or at a shelter.

Finally, after more than four years of work, we have found a place at the inn for some of our brothers and sisters to in out of the cold. There couldn’t be any better way for us to celebrate the season

Indeed, what a grand way to celebrate Christmas!

A very different child. . .thoughts for Christmas Eve 2009

When written, these words meant something very important to the communities of faith that received them. These words carry a radical message and present an amazing vision of the work of the child described. Curiously, the power of these words seems largely lost on contemporary followers of the child.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"

And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
(Luke 1:29-56}

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The promise of "green jobs"

The report below comes from Bread for the World Institute, a somewhat surprising source.  What you'll find is a bit more encouraging than some of what I've read in recent days about "green jobs" and economic renewal. 

Let me encourage you to open the link below to the entire report.  The analysis of jobs created in the emerging "green sector" is very interesting. 

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Solar power has become a focus in our world here at CDM. 

Greening the Recovery

If it were ever really true that what’s good for the environment is bad for business and vice versa, the tradeoff has swiftly become an anachronism, largely because of the pressing need to address climate change. Climate change will be a huge challenge—and a tremendous economic opportunity. It’s possible to battle climate change and create jobs at the same time.

Greening the economy means different things to different people, but in this report we’re referring to a transformation of the nation’s energy infrastructure, from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to clean, renewable forms of energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal. We also include stepping up investments in cost-effective energy efficiency, such as weatherizing homes and office buildings.

“Green jobs” may sound like something altogether new, but they are mostly jobs that already exist with new skills added to the mix. A green roofer is like any other roofer, except that he has been trained to build roofs that are energy efficient. A manufacturer of solar cells is a green manufacturer in the sense that she is producing parts for the clean energy industry, but she is still a manufacturer.

Improvements in the nation’s infrastructure can yield significant productivity gains throughout the economy. Energy savings is just one reason that this is a wise investment. Because infrastructure projects are labor-intensive, they produce many more jobs than investments in most other sectors of the economy.1 Proponents of a greener economy believe that clean energy and energy efficiency can engage a sizeable share of the U.S. workforce for at least a generation.2 For each job that is created in the clean energy sector, there are additional jobs created by indirect and induced effects. “Indirect” effects come from industries that supply intermediate goods to clean energy producers. “Induced” effects refer to the sectors that produce goods and services that workers in the new clean energy sector buy with their own incomes. The total number of jobs created depends on the scale of public and private investment.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Harlem Children's Zone

Amazing work being done by an amazing group, led by an amazing man! We need this process and this commitment in Dallas. What do you think?

Great question, Mr. President!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Green jobs needing push

Central Dallas Ministries and the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation continue to work on a solar power project in an effort to bring energy costs down for low-income households while at the same time creating new jobs for inner city workers who are unemployed or underemployed.  I suppose that is why reports like the one below from Steven Greenhouse grab by attention every time. 

Elusive Goal of Greening U.S. Energy
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE (The New York Times, December 3, 2009)

The Great Green Hope for lifting America’s economy is not looking so robust.

President Obama, both during his campaign and in his first year in office, has promoted the promise of new jobs in cutting-edge, nonpolluting industries, and such green jobs will be a major issue at his jobs “summit” meeting Thursday.

But, increasingly, skeptics who point to the need for more jobs are wondering why he is not doing more to create green jobs faster.

Growth in clean energy industries and in green jobs has been considerably slower and bumpier than anticipated, industry experts say.

To read more click here.

So, what do you think?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Captured faith

Here's a strong and, some would say I'm sure, controversial word from my friend Dr. Joerg Rieger, professor of theology at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.  After  you read it, let me know what you think.

. . .we need to face the forces that constantly threaten to hold captive our thinking about Christ. Theologies and Christologies that do not dare to confront their assimilation and bondage to empire stand little chance to push through to new versions of liberation (p. 315).

Other truths are still hidden and covered up, especially the question: Who ultimately benefits from the current structures of empire? Why else would so many common people vote for the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful members of society – for instance by endorsing tax cuts for the rich and for limits to the social and ecological accountability of monied interests – and against their own interests, that might better be served by a strong social security net that includes health care for all and a well-funded educational system? (p. 316).

The problem here is not so much an intentional cover-up or a conscious lie (although lies and cover-ups are part of the repertoire). The problem is with the fact that the most basic truth about empire is often invisible, to be found between the lines… The American empire… took shape… in a state of denial that did not allow reflection or debate. (pp. 317 & 318).

Awareness of a powerful alternative reality that cannot be captured by empire inspires fresh action and generates new energy… (Continue in my word: - John 8:31). Why not think about “continuing in [Jesus’] word” in terms of participating in Jesus’ alternative reality, which includes the realities of the kinds of people on the margins with whom he developed

from Joerg Rieger, Christ and Empire:  From Paul to Postcolonial Times (Fortress Press, 2007).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hunger real. . .and for our children

Child hunger, called the 'silent epidemic,' is an increasingly complex problem
By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 12, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- Three weeks before he was elected president, Barack Obama set an audacious goal: end hunger among children in the United States by 2015.

Since his inauguration, Obama has seldom broached the subject. His aides brainstorm weekly with several agencies, but their internal conversations so far have not produced fundamentally new approaches. The president's goal could prove daunting: Childhood hunger is more complex than previously understood, new research suggests, and is unlikely to be solved simply by spending more money for food programs.

If Obama intends to erase childhood hunger, the government will need to reach even further into the rowhouse kitchen where Anajyha Wright Mitchell sometimes takes tiny portions so her mother will have more food. "I tell her to eat, eat, eat, because she is real skinny," Anajyha, 12, said of her mother, Andrea Mitchell.

Anajyha, a serious girl with two younger brothers and a mother who has lost two of her three part-time jobs, is growing up with an ebb and flow of food typical of a growing number of families. In her home, in a scuffed neighborhood called Strawberry Mansion a few miles north of the Liberty Bell, food stamps arrive but never last the month. There can be cereal but no milk. Pancake mix and butter but no eggs.

The intricacy of the problem -- and of the Obama administration's task -- plays out here, where Anajyha could have enough to eat but shortchanges herself.

Philadelphia offers a particularly vivid ground-level view of what researchers call a "silent epidemic" of hungry and undernourished youngsters. For years, local civic activists, health experts and politicians have tried some of the nation's most innovative experiments -- and learned how intractable hunger can be. Researchers here have also been at the leading edge in trying to fathom the effects of a scarcity of food.

To read entire report click here.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Justice Revival Dallas. . .who'll step up and how?

Gerald Britt, VP of Public Policy here at Central Dallas Ministries, published the following essay on the Op-Ed pages of The Dallas Morning News on last Tuesday, December 15:

After the Justice Revival

This isn't a criticism, just a reality: Getting church leaders across denominational, theological, racial, geographic, class and ideological barriers to work together can be like getting cats to march in a parade. But that is the challenge in the aftermath of Dallas' Justice Revival.

The Justice Revival is a concept introduced in the book The Great Awakening by Jim Wallis, the leader of the progressive Christian organization Sojourners. It harkens back to church revivals that resulted in spiritual conversions and social justice movements that helped bring about the abolition of slavery; produced child labor laws; and addressed issues of public health and poverty in northern slums area.

Can churches still provide the spark that ignites a spiritual-based revival with social implications in Dallas?

Although attendance goals for the November gathering fell short of expectations, the Justice Revival was always promoted as more than a specific event. The real test will be whether churches achieve their goals involving education and housing for the homeless. That, in turn, involves how well participating congregations are able to draw the distinction between "justice" and "charity."

The November "Day of Service" focused on deploying Justice Revival participants throughout the city to help with service projects at schools and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's March to Help the Homeless. These weekend events were meant to symbolize commitment through acts of compassion. Justice, however, means addressing the failures of the systems associated with these issues.

The spiritual "great awakening" – of which this revival should be both symbol and catalyst – should seek to play a more robust role than simply being campus volunteers. Substantive engagement regarding public education is a vital need in our schools.

We all should heed and repeat former DISD board president Sandy Kress' warning that this involvement avoid becoming "charity around the edges" of much-needed reform. Churches must be careful not to be used to mask real systemic failures with feel-good success stories or to be relegated to the margins, where real impact is almost impossible.

Serious involvement demands rejecting stereotypes of poor families, instead listening and becoming allies with parents in their dreams for their children's future. It means dealing with issues of health and safety as well as asking whether schools have textbooks and up-to-date technology. It should involve helping parents understand the relationship between classroom grades and standardized testing. Plus partnering with existing community programs to provide enrichment opportunities to enhance classroom learning. It could mean establishing academies to help parents better understand school culture, the politics of public education and parental rights and responsibilities within the school system.

In short, congregations should bring an appetite for tough-minded engagement as well as tenderhearted volunteerism.

Justice Revival congregations also are asked to lead the way in supporting Dallas' official goal to provide 700 units of affordable housing, a goal that should be embraced by the entire city. Churches can be invaluable allies, educating themselves on effective strategies addressing the problem that can be adopted here in Dallas. Churches also can promote the housing goal as an opportunity for a ministry of inclusion.

Most important, churches can work with city officials and nonprofits to make this housing a reality. That starts with congregations recognizing the homeless among us as fellow citizens and thus serving as advocates to build support within their respective communities for the housing.

Justice Revival congregations' impact can be totally out of proportion to the event attendance itself if their commitment to justice is as great as their compassion.

So, what do you think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Into the future. . .with impact

Thanks to the fact that we host a large AmeriCorps team (350 members), I was invited to attend the 32nd Annual Governor's Nonprofit Leadership Conference rolled out here in Dallas last week. 
I was particularly intrigued by the presentation made by Andrew Wolk, founder of Root Cause and noted social innovator and social entrepreneur. Wolk has a blog that's work checking out, as well.

As I say, Wolk's speech was important and provocative.  In it he outlines the characteristics of those innovative non-profit organizations that will be able to survive and achieve high level, social impact.  Here they are for your consideration:
  • High impact organizaitons measure for continuous improvement.  Not for funders, not for data collection alone, not to justify their existence. . .but to improve and constantly.
  • High impact organizaitons relinguish control.  Turning over power, sharing ideas, not worrying about credit or even funding, and staying true to mission and people--these commitments will characterize such groups.
  • High impact organizations build bridges with government and the private sector.  Diversification and a willingness to cooperate across traditional dividing lines will be standard operating procedure for these organizations.
  • High impact organizations focus on just that, impact, and always over ego. 
Helpful words from a leader worth heeding. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To house or not to house

Kim Horner reports news for The Dallas Morning News.  She holds down a big piece of the human and social services beat for the region.  Over the past several months Kim has published stories on homelessness in Dallas.  The latest in what she calls "an occasional seriers," appeared in last Sunday's paper. 

Here's how the report begins:

Unwelcome mat out for project to house chronically homeless
12:26 AM CST on Sunday, December 13, 2009
One in an occasional series By KIM HORNER / The Dallas Morning News

Developer Larry Hamilton has been working for months to turn the empty Plaza Hotel south of downtown Dallas into homes for the homeless. But it's been much tougher than he imagined.

Hamilton and other developers complain of roadblocks even as they try to carry out the city's goal of opening 700 apartments for the homeless by 2014. The housing, which would come with mental health and addiction services, is considered the most effective way to clear the streets of the hard-core homeless.

But Dallas has lagged behind other major cities in creating the units. Public financing, neighborhood cooperation and political will are all in short supply in a city that has been able to raise millions for arts projects, a convention center hotel and Calatrava bridges over the Trinity River.

"They have this aspiration to do 700 units, but I think it's going to be hard to do any," Hamilton said. "I don't see how it's going to get done."

To read the entire story click here.

Read Kim Horner's entire series on homelessness here

Lots of work to do both in development and community education. One fact our community must face:  more public funding must be found and a deepened public commitment must be nurtured.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I, Too

Langston Hughes is a favorite of mine. 

Many things have changed since he penned his prophetic and challenging poem, "I, Too." 


Give thanks!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Empire and power

Those who want to do only theology, whether conservative or progressive, and those who seek to be faithful to Christ at the religious level alone will have to face the uncomfortable truth that they might be drawn into the force field of empire unconsciously, without being aware of it. The deep-seated and well established force fields maintained by empire must not be underestimated. Christian theology that seeks to stay true to the alternative and challenging inspiration of Christ… will have to find new ways of dealing with the influences of empire.

Christ and Empire:  Form Paul to Postcolonial Times by Joerg Rieger (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2007),
( p. 313).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shaking it off and stepping up. . .

Received this from a friend of mine out of another life! Enjoy!

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do.

Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up.

Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a steppingstone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up.

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

Free your heart from hatred - Forgive.

Free your mind from worries - Most never happen.

Live simply and appreciate what you have.

Give more.

Expect less.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A time to celebrate in the joy!

We enjoyed our annual, staff Christmas Party today at CDM! 

Our Employee Advisory Council pulled the entire affair together.  Thanks to Edd Eason and his team of Community Care Navigators for hosting us at their offices located in the East Dallas Christian Church! 

What a great group of urban warriors!  Fearlessly facing down poverty! 

Community Impact

Take a moment or two and receive an encouraging update on what's happening in our world!

Just click here


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Keeping Christmas

Food for thought and reflection this Christmas season.

Keeping Christmas
by Henry Van Dyke

It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.

But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellow-men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness--are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open--are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world--stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death--and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Urban Engagement Book Club 2010

Take a look at what follows for a list of the book selections for Central Dallas Ministries' Urban Engagement Book Club for 2010.

The club convenes on the first Thursday of each month from Noon until 1:15 p.m. We never go over our time limit! We meet at the Highland Park United Methodist Church (at SMU), Room 120 (3300 Mockingbird Lane Dallas, Texas 75205).

For more details and ready reference visit

January 7
The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, T.R. Reid

February 4
Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich

March 4
The Working Poor: Invisible in America, David K. Shipler

April 1
Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America, Helen Thorpe

May 6
The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World, Richard Stearns

June 3
Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration, David F. Weiman

July 1
Push: A Novel, Saphhire

August 5
Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists, Jason Del Gandio

September 2
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

October 7
There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America, William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub

November 4
To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise, Bethany Moreton

December 2
Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World, Mae Elise Cannon and John Perkins

To be added to our email invitation listing, please send an email to

Monday, December 07, 2009

Screening children for Santa?

Last week we received word from Houston, Texas that some charitable organizations would screen out the children of undocumented residents of the city when it comes time to distribute toys and other Christmas gifts.  You can read the original report published by The Houston Chronicle ( "Some toy drives check immigration status," Nov. 30, 2009, by Jeannie Kever) here

The original story reported that the Salvation Army and a toy drive associated with the city's fire department would be requiring various forms of identificaiton, including social sercurity cards, birth certificates and proof of income, to qualify families and children to receive toys and Christmas gifts this year.  The report set off reaction from groups working with immigrants in the city.

On last Thursday, the paper published a follow up story that reported the decision by the Salvation Army not to require social security cards. 

“It was never our intention to offend anyone with our registration requirement to provide a Social Security number, or to give the impression that we were discriminating against those individuals and families who do not have a Social Security number,” Major Chris Flanagan, Area Commander for The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command said in a statement. 

To read the entire report click here.

My reading of the stories lead me to believe that the original intention was to eliminate the children of "illegal" immigrants from the Christmas gift program.   Thankfully, the organizations involved reconsidered the hurtful policy.  As usual when a community rises up and  cries out, things change for the better. 

Still, the enire affair points up once again the intense hatred and the unapologetic discrimination lurking just beneath the surface of many of our communities that can be so quickly directed toward our immigrant neighbors.  Reading the reports and considering the attitudes that informed these policy decisions in the first place, I'm wondering if our faith communities and their leaders don't need to do some work with us on just how God regards the "aliens" and the "strangers" among us. 

Clearly, we need to remember and reconsider the clarity of our faith traditon regarding residents from other places, regardless of how they made their way to us.  I'm thinking of words like these:

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." Exodus 22:21

"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt."  Exodus 23:9

"The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."  Leviticus 19:34

"And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:19

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. . . ." Matthew 25:35

In view of the clarity of our faith traditions, I'd say we need to reflect clearly and carefully on our attitudes and our actions. Maybe it's just me, but this seems especially true during the Advent waiting as we consider the arrival of the Child who, himself an immigrant in more ways than one, comes to set us free.

[This post also appeared on the Sojourners blog here.]

Friday, December 04, 2009

Evidenced-based care

On Thanksgiving day, while walking down a very uneven sidewalk toward the park with the grandchildren, Brenda tripped and fell.  She broke her fall by stiff-arming the sidewalk.  She bumped and scratched her face and badly bruised her hand.  She shook off her injury and went on to the park! 

The next day, after a short visit with her doctor, she went to a local hospital emergency room to have her hand checked out.  After a lengthy wait and a couple of rounds of X-rays, she learned that no bones were broken.  During the exam, the examining nurse practitioner (she never saw a physician) questioned her about the scratch on her face, finally suggesting an MRI to make sure there were no broken bones in her face.  Brenda assured her that such a procedure was not necessary and that another X-ray would suffice, if even was really necessary. 

She left glad to know that there were no broken bones and with her hand and arm wrapped up to the elbow.  She also wondered if the attending staff was guilty of over prescribing treatment. 

In a "fee for service" health care system like we now experience, her suspicions make a lot of sense. 

Then, on Sunday morning, The Dallas Morning News carried a front page story on evidence-based medicine and cost sharing and the move of the Baylor Health Care System to such a strategy for providing care to its patients (by the way, the ER Brenda visited was not a Baylor hospital!). 

No one wants to talk rationally about health care realities these days.  But, in view of rising costs and our return in health and wellness benefits for what we pay, the time has come for serious discussions.  From the report it sounds as if Baylor will lead the way in that much-needed conversation.  Good for them! 

Be sure and read the story, "Baylor will try new Rx," by clicking here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dramatic rise in elderly seeking food assistance

Found the following report in The Huffington Post.  The trend reported here is one we've noticed in Dallas at our Resource Center.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Older Americans who were raised on stories of the Great Depression and acquired lifelong habits of thrift now find themselves crowding soup kitchens and food pantries in greater numbers for the first time after seeing retirement funds, second jobs and nest eggs wiped out by recession.

"What we see in line is lots of gray hair, lots of walkers," said Marti Forman, CEO of The Cooperative Feeding Program in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The help is crucial for many fixed-income seniors, who can't always keep up with rising food prices.

"It's a lifeline. It just means that you can function," said Ronald Shewchuk of Ithaca, N.Y. "Otherwise we would have to sell our house. I don't know what we would do. Go to an old age home."

The number of seniors living alone who seek help from food pantries in the U.S. increased 81 percent to 408,000 in 2008, compared to 225,000 in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Overall, 4.7 million households used American food pantries in 2008, compared to about 3.7 million in 2006.

"Seniors thought they were OK, but they're not OK," said Virginia Skinner, director of Development at The Association of Arizona Food Banks in Phoenix, citing the downturn in the area's housing market.

Catholic Charities USA, which has 170 agencies across the country helping the needy, issued a 2009 third-quarter report that found a 54 percent increase in requests for food and services from seniors nationwide compared to the same period last year.

Despite the increased need, it can be difficult for some older people to come forward and seek help.

To read more click here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Thoughtful comment on Medicaid and its improvement

Dr. James Baker is the CEO of Metrocare Services here in Dallas, Texas.

Metrocare Services, formerly known as the Dallas County Mental Health Mental Retardation (MHMR) Center, has served Dallas County for over 40 years by providing first rate clinical and social services to persons with mental illness, developmental disability, or severe emotional problems.

Jim is an expert on mental health care delivery among the poor and, thus, an expert on Medicaid.

Click here to refresh your memory on my previous post that addressed what I considered an outrageous comment about Medicaid made by Senator Lamar Alexander (TN-R).   Be sure and read the comments on that post. 

Here's what Dr. Baker left in the comment box on that earlier post: 

I want to go back to the original question by c hand: Why do "so few physicians...accept patients covered by the ... very good plan?" and why do patients with these plans have to wait for care?

Medicaid IS a very good plans from the perspective of its benefits, that is, what it will pay for. It is very generous in that respect.

The reason docs dont "accept patients" (actually it is the insurance that many dont accept...) is that Medicaid's reimbursement does not even cover most docs' costs for the services.

And if Congress doesnt repeal a Medicare reimbursement cut of 21% that is set for Jan 1st, the same access problems will worsen for the elderly that already happen for the poor.

The fix is counter-intuitive: increase both the number of people covered and the doc rates for both programs, so that access is easier and happens sooner in the course of a disease, so that the cost of each episode goes way down -- and therefore so does the total cost to taxpayers...

Unfortunately since it is counter-intuitive, many policymakers have a hard time grasping this reality...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 3:30:00 PM CST

Jim, thanks for the clear and rational explanation. 

Ever consider a run for Congress?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hunger: We Must Do More and Better

Editorial: Texas must fight hunger all year

04:00 PM CST on Monday, November 23, 2009

While millions of Texas households prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with a hearty family meal, millions of their fellow Texans aren't sure when or how they'll get their next meal.

"Texans should be shocked that a state as prosperous as Texas is doing so poorly," says the state's agriculture commissioner, Republican Todd Staples.

According to federal statistics released last week, 16.3 percent of Texas households lack regular access to adequate nutrition or face hunger nightly. The percentage of so-called "food insecure" households in Texas is more than 4 points higher than the national average of 12.2 percent, ranking Texas ahead of only Mississippi. In these households, people regularly skip meals, eat cheaper and less nutritious foods, depend on government aid like food stamps or seek help from food pantries.

The recession can be blamed for only part of Texas' misery; it rated an abysmal 15.2 percent of "food insecure" households a decade ago, when its economy was booming. Now, says Jan Pruitt, executive director of the North Texas Food Bank, member agencies are seeing about 36 percent more new food recipients and distributing 50 percent more food each week.

The food bank readily accepts contributions in food and money all year, but Pruitt says eradicating hunger also requires such comprehensive strategies as making sure the needy, especially those with children, receive food stamps and other assistance.

Texans can confront hunger in small and large ways. A few hopeful signs emerged at a hunger summit in Waco last week. Led by the Texas Hunger Initiative, a coalition of federal, state and local agencies agreed to campaign to make sure Texas schoolchildren don't go hungry during the summer when subsidized breakfasts and lunches are less accessible. Churches, youth organizations and school districts will be asked next month to help get food to the 2.5 million school-age children eligible for summer feeding programs. Likewise, Staples will issue a similar anti-hunger challenge to mayors across Texas.

Hunger has been with us forever and will stay with us until enough people insist that it will not continue. It's good to hear more voices shouting this message.

People don't choose to be hungry, which is why prosperous Texans shouldn't ignore others' suffering when the holiday season ends. It's honorable to volunteer at food banks or to write a check to provide food for the needy, but eventually Texans must come to grips with the reality that this state's dismal record on combating hunger is getting worse.

Fighting Texas hunger

•Donate food and cash to the North Texas Food Bank or its member agencies. For contribution details, go to or call (214) 330-1396. Or visit and donate online.

•Urge Texas legislators to support efforts to provide food stamps and other programs to needy families, especially those with children. Only a small portion of eligible recipients in Texas currently participate in food stamp and summer feeding programs. For contact info go to

•Contact the Texas Hunger Initiative and ask how you can help. For more information, go to or call 254-710-3704.

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