Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rauschenbusch on "The Kingdom of God"

"The Kingdom of God breeds prophets; the Church breeds priests and theologians. The Church runs to tradition and dogma; the Kingdom of God rejoices in forecasts and boundless horizons. The men who have contributed the most fruitful impulses to Christian thought have been men of prophetic vision, and their theology has proved most effective for future times where it has been most concerned with past history, with present social problems, and with the future of human society. The Kingdom of God is to theology what outdoor colour and light are to art. It is impossible to estimate what inspirational impulses have been lost to theology and to the Church, because it did not develop the doctrine of the Kingdom of God and see the world and its redemption from that point of view."Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, 1917.


Who Baked the Bread? 

 Who baked the bread
That Jesus blessed
And broke, and shared
That Passover supper, when he said,
"This is my body
Broken for you"?
Who made the wine,
When he passed the cup,
Saying, "This is my blood,
The blood of the covenant,
Shed for you and for many.
The fruit of the vine
I shall not taste again
Until I taste it new
In the Kingdom of God"?
Who made the wine?

Was it a woman who tended the vine,
Pressed the grapes, and made the wine;
Who planted the field, threshed the wheat,
And baked the bread for others to eat?

And afterwards, did a woman come
To clear the cup; to mop,
Perhaps, a single careless drop
Of wine, of God's blood shed;
To gather every scattered crumb
Of broken body, broken bread?

Did a woman, coming to clean the room,
Find grace in the fragments left behind,
As women, later, would come to find
An angel and an empty tomb?

Katherine Dale Makus
Source: Daughters of Sarah (Mar-Apr 1988)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

When evil marries profit. . .

"Ordinary sin is an act of weakness and side-stepping, followed by shame the next day. But when it is the source of prolific income, it is no longer a shame-faced vagabond slinking through the dark, but an army with banners, entrenched and defiant. The bigger the dividends, the stiffer the resistance against anything that would cut them down. When fed with money, sin grows wings and claws."

Walter Rauschenbusch
from A Theology of the Social Gospel, 1917

Friday, March 29, 2013

Wisdom from Seuss

This very wise reminder crossed my desk from my good friend and permanent supportive housing expert, Bob Voelker. . .

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.
- Dr. Seuss

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Many readers will remember the saga of Monica and Jose.  She's been my friend since she was about 5-years-old!

If you need a refresher, just type Monica into the search tool on this page and you can read past posts.  The following message came to me on March 21.  

What joyous news for this great young woman and her family!

Our struggle has been more than worth it.  It is an example of community work at its very best and highest expression

Now we need to direct our attention to the work of comprehensive immigration reform, including passage of the DREAM Act.  

Dear family and friends,

I am happy to announce that I am now DACAmented :D  (DACA documented... get it?)

I am happy to announce that I have been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which means my deportation proceedings have been closed and I am now like any other DREAMer without the fear of being in deportation proceedings again. Based on this new program I am able to attain a work permit that will be valid for a period of two years and may be renewed, and I am currently working on the process of attaining my driver's license.

I would like to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for all of your support, blessings, prayers and presence in mine and my family's life, we are so grateful to know such wonderful people.  What I have today would not be if it wasn't for all of y'all help. I will keep you updated and please let me know if there is anything I can do to give back.

Much Love,
Monica Ibarra

P.S. Alan (my youngest brother) is currently awaiting approval of his DACA application. We will keep you updated on that too.  

Throughout Monica's entire ordeal, her attorney, Liz Cedillo-Pereira stood by her, fought for her, counseled her and prayed for her and all of us.  Here's what Liz sent to Monica upon receiving the great news:

I like that phrase "DACAmented!"

And, I am so very proud and happy for you.  Your life has enriched my own.  And, I have no doubt that this valley you have walked in since 2009 will be used as a testament to the unbreakable sprit and determination of a young woman named Monica Ibarra.  You know that God has His hand on you and called you to service and I can only imagine all the great things that are in store for you and our world because of you in it.

You will always be in my heart and Ms. Helen's. 


Friday, March 22, 2013

Wealth distribution: perception and reality

Public policy over the last 30 years produced the wealth inequality we face as a nation today.

Bottom line:  this reality is not sustainable for our national life,  for community health or for peace and unity.

Reactions welcome.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An important, timely conversation

Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper are friends. 

Their conversation is enlightening and most important.

 We all need to get involved for the sake of our neighbors who have become our dear friends.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hunger is real for working people. . .

Providing easy access to nutritious food products has been a core missional function of CitySquare from the earliest days of Central Dallas Food Pantry.

 It is easy to lose sight of the importance of simply providing our neighbors the food they need in view of their low wages and earning power. Often we think of how food distribution can lead to other opportunities for those who come seeking our assistance with the most basic of human needs. But watching a video like this one reminds me that our work of making food available is an end in itself without further consideration.

 My thanks to Michelle Kopel for sharing the video with me.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Down the road. . .

I grew up hearing this contemplative hymn, somewhat of a hopeful lament.  Josh Garrels version is very different.  I heard him sing it live at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year.

"Farther Along" - Josh Garrels from Josh Garrels on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Persistence on the "Cottages" developmeth


In most of the work we do at CitySquare that's the most important quality we bring to the task.

We don't like to give up.

For the past four years we've been engaged in a consortium whose goal is to provide high-quality, permanent housing to 50 of the "most expensive" homeless persons in Dallas County.  We calculate cost by accounting for how often a person enters the ER or is admitted as a patient at Parkland Hospital, how often emergency medical services teams are called out to attend to a crisis, how many days a person spends in jail, how often a person is seen by a mental health professional or is hospitalized for mental health issues.

We know the names of the 250 most expensive homeless persons.  Each costs Dallas County (not including costs to the city or to the non-profit sector) an average of $40,000 annually!

Our working group composed of representatives from MetroCare Services, Dallas County Criminal Justice, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Central Dallas CDC, W. W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation and CitySquare continues to work on building a secure community where 50 of these special people can live, while surrounded by the supportive services that they will need to move forward in a productive manner.

We estimate the annual cost for housing and supportive services to be less than $15,000.  We estimate the savings to the community over the next 30 years to be in the neighborhood of $130,000,000!

Currently, we are working to secure the financing needed to deliver the project to the community.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Last Thursday a Dallas Marshall harassed me as I sat on the steps of Billy Merendino's old, abandoned house at the corner of Dawson and Malcolm X.

Nathan Rivers, Wendy and I were just sitting on the porch talking.  Nathan was finishing up his lunch, an entire rotisserie chicken!

During the course of his meal, Nathan shared a great one liner on his approach to the streets:  "Yeah Larry, I walk softly and carry a big thought," he declared.  "I look a long time before I leap!"  

As we discussed Nathan's attempt to get off the streets and out of "the walk in," a Marshall's car passed by very slowly with the two officers giving the three of us a careful once over.

As the squad car pulled away, Nathan remarked, "Larry, they would have stopped if you hadn't been sitting here."  

"Really?" I replied.

"You don't believe me?"  Nathan asked.  "The only reason they didn't stop is because you were sitting here."

"Because I'm white?" I pressed him.

"Yes sir, that's right," he answered.

Our conversation changed gears a bit as we discussed racism, profiling and how homeless persons are constantly hassled and shoved away from almost everywhere.

"Lots of patrol cars out here today," Nathan observed.  "They must be doing a 'sweep' or something." 

About 15 minutes later the same two marshals pulled slowly toward us.  This time the car stopped and the officer lowered his window.  Neither officer said a word.  The driver simply pointed his finger at me and motioned for me to come over to the car.

I suppose I was a bit surprised.

"Me?" I asked.

He simply shook his head and nodded yes.

He also pointed to Nathan, skipping over Wendy, and motioned for him to come over as well.

We did as he instructed, moving over to the side of the car.

He asked for ID, which we both produced.

"Do you own this house?" he asked me, the first words he had spoken.

"No, my friend Billy at the gas station here owns the house," I answered, pointing to the station next door.

"Do you have permission to sit here," he went on.

"Yes, I do," I replied, as I turned toward the old service station and called out to Billy for his assistance.

As Billy walked over, the marshal turned to Nathan and asked, "What about you?" 

As he attempted to explain Billy's hospitality, Billy leaned into the car and confirmed that the three of us were all his guests.

The officer handed back our identification documents, rolled up the window and drove away without a word.

Nathan spun out a calm, sad commentary on what had just happened.

"They drove around the corner and got their nerve up and came back and confronted you, Larry.  It happens to us every day.  There just ain't no place for us to go" he said.

Nathan had been to court that very morning to clear up a warrant for a "crime" he committed 7 years ago.

"What was the offense, " I asked him.

"'Sleeping in a public place'" he informed me.

"I'm such a criminal, Larry!"  he joked as I noted his eyes filling with tears.  "I'm as harmless as a teddy bear, Larry, really."

For his offense the judge directed that he do several hours of public service.  He plans to volunteer at the CitySquare Food Pantry.  He will be welcomed gladly.

As I've reflected on the day, our conversation, the marshals and the sadness, my emotions  ranged from anger, to disgust, to sadness, to shame, to resignation.

One thing I know for certain:  most of us have no clue as to how hard it is to be extremely poor and alone on the streets of a city like Dallas, Texas.

We simply must do better than this.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The benefits of brokenness. . .


Only those deeply broken and honest can fully embrace the deeply broken who need an unconditional embrace, honestly.  

Friday, March 08, 2013

Whiz Kids. . .reprise!

Over ten years ago, CitySquare formed a working partnership with Rev. McKinley Hailey, founder of Imaginuity, a high-tech communications company, to bring a program we called "Whiz Kidz" to a number of urban, public high schools in Dallas.

At the time, Dallas public schools had received federal funding to build state-of-the-art computer labs in all of their high schools. The problem they faced was not having trained faculty to maximize the presence of the new technology for student learning.

 This is where our partnership came in.

In exchange for placing highly qualified computer "coaches" in the classrooms at 8 high schools across the inner city portion of the district, we gained rights to use the computer centers to deliver our highly competitive training initiative to selected students.

 What follows is a video promoting creativity and "out of the box" thinking in public education.

 If you fast forward to the 2:45 minute mark, you'll see NBA star, Chris Bosh, a graduate of Dallas' Lincoln High School describing his experience with "Whiz Kidz."

 Pretty cool.

One thing this experience teaches me is that in impact of what is done today may not  be fully realized until much, much later.

 My dear friend, McKinley, passed away a few years ago.

 Seeing this video brought back so many wonderful memories of "Mack" and our work.

 I'm believing he is aware of his impact.


Thursday, March 07, 2013


The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Gracie speaks up for CitySquare!

Last week, my Granddaughter, Gracie Toombs made a presentation to her REACH class on CitySquare

The assignment involved students studying and researching selected non-profit organizations and reporting to their classmates on what they learned.

 I was lucky enough to be present to hear and capture Gracie's presentation on video.

 Of course, I was proud of her, and grateful for her reporting on CitySquare!


Monday, March 04, 2013

Not surprising at all. . .

Everyone likes a good story.  You know, a narrative to put alongside data and collective impressions.  I'd argue that this story is not all that atypical from what I've witnessed on the streets. 

"I asked him ... 'I don't know if you remember me, but I think I gave you something that's very precious to me,' and he says, 'Was it a ring? Yeah, I have it, I kept it for you,'" Darling said.

She was floored.

Read the entire story here.  

Sunday, March 03, 2013

What people are saying about "The Wealth of the Poor"

I'm back from vacation and finished your wonderful book. . . . To me your book was all about taking risks, especially taking the risk of really getting to know people as individuals and uniting with them as neighbors.  I also loved how you took risks - like being honest that what you need most is financial support versus well-intentioned gifts of volunteerism that don't involve true personal investment. . . . I love how you say, again and again, that we are really all the same and that it is the simple things that people often need the most like the freedom of privacy. My favorite part of the book was Principle 5 and I agree completely with you!  Some times you just have to hold hands and jump.  And of course I completely agree with you that it is time to move beyond the concept of charity.
Michelle Corson, CEO
Champion Impact Capital

Your book is already as dogeared as a college freshman recycled textbook. The wisdom, insight, humility, and acknowledgement that we all need to remain both student and teacher, is highly respected and deeply appreciated. 
Michael Samuelson
The Health and Wellness Alliance for Children

If you haven't got a copy of Larry's book, you need to!  
Dr. Bob Biard
Texas A & M Adjunct Professor

This book should be read by anyone interested in urban ministry in America today.
 Dr. Jerry Jones
It is a good read--I learned a great deal about your early efforts that I didn't know.
John McStay
Dallas business leader
Simply put, this is the best, most readable, and most powerful book on the social implications of the Christian religion that I have read.
Richard T. Hughes
Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College
Director of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies
Larry James is an inspiration to my life.  Each time he speaks, I learn something.  May God use this book to do for many what Larry has done for me:  to remind us of the value of every single human being.
Max Lucado
Bestselling author

Thank you for sending me your book--a testimony in the most profound sense. You lived and wrote in the open, which opened up space for others to find their own way. I love your idea of a business card with an asterisk. And I love that the credo of CitySquare on the next to the last page could be true.

I would have left out a lot of the running argument with the parts of the church that still want to ask about evangelism. And there was more bible than needed. I looked for your honest statement once that you said "I believe more and more in less and less." The church--at least the part of it that has a heartbeat--is emerging there, I think. So I argue less and less with the old church, hanging with people who believe deeply, but simply. So I wonder if you, like me, are still waiting for the moment to write an honest theology.

Your book does make me long for time together.

In the meantime, you'll see the book sales leap by at least a dozen or more copies as I recommend it. 
You've done a good thing.
Gary Gunderson
VP Faith and Health Ministries
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center


Call today, toll free  1-877-816-4455 to order your copy of The Wealth of the Poor:  How Valuing Every Neighbor Restores Hope in Our Cities by Larry M. James.


Saturday, March 02, 2013

Surprising facts. . .

Nine Economic Facts That Will Make Your Head Spin

Wednesday, 20 February 2013 10:07By Lynn ParramoreAlterNet | Report
    Half the population of the US has slipped into poverty or is barely making enough to get by.
How much will you need for medical expenses in retirement? What does it cost to keep 2.5 million Americans behind bars? Here are a few facts and figures that might surprise you.

1. Recovery for the rich, recession for the rest.
Economic recovery is in rather limited supply, it seems. Research by economist Emmanuel Saez shows that the top 1 percent has enjoyed income growth of over 11 percent since the official end of the recession. The other 99 percent hasn’t fared so well, seeing a 0.4 percent decline in income.

The top 10 percent of earners hauled in 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the highest proportion since 1917 – and that doesn’t even include money earned from investments. The wealthy have benefitted from favorable tax status and the rise in stock prices, while the rest have been hit with a continuing unemployment crisis that has kept wages down. Saez believes this trend will continue in 2013.

2. Half of us are poor or barely scraping by.

Click here to read on. . . 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Real Winners

The limits of data and statistics

Recently, I ran across a couple of insightful essays by New York Times columnist, David Brooks.  Both dealt with the limitations of data.

Read his first piece here.

Read Brooks' second article here.

Interesting stuff.

I passed both columns along to a group of my friends.  Among the responses that I received is this one from one of my partners at CitySquare, Rev. Gerald Britt:

Brook’s column gets at something I’m trying to put some language around. You might remember an editorial in The Dallas Morning News that suggested that out of 3000 kids in 10 selected zip codes, only 26 graduated college ready. I asked a friend of mine, a former school teacher to help me with some research on these stats and she showed figures that revealed that in those same 10 zip codes, nearly 500 kids successfully completed their first year of college.

But she also said some other things in her reply that supports what Brooks said, “Traditional college readiness indicators for low income, minority, and ESL students do not measure motivation, persistence, and the ability of students to increase their ability to do college work over time. Research has shown for decades that SAT scores are not accurate indicators of college readiness for low income kids.”

“The college readiness standards used by the state are overkill. Admittedly, these high schools have a long way to go in recruiting teacher talent and programming, but the data used by StudentsFirst does not trace the successful kids in magnets and early colleges back to these zip codes.”

We here more and more about solutions to problems in education being ‘data-driven’, but, as Brooks points out – data is a tool and we’ve got to be attuned to more indicators than simply outputs and outcomes.