Thursday, April 30, 2015

Crisis of hope

"The real crisis isn’t one night of young men in the street rioting. It’s something perhaps even more inexcusable — our own complacency at the systematic long-term denial of equal opportunity to people based on their skin color and ZIP code."
Nicholas Kristof, "When Baltimore Burned,"
The New York Times, April 29, 2015

A note on life from the brother of Jesus

While the content of this site is informed by my faith, I seldom leap headlong into Bible study here.  There are good reasons for my typical approach.  But, for some time now I've felt compelled to unpack the content of one short section of the New Testament, the letter of James. 

Why James? 

For starters, I consider it one of the least understood portions of the Bible.  For centuries the church both turned to James and, in some notable cases, away from James when grappling with issues of salvation, discipleship and good works.  Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, referred to the short letter as a "right straw epistle," regarding its content as contrary to his the Apostle Paul's theology of salvation by faith and by faith alone apart from works of law.  Luther believed that James did not deserve a place in the canon of scripture because of its undo emphasis on good works.

In the faith tradition of my youth, leaders used James to argue about essential works and acts of faith that were required for any and all who wanted a place in the kingdom of God.  I grew up listening to debates about baptism and other religious actions that were considered essential works and not to be disregarded by any movement toward "faith alone." 

None of this has anything to do with the message James shares with some of the earliest Christian communities. 

James, the brother of Jesus, writes to some of the first disciples who followed his brother.  These communities of early Jewish Christians lived in a Judean social context that shaped what James communicated.  His message focuses on the particular day-to-day social and economic realities of  the immediate context of his readers, as well as the deep Hebrew understanding of justice and equity as essential, required elements in any authentic walk with God. 

James is concerned with the suffering of his community, particularly that pain caused by economic and social injustice at work in the world and in the experience of himself and his readers.  James establishes a clear connection between deep spirituality and a struggle for justice--economic and social. James points out that the struggle for justice occurs even inside the church. 

What will follow is a non-technical narrative interpretation of this important piece of Christian literature written in response to what James and his community observed.


James 1:1-4
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

Clearly, James writes as a follower of his very own brother, Jesus.  He positions himself, not as a sibling, but as a "servant" of the Christ.  This is especially significant since he writes to Jewish people ("the twelve tribes"), such as himself, who have chosen to follow Jesus as the promised Messiah.  The image of "dispersion" suggests a scattered reality and an alienated community experiencing discomfort and difficulty, even possibly the homelessness of an alien people in a land of uncertainty.

Faith and Wisdom

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

The community to which James addresses his remarks knows suffering firsthand.  No doubt some were beginning to suffer due to their new faith/religious alignment.  The fact that James leads with his subject indicates that suffering is a pressing issue for his readers.  Apparently, pain and difficulty have become a part of normal life for these readers.  The pain tested those who experienced it.  No doubt, some were tempted to give up, to turn back, or to be resigned to the systems and the powers responsible for the "trials." 

James reframes suffering by pointing out the benefits  or the positive results of going through hard times, no matter who or what the cause--"trials of any kind."  Suffering should give way only to  joy.  This seems a strange claim, but I expect we've all seen this played out in life again and again.  The joy is rooted in the effect of suffering:  faith is tested, endurance is produced.  When allowed to engage fully, endurance leads to maturity.  Life fills up and is complete or whole.  The bottom line:  this understanding of suffering positions the one who suffers in a place of total abundance where nothing is lacking, even in the press of discrimination and poverty.

How often, working in the inner city, I've witnessed this kind of faith take root and flourish.  The suffering is beyond real for the impoverished.  Still, I've never witnessed such joy, a joy that grows from undeniable endurance, perseverance and character.  The result can be seen in the life of the poorest exhibiting the truth and power of a life that "has it all."  The joy leads to sharing.  The testing leads to amazing strength.  The endurance shocks me whenever I see it. 

Recently, I attended a WorkPaths graduation ceremony.  Eighteen men received certificates of completion in a 13-week, construction trades training program.  So far, nine of these graduates have found jobs.  Here we have very poor men and families, many just out of prison living with a stent in prison on their resumes.  Men who've made mistakes.  Men who've been unfairly treated and brushed aside as useless. 

But as the ceremony progressed, I felt a rallying of spirit and I witnessed spontaneous outbursts of joy and hope.  I saw evidence of endurance and character.  Pressed down, but not defeated.  Oppressed but refusing to give up. 

Injustice creates systems and circumstance filled with unfairness, discrimination, marginalization and despair. 

Faith results in courageous action.

This is where James begins, but it's only the beginning and not nearly the whole story!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Education improvements

This new essay by Nicholas Kristof is so right on, especially in view of the position of the Texas legislature!

How do we manage to get it so wrong? 

Clear evidence of democracy's failure:  the number of people who never vote!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Images from my recent trip to the White House

Recently, in response to an invitation from the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I traveled to Washington, DC for a 2-day consult on health care and its efficient expansion.  What an opportunity to share "the CitySquare Way."  It was an incredible experience. 

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD talked to us.  He was most impressive. 

I came away feeling that we are on the right  track, but we must find ways to do more. 

A fundamental premise of the consult was that we possess all the resources we need to address our challenges.  Our problem is that what we have is not aligned nor deployed for maximum impact.  We must work together to be successful. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

HB 3836--time for action!

Yesterday, HB 3836, which would allow DCCCD to offer a 4 year degree in Early Childhood Education after first giving our higher ed institutional partners the opportunity to collectively work together to solve our substantial teacher gap, was heard by the House Higher Ed Committee yesterday. We are grateful for the strong leadership of our area legislators in authoring/sponsoring this bill (Reps. Giddings, Koop, Anchia, Anderson, Meyer, Alonzo, Johnson, Laubenberg, Rose, and Villalba), as well as the strong testimonies provided by numerous Commit partners including Alan Cohen at Dallas ISD, Stephanie Mace at United Way, Melanie Rubin at Dallas Early Education Alliance and Terry Ford at Lumin.

  We were especially encouraged to hear statements of appreciation and agreement from several committee members on the need for this legislation, including noting the breadth and depth of the local coalition supporting this initiative. A very short video highlighting legislative response to the testimonies and the bill can be accessed via the following link: We need to encourage the House Higher Ed committee to vote the bill out of committee at their next meeting.

  To make this bill happen, we need all hands on deck to email the House Higher Ed committee members by Monday, April 27th to request that this bill be voted out of committee next week. The session ends in five weeks, so we are up against the clock.

 Sample email text and addresses for the committee members and their chiefs of staff are below. We have to have a hearing on the bill’s Senate companion (SB 1810), sponsored by Senator West, next week. Thank you for your continued support. Yesterday’s hearing was a great encouragement that together we are moving the needle on this critical legislation benefitting our youngest learners in Dallas County.

Sample email: Dear Representatives, I am writing in support of HB 3836, which would allow Dallas Community College to address the severe early childhood teacher shortage in our region by offering a four-year BA degree in early childhood education if local higher education institutions do not first opt to collectively address our severe workforce shortage. Please vote in support of this bill in committee on Wednesday, April 29, so that this critical legislation can be quickly heard on the House floor. We urgently need to expand access to high quality early childhood educator programs in our region.

De-bunking the mythology of homelessness 3

Friday, April 17, 2015

Poverty's toxic, damaging stress. . .

Overcoming Poverty’s Damage to Learning

In the weeks after 9/11, Pamela Cantor, a child psychiatrist specializing in trauma, was enlisted by the New York City Board of Education to lead a team studying the impact of the attacks on the city’s public school children.
What the researchers discovered surprised them. Many children in city schools exhibited symptoms of trauma — but the problems weren’t clearly attributable to 9/11 nor were they clustered near Ground Zero. Such symptoms were, however, concentrated in schools serving the city’s poorest children. And the students’ sense of threat or insecurity stemmed not so much from terrorism as from exposure to violence, inadequate housing, sudden family loss, parents with depression or addictions, and so forth.
“One-fifth of children met criteria for a full-blown psychiatric disorder, and 68 percent of kids had been exposed to a prior trauma sufficient to impair their functioning in school,” said Cantor.
Read the entire report here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Driving into Downtown Dallas from Deep Ellum out of S. Dallas, I spotted a rather animated homeless man. 

Not so unusual, but one thing I saw him do, as I rolled to a stop at a traffic light, caught my attention. 

Someone had left a plastic cup turned upside-down on a post (once a parking meter).  The man grabbed the cup, threw it to the ground in disgust and cursed in anger--I read his lips.

What came next broke my heart.

He reached into a trash can also beside the sidewalk and pulled out a large drink cup with the safety lid still in place.  Some liquid remained in the discarded cup. 

I watched him survey us who watched from the comfort of our cars.  He then turned away and drank whatever was left in the used cup.

It matters not how the man got "there." 

The fact is, he is "there." 

Watching him from my "here," turned my stomach. 

The man needs a place to live.

He needs someone to care.

He needs a second or a thousandth chance.

He needs what I need:  grace and a hot cup of coffee.

I think I understand something of his anger.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Poverty and brain development

Poverty shrinks brains from birth       

Studies show that children from low-income families have smaller brains and lower cognitive abilities.  Sara Reardon

The stress of growing up poor can hurt a child’s brain development starting before birth, research suggests — and even very small differences in income can have major effects on the brain.
Researchers have long suspected that children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors. 
In the largest study of its kind, published on 30 March in Nature Neuroscience1, a team led by neuroscientists Kimberly Noble from Columbia University in New York City and Elizabeth Sowell from Children's Hospital Los Angeles, California, looked into the biological underpinnings of these effects. They imaged the brains of 1,099 children, adolescents and young adults in several US cities. Because people with lower incomes in the United States are more likely to be from minority ethnic groups, the team mapped each child’s genetic ancestry and then adjusted the calculations so that the effects of poverty would not be skewed by the small differences in brain structure between ethnic groups.
Read the entire essay here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

So proud of my dear friend, Rev. Gerald Britt and so is The Dallas Morning News!

Check this out!

"Poor" folks and wealth building

Are Government Efforts to Help Poor People Manage Money Working?
Cities have offered financial counseling to low-income people for years, but only recently have some tracked the impact of these services on clients' debt, credit and savings.
by | April 6, 2015
Many low-income people rely on payday lenders and check cashers that charge higher fees than traditional banks. (AP/Al Behrman)

For decades, nonprofits that serve the poor have tried to impart lessons about managing money, but until recently it’s been hard to know whether the services work. Now a multi-city initiative is tracking and sharing results, addressing the effectiveness of financial counseling for the poor.

Read more here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Plotting the Resurrection

[Writing of his wife Katharine, who was planning the planting of bulbs in her garden even though she knew she likely would not live to see the spring.] There was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance…. The small hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Every week"

I could have taken scores of sad, moving photos, but out of respect for the frustration and suffering of those involved, I refrained. 

People literally dragged the tents shown here from under the freeway overpasses and lined them up on the sidewalks. 

Later, after the police left, they set them up again under the same overpasses.

"Every week they do this," a very tired gentleman told me.  "Every week it's the same."

Sadly, every day hundreds of our neighbors set up homemaking under the naked sky. 

Emergency shelters provide cover for some at night.  But morning comes and everyone is forced out until the intake hour arrives in late afternoon for most programs. 

Some folks have decided that the last shred of dignity they possess can be protected only by remaining outside and independent.  I respect that. 

Of course, what people need is housing, plain and simple. 

That's why these tents project both sadness and hope.

Almost always a tent is a home owned by the one who sleeps in it at night. 

People don't like living on the streets. 

What is needed is the development of hundreds of homes and the loving friendship that can grow from a neighborhood. 

Sometimes a tent city is about the limit of the available capacity for people who don't seek handouts, but simply peace and progress. 

There is something, no, there is much to learn in this reality. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015


   A Door Opens

A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact. God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us. God moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Texas should expand Medicaid

Texas political leaders prove themselves irresponsible for not expanding Medicaid. 

Take a look right here at the gains made by other states that decided to expand the health benefit to poorer folks. 

Why do voters tolerate shortsighted public policy against their own self-interest?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Owen: Long pass, big gain!

Watching my grandchildren play, dance, sing and live in joy makes life pretty amazing!

Here's a clip from Owen's flag football game on last Saturday. He has quite an arm!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Cottages "portfolio" update

Photos below: 1-2) floor systems being built--Cottages with private bath and full kitchen 3) foam insulation being applied to flooring systems 4) flooring systems place 50 Cottages together in tight-knit community 5) CitySquare's new Opportunity Center located just across the street from new housing 6-7) insulation pumped to houses ensures dry and efficient climate control 8) more Cottages to be placed on open spaces 9) foundation for community services building in place.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Destination Home

On Tuesday afternoon I toured our Destination Home housing sites. 

We serve 28 wonderful neighbors in southern Dallas in one complex and 105 friends in two north Dallas apartment complexes located adjacent to one another. 

Here are my two overwhelming impressions/takeaways:

1.  The formerly homeless persons living in these apartments have found homes.  Most don't see their current situation as the end of their stories.  Still, each person has found a home far, far from the mean streets of Dallas.  Mission accomplished!

2. The staff leaders who relate to, serve and encourage the residents are beyond exceptional persons.  What a team we have at CitySquare! 

I need to get out of the office more often! 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Elevator Speech

So, after two decades of working/living among very low-income persons, here are the main points of my "elevator speech" on what I've learned:

1.  Consult the experts on poverty---that would be the so-called "poor" themselves. People closest to a problem usually know most about it, or at least the most important things about it.

2.  Stay to your mission--refine, but never abandon.

3.  Make respect your "default" setting.

4.  Partner for collective impact--give credit to everyone except your organization.

5.  Don't sweat failure--embrace risk.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

An Investment Option

People constitute our community's greatest asset by far. 

All kinds of people, including those many of us seldom remember or seriously consider.

Recently, I sat in a small group of social scientists concerned about poverty and overcoming it.  The group discussed various interventions to knock it down/out, strategies for measuring its depth and intensity and various approaches to data collection and interpretation.  One of the main concerns involved developing a "narrative" for educating the entire community about the prevalence of a social reality that saps our strength as a city and a region. 

As we talked, it hit me. 

We need new recognition skills.

Dallas must recognize the wealth, the beauty, the skills, the intelligence and the power resident in low-income communities--the very communities that on the one hand cause us to wring our hands in anxiety and on the other remain great unmined repositories of amazing social capital and survival strategies.

With accurate recognition of value, we should begin to expect adequate investment, and even some cases of "over investment" or remedial investment to make up for time lost in our social blindness and  heedless stupor. 

Consider children for a moment. 

Every dollar invested in the life and future of any child carries with it the promise of surprising return on investment (ROI). 

Maybe we need an IPO on the future of our children, if coupled with a sound and generous investment strategy in their lives. 

Failure to invest in the education of all of our children is short-sighted and negligent by definition. 

Failure to care for the wellness of our children sets a course for suicidal economic realties a generation or less from now.

Failure to create living wage jobs results in economic disincentives that discourage and dissuade commitment to creativity and hard work. 

Failure to draw our children into fully participating members of our democracy opens corridors leading to social unrest.

Those neighborhoods of Dallas, about which we concerned ourselves in my group meeting, need to be served by a robust investment strategy that results in progress, full-participation and generous portions of hope and opportunity. 

We can't wait any longer.  The time for delay passed us long ago.

This is our time, a time to invest while expecting amazing returns because the product and enterprise attracting our attention turn out to be our neighbors and their children, as well as us and ours.

We're all in this together expecting an amazing ROI!