Sunday, August 30, 2015

James H. Cone, a voice for today

About 40 years ago, I sat in a classroom at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, a student of Dr. James H. Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology.

It was an amazing experience to say the least.

Dr. Cone continues his journey with great strength.

The speech delivered here is worth hearing.

Cone speaks out of the unique, undeniable experience of Black Americans.  Never before has his message been more important to be heard and considered.

Move past the introductory matters if you must. But don't miss Cone's reflection.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Needed: funding for a dog

My life is filled with unreasonable people.

For instance, a dear friend asked me just today why the city didn't build parks under our freeway overpasses.  His reasoning was that people without homes and nowhere to go but under our bridges would continue to be there.  So, in his words, "Why not make it nice?"

Of course, the answer is simple. 

The homeless hang out under our bridges in really terrible, unsafe and unsanitary conditions because they are not dogs.  In Dallas, we build dog parks under the otherwise useless TXDOT right away.  We do better by the canine population than we do by our homeless neighbors. 

Recently, we "emptied the animal shelters" as part of a nationwide effort. 

When was the last time we gathered support to empty the homeless shelters of men, women and children?  Like I say, dogs do better in Dallas. 

But, my friend got me to thinking. 

What if we buy dogs for our homeless friends? 

Then, they could legitimately use the dog parks that are springing up all over town! 

That just may be the ticket. 

Dogs to the homeless. 

Homeless neighbors finding a place to at least rest for a bit out of the elements in the shade provided by an overhead highway, complete with the company of a very loyal companion. 

What do you think? 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Effective action together!

John Siburt's "The View from the Square" report last Friday included the following from Edd Eason, VP of Health and Housing at CitySquare.  Just had to share this story.  Working together defines "collective impact," a value that is more and more a central part of the "CitySquare way."
Last Friday CitySquare received a request from Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance to assist a single mom with three children (ages: 8 mos., 3 years and 6 years). The mom and her kids had been discovered by outreach workers under the I-45 off-ramp near the I-45 and I-30 interchange. MDHA staff arranged for the mother and her children to spend a few nights in the family facility at the Dallas Life Foundation while the City of Dallas housing department worked on finding an apartment. Within a week arrangements were made for the mother and her children to move into an apartment off Northwest Hwy. where the children could attend Richardson schools. Last Friday the family moved into their apartment but had no furniture. MDHA staff and a City of Dallas case manager communicated and within two hours staff members at the CitySquare Thrift Store and CitySquare Community Health Transportation program were working together to arrange for beds, a baby crib, kitchen ware, sheets, towels, pillows and other items. As a result the family had everything they needed to spend their first night in their new apartment.

The collaboration of several organizations is starting to make an impact on those currently camping under the I-45 overpass. Led by MDHA’s new president, Cindy Crain, organizations like CitySquare and  others are working together like never before. Moving people who have been homeless for long periods into permanent supportive housing is not easy work. Affordable housing is getting scarce and It takes time to establish trusting relationships with people who have seen their hopes dashed again and again. But there is a new “can do” approach underway and their new spirit of cooperation at work in Dallas

Thank you, Edd, for sharing this story of successful collaboration. Special thanks to Will Goldman, Dale Adams and their incredible teams at the Thrift Store as well as Jesse Garcia and George Carerra in our Community Health Transportation program. Also to Jonathan Grace, and the housing case managers led by Krystal Lotspeich for all they are doing to help our neighbors under the I-45 overpass. Great work!  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

From Texas Death Row

 [Previously, I've shared here about my friend, Obie Weathers who has lived on Texas' "Death Row" since he was 19-years-old.  He is 33.  His personal transformation comes through in everything he writes.  The following is from his most recent correspondence.  I pray we abolish "Death Row" in Texas.]
Dear Larry,
It’s one of those sort of days here I experience from time to time where I feel my soul being slammed repeatedly against the prison walls, similar to the way a ship moored to a crag with too much slack would be in a strong stormy gale, threatened to be smashed under.
Today, I discovered prison walls are not made of concrete alone. Prison walls I found, in the intimate relationship between the pulsating warmth of life and this cool lifelessness, are constructed of fear. Prison walls: the physical manifestation of the fears of the prisoners and the prison administrators.
I’ve always imagined fear as being a hot, trembling, and excitable thing, so it’s curious that it would reveal itself in this cold, calm, and indifferent state. But perhaps it’s just the way of the frenzy of fears.  In the prison setting, anxieties crystalize into compressed and fired clay.

Interestingly, the Creator formed us –prisoner and prison administration alike – out of clay, but with the creative spirit He breathed into us, we’ve learned only to shape and bake bricks in the ovens of our minds.
Cooled and stacked high, they become a fortress – one in which the prisoner views as impenetrable and the prison administrator as to be defended. Each play their roles obsessively – despite the irrationality: the prisoner resigns to a life limited by the walls, where even the considerations of the tearing them down has been utterly banished by thoughts of what the administration would do; the administration out of fear of breaking  with custom and seen as soft on the prisoners in the distorted and perverse light of the colleagues, also along with the prisoner, maintains the walls. The result?

Except that a lot of dreams die in prison. I’ve met men here who, when sent to death row, arrived with the aspiration for self-betterment intact, and I have watched over the span of years as the prison, which appeared only poised ready and all too willing, to take every opportunity to grind them down –beyond the bones of their souls – along the grated edges of these walls, leaving all prior aspirations, a pile of dust.

I’ve also witnessed prison administrators enthusiastically enter the criminal justice field and witnessed the zeal for their professed calling so overwhelmed by the prison culture of degradation and the devaluation of prisoners’ lives that soon, their once robust sense of humanity is whittled to an emaciated specter of spite aimed at any prisoner they encounter. Unwittingly, they begin defending the walls, becoming just as much a prisoner to the prison as any prisoner here.
These walls are false, I know. And being so, I strive daily to not allow them to solidify, to become real, because prison can be more than a place of punishment. These walls can be a haven for healing, reconciliation, a place where prisoners and the administrators can work together to facilitate the healing and personal reconstruction process necessary for a truly civil and deeply humane society.

Some days, like today, it seems that despite all efforts on my part to bridge the gap between prisoner and prison administrator with peace and an open willingness to encourage positive change for everyone I encounter here – the administrators can but muster no more than flinging me against these walls – over and over… by ordering me, for instance, during lunch time today while serving a meal to me here in the cell:
“Obie, do you want to eat?”

“Okay, well, I don’t want to do this, but it’s policy. If you want to eat, you have to kneel with your back to us and cross your hands behind your back.”

“Yes, on your knees. It’s policy, and I’m just doing my job.”
Well, I will go sit and meditate now: tomorrow can only be better.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

CityWalk witness

Affordable Downtown Dallas: “I Believe in This Project,” Says CityWalk @ Akard Penthouse Owner

 Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new developments.

When Andrew Foster bought his 15th floor penthouse at 511 N. Akard, he began the 7 month process of completely gutting the former commercial space. The building, which is the one of the few affordable apartment buildings in downtown Dallas,  includes permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless. It was built in 1958 to house the headquarters of the Relief and Annuity Board of the Baptist General Convention, but today it has been transformed into something much more vibrant and useful.

“I love the space and I love downtown,” Foster said. “Downtown is a really exciting place to be right now.”

Read more.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

To know "Blue"

Last week, a car driving down Malcolm X Blvd. in front of CitySquare's Opportunity Center struck and injured a good friend of mine named "Blue," a community character about whom I've written here in the past. 

I was across town when this terrible accident occurred. 

And, today, I'm not at all sure how "Blue" is doing. 

As soon as I heard of his terrible, horrifying misfortune, I started toward my car to go see him.

Then, the sickening reality hit me.  I couldn't find my friend because I didn't know his name.  I only knew "Blue," the name he had shared with me over two years ago.  I didn't know his real and complete name.

I thought I knew him, but I didn't.

Pondering the injury and my inability to find my friend leads me to several conclusions/observations.  I'll share a couple here.

"Blue" didn't allow himself to be known by a name because somewhere in his heart he's decided that he is no longer here.  "Blue" believes he is lost, never to really be found again.  He may have convinced himself that he doesn't want to be discovered, found out or identified.  So, he has no need of a last name or a real first name for that matter.

What must that kind of disconnection do to a person's soul?  To his self-understanding? 

The street rips everything away from a person who calls it home, even a given name.

But then, I have to face the reality that my "friendship" has not been complete or totally authentic. 

As hard as I've tried, we still don't have the reciprocal connection that I've convinced myself we enjoyed. 

If we had moved beyond compassion and charity and "service" into a real friendship, I would have known his entire, real name! 

I just would have. 

But I've fooled myself to keep from realizing that I'm not going deep enough with people out of real respect and revolutionary, ordinary love.

Maybe "Blue" kept his name from me because that is the only thing he had left to hold close and tight.  Maybe he gives it away only to people he really trusted.  I'm not sure.

I've thought this week of the television classic, Cheers.  Remember that show?  Set in a bar, it was entertainment wrapped around the lived experience of genuine community, something the U.S. and my town needs lots more of at a time when it seems to be slipping away from us.  No doubt, this social phenomenon that concerns so many of us fueled the success of the show. 

You'll remember that at Cheers, "everybody knows your name." 

And that's important. 

I learned that this week, big time. 

I hope I get another chance to be with "Blue." 

My first question will be "What's your name, man, what's your name!"

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

Great story here on Amazon's new fulfillment centers, one to open in the fall in southern Dallas.

Amazon company representatives are conducting interviews to fill 3,000 new jobs.

One of their bases of operation is here at CitySquare's Opportunity Center inside the offices of Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas. 

Good news for neighbors looking for work!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Munger Place UMC: Worship that moves God (Isaiah 58)

Earlier this summer Andrew Forrest, Minister at Munger Place United Methodist Church invited me to preach for him. 

It was good to be at Munger Place! 

You can drop in on the experience right here.

Feedback always welcome.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Cottages gaining ground on homelessness for 50 folks!

Here's the latest update on The Cottages partnership project!

We'll move people into new homes by November 2015!

Slavery, prisons and justice: Can we talk?

Give this post some attention.

Then tell me what you think by voting in the poll that is in the right hand column of this page.

Bryan Stevenson makes a masterful case for honest conversation about tough subjects.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Only growing worse. . .

The video that follows promotes the work of a few of our partners.  CitySquare and many other organizations could have been listed. 

The message is true. 

The challenges grow more difficult every day.

It is past time to begin investing in the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors. 

How do we awaken the nation to this unsustainable reality?

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Why they killed Jesus

The Romans didn’t kill Jesus because he performed miracles or healed people on any day of the week. He wasn’t killed because he taught (or criticized) spiritual truths or religious practices. . .

Read more!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Here he goes again!

Sorry, but I love this stuff!

Wyatt lands his third, big sailfish off the coast of Costa Rica.

His parents inform me that he may never return to Dallas! The guides have become really good friends.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Dallas 1938

From Dallas Morning News:

This is what downtown Dallas and Fair Park looked like in 1938 ... in color movies


Last fall Paula Bosse, curator of the indispensable Flashback Dallas, drew our attention to a long-forgotten film titled A Cavalcade of Texas shot in 1938 by movie-biz "empire-builder" (in the words of Cecil B. DeMille, at least) Karl Hoblitzelle. It's quite the in-color look-see at the entirety of the state way back when.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Courage to remember: Hiroshama 70 years ago

Texas conference for inner city renewal. . .

October 14-16, 2015…Austin, TX

Want to learn how to empower the poor, move from relief to development, have a place to honestly talk about racial reconciliation, find ways to confront unjust social policies, network with others who… work with the homeless, are trapped in sex trafficking, challenge predatory lenders, have creative children and youth programs….and more?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Building Mayberry 2015

Often when I'm asked about our mission at CitySquare, I tell people that "we're trying to build Mayberry."  If you ever watched "The Andy Griffith Show," you'll at least have an inkling as to my meaning.  For sure, Mayberry provides a window into mid-century, small town life in America. 

In some ways the "Mayberry experience" appears basically antithetical to all things 21st century urban!  But, there are principles expressed in the plots, characters and outcomes of just about every episode that relate directly to what makes a community work. 

Consider these. . .
  • People relate naturally, in spite of differences in class, educational attainment, mental capacity, professions, personalities and backgrounds.  An English immigrant, a apparent lunatic from the hills, a family of superstitious mountain-dwellers, a cornpone deputy sheriff, moonshiners, children, gossips, a barber, several pompous mayors, a special aunt, an unarmed officer of the law, a drunk--the list goes on and on--and people find ways to make the community work.
  • Law enforcement displays a very healthy self-understanding.  Andy and Barney function as genuine peace officers.  Sheriff Andy Taylor seldom carries a weapon.  He sees his job as community referee and he focuses on building relationships with everyone in the community.
  • People display deep pride in the community and its history that leads to community confidence and stability.  Filmmakers, leaders from outside public agencies, state law enforcement leaders, visitors of all sorts discover with high regard and amazement the relaxed, connected and talented community.  As a result, the really wise guests leave the community having learned important life lessons.
  • Mayberry inspires laughter, joy and love.  If you are from Mayberry, you have something special going on, and most of the time you know it!
  • At times the community experiences self-doubt.  Whenever the community begins to question itself on the basis of unfavorable comparisons to other communities, you can count on a result that leads community members back to an appreciation for the wealth of Mayberry.
  • Everyone is valued.  From self-absorbed politicians, to newcomers, to criminals and preachers, to Floyd the barber and aunt Bea and her friend Clara--everyone is welcomed. 
  • People "cover" for one another.  A commitment to avoid hurting another person, even in the smallest ways, is a key dimension of the community's social culture. Name the situation, somebody always has someone's back! Be it Barney who can't sing a lick or aunt Bea's "turpentine" pickles, everyone goes to amazing lengths to help neighbors save face and not be embarrassed or discouraged.
  • Teachers hold an honored place in the community and they are supported unconditionally.  
  • Naiveté and wisdom very often combine with good result--people can be "taken in," but not for long!  Justice results every time.  
  • Treating everyone and every living thing with respect and high regard seems to be the community's operative assumption. 
  • When there is a clear need, the community rallies, cooperates and realizing good results.
  • People don't mind "going above and beyond the call of duty for their beloved Mayberry. As a result, people sacrifice willingly.
  • People forgive failure, as they keep working on community life.
  • The community welcomes newcomers, but with a protective caution for the community.  Outsiders learn quickly that they must prove themselves when it comes to valuing the beloved community.
More could be noted.  But, you get my point.  Mythical Mayberry provides community developers and organizers quite a lot to consider.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Hard to watch, harder to understand. . .

What follows in the video is hard to watch, even harder to comprehend or imagine. Here's the lead from the Atlanta Constitution's report:

SARASOTA COUNTY, Florida — A police officer was caught on video tossing peanuts into a homeless inmate’s mouth as he was being booked into the Sarasota County, Florida, jail, the Herald Tribune reports. Randy Miller, 44, can be seen trying to pick up the peanuts from the ground after he missed them with his mouth. Sarasota Police Officer Andrew Halpin then kicked some of the nuts toward the man with his boot. A source told the Herald-Tribune that Halpin also gave Miller “dog commands” and laughed at him.

Read more here.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Wisdom from a summer intern

            I was going to start this essay with the phrase “Before I started at CitySquare, I thought that poverty…”, but there are two fundamental errors with this. 1) I yawned reading it. 2) I didn’t think about poverty. I ignored poverty because, you know, ignoring problems makes them go away. Except when it doesn’t, which is all the time.

            So there I was, just an entitled college-aged ginger kid strutting in the door of 511 like I owned the place. If you could have read my thoughts that day, you would’ve heard things like “CitySquare needs me,” “I’m sure it’ll be fine that I parked in 7-Eleven’s 15-minute customers only parking spot,” and “I’m going to be the Batman of interns.” In short, I was wrong, super wrong, and unfortunately wrong, respectively.

            Shortly, I moved my car, and then my journey started. I’ve stumbled more than any of the development team would’ve probably liked, but they were always prepared to correct my misconceptions and errors, which I greatly appreciated. Without that, I might still be thinking thoughts one and three up there.

            To keep it short, I came in subconsciously thinking that I was going to pour in to people because I obviously had so much to give. The exact opposite was true. I came in with almost nothing to give but my time and attention, but I learned more from a half-hour trip to the grocery store with Wendy, a ten-minute car ride conversation with Laureen about the toxicity of an “Us versus them” mentality, realizing just how necessary sending thank you notes is, an interview with a man who spent twenty years addicted to crack and eleven homeless who is now gainfully employed an engaged to be married, and the story of a woman who has volunteered every moment she could over the last five years despite having two separate strokes than I have in nineteen years of passing open and desperate hearts and hands in the street because I was too self-absorbed to care.

             Poverty isn’t a hole you dig yourself. It’s an unfathomably gigantic pit with an infinite number of different holes leading down. Some you can walk into, but others drag you down by no fault of your own. Despite the number of ways in, there are only a few ladders out. As it turns out, throwing canned food from the lip of the pit doesn’t do much good.

It’s difficult, and it requires boldness, an open mind and a caring heart, but the true solution is getting off our entitled butts and climbing down the ladder to offer a helping hand to the men and women who can’t find their way to it.

It’s not “Us versus them,” “Us and them,” or even “Us for them.” It’s simply “We.” The phrase gets thrown around a lot around here, but the longer I’m here the more I realize that we truly are all wealthy and poor in our own ways. We can all learn from each other, and we who are more fortunate monetarily are wandering in pits of our own. That man sleeping under an umbrella on the pavement might be the hand you need.

I’ve been humbled, I’ve been blessed, and I’ve been taught. Those are not the three things I was expecting to be in those blanks, but maybe that’s exactly why I was here. I’m sorry I was no Bruce Wayne, but thank you for showing me I wasn’t.
Caleb Bishop, Summer 2015

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A radical word, now all but forgotten. . .

Poverty Is Not the Problem

For Jesus, it is clear, poverty is not the problem; it is the solution. Until human beings learn to live in naked contact and direct simplicity and equality with each other, sharing all resources, there can be no solution to the misery of the human condition and no establishment of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ radical and paradoxical sense of who could and who could not enter the Kingdom is even more clearly illustrated by his famous praise of children.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Wyatt's big catch!

Recently, my oldest (11 years) grandson, Wyatt Toombs, hung a big Swordfish off the coast of Costa Rica.  The fish weighed in at 110 pounds and was too big for the boat to accommodate it! 

What fun to watch him work at landing this big fish!