Archive for July, 2016

De'Amon Harges was hired by a United Methodist Church in inner-city Indianapolis to be "a roving listener." It was part of the church's radical, non-traditional approach to fighting poverty in its neighborhood.

De’Amon Harges was hired by a United Methodist Church in inner-city Indianapolis to be “a roving listener.” It was part of the church’s radical, non-traditional approach to fighting poverty in its neighborhood. (See video below.)

I’m happy to say my book of meditations on scriptures addressing poverty will be published in the near future.

Belize me when I tell you, dear reader, that you’ll probably tire of my shameless promotion of it when the time comes.

Meanwhile, here are random thoughts about how to attack poverty–or NOT attack it.

Today's "Big Amen of the Day to That."

Today’s “Big Amen of the Day to That.”

The great St. Augustine is remembered for his powerful writings and his eternal impact on theology and church tradition.

He’s not especially remembered as a fierce advocate for the poor, but should be.

In researching my book I read some of “Life of Augustine” (not exactly a beach read) by his close friend of 40 years and fellow Bishop Possidius, who said Augustine “never forgot his companions in poverty.”

Possidius wrote:

    “When the [charity] funds of the Church gave out, Augustine announced this to his flock, telling them that he had nothing to bestow upon those in need. It even happened that he ordered the holy vessels of the church to be broken up and melted down, and the proceeds distributed for the benefit of captives and of as many of the poor people as possible.”

Wow! Think about that. The great Bishop Augustine ordered the holy vessels of the Church to be melted down to give to the poor.

So what would your reaction be if your pastor or bishop proposed something even half (or maybe a fraction) as wildly radical as melting down sacred church objects out of love and concern for the poor?

* * *

Now, with all that said, Augustine’s approach to charity is not a realistic model for Christianity today. Augustine was prone to giving handouts–and let me say yes and a thousand times yes: there is a definite need for a certain amount of generous, charitable giving right out of one’s pocket or a church’s treasury. Immediate needs have to be met some way, somehow.

But we all know handing out a buck or 20 to every beggar you see isn’t the most effective way of (to borrow a term from capitalism) lifting everybody’s boat.

I’ve lived in the San Ignacio area in Third World Belize for a full four years now. I pass by ragged street people in this tourist boom town’s streets every day who approach me to beg for a dollar for a bottle of water or a dollar for 10 hot corn tortillas. Those are street guys looking for enough dollars for another cheap bottle of Belizean rum.

Once in a while I’ll offer to buy them tacos or something from one of the many fruit and veggie vendors on the streets and seldom get taken up on the offer.

What’s harder for me to turn down are the beggars–usually women or children–who obviously are destitute or close enough to destitute that it breaks my heart to give them no more than a “God bless you” and say, “I wish I could help you.”

Mind you, I do give sometimes, but more often than not I have to look such beggars in the eyes so as to at least acknowledge their existence and affirm their dignity and maybe pray with them or for them and move on. I can do no good in this world if I make render myself penniless or drop from exhaustion and lack of self-care by my own charity.

In my charity of giving money I do what I can in all the ways I can and accept that everything in charity of giving money–like everything under God’s sun–comes with practical limits and boundaries.

And there is something to be said for the charity of simply loving the poor and affirming their dignity, but that’s another post for another day. (And a chapter in my book.)

* * *

I love beautiful and glorious cathedrals and churches and “holy” objects as much as anybody. This broken and violent world needs all the beauty it can get. But I do believe our first duty as Christians is to love and lift up the poor and marginalized as we are able.

That can be done in imaginative and yes, radical but effective ways.

In Indianapolis, the urban Broadway United Methodist Church transformed itself by doing something wildly radical indeed–it completely abandoned its traditional charity and outreach programs, right down to the food pantry and the after-school tutoring program (it simply never made a dent in the neighborhood’s school dropout rate anyway).

This once dynamic and mostly white Indy church, which was dying fast, discovered new and improved ways of lifting up the needy people in the church’s very neighborhood by sitting down with people in the neighborhood and listening to them–uncovering their needs, their wants, and more important, their gifts and talents.

The church went so far as to hire a “roving listener”–not so much to gauge people’s needs but to understand what dormant talents they had.

The approach was based on what’s called “asset-based community development”–the notion of capitalizing on what works in a place rather than merely addressing its deficiencies. It’s a way of empowering people to start their own businesses to meet their own needs and everyone else in a community.

John McKnight, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University, is one of the founders of this approach of building up communities from the inside out. Broadway UMC’s pastor Mike Mather invited McKnight to speak to the church members.

It goes without saying that many congregants were appalled at the idea of closing down traditional ministries like the food pantry.

This is an excerpt from an article about Broadway’s transformation (and growth) in “Faith and Leadership,” which describes itself as a learning resource for Christian leaders and their institutions from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity:

    For decades, the church had been feeding people out of its pantry. But local health officials were telling Mather that the No. 1 health problem facing the neighborhood wasn’t starvation.

    It was obesity — often leading to diabetes.

    To Broadway UMC’s Senior Pastor Mike Mather, it made no sense to hand out carbs in a box and peaches in cans of heavy syrup to people who were overweight.

    “We’re not only not helping,” he concluded. “We’re actively making people sicker.”

Instead of handing out food, Mather led the congregation to long-lasting solutions to hunger. He tells the story of Adele, who came to the food pantry for supplies for her family and ended up, a year and a half later, using her gifts as a cook to open her own restaurant.

I commend the whole story of Broadway’s effective and radical approach to poverty which you can read here.

Think about it and pray.

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Wocka! Wocka!












Stole this from my Houston friend Burke Watson's FB page. What the heck???

Stole this from my Houston friend Burke Watson’s FB page. What the heck???

Pity the elephant, so large and yet so ignored..

Pity the elephant, so large and yet so ignored..

I'M Snaccident Prone myself.

I’M Snaccident Prone myself.



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Jacques Hamel

Jacques Hamel

I was sickened and I mean very sickened by the news of ISIS terrorists who slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest and used nuns as a defense shield during a church’s mass in Normandy.

As I’ve said here before, these are some evil bastards we’re up against, and no amount of mushy hurling of love bombs or envisioning world peace with sloganeering and the posting of “love conquers hate” memes on Facebook is going to stop bloodless psychos.

That said, I’m not suggesting that we “bomb em back to the Stone Age and let God sort em out.”

That’s the approach that Trump seems to favor, though as no less a conservative than Charles Krauthammer at Fox News says, it’s anybody’s guess what ever-inconsistent, wildly unpredictable Trump’s approach to anything in world or national affairs would be.

The only thing we know for certain about Trump is that he and Putin have a mutual admiration thing. I have no doubt that another conservative, George Will, is correct in guessing that Trump won’t release his tax returns because of business ties with Russia. How bizarre and troubling is it that the only thing Trump opposed in the Republican platform was a Ukraine-friendly position. (Answer: Very Troubling even to hardcore conservatives.)*

Personally speaking, I’d vote for a Belizean howler monkey before I’d vote for Trump-Pence-Putin.

I’m voting for Hillary and the Dems and thanks largely to the manly (con) man Trump I’m feeling better about that vote every day.

And not because I’m thrilled about their promises to spend trillions more in money we don’t have to spend on goodies like “free” higher education. Trump’s cockamamie promises would spend us into oblivion far faster than anything the Dems have proposed.

I’m feeling good about my support of Dems because it’s been so refreshing to hear some uplifting language coming out of Philly this week, even if Bernie supporters tried to spoil it all by acting like baby Belizean howler monkeys.

I had my fill of childish monkey business watching the “lock her up” stupidity in Cleveland.

* * *

Seriously, it’s going to take way more than misguided “carpet bombing” and turning entire countries into parking lots to defeat this enemy.

In fact, forces backed by our courageous American “advisors” (please, let’s get real and call them our troops) have recovered a lot of territory from ISIS, only for ISIS to shift its strategy and double down with acts of unimaginable horror against civilians in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Wouldn’t it be nice and oh-so-easy if this were an old-fashioned enemy we could overwhelm and meet on a battleship to work out terms of surrender.

Those were great days.

* * *

Donald Trump (who in my judgment is about as Christian as a wet paper sack and I’m willing to be judged by Jesus by the measure by which I judge) scares me with all his Putin-like macho, manly man swag.

But now, all that said: I do wish that Democratic leadership would approach this war we’re stuck in–which so many of us were so hot to have in Iraq which had nothing to do with 9-11 all those years ago–with a greater sense of urgency.

I do wish Obama and Democrats would make a priority of rallying public support and seeking public unity in backing our military and other American security forces.

It is maddening, if not troubling at this point, that President Obama lacks any sense of strong will to address this madness every day.

It’s not as if he’s sitting on his hands doing nothing to eradicate this enemy, as his haters suggest. He does have our forces harm’s way, fighting and bombing like hell.

But it’s maddening to me that he’s not reminding us every day that a lot of courageous American troops are risking life and limb to stamp out this evil.

It’s maddening that he’s not rallying us constantly, at the very least, to remember that our troops–and a lot of other good, American security experts and allies–are exhausted and overwhelmed trying to protect us and good people everywhere, day in and day out.

It’s maddening that he in his ever-cool detachment shows no sign of passion for defeating ISIS and rallying support at home and around the world against it.

We are in a war, albeit a very untraditional war, and our fighters and security people and allies need the kind of constant moral support from this President that they just don’t get.

* * *

That doesn’t mean I have any truck with the Republican haters trying to score political points by pounding on Democrats this week for not addressing ISIS every minute in Philadelphia.

I just want to say that we as a country are going to have to stop figuratively slitting each other’s throats and start coming together in supporting the brave Americans who at this time are out of sight and out of mind while politicians throw stones at each other and common Americans fight things out in Facebook wars.

We need strong leadership in Washington to rally us together as a country like never before.

And Democrats and Republicans alike failing us. Republicans always want to step on the accelerator and go around the world running over innocents and bad guys alike.

Democrats are in fact guilty of what Republicans consistently and rightly rap them for: projecting weakness.

I mean, Mr. President–don’t be drawing any “red” lines in the sand against Syria’s mass killer of a dictator if you’re not going to back up the ultimatum, and don’t be dismissing evil psychos as “Junior Varsity,” and don’t be puffing up our progress against ISIS when we can see that there ain’t so much progress being made.

It was just that kind of wet-noodle leadership from Obama that led to the rise of macho Don, and he still is blind to it.

* * *

But we the people have our own massive blind spots.

Ultimately, however effective or awful our leaders are falls on us, the people.

It’s not enough anymore for us to demand and expect real and consistent leadership. We’re always seeking a messiah figure of a President and Senator and Congressman and governor who will finally save us and make us great again, or so much greater than we are, that we’ll be a problem-free America.

We take political sides by practically deifying the Trumps or Obamas or Bushes or Clintons–and then when they turn out to act in human ways and make human mistakes, we either go to extreme lengths to justify their whopping big human mistakes (and so often stretch to excuse their inexcusable, inconsistent, unethical behavior) or demean with language that would make the Messiah Jesus weep.

We’re all coming down with a bad case of the spirit of hate and dis-ease in a culture in which 24-7 media and social media keep us in a state of agitation and suspicion of one another.

I’m as susceptible to it sometimes as anyone.

And I know my Lord who is the only Savior weeps.

Come, Lord, come.
*Update: Unbelievably–no sooner than I hit the send button on this post–Trump invited Russian cyber-spies–repeat, Russian spies!–to dump more emails on Hillary Clinton. Even if this is his idea of a joke it’s a reckless, irresponsible one. So much for pointing the finger at the irresponsible and reckless Debbie Wasserman Schultz!

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Women: You have to treat ’em like shit.

— Manly Man Donald Trump, New York magazine, Nov. 9, 1992


I know people who like, if not love, Donald Trump on the grounds that “he’s a man’s man”–a strong man, a sort of “superman.”

Ok. But someone please help me to understand this:

— What kind of big, strong “man” mocks an accomplished New York Times journalist who has overcome a physical disability and is an inspiration to a lot of disabled people and their families? (And to insult to injury, he claimed he wasn’t mocking reporter Serge Kovaleski and didn’t even know who he was. See here for more on that blatant lie.)

— What kind of big, strong “man” commits what has always been considered the worst kind of political sin by suggesting that a presidential opponent’s wife is ugly?

— What kind of big, strong cynical “man” would say of another opponent: “Jeb Bush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife.” (Retweeted and then deleted on Twitter, July 4, 2015)

— What kind of big, strong “man” who “cherishes” women would say in one of his books: “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’” (Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life, 2008)

— What kind of big, strong “man” (who dodged the draft and passed on the opportunity to serve his country in war time or any time) insults and dishonors former prisoners of wars like a Sen. John McCain, whose strength and courage as a P.O.W. make lesser men marvel?

— What kind of big, strong “man” is so two-faced as to trash China at every turn (a man who says with all the sincerity of a total kook that global warming was “created by and for the Chinese to make American manufacturing less competitive”) after having said as recently as 2011 the following:

    “I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind.” (Xinhua, April 2011)

    “I did very well with Chinese people. Very well. Believe me.” (TIME, April 14, 2011)</ul

    — What kind of big, strong Christian “man” is so “puffed up” (to use a phrase from the Apostle Paul) that he has no need to ask God forgiveness for anything whatsoever? (Maybe a so-called “baby Christian,” as evangelical crackpots who are his “spiritual advisors” suggest?)

    — What king of big, strong Christian “man” has such a classic “Messiah Complex” that he declares that “I am the only one” who can fix every problem in America.

    — What kind of big, strong Christian “man” and father would say the following:

      “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot money as a model–a tremendous amount.” (The Howard Stern Show, 2003)

      “She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

      “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, 2015)

      “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” (Esquire Magazine, 1991)

      “Women: “You have to treat ’em like shit.” (New York Magazine, Nov. 9, 1992)

    I’m sorry, but I have to say in all honest-to-God bluntness that this supposed “man’s man” as one really really small, pathetic “con” man.

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Your Belizean photo of the day from the Chinese grocery store in the village of Bullet Tree Falls.

Your Belizean photo of the day from the Chinese grocery store in the village of Bullet Tree Falls.

Two of my faves from the Boys, and them looking so stiff and packaged for family TV in the second vid…

And another groovy love yarn from the pride of Baton Rouge …

And these guys who were a hit machine…

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Cops in Wichita, Kansas, Sunday night got together with Black Lives Matter activists for a barbecue dinner in lieu of what supposed to have been a protest.

Cops in Wichita, Kansas, Sunday night got together with Black Lives Matter activists for a barbecue dinner in lieu of what supposed to have been a protest.

You-know-who–the “Law and Order” candidate–keeps saying just that, “that we need law and order, folks.”

Of course we do. I honestly don’t think the overwhelming majority of Americans want “unlawfulness and disorder”–ya think?

But we need more.

We need the kind of small steps that advance law and order and reconciliation of the kind seen in Wichita, Ka., Sunday–the same day that police officers in Baton Rouge were mowed down by a madman.

In Wichita, the Police Department hosted a “First Steps Cookout” in which officers treated Black Lives Matter activists to a barbecue in a park.

Mind you, this was done in lieu of a protest that had been planned that night.

There were grievances aired, but reportedly aired with respect and dignity on both sides.

Read the story and see the TV video here.

This is how trust is built, how understanding is fostered, how reconciliation happens–by people sitting down to break bread with one another (and better yet slice brisket together).

This is the kind of “First Steps Cookout” that could pay peace dividends at the grass-roots level, where all real solutions to problems and issues are most likely to be resolved.

Yes, we need national leadership to advance law and order, but no amount of legislation or tough talk from national or state politicians removed from the streets and parks in communities can be as effective as someone like a local police chief offering an olive branch and a meal to people who feel disenfranchised, if not afraid of the people who are supposed to protect and serve them.

Of course, it takes two to dance. People in disenfranchised communities have to be willing to respond in good faith.

Law enforcement agencies have always had what a police lieutenant friend of mine used to call “knuckle draggers”–brutish types who are short on brains, discipline and restraint.

It’s obviously time for departments overrun with knuckle draggers or hotheads or simply poorly trained officers to take stock and look at what departments like Chief Brown’s in Dallas have done in the way of reform (again, at the local community, grassroots level).

Major protest movements always have their “bad apples” as well. The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t help its cause any when it shuts down a major transportation artery as happened in Atlanta recently, or when chanters chant hate-filled speech referring to cops as “pigs in a blanket” or shout out “f— the police.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would not approve this message.

Nor do I or most people.

A frustrated law enforcement official in Baton Rouge said Sunday that the assassination of officers didn’t reflect a gun control problem but rather a “spiritual” problem of the kind we keep seeing in people’s hearts.

There is a lot of truth to that.

What happened in the park Sunday night in Wichita was an act of reconciliation and reconciliation is always a blossoming and ripening of spiritual fruit.

Taste and see that the Lord is good and know that cops and protesters can be good and find common ground, too.

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Nice, France, in a more festive time.

Nice’s Promenade des Anglais in a more festive time.

Consider the wheel, that ancient invention that wrought so much progress with so many beneficial applications.

Consider the horrible irony that 18 wheels at the disposal of a madman infested with evil were employed to roll over hundreds of innocent people enjoying a festive evening in Nice, France.

So much for the Age of Aquarius and all that mushy love-is-all-ya-need secular theology. It was built on what Jesus referred to as “sinking sand” anyway.

* * *

“Life has always been scary here, and we’ve always been as vulnerable as kittens,” Christian writer Anne Lamott lamented Friday. “Cain is still killing Abel.”

Cain will always be killing Abel–the proverbial “man’s inhumanity toward man” will always be a reality–because sin stains the stamp of the image of God in us all.

This we know because Paul and the Bible tell us so.

A lot of atheists dismiss Christianity as a form of escapism for naive people who can’t deal with reality.

I wish those particular non-believers would make the effort to know and properly understand Christianity before they “diss” it.

I’m not a Christian because I can’t handle reality. I observed the effects of more god-awful evil in two careers as a newspaper reporter and a night chaplain in two major trauma hospitals than I care to remember, even though I’d do it all again. They were and are the purposes in my life to which I was called.

I’m a Christian largely because Christianity–serious and deep Christianity as opposed to the happy-face, “honk if you love my buddy Jesus” variety–doesn’t flinch from the realities of evil and suffering.

Christianity is based on the reality that we all will do most anything, right or wrong, to protect our self-interests.

We’ll do most anything wrong out of fear above all.

* * *

For every progressive creation from the wheel to the compass to the printing press to the internet–there’s been some predatory, self-interested individual or group perfectly willing to abuse that creation in subversive and violent ways.

The liberal Protestant leader and great preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick warned in 1922 that the biggest peril that tempts the believer in the march of progress is “a silly underestimate of the tremendous force of human sin, which withstands all real advance.”

It’s naive indeed to think that the world will someday live in perfect, Coca Cola sing-along harmony as progress gives us ever greater ways and means of living together and communicating with one another in the global community.

Now–by no means am I suggesting that we shouldn’t envision world peace and aspire and work to make this a peaceful world.

I firmly believe that God’s will is for peace, justice and mercy to prevail on this earth as if this earth were heaven. I for one will keep striving to be the peace and love and joy and mercy I want to see in the world.

I’m going to keep singing and dancing and praising God and loving Jesus and in the belief and hope that others will catch the spirit.

But because I’m a Christian I will do so grounded in reality.

The reality in our time is that ISIS, which wants to thoroughly destroy us Westerners with all our technological gifts like computers and smart phones, is perfectly willing to use our inventive computers and smart phones to recruit vulnerable people to literally roll over us.

These are not people we can reason with–not people we can tame by dropping flowery love bombs on them.

But as for this evil nest that is ISIS, we’re going to have to fight its fire, to some great extents, with fire. As a committed peacemaker, I can’t see any way around the use of force.

That’s a harsh, ethical, Christian reality. Sometimes the love of neighbor calls for extreme, even violent measures in order to protect our beloved neighbors.

We aren’t the ones who spread a twisted ideology that inspires people to roll over innocent, festive people including tots in the streets.

Yet the grave danger in this god-awful fight against evil we’re in is that we’ll throw God in all His/Her grace to the wind and go right to that old “eye for an eye” brand of justice–and beyond.

The danger is that we’ll become no better than the monsters we have an ethical duty to fight.

Our two candidates for the highest office in the land maintain at every turn that “we have to be smart” in fighting this savage enemy we’re up against.

Being “smart” requires that we remember who we Americans are–good people--really good people by and large— who aspire to live up to American goodness while resisting the temptation to give in to the very evil that so sickens us.

Being smart from the Christian perspective is being mindful that any time we have to resort to violence and force to protect the innocent, we throw ourselves at the mercy of a God whose Son died at the hands of some horrifically evil people.

Be smart and pray.

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