Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Walk Off... Go Home... It's Over!

Today was the last game for the mighty East Palo Alto Kubs, Sam's baseball team. They were playing for 2nd place in the league against Lodge, their rivals. The winner would have sole possession of 2nd place and receive a trophy (which each kid coveted greatly).

It was a tough game. Lodge came out hard and behind their great pitching remained in front through six innings. But behind the Kubs solid defence (led by their catcher, Sam) they kept the score close.  Being the home team they had the last at bat. 

In the bottom of the 6th (ending) inning, the Kubs were trailing by one run. The bottom of the order was batting. Jasmine, our rookie was up. For whatever reason Lodge pulled their pitcher and replaced him with a closer. 

After going to a full count Jasmine walked and was replaced with a pinch runner, Jason. Next up was another rookie, Andre who also reached base on balls. The leadoff hitter, Samuel Liotti, was up. On the first pitch, Sam crushed an 'against the fence' 'walk off' double scoring Jason and Andre.

Sam walked off the field the hero, winning his team the second place trophy and the game ball for himself!

As a bonus, Sam was voted team MVP and made the league all star team as a catcher. It's been fun to watch him use his leadership skills to work with the pitchers and infield players. After reluctantly taking his place behind 'the dish' this year, he found a home following in Yogi Berra's, Jorge Posada's and Johnny's Bench's footsteps!

Yea, I'm a little proud of him, just a little;)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Empowerment and Mental Functions - Cognitive Disenhancement

Here's an interesting article from Economist.com. 

As you know we've been mulling over Bob Lupton's "Betterment vs. Empowerment" concepts as we approach our mission to relieve poverty. Lupton suggests that empowerment is a dignity building activity where betterment (giving without accountability) can create dependence and reliance on the giver thereby robbing dignity. It's important to note the Lupton distinguishes between crisis (i.e. Katrina, the earthquake in China) needs and chronic needs that seem to always be present. 

The Economist recently reported the following:
New drugs may help to enhance people's mental powers. But a study carried out by Pamela Smith, of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and her colleagues suggests a less pharmacological approach can be taken, too. Their work, just published in Psychological Science, argues that simply putting someone into a weak social position impairs his cognitive function. Conversely, “empowering” him, in the dread jargon of sociology, sharpens up his mind.

Dr Smith focused on those cognitive processes that help people maintain and pursue their goals in difficult and distracting situations. She suspected that a lack of social power may reduce someone's ability to keep track of information and make plans to achieve his goals.
To explore this theory, she carried out three tests on memory, concentration and planning.
In the first, participants were divided at random into groups of superiors and subordinates. They were told that the superiors would direct and evaluate the subordinates and that this evaluation would determine the subordinates' payment for the experiment. Superiors were paid a fixed amount. The subordinates were then divided into two further groups: powerless and empowered. A sense of powerlessness was instilled, the researchers hoped, by having participants write for several minutes about a time when they were powerless or by asking them to unscramble sets of words including “obey”, “subordinate” and so on to form sentences. The empowered, by contrast, were asked to write about when they had been on top, or to form sentences including “authority”, “dominate” and similar words.

In all three tests Dr Smith found that low-power participants made 2-5% more errors than their high-power counterparts. She argues that these results were not caused by the low-power volunteers being less motivated, as they had the same financial incentive as the high-power volunteers to do well. Instead, she suspects that those lacking in power suffered adverse cognitive effects from that very lack, and thus had difficulty maintaining their focus on the tasks. (emphasis mine)

If what the data is suggesting is true, and if empowerment activities promote better self esteem, cognitive functions and well being, then should we engage in those activities over ones that create dependence and reliance? 

In some cases it's simply easier to give and not look at longer-term engagement with those we're trying to serve. This is especially true in the high powered Silicon Valley where return on investment and a focus on the 'new and innovative idea' prevails. Or at times our actions are tainted by patronage, where we give because it makes us feel good, not thinking about the implications on the poor. 

The welfare state created in the 1960's is a fine example of the failure of dignity robbing activities. We certainly are called to serve and love the 'least of these' - but, as Lupton would suggest our first task is to, "do no harm", whether long term or short. 

I'm not at all suggesting we should limit or restrict our giving. On the contrary, as Ron Sider's book is aptly titled we are, "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" we should give more and more. As believers in Christ we have that Biblical mandate.  I am however suggesting we think before we give, and do so in a way that is generous, life affirming and dignity building toward those we are serving. 

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Inflation Hits Wheel of Fortune

Think gas prices are high? Check out this report from The Onion. 
'Wheel Of Fortune' Contestants Hit Hard As Vowel Prices Skyrocket

LOS ANGELES—Contestants on the television game show Wheel Of Fortune have been hit especially hard at the podiums in recent months due to skyrocketing vowel prices, which reached a record $600 last week. "I remember a time when you could get an 'e' for $250," 46-year-old contestant Samantha Means said after a Wednesday taping. "But as Wheel contestants, we've become so dependent on vowels to solve puzzles that the producers can get away with jacking up prices because they know we'll pay them. We need a legitimate vowel alternative, but I don't think we're ready for that. I know I'm not." According to Wheel Of Fortune show runner Charlie Clark, vowel prices are not likely to come down anytime soon unless America improves its standing in the Middle East.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Short update - sitting in O'Hare...

The last few weeks have been extremely busy - evidenced by my lack of blogging.  As I write this I'm on the way home from the CCDA board meeting - of which I recently became a member. I got to O'Hare somewhat early and after a short nap on the floor - felt ready to post an update. (I'm sure I'm quite the sight as I snore away in a corner... )It's an honor to serve CCDA and Noel Castellanos - the new CEO. While I've enjoyed getting to know all the members, it's been a particular joy to spend time with Dr. Louis Carlo from (where else...) NYC. Dr. Carlo is a wonderful, fun, brilliant and warm man. 

Last weekend we attended another amazing Urban Youth Workers Institute in Los Angeles. It was a special honor to have my son Samuel do a workshop with me. We spoke on " What Do You Do When The Community You Serve Doesn't Look Like You?" Sam did a great job. He had the chance to speak about his life and experiences growing up in East Palo Alto.

A couple of weeks ago Sam and I went to NYC for a few days. I'll shortly post some pictures and thoughts about the trip. Thanks for being patient with my inconsistent blogging - I'll shortly get back to form. Here's a rather poor picture of me that I just took - in case you forgot how beautiful I am! 

I'll write more soon... 

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Samuel and I took off for a few days of fun and baseball in the Big Apple last sunday. Pictures and and update when we return later this week.

Go Yankees!