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'

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ortberg's Thoughts on Preaching, the Church and Politics

See the entire article at Christianity Today.
Imagine that we elected all the right people to all the right offices—President, congress, governors, right down to school board, city council members, and dog catcher (is that still an office anyone gets to vote for?).

Let's imagine that all these ideal office holders instituted all the right policies.

Let's imagine that we got all the propositions right. (In California, we vote on lengthy and complicated propositions for everything you can imagine. Nobody understands them all.) Every piece of legislation—from zoning laws to tax codes to immigration policy to crime bills—is just exactly the way you know it ought to be.

Would that usher in the kingdom of God?

Would the hearts of the parents be turned toward their children?

Would all marriages be models of faithful love?

Would greed and pride be legislated out of existence?

Would assistant pastors find senior pastors to be models of harmony and delight?

Would human beings now at last be able to master our impulses in areas of sexuality and anger and narcissism?

Let's get a little more personal.

Would you finally become the woman or man you know you ought to be?

In the words of theologian Macauley Culkin: "I don't think so."

Because no human system has the ability to change the human heart.

Not even democracy, or capitalism, or post-modern-emergent-ancient-future-missionalism.

T.S. Elliot summed up our quandary brilliantly: "We want a system of order so perfect that we do not have to be good."

Systems are important. But they're also complicated. Historian Mark Noll notes that evangelicals often fail to add value in politics because we like simplicity: good vs. evil; right vs. wrong. Political and economic arrangements are full of complexity and nuance. Well-intended legislation may lead to poor results.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Didn't Get Called

Out to a homicide tonight. Pastor Bains went. He and I are police chaplains. Pastor knew the family. How can there be so much violence in 2.5 square miles? Sure, EPA is much better than years before - but we still need Jesus.

Posted with LifeCast

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Last Game - lot's of memories!

I'm sitting at home watching the last game at old Yankee Stadium. They hosted a wonderful pre-game ceremony where many of the living Yankee greats came out including Yogi and Whitey Ford, as well as the families of Babe Ruth and others. The Yankees do a great job of honoring the past players. 

The New York Daily News has a great photo set of the day's events.

I'm so glad Samuel and I took the time this year to return to the Stadium for a couple of games. We returned to NYC and attended two games, one with our friend Jeremy and his son Judah. 

Also, a few years ago when I was traveling for work Sam came with me and we squeezed in a tour of the stadium (it was winter, so no games were being played). Sam and I got to see the press box, club house, dugout, walked around the field and monument park. While in the clubhouse we saw the lockers of DiMaggio, Ruth, Jeter and the forever empty locker of Thurman Munson. When the guide turned his back Sam snuck a feel of Jeter's jersey.

I'm sad to see the Stadium close. My hope is that the new Yankee Stadium will welcome the heart of the Yankees, the blue collar fan. Here's some pictures from our trips to the stadium.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Perspectives from Bob Lupton

CCDA board member Bob Lupton from FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta regularly emails and posts an article called Urban Perspectives where Bob share insights from his work in the South. Bob has been very much leading the conversation around 'gentrification with justice' and empowerment. Today he sent out an article that relates very well to the redevelopment conversation going on in East Palo Alto and like communities. The underlying question is, "How do we reconcile redevelopment with the needs of the poor?" 

Thanks for your insights, Bob. Here is Bob's thoughts (emphasis mine):
“This city has a definite anti-church bias,” the pastor declared, leaning forward across his cup of steaming Chinese tea, brow furrowed with frustration. At every turn he had faced city resistance to his church’s plan to build a worship-community center on the five acre site they owned free and clear. Zoning hurdles, city planning department stonewalling, uncooperative building department staff – all clear messages that the city did not want a church built on that land. “We may have to get an attorney and take them to court.”

The city of Doraville, a close-in suburb of Atlanta, was an amazing place to minister, especially for those committed to world missions. Over the past three decades it had become a port of entry for immigrants and refugees from all over the globe – Asia, Central Europe, Central and South America, Africa. A steady stream of new arrivals poured in daily, crowding into apartments with friends and relatives, snapping up every low-paying job they could find. These new-comers, eager to adapt to their new land of opportunity, flocked to ESL classes, support groups, and youth programs sponsored by churches and agencies in the area. For religious groups committed to outreach, Doraville was a field of dreams. The world was literally coming to their doorstep.

“We have a very strategic location,” the pastor continued, “right between two large apartment complexes.” The church had purchased the five acre site for the express purpose of outreach ministry to the immigrant population packed into the surrounding neighborhood. The plan was to construct a utilitarian facility that could be used for all manner of recreational and service programs as well as worship services. It would be a beacon of light, a lighthouse sitting squarely in the middle of teeming multitudes searching for belonging and hope. What a perfect location for the Gospel to be visibly demonstrated! “But the anti-church attitude of city officials has brought our plans to a halt.” A mixture of anger and disappointment registered in his eyes.

A mile and a half from the Chinese restaurant where we sipped our tea a very different conversation had been taking place. City Hall. The mayor, department heads, and various elected council members had convened numerous times to discuss a comprehensive city-wide revitalization plan. It was an expensive plan created by a nationally recognized urban consulting firm. But it was brilliant – tree-lined streetscapes along major thoroughfares, pedestrian-oriented walkways that connected residential neighborhoods with new commercial shopping clusters and restaurant districts, new urbanism design with an integrated mixture of single-family homes, attractive shops and live-work condominiums. The renderings portrayed a Doraville that its beleaguered citizens longed for – a charming, green community with vibrant economy and friendly, safe streets.

It had been generations since Doraville had been able to dream dreams like this. In the 50’s it had been the proud host of a state-of-the-art General Motors assembly plant – the symbol of American enterprise. The post-war boom had launched the community into an era of vigorous prosperity. Everyone was working, starter homes lined cull-du-sacs, new schools were being built. These were the good days that few imagined would ever end. This was before the refugees started to show up.

At first it was only a trickle of refugees from Vietnam. Then Cambodians. And Hmong. And then somehow the floodgates swung wide and Asians of every description started pouring in. Koreans, Chinese, Indians. Soon came the Mexicans, hoards of Spanish-speaking legals and illegals flooding in from the southern border, crowding into once-nice apartments with cousins and uncles and friends from rural villages back home. Before anyone could do anything about it, Doraville had become Atlanta’s out-of-control port of entry.

Strange signage soon proliferated along major thoroughfares as ethnic shops and restaurants opened – letters and words illegible to the Doraville citizenry. The health department started receiving complaints about chickens and goats being slaughtered in local apartments. Gang activity was reported for the first time. Teachers in the local schools were overwhelmed with students who could neither speak nor understand English, and few translators to help them decipher even the most rudimentary communication. Longtime homeowners began to exit, selling their houses at reduced prices, getting out “while the getting was good.” Attractively manicured three bedroom, one bath bungalows turned into jammed communal houses, driveways lined with worn-out cars. For elected officials and public servants attempting to keep the systems of the city functioning, these were not good days.

Then came the devastating news about the closing of the GM plant. The one stabilizing anchor that had kept the wheels on the Doraville economy was now departing. What ever would city leaders do?!

Turn lemons into lemonade! Could the plant closing possibly be a godsend after all? According to the urban planning consultants, 165 acres of prime real estate sitting at the convergence of two major interstates could be redeveloped into an amazing new urbanism village that could be the catalyst for reigniting the entire Doraville area. It could have a rich international flavor, be the source of hundreds of new jobs, attract a cosmopolitan population back into the city, provide an even stronger tax base to fund all manner of community improvements. There was more positive energy in city hall than it had seen in decades. Their troubled port-of-entry city could become a highly desirable point-of-destination magnet for all manner of interesting new businesses and customers, for upscale housing and moneyed neighbors.

One thing was for sure. Now was not the time to encourage programs or facilities that would further entrench the poverty that had settled like a pall over the city. It was time to dream about rebuilding healthy mixed-income neighborhoods, time to strategize how to thin out concentrated poverty compounds and absorb an immigrant population into the fabric of the larger community. It was not the time to support a new church center built to serve an overcrowded poverty area.

“All they’re concerned about is the money,” the pastor declared. “They see dollar signs, upscale condos, high-end retail. They see this GM deal as the new Atlantic Station.” The reference was to downtown Atlanta’s hippest new town within a town concept. “Where’s the compassion, where’s the concern for what happens to the poor who are uprooted and scattered to the winds by big development?” He was right, of course. The energy at city hall was all about growth and development these days. So much of their hard effort in past years had been consumed in trying to keep the city from disintegrating into chaos. These new dreams of a reborn city were absolutely exhilarating. Meanwhile, the social service agencies, the churches, the non-profits who spent themselves caring for the needs of the poor were all still out there, still appreciated for their heroic work, but for the most part consumed in their myopic direct-service world. And while these wonderful ministry-types were busy teaching parents how to read and write English, city officials were sweating over budgets, stretching and leveraging shrinking tax dollars to keep police from being overwhelmed by street crime, firefighters from striking, and communicable diseases from mushrooming into an epidemic. Plus fix potholes. The pastor was right. They were mostly concerned about money – how to keep enough of it coming in to keep the city running, how to allocate it wisely, how to leverage it for greater benefit. But these were not, as the pastor accused, people without compassion. On the contrary, these money-focused city leaders may well have been acting in the most compassionate way possible: strategizing ways for the city to become prosperous once again. Prosperous and just – if in their planning they were attempting to include as beneficiaries all of the city’s diverse population.

Do justice! Now there’s a different role for the church to play.

“Mercy” ministry had been the major outreach of this church – feeding, clothing, counseling, tutoring – all important activities that demonstrate Christ’s love for those in need. But loving mercy is only part of the Kingdom mission. Doing justice is another vital role. The voiceless poor need representation at the planning table where decision-makers are shaping future plans. Someone who understands how economics works must ensure that adequate affordable housing is woven into new development strategies. Those with reconciling spirits must do shuttle diplomacy between and among the diverse cultures and interests of the community to ensure that all are taken into account. This too is the mission of the church – to insert its redemptive influence and strength into the decision-making process so that compassion and justice prevail in their city.

The ancient prophet Micah summed it up this way:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jeter and Gehrig - Together

They Yankees, geez. What a horrible season evidenced by my lack of attention to them on this blog. I'm just plain frustrated by the Yankees. We'll - at least I can still count the 26 championships.

By Jeter - what a ball player. The New York Post reports:
The Yankees captain tied Lou Gehrig for the most hits all-time at Yankee Stadium, with his third hit of the day - and 1,269th at the House that Ruth Built - a home run over the right field wall to lead off the fifth inning of the Bombers' 8-4 victory over the Rays.

"Jeter is chasing the ghost, and he's chasing it very well," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm happy that I don't have to see him again this year."

The home run was part of Jeter's third straight three-hit game and the highlight of the Yankees' second straight victory over the AL East-leading Rays.

Jeter singled and doubled in his first two at-bats, then delivered his celebratory blast in the fifth off Rays phenom David Price, making his major league debut. The historic homer came on a 2-2 slider that was the ninth pitch of Jeter's at-bat. Afterward, Jeter came out for a curtain call and doffed his helmet to the Bronx faithful, who cheered his accomplishment.

"I've been fortunate to play my whole career here," Jeter said, "and they've pretty much seen me grow up."
Derek Jeter, what a bright spot in a rather dismal season.

Friday, September 12, 2008

20/20 Vision for Schools

Check this out. This is something that Jeremy Del Rio has been spearheading in NYC. I'm praying that this idea will take hold in Nor Cal. If you think you have an interest in 20/20 - please contact Jeremy or I...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wisdom from Guy on Fund Raising

I've learned a lot from Guy Kawasaki over the years. His book, 'The Art of the Start" taught me much about starting things, raising money and making presentations. He recently did a blog post that contrasts two types of approaches to venture capital. One is with up front money is one is raising money after a product is brought to market. You can read his thoughts on 'Plan B' fundraising here.

To me there are many parallels to the non profit sector. Many of us think 'money first, programs after.' We like to project what we feel will be the best case scenarios, articulate the community need are then try to build the capacity around the idea. In my career I've started things only to find the need was not what I expected it to be, and had to go back to donors or stakeholders and explain what happened. That's not too fun. Staffing in non profit work is as or more important than in the for profit world because of the relationship factor. Staffing is also by far the highest cost of all and is what, other than a place to be, what capacity building is about in our world. 

Others, scape, borrow, beg and duct tape a program together, prove the need, create the market (participants) then build the capacity of the program after the program and approach is proven. 

With our youth financial literacy program, for example, we've proven over the past year that there is a need and our approach works. Now we're trying to build the staffing and capacity of the program to meet the demand. It's a whole different type of 'ask' when you can say - "We're blowing the doors off and your help with make a major difference!"  This, in my opinion, is by far the better way to go and the easier way to build capacity and raise funds. It's still a bear to raise funds - and is the burden I have to carry on a daily basis. I'd much rather raise funds with all the data, evidence of proven need and track record than with great ideas. 

However, if an organization or leader has a proven track record of success, then there is a much greater chance of raising funds and building capacity before a programs is unveiled. For those of us who are still establishing ourselves, then 'Plan B Fundraising' may be the right route to take. 

Please comment....

Monday, September 08, 2008

New York Times Editorial - The Great Seduction

Here is an important editorial in the New York Times called "The Great Seduction by David Brooks. You can read the original post here. 

Thanks to Dr. Amy Sherman from Ele:Vate for the head's up.
The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.

The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.

Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.

Sixty-two scholars have signed on to a report by the Institute for American Values and other think tanks called, “For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture,” examining the results of all this. This may be damning with faint praise, but it’s one of the most important think-tank reports you’ll read this year.

The deterioration of financial mores has meant two things. First, it’s meant an explosion of debt that inhibits social mobility and ruins lives. Between 1989 and 2001, credit-card debt nearly tripled, soaring from $238 billion to $692 billion. By last year, it was up to $937 billion, the report said.

Second, the transformation has led to a stark financial polarization. On the one hand, there is what the report calls the investor class. It has tax-deferred savings plans, as well as an army of financial advisers. On the other hand, there is the lottery class, people with little access to 401(k)’s or financial planning but plenty of access to payday lenders, credit cards and lottery agents.

The loosening of financial inhibition has meant more options for the well-educated but more temptation and chaos for the most vulnerable. Social norms, the invisible threads that guide behavior, have deteriorated. Over the past years, Americans have been more socially conscious about protecting the environment and inhaling tobacco. They have become less socially conscious about money and debt.

The agents of destruction are many. State governments have played a role. They aggressively hawk their lottery products, which some people call a tax on stupidity. Twenty percent of Americans are frequent players, spending about $60 billion a year. The spending is starkly regressive. A household with income under $13,000 spends, on average, $645 a year on lottery tickets, about 9 percent of all income. Aside from the financial toll, the moral toll is comprehensive. Here is the government, the guardian of order, telling people that they don’t have to work to build for the future. They can strike it rich for nothing.

Payday lenders have also played a role. They seductively offer fast cash — at absurd interest rates — to 15 million people every month.

Credit card companies have played a role. Instead of targeting the financially astute, who pay off their debts, they’ve found that they can make money off the young and vulnerable. Fifty-six percent of students in their final year of college carry four or more credit cards.

Congress and the White House have played a role. The nation’s leaders have always had an incentive to shove costs for current promises onto the backs of future generations. It’s only now become respectable to do so.

Wall Street has played a role. Bill Gates built a socially useful product to make his fortune. But what message do the compensation packages that hedge fund managers get send across the country?

The list could go on. But the report, which is nicely summarized by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in The American Interest (available free online), also has some recommendations. First, raise public consciousness about debt the way the anti-smoking activists did with their campaign. Second, create institutions that encourage thrift.

Foundations and churches could issue short-term loans to cut into the payday lenders’ business. Public and private programs could give the poor and middle class access to financial planners. Usury laws could be enforced and strengthened. Colleges could reduce credit card advertising on campus. KidSave accounts would encourage savings from a young age. The tax code should tax consumption, not income, and in the meantime, it should do more to encourage savings up and down the income ladder.

There are dozens of things that could be done. But the most important is to shift values. Franklin made it prestigious to embrace certain bourgeois virtues. Now it’s socially acceptable to undermine those virtues. It’s considered normal to play the debt game and imagine that decisions made today will have no consequences for the future.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Good Weekend...

Labor Day weekend... Thank God for you! 

We really needed the three day weekend. While the weekend before we moved into our new place, we still had a bunch of junk in the old one. We spent the weekend clearing out the old apartment, and continuing to work through the boxes and set up our new house. When we left Modesto we down sized a three bedroom small house to a tiny apartment. We got rid of much of our furniture. Now we're having to upsize into a new place, so we're begging, borrowing and stealing as much furniture as we can. Melissa's friend Karen was headed to a missions stint in Russia and she long term lent us a bunch of nice stuff. Phil and Jen were getting rid of some couches and the chair I'm sitting on right now, so thanks to them we have a living room. We found a very nice 'scratch and dent' dining room table a Sears, so we outfitted them with four chairs from Ikea. So - other than some odds and ends, we're set.

We also have rented our upstairs apartment! A wonderful single mom with two teenage children rented the place from us. She's an interior designer who teaches part time at the Academy of Art. Samuel has already struck up a friendship with Cody around, what else, video games. Last week I was focused on getting the apartment ready with some plumbing needs and a stove. 

Sam and I did get a chance to sneak away to Fort Funston. This part of Golden Gate National Park is a off leash dog park. It has a very nice beach and some excellent trails. It's also a great place to see every type of dog, big and small, from Great Danes to Chihuahuas. Samuel and Ralph had a great time.

All in all, this was the kind of weekend we needed... Here's some pics: