Archives for posts with tag: social justice

Every Monday a scripture portion arrives in my email.

Major Israel Velazquez sends it.  Major Israel is a retired Salvation Army Officer.  He  and his wife, Major Wilma, served many years in some of the Midwest’s largest cities.  Their ministry was Salvation Army programs for adults with substance abuse problems.

This morning this verse came and right away I knew what it was saying to me.

ACTS 26:16;18 (VOICE)

Get up now, and stand upright on your feet. I have appeared to you for a reason. I am appointing you to serve Me. You are to tell My story and how you have now seen Me, and you are to continue to tell the story in the future. It will be your mission to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. This is so that they may receive forgiveness of all their sins and have a place among those who are set apart for a holy purpose through having faith in Me.”

Earlier at breakfast Gail and I talked about what happened on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.  Witnesses strongly disagree on some points.

But on one point the most reliable witnesses agree that Michael Brown charged at Officer Darren Wilson.

What in the world was going on in Michael Brown’s head?

We will never really know.  But Gail and I feel we have a better than average guess what was going on.  Michael Brown had enough.

Sure, there is a supporting cast of contributing factors. Petty larceny.  Tensions in and unique to Ferguson.  Decades-long tensions in America between its powers-that-be and American people who have no part in the America of those powers.  I’m sure you can add to the list.

But he had enough.

There is no other explanation for why in the middle of a hot summer day a black man would run down the middle of the street directly at a white policeman holding a gun.

He’d had enough.



“open their eyes.”  It’s my responsibility to open their eyes.  Maybe your responsibility too.

There are many people in America who do not see.  They don’t understand the oppressive weight on those who do not have a place in America.  They do not see the overt and covert oppression visited on individuals, families, communities.  They don’t know, really know, people who live with this weight.  They don’t get it.

We have a responsibility.  We are to open their eyes.  That they might turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.

In turning comes forgiveness of sin.  In turning they find a place.  Not in the systems and structures of this world’s powers.  They may already be in those places.

‘place’ in Jesus’ words, later recounted by the Apostle Paul when forced to stand as a prisoner before authorities, is a place where God’s people discover they are set apart for a holy purpose.  God’s purpose for his people.  To talk of.  To live for.  To bring full life to human beings.  “I have come that they may have life” (John 10:10).  God calls his people to join his mission.

We have a responsibility.

To people who have just gotten too tired of it all.  Had enough.

We have a responsibility for people who don’t get it.  Whose eyes need to be opened.

People on both sides of the road.


Gail calls this the fancy pants gate.

This entrance leads to a gated community within the Lafayette Park neighborhood here in St Louis.  This gate is located where else but on Park Avenue.

I 64

about to cross the Mississippi into Illinois.  on our way to our Sunday-going-to-church with the East St Louis Corps.

With construction closures we had to take alternate routes this morning on our way to the not-so-fancy pants East St Louis IL Corps neighborhood.

Twice this past year a car has smashed through the gate and the fence to the East St Louis Salvation Army playground creating extra work for its Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  Smashed first as part of a police chase.  No one knows exactly what happened the second time.

I guess gates are subject to varying treatment depending on locale.

Some are fancy-pants.  Some aren’t.

Travis June 2016

Travis, reading scripture this morning for the East St Louis Corps.

Hey.  Here’s a story of how one city has fared after a terrible disaster.

I could be but am not referring to Joplin MO or 9/11 New York City.  It’s New Orleans in Gary Rivlin’s new book Katrina:  After the Flood reviewed earlier this month by the NY Times.

Lance Hill, a white political activist serving as a mole, tells Rivlin: “It was impossible not to pick up on this sentiment that this was our chance to take back control of the city. There was virtually a near consensus among whites that authorities should not do anything to make it easy for poor African-Americans to come back.”

It looks worth a read.

In my work in post-2011 tornado Joplin it’s become clear that developers are not interested in replacing lost housing with affordable low cost rental units.  This is creating some problems.  Where do low-income households go?  They have doubled and tripled up in housing to be able to afford it.  Moved away.  Become homeless.

Sometimes when a city gets a hard knock, opportunity knocks for urban socio-economic engineering that makes life harder for the poor.


I posted a couple weeks ago about Susan Herberg’s article in a recent St Louis American about her journey away from white privilege.

The next day Gail pointed out that the St Louis Business Journal’s recent issue featuring millennials also dealt with privilege.

The millennial generation is supposed to operate certain ways as far as work style preferences, values, lifestyles, etc.  And, of course, the business world is finding ways to work millennials into its business plans.

Gail sees one problem about all this interest.  There is one large population of young adults not so concerned about flexible hours, a dedicated mentor, work from home, etc.  They just want a job.

There are a lot of American young adults across St Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Midwestern small towns, immigrant neighborhoods who want a job but are not finding one.

Gym reimbursement?

One evening during all the media attention on the Greek financial crisis I listened to Kai Ryssdal on KWMU reporting for Marketplace from Athens.  People he interviewed?  not happy.  But one man seemed less concerned about being unhappy and more concerned about having a job.  The jobless rate of young adults in Greece is 53.2%.

We are happy in America that our jobless rate is not as bad.

But if you have been trying to, and yet can’t find a job, it’s bad.

I enjoy Christena Cleveland’s blog and I want you to see her most recent, 10 Reconciliation Books to Read, a great resource in our post-Michael Brown America.

I’ve enjoyed Julia Dinsmore’s My Name is Child of God … Not ‘Those People’.  The work of both Chris Heurtz and Mark Gornick have taught me much.

I recommend Christena’s list.

Orchard Street (1)

Yesterday afternoon the sunlight was gorgeous as I drove north on US 65 through Missouri.  A couple hundred miles and I would be at my destination.

US Hwy 65

Compared to a little over a week ago when I also was driving through the state, this was easy and the roads ice-free.  The sun behind, no glare.  It illuminated the land around me making its winter colors rich and full.

I glimpsed different colors to the west.  Two flags.

A short metal flagpole with a small American flag.  Above it, a small Confederate flag.

I began watching my speed.  I had already been thinking of my friend’s story of being pulled over one night a few years ago while driving this same section of US Highway 65.  It would be difficult to prove it but if you are a person of color you would suspect or be convinced that the lawman’s agenda acquired new tones when he discovered the driver was black.  I know that my friend was convinced of it.

What do you suppose one feels when one is in this situation?

What does a person do when they find themselves in an untolerable situation?

Each MLK Day I read a sermon of Martin Luther King Jr.  I am ahead of schedule.  This morning I again read Letter from Birmingham Jail.  It remains powerful and deeply moving.

On some journeys, some don’t make it.  But they help others arrive just fine.

Yesterday I arrived just fine.


Kennedy Odede has made one of the most compelling statements I’ve heard in discussions on urban poverty, violence, hopelessness.

The urban poor are so close to the city’s opportunities — but they always remain out of reach.

I’ve tended to think in categories of developed and developing worlds.  North American and the now outdated term ‘third world’.  American and everywhere-else worlds.  Poverty is relative, dependent on these large geographic and socio-economic distinctions.  Sure, poverty exists in Chicago but compared with Kibura

But what if the categories today are urban and non-urban?

Odede points at poverty lived in places where a person can see how others live in contrast to their life.  So close yet so distant.  In our most densely populated places, our cities.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Peace Research found that the perpetuation of Islamist extremism was more significantly associated with urban poverty than with variables like religiosity, lack of education and income dissatisfaction.

During the late 20th century children grew up in public housing high-rises in Chicago within blocks, even within sight of life lived out by some of the most affluent Chicagoans.  Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast.  Henry Horner Homes and streams of Blackhawks and Bulls fans on Madison Street.  It would have been cruel reminders if not for getting used to it.  But at times most became aware of the gulf between their trapped existence and one that they eventually came to accept was unattainable.

Gail and I saw boys and girls starting to realize this around age twelve.  I wonder, is there a correlation between this realization and that of the Santa exposé?

They still remained boys and girls.  But whenever this realization took place a somber quality entered their boyishness and girlishness.  They began a journey to a reality of inner city adulthood.

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke of a rich man and a poor man.  The poor man lay suffering at the gate of the rich man who feasted daily.  Watching and wishing for the food which dropped from the table.  The poor man dies, angels carry him to be with Abraham.  The rich man dies and tormented in Hades sees far away the poor man with Abraham.  Pleading, he receives no relief.  Why?  Justice. And an immutable condition:  between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.   There is no movement between Abraham and Hades (Luke 16:26).

Distance plays in this story.  The sumptuous table within sight of the hungry.   Comfort seen by the damned, yet far away.

Recently I posted the New York Times story of Dasani, a girl living with her family in one of New York’s homeless shelters.  Located in Brooklyn five blocks from a $1.63 million penthouse.  A neighborhood of $3 malt liquor in a deli across the street from $740 chardonnay at Gnarly Vines.

Poverty makes a second hit on those who do not have what they see others with.  Living in want comes with its own exhaustion and anxieties.  But a smoldering pain comes with seeing the sumptuous banquet from the gate.  Wealth made conspicuous on the street, the TV screen.  It also brings the danger of coveting which can lead to a host of rather unpleasant outcomes.

Coveting inoculation.  My mother enjoys recounting her young boy’s Sunday church recitation of the Bible verse be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5).  Can it be done?  Somehow we must for the sake of our own soul.

But woe unto any who put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea  (Matthew 18:6).

It’s quite a contrast to make during these recent days of opinions on the 50th anniversary of America’s war on poverty.  Odede says that the best strategy in Kenya is to fight poverty.

Instead of investing billions of dollars on drones, let’s focus on augmenting economic opportunities and providing basic and essential services like health care and education.

And in America?  It may not be as in Kenya, terrorist groups recruiting young people from slums.  Other scenarios of hopelessness play out in our cities when there seems only one option.

Movement was needed, in the here and now, between the rich man and the poor man.  Movement here and now.  It’s not too late for either the poor or the rich.

“Average weekly earnings, exclusive of fringe benefits but adjusted for inflation, are 10 percent lower today than they were in 1966”

Laurence J. Kotlikoff, economist at Boston University, also makes a case to abolish the corporate income tax for the benefit of American workers.


A living wage.  The minimum wage.  Businesses threatening to move to less demanding states.  Cities fearing loss of competitiveness if the wage is raised.  Ay, ay, ay.

Earlier this month Trip Gabriel reported in the NY Times of three Maryland counties which agreed together to raise the minimum wage “essentially forming a regional pact to make it far less tempting for businesses to flee next door”.

Why do local governments seem to be increasingly interested in this issue?

At the previous minimum of $7.25, or about $15,000 a year, many workers in Montgomery County, which includes affluent suburbs like Bethesda and Chevy Chase, were too poor to afford an apartment and received county support, which Mr. Elrich said amounted to a public subsidy for private companies.

Perhaps elected officials are beginning to associate an unacceptable cost with government-provided support for those employed by businesses who do not pay their workers a living wage.  And seeing it as a business subsidy.Walmart

Chicagoans listened to radio ads last April from Governor Perry of Texas wooing Illinois businesses to move to Arlen.  maybe Austin.  Someplace in the Lone Star State.  Governor Quinn didn’t like it.  Said something about Texas being water-challenged.

USA Today re Texas aquifers

USA Today re Texas’ mighty dry aquifers

As our governors battle it out will they conduct themselves in a civil manner?  Is this a war between the states?  Who wins this time?

Here’s a little more on the living wage debate.

I ordered it without onions but guess what?

I ordered it without onions but guess what?

I found today’s St Louis PostDispatch article  $15 minimum wage:  Fairness or a job killer? helpful in presenting both sides of the issue.  Would an increase in wage result in a decrease in jobs?  Perhaps not, according to a study by Andrajit Dube.  But that is countered by David Neumark’s conclusion that a 10% increase would result in 1 – 3% reduction in employment for those earning the least.  Both Dube and Neumark are economists in the University of California system.  Go figure.

I really do not like the comments posted for this Post-Dispatch article.  Pretty much ugly and an Ebenezer Scrooge socio-economic analysis of poverty.   Those of us who have personally and extensively worked with low income families and in their neighborhoods have come to realize the enormously complex and wearying challenges they face.  Helps us from making too many ignorant opinionated comments.

At this point I am tending to suspect there is merit to raising the minimum wage.  If Neumark is correct, it would give me more reason to pass up my occasional McDonalds cheeseburgers.  no onions, please.

Oh, also take a look at the side bar articles –

A wide gap in pay limits the ability of poorer and middle-income Americans to improve their living standards, the economists say. About 80 percent of stock market wealth is held by the richest 10 percent of Americans. That means the stock market’s outsize gains this year have mostly benefited the already affluent.


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