21 April, 2015
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The latest news and perspective from the Director of Urban Homeworks

250px-StatueoflibertyWhat is the “American Dream” anyways? What if it were as simple as what James Truslow Adams penned in 1931: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth?

What emerges for me in digging through notions/history of the American Dream is the language around the “absence of barriers” and “without restrictions”, regardless of one’s patrimony, blood, or social class, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims: "all men are created equal" with the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I think what triggered some indignation and agitation in my neighborhood about the article by Derek Thompson titled “The Miracle of Minneapolis” was that “all men were not considered equal” for a long, long time (see the “One drop rule” as a point of context). I’d submit that we continue to work through this history, and here’s an indicator: the smattering of recent press arguing where “affordable housing” should be located. (See following 8 links.) 

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You may or may not have noticed, but that last sentence flew in the face of the “American Dream”. Whoever is assuming the paternalistic and socio-economic-engineer’s role in making the audacious determination and decision that constitute the value-laden judgements embedded in and promoted by the word “should” is creating barriers and restrictions for certain people to pursue the American Dream: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness… on people’s own, hard-working terms.

protestSee if you can sniff out the insidious injustice of ‘promoting integration’ verses the liberation and freedom embedded in “combating discrimination” (thank you Ed Goetz for the language!). The former places the burden on people already burdened, limits choice, spacializes investments, and undermines the social fabric of humanity. Combating discrimination is a-spatial, opens all possibilities, gives people power to pursue their own dreams and desires, and holds the social and community elements of our humanity in high regard. (By the way, combating discrimination is all over the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Integration is never mentioned.)

Let’s stop using the tool of economics to (consciously and/or unconsciously) socially engineer each other and let’s work to “perpetuate the hopes” and dreams uniquely planted within each of us…. right where we are, and not where someone thinks we should be.


Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:23

American Dream?


There’s been some local traction and a number of perspectives (see above links) offered around an Atlantic article by Derek Thompson titled “The Miracle of Minneapolis”. As I read and process stuff, I’m trying harder to get better about reading through the lens of my faith, rather than analyzing my faith through the lens of the norms/assumptions/ideologies with which I’m confronted. So, here’s a little pondering to ponder…

The thing that sticks out to me is that the article assumes a shared and un-examined value of the “American Dream” and “climbing higher than my parents”.

leadI’m advocating for an examination with Exodus 16 as a place to start: “enough for today, not too much, trust me for tomorrow” and the “test” that is embedded in this old story. Derek Thompson identifies one of the primary ingredients in the “secret sauce” is the 1976 policy and practice of “fiscal equalization”. This notion employs elements of ‘enough’.

With manifestations of “not enough” confronting me every day + some research that suggests it would take 4.1 planets the size of Earth to afford all people on the planet an average American lifestyle, I can’t help question if my “enough” is way out of proportion to what it ought to be if I truly am “my brother’s keeper”.

The moral of the story: How about a re-ignited dream (with or without “American” attached to it): “Enough, not too much, trust me for tomorrow and if you take more than you need it will rot and stink and you are stealing from your neighbor” (my summary). I believe in miracles. I believe the promise that one day “thy kingdom [shall] come and thy will [shall] be done on earth as it is in heaven” and that we may, and must, manifest that miracle of ‘enough’ better and better-er.


Thursday, 12 February 2015 08:12

The power in hope. The hope in power.

t8px6dGoogle defines hope as: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Synonyms include: aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, goal, and plan.

…to perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ… to perpetuate the expectations, desires, aspirations, wishes, ambitions, aims and goals of Jesus…

Jesus didn’t sit around with his hope of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-13), Jesus did something about it. The ability to “do” brings us to grapple with power.

Google defines power as: “the ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality.” Synonyms include: ability, capacity, capability, potential, faculty and competence.

To “perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ”, in my mind, marries together the ideas of hope and power. To aspire and act. To desire and do. To plan and produce. To expect and to execute. The slippery slope is toward what, and what has to do with how we understand what Jesus was all about.

Humor me for a moment as I explore this thread of thought: Jesus lays out his manifesto (Luke 4) and the poem ends with “the year of the Lords favor”, which is the year of Jubilee. Jubilee is the ultimate Sabbath (every fiftieth year): debts forgiven, slaves freed, and land returned to its rightful owner. Sabbath was to be practiced every seventh day (a time to stop, reflect, remember…). This idea preceded the 10 commandments and is found in the creation narrative (among many other places in scripture).

I’d like to point out and summarize a time where it shows up in the Exodus story around manna, the bread (nourishment) that God miraculously supplied (fell from the heavens) to the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness: gather enough for today, not too much, trust me for tomorrow (gifts and limits). Gather too much and the excess will stink and rot in your possession and you are stealing from your neighbor. Gather enough on the 6th day to eat through the 7th day of rest.

Enough. Enough so it doesn’t stink and rot. Enough so I’m not stealing from my neighbor (enough so I don’t stink and rot). Enough as an act of trust. What an underestimated and under appreciated word. A word I’m going to apply more and more in my evolving economic theology.

As I consider and uncover what it means to ‘perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ’, I can’t help but think that maybe an iteration of our mission statement, written through the lens hope and power, may be re-written as: to “ignite/excite/animate/re-imagine the ability/action/competence to live into and realize the aspirations/yearnings/desires of a God who desires that all have enough”.

“Jesus replied, “What is impossible with woman/man is possible with God.”” – Luke 18:27 (beware, the context around this little Biblical ‘nugget’ is… ah… well… um…)

2015: Let’s do this. Let’s attempt the impossible. Powerful hope. Hopeful power: “On earth as it is in heaven”.

Friday, 19 December 2014 10:44

500BC to 1843 to 2015...

With the closing of a year and the dawning of another, moments of reflection and anticipation emerge within me. Two-thousand-fourteen represents a period of time with some significant movement in people’s lives, powerful people emerging, a heck of a lot of nails pounded, hundreds of keys cut, and the tangible elements of hope felt in the hands where these feelings have been elusive for days, months, and years and even decades prior… and it represents a period of time punctuated by the pain of cancer, sickness, violent deaths of our children, tragic deaths of uncles, heartbreaking losses of daughter-in-laws, and the ever-growing and ever-glaring need that smacks me in the face every morning when I hear another name has been added to the constantly growing waiting list of 387…388…389… Nothing new under the sun:

confucius589In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. –Confucius

I’m not say’n… I’m just say’n… Confucius lived around 500 BC. I’m feeling the frustration and indignation rising within me and within us as the Dow Jones Industrial Average bloats to nearly 18,000 while our children are being bent over and crushed by full-to-overflowing shelters and exploding “waiting lists” for a place to call home.

“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses????” (As said by Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843)

My God, forgive us, and as evidence of that forgiveness, may two-thousand-fifteen be marked by the ignition and explosion of sight that allows us, as a people, a people in pursuit of your “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven” to see deeply the monster my excess makes me when I willfully withhold it in the face of scarcity. I don’t want to be a monster. In the kingdom of God, there is neither poverty nor wealth (so there Confucius, now that’s good governance!), there is neither slave nor free, no police dominance that makes a neighborhood or people group prisoners in our own backyard, none of our precious children “caused to stumble”. My God, may 2015 be marked by the ‘recovery of sight’ to my blindness that ‘I might see again’ and do something about it!


Friday, 07 November 2014 15:11

We're Going to Rattle a Few Cages

This might “rattle a few ‘cages’” as my dad often said growing up, but I am beginning to think there’s a lot of truth in it…. The economics of the Judeo-Christian faith, that is… and I might add the over-looked and/or almost suppressed economic considerations of an authentic, faithful pursuit.

An interesting expression of economic implications is when a business ties performance to philanthropy. A great partner of UHW starts the strategic planning process each year with a philanthropic goal and then works backwards into the performance measures that need to be hit in order to hit that goal. Bell Lumber and Pole, through this process, has pledged to match any new and increased gift through the end of the year to energize and excite more people to invest and support the work of Urban Homeworks. Economic. Considerations.

loanpoolcoverAnother expression, is in launching Loan Pool 2.0 as a way to raise funding but even more potent, as a way to constructively participate in an attempt at an economic alternative that connects racially concentrated areas of wealth with racially concentrated areas of poverty. It may be a feeble, insignificant, and altruistic attempt in the eyes of some, but it is an attempt nonetheless. The following is an excerpt from the letter that I wrote as the introduction to Loan Pool 2.0. I invite you to contact us for more information and download the information packet.

“Economics… it’s all economics.” 8 years ago a couple of Lutheran ministers uttered this little phrase referring to how they are beginning to understand the underpinnings of their theology, and it’s been bouncing around in my grey matter ever since. Jesuit theologian John Haughey says it like this: “We read the gospels as though we have no money and we spend our money as though we know nothing of the gospels.” John the Baptizer says it like this: “…if you have two coats, give one to him who has none… and do the same with your food”. Mary the Mother of Jesus says it like this: “… and the hungry will be filled with good things.” Jesus of Nazareth says it like this: “for the spirit has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor… and proclaim the year of the Lords favor (which is Jubilee = debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, and land returns to its rightful owners… sounds pretty economic!).

Whether you are a person fueled by a faith, or by other motives, that inspire you to catalyze and fan the flame of the human spirit on both an individual and collective level, this loan pool is a tool for you. It’s one of the tools in your toolbox to construct the change you desire to see in the world while investing in making available asset-building tools for more people. Thank you for investing deeply in this attempt to constructively and creatively build toward a better tomorrow.”

Let’s keep on dream’n and schem’n constructive and alternative ways of living into that ‘kingdom’ that gets talked about so often in those old Gospel stories. Thank you for fueling the dream all across and up and down the many dimensions of our community. It takes all of us and dog-gon-it, if we’re all in, we’re (and it’s) enough!! Thank you and happy fall!

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