Playgrounds, Federalism, and the future of Public Schools

On Wednesday, the U.S. is set to hear a Trinity Lutheran v Comer, involving a Columbia church but having national and far reaching implications. The tension between religious freedom, the establishment of religion and aid to church-related schools have been simmering in the United States since the 1960s. Organized religions and political interests can shift quickly on this issue. Continue reading

It’s Closing Time at the Soup Kitchen

This evening at CoMo Loaves and Fishes was quiet with at least seven guys with no place to go on a cold rainy night staying inside the door after 6:30. Someone started singing “It’s Closing Time” by Green Day which was soon modified to

“Open the door and make us go out into the cold …
It’s Closing Time . . .
You don’t have a home
But you can’t stay here.”

I appreciated their cooperativeness but it still hurts that I could not (or did not) do anything to prepare them for the night.

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I’ve Run for 50 Years

I’ve Run for 50 Years  April 1, 2017

                One of the minor personal anniversaries I’ve knowingly preserve is I that was in a sports page photo of the local newspaper at the start of the mile run in the first track meet of the year my sophomore year in high school.  That would be 1967. I’ve ran for 50 years. Why have I ran for 50 years?  I am not exactly sure but I have a few hypotheses. Continue reading

Nashville’s Room In The Inn

Nashville’s Room In the Inn has six programs serving the homeless, the one similar to Columbia’s Room at the Inn is the Winter Shelter Program.  Below are its five key features:

  1. Uses congregation model— about 20 congregations shelter 12-15 guests in their own church about one night a week;
  2. Open from November 1 –March 31 (in a warmer climate than Columbia).
  3. Not more than “observational security”—no security wanding, no security guard, no checking metal items at the door;
  4. Alcohol use is not permitted (but there is alternative housing); and
  5. A sit-down dinner is provided by each congregation each night.

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Notes and Links for “I am Not Your Negro” discussion March 27 at Boone Home

Notes and Links:” I am not Your Negro”

                Additional information for the Community Discussion of “I am not Your Negro” on Monday, March 27 7:00 at the Boone Home (next to Second Baptist Church) Columbia Missouri

1.       New York TIMES review

2. New York Review of Books

3.       NPR Director Raoul Peck: James Baldwin was speaking directly to me

4.       Travis Smiley interview with Raoul Peck February 3, 2017

This Travis Smiley interview contains (at 0:40-1:15) a memorable and powerful part of the film. It is James Baldwin responding to a Yale philosophy professor on “Dick Cavett” in 1968:

                “I don’t know what most white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian Church which is white and a Christian Church which is black. I know, as Malcom X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly can’t trust the Christian church. I don’t know whether the labor unions and their boss really hate me—that doesn’t matter—but I know I am not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children and the schools we have to go to. Now, this is evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”

5.        ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ brings James Baldwin’s words to life” CNN February 17, 2017

6.       Official trailer  At 1:25 another memorable quote:

“The future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and our representatives—it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face and deal with embrace the stranger who they have maligned so long. What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a “nigger” in the first place, because I am  not a nigger, I’m a man. But if you think I am a nigger, you need him.  . . . If I’m not the nigger here and you invented  him, you the white people invented him, then you got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it is able to ask that question.”

What to do with Carl, another homeless man?

What am I to do with another helpless, homeless man?

Three of the last four Wednesday in the winter of 2017  while volunteering at Loaves and Fishes in Columbia, Missouri,  a man,  who I will call Carl, has been dumped in my lap near closing time. The first two times he was transported by taxi from a local hospital, the third by a well-intentioned woman who had found him lying on the pavement at a nearby gas station after he had been dismissed from the hospital. Each time Carl was hungry, had no place to sleep that night, was in considerable pain, and was rather helpless.

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Beaver Plants a Tree

Leave it to Beaver, Beaver Plants a Tree                        

     In my effort to curb my intake of political news, I caught a “Leave it to Beaver” re-run. It was titled “Beaver’s Tree” and first aired November 11, 1959 and tells of Beaver remembering a tree that his father gave him for his birthday due to his class reciting a poem that begins “what does he plant who plants a tree?”  The dramatic twist is that the Cleavers had moved from their original house, leaving the tree behind. After indirectly asking his mother’s advice (e.g. “if you put a million dollars in the bank, and the bank gets a new owner, don’t you still have the million dollars?”), Beaver returns to his old house and digs up the tree and takes it to his new home.

            In my youth, we only saw “Leave it to Beaver” when me or my siblings were sick in bed, but we planted lots of trees. I’ve left trees behind in at least four states so I was curious about the poem used in Beaver’s grade school class. Thanks to the internet, I learned the poem (“The Heart of a Tree” ) was by Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855-1896), whom I was unfamiliar. It is a comforting, sentimental three verses.

The Heart of the Tree

by Henry Cuyler Bunner

What does he plant who plants a tree?

   He plants a friend of sun and sky;

He plants the flag of breezes free;

   The shaft of beauty, towering high;

   He plants a home to heaven anigh;

      For song and mother-croon of bird

      In hushed and happy twilight heard—

The treble of heaven’s harmony—

These things he plants who plants a tree.


What does he plant who plants a tree?

   He plants cool shade and tender rain,

And seed and bud of days to be,

   And years that fade and flush again;

      He plants the glory of the plain;

      He plants the forest’s heritage;

      The harvest of a coming age;

The joy that unborn eyes shall see—

These things he plants who plants a tree.


What does he plant who plants a tree?

   He plants, in sap and leaf and wood,

In love of home and loyalty

   And far-cast thought of civic good—

   His blessings on the neighborhood,

      Who in the hollow of His hand

      Holds all the growth of all our land—

A nation’s growth from sea to sea

Stirs in his heart who plants a tree. (in the public domain)

The Deserving vs. Undeserving

             The Deserving versus Undeserving in the 21st Century

 Based on my personal observation and conversations over the past 7-8 years, the population of Columbia’s street poor consists of few undeserving. Most street poor have multiple reasons for being on the street. Here is what I have seen of this mostly male group:

1.        Few veterans—because of societal efforts to care for these “deserving citizens.”  Less than 10 percent.

2.       Lots of alcohol and drug users—I don’t know which is the cause and which is the effect but propose discouraging all alcohol and drug use. Probably more than half.

3.       Mental disabilities—at least than one-third, probably more

4.       Stigma of criminal justice system—probably more than I would guess, at least one quarter.

5.       Family disruptions—marital problems, disputed child support, kids kicked out, at least one-quarter.  Several fathers and mothers have been rejected by their children.

6.       Physical disabilities—job injuries and accidents. A quarter.

7.       Spotty work records—older folks without social security or pensions because of prison, “working off the books,” and being screwed over by an employer.

8.       The working poor— probably just a few of the “truly homeless” but many of Columbia’s poverty population.

9.       Marginal intelligence—just not smart, unlikely to be hired. 10 percent.

10.   Social misfits—some people probably have never fit into schools, churches, or their communities.  Perhaps they are lazy, more likely they are “loners.”  They just miss the bus, forget to turn in the forms, and can’t follow directions.  10- 20 percent.

From time-to-time, I have been asked “are those people deserving of our help?”  I think about this when I am walking around town and eating at the University Club. Here is what I think.

      In a just society, comprised of small communities, we each would get what we deserve. Generally, if we did not work, we would not eat. In the olden days, family members and community members had to “pull their own weight.”  But even in that ideal, simple world most citizens would agree to assist those who, thru no fault of their own, could not provide for themselves. We would care for the young, and the old, the mentally feeble and the physically lame. America’s Great Depression (of the 1930) s complicated that idyllic social system. Macroeconomic failure challenged the foundation of “earning what you deserve” and mass migration overloaded communities’ capacity “to take care of their own.”

                By the 21st century, rapid economic change, often governmentally funded and induced, can cause “undeserved” job loss; damaging bad personal decisions can result in drug and alcohol addictions, and large cities and suburbs do not have the capability of communities to identify, let alone, to take care of their own.”

                Consequently, distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving has become difficult if not impossible. Despite America’s superior wealth relative to other countries of the world, we are less likely to see citizens as deserving of societal assistance. America’s racial heterogeneity, and our history of racial tensions, makes public discussions and decisions about the deserving and undeserving more difficult.

                Societal “assistance” is a wide category of government programs, community resources, and social practices. We don’t call “executive severance packages” social assistance but we should.

                In 1971, A THEORY OF JUSTICE by John Rawls, developed the notion of a “veil of ignorance” as a mechanism for dissecting thorny ethical issues. Simply put, a “just solution” would be the one selected if all decision makes were behind a “veil of ignorance” such that they did not know their “original position,” e.g. gender, race, age, occupation, height, etc.  In such a just society, designed behind a veil of ignorance, there would not be racial nor religious discrimination. There would not be gender pay discrimination, but there may be gender role differentiation based on child rearing. It is likely there would be a good deal of parental leave and support for young children.  A just society would have to figure out what position it wants to take on family issues and single motherhood.

                In that light, my hunch is that we would be spending a lot more time talking about the “undeserving rich” than we now talk about the “undeserving poor.”  In 2017, our president and a majority of our Senate, have accumulated much more wealth that they have earned.  They “deserve” it because of family inheritance or tax advantages. College admissions are increasingly related more to family wealth and connections than individual merit. A just society would alter these current social practices.

                A just society would care for the elderly, as America has done rather satisfactorily over the past 50 years, and it would eliminate racial differences in economic opportunity. A just society would provide for foster children and orphans.

                A just society would most likely provide at least transitory support for the technologically displaced (due to government policies)  farm hand, coal miner, and black smith. (Maybe this is basis for larger executive severance packages.)

                Drug addictions and criminal records are challenging personal situations to think through. Certainly, a just society would invest in drug treatment and prisoner rehabilitation.  Often a social expenditure today will reap a high rate of return.

So who of Columbia’s street people are undeserving?  I suppose it is mostly a question of duration and number of chances society is willing to provide. Alcohol and drug addicts will be an increasing portion of our society, and probably the easiest to assist, but society’s patience is not unlimited.

Family disruptions deserve more public discussion. Many homeless men can tell you their horror stories with child support enforcement. Likewise, the plight of aging parents do not receive media attention.

The criminal justice system imposes a heavy burden on ex-convicts who have served their time. I’ve seen several well-intentioned guys who just can’t get a break in getting a job.

I suppose the least deserving are the 10 percent who are just plain old tired and worn out from being bounced around society. Their work history is probably spotty, their skills declining.  If we are lucky, “through no fault of our own,” we have a pension, social security, a supportive family, maybe an inheritance, to see us through. Otherwise, life can be tough.