Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Fred Rogers: It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood...

Growing up, I was more of a Captain Kangaroo type of kid, as compared to Mr. Rogers.

The Captain was on at eight in the morning. And almost as soon as our family owned a television, I was hooked. In fact, Captain Kangaroo and his Treasure House served as my stay-at-home preschool.

Mr. Rogers came on in the afternoon. Everyone once in a blue moon I watched it, but not sufficiently so to become a fan.

The few times I did tune in, it seemed to me, that the flow of the show was too slow. No sarcasm to speak of. And the neighborhood Mr. Rogers lived in was far too gentle for my liking.

Fast-forward six decades later and Mr. Rogers seems a whole lot more appealing.

The thing of it is, Fred Rogers genuinely cared about kids, and the quality of the television programs they watched.

He even went before congress one time and talked about it.

And then, there's his neighborhood.

Remember the opening song?

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!"

A great way to set a kid's mind at ease, isn't it? Automatic reassurance, affirmation, invitation.

"I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you!"

Come to Mr. Roger's neighborhood, just as you are. No preconditions. Total, unconditional invite to join. Everyone is accepted and welcomed.

"I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you."

Mr. Rogers not only wants you as his neighbor, he is unequivocally letting you know that this is no mere spur-of-the-moment decision. He isn't capriciously doling out friendship. It's heartfelt. Intentional. Real.

"Please, won't you be my neighbor?"

Considering all of the above, Mr. Rogers finishes up his invite by letting us know - in no uncertain terms - that he's extending an invitation.

No border walls. No threats. No flip-flopping, No uncertainty borne of insecurity.



Honest as it can possible be.

What a refreshing breath of fresh air to the hyper-critical, hyper-active, hyper-everything society we live in today.

Annie Murphy Paul, a science journalist, recently wrote a review of a new biography of Fred Rogers written by Maxwell King.

She writes:

"Rogers' show was earnest, quirky, amateurish in the best sense of the word: It was also groundbreaking. Into the lily-white world of midcentury children's programming, Rogers invited actors of diverse backgrounds... In the 1970s Rogers became a vegetarian, offering as his reason another understated gem: 'I don't want to eat anything that has a mother.'"

Murphy Paul notes the faith of Rogers. "For eight years, he slipped away from his duties at the television station three or four times a week to attend classes at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; he was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1963."

And as Fred Rogers said: "Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All relationships. Love, or the lack of it."

Perhaps it was this foundation upon which Mr. Rogers built his neighborhood.


For extra credit: Here's a TED Talk given by Annie Murphy Paul, about fetal origins research, titled What We Learn Before We're Born.  She has written two books and you can get more details about them on her author's page at Simon & Schuster.

Photo Credits: Top, PBS, Bottom, The Columbian

Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent is Patience

This week we mark the beginning of Advent.

A lot could be said about Advent as the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. About the significance of preparation.

But a simple observation by Nathan Hamm on his Twitter account really caught my attention. He wrote:

"violence is impatience
war is impatience
consumerism is impatience
greed is impatience

Advent is patience."

I had really never thought that being impatient is violent. But then, when you stop to consider what actions typically flow from impatience it makes sense. Things like cutting remarks, sarcasm, rudeness can all escalate to violence. 

Violence can lead to war. Think of the beginnings of the two "world" wars we've had. Each was started by violent actions. An Archduke gets assassinated. Royal families take sides. Soon Europe is drawn in. Followed by much of the rest of the world. Or an extremely narcissistic individual conveniently blames all his frustrations and the frustrations of a nation upon one religious group. And proceeds to gain political advantage through racism. Then proceeds to gobble up neighboring countries, bent on world domination.

I read once that most modern (post WWII) wars could be blamed on a growing impatience with diplomatic means to end conflict. So, rather than expend the energy and time necessary to negotiate, military might is seen as the answer - simply because it's a convenient, quicker solution.

How about consumerism?

Well-healed ad firms on Madison Avenue tell us we need the latest thing, and we need it now. There isn't just build-in obsolescence with material things, there's build-in impatience. We can't seem to wait for the latest, newest version of whatever we have. Smartphones and other electronic devices are notoriously geared this way.

Black Fridays usually feature photos of crowds roaring through the front doors of big box stores. And nowadays, Black Friday has morphed into Black Thanksgiving. Some retailers are actually open on Thanksgiving, while on-line sales begin a few days before.

I remember as a young boy, in the 1960s, waiting with my Dad at the neighborhood Sears automotive center, as snow tires were being put on the family car. And my Dad turned to me and said, "You wait. Pretty soon they'll be playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving." I thought he was being really sarcastic, but he was right.

On a spiritual level, you could say that violence, war and consumerism are all run on greed. 

We're most prone to become violent when we're fearful. Or feel threatened. Or insecure. But rather than admit how we're feeling, or face the cause of these feelings, we can resort to violence. It's a quick way to get our way without having to consider others.

War involves violence on a mass level. Wars seldom settle problems. They only temporarily mask them until the deeper issues that caused the war are addressed. 

For diplomacy to work, it requires patience. And trust. But violence and war don't promote either one.

Which brings us to Advent.

What if, over the next four weeks, we considered a way to break the cycle of impatience in our lives?

What would that look like?

What would it look like if we were patient while driving our cars? Would we let more people in ahead of us? Would we drive a little slower? Would we be less inclined to tailgate? Would we slow down at yellow lights instead of barreling through them? 

What would it feel like to stop assuming for a day, and patiently give people the space to explain? To stay calm instead of racing to judgment? To give the other person the benefit of the doubt?

Where would our actions take us if we were patient? Would we open the door for others? Would we give up our place in line? Would we smile at the cashier at the grocery store? Would we offer to help our neighbor?

If we were patient, would that help us appreciate our family and friends more? Not taking them for granted? 

Would patience result in thankfulness? 

And thankfulness in generosity? 

And generosity in a better world?

Photo Credits: Top: MarshmallowRanch,  Middle: The Muslim Time, Bottom: Womenplatform. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Three Things Jesus Said

Coming from a Christian perspective, I am struck by three things Jesus said, that sort of sum up what it means for me to be a follower of Jesus.

When Jesus was being crucified, in the middle of all that physical, mental and emotional agony, surrounded by scoffers, he turned to them and said: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."  (Luke 23:34).

There are at least two take-aways from this action. 

One is that Jesus is asking the Father to forgive them for what they are doing. That includes the scoffers, but also the Roman soldiers who had scourged, beaten and verbally abused him. Before hanging him on the cross. 

The other take-away is why Jesus is asking for forgiveness. Because they (the scoffers and soldiers) don't understand what they have done. His empathy surpasses human understanding.

Imagine for a moment how inclined we would be to offer forgiveness in everyday life. Not to mention during a time of extreme difficulty. To say that we can't truly understand this level of forgiveness this side of heaven is an understatement.

I would guess that most Christians tend to focus on the actual crucifixion of Jesus. The ultimate price paid for our sins. I would counter that the forgiveness that Jesus offers while being crucified is equally impressive.

It would seem, then, following this example, that any follower of Jesus would be motivated towards forgiveness, and the fruit that flows from it - like compassion, grace and mercy.

Sometimes it's hard to tell which comes first. In any case, all these virtues should be hallmarks of living a life with Jesus as our example.

It's no secret that compassion, grace, mercy and forgiveness are all basic to the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well.

Here's another thing Jesus said, while talking about what the "final judgment" will be like.

In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the "final judgment" as being one in which he separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are the ones who did his will. And he says to the sheep "Come, you are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."

So, according to Matthew, Jesus set up a very simple criteria for getting into the Kingdom. Based on actions of mercy, not on religious dogma.

I'm not saying that dogma doesn't have its function. But I am suggesting that, as far as the Bible indicates, dogma takes a second place to how we treat each other.

I would guess that the Jewish and Muslim faiths also place a higher, or at least an equal value, on kindness, compassion and mercy than on strict adherence to doctrine.

And here's the third thing that Jesus said. In particular, it's worth noting that the only group of people who consistently got on Jesus' nerves were the Pharisees and other religious leaders of his day who placed doctrine ahead of love. He called these folks "hypocrites, blind guides, children of hell, blind fools..."

Jesus continued, "...What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law - justice, mercy and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things." (Matt. 23:23-24).


Strong words.

But also encouraging. Especially in divisive times as these.

To sum up, the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths:
. place a high value on how we treat each other
. this value is at least equal to adherence to a particular doctrine
. the gold standard of if we make it into heaven seems to be how we treat our neighbor.

When it comes to religion, it's really a very simple but profound focus we should try to keep.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Rondell Trevino & The Immigraton Project

Rondell Trevino
Rondell Trevino is the founder of The Immigration Project (TIP). The organization's mission is to love and welcome immigrants. Towards this end TIP engages the church community in its work.

Your own story is quite interesting. It includes traveling to El Salvador to marry your wife, Laura. And then helping her apply for a I-130 Visa. It took over two-and-a-half years for Laura’s I-130 Visa to be approved. Can you describe what the process was like, and why it took so long?

The process was rigorous and painful spiritually. Our process took two years, which is long, but it was also one of the quickest, compared to others who apply for a visa. There’s a current 700,000 plus visa backlog, which leads to a long process of waiting. This is the case right now and another reason why the immigration system is broken.

In 2016 you began working for the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) as well as the National Immigration Forum (NIF). Part of your work involved training churches, businesses and law enforcement members on immigration, from a Biblical perspective. What was this work like?

The work focused heavily on building bridges between faith, business, and law enforcement leaders in Tennessee, Florida, and Virginia. A lot of the worked simply cold calling organizations and churches and asking if they would like to sign what is called the Evangelical Immigration Table Principals. The work was wonderful and needed, especially in equipping myself on how to think around policy rooted in Biblical principals.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge in your training work with the EIT and the NIF?

Many folks just didn’t want to engage with the issue of Immigration because it was “too political.” Mind you, this was in 2015, and since founding The immigration Project, I have seen a huge wave of churches engaging the issue of Immigration in a healthy way.

In your work, and in your own life, what myths (misconceptions) have you encountered when it comes to immigrants and the issue of immigration?

There’s too many to count! One of main ones is that “all undocumented immigrants are criminals and murderers.” This is far from the truth—yes, there’s a percentage who are “bad hombres” but the majority statistically and in my personal experience, are good people who love Jesus and make society flourish.

What, from your point of view, is a Biblical perspective on how to treat immigrants and refugees?

It starts in Genesis 1:27-28 where God created everyone in His image and commands them to be cultivators and creators of the Earth. This is a view we must place immigrants and refugees in at all times. Not to do this is to distort the Image of God.

According to a recent Pew Research poll (released in May, 2018), 86% of Protestants say the Church should care for refugees and immigrants (“the stranger among us.” But only eight percent said their church was actively involved in such efforts. In your experience, why is there this disconnect between belief and practice?

One of the biggest reasons why is because of the fear heightened in culture from the media. The media has a huge influence on the way we as Christians think and react toward immigrants and refugees. Therefore, we will say we should care for immigrants and refugees, but it’s harder to put those words into practice.

According to the Pew Research Center there are about 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. USA Today reported in April 2017, that the number of undocumented immigrants has remained flat over the past eight years. Yet the current Administration in Washington keeps pushing for a wall across the Mexican border and for stricter enforcement by ICE agents. In your opinion, why is this happening?

At the root, it seems to be because the administration wants to make America safer. In a way I understand because as I have said before, there’s a small percentage that are bad criminals who don’t want to change. However, they are categorizing all undocumented immigrants are bad criminals and detaining as many as possible—44,000 a day to be exact. Furthermore, I would say the push for a wall and stricter enforcement is because the president and his administration don’t want Immigrants in the country at all, especially undocumented.

In 2017 you launched The Immigration Project. Can you describe the mission and the vision of this organization?

Our mission is to love and welcome immigrants. This mission is our WHY—it conveys why we get up everyday and do what we do. Our vision is that every Christian will one-day love and welcome Immigrants while at the same time respect the rule of law.

What about the recent decision of the current presidential administration in Washington to implement a 100% prosecution goal for refugees crossing the Mexican border? And separating children from their parents/families?

Separating parents from children is just wrong, especially if families have been accepted as asylum seekers. They should be able to stay together. Now, if a parent is a convicted felon and/or wanted for murder in their country, it makes sense to detain the parent separate from their child for safety reasons, but the majority of immigrants seeking asylum shouldn’t be separated from family and thankfully this will not happen again because President Trump signed an executive order.

Over the past year, what gains or successes have you seen, in regards to the issue of immigration in the US?

A LOT of Christians have started engaging with  the issue of immigration like never before. I receive emails all the time and phone calls of Christians interested in sitting down and learning about immigration. It’s been encouraging!

If there were one thing that you wish people would understand about immigration and undocumented immigrants living in the US, what would that be?

That the majority are people to love, not problems to solve. The majority are people to love, not projects to save. They are humans with a heart, soul, and mind.

In what ways can people become involved in the issue of helping or advocating for undocumented immigrants in the US?

They can Google “Immigration organizations in my city” and go volunteer. They can donate to organization like The Immigration Project here.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I love the Church and firmly believe it can be the greatest advocate on behalf of Immigrants and Refugees. It’s possible.

You can follow Rondell Trevino on Twitter.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Caravan: "I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me."

There is a group of people - a large portion being women with their children - about 4,000 of them, on the road from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

They have left their respective countries and are headed towards the US border with Mexico because they are fleeing rampant poverty, gang violence and political instability. Not because they want to invade the United States.

What they are asking for is to be granted legal asslyum. They are not trying to crash the border and enter the US and do anyone harm.

As they travel through Mexico, they have been helped by a variety of sources. Including the Mexican government, which has offered aslyum, granting 2,697 temporary visas to cover the 45-day application process for more permanent status.

There has been lots of coverage of the caravan and it members, but a good portion of the coverage hasn't been accurate.

Our own president has tweeted that there are members of the infamous gang MS-13 and ISIS mixed in among the group. Other ultra-right wingers have fabricated tales of the migrants bringing in serious diseases.

None of this is true.

If you're interested in a factual analysis, the AP has written an updated release which gives a very accurate account of where things stand.

Meanwhile the US president has deployed about 5,000 members of the US armed forces to the Mexican border to keep the members of the caravan out. Inhibiting their ability to apply for aslym legally. He has also said he would like to take away "birth right" citizenship (which is currently protected in the US Constitution). 

Most recently he threatened to shut down the federal government if Congress doesn't give him a minimum of $5 billion in the next fiscal year to help build his wall, as part of a projected total cost of $20 billion. (The president initially promised that the Mexican government would pay for the wall. To date, funding that has been earmarked for the wall has come from US taxpayers. A June Gallop poll revealed that fifty-seven percent of Americans opposed strengthening the wall.)

What's important to remember is that the migrant caravan is part of a worldwide challenge. It includes about 700,000 Rohingyan refugees fleeing for their lives from Myanmar. As well as Syrian refugees and refugees from African nations.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, there are 68.5 million individuals who have been forcibly displaced worldwide. That includes 25.4 million refugees - half of whom are under eighteen years of age.

Interestingly, the top refugee-hosting countries are: Turkey (3.5 million), Uganda (1.4 million), Pakistan (1.4 million) and Lebanon (1 million). None of these countries has a strong economy, but they are reaching out to help others in need.

As this crisis continues, the US has responded by cutting its refugee quota by half in FY2018, when only 22,491 refugees were admitted. That was one-quarter of the number admitted in FY2016. Only in 1977 did the US admit a lower number of refugees.

My thoughts lean towards what a moral/spiritual response, on our part, towards the caravan headed towards the Mexican border, could look like.

. Instead of threatening a government shutdown over $5 billion for a wall, how about using that same amount of funding to provide aid to the caravan members? 

. Instead of sending 5,000 US military troops to the border to keep the caravan members out, how about sending 2,500 social workers to help the thousands of families already held in detention centers across the US? Along with providing 2,500 immigrant lawyers/judges to handle the severe backlog of cases involving immigration that already exist?

. Instead of continuing to cut the number of refugees allowed into the US, how about reversing the process so that the US at least keeps pace with Uganda, Pakistan or Lebanon? Each of these countries has admitted over a million refugees, and their economies are not nearly as strong as the US.

Spiritually speaking, I could think of lots of scriptures that point to helping out the stranger among us.

In Matthew, Chapter 23 Jesus speaks to the religious leaders of his day, calling them hypocrites, snakes and sons of vipers.

He then offers a couple of stories (the parable of the ten bridesmaids and the parable of the three servants/slaves) before winding up with his version of the final judgment.

Starting with Matthew 25:31 Jesus lays out a situation where he has come back to earth. He's sitting on the throne and everyone else ("all the nations") of the earth stand before him. Then Jesus separates the people "as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."

And Jesus says to the sheep: "Come you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you... For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."

The sheep ask Jesus, "Lord, when did we ever feed you, or give you a drink, or show you hospitality, or give you clothing or see you sick or in prison and visit you?"

And Jesus replies: "When you did these things to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"

It's quite astonishing that Jesus would base entrance into heaven upon this singular criteria - actively helping "the least of these."

Jesus wasn't alone in insisting upon paying attention to those in need. The Muslim and Jewish faiths contain similar emphasis. Buddhists believe in karma, recognizing suffering and helping to alleviate it.

I wonder what it would look like if we saw the caravan members inching towards the Mexican border as an opportunity to bring the kingdom of God onto our little portion of the earth?

Photo Credits: #1 Johan Ordonez AFP/Getty Images; #2 Spencer Platt, Getty Images; #3,4,5,6 Nick Oza USA Today Network/Arizona Republic

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Eugene Peterson: A Tribute

Eugene Peterson passed away last week at 85 years of age.

He had been a scholar, teacher and pastor during his lifetime.

But most of all, he is best known for authoring The Message, a colloquial translation of The Bible that was an international best seller. More importantly, The Message helped readers gain a deeper understanding of scripture while encouraging them to apply its meaning to daily life.

If there was one thing that set Peterson apart it was his way of bringing God down to earth. He was scholarly (having taught Greek and Hebrew) but decidedly homespun and approachable.

In an interview with Krista Tippet, for her podcast, ON BEING, Peterson noted his preference for attending a small church. Because it forced the members to get to know each other - warts and all.

He was not a fan of mega-churches or the prosperity gospel.

And in fact, he didn't particularly like using the term "spiritual," because he found it too vague.

He could come across as everyone's favorite grandpa - but he didn't hold back  when pointing to what he perceived to be the moral dilemma of America. "American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we've ever had, because it's so materialistic and it's so full of lies. The whole advertising world is just intertwined with lies, appealing to the worst instincts we have. The problem is, people have been treated as consumers for so long they don't know any other way to live."

He could be disarming, but tremendously on-point. He once wrote: “Jesus said “Follow me” and ended up with a lot of losers. And these losers ended up, through no virtue or talent of their own, becoming saints. Jesus wasn’t after the best but the worst.” 

Although imminently wise, he nonetheless had a healthy distaste for the term "spiritual direction." Instead of picking a credentialed spiritual director, he suggested: "Why don't you look over the congregation on Sundays and pick someone who appears to be mature and congenial. Ask her or him if you can meet together every month or so - you feel the need to talk about your life in the company of someone who believes that Jesus is present and active in everything you are doing. Reassure the person that he or she doesn't have to say anything "wise." You only want them to be there for you to listen and be prayerful in the listening. After three or four such meetings, write to me what has transpired, and we'll discuss it further. I've had a number of men and women who have served me in this way over the years - none carried the title "spiritual director", although that is what they have been."

Peterson was distrustful of faith based on feelings. He wrote: “We live in what one writer has called the "age of sensation."' We think that if we don't feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.” 

e once wrote, "To be human is to be in trouble." But Peterson was also capable of  amazing prophetic hopefulness, stating: "We underestimate God and we overestimate evil. We don't see what God is doing and conclude that he is doing nothing. We see everything that evil is doing and think it is in control of everyone."

RIP Eugene!

Photo Credits: top - The Rabbitroom. com; middle - hallels.com; bottom - youthministry.com.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Tale of Two (Homeless vs. Not) Cities

For about a month, Bronson Park, the main downtown park in my city was the site of a homeless camp that turned into a demonstration.

One hundred folks who were homeless found themselves calling Bronson Park home - complete with tents and coolers.

The Park is directly across the street from City Hall. Where it stood as a daily reminder of the thorny problem of affordable housing.

For the most part, the city kept a hands-off attitude. But as late summer turned into early autumn, the weather necessitated an official response. On August 31st, a representative group of protesters met with city officials and came up with a simple agreement.

The group would move from Bronson Park in exchange for space (concrete, for the most part) in front of an abandoned fire station a few blocks away.

Another part of the agreement was that the city would work with the homeless group to find alternative housing.

But there was a breakdown in communication between the city and the homeless folks. And the city manager said that the city wasn't in a position to offer social services, absolving itself of the issue.

From that point on, the issue of responsibility became a political hot potato which was passed between the city and county government. Each stating they didn't have the resources to provide transitional or permanent housing for those camping out.

So, the city gave the homeless folks a deadline - move out by September 18, or face eviction. That evening came and went, but no action was taken. Instead, the city chose to evict early the next morning - around 7 a.m. - arresting about a dozen people including Shannon Sykes Nehring, the only city commissioner who took a public stand in favor of the protestors, to the point of camping out with them. All of the personal items that the protestors couldn't carry out of the park with them were cleared out by city staff who scooped them up with tractors, then tossed them into dumpsters.

Meanwhile, $259,000 in grants meant to help low-income households in Kalamazoo County went unspent last year. Because the funds were not spent by the end of the fiscal year (September 30) the money went back to the state. And the city decided to disband the local Community Action Board (CAB) which was responsible for allocating these funds, handing back control of the CAB to the state.

Here's what I find interesting about this story:

City removing protestors' belongings 
When it came down to it, both the city and county governments absolved themselves from any responsibility for helping the homeless families and individuals camped in Bronson Park.

But it turns out, that at the same time the protestors were camped in the Park, a significant amount of grant funds went unspent. Probably enough to give each camper $2,500.

My city mirrors many across the US in its lack of affordable housing. (This was one of the main reasons why many campers in Bronson Park came back to it after temporarily living on concrete in front of an abandoned fire station.)

According to RentCafe, the average monthly rent, overall in Kalamazoo, is $890 ($696 for a one-bedroom, $844 for a two-bedroom, $1,083 for three-bedroom.)

According to Zillow, the median value of a home in Kalamazoo County that's on the market is $156,300.

the story of one family living one step away from being homeless - a single mom with two children all of whom have been diagnosed with severe mental disabilities. This piece, written by Malachi Barrett, with the Kalamazoo Gazette, noted that there are 125 uninhabitable homes in Kalamazoo.]

During the homeless protest in Bronson Park, a friend of mine noted on his facebook feed that the problem seemed to be "a lack of imagination and love."

Earlier this summer WMUK, the local PBS radio station, ran a segment on their WestSouthwest program that spotlighted Jeremy Cole, who rescues dilapidated homes in Kalamazoo. During the interview, Cole's enthusiasm for renovating distressed houses was readily apparent.

Maybe the county could have a talk with Cole? People like him have the imagination to look at the 125 marginal houses in Kalamazoo not at eyesores that are currently off the tax rolls, but potential homes that could be used to help homeless folks.  Under the management of non-profits these restored homes would become a source of property taxes for the city.

A final word: Although I'm grateful for the media coverage that the local newspaper gave to this story, it was simply inadequate. Part of the inadequacy was reflected in the lack of opinion pieces - the local newspaper is no longer locally owned and does not publish city-focused editorials.

Having such a voice of advocacy would have gone a long way in keeping city and county government officials' feet to the fire.

Photo Credits: Top michiganradio.org; middle 4Search, bottom wwmt.com

Fred Rogers: It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood...

Growing up, I was more of a Captain Kangaroo type of kid, as compared to Mr. Rogers. The Captain was on at eight in the morning. And alm...