I found it interesting that the Inquirer ran these two articles on the same day: "A Dark Corridor Called Market St" and "It Could End Up A Duel of Transit Lines." One is about how poorly planned the Market Elevated reconstruction has been, with devastating effects on West Philadelphia where I live. The other is about preliminary plans for new lines between Philadelphia and New Jersey, serving on the Philadelphia side promising waterfront space.

One project largely completed, and one perhaps on its way; one in a relatively poor part of town, and one crossing more affluent areas. The Market Elevated reconstruction is disappointing because hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, with very little concern for community vitality during construction - crime has been rampant and businesses decimated as a result of the disruption - and neighborhood aesthetics in terms of the finished product. Here's hoping the other project takes these things into consideration, and that future projects in residential neighborhoods do the same, no matter how rich or poor are the people that are affected.


Real Self-Preservation

It is the nature of any bureaucracy to sustain itself. It takes a
truly humble individual or organization to say, "We had our time of
relevance, but we've overstayed that time, and it's time for us to
fold." Who wants to lose their job, their budget, their turf?

I don't fault the sentiment. Heck, for ten years I worked for a small
non-profit and we chalked up our survival mentality as all positive:
staying hungry, doing what it took, scratching and clawing. Of
course, this all can become self-serving, insular, and out of touch
with a changing world, to the detriment of the organization, its
members, and the constituencies it serves.

Ironically, the best way to avoid dying is to regularly kill yourself.
Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called it "creative
destruction," whereby innovation replaced dying industries and
processes with fresh new ones. Andy Grove of Intel spoke early and
often of "paranoia" - even at the top, constantly looking over one's
shoulder lest complacency set in. (Toyota is inculcating this
philosophy worldwide right now.) The best CEOs surround themselves
with "no" men, people who will tell them they're full of it when
they're, well, full of themselves.

It's not quite the same concept, but Jesus did say that the only way
to gain life is to lose it. What he meant was less to die to the old
to give the new room to flourish, and more to die to the self to give
the Lord room to flourish. Still, if you're a Christian, you should
have a category for dying to self, rather than clinging to what's now,
desperately trying like a self-preserving bureacracy to maintain.

In that sense, it would seem we Christians ought to be the freest
people around to pursue innovation and progress and change. In our
lives, in our service, in our ministries, for the world's sake, would
that be the case. That's the real self-preservation.


A nice summary of online entrepreneurial investment site Kiva by uber-entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki: "The Six Lessons of Kiva." If you know me, you know I'm geeked about the concept: sustainable business model, supports small-scale entrepreneurs, charity meets profit. I like Kawasaki's line at the end, when he talks about a Cambodian couple he's helping invest in: "We could fund one Webvan or 800,000 Chhorn Yans." It's that kind of math that helps explain that while I still give to my local church, most of my discretionary giving goes to countries outside the US: you can do so much more for the same dollar. Pay it forward, everybody.

I appreciated David Aldridge's sentiment in this morning's column on the Sean Taylor killing: "Time to Stop All the Dying." There are a lot of ways you can respond to all the killing in Philadelphia. You can put it out of your mind, deciding all these murders are happening in neighborhoods you've never been in, so it's really of no meaningful relevance to you. You can consider Philadelphia a violent place and decide not to vacation here, or if you live here to move out as soon as you have kids. You can be committed to Philadelphia and lament that all the murders mean exactly that: less tourism and less families.

Or you can decide that it is a damned shame that so many people are dying violently and prematurely. I got the chance to work with a lot of young black men at my previous job. Not all came from the best of circumstances, but all of them were intelligent, hard-working, and promising. It scares me that a bullet or a blade cares not about those traits. I already know of one young man who I thought the world of whose life was ended on the other side of a barrel of a gun, and that is one too many, and I shudder at the thought of learning of others in the future who I know who will meet the same fate.

It is often said that a silver lining of tragedy is that we come to grips with what is really important in life, namely life itself. Is 365 murders and counting in 2007 enough tragedy to cause us pause for reflection, conviction, and action? Shame on our cold, judgmental, and insular hearts if it isn't.



"God can either be all-powerful or all-loving, but not both; otherwise
all this bad stuff wouldn't have happened." How many times have we
heard or even said that statement? The logic goes that bad stuff is
either beyond God's control or outside of His concern.

The true believer rejects that logic and banks on a God who is
simultaneously all-powerful and all-loving, for whom nothing falls
outside His jurisdiction or His compassion. We may experience great
suffering on this side of glory, and lack any evidence of the hand of
an all-powerful and all-loving God; but are we then any different than
my three-year-old daughter, who wonders loudly why I would respond to
a cut that hurts with ointment that hurts even more? And isn't our
knowledge gap versus God even larger than my daughter's versus me,
such that it is possible that God who knows more than us might mean
for a greater good to emerge from something that can't possibly make
sense in our relatively infantile heads?

Every other week, we meet with a small group of young couples from our
church. We are studying a book about trusting God in painful times,
and the chapter we discussed this week reintroduced me to a word that
deliciously combines God's all-powerfulness and His all-lovingness:
providence. The true believer understands providence to be anything
but capricious and whimsical, but rather the steady and purposeful
hand of an all-powerful and all-loving God, working all things towards
a great end. Though temporary pain on this side of glory may have me
howling like my daughter responding to a stinging ointment, I am
learning to trust in that providence, borne of a God far greater than
me, who I can increasingly count on to do good with all He has.


You may have heard that Philadelphia is a historically good place for people to come together to discuss "a more perfect union." So it is fitting that the Fels Institute of Government and the Philadelphia Inquirer have come together to develop an initiative called "Great Expectations," in which public input meets professional expertise, with the result being a pretty darn good agenda for the city's leaders: "The Challenges Ahead."

It was rewarding to work my way through the various topics, having covered a lot of this ground in my day job: taxes, waterfront, and the creative economy, to name three. I do hope that while a lot of this momentum is around our new mayor-to-be, the mantle is taken up not just by one man and his administration but by a broad base of government, non-profit, and for-profit leaders, and by citizens as a whole. Isn't that what we fought so vigorously for some 230+ years ago, is government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

In his seminal book, "Code of the Street," Dr. Elijah Anderson describes the unwritten ethos that governs city life for young black men. He tells of two youth who know they have to fight one another to be accepted in their neighborhood; even though neither has any interest in fighting, they do it in order to earn credibility.

It seems highly irrational, and perhaps it is. But such a "code" is more prevalent than you might think. Take the political landscape in our country today. I honestly believe the typical American is fairly moderate. But the way we've redistricted, spun media in our campaigns, and organized ourselves politically, the path to victory now involves "getting out the base," which means out-righting or out-lefting your opponent just to get through the primary. The Economist had an interesting article earlier this month about how California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's "post-partisanship" approach to politics can't really work in such an environment, because candidates who play to the middle won't get to the general election. So just like you find two urban kids not wanting to fight but being governed by the street code to do so, you are increasingly finding politicians not wanting to give their base red meat but being governed by today's political rules of engagement to do just that.

Or take the current situation with Palestine, as covered by The Economist this week. The typical Israeli and Palestinian is quite conciliatory, as are their respective leaders, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. And yet neither leader can afford to be seen giving even an inch in the peace process, lest they be vilified by their media and the more outspoken members of their parties. And so the rhetoric and the lack of budging continues, for these two leaders are governed by a political code that goes far deeper than the surface logic that would seem to dictate a different, more compromising stance.

This is not to excuse fighting or pandering or face-saving that goes against peace and reason. This is merely to underscore the logic and the complexity that is involved when people come together, lest we automatically judge and wonder why anyone could be so hard-headed as to act in such a way. I have sympathy, even as I wonder to myself what can be done to break out of such codes so that peace can reign.



In a recent paper, the Milken Institute notes that the true cost of gas derived from oil from the Middle East is somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 to $12, when you factor in the cost of extracting, securing, refining, and transporting it: "Achieving Energy Independence." And yet we Americans pay "only" $3 a gallon for it. Obviously, it's not the oil companies that are losing $7 to $9 per gallon, for a bulk of the expense of oil from the Middle East is borne by the federal government, in the form of subsidies and military expenditures. In other words, that cost is borne by all of us taxpayers. So the next time you're at the pump, watching your car gulp and the numbers turn, don't be bitter that gas is so expensive; be thankful that 300 million other Americans are helping chip in so that it's as cheap as it is. Or, you know, you could read up on how we can change the way we approach alternative technologies and Middle Eastern politics so that we're not paying $10 to $12 a gallon for oil that we then turn around and sell for $3.



As my father-in-law read from the Bible and then bowed his head to
offer thanks before Thursday's meal, I have to admit I was at first
more focused on shushing Jada and keeping her from playing with her
silverware. But as he prayed, however briefly, I could not help but
think about how thankful I ought to be, and in fact how thankful I
was. I looked at my wife and two kids, and at other loving extended
family members gathered around an insane amount of food.

And more so even than wealth of material things and familial love, I
have received spiritual blessings in super-abundance, as recounted in
the Bible and played out in my life over and over this year. It's
enough to make even this jaded citizen of a godless world and a "what
have you done for me lately" generation a little misty-eyed with
gratitude. May that be the enduring sentiment of the season.

Black Friday, Blow by Blow

I hate shopping in stores. I can never find anything, I despise
waiting in line, and I hate having to lug it all home. On-line
shopping has completely ruined me in terms of wanting to get in my
car, find parking, walk up and down the aisles in search of things on
my list, jostling with others over that last clearance item, waiting
in line to check out, loading it all in the car, driving home, and
schlepping it all inside.

So naturally, I did Black Friday this morning.

I'm up that early anyway, so I might as well make the most of that.
Plus it's the kind of thing you just have to do once in your life,
like watch the apple drop in Times Square.

Well, this morning was my one, and likely, only time, at least until
the kids are old enough that they can either come with me or be OK if
I'm not home by the time they wake up. Hence, a blow-by-blow account
of my brush with American shopping at its finest.

1:00 am - Jada's cries wake me up from a dead sleep. After I get her
settled, I half think about just staying up and starting my day. I
decide to go back to bed, close my eyes, and see what happens.

3:00 am - The alarm rousts me from another dead sleep session. I
groggily roll out of bed, limp to my desk, and open my Bible.

3:30 am - Prayed up against the insidious temptations of covetousness
and impatience, and teeth sufficient brushed, I head out for King of
Prussia Mall.

4:00 am - No traffic means I get there in record time, but then circle
aimlessly looking for the JC Penney. I finally find it, park my car,
and walk up to the front door just as they open. About a hundred
people rush in with me.

4:05 am - I've found my first, must-get item: a pre-lit Christmas
tree. I pull the tag off the hook and go to checkout. Five people
are already ahead of me.

4:10 am - I pay for the tree and then wait twenty minutes for them to
get it. When I ask the guy if he thinks I'd be able to just lug it to
my car, he plops the tree down in front of me and says, "It's not
heavy, just bulky." (Later on, I look at the box and it says, "Gross
Weight - 60 pounds.")

4:30 am - I lug the 60-pound tree down the escalator, through the
store, and out the front door to the car. Jamming it into our 2006
Chevy Aveo involves shoving our two car seats into the trunk and
ramming both front seats as far up as they go. Even then, if the tree
had been three inches taller, I would've had to drive home with one
door open.

4:40 am - Nothing else is open, so I head back to Penney's and, in
five minutes, grab a handful of other items for our family and others.
Best buy of the bunch: a 5-piece luggage set for less than forty

4:45 am - The checkout line is now reaching mythical lengths. As we
all wait in the endless queue, hordes of people stream through the
doors: packs of giggly teenage girls saying things like "omigod, it's
like so early," mismatched married couples (guess which of the two is
wide-eyed and which looks disgruntled?), and stern-faced soccer moms
with an "out of my way, I'm Christmas shopping" look in their eyes
(and, in the case of one group, that same phrase on their

5:10 am - Twenty-five interminable minutes later, I finally get to the
front of the line. The checkout person is nice enough to find me a
ten-dollar-off voucher in their circular; I respond in kind with a
"hang in there" and a smile once we complete our interaction.

5:15 am - I leave the store and realize there are now hundreds of cars
in the parking lot and I have no clue where mine is. Somehow, by the
grace of God, I am able to locate our car, which is roughly the same
color as nighttime.

5:45 am - Again, no traffic home. I unload everything and try in vain
to secure our car seats back in the complete dark. This will have to
wait until the sun rises in a few hours.

5:55 am - I and my bounty are safe at home. The kids are still
asleep. Mission accomplished.



I still have to get myself more educated on the candidates, and they've still got a lot of campaigning to do, but at this stage in the game, I'm worried. Out of the three main Democratic candidates, Edwards and Obama are non-starters for me, and Hillary I could really like except for her worryingly protectionist bent. As for the main Republican candidates, I just don't like Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, or Mitt Romney, and John McCain seems to be slipping fast.

Glassbooth.org's quiz tells me Mike Huckabee is my guy, and I'd be pretty excited about a Bloomberg administration, so as of now, sign me up for a Bloomberg-Huckabee ticket, although if one of the other leading Republican candidates get the nomination, I could see myself being convinced into voting for Clinton-Richardson.

Every four years, we get an Olympics and a presidential election. And in both cases, I say - "let the games begin."



My favorite presidential non-candidate is flexing New York's muscles once more: PLANYC: A Greener, Greater New York." It's typical Bloomberg: BHAG + detailed metrics + public accountability = a good start for New Yorkers present and future. Wouldn't you want to see this sort of vision, action-orientation, and courage at the national level?

I was unable to attend last week's presentation by PennPraxis on the future of the Central Delaware waterfront, but I was able to work my way through the final report this morning: "Civic Vision for Central Delaware." I don't agree with all the particulars, but I appreciate the overall sentiment: honor the river's history, orient development and mobility around transit and not auto, balance commercial and natural uses. It's been a wrenching transition for Philadelphia to go from manufacturing mecca to modern metropolis, and the waterfront is a very visual component of that transition, so this plan represents a sneak peak at one potential way that this all plays out.

Just wanted to call everyone's attention to a very well-produced neighborhood plan for the neighborhood I live in: "The Neighborhood Plan by Walnut Hill." I had downloaded it last week but finally got around to reading it this morning. Between The Enterprise Center's proposed mixed-use development at 46th and Market and the ideas put forth in this neighborhood plan, that's a lot of new and exciting stuff to keep your eye out on.



The cover of this month's Mission Frontiers read: "Can Business Be Mission?" I dug in excitedly.

I left feeling a bit unsatisfied. The articles were all over the place, a point hard to connect to the previous point that had been made. There seemed to be a general disdain of business as self-serving, "but Kingdom business can be different" was the responding sentiment. And the notion that an entity might struggle to reconcile doing well with doing good didn't go much further in depth than stating that fact.

Ah, but business and mission is a delicious intersection, ripe with all sorts of things to discuss and probe and unpack. Adam Smith will tell you that individual businesses can be completely self-serving and yet the end result is that all benefit. To the extent that poverty has economic parameters, the fact that for-profit companies have the most powerful levers to eliminate it may have implications for what it means as national governments to implement anti-poverty programs. And missing altogether was the discussion about the role of government in stifling or catalyzing the free markets to provide resources for the under-resourced and opportunities for the marginalized. Missing, for that matter, was any spiritual anchoring such that the eternal agendas of missionaries who evangelize can be somehow connected to the day-to-day work of alleviating human suffering and offering dignity and wealth to those who are unemployed and hungry.

I deeply respect what the US Center for World Mission does, and tend to agree with what they write, so I usually devour their newsletter as soon as I can. But I have to say that this month's issue left me only half-full.

It appears my candidate, David Oh, has come ohsoclose but no cigar in his attempt to be Philadelphia's first Asian-American City Councilperson: "Kelly is Apparent Council Victor." David was up by 7 (!) votes once the machines were done, but almost 4000 absentee and other ballots that had to be manually counted left him down 140 or so. It pains me to know we worked so hard, only to fall just a rounding error short. Kudos to David for running a good campaign and demonstrating grace and character through it all. He's still a winner in my book.



The continent of Africa has never been more in vogue, at least from a charity standpoint. Brangelina, Matt Damon, and Bono are but three megastars who are calling attention to Africa's woes, leveraging their fortune and their fame to do good for the people.

If I may be so bold as to do some leveraging of my own, let me use this window of opportunity when Africa is on the hearts and minds of more Americans than usual to encourage you to make your own contribution of money and prayer. Specifically, let me recommend to you three ministries that seek to mobilize you and others to allow Africans to help Africans:

Christian Aid Mission - I've contributed ministries in Africa through this agency since 1995, because they understand that supporting Africans in Africa is a far more effective and cost-effective way to make a difference . . . both in day-to-day needs and in eternal spiritual nourishment.

Opportunity International - I've invested in a fund in Uganda through these guys since 1996, as they have a sterling track record in recycling loans to women entrepreneurs to build wealth, create jobs, and lift entire families and communities out of poverty . . . all in the name of Jesus.

Fruit of the Vine International - My friend's wife, who is from Kenya, started this non-profit a couple of years ago, to funnel funds and prayer to indigenous ministries in Kenya. I'm currently serving on their board, and am happy to report we're putting into place the proper accountability channels to make people comfortable giving to Africa through this mechanism . . . so go to the website and give!

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

One of my favorite Christian discipleship books is Eugene Peterson's
"A Long Obedience in the Same Direction," in which he exegetes Psalms
120-134, the Songs of Ascents. They were sung by God's people as they
literally climbed upward to worship Him three times a year in
Jerusalem. As such, they represent the long journey of the people of
God, and Peterson contrasts the timeless truths in these songs with
the modern age's love for instant gratification.

It is for this very reason that the age diversity in my congregation
is one of the things I appreciate the most. Age diversity is usually
not nearly as sexy as diversity of race, socio-economic status, or
denominational upbringing. The cool churches seem to have a lot going
for them in terms of breaking the church out of old and encrusted
ways, but one strike against most of them is that they are relatively
homogenous in terms of age.

So you can take your young congregations with kick-ass worship and
emergent viewpoints and radical redefinitions of timeless traditions
and rituals. These are all good things that all churches should
aspire to. But far more important would seem to be able to be in a
congregation with people of all ages, so that at a glance, you can see
what it looks like to follow Jesus at every stage in your life, and
draw from the decades of discipleship of the eldest members, who have
seen it all and have trusted God through it all. Such a community
would seem to provide the strongest support for that long obedience in
the same direction.

Go-To God

Jada fell off her chair at dinner tonight and bumped her head pretty
good, and so for a good hour, she was pretty clingy with Amy, howling
uncontrollably whenever Amy would leave the room. It's really quite
sweet how attached Jada is to Amy in times of distress; it makes
realizing I'm chopped liver in these situations a little easier to

I couldn't help but draw a parallel between Jada's innate pull to Amy
whenever she is hurting and how we should turn to God in our own times
of need. No one needed to instruct Jada that when she is in pain, she
ought to remember to go to Amy who can make it feel better, or at
least provide the comfort that is so needed in such times. Jada's
bond with Amy is natural, primal, unforced. I am challenged by this
life example to examine whether my own bond with our Heavenly Father
is the same.



I am part of a lot of teams: my work is almost always done in project
groups, I sit on two boards and am part of a campaign, and at church
I'm on Session and in a small group. On these teams, I try to
represent my Christian faith, and to bring my managerial
training/experience and my economist's mindset to the table. And in
doing so, I am finding that my role on these teams is to remind folks
that sometimes, being nice and being cautious is not a good thing.

Come again? "Nice" and "cautious" are the kinds of traits that are
usually considered unassailable. Whether you are a Christian or just
seeking to be a good person, you should strive to be nice and you
should seek to exercise caution. The opposites of these words, "mean"
and "hasty," are generally considered bad things. So how is it that I
insist that the teams I'm part of are not doing right by being nice
and cautious?

Certainly, I'm not lobbying for more meanness and hastiness. But I do
want folks to understand that everything has a cost, and that you can
be too nice and too cautious. And if one properly values that cost,
all of a sudden, lots of situations arise when being nice and being
cautious is not the most prudent thing to do.

In economist-speak, when people have two choices, one with a small
payoff and no downside, and one with a larger payoff but a huge
downside, typically they will choose Door #1. However, what if Door
#1 actually did have a downside, and a pretty big one at that; and
what if the downside of Door #2, however huge, had a low probability
of occurrence? A lot of people would switch over to Door #2, and
they'd probably be right.

Let's get more specific, with four examples, the first two about being
too nice and the second two about being too cautious (note: some of the details of these examples have been changed, without altering their point but allowing for proper discretion):

1. My friend complains to me all the time about a fellow church
leader whose attitude has been poisonous to their church environment.
It is as clear as day to me that this person has to be evicted from
his leadership position. And yet, my friend tells me their pastor has
gone with a "good cop" approach, not only not cutting the cord but
even accommodating this leader's actions. Meanwhile, other leaders
have become disillusioned by the inaction, some wondering aloud about
this stain on the church's integrity.

2. At my old job, we let a nice but incompetent person hang around
far too long in his position. He was clearly not suited for the role
he had been assigned, but he was too good of a guy, and we too
desperate at the time, to make any changes. Everyone ended up
compensating for his mistakes, and he never got reassigned to another
role or to another company, where he might be more productive and more

3. Also at my old job, we once hired someone who failed spectacularly
at his job. Unfortunately, it was a pretty vital position within the
firm. So when we tried to find a new hire, we took several months,
just to make sure we didn't make the same mistake twice. After all,
we had all experienced the pain of the first hire, as well as the
outcry that ensued; who wanted to go through that again? Except that
our unusually long hiring process in the second case led to all sorts
of hidden yet substantial costs for our firm, most notably that an
eager and qualified candidate dropped out of the running after we
continued to delay and she had to take another job elsewhere, and
those of us on staff had to tend to this position's responsibilities
on the fly and without the proper training.

4. Our local transit agency has this annoying habit of stopping its
trolleys just short of the boarding platform, for a two-count, before
proceeding forward. I'm sure it's for safety reasons, to make sure
the trolley doesn't hit anyone; but the extra braking probably costs
the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and also results
in a vastly slower ride for its passengers.

Hopefully, you're starting to see what I mean by being too nice and
too cautious. Being too nice can mean not being courageous enough to
deal with a bad situation decisively, in a way that upholds the
integrity of an institution and that moves ill-suited people to places
where they are better gifted. It can be hard to have that tough
conversation, to tell a person that they're wrong or that they need to
go, but however tough it is also loving, for it sets that person
straight and it releases them (with feedback) to find something better
for themselves; really, to not have that conversation is a very
unloving thing to do to that person. Being nice might seem
Christianly, but it is the Christian who understands when it's time to
not be nice but rather to be loving.

And being too cautious can mean being so gun-shy about making an error
that the default is to do nothing, assuming there is no cost to doing
nothing. But inaction has its costs, and in some cases those costs
are more significant than the cost of making an error. There is, of
course, room for deliberation and analysis; but at some point, we have
to make the best choice possible with the information we have, and
trust God for the outcome. To over-deliberate is to run the risk of
disillusioning those who seek progress, see a way to it, and wonder
why we aren't faithfully and courageously taking it. Being cautious
might seem Christianly, but it is the Christian who understands that
we can only know so much, and the rest is for God to work out.

If people want to label me mean and hasty for having this point of
view, that's fine by me. I just want to make sure that the teams I'm
part of don't fall into the trap of thinking that being nice and being
cautious is always the way to go. And I just want to make sure that I
am living out what I believe, about God and organizations, and about
what is really prudent and loving and courageous and wise.



Another delicious Mankiw post, this one on whether studying economics makes people lean to the right: Does Econ Make People Conservative?". It makes sense that government studiers lean left and econ studiers lean right - one side believes more in government's ability to do good, and the other believes more in free markets.

What are Christians to make of the world, and of the intersection between faith, politics, and business? Certainly, you can be Christian and right or Christian and left, and still my brother or sister.

My personal take, by and large, has been that the left has it correct in terms of what are the important issues we as individuals should be advocating for, and that we should see government's power and resources as tools in that advocacy. And that the right has it correct in terms of understanding the inherent limitations, trade-offs, and inefficiencies associated with government solutions, in contrast to the relatively effective and decentralized mechanisms associated with free market capitalism.

It's too generalized to say I have the heart of a leftist and the mind of a rightest, but that's somewhat descriptive. What would seem to be most important, no matter what your religious or political persuasion, is that your heart is warm and that your mind is open. This Christian prays for his own heart and mind to be continually renewed toward that end.

Having turned to Greg Mankiw's blog for evidence that gas prices should be higher, I turn there again to make another unlikely argument, this time in favor of the immediate introduction of a carbon tax: "Climate Change as Repeated Prisoners' Dilemma". In both cases, the price is wrong - "wrong" meaning artificially low, leading to over-consumption without regard to the "negative externality" associated with its consumption (i.e. pollution, which everyone pays for, including our children and their children) - and a tax will help make it more right - "right" meaning closer to an equilibrium level in which consumers are considering the cost their consumption imposes on others. (Btw, I also appreciated the reference to the "Prisoner's Dilemma," a concept I learned in freshman year econ and thought was fascinating yet hokey, and yet which people have won Nobel Prizes exploring - who woulda thunk it?)

Then They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Link Love

What you read online and what sites you link to go a long way towards
describing who you are and what you're into. But I've been slow to
give "link love" on my blog. So I've decided to refresh the links on
the left-hand side of this page, so that they are more indicative of
the places I tend to gravitate to and/or want to explore more often.
Enjoy, and if you have any other recommendations, send them my way.



A great, great insight in this month's Fast Company about how "sustainability" can be a killer business strategy and not just for the tree-huggers: Hire This Guy. When you consider your business to be selling products, your goal is to sell as much stuff as possible, and you simply don't need to care about the environmental implications associated with all that stuff - how much power they require, whether the materials get reused or recycled, and what not. Now, you might decide to care, out of the kindness of your heart; but there's nothing to be gained from a business standpoint.

But if you consider instead that your business is about selling solutions, then the environmental bottom line begins to line up more closely with the financial one. For now you want energy-efficient, resource-constrained products, because your profit grows when you can widen the gap between doing good for your customer and spending as little as possible on your side to deliver it. Would that more articles like this were written and then read, so that buzzwords like "sustainability" and "triple bottom line" could go from being solely the province of tree-huggers to becoming a trendy brand differentiator and then again to becoming a wickedly effective business innovation that saves the world and makes a killing.

A nice piece in Government Executive about where the next generation of federal executives might come from: "Gen X Execs." (Governing Magazine also chimes in on this issue: The Future is Now. I'd read about Michelle Rhee in an Americorps newsletter last month; kudos to her, and it's nice to see a fellow Asian-American, Gen X, for-profit/non-profit/government young'un get some good press.

Living in Philadelphia, I can't help but think that our America's best young leaders made their impact in politics and policies way back when, when American was being formed in the late 1700's. Flash forward a couple of centuries, and it's promising to think that we might be seeing the front end of a trend towards bright young people combining business savvy, non-profit heart, and public interest to get positive things done in our cities and in our communities. Let's hope more of these guys and gals get mobilized and motivated to go in just such a direction.



My workday was bracketed by two meetings related to minority
entrepreneurship, a topic of great interest to me. I began my workday
at The Enterprise Center, where I sit on the board, and where we talked at length
about better positioning ourselves to be the recognized local and
national leader on the topic of minority entrepreneurship. I ended my
workday in City Council chambers, where the Economic Development
Committee was holding hearings on the annual disparity study our firm produced this past summer, and
where various public and private sector leaders discussed ways to be
more inclusionary of minorities and women in various economic

I consider myself more informed than the average bear on the subject
of minority entrepreneurship. But usually all that means is that I
know all the more how complex the subject is, and how many parties
need to be convinced and coordinated, and how much more work remains
to do. Today was just a reminder. We'll keep pushing, and you keep
your eye on this.


Still Counting

It doesn't look good for Team Oh; as the absentee votes are being
counted, Jack Kelly is pulling ahead:

It would be
devastating for us if we worked so hard only to fall a few votes
short, not in the least because we believe in David and think he's
clearly portrayed himself to be the candidate that is more in touch
with what really counts in Philadelphia nowadays: public safety, job
growth, and regional competitiveness. We should know by Thanksgiving,
but if David loses, it won't be by much, and I might just not have any
appetite left.

Pray for Rain

Even governors sometimes understand that prayer is the way to go,
although admittedly it has taken egregious water mismanagement and an
uncomfortably long drought to get to that viewpoint:


Britney Spears, Best in Prayers

The cold caught me, so instead of racing through the day I've been
more like moping. Amy's been a rock star, juggling our two kids with
little help from me and making me soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
that are so good they make my knees buckle. Best of all, she chastens
me when I try to slough off my sickness and get back to my usual
frenetic pace: "Go lie down!"

So I have. And have taken this rare opportunity to catch up on the
books piled up on my nighstand. The one on top is "Word Freak," by
Stephan Fatsis. It's about a journalist's descent into the world of
competitive Scrabble.

And I thought I liked words. These guys study the dictionary for fun,
memorize all sanctioned 2-, 3-, and 4-letter words, and anagram at the
same speed it takes for normal people to spell. All in all, a good
read, and while I'm hoping to be at full strength soon, I'm glad for
this delicious book to keep me company while I'm on the sidelines.

PS If you're wondering about the cryptic title to this post, both
phrases are anagrams of "Presbyterians." Who knew?

Mayor to Mayor

My alma mater, the Fels Institute of Government, recently assembled a
list of 44 "best practices" for Mayor-elect Nutter from a national
review of mayors past and present:

As my boss is wont
to say, assembling the list is the easy part; translating if and how
those great ideas get implemented here in Philadelphia is the real
challenge. Still, kudos to my fellow Felsonians for such a good list.


"Trusting God Even When Life Hurts" is the title of the book our small
group will begin studying tonight. It's by Jerry Bridges, who has
written a number of similar books, two of which I've read and enjoyed
before. So I'm looking forward to diving into this one, and doing so
with others.

But although I know I am to head into such a study with an open mind,
I must confess I cannot help but approach with a particular world view
concerning human suffering, as follows:

* I believe it can be very easy to deal with the notion of suffering
from a "me"-ocentric viewpoint rather than a theocentric one. That is
to say, to treat Christianity solely as a salve for one's own woes,
God as the enabler of our goals and plans, and the Bible a recipe book
we can pick and choose from according to our whims. But God is clear
that while He is for us, He is ultimately for Himself, His kind and
merciful actions towards us serving His eternal and inscrutable
purposes and not our selfish and finite ones. It is human to want our
suffering to be alleviated; it is divine to trust in God's goodness
and purpose in the midst of it.

* I believe we should "let God have it" when we are in anguish. The
Psalms, in particular, contain quite earthy prayers - more correctly,
pleas - to God in the midst of fear, disappointment, and anger. That
there are so many examples of God's people pouring their raw emotion
out before Him would seem to validate that God is God enough to take
our unfiltered thoughts of our situation and of Him.

* I believe the best way to grasp God's perspective is to think of
situations in which we are in His position. Having kids has given me
a far greater appreciation for God's wisdom in ushering us through
seasons of difficulty and trial. On a daily basis, I do things - in
love - that, from my kids' standpoint, seem mean, short-sighted, and
uncaring. They think so because they do not have my perspective, and
they don't know as much as I do. How much more is God wiser than us,
and how much more should we then trust that the painful yank on our
arm is to keep us from a speeding car, or that the stinging substance
being rubbed into our skin is medicine that will heal our wound?

* I believe suffering increases and enhances our experience of God. Think of our view of God and His world as a ball. That ball is almost always smaller than it should be, because our faith on this side of glory is finite. Enter suffering, which comes crashing into our ball and then sits dissonantly outside it. We have two choices: deny it and hole up in our ball, or give God room to expand our ball until it includes the tragedy so that we can make some sense of it. I have, directly and through the sufferings of others, been privileged to have God expand my worldview in this way, and I am left, in no less pain, but with a larger perspective of my God and of His world.

Here's hoping God will use this walk through this book to further
clarify how it is He would have me to trust Him even when life hurts.


Sports and Faith

Three quick blurbs about sports and faith:

* A friend of mine from church ran the NYC marathon last weekend, and
I appreciated his email to all of us re: what it was like to run for
his dad, and to connect with him in terms of the long road to recovery
that he has ahead of him. Funny how something as physical as sports
can tap into such deep spiritual meaning.

* Speaking of running, our preacher from last weekend correctly
pointed out that the race that is called the Christian life is less
analogous to the lonely runner pounding out miles and more so to the
pack of cyclists in the Tour de France, who band together for the sole
purpose of making sure their guy is in the lead at the very end.
Very, very nice metaphor.

* Finally, from the world of pro sports, I appreciated this piece by
ESPN by Detroit Lions QB Jon Kitna, who has not only willed his team
to a surprising 6-2 record but has also converted 20+ teammates and
their wives to Christianity:

Given the recent uproar over his deliciously dark choice of Halloween
costume (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=nfl&id=3088793),
it's nice to see that Christian athletes don't always have to be so
"aw shucks."


Toll It All

I'm on record as liking Governor Rendell's plans to raise additional
money for roads and transit across the state. His plan to toll I-80
for transit is, unsurprisingly, being met with fierce opposition in
the northwest part of the state, with the locals there predicting doom
and gloom to the economy if this plan goes through:
Importantly, the case is not only that transportation costs will
increase and get passed on, but that trucks will divert from I-80 to
local roads that were not meant to bear heavy truck traffic. It's a
dilemma: when you toll a road, you create incentives for drivers to
avoid it, and when it comes to lumbering big rigs, that avoidance has
major consequences for where road wear and tear takes place.

Thankfully, technology is coming to the rescue:
Last year, Portland, Oregon equipped a few hundred vehicles with GPS
devices in order to track vehicle miles traveled. If this catches on
in the next ten years or so, we could eliminate both tolls and the gas
tax, both of which are inefficient at their stated purpose of
assigning road costs to the users that cause wear and tear to them:
tolls because they distort driving patterns by only being feasibly
collectible on main highways, and the gas tax because higher fuel
efficiency and the political difficulty of raising rates has meant a
greater gap over time in what is collected and what is needed.

Coming from California, where we call our big roads "freeways," the
thought of paying for every mile you travel may be as foreign as
paying for every website you visit. But a vehicle mile tax is a far
more efficient and equitable way than tolls and gas taxes to extract
from us users the money needed to pay for the maintenance of the roads
the government has subsidized for us to use. Hopefully, as the
technology improves to the point where this is feasible on a mass
scale, the argument has been refined to the point that it is more
palatable to all of us.


New Urbanists and Old Cities

New Urbanism may be a bit overplayed, but its principles are still
good ones. Nevertheless, as Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic
Inga Saffron rightly points out, it often gets played out in suburban
settings or in newer cities, when in fact where it is most needed and
best implemented is in older, infrastructure-rich cities like
Philadelphia: http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/20071109_Changing_Skyline___He_puts_the_urban_back_in_New_Urbanism.html.

Here's my favorite quote:

"It's long been known that New Urbanist developments look and perform
best when they can latch onto existing infrastructure, like street
grids and transit networks. Yet New Urbanists have been oddly
reluctant to venture into places where those amenities exist in
abundance: the decaying quarters of American cities."

Amen to that.


Greg Mankiw's Blog

I tend to spend eight of my fifteen minutes of free time each day
blogging. Recently, I've been spending three of the remaining seven
on econ blogs. My new fave is Greg Mankiw's:

He's a Harvard econ prof and a
former Bush economic advisor. He's pretty fiscally conservative but
has a category for energy-related taxes that are high enough to induce
behavioral changes. And, like any good economist, he's got a dry
sense of humor and a fearlessness to take politically unpopular
positions, like his recent stance in the New York Times debunking
popularly quoted stats about health care in America:

So if you're as nerdy as me and read econ blogs for fun, and you're
as busy as me and have fifteen minutes of free time each day, let me
save you some searching and commend you to Greg Mankiw's blog.


The subject of giving is always a bit of a third rail in churches.
Which I find odd, since the various writers of the Bible found no
problem holding court on the subject. David urges the people of
Israel to give to the temple his son will build. Jesus praises the
poor woman for her sacrificial giving. Paul exhorts his readers to
give cheerfully. And yet we can't plead for money?

This Sunday, our church is holding a congregational meeting to look at
a preliminary budget for 2008. I have no doubt that different people
are going to pick at different lines of that budget, because that's
what you do when you're given a budget. And there's nothing wrong
with picking at a budget, because that's what this meeting is about,
is that level of transparency.

But it is my hope and prayer (and on Sunday, I will have the
opportunity to speak this directly to the congregation) that picking
at the budget is not the end-all and be-all of the exercise. But
rather that we will decide that, by and large, there is a certain
amount we plan to spend in 2008; and thus, we will have to bring in
that same amount of money or else face painful cuts. In other words,
that we will make the connection between our invitation to give
because the Bible tells us to, and the ability of our church as an
organization to fulfill the various functions we hope for it for 2008.

Usually when we pay for stuff, we see and enjoy the benefits directly:
if I buy a soda at the corner store, I immediately experience the
refreshment associated with drinking it, or if I pay for college, I
know it is helping make me a better person. But when we pay into
communal structures, like paying taxes to a government or tithes to a
church, sometimes we can forget why it is important that we are paying
in our share.

Maybe subconsciously we're hoping to be free riders: if everyone else
but me pays in, I can still enjoy the benefits without incurring any
of the costs. Or maybe, because we don't immediately see and enjoy
the benefits of our disbursement of funds, we forget that the things
we enjoy from these entities - police protection and clean streets and
childrens' programs and worship services - cost money to provide.

Either way, it's good to be reminded that we need to supply the money,
or else those things we enjoy can't be provided to the level we'd
like. And this coming from a fiscal conservative and overall
spend-thrift. But even I know that if we under-give, services will
suffer. And, to return to what the Bible says, I also know that to
give is not just for the usefulness of the amounts offered, but for
the health of our own souls.

And so on Sunday, I'm bracing for some picking and picking and
picking. But I'm also hoping for some folks to make the connection
between those expense lines and the amounts they pull out of their
pocket and put in the collection plate every Sunday morning. Because
no matter how much of a third rail it is as a topic of conversation,
giving, according to the Bible, is an important thing to talk about
and to do.

Advantage, Community

Technology makes it possible for us to consume information in
unprecedented ways. Why attend a faraway meeting when you can follow
the presentation in real-time, audio and video? Why go to a concert
or a movie when you can consume them in the comfort of your own home,
and start and pause and finish as needed? Why go to college when you
can download podcasts of lectures and entire chapters of textbooks?
Why go to church when you can read sermons online and chat with other

Of course, there is something lost in all of these channels, and that
is the importance of the human touch. Technology may have made the
business world smaller, but it also made face-to-face meetings more
important, not less. Entertainment, for all of the ways we love it
on-demand, is still best experienced in a multi-sensory, communal way.
The transmissional aspect of education may be facilitated by
technology, but there's no substitute for actually rubbing elbows with
fellow students, whether it's to learn from the back-and-forth of
class discussion, or to solidify relationships whose long-term value
far outstrips the gain of the knowledge itself. And the church is at
its best when it is not just disseminating information but engaging
its members in a shared, high-touch, outreach-oriented life. The
church that is less than the sum of its content parts has truly failed
its calling to be the body of Christ in this world.

Technology is neither the Savior of the World nor the Devil Incarnate.
It is but a tool. We needn't bow at its altar nor self-righteously
resist the progress it represents. It only isolates to the extent
that humans let themselves use it to isolate themselves. We have to
regain the advantage of community in the midst of such an age.

Porter, Prahalad, and the Poor

It probably won't surprise you for me to tell you I'm a fan of Michael
Porter and C.K. Prahalad. Both of these management gurus, in their
own special ways, advocate doing business and not charity in the most
economically disadvantaged places in the world. Porter argues that
America's run-down inner cities actually have a number of competitive
advantages that make them attractive places to site business activity.
Prahalad argues that multinational corporations that figure out how
to make money in the most impoverished countries stimulate themselves
towards the kind of innovation necessary to thrive in today's economy.

Far from offering a handout that only further marginalizes and
segregates, these business approaches offer participation that leads
to products needed by impoverished consumers and activity needed by
impoverished businesses. One might wonder if it is the for-profit
sector, and not the non-profit sector, that can have the biggest
impact on alleviating poverty around the world. In fact, there is a
groundswell of interest in achieving traditionally non-profit aims
with for-profit mechanisms: witness Google.org, which is for-profit
because the lost advantage of avoiding taxes is offset by the ability
to form partnerships with venture capitalists, fund start-up
companies, and lobby Congress.

Who knew that management gurus like Porter and Prahalad or tech mavens
like Brin and Page had so much to offer on behalf of the 3+ billion
people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day? And who
knew that it would be not by offering one-way charity but by engaging
in two-way commerce?

Another Way to Here

FYI if you're having trouble remembering how to get here, I've added
another free redirection (although I apologize for the pop-under
advertising - I'm too cheap to pay it away). So there are now three
ways to get to here:




If you hadn't heard, the David Oh / Jack Kelly race is too close to
call. The last precincts still need to get their results in, and then
there are absentee ballots to count, and likely a recount of
everything, but as of right now, David is up by 24 (!) votes: 60,291
to 60,267. This has got to be one of the closest races in the history
of City Council.

My day for David started at 7:45 in the morning, when I schlepped my
daughter to the polls to vote and then to hand out placards. Jada
played in the puddles and enjoyed the rain pelting her raincoat in
between doing her share of pushing literature, but it got too cold for
me to keep her out there in the elements and I had to run off to a
work-related meeting, so we bounced by 8:30. I only wish more people
had voted while we were there; the ones who did come were either aware
of David or open to hearing about why they should vote for him.

I had my wife text me results every half-hour after the polls closed
at 8 in the evening, as I was in the middle of a church leadership
meeting. At 9:30, I took the trolley downtown to McGillin's, where
David had rented out a room to celebrate or mourn, depending on the
outcome. And what a roller-coaster it was: David had started out
trailing by a couple thousand votes, but by the time I got to
McGillin's, he was gaining fast. I think it was about 10:30 when we
got the first announcement of him surging into the lead . . . only to
hear three announcements later that he had fallen behind. And so it
went - up 104, down 90, up 50, and so on and so on. At 11:30, people
were saying he was up 40 but it was too close to call tonight, so I
went home.

And that brings us to the present. Let's hope the recount is fair,
and that it's in David's favor. It would be a historic win, as David
would be Philadelphia's first Asian-American City Councilperson. And
it would mean we would have an honest, virtuous industrious leader in
a position of influence. As Mayor-elect Michael Nutter put it often
last night, it's a new day. Here's to David being part of it.





Door to Door in the Neighborhood

Yesterday and today I took the kids door to door around the
neighborhood to drop off pamphlets for my friend David Oh, who is
running for City Council at Large here in Philadelphia. David's
campaign office gave me a list of names and addresses to distribute
materials to in our ward - the 23rd Division of the 46th Ward is 3
blocks by 4 blocks - with explicit instructions that I was not to put
anything in anyone's mailbox, only on their doorstep, per election
rules. It hearkened me back to the few times I delivered newspapers
as a kid.

Of course, back then, I didn't have a 2 1/2 year old or a 10 month old
in tow. So things took longer than if I did it solo. But I chose for
them to tag along, not in the least because Jada walking the 24 blocks
with me and climbing up and down 50+ sets of porch steps would help
tire her out. I want them to know what it means to be an active
citizen, that one of the things you do is, when you find someone who
would make a good public servant, you get out there on a weekend and
wear out some shoe leather to help get him elected.


We sung an old hymn at this morning's worship service partly in honor
of two long-time congregants who had passed away in the past year: one
at the age of 85 and one at the age of 92. As we sung, "For All the
Saints," I couldn't help but think of another former congregant who is
now a saint, although he wasn't in his 90's or 80's or even 70's,
60's, 50's, 40's, or 30's.

Glenn, one of my very best friends, passed away in 2004 at the age of
29. As we sang the hymn's second stanza - "Thou wast their rock,
their fortress, and their might; thou Lord, their captain in the
well-fought fight; thou in the darkness drear, their one true light" -
I could not help but think of my good buddy. Jesus was Glenn's light
and rock in all the fights and all the darkness he tackled in his
short life.

I was reminded this morning, as we sung, that death is a very bad
thing. Glenn's death was devastating to me, and even more so to his
wife, his sister, and his parents. Hundreds of people attended his
funeral, and it was a somber occasion.

I was also reminded this morning, as I was at Glenn's service, that
death is also a gateway to glory, and in that sense a very, very good
thing. Our pastor this morning sounded the apostle Paul's precious
words in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the church in
Corinth: "For now we see in a mirror dimly; but then face to face." O
what a glorious thought, that for all the goodness we see in God
today, we take in but a fraction of what it will be like to behold Him
in all His glory.

How is it that death can be both awful and wonderful? It is because
the Person and act that defines us as Christians: when Jesus submitted
Himself to death by crucifixion, He was simultaneously undergoing the
basest and vilest form of death and securing the greatest and most
convincing form of victory. In the name of One like that, and after
an act like that, why wouldn't it make the most sense in the world for
death to be simultaneously dreadful and welcome?

Finally, I am reminded that for as full of a life as Glenn lived, as
these two old-timers we celebrated this morning lived, when they died
they did so before the fullest fulfillment of what they had pointed
their whole lives towards. In a very real sense, they walked in the
footsteps of some of the great men and women of the faith, who the
author of the book of Hebrews described in this way: "All these died
in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and
having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they
were strangers and exiles on the earth."

Some people, dare I say most people, strive all their lives to
accomplish something and to make for themselves a name and a place for
themselves on this earth. And yet the Bible suggests that the
greatest and most highly exalted individuals for all eternity are
those who died not having enjoyed what they had worked their whole
lives towards, and who died more in touch with their foreignness with
this world than with their sense of belonging.

Some day, we will all die; what, then, will be said of us? If I can
help it, I want it to be that I too fought a good fight, spent and was
spent for the Kingdom, and welcomed death not as keeping me from
accomplishing more but as no longer keeping me from my true

PS I did a little digging on the hymn, and found this site: http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/hymns/saints.htm. The author's tireless work in the slums of London affirm the notion that the people who are most heavenly-minded are precisely those who are of the most earthly good. I also like the fact that he preferred public transit over private carriages!

For All the Saints (William W. How, 1864)

1. For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

3. O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

5. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

6. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

David Oh Link Dump

If you're still on the fence re: David Oh, I've rounded up some recent
media coverage to help you out (mostly courtesy of A Smoke-Filled

"Whole-city champions" (Philadelphia Inquirer):

"Considering voting for David Oh?" (Young Philly Politics):

"Developers' ties to a councilman test finance law: nearly 25% of Jack
Kelly's primary campaign funding was from entities tied to two
brothers" (Philadelphia Inquirer):

"Costume party: in the scramble for an at-large GOP council seat,
David Oh plays the role of Democrat" (City Paper):

"A conversation with David Oh" (Young Philly Politics):

"Oh, say, can you see . . . everywhere?" (Philadelphia Daily News):

"Sam Katz likes David Oh" (Heard in the Hall):

"At-large seats could use a few new occupants" (Northeast Times):


Vote for David Oh for City Council at Large

Please consider voting for David Oh for City Council at Large next
Tuesday. With the five Democratic at Large candidates shoo-ins to win
and Frank Rizzo likely to retain his seat on the Republican side,
there's really only one race in question, and that's David Oh or Jack
Kelly for the last Republican seat. Whether you're Republican or
Democrat, you should vote for David - the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks
so, as it gave David their endorsement this week. Thanks, and please
check out www.davidoh.org if you have any questions about David.

PS Here's David's latest campaign commercial:

You might also catch it
on the major networks this weekend.

West, South, North, Central

What a crazy day I had today. Special thanks for my limo company,
also known as SEPTA, for taking me all over Philadelphia. And I mean
all over: from our day care in Southwest Philadelphia to the Navy Yard
south of the stadiums to LaSalle University in the Olney section of
town down to Center City to pick up David Oh materials and back to
Southwest Philadelphia to pick up our kids. If you're keeping score
at home, that's four subway tokens and six miles of walking and about
an hour and a half of uninterrupted time on mass transit to catch up
on business magazines. Good times.


Crime and Violence

"Of course the Democratic debate is on TV," I replied to my wife
Tuesday night. Only it wasn't - except on MSNBC, which we don't get.
But it was here in Philadelphia, at Drexel University not far from our
house. So the next morning, I went to philly.com to see how everyone
did. Only to find the story not at all on the website's main page.
Instead, the main story was an officer shooting in a busy part of
downtown, uncomfortably close to where the debates were being held.
(In fact, the shooter fled from Center City in the direction of the
debates, and ended up in the Schuylkill River, which separates
University City from Center City, and they had to fish him out after
he had drowned.)

This shooting was bookended by yesterday's shooting of an officer and
subsequent manhunt uncomfortably close to my former boss' house, and
Sunday's shooting of an officer uncomfortably close to my house and
workplace. So that's three shootings of officers in four days, all at
a time when the national media has its cameras literally pointed at
Philadelphia. Not good times.

Even though we live in a very urban part of the country, it can be
easy to forget just how disenfranchised and lawless large portions of
our population are. But while it is not good for such violent
reminders to come so uncomfortably close to where we live, work, and
play, perhaps it is good for us to be uncomfortably reminded.

After all, the easy response is to find some community, possibly gated
and usually far from urban centers, where one doesn't have to worry
about crime and violence. But with crime and violence come the causes
of crime and violence, which are messy and systemic and spiritual and
personal and communal and deep-rooted. And most importantly, with
crime and violence come victims, perpetrators, and collateral damage
in the form of people whom God loves deeply and unconditionally.

In other words, we can decide that the beginning and end of the story
is the crime and violence; and if that is our lens, who wouldn't want
to do everything possible to avoid and to distance? Or we can decide
that as Christians who follow a God who loves all people and who calls
us to join in on that love, there ought to be a broader perspective of
crime and violence, to include the people and causes and results and
solutions; and that such a broader perspective would necessarily impel
us, by God's grace and in His love, to not avoid or distance but
rather to think and act and serve and care.

I want to be careful to not say that living close to urban centers is
necessarily more spiritual or more obedient than living in the
far-flung suburbs, because it's not. What I am trying to say is that
it matters how we view the front page of our local paper the week in
which three cops have been hit in four days. If we run because crime
and violence is the beginning and end of that story, I don't know that
we are doing what God would have us to do. If, instead, we pray and
consider and investigate and care, by God's grace and in His love, and
if we all as Christians choose into that posture, maybe we might not
only not run and hide, but also work towards some solutions and even
find and implement those solutions. And I think God would be pleased
that His physical body on earth was put into motion for such a cause
and in such a time.