Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning

This is probably from 2013:

Yesterday I reposted a three-year old piece about Hess’s, the famed and sorely missed downtown commercial icon that owned the 20th century not just in Allentown but really across this part of Pennsylvania.

As you know if you live here, Allentown is undergoing half-a-billion dollars in new capital investment.

This morning, I had a breakfast get-together downtown. I was early, and I found myself sitting in the lobby of one of the new buildings to pass the time.  It also occurred to me to pray.  At some point, a kind woman I’d never met before who works somewhere in the building asked me if I wanted anything to eat or if I could use some coffee. Yesterday, I had given a little extra at a local coffee shop and said if you don’t want the tip, please do pass it on to a homeless friend in need.

The kind woman from this morning may have thought I was homeless or just simply hurting, and maybe that’s on her mind because of all the awareness being raised about the needs in Allentown. Maybe looking out for others is part of who she is.  In any case,  I’m grateful for her kindness and her courage, and I know that someday soon it will encounter someone with needs I can’t begin to imagine.  Maybe it has already.

The Sub In Suburb: We’ve Been Building Suburbia on the Backs of the Urban Poor for 50 Years

I just posted an excerpt from and a link to a piece on Atlantic about the future of American cities.  Let me share again this salient point:

“That economic shift away from cities was the root cause of America’s urban collapse. Starting in the 1950s, the middle class – and the American Dream – migrated from urban neighborhoods to the suburbs. Industry and corporations soon followed.

Ester Fuchs, director of Columbia University’s Urban and Social Policy program, details the fallout in the latest issue of Columbia’s Journal of International Affairs:

America’s great cities were left in economic free fall, with concentrated poverty, unemployment, high crime rates, failing public schools and severely deteriorating physical infrastructure, including roads, mass transit and parks. Academics and policy makers agreed that cities were irrelevant to America’s economic future; they would become places for poor minorities who could not afford to move to the suburbs. Urban policy became code for social-welfare policy.


This is true in Allentown, and this is at the core of the current debate over the use of EIT (earned income tax) money from people who work in the City but don’t live there.  Where, oh where, should that money go?

In Pennsylvania, until 1962, the EIT stayed in the municipality (read: City) where it was earned.  Then legislators got together with academics and social planners and decided to punish poor minorities for wanting civil rights and jobs in Northern cities.  Low and behold, the EIT, from 1962 on, goes back to the places where workers live, regardless of where the earned income tax was, you know, earned.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania thus funded and directed the great subsidization of the suburbs, the chewing up of green space, and the decline and fall of urban cores.  That’s what happened in Allentown and surrounding townships.  Fifty years later, those townships feel entitled to the status quo and to the money their residents earn in Allentown.  Along comes legislation giving that money back to Allentown to help fund redevelopment, and the townships sue the City.

I hope this highlights what’s really needed: a Commonwealth-wide law directing all EITs back to the cities in which they are earned.  Thank you, townships, for highlighting that need. You are, perhaps, more progressive than people think.

Finding Faith and Losing Sleep

Because of important things happening where I  live, I’ve been thinking a lot about Christians who have relationships of trust with politically and economically powerful people of faith, and and how the former can best connect the later to community constituencies with far less (if any) access.  Certainly, Christians who operate across these spheres are called to be bridge-builders, but to build good bridges, I suspect we must know both shores of the chasm. It’s not enough for Christians of privilege to connect Christians of greater privilege with these constituencies by edict.  It seems to me that however well we know the rich, we’re called to know the poor better, to know the poor more.

In some senses, bridges and chasms are failures of language.   In Christ, we’re called into the bleed of Venn circles, to the realization that we’re all in this together.  Sometimes, that’s hard to remember.

This morning, I led the discussion in the Adult Education hours at church in place of the traveling John Franke.  I wanted to explore the relationships of Hebrew prophets to power and consider how best we, as Christians in Allentown called into the bleed, can be most faithful. Last night, I read this passage from Pete Rollins before bed.

Don’t read Pete Rollins before bed.   Do read Pete Rollins, though.  How does “Finding Faith” land for you?  I closed the early session by reading this story as a  devotion with this disclaimer:  “there’s no right or wrong way for it to land.  It kept me awake last night and I wanted to share it with you.”

And I want to share it with you.