Light Scattering Darkness

Darkness and light. Their daily and seasonal dance mirrors our own movements in and about the two realms.

This past December in our South Austin neighborhood, some of our neighbors wrapped holiday lights around tree trunks and others draped overhangs with icicle lights. My wife placed electric candlelights in our five front windows that face the street. Even though fewer neighbors placed lights than in previous years, light shone forth and vanquished the night darkness nonetheless.

I needed those December lights to shine. A number of folks in our society – some leaning left and others right of the political divide – agree that we are living in dark and difficult days. Hyper-partisan divides, stagnant social and economic inequalities, an erosion of humane values, and climatic changes combine to produce a general sense of gloom felt by many, myself included, for the future.

My focus on the future took on a personal enhancement because my wife, Denise, and I became new grandparents in the hot summer of 2019. As I rocked my months-old granddaughter in my arms toward the end of last year, I was struck by how often and easily she smiled back at me. I wondered as I smiled back at her: Doesn’t she know about all the problems going on in the world today? Doesn’t she know about the potentially perilous state of the future? How is it that she can smile while the world despairs?

Of course, she doesn’t know about the world’s problems, nor does she have to know. One of her important tasks at this point in her little life is to smile at her grandfather, thereby reminding him that God is still at work sending divine light into the world – the type of light that vanquishes the darkness every single time.

Christians observe Advent during the short days (in the northern hemisphere) of light in December, waiting in celebration for the promised light of Christ to arrive and vanquish the darkness in the world. Appropriately, my granddaughter’s smile of light graced the sermons that I gave at different churches in December. Congregants smiled back at me as I explained my theological interpretation of her smile, based in the words of the Christian Testament: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is not able to overcome it” (John 1:5).

Maybe times have always been this difficult. Five or ten years from now, hindsight will reveal whether these current days are truly as difficult as they seem to some of us. Adding the recent coronavirus pandemic to the above list of difficulties seems to embolden the argument for the case.

Yet we know that fellow humans in past times suffered and endured much worse than what we are living through today. How did they hold onto hope in the midst of difficulty? As do we, they saw the sun rise in the morning and scatter the darkness. The daily cycle of darkness and light infuses the human soul with life and hope because it affirms the possibility of change within the larger frame of stability. Such is our hope: life goes on, large-scale chaos doesn’t rule, each day holds the potential of a new start.

blog.sp.2020And now the spring sun coaxes the blooming of wildflowers as the days lengthen. The seasonal darkness of winter has faded away and the flowers gracing my yard – bluebonnets and poppies – reflect in a transformed state the invigorating light that called them forth.

Soon I will hold my granddaughter again and we will both smile for a camera in front of the bluebonnets and poppies. Captured will be a perfect picture of light, flourishing beauty, and vulnerable grace. Our hope for the future is yet alive as the light continues to shine.

balm.cover.2T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of fourteen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of  There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).


Check out my author website:


Todos Juntos – Everyone Together

This past year in my work as Austin City Lutherans’ director of community development, I got to know a woman in Austin who directs an innovative “2-Gen” education center for parents (mostly moms) and pre-school aged children. Christina Collazo is executive director of Todos Juntos Learning Center, an organization that for ten years, has served refugee and migrant families.

I’m grateful to Christina for giving me an inside look at her organization and her own life. I wrote the linked story below, published as a lead article in the “Life Section” of the Austin American-Statesman on September 14, 2019. Todos Juntos LC creates equity and promotes opportunity by empowering women and their children. It’s an incredible program with an indominable leader.

“Christina Collazo’s 10-year mission to teach parents and children at Todos Juntos”


balm.cover.2Tim/T. Carlos Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of fourteen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, April 2019).


Check out my new author website:

Back in the Saddle

The topic of inequality wedged itself into my mind and heart when I was a child. I was no more than four years old when my maternal grandmother gifted my brother and me with an Arch Book titled The Rich Fool. Based on Jesus’ parable from Luke 12:13-21, it tells the story of a rich farmer who failed to realize that the blessings of the earth – including that of his own farmland – were intended for more than his own consumption and hoarding. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” By way of prelude to the parable, Jesus told his listeners that they should “be on guard against all types of greed.”


This first Bible story that I remember learning has colored my faith and understanding of the world. I draw a direct line between its message penetrating my developing child soul to the start of my research in 2011 that led to the production of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good in 2014. I’ve had a number of good conversations and interactions with you and others on the topic of inequality since that time. During 2017, I took a self-imposed sabbatical (thanks in great part to my main supporter and spouse, Denise) and dedicated much of my time to researching the topic of restorative justice. As a result, my second book, There is a Balm in Huntsville, will be published in the spring of 2019. (I’ll have more to say about the incredible stories of transformation and reconciliation I’ve written about in the crafting of this non-fiction narrative.)

As of March 1, I’ve started a new position as Director of Community Development for ACL – Austin City Lutherans. ACL consists of fifteen area ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations that work together in social ministry. We have a food pantry serving working folks and their families in Southeast Austin and have designs for enacting an early childhood development program in the same underserved area of the Texas capitol city. This work includes the consideration of inequality and its effects – consequently, I feel like I’m “back in the saddle.” I’m extremely grateful for the bold leadership within ACL congregations to embark upon this ministry. I’m also humbled by the opportunity to shepherd a group of people inspired and urged by their faith to make a difference for developing young souls (and their families) in a vulnerable area of Austin. Eighteen percent of children in Austin (see the 2017 Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count data book) live in economic poverty, a great improvement from 2012 when the figure was 30 percent. The economy has improved in the past five years, but Austin’s rising cost of living has forced poorer families to move out of the city, and Austin’s population growth has diluted the percentage. Even so, today, more than 25 percent of Latino children in Travis County (where Austin resides) live in poverty.

What precisely will our “early childhood development program” look like? We’re not sure at this point. We have a lot of work to do: speaking with school principals, researching existing options, listening to and learning from experts, talking with parents who live in SE Austin, enlisting partners, and much more. The compiling of information from these conversations and considerations will help us answer the above question. Stay tuned, and if you’re so inclined, reach out and join our efforts.

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Tim/T. Carlos Anderson – I’m the Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of fifteen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin. I’m also the author of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good (Blue Ocotillo/ACTA, 2014) and There is a Balm in Huntsville (forthcoming, spring 2019).






Evicted – Book Review

People who are not doing well economically in the United States – are they at fault or are they trapped in a system with little opportunity of moving forward? This has been a pertinent question and conversation point in the United States for generations back to the Gilded Age and the Depression ongoing to the current era of inequality.


Matthew Desmond is a Harvard sociologist and urban ethnographer. He’s not a blue blood; born at the dawn of the current era of inequality (circa 1980), he went to college with his parents’ encouragement but not their financial backing. While Desmond was in college, his working class parents were not able to keep up with mortgage payments and a bank foreclosed on their home in Winslow, Arizona – the home in which Desmond grew up. It became a defining moment in his educational and vocational journey.

Desmond decided to go to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. He figured studying sociology would give him the best chance to understand the prevalence of poverty in the richest country in the history of the world. Left-leaners blame poverty on structural forces (discrimination, for example) and right-leaners focus on individual deficiencies; Desmond judges both suppositions as lacking: “Each treated low-income families as if they lived in quarantine . . . The poor were being left out of the inequality debate, as if we believed the livelihoods of the rich and the middle class were entwined but those of the poor and everyone else were not.”

Desmond treats poverty as existing, not in a vacuum, but in a people-to-people relationship system where influences run much more varied than simple one directional causes-and-effects.

For the project that produced the book Evicted, Desmond moved into a lower-income Milwaukee trailer park in May 2008. He lived there four months and then moved into a rooming house on the second floor of a duplex in Milwaukee’s predominantly African-American North Side neighborhood. He lived there until June 2009. (This is the same part of the city that saw violent unrest in August 2016 after the fatal police shooting of Sylville Smith, a twenty-three-year-old African-American.)  Evicted details the lives of eight lower-income families Desmond got to know during the fourteen months he lived in Milwaukee. Some of the families are white, some are black; some with children and others without children. What they all share in common: evictions from their living quarters.

Desmond argues that the fight against poverty has rightly focused on jobs, parenting, education, and public policy to alleviate social problems caused by issues such as mass incarceration. But he clamors that a sharp focus on the dynamics of the private housing market is sorely missing and intricately linked to the persistence of poverty. “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty.”

According to Desmond, the majority of Americans living in poverty spend over half their income on housing, with one in four Americans spending more than 70 percent of their monthly income on housing and the electricity bill. It’s hard to stay put when there’s more month than income. One in eight Milwaukee families experienced eviction during 2009-2011. Desmond takes his readers to eviction court – a well-lubed machine in Milwaukee (and other large US cities) involving landlords, judges, sheriff deputies, moving companies, and belongings dumped onto the street curb.

Poverty in America, Desmond shows, has become a lucrative business. The trailer park owner – Desmond’s first landing spot in Milwaukee – was a Cadillac-driving millionaire who made upwards of $400,000 a year off the dilapidated trailer park. Categorize the owner as a top 1 percent earner making his living off of bottom 10 percent earners. (He was eventually forced to sell the park as the city wouldn’t renew his license because of multiple living code violations.) Desmond writes: “We need a new sociology of displacement that documents the prevalence, causes, and consequences of eviction. And perhaps most important, we need a committed sociology of inequality that includes a serious study of exploitative and extractive markets.”

Desmond writes well. The first chapter describes Milwaukee’s formidable winter “as cold and grey as a mechanic’s wrench.” Read on and you’ll discover that he also researches well. His meticulous transcribing of recorded conversations and note-taking yielded more than 5,000 handwritten pages from which to tell this crucial and important American story of poverty.

Evicted joins a recent chorus of work (Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort, Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth, among others) that documents the lack of knowledge that exists in upper- and middle-class America about their fellows who live in poverty. Since the advent of the current era of excess and inequality beginning in 1980, America has emphasized fiscal over social policy. We’ve figured out how the rich can get richer and what makes the stock market rocket upward. We’ve fallen behind, however, in compassion and understanding.

Desmond doesn’t write himself into the story. In the Epilogue (the only part of the book where he uses his first person singular voice), he asks readers when telling others of this work not to focus on him but upon the characters in the story: Scott, Pam, Sherrena, Arleen, Vannetta, Tobin and the others. I’ve strayed from Desmond’s request in this review. I can’t give, however, a stronger recommendation for this book – bump it up to the top of your to-read list, now. Evicted is must-reading for any and all concerned about poverty and inequality in American society and for those wanting to go beyond simple suppositions about their neighbors living in poverty.

Desmond, Matthew – Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown, 2016).


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide is now available. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más –está disponible en Amazon y el sitio web!

The “Just A Little Bit More” Interview with Sam Pizzigati

Journalist and author Sam Pizzigati has worked since the 1970s to combat inequality and its effects. Currently an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies, Pizzigati co-edits the newsletter and website.


Pizzigati’s Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits our Lives (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), an imposing tome of almost 700 pages, covers American greed and inequality from the Gilded Age through the twentieth century. The expected protagonists, antagonists, and topics emerge: Rockefeller, Wall Street, Ivan Boesky, Sam Walton, Jack Welch, Goldman Sachs. Lesser known heroes, villains, and economic matters await the careful reader: Herman Daly, the steady-state economist; Bob Thompson, a Michigan millionaire and construction mogul, who upon retiring and selling his company, split $130 million of proceeds with his employees; an extensive consideration of runaway CEO pay and its roots in the 1990s; and, increasing American acceptance, like the story of a frog in a slow-boil kettle, of concentrated wealth. Pizzigati warns that greed must be kept in check for a society to function at its best. Economic inequalities corrode the common good: “The greater the gap [between rich and poor], we will show, the greater the greed, the greater the grasping for dreams that can never be attained, the greater the strains upon the bonds that make societies good, communities human” (p. viii).

Sam lives in the Washington, DC area. I recently spoke with him via Skype and excerpt below some key moments in our conversation.

JaLBM: How and when did the issue of inequality take hold of you?

Pizzigati: I grew up on Long Island, right next door to Levittown, in the 1950s. Levittown was essentially the epicenter of American equality, in the post-war period. I remember as a kid, my friends and I could ride our bikes in any direction and we would never see any hovels and we would never see any mansions. Everybody I knew lived in a modest home, and I think that fixed in me an egalitarian sense.

I remember in the early ’80s – I was working in DC as a young adult, as a labor journalist – homeless people started showing up on the street and begging. That was something I didn’t see in my growing up experience. It was abhorrent to me to see that.

JaLBM: Where did you go to college and what influences affected you during those years? 

Pizzigati: I went to Cornell in upstate New York. One of my professors there was the political scientist, Andrew Hacker. He was an iconoclastic scholar, and since then he has done a lot of good work on equality and inequality. He had a big impact on me and was one of the persons who expanded my horizons.

JaLBM: Tell us about your religious upbringing . . . and if those religious influences from your childhood moved you in the direction of working on inequality and related topics.

Pizzigati: I was raised Jewish in terms of faith from my mother’s side of the family. My father’s family – Italian Roman Catholic – was much larger, so we were always going to church-related events. My parents had egalitarian values. I’m not sure that those values were religiously based . . . but I do feel as I’ve studied inequality and the struggle against inequality – especially as we look at what happened 100 years ago when we launched our first united struggle against plutocracy – religious leaders were a big part of that work.* I’ve always been impressed by that as I’ve read about it and studied it. The social gospel movement coming out of the Protestant tradition, and the strong Catholic egalitarian push in the first quarter of the twentieth century, and Jewish speakers like Rabbi Stephen Wise, who were real leaders in the struggle against concentrated income. So I think looking back, we would not have conquered plutocracy in the first half of the twentieth century without the influence of religious leaders.

JaLBM: What has given you staying power to continue to in the struggle against inequality?

Pizzigati: That’s a good question – a tough one. It’s a question of values – family values . . . I couldn’t see myself doing a job or working in a career just to make money. There has to be a greater purpose behind the work that I do. I just wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t doing something to leave the world a better place.

Both my parents went about their daily lives in a very egalitarian way. They related to everybody – people without money, people with more money. They treated everybody with great respect. That’s something that kids pick up on.

JaLBM: What do you see in the struggle against inequality for today and tomorrow?

Pizzigati: There’s one particular struggle that’s beginning to break through that has enormous potential for changing the political dialogue, and for changing the workplace dialogue as well. For lack of a better phrase, I call it “pay ratio politics.”

JaLBM: I haven’t heard that one. Tell us more.

Pizzigati: Our future as humanity will depend on how well our enterprises function. By economic activity, we organize ourselves in enterprises big and small. If our enterprises are not operating in a manner that is sustainable or efficient, we have a dark future. We need enterprises that are productive and sustainable. And it turns out that to be productive and sustainable, they need to be equitable. They can’t be devoting the lion’s share of rewards that are produced to only a few people. That’s what we have now. An incredibly large share of the rewards that come out of our economic activity goes to a few people at the top. And CEO pay, of course, is the ultimate symbol of that inequality. This has been an issue in the US since the early 1980s.

There’s a new development, however. The Dodd-Frank legislation passed in 2010 has an obscure provision that was not noticed at the time it was passed. This provision mandates that corporations reveal, on an annual basis, the ratio between their CEO and median workers pay.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has to write rules to help shape how a law should be enforced. Corporate lobbyists essentially delayed the ruling process for five years. It wasn’t until last summer that the SEC finally issued a rule concerning this law, and the rule goes into effect during 2017. That means in the beginning of 2018 we’ll start seeing a stream of headlines proclaiming the pay ratio between workers and CEOs in different corporations. It will be an official government statistic that we’ve never had before.

This disclosure by itself is not that meaningful. We know now that corporate America cannot be shamed. But, what activists around the country are beginning to say is that this battle doesn’t stop with the disclosures. We will fight to put consequences on this ratio . . .

The analogy I like to use is this: out of the civil rights movement came the conviction that our tax dollars will not go to corporations that discriminate on the basis of race or gender. So, if you’re a company that wants to get a government contract, you can’t have discriminatory hiring practices. You can’t get a contract because we as a nation have made the decision that our tax dollars are not going to support racial or gender inequality.

Similarly, why should our tax dollars support economic inequality? Why should our tax dollars go to corporations that pay their executives hundreds of times more than they pay their typical workers? What we’re seeing now is a movement along these lines . . . in Rhode Island, for instance, the state senate passed a bill that would give preferential treatment in the contract bidding process to corporations that pay their CEOs at a low ratio compared to their regular workers.

The city of Portland, Oregon, is having a hearing on a local version of this legislation. A surtax would be accessed to companies that do business in the city of Portland that pay their CEOs over a hundred times what their regular workers make. They will then use the proceeds from that tax to support services for the homeless.

What we see now is just a couple of instances of “pay ratio politics” across the country, but once we get to 2018 and we start seeing all these official statistics and ratios, I predict we will see something akin to the living wage movement, but tied to CEO/worker pay ratio. I think this has tremendous promise.

(Interview conducted on October 25, 2016)

*See Sam Pizzigati, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press, 2012).


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in October 2016 – next week, as a matter of fact. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Octubre de 2016 – la semana que viene!




Black Lives, Black Deaths, and American Social Inequality

Terence Crutcher’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an example of American tragedy repeated ad nauseam. In this troubling event, we see the fears and prejudices of previous generations yet alive in our day, bearing ugly and strange fruit.

I’ve been writing about social and economic inequalities for more than three years. The slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 initially served as my inspiration to write. In the post-2008 wreck, pension savings vaporized, numerous jobs were lost, and some housing markets tanked leaving homeowners in the cold. People suffered.

But Wall Street recovered soon enough, and nobody from the big banks went to prison or took responsibility for the havoc brought upon the economy because of overextension and greed in the housing loan market. The very well-to-do didn’t suffer. As a matter of fact, in the eight years since the recession, 1 percenters – the term coined to describe the very well-to-do – have prospered fantastically compared to the rest of us.

What does this have to do with Terrence Crutcher – a forty year-old African-American father of four who attended community college and sang in a local church choir – whose car was either stalled or left in the middle of the road? Four police officers on the ground apprehended Crutcher as he walked from and to his car, and two other officers watched him from the sky in a helicopter. One of the officers on the ground shot Crutcher, and he was left to bleed while lying on the black asphalt of highway 36 in northeast Tulsa. Unattended for two full minutes, he later died. He was unarmed. The police officer who shot him is a white woman. Her husband, also an officer, happened to be in the helicopter hovering overhead. His partner in the helicopter initially described Crutcher as a “bad dude . . . who might be on something.” Even if he was on drugs (police claim there was a vial of angel dust in Crutcher’s car; Crutcher had spent four years in prison on drug charges) or somewhat uncooperative – his death was entirely unnecessary. This disturbing case isn’t one of Crutcher being apprehended for “driving while black,” but “car breaking down while black.” Even in our advanced and oh-so modern twenty-first century society, the great American tenant of presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to all. It especially doesn’t apply to American black men, who are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white American males.

Social inequalities naturally exist and contribute to the healthy functioning of a society. The incentives and rewards to advance one’s standing in a market-based economy properly boost social and economic mobility. But rampant and extreme social inequalities make for an unhealthy society. Extreme and chronic social inequalities are created and maintained by unequal opportunities and disproportionate rewards or punishments for people of differing ethnic, economic, or gender categories. The long list of black men and children recently killed by police officers – Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Tyre King are but a few – speaks of a type of social inequality abhorrent and out of control in the US.

Increasing economic inequality in the US – the rich getting richer, ongoing now for thirty-five years – has contributed significantly to social inequality. As Bill Bishop details in his book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Mariner, 2009), Americans have been steadily sorting themselves into more homogenous communities, neighborhoods, and social groups since the early 1980s. Social isolation and seclusion do not make for a stronger and more resilient society.

If you are white like me, I have a few questions: Do you have a personal relationship with anyone who is black? If so, have you discussed this issue – black lives and black deaths – with your black friend or acquaintance?


Social problems have social solutions. What we need is more face to face time between the diverse collection of Americans – and less reinforcement of previously held opinions bolstered by hyper-partisans showcased on outlets like Fox News and MSNBC. What would our society be like if people replaced time spent watching Sean Hannity (Fox News) and Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC) with time spent talking and listening to fellow Americans who are in a different category socioeconomically or ethnically?

These conversations, I trust, would bear healthy and beneficial fruit for us today and our descendants in their tomorrows. These interactions can help us get to the place where we place less blame on others and work toward greater shared responsibility with others for the well-being of our society.


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Octubre de 2016!

The Donald for Class President – or Not

A friend teaches US history at a local middle school (6th-8th grades). He is of retirement age, but he told me he wants to teach one more year in order to process the 2016 presidential election with his students. “It’s just too interesting to pass up,” he said with a smile.

I agreed with his assessment of the upcoming election and ventured the opinion that “Trump is like a seventh-grader running for class president.” His response: “Exactly!” My teacher friend knows the territory quite well.


Don’t get me wrong – I have respect for many of Mr. Trump’s supporters and know a few who will vote for him in November. As is well-documented, Mr. Trump and Senator Sanders both tapped into the malaise of many lower- and middle-class Americans. Trump is no isolated, rich aristocrat. He’s in touch with what a number of Americans feel in their gut: things aren’t as they should or could be.

Whereas Sanders took the high road – not denigrating those he blamed for the malaise (“1 percenters”) or demonizing opponents – it didn’t win him a party nomination. Trump, on the other hand, ran his primary campaign as would a seventh-grade bully. Stereotyping in large strokes, name-calling, and fear-mongering with bravado flair – these helped him win a nomination. The tone of his presidential campaign continues on the same trajectory. Being the bully (or the most anti-politically correct candidate), however, won’t win him November’s big prize.

Attacks on Mexicans, Americans of Mexican descent, and Muslims in America; the condoning of violence at campaign events, and the enticing of violent reaction (if he doesn’t win the election) aren’t very presidential in manner or form. Personal attacks and threats of violence are reactionary devices that come straight out of a seventh-grade bully’s playbook, and in the end, they won’t help The Donald get to the Oval Office.

In my book Just a Little Bit More, I describe the current era of excess that began in 1980. Extremism, one of the era’s hallmarks, manifests itself politically (gridlock), financially (increased inequality), and socially (anxiety). Only during an era of excess could someone like Mr. Trump actually pass as a legitimate candidate for president. In an era of greater egalitarianism, candidate Trump’s overstatements and sweeping stereotypes would not have garnered him or his campaign any traction with voters. Additionally, his braggadocio concerning his financial bottom line (“I’m the most successful person to ever run for the presidency”) would have disqualified him because during eras of egalitarianism fewer people consider great wealth to be a societal virtue. Historically, Trump is one of the least philanthropic of wealthy Americans. Son Eric outdistances his father substantially as a philanthropist.

Bullying gets results in the short-term and thrives in an environment where it is hidden or underexposed. But once a sufficient number of people organize and leverage their power to expose the bully and the bullying, the game is over. As Trump’s message and antics go nationwide, they are exposed as simplistic, sensational, and lacking of substance. His poll numbers trend down, evidence that he now alienates more voters than he attracts.

Seventh grade, as we all know, doesn’t last forever; and neither does a bully’s day in the sun. Things in our country could and should be better, as Mr. Trump claims. But that better day, if it comes, will not be forged through bullying, violence, or rage. We’ve learned these important truths in our history classes; it’s not time to abandon these valuable and hard-earned lessons now.


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

A Flame of Hope

Thanks to colleague Brian Peterson for this guest blog post. Email:

I’ve seen the flame of hope among the hopeless. And that was truly the greatest heartbreak of all.” – Bruce Cockburn, “The Last Night of the World,” Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu, High Romance Records (1999).

Canadian musician and poet Bruce Cockburn reminds us that even in a world of apparent moral ambiguity, there are those moments in which one is confronted with unquestionable injustice that is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.

A brief encounter with poor people in the Zacate Grande region of southwest Honduras this past July was for me was just such a moment, one that opened a window to a world I never knew and that undoubtedly has changed me forever.

I happened to be there along with seven others as part of a delegation sponsored by the Alliance for Global Justice. We had been travelling for several days already studying the impact of neoliberal inspired mega-projects throughout the region. I’ll leave it to others far more versed in the verities of geopolitics and economics to parse out just exactly what that means, but suffice to say that I caught a glimpse of how just as the day follows the night, corruption, impunity, and failure of democratic institutions to do what they are supposed to do leaves some of the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere with nothing—nothing but hope.

As our intrepid driver Rey pulled our van off the main road into the parking lot of what appeared to be a house or some kind of community center it was clear that something was happening. A large crowd of people had gathered: young women in brightly colored dresses undoubtedly pieced together in some nearby sweatshop but now having been returned as first world cast offs; serious looking young men; campesinos and fishermen whose sun-baked, hard worked skin conferred upon them the visage of old men; and, gracious elderly women who like their poor hermanas throughout Central America are ever the ones to soothe and comfort the suffering while silently bearing their own heartbreak. Last but not least were the barefoot, rag tag children impatient and fussy in the way that children everywhere become when the grownups have to talk about serious matters.

We were there to listen, to endeavor through the lenses and layers of hegemonic privilege to understand and perhaps walk in the shoes of these courageous human beings for whom the accident of birth had consigned them to lives of struggle and fear, determination and hope. They insisted we sit and so some less than enthusiastic young boy was assigned the task of rounding up chairs, white plastic ones as ubiquitous to Central American life as tortillas, rice and beans. In the very least, having walked for miles to get there, our hosts should have been the ones resting their feet – not us! But we were their guests and to do otherwise would have seemed a rejection of what they had to give that day, so we sat.

Brian Peterson, front row, third from left. Zacate Grande region, Honduras.

Beneath the shadow of a great Guanacaste tree, we heard from the priest, a brave man of devotion, faith and courage, far more so than this pastor could ever imagine conjuring. They had all come that day from ten or so communities along the coast of the Gulf of Fonseca which for some had been quite an ordeal. Rich Honduran oligarchs, in league with US-backed political leaders, have effectively put their country up for sale on the US stock exchange. Like Babylon and Ancient Rome these proposed model cities bear the marks of toxic imperial domination. In these playgrounds for the superrich that are effectively free of burdensome environmental and labor laws the fruits are ripe for the picking—IMF and World Bank funded development projects include a deep water port, scenic beach properties, tourist destinations to rival any other in the world. About the only thing standing in their way though, are the men, women and children who stood before us that day.

We heard too from an attorney working with a local non-governmental organization who described in detail the legal difficulties these communities face, the threats and intimidation, and the probable end of their livelihoods and subsequent inability to provide for their families. The oligarchic control of executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government makes for an easy accommodation of rich benefactors by executive decree, and the changing and rewriting of laws and their brutal enforcement by with thugs armed with US made weapons and machinery.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking than the injustice being carried out against these hard working poor people was their hope; hope in us because we had simply shown up, because we were among the few outsiders who have taken the time to listen and try to imagine what life must be like for them. As we wrapped up our meeting a community elder expressed what I suspect was the hope shared with his compañeros there. “You will go home and get your government to change its policies that are allowing these things to happen here, won’t you?” And as much as I wished I could say, “Yes, absolutely,” I knew better. I knew and know all too well what they are up against—economic, political and military systems that choose not to serve the people, but the powerful few hell-bent on extracting every ounce of life from those who want no more than to live and work in peace, to provide for their children and families, to live lives of quality and meaning. I couldn’t help but lament at the seeming insignificance of my lone voice and what I could ever hope to accomplish on their behalf.

And yet, a broken heart does not inevitably lead to despair and hopelessness but can serve to transform and change. The lyrics of Cockburn’s song describing the “greatest heartbreak of all” go on to declare “and that was the straw that broke me open.” A heart broken-open is a heart that can be filled with something new, with something that for whatever reason couldn’t enter before. So in the time since that brief encounter under the Guanacaste tree what has come to fill the cracks in my own heart?

My broken heart is filled with compassion. The faces, the words, the hospitality shown to us that day are forever etched in my memory. The world is terribly unfair and unjust. By mere accident of birth I live on the other side of the fence enjoying a lifestyle that in many ways is borne on the backs of poor people like them and so many others around the world.

My broken heart is filled with frustration at the apparent disinterest and apathy of those here at home who ask “Oh, how was your trip?” but who have no interest in being open to any meaningful response other than “Oh, it was great!” I’m frustrated at the church I have served as a pastor for almost twenty-five years, a denomination that extols the virtues of “accompaniment,” that raises millions of dollars a year to support helpful and well-meaning development projects and ministries staffed by hard working dedicated people around the world, but a church that perhaps out of fear of upsetting an overwhelmingly monochromatic, upper-middle class, middle to right of the road constituency or of demonstrating “questionable theology” shies away from addressing the systemic issues at the root of poverty and injustice. And so my heart weighed down with frustration, I am left reluctantly agreeing with a synod staff person’s observation nearly ten years ago after an effort to raise justice and poverty issues to a level of highest priority. “Well, Brian, that’s all well and good but you know it’s not going to go anywhere.”

My broken heart is filled with rage at the powerful voices in our society that demonize and dismiss those whose options have been taken from them and have no choice but to become immigrants. I am outraged that poor and vulnerable people like the ones I met have become pawns in political games and are deemed “dirty, rapists,” and parasites in search of a free education, health care and a refrigerator; leeches who are out to take American jobs. My blood boils at the thought that my government supports a country whose leaders act with utter impunity, without any regard for basic human rights, for whom personal gain and profit are valued above all else. I am furious that the presumptive nominee for a major political party has been given a pass with regard to her collusion as Secretary of State encouraging and later justifying a 2009 coup that overthrew the democratically elected president, a properly elected leader who, much to her consternation and all those like her held captive by the chimera of so called free trade and rule of law, had begun to broach the taboo subject of political reform.

That being said, a broken heart is just that, a heart cracked and fissured, a heart that can be open to other possibilities. A heart filled with compassion, with frustration and even rage is nevertheless a heart that can also be filled with hope. Yes, in the hopeless hope of poor desperate campesinos and fishermen of Amapala I find hope in their courage and determination, in their willingness to strive for a better life for them and their children, and unwillingness to accept the world as it is. I find hope in the brave Roman Catholic priests and human rights workers I met there who literally put their lives on the line every day. Among the women, men and children of the small community of faith that I serve as pastor back here in the US I find my hope renewed, as they listen, understand and even encourage their sometimes hair-brained, crazy-talking pastor; we support one another in the covenant God has made with us in baptism “to serve all people following the example of Jesus and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” The flames of hope are stoked as I reflect on the work of others, a dear friend, a pastor like me who has gifted the church and the world with a book that challenges us to consider the common good; an activist friend on the ground in Honduras who though not a person of faith shares a sense of compassion for those on the margins, of rage at the present order of thing, of hope in a world where people can live lives of quality and peace; another friend who brings hope and healing to poor disabled children in Nicaragua through a newly founded nonprofit. What I find even more hopeful is that my list is rapidly growing.

Finally, hope abounds in in the conversations and connections with others who are willing to at least listen, to question their assumptions as well as mine, to be open to new perspectives and maybe even a new world. The kind of world a young, frightened girl sang about centuries ago, in which the proud are scattered in the imaginations of their hearts and the rich sent away empty, while the lowly and hungry ones are lifted up and filled with good things; the same hope proclaimed by an often misunderstood John of Patmos—a day when the tears of all those who suffer will be wiped dry, when their mourning and crying and pain will be no more. The accident of birth has afforded me great privilege in life and so while God’s word clearly implicates me convicting me of my own hard-hearted complicity, at the same time it opens the way to transformation and change, to the power of God at work today, in this present moment that is making all things new, even a heart scarred and cracked to be filled with compassion and hope for a world in need and for the new Jerusalem that awaits us all.

Brian Peterson pastors Ascension Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Austin, Texas. He has been travelling to Nicaragua and Honduras on a yearly basis since 2008.

“Just a Little Bit More” in Chicago

Basketball was my first love. My home church, St. Mark Lutheran in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, had (and still has) an activity center with a full-size hardwood basketball court. As a youngster, I would lay in bed at night dreaming about making it to the fifth grade. Back in that day, there were no basketball teams or leagues for pint-sized superstars-to-be. Fifth grade was the entry point for organized basketball. We played a competitive church league b-ball schedule for four years up until high school; the last two of those years we played on the church team and the junior high school team simultaneously. Those were the days. I’ve often said that I probably would not have become a pastor without that hardwood basketball court at the St. Mark Center. The center was built in 1969. From my vantage point now having served as a pastor for twenty-five years, I’m pretty impressed that the St. Mark church council and building committee in the ’60s had the courage and commitment to build that center – like I said – with a hardwood basketball court as its centerpiece. Today, the center still hosts basketball games and other activities for youth, and serves as a winter overnight sleeping area for homeless people via the PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) program.

st. mark presentation
JaLBM presentation at St. Mark Lutheran, Mt. Prospect, IL, September 14, 2015.

St. Mark also funded my seminary education. In the mid- to late-1980s, seminary tuition ranged from $3000-$4500/year, as education costs were significantly subsidized by the larger church. (Seminary tuition currently runs about $15,000/year.) I’m indebted to St. Mark for its support, and grateful for the people of St. Mark who helped shape my faith and understanding of the world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Consequently, it was a privilege and honor visit St. Mark and have a conversation on social and economic inequalities, and the common good. Some forty-five people gathered September 14th for presentation and discussion on Just a Little Bit More themes: Rockefeller’s permission, the dominant religion of the land (the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism), and Jesus as a social egalitarian. It was a good session. I’m grateful for the leadership of Nancy Snell, Dr. Lanny Wilson, Dr. Jean Rossi, and my dad—the original “Carlos”—Carl Anderson at St. Mark as they continue further discussions on JaLBM themes in their adult education book study series. Thanks to retiring Pastor Linnea Wilson and St. Mark’s new pastor, Christie Webb, for their support as well.

Messiah Lutheran Church, Wauconda, IL hosted a luncheon Q & A session for me and Just a Little Bit More after I preached at the congregation on September 13th. A number of folks at Messiah have read JaLBM and we engaged in fruitful conversation about the common good and the pursuit of justice in the midst of increasing societal inequality. Special thanks to Pastors Dawn Mass Eck and Ben Dueholm (who has written an excellent article on inequality for The Christian Century, linked here) for facilitating a good weekend for their guest preacher at Messiah. I preached on Hispanic ministry as Messiah embraces a study emphasis this fall, “Church in Changing Neighborhood.” The public school district that serves Wauconda, a northern Chicago suburb, has a student population 26 percent Latino; a generation ago there was minimal Latino presence in Wauconda.

It was gratifying to be at “home” again in the Chicago area, seeing faces old and new, sharing some of my JaLBM work and Hispanic ministry experience.

I don’t play basketball anymore, but I haven’t forgot my hardwood court roots. Thanks, St. Mark!


If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. The full-length book (257 pgs) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

Donald Trump and the Value We Attribute to Wealth

The Donald is on a roll – a white roll, that is. Mexicans and other Latinos are saying “ya basta” – that’s enough.

I pastor a dual-language congregation in Texas. The Donald has given me, for a number of Sundays now, a comical entry into my Spanish sermón. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t focus or even dawdle on partisan politics in Spanish worship at St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran in Austin, but we do talk about what’s happening in society. And The Donald is happening . . .

America is the land of opportunity. And part of that opportunity has been achieved, up to the current day, on the backs of cheap (or enslaved) labor. African slaves and immigrants, Chinese and other Asians, Irish, Italians, Swedes, Germans, Poles, Greeks, Mexicans, Iranians, and many others have put in long days and nights working the land, the factories, the shipyards, the foundries, the slaughterhouses, the ports, the warehouses, the kitchens, the taxis and shuttle buses. America is the land of slaves who came against their own will. America is the land of indigenous natives who were pushed aside – many of these exterminated. America is the land of immigrants, many who came possessing not much more than sheer will. And still, America is the land of opportunity for many – it’s more than a cliché; it’s a vital reality.

America, a great country and society, is far from perfect. We’ve yet to attain “liberty and justice for all.” But as we continue forward on our societal journey, we seem to be making more progress than not.* We value family and friendships, hard work, second chances, accomplishments, and successes.

But here’s where it starts to get complicated. We also revere the attainment of wealth as one of our highest social values. This value has taken Donald Trump to the top of the polls. Yes, he talks tough and is hitting a nerve with a small segment of our society (very white) that wants to fix our immigration issues with deportations and walls. But because he is rich – fabulously so, just listen to him tell you – he has POTUS potential. He claims that he’s “the most successful person to ever run for president.” Mitt Romney’s nomination four years ago, in part, can be attributed to the same evaluation.

Americans equate wealth with success. According to University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson, this evaluation can be very narrow and limiting – essentially, anti-freedom. I call it un-egalitarian. Check out this brief, yet insightful interview (linked here) by veteran journalist Sam Pizzigati with Dr. Anderson (no relation) on the website e-newsletter Too Much.

Talking about societal values, Anderson says, “I’m wary of any society that reduces success to a single definition. If a society is free, people will pursue different conceptions of the good and define success in different ways. They won’t be unified around a single common definition of success any more than they would be unified around a single religion” (italics mine).

According to Anderson, the primary problem with this single definition of success is that those who are not wealthy are seen to be failures. Secondary problems include overconsumption (by the rich and poor alike, trying to keep up and measure up) and wealth accumulation by questionable means. Value extraction that is harmful to people and communities, and the environment, is permitted because the higher goal of wealth accumulation is served. That’s a problem.

A society that worships wealth accumulation is one in need of a recalibration of its values. Wealth is good, unquestionably; but its unfettered pursuit portends societal decline. A successful society is one that is diversified in its understanding of good and doesn’t allow wealth to siphon upward. Anderson calls inheritance taxes the most just in the world, because they mitigate against the establishment of a permanent upper-class.

Teachers, soldiers, nurses, mechanics, child care workers, cops, community organizers, construction workers, kitchen workers, and caretakers will never be paid extravagant salaries. But their work is vital to the flourishing of societal common good. And their work doesn’t extract, but adds value to communities and societies. Our society would not be successful without them, and the many others who serve the common good in their work.

Candidate Trump can harangue Mexican and other Latino immigrants all he wants. It’s unconvincing, however. Most all of the Mexican and Latino immigrants (and their sons and daughters) that I know in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio – and in other places in this country – are adding value to their communities and to this society.

And, in the end, despite all his wealth, the haranguing will not win Mr. Trump a national election in twenty-first century America.


*Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Taylor Branch’s Trilogy on the King Years, among other distinguished works of history, help to tell a fuller representative story of American history.



This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Join the conversation about social and economic inequality – without having to be politically hyperpartisan – and let’s figure out how capitalism can do better!