Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday greetings!

Jill and I want to wish you a joyful holiday as we experience our first Christmas as a married couple.  We are incredibly grateful for the miracle of love and how God has brought us and our family and friends together. Since meeting on Palm Sunday April 17th, 2011, we've had amazingly rich experiences: our whirlwind courtship, our mega wedding, our fabulous honeymoon in Hawaii (where we co-spoke on each of our books!) connecting with Anthony’s Quaker roots in Philadelphia, with Jill’s Missions Door colleagues in New York and with Anthony’s sister and her family in Princeton, where he grew up. We are greatly enriched by each other’s friends and spiritual traditions. It feels we are living out what Jesus said: “I have come to bring life, and bring it abundantly!”

Jill’s family—her Mom Donna and sister Jana and brother-in-law Dwight and their two sons Joey and Peter—came to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. We had a blast! We loved Anthony's idea of offering thanks for the various foods that our Native American brothers and sisters bestowed on us: corn, tomatoes, cactus, beans, squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, wild rice, and of course, the greatest gift of all, chocolate!

The Advent season began with wonderful news. A couple with seven kids contacted us a few weeks ago, telling us that they were being evicted from their apartment due to the landlord going into foreclosure. Jill spent hours on the phone trying to help this family—we prayed—and our prayers were answered: they were accepted into the Family Promise! They entered the program on Dec. 4th--the very day they had to be out of their apartment and the day the network opened--after 3 years of organizing! Jill helped to recruit many of the 14 churches now part of the San Gabriel Valley network--the local expression of this nationwide program, whereby 2-4 homeless families are hosted by a congregation for a week, and are then rotated to the next congregation. Daily families seek jobs and housing at the Family Promise Resource Center. A full-time social worker works with them. We were blown away when 101 people came to the volunteer training Dec. 8th! We are thrilled to see such interest and how this family and others will now have a chance for a new life.

We are also grateful that the homeless survey we helped to conduct last summer has yielded good results. Twenty of the most at-risk homeless people in Pasadena have now been housed!

We are grateful that we have a warm and cozy home, and that it didn’t suffer much damage when winds up to 65 mph roared through our area on November 30. The shingles on our back roof were blown off, but they were old and needed to be replaced, and insurance will cover most of it. Anthony says: “It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good.”

During this unusually violent storm we offered Jill’s back house to a man who recently became homeless and was living in his car when the shelter where he was staying closed down.

Everywhere we turn, we see people who lack adequate shelter. That’s why we feel it’s important to revise Jill’s book on affordable housing. The need is huge, and churches are playing an important role to in realizing the goal of early Christians: "There was no poverty among them, because people who owned land or houses sold them and brought the money to the apostles to give to others in need." (Acts 4:34-35). Jill book will continue to encourage people to follow this example and do what it takes to “make housing happen” with the desperate need. At the Christian Community Development Association’s annual gathering this fall, Jill was humbled to learn that a young woman discovered her book in the office at Sojourner’s magazine and upon reading it decided to switch careers. She is now developing affordable housing for homeless youth in Minneapolis.

Jill published a feature article called “Seven Ways Home” in the December issue of Sojourners magazine. Anthony was very proud when Jim Wallis saw us both in an elevator and said, “Oh, you’re Jill Shook. You’re famous!” (You can read it online at

Anthony has continued to be involved in his various peacemaking efforts. This year he published a book called Quakers and the Interfaith Movement and has given talks at various churches and other venues. During the summer he gave a workshop at the national Quaker gathering, Friends General Conference. One of our goals as a married couple is to host a weekly discussion series in Feb 2012 to look at biblical underpinnings of peacemaking. We will consider alternatives to war in the Bible, and how the church has been on both sides of this issue, both supporting it and playing a significant role in ending it.

On Oct 7 Anthony was arrested at a rally in front of the Los Angeles Federal Building along with 14 other religious leaders on the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. He and the other religious leaders spent the afternoon in jail. When asked about this experience, Anthony said: “I used to wonder why early Christians and early Quakers were so cheerful when they were taken to jail, or worse, for their beliefs. When I was taken to jail with my good friends, I had a taste of that joy that comes when we follow our conscience, no matter what.”

For the past few weeks, Anthony has been working with various religious leaders in the LA area to have a sharing circle and worship opportunities at Occupy LA. Anthony believes that the nonviolent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King is needed at this time in order to turn America from a culture of greed to a culture of compassion and mutual accountability.

It feels as if America, and the world, is going through a time of rebirth, a process that is painful and messy as well as beautiful. (Kind of like a marriage!) We are feeling the drama of birth in other ways, too. Jill had planned to work on the revised version of her book throughout 2011, but due our meeting and wedding, we are now facing the pressure of a January deadline. Jill is deeply grateful for Anthony's many hours of help in editing and for his appreciation of the value and great need for this book at this time of the foreclosure crisis. It feels as if giving birth to a book is our first child!

During this time of Advent, we are seeing the rebirth of the One who was born to show us how to live and love with grace. We hope and pray that all of you will experience once again this amazing grace and have a truly blessed holiday!

Love, Anthony and Jill

PS. The picture below shows us when we gave a presentation together about our respective books at Honolulu Meeting. We plan to speak together at One Voice, Jill’s church, on Sunday, Dec 18, about how the birth of Jesus challenged the existing social order. You’ll be able to access this talk at Anthony’s blog at

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where would you want your child to be born?

Jill and I are grateful to Paul Kim, pastor of One Voice church in Pasadena,  for inviting us to share this Christmas message.   I am also thankful to this church for being so hospitable and welcoming me into its community.

The question I posed for this congregation (and for you) to think about was:
"If you had a choice about where your child would be born, so your child could realize its potential and have a good life, what place would you choose?”
Most people would probably say, “I’d like my child to be born in a good, peaceful neighborhood, with good schools, so he or she will be safe and get a good education.”

The place were Jesus was born was not at all what you or I would necessarily choose. God had a different plan. God’s child was born in a country under foreign occupation, wracked by war and uprisings, in an impoverished village far from centers of power. His parents came from a town with such a bad reputation that when good-hearted Nathaniel was told Jesus came from Nazareth, he said: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Nazareth was clearly not prime real estate It was in the northern part of what is today Israel. It was filled with many non-Jews, mostly Syrians, who had been conquered in a bloody war a hundred years before Jesus’ birth. Bethlehem was also war-torn and poor, a suburb of Jerusalem controlled by a ruthless Roman army. Today the inhabitants of Bethlehem are still under the control of a ruthless army; they can’t come or go without permission of the Israelis. That’s the kind of place that God chose for God’s son to be born into. Why would God want his child to be born in this kind of place under these circumstances?

The Bible teaches us that many great leaders were born in desperate circumstances. Moses was born a slave in Egypt, under conditions so oppressive his parents had to put him into a wicker basket and set him afloat on the Nile to prevent him from being killed by Pharaoh. David was born a humble shepherd during a time when the Israelites were at war with the Canaanites.

Why did God choose for the savior of the world to be born among poor and outcast? In every way Jesus, even at his birth, identifies with the marginalized. That is what gave him authority to speak truth to power on behalf of the powerless. And that is what gives you and I that authority. Jill would not be powerful in what she says at the city council if she didn’t know firsthand those who are being affected by the systemic issues and are not being heard or know how to speak to those who allocate the resources.

According to the Hebrew prophecies, a great Liberator would be born in Bethlehem to give folks the grace and power to speak, to free his people from oppression and to end war. Zech 9: 9-10 says,

Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel
and the warhorses from Jerusalem.
I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,
and your king will bring peace to the nations.
His realm will stretch from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.

This was joyous news for the poor, but bad news for those who live by the sword. When King Herod heard rumors that a Messiah, a King of the Jews, was born in Bethlehem, he felt so threatened he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies. Fear and lust for power controlled him and led him to violence.

Such a bloody, ruthless act revealed the oppressive system that the Jews were living under. The theologian Walter Wink calls this "the domination system," and it's still with us. Whenever the domination system is threatened, it responds with violence: arrests, imprisonment, torture, and eventually the killing of innocent people. We see this around the world today with people rising up in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia. We even see it in our own country with the our police dressed in full riot gear, to clear out unarmed Occupiers exercising their Constitutional rights.

I felt personally connected to the story of the “slaughter of the innocents” when I went to Israel/Palestine in 2005 as part of the Compassionate Listening project. The intifada or uprising of 2000 had just ended. Over 1,400 Palestinian children and 125 Jewish children had been killed—an enormous number given the small size of this country. I met Jewish and Palestinian parents whose children had been killed during this period and it was heartbreaking to listen to them. One of them was a rabbi whose son was murdered by Arabs and found in a cave near his kibbutz. Another was a Palestinian mother whose 16-year-old son was shot in the head at point blank range by an Israeli soldier during a peaceful demonstration. I can't begin to describe the pain of these grieving families.

During this trip I went to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born and was appalled to see it riddled with bullet holes. Inside the church, I found a shrine dedicated to the “slaughter of the innocents." . This was not just a story that happened 2000 years ago. It's still happening today. While there I felt empty and sad. I grieved for the children who had been killed in Israel/Palestine. I prayed for all the children being killed by war, by terrorism, by drones, by airplanes. On average two children a day died in Afghanistan in 2010. Over 500 Palestinian children were killed during the Gaza massacre in 2009.

I have vowed to do everything in my power to end this senseless slaughter. Jill and I both believe there are biblical alternatives to war and violence. God chose to have his son born in the midst of an oppressive system to show us the way.

I had come to Israel/Palestine as part of a nonviolent conflict resolution group called the Compassionate Listening Project. This group was inspired by a Quaker named Gene Hoffman who was my mentor and friend. The idea of Compassionate Listening is to teach people listening skills in places where people have been traumatized by violence. People learn to listen to their “enemies” without judging, to listen from the heart, and this builds trust and hope. While I was in Bethlehem, we did Compassionate Listening training in a school, and nearly 100 Palestinians and Israeli Jews took part. This was very inspiring since Jews were not allowed to go to Bethlehem to talk with Palestinians at this time. It was illegal! But many Jews were willing to break the law in order to build bridges of understanding with their Palestinian neighbors. When so-called “enemies” come together and listen to each other’s stories from the heart, they can become friends.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed a Palestinian boy named Yousef Bashir who lived under Israeli occupation in Gaza. When Yousef was only 12, he was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as he was walking out of his house. He was critically hurt and almost died. Because the hospitals in Gaza are short on crucial medical supplies, his father somehow managed to get him to a first-rate Jewish hospital where Yousef spent several months recovering. Up to this time, Yousef had never encountered a Jew who wasn’t armed and threatening. In the hospital he met kind Jewish doctors and nurses, and gradually overcame his prejudices and fears. He went on to become an ardent peace maker and even persuaded an Israeli soldier to accept a t-shirt for a camp called “The Seeds of Peace.” After hearing Yousef’s story, the soldier said he would like to become a counselor at this camp after finishing his obligatory military service. Yousef’s story, titled “The Power of Forgiveness,” is being published in a book for children in Russia and Chechnya showing that there are alternatives to violence. (See

Closer to home, Jill and I witnessed examples of what compassionate listening can accomplish when we traveled together this summer to places in our own country where there is poverty and violence. We went to the slums of Washington, DC, and Philadelphia and we saw Christians who had moved into these at-risk communities and listened, deeply listened, to what the community needs and what it has to offer. These Christians had partnered with their urban neighbors to help the community to rebuild itself. Jim Dickerson, this small church has been involved in rehabbing and selling 1000 homes to low income families with an extremely low foreclosure rate. In this work, I saw signs of hope, signs that Christ was being reborn.

Many people today are being kicked out of their homes due to foreclosures, or are finding it impossible to afford a home because of our unjust economic system, where the rich get bailouts and the poor get sold out. Many young people have taken to the streets to protest the economic injustices of Wall Street. As you know, I was part of a religious group that got arrested to protest the war in Afghanistan and also went to Occupy LA to be in solidarity with the protesters. It was amazing to see hundreds of people living in tents around our City Hall. Some of them had come from Skid Row where they were already living on the streets. It was the first time in my life I have seen middle class and poor people living together in tents. What drew them together was the hunger and thirst for justice. I felt as if I was witnessing the rebirth of hope, the rebirth of the Christ spirit.

What about here in Pasadena? Where is Christ being reborn here? How can we be part of this rebirth? Jill can tell you more about this than I can. I am grateful that many of you in this church are helping with programs like Family Promise and are doing what you can to help families like Theresa's family whose children will be living in a church instead of on the street this Christmas. Jill and I are inviting you to join us in a discussion group focusing on justice and peace from a biblical perspective, and discover together the meaning of peace in ourselves, our community and world today.

We’d like to end with a beautiful song about the birth of the Prince of Peace by the great Quaker African-American activist mystic teacher Howard Thurman, who taught at my Alma mater, Boston University. Here's what Howard Thurman says about the message of Christmas:
"When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart."

What did the angels mean by “Peace on earth?”

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”--Luke 2:14, King James version.

This Christmas I was asked to speak about the birth of the one who has been called the “Prince of Peace.” As many of you know, my wife Jill and I met at a peace parade in Pasadena that took place on Palm Sunday, and we are both peacemakers at heart. In fact, we affirmed at our wedding that “the Prince of Peace brought us together for purpose larger than either of us can imagine.”

Peacemaking is at the heart of the Gospel. When Jesus made his triumphant march in Jerusalem on a donkey, he was fulfilling a prophesy by Zachariah which said that the Messiah would come and end all war. Just before his death, Jesus told his disciples, “My peace I leave you, not as the world gives you peace” (John 12:27).

Today we are hear to celebrate the birth of this Prince of Peace. But what Jesus mean by peace? How does the peace of Jesus differ from the “world's” notion of peace?

When the angels announced the birth of the Savior by proclaiming “Peace on earth,” they were expressing a vision of peace and of society that was totally at odds with the views of the Roman empire, and of many people today. The Roman word for peace, PAX, is related to the word “pact,” a peace treaty. For the empire, peace is simply about the cessation of war. As the Roman historian Tacitus said, “The Romans create desolation and call it peace.” The same could be said for every empire, including our own. The Hebrew word for peace SHALOM is much deeper and richer than this imperial notion of a peace treaty. Shalom comes from the root meaning wholeness and implies health, well-being, and social harmony. Peace is usually coupled with justice. In the Beatitudes Jesus says: “Blessed are the shalom-makers” and also “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice.” In the Bible, shalom and justice go hand-in-hand.

So when the angels announce that the birth of Jesus will bring “shalom,” it means a world of justice, peace, and reconciliation.

There are basically two aspects of peace—inward and outward. Inner peace means more than just feeling good. You can feel good and still not have true inner peace. Many Germans felt peaceful inwardly during the Nazi period. They were going to church, doing their jobs, and being “good Germans.” But they weren’t at peace with God.

To be truly peaceful inwardly means living in harmony with God’s will. The Italian poet Dante said it beautifully: “En su voluntad esta nuestra paz.” “In Your Will, O God, is our peace.” When we live in harmony with God’s will, we are living a life of love, service, and joy. We aren’t thinking about ourselves. We aren’t resentful or angry. We feel a sense of “rightness,” of being where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, with people we love.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus talks about this inward peace when he says: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Those who are pure in heart are free from mixed motives, from the kind of selfishness that leads to conflict and war.

In his epistle, James explains that wars are caused by our selfish desires. “You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it.” (James 4:2)

James goes on to say we don’t know how to pray for what is truly good for us, like wisdom. To learn how to pray rightly, we need to take time to be still and listen to our hearts, to what Quakers call the Inward Light. When we take time to be in holy silence, and let go of our desires and agenda, we allow space for the Christ child, the spirit of compassion, to be reborn in our hearts. This leads to what Paul calls “the peace that passeth understanding.” This spirit of peace is beautifully conveyed in the song, “Silent night.” I love the words: “All is calm. All is bright.” That’s what inner peace feels like.

Peace is more than a good feeling, however. As Pastor Paul Kim explained last week, Jesus commands us to be ethical. And he gave us two ethical commands that relate to peace: LOVE YOUR ENEMY and PRAY FOR THOSE WHO WRONG YOU.

If we follow these two commandments, it would seem we couldn't possibly go to war. In fact, we have no choice but to pursue peace actively.

These commandments seem clear, though by no means easy to follow, but many Christians have felt differently about applying them. Augustine made the argument that some wars are just, and thereby opened the door for endless “defensive” wars. Other Christians like Reinhold Niebuhr argued these commandments are intended for individuals, not for nations. According to these so-called Christian realists, Jesus’ commandments regarding peace are impossible to follow in this fallen world. They are simply ideals to be aspired to.

This is not the way early Christians interpreted these commandments, however. Until the time of Constantine in 300 AD, most Christians refused to serve in the Roman army. They refused to light incense at the altar of Caesar or the war gods. And they paid a heavy price for not pledging allegiance to the Roman empire. Many went to prison, or worse, were tortured and killed. One of my favorite stories is about St Martin, the patron saint of pacifists.

While Martin was still a soldier in the Roman army and deployed in Gaul (modern day France), he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me." (Sulpicius, ch 2).

After having a conversion experience and being baptised, Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service.[5]

As you know, I went to jail along with 14 others who oppose the endless “defensive” wars we are fighting throughout the world. When I was arrested, I had a taste of what it was like when early Christians and early Quakers went to prison cheerfully, singing hymns of praise to God. When I was handcuffed and taken to jail, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, I felt a sense of joy, of peace, because I was following my conscience, no matter what.

There are many ways to create peace or shalom. We create shalom when we visit the sick, help the needy, comfort the afflicted, and work for justice. I hope that each of you finds your own way to bring peace and reconciliation to your family, to your community, and to the world. This is how we can best celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

I'd like to end with a beautiful song by the great Quaker African-American activist mystic teacher Howard Thurman, who taught at my alma mater, Boston Univesity. Here is how Thurman sums up the message of Christmas:

"When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart."

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (, on whose board of directors I serve, issued the following statement condemning the police raid on Occupy LA. The Jewish Journal published an excellent account of what happened from an interreligious viewpoint. See

Ever since 9/11, when Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace ("ICUJP") was founded, we have called on religious communities to "stop blessing war and violence" and have urged our elected officials to seek peaceful solutions to conflict at home and abroad.

We believe that Occupy LA had a right to protest peacefully and should not have been evicted. In a time in which we often hear laments that no one cares and no one gets involved, the Occupy LA movement should be commended for getting involved and peacefully protesting a government that has become completely beholden to the interests of the rich, the military, banks, and corporations. Their involvement also inspired others to get involved, which should be celebrated as well.

Since the Occupy LA encampment was endorsed the Los Angeles City Council and its goals has the support of the majority of California voters, we feel Mayor had no legal authority to unilaterally order the LAPD to shut it down.

As religious leaders who personally observed the police crackdown have testified, protesters at Occupy LA were peacefully exercising their constitutional rights when 1400 police in riot gear descended upon them, arrested almost 300 and brutally dispersed the rest. Although the police allegedly did not use the outrageous and illegal level of violence evident in other such crackdowns, observers described the behavior of the LAPD as "violent" and "brutal," leading to abuses and injuries, which have been ignored.

This police overreaction could have been avoided. Religious leaders had made an agreement with the police department that they would be given an opportunity to meet with the protesters prior to arrests to help defuse tension. According to reliable sources, only 50 protesters had planned to commit civil disobedience. The rest were willing to disperse when requested to do so. These religious mediators were deliberately taken aside and deceptively told they were being briefed while police initiated their raid without observation. This betrayal of trust by law enforcement violates deeply held democratic values.

ICUJP also regrets that the local media, including the Los Angeles Times, betrayed the ideals of a Free Press, by failing to unflinchingly report what actually happened during the police raid on Occupy LA. A free society depends on a free press independently exposing government abuse rather than uncritically republishing the official story.

The Mayor and others have boasted that this police action was peaceful, compared with the pepper spraying and other violent behavior that has taken place throughout the United States. We also object to the use of excessive bail and jail time to intimidate the protesters.

We believe City should not only permit, but encourage its citizens to exercise their right to protest peacefully if we are to preserve our democracy.

Finally, we condemn the growing use of paramilitary tactics to suppress the exercise of First Amendment rights, including freedom of peaceful and non-violent assembly, here in the United States. A democracy cannot survive if it treats protesters as if they are "the enemy." We are appalled that the Department of Homeland Security has been advising mayors throughout the country on how to suppress the Occupy movement, thereby equating American citizens exercising their constitutional rights with terrorists.

We fully concur with former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper who has severely criticized the police for adopting a militaristic approach to dealing with demonstrators. Stamper urges the police and elected officials to remember "they are dealing with fellow Americans" and notes that the Occupy protesters are raising "issues that are vital to the entire country, and certainly to the middle class and those who have been marginalized, especially by poverty or by discrimination."

We are committed to Speaking Truth to Power. ICUJP calls for an independent People's Tribunal to fully investigate the events surrounding the raid on Occupy LA and to publicly expose the whole truth.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Remembering Dora Stein.....

A year ago I went caroling with members of Santa Monica Meeting to shut-ins, and we ended up at the apartment of Dora Stein, a beloved member of our meeting who passed away last month at age 84. I  was also asked to give a "eulogy" at Dora's memorial, so I am including it along with pictures we took last year when we went caroling... I realize how precious such moments are, and how caring for Dora brought us together as Friends....and brought us together to the One whose birth we celebrate this season.

It is a great honor to be asked to give a eulogy about Dora Stein, a beloved member of our Meeting. During her final years she suffered from constant health problems, and needed lots of care. Many of us visited her, took her to the hospital and to doctor’s appointments, took her to the bank and shopping, and performed other needed services. It was not always easy to be her caregiver, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to know and love this amazing woman. During one of her emotional outbursts in the hospital this past year, Dora referred to me as her son. When I heard this, I felt it was a great honor. Dora was born the same year as my mother, and she was like my mother in many ways: a gifted storyteller, a lover of people, and a colorful character you couldn’t help loving even if at times she drove you crazy.

And I am reminded of the words of Elizabeth Watson, a Friend who wrote a beautiful book about grieving called “Guests in my House.” Elizabeth wrote:

“This we owe to our beloved dead, whether young or old: to wipe from our memories all that was less than their best, and to carry them in our hearts at their wisest, most compassionate, most creative moments.”

Today we are here to remember Dora at her best, and to be thankful for what she gave of herself to us.

Dora loved this Meeting and she never ceased to express her gratitude to all of you. She never married, and she was not close to her siblings, so this Meeting was her family. I know that if she were here, she would want to thank each one of you for the care and love you have showed her. Especially deserving of thanks are those who served on Dora’s care committee: Donna and Fred Buell, Sue Richter, Nancy Fuller, Diane Manning, and Celia Carroll. Many others in this Meeting also deserve thanks for visiting her in the hospital, for helping with this memorial meeting, and for other acts of kindess.

This week Dora would have celebrated her 84th birthday. She was in Boston on Dec. 2, 1927. Her parents Samuel and Rachel Fisher Stein were Jewish and were born in Poland. She had three sisters: Rose, Annette and Ida. She attended Simmons College, and took occupational therapy training at LA City College. She worked as an editor for Sunset magazine and had many other free-lance jobs

She was the adopted grandmother of Dahlins: Bob, Suzy, and Lucas.

She loved parties, gardening, and her neighborhood.

And she loved being a Quaker.

I’m sure all of us have stories to share about Dora, so I will limit myself to only one. This story meant so much to me I posted it on my blog, and I will remember it for the rest of my life. I hope you will remember it whenever you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself.

In January of 2010, Dora had to go to ICU for an extended stay. Her lungs were ailing, and she had to be placed on a breathing tube. This was a huge stresser for Dora since she loved to talk, and for several weeks she couldn’t communicate except through writing. She wrote constantly, filling up page after page with her careful scrawl, trying to share her thoughts and feelings.

One afternoon, she shared words I will never forget. First, she wrote: “Jesus Christ is my teacher. I am trying to follow his example.”

Then she wrote: “I am the luckiest woman in the world.”

Then she wrote these words: “I am luckiest woman in the world because I have friends.”

I was staggered. What could Dora possibly mean? Here she was, a tiny woman, lying in a bed of pain, on the verge of dying, unable to speak, yet she said she was the luckiest woman in the world. What could she possibly mean?

At that moment, I felt I had a glimpse of Dora’s heart, and it was beautiful. Money and success didn’t matter to Dora. What mattered above all else was friendship. Dora was a true Friend.

I’d like to close with the words of William Penn. Written while Penn was in prison, these words beautifully describe the kind of friendship that never dies, the kind of friendship that Dora valued and embodied:
“They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.

Death cannot kill what never dies.

Nor can spirits ever be divided, that love and live in the same divine principle, the root and record of their friendship.

If absence be not death, neither is theirs.

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.

For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.

In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.

This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”


Stan Searl, clerk of our Meeting, wrote this amazing poem that captures the essence of Dora and her relationship to our Meeting:

Why couldn't you be reasonable like me and all these other Quakers?
Why couldn't you be rational
And full of perspicacity and even common sense?

Why couldn't you have a real job
And an income
And be good,
To love your neighbors and be like us these perfect Quakers?

To me,
Knowing you is like
Feeling myself in the midst of a rock and roll song
Where the beat goes on beneath everything
Thumping and bumping
As we drum our hearts together,
Beating onto our bodies
Pushing ourselves,
Singing and dancing
With the drums echoing
On our skins
Look at me,
I am here
And alive just the same as you.

After all,
As Quakers together
We don't know what we're doing either
Leading with our noses
And smelling our way together
As you interrupted our precious silent worship once again,
Insistent and determined
And so angry that you threatened to blow up our carefully scrupled
edifice of calm

Challenging us to be present to the Divine in the midst of such intense anger.

I must admit that I never understood your righteous, Jewish anger
As you limped into our worship with your inner truth.

Reflecting upon your intense presence in our worshipping community,
I dream of you
Sitting on your couch in your tiny Montana Street apartment,
Looking up at your visitors
As you became an illuminated painting,

As if the Inner Light had entered you
And spewed out its Truth into Santa Monica and flowed right into the
Pacific Ocean itself.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Occupy movement to occupy foreclosed homes!

I was thrilled to learn that the Occupy movement is trying to address the problem of foreclosure with "Occupy Our Homes Day" (Dec 6). We need to remind our fellow Americans that the banks (with the complicity of the government, who deregulated them) caused the housing bubble and crash, and now want to profit from the misery they caused. Peter Kuhn's analysis is spot on!

I urge you to watch the award-winning film "Inside Job" and  "Maxed Out," which you can watch for free at I also recommend "The One Percent," a psychologically insightful documentary about the super-rich by Jame Johnson, heir to the Johnson and Johnson family fortune.  See

I am glad that the OWS movement is taking on the banksters and their crimes. Locally, they helped prevent the eviction of Rose Gudiel, who was the victim of a predatory bank called OneWest. Jill and I have been trying to help a woman with 7 kids who was recently evicted from her home due to foreclosure. We can and must control the corrupt banking system and expose their lies. Si, se puede!


For Immediate Release Contact: Peter Kuhns (213) 272-1141

December 1, 2011

“Occupy Our Homes” Day, Tuesday, Dec. 6, to Launch National Campaign

Actions in LA and Other Cities Spotlight How Wall Street Crashed the Economy, Drove Families from Homes, and Ripped Off Communities

Supporters Will “Reclaim” Vacant Houses and Engage in “Home Defense” to Keep Families in Foreclosed Homes

Communities in LA and across America will take direct action on Tuesday, Dec. 6, to challenge Wall Street profiteering that has created a housing crisis for millions of families.

Actions will include “reclaiming” houses that banks are leaving vacant and “home defense” to stop banks from foreclosing and profiting further from the economic crash they created.

Other cities where direct action will be taken include New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland (OR), and many more.

Homeowners and renters facing foreclosure-related evictions will be backed locally by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and a national network of organizations such as The New Bottom Line and its local affiliates; ReFund California; New York Communities for Change; Occupy Wall Street; Take Back the Land; and SOUL (Chicago).

These actions build on a number of recent successes in community resistance to foreclosures and evictions.

The national Occupy Our Homes campaign challenges a deliberate Wall Street strategy that has made billions for those at the top while devastating the 99%:

· Banks created a housing bubble, deliberately designing predatory loans with balloon payments, variable rates, and other features that would yield short-term profits while preying on families least able to pay.

· They knew that many of these loans could not be repaid, but they didn’t care because they planned to package and re-sell the mortgages to investors who then were left holding the bag.

· The economy crashed as a result of this bank-created house of cards, putting tens of millions of Americans out of work. Unemployment is overwhelmingly the primary cause of foreclosures, not over-extended consumers.

· More than 6 million Americans have lost their homes, often through illegal foreclosures, and another 5 million are at risk. Many homeowners were told that if they stopped making payments, they could qualify for a lower rate. When they did so, the banks put them in default and initiated foreclosure.

· The 99% bailed out Wall Street, while Wall Street bailed on our communities, taking our money for outrageous executive salaries and bonuses and massive profits. We gave Wall Street $700 billion in taxpayer money through TARP, and another $7.7 trillion in nearly interest-free loans of taxpayer money through the Federal Reserve. Bank profits in the third quarter of 2011 were more than $35 billion – higher than they were before the crash.

· The bank-induced crash devastated home values and life savings for all homeowners.

· Yet, the banks claim that they should be able to collect mortgage payments based on the value of homes before the crash they caused, rather than current value. At least one in four homeowners is now “underwater” – meaning the bank wants them to make payments on a higher mortgage than what the house is worth.

· Wall Street is draining hundreds of billions of dollars from communities by demanding artificially inflated mortgage payments -- money that is needed to support local jobs and small businesses and get the economy working again for the 99%.

Please contact us if you would like to be kept informed as Occupy Our Homes actions unfold.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Response of the interfaith community to police crackdown on Occupy LA

Along with many other leaders and members of the interfaith community, I am appalled by the overreaction of the police here in LA and elsewhere to the Occupy movement. I have signed on to a letter of protest to Mayor Villaraigosa that is being sent to him by the Interfaith Sanctuary group at Occupy LA.

What happened at Occupy LA last night is a little unclear because the religious leaders who were supposed to observe the police behavior were taken aside when the police initially invaded the camp.

This is a report from Shakeel Syed, the Exec Director of the Shura Council of So Ca: a person whose integrity and veracity I can attest to. I should also add that he and I were among the 14 arrested on Oct 7 during an ICUJP action opposing the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. At that time, the police behaved appropriately, with professionalism and politeness.

Last night the following religious leaders were present at City Hal: Rabbi Jonathan Klein (Exec Dir  of CLUE); Rev. Peter Laarman (Exec Dir  of Progressive Christians United); Rabbi Yohan, Shakeel Syed, and Stacie Chiaken (a Jewish lay leader). These leaders were not allowed into the camp after almost more than an hour of LAPD's invasion of the camp - contrary to a prior agreement with the Mayor and Chief Beck.

Here are Shakeel's observations:
It's more than obscene to invade a peaceful camp of less than 200 peaceful people with a force 7 times more (1400 by Beck's own admission) armed to teeth in riot & military type gear. Not ONE person resisted arrest. Not ONE person engaged in any verbal or physical abuse of any police officers. Not ONE ounce of any drug or intoxicant was found inside the camp. Not ONE witness - neither reps of National Lawyers Guild nor we the clergy & laity observers were allowed inside the camp at the time of invasion. In fact the LAPD sent a word to us for a conversation with their commander on site (Chief Perez) re: observer rules/ protocols, etc & while we're pulled outside the camp for a meeting with Chief Perez at the base of the LAPD building, the invasion started. We're also guaranteed that "sufficient" notice will be given to us to work with the campers to avoid arrest and "sufficient" notice will also be given to the campers to decide between getting arrested and leaving voluntarily. Both of these commitments were reneged and through deception. So to the extent that we were able to observe from more than 500 feet away in darkness was - extensive use of batons in suppressing the campers, mayhem style breaking down tents, kicking and screaming at the peaceful campers. Even we - the "official & approved" observers were yelled at by several of their officers & at one point I had to get into the face of an officer cautioning them to watch himself who he's talking to. subsequent intervention by their other more sane colleagues calmed this stupid officer down. they were on an obscene display of hyper testasterone  ...

We complained to LAPD that had they given us the time guaranteed earlier - we'd have gotten out many of the campers without arrest. In fact in less than first 10 mins of our getting into the camp - we're able to convince two campers to avoid rest and leave the camp. had we had an hour or two - we're very sure we'd have been a great help to LAPD in avoiding many arrests. one of the campers said "we love you for standing up with us but where were you guys when LAPD raided us?" this tells us that our neutrality and integrity was compromised because of LAPD's deceptive way of inviting us to a meeting outside the camp and then immediately raiding the camp.

I think the best commentary on the behavior of police towards protesters has come from former Seattle police chief Stamper, who said one of the worst decision he ever made in his life was to unleash the Seattle police on demonstrators during the WTO gathering in Seattle in 2000.
In an interview on MPR, Stamper said:

We dress as if the protesters are the enemy. We are equipped with tools and weaponry that suggest that the protesters are an enemy and that our mission is a military one. And it's very important, obviously, that your police officers be made as safe as they can in terms of their training, their equipment and so forth. But it's also vitally important to remember that they are dealing with fellow Americans and, particularly in the case of the Occupy movement, you know, I don't know any police officer who's part of the one percent. These are issues that are vital to the entire country, and certainly to the middle class and those who have been marginalized, especially by poverty or by discrimination. And I think police officers, on one level, really get that. But they find themselves lined up as the enemy."

The protesters made it clear they did not regard the police as  the enemy--indeed, I saw signs supporting the police--but clearly the 1% and elected officials who represent them are treating the protesters as if they are the enemy.

That's why it's important for the religious community to be a witness to what is happening and to speak the truth to those in power.

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa:

We, representatives of the faith and labor communities, are writing to follow up on our previous letter to you and meeting with you and Chief Beck, regarding Tuesday night’s forced eviction of the Occupiers at City Hall.

While we are grateful that there were no major physical injuries, we are distressed by the level of violence and brutality witnessed by the members of the clergy who were present at the eviction. After two months of a peaceful occupation it is unacceptable that this level of violence was deployed. Occupiers were pushed and hit and corralled and hunted down by police in a military fashion. The police invaded the park without sufficient warning in a manner that was designed to create the greatest amount of terror and trauma. Despite the media impression that the eviction went off skillfully and without a hitch, in reality there was psychological and spiritual violence in as well as physical violence.

In addition, the interfaith clergy had obtained an agreement from the incident commander that they would be allowed entry to the City Hall grounds as witnesses in order to support the occupiers in their decisions to stay or leave. This agreement was not honored and clergy were not allowed entrance to the park during the crucial period in which they could have been helpful to occupiers who had not previously decided to be arrested.

Finally, it is unacceptable that the arrested occupiers, who are nonviolent and not a flight risk, are being held on $5,000 bail. They must be released on their own recognizance.
This letter is being circulated among religious leaders in LA, and I am pleased that Dan Strickland, the Clerk of Southern California Quarterly Meeting, has signed it. I also support this letter and urge our Mayor to take more seriously our First Amendment right to assemble peacefully to petition our government for a redress of grievances.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanking our Native American brothers and sisters

How can we thank the Native people this Thanksgiving for all they have given us? That's the question I have been asking myself this year. In the past I have deplored the fact that Euro-Americans mythologize and sanitize what happened when the Pilgrims arrived on territory belonging to the Massasoit people. I have contrasted the Pilgrims (whose descendants massacred Native people) with the Quakers, who tried to keep their treaties and never took up arms against the First people. See

But this year I want to stress the positive. I want to thank my Native American brothers and sisters for what they have given to us and the world. Many years ago, I was inspired by Jack Weatherford's marvelous book "Indian Givers" to lead a Methodist worship service in which we thanked the Indians on Native American awareness Sunday. I handed out a list of what the Native people have given us, from avocados to zucchini, including such things as chocolate, beans, tomatos, wild rice, rubber, lima beans, corn, etc. People then expressed gratitude to Native people for items on this list. It was an especially moving service since several Native Americans were present.

This year I am going to include as many Native American foods as possible on our Thanksgiving menu and remind our family to say "thank you" not only to God, but to the Native people who gave us these foods. We will have squash, succotash, corn bread, and of course chocolate--the greatest gift of all!

As I reflect on I owed the native people, including the land on which I live, I think of all the marvelous native people I have met and known, beginning with Jake Swamp, an Iroquois elder who came to Princeton Meeting when I first became a Friend in the early 1980s. Jake conducted a "tree of peace" ceremony at our Meetinghouse, and I later had a chance to visit him and his people at their reservation in Upper New York state during an FGC gathering. I learned about many of the things that the Iroquois Confederacy contributed to our nation, including ideas for our Constitution.

Over the years I have been enriched by the writings and spirituality of Native people--their concern for the land, for their elders, and for the Creator. I could easily write a book on what I have learned from my indigenous brothers and sisters.

This month a Native American elder, Sylvia Salazar, spoke to our Parliament of the World's Religion group and shared something I will never forget. Asked if the Indians celebrate Thanksgiving, she responded, "Our people celebrate Thanksgiving every day. Our prayers are almost always prayers of thanks for what the Creator has given us."

To which I can only say, "This Friend speaks my mind!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spiritual sharing circle at Occupy LA

Our first spiritual sharing circle took place yesterday at OLA and was truly awesome. Over 35 people took part, including people of diverse faiths: Jewish, Vedantist, Christian, humanist, etc. Several people from the Parliament of the World's Religion showed up, along with lots of Friends. By the end of our sharing time, we were all friends.

Members of OLA took part and appreciated our presence. The site is very noisy, but our inward silence was deep, the sharing profound, and the messages moving.

Some spoke of social injustices, others of spiritual concerns. Included below is a message combining both concerns, shared by Gene Rothman, a Jewish member of the Parliament of the World's Religions. His words speak to my heart as a Friend. (Full disclosure: Gene was one of the groomsmen at my wedding!)

People of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds spoke and offered prayers. Many passersby stopped to observe and recognized the sacredness of what we were about.

We agreed to have another sharing circle next Sunday at 2 PM. Some expressed the hope there would be daily worship opportunities.

We were blessed to have access to a large and comfortable tent owned by Carlos Marrroquin, who has a concern about foreclosure prevention. See
We Quakers formed an affinity group to explore how we can continue to have sharing circles like this. We felt we needed a large and sturdy tent like the Carlos' for our interfaith worship and peacemaking workshops in a more quiet location, preferably the north end of the encampment--the people's university area. We raised $101 for this purpose. We would like to cooperate with the Interfaith Sanctuary and hope that other religious groups will raise an additional $600 so we can all have a decent-sized and quality tent for our interfaith activities.

A Methodist pastor named Paige Eaves provided several bags of wonderful bread, which was much appreciated by the Occupiers and became our informal communion loaf.

Here is the message shared by Gene Rothman:

Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Shanti:

My name is Gene and I am a Jewish member of the Southern California Committee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

I want to say something about two kinds of silence.

I want to note that the same letters are in the world “silent” and the word “listen.”

Holy silence is when we listen each other, when we listen to that small, still voice within, and when we allow ourselves to hear the sweet sounds of nature.

Unholy silence is being silent and staying at home in the face of injustice. You [members of Occupy L.A]. prayed with your feet, as Rabbi A.J. Heschel said, in coming here.

A Japanese-American poet, Mitsuye Yamada, wrote about silence after listening to her father tell her that silence would keep her safe. But she and her family were still taken to a Japanese internment camp. She ends her poem, Warning, by saying: “My silences had not protected me.”

I want to conclude by thanking you all for raising your voices and putting your bodies on the line. It allowed others to find the courage to break their unholy silence and this has already changed the country. I feel especially grateful and blessed to be with you accompanied by my interfaith sisters and brothers, including those who may be secular, agnostic, or atheist: for they, too, have kept the faith in their own way.

With your claim of the public square, you have reminded our sleeping citizens and the bought-and-paid for political class that we will not be silent while democracy is buried by bankers and billionaires. My prayer is that our blessed, non-violent unrest will continue to multiply until justice rolls down like a mighty stream.

Please repeat after me:

Baruch A-ta Adonai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha’olam, m’sha-neh ha-b ri-ot

Blessed be the Eternal, our G-d, Ruler of space and time, Who makes every people and every person unique

Friday, November 11, 2011

Keeping hope alive at OLA, with some help from interfaith friends

Jesse Jackson came to Occupy LA this week and I caught the end of this speech as I walked over to the encampment from my parking spot. His passionate refrain “Keep hope alive” echoed for blocks.

Hope is a very elusive thing. Emily Dickinson says “hope is a thing with feathers that perches on the soul.” On my car there’s a bumper sticker that says “Got hope?’ but the bumper sticker along with the feelings that inspired it has largely faded. The Occupy movement has revived my hopes, and the hopes of many other progressive people. But this “thing with feathers” is very precariously perched.

Ever since I attended meeting for worship at Occupy Philadelphia last week, I have been convinced that God is nudging us religious folk to become more deeply involved with Occupy LA. It isn’t helpful simply to sit on the sidelines and study and criticize their performance. If we want to keep hope alive, we need to go to their encampment and be in dialogue with them. The Occupiers have been at City Hall for nearly 40 days, individual religious people have shown up, but so far the interfaith peace movement has not been actively supportive.

This weekend I got the support of Southern California Quakers and the local chapter of the Parliament of the World’s Religions to establish an interfaith presence at OLA.

While I was doing this, others in the interfaith movement were following their leading to become involved with OLA.

On Wednesday, a group of religious leaders came to OLA:  Sandie Richards (Methodist Minister at LA United Methodist Church), Peter Laarman (exec dir of Progressive Christians Uniting), Shakeel Syed (exec dir of the Islamic Shura Council of So Cal), and Rabbi Jonathan Klein (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice). They met with Scott Shuster, one of the OLA “facilitators,” listened to his concerns and came up with some plans to provide a religious presence at OLA.

They are calling themselves the “Interfaith Sanctuary.” Their goal is to help coordinate a religious community response. They have established an interfaith tent, using a Sukka that Jewish supporters of  OLA had put up. And they have hoisted a banner that says “Interfaith Sanctuary”

They also have a blog:  as well as a facebook page and google listserv.

There will be another planning meeting for religious folk next Wednesday morning at 10 am.

Why is there a need for the religious community to be involved?

Anyone who reads OLA's "Declaration of Occupation" or has been following the Occupy movement knows that the grievances they express are those that the Progressive religious has been articulating for many years: opposition to corporate greed, the war machine, environmental destruction, etc.

What OLA needs are the following:

Food and other supplies. Many of the Occupiers are unemployed, some are homeless, they need all the help we can provide.

Pastoral care/compassionate listening. Most of the Occupiers are wonderful, intelligent and idealistic, but some have serious emotional and psychological issues.

Witness in case of police crack down. So far, the LA police have been benign, especially compared to places like Oakland, but this could change. And if it does, it is important that there are credible witnesses to describe what happens.

Inspiration and support. Living in tents, exposed to the elements and to some of the most desperate people in the city, can be very demoralizing. The Occupiers have inspired us with their courage and faithfulness. We in the religious community need to do likewise and show that we care and are with them (even if we don't live in tents).

Conflict resolution, mediation, consensus decision-making. The Occupiers are making a valiant effort to deal with conflicts that arise and to engage in participatory democracy, but they are feeling overwhelmed by the extent of the problems they are encountering. More will be said later.

Education. Many of the Occupiers are young and want to learn from seasoned political activists how to effect the changes they yearn for.

There is a huge problem with drugs, crime, etc. That’s because the OLA is essentially a lawless zone, where the police have been told not to intervene. Homeless and mentally ill people, and drug dealers and users, are being drawn to this place where they know they will not be hassled. The vast majority of Occupiers who are sane and don't use drugs are being overwhelmed. There is even the feeling that the benign neglect on the part of the police may be intentional:   “Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.” The Occupiers are asking for help from those with skills and knowledge in how to deal with those who have chemical abuse and other problems.

Despite these problems, OLA and the Occupy movement have accomplished a great deal. They are moving the political debate away from blaming the government and cutting programs that help the people, and focusing on the problem: predatory bankers and capitalists that have ripped off the middle class and poor.

The Occupiers have been big supporters of the Moveyourmoneyproject, which has inspired tends of thousands of Americans (myself included) to move our money out of predatory commercial banks into credit unions and socially responsible local banks.

Amy Goodman today had a wonderful segment about how Occupiers are supporting the anti-foreclosure movement.

Many of us are rallying in support of Richard Alarcon’s measure for Responsible Banking. Come to City Hall on Monday, Nov 21, at 1 PM to show your support for this measure.

What is the big picture? What is the future of this movement? How can it become long-term and sustainable? Will this movement help to jumpstart a movement that will transform (not simply reform) the System, as Chris Hedges and David Swanson are arguing?

These are questions that the interfaith religious community needs to take seriously. More to follow.....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy LA: crying out for Quakers and people of faith who can model and teach nonviolent resistance

Last night the mood at Occupy LA was tense. Thousands of protesters had converged in Oakland, closed down the harbor, and wrecked havoc at an building that had once sheltered homeless people, but now was shut down due to budget cuts. LA Occupiers staged a peaceful but edgy solidarity protest in front of the Police Station across from City Hall. Several hundred young people were there, along with a sizable contingent of police, mostly dressed in shorts and trying to look friendly. Cop cars lined the street, their lights flashing, adding a festive or ominous air, depending on your attitude towards the police. It was the Dias de los muertos, the day of the dead, and many young people were in costume, looking spectral and ghoulish. Young men with bull horns orated for an hour or more, and then the crowd dispersed back to the encampment in front of City Hall.

As I wandered about, I had flashbacks to the 1960s. Long-haired, bearded young men and lovely young women camping out, talking earnestly, and the occasional scent of pot. A potpouri of LA’s amazing diversity: diverse races, ethnicities and social backgrounds getting together for an all-night party that was both social and political, and never boring.

The General Assembly was cancelled because of the rally. In its place a group of ukulele players gathered and played lively Mexico music while a man did a rhythmic foot-stomping dance on a small wooden platform. A little Anglo girl with blond hair danced joyously. A group of African-Americans were having a political discussion nearby.

As I wondered around, I encountered Communists, socialists, vegetarians, hippies, seekers, and an earnest young Evangelical Christian who called out from his tent and asked passersby if they believed in God. When I responded “Yes,” he asked me if Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I bent down, looked him in the eye and replied, smiling, “Jesus is my Friend, my guide and my Savior.” The young man seemed relieved.

I kept thinking of the story that Jesus tells in Matthew 23 about how we are to respect the Law, but not those who profess the Law without practicing it. Jesus says: “Call no one your teacher, or father, or leader, for we are all brothers and sisters and only Christ/God is our leader.”

The Occupies get the “no-leader” part of Jesus’ teaching. They realize that you can’t trust the authorities; they are mostly liars and hypocrites. But many of the Occupiers haven’t yet connected with or submitted to their Inward Teacher. They have learned to resist unjust authority, but haven’t learned the spiritual discipline (and the inward peace) that comes from Holy Obedience. In the signs and art and conversations I sensed a deep yearning for a spiritual as well as political transformation.

I didn't see a religious presence at Occupy LA, like the interfaith tent I saw at Occupy Philadelphia, but there is openness to the idea of having such a tent, as I discovered when I spoke to some of the Occupiers. [It turns out there was a sukka, and a Hindu meditation tent, and a sacred indigenous space. As of Nov 11, there is an interfaith tent.]

My guide was a young Quaker from Orange Grove Meeting named Sergei whom I ran into by “chance.” Sergei is in his early 30s and has a long, anarchic beard, a jovial, bear-like appearance and a thick accent. He is articulate and thoughtful, and has been coming to Occupy LA on a regular basis for several weeks. (In case you're wondering, he has a job: he is self-employed and fixes restaurant equipment). Sergei sees his mission as helping to calm down people who are agitated. Some are mentally ill. Others are simply enraged by the system. Some are both, like the Mexican man named Juan who used to be a school teacher, and then lost everything, including his wits. Juan wanders around shirtless, making loud and sometimes inappropriate political commentary. Sergei treat him and others like him with great kindness. Sergei explained that he is part of a group of Occupies inspired by Gandhi’s Shanti Seva (Peace Army).

Sergei introduced me to several of the young people who are helping to bring some measure of order to this colorful, vibrant but somewhat chaotic group. A young Latino named Anthony and an Anglo named Casey who help to convene the People’s Assembly (an unstructured alternative to the General Assembly) were very pleased that a Quaker had arrived.

“We need the Quakers!” they told me.

Casey had heard about the Quakers through Tolstoy’s book “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” He sensed that the Occupy movement needed Tolstoyan and Quaker wisdom.

Others I spoke to acknowledged the need for people who can teach and model nonviolent resistance and conflict resolution skills. When I spoke to them about ICUJP, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the interfaith community, they were eager for us to come down and share our experience and insights with them.

One of the important elements of Occupy LA is educational. On the north side of City Hall there is a “people’s university” where informal classes and workshops are being offered. On Saturday and Sunday this week, there will be a teach-in with notables such as Robert Reich, Kent Wong, William Black and David DeGraw.

Those I spoke to were also very receptive to the idea of having an interfaith tent, and an interfaith worship service like the one I attended at Occupy Philadelphia. Such a service, I suggested, could be held in the manner of Friends, with silence and opportunities for everyone to share messages and listen deeply. Such a service could include people of all faiths, as well as humanists and atheists.

Those I spoke to loved this idea. There is a deep need for opportunities to become "centered."

I am proposing that we try to have such a gathering on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13. I’d like to invite people from UDC, ICUJP, the Parliament, the Westside Interfaith Alliance and other interfaith groups to come and be a friendly presence. The important thing is to be open to listening.

It is also important to spend time at Occupy LA and get to know the people there. The more interaction we have with them and vice versa, the more likely it is that we will grow into a movement that can bring about the kind of change many of us dreamed about when Obama was elected.

Jesus was right: you should not expect our leaders to be our saviors. We have to be re-build our fallen society from the ground up, guided by the Spirit and committed to peace, justice, and egalitarianism. This is the only way to stop the war machine and the Domination System.

You can see LA Occupy with live feeds at

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What would Jesus say about our economic crisis?

As I have been reflecting on the current economic crisis, caused by the greed of Wall Street financiers and bankers, and abetted by America's addiction to debt, I can't help thinking about the story of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18. When Jesus is asked how often we should forgive others, he tells a story grounded in the harsh economic realities of his day. Jesus' society, like ours, was divided into the very rich and the very poor. And the main cause of impoverishment was debt.

The Torah makes clear that it is wrong to extract interest from the poor, including those who are aliens and guest workers in our country:
"If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you.” Lev. 25: 35-36

The Hebrew prophets rail against leaders who defraud the poor, driving them from their homes:

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Enough, you princes of Israel! Stop your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Quit robbing and cheating my people out of their land. Stop expelling them from their homes, says the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 45:9-10
The Bible calls for "Jubilee economics," the forgiveness of debts every 7 years and the redistribution of land every 50 years.

Following this prophetic tradition, Jesus made debt forgiveness the center of his teaching. The Lord's prayer says: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." In the Beatitudes, Jesus says: "If anyone asks for money, give him what he asks for, expecting nothing in return."

The parable of the unforgiving servant has to be understood in an economic as well as spiritual context. In this story a servant to a super rich master has run up a stupendous debt: ten thousand talents.

To appreciate this extent of this debt, you need to know that a talent in the time of Jesus weighed 130 pounds and was worth around $3,106,413 at today's exchange rate for gold or $59,520 for silver. See

Looked at another way, a single silver talent would take a day laborer at least five years to earn, and a gold talent would exceed the lifetime wages of several day laborers. See notes at

The unforgiving servant lost not one but 10,000 talents, which would be worth over several billion of today's dollars.

To go into such debt, the servant must have been working for someone equivalent to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet; and he must have been engaged in financial speculation on a scale similar to that of Wall Street financiers!

According to Jesus, his boss was understandably outraged and threatened to throw this incompetent and probably shady financial advisor in jail, along with his entire family. But when the servant begs for mercy, the master feels pity and forgives his debt.

Here's what happens next:

“When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii."
(A day laborer was usually paid around one denarius a day, so the debt would be around $5,000 in today's dollars.)

The servant grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.


This dramatic story has often been interpreted in a purely spiritual sense, but I don't think the economic implications can or should be ignored. Jesus announced the beginning of his ministry by alluding to "the acceptable year of the Lord," i.e. the year of Jubilee. He also repeatedly made clear his ministry was to preach "good news to the poor" and freedom to captives.

For over a thousand years, Christians believed it was a sin to lend money and demand interest. This was considered usury, a sin which some Christians, including Dante, considered worse than murder.

Reading Jesus' story about the unforgiving financial speculator, one can't help thinking of the Wall Street bailout. Trillions of dollars were given to Wall Street speculators and bankers to prevent them from going bankrupt, and causing incalculable damage to the world economy and wrecking countless lives.
Now that these bankers and speculators are back on their feet, they are stepping on the backs of the poor and foreclosing homes on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Here in Pasadena a woman named Rose Gudiel has been fighting for three years to prevent her home from being foreclosed. Her fight has become a cause celebre and is encouraging others to do likewise. She has been compared to Rosa Parks. See

People are finally waking up the reality that bankers are not acting responsibly or morally. They are acting like the unforgiving servant in Jesus' parable and they need to be challenged for their immoral behavior.

That's why many of us are withdrawing our money from predatory commercial banks like Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and placing our funds in credit unions that engage in responsible banking practices.


This is a small, but necessary first step in restructuring our financial system so it serves the needs of people, not the greed of the fabulously wealthy 1%.

In conclusion, I must say that not only Christians, but Jews and Muslims also have a prophetic tradition condemning usury, predatory lending, and the exploitation of the poor.

For those who would like to read more about prophetic economic justice, I recommend Walter Wink's "Engaging the Powers," Lowell Noble's "From Oppression to Jubilee Justice," and Ched Myers' "Sabbath Economics."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Actions you can take to help end the endless wars

Steve Rohde, president of ICUJP, gives this advice, with which I concur: Devote at least one dollar, and/or one hour, per day to promoting peace. If you really want to abolish war, then you need to give generous support to your favorite peace organization, such as ICUJP or AFSC or FCNL.

Take part in peace events. Chris Hedges argues that the only way to bring about meaningful change is for vast numbers of people to take to the streets. This is a lesson of history that we need to take to heart.

Send a letter to an elected official, or better yet, pay a visit. If you are part of a religious community, encourage your its leaders to take a stand against torture and war, and in favor of economic justice and social betterment.

Pray. The power of prayer cannot be underestimated, as Gandhi made clear. Your prayers/meditations for peace are crucial if you want to overcome the inner conflicts that our Domination System have created in most of us. We need to cultivate inner peace and then radiate that peace in all our relationships.

ICUJP is recommending we contact Rep Xavier Becessa, who in the the so-called Super Committee on budget deficits, and urge him to cut at least a trillion dollars from the Pentagon budget over the next decade.

You can find contact info for him and other elected officials at

During this time of fiscal belt tightening, FCNL recommends that you urge Congress to cut $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next ten years.

In August, Congress took a big step when it called for cuts in Pentagon spending. The Secretary of Defense is even acknowledging that core military spending may have to go down by at least $350 billion over the next ten years. But, given the significant build-up of the Pentagon's budget in the last decade, billions more can be cut. The military contractors and high-paid corporate lobbyists are pushing back with an expensive and aggressive lobbying campaign against any military cuts. You have something these lobbyists don't—you are a constituent.

Please ask your senators to support cutting $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade. Specifically, ask them to speak with their colleagues on the 12-member congressional "supercommittee" in favor of this $1 trillion cut. By late November, the supercommittee will propose a way to get the nation's budget back on track.

Right now, we have an opportunity to refocus government priorities—to make sure our country is not sacrificing programs our communities depend on in order to support the ballooning Pentagon budget and to prepare to fight more wars.

Let your senators know that in these tough times, slashing programs that our communities depend on is not the way to repair the economy and bring down deficit spending. Urge your senators to cut the deficit by cutting $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget in the next ten years.

A final suggestion: find like-minded people to work with and enjoy yourself. Peace-making can be fun if you are led by the Spirit and are motivated by Love, and not simply by anger. Even getting arrested can be a joyful experience!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Getting arrested cheerfully: protesting war the Quaker way

I used to marvel reading about how early Quakers went to prison cheerfully, often singing hymns of praise to God. I now have a sense of how they felt, after being arrested in front of the Federal Building in downtown LA on Oct 7, the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan.To protest what is now the longest war in US history, 14 religious leaders in LA (including myself) committed civil disobedience and were arrested. I had the honor of being among them.

As the police placed handcuffs on me in front of a crowd of witnesses that included some of the most dedicated peace activists in the city, I felt a surge of joy, as if the gates of heaven were opening up.

Unlike the Quakers of old, I didn't have to go to a dismal dungeon where there was a chance I would end up dead or seriously ill. The police were very kind--they even called us the "clergy council"--and the company of 7 women and 7 men was delightful.

I spent the afternoon in the tank with some of the best people I know--Rev George Regas, intrepid rector emeritus of All Saints, Pasadena; Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Islam Shura Council of So Cal (and a best man at my wedding); Ralph Fertig, former freedom rider and colleague of MLK (and currently professor at the USC School of Social Work); Friar Tom, a flamboyant Catholic priest; Father Chris Ponnett of Pax Christi; and a gentleman named John who has just published a book on the "History of Peanut Butter."

The holding tank was cold and sterile, the processing long and tedious, but the company heart-warming and delightful.

We ended up spending 6 hours together in a holding tank until we were released on our own recognizance. During that time, we shared stories about our lives, discussed politics, and enjoyed each other company. Thoreau was right. When the system is corrupt, the best place for a free person is in the slammer.

On November 4, we must appear in court to be sentenced. We will probably receive a year's probation.

This small act of disobdience set an example for the young people who now see that we old guard peace activists support them. We hope our action will awaken people in the religious community to their power and encourage them to resist the domination system that has taken over our country (and is taking over the world). 

The response from friends has been very encouraging, and includes people of all theological persuasions, from liberal to conservative evangelical. One thing we can agree about: we are tired of theoligarchs and plutocrats running all over us. We want the wars to end, and our tax dollars to be used for education, health care, and other vital social needs.

To achieve these goals, we stand up for ourselves and demand justice. We have to be just as bodacious, creative and determined at the Tea partyers. And if we exert enough pressure, we can make a difference.

As more and more people follow the example of the "Arab spring" and reclaim their power, the powers that be will no doubt become increasingly fearful and respond inappropriatedly, as they did when they ordered police to arrest 700 demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge. Such overreactions can cause a backlash that will help to strengthen the resolve of those who want to take back the country from the banksters and the Wall Street elite. So far, there are signs this is happening.The Occupy Wallstreet movement has grown exponenientally, from 70 to 700 actions in one week. The City Council of LA is considering endorsing this movement.

Early Quakers had a great name for a similar struggle that went on in the 16th century. They called it the "Lamb's War." By this term they were referring to the Book of Revelation--a work that has been coopted by fundamentalists, but is really an anti-imperialist tract calling for nonviolent resistance to the demonic domination system. For the past 350 years, real Quakes have been fighting this Lamb's War, using nonviolent, spiritual weapons. This is a subject for another post at another time.

For now, let me conclude by saying the media gave us excellent coverage for which I am grateful:

My friend Gene Rothman, a member of the local chapter of the Parliament of the World's Religions, wrote this piece which beautifully captures the spirit of this rally. My only disagreement with Gene is over the the size of the rally--a subject of endless dispute among activists. At 9 AM we filled La Placita Church with what I estimate to be have been been 200-300 people. I would guess that around fifty to a  hundred young people from Occupy LA joined us. Others came just for the noon arrest. By noon the crowd had thinned out to perhaps a 100-120, but over the course of the morning I would estimate that at least 300-400 people took part.

It was not a huge rally, but it brought together a very diverse group, as Gene rightly notes: young people, veteran activists, and labor activists. This is how democratic movements are created, one step at a time.


 “Stop Funding Wars!  Fund Jobs and Schools!!”  was the theme of a peaceful demonstration , drawing a crowd of some one hundred or so demonstrators under the auspices of the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP).  A wide range of faith groups, secular organizations, and labor unions were also represented by their clergy or other leaders.  The march passed by the encampment of Occupy L.A. demonstrating our solidarity with them.  (Occupy L.A. voted last evening to endorse our march and some of their members also joined our march).

Some fourteen religious activists volunteered to commit an act of non-violent civil disobedience for which they were arrested.  [Full disclosure: I personally know four of those who did so.] 

Apart from speeches from religious leaders, other notable speakers included Maria Elena Durazo from the AFL-CIO and Black activist Cornel West, each of whom drew sustained cheers from those present.  Durazo said that what she learned from her activism is that some government officials may have their hearts in the right place, but they will not do the right thing until and unless there is massive pressure from the streets to do so. 

Cornel West—who is on a tour with Tavis Smiley visiting cities with “Occupy” movements—at one point addressed the police who encircled all of us and said that they, like nurses, teachers, and others were part of the 99% of America who are hard-working and who are not getting nearly what they deserve.  Addressing the religious participants, he cited the importance of welcoming and including secular leaders, explicitly including humanists, agnostics and atheists as well.

 One popular theme in speeches, comments and elsewhere was summarized in a picket sign that read:  “Prosecute the Greedy, Feed the Needy.” 

Folk singer/activist Ross Altman did his best to encourage the reactivation of the labor movement by citing anecdotes and singing songs by Woody Guthrie.   Guthrie was once taken to a hospital where he was asked to indicate his religion.  He checked an open-ended item and wrote: “All.”  The clerk said she was a workingwoman and asked him to give her a break to be more specific—to select SOME religion. Woody wrote next the word “All”—“or NONE. “ 

Guthrie was also once accused of being a Communist.  He replied: “Well, I don’t know about that but I’ve been in the red my whole life.”  Finally, Altman urged a revival of the song “The Banks Are Made of Marble” for today’s times to help workers and ordinary folks.  The crowd sang it with gusto.   [See lyrics at the end].

Impressions from Your Intrepid Reporter:  [Opinion].

Protests are building around the “occupy “ movement city by city and around the world.  In L.A., however, there are different streams with little coordination as yet.   Although “Occupy L.A.” endorsed the interfaith march, they are a younger crowd and the interfaith group was largely older folks with civil rights and peace activist backgrounds. Veterans who also oppose the war elected to do their own separate demonstration at 4:30 p.m.  Today.  Similarly, ANSWER chose to do its own separate march. 

Some organizers said they had hoped for a better turnout but added that the diversity of participants and the better than expected representation of labor groups were very positive developments.

- GR

 Banks of Marble-lyrics- (Woody Guthrie)

I've traveled 'round this country
from shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
the things I heard and saw

I saw the weary farmer
plowing sod and loam
l heard the auction hammer
just a-knocking down his home

But the banks are made of marble
with a guard at every door
and the vaults are stuffed with silver
that the farmer sweated for

I've seen the weary miner
scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children cryin'
"Got no coal to heat the shack"

But the banks are made of marble
with a guard at every door
and the vaults are stuffed with silver
that the miner sweated for

I've seen my brothers working
throughout this mighty land
l prayed we'd get together
and together make a stand

Then we might own those banks of marble
with a guard at every door
and we might share those vaults of silver
hat we have sweated for