Friday, November 30, 2012

How to become part of the interfaith movement

This is a talk I gave on Sunday, Dec 2, at Manhattan Beach Community Church in which I offer practical tips on how to become involved with interfaith, and also a vision of what the interfaith movement means in today's world. I was joined by my wife Jill, who spoke about Family Promise, an interfaith network to help homelesss families; and by Melissa and Shaun, a homeless couple who are dear friends of mine and attended an interfaih banquet in Redondo Beach they described as "like being in heaven." My talk was warmly received and I really enjoyed the people of this church...

Thank you for inviting me to this church to share about the interfaith movement on the first Sunday of Advent, a time when we celebrate the coming of Christ, the Word of God manifested in human form. Christ came to free us from all the barriers that stand between us and God, and between us and our fellow human beings. He came to show us the way of love, the way of peace and justice and inner well-being that Jews call shalom. My work as a Quaker peace activist has been deeply influenced by the teachings of Christ, and by the Quaker belief that there is “that of God”—the Inward Light—in everyone.

I am here today because of an interfaith event sponsored by the International Institute of Toleration in Carson during Ramadan, a time when Muslims celebrate the coming of God’s Word manifested in the Quran. This is also a joyful time, a time when Muslim feel God has shown us his boundless mercy and love through this revelation. This is where I met Martha Cromlett and other members of this congregation. At this event Christians, Muslims and Jews along with other people of faith gathered to talk about how to make this world a better place.

The International Institute of Tolerance was founded by a remarkable Muslim couple, Imam Ashraf Carrim and his wife Athia, who are passionately committed to peace and to social betterment. Their organization is not only engaged in creating understanding, it is also involved in helping the homeless and other humanitarian work both locally and globally. I got to know the Carims when I joined the Board of Directors of the South Coast Interfaith Council around ten years ago.

SCIC was founded in the 1950s to bring together Christians of different denominations; in 2006, it became an interfaith organization that brings together people of diverse religious backgrounds. Today SCIC has as its executive director a young Muslim woman named Milia Islam-Majeed. Milia is a Harvard-educated young woman with a passion for interfaith who has earned national recognition for her work here in the South Bay.

I love to share stories like these because they are signs of hope in a world that the media often portrays as hopeless. Despite what Fox news says, Bob Dylan was right, the times they are a-changin’ and sometimes even for the better. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Bahai, Buddhists, Jains, and Native Americans are coming together, despite or perhaps because of the 9/11 attack. We are working together to create a vibrant multi-cultural, multi-religious community that reflects what is best about America and about our various faith traditions. We sometimes encounter opposition, especially around election time, when some politicians fan the fires of prejudice to garner votes. There is also entrenched prejudice towards those who are seen as “different.” For example, when a mosque in Lomita wanted to build a social hall, some of the neighbors complained and tried to block it, but the interfaith community rallied around in support. When my friend Shakeel Syed became the first Muslim president of the LA interfaith council, he stood in support of an Orthodox Jewish school that neighbors objected to; and he also went to the City Council to speak out against scheduling the LA Marathon on a Sunday morning, when it disrupts attendance at some Christian churches. These small, but meaningful acts of solidarity are what have helped to weave together the fabric of a healthy interreligious community here in Los Angeles.

I am convinced that when historians look back on the first decade of the 21st century, which has been the best of times, as well as the worst of times, for people of faith, our era will be compared to the convivenciain Muslim Spain, when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together and created a golden age comparable to the Renaissance in Europe.

I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. There were religious bigots in Muslim Spain, just as they are in the US today. And there were periods of repression followed by times of harmony. But as Maria Rosa Menocal demonstrates in her beautiful, haunting book, Ornament of the World, Muslim Spain had a glorious multi-religious culture. And so does Los Angeles, with interfaith events happening nearly every week, and a new interfaith seminary opening up in nearby Claremont, about which I’ll say more later.

I’d like to talk about three aspects of the interfaith movement—building understanding through dialogue and cooperation, working together for justice and peace, and deepening our spiritual awareness. I also want to suggest ways you can become involved in this work.

The first goal of the interfaith movement is to foster a community where people of different faith traditions respect each other, engage in constructive dialogue, and cooperate on projects that benefit those in need. The South Coast Interfaith Council has been a model of such ecumenical and interfaith cooperation for over half a century. It has brought together people of different theological and religious perspectives and helped them to provide much needed services to the community. Dozens of nonprofits have been formed under the umbrella of SCIC. It also organizes interfaith musical events, panel discussions, and religious events like its annual Martin Luther King day celebration. During the summer it organizes interfaith cafes at various venues throughout the Bay Bay area. As a Quaker, I especially like the interfaith café model because it is participatory and provides a safe space for people to talk about their religious beliefs. If you haven’t been to an interfaith café, I encourage you to try it. Maybe you could even host one here in your church!

I am reminded of an old saying that “theology divides, service unites.” Sadly, theology and dogma can be divisive and painful. We can become so attached to our beliefs that we feel threatened when anyone challenges them. This attachment to dogma has led to schisms, persecutions, and broken relationships. It has also led to violence, terrorism and religious wars. My Jewish film-maker friend Ruth Sharone has written a lively and engaging memoir about her interfaith work with the provocative title: Minefields and Miracles. Those of us who engage interfaith work soon realize we must tread very carefully to avoid painful misunderstandings due to religious and cultural differences.

That’s why it’s important to create a safe space where people can share their religious beliefs without feeling threatened or attacked, where people can listen to each other compassionately. Kay Lindahl and my teacher Gene Hoffman created guidelines and practices to help people listen to each other from the heart. The basic premise of compassionate or sacred listening is that we don’t have to agree with the other person’s beliefs; we just need to listen to each other with an open heart and mind. We in turn are given an opportunity to share what we believe and to receive the gift of compassionate listening. Such discussions can help bring people together and enable us to better “love our neighbor,” as Jesus and the prophets command us to do.

Three major Christian organizations—the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches (WCC) an ,the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)—met during a period of five years to discuss how Christians could witness to their faith in a multi-religious world. I highly recommend downloading and reading this historic document, which was published in 2011, since it is the first time that Catholics, mainstream Protestants and Evangelicals have agreed on guidelines for interfaith dialogue and cooperation within the context of Christian witness. Among other things, this document encourages Christians to engage in respectful interreligious dialogue, to build relationships of trust with those of other faiths, to reject violence, to speak truthfully about other faiths, to refrain from all forms of material “allurements” to gain converts, to work for freedom of freedom, and to cooperate with people of other faiths for the common good.

Cooperating with people of other faiths for the common good is an essential part of our Christian witness. That’s why I want to lift up a new interfaith service organization that has come to your area. It’s called Family Promise of the South Bay and it’s part of a nation-wide network that has helped thousands of homeless families to become housed. I am familiar with this organization because we have a Family Promise network in the San Gabriel valley and it’s doing an outstanding job. Family Promise recruits churches, mosques, synagogues, and other congregations to provide a place for two or three homeless families to stay for a week and then rotate to another place. Members of host congregations get to know the families and often feel deeply connected to them. During the day these families are given counseling and other help to help them become employed and housed. This program is does more than simply provide a meal or a handout, it helps families to get back on their feet. Ad as you no doubt realize, the homeless problem is huge, far beyond the resources of any one church or religion. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Association, in 2011 there were 51,340 homeless in Los Angeles. And the numbers for the South Bay are just as bad, according to the LAHSA. In the South Bay there were 6,788 homeless in 2011. That was a 25% increase since 2009. 5,133 of those were single adults and 1,543 were family units (members). Twelve of the homeless were unaccompanied youth under the age of 18. People of different faiths need to address the needs of these marginalized poor. According to the Book of Acts, among early Christians there were no poor people since those who owned homes or had wealth sold them to share with those in need (see Act 4: 34). I realize this seems radical and very few pastors preach on this text or encourage their congregations to follow this example, but I think we can agree that all religious traditions urge us to do everything we can to eliminate poverty. And all religions agree we must“love our neighbors.” These are the fundamentals of faith.

For this reason, I encourage you to consider supporting interfaith organizations like Family Promise of South Bay.

This brings us to the second goal of the interfaith movement: promoting justice and peace. Right after 9/11, a group of religious leaders from the LA area came together to seek an alternative to government’s vindictive and violent response to this act of terrorism. Such notables as Rev George Regas, Imam Siddiqui, Rabbi Berman, and Rev James Lawson began meeting with a growing number of religious leaders every Friday morning. They called themselves Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, ICUJP. Their slogan was: “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence.” They have been meeting ever since, and ICUJP has become one of the most prophetic voices for peace and justice in the region, and indeed the nation.

I’ve been a Quaker peace activist for over 25 years and my personal response after 9/11 was to fast during the month of Ramadan to reach out to my Muslim neighbors in solidarity and love. My efforts were so warmly received by the Muslim community that I have fasted every Ramadan since then, and plan to continue to fast until there is peace in Israel/Palestine. I also wrote a pamphlet entitled “Islam from a Quaker Perspective,” which has been translated into German and circulated among dozens of nations around the world. My decision to fast during Ramadan is what led me to become part of the interfaith movement and to join ICUJP.

I love ICUJP because it consists of some of the most committed peace activists in the LA area—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and people of conscience who don’t profess any religious faith, but share our commitment to peacemaking. ICUJP organizes events to educate people about issues such as the cost of war and the evils of torture and drones, and has stood firmly against our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, during the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, ICUJP staged a vigil in which fourteen of its members, including myself, were arrested in front of the Federal Building in downtown LA. Going to jail with my friends from ICUJP was one of the spiritual highpoints of my life.

You may recall that in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus describes a time of war, pestilence, earthquakes and other disasters and foretells the second Coming of Christ in glory. And what are Christians doing during this time? They aren’t fighting with physical weapons; they are speaking out prophetically, testifying to shalom, the peace of God, and getting arrested and thrown into prison. That, to me, is what it means to be a prophetic witness for the God’s Kingdom.

ICUJP has partnered with other prophetic interfaith groups, like the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and held anti-torture event at synagogues, mosques, and churches. When Obama was first elected to be president, ICUJP organized a series of visits to a dozen Congressional offices here in LA, calling for an end to US-sponsored torture. Our efforts have not yet been successful—torture, alas! is still being practiced by our government—but we haven’t given up. Remember it took many decades to make slavery illegal, and to gain for women and blacks the right to vote. Those of us in the interfaith peace movement are committed for the long haul. We will never give up the struggle for justice and peace.

Another interfaith justice organization here in the LA area is CLUE, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. They began a decade ago as a coalition of religious activists concerned about the living wage and have worked tirelessly ever since to promote the rights of low-income workers, like janitors and hotel workers.

If you are concerned about peace and justice, I encourage you to get involved with groups like these. It isn’t hard. To get involved with ICUJP, all you have to do is show up on Friday morning at 7 AM at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard. We have great speakers and great discussions every week, and we also engage in meaningful actions that demonstrate our commitment to making a world free of war and injustice. And we have free coffee and bagels!

In closing, I’d like to provide a global perspective on this work and to focus on the spiritual dimension. Much of what I shared with you is local since that’s the best entry point to the interfaith movement. But it’s important to keep in mind that what we are doing locally is also happening all around the world, though much of this work goes unreported in the media.

The interfaith movement has a long history and many believe its modern form began at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. At this global gathering, religious leaders from around the world gathered for they called a Parliament of the World’s Religions. This was a watershed moment, the first time when Eastern and Western religious leaders and teachers met on a more or less equal basis to share their beliefs and insights. Among them was Swami Vivekanda, an Indian guru who electrified the gathering when he gave his prophetic testimony. I say“prophetic” because he spoke on September 11, 1893, and his words still ring true. He said:

“The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

A hundred years after this convention, followers of Vivekanda organized another Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago and it was a huge success. Over 8,000 people from all over the world, from many diverse religions, gathered to celebrate, discuss and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront the world. The Dalai Lama was a keynote speaker, and the great Catholic theologian Hans Kung summed up the purpose of the interfaith movement with these simple, but powerful words:

There can be no peace in the world without peace among the religions.

There can be no peace among religions without a common ethic.

There can be no common ethic without dialogue.

What Hans Kung meant is that religions may differ about beliefs, but we can agree on ethical values and practices, like ending war, disease and poverty, and showing each other mutual respect and compassion. We need to gather together both locally and globally to explore ways we can work together to make this a better world.

The Parliament of the World’s Religion has met every five years since 1993 at major cities, like Durban, South Africa; Barcelona, Spain; and most recently Melbourne, Australia. I had the privilege of going to the Parliament gathering in Melbourne in 2010 and it was a life-transforming experience. Imagine spending a week with 7,000 of the world’s most dynamic spiritual and religious leaders, with over 600 workshops on how to make peace, end poverty, and promote understanding.

I currently serve on the board of the local chapter of the Parliament which focuses mainly on spiritual matters. For example, last spring at the Sokka Gakkai Center in Santa Monica, the Parliament sponsored a gathering in which teachers from various religious traditions gave instruction on prayer and meditation. This program was called “Seeds of Peace” and we plan to have a similar event in the spring of 2013. Some might not feel comfortable learning about prayer from those of other faiths, but others, including many prominent Christians, feel we can learn much from such encounters. In fact, there has been a long and rich tradition of Christian contemplatives learning and sharing with contemplatives of other faiths. For example, Bede Griffith, a Catholic priest who went to India and adopted many Indian contemplative practices, felt he had become a better Christian by studying the spirituality of the Hindus. It didn’t water down his Catholic faith, but deepened it. Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, was not only deeply involved in social justice and peace work, he also traveled to the East to engage in dialogue with Buddhist and Hindu contemplatives. Like many modern Quakers, I learned much about meditation through Zen Buddhism. I have also deepened my spiritual life through encounters with my brothers and sisters in the Parliament who have helped me to appreciate the many dimensions of prayer and meditation. The Quaker theologian Douglas Steere called these kinds of indepth spiritual encounters “mutual irradiation.”

The Parliament sponsored an interfaith gathering in Gualalajara, Mexico, in August of this year. Over 800 people took part, most of them from Latin America. A delegation of around ten Los Angeleos attended and came back with glowing reports.

A Hebrew proverb affirms, “Without a vision the people perish.” Our world is desperately in need of a vision, a vision of hope and new possibilities. Much of what we read and hear about religion in the news is negative, and that’s why many young people are turned off and say they are “spiritual, but not religious.”

It is my hope that the interfaith movement can change that kind of thinking among the young by offering a new vision of religion based on love and genuine dialogue. That’s why I am excited that the Claremont School of Theology has been transformed into the first interfaith seminary in the nation, thanks to a 50 million dollar grant from the Lincoln family. It is now called the Lincoln Claremont University and its mission is to train young people to become Christian pastors, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams in one institution rather than in several. Claremont Lincoln isn’t interesting in promoting a one-size-fits-all religion. Rather it is committed to nurturing religious leaders who are clear about their own faith and comfortable working and studying together in a multi-religious, pluralistic community. Over a hundred such young leaders went to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2010, thanks to a grant from the Pew foundation. I am excited thinking about the next generation of religious leaders having this foundational experience.

I recently asked Glen Stassen, a progressive evangelical professor of religion and ethics at Fuller Seminary, what he thought of Claremont Lincoln University and he gave a generally positive response. He felt that being engaged in interreligious dialogue and study might help progressive Christians to gain a clearer understanding and articulation of their theology. I have found this to be true in my case. Thanks to my conversations with Muslims, and more recently, with Evangelicals, I have a clearer understanding of my liberal Quaker faith as well as a more appreciate understanding of other faiths and of conservative Christians.

The interfaith movement provides us with a vision of a world where people of diverse faiths work together in harmony, even if we don’t agree on theology. I will never forget the words of Rick Warren, when he was the keynote speaker at a convention of Muslims in Long Beach just after Obama was elected president in 2008. Some conservative Christians stood outside the Convention Center in protest, with signs saying: “Islam is of the devil” and “Muslims are going to hell.” But Rick Warren had a different message. With great feeling, he proclaimed these memorable words:

“I love Muslims, and I love Jews. I love gays, and I love straights. I love Democrats, and I love Republicans. Because Jesus Christ commands me to love.”

Warren went on to say that Christians and Muslims need to work together in places like Africa to end poverty and disease. I would add we also need to work together here in our own neighborhoods. I hope that each of us will do our best, with God’s help, to heed the great commandment to love our neighbor, especially if our neighbor seems strange and hard to love.


Monday, November 26, 2012

The spiritual basis of Quaker lobbying

What I love about Quaker lobbying is that it's Spirit-led and grounded in the conviction that there is "that of God" in everyone.

To make this point clear, FCNL has put together a biblical rationale for Quaker lobbying so that Christ-centered Friends will feel more comfortable with our process and policies. In addition, Marge Abbott, one of the great bridge-builders between Evangelical and liberal Friends, has written a pamphlet explaining the theological basis of Quaker lobbying. Both are excellent resources.

FCNL gives Friends an opportunity to put our faith into practice. This November 325 Quakers came together from throughout the United to take part in Quaker lobby day. We not only received training on how to lobby, Quaker-style, we also heard excellent policy reports from experts. But perhaps most meaningful of all, we had time for worship and worship sharing."

FCNL's website notes that "working from one's spiritual center has been part of the Quaker tradition for hundreds of years." That means being spiritually grounded and coming from a place of love as we go about the business of politics. We are also reminded to listen deeply as well as speak from our (spiritual) center so we can understand the other's point of view and make a real connection with those we dialoguing with. Finally, "it involved looking for that of God in the other person even--especially--when that is difficult." (See

These are the principles behind Quaker lobbying. Following these guidelines isn't easy, especially if one feels strongly about an issue. Being open-hearted and open-minded is especially difficult when the stakes are high. I am glad that FCNL provides training and role modeling so that I can practice such Spirit-led lobbying.

FCNL also provides some well-researched, concrete recommendations for policy change:

1) Cutting the Pentagon budget by a trillion dollars over the next decade.

2) Investing in war prevention, which is 60 times more cost effective than military intervention after a crisis erupts. This means investing in programs such as the Complex Crisis Fund and Civilian Response Corps, as well as diplomatic efforts.

 3) Getting the Senate to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban and downsize our nuclear arsenal. The US and Russia have 19,000 of the 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world. It's up to us to set an example and reduce our weaponry.

 4) Bringing all troops home from Afghanistan by 2014.

 5) Having actual serious face-to-face negotiations with Iran. In the last 30 years high-level US and Iranian officials have met only once in 30 years to have one-on-one diplomatic talks and that conversation in Oct 2009 lasted only 45 minutes. Before going to war, or even threatening war, we need to have a serious talk with Iran....

 FCLN is also calling for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to government subsidies of fossil fuels. Finally, we need a Constitutional amendment to prevent corporate money from deranging our democratic process.

 Much of what FCNL advocates is also supported by other faith-based groups, such as the National Council of Churches and mainstream churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians, etc. that have lobbyists here in DC that work together on many issues. It is good to remember that the right-wing Christians aren't the only ones pushing a political agenda: liberal Christians are also politically engaged. (And increasingly are working with liberal Jews, Muslims and other faith-based groups.)
During Quaker lobby day I had the opportunity to meet with three local representatives or their adies: Adam Schiff (Pasadena), Brad Sherman (Thousand Oaks area), and Lois Capps (Santa Barbara). Of the three, Lois was the most receptive. She met us in person and was so sympathetic she covered nearly all of our "talking points." She also knew my teacher and mentor, the great Santa Barbara peace activist, Gene Hoffman. I feel that with Lois, we have a Friend on the Hill.
We also met with aides for Schiff and Sherman. They basically support the Democratic line: tax increases for the rich, modest cuts in the Pentagan and social services, and exiting Afghanistan as soon as possible. Schiff has opened admitted there is much waste and misspent funds in the Pentagon budget, hence the need for cuts, especially when it comes to nuclear weaponry.
What elected officials told us is that if we want change, we need to let them know our views loudly and clearly.
While the recent elections did not provide either party with a mandate, the voters generally preferred liberal and Democratic candidates and positions over conservative Republicans. We need to amplify the progressive voice.

I urge you to contact your elected officials to let them know how you feel about these issues. FCNL has a website ( that makes it extremely easy to contact the right official at the right time to say the right thing. (The definition of political wisdom.)

The important thing is to stay engaged. As William Penn wrote in his pamphlet "No Cross, No Crown": “True godliness [i.e. spirituality] does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saving families from foreclosure and eviction by banksters

While we are enjoying our holiday with family in a lovely cottage in Shell Beach, low-income families are being foreclosed and evicted illegally by unscrupulous banksters. Please hold Dede and others like her in your prayers. We are grateful for groups like Occupy Fights Foreclosure that are standing in solidarity with these families. Sadly, our local newspaper didn't see fit to print anything about these families when they showed up at the Pasadena City Council. We sent this op ed piece to the Pasadena Star News (which supported Romney) and were ignored.

Dear Editor,
We were disappointed to see your front page story feature only the Pasadenans who went to the City Council with a concern about the NFL coming to the Rose Bowl (Nov 20, 2012). What your reporters ignored were those of us who came to the City Council concerned about how low income families are being kicked out of their homes illegally by banks, even here in Pasadena.

Take, for instance, our friend and neighbor, Deirdra Duncan, a Pasadena native and foster care mother of five developmentally disabled siblings, ranging in age from 4 to 17 years old. Dede is an officer in her church and a committed advocate for her neighborhood.

According to Lydia Breen, a member of Occupy Fights Foreclosure who came to the City Council meeting, Dede lived as a tenant at 35 W. Howard until October 19 when an investor obtained the house under suspicious circumstances from Bank of New York Mellon. He proceeded to illegally evict Dede, allegedly using inflammatory racist language against Dede and intimidation tactics against the children – threatening to have them sent back to the foster care system. The police sided with the investor during the eviction, stating he held a deed.

But as we know from the recent $120 million settlement against Wells Fargo, fraud in the home mortgage system has been rampant. A court case is pending on the foreclose. It is the duty of the police to remain neutral in civil affairs. They are not in a position to document the validity of a deed in light of the robo signing and other massive fraud in the system.

Occupy Fights Foreclosures came to the City Council to testify that they have seen a sharp rise in physical abusive and intimidation tactics used by investors, realtors and property mangers. They've seen police break into homes in riot gear to evict 80 year old women. They've seen the mother of a severely disabled child thrown out on the street and a woman yanked out of the house by force in her nightgown.

A woman who cares for children whose parents can’t or won’t care for them deserves our respect and support. She deserves to remain in the city where she was born, where her children go to school. Dede is a strong woman. Yet she is a victim of the fraud that is part of the business model of the financial industry.

As Lydia Breen pointed out, there is essentially no Section 8 housing in Pasadena. The city’s own website offers no rental units in the city within Dede's price range. If Dede leaves, she will be one more African American forced out of the city – a city that has already seen a 24% decline in the black population between 2000 – 2010.

We ask that the city direct the Pasadena Police Department to place a moratorium on evictions from foreclosed homes until the courts and the County Recorders Office find a way to clean out the massive amount of fraudulent deeds and other mortgage documents sitting on its shelves.

Surely a City that can afford to spend millions on the Rose Bowl can insure that its low-income citizens, especially those of color, are treated with dignity and fairness.

Lydia Breen and Dr. Jill Shook, 23-year resident of Pasadena and author of "Making Housing Happen," a book about faith-based affordable housing models.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Making housing happen in Pasadena and elsewhere

While I was in Washington, DC, with 325 Quakers petitioning our government to cut the military budget and devote more funds to social programs (see, my wife Jill Shook and her fellow activist Michelle White of Orange Grove Meeting went  to the Pasadena City Council with other concerned citizens to make sure that the voices of the poor are heard, and the concerns of ALL Pasadenans are addressed, when it comes to the most basic human need: housing.

Here's a letter that was written to the City Council that has some excellent proposals for creating affordable housing here in Pasadena and elsewhere. (For more about affordable housing, I recommend checking out Jill's new book:

Nov. 19, 2012

Dear Planning Commissioners,

               We are advocates from the Affordable Housing Services, All Saints members, Door of Hope, ECPAC—the Ecumenical Council for Pasadena Area Congregations, the Elizabeth House, Family Promise, Interdenominational Alliance, Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, the Mennonite Church, Pacific Clinics, Unite Here and the Urban Village.  We would like to take the opportunity to thank you for the work you continue to do to discern the wise use of our city’s land, and the time you have given to update the general plan. We also thank you for encouraging Michelle White last month to consider how the 8 Guiding Principles could have language that would include housing for all income levels within our city.
               The issue of affordable housing is one of great consideration and consequence to those who live and work in the city of Pasadena. We are aware that the 20,000 residents of our city are spending more than they can afford on housing costs (The federal standard is that households should not spend more than a third of our income on housing costs) An additional grievance is that a number of those who can’t afford housing work for the City of Pasadena and even grew up here, but can no longer afford to live here.
 What we currently know:
·           Those we serve in the various non-profits we represent would become stable, contributing citizens of our community if they could afford to live in Pasadena. Where they work and close to family and their houses of worship—their meaningful support systems.
·           Pasadena has a huge disparity in income. Supporting high-end restaurants, hotels and amenities, beautiful lawns, clean homes, and dry-cleaned clothes requires a vast workforce. They deserve to live in the city where they serve.
·           Commuting creates traffic—one of the biggest issues we hear about. If you ask most people why they live where they do, they will tell you it’s because of affordability. A great example is Portland, Oregon, which has made 50% of the housing in the downtown area affordable, resulting not only in lowered traffic, but a lower carbon footprint.
·            Pasadena is a world-class city and we demonstrate an example to our region, state and nation. We need to make sure that this example is inclusive with a diverse range of socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities. This is what makes for a rich experience in our great city. We have a history as a mixed-income community with the wide streets with large home and maids quarters, and back houses, and narrow streets with smaller homes. This mixed income heritage must be preserved.
Yet, we are losing affordable housing faster than we are building it. We MUST preserve this essential precious resource and continue to create policies that will both preserve as well as support new affordable units. There are many ways that we can do this while creating a win-win for developers, landlords and more. For example:
1. Create a Community Land Trust like that of the South LA Trust.  This  Trust is addressing  the mass displacement of community residents around USC; all the units built on the on Trust land remain permanently affordable—no ending of HUD Contacts (typically 20-45 years) and affordability covenants which has secured in places like Castle Green ( that need to be paid by the city each time they expire).  A Community Land Trust is similar to our Inclusionary housing ordinance in Pasadena which is permanently affordable, any land banking the city may land bank  could be placed in a trust. The California Community Foundation has an LA County wide trust that the city could partner with. Over 200 cities in the US are helping to create or partnering with Community Land Trusts.
2. Work with the state to adjust how tax credits are utilized, in a way that landlords who are already making their units affordable are rewarded. Tax Credits could help them improve their properties while retaining affordability. This could also enable them to gain access to greening their apartments to address environmental concerns.
3. Legalize second units.  Like Sierra Madre, Culver City and Santa Cruz, work with landlords with illegal second units to help them become legal in exchange for affordability covenants. Additionally, allow new units on properties less than 15,000 square feet.
4. Strengthen our Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. Raise levels so that around transportation corridors the percentage is 20% or 25%; additionally lower the car spaces needed as close-by public transportation will help make up for this.  (Parking is now of the most expensive parts of any housing).
5. Find ways to fully fund our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Create impact fees, recordation fees and other means to fund the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The list can go on and on. These are not impossible ideas. We need to see possibilities and create guiding principles for our general plan that will support these kinds of visionary attainable goals over the next ten years.
The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group has taken the challenge of Richard Norton to find language that would better express the importance of affordable housing for all residents, not just for the labor force as it is now stated within the concept of social equity. That is one step in the right direction, but is too limiting. We also took the liberty to adjust the language to make the guiding principles more culturally and ethnically inclusive.
We need to consider all Pasadena residents, particularly seniors and the disabled, like those who were unprotected when they were unlawfully evicted from Pasadena Manor. When these matters are properly addressed, only then will we move toward true social equity in Pasadena.
Please carefully look over the work we have done and consider our recommendations. We appreciate your important role in shaping our great city’s future, and we thank you for the challenge and opportunity to participate in this with you.
We look forward to attending the next planning session on Nov. 28th after you have reviewed our suggested changes. We are eager to hear what you think, talk on the phone or meet in person if you have any questions.
The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Grou
Contact: Michelle White (626) 296-3100 or Jill Shook at (626) 675-1316

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving thanks to Native Americans on Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving rolls around, I have to remind myself not to be curmudgeonly and dwell on the fact that the story about the Indians and the Pilgrims we learned in school is at best a half-truth, a feel-good tale masking what was to become a genocidal attack. Those who want to know how many Native people feel about Thanksgiving can go to And if you are interested in a Quaker perspective on this subject, you might check out “William Penn and the Indians” (See

This year I'd like to sound a positive note and express appreciation for what the Original Inhabitants of Turtle Island have given to European Americans and to the world. Not only the land (which we stole) but much, much more.

Having just spent a week in DC, I'd like to begin by thanking the Iroquois Nation for inspiring our form of government—that peculiar mix of states rights and national sovereignty. When I first read Jack Weatherford's book Indian Givers and learned that Benjamin Franklin and other founders of our country regarded the seven tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy as a model for the thirteen colonies becoming a United States of America, I was dumbfounded, and a little skeptical. Why hadn't anyone taught me this in high school? But as I did research, I began to see this has become a widely accepted view among modern historians. And even the Capitol building testifies to our indebtedness to Native people: on the top of the dome is an Indian warrior in feathered regalia!

I'm grateful that the Friends Committee on National Legislation carries on a longstanding Quaker concern for the rights of Indians. If you want to be an advocate for modern Native Americans, you can find out how to do so at

As we sit down to our Thankgiving meal, it is fitting to offer thanks not only to the Creator, but to those who first cultivated some of our favorite foods.

Green beans
Kidney beans
Lima beans
Wild rice
Maple syrup
Sweet potato

If you include  the foods of Hawaians, Pacific Islanders, and other indigenous people, the list of yummies grows even longer.

In additions to Native foods and herbal medicines (see, I am grateful to Indian writers and artists who carry on the spiritual and cultural traditions of their people. (Joseph Bruchac, George Clutesi, Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko, Alfonso Ortiz, etc.)  And I am grateful for the American Indian museum in Washington, DC, a fascinating place that testifies that the First People of this land have a vibrant and living culture, and much to teach us about how to live in harmony with nature.

Let me close with some questions to reflect on and ponder:
  • What have you learned from Indians that is important to you?
  • What gift from Native Americans makes you feel most grateful?
  • Have you ever expressed your gratitude to a Native American or indigenous person? If not, how might you do so?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quakers go to Washington to call for cuts in our bloated military budget, more funds for social needs

I am going to Washington, DC, this week to  take part in a lobby day being organized by the Friends Committee for National Legislation (FCLN). Over 300 Quakers and their allies will take part in this effort. We will receive training and then go to the offices of our elected officials. I have sent an email to my representative, Adam Schiff, asking for a meeting. I also wrote a letter to Schiff and to Senators Boxer and Feinstein, calling on them to cut a trillion dollars from the Pentagon budget:

"I urge you to support a balanced approach to reining in the federal debt, one that requires the Pentagon to cut at least $1 trillion from its budget over the next 10 years.

"The federal tax dollars invested in our local community are important for the health care, education and social services that I and many others depend on. I am concerned that these positive investments will be cut, while the largest chunk of the money that Congress allocates, Pentagon spending, will be allowed to keep growing.

"Pentagon spending has grown significantly in the last decade, and it can sustain cuts of $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter."

I'm excited by this opportunity to make the progressive Quaker voice heard in the nation's capitol and I encourage you to do your bit. It's very easy. Just go to the and click on "Take action." It takes only a couple of minutes to send an email and make your voice heard. Or better yet, give a call to your elected officials....

All it takes for our elected officials to go along with the military-industrial complex is for citizens like you and me to remain silent.

Fortunately, our Quaker lobbyists will not be silent. As Diane Randall, the executive secretary of FCNL, writes:

"FCNL lobbyists are already analyzing the election results with an eye toward future opportunities with Congress: to promote diplomacy and prevent war with Iran; advance nuclear disarmament; promote the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict; end the war in Afghanistan; take action to contend with climate change; reform our immigration system and change our federal budget priorities.

"As congressional committee assignments and decisions about who will lead the various committees gets clarified, you can be assured that, with your help, and regardless of leadership positions or party affiliation, FCNL's lobbying to bring about a more peaceful and just world will be relentless."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ocean of darkness, and of light--how to overcome depression

"I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings…." --George Fox

During a recent meeting for worship at Orange Grove I was led to share a message about depression. It has become clear to me that some highly gifted people, including some Friends, have suffered from this affliction. As Larry Ingle makes clear in his book First Among Friends, George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, suffered from deadly bouts of depression that left him incapacitated for long periods of time. Lord Shaftesbury, one of the great Evangelical reformers of the 19th century, helped to pass laws ending the slave trade and child labor. He also helped reform mental institutions so that they would be more humane. He, too, suffered from bouts of depression, rage, and irrational behavior so intense he once confessed, "If I weren't a Lord, I'd probably be in a lunatic asylum." Finally, Parker Palmer, whose book Hidden Wholeness I've been reading for my spiritual direction program, doesn't conceal the fact that he suffered from acute depression.

When Fox spoke of an "ocean of darkness," he was using a metaphor that vividly describes what many people experience during depression--a feeling of drowning in an unending sea of despair.

But Fox also experienced an "ocean of light"--a sense of being buoyed up in a sea of divine love so intense it overcomes this feeling of isolation and hopelessness. 

I concluded my message by remarking that there were probably people in this Meeting who had suffered or were currently suffering from depression, and were reluctant to seek help because of the stigma attached to such a condition. I encourage Friends to reach out in love to those who are depressed, and to welcome them into the "ocean of light and love."

After I shared this vocal ministry, there was a time of silence, and then a Friend shared about his own experiences with depression:

"I have suffered from depression since I was 8 years old," he said. "And I always thought it was a terrible thing. But finally, I realized that I was learning something important from my depression. I was learning how to be compassionate and empathetic...."

He concluded his testimony by saying "Yay for depression!" which made everyone laugh. (Laughter being one of the best antidotes for depression.)

When Meeting ended, there was a time for sharing joys and concerns in which we "hold each other in the Light" (as Quakers describe intercessory prayer). Because of this vocal ministry, my wife Jill felt safe enough to ask for prayers to help her through her depression. During a time of silence the whole Meeting surrounded us with loving thoughts, bathing us in an "ocean of light and love" that was deeply healing. 

It was a precious moment, one of those instances when I felt the Spirit fully present in me and in our gathered Meeting. I am infinitely grateful to Friends for practicing a form of worship that allows the Spirit to do its healing work.

A week later, when I was having coffee with the clerk of Ministry and Counsel, I mentioned this moment and she told me that M & O had heard this concern and decided to explore ways they could reach out to members and attenders of Meeting who might be suffering depression. Her response filled my heart with joy.

I told her this was an excellent idea since the onset of winter often causes "seasonal affective disorder" (SAD) among those prone to depression, and the holidays can also trigger tender memories of loss and unhealed wounds.

Dr. Barton Goldsmith provides "10 tools for dealing with holiday depression" that are worth keeping in mind: 

While this is a helpful and practical list, it leaves out another important "tool" for curing depression--practicing the presence of the Divine. When we can take a deep breath and remember we are God's beloved, it definitely helps. I know from experience how important it is to reach out not only to friends, but to God, during times of darkness and despair.

Here are some passages from the Psalms that may be healing for you. It is pretty clear from reading the Psalms that the Psalmist suffered from bouts of profound despair and depression, and that he found solace in contemplating the Lord. I suggest that if you are feeling depressed, find a quiet place where you can sit and meditate on one of these passages from the Psalms. As you reflect on the words, remember that people throughout the ages have walked through the "valley of the shadow" and found comfort in the Lord's presence. Breathe in God's healing spirit, and allow the Light to work within you.

Psalm 34: The Lord Helps the Brokenhearted The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 23: The Valley of the Shadow
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 32: You Will Protect Me
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 91: His Faithfulness Will Be Your Shield
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 46: God is Our Refuge
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 43: Put Your Hope in God
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 68: He Bears Our Burdens
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.

Psalm 18: God is My Rock
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold

Psalm 34: The Lord is Good
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34: Take Heart
Be strong and take heart,
All you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 73: God Is the Strength
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 29: The Lord Blesses His People

The Lord gives strength to his people;
The Lord blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 103: Forget Not All His Benefits
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Psalm 28: The Lord is My Strength
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.


Since I began this reflection with a passage from George Fox's Journal, I'd like to end with a letter he wrote to Oliver Cromwell's daughter, Lady Claypole, who suffered from depression and other forms of mentail distress. In this letter, he describes how to let the Inward Light of Christ do its healing work: 

Be still and cool in your own mind and spirit from your own thoughts, and then you will feel the principle of God to turn your mind to the Lord God, from whom life comes; whereby you may receive his strength and power to allay all blusterings, storms, and tempests. That is it which works up into patience, into innocence, into soberness, into stillness, into firmness, into quietness, up to God, with his power. Therefore mind, that is the word of the Lord to you, that the authority of God you may feel, and your faith in it, to work down that which troubles you. For that is it which keeps peace and brings up the witness in you, which has been transgressed, to feel after God with his power and life, who is a God of order and peace.

When you are in the transgression of the life of God in your own particular way, the mind flies up in the air, the creature is led into the night, nature goes out of its course, an old garment goes on, and an uppermost clothing: and your nature being led out of its course, it comes to be all on fire in the transgression, and that defaces the glory of the first body.

Therefore be still awhile from your own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires, and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in you, that it may raise your mind up to God, and stay it upon God, and you will find strength from him, and find him to be a God at hand, a present help in the time of trouble and of need. And you being come to the principle of God, which has been transgressed, it will keep you humble; and the humble God will teach his way, which is peace, and such he does exalt.

Now as the principle of God in you has been transgressed, come to it, that it may keep your mind down low to the Lord God; to deny yourself, and from your own will, that is the earthly, from which you must be kept. Then you will feel the power of God, which will bring nature into its course, and let you see the glory of the first body. There the wisdom of God will be received, (which is Christ, by which all things were made and created), and you thereby preserved and ordered to God's glory. There you will come to receive and feel the physician of value, who clothes people in their right mind, by which they may serve God and do his will.

For all distractions, unruliness, and confusion are in the transgression; which transgression must be brought down, before the principle of God, which has been transgressed against, is lifted up; by which the mind may be seasoned and stilled, and a right understanding of the Lord may be received; whereby his blessings enter, and are felt over all that is contrary in the power of the Lord God, which raises up the principle of God within, gives a feeling after God, and in time gives dominion. Keep in the fear of the Lord God; that is the word of the Lord to you.

For all these things happen to you for your good, and for the good of those concerned for you, to make you know yourselves and your own weakness, and that you may know the Lord's strength and power, and may trust in him. Let the time past be sufficient to everyone, who in any thing has been lifted up in transgression out of the power of the Lord; for He can bring down and abase the mighty, and lay them in the dust of the earth. Therefore, all keep low in his fear, so that you may receive the secrets of God and his wisdom, may know the shadow of the Almighty, and sit under it in all tempests, storms, and heats. For God is a God at hand, and the Most High rules in the children of men.

This is the word of the Lord God to you all; what the light exposes and discovers, as temptations, distractions, confusions; do not look at the temptations, confusions, corruptions; but at the light which discovers them and exposes them; and with the same light you may feel over them, to receive power to stand against them.

The same light which lets you see sin and transgression, will let you see the covenant of God, which blots out your sin and transgression, which gives victory and dominion over it, and brings into covenant with God.

For looking down at sin, corruption, and distraction, you are swallowed up in it; but looking at the light, which discovers them, you will see over them.

That will give victory, and you will find grace and strength; there is the first step to peace. That will bring salvation; and by it you may see to the beginning, and the "Glory that was with the Father before the world began;" and come to know the seed of God; which is the heir of the promise of God, and of the world which has no end; and which bruises the head of the serpent, who stops people from coming to God. That you may feel the power of an endless life, the power of God which is immortal, which brings the immortal soul up to the immortal God, in whom it rejoices. So in the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ, God Almighty strengthen you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Intrafaith and interfaith work: planting seeds of reconciliation and peace

I have good news: I now have an "accountability committee" appointed by Orange Grove Meeting to help me discern how to proceed with my interfaith work. I asked for this committee because Pacific Yearly Meeting (along with my monthly and quarterly meeting) have approved minutes of support for my interfaith ministry on behalf of Friends. Now that I have become a regular attender at Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena, CA, it seemed fitting to have an "accountability committee" from this meeting instead of Santa Monica Meeting.

An "accountability committee" is appointed when a Friend has a concern that is shared by the Yearly Meeting. Its job is to help make sure that the Friend with this concern follows the Spirit faithfully.

I met with my Orange Grove accountability committee for the first time last week. Around six Friends took part and we had a rich and helpful discussion, with thoughtful questions that helped me to gain more clarity about the work I feel called to do.

One of the topics that came up was the relationship between liberal and Evangelical Friends, in other words,  "intrafaith" relations. Since 9/11, I have been led to build bridges among different faith traditions and feel comfortable among Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, Bahais, etc. In fact, I feel as if I now belong as much to this interfaith "beloved community" as I do to my Quaker family. A few years ago, at a Friends General Conference gathering, I asked the theologian Marcus Borg about the biggest challenge to interfaith dialogue. His answer "spoke to my condition" in a surprising and somewhat unsettling way.

"The biggest challenge," he said, "is not interfaith, but intrafaith dialogue."

Ouch! his words reminded me that I, like many liberal Friends, feel more comfortable having a dialogue with, say, a Muslim than with an Evangelical Quaker. In fact, I hardly ever come into contact with Evangelical Friends!

This seemed wrong, and I felt God nudging me to reach out beyond my comfort zone to my Evangelical brothers and sisters. I asked to be appointed the Pacific Yearly Meeting rep to Friends World Committee for Consultation, the international umbrella group for all branches of Quakers, including Evangelicals who comprise the vast majority of Friends world-wide. FWCC organized the World Conference of Friends that I attended in Kenya. Being part of this gathering of 850 Friends from over 100 Yearly Meetings was life-transforming experience that made me keenly aware of the amazing diversity (as well as the underlying unity) among Friends.

Thanks to my wife Jill, I now have more access to the Evangelical community locally. She helped to set up a lunch date with Bob Webster, the pastor of the Foothills Community Church (which is affiliated with Friends Church Southwest). It turns out we had a lot in common. He spent several years doing ministry in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, around the same time I was involved in Soviet-American book project sponsored by the Quaker US/USSR Committee. We didn't see ourselves a "church planters" but one of our goals was to help establish a Quaker meeting in Moscow. We also shared bibles and our spiritual lives with Russians we met.

Bob took us on a tour of his church and explained how it "died" and how he "resurrected" it around 15 years ago. Today this church is a small, but vibrant multi-racial congregation with around 80 people attending each Sunday. I hope to visit and attend services there someday.

There are of course many profound differences between this church and an unprogrammed meeting like Orange Grove, but I was pleased to discover we have in common a commitment to making decisions by "coming to unity." I look forward to learning more about how this church relates to Friends' theological beliefs as well as practice.

On Friday, I attended Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and was very impressed by Rev Chloe Bryer, a presenter who came all the way from New York City. Chloe is a young Episcopal priest who is the executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. Her organization is a lot like the South Coast Interfaith Council and has a large membership of diverse faiths. Here's a description of ICNY from its website:

The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY) is a nationally-recognized non-profit organization that catalyzes collaborations among hundreds of grassroots and immigrant religious leaders and civic officials (judges, teachers, and social workers) to address New York’s most pressing social problems. Founded in 1997 by the Very Rev. James Parks Morton, former Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, ICNY’s historic partners have included the New York State Unified Court System, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, UJA Federation, The Center for Court Innovation, the Harlem Community Justice Center, CONNECT and the city’s nine Social Work Schools. ICNY works with hundreds of grassroots and immigrant religious leaders from fifteen different faith and ethnic traditions including the Afro-Caribbean, Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Jain, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Taoist and Zoroastrian communities of New York City. Our long-term goal is to help New York City become a nationally and internationally-recognized model for mutual understanding and cooperation among faith traditions.

Chloe gave a powerful and insightful talk about the work she does; and afterwards, I had the privilege of having coffee with her and Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Shura Council of Southern California (and a very dear friend of mine). It was encouraging to hear how these two dynamic religious leaders are working in their local communities to bring about interreligious understanding and cooperation.

On Sunday, I took place in a planning meeting for the local chapter of the Parliament of the World's Religions.  We met at St John's Cathedral, where Rev. Gwynne Guibord organizes interfaith events on a regular basis. On Sunday there was a talk on Christianity and politics by a noted theologian named Dr.Amy-Jill Levine. I had to miss this talk because I was clerking the Peace Committee gathering at our Quarterly Meeting retreat, but I was happy to be part of the Parliament group's planning process. We are diverse group of gifted people with a very small budget, and huge dreams. I have travelled with them all the way to Australia and back, and also have been on an equally adventurous spiritual journey with them. They have enriched my life in many ways, and I love them dearly.

I feel incredibly blessed to part of a dynamic and vibrant interfaith community here in Los Angeles. Sometimes I feel as if we are reliving the "convivencia," the period in Muslim Spain when Muslims, Christians and Jews created an interreligious culture that helped jumpstart what we call the Renaissance. I hope cities like Los Angeles and New York will bring about another Renaissance--a spiritual rebirth that will overcome religious prejudice, political oppression, and other forms of justice and bring about the kind of world that God intends and we all yearn for--a world of peace, justice, and hope for all.

My hope and prayer is that my Quaker Friends will increasingly come to appreciate this burgeoning spiritual movement and become more active in it. My leading is to plant seeds of interfaith peacemaking through my travels, my writings, and my blog.

Speaking of which, I was pleased to receive this letter from an Australian Friend active in interfaith work. Three years ago, I attended the Parliament of the World's Religion gathering in Melbourne and gave talks about the interfaith movement at Quaker meetings in Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney, and also at Australian Yearly Meeting in Adelaide. I passed through Ballarat and visited a Friend there. Brigid's letter was not only very encouraging, it also brought back fond memories of the wonderful Friends I encountered during my travels in Australia.

Dear LA Quaker,

Thank you for a good report. I have been following your blog for quite a long while now. I have been living in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia since March (previously I lived in Melbourne)and am a member of Ballarat Meeting.

I write particularly with regard to your interfaith interest. I just wanted to let you know about interfaith stuff with which I am involved. As of last Sunday night, I am President of GreenFaith Australia which is an interfaith environment organisation based in Melbourne established in 2008. I was a founding member of GFA and on its original board. We are currently in discussions with ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change) which is based in Sydney with the purpose of working more closely together. I am also a member of Ballarat Interfaith Network and WIN Foundation (Women's Interfaith Network). Next Sunday in Melbourne there is an Interfaith Conference for interfaith networks.

I don't know what is happening in other states of Australia but in Victoria interfaith networks are springing up in local government areas under the auspices of Town, City and Shire Councils. Some networks predate the involvement of local government. Some are quite recent.

There are now moves in Melbourne, under the auspices of the Faith Community Councils of Victoria which continues the work here in Melbourne of the Parliament of the Worlds Religions, to form the networks in Melbourne into regional networks which is an interesting development. In addition interfaith networks continue to move more widely into regional areas of the state.

The other two organisations of which I am a part have no connection with the local government stimulus and came into being quite separately.

Interfaith organisations do not, as a generality, have large numbers but they do have substantial community reach. Interfaith work in our context is not only a spiritual work but a peace work. Victoria has always received large numbers of migrants and refugees who bring with them their religious beliefs and practices. Interfaith networks, along with multicultural organisations which - in the main - are also local government based, are seen to be assisting old Australians and recent Australians in understanding each other. The networks are also vehicles which demonstrate how we can be respectful of each other's beliefs.

In Friendship,