Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good" by Jim Wallis (a review)

On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good. Brazos Press: Grand Rapids, MI, 2013.

This book is like a breath of fresh air emerging out of the toxic atmosphere of Washington, DC. Jim Wallis, an Evangelical Christian with a passion for social justice, peace, and Little League baseball, helped found Sojourners, a community of Christians who intentionally moved to a low-income area of DC to be in solidarity with the poor. Over the years his work has gained national and international stature. A “best-selling author, public theologian, national preacher, social activist, and international commentator,” Wallis publishes Sojourners magazine (to which I subscribe) and has published ten books on religion and politics from a progressive Evangelical perspective.

Wallis is also a friend of Friends, who sometimes works with FCNL, and has a lot in common with liberal as well as Evangelical Quakers.

A voice of sanity and good will, Wallis challenges our leaders to put aside their petty differences and partisan bickering and work for the Common Good, what the founders of our country called “the general welfare.” He is also a great storyteller who knows how to inspire as well as challenge us.

The title of his latest book, On God’s Side, is taken from a quote by Lincoln, who said: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.” To be on “God’s side,” in Wallis’ view, is to be on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. He believes that change doesn’t happen in the center of power, but on the margins, in movements that change hearts and minds and thereby transform society. Wallis was a big supporter of the Civil Rights movement as well as Occupy Wall Street.

Wallis uses the story of the “Good Samaritan” to expand our understanding of what it means to “love our neighbor,” which he considers the most important commandment. He told a group of business leaders to look at their cell phones from the viewpoint not of the “supply chain,” but of the “values chain.” Cell phones use“dirty minerals” from places in the Congo and other areas dominated by militia that use profits from these minerals to buy weapons and kill thousands of people. “Imagine Jesus holding up our cell phones,” Wallis told the business leaders. “Your neighbor, he might say, is every man, woman and child who touched the supply chain used to make your phone, or the clothes you wear, the computers you type on, the food you eat, and the cars you drive. Your global neighbors in those supply lines are all God’s children” (p. 104).

This is of course what motivated John Woolman when he refused to wear clothing or other products made from slave labor. Wallis puts many of our Quaker practices into a biblical perspective that make sense to Evangelical and other Bible-believing Christians.

For liberal Friends who want to love and work with our Evangelical Quaker neighbors, this book is enormously helpful since it provides a biblical and theological basis for what we believe and do.

Committed to dialogue and civility, Wallis seeks to build bridges between conservatives and liberals by showing how both perspectives are necessary for the Common Good. Conservatives emphasize “personal responsibility” while liberals emphasize “social responsibility.” According to Wallis, both are needed if we want to help eliminate poverty and foster justice (which should be the goal of any society, but especially one that professes to be Christian).

Wallis’commitment to the Common Good also appeals to those who don’t identify with being Christian or any other faith (the so-called "nones" as in “none of the above”). “When we Christians do what we say,” says Wallis, “People who don’t believe are attracted.”

Wallis is committed to interfaith dialogue and cooperation as a way of “loving your neighbor.” He tells the story of a little church in Memphis, Tennessee, the “buckle of the Bible belt.” During the ruckus over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”in Manhattan, this little church learned that an Islamic center was being built next door so they put a sign saying “Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood.” The Muslims were amazed, and deeply moved, and soon a friendship developed between these two neighboring congregations. During Ramadan the Christians let the Muslims use their sanctuary for prayers since Islamic Center wasn’t finished. This story got world-wide coverage. One night Muslims from Kashmir called the pastor of the Heartsong church to let him know: “God is speaking to us through this man” and “We love you.” The Muslims of Kashmir said there was a little Christian church in their area and they cleaned it, inside and out, and vowed to take care of it for the rest of their lives. Wallis asked: what is more likely to bring peace to the world, drones or what this Memphis church did?

For me, one surprising thing about this book is that Wallis decided to take three months off his busy activist life to live in a Camaldolese monastery near Big Sur in Northern California. As a Quaker, I find it fascinating that Wallis is balancing his activist life with contemplation and prayer.

This is a book that should be required reading for all our elected officials as well as for any Friend who wants to understand how to apply Jesus’ teachings to both the personal and political aspects of life. In the epilogue of his book, Wallis offers “ten personal decisions that will foster the common good.” I have found it helpful to reflect on these “advices,” re-framing them as queries. As Wallis says, “finding the integral relationship between our own personal good and the common good is our best hope for our future.” To which I say, “This Friend speaks my mind.”




Saturday, April 27, 2013

Oscar Wilde and Christ the Poet


 In 1997 I went to see the movie "Oscar Wilde" (starring the incomparable Stephen Fry) with my friend Rev Bill Miller and
a group of clergy and lay people from several more or less liberal churches—Methodists, Church of Christ, and Quaker--who met every month or so to go to a movie and to discuss it from a more or less theological standpoint. After returning from the movie, and after an intense and interesting discussion with these open-minded Christians, I wrote this review/reflection about the little known Christian side of Wilde's life.

      Wilde is best known for his clever comedies, his macabre and beauitfully written novel "Portrait of Dorian Gray," and his unforgettably witty oneliners, such as "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between,"  "Life is too important to be taken seriously," "Women are meant to be loved, not understood," "Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

     The movie does an excellent job of depicting Wilde’s quriky human complexities,  but barely touches on  the religious dimension of Wilde’s work and life. The only religious reference that Wilde makes in the movie was his clever line: “I mean to die a Catholic, but I don’t intend to live like one.” From this remark, audiences would be hard put to realize that, while in jail, Wilde composed one of the most moving and original religious confessions of this century, “De Profundis.” The film describes this work  merely as a “farewell letter to [his lover] Lord Douglas.”

     Wilde’s story moved me more than I expected in part because Wilde played an important role in my spiritual development that I had almost forgotten. In college, I wrote poetry, fancied myself an aesthete, and was attracted to the works of French decadent poets like Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, and also to the “Fin de Siecle” artists and writers like Aubrey Beardsly and Wilde. Like Wilde and the decadents (as well as like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles), I saw the world of drugs as a stimulus for artistic expression. I plunged into the depths with the enthusiasm of a convert and paid a heavy price. But at the time it seemed worth risking all to create a poem that would dazzle with its originality and beauty.

      In my junior year  I became a student  of Anne Sexton, another poet whose religious dimension is sometimes overlooked. During that period (in which I still considered myself an agnostic and studiously avoided church),   I read “De Profundis” and was powerfully moved by what seemed to me Wilde’s utterly original depiction of Jesus as an artist, and the artist as Christ-like. After watching the movie,  I re-read these words and imagined Wilde in his prison cell penning them, and was moved to tears.

    The movie depicts Wilde writing fairy tales in prison, which is so far from reality as to be almost ludicrous. In fact, while in prison, Wilde turned to the Gospels and read them in the original Greek:

Of late I have been studying with diligence the four prose poems about Christ.  At Christmas I managed to get hold of a Greek Testament, and every morning, after I had cleaned my cell and  polished my tins, I read a little of the Gospels, a dozen verses taken by chance anywhere.  It is a delightful way of opening the day.  Every one, even in a turbulent, ill-disciplined life, should do the same.  Endless repetition, in and out of season, has spoiled for us the freshness, the naivete, the simple romantic charm of the Gospels.  We hear them read far too often and far too badly, and all repetition is anti-spiritual.  When one returns to the Greek; it is like going into a garden of lilies out of some, narrow and dark house.
    As this passage suggests, Wilde’s approach to the Gospels was aesthetic rather than theological—which is to say, it was “felt” rather than reasoned out (or rationalized). Another way of saying this is that Wilde read the Gospels not as a rule book or as a historical document, but as a work of art in the profoundest sense. Wilde’s ambition was to write a work depicting Christ as the ultimate artist, and in a sense that is what he achieved in “De Profundis.” I heartily recommend that serious Christians interested in art should read the whole work since it is one of the most profound and original spiritual confessions of this century.

     It is impossible to do justice to this work in a brief essay. So much depends on the style and tone that it is tempting simply to quote passages like the following:

       If ever I write again, in the sense of producing artistic work, there are just two subjects on which and through which I desire to express myself:  one is 'Christ as the precursor of the romantic movement in life':  the other is 'The artistic life considered in its relation to conduct.'  The first is, of course, intensely fascinating, for I see in Christ not merely the essentials of the supreme romantic type, but all the accidents, the wilfulnesses even, of the romantic temperament also.  He was the first person who ever said to people that they should live 'flower-like lives.'  He fixed the phrase.  He took children as the type of what people should try to become.  He held them up as examples to their elders, which I myself have always thought the chief use of children, if what is perfect should have a use.  Dante describes the soul of a man as coming from the hand of God 'weeping and laughing like a little child,' and Christ also saw that the soul of each one should be A GUISA DI FANCIULLA CHE PIANGENDO E RIDENDO PARGOLEGGIA. 
      He felt that life was changeful, fluid, active, and that to allow it to be stereotyped into any form was death.  He saw that people should not be too serious over material, common interests:  that to be unpractical was to be a great thing:  that one should not bother too much over affairs.  The birds didn't, why should man?  He is charming when he says, 'Take no thought for the morrow; is not the soul more than meat? is not the body more than raiment?'  A Greek might have used the latter phrase.  It is full of Greek feeling.  But only Christ could have said both, and so summed up life perfectly for us.His morality is all sympathy, just what morality should be.  If the only thing that he ever said had been, 'Her sins are forgiven her because she loved much,' it would have been worth while dying to have said it.  His justice is all poetical justice, exactly what justice should be.  The beggar goes to heaven because he has been unhappy.  I cannot conceive a better reason for his being sent there.  The people who work for an hour in the vineyard in the cool of the evening receive just as much reward as those who have toiled there all day long in the hot sun.  Why shouldn't they?  Probably no one deserved anything.  Or perhaps they were a different kind of people. 
     Christ had no patience with the dull lifeless mechanical systems that treat people as if they were things, and so treat everybody alike:  for him there were no laws:  there were exceptions merely, as if anybody, or anything, for that matter, was like aught else in the world!
     That which is the very keynote of romantic art was to him the proper basis of natural life.  He saw no other basis.  And when they brought him one, taken in the very act of sin and showed him her sentence written in the law, and asked him what was to be done, he wrote with his finger on the ground as though he did not hear them, and finally, when they pressed him again, looked up and said,  Let him of you who has never sinned be the first to throw the stone at her.'  It was worth while living to have said that.
    Like all poetical natures he loved ignorant people.  He knew that in the soul of one who is ignorant there is always room for a great idea.  But he could not stand stupid people, especially those who are made stupid by education:  people who are full of opinions not one of which they even understand, a peculiarly modern type, summed up by Christ when he describes it as the type of one who has the key of knowledge, cannot use it himself, and does not allow other people to use it, though it may be made to open the gate of God's Kingdom.
Wilde would have understood the “culture war” taking place between the fundamentalists and conservatives in America today. In Wilde’s view, Jesus’ “chief war was against the Philistines.  That is the war every child of light has to wage.  Philistinism was the note of the age and community in which he lived.  In their heavy  inaccessibility to ideas, their dull respectability, their tedious orthodoxy, their worship of vulgar success, their entire preoccupation with the gross materialistic side of life, and their  ridiculous estimate of themselves and their importance, the Jews of  Jerusalem in Christ's day were the exact counterpart of the British  Philistine of our own."

Sound familiar? In Wilde’s view, what “saves” people are not their professions of faith or their their do-goodism, but “beautiful moments” in which they realize their true nature as children of God. Wilde writes: “The cold  philanthropies, the ostentatious public charities, the tedious formalisms so dear to the middle-class mind, [Christ] exposed with utter and relentless scorn….Those whom he saved from their sins are saved simply for beautiful moments in their lives.  Mary Magdalen, when she sees Christ, breaks the rich vase of alabaster that one of her seven lovers had given her, and spills the odorous spices over his tired dusty feet, and for that one moment's sake sits for ever with Ruth and Beatrice  in the tresses of the snow-white rose of Paradise.  All that Christ  says to us by the way of a little warning is that every moment  should be beautiful, that the soul should always be ready for the  coming of the bridegroom, always waiting for the voice of the lover, Philistinism being simply that side of man's nature that is  not illumined by the imagination.  He sees all the lovely  influences of life as modes of light:  the imagination itself is  the world of light.  The world is made by it, and yet the world  cannot understand it:  that is because the imagination is simply a  manifestation of love, and it is love and the capacity for it that  distinguishes one human being from another.”

Those who have been raised on the social Gospel may find such religious aestheticism suspect, but Wilde had a genuine love for ordinary people, and a social conscience. The Ballad of Reading Goal is a powerful statement against capital punishment.

But Wilde was not interested in social reform for its own sake. He was at heart an individualist. He saw Jesus not a reformer trying to change the way we live our lives, but as a visionary whose presence changes us at the depths of our being.

“Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said:  he is just like a work of art.  He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something.”

     Wilde questions the motives, and the goals, of reformers who would turn criminals into capitalists:

“[Christ’s] primary desire was not to reform people, any more than his primary desire was to a relieve suffering.  To turn an interesting thief into a tedious honest man was not his aim.  He would have thought little of the Prisoners' Aid Society  and other modern movements of the kind.  The conversion of a  publican into a Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great achievement.  But in a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy  things and modes of perfection.” 

Wilde goes on to say, “It seems a very dangerous idea.  It is—all great ideas are  dangerous.  That it was Christ's creed admits of no doubt.  That it is the true creed I don't doubt myself.”
“There is something so unique about Christ.  Of course just as there  are false dawns before the dawn itself, and winter days so full of  sudden sunlight that they will cheat the wise crocus into  squandering its gold before its time, and make some foolish bird  call to its mate to build on barren boughs, so there were  Christians before Christ.  For that we should be grateful.  The  unfortunate thing is that there have been none since.  I make one  exception, St. Francis of Assisi.  But then God had given him at  his birth the soul of a poet, as he himself when quite young had in mystical marriage taken poverty as his bride:  and with the soul of  a poet and the body of a beggar he found the way to perfection not  difficult.  He understood Christ, and so he became like him.  We do  not require the Liber Conformitatum to teach us that the life of  St. Francis was the true IMITATIO CHRISTI, a poem compared to which  the book of that name is merely prose.”

      The movie ends with another clever line from Wilde: “Like St. Francis, my last days have been wedded to poverty, but unlike St. Francis, this marriage has not been a success.” Audiences watching “Wilde” cannot fully appreciate the irony of Wilde unless they realize that Wilde in his latter days did in fact aspire to make his life an Imitatio Christi. Perhaps the movie-makers had a glimmering of this. As Wilde was led out of the court room, and faced the jeering crowds, some of whom spat upon him, I could not help thinking of Jesus being led to the Place of Skulls.


Today, thank God, gays do not face the death penalty or imprisonment for trying to realize their true nature. Wilde, like many homosexuals today, did not feel at home in the conventional church, but he did feel a deep attraction for Christ. We may find fault with his theology, but we cannot question his love of Christ and his yearning for the Divine. The movie “Wilde” does a fine job of depicting Wilde’s human side, but only when we read “De Profundis” and “Reading Goal” do we realize that Wilde was also a spiritual seeker whose life was tragically cut short.

PS I just found Wilde's quote on war and find it very insightful, only it needs to be modernized. "As long as war it regarded as evil, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as stupid and uncool, it will cease to be popular."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Recycling and Gleaning: the Right of the Poor, the Obligation of the Rich

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing." (Prov 31:8)

Jill recently attended a meeting in which local business leaders were proud of the fact that they had successfully closed down a recycling center on the corner of Washington and Lake Ave, a low-income area where Food for Less is located. According to theese business leaders, this center was attracting unsightly people who used their money to buy single cans of beer. The presence of such people is seen as “bad for business.”

Our friend Mark is a formerly homeless man who lives in our backhouse and occasionally brings cans to be recycled. He was outraged.

“Most of those who recycle are poor families,” he claimed. “Most people who recycle aren’t causing anyone any trouble. They’re just poor.”

We had a discussion about how to document who used the recyclying cener, and for what purpose. In Making Housing Happen (p. 222-223), Jill tells the story of Charles Suhayda, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, who was trained as a scientist and who trained homeless people to conduct a scientifically valid survey to determine the needs of the homeless in his area. Armed with data, the homeless and their advocates formed the Hollywood Community Action Network (HCAN) and successfully lobbied the City Council to provide needed services.

Generally speaking, business leaders and middle class people don’t like to see anyone poor or homeless in their area. This phenomenon is called NIMBYism ("Not in my backyard").
In various cities (such as La Jolla, San Francisco, Monrovia) there has been push-back by local businesses when recycling centers open up that are used by the poor and the homeless. But there is usually no objection when they are run by churches for middle class folks, as this article explains.

This puts the poor into an impossible bind. The middle class objects when the poor panhandle, but when the poor try to earn an honest living by recycling, it’s still objectionable. Why?

When the poor recycle, they are actually performing a public service. Some gather cans from the street, which is certainly commendable. Others rummage through the trash. In either case, they are saving taxpayers money since the county and city recycling centers pay people to sort out what’s recyclable. The poor do it without charging the taxpayer a dime.

True, some of the homeless recyclers are alcoholics who use their money to buy booze. But if they weren’t earning money by recycling, they will have to panhandle or steal to feed their addiction. Isn’t recycling a preferable option?

This is an issue that churches should take seriously for biblical as well as moral reasons.

The Old Testament makes it clear that God has ordained “gleaning” as an obligation for the rich to give the poor (and foreigners) a chance to gather their own food instead of begging:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

In today’s urbanized setting, recycling can be seen a form of gleaning. It provides the poor a chance to earn needed income from the scraps from the tables of the rich and middle class. To deny the poor that right is to disobey one of God’s commands. It also denies the poor a chance to perform useful work for the pubblic good.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Interfaith Just Peacemaking: A Major Breakthrough for Faith-based Social Activists

Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War," edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.

The paradigm of “just peacemaking” is one of the most important recent developments in interfaith and ecumenical social activism, though it is not as widely known as it should be. This eminently practical as well as deeply theological approach is helping people of different faith perspectives to find common ground and work together for peace. As someone who has been involved with interfaith peacemaking for over a decade, I find this approach extremely exciting and hopeful.

The idea of “just peacemaking” originated with Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary and an Evangelical Christian who was a student of Reinhold Niebuhr (Obama’s favorite theologian). Niebuhr, one of America’s most influential theologians in the 1950s, gave up on pacifism during WWII and became a “Christian realist,” justifying war in situations where Christians must confront what he saw as inherently evil systems like Nazism and Communism.

Stassen has been influenced by both Niebuhr and by John Yoder, the Mennonite pacifist theologian. Stassen describes himself both as a "pacifist" and "realist" who is ardently anti-war—he earned a degree in nuclear physics as well as Christian ethics and devoted himself to nuclear weapons reduction and elimination from the 1980s on. He has also worked with the AFSC as well as with Evangelicals for Social Action to oppose war. On the door of his office at Fuller is the FNCL sign: “War is not the answer.”

Stassen argues that pacifists and just war theorists/Christian realists will never agree because they come from very different theological perspectives What all Christians can agree on, says Stassen, is that God calls us to do our utmost to avoid war and promote peace. After considerable study, Stassen has come up with ten "best peacemaking practices" that have been proven to work:

1.     Support nonviolent direct action

2.     Take independent initiatives to reduce threats

3.     Use cooperative conflict resolution

4.     Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness

5.     Advance democracy, human rights and interdependence

6.     Foster just and sustainable economic development

7.     Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system

8.     Strengthen the UN and international efforts for cooperation and human rights

9.     Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trad

10.  Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations

Stassen shows these techniques not only work in the real world, they are also consistent with biblical teachings. He published his ground-breaking book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (1992) when the Cold War ended in the early 1990s. At that time he was deeply impressed with non-violent resistance efforts he had encountered in Eastern Europe. In the aftermath of 9/11, when just war theorists and Christian realists were justifying the “war against terror,” and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Stassen questioned this response and put together an anthology by Christians of various denominations called Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War (2008).

As a follow up to this book, Susan Thistlethwaite, a United Methodist pastor as well professor and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, published Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War. This fascinating book contains chapters by leading Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars that explore the practical application as well as theological basis for Just Peacemaking from Abrahamic faith perspectives. These scholars don't all agree on every point--God forbid!--but they are in general agreement that the practices of Just Peacemaking are consistent with the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran.

This is good news indeed. If Muslims, Jews and Christians of all denominations can work together for peace, certainly Evangelical and liberal Quakers can do likewise!

The only disappointment I have with this book is the lack of a Quaker perspective. All of the theologians included are “people of the book” who rely mainly upon scriptural authority to justify their views. I would have loved to have seen at least one theologian discuss the spiritual and experiential basis for just peacemaking. It is our Quaker conviction that our peacemaking efforts are most effective when they spring from an experience of inner peace, when we listen to our Inward Guide and follow the leadings of the Spirit. This inward experience leads to outward practices such as consensus decision making as well as to our social testimonies (simplicity, equality, community), a way of life that fosters peace and justice. Despite the omission of a Quaker perspective, I heartily recommend this book to Friends and to others who have serious commitment to ending war and promoting a just peace. I also look forward to a follow-up book that includes those of non-Abrahamic faiths, such as a Buddhists, Bahais, Hindus and others.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No more massacres in Boston, or elsewhere in the world: let's end drone warfare and seek "the things that make for peace"

The tragedy at the Boston Marathon shows once again the heart-breaking futility of violence. I grieve for and with the families of those who were killed and wounded. I pray they will find the comfort and support they need during this difficult time.
There is no indication yet of who perpetrated this damnable deed, or why, but ultimately what matters is: what are we going to do to prevent such tragedies from recurring?
Typically, our government reacts to violence by instigating more violence, which simply perpetuates the cycle. Since 9/11, we have been conducting a "war on terrorism," using terroristic means; and the result has been more and more acts of violence in the world.
As our government goes about killing innocent people using drones and other means, it is inevitable that someone somwhere will seek revenge here in our homeland.
There is another and better way of responding to violence:  the way of Jesus Christ,  Gandhi,  Martin Luther King, and Badshah Khan, the Pashtun leader who became a champion of nonviolent resistance in Afghanistan. Instead of reacting to violence with violence, we seek to address the root causes of violence, and we refrain from validating violence by using violent means.
This week Orange Grove Meeting approved a minute on drones that could help to reduce one root cause of violence: our use of drones.
I am pleased that Friends are showing concern for this issue. The Jan-Feb issue of The Western Friend has an interview with Leah Bolger, Veterans for Peace national board member, who talks about drones. Friends Journal also published an excellent piece about drones by Joan Nicholson, who went on a delegation to Pakinstan with Medea Benjamin and others from Code Pink (it is included below). FNCL signed on to a letter by religious leaders calling for more transparency in the use of drones, tranferring their use from the CIA to the military, where there is more accountability. The AFSC is also working a piece of "model legislation" regarding drones that will be coming out soon.
Drones have become extremely popular among those who profit from war. Congress has a "drone caucus," consisting of elected officials who support drones as the new weapon of choice. This is not surprising since drones have become a big business here in So Cal, with drone factories in Monrovia and San Diego.
It therefore seems fitting for So Cal Friends to say "no" to drones and everything they stand for. As John Woolman once said, when we experience God's love and commit ourselves to the Light, we no longer can support the business of war. "To turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives..."

Minute of Concern regarding Drone Warfare
approved by Orange Grove Meeting, April 14, 2013

As Friends (Quakers) who believe there is "that of God" in everyone and therefore every life is sacred, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. The United States is leading the way in this new form of warfare where pilots in US bases kill people, by remote control, thousands of miles away. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war due to the lack of direct risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers, but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in countries where we are not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
We urge our government to put an end to this secretive, remote-controlled killing and instead promote foreign policies that are consistent with the values of a democratic and humane society. We call on the United Nations to regulate the international use of lethal drones in a fashion that promotes a just and peaceful world community, based on the rule of law, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.

Recommended actions

We recommend that the Clerk of our Monthly Meeting send this minute to our elected officials and encourage Friends to do likewise. A copy of this minute will be sent to Quarterly and Yearly Meeting for its consideration.

Friends are also encouraged to read Medea Benjamin book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control and to engage in study on how to address this concern.


Drone Warfare (From Friends Journal)

U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col Leslie Pratt
U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col Leslie Pratt

I was part of a delegation to Pakistan in October 2012 to address the issue of United States drone warfare. Several thousand Pakistanis, including small children, have been killed by U.S. drones and many others have been critically injured. During just one day of our visit, 18 people were killed by drones.
We heard from individuals whose family members had been killed. One of them, a bereaved Pakistani journalist summed up his view of the situation by saying, “The blood shed [sic] of Muslim people has no value.” He told us of the drone strike that destroyed his house, killing his 18-year-old son, his younger brother, and a stonemason who was in the village to work on the mosque. His son, a recent high school graduate, was working at his school because he wanted to encourage the community to value education. His brother had a master’s in English literature and had taught for eight years, trying to convey to students that education was more powerful than weapons. He left a grief-stricken wife and a two-year-old son.
We heard about the terror caused by the constant presence of drones in some areas. Pakistanis are afraid to attend gatherings like weddings, funerals, or business meetings. They know they will probably all be killed if their houses are targeted, and believe that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency views all young and middle-aged men as potential targets. (A new counter-terrorism manual for targeted killing operations explicitly exempts the CIA from having to follow the rules in its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan for at least a year.)
When the Deputy Chief of U.S. Mission, Richard Hoagland, spoke with us, he maintained that very few civilians had been killed by drones. When he was asked about the second-wave and even multiple strikes that have been killing and wounding many rescuers, he stated that in recent years, there have never been deliberate strikes against rescuers. We urged him to investigate and provide a public report.
The day after a candlelight vigil with young people, we traveled toward the targeted areas of Waziristan with Imran Khan’s large peace caravan. We passed many people who expressed support by waving and giving the peace sign. At a rally, we stood on the stage with our banner “Stop Killer Drones.” Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin spoke; the crowd called out repeatedly, “Welcome to you! We want peace!”
Prior to the trip, the U.S. State Department had issued a warning that U.S. citizens would be in danger if they traveled to Pakistan. Our delegation was given a very warm welcome. We were showered with rose petals and given bouquets at the airport. Throughout the trip, we were warmly received and shown generous hospitality in spite of the country’s poverty. People understood that we believe their lives are sacred and that we are committed to working for peace and an end to the evil of drone warfare. It may be a long and difficult struggle, as the U.S. government seems intent on continuing the use of drone warfare in order to help control its access to natural resources.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sequestration cuts will force tens of thousands of people out of their homes

When my wife Jill came back from a meeting of the Pasadena Housing Department and told me how sequestration would affect low-income folk, my heart sank.

Sequestration--the budget slashing measure that took place because Congress was unwilling to deal intelligently with our fiscal crisis--is having a serious impact on homelessness here in Pasadena and throughout the USA.

Myrtle Dunson, Housing Manager for the city of Pasadena, reported that sequestration requires that the number of Section 8 housing vouchers in the city be cut by 50-75 as of April 1. These vouchers are what enable 1,406 low-income people to afford housing here in Pasadena.

This is “only” a 5% cut, but some of those whose Section 8 assistance has been cut will probably end up homeless. Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, puts these cuts into a national perspective:

"It is estimated that over 125,000 families and individuals - more than half of whom are elderly and disabled - may lose their housing through the cuts to the housing assistance programs. Some 100,000 people will be affected by the cuts to homeless assistance. While some programs that aid poor people are exempt from sequestration, these efforts to meet the basic needs of the poorest people are not."

According to the most recent homeless count, Pasadena has 772 homeless persons, a 15% decrease thanks in part to Housing Works, an organization that houses the chronically and at-risk homeless, thereby saving the city money (since this population tends to need services such as hospitalization, etc.). This highly successful program will suffer cuts up to 5.9% due to sequestration.

As of January, 2013, 560 Pasadenans are homeless and unsheltered, including 39 homeless veterans and 33 families with a total of 59 children.

The homeless population is growing older and more prone to illness, as Rebecca Zukins pointed out in a recent article entitled "Aging into homelessness: Experts say more seniors will be on the streets if more isn't done to increase housing opportunities,” Pasadena Weekly 4/4/13).

Non-profits and churches are working tirelessly to help those in need. Friends In Deed (formerly known as ECPAC), Union Station, and other groups work together to provide services for Pasadena's homeless population.

Family Promise, a national organization with a new branch focusing on the San Gabriel Valley, involves congregations in providing services that help homeless families find jobs and housing. Three Pasadena churches--Friendship Baptist, Hollinston Community Church, and Onevoice Free Methodist Church--are part of this highly effective program.

According to the US Council of Mayors, "lack of affordable housing" is one of the primary causes of homelessness. That's why we need to urge Congress to increase, not cut back, Section 8 vouchers. That’s why we need to expand inclusionary zoning, like the ordinance in Pasadena that created aover 460 units of affordable housing, at no expense to taxpayers (IZ requires that developers make at least 15% of their units affordable). We also need to encourage cities to follow AB 1866, the state law allowing home owners to build second units (so-called “granny flats”)—a policy that has worked quite well to create affordable housing in places like Santa Cruz and Culver City.

Finally, we need to make a serious commitment to create more affordable housing by supporting the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013 (SB 391).

This act will:
  • Create 29,000 jobs annually, primarily in the beleaguered construction sector.
  • Help businesses attract and retain the talent that fuels California’s economy.
  • Generate an estimated $500 million in state investment and leverage an additional $2.78 billion in federal, local, and private investment.
  • Deploy these dollars throughout California using a successful private/public partnership model, creating jobs and generating revenue for local governments.
  • Build safe and affordable apartments and single-family homes for Californians in need, including families, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness.
As Christians, Jill and I believe we have a God-mandated responsibility to make sure that our neighbors have decent housing: "There were no needy persons among [early Christians]. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and distributed it among the needy" (Act 4:34).
Housing for all Americans has also been national policy ever since the Congress passed the US Housing Act in 1949, calling for “a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.”
Decent housing for all Americans is the true American dream, one that we could and should make a reality. If wealthy and privileged Americans paid their fair share of taxes (at least as much as middle class people do), and if the middle class chipped in a bit, we could meet this goal and end homelessness in America. Si, se puede!

Bio: Anthony Manousos and his wife Jill Shook reside in Northwest Pasadena and work to promote affordable housing as well as other community concerns, such as reducing gun violence (both are involved in the Pasadena Area Gun Buyback campaign). Dr. Shook, with help from her husband, a Quaker peace activist, authored Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models (2012), a book that offers workable solutions and true stories by people of faith who have made housing happen for those in need. See makinghousinghappen.com.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Greetings from Jill and me

Jill wrote the following Easter letter to her supporters, which I am happy to share here with you. I am  pleased and proud beyond measure to be married to someone who shares my enthusiasm for peace and justice....and is willing to work tirelessly to make peace happen!

Happy Easter! One week ago today Anthony and I celebrated two years since we met at the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. This year I had the joy of organizing two miniature donkeys for the parade. The kids had a blast riding them. This week we have been bathed in meaningful Easter week experiences: a foot washing and “last supper,” a good Friday and a sunrise services with African American churches. Anthony was asked to pray for the cup as we shared communion. I’m pleased he, too, is being recognized as a spiritual leader in the [Evangelical community here in] Pasadena.

The theme of this year’s Peace Parade was “Beating Swords into plowshares” (Isa 2:4) and we are planning to do just that. I have become the co-chair of the Pasadena Area Gun Buyback—where those who wish will exchange their guns for a gift card—paid for by the churches of Pasadena. A “Peace-Source” fair will take place around the corner as the buyback taking place, which will showcase how churches and nonprofits are involved with intervention, prevention and alternatives to violence. This will all happen May 11—what a Mothers’ day gift! We are working with a renown sculptor who will melt the guns into an art object to demonstrate the commitment and unity of the congregations to end gun violence.
        Since Christmas Pasadena has had four gun deaths and many shootings—even a four-year-old was shot! We are asking congregations to give $50 for a non-working gun, $100 for a pistol or $200 for an assault weapon. Today three people gave me $100 checks. Just when I’m tempted to panic, God encourages me and our amazing team. So please pray. Today I read how one anonymous donor gave $100,000 for the Phoenix Buyback this week—yet by asking each church to participate our idea is to see a the culture of violence more broadly addressed. But right now in the thick of all this planning, I would not be opposed to such a gift!

In addition to helping with the gun buyback, Anthony has just finished another book and is helping me to promote mine. Skidrow Radio, a station focusing on homeless people and their issues, interviewed us about my book last Monday (http://www.skidrowstudios.com/the-qumran-report/2013-03-26/19499/the-qumran-report-housing-and-the-faith-based-community )
In the past months I’ve have had several speaking engagements and book signings—each selling out! My goal this year is to focus on promoting this revised version of Making Housing Happen, but God seems to have had some additional unexpected plans with this the Gun Buyback as well as a benefit concert I’m planning with another awesome team—Barry McGuire will be playing with John York at 3:30pm on June 9th at the First Pasadena Nazarene Church. Barry will share his journey to Jesus along with his “Tripping the Sixties” concert, which is a blast! The funds will support Family Promise of San Gabriel Valley—where homeless families are hosted by the congregations, gain employment and long term housing. Mark June 9th on your calendar. If you are in the Southern CA area, I’d love to get to see you.

God is resurrecting his people to action, to transform our community. I thank God for you and your partnership with me to make this happen. Love you, Jill