Friday, May 31, 2013

"Torture Awareness Month": what you can do to end this evil practice


June is  "torture awareness month," according to the many human rights organizations: Why? According to Amnesty International:

The short answer is because it’s when a very important treaty against torture took effect and there are still people who flout it—people like Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who went on 60 Minutes recently to promote waterboarding and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.

Let’s start with the law. It’s called the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) and it entered into force on June 26, 1987. That’s why June 26 is marked as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture—and why we’re calling on President Obama to apologize to torture survivor Maher Arar on that day.

A "fun fact," according to Amnesy, is that Ronald Reagan was a big supporter of this international law. So is Senator McCain and many others on both sides of the aisle. Yet the facts about US-sponsored remain shrouded in secrecy.

That's why Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is launching a campaign to gain the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the use of torture.

I plan to go to the office of Senator Feinstein with a delegation of Los Angeles religious leaders on Thursday calling for the release of this study. Please support our efforts through your prayers and by contacting Senator Feinstein, or your Senator, and explain why you think it's important for this report to be made public.

Earlier this month I posted an entry with the words of Jesus: "Everything that is hidden will be brought to light" (Luke 8:17). This certainly applies to evils such a torture. There is already ample evidence that the US engaged in torture, as is made clear in a bipartisan study conducted by the Constitution Project which can be obtained for free from NRCAT. It is time for the US government to acknowledge its guilt and make amends by holding the perpetrators accountable, by compensating victims, and  perhaps most importantly, by insuring that our governement never again engages in this wicked practice. 

Dear Senator Feinstein,

We want to commend you for conducting the Intelligence Committee investigation into the use of torture, and for your leadership in efforts to end torture. We are writing on behalf of Quakers who have taken a strong stand against torture, such as the “Quaker Initiative to End Torture” (http://www.quit-torture-now.org/) and Pacific Yearly Meeting, which issued a statement calling for an end to torture and to bring to justice those who have authorized torture in violation of international law (see below). Quaker organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation have taken part in national religious campaigns to end torture.

We urge the Senate Committee to release the results of its investigation to the public. Americans have a right to know the facts. Public officials who authorized torture need to be held accountable.

Our nation loses its moral credibility as a defender of human rights if it refuses to acknowledge its role in practicing torture. As the bipartisan study by the Constitution Project makes clear, the US “engaged in the practice of torture” and “the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contribution to the spread of torture.”

There is no justification for torture—either legal, practical, or moral. We need to dispel the myth that torture provides critical information that helps keep Americans safe. Most experts agree that information gained through torture is unreliable. Furthermore, the use of torture incites hatred against Americans and is a recruiting tool for terrorists.

As people of faith, we affirm that torture is morally wrong and never justified. It is also a violation of international law.

Bringing the facts about US-sponsored torture to light could help ensure that it does not happen again, either abroad or in the United States, where inmates are being held in conditions of solitary confinement tantamount to torture.

As Pacific Yearly Meeting affirmed in a minute approved in 2011: “As Friends [Quakers], we stand firmly opposed to torture committed by anyone in any setting. We support the work of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (http://www.nrcat.org/) as well as of Quakers’ Initiative to End Torture (http://www.quit-torture-now.org/). We urge elected officials to bring to justice those who have authorized torture in violation of international law. We urge our governments to stop preventing the victims of torture from seeking redress and just compensation in our courts. We are also deeply concerned that cruel and inhumane punishment such as involuntary long-term solitary confinement are taking place in prisons in California and throughout the USA and the world. Finally, we support the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which can help prevent torture and abuse by requiring a ratifying country to establish National Preventative Mechanisms (NPMs) to monitor the treatment of prisoners. In addition to the NPMs, OPCAT allows for international oversight of places of confinement to ensure that torture and other abuses are not occurring.”

Please continue your leadership against torture and vote to release the results of the Intelligence Committee investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed": reflection on therapy



This week I've been cleaning out my closets--something I've been meaning to do for the past two years. While straightening out the closets, I made many discoveries--some things that were precious, and some things that needed to be tossed. It felt good finally to have my closets in some order.
For me, therapy has been like opening a closet that has been locked for many years and discovering things I would prefer to forget. I was amazed at the intensity of the feelings I have been carrying inside me, unawares, for many decades. I realize I put these things into my closet because I didn’t know any better at the time , but now I feel the need to clean out this mess and bring to light all I have taken pains to avoid. It was a painful, nasty job and and everything in me cried out: “I don't want to go back there!” But I didn't it alone. I’ve been did it with a caring, competent therapist, and with God's help and grace, and with people who love me.
(FYI I was greatly helped by a local Christian healer named Bill Berry whose "Healing Mother Wounds" workshop was amazingly powerful and helpful. I also benefited from a therapist who practiced a form of therapy known as EMDR.)
In doing this work, I am reminded of what Jesus said, "There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open" (Luke 18:17). Hence the bumper sticker: "God loves wikileaks."
Jesus's words fly in the face of our desire for privacy and secrecy. Yet numerous examples prove that what Jesus said is true. Despite all the efforts of the Catholic church to conceal the dark deeds of sexual predators in the priesthood, and despite government efforts to intimidate whistleblowers. the truth eventually was revealed.
The same thing is the case in our personal lives, especially in this age of the internet. Sooner or later, what we try to hide is revealed.
When we undergo therapy, we come to realize that, like the Pharisees, we are “polished sepulchres,” beautiful or at least respectable looking on the outside, but inside full of “dead men's bones,” the skeletons of our past. With God's grace, we can bring these skeletons to light. Released from their hiding place, they will no longer haunt us, no longer trigger our fears and our rage. 
As we dig deeper into the closet, we find not only the horrors of the past, but also a buried treasure. A beautiful lost pearl. We pick it up and hold it in our hands and realize it is truth, the human truth about ourselves that links us with others.
All of us have things in our closets that we would prefer not to see. I remember I once did a Buddhist meditation led by Joanna Macy that consisted of pairing up with someone to practice “the Great Compassion.” I picked a guy I had avoided because for some reason I didn't like him. Joanna told us to sit next to each other and gaze into each other's eyes. It felt pretty awkward to look into the eyes of someone I didn't particularly like.
Then she said with great gentleness: “Everyone has a secret, something so painful we have never shared it with anyone in the world. We carry this painful secret with us. As you look into the eyes of your partner, remember that he or she is also carrying this painful secret. Look at him and feel the great compassion that unites you in your suffering.”
As she spoke, I saw tears welling up in the eye of the man I disliked. And my eyes were also welling up with tears. We both knew Joanna had touched a chord. After this exercise, we were able to be much friendlier to each other....
To translate this experience into Christian terms, we are all sinners, all broken, all in need of God's grace and healing. When we recognize and acknowledge that reality, healing can begin. We can risk loving ourselves, and others, as we truly are.
Jesus came to give “sight to the blind,” and he meant this in many senses. He gave sight to those who are literally blind. He also offered to give sight to those, like the Pharisees--like those of us who are religious leaders--who refuse to look at their lives honestly. The Pharisee were so caught up in being “righteous” and “doing the right thing” they didn't look inward, didn't see the corruption within, or how their obsession with rules and “salvation through works” was hurting others. They didn't see their complicity in a system of violence that traumatized people spiritually and psychologically as well as physically.
When Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath, some religious leaders reacted with murderous rage instead of awe at God's grace. Why? Was it because they, too, needed to be healed, needed to see the skeletons in their closets, the trauma they experienced in their past, that was literally driving them crazy? Were the religious leaders who reacted with rage also victims? Did they have parents who traumatized them, perhaps by taking the Law too literally, using the rod too violently in order to avoid spoiling the child?
Why did Jesus insist we must become as little children if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
I confess I have often interpreted this sentimentally: we must regain our child-like innocence. It’s true: we need to reclaim that joy. But what if Jesus meant we also must return to the vulnerability and pain of our children so we can empathize with others?
Jesus himself suffered as a child. Stephen Mitchell in his fascinating book "The Gospel According to Jesus" makes the case that Jesus's mother was suspected of being unfaithful and that this was  deeply traumatizing to Jesus. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus's family had to go into exile because of the murderous rage of a Jewish king. Imagine how painful it must have been to be Jewish refugee in Egypt, the land where Jews had been slaves. Jesus left Egypt to live in another undesirable area—Galilee--far from “holy city” of Jerusalem, and not far from where the Romans crucified hundreds of Jews for rebelling. As a child, Jesus saw first-hand the horrors of empire.
When Jesus said, we must become a child or be born again, he didn't mean it would be easy. To become a child means, among other things, to relive the pain of one's childhood and to experience the world through a child’s eyes. Why would Jesus ask us to return to that vulnerable state of childhood unless he wanted us learn how dependent we are on God's grace, and on each other?
Let me close this reflection with a prayer:
Loving and gracious God, I am grateful to you for letting me “open the closet” of my past and gaze at what has been most traumatic in my life. I trust in your grace and am confident that, no matter how deep the pain, truth will set me free and your love brings healing.
Let us pray for the children of Gaza, and those in our own nation and around the world who are traumatized. God help us to help these wounded children, including hurt child in ourselves.



Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Love never dies": remembering Kathleen's graduation day


This week marks the fourth anniversary of Kathleen’s “graduation,” her transition from this life to the next. I often think of this life as a school where we are given opportunities to learn important lessons, mostly about love. That’s why I placed a “happy graduation” balloon at Kathleen’s memorial at Santa Monica Meeting: she passed her curriculum on earth magna cum laude!
 
 I began this blog five weeks after her death, as a continuation of the “Caringbridge” blog we started on our cancer journey. This blog also marked the beginning of a new life. In my first entry I wrote:

My new life will be devoted full-time to peace making and interfaith work, and to writing. And of course, to friends and to Spirit (last but certainly not least). I am very grateful to my Beloved that we saved enough resources so that it is now possible for me to realize my dream of being a full-time peace maker. In this blog I will write about all the fascinating interfaith and peace activities that are taking place in the Los Angeles area. Despite what you read in the newspapers, we are living in marvelous times and the Spirit is at work bringing people together and creating a new world in which peace is possible (if we are willing to work for it).

I hope that this blog will help to bring together some of the interfaith peacemakers in LA and provide a place where we can share our insights and concerns. And I hope this blog will be a source of inspiration and hope for all who read it.

Over the last four years, I have written 312 entries and had over 65,000 page views, and have appreciated the comments from many readers from around the world. It’s been a blessing for me to share my life’s journey with you in this way.

Last year Jill and I held a memorial service for Kathleen at Walteria United Methodist Church and established a fund in Kathleen's name to help the homeless and a children's program. Both missions are thriving.

This year, I wrote this letter of appreciation to Kathleen, who continues to inspire me to do my best and to be guided by the Spirit. I hope this letter reminds you of life's most important lesson: "love never dies."

Dear Kathleen,

It's been four years since you transitioned from this life to the next, and hardly a day goes by than I don't think of you with gratitude. What a huge difference you made in my life, and in the lives of countless others! And you are still inspiring me to make a difference....

I'm sure you're pleased that I am finally finishing the book on Howard and Anna Brinton that I started thirteen years ago. Five years ago we were supposed to go together to Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center where we met 24 years ago, so that I could finish this book, but God had other plans. I almost gave up on this project because of the demands of our cancer journey, but you encouraged me to keep at it. In the last few months of your life I had a spurt of inspiration and wrote 60,000 words, which read to you daily. The book is about a married couple who had a beautiful joint ministry, and was inspired in part by our marriage. I'm sure you're pleased that I have found another life partner with whom I use my gifts and talents to help others and glorify God. That's why I am dedicating this book to you and to my new beloved life partner Jill.

I'm also sure you're happy to learn that I have completed the Stillpoint Spiritual Journey program and have applied to become a spiritual director. Throughout our marriage you inspired me with your deep commitment to prayer and contemplation, and you planned to enroll in a spiritual direction program during our sabbatical year at Pendle Hill. I know you're thrilled that I am continuing to follow in your footsteps and seek ways to become more deeply centered in God, and to help others to do likewise.


Melissa and Shaun at Xmas event at Walteria 2008
I also know you're pleased that I am continuing to give support to our homeless friends Melissa and Shaun, who now call me their "Father in Christ." You were in ICU on Mother's Day when Melissa called me to tell me how devastated she was that she wouldn't be able to see her daughter. I sent Melissa a Mother's Day card and a hundred dollar bill to cheer her up. The following day, when you regained consciousness for the last time, but were still intubulated and couldn't speak, I told you what I had done and said, "That's what you would have done, right, darling?" You tightly squeezed my hand to say, "Yes." And that was our last communication in this life!

You taught me how important it is to befriend the poor, and to love them and treat them as family, and that's also what Jill is teaching me. We have a homeless handyman living in our home who is helping us in countless days, and is a real friend. It is a huge blessing for me to count among my friends people like Mark, Zane, and others who have sojourned with us. I'm sure you're smiling as I write this, remembering the wonderful but often challenging homeless people we befriended.

On this day I take to heart the words of William Penn, whose beloved first wife Gulielma died, and who wrote these beautiful words, probably with her in mind:

We seem to give them back to Thee, 0 God who gavest them to us.

Yet as Thou didst not lose them in giving,

So do we not lose them by their return.

Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, 0 Lover of souls.

What Thou givest Thou takest not away,

For what is Thine is ours also if we are thine.

And life is eternal and love is immortal,

And death is only an horizon,

And an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.

Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further;

Cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly;

Draw us closer to Thyself

That we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with Thee.

And while Thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place,

That where Thou art we may be also for evermore.

William Penn
1644 - 1718

 

 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Pasadena Peace-Source Fair and Gun Buyback: Highlights and Next Steps....

 I am very grateful for all those who took part in the Gun Buyback and Peace-source Fair on May 11. As you may have read in my blog, and in  the Pasadena Star News or the Sun, 135 firearms were surrendered to the Pasadena police, including several assault weapons. Our Peace-Source Fair attraced dozens of organizations and speakers, including the Mayor, city council members, civic leaders, pastors, and activists. We accomplished our goal of bringing together the religious community, non-profits, the police, and City officials to address the problem of gun violence.
We heard many inspiring stories from pastors, activists and community leaders:
 
· Jack Scott, former California state senator, spoke about losing his son to gun violence and how he worked as a legislator to promote sensible and effective gun control measures.
· Paul Kim, pastor of Onevoice Church, gave up his guns when he became a pastor. He didn’t feel owning guns was compatible with the teachings of Christ. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, he challenged church members to “fast from violence for a month,” refraining from watching violent films, going to gun shows, etc. “Violence is so pervasive in our society,” he admitted, “it was very hard.”
· Fr. Paul Sustayta, a Catholic priest at St Andrews, told of the pain he faces every time he has to perform a funeral for a young person killed by gun violence.
· After Brandon, an ex-gang member was shot and killed, the funeral was held at the Altadena Presbyterian Church. Dave and Pastor Debra Williams told how 50 gang members “stepped into the light” at this service. They are starting a new life through basketball and scholarship programs.
· Virginia Classick told how 85 people a day die of gun violence in the US and tht it’s the number 3 killer now in the US. Nearly 30,000 people die of gun violence in the US, 30 times more than the combined total for Finland, Australia, Britain, Spain and Germany.
· Narlys Nunneri told how her ex-husband shot her in the heart, and she barely survived. She has become an advocate for Women Against Gun Violence.
· Dr. Eric Walsh, M.D, spoke of gun violence as health issue and steps we need to take to alleviate this epidemic.
· Bert Newton, founder of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade, spoke of the relationship between gun violence and other forms of violence in our society, from racism to the use of drones.
 
The Gun Buyback and Peace-source Fair was an important step in the right direction, but much work still remains to be done. Pro-gun forces managed to pass a bill in Arizona that make it illegal to destroy a gun voluntarily surrendered to the police. This law makes gun buybacks irrelevant. The NRA would like to pass such laws here in California!
Steve Wiebe, of New Vision Partners, one of the booth participants, is taking an interfaith group of teenagers to Washington, DC, to lobby for gun safety and regulation.
 
How can we make a make our communities safer?
 
1) Support Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Mayor Bogaart signed on to “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” a coalition of over 900 mayors calling for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and other measures to reduce gun violence and promote gun safety. Encourage the city council and the next mayor to support this campaign.
2) Urge your elected Congressional members to re-consider and pass a law requiring universal background check, a commonsense measure which is supported by 80% of gun owners.
3) Urge state representative to pass responsible gun safety laws, such as requiring the guns be locked up or stored with a trigger lock when not in use.
 
To insure the safety of your family, you should be aware that keeping guns in the home is hazardous, especially when they fall into the hands of children. If you have a gun in your home, keep it locked up when not in use. If your child has a friend whose family keeps guns in their home, either be sure this family has locked up its gun or invite your child's friend to play in your home.
I also recommend supporting those who participated with booths in our Peace-Source Fair that are working to promote a more peaceful community, such as the Flintridge Center, Adopt a School, Ambassadors for Peace, the Armory Center for the Arts, Aspires, Boys and Girls Club, Comunidad de Las Americas, STARS, ECHO, Neighborhood Urban Family Center, New Vision Partners, Inc., Peace & Justice Academy, Peace Over Violence, Day One Pasadena, Family Promise, and Friends in Deed.
If you are in a violence-prone neighborhood, I recommend that you organize a neighborhood watch and work with police. I also recommend working with local organizations to address the root causes of violence, including lack of jobs and affordable housing.
If we work together, we can make a difference!
 
Resources:
  • Women Against Gun Violence does outstanding educational work by empowering victims of gun violence to have a voice and speak out against gun violence. See http://wagv.org/
  • The Brady Campaign works to pass, enforce, and protect sensible laws and public policy that address gun violence at the federal and state level. See http://www.bradycampaign.org/

Turning a military base into affordable housing here in Pasadena: how Jill and other housing advocates made this possible

This past weekend, Jill and I were invited by Habitat Board member Herb Rim to a gala fundraising event at the Pasadena University Women's Club put on by Habitat for Humanity of San Gabriel Valley. Habitat is building 9 homes in a former military base called the Desiderio Army Reserve Center and needs to raise $2,889,142 to complete this project.

We were excited to be part of this event since Jill played a significant role in making this project possible. Jill and Herb discussed ways to involve the religious community in the new Habitat project, which makes sense, since this project couldn't have happened without the support of churches.

When the Desiderio Reserve Center was about to close, developers wanted to exploit this prime piece of real estate for profit, but Jill and other housing justice advocates saw "a golden opportunity to create affordable housing."  They knew that the "Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. . . made serving the homeless the first priority for use of all surplus Federal properties, including military installations."

Even though the law was clear, it took a tremendous amount of work and community organizing to convince the city to follow the law and make the land available to Habitat for affordable housing. This story is told in Jill's book "Making Housing Happen," excerpted below.

John Kennedy, new Pasadena City Council member
After this fundraiser, we went to another gala party at the Central Public Library to celebrate the election of John Kennedy to the City Council. During his campaign John met with Jill to discuss affordable housing issues, and purchased her book. In his speech he made reference to Jill's concern for this issue:

"It will also be my mission to work with you [community leaders] in addressing yhe affordable housing crisis in Pasadena. Let's take bold, yet fiscally responsible steps to ensure peole who grow up here and who work here can also afford to live here."

As the story below makes clear, it isn't always easy to persuade the City Council to do the right thing when it comes to addressing the needs of poor and low-income people. We hope that John Kennedy and others will fulfill their promise and do what it takes to ensure affordable housing for those in our city who need and deserve it.
 
Habitat for Humanity: An Organizing Success, with a Compromise


When we learned that the Desiderio Army Reserve Center in Pasadena was scheduled for closure in 2011, those of us concerned about the homeless were thrilled. In 1987 Congress enacted the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act which made serving the homeless the first priority for use of all surplus Federal properties, including military installations. We saw this base closure as a golden opportunity to create affordable housing.

In 2006 developers and various nonprofits came together to envision how this highly desirable 5.1 acre property could be used to benefit the city. After tours of the site and rousing discussions, proposals were drafted by various groups. Some developers ignored the law and proposed upscale projects. The Union Rescue Mission, keenly aware of the need for permanent affordable housing for the homeless, presented a proposal calling for a large number of low-income rental units. Habitat for Habitat made a more modest proposal calling for only nine housing units for those of moderate means.

Those of us committed to affordable housing were torn between these two proposals. Many of us preferred the Union Rescue Mission’s plan to address the needs of the homeless. We were dismayed that Habitat proposed such a small number of units, and that they benefited only those of moderate income. But we decided Habitat was astute in offering a compromise that would be palatable to this upscale neighborhood because it was lower density and homeownership, not rentals.

I asked the city attorney at one of these meetings how we could justify only nine units for people who were not necessarily homeless when the Act clearly specified that the homeless should be prioritized. He replied, “All that matters is that we keep in our minds the needs of the homeless. We don’t necessarily have to comply with this Act.” I couldn’t believe my ears and was bewildered by his response, but at the time I felt I had to trust his political acumen.

When the concept designs of Habitat and other top contenders emerged, we decided we would stand behind Habitat despite our concern that the homeless should be a priority.

It soon became obvious to me that God was orchestrating plans for Habitat’s approval. At the annual banquet of our local ecumenical council, I was called to the podium unexpectedly to give a challenge to the churches to come out and support Habitat’s cause. At other pastoral and church alliances, such spontaneous opportunities presented themselves. By the time the city was ready to hear Habitat’s proposal, over 50 churches were represented at City Council meetings to express their support.

To dramatize this support, we painted big cardboard signs spelling out each letter of “Habitat” in bold red and black letters. Whenever Habitat’s name was mentioned during the city council meeting, we all silently stood up in unison in the back two rows, lifting up the letters on cue. This became a powerful message that deeply impressed the city council members.

It also became a tool to transformation for David, a youth I had been helping to leave a gang and return to high school. Rather than tagging buildings, he lifted one of the Habitat letters to help get approval for affordable homes.
 
When he and I walked out to the lobby, there sat fifteen youth from his high school, all part of a mentoring program. They had come to learn how the system works. They begged David to join their program and that was the key that motivated David to go back to school.

Habitat was approved, but when the plans were sent to HUD and the Department of Defense (DOD), they were not approved because they didn’t include plans for the homeless. Our housing director Bill Huang was able to use another site in the city to satisfy the HUD’s and DOD’s requirement that space be provided for homeless housing and services. Today the nine Habitat homes are successfully working their way through the pre-development phrase and fund raising efforts.

The lesson we learned is that compromise is sometimes necessary to make housing happen. We didn’t create affordable housing for the formerly homeless, as we hoped, but we did help Habitat gain approval to build moderately priced homes in a wealthy community that would not have tolerated rental units for low-income. We also learned that if churches work together, we can make a difference

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Secrets of a garden with low water usage and no weeds

This spring, with Jill's help, I experimented with a new way of gardening: raised beds and an underground drip watering system called netafim.

The raised beds are around 8 inches high and are open at the bottom. They were designed by Jill so that none of them are quite square. (She has an artistic temperament and loves asymmetry.) Our friend Mark built the beds and did such a meticulous job of crafting and painting them we call them our "San Marino raised beds" (San Marino is the posh area of Pasadena).

The beds were filled with organic soil and are built so that you can sit on the edge and work the beds. This is easy on the knees.

Netafim is a drip system developed in Israel that makes it possible to water underground. The drip holes are designed so that roots won't penetrate and clog them. This system supposedly reduces water usage by 60%.

So far, the system is working amazingly well. Our plants love the organic soil  and are thriving, as you can see. We are already harvesting lettuce, bok choi, kale, cabbage, and other greens. We've also had zucchini, string beans, onions, leeks and various herbs, such as basil. Tomatoes and corn are next!

Because much of the watering we do is underground, the top soil is dry and we've had very few weeds. The automatic system means we can go on vacation and not have to worry about the garden drying out and dying, as happened last summer.

This seems to be a very low maintenance garden, the best kind, in my opinion. I'll keep you posted on how this system fares in the heat of the summer, the acid test for California gardens.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Beating Swords into Plowshares": the Pasadena Gun Buyback and Peace-Source Fair a big success.... What next?

 
On May 11, 135 firearms were turned in to the Pasadena Police Department during a gun buyback in which people received gift cards for Ralph’s, Target and Best Buy in exchange for guns. Half of the surrendered weapons were handguns (the kind most commonly used in crime); there were also several assault rifles, and a sniper rifle.
What made this gun buyback unique was that the religious community of Pasadena raised almost $25,000 to support this effort; and dozens of local churches and non profits participated in a “Peace-source Fair” that took place near City Hall highlighting what these organizations are doing to reduce gun violence. At this event a young Quaker named Cody Lowry and his girlfriend Annie sang peace songs, including the “George Fox Song"; and Orange Grove Meeting had a table with a FCNL sign proclaiming: GUNS ARE NOT THE ANSWER.
At the Quaker table we distributed material describing our work on gun violence reduction. The Quaker position on guns was summed up in a statement by Friends Committee on Legislation of California (FCLCA.org), which states we “work for a society in which individuals value and respect each other. In such a society there is no need for guns. Until the time when private ownership of guns is banned, we support legislation limiting the sale, transport, ownership, and use of firearms and ammunition.” To read about what FCNL, AFSC and the Quaker UN office are doing to reduce gun violence and the international arms trade, see http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2013/05/quaker-views-on-guns-and-gun-control.html.
The inspiration for our gun buy back and peace-source fair was deeply spiritual. It arose from a leading of the Pasadena Palm Peace Parade, in which over 150 people have taken part each year for the past ten years, carrying palm branches and peace signs to celebrate Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Those of us who participate in this peace parade believe that Jesus came into Jerusalem to end war in fulfillment of a prophecy by Zachariah. This year the planning committee decided to have as our theme “beating swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4). In response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and the ongoing epidemic of gun violence throughout the nation, and here in our own community, we decided to organize a gun buyback.
Gun buybacks are sometimes dismissed a “merely symbolic,’ but they can be a powerful means to mobilize and transform public views on guns (which is one reason that NRA is doing everything it can to stop gun buybacks, and helped pass a law in Arizona that makes it illegal for police to destroy guns surrendered to them).
In Australia, after a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, the Conservative government organized a gun buyback in which 650,000 assault weapons were surrendered and destroyed; and effective gun control laws were enacted that have made a huge difference: the murder rate by guns dropped in half, and there have been no further mass shootings.
In contrast, the US Congress did nothing to curb gun violence after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, even though 80% of gun owners support a universal background check. After our successful gun buy back, we are asking ourselves: what can we do to help reduce gun violence in our community and nation-wide? What are the next steps? We are polling local politicians as well as activists to get their ideas and will offer them to you in a follow up blog entry.
 
Cody Lowry and Annie singing the "George Fox Song"
Co-chairs of the Gun Buyback Jill Shook and Melissa Hofstetter (Mennonite)
Former State Senator Jack Scott (pictured below) lost his son to gun violence and has been a strong advocate for gun control measures. He was one of dozens of speakers that included the mayor, city council members, religious leaders, and activists. Mayor Bogaard signed on the nation-wide campaign called "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," calling for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and other reasonable regulations to curb gun violence.
 
 
"Turning swords into plowshares, and guns into public art." The gun buyback committee hopes to acquire some of the metal from the destroyed guns and turn it into public art here in Pasadena, to remind us of our commitment to end gun violence.
 
Pasadena gun buyback
 




 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"


Me at age 21
As I prepared to celebrate my 64th birthday, I couldn’t help thinking about the Beatles song: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?” I was also reminded of the Stones’ hit, “Mother’s Little Helpers,” with the unforgettably dreary line: “What a drag it is getting old.” One of the clich├ęs of the 60s was: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Old people were troublemakers. Remember Wilfrid Brambel, the actor who played Paul McCarthy’s grandfather in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.” That crusty old codger was always causing fights between members of the band, stealing their stuff and trying to sell it for a profit. There were lots of jokes about his being “a clean old man.”
Here we are: baby boomers who have become, dare I say the word? old. Some of us are gray, some have lost our hair and others are wearing wigs pretending we’re still young. John Lennon didn’t make it to old age; at 40, on the verge of middle age, he died a martyr, with Yoko still promoting his quirky 60s idealism. Paul McCartney has turned 70, become a billionaire and has been knighted. He looks a little like the old codger in “A Hard Day’s Night,” but still tours the world singing the old Beatle hits: “Lovely Rita," “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” At age 69 Mick Jagger is still kicking ass with his rockin' cohorts in the Rolling Stones.
What about us? Does the spirit of the 60s still beat in our hearts? Are we still kicking ass? Or have we become clean old men and women?
The jury is still out. I am not prepared to generalize about the boomers who are entering, or have entered, their retirement years. Some are rabid conservatives. Others are flaming liberals. Others are tranquilizing their minds with booze and drugs and pills. We’re a mixed lot. I am glad to be among friends who still have a spark of the 60s idealism. We still believe it’s important to “give peace a chance.” We're still convinced “the times they are a changin.” We’re still ready to ride “the Peace Train.”
Far too many of the rockers of the 60s died young, like Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix. Others, like Barry McGuire, survived to share their story.
I feel a special affinity for Barry McGuire, the singer who wrote “Eve of Destruction,” the protest song with the unforgettable refrain: “Tell me, over and over and over again, my friend, you don’t believe, we’re on the eve of destruction.” He now has an act with John York of the Byrds called “Trippin’ the 60s.” Jill took me to hear Barry at the Coffee Gallery in Pasadena when we were engaged. At one point, Jill turned to me and said excitedly, “We ought to invite him to sing at our wedding.” I replied, “You want him to sing ‘Eve of Destruction at our Wedding’?’ I don’t think so!”
Barry tells hilarious tales about the Mamas and the Papas, John Sebastian, John Denver, and other 60s stars he knew, played, and got high with. If you haven’t seen his show, I recommend it highly, no pun intended. In fact, I’m promoting a benefit concert in which Barry and John will be singing at the Pasadena Nazarene Church. Proceeds from sales will go to help Family Promise, an interfaith network that helps homeless families to find housing and jobs.
What helped Barry survive the drug culture of the 60s was his discovery of Christ. He has written songs about his new life, the best being “The Cosmic Cowboy.” It goes like this:

There’s a Cosmic cowboy, and he rides the starry range.
He’s a supernatural plowboy, and he is dressed up kind of strange.
To think I nearly missed Him, being out there on the run.
Ah, but that old hat that he’s wearin, it’s shinning brighter than the sun.
And when my eyes adjusted, to the flashin of his smile;
Hey, I saw his invitation. He said; “Come on, Me and You,
we’ll go ridin for awhile.”
Ridin’ the range with the Cosmic Cowboy. Love it! That’s a line worthy of Rumi.
I somehow survived not only the 60s, but the decades since those tumultuous times, with a little help from my friends and from the Cosmic Cowboy. I survived graduate school, teaching at various colleges and universities,  the loss of my parents as well as beloved teachers and friends, and the most significant loss of all, the loss of Kathleen, my wife of blessed memory.
Me at age 64
Somehow, in spite of or maybe because of these losses, I not only survived, I thrived. During these past four decades my relationship to God, to Christ and to my friends has deepened. I have a new life and a new wife for whom I thank God each day. I am profoundly grateful to friends of diverse faiths who share my passion for justice and peace--friends who believe in me and encourage me to keep on keepin’ on. I thank God I have found the beloved community that Martin Luther King talked about.
Mick, you’re wrong. It’s not a drag getting old. For those of us  riding the Peace Train, it’s a blessing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Quaker Views (and Actions) on Gun Violence and the International Arms Trade


 FCL, the Quaker Lobby in Sacramento,
supports strong gun control laws,
and works for a society where there is no need for guns
Go to fclca.org

Friends Committee on Legislation of California (FCLCA.org) works for a society in which individuals value and respect each other. In such a society there is no need for guns. Until the time when private ownership of guns is banned, we support legislation limiting the sale, transport, ownership, and use of firearms and ammunition. We urge that most private ownership of handguns, and all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, be prohibited. 
   
Regulations for the ownership and use of all firearms should be established and enforced. Such regulations should include a licensing process for gun owners which provides for a background screening check, a waiting period, and successful completion of a training course in firearms safety. These regulations should also include the registration of all guns. Guns used for hunting and at clubs should be kept at clubs or other secure places, and they should not be kept in homes.

We are fully aware that firearms control legislation does not take the place of constructive measures to reduce crime and social disorganization. However, just as firearms are means to violent ends, we hope that firearms control will be a means of developing support for non-violent methods of resolving problems and contribute to a more peaceful society

FCNL, Quaker Lobby in Washington, DC,
urges citizens to pressure elected officials to enact gun control measures
go to fcnl.org


“We Can't Be Silent
[About Gun Violence]”

By Jim Cason on 04/18/2013

This week, a majority of senators voted for legislation intended to prevent felons, domestic abusers and potentially violent people with mental illnesses from buying guns to hurt themselves, loved ones or others. But 45 senators were able to block the legislation from moving forward. What happens next depends on us
The failure of the legislation on Thursday is being pinned in part on lawmaker's fear that supporters of background checks do not have the same "enthusiasm" and focus as opponents. You can help show that this is not so. Find out how your senators voted and call their offices today. After you call, please follow up with an email letting them know how you feel and then ask ten friends to do the same with an email.
What we do in the next few days could determine when and if this legislation is brought up for a vote again. Will you help us make sure that members of Congress here your views when they pick up the phone, read their email or go to public events over the next few days and weeks?

Requiring Background Checks

We at FCNL support legislation that would require gun-buyers to pass a criminal background check, prevent civilians from buying high-capacity weapons and ammunition and make gun trafficking a federal crime.The Senate held votes on all of these issues this week.
But the focus of the senate action was on legislation sponsored by Senators Pat Toomey (PA) and Joe Manchin (WV) that would make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns by expanding background checks during gun purchases. The Toomey-Manchin bill was a good first step toward common sense reform of US gun laws and it had bipartisan support.
Here's why the senate focused on this issue: today, fully 60 percent of all people who purchase a gun go through a 4 to 7 minute background check. But 40 percent of gun sales take place at gun shows or other places where background checks are not required. If 60 percent of gun buyers are willing and able to undergo background checks, why not require this quick procedure for the remaining 40 percent?
The good news is that more senators voted for criminal background checks than have voted for any gun reform legislation in 17 years, according to the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The list of which Senators voted for, and against, this measure also provides a good starting point for our next efforts on gun control. (Senator Reid supports the measure but voted "no" at the last minute to preserve his right to bring the legislation forward again)
Now every senator needs to hear your voice. The FCNL community has a particularly important role to play in this effort because we have strong Quakers and other grassroots advocates in swing states such as Maine, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Alaska. Those senators who supported this legislation need to receive your thanks and those who opposed the bill need to hear that you hope they will change their position.
Please also consider letting others in your community know about the importance of staying engaged either through email or by circulating this information in printed form.

Other Votes on Assault Weapons As Well

The Senate also voted 60 to 40 in mid-March to defeat an amendment sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein to regulate assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Legislation sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy to make gun trafficking a federal crime was also narrowly blocked by a vote of 58 to 42. (Sixty votes are needed to move ahead with this legislation.)

Other resources and commentaries

We are FCNL are working closing with the organization Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. We also follow closely the work of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Brady Campaign and the other good groups and individuals working to address the problem of gun violence. As I write this blog, I was particularly moved by the New York Times column posted today by former Representative Gabriel Giffords. Let us know what you think on these issues below. Senator John McCain's statement on the floor of the senate is also worth reading.
 

The American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948, supports many local programs to raise awareness about gun violence, including this 100’ mural project in Crown Heights, NYC. Go to afsc.org for more info.


Quakers and other religious groups urge Obama

to back tough arms trade treaty at U.N. talks,

and end drone warfare


Louis Charbonneau


Three dozen arms control and human rights groups have written to U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of new arms-trade negotiations at the United Nations next month, urging him to back a tough treaty that would end loopholes in international weapons sales.
Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies worldwide as a result of armed violence and a convention is needed to prevent the unregulated and illicit flow of weapons into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities.
The U.N. General Assembly voted in December to restart negotiations in mid-March on what could become the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global arms trade after a drafting conference in July collapsed because the United States and other nations wanted more time.
"The United States, as the world's leading arms supplier, has a special responsibility to provide the leadership needed for an ATT (arms trade treaty) with the highest possible standards for the transfer of conventional arms and ammunition," the groups wrote to Obama in a letter delivered late on Friday.
"The Arms Trade Treaty can provide a key tool to help reduce enormous human suffering caused by irresponsible international arms transfers and arms brokering," the letter said.
The 36 groups that co-authored the letter include Amnesty International USA, Arms Control Association, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Oxfam America, National Association of Evangelicals and other groups.
The point of the treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of any type of conventional weapon - light and heavy. It also would set binding requirements for nations to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure the munitions will not be used in human rights abuses, do not violate embargoes and are not illegally diverted.
Deputy U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed the White House had received the letter, saying it "raises a number of important issues." She said Washington would support a treaty under certain conditions.
"The March 2013 Arms Trade Treaty Conference will seek an Arms Trade Treaty that will contribute to international security, (and) protect the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade," she said in an email that provided the most extensive public U.S. statement on the treaty in months.
Quakers in Southern California also approved a statement calling to the banning of weaponized drones by the US and the UN. See 

 http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2013/05/southern-california-quarterly-meeting.html


Contact your elected official and tell them how you feel about curbing the deadly traffic in arms, both domestically and internationally.