Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Muslim take on Christmas that brought tears to my eyes

I was deeply moved by this Christmas reflection by Dr. Hassan Hathout (December 1924 to April 2009). Dr. Hathout was a spiritual leader in the Muslim community who helped found the Muslim Public Affairs Council and wrote a book, "Reading the Muslim Mind," that opened my mind and heart to Islam. I knew him during his final years, when he was dying of cancer. He often moved me to tears when he spoke of God's love with such depth of feeling I felt he was in touch with God's heart. 

Dr. Hathout was an internationally known leader in the Muslim community. According to his website, Dr. Hathout was a "multi-cultural physician, ethicist, and poet. He grew up in surroundings where love of God and country, and call of duty, were pivotal. With much talent, learning, discipline, and meditation, he was able to combine a highly successful career in academic medicine, ethics, and theology." For more about this remarkable man, I recommend checking out his website:  http://drhassanhathout.org"

Saturday, December 19, 2015

God is what happens to us when we’re waiting for spiritual direction

“Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans
.”—John Lennon, “Darling Boy” (dedicated to his son Sean)

I usually arrive either just on time or a little late for my spiritual direction session every month because I lead a very busy, activist life. Way too busy, sometimes. That’s why I am seeing my spiritual director, so I will give myself permission to take more time for contemplation and for things that nourish my soul. This month, which happens to be Advent, I arrived fifteen minutes early and was very glad I did so. I didn’t feel rushed or anxious, and I had time to go for a meditative walk. My spiritual director, Brother Dennis Gibbs, has his office at the Church of our Savior, a beautiful (and very wealthy) Episcopal church in posh San Marino. The campus is gorgeous, full of old pepper trees and bare white eucalyptus that dramatically set off the mission-style white adobe chapel. I was looking forward to exploring this beautiful site, which is a very different world from Northwest Pasadena, the culturally and racially mixed neighborhood where I live.
As soon as I stepped into the central plaza, I heard a piano playing so exquisitely I thought it must be a recording. Then I realized it was coming from a chapel that has large glass windows. I peered inside and saw a young man playing. He had long hair and a back pack next to his piano bench. He seemed like a high school senior. Poised over the piano, in semi-darkness, he played intently and with amazing grace. His fingers flew over the keys, paused, caressed the notes, and then boldly banged out arpeggios that rocked the chapel. I was in awe of this young man and the music he embodied so perfectly.  Was it Liszt, Chopin? I wasn’t sure. The image of this young man in the semi-dark chapel deeply touched my soul. I thought: God must be having a blast listening to this young man.
After listening intently for a while, I went on my walk, paid my respect to the noble trees, and came back to the glass chapel. This time I heard him carefully replaying a passage that was especially difficult. He was, after all, practicing. He was doing hard, faithful work so that his playing would seem effortless.
I thought of the young people who perform on Chris O’Reilly’s radio show "From the Top"—those gifted, quirky prodigies that O’Reilly loves to tease as well as praise. I wondered what this young man with the back pack was like. Did he dream of becoming a professional musician? Did he have any idea that his playing could give an elder like me a glimpse of heaven? It didn’t matter, of course. What mattered is that he, like the birds singing and chattering these venerable old trees, was doing exactly what his heart called him to do. And I was doing what I was called to do: listening with rapt attention, moved to tears, grateful beyond words.

I then walked over to the church office and went upstairs to meet with my spiritual director. My meeting was scheduled for 3:45 and I was still five minutes early. His door was closed, however. When I peered through a glass panel next to the door, I could see that he was engaged with another directee. I didn’t mind. I was enjoying this utterly free time.
As I walked down the stairs, I noted a picture on the wall I hadn’t noticed before. It was a “mappa mundi,” a medieval map of the world. I love maps so I paused to inspect it. It was very strange view of the world, written in Latin and German in tiny script almost impossible to decipher. I struggled to make sense of this unfamiliar world view. This round map mostly showed land, and hardly any water. In the center of the map was the city I was able to identify as Jerusalem. Below it was what seemed like a large river labeled Mare Mediterraneum, the Mediterranean Sea. Surrounding the land mass was a strip of water dotted with islands. Rivers coursed through the land like blood vessels in which fish swam. There were pictures of castles signifying cities and land animals, some of them fantastical.
I wanted to know more about this map and the man who made it. Was he a monk, like Dennis, drawing this map in holy solitude in a monastery somewhere? Did he feel blessed to be able to spend his days illuminating manuscripts, or was this just a chore he had to do? Did he go on pilgrimages, like the characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Or did he just dream of going to the places he drew with such painstaking care on this mappa mundi?
As I pondered this intriguing map, a young Chinese woman with a clerical collar greeted me.
“Can I help you?” she asked politely.
“I’m just curious about this map,” I said.
“Hmm,” she replied. “I really don’t know anything about it, I’m afraid.”
Like me, she had probably passed it hundreds of times without looking at it. It was just something old and artistic and sacred, evoking the medieval world of Christendom. Just the thing to grace the walls of an Episcopal high church office.
I took time to study this map because, well, I was waiting for my spiritual director. And I have always been fascinated by how people viewed the world in times gone by. In the “old days,” when I was growing up as a precocious Greek immigrant’s kid in Princeton, I would have gone to Firestone Library and researched this mappa mundi in a carel, like a medieval monk.  But now I live in a totally different world, a world of instantaneous information, so I just googled on my iphone and found all kinds of fascinating tidbits of knowledge.
In medieval maps, the top portion of a map was east, not north (hence the expression, “to orient”—to find out where the east lies). Medieval mapmakers showed the known world as Asia (top), Europe (left), and Africa (right). The maps were flat, but medieval map makers knew the earth was rounded, perhaps spherical. But the purpose of the medieval map was not to portray the physical world or to aid in navigation, but to show the “harmonious order of God’s creation.” That’s why Jerusalem was in the center, and everything else emanated from this holy city. The medieval mappae mundi were maps of the soul.
Our maps also reflect our world view, and our souls. When I grew up, the United States was always in the center of maps, and Asia was split in two for the sake of America’s centrality. Sometime in the 1970s mapmakers began to place the United States on the far left, so Asia could be viewed intact. Even though our maps have changed, many Americans still have an America-centric worldview.
One of the maps I love best shows the world with south on top and north on the bottom. This map is especially popular with topsy-turvy Quakers and can be found on the walls of William Penn House in Washington, DC, and on t-shirts from the Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City. It is especially important to see the world from the perspective of the global south since they will be hardest hit by the effects of climate change. This, as the Pope reminds us, is how Jesus would probably see the world.
As I was contemplating the upside down world of Quakers, and of Christ, Dennis appeared at the top of the stairs. He smiled and said calmly:
“Sorry if I kept you waiting.”
“No problem,” I replied, also calmly.
During our session I realized that this precious time of just being is what my soul had been waiting and yearning for. Time to reflect, time just to be with the world around me and to appreciate the wonders that we often too busy to notice. Time to redraw the map of my soul.

“Housing Justice and Community Organizing: Theological and Practical Perspectives": Jill's new course at Azusa Pacific University

Great news!  My wife Jill is offering a course on “Housing Justice and Community Organizing: Theological and Practical Perspectives” at Azusa Pacific University in their Social Work Master’s program (on Tuesday evenings Jan 19 to May 3). She will co-teach this timely course with Alexia Salvatierra, who is the national expert on faith-rooted organizing and has written a book by that title. Jill is also a nationally recognized expert on faith-based affordable housing models and housing policies and has given workshops around the country. Her book "Making Housing Happen" has garnered accolades from housing experts and religious leaders.
          She writes:

"The housing crisis is growing daily, yet no Presidential candidates are talking about it. We need to educate ourselves, our leaders and the faith community about solutions that we know work, if we apply them. This course is designed to provide both a theological and practical framework to address this urgent crisisA recent study indicated that about 13,000 people on public assistance tumble into homelessness every month in Los Angeles County. This is unacceptable. We can and must do more."   

Please contact Jill at jill@makinghousinghappen.com for a flyer on her course “Housing Justice and Community Organizing APU Course. ” and consider registering. If you do not live in the area, perhaps you know of others in the LA area who may be interested. The course is half price for those who audit.
She will also send you an application and intent forms needed to apply to be a non-degree seeking student at APU. You would pay a $45 application fee and submit your transcripts. It take a few days. Contact Steve Syverson, M.Div. | Senior Director Graduate and Professional Admissions | Azusa Pacific University, P(626) 815-4579 with any questions. Once approved you can register for the course.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wishing you a wonderful life for 2016!

Jill and I want to wish you all the best during this holiday season and a wonderful life for 2016! We're posting our Christmas letter so you can have glimpses of how God has been at work in our lives and hopefully be inspired and encouraged. We'd love to hear back from you!

Left to right: Anthony, Shaun, Jill, Melissa, Mayor Patrick Furey,
Roy Currence. Below: At their new apartment with a Christmas tree

Anthony's reflection: I feel deeply grateful to God, to Jill, and to all my friends and family for another wonderful year, doing things I love with people I love: writing, traveling in the ministry to Mexico, being certified as a spiritual director, and working for justice and peace.  What fills my heart with special joy this Christmas season is that our homeless friends Melissa and Shaun are finally housed--after over 12 years of living on the street and in a cheap motel, and 7 years of waiting for a Section 8 housing voucher, and almost a year helping her search for a landlord willing to accept the voucher. Abandoned by an abusive family, Melissa has adopted me as “her father in Christ.” I am overjoyed that my “daughter in Christ” can finally celebrate Christmas in a decent, safe, and affordable apartment, thanks all of our efforts, including the dedicated work of a Korean Church in Gardena and the Walteria UMC church in Torrance who petitioned help from the Mayor of Torrance. Because of his significant role in helping to get Melissa housed, Mayor Patrick Furey was invited to be part of a Christmas celebration at Walteria on Saturday, December 12. There he was publicly thanked and met with Melissa & Shaun, Roy Currence (a Methodist elder who also played a key role in getting Melissa housed), Jill and me. We shared with the Mayor our concerns about the critical need for affordable housing to help address our country’s housing crisis. The Mayor was very sympathetic and has decided to start a commission to address homelessness in Torrance. We’re thrilled by this exciting development!

With Shamaia, a child living
on N. Fair Oaks

Jill's reflection and letter to her supporters: This year your support has had a multiplying effect: the NW JobFest and Community Resource Fair on Nov. 21st   attracted over 500 people, many finding jobs, and serving to promote and unite the eighteen businesses and ten churches in a forgotten corner of Pasadena. Fairgoers won discount cards and prizes from these local businesses by attending its forty booths. We have enclosed a Fair registration card so you can get a taste of the Fair—free dress shirts for the job applicants (offered by Tyron Hampton, the city council rep), free haircuts, free hotdogs given by the police, a prayer booth with multiple churches praying for fairgoers if they wanted prayer, and tons of family fun!
Folkloric dancers at the Northwest Jobfest
It was in January, while sitting in our monthly gathering of African American pastors, that God stirred in my heart to help plan this year’s Fair. Little did I know that it would take practically every waking moment—tons of emotional and spiritual energy—not only on my part, but also a huge commitment on the part of Anthony, my supportive husband, plus several part-time assistants and a dedicated team representing seven of the ten churches in our target area. This was not just a job fair, but also an empowerment initiative, with a goal both to employ  this underemployed community as well as to tap often overlooked leaders and assets in a blighted community--to create hope and resurrection… a glimpse of the kingdom of God on earth amidst broken lives. Because this community was once a thriving African American professional business disrict, our theme verse is:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:12, 

In Phase 1, from April to July several of the ten churches in our target geographic hosted survey orientations. We talked with 150 of the residents, business owners and more, asking them about their dreams and concerns for the area…and if they wanted to help plan the Fair. In Phase II, the planning team that emerged met fifteen times at New Hope Church, on N. Fair Oaks—around the corner from Tremont, the street we closed to host the Fair. This demonstrated our commitment to restore “streets of hope.”
Our North Fair Oaks team!
We are now launching Phase III, with a passionate team committed to addressing common concerns—slowing traffic, curbing crime, creating more parking—and strengthening the businesses, our staff, more technical support and the relational network needed for this work.

Your Help is Needed!

You may be part of my regular support team that has faithfully given for years… thank you!! Right now my support brings in about $1,000 a month--$2,000 per month shy of what is needed to effectively accomplish this work.  
Our world today is divided—the left and right—with few places to build bridges of love and understanding. Anthony and I will go to Peru in January to be a part of a world conference of Quakers, with a goal to find common ground between Evangelical and liberal Quakers.
This Christmas I invite you to give and also set up monthly giving that will support the N. Fair Oaks Empowerment Initiative, traveling in the ministry to Peru, and my work of organizing churches around issues that affect the most vulnerable (including permanent housing for the 500 people still living on Pasadena’s streets and the 26,000 households in Pasadena on the waiting list for affordable housing). 

Contact: Missions Door
2530 Washington Street, Denver, CO 80205
Phone: 303-308-1818
Jill Shook & Anthony Manousos
1628 N. Fair Oaks, Pasadena CA 91104
Jill’s Phone: 626-675-1316
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Some 2015 Highlights

January and February: Completed Jill's book Justicia y Vivienda. Another book “baby” is born!
March: Mexico City for a gathering of Quaker religious leaders called Friends World 
Quakers at the Diego Rivera Mural during the FWCC gathering in Mexico City
Committee for Consultation and an immigration fieldtrip at Casa de Los Amigos. What a joy to connect with un-programmed and Evangelical Friends throughout Latin America!
May: Anthony graduated from the Stillpoint, with a certificate in spiritual direction. We hosted ReconciliAsian, with a focus on creation care, giving tours of our “green” home.
June: Anthony completed the second editions of Transformative Friends and his sci-fi novel Relics of America and 
Anthony receives his certificate as a Spiritual Director
continues to serve as clerk of Pacific Yearly Meeting Peace Committee.
Jill gave two day-long retreats on housing justice for Habitat for Humanity Colorado and for pastors and city leaders in Broomfield, CO. She returns in February.
July: Jamaal Dominique Hopkin lectured on the “Dead Sea Scrolls and the untold story of Africans in the Bible.” This church outreach, with a Mustard Seed matching grant yielded $3,000 for the NW Jobfest. With your help, plus sixteen $100 Gold Sponsors from N. Fair Oaks churches and business, and $5,000 given by the city of Pasadena, over $15,000 was raised for the Fair!!
Jill “escaped” with her mom, Donna, to Santa Fe, NM. They had a blast staying in an adobe guest house (built in 1850) at the Quaker Meeting house, and visiting tons of inspiring art galleries. 
August: We spent a week in San Diego for Bible study and spiritual renewal at a monastery, saw cousins and friends, & sailed on the Golden Rule, refurbished by Veterans for Peace! 
September: We celebrated our fourth anniversary at the Riviera Motel in Malibu, one of our favorite dumpy and funky places. We renewed our wedding vows at Getty Villa, where Anthony first proposed to Jill.
October: Anthony attended the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City with 10,000 religious leaders.
November: While Anthony attended the Friends Committee on National Legislation Quaker Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. (a spiritual highlight!), Jill attended the Christian Community Development Conference in Memphis, TN, co-leading two affordable housing workshops.

Stillpoint Graduation

A family of hat lovers!

Dancing at the 100th birthday party  of Vic Heirendt  (Jill's sister's husband's father)

Hard workers at the Northwest Jobfest

With Pastor Henry Sideropoulos and Pastor Jean Burch

A family at the Jobfest in front of Mobile Employment Unit

With my interfaith friends at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City

Our dear friend Christi Zamani took this picture of us looking chic

African dignitary who came to our Jobfest