Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How It Came to Pass that Jesus Visited Our Home A Week Before Christmas

Here’s how it “came to pass” that Jesus visited our humble home in Northwest Pasadena on Monday night, a week before Christmas. Since last June I have been visiting detainees at Adelanto Detention Center, a privately run facility in the high desert near Victorville that houses nearly two thousand undocumented men and women who are incarcerated simply for lacking proper papers. Yesterday I got a call from Liza, one of the organizers of these visits to Adelanto, asking if my wife and I would be willing to house a young man recently released on bail.
 "I'll have to ask my wife but I don't think she'll mind," I said. "What's his name?"
“Jesús,” Liza replied.
“Wow,” I said. “How could we not let Jesus visit our home on Christmas!”
 Jesús turned out to be a tall, slim, quiet young man from a Latin American country. He crossed the border in 2015. He was straightaway placed as an unaccompanied minor into a California Youth Authority facility.  On his 18th birthday this past October, he was immediately transferred to adult detention.
Adelanto Detention Center is run by private business entity called GEO that has a contract with ICE. Currently there are quotas: the government guarantees to GEO that they will provide minimum 1,455 detainees to be housed at a cost of $111.92 per detainee, per day and any additional detainees will be housed at a cost of $50 per detainee per day. See
GEO’s mission is the opposite of Jesus’s. When Jesus first proclaimed his mission in the town of Nazareth, he told his townspeople that he had come to proclaim “release to the prisoners.” GEO profits from incarcerating as many people as possible.
We welcomed Jesús into our home by offering him cookies and tea. When we learned that the celebration of his 18th birthday took place in detention, we also brought him some cake left over from our Christmas party and lit a candle for him to blow out and make a wish. When we sang “Happy Birthday,” he was all smiles. Since he is a Christian, we gave him a Spanish/English Bible, for which he was very grateful.
That evening he showered and settled down to sleep in a comfortable bed for the first time in over a year, wrapped in a cozy comforter made by my wife’s grandmother. Ours was the first home he stayed in since arriving in the US. For nearly two years, he slept in a noisy, institutional environment. 
We made huevos rancheros for breakfast and lots of coffee (which Jesús stated was unavailable in Adelanto).  Jesús also described his meals: for breakfast two tiny pancakes (no butter or syrup) and a small carton of milk. For lunch, beans and rice or spaghetti, and for dinner, leftovers. In one month, he lost five kilos (11 pounds). He was grateful for our food and also for the fresh air and sunlight when took him on a tour of our garden and he picked a pomegranate and fresh oranges from our trees. He loved this home-cooked breakfast with fresh fruit. It was his first taste of freedom.
Jesús isn’t totally free, however. He has to wear a gps-enabled ankle bracelet to track his movements. This system has been in effect since 2014 as a way to save ICE money. Using this tracking device costs around $3.50 per day.
We learned that Jesús’s dad was a construction worker (much like Joseph, the father of Jesus, who was a carpenter). Believe it or not, the parents of our visitor Jesús was named José and his mother’s name María!
These parallels reminded me of what Jesus said about himself in Matthew 25:36: “You visited me when I was in prison….As you do for the least of these, you do it for me.”  As I reflected on this message, I felt deeply honored and a sense of awe to provide hospitality to this young man who is made in the image of the Divine.  
Much like my Greek father, who jumped ship in 1923 when he was fourteen and there was a quota preventing all but a handful of Greeks from entering the US legally) and like tens of thousands of other immigrants, Jesús wants to better himself. And I have a feeling he will succeed. He was very polite, offered to do dishes, and made his bed. He was an exemplary guest. We couldn’t help but think of what Paul said of guests in Hebrews 13: 2-3: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
As we waited for Liza to pick Jesús up after breakfast, we asked if he’d like to join us for our morning Bible study using a bilingual Bible. He was happy to take part. We read the story of Jesus’s birth in Luke 4 in Spanish. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it was under occupation by the Roman empire and ruled by a Roman puppet king. Immediately after his birth, Jesus’s parents had to flee their home country and became refugees in Egypt. For this reason, Jesus always had a special place in his heart for those who are displaced and homeless.
After our Bible study, we took a selfie of the three of us and sent it to his family. He then called to let them know that he was out of prison and in good hands. He has had very few opportunities to talk with his family since being detained. After connecting with his family, he looked radiant.
Liza arrived and took him to a shelter where he will be cared for and given opportunities to develop into a successful adult, so we are hopeful about his future.
We felt blessed by this visitor, and also by Liza, the dedicated woman who cared for Jesús as if he were her own son. Our visitation program affiliates with an organization called CIVIC, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement.    According to its website, “CIVIC is  devoted to abolishing U.S. immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. We visit and monitor 43 facilities and run the largest national hotline for detained immigrants. Through these windows into the system, we gather data and stories to combat injustice at the individual level and push systemic change.” If you want to learn how you can help people like Jesús, check out:

Jesús visitó nuestra casa en Pasadena una semana antes de Navidad: la historia de un menor no acompañado

Así es como sucedió que Jesús visitó nuestra humilde casa en Northwest Pasadena el lunes por la noche, una semana antes de Navidad. Desde el pasado mes de junio he estado visitando a detenidos en el Centro de Detención Adelanto, una instalación privada en el desierto cercano a Victorville que alberga a casi dos mil hombres y mujeres indocumentados que están encarcelados simplemente por carecer de documentos adecuados. Ayer recibí una llamada de Liza, uno de los organizadores de estas visitas a Adelanto, en la que me preguntaba si mi esposa y yo estaríamos dispuestos a albergar a un joven recientemente liberado bajo fianza.

 "Tendré que preguntarle a mi esposa, pero no creo que le importe", le dije. "¿Cual es su nombre?"

"Jesús", respondió Liza.

"Wow", dije. "¡Cómo no dejar que Jesús visite nuestra casa en Navidad!"

 Jesús resultó ser un joven alto, delgado y callado de un país latinoamericano. Cruzó la frontera en 2015. Fue colocado de inmediato como un menor no acompañado en una instalación de la Autoridad Juvenil de California. En su cumpleaños número 18, el pasado octubre, fue inmediatamente trasladado a detención de adultos

El Centro de Detención Adelanto es administrado por una entidad comercial privada llamada GEO que tiene un contrato con ICE. Actualmente existen cupos: el gobierno garantiza a GEO que proporcionarán un mínimo de 1,455 detenidos a un costo de $ 111.92 por detenido, por día y cualquier otro detenido será alojado a un costo de $ 50 por detenido por día. Ver

La misión de GEO es lo opuesto a la de Jesús. Cuando Jesús proclamó por primera vez su misión en la ciudad de Nazaret, les dijo a sus vecinos que había venido a proclamar "liberación a los prisioneros". GEO se beneficia al encarcelar a tanta gente como sea posible.

Le dimos la bienvenida a Jesús en nuestra casa ofreciéndole galletas y té. Cuando nos enteramos de que la celebración de su 18º cumpleaños era esencialmente un paso inseguro hacia la edad adulta, también le trajimos un pastel de nuestra fiesta de Navidad y le encendimos una vela soplar y pedir un deseo. Cuando cantamos "Feliz cumpleaños", él era todo sonrisas. Como él es cristiano, le dimos una Biblia en español / inglés, por la cual él estaba muy agradecido.

Esa noche se duchó y se acomodó para dormir en una cómoda cama por primera vez en más de un año, envuelto en un cómodo edredón hecho por la abuela de mi esposa. La nuestra fue la primera casa en la que se hospedó desde que llegó a los Estados Unidos. Durante casi dos años, durmió en un ambiente ruidoso e institucional.

Hicimos huevos rancheros para el desayuno y mucho café (que según Jesús no estaba disponible en Adelanto). Jesús también describió sus comidas: para el desayuno dos pequeños panqueques (sin jarabe) y un pequeño cartón de leche. Para el almuerzo y la cena, frijoles y arroz. En un mes, perdió cinco kilos (11 libras). Estaba agradecido no solo por la comida sino por el aire fresco y la luz del sol. Lo llevamos en un recorrido por nuestro jardín, donde recogió una granada y naranjas frescas de nuestros árboles. Adoraba este desayuno casero. Fue su primer contacto con la libertad.

Jesús no es totalmente libre, sin embargo. Él tiene que usar un brazalete de tobillo habilitado para gps para rastrear sus movimientos. Este sistema ha estado en vigor desde 2014 como una forma de ahorrar dinero ICE. El uso de este dispositivo de rastreo cuesta alrededor de $ 3.50 por día frente a un costo promedio de $ 119 por día para la detención.

Aprendimos que el padre de Jesús era un trabajador de la construcción (muy parecido al padre de su homónimo, que era carpintero) y ese también es el oficio de Jesús. ¡Créalo o no, el nombre de su padre es José y el nombre de su madre es María! Nos acordábamos de lo que Jesús dijo acerca de servir a otros en Mateo 25:36: "Me visitaste cuando estaba en la cárcel ... Como haces por el menor de estos, lo haces por mí". Al reflexionar sobre este mensaje, nos sentimos profundamente honrados y con un sentido de asombro al brindar hospitalidad a este joven que está hecho a la imagen de lo Divino.

Al igual que mi padre griego, que abandonó el barco en 1923 cuando tenía catorce años y había una cuota que impedía que todos salvo un puñado de griegos ingresaran a los EE. UU. Legalmente) y, como decenas de miles de otros inmigrantes, Jesús quiere superarse a sí mismo. Y tengo la sensación de que tendrá éxito. Fue muy educado, se ofreció a lavar los platos e hizo su cama. Fue un invitado ejemplar. No pudimos evitar pensar en lo que Pablo dijo de los invitados en Hebreos 13: 2-3: "No se olvide de mostrar hospitalidad a los extraños, porque al hacerlo, algunas personas han mostrado su hospitalidad a los ángeles sin saberlo. Continúa recordando a los que están en prisión como si estuvieras junto a ellos en prisión, y a aquellos que son maltratados como si ustedes mismos estuvieran sufriendo ".

Mientras esperábamos a que Liza recogiera a Jesús, le preguntamos si le gustaría unirse a nosotros para nuestro estudio bíblico matutino usando una Biblia bilingüe. Él estaba feliz de participar. Leemos la historia del nacimiento de Jesús en Lucas 4 en español.Cuando Jesús nació en Belén, estaba bajo la ocupación del imperio romano y gobernado por un rey títere romano. Inmediatamente después de su nacimiento, los padres de Jesús tuvieron que huir de su país de origen y se convirtieron en refugiados en Egipto. Por esta razón, Jesús siempre tuvo un lugar especial en su corazón para aquellos que están desplazados y sin hogar.

Después de nuestro estudio de la Biblia, tomamos una selfie de nosotros tres y se la enviamos a su familia. Luego llamó para avisarles que estaba fuera de la prisión y en buenas manos. Él ha tenido muy pocas oportunidades de hablar con su familia desde que fue encarcelado. Después de conectarse con su familia, se veía radiante.

Liza llegó y lo llevó a un refugio donde lo atenderán y le darán oportunidades para convertirse en un adulto exitoso, por lo que esperamos su futuro.

Nos sentimos bendecidos por este visitante, y también por Liza, la mujer dedicada que cuidaba a Jesús como si fuera su propio hijo. Nuestro programa de visitas se afilia a una organización llamada CIVIC, Iniciativas Comunitarias para Visitar a Inmigrantes en Confinamiento. Según su sitio web, "CIVIC se dedica a abolir la detención de inmigrantes en los Estados Unidos, al tiempo que pone fin al aislamiento de las personas que actualmente sufren en este sistema basado en las ganancias. Visitamos y controlamos 43 instalaciones y contamos con la línea directa nacional más grande para inmigrantes detenidos. A través de estas ventanas en el sistema, reunimos datos e historias para combatir la injusticia a nivel individual e impulsar el cambio sistémico ". Si desea aprender cómo puede ayudar a personas como Jesús, visite: /

2017 Christmas Newsletter: Peace on Earth and Justice for All

“I shall speak thy testimony before Kings and not be ashamed…” –Psalm 119:46

Jill and I with Rep Judy Chu and Tim Root
 of Whittier Friends Church
Anthony: This phrase sums up a year in which I have been helping people to share their moral concerns with elected officials. The good news is that so many people are stepping forward, eager to learn how to practice democracy and work for a society that is fair and compassionate. I am especially grateful to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), which has launched a national campaign (Love Your Neighbor, No Exceptions) to teach people how to be effective faith-based advocates for peace and justice. This work is not only necessary but also joyful since it involves working with wonderful people. I continue to be on the board of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and serve as chair of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. In addition to my peace activism, I am part of a weekly men’s group at the Episcopal Church and have monthly visits with an Episcopal monk named Dennis Gibbs who is my spiritual director. I also enjoy partnering with Jill on her housing justice work. As Jill and I celebrate our 6th year of married life together, I want to express my deep appreciation to a wonderful couple named Sylvester and Carolyn Williams, who led us on twelve “marriage mentoring” sessions  that have enhanced our marriage in countless ways. I am excited that the Palm Sunday Peace Parade (where Jill and I met) have decided to support a revival of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign 50 years after his death. Our slogan is “Proclaim Good News to the Poor” (Luke 4:18). God has truly blessed us and confirmed that “the Prince of Peace has brought us together for a purpose greater than either of us can imagine.”

Wishing you all the best during this blessed season! May your upcoming year be full of joy as well as justice and peace! 

Jill: Some of my fondest memories this year are the two weekly Bible studies during our “staff time” with my husband and again with Mark, who was formerly homeless and now lives in our back house. The intriguing insights we glean and the fun we have applying the Scripture to today’s world fills my soul. It also fills my soul when I look out at our little “faith park” and see kids looking for books in the tiny library and hanging out on our park bench or hammock, enjoying themselves. Sharing what we have with neighbors gives me great pleasure. Often conversations turn to the love of Christ.

Jill with Lorinda
At this stage of my life God keeps confirming my gift as a teacher enabling churches to address their city around the need for more affordable housing. The One-day Housing Justice Institutes have had great results in Colorado. In Broomfield, the City Council, once against affordable housing, is now fully supportive. The city has come out of denial about homelessness in their city. The person hired to run their housing authority is finally being given work and Section 8 vouchers for those in need. When I was there in March to do another housing justice institute with leaders throughout the Metro-Denver area, one Broomfield City Council member who was planning to leave the City Council to do a PhD changed her mind when she heard me share about the history of housing policy in our nation. Additionally, two churches have broken ground to build affordable housing.

Christmas Newslette
Jill with Amy

I stand in awe of how God has opened these doors. My heart longed to see these Institutes take place in California where the housing crisis is sIt has also been a joy to have Amy Cardenas work with me part time to keep my office organized. I met Amy 20 years ago when I It has also berecruited her for STARS—an afterschool program at Lake Ave Church I had the joy of co-founding.  She’s about to graduate from APU in sociology!

 To keep not just my soul but my body nourished and in good shape, I feel spoiled by Anthony’s incredible cooking. I was in much pain with my lower back and thanks to prayer, aqua-therapy and ongoing exercise, all my pain is gone! I had a biopsy for possible cancer (in my buttock!) and thank God, nothing was found. I thank God for the good health!

Some 2017 Highlights

January: We took part in Pasadena’s annual homeless count. Jill was asked to give the fund-raising pitch for  college scholarships for the Martin Luther King event sponsored by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
February: We went to “Motown: the Musical” at the Pantages Theater to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Fabulous!
March: Jill led a Housing Justice Institute in Colorado. Anthony attended a gathering in Stonypoint, NY, where over 120 Quakers from North and South America, of very diverse theological backgrounds, took part in worship and fellowship to help strengthen the Quaker community
.April: This year’s Palm Sunday Peace Parade, which we helped organize, had as its theme Affordable Housing and Ending Homelessness. Hundreds walked in the Parade to celebrate Jesus as the Prince of Peace and the things that bring peace.

Jill's brother Doug, visiting from Australia  in our Faith Park with Jill
May: Anthony celebrated his 68th birthday by throwing a party at our El Greco Café and by taking Jill to the Getty Villa where he first proposed marriage six years ago (and she said yes!!). He also helped organize an immigrant rights workshop with Pedro Rios at Orange Grove Quaker Meeting in keeping with the Biblical injunction to “treat foreigners as native born” (Leviticus 19:34).
June: Jill organized the Homeless-to-Housed Bus Tour. Anthony visited detainees in Adelanto Detention Center (near San Bernardino), where undocumented people are being incarcerated, in keeping with Matthew 25 (“I was in prison and you visited me”), 
Jill with her brother Doug
June: Jill organized the Homeless-to-Housed Bus Tour. Anthony visited detainees in Adelanto Detention Center (near San Bernardino), where undocumented people are being incarcerated, in keeping with Matthew 25 (“I was in prison and you visited me”),
Edward fiddling
August: We went to Oregon to see the solar eclipse, camped at Mt Rainier, and visited with friends and family along the way, including Anthony’s nephew Edward, who is an excellent fiddler. Anthony helped organize a Justice Luncheon with Rep. Judy Chu. We called for our elected officials to address the threat of nuclear war (as Jesus said, “those that live by the sword die by the sword”). He also led a retreat on “George Fox’s prophetic witness” for Santa Barbara Friends.
September: We attended the CCDA gathering in Detroit, where we got to see the remarkable “Cass Tiny Home” project initiated by the Methodists. Jill led Housing Justice Institutes in Temple City and one in Pasadena in November.

Us with our niece Jessie from Australia
October:  Jill’s brother Doug and niece Jessie visited from Australia. Thanks to the advocacy of a team from a neglected part of N. Fair Oaks, Pasadena voted to put in a $268,000 traffic signal and approved 7 of the 15 items we requested! We celebrated this win with Green Light Victory Celebration and a Repair Café.

At Ragged Point with Jill's mother Donna
November:  Jill celebrated her 64th birthday with a pumpkin-carving party. We went to DC for the annual Quaker lobby day and also visited Jill’s niece Annie and their new baby in Alexandria, VA, and Anthony’s sister and their new home in Hamilton Township, NJ. We celebrated Thanksgiving with our dear “Mamacita” Donna Shook at Ragged Point, the gorgeous gateway to Big Sur.

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 increase hours of my part time help so that N. Fair Oaks Empowerment Initiative can thrive,  the Housing Justice work can grow, and we can complete a video to promote these Institutes that will cost $3,000.  It is my goal that this work of organizing churches around issues that affect the most vulnerable will be multiplied with leaders equipped to do this work.
This Christmas I invite you to give and also set up monthly giving.
Contact: Missions Door
2530 Washington Street, Denver, CO 80205, Phone: 303-308-1818
Jill Shook & Anthony Manousos
1628 N. Garfield, Pasadena CA 91104
Jill’s Phone: 626-675-1316


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Who would benefit from ADU’s? Yes in my back yard!" An op ed about the need for "Granny Flats"

Who would benefit from ADU’s?
By Jill Shook

Since a lot of factual (and some mythical) information has circulated about how ADUs (accessory dwelling

units, aka “granny flats”) might benefit or hurt the city of Pasadena, I published an op ed in the Pasadena Star News providing evidence that ADUs would not significantly increase traffic, create parking problems, lower property values, increase crime, or have any other measurable negative impacts. See:
 Statistics don’t tell the whole story, so I’d like to put a human face on this issue by giving some examples of people I know who live in or benefit from ADUs.

  • ·        Helga is a widowed senior citizen living on Social Security who could afford to live in Pasadena because of an ADU. Her daughter Joan owns a home in Northwest Pasadena and lets her mother live in a legally converted garage. The main house is rented to Joan’s daughter and son-in-law, who are also low income. Together this family covers the mortgage payments and other costs. This arrangement keeps the family together and allows them to live affordably in Pasadena.
  • ·         Bert is a social worker and committee Christian, who helps mentally challenged homeless people get housed and was able to co-purchase a home because it had a back house. A committed Christian, he and a friend co-purchased a home with a friend. Bert lives with his wife in the back house. This is a legal yet non-conforming ADU because it was built at a time when ADUs were allowed no matter your lot size, long before the existing 15,000 square foot property size requirement in 2003. (There are 750 legal, but non-conforming units in Pasadena—all grandfathered in after Pasadena’s 2003’s Secondary Dwelling Unit Ordinance.)
  • ·         Maria is an architect from Latin America who is able to make her mortgage payments because she designed and built a beautiful a second unit that she rents out.
  • ·         Jochen is a nurse from Germany and his wife is an acupuncturist from Korea. They’ve lived in Pasadena for nearly 20 years and recently became US citizens.  Both work in Pasadena, but can’t afford to buy a home. However, they managed to find an ADU that they can afford.
  • ·         Victor Gordo is an elected official who rents out ADUs.
  •    Steve Madison, another Council Member, has an ADU that is used by his family.
  • ·         John Kennedy is an elected official from Northwest Pasadena whose family of eleven could afford to live in Pasadena because they had a second unit.
  • ·         A new pastor in town and his wife and three children live in an ADU in Bungalow Heaven and love the strong sense of community with neighbors and those in the larger home.
  • ·         One friend had a brain tumor, and now lives in a back house with her husband and child behind her parents’ home. Grandparents love having their grandson close by!

·         I could cite many other similar examples.

Pasadena has a sizable lower wage workforce to serve its higher income population (house keepers, gardeners, car washers, restaurant workers, those working in dry cleaners and even teachers). Some say that if you can’t afford to live in Pasadena you should move, but California’s Housing Element law requires cities to plan for sufficient housing for all income levels recognizing that a healthy city needs all income levels to make it work and help prevent long commutes. For these much needed workers to live close by, and to retain the character of the single family neighborhoods (rather than tearing down homes to build apartment buildings) ADUs allow for gentle infill nestled behind homes throughout city.

ADUs allow people to live in our city and enable low income homeowners and seniors on fixed incomes to keep their homes.  ADUs help families to live together and support each other. Recent studies show that the LA area is one of the most difficult regions in the country for a Millennial to get enough money for the down payment for a house. Living with parents or grandparents in an ADU can help young people save money to purchase their first home and gain entry into the middle class.
Currently many people in Pasadena live in unpermitted ADUs. Some of these ADUs are not up to code and have safety issues. And the city is not getting the property tax income on these units.  The city needs to adopt policies to facilitate an affordable path to legalization of such units and encourage building of new ADUs to strengthen the tax base. The example of other cities, like Santa Cruz, is worth following.
What could prevent a legal path to build and legalize unpermitted ADUs are Pasadena’s excessive lot size requirement (15,000 sq ft) and excessive fees that could add $50,000 to the cost of construction or renovation. $50,000 are only the fees, not including construction costs. Arcadia, Burbank, Glendale, Monrovia, and LA County (Altadena), all have no minimum lot size for detached ADUs. Temple City’s fees for ADUs are only $3,000. Glendale’s total fees are between $10,000-$20,000. Pasadena’s excessive fees do not seem in compliance with the new state law, (Assembly Bill 2299 • Senate Bill 1069, effective January 1, 2017.)
It is the intent of the Legislature that an accessory dwelling unit ordinance adopted by a local agency has the effect of providing for the creation of accessory dwelling units and that provisions in this ordinance relating to matters including unit size, parking, fees, and other requirements, are not so arbitrary, excessive, or burdensome so as to unreasonably restrict the ability of homeowners to create accessory dwelling units in zones in which they are authorized by local ordinance.

Portland saw a boom in second unit construction through fee waivers. See Multnomah County is also launching a pilot program that provides homeowners with free tiny homes if they are rented to homeless people. This approach will actually save the city money since the cost of housing homeless people in apartments is higher than the cost of these tiny homes. See
Do second units make housing more affordable? Studies concludes that ADUs definitely help homeowners to live more affordably, and to truly help renters, it depends on costs like construction and fees. See

This Monday, Dec. 11th if the City Council votes to again make it possible to have detached ADUs on properties throughout the city with fees that are more reasonable, it will help move our city a bit closer to its housing vision:

All Pasadena residents have an equal right to live in decent, safe and affordable housing in a suitable living environment for the long-term well-being and stability of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their community. The housing vision for Pasadena is to maintain a socially and economically diverse community of homeowners and renters who are afforded this right.

Monday, December 4, 2017

What is the cure for Trumpism? An Advent Reflection

On the first Sunday of Advent, I woke up with a splitting headache, and  a feeling of depression. I tried to pull myself together by saying a few prayers and taking couple of Ibuprophen, but my heart was heavy. I felt sick about the Republican tax scam and what's happening in our country. I went to my Quaker Meeting feeling disoriented and had a hard time focusing. As I sat in the silence, I realized that my unease was related to our nation's disease, Trumpism. My heart started to pound and my head ache went away. I realized that God was giving me a message I needed to share. 

I rose and told the Meeting that how terrible I felt, both physically and emotionally. I shared my feelings about the tax scam and also about my Greek doctor who is a Trump follower. Two years ago I switched to this doctor in part because she was my wife's doctor and she wanted to get to know me as a Greek Quaker. I wanted to get to know her as a Trump supporter and hoped we could have an interesting dialogue. There has always been some tension between us, but it's been tempered by humor and friendship. Then this week on Facebook she launched into a tirade against Muslims, beginning with Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian activist who helped organize the Women's March. When I tried to defend Muslims, my doctor became more and more insulting. She called me "cultural Marxist" and said I was out of touch with reality. I tried to be reasonable and courteous. Because she is Greek orthodox and I was baptised Greek orthodox, I quoted my favorite Orthodox leader Metropolitan Bartholomew who said he wanted to have a respectful dialogue with his "beloved Muslim brothers and sisters" and not try to convert him. I shared my own experiences meeting with Muslim, Jewish and Christians parents who had lost children to the violence in Israel/Palestine and were working together to build trust and promote peace. But in response to my comments, my doctor and her friends spewed more and more hatred of Muslims and finally my doctor said, "Anthony, you are choking me with your bs."

Her comment shocked me. A year ago, when she posted something on my Facebook page and a friend of mine called her an idiot, I defended my doctor and said that I did not want her to be insulted. Now she was inciting her friends to insult me. I wrote that I did not want to have  a dialogue with her if she persisted in insulting me. My Greek father taught me that if you get angry or insult your opponent, you've lost the argument. I would be willing to dialogue if she was willing to be courteous.

Her response was to unfriend me.

What made this especially painful is that I am supposed to meet with this doctor and have an annual check up this week. How can I trust her as a doctor if she has no empathy or respect for me?

I am struggling to figure out: What is the cure for this kind of bigotry and hatred? What is the cure for Trumpism?

I really don't know. I know that social media doesn't work. Maybe face-to-face dialogue could help? Clearly I don't want this woman as my doctor, but maybe we can still be in some kind of relationship. But how? I don't know. Our country is so sick and divided. 

I do know that what heals me from the effects of Trumpism is being around people who are compassionate and loving and care about peace and justice. I was very happy to learn that there will be a launch of Rev. Will Barber's Poor People's Campaign today at the Union Church in little Tokyo. I am eager to go there and be part of this Beloved Community.

I also feel blessed to be part of Orange Grove Meeting at this time. Several Friends came up to me and offered words of wisdom and comfort after my long and painful message.

As Christ commanded, I am holding my doctor in prayer. Clearly she is not a follower of Jesus, or even of her own spiritual leader, Metropolitan Bartholomew. She is a member of the Trump cult and is being led down the road that leads to darkness and death. I feel sad and sorry for her and her ilk. I hope that someday, somehow, she will catch a glimpse of the light that shines in the darkness, the light of love and truth that changed the world two thousand years ago, and still has the power to transform hearts and minds. And also whole societies!

This is my Advent Prayer: May the Light of Christ illumine the heart to my Greek doctor and of all our elected officials, including Trump and his followers. May they truly understand the gospel of Jesus who said: "I have come to proclaim good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to the captives, comfort to the afflicted and the Favorable Year of the Lord," the Jubilee Year, when debts are forgiven and poverty ended. 

This is the Word of the Lord, God's intention for our world, and I pray that it be fulfilled in our time. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Meaning of Friendship

This is the third in a series of reflections on friendship that I shared with my men’s group known as “Brothers on a Journey” that meets at All Saints Episcopal Church every Monday night.  You can read the first two at:

As I looked back over the friendship I formed during the first half of my life, I realized that although I had some amazing friends, I have a feeling of loss as well as gratitude for those who enriched my life during this period. Many of these friends of yesteryear I have lost touch with, and I miss them. I did a google search and discovered that the Dalai Lama had some wise and comforting words to say about such transient friendships:

"Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend - or a meaningful day." 

This is a very enlightened perspective, yet the feeling of loss and longing is also very real and worth taking seriously. This desire for a friendship that doesn’t pass away is, I think, at the core of our Christian faith—we yearn for relationships that last for a lifetime and beyond.

Eight years ago I lost my best friend, who also happened to be my wife, yet hardly a day passes that I don’t think of Kathleen. When she died, I took comfort in the words of William Penn: “Life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only a horizon, and an horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.”

The pain of her loss has subsided but not the memory and the feeling that she is still with me, hovering just beyond my line of sight. I can’t see what lies beyond the horizon of this life, but through faith I catch glimpses and look forward to the day when Kathleen and I will see each other face-to-face once again in a place I can’t even imagine since our marriage and our friendship was grounded in something very special, something that will never die. Kathleen’s example also inspires and challenges me to live my life in such a way that I will be worthy of being reunited with her.

I was asked to define friendship and wasn’t able to come up with a definition. So I went once again to Google and discovered words of wisdom that spoke to me. According Muhammad Ali, one of my unlikely heroes in grad school:  “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.” 

Ali is right that friendship isn’t taught in school. Certainly not in grad school, where we were mostly too busy and too preoccupied with our careers to make lasting friends. I had to learn about the meaning of friendship in the school of life and through the Religious Society of Friends. I also did some research on friendship to prepare for this share. I went back to my roots, the roots of our civilization, namely, the Greeks. The Greeks believed that friendship is a kind of love. You probably have heard the Greek language has three words for love: eros (sexual desire), agape (spiritual love) and philia (friendship).

Eros is a physical desire for another person that we care about and long to be with. Agape is an unselfish desire for what benefits that other person. Philia has elements of both. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII) Aristotle said there are three bases for friendship:
  • .       Pleasure. This could be a friendship based on mutual enjoyment of anything ranging from sports to literature to drinking vintage wine or micro-brewed beer.
  • .       Utility. Friendships that are mutually useful and beneficial usually arise out of some shared activity, like one’s job or career. Phil calls these “instrumental friendships.”
  • .       Virtue.  These are sometimes called spiritual friendship and are grounded in a common sense of goodness and purpose.

In real life, most friendships are a mixture of all these elements.

So here’s my definition of friendship.

Friendship is a relationship of mutual caring and trust, based on shared interests and enjoyments as well as a shared commitment to something greater than oneself, i.e. goodness, truth, justice, etc.
In the first half of my life, most of my friendships were based mainly on shared pleasures. Love of literature, love of ideas, love of music and art, and love of coarser pleasures like going for walks, drinking alcohol, or smoking pot. The English comic writer P.G. Wodehouse wrote that  “there is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.”  From what I have read of Wodehouse, I’m sure he would agree that alcohol, preferably a very expensive sherry, enhances such literary friendships.

Other friendships were useful. I made friends with class mates, colleagues and co-workers. We are on friendly terms with such people because these relationships are mutually beneficial. When you and the other person no longer need each other, these friendships tend to fade.

The friendships that last the longest and are most deeply satisfying are the ones that are grounded in goodness and spirituality. These kinds of friendship also open us up to new insights into ourselves and the world. As the French writer Anais Nin wrote: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ― Anaïs NinThe Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934.

Finally, I have been inspired by what Jesus says about friendship, particularly how we can have an intimate relationship with the Divine. Quakers have adopted this ideal friendship as the basis for their name, the Religious Society of Friends. In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples that there is only one commandment that really matters. Love. He then defines love as the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is a high bar for friendship, yet it is important to remember that real friendship usually entails some self-sacrifice. Jesus says that if we follow this commandment to love unselfishly, we not only deepen our friendships with each other, we also become friends of Jesus: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” This is a truly astonishing idea—that limited mortals can become friends with God. It makes no logical sense, yet we are told it is possible through the power of love. Spiritual love, agape.

Obstacles to friendship: What blocks us from becoming friends with others? How do we choose our friends? Do we pick people who will help open up new worlds within us, or only those who make us feel comfortable with who we are now? Do we seek out friends of different backgrounds and ethnicities from our own

After sharing this reflection I talked about some of the following friends who have been important to me during the second half of my life.  
  • ·         Ed Miller, the Friend who introduced me to the Religious Society of Friends in Princeton, NJ.
  • ·         Janet Riley, a Friend with whom I worked on a Soviet/American joint book project in the 1980s and who has become a deep and lifelong friend.
  • ·         John Ishvardas Abdullah, my Sufi friend who wrote the book One World Under God. I got to know John through the South Coast Interfaith Council. He is one of several wonderful Muslim friends that I made after 9/11 who have expanded my spiritual horizons.
  • ·         Jeff Utter, a UCC pastor, and Joseph Prabhu, a professor of philosophy and religion, have become my spiritual “amigos” and we meet regularly to walk and talk. We met through the Parliament of the World’s Religion, where I have many wonderful friends of different faiths.
  • ·         Robert Cornell, a therapist/gardener friend who started Brothers on a Journey. We meet once a month at the Huntington Gardens to have heart-to-heart talks and enjoy the beautiful gardens (we are both avid gardeners).
  • ·         Mark Schmidt, a formerly homeless man who is a guest in our home and has become a good friend over the years, with a passion of justice and a great sense of humor. 
  •       My wife Jill, who has become my best friend and spiritual companion, opening me up in so many ways through her deep love of Jesus and justice, as well as of honesty and caring for others. 

Our group then responded to the following questions about friendship and there was a rich time of sharing.

Queries on friendship for reflection:
  • What happened in your life that helped you to understand the meaning of friendship?
  • What do you do to cultivate friends?
  • What has stood in the way of your friendships