Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fighting Quaker defends his fig tree from a pandemonium of parrots

They began arriving just after dawn, a raucous cacophony  of parrots that made a beeline for our fig tree. Hundreds of them, ripping and tearing branches and leaves, voraciously scarfing down figs, until I came out and scared them away with a loud yell and mighty broom. As I stood glaring at them with all the malevolence I could muster, they eyed me from the telephone line, squawking and gawking.

I was intrigued to learn the term for such a flock of parrots is "pandemonium," a word that the poet Milton made up to describe a gathering of demons.

I don't want to demonize Pasadena's parrots, but the description is apt. These red-crowned parrots are devilishly annoying and they can devastate fruit trees. They are also an endangered species that have found a niche here in Pasadena. They gather in flocks of hundreds and fly around the city, looking for trees (especially fruit trees), where they can roost and feed.

When the parrots "discovered" my fig tree, I knew that if I didn't take action, they would strip it of all its fruits, just as the squirrels did this spring to our apricot tree. I don't mind if critters devour 10% or even 20% of my fruit--I consider that a tax I pay to nature--but when critters become so greedy they tax me at 90% or more, my fighting spirit is aroused.

Yes, I am a fighting Quaker when it comes to defending my fruit trees.

Since this pandemonium was arriving at the same time every day, just after dawn, I slept in our front room so I could hear them (not difficult, since their squawks are deafening). I then leaped off my couch to the front porch and shooed them away with my mighty broom.

I tried netting the tree, but it's too large, so I settled on the guard dog approach. Every morning I rose at dawn and waited for them on the porch. I even slept on my yoga mat!

They don't like humans very much and they glared at me from the telephone line, waiting for me to leave so they could get back to business and raid my tree.

I decided it was time for my Ultimate Weapon. The garden hose.

I set it on jet and aimed at the parrots. By the time it reached them, it was probably no more than a gentle spray, but the shock of it scared them away.

So far, they haven't come back.

I am thinking of using a similar tactic with squirrels. A power water gun, perhaps spiked with a little hot sauce, could make the squirrels think twice before attacking my apricot tree. That approach, along with netting, will probably work.

As a Quaker, I believe in intimidation, not extermination, when it comes to greedy critters.

In case you're wondering  how these red-crowned parrots came to Pasadena, here's the scoop:

So if these parrots aren't native, how did we get so many of them?
Urban legends tell of epic pet store fires and hoards of parrots making a narrow escape to freedom. These tales range in decade and city where the alleged blaze took place but after looking into stories, experts simply can't find evidence that supports the pet-store-fire-theory.
Yes, the red-crowns were brought to Southern California through the pet trade but there isn't one event of an en masse parrot release. Instead, it was a steady flow of individual escapees that laid the foundation for the current population.
The flocks you see dashing around Southern California skies are the descendants of individual pet parrots that escaped and found one another in the wild. 


Saturday, July 28, 2018

“Everything You Wanted to Know about Quakerism and Aren’t Afraid to ask”

[This is a talk that I gave at Manhattan Beach Community Church this Sunday, July 29.]

Thanks for inviting me to speak to you about Quakerism, a religion I love and have tried to practice for 35 years. I feel honored to be here and glad to be addressing members of the United Church of Christ. My best friend, Jeff Utter, is a retired UCC pastor whom I met through the Parliament of the World’s Religion fifteen or so years ago. We share many interests in common often and often go for walks together talking politics and religion. I have come to appreciate the Church of Christ through this very special friendship and Jeff’s endearingly quirky sense of humor. With deference to Jeff, Dr. Rueben and Woody Allen, I’ve titled my talk ‘Everything you wanted to know about Quakerism and aren’t afraid to ask.” So please don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is what Quakerism is about!
I’d like to start as Quakers often do with a couple of minutes of silent worship or reflection. Then I’ll talk about the origins and theology of Quakerism and leave time for some questions.

In the second part I’ll talk about Quakers and the anti-slavery and women’s rights movement in the 19th century. I’ll also discuss the splits that took place among American Quakers in the 19th century that have persisted till today. These divisions led to the formation to the Friends World Committee for Consultation, a world-wide Quaker umbrella organization in which I play an active role.

In the final part of my talk, I will discuss the reinvention of liberal Quakerism in the 20th century and where Quakers are today. I will speak about Howard and Anna Brinton, Quaker theologians who had a huge influence on me and many other liberal Quakers.

Let me begin by sharing a little about my spiritual journey to Quakerism. I have been a Quaker since 1984 when I joined the Quaker Meeting in Princeton, where I was born and raised. I was 35 years old when I became a Quaker and had never heard much about them, even though Quakers in Princeton went back to the early 18th century, when our Quaker meetinghouse was built. Prior to attending the Quaker meeting, I had been attending the Presbyterian Church during my grad school days at Rutgers University, where I earned a doctorate in British literature. I’ve also explored many other religious paths, including Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and most recently Islam and Sufism. I consider myself an interfaith Quaker—that my email monicker—and a Universalist Christian.

What drew me to Quakerism was its unique mode of worship which is the epitome of simplicity. Without any prearranged program, we gather together in silence and “wait upon the Lord.” During this time of expectant, open worship any one is free to share vocal ministry as Spirit moves him or her. I felt very at home in this form of contemplative worship which is utterly egalitarian and guided by the Spirit. I also appreciated the Quaker commitment to hands-on peace and a justice work.

Over the years, I have been active in many Quaker projects.  In the 1980s I was involved in the Sanctuary Movement and a Soviet-American book project that was part of the Citizen Diplomacy movement that helped to end the Cold War. In the 90s I helped start a youth service program with the American Friends Service Committee and brought teen groups to Mexico. Starting around the turn of this century, I edited a Quaker magazine for eleven years. I’ve also published many articles and books, some of which I’ve brought here for ‘show and tell.” And I’ve served on many Quaker committees, most recently Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Now that I am retired, I consider myself a full-time volunteer Quaker peace activist. I should also mention that I was married to a Methodist pastor named Kathleen Ross whom  met her at Quaker center for study and contemplation called Pendle Hill where we were both students. Kathleen and I had a wonderful marriage until she passed away of cancer in 2009. Two years later, I remarried to an Evangelical social justice activist named Jill Shook. Jill attends Quaker meeting and has taken part in many Quaker gatherings from Washington, DC to Mexico City and Peru. She has helped me to reach out Evangelical Quakers. I owe a great deal to Kathleen and Jill, two amazing women who took part in my Quaker world.

That’s my Quaker life in a nutshell. Here is my take on Quaker history and theology:

Summary of a talk at Manhattan Beach Community Church

Quakerism started in the 17th century, a time of bloody religious wars. From the time of Martin Luther till the English Civil War, a period of just over 100 years, over a million Christians killed each other because of doctrinal disputes.
George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, was born in the English midlands in 1624 and was 18 years old when the English Civil War began. During this period, King Charles was executed by the Puritans who took over England and started a Commonwealth led by their General and “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell.
George Fox was a working class seeker who became the charismatic leader of Spirit-led movement that has left a significant mark on history. One of the distinctive features of Quakerism was its rejection of war as contrary to the teachings of Christ.

   "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever; and this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world."
Declaration of Friends to Charles II, 1660

Although individual Quakers have taken part in war, the Religious Society of Friends has remained faithful to this peace testimony for over 350 years. In 1947, Quakers received the Nobel Prize for Peace.
The Quaker movement that Fox started arose from Puritans and other dissenting Protestant groups, breaking away from the established Church of England. The Quakers, especially the ones known as the Valiant Sixty, attempted to convert others to their understanding of Christianity, travelling both throughout Great Britain and overseas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these early Quaker ministers were women. They based their message on the religious belief that "Christ has come to teach his people himself", stressing the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and a direct religious belief in the universal priesthood of all believers. They emphasized a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, acquired through both direct religious experience and the reading and studying of the Bible.  Quakers focused their private life on developing behavior and speech reflecting emotional purity and the light of God.

Inward Light: the Most Important Quaker Teaching

The Quaker belief that the Inward Light shines on each person is based in part on a passage from the New Testament, namely John 1:9, which says, "That was the true light, which enlightens every one that comes into the world." Early Friends took this verse as one of their mottos and often referred to themselves as "Children of the Light".
Moreover, Friends emphasize the part of the verse that indicates that the Light "is extended to all people everywhere", even "people who have never heard of Christianity n a meaningful way or at all can share in the Light, if they sincerely respond to God's grace. 

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:14–16)."

The principal founder of what became the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox, claimed that he had a direct experience of God. Having explored various sects and listened to an assortment of preachers, he finally concluded that none of them were adequate to be his ultimate guide. At that point he reported hearing a voice that told him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." He felt that God wanted him to teach others that they need not depend on human teachers or guides either, because each one of them could experience God directly and hear his voice within. He wrote in his journal,
 "I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God; even that divine Spirit which would lead them into all Truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any."[14] 
Fox taught: that Christ, the Light, had come to teach his people himself; that "people had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women"
Later, Robert Barclay, an apologist for the Society of Friends, wrote: "This most certain doctrine being then received, that there is an evangelical and saving Light and grace in all, the universality of the love and mercy of God towards mankind, both in the death of his beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the Light in the heart, is established and confirmed, against all the objections of such as deny it.

Part II: Quaker Activism and Schisms

Early Quaker belief in the universality of the Inward Light led to some radically egalitarian practices, such as allowing women to preach.
Margaret Fell, the wife of George Fox and co-founder of the Quaker movement, not only spoke during worship and spent years in prison for her outspoken religious beliefs, she wrote “Women Preaching Justified,” one of the first feminist tracts defending the right of women to be ministers of the Gospel. Notable Quaker women religious leaders include Mary Dyer and Margaret Fisher. Mary Dyer was executed by the Puritans in Boston for expressing her Quaker beliefs and Mary Fisher went to Turkey to preach to the Sultan even though she was a serving woman!
Quakers were among the first Christians to oppose slavery. Quaker anti-slavery began in the 18th century in the United States with Benjamin Lay and John Woolman.
The women’s rights movement started among Quaker women in the early 19th Century : Grimke sisters, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony
Quakers have been far from perfect. In the 18th and 19th century they adopted the stupid practice of “disowning” (excommunicating) any Quaker who married a non-Quaker. This led to the loss of many members. Membership was also affected by theological splits that occurred among American Quakers in the 19th century, starting in the 1820s. Elias Hicks, a charismatic Long Island Quaker, was “disowned” for his beliefs and this led to a split between Quakers who considered themselves Hicksites and those who considered themslves Orthodox.  During this period the Evangelical and Holiness Revivals led to further splits. An influential Quaker named Joel Bean was “disowned” by Iowa Yearly Meeting when it became part of the Holiness movement in the last 19th century. He and his wife moved to San Jose, CA, and started Western Independent Quaker movement, of which I am a part.

Part III: The Reinvention of Liberal Quakerism in the 20th century and Current Activities

One of the major Quaker theological figures of the 20th century was Rufus Jones, a professor of theology at Haverford College who hoped to heal this split among Quakers. One of Jones’ important contributions was to see Quakerism as a creedless, experiential mystical religion at a time when interest in mysticism was on the rise. The other important figure was Howard Brinton and his wife Anna, who helped to “reinvent” liberal Quakerism in the 20th century.
Howard Brinton provided a framework for modern liberal Quakerism by describing our “testimonies” Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality, and Sustainability (sometimes called SPICES). Not a creed or set of principles, but ways in which we live out our faith and experience of the Inward Light.
Today the various branches of Quakerism have learned to coexist and cooperate through an organization called the Friends World Committee for Consultation, which was started by Rufus Jones in 1937. There are evangelical, holiness, liberal, and traditional Quaker understandings of Quakerism and Christianity. There are also Non-theist Quakers whose spiritual practice is not reliant on the existence of a Christian God. To differing extents, the different movements that make up the Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. In 2007, there were about 359,000 adult Quakers worldwide. In 2012, there were 377,055 adult Quakers, with 52% in Africa.
Around 89% of Quakers worldwide belong to the "evangelical" and "programmed" branches of Quakerism[—these Quakers worship in services with singing and a prepared message from the Bible, coordinated by a pastor. Around 11% of Friends practice waiting worship, or unprogrammed worship (more commonly known today as Meeting for Worship), where the order of service is not planned in advance, is predominantly silent, and may include unprepared vocal ministry from those present. Some meetings of both types have Recorded Ministers in their meetings—Friends recognized for their gift of vocal ministry.
Liberal Quakers are best known for our activist work through organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).

Conclusion: Quakers are relatively few in numbers, but our influence is far greater than our size would warrant. We attract very committed people our society and we are often on the front lines of movements for social change.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Visualizing a Future for Our Homeless Neighbors in Pasadena

(Concept C, mixed use with homeless housing and commercial development,
 is the one that Ed Tech members unanimously approved.) 

On July 17, a life-changing meeting of the Ed Tech (Economic Development and Technology) Committee of the Pasadena City Council took place  in which 46 Pasadena residents came to support homeless housing on Heritage Square South, city-owned property on the corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove Bld. Twenty-three community leaders and residents spoke out passionately and with well-researched talking points talks in favor and only one resident spoke against using this land for homeless housing. This was a moving testimony to how deeply Pasadenans care about their homeless neighbors.

The Planning Department presented various options for how Heritage Square could be developed, with visualizations of what each option would look like. We learned that the City would have to return $2.3 million dollars to HUD and to the state if this land purchased for affordable housing were used instead for exclusively commercial development. Since the land is assessed at approximately 5 million, selling it for exclusively commercial use made no economic sense.

Mr. Gordo, chair of the Ed Tech Committee, questioned whether "over-concentration" of affordable housing on this site is a good idea. He argued that homeless housing should be scattered throughout the city, not concentrated in one area. Some speakers said that this over-concentration idea is obsolete since Northwest Pasadena has become gentrified and experts agree that gentrifying areas need more (not less) affordable housing to counter problems such as homelessness and displacement of long-term residents caused by gentrification.  Many  speakers agreed with Mr Gordo that we need multiple sites, but argued that this should not preclude homeless housing on Heritage Square South, city-owned land purchased for that purpose. All agreed that the need to house our homeless neighbors is urgent.

The hearts and minds of these City Council members were moved to unanimously recommend "Model C"--mixed use, with homeless housing and commercial development. This is what GPHAG has been advocating for the last five months.

We were thrilled that Ed Tech came to unity on mixed use, including 69 units of homeless housing. Our prayers were answered! We saw it as a moral victory for our City as well as for our homeless neighbors. I feel this is just the beginning of a long-term campaign. In fact, one of the City Council members emailed us and said, "Congrats on tonight. I like your style...this needs to be a movement...thoughtful and persistent with a growing base."

GPHAG intends to build this kind of movement in our city to make sure we have homeless and affordable housing for all our homeless neighbors. We agree with Mr. Gordo that homeless housing needs to be located in every district, since homeless people are living throughout the city. This will require our City members to show the kind of moral and political courage that Margaret McAustin showed when she championed "Marv's Place," permanent supportive housing for homeless families. We intend to mobilize public opinion to urge  the City Council to do all it can to address this crisis.

I am pleased that the  Council is currently considering purchasing a motel and converting it to homeless housing. This seems like an excellent idea. To reduce our homeless population, we need as many housing options as possible.

We also need a vision since as Isaiah said, "without a vision the people perish." Our City has a wonderful vision spelled out in our housing element: “decent, safe and affordable housing” for “all Pasadena residents." Let's commit to cutting our homeless population by 50% in the next five years. We did it before, and we can do it again! Si, se puede, con la ayuda di Dios.

GPAHG approved sending this "thank you" letter to our City Council:

Dear Mr. Mayor and City Councilmembers,

We want to express our heartfelt appreciation to Mr. Gordo and the Ed Tech Committee for listening to the community and unanimously recommending that Heritage Square South be used for homeless housing plus some commercial development.  This was huge win for our homeless neighbors and a moral victory for our City.

We appreciate the work of the Housing Department in creating various models for how this property would look with different building configurations. It is becoming increasingly easy to visualize this project as completed, which will make our community very proud.

Donna Hess, the property manager for Heritage Square North, made an excellent suggestion for appropriate commercial development: medical offices. She has already been in touch with an optometrist and several doctors who are interested in having offices on this site when it is completed with housing and commercial use. This is an ideal location for medical offices since there will be around 140 seniors living next door. Medical offices would also benefit the neighborhood and provide good-paying jobs. Medical offices would also not require a lot of parking or create traffic problem on this already super-busy intersection.

We are pleased that Ed Tech sees the need to develop homeless and affordable housing in other sites throughout the city besides NW Pasadena (though we feel that affordable housing is desperately needed in NW Pasadena due to gentrification). We strongly support the idea of a comprehensive plan for affordable housing and also a Housing Commission--an idea that our Housing Director no longer opposes. Given the urgency of the housing crisis in our city, with rents soaring, homelessness increasing, and our teachers and city staff unable to live where they work, we need a Housing Commission to make sure that our limited funds are used prudently and creatively to fulfill our City’’s vision for “decent, safe and affordable housing” for “all Pasadena residents”:

“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” (Housing Element, p. 1).

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Quakers and their allies work to reduce the threat of nuclear war and to promote diplomacy in the Korean peninsula

This week, in coalition with Physicians for Social Responsibility, Peace Now, Montrose Peace Vigil, Reconciliasian, ICUJP and other peace groups,  our FCNL Advocacy Team and our allies have been visiting Congressional offices to encourage our elected officials to 

1) support diplomacy to resolve conflict in the Korean peninsula and other parts of the world

2) endorse bills that would prevent the President from launching a preemptive attack on North Korea (or anywhere else) without Congressional approval and 

3) set an example of denuclearization by reducing our own nuclear weapons stockpile and agreeing not to initiative a nuclear war.

Specifically, we were lobbying in support of the following bills:

  • HR 4837 and S 2047 (No First Strike Against N Korea without Congressional authorization)  - getting support from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
  • HR 4415 – No First Use of Nuclear Weapons, introduced by Adam Smith in Nov 2017, asserts that US will not use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
  •  HR 669 - Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 – Introduced by Ted Lieu. Campanion of S. 200. Similar to HR 4415.
  • HR 2668: Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act and S1235 (SANE) Reduce our bloated nuclear weapons budget by $100 billion.*
On Friday, July 21, Kit Bell, a member of our Advocacy Team, led a  delegation to the office of Senator Harris to ask  for her continued support and advocacy for S 2047.  The delegation included: Edie Salisbury, Sue Park Hur (Reconciliasian), Roberta Medford (Montrose Peace Vigil), Frances Motiwalla (Peace Action), Phil Kanehl,  and Lynn, Guhn and Yul (children of Sue Park). They  met for around 20 minutes with her field representative Brent Robinson. They told him to encourage Senator Harris to work with colleagues across the aisle on these bills. They also asked her to sign onto S 200 and S 1235. The staffer was interested in their presentation and said that he would pass on our message to Senator Harris. He thanked us for meeting with him and encouraged us to visit again in the future. This is our third visit to the office of Senator Harris during the past year. 

On Tuesday, July 24, I led a delegation to the office of Representative Judy Chu, where we met with her staffer Maile Plan. Our group consisted of Edie Salisbury and Pat Wolff (members of Orange Grove Quaker meeting) , Rev. Jeff Utter (retired UCC pastor), and myself. This was our second meeting with Maile in the past six months and it lasted almost an hour. We told her how pleased we were that  Rep. Chu spoke last August at an ICUJP Justice Luncheon focusing on the threat of nuclear war and was very vocal in opposing nuclear weapons. We also thanked Rep. Chu fr supporting a bill that would  prevent the President from launching a preemptive first strike against North Korea. Her staffer was very interested in the bills we advocated that would reduce our nation's nuclear stockpile and prevent the President from launching a nuclear first strike without Congressional approval. She took notes and said she would bring these bills up with Rep. Chu. 

These repeated visits are building long-term relationships with our elected officials and their staff that we trust will help them to see the importance of the issues we are advocating and take action. We are pleased to be working with a coalition of diverse peace groups in the LA area, and hundreds of FCNL Advocacy Teams around the country.  We feel that it is crucially important to reduce, not modernize or increase, our nuclear stockpile and eventually abolish nuclear weapons altogether. And we must do all we can to encourage diplomacy, rather than war, on the Korean peninsula and in other parts of the world. 

*HR 2668: Smarter Aproach to Nuclear Expenditures Act. Senator Ed Markey, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) introduced a bill into the U.S. Senate on Friday 28 February, that would cut $100 billion over the next decade from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget. The Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures, or "SANE" Act, is co-sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Jeff Merkley. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representative Earl Blumenauer.

Specifically, the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act will:

  • Reduce deployed strategic submarines from 14 to 8 and reduce the purchase of replacement submarines from 12 to 8 – saving $16 billion.
  • Cut warhead life extension programs and defer the development of new ICBMs – saving $15 billion.
  • Remove the nuclear mission from F-35s and delay the new long range bomber – saving over $32 billion.
  • Cancel nuclear weapon making facilities and missile defense programs – saving $37 billion.
Programs to modernize various nuclear warheads would be done away with under the bill, and work would be delayed on a new class of intercontinental ballistic missiles, resulting in an estimated $15 billion in taxpayer dollars. The legislation would ax all missile-defense activities, and cancel plans to build new facilities for fissile-material processing in order to cut an additional $37 billion.

"As we’ve seen in recent stories, the human beings who control [nuclear weapons] can be unreliable," Blumenauer said in a statement included in the Markey release. He apparently was referring to recent scandals surrounding the Air Force's nuclear-missile mission, which have highlighted a number of problems with professionalism and morale inside the officer corps assigned to control the ICBMs.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Shining our Quaker Light on the Immigration Crisis

I was deeply moved by what was shared by members of the Latin American Concerns Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting during this year's annual session at Walker Creek Ranch. One of the speakers was Miguel Ángel Costop, Director Progresa (Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program), which our Yearly Meeting has supported for many years. He put into perspective the root causes of migration, seen from a Central American perspective. Patricia Portillo, who heads a scholarship program for undocumented students in Sacramento, shared her heart-rending personal story of being born and raised in Salvador during the Civil War there, and how traumatic it was for her to be separated from her family. Finally, Donna Smith, clerk (chair) of the Latin American Concerns Committee, shared her perspective, based on many years volunteering  in a free clinic in Los Angeles for Central American refugee children and working for Child Welfare in a largely Hispanic community. These testimonies shed profound light on the current crisis facing our country with children being snatched away from their parents simply because they have arrived in our country without proper documents. 

I was especially struck by the words of Miguel Costep since as a Yearly Meeting, we no longer are making public statements about matters of social justice: 

It is true, as Friends, we have fought a lot to achieve that inner light, but are we taking the additional step to radiate that light, to share it with others and illuminate our world?  Am really I doing what is needed, what the Spirit needs me to do in order to illuminate this darkness, this painful darkness that is being put onto many that come here with the only purpose of looking for a better life?

          Given the extent of this crisis, how can we remain silent? How can we not take action? I am grateful that many monthly meetings are making public statements and seeking ways to take action to address this address. This is our responsibility as Friends and as human beings. Let us take to heart these powerful words by Donna Smith:
Our callings are many and varied and there is beauty to that.  Whatever the calling that you pursue, we are asking that at this time and place for you participate in some action on behalf of immigrants and refugee seekers from Latin America.  It can be writing a letter or 10 letters.  You are hearing about asylum can be requested at “points of entry”.  Not true 8 US Code 1158 of asylum law states that “Any alien who is physically present in the United States…may apply for asylum.” That deserves its own letter.  It can be joining a demonstration.  Raising money for Dreamer scholarships.  Making a donation to an agency involved in this work.  Offering sanctuary or sponsorship to a refugee OR assisting others that are providing sanctuary or sponsorship.  Be a witness in immigration court.  Join a Rapid Response Network.  There are many meaningful ways to participate.  This is a time when we may be most effective in bringing about meaningful change.  Now before this concern fades from public attention.  Many of you are already deeply engaged.  Thank you.

Presentation of the Latin American Concerns Committee
PYM Plenary Session July 17, 2017


Root Causes of Migration

When I was a child and went to the field to work, my father used to take a fist of earth in his hands and repeated: "Ala 'ja re' ri qa k'aslem, ja re 'ri nu ya' ri qa q'utun, ri qa wäy Manta ri loq'oläj ulew roj man yoj k'aseta. Ru ma 'ri' ma yoj tikirta nqa ya kan la q'a ulew "- Son, this is our life, this is what gives us the food, our tortillas. If it were not for the sacred earth, we would not live. That's why we should not separate from her.
In the Mayan worldview, man needs the earth, not only as a possession but as an integral part of his very being. For that reason, the separation of our people from their land, from their family, from their roots is something that causes tremendous pain in individuals, families and entire communities. Understanding this is sometimes difficult for other cultures but is a tremendous truth for us.
A few weeks ago, the Vice President of the United States visited Guatemala as part of a tour to several Latin American countries. The presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were present at this meeting. The main message that our presidents heard was a threat not to come to the United States or to face the consequences:
"This exodus must end," "Tell your people that coming to the United States illegally will only result in a hard journey and a harder life."
I believe that the authorities of this country have made a great effort to stop and criminalize the arrival of more migrants to this country. Millions of dollars are invested for this purpose, but I wonder how much money and effort is invested to know the roots and reasons of the migratory problem? The vice president of the US also said in his statement:
"Just as we respect your borders and sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours," Pence said. "Our nation needs your nations to do more."
Then, he demanded that our governments fight corruption, violence and drug trafficking to reduce inequalities in our countries.
However, has the US government forgotten that they themselves have a great responsibility in what is happening now in the countries of Latin America? Has it been forgotten that the US government has carried out a progressive and methodical intervention in these countries since the beginning of the 19th century with the installation of large companies that have taken advantage of the resources of Guatemalans.
Has it been forgotten that large areas of land were taken from entire communities to be granted to North American industries for the production of bananas, coffee, sugar and other products? He forgot that when our people wanted to raise their voices and claim these rights, we were called communists and lots of money, weapons and military training (to not say murder training) were sent to our countries to "save us from communism"
We are now accused of doing very little to control drug trafficking in our countries and that we must do more. But how much is done here to avoid the use of drugs, those same drugs that in their way to the Us leave so much pain and death in our countries?
How to talk about providing equality and opportunities for development when this capitalist and imperialist system has promoted that a small group in Latin America have lots of privileges and has accumulated enormous wealth, leaving the vast majority without what is necessary to live. How to talk about development if, in most cases, the first world societies do not share with us the access to technologies and knowledge that is developed here and, on the contrary, we are only given small crumbs to silence our voices.
I know that what has happened in all this time has not been the responsibility of all the residents of this wonderful country and that, as happens in our country, a few have created great fortunes of all this inequality and have caused many to suffer in other parts of the world. However, it is also true that we all have a collective responsibility for what happens in our world. The Religious Society of Friends puts a lot of emphasis and reflection on the internal light that should guide our steps and act correctly. That is wonderful and I must say, Quakerism is one of the most authentic Christian spiritualities I have experienced, but is it enough? During these days we have been questioned about our leaving our comfort zone and witnessing into a troubled world.  After a deep discernment these words of Jesus come strong to my spirit:

14 "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven "Mathew 7

It is true, as friends, we have fought a lot to achieve that inner light, but are we taking the additional step to radiate that light, to share it with others and illuminate our world?  Am really I doing what is needed, what the Spirit needs me to do in order to illuminate this darkness, this painful darkness that is being put onto many that come here with the only purpose of looking for a better life?

Miguel Ángel Costop, Director Progresa (Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program)


Cuando era pequeño e íbamos al campo a trabajar, mi padre solía tomar un puño de tierra en sus manos y repetía: “Ala’ ja re’ ri qa k’aslem, ja re’ ri nu ya’ ri qa q’utun, ri qa wäy.  Manta ri loq’oläj ulew roj man yoj k’aseta.  Ru ma’ ri’ manaq modo nqa ya ta kan la q’a chulew”  -  Hijo, esta es nuestra vida, esto es lo que nos da el alimento, la tortilla.  Si no fuera por la sagrada tierra, no viviríamos.  Por eso no podemos separarnos de ella, de nuestra tierra.
En la cosmovisión maya, el hombre necesita de la tierra, no solo como una posesión sino como parte integral de su mismo ser.  Por esa razón, la separación de nuestra gente de su tierra, de su familia, de sus raíces es algo que causa un tremendo dolor en las personas individuales, las familias y comunidades enteras.
Hace unas semanas, el vicepresidente de los Estados Unidos visitó Guatemala como parte de una gira a varios países de Latinoamérica.  En esta reunión estuvieron presentes los presidentes de Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras.  El mensaje principal que nuestros presidentes escucharon fue una amenaza para no venir a los Estados Unidos o atenerse a las consecuencias:
“This exodus must end,”  “Tell your people that coming to the United States illegally will only result in a hard journey and a harder life.”
Creo que las autoridades de este país han hecho un gran esfuerzo en parar y criminalizar la llegada de más migrantes a este país.  Se invierten millones de dólares para este propósito, pero yo me pregunto ¿Cuánto dinero y esfuerzo se invierte para conocer las raíces y razones del problema migratorio? El vicepresidente de US dijo además en su declaración:
“Just as we respect your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours,” Pence said. “Our nation needs your nations to do more.”
Luego, él exigió a los gobiernos combatir la corrupción, la violencia y el narcotráfico para reducir las desigualdades en estos países.
Sin embargo, ha olvidado el gobierno de los US que ellos mismos tienen una gran responsabilidad en lo que pasa ahora en los países de Latinoamérica? Se ha olvidado acaso que el gobierno norteamericano ha realizado un progresivo y metódico intervencionismo en estos países desde inicios del siglo 19 con la instalación de grandes empresas que se han aprovechado de los recursos de los guatemaltecos. 
Ha quedado en el olvido que se quitó grandes extensiones de tierra a comunidades enteras para concederlas a industrias norteamericanas para la producción de banano, café, azúcar y otros productos?  Se olvidó ya que cuando nuestros pueblos quisieron alzar la voz y reclamar tales derechos se nos llamó comunistas y se envió dinero, armas y se entrenó a militares en nuestros países para “salvarnos del comunismo”? 
Se nos acusa ahora de que hacemos poco por controlar el tráfico de drogas en nuestros países y que debemos hacer más.  Pero cuánto se hace aquí por evitar el consumo de drogas, esas mismas drogas que a su paso dejan tanto dolor y muerte en su camino hasta acá?
Cómo hablar de proporcionar igualdad y oportunidades de desarrollo cuando este sistema capitalista e imperialista ha promovido que algunos pocos en Latinoamérica tengan grandes beneficios y acumulen la riqueza y dejen a la gran mayoría sin lo necesario para vivir.  Cómo hablar de desarrollo si en la mayoría de los casos no se comparte con nosotros el acceso a tecnologías y conocimiento que aquí se desarrolla y por el contrario solo se nos dan pequeñas migajas para callar en algo nuestras voces.
Yo se que lo que ha sucedido en todo este tiempo no ha sido responsabilidad de todos los residents de este maravilloso país y que al igual que sucede en nuestro país, unos pocos han creado grandes fortunas de toda esta desigualdad y han hecho que muchos sufran en otras partes del mundo.  Sin embargo, también es cierto que todos tenemos una responsabilidad colectiva por lo que pasa en nuestra sociedad.  Como sociedad religiosa de los amigos se hace mucha reflexión sobre la luz interna que debe guiar nuestros pasos y actuar correctamente.  Al pensar en esto recuerdo aquello que Jesús dijo en el evangelio de Mateo:
14 ustedes son la luz del mundo. Una ciudad construida sobre una colina no puede ser escondida. Tampoco se enciende una lámpara para esconderla debajo de una olla.  Más bien se coloca en un candelero para que ilumine a todos en la casa.  Del mismo modo piensan que su luz brille ante otros para que al ver sus obras glorifiquen a su Padre que está eran los cielos.” Mateo 7, 14-16
Es cierto, como amigos hemos luchado mucho por lograr conseguir esa luz interior, pero ¿estamos dando el paso adicional para irradiar esa luz, para compartirla con otros e iluminar nuestro mundo? ¿estoy haciendo realmente lo que se necesita, lo que el Espíritu necesita que yo haga para iluminar esta oscuridad, está dolorosa oscuridad que se posado sobre tantos que han venido aquí con el único propósito de tener una mejor forma de vida?
Miguel Ángel Costop, director Progresa

Patricia Portillo
Latin American Concerns Committee
In charge of the Undocumented Student Scholarship Project
Sacramento Friends Meeting

On Sunday morning I spoke about my experience being left behind in El Salvador, as a 12-year-old during the war.  One year of family separation at such a pivotal time in my life left irreversible damage in me. The reason that I am OK today is that I was reunited and cared for by my parents and my siblings. 
At age 13, I was smuggled in the trunk of a car. There wasn’t any hope of political asylum or refugee status. Men, women, and children were fleeing war as well as extreme poverty.  
In the 80’s and 90’s due to the US government’s financial and political support of the war in El Salvador and Guatemala, the US denied refugee status to people coming from those countries. 
 Without appropriate resources, some of these immigrants, young boys in particular, finding themselves in a strange country and looking for a place to fit in, joined gangs as a way of forming community, which turned violent within a system that did not recognize their basic needs. 
After we left El Salvador there was a tremendous sense of loss for the many places where I walked on a daily basis, for the rain, the smell of ripe mangoes and for jocotes, for teachers, friends, and for my cousins.  In the next five years I would often wake up from a horrifying often-times recurring nightmare, which I would do my best to forget once I got up to go to school. I couldn’t bear to watch the news at night because they took me back, back to the time and places where I heard shootings, bombings, smelled bodies decomposing and where twice my cousins and I had to leave the house and go hide in the wilderness in the dark so that the armed men at the door would not see us and be tempted to rape us. 
I have visited El Salvador since I left. A couple of things come to mind regarding the injustices that I saw. When I look around, it is easy to distinguish the children who have relatives in the US and the ones who don’t, because being same age, the ones who don’t have relatives in the US, are much smaller than the one who do. 
We went to visit my sister’s friend. Her brother owned a small warehouse supplying seeds and small tools to nearby farmers. As she explained to us, her brother had to fire someone recently, and just a few days later they got a threatening call demanding money or the owner would be killed. This practice is so common that you if you plan to own any type of business, no matter how small, you expect that you will have to pay some (if not a lot) of extortion money, commonly called “rent” to organized gangs, gangs which will not hesitate to take someone’s life to exert their power. Everyone is constantly on high alert everywhere. The level of fear is as high as I remember it as a child. 
My friend (who by the way earns $300 a month as a teacher) would not allow me to go visit her in her neighborhood out of fear that something would happen to me.  
We were shocked to see how expensive it was to live there. And, today a gallon of milk costs $4.79 and a dozen eggs $1.85. An average salary is $415 (if you happen to have a job) and a mortgage interest rate is 8.3%. 
When you look around, you see malls, City Bank, McDonald’s, and you may get a sense that things have changed, but it doesn’t take long to realize that things have not changed much. There are many maquiladoras (sweat shops) and call centers and access to higher education is hard to come by. This is the environment where violence is a vicious cycle that ends up hurting women and children the most, because they are the ones with the least amount of any kind of power. 

From Pacific Yearly Meeting, Faith and Practice

How do we attend to the suffering of others in our community, in our state and nation, and in the world community?

Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.
Parker Palmer

I volunteered for 15 years in a free clinic in Los Angeles for Central American refugee children.  As the immunization nurse, I diligently asked for their vaccination records, as I wanted to avoid unnecessary vaccinations.  A woman and child from El Salvador came without any records.  I asked if they might have just left the records at home.  She responded, Yes, in El Salvador.  We fled from our home in the middle of the night with only what we were wearing.  There was much in the news about similar stories, but this was different.  This was witness to the violence right there in front of me and it has not left me.
My career was in Child Welfare otherwise known as Child Protective Service. My office in Los Angeles covered a major Central American community and I was supervisor of a bilingual unit of social workers. 
You have heard from Patricia a moving account of the pain and scars from being left behind has her mother and sisters sought safety in the US.  Thankfully, their reunion was successful.  There are thousands of these stories of child/parent separation.  A parent travels to the US in hopes of providing a better future for the family and with the best of intentions, leaves their child with a grandparent or aunt, what can go wrong.  A lot.  Eventually those children leave their relatives and are reunited with their parents in the US.  The years of separation take a toll on the parent-child bond.  The family is broken.  Many, too many end up in the CPS system with the child yet again separated from parent for their safety.  A plan is made between CPS and the family with the goal of safe reunification.  And while counseling and other services usually are successful, some families tragically are never able to overcome the damage that has been done.  And the family remains broken.
I imagine you heard the recent news story about the Guatemalan boy who went into foster care as an infant and at age 5 was adopted by his foster parents over the objection of his mother.
After moving to Sonoma County, I worked as a Juvenile Court Investigator.  It is common for immigrants with limited resources to rent houses together with a different family living in each room.  I received the case of a one year old that was placed in foster care.  Her mother had been sent to jail when the police raided her home and arrested everyone.  Someone in the home was involved in criminal activity.  But this child’s mother wasn’t involved.  She was merely working and trying to support her child.  No charges were ever filed against this mother. But at the time Sonoma sheriff was cooperating with ICE and because she was at the jail, an immigration hold was placed on her and she was deported leaving her child behind.  This child could have ended up adopted here and never reunited with family.  In Los Angeles, our practice in such cases was to contact the appropriate consulate and request a social study be done to assess suitability of placement with relatives.  After receiving the social study we then would ask the court for an order to return the child to family.  That hadn’t been done before in Sonoma County but it did become their practice.  If the exploration of reunification with family in the country of origin were a regulatory requirement, fewer immigrant children would be permanently severed from family.   By the way, the child I mentioned remained in placement for almost 2 years, but I was able to reunite her to her family in Morelia, Mexico.  
In 2014, this yearly meeting organized around the migration of unaccompanied children after their plight was very much in the headlines.  We gathered and sub committee of Latin American Concerns was formed.  It was active for over a year meeting twice a month.  Maryanne Michaels and I accompanied a child through to asylum status.  I learned from our child of the conditions where she was housed for her first month.  Sleeping on a filthy floor with no blanket, no medical care, freezing temperature—it was called the refrigerator, highly chlorinated water to drink.  She was a teenager and repeatedly expressed concern for the suffering of young children and pregnant teenagers imprisoned with her.  They say that children are only in these federal detentions for a couple days.  She was there for over a month.  Those conditions constitute child abuse.  These federal and private prison facilities need to comply with the usual regulations and standards that are required in other facilities that house minors.
The current headlines of children being separated from their parents at our border have caught our attention.  We are deeply pained and brought to tears by the faces of these innocent children and their grieving parents.  Loving parents came to the United States with hopes of protecting their children from violence and/or escaping from the kind of no hope, no way out poverty that results in malnutrition, stunted growth, untreated health issues and a life of brutal slave labor.  These families came to us out of desperation and at great expense and risk, only to find their children ripped from their arms.  Where is the humanity? 

 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  Leviticus 19:33-34

I have been encouraged by the mobilization of efforts to end this horrendous act of cruelty and blatant violation of human rights perpetrated by our government.  And while we must take action to end this new policy, the serious trauma to children and families that has been part and parcel of immigration from Mexico and Central America has been going on for years.
As we heard from Miguel, The root causes are not being addressed and threats from our political leaders are not how meaningful change happens.
As Friends we are called.  It was in elementary school that I was called to Guatemala when my First Day schoolteacher at Montebello Friends Church left for the mission field in Guatemala. I have been blessed with work in the Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program.  I see first hand how education works as a successful and powerful implement of change by addressing root causes of injustice. 
Our callings are many and varied and there is beauty to that.  Whatever the calling that you pursue, we are asking that at this time and place for you participate in some action on behalf of immigrants and refugee seekers from Latin America.  It can be writing a letter or 10 letters.  You are hearing about asylum can be requested at “points of entry”.  Not true 8 US Code 1158 of asylum law states that “Any alien who is physically present in the United States…may apply for asylum.” That deserves its own letter.  It can be joining a demonstration.  Raising money for Dreamer scholarships.  Making a donation to an agency involved in this work.  Offering sanctuary or sponsorship to a refugee OR assisting others that are providing sanctuary or sponsorship.  Be a witness in immigration court.  Join a Rapid Response Network.  There are many meaningful ways to participate.  This is a time when we may be most effective in bringing about meaningful change.  Now before this concern fades from public attention.  Many of you are already deeply engaged.  Thank you.
We will be posting A CALL TO ACTION on the PYM web site.   We will be listing resources and suggestions.  If you are involved in this work already or know of resources in your area, let me know and we will add to the list.  Please join us.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35

Can I hear PRESENTE?

Donna Smith, Redwood Forest Meeting, Co-clerk, Guatemala Scholarship Comm.
Clerk, PYM Latin American Concerns Committee