Sunday, April 14, 2019

Roman vs. Hebrew View of Land and Housing: how do we free ourselves from the domination system?

[Today has been a very special day: it is the 8th anniversary of my meeting my "esposa fabulosa" Jill at the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. I also had the joy of hearing her preach this morning at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, where I spoke nine years ago about contemplative silence and social justice activism ("Gandhi, St. Francis and Listening from the Heart"). Jill and I worked together on this sermon, which reflects a theology of land and housing from a biblical perspective as opposed to that of the Roman empire. Today we see the Roman perspective embodied in Trumpism, the "me-vs-the world" mentality. There is a better way, what Dr. Martin Luther King called "the beloved community." This sermon gives some ideas about how we can move towards that ideal, yet very real community.]

When you hear the word “domination,” do you think of the word “home”? Ironically, the word “home” and domination are related because they derive from the same Latin root. In Roman law, the home or “domus” was the place where a man was master over everything he possessed: land, building, wife, children, slaves. He had sovereignty because he was the dominus, the master of the house, his domicile.
This view is reflected in the old saying, “A man’s home is his castle.”  You have likely heard it said, “All day I work under a boss, but when I go home, I’m the master.”
The Bible has a different view. God is Lord and master of everything. Ultimately, God is the owner of all land and it is to be used not only for ourselves but also for others, to steward and care for according to God’s purposes. You church is beautiful example of shared ownership in your partnership with Mercy Housing to produce 85-units of supportive housing and a childcare facility. You have shown great hospitality to homeless individuals and families and those dealing with severe mental illness. 
Deeply motivated by my faith, I have now had 20-years of successful affordable housing advocacy experience that has produced 1,000s of units of affordable housing in Pasadena, where I live. I am moved to become involved in affordable housing advocacy for three many reasons:

1.       I started an after-school program in the 90s and found too many students were dropping out when the got to high school because they needed to work, or baby sit to help pay rent.
2.       I bought house in a low-income neighborhood, and as I fixed it up, and my property values rose, some of my African American neighbor went into foreclosure. Unknowingly I became part of the problem.
3.       And because the only thing that fights gentrification is affordable housing, but no law requires it. It only gets build if someone advocates for it.
Jill with Duane who helped the UU Church
develop Carolyn Severance Manor
After our successful efforts as advocates, I felt the spirit move me to help train others on how to do be effective advocates. So, in 2018 my husband and I started a new nonprofit called Making Housing and Common Happen, of which I am executive director. We also began a One-Year Housing Justice Institute.  In January students from Texas and Colorado came for a one-week retreat to kick off the One-Year Cohort.  We toured many affordable housing sites, including the Carolyn Severance Manor to learn from you. We sought to understand your vision and how it happened that you came to open you hearts and share your land with the most vulnerable of society and partner with Mercy Housing.
Affordable housing is all about vision, belief and relationships. Our relationship with each other, ourselves with elected officials, with stakeholder, with partners and with the land. In our work we seek to foster the beloved community as an antidote to the domination system.
Land is often equated with power. In the US initially only white mail land owners had the right to vote, who comprised only 6% of the population. This created a divided society with male land owners playing a dominant role. Carolyn Severance, who founded your church, fought along with Quakers such as Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony for the right of women to vote. In 1911 Carolyn Severance was the first woman to register to vote in California. I was thrilled to learn of your history because I am proud that my husband is a Quaker who is passionate about social justice and shares this beautiful history.
Thankfully, today those without property can vote and be heard in public meetings. The beloved community is created when we all participate. This is what overcomes the domination system. I want to share two stories to illustrate this:

Joshua Levine Grater, who was the Rabbi at the Pasadena Temple, spoke in a public meeting saying that his Temple had a problem. “No one in my congregation needs affordable housing.  No one in in our congregation attends public schools. No one is homeless or in financial need. Our problem is that we are isolated from those in need.” 
The second story is this: Elizabeth House in Pasadena is a place where pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence can find a home with protection, healing from trauma, love and a chance to carry their children to full term. At a housing conference all the speaker pointed to how essential it was to be an advocate or we would have no affordable housing. I leaned over to tell the director of the Elizabeth House sitting in front of me, “You are sitting on a gold mine!”  “The power of the women’s stories must be told!”  So she found five women willing to tell their stories. I had the joy of helping them write their amazing stories and brought them to the Planning Commission. The Commissioner were rapt with attention and their hearts were opened. They listened and granted our requests. These soon-to-be mothers were amazed that their stories made such a difference.

The Jewish congregation with power recognized how their power was preventing them from identifying with their neighbors in need, those pregnant women seemingly without power recognized an untapped power they didn’t know they had. MLK called this the beloved community. Together the Rabbi and these women were breaking down the domination system.
Christianity turned the domination system upside down. The word “dominus” has been translated “Lord” and was used to describe the Emperor. That’s why it was considered subversive for Christians to refer to Jesus as “dominus” or “Lord.” Jesus was not a land owner; he was a landless peasant and his mission was to "preach good news to the poor," to cancel debts, and the end of the domination system.
At the center of every parable, Jesus lifts the poor and most vulnerable. In fact, the central message of every Old Testament prophet was caring for the widow and poor. And prophets always spoke to kings and the dominant class. As advocates we always speak to decision makers.
Jesus often spoke of the last being first and the first last. The apostle Paul, in 2 Cor 8 spoke of the purpose of money quoting from the time of when the Hebrews wandered in the desert, when manna rained from heaven. Everyone was to take only what they needed; if they took too much the manna would rot. If they didn’t take enough, others would share. And on the day before the Sabbath twice the amount of manna appeared so they could rest on the Sabbath. Paul applied this passage to money, whereby if we share what we have, everyone has enough. The stated goal was to share from our abundance to create equality. There is enough for each other’s need, but not for our greed.
The sharing economy, book sharing, ride sharing, home sharing, land sharing as you have done here on your land is also what my husband Anthony have done by building tiny home in our back yard for a formerly homeless friend. This is consistent with the Hebrew idea of sharing. God’s way is to open our hearts and ask how to use what we have. We have a little library where neighbors share books, and a front yard organic garden where neighbors can enjoy the harvest.  If all that we have is God’s, our cars, our homes, our land, our hands, hearts and minds, then we have a responsibly to share what we have in a way that lifts not just ourselves, but everyone, and especially those most in need.
Individuals are sovereign under Roman law but in God’s economy, everyone is accountable to God and his neighbor. If we share, we are never alone; if we share, we always have friends; if we share, our joy and our cup run over. 

Duet 15:7 says, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 
Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” 

Sharing what we have joyfully relates to the Hebrew understanding of stewardship, using land and resources in a way that cares for the environment and future generations. I am so proud of the how affordable housing is built today. In order to obtain tax credits, the most common funding for affordable housing, there are about 400 points that need high scores, many of which are environmental. Therefore, some of the most environmentally sustainable housing built today is affordable housing. In fact, there are some affordable housing projects today that are net-zero, which means that the building itself generates as much energy as it uses.  This way of constructing housing is asks what is best for the lower income and what is best the planet?  It’s no longer a “me vs. them” mentality but a “we”.
All land in the US is based on a combination of Hebrew and Roman law—with the idea that we own it and can do with it pretty much what we want--but we also have a responsibility to society, so we pay property taxes to support schools and we have to abide by various building and zoning codes that provide safely which benefit the community. These policies are the result of hard won political and moral struggles. Nevertheless, within these parameters we can choose to use our land in an even more responsible and sustainable way, and also challenge the system to be more just, as our nonprofit is doing.
When I lived in Mexico, I worked with the campesinos who were living in “ejidos” whereby they could legally take land and have collective ownership—community-controlled land. This idea is akin the way that land was acquired by a community land trust to create the Carolyn Severance Manor. With a community land trust, ownership of land is separated from ownership of a home. You can own you home, but the land stays permanently affordable. It cannot be part of the speculative market.
When I married Anthony seven years ago, I told him that we will never receive the full equity from our home, that one day our home would be placed into a community land trust. I bought my home in 1994 for $143,000. Today is worth over $800,000. But I am happy to forgo this equity in order to make it permanently affordable. This give me great joy. I am free to wholehearted share what I have because I can trust God as my provider. We lack for nothing because when we share, God rewards us for our generosity. All we have is a gift to be shared.
There are numerous ways that land can be shared and taken off the speculative
market. Not far from here is Commundad Cambria, on 8th and Union. This beautiful building was once controlled by gangs impersonating the landlord and collecting rents. It was so dilapidated that floors we are falling into each other. Empowered by reading the Bible, the very low-income immigrants living there felt the Spirit move and they began to organize.  UCLA professors and others helped them do a series of law suits against the owner for building neglect. The owner finally gave up and gave them the building. They then partnered with the city of LA and tax credit investors and today it is gorgeous and totally controlled collectively with a kind of shared ownership model. Children once enamored by gangs now aspire to a higher dream, as they witnessed the powerful example of the collective struggle of their parents. Today these children are attending college and breaking the cycle of poverty.  This powerful story is in my book, Making Housing Happen, which is being used on campuses across the US, including USC.
As a Christian, I believe that God is the ultimate owner of everything. In a sense, we
Jill connects with Hispanic congregants
“lease” land from God, with ethical restrictions.  Israel was organized around the Sabbath, not just the idea of resting every seven days, but every seven years the land was to rest, and debts forgiven and then very seven times seven years was the Jubilee, where all land would go back to the original owner. For example, if you were a real wheeler and dealer and knew how to acquire a lot of land and bought it at year 45 before the year of Jubilee, it would cost you more because you had the right to use if for 45 years. But if you purchased land at year five before the Jubilee, it would cost you less because you would own it for only five years. At the year of Jubilee, the value of land would go to zero, resetting society to again provide access to land for everyone.
When Jesus came on the scene in Luke 4, he proclaimed Jubilee, the “favorable year of the Lord.” We don’t have to wait unit the 49th year. We can practice Jubilee every day by taking land off the speculative market and making it affordable. These healthy limits on land use was God’s way of breaking the domination system.
I can’t think of a better way to practice Jubilee than to create affordable housing as
Jill with Jack!
you have done on your land. This breaks the domination system. You need to shout from the root tops this Good News: invite other churches on tours and learn from your good example. Have some of the folks who live on this land share their stories of how this housing has transformed their lives.  Show up at public meetings where folks here in K-Town have fought against permanent supportive housing for homeless folks. Partner with our nonprofit to host a One-Day Housing Justice institute and invite the churches in our area, as eight other community have done across the US. Build upon the relationships you have to address the severe housing crisis we are in. Stand strong for what is right with the power of your good example. Declare that all deserve a decent home they can afford. Affordable housing improves a community, infuses investment and beauty. Shout this good News! Break the domination system!
More often than not, neighborhood councils and associations have as their goal to protect the right of individual homeowners to maximize their profits and self-interest, with low density and no duplexes, triplexes or multifamily housing in site—exclusionary practices.  You can break the domination system by calling for a community that benefits everyone, including the “least of these.”
What would you say if someone asked you, “What does it mean to own your home?” Would you say that you have the right to do with it what you want? Or would you say that haven’t done much to deserve the equity you now have and that you have a moral obligation to use what you have it to help your neighbor?
We have learned much from Mark, our formerly homeless friend who now lives in our back house. God has used Mark to help us slow down, help us see and shed many of our dominating ways that prevented us from having an equal relationship. It has not always been easy, but we would not trade this experience. We are much better people because of Mark.
As a Christian it is my belief that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, to restore us into a right relationship with ourselves, with others, with the land and with the One who made the land and seas. As a Christian, I also believe that Jesus died because he challenged the domination system, constantly confronting the authorities to become a system of love, mercy and justice.  That’s why Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and overturned the tables of money changes, symbols of a corrupt system. Today is Palm Sunday. I met my husband seven years ago, during a Palm Sunday Peace Parade, celebrating the Prince of Peace. So today is a very special day for us. It is an honor to be here with you today as we celebrate seven years since we met.  It was a few years later that we joined the team to help organize this Parade with a focus on housing justice.
Today All Saints Church in Pasadena carrying on this tradition and hosting a Palm Sunday Peace Parade, celebrating the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to humbly challenge the domination system.
By God grace may we all find the creatively, the strength and joy to stand firm and free ourselves from the domination system, today and always.

Congregation of LA UU Church listening to Jill

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Anthony's 70th Birthday Celebration

In lieu of gifts, I am encouraging my friends and family to make a donation to a good cause on my birthday and I will match your donation up to a total of $1000 per cause (or $3000 total). I will match donations up until Mother's Day (May 12).

Making Housing and Community Happen – Make out check to “Social Good” (our fiscal sponsor) and write MHCH or “Making Housing & Community Happen” in message line. You can also donate directly to MHCH:

Social Good (Making Housing & Community Happen)
PO Box 5473
Richmond CA 94805

ICUJP (Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace)

FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation)

You can also send checks made out to these causes to my home address and I will forward them.
 Or you can send your check directly and let me know by email (


Anthony Manousos
1628 N Garfield Ave
Pasadena CA 91104