Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Activist Burnout: A Reflection by Dick Bunce

Given July 24, 2015 to ICUJP Forum as the morning reflection
This reflection "spoke to my condition" when I heard Dick Bunce speak at Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) last week. Dick is a retired pastor and activist for mental health concerns. He speaks about the importance of self-care--being aware of one's feelings and needs, taking time to eat well, go for walks, play, and pray. Basic stuff, but easy to forget, when one feels called to make a difference in the world. 

My reflection topic is activist burnout.  What are some causes and symptoms of activist burnout, and what are we learning about self-care?   This talk gets a bit dark.  But trust me, I will get to the sunnier theme of self-care. 
In the early ‘60s, Saul Alinsky famously said that he liked working with young clergy because they burn with a pure white flame.  Back then, I fit this description.  In those years of burgeoning idealism and activism, I burned with a pure white flame. 
But it wasn’t long before the flame became less pure.  Other colors entered in, like orange and purple – orange for an overabundance of anger, purple for disappointment and disillusionment. 
Many in this room might be able to tell a similar story of those years.  Consider the Kennedy idealism that created the Peace Corp.  I heard that call and entered a similar program under the auspices of the church.  As I readied myself to go abroad, the Dallas gunshots resonated around the globe and echoed in my head. 
When I returned to the States, I jumped into the flowing stream of urban anti-poverty, anti-racist activism.  Pam and I were deeply moved in hearing Dr. King preach in person and at close range as he gave wings to our dreams for a transformed society.  Within six months, the gunshots were heard again.
I was in furious opposition to the Vietnam War, picketing, marching, and draft counseling, all the while hoping that some key people in the halls of power would take some risks and lead us out of the madness of that war.  Bobby Kennedy took that risk, and the gunshots were heard again. 
On goes a litany of losses – the shredding of the New Deal, the blundering savagery in the Middle East, the giant, pulverizing wheels of free market, global capitalism, the new Jim Crow heard in the slamming of prison doors, and the hard-won gains against racism, sexism, and homophobia facing countervailing pressures at every turn.   Disillusionment abounds. 
All of this in the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm.  Our efforts in the local schools, on the local streets and elsewhere face similar setbacks and disasters.   Two steps forward, then one or two or even three back.  So we try again, and still again. 
Add to this the fact that social change and the organizing it entails is hard work.   For one thing, it involves working with other people, and people can be irritating:  the person who comes late to a meeting, misses the discussion on a tough issue, then upon arrival wants to upset the barely stabilized applecart.  The person who sits at the table immersed in her or his smart phone when you’re wanting the courtesy of her or his attention.  The person who takes on a key job, then is missing in action.   I’ve probably done some version of all of this at one time or another.  People can be irritating, myself included.
Managing one’s emotions is another challenge.  We are motivated to some extent by anger.  It’s a powerful, indispensable fuel for our work.  But anger can become hardened and divisive, or It can flame out like a Roman candle.  Learning to embrace our anger and cultivate it wisely is not easy. 
Related to the anger is our passion for social justice and the corollary of compassion for victims of social injustice - the children, women, and men who are desperate for help, empowerment, and companionship.    Yet, with each person plucked out of the muck and mire, we see more and still more victims, and through the months and years, something called compassion fatigue often sets in.
In essence - and I quote the book Career Burnout by Pines and Aronson -  “burnout is brought about by long term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding.  The emotional demands are often caused by a combination of very high expectations and chronic situational stress.”
I and many more have every right to say to Saul Alinsky that our white flame became impure a long time ago, and has been known to become dim and even vanish – at least for a time.  
In the face of burnout, the temptation is to put on the leather jacket of stoicism and simply keep moving irrespective of feelings or lack thereof.  So, on we go juggling our schedules, running from one thing to another, hoping people will show up, and wondering if the meager funds will hold up through the year. 
At the opposite extreme of stoicism is the temptation is to drop out.  Many have done just that.   
It’s far better that we acknowledge that we are not machines.  It’s preferable to recognize that symptoms, such as loss of energy and enthusiasm, loss of hope, loss of kindness and sociability do happen to most - if not all - of us to some degree and from time to time.    
So what are we learning about self-care? 
The first step is to take our own temperature now and then.  How are we doing emotionally, mentally, and even physically?  Are we losing momentum, are we overreacting, are we feeling hopeless or helpless? 
This temperature taking may sound like mere naval gazing.  Yet it’s been said that self-care is a revolutionary act because it keeps us in the fray. 
It’s crucial that we abide by the basics:  eat nourishing meals, get adequate sleep, exercise.   I’m quite the keeper of do-lists.  I’ve learned to put bicycling right in with the better-do-it-or-else items on my list. 
 Mindfulness is becoming one of the basics.  This involves the ability to shut out the past and the future and abide in the present.   Earlier this week, I grabbed my favorite deck chair and sat in my patio for half an hour.  I just sat there and looked around at the trees swaying in the breeze, the roses in the various stages of blooming, thriving, and dying, my two dogs as they moved their nostrils with every new scent, the birds as they conversed overhead (and thankfully they didn’t drop their payload on me, spoiling my St. Francis moment.)  I was busy looking, listening.   There was no room for past or future.  I was in the present. 
Sometimes at the breakfast table I push the morning paper aside, slow my pace, and concentrate solely on the aromas and flavors of my breakfast. 
A key element of mindfulness is breathing deeply and rhythmically.  This calms the nervous system and gets oxygen to the brain.  Broodings over the past and anxieties about the future have a harder time taking hold when we throw open the windows of our physical house and allow the fresh air of deep breathing to come in.   
There’s much more we can do.  We can take some time off.  We can get a massage.  We can go hiking or do yoga.  We can stretch out on the floor and listen to Mozart.  We can go out back, put our feet in a tub of water, and read a silly book.  We can play with children.  We can use our creativity to come up with whatever works best for us. 
The other day, my 4 year old granddaughter and I took turns.  I would erect a big, high tower with building blocks, and she would knock it down.  Then she would build a big high tower, and I would knock it down.  She squealed with delight, and in those moments there was no room in my head for Donald Trump. 
Given that I’m a person of faith, I’m not about to pass over the dimension of spirituality.  Despite my Presbyterian background, I define spirituality broadly.  The definition I like best is this:  Spirituality is anything that nurtures our own intrinsic worth and beauty and the intrinsic worth and beauty of all life on Earth. 
I’ve already mentioned several options that can provide this kind of nurturing influence. 
Spirituality is restorative.  It allows us to receive the larger picture and to hear the kindness that’s all around us.  It allows us to bring our guilt to the surface and deal with it.  It allows us to find the grace to be compassionate, even toward ourselves.   Maya Angelou said she doesn’t trust it when people say they love her when it’s clear that they don’t love themselves.   
Spirituality enables us to listen more deeply. I’ll close with a free verse poem I wrote awhile back.   It tells some of my ongoing story.  Maybe it will tell some of yours  now or going forward.   It’s entitled, Listening.

I listened to the world
In search of truth, purpose, place.

The listening became
Hunched, old
Sorrowful, angry

But still

No choice
But to stop
And listen beyond the listening.

The quiet descends
Like a light rain
That leaves all
More fresh and clear.

The mind gives way to the soul,
Treats the soul with honor
And is honored in return.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The latest Supreme Court ruling may reduce segregation and promote affordable housing

Last year I took part in the “Action Tank” on housing policy, sponsored by the Christian Community Development Association, which Jill helped to organize. This year’s Action Tank will focus on fair housing, dealing with housing discrimination, specifically a new Supreme Court ruling that is strengthening the  Fair Housing Act with a provision called “disparate impact.” This provision of this new ruling allows the government to file a discrimination claim when segregation is clearly evident, even if the government can’t prove intent. That’s why the recent Supreme Court ruling described in Jamelle Bouelle’s Op Ed piece is so important: it can be used to justify requiring all white suburbs to allow, or even require, affordable housing for low income people.
Racially and ethnically segregated housing is still a big issue in the USA, even if it isn’t no longer abetted by laws such as racial covenants and red lining, Last month Jill was asked to give a presentation on affordable housing in Broomfield, CO, because it was designated one of the “10 most racially segregated cities in the US.” Religious leaders there were embarrassed and decided that focusing on affordable housing could help their community become more diverse. That’s why Jill was invited to provide a practical and biblical perspective on housing justice..The following article explains how this Supreme Court decision will make it easier to desegregate predominantly white neighborhoods.
America’s fair housing backlash 
by Jamelle Bouie (LA Times, July 22, 2015)
If you’ve read conservative blogs or magazines in the last month, you’ve probably seen something like this headline from Townhall — “HUD’s ‘Disparate Impact’ War on Suburban America” — or this one from National Review — “Attention America’s Suburbs: You Have Just Been Annexed.”
Behind this dramatic language, not to say fear-mongering, are recent decisions from the Supreme Court and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that take aim at residential segregation.
In June, a 5-4 Supreme Court majority upheld a central tool of the 1968 Fair Housing Act — disparate impact — which allows the government to file claims to end racial disparities in housing access, even if they aren’t linked to outright discrimination. See America’s Fair Housing Backlash . For more about affordable housing, check out Jill's blog at

Update on Greywater in Pasadena and beyond

Interest in gray water systems is growing as the historic drought in California worsens. As we prepare for our presentation on gray water and sustainable living for the Arroyo Food Coop next Saturday, August 1, at 2:00 pm, we'd like to update you on what's happening with greywater systems at the state and local level. (For info about our presentation, see

Jill and I were pleased to learn that Pasadena Water and Power is launching a residential Laundry to Landscape (L2L) Greywater Program in August and will be hosting a Greywater 101 Symposium on August 29th , from 1-3 p.m. at Lake Avenue Church, in the Skyroom. This will be followed by monthly Greywater Installation Training Workshops, the first of which will be held on September 12th.    More information will be available on our website by the end of this week.

For more info, you can also contact:

Ursula Schmidt
Water Conservation Program Manager │ Pasadena Water & Power
150 S. Los Robles Avenue #200 │ Pasadena, CA 91101
O: (626) 744-3865  │ C: (323) 719-6065


We also received this email from Laura Allen of Greywater Action. To subscribe, contact 

What are you doing in this California drought?

While a subdivision in San Diego is "thumbing it's nose at the drought" with an advanced greywater recycling system installed to capture and reuse 2 out of every 3 gallons used in the home, Tom Selleck (the star from Magnum P.I.) has a real P.I. investigating his theft of water from a public hydrant to keep his 60 acre property green.

Interestingly, dry places like California aren't the only places with water issues. Cities like London, Tokyo, and Miami are at risk for running out of water.

And some California cities are planning ahead.  The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has recently passed an ordinance, the first of it's kind, to require new developments to use onsite water reuse systems – like greywater and blackwater systems – for non-potable uses like toilet flushing and irrigation. This makes San Francisco the first city in the nation to require developments to install recycled water systems.  The legislation also pushes city departments to use non-potable water for all cleaning and irrigation of public spaces within the next 5 years. 

Another city in California, Encinitas, passed an ordinance requiring homes to be plumbed for greywater.
Southern California has been slow to incentivize greywater systems. Listen to Laura Allen on NPR's Air Talk discuss greywater as LADWP comes under increasing fire for it's lack of support for the resource. 
Book Give Away

Want to learn how to install your own water recycling systems? Enter this give away on Good Reads and you could win a copy of The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture, and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape.

Upcoming Workshops

Northern California and SF Bay Area:
  • Arcata. Free presentation: Create Your Own Water-Wise Home and Landscape. August 24th, 7pm, at the D Street Community Center in Arcata, CA. More information here.
  • Oakland. Hands-on greywater workshop. August 30th. 10am-5pm, cost $75. More information here.
Los Angeles area:
  • Drought Proof Your Landscape with Greywater. August 27th, 7pm at the Los Angeles EcoVillage. Cost is sliding scale $5-$15. More info here
  • LA. Design your own laundry greywater system. August 30th, 10am-12:30pm at the Los Angeles EcoVillage. Sliding scale fee $20-$40. More information and registration here.
  • Hands-on greywater installation workshop. September 5th, 11am-4pm at a private home in Topanga Canyon. Sliding scale $30- $100. More information and registration here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Facing the Challenge of Climate Change: Some Quaker Responses

I was pleased that Pacific Yearly Meeting invited Jose Aguto of FCNL to speak at our Annual Session (see his call to action below).

The Annual Session also approved statements calling for action on the part of Friends to address the climate crisis, which you can find at the links below.

Here is some important climate crisis work that FCNL is doing:

Dear Anthony,
With record-breaking droughts, heat waves, blizzards and floods now the norm, it's clear that extreme weather is here to stay. Now is the time for Congress to work across party lines and help people and communities across America adapt to the new abnormal.
Minutes ago, Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ) introduced the PREPARE Act to help plan for and respond to extreme weather. Please urge your representative to support this critical bipartisan legislation.
We've long supported the PREPARE Act as an important starting point for address the damages people and communities across the nation are experiencing because of extreme weather events. And we know that many of these events are exacerbated or caused by climate disruption. The bill's focus on "extreme weather" can spark a much-needed bipartisan conversation and action in Congress on global warming, its consequences, and more solutions.
As the planet warms, more and more people will be impacted by extreme weather events. We together must prepare for it. Let us help Congress be a pivotal part of the solutions.
Jose Aguto
Legislative Secretary
Sustainable Energy & Environment

Living Sustainably and Abundantly: Gray Water, Solar Power and Water-wise Gardening

Living Sustainably and Abundantly
Gray Water, Solar Power and
Water-wise Gardening 

You are  warmly invited to our presentation!

Where: Arroyo Food Coop
494 N Wilson Ave
Pasadena CA 91106
When: Saturday, August 1
2:00 PM

How to reduce water use by 50% and your carbon footprint by 80+% and still grow abundant fruits and vegetables organically and sustainably using gray water and drip systems.

For more info see Fifty shades of gray water

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Dead Sea Scrolls and The Untold Story of Africans in the Bible: Towards Honoring and Healing Our Community

You are invited to an event on Friday, July 24, that will help support the North Fair Oaks Empowerment Project. (See North Fair Oaks Empowerment Project). Please share this post with your friends here in Pasadena! 
The Dead Sea Scrolls and The Untold Story of Africans in the Bible: Towards Honoring and Healing Our Community
Rev. Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkinsimage297
Where: Greater New Guide Baptist Church
Pastor Sterling Brown
2162 Summit Ave
Altadena, CA 91001-5722 
When: Friday, July 24, 2015. 7:00-9:00 pm.
Suggested donation: $10.
Jamal-Dominique Hopkins (Ph.D., University of Manchester) is President/C.E.O. of the non-profit Christian think-tank, the Institute for Advanced African American Christian Thought Inc., and Founder and Director of J.D. Institute, a public intellectual institute engaged in social and cultural thought from a biblical perspective. He currently resides in Altadena with his family.Rev. Sterling Brown is founder and pastor of the Greater New Guide Baptist Church  and a member of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA)
Donations will be matched and go to the North Fair Oaks Empowerment Project, an initiative of churches, businesses and
individuals committed to improving this neglected section of Pasadena.
“Rev. Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is an important voice in the 21st-century Black Evangelical ‘schoolof the prophets.’ He speaks uniquely if not singularly to the Black academic excellence of scholarship in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”—National Black Evangelical Association, Chicago, IL

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Report of the Pacific Yearly Meeting Peace and Social Order Committee Clerk 2015

This is the report I plan to give at the 2015 Annual Session of Pacific Yearly Meeting. We are meeting at Walker Creek Ranch in Marin county--a beautiful area sacred to the Miwok people. I hope that wherever we live, and whereever we go, we remember and honor the original inhabitants of Turtle Island. That is the first step in restoring the earth and creating the Peaceable Kingdom.

 I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Miwok people, the original inhabitants of this beautiful place where we are meeting. I want to thank their ancestors and their elders. May we learn from their wisdom!
 I love being part of this yearly meeting and I love being part of the Quaker peace community, and I thank God that I can be here with you as clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee. I want to thank all of you who have made this Yearly Meeting possible through your committee work, through your participation, and through your donations. I want to give special thanks to our clerk, Steve Smith, for his leadership, his vision, his wisdom and his incredibly loving heart. I also want to thank Amy Cooke, the organizer of interest groups, for her hard work and her patience.
I’d like to begin this report by thanking all of you in this session who have done anything this year for peace and justice. Please stand, if you able, if you are a member of a Peace Committee or a peace group in your Meeting or community. Keep standing and we will hold you in the Light. Please stand if you have been arrested or visited someone in prison.  Please stand if you have fed or done anything to help a homeless person. Please stand if you have visited someone in the hospital or contributed clothing or food to a shelter. Please stand if you have signed a petition, written or visited an elected official, or attended a peace vigil. Please stand if you have taken part in a business meeting that approved a minute of concern from your Peace Committee. Friends, you are all peacemakers and you are all blessed. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The purpose of the Peace and Social Order Committee is to support your concerns for justice and peace. Each month the Peace Committee has a phone conference call, to which all are invited. Contact me at  if you’d like to be included. You can also learn more about peace concerns at my
 I am always inspired and encouraged when I hear of the wonderful work being done by Friends around issues of peace and justice  and Quaker  service. This year I especially want to lift up Lynnette Arnold for her remarkable work on behalf of refugee children crossing the border from Latin America. This spring she traveled to Karnes, Texas, to take part in an action supporting mothers who are being held in detention and have gone on a hunger strike. She has loving heart and a deep concern for the most vulnerable, at-risk children and families who are seeking a safe haven in our privileged land.
The  Peace and Social Order Committee is sponsoring four interest groups dealing with the following concerns.
1.      Mass Incarceration and Restorative Justice: This is an AFSC interest group convened by Laura Magnani and her colleague, Jerry Elster, a former incarcerated man who has become our healing justice coordinator.
2.      A Quaker response to the increased migration of Latin American children and  families, an interest group led by The Child Refugee and Migration Subcommittee of the Latin American Concerns Committee.
3.      Stopping Lethal Drone Warfare:  Two years ago PYM approved a minute calling for Friends to oppose militarized drone warfare.  This workshop will provide an update and action suggestions for implementing that minute based on the Princeton Theological Seminary lethal drone warfare conference held at the end of January with 150 interfaith participants, including around 10 Friends.  Presented by AFSC's Stephen McNeil.  
4.      Friends Peace Teams. This is a Spirit-led organization working around the world to develop long-term relationships with communities in conflict to create programs for peacebuilding, healing and reconciliation.

There are many other interest groups devoted to peace and justice not sponsored by PSO, but worth mentioning and attending. I especially want to lift up the presentation by Jose Aguto of FCNL on the challenge of worldwide environmental decay, and from Paula Palmer of Intermountain Yearly Meeting, who will present her powerful workshop, “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with America’s Native Peoples.”
The main concern to surface this year in both SCQM and College Park Quarterly Meeting has been immigration, and the plight of refugee children crossing the border from Latin America. The Latin American Concerns Committee of PYM has appointed a special subcommittee devoted to this concern; and the Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City is deeply involved in immigration and migrant issues. Six Meetings—Santa Barbara, Inland Valley, Humboldt Redwood Forest, Sacramento, Orange Grove Meeting-- have approved minutes of concern regarding the plight of refugee children crossing the border; and La Jolla Meeting is currently considering one.  
I encourage you to support the efforts of the AFSC and FCNL to promote humane and fair immigration reform. See AFSC:  and also
The six  minutes approved so far can be found online at:  
         Finally, here is action recommended by AFSC - click on the link to send a letter to your Congressperson asking them to vote in favor of a budget amendment that would get rid of the "bed mandate" that requires 34,000 immigrant detention beds to be filled every day:
As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, each of us has different gifts. Some are called to vocal ministry, some to committee work, some to prayer, and some to prophetic witness. If we are going to be a healthy, Spirit-led community, we need to support each other in our gifts and callings. I don't expect each of you to get arrested, or to visit your elected officials, or to write articles, as I and others in our Quaker peace movement have done. Some of you are called to sign a petition or to say, "Approved," when a minute of concern is presented. Some of you feel led to raise questions and challenge us to be more authentic in seeking to follow the leadings of the Spirit. This is also good and necessary work. Whatever you are led to do, do it with love and respect, and we will be the beloved community that God intends us to be. Thank you, Friends. for being Friends....

The Pope’s Encyclical Laudato Si from a Quaker Perspective

The Pope’s Encyclical Laudato Si is an historic and prophetic document that is already having a significant influence on the conversation about the global climate crisis. The leader of the Catholic Church, with a world-wide membership of over a billion people, cannot easily be dismissed, even by hard-core climate change deniers in our Congress.  A chemist by training, the Pope has taken pains to bring together some of the best minds in the Church to make this Encyclical both powerful and well-grounded in science, scripture and theology. In this Encyclical Francis provides a theological framework for what he calls “integral ecology.”  He calls for a change of heart, an “ecological conversion,” and proposes concrete actions, a change of lifestyle on both a personal and societal level. He addresses his Encyclical not only to Catholics, but to all people of faith and conscience. Reading this Encyclical, my “heart leapt for joy” (to use a phrase of Quaker founder George Fox). For years, I have held views similar to those expressed by the Pope, but with the power and authority of his office he has articulated them in a way that is profound, comprehensive, and impossible to ignore.
Quakers are not much given to theologizing. Ours is an experiential and practical religion.  Because of our Peace testimony, we also tend to look at the world through the lens of social justice and nonviolence. So I would like to examine the Pope’s Encyclical from this perspective.

Letting Our Lives Speak

The Quaker phrase, “Let your life speak,” implies that what we do is often more important that what we say. What impresses me about Pope Francis (as well as Pope Benedict) is a practical commitment to living the church’s social teachings. Following the example of his namesake, Pope Francis has chosen to live as simply as possible. During his papacy Benedict XVI undertook green initiatives that made Vatican City the “greenest state in the world” and earned Benedict the title “the green pope” ( The Vatican’s solar panels provide enough energy to sustain all 40,000 of its households. Pope Francis is simply preaching what Benedict practiced.
This reminds me of our Quaker lobby, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). In 2003, FCNL (the oldest religious lobby in Washington, DC) began renovating its Civil War era office and became the first LEED certified Green Building on Capitol Hill, with a vegetative roof, geothermal heating and cooling, light scoops, and other energy-saving measures. By modeling the change it would like to see in the world, FCNL has more credibility when it lobbies for environmental legislation. Inspired by this example, my wife and I made our home in Pasadena a model of sustainability. We installed solar panels and purchased a plug in Chevy Volt, which reduced our electrical consumption by over 90% and our gasoline consumption by over 50%. We replaced our sprinklers with a highly efficient drip watering system. We replaced our water-guzzling grass with decomposed granite and mulch. And we installed a gray water system that recycles thousands of gallons of water from our washing machine and bath tub to water our 19 fruit trees.  During a time when California is experiencing a drought of biblical proportions—the worst in 1200 years—we cut our water consumption by over 50% and still have a highly productive organic garden. An environmental journalist in local newspaper wrote about us, and now groups and individuals come to our home on a regular basis to see what we have done, and are inspired to take similar steps.
I am pleased to see that the Vatican City, and the Pope, are taking practical steps on a much grander scale to demonstrate their commitment to what the theologian John Cobb calls “an ecological civilization.”  When the Pope preaches what the Vatican practices, his message is extremely compelling.

Social Justice and Sustainable Cities

Francis’ main concern is with the poor and marginalized—those who are suffering most from climate change and the pollution caused by industrial society. The Pope’s ecological vision includes not only wilderness areas, but also rural areas and cities—what he calls “human ecology.”  According to Francis, there is no separation between the human and the natural world. Cities affect the natural world, and vice versa. Francis’ vision of a sustainable city is one in which all people—rich and poor—feel interconnected. Francis makes it clear that the word “ecology” comes from the Greek word meaning “home,” and an ecological civilization is one in which every person is decently housed:

152. Lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world, both in rural areas and in large cities, since state budgets usually cover only a small portion of the demand. Not only the poor, but many other members of society as well, find it difficult to own a home. Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families. This is a major issue for human ecology. In some places, where makeshift shanty towns have sprung up, this will mean developing those neighborhoods rather than razing or displacing them. When the poor live in unsanitary slums or in dangerous tenements, “in cases where it is necessary to relocate them, in order not to heap suffering upon suffering, adequate information needs to be given beforehand, with choices of decent housing offered, and the people directly involved must be part of the process”.[118] At the same time, creativity should be shown in integrating rundown neighborhoods into a welcoming city: “How beautiful those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favor the recognition of others!”[119]

My wife Jill Shook, an Evangelical Christian who has written a book about faith-based affordable housing models, was thrilled to read this insightful passage. It reminded her of what T.J. Gorridge calls the “theology of the built environment”: the values implicit in the ways our cities are planned and built. As people of faith, we need to make sure that not only our homes, but also our cities reflect our theological and moral values. This is the core teaching of the Pope’s ecological vision.

War and the Environment

Francis is following in the footsteps of Pope John XXII. In 1963, just before his death, Pope John issued an Encyclical called Pacem in Terris, calling on all men and women (not just Catholics) to work for human rights, social justice and nuclear nonproliferation.  In his 21st century Encyclical, Pope Francis calls on all people to care for God’s creation and recognizes that one of the greatest threats to the environment, and to human betterment, is war:
57. It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims. War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons.
The Pope is clearly aware that conflicts over resources, caused by climate change and political systems dependent on war, will escalate unless steps are taken to live sustainably. The military is one of the greatest polluters in the world, driving people from their homes and making their lands uninhabitable with land mines, cluster bombs, and a host of toxic chemicals.  As a Quaker peace activist and environmentalist, I would argue that we cannot solve our ecological crisis if we don’t dismantle the war system that pollutes and dominates the world.
Ending the war system may seem an even more daunting task than solving the environmental crisis, but we should not forget that religious activists (including Quakers and Evangelical Christians) played a major role in ending (or at least illegalizing) slavery, an institution as old and entrenched as war. A Quaker-inspired group called “War Beyond War,” founded by David Hartsough, one of the leading Quaker peace activists of our time, has brought together scholars, activists and experts in peace studies to explore practical steps to helping humanity transition from a war system to a peace system, from a culture of war to a culture of peace. As the Pope makes clear, we need drastic, fundamental changes if human beings are going to survive beyond the 21st century.
This inward and social transformation will not be easy. As the Pope wisely notes, we need to cultivate our inward life through prayer, meditation, and communion. Silent, unprogrammed worship is the heart of our Quaker faith, and the basis for our activism. We believe that through worship, we can more deeply connect with our “that of God” in ourselves and in others, including those in the natural world. This leads us to compassionate action. I found especially moving Francis’ prayer at the end of his Encyclical:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
hat we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Pope Francis has inspired and challenged us with a powerful and far-reaching vision, and his down-to-earth practicality. In September, he plans to speak to the US Congress, and in December he will address the UN. Drawing together faith leaders of diverse traditions, as well as reaching out to political leaders, the Pope has proven himself to be a lobbyist par excellence. He has shown his political effectiveness by persuading President Obama to recognize Cuba. I hope he will prove even more effective in mobilizing the world to take action on climate change, the gravest crisis of our era.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Highlights of Our Earth-Friendly Home

We often take friends and neighbors on a tour of our earth-friendly home, so we'd like you to take a virtual tour. Over the past year, we've cut our water use by 50% and our electricity use by over 90% and we've had fun making our yard as green, beautiful and productive as possible. We'd love to share it with you!
Let’s begin at Faith Park, the area in front of our home with benches, a drinking fountain and a Little Library. We’ll then walk along the driveway to the chicken coop and compost bins, and finish at our back house. Along the way we’ll explain our theology (love your neighbor, neighborhood and watershed) and share practical ways to be good stewards of God’s creation.

  1.   Faith Park is an expression of our core theology: “Love Your Neighbor(hood).”  This front yard park was designed so that neighbors of all ages would come by and enjoy it.  The Little Library that our formerly homeless friend Mark built has become a magnet for book lovers. The peace pole in eight languages invites our neighbors to think about peacemaking. The hammock (which kids love) was purchased through Ten Thousand Villages, supporting handicrafts in developing nations. The drinking fountain was donated by our plumber Ziggy. The benches were restored by Mark. Most of the stones were recycled, except for the serpentine, California’s state rock, which Jill found and added.
  2.   Turf removal. This was made affordable thanks to the City’s incentive program ($2 per square foot, or $2000 for the entire job—about half what our landscaper charged us). Many yards in California reflect the aesthetics of an English garden, or a manor house, with a grassy lawn. Our drought-tolerant and native plants express love for our California landscape: the chaparral, the Hahamongna Watershed. The theologian Ched Myer speaks of “watershed discipleship”: be aware of where your water comes from, for it is the source of life and therefore sacred. About 40-50% of our domestic water comes from ground water. If we cut our home water use by 50%, we wouldn’t have to import water from elsewhere. Water is considered a right in some countries (like France) and a commodity in the US (the poor are deprived of water when they can’t pay their bills). Water is an important symbol in the Bible. It signifies transition from slavery to freedom (crossing the Red Sea and Jordan), from spiritual death to spiritual life (baptism). Water (and the lack thereof) was also source of conflict and a moral concern in the Bible, since Israel, like California, was prone to droughts. See Jeremiah 17:79; Amos 4:7; 2 Chronicles 7:13-74; Isaiah 35:7; Haggai 1:8-12.
  3.  Decomposed granite and permeability. Grass soaks up water like a sponge. Rain that falls on concrete and asphalt usually ends up flowing to the street and down to the ocean. Decomposed granite allows rainfall to percolate down into the water table, where it can be reused locally.
  4.   Raised beds. 70% of domestic water use goes to water lawns and landscape.  Use of drip water system reduces water use by more than 50% and produces fewer weeds than surface watering. “Spaghetti” hoses allow water to be directed to specific plants. Netaphim, a self-cleaning drip system, can be placed underground where the roots are.
  5.   Mulch. Reduces water use, deters weeds, and helps to fertilize and aerate the soil. Straw has the added benefit of repelling sow bugs from strawberries, thereby eliminating the need for pesticide.
  6.   Monarch butterfly garden. Milk weed is the only plant where monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Over 80% of milk weed have been destroyed by pesticide, thereby putting these butterflies at risk of extinction.
  7.  Organic gardening. Use of chemicals in gardening and farming has proved to be extremely harmful to humans as well as to other animals. Herbicides and insecticides degrade soil and kill many useful plants and animals, leading to a loss of biodiversity, with dozens of species going extinct each day. Good stewardship of God’s creation means avoiding pesticides and herbicides and gardening organically.
  8. Solar panels and plug in hybrid car. Our system supplies 90% of electricity for our home and plug in car (a Chevy Volt, that goes 40 miles per battery charge and averages 88 miles per gallon). For those who can’t afford solar, the City offers a plan to purchase renewable energy for an extra 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. (That would mean an extra $130 per year, assuming you use 5500 kilowatt hours: about $11 per month.)
  9.  Grape vine and fig tree. Vision of Micah of a world without war, and with affordable housing for all. “Every one ‘neath their vine and fig tree will live in peace and unafraid. And into ploughshares turn their swords, Nations shall learn war no more.” This is the theme song of our marriage, and we love to sing it to our guests!
  10. 10)   Gray water from kitchen, washing machine and bathtub. Saves 10,000-30,000 gallons of water per year. Tucson, AZ, offers up to $1000 in incentives for homeowners to install a gray water system.  California state rules require that gray water be emitted 2 inches below ground. Gray water systems also require rethinking our cleaning products. We must avoid harsh chemicals like bleach, boron, salt, etc. and rely on earth-friendly products like vinegar, Castille soap, lemon, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and detergents that are specially designed for gray water use. We have also trained our cleaning ladies to use these products, so they can advertise themselves as being “eco-friendly.” See for a list of recipes in English and Spanish.
  11. Our nineteen fruit trees watered by gray water. Besides providing delicious fruit, home-grown fruit trees save water and fossil fuel. For example, each commercially grown orange requires 14 gallons of water and must be shipped using fossil fuel. We produce hundreds of pounds of apricots, citrus and avocadoes, using recycled water!
  12. Compost from yard and kitchen waste, chicken poop, and worm farm. Provides natural fertilizer and mulch and reduces the amount of waste sent to the landfill.
  13. Back house.  Second units are legal statewide and could provide a significant amount of affordable housing, but local ordinances in Pasadena and other cities make them very hard to get permitted. This back house meets legal requirement because of its size (10X12) and the way it was built on pilings (making it technically a shed and requiring only a $35 permit). Use was made of recyled material, such as old denim for insulation.
  14. Passive solar. The passive solar unit on the roof of our back house was a science experiment built with recycled material by a high school student. Sunlight heats a water heater that has been stripped of insulation and painted black. It was placed in a glass enclosure that provides at least 2 inches of air as insulation and retains the heat. Water flows down to a bathtub shower outside. (The tub belonged to Jill’s grandmother.) This simple solar system heats water to over 100 degrees in the summer!
  15.  Open your home to a homeless person. By welcoming a formerly homeless man into our home, we are not only being good neighbors, we are also making good use of extra  space (American homes are typically twice as large as they were a generation ago). Since our friend Mark is a handyman, his presence is mutually beneficial.