Thursday, March 24, 2016

House, Don't Punish, Homeless People: An Open Letter to the Pasadena City Council

Dear City Council members:

I have been attending meetings of the Safety Committee regarding efforts to make it illegal for homeless people to sleep in public places and to make it easier for police to arrest homeless people for “aggressive panhandling.”  As  a  person of faith, I  can’t help  thinking that  this week  many of us  are  honoring the  memory  of a homeless  man who  came to preach  good  news  to  the  poor.  Because he was seen as a threat to those in power, he was arrested by the authorities, tortured  and killed.  He had so much compassion for the marginalized that he told  his followers, “As you do to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do  for me.”
I have been involved  with  the homeless  people for many years and have homeless friends. In fact, two years ago Jill and I took into our home a man who was living in his car. He was drinking a lot, and was so sick we were afraid he was going to die. He recovered and has stayed with us and become a huge asset. He is not only a highly competent handyman, he also helps us to understand what life is like for homeless people in our city. If you want to solve the homeless “problem” in our City, I recommend that you get to know homeless people.
Since coming to Pasadena  five  years, I have been involved with the homeless count. Last year, when I was  counting the homeless,  I  noticed  half  a dozen homeless  people  sleeping in front  of  the  deluxe animal  shelter near  the Delmar  Station and  I  asked  myself, What’s wrong  with this picture?  We provide  humane shelter  for  stray animals, but what  about people  who are homeless?
I  am  glad  that  our  city believes every  homeless person deserves  a  decent  place  to  live, and I  commend  the efforts of our Housing  Department and  many citizens of good will. But until  such time as the  city provides  a  decent  shelter  for  every  homeless person,  I believe homeless people should be  allowed  to sleep on  sidewalks and public  places.
I can understand  why some Pasadenans feel  intimidated  by homeless  people. Some of them have disabilities, mental  problems,  or  substance  abuse  issues.  Life  on  the  street  is so  stressful  it  can cause people  to act out  in  strange  and sometimes frightening  ways. 
Given these  disturbing realities,  it  seems  to me that  we need to look at root causes rather than symptoms. Why is there an apparent increase of inappropriate behavior by homeless people? What is causing it? Until we know the cause of a problem, we can’t come up with solutions
My Christian faith teaches me that we don’t more  punitive   laws, we  need  more  compassionate  practices  that can help  homeless  people  to behave  appropriately and find the help  they need.  I’m  glad that the business  community  recognizes  the need  for homeless  services  and  housing.
When we ask police  to  deal with homeless  people, we  need to  insure  that  they have  training and mentoring  from  mental  health professionals  so  they can  learn  how  to  treat  homeless  people   appropriately. This is a very challenging task.
Last year a youtube video  went viral showing how four Swedish police officers vacationing  in New York City helped to calm down two homeless  black  men  who  were fighting  in  the  subway.  The behavior of these two men was  very aggressive and  scary, but  these Swedish police  didn’t threaten  him. “Take it easy, just relax, everything is going to be okay,” one of the officers told the detained man while he frantically screamed that he couldn’t breathe. This seemed to calm him, and the officer asked if he was injured with a kind and gentle hand on his back. The officer seemed genuinely concerned about his well being. By showing  concern  for this  homeless  man’s   welfare,  the police were able to calm him down. This is the kind of policing we need here in Pasadena and throughout the USA. See Swedish police in NYC subway 
When business people and property owners complain about the homeless, it is politically expedient to call in the cops.   But I  wonder what good will it  do to fine or  incarcerate people  who have no money and  nowhere to  live. If  you fine  them, they have  no funds so they will  have to  resort  to  more  aggressive panhandling to pay their  fines.  If  you  jail  them, they return  to  the  streets even more traumatized  and more  likely to act out.  These  punitive  measures  are  not  only counterproductive, they are  expensive.  LA  spends $88 million out of its $100 million homeless budget on enforcement, with  little good  to  show  for it. Does Pasadena  want to follow  LA’s  bad example?

Instead of targeting  homeless  people  with punitive laws that don’t work,  we should follow  the example  of  Rhode Island,  which  passed a homeless  bill of rights. A similar law  is  being  considered  in California. Even without such  a bill of rights,  we  should  recognize that homeless people  have rights,  just  like property owners.  One basic right  is  housing. If we house the homeless, and give them wrap-around services,  most problems would  disappear.  Studies show  these measures even save money. So let’s  be compassionate and wise,   and use our  resources  to  house,  not punish, homeless   people. As we do for the least of these, our brothers and sisters, we also do for the one who bestowed on us all the blessings we enjoy. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Quaker Testimony on Sustainability: Some Resources

Jill and I had a blast  facilitating an Easter/spring retreat with Orange County Friends, which took place in Camp Stevens, an Episcopalian retreat center in the beautiful mountains of San Diego county, not far from the quaint 19th century gold mining town of Julian.  Around 20 Friends participated. We were pleased that Orange County Friends are eager to know more about the Sustainability Testimony that is becoming increasingly important to Friends (and everyone) world-wide.
We shared our experience at the FWCC World Plenary in Peru where over 320 Friends from around the world unanimously approved a statement on Sustainability. I believe that just as the Peace Testimony brought Friends together for the first world conference of Friends in 1920 (right after World War I), the Sustainability Testimony is uniting Friends from around the world in the 21st century as we face the challenge of climate disruption. See FWCC World Plenary in Peru
We also discussed the way we "greened" our home as well as policies that help green our cities. We shared about our gray water system and how to make non-toxic, earth-friendly cleaning products..See Greening our home.

Least but not least, we  shared the spiritual basis for Sustainability which can be found in the Bible, the writings of early Friends, and the advices and queries of modern Friends. . Scroll down past these Quaker organizations working for sustainability to see our list of resources.

Biblical Perspectives on Creation

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." --Psalm 19:1-4

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. --Psalm 24:1

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. --Psalm 96:11-13

All creation is yearning for the revealing of the children of God.–Romans 8:19. (The Bible verse for the 2016 FWCC World Plenary in Pisac, Peru)

 Testimonies on Sustainability from Early Friends

God's works declare his power, wisdom and goodness; but man's works, for the most part declare his pride, folly and excess. God's are for practical use; man's works are chiefly for show and lust. (222) From William Penn’s Fruits of Solitude

It would be better if we studied nature more in natural things; and acted the way nature does; whose rules are few, plain and most reasonable…. That would go a long way to caution and direct people in their use of the world, if they were better studied and understanding in the creation of it. For how could man find the confidence to abuse the things of the creation, when they could see the great creator stare them in the face, in all and every part of it? (9-13) From William Penn’s Fruits of Solitude

I have known landholders who…being intent on paying their debts by raising grain, have by too much tilling, so robbed the earth of its natural fatness, that the produce thereof has grown light…The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious Creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.—John Woolman

Care of the Natural World
Queries adapted from Southwest Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice


·         Do we seek live in harmony with nature amidst the messiness and confusion of modern life? If so, how?
·         Do we seek to live in keeping with the spirit of the unity, sacredness, and integrity of all creation? If so, how?
·         How do we seek to minimize our consumption of the earth's resources?
·         Do we encourage equitable and sustainable use of those resources?
·         Do we walk, drive, fly, etc. gently over the earth, seeing that of God in all of nature?
·         How do we seek to educate ourselves, our children, our meeting, and our community about how our lives can be more sustainably?
·         How does the meeting strive to bring all its practices in harmony with the natural world?

Advices from Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice (quoted by Doug Gwyn in A Sustainable Life):

·         #39: Consider which of the ways to happiness offered by society are truly fulfilling and which are potentially destructive. Be discriminating when choosing means of entertainment and information. Resist the desire to acquire possessions or income through unethical investment, speculation or games of chance.
·         #41: Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?
·         #42: We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a living consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to insure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendor of God’s continuing creation.

Faith-based Environmental Organizations

Interfaith Power and Light:
Quaker Earthcare Witness: 
Other organizations:

Citizen Climate Lobby
Recommended readings:

Doug Gwyn, A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation (2013)
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (2015)

Scientific  Perspectives

To learn how to respond to climate change deniers who cherry-pick evidence to argue against global warming, see and Al Gore’s

Thursday, March 17, 2016

God wept.... and then took action: the message of Palm Sunday

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” 

-- Luke 19:41-44English Standard Version (ESV)

The time of Palm Sunday draws near, a time to reflect on Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This was a  moment of  incredible joy but also of tears. Jesus' disciples and the people of Jerusalem rejoiced because they saw in Jesus a liberator who would redeem them from Roman oppression.  But Jesus had a different view of freedom, and knew its price. In Luke's account, Jesus wept over the city, anticipating its destruction because it didn't know "the things that make for peace." He made it clear he had come to liberate not just individuals, but also the city that is considered the spiritual heart of Judaism.

For Jesus, as for many people, the city itself has a spirit and even its stones are alive. When Jill and I went to Peru and saw the stonework of the Incas, we felt the aliveness of  the stones that they considered sacred. Today Jews pray to the stones of the temple destroyed by the Romans and call it the "wailing wall." According to the prophets, the stones of a city have emotions and "cry out" because of the injustice and violence they have witnessed. 

When the Pharisees criticized Jesus' disciples for proclaiming him the Messiah, the King of the Jews--a statement that the Romans would consider subversive and an act of rebellion, Jesus responded,  "If my disciples remained silent, the very stones would cry out." He was alluding to a well-known passage of the prophet Habakuk:

You have devised a shameful thing for your house by cutting off many peoples; so you are sinning against yourself. Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework. "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence!"… (Habakuk 2:10-12)

Jesus saw that violence was endemic in the city of Jerusalem--Romans imposing their rule through violence, and Jews violently resisting Roman hegemony. Jesus understood that violence is not the answer. "Those who live by the sword perish by the sword," he told his disciples when they to used violence to try to rescue him. Jesus came to rescue Jerusalem and all humanity through the power of nonviolence, the power of self-sacrificial love.

This Gospel was written down after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Zealous Jews had driven out the Roman army using violent means, and the Romans had responded with utterly brutal retaliation. They razed the Temple to the ground, used its gold to build the Coloseum,  and drove the Jews into exile, much as Jesus had predicted.

No doubt many Jews wondered: What was God doing when our City was ravaged by the Romans? Why did he destroy us?

Jesus provided an answer. God wept. And then God took action. He sent His son, His anointed one, to show "the ways that lead to peace."

This story reminded me of a time when my seven-year-old nephew asked me what God looked like. My sister is not a church goer and my nephew had not been to Sunday school, but he was a curious boy with a questioning mind. I didn't give him an answer, but told him that when we went to the Metropolitan Museum, I would show him how artists have portrayed God. When we went to the museum, he avidly studied the icons in the Medieval section but said very little. Afterwards, we went to a Chinese restaurant where crayons and paper were provided for children. My nephew decided to draw his image of God.

What my nephew drew was amazing: Jesus on the cross, with two thieves on crosses next to him. In the sky was a picture of God's bearded face, and tears were pouring from his eyes.

That picture was etched in my mind.  God weeping over this horrendous scene, his tears falling like rain.

But God and Jesus did not simply weep. They also took action. After his tears dried, Jesus boldly went into Jerusalem. Filled with righteous rage, he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and spoke truth to power. He  resisted oppression through nonviolence, and let himself be arrested and punished, even to death. He set an example for us of what it means to be a nonviolent liberator.

God also took action. He didn't allow Jesus, his beloved, to rot in a grave. God raised Jesus from the dead, to the amazement of his grieving followers. Through the power of a love that cannot be killed, the resurrected Christ started a movement that transformed the world.

The tears of God and of Jesus became a river of love and justice, flowing like a mighty stream throughout the course of history. This is the message of Palm Sunday. May we enter that prophetic stream and follow the ways that lead to justice and peace!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Palm Sunday Peace Parade: a Life-Changing Experience!

Little did I know when I went to the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena five years ago I would meet Jill Shook and my life would never be the same. Three weeks after we met, I proposed. She said "Yes"  and five months later she and I were married. During our wedding ceremony, we affirmed, and we are still convinced, that "the Prince of Peace brought us together for a purpose greater than either of us can imagine."

Jill and I also joked about our encounter with Bert Newton, founder and organizer of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. We invited him to take part in our wedding since it would never have occurred without him. We also told him he could use us to advertise this annual Palm Sunday event:

 "Maybe you should let singles know that this parade can be a great place to hook up, and meet someone special...."

I am excited that this year's Peace Parade will focus on Immigrants and Refugees. As the child of an undocumented Greek immigrant, I feel the pain of those who are fleeing the violence in their homelands and seek a safe haven here in the USA. I feel we have a moral responsibility to welcome them since the violence in the Middle East and Central America has been caused in great part by our benighted foreign policies. We also have a biblical mandate to welcome them since we are told by God 34 times: "Treat the foreigners among you like your native born, for your ancestors were once foreigners."

This family-friendly peace witness and public worship event begins at 3:00 pm with a short sending ceremony at Reformation Church (see below) and proceeds to the intersection of Garfield and Colorado for music and brief words of wisdom and inspiration. Participants are encouraged to wear life vests, carry posters, and bring children’s wagons made up to look like boats. Children can ride in the wagon-boats along the parade route, carrying banners and stories of refugees throughout history—including Jesus, who, decades before riding into Jerusalem, found refuge in Egypt from the terror of a tyrant.

Hope to see you there, waving palm branches and peace signs!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Can Quaker Faith without Practice Be Spiritually Alive?

Once a year, Quaker Meetings are asked to write “state of the meeting reports,” a practice that Minneapolis Friends describe as follows:

State of Society Reports are a long-standing Quaker custom. They are annual reports written by a monthly meeting (a local congregation) to the yearly meeting (regional group) with which it is affiliated, describing the condition of the monthly meeting — its strengths, challenges, spiritual health; responding to posed queries, offering statistics and practical information

This year, our Quarterly Meeting Ministry and Council Committee requested that monthly meetings submit state of the meeting reports that describe only the "spiritual state of the meeting." They don't want a "laundry list of activities.” While I can understand their dislike of laundry lists (please don’t tell me how many shirts you washed this year!), this request implies that the spiritual life can be separated from the active life.

When I heard this, red flags went up and my immediate response was: Why are we creating a false dichotomy between the spiritual and active life? Faith and practice are two sides of the same coin. If our lives are grounded in the Spirit of Love and Truth, then our actions will flow out of our prayer life and our faithful actions will deepen our prayer life. In other words, the more we are truly faithful to Divine will, the more we will experience (and rejoice in) the Divine Presence.

When we focus only on the inward life, and on our subjective feelings, we run the risk of becoming spiritually narcissistic. This is sometimes called “navel gazing.” When we focus only on activism, we can lose our connection with Divine Love and can become compulsive. Neither approach brings deep joy and peace.

Separating the active and spiritual life is counter to both Christianity and Quakerism. In an epistle that was very popular among early Friends, James says, “Faith without works is dead” and adds that “real religion is about helping the widows and orphans, and staying unspotted by the world” (James 2:14-26). This parallels what Jesus says, “By their fruits you will know them (Matt 17: 6)”

Echoing this sentiment, William Penn wrote: “True godliness [a 17th century term we could translated as “spirituality”] does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”

Howard Brinton and Rufus Jones championed the idea that Quakerism is a mystical religion and that our unprogrammed Meeting for Worship is the heart of our Quaker practice, yet they were also deeply involved in activism, wholeheartedly supporting the American Friends Service Committee and similar endeavors. Brinton gave the best definition I know of “inner peace”: he said it was listening to the Inward Guide and doing what it dictated. This means putting our faith into practice.

I am pleased to report that the Peace and Social Concerns (PSC) Committee in our Meeting is thriving by putting our faith into practice. I thank God for this Committee since some Meetings are laying down their Peace Committees due to lack of enthusiasm or interest. I believe that a thriving Peace Committee is a sign of spiritual health in a Meeting since the most distinctive feature of Quakerism is our Peace Testimony.

How do I know that PSC Committee is thriving? First, we have a good turnout: eight to ten Friends show up each month. Second, those who attend feel happy and hopeful (unlike some other committees, where members complain of burnout). Third, we are doing good work. I’d like to list what has been deleted from our state of the meeting report.

PSO distributed $11,000 to worthy local causes, and also supports our Quaker organizations like FNCL, FCL-CA, AFSC, etc. Two members of PSC went to FCNL Lobby Day. Two minutes of action seasoned by PSC were approved by business meeting--one calling for the US to welcome Syrian refugees and another in support of the "Facing Climate Change" minute approved by Pacific Yearly Meeting. In response to this minute, Property Committee has decided to take part in Pasadena's Green Power program, which allows customers to purchase 100% renewable energy at a slightly higher cost. PSC is also helping the Meeting to discern priorities for FCNL.

Having accomplished these things, with Divine Assistance and the support of our Meeting,  it is no wonder that the Peace Committee is happy and enthusiastic (a word that literally means “filled with God”). When we work in harmony with each other and with the Divine, we experience what Paul calls the "fruit of the Spirit:  joy, peace, love, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). It is significant that “joy” is listed first.

I hope and pray that all the Friends in our Meeting, as well as all people seeking to live in accordance with Divine Goodness, experience the joy that comes from putting faith into practice.

Friday, March 4, 2016

How do we rekindle the fire and spirit of the Peace Testimony in our Friends Meetings, our communities and our nation? Pacific Yeary Meeting Peace Committee Report:

Report of PSO Committee for PYM Rep Com

 submitted by Anthony Manousos and Stephen McNeil

 The Peace and Social Order Committee of PYM has had phone conference calls on a more or less monthly basis, but attendance has been down.  (All are welcome to take part.) Peace Committees seem to be languishing in many Meetings. Hence, the relevance of the title of an interest group proposed by David Hartsough, lifelong Quaker peace activist from San Francisco: How do we rekindle the fire and spirit of the Peace Testimony in our Friends Meetings, our communities and our nation?

David Brietzmann (San Francisco Meeting) and Linnea Hanson (Chico Meeting) are surveying Friends Meetings of Pacific Yearly Meeting to find out how meetings are serving and helping their communities. Your input would be greatly appreciated. Orange Grove Meeting approved a minute, based on a statement by FNCL,  calling on our elected officials to allow at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, along with other refugees (including those from Latin America), to find a safe haven in our country. We are wondering: what other minutes have been approved in other Monthly Meetings? What are Meetings doing to promote peace and justice?

 PSO is encouraging Meetings to consider priorities for FCNL and send them to Washington, DC, before the April 15 deadline. This year the focus of FCNL is on Atrocity Prevention.

 Follow-up on the 2015 minute "Facing the Climate Crisis" approved by PYM.  Sacramento Friends Meeting, at its Business Meeting on October 11, 2015, approved endorsing the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Carbon Fee and Dividend letter with the Clerk signing on behalf of the Meeting. Orange Grove Meeting Friends came to unity in support of the this minute approved by Pacific Yearly Meeting and over 40 other Quaker groups and organizations. During the FWCC gathering in Peru in January, 2016, Friends approved a statement calling for each Yearly Meeting to take at least two concrete actions to support sustainability. It is becoming increasingly clear that the environmental crisis and sustainability have become global concerns felt by Friends world-wide. What action has your Monthly Meeting taken in response to the climate crisis?

 The PSO Committee approved the following interest groups:

  1.  How are Friends Meetings Serving and Helping Communities? David Brietzmann (San Francisco Meeting) and Linnea Hanson (Chico Meeting) are surveying Friends Meetings of Pacific Yearly Meeting to find out how meetings are serving and helping their communities. Their interest group will highlight some of the different ways that meetings are providing service. They would like to develop a spreadsheet that can be posted on the Western Friend website for all Friends to use to post their service activities.
  2. The 2016 FWCC World Plenary in Peru and its minute on sustainability. Presentations by PYM Friends who took part in this world-wide Quaker gathering, which unanimously agreed on a sustainability minute calling for specific actions by individuals and meetings. What does this minute, and the work of FWCC, mean for the Society of Friends? Led Anthony Manousos (Orange Grove Meeting), Jan Turner (Humboldt Meeting), Hulda Muaka (Palo Alto), Janet Leslie (Chico) and Roena Oesting (La Jolla).
  3. An AFSC presentation by "67 Suenos," an organization of high school in the Oakland area that raises the voices of undocumented high school students. See
  4. Waging Peace: How do we rekindle the fire and spirit of the Peace Testimony in our Friends Meetings, our communities and our nation? When the US is bombing seven Muslim nations, when the US and Russia are threatening nuclear war, the time is NOW when we must Speak Truth to Power with our words, our actions and our lives. Facilitated by David Hartsough (San Francisco Meeting) and Anthony Manousos (Orange Grove Meeting)/
  5. Quaker Involvement in Government.  FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) and FCL-CA (Friends Committee on Legislation—California) lobby to influence elected officials at the federal and state levels and often make ballot recommendations for us. I propose an interest group which focuses on and trains us to influence our local governments, especially our school boards. Friends should also campaign for like-minded candidate and/or run for office. Led by Janet Gastil (San Diego Meeting).
  6. Friends Peace Teams works for peace in many parts of the world.  San Diego Meeting just gave FPT Peace in Latin America a grant to help with its work.  FPT Asia West Pacific is establishing a Peace Center in Pati, Indonesia, where people from Asia West Pacific come to a yearly conference to learn about AVP and peaceful development.  The African Great Lakes Initiative is working to hold together the peace in Burundi which is unstable because the President wants an unconstitutional 3rd term. Led by Gay Howard (Central Coast).