Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tribute to Yevtushenko: Turning Walls into Bridges

Today at ICUJP I want to talk  a Russian poet who hated borders and walls  and loved to build bridges of understanding and connection through his poetry. His name is Evgeny Yevtushenko and he died recently at age 84, on April 1st of this year. He was in many ways the Bob Dylan of the Soviet Union—a quirky, passionate defender of human rights and freedom. He became world famous by writing a poem called Babi Yar that denounced anti-semitism. He also denounced Stalinism, war, and everything else that stifled the human spirit. While I was helping to edit a Quaker-inspired collection of poetry and fiction in the Reagan era, I got to travel to the Soviet Union and visit Yevtushenko in his summer home, his dacha, in Peredelkino.  I’d like to share with you a poem he wrote in 1984, during the period known as Glasnost or Openness. The poem is called “On Borders.”
Before I do, I’d like to say something about my own journey and how it brought me to the Soviet Union. Poetry was my entrée into the Quaker peace movement. I’ve loved poetry all my life but wasn’t able to connect it to peace making until I moved to Philadelphia in 1984 and became involved with the Quakers. I was drawn to a book project that was to be edited and published in both countries as a way to overcome stereotypes by showing that Americans and Russians are not enemies but human beings. This idea intrigued me and I became one of the book’s editors and publicists.
Yevgeny Yuvtushenko loved the idea of our book and was eager to meet with us Quakers, as were many other Soviet writers. And we were thrilled to meet with him since he was a kind of rock star.  When he gave readings at this time, tens of thousands of people would show up, cheering him wildly.
Yevtushenko published his first book of poems when he was only 19 years old and his early work gained admirers in the West that included Robert Frost. But what made him famous was Babi Yar, a poem named after a place in the Ukraine where over 30,000 Jews were massacred. When Yevtushenko visited Babi Yar, he was outraged to discover that no monument commemorated this terrible slaughter. Anti-semitism was rampant in the Ukraine and in Russia, and some Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazis to kill Jews. In this poem, Yevtushenko identifies with those Jews who were killed and persecuted. He wrote:

“I myself am one massive, soundless scream
Above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am each old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me will ever forget!
The “Internationale,” let is thunder
When the last anti-Semite on earth
Is buried forever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage, all anti-Semites
Must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason, I am a true Russian!

Yevtushenko saw himself as a true Russian, and true socialist,  because he had compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the victims of persecution. For Yevtushenkso, being a true Russian meant hating war and speaking out for justice. I’m sure he’d love to have visited a group like ours.
He was not a saint. He was an earthy Siberian who loved women and had many lovers and wives. When I met him, he had married his fourth and last wife, a teacher considerably younger than himself. He told us, “You probably think she seems very young. But when she is married to me for a while, she won’t seem so young.” The way he said it in his thick Siberian accent seemed very funny at the time.
He was also fascinated with religion. He wanted to know all about Quakerism and he shared with us how he gotten sick and visited a church and asked for healing in front of an icon. This was a surprising and a little shocking coming from a poet who grew up in a communist country where religion was frowned upon, but Yevtushenko had an open mind. He wasn’t interested in organized religion but he was certainly a spiritual person, like the poet Walt Whitman. He sensed the deep unity and connection between people and all life.
Today I’m sure he’d be appalled by Trumpism and the rise of bigoted nationalism in Europe and in Russia. Yevtushenko loved and was deeply rooted in his native land, but he was also an internationalist. From an early age he expressed his distaste for borders. In 1958, when he was 25 years old and there were severe travel restrictions on Russians traveling abroad, he wrote this simple, heart-felt and funny poem:


All these borders—
bug me! Nothing
do I know
of Buenos Aires , or
New York
–and I should
know! I should be able to go
to London
and walk around,
and talk to the people,
even if I can’t talk so good,
just walking
around. Like a little kid
I want to ride a bus
through Paris
some morning,
and I want an art
that is something
else, is an exciting sound—
like myself!

Yevtushenko’s poetry had a unique sound, brash, tender, naïve, worldly wise, passionate, funny, the sound of sometimes shockingly honest feeling, like Bob Dylan’s folk poetry. Yevtushenko’s poems spoke to a rising generation of Russians who were sick to death of the Iron Curtain and all that it represented. He became so popular the authorities didn’t know what to do with him, whether to jail him or hail him as a symbol of the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. Some radical dissidents considered him a sell out for not being more outspoken. But Yevtushenko was not afraid to take risks; he defended dissidents, and aligned himself with those on the cutting change of social change in his country. He was a dreamer, a visionary.
And his dream of overcoming borders come true. During the course of his career he traveled to over 92 countries to give poetry readings. And he got to teach in a place he loved—Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yes, he preferred Oklahoma to New York, probably because it reminded him of the little town where he grew in Siberia—Zima Station. Yevtushenko loved people, Americans as well as Russians…
That’s why we choose this poem to introduce our collection called the “The Human Experience.”
It’s a challenge to read one of Yevtushenko’s poems and do it justice.  A poet who heard Yevtushenko read in Madison, WI, wrote: 

Forget your slams, your rap, your Bukowski sputtering drunk on stage. Check out Yevtushenko if you ever get the chance. He brought all of Russia, poetry, history, culture, his life to the stage. He shouted, whispered, sang to the rafters, laughed, appeared humble, aggressive, defiant, flailed his arms, pranced around the stage, even walked into the audience, ala the old Phil Donahue, reciting his poems by heart to people—to women, especially.

Well, I’m not going to go quite that far, but I will wear my Russian hat and try my best to read like a Russian, and hopefully give you some sense of what this unique Russian poet is like.

A Verse from "Fuku"

In every border post
there's something insecure.
Each one of them

is longing for leaves and for flowers.
They say
the greatest punishment for a tree
is to become a border post.
The birds that pause to rest
on border posts
can't figure out
what kind of tree they've landed on.
I suppose
that at first, it was people who invented borders,
and then borders

started to invent people.
It was borders who invented police,
armies, and border guards.
It was borders who invented
customs-men, passports, and other shit.
Thank God,
we have invisible threads and threadlets,
born of the threads of blood
from the nails in the palms of Christ.
These threads struggle through,
tearing apart the barbed wire
leading love to join love
and anguish to unite with anguish.
And a tear,
which evaporated somewhere in Paraguay,
will fall as a snowflake
onto the frozen cheek of an Eskimo.
And a hulking New York skyscraper
with bruiseof neon,

mourning the forgotten smell of plowlands,
dreams only of embracing a lonely Kremlin tower,
but sadly that is not allowed .
The Iron Curtain,
unhappily squeaking her rusty brains,
probably thinks:
"Oh, if I were not a border,
if jolly hands would pull me apart
and build from my bloody remains
carousels, kindergartens, and schools."
In my darkest dreams see
my prehistoric ancestor:
he collected skulls like trophies
in the somber vaults of his cave,
and with the bloodied point of a stone spearhead
he marked out the first-ever border
on the face of the earth.
That was a hill of skulls.

Now it is grown into an Everest.
The earth was transformed
While borders still stand

and became a giant burial place.
we are all in prehistory.
Real history will start
when all borders are gone.
The earth is still scarred,
mutilated with the scars of wars.
Now killing has become an art,
when once it was merely a trade:
From all those thousands of borders
we have lost only the human one-
the border between good and evil.
But while we still have invisible threads
joining each self
with millions of selves,
there are no real superpower states.
Any fragile soul on this earth
is the real superpower.

My government
is the whole family of man, all at once.
Every beggar is my marshal,
giving me orders..
I recognize only one race 
the race of all races.
How foreign is the word foreigner!
I have four and a half billion leaders.
And I dance my Russian,
my death-defying dance
on the invisible threads
that connect the hearts of people.


Turning the Iron Curtain into a playground seemed like a poet’s fantasy in 1984, but
that’s in fact pretty much what happened with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War ended  thanks in part to dreamers like Yevtuskenko and peacenics like the Quakers and countless others. We not only dreamed of ending the Cold War, we also rolled up our sleeves and did our best to make it happen. As Yevtushenko said, 

My generation of poets did a lot of things to break the Iron Curtain. We wounded our hands breaking this Iron Curtain with our naked hands. We didn't work in gloves.” 

I think we can learn a lot from this extraordinary event. Today we need to use the same tools to break down the walls of Trumpism. We need imagination and hard work, we need poets and activists, workers and dreamers, teachers and students, people of faith and people of conscience, mothers and fathers, a coalition of all colors and ethnicities and sexual orientations, all working together to tear down walls of fear and build bridges of peace and understanding. As an American poet Robert Frost said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” Can I get an Amen?

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Ecological Conversion in a Threatened World" by Brian Treanor, Charles Casassa Chair and Professor of Philosophy Loyola Marymount University

A very appropriate event for Earth Day:

California State University, Los Angeles
Department of Philosophy and the Philosophy Club,
present the
Joseph Prabhu Fund for Interfaith Peace and Justice
special lecture by

Brian Treanor

Charles Casassa Chair and Professor of Philosophy
Loyola Marymount University
Ecological Conversion in a Threatened World

Thursday, April 27, 2017
3:00–4:30 PM
University Student Union-San Gabriel Room 313

Reception immediately following. Engineering & Technology, A-420

Cal State LA is located at the Eastern Ave. exit of the San Bernardino Freeway (10) a few miles east of downtown LA at the Long Beach Freeway (710).  For directions or parking information contact the Philosophy Department at 323-343-4180 or

Mennonites March for Peace and Justice Across the U.S. on Palm Sunday

[The Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena this year was a big success. Over 120 people took part, and many expressed a strong desire to get involved in the campaign to end homelessness and ensure affordable housing for all in our city. You can read about it in this article: Pasadena Now on the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. I was pleased to learn that other cities are copying our example and having peace events on Palm Sunday. Here's article written for a Mennonite newsletter  by Bert Newton, founder of the Pasadena Palm Sunday Peace Parade.]

Peace Parade in Harrisonburg, VA
Churches in at least four cities across the U.S held marches for peace and justice on Palm Sunday.

Organized by Elkhart Advocates for Peace and Justice (EAPJ), churches in Elkhart, IN held their 7th Palm Sunday Peace Parade, choosing the theme “Building Bridges Instead of Walls.” Wendell Wiebe-Powell, president of EAPJ, reports, “The parade started at the Hively Avenue Mennonite Church peace garden where participants read a pledge of nonviolence together. Introductory words mentioned that ‘this walk through the city is a reminder of that which is often neglected or forgotten - that peace and justice are central to the message of Palm Sunday and at the heart of the gospel more broadly, that we walk together to re-present a different way, a way that Jesus showed us, a way of reconciliation, a way of grace AND of peace.’ A few more people joined the procession at Prairie St. Mennonite and at St. James AME Church, ending up with around one hundred by the time the group reached the Elkhart Civic Plaza.”
Dr Jill Shook, catalyst, housing justice advocate, author
and professor at APU
Jim Bishop reports that in Harrisonburg, VA, approximately 60 people marched in their annual Palm Sunday Peace Parade from “Immanuel Mennonite Church, stopping several times to hear short speeches on immigration, prison reform and other justice issues. Participants came from Community Mennonite Church, Immanuel Mennonite, Early Church and Bethel AME.”
Churches in State College, PA held their second Palm Sunday Peace Walk, with stops to call attention to issues of education, civil rights, the environment, mass incarceration, and immigration. Ben Wideman reports that the “event is organized annually by 3rd Way Collective, University Mennonite Church’s campus ministry at Penn State University, however those in attendance represented more than a dozen local faith communities - mostly Christian denominations, but also folks from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and some representatives from our Muslim community.”
Delonte Gholston, pastor, social justice advocate and musician
Over 120 people from many different churches marched on Sunday in the 15th Annual Pasadena Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Begun by Mennonites in 2003 at the beginning of the Iraq War, the parade has taken on other themes in recent years. This year's theme was "Ending Homelessness and Ensuring Affordable Housing for All." The theme was chosen to address a critical housing crisis and a consequent spike in homelessness in Los Angeles County. Several housing activists spoke at the event, including Will Watts, Directing Attorney for the Homelessness Prevention Law Project, and Nicole Hodgson of the Pasadena Renters Union. Dorothy Edwards, a woman who lived on the streets of Pasadena for 7 years before being housed through local agencies, also spoke. Marchers were then invited to join the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group to continue advocating for affordable housing and an end to homelessness in the Pasadena area.
Formerly homeless, Dorothy Edwards is now housed
and is an advocate for homeless people, serving
on the board of Housing Works. She was one of the speakers
at our parade.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Southern California Friends Have Been Doing To Promote Peace and Justice Since the Election

Report by Anthony Manousos, Clerk of Peace and Social Order for Southern California Quarterly Meeting

Since the election, there has been an upsurge of activism among Friends as well as among other segments of the American population. We have been aroused to action by the threats posed by the current administration to the environment, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, the poor and life itself, with the drumbeats of war becoming increasingly loud and insistent. The words of William Penn seem especially relevant: “True godliness does not turn [us] out of the world, but enables [us] to live better in it and excites [our] endeavors to mend it.” Our divided and broken country desperately needs mending. Our Quaker message and approach are urgently needed.
Each month there is a Peace Committee conference call open to anyone interested in peace and justice. Please join us at 712-770-4010. Access code: 830-785. You can find out more about SCQM peace and justice activities at .Southern California Quarterly Meeting Facebook
Here in So Cal, the Friends Committee on National Legislation has been especially active.  FCNL Advocacy Teams have been formed in the Santa Monica area, Pasadena, and Orange County. Thanks in part to the efforts of Joelly Mejia, a young Advocacy Corps staff person, non-Quakers as well as Quakers are being trained on how to be effective advocates and lobbyists. Delegations have gone to the offices of Senators Feinstein and Harris as well as Congress members Judy Chu, Adam Schiff, and others. You can read about these visits on my blog at
Immigration has become an increasingly urgent concern. On Saturday, May 20, our Quarter is sponsoring an all-day workshop on immigration rights with Pedro Rios, director of the AFSC’s U.S./Mexico Border Program.  In this workshop we’ll learn how to be effective immigrant advocates and allies. A native San Diegan, Pedro has worked on immigrant rights and border issues for over 20 years. Orange Grove Meeting co-sponsored this event and we’re looking forward to hosting it.
On Saturday, June 17, Santa Monica Meeting is sponsoring an all-day workshop with George Lakey. noted Quaker activist and author of Viking Economics: How the Scandivanians Got it Right, and How We Can, Too.  This workshop will focus on how to address income inequality, a core challenge to American  democracy in this era of plutocracy. We’ll learn how Quakers are addressing this issue and what we can do to create a social democracy in America similar to those in Scandinavia.
This is a time when we need to leave our “Quaker bubble” and work with those in the community who share our passion and our concerns. That’s why we are inviting non- Quakers as well as Quakers to both these workshops. Please take flyers and share them not just with your Meeting but also with your friends.
I am eager to find out what your Meeting is doing to promote justice and peace and would be happy to pay a visit, so please invite me. This is a time when Friends who care about justice and peace need to work together. Most of all, we need to be faithful to the Spirit that stirs in our hearts, calling us to do utmost to mend this broken world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Celebrating the Rich Diversity of Friends: Report on the FWCC Gathering in Stony Point for SCQM, 2017

Praying for those in our new traveling ministry corps
[This is a report for the spring gathering of the Southern California Quarterly Meeting, where I serve as clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee. Our spring gathering takes place on Sat., April 29, 2017.]

This is a time when our country is deeply divided politically and religiously. The divide between Evangelical and mainstream Christians is especially deep and painful, reminiscent of the deep divide between Evangelical and liberal Quakers that took place in the 19th century and still persists today.  Fortunately, the Friends World Committee for Consultation has worked hard and successfully to bring about reconciliation among the many branches of Quakerism. It is the only place I know where you can find real diversity among Friends---ethnic and racial and theological diversity. I felt incredible inexpressible joy to be among such richly diverse Quakers!
Today I’d like to report briefly about the recent FWCC meeting that took place in Stony Point, NY. This was a meeting of the Section of the Americas. Over 120 Friends took part. 18 were from Latin America. Given the harsh anti-immigrant policies of our current President, we were very relieved that most of our Latin American brothers and sisters were able to get visas. Friends came from all the different branches of Quakers—Evangelical, Conservative, and unprogrammed. Non-theists as well as Bible-believing Christians took part. We worshipped in silence and also with joyful singing and sermons. During times of fellowship and worship sharing in our home groups, we got to know and appreciate each other as friends.
A highlight of the gathering was launching FWCC's new traveling ministry program. Seven Friends from North and Latin America were chosen for this program and we held them in the Light. 
Other highlights included hearing a radical sermon by a Cuban Friend who works for the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. Her talk was so powerful it convinced me I want to travel in the ministry to Cuba as soon as possible and get to know Cuban Friends better. Jill and I are thinking of going in December of this year. Please hold us in the Light! I was also impressed by the powerful sermons of Jonathan Vogel-Borne, a New England Quaker activist, and Carl Magruder, a beloved California Friend who now works as a chaplain.
There were many workshops dealing with a variety of topics. I was drawn to the workshops dealing with climate disruption.  Based on my experience with FWCC gatherings in Kenya and Peru, I have come to see that sustainability is as important to Quakers as peace in the 21st century. Since climate disruption has world-wide consequences, it affects and unites Quakers everywhere. Those who live in the global south often experience the effects of climate change more directly than those of us who live in the north. Droughts, floods and pollution are causing serious damage to countries like Peru, Bolivia and other places where Quakers live. We hear their stories and feel the need to redouble our efforts to work to be good stewards of our beautiful and fragile planet earth.
We worked on an addendum to the “Living Sustainably” minute that was approved in Pisac,  Peru. We realized that that the Pisac statement didn't include important elements like restoring the earth, supporting the resiliency and resistance of communities adversely affected by climate disruption, and deepening the spiritual basis of our work.
I am happy to share with you this report, which is on my blog and which I have copies of. I wish I could share with you some of the joy and enthusiasm and hope we felt coming together at the Stony Point Conference Center.  If you’d like for me to come to your Meeting and talk about FWCC, I’d be very happy to do so.

Here's a report about our meeting at Stony Point:

On Friday, March 24, 2017 seventeen Friends met at the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) gathering in Stony Point, NY, to discuss the sustainabilty minute approved at Pisac.  We had three working groups and here is a report on what transpired. We’d like to begin with a quote from Isaac Penington:
“Sink down to the Seed… and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows.… and will lead….to the inheritance of Life.”
Powerful though it was in many ways, we felt the Sustainability minute at Pisac dealt mainly with mitigating anticipated climate disruption. We strongly feel Friends need to go further. Since climate disruption is already adversely affecting the earth as well as the lives of people and other living beings, we need to consider how we can act in solidarity with communities affected by climate disruption as they strive to respond, resist or adapt. We also need to consider ways in which we can help to restore the damage caused to the Earth.
We see a need for a collective as well as personal spiritual awakening leading to transformative spirit-led action. To be effective, we need to express joy in the changes we have made in our lives and share our joy with others. To be spiritually grounded, we need to deepen our relationship with nature and connect with God’s creation. We suggest that Friends traveling in the ministry through FWCC share FWCC’s material on sustainability and collect stories about the effects of climate disruption on local communities and how they are responding. We urge each one of us to carry out our Quaker testimony on earth care and lift it up to all the bodies we are part of.

How are we as Quakers living our lives as if climate disruption is real and really matters?

How are we showing solidarity with indigenous and marginalized peoples affected by climate disruption?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Visiting the office of Senator Kamala Harris, champion of immigrant rights

"Many people think they don't need to contact an elected official when you agree with them," said Vanessa Alderete, one of Kamala Harris' aides, when we made our office visit today. "But the Senator really appreciates hearing from constituents, and so do we. We read every email and we report on what we learn to Senator Harris."

Our Advocacy Team had a great meeting with three of Harris's aides working on immigration issues. We found out she's co-sponsoring not only the BRIDGE Act (providing a path to citizenship for "Dreamers"), but also Senate Bill 688, a  bill to nullify the effect of the recent Executive order regarding border security and immigration enforcement. Kamala is definitely a champion of immigrant rights who deserves our support.

The first African American Senator to be elected to Congress in our state. Harris has made immigration a major theme. In her "maiden" speech to Congress, she spoke out eloquently against Trump's immigration's policies: 
"In the early weeks of this administration, we have seen an unprecedented series of executive actions that have hit our immigrant and religious communities like a cold front, striking a chilling fear in the hearts of millions of good hardworking people."  
She has not only spoken out about what's wrong with Trump's approach, she has shown its terrible impact on the lives of Americans young and old. We were especially moved by Sarah Wire's story in the LA TImes about how a young Latina girl was devastated when her father was arrested on his way to work. He had been a hard-working resident for 25 years and never committed a serious offense.
Fatima Avelica, 13, was training for the Los Angeles Marathon with her father before he was arrested by immigration agents last month after dropping Fatima's sister off at her Lincoln Heights school.
Fatima had to pause repeatedly, pressing her fingers to her eyes, as she told the story to reporters at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) handed handkerchiefs to Fatima and her sister Yuleni Avelica, 12. The girls had medals from completing the marathon dangling around their necks.
Democratic senators held the news conference to urge their Senate colleagues to reject President Trump's request for $3 billion to hire thousands of new immigration agents, expand detention facilities and build a wall among the southern border as part of his pledge to deport millions of people in the country illegally.
The White House has characterized the moves as necessary for public safety.
California's Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump's immigration enforcement orders are too broad, sweeping up nonviolent offenders or people accused of the civil offense of being in the country illegally. She called the executive orders, which vastly broadened who can be targeted for deportation and leaves a lot of discretion to local immigration officials "misguided and misinformed."
"It's irresponsible to paint a whole population of people as racists and murderers and 'bad hombres,'" she said, referencing one of Trump's own lines about immigrants. "It's actually ignorant and we can't afford to run our country that way."
The girls' father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen, has lived in the U.S. for 25 years. ICE officials cited two misdemeanor convictions as the reason for his arrest. His four daughters were all born in the U.S. Fatima said the family is waiting for word every day on whether he will be deported.
Fatima said she now wants to become an immigration lawyer.
"It's like a new marathon for me, and I know I can finish it," Fatima said, tears welling up again. "But, I need my coach there. I need my dad."

When we told Harris' aides how moved we were by this story, they shared how it moved them to tears. They also told us that Senator Harris is extremely interested in stories like this about how Trump's misguided policies are impacting people's lives. If you have such a story, please send it to 

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Harris' aides were not only extremely well versed in all aspects of immigration, they were also very simpatico. And they were in no hurry for us to leave. Our visit lasted almost an hour. 

All of us who took part in this Congressional visit learned a lot.  Some of us were seasoned lobbyists; others were making their first lobby visit. Mark, who works as a teacher, brought his sixteen-year-old daughter, the youngest in our delegation. The oldest in our group (I won't mention any names) was an 80-years-old. Our delegation included a novelist, a professor, a therapist. We were racially and ethnically diverse, a microcosm of America. Each person had a chance to speak and share their stories. And everyone had something worthwhile to contribute.

After our visit, we adjourned to a coffee house called "Legal Grounds" in the basement of the Court House and had a leisurely "debriefing" over lunch. We got better acquainted with each other, and became more bonded. That's the goal of faith-based lobbying: to build long-term relationships with our elected officals, their aides and each other. That's important because we have a lot of work ahead of us if we hope to preserve our democracy and the values we hold dear. As Fatima said, the race we are running is like a marathon. And as the Apostle Paul said, the important thing in a race is to stay faithful and keep running until we reach the finish line (2 Timothy 4:7.) It's much more pleasant when we run the race together!