Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Greetings and Highlights of 2018

At the Madonna Inn, where we went dancing with St Nick and
his wife Nicolette
Jill and I have been so busy with our housing justice advocacy we haven’t had time to write our usual joint Christmas letter, but now that we’re happily ensconced in “Shell Cottage,” the charming home of Jill’s mom in Shell Beach (near Pismo) I have some time to write while the “ladies” are getting a pedicure in San Luis Obispo. (The ladies are Jill, Jill’s 88-year-old Mom Donna and ageless sister Jana.) I feel blessed to be part of Jill’s fun-loving, Jesus-loving and just plain loving family.
We’re having a blast hanging out together in Shell Cottage, laughing, painting, feasting, going to the beach, and caroling to neighbors. Donna’s memory is fading, but she is still full of life and love and a joy to be with. 

A shadow is hanging over us this Christmas, however. Jana’s husband Dwight’s 87-year-old Mom Nina had a stroke and is in a coma in hospice. We are grieving the slow passing of this big-hearted woman who along with her husband Vic raised 10 kids. At the same time, we are rejoicing in wonderful news. A package from Jana’s oldest daughter Annie contained a Baby Ruth bar wrapped in a sonogram showing that she is pregnant with her second child!  We gave God our heart-felt thanks and praise. The circle is unbroken!

Jana, Donna, Jill and moi playing the recorder
I also feel blessed to have family and friends like you who are reading this letter and I hope enjoying it. I want to send you my love and best wishes during this special season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Born in a stable because there was a housing shortage in Bethlehem, Jesus’s family became refugees when the insecure and unstable leader of his country was willing to sacrifice the lives of children for the sake of his political power. Jesus became the champion of the poor, the homeless, and the dispossessed and displaced. And he urged us to do likewise.
This has been a year full of blessings, as well as challenges. Here are some high points:

In DC with a delegation of Quakers visiting Senator Feinstein's
One of the great joys has been my deepening involvement with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the extraordinary Quaker advocacy organization that is celebrating its 75th Anniversary as a voice of conscience on Capitol Hill. I’ve known and supported FCNL ever since becoming a Quaker 30+ years ago. Seven years ago I became a member of the General Board when I started attending the annual fall gatherings of FCNL in Washington, DC. Each fall and spring over 400 Quakers and others show up in DC to advocate for important issues, like the Iran Agreement, immigration reform, and the SNAP food stamp program. This gathering of like-minded, loving Friends always fills me with joy and hope.
Some people see politics and religion as separate, but Quakers take a different view. We see our Spirit-led advocacy as prophetic and seek to transcend the divisive politics of our day by focusing on “that of God” in every elected official, whatever their political affiliation. I am also grateful that FCNL seeks to bring together the different branches of Quakers, from liberal to Evangelical, Bible-believing Friends.
This year we advocated for bills that would help avert war with North Korea by limiting the war-making powers of the President (as the US Constitution requires). God surprised us with diplomatic breakthroughs we would never have dreamed of a year ago!  We now see glimmerings of hope for this divided land.
My ICUJP family
I am deeply grateful to my small but mighty and enthusiastic local FCNL Advocacy Team that helps to organize visits to the offices of our Congress members. I also enjoyed working with a Korean Mennonite group called Reconciliasian as well as with Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the stalwart peace group that has met every Friday morning at 7 am since 9/11. What a joy to bring together a coalition of groups from the LA area that want to ban nuclear weapons and reduce the threat of war! I feel as if I am truly part of what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”

Another highpoint has been celebrating the 7th year of marriage to my amazing wife Jill. To celebrate our 7th anniversary, we went to Hawaii, where we went on our honeymoon. On these beautiful tropical islands we had a blast hanging out with Quakers, peace activists, and locals. You can read a poem we wrote together about our unforgettable Hawaiian adventure: Anniversary Poem.
Our time in Hawaii was wonderful, but it also had a sobering side. On the Big Island we learned that Jill has follicular lymphoma, a slow-growing cancer which fortunately has a good prognosis. After incredible hassles with our insurance, we started treatment a little over a month ago, and the cancer has significantly shrunk, praise God! Jill has had some unpleasant side effects, like tiredness, foggy brain, and rashes, but otherwise is doing fine. She has not let cancer stop her from doing her crucial housing-justice work. If anything, she has upped her game!

Another milestone in our marriage was the founding of a nonprofit called Making Housing and Community Happen this fall. This nonprofit incorporates the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG), which has had 20 years of successful advocacy; the North Fair Oaks Empowerment Initiative; and Jill’s educational work, the One-Day Housing Justice Institutes and the upcoming One-Year Housing Justice cohort. On Jill’s 65th birthday, we had a party celebrating the launch of this new entity dedicated to faith-rooted housing justice, with nearly 100 friends and supporters taking part for a time of education and celebration. I am grateful to be a partner in this important work, which has already born astonishing fruits. For more, see Jill's Christmas Letter.
On December 17th (a night we will never forget), an incredible victory took place at City Hall: to address the need to house the 677 homeless population, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to build 65-70 units of homeless housing (plus commercial development) at Heritage Square South! This was the culmination of a GPAHG campaign that started in March and has involved two prayer vigils, many one-on-one meetings with city officials, letter-writing campaigns (over 800 letters!), community organizing, careful research, and constant prayer. On Dec 17 thirty people showed up to advocate for homeless housing. Before we had a chance to speak, the Council members made it clear that they agree with us that homeless housing needs to be one of the City’s main priorities. We were overjoyed and thanked them profusely!
This was a night when we felt God’s presence at work doing more than we imagined. Mayor surprised everyone by announcing his support for using the vacant YWCA near City Hall (designed by famed architect Julia Morgan) for homeless housing. This property had been considered for a boutique hotel, but the community rejected it. The Mayor’s announcement was the answer to prayer. A dozen years ago, when Jill was a member of First Baptist Church in Pasadena, located immediately adjacent to this YWCA, she led prayer walks around the site, asking God for it to be used for affordable and homeless housing. Some people (including the pastor) thought she was kooky, but God was clearly listening!
During this Spirit-filled meeting Council members expressed strong support for converting motels to homeless housing in every district and urged every City Council member to work with their constituents to make this happen. It was clear that our City Council is seriously committed to addressing the homelessness crisis in our city. You can read more at City Council Approves Homeless Housing.
I told the City Council that our goal is to insure that at least 50% of our homeless residents be housed in the next five years. Mike Kinman, the minister of All Saints Church, said: “Why not 100%?” Indeed, why not? With God, nothing is impossible.

I’d like to end with more family news. In November, right after the FCNL gathering, I visited my sister and her family in New Jersey: it was a joy to see my bright and beautiful niece Emily (who graduated from college a year ago), my handsome nephew Demetrios (who is attending a community college and hopes to be a physical therapist), and two new cats that are filling the void left behind by the passing of Rexie, a regal feline who ruled this family for over a decade. 
My delightful and talented nephew Edward (the son of my brother-in-law Jim and his wife Anne) is taking community college classes and doing well. He is also developing his considerable skills as a violist. Check out this jazzy version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving gathering here in Shell Beach in which 13 family members took part. It would take many pages to describe all the doings of Jana and Dwight’s family, with their eight kids and numerous grandkids, all of whom are thriving. We were pleased that Jana’s son Michael and daughter-in-law Emma moved to Northern California to take dream jobs. Jana’s son Joey has gone back to school and is doing great. Our grand-niece Cody is in to college in Montana, and her sister Jesse will be there soon. And there is much more…..
Jana's "Hands of Peace" watercolor
I’d like to end this family news with something that touched my heart as a Quaker.  Jana is a gifted artist like her mom (my mother-in-law) and was asked by her daughter Sarah to paint a picture for a fundraiser for “Hands of Peace.” Hands of Peace is a stellar organization that brings together Palestinian and Israeli teenagers and helps them to listen to each other’s stories and become friends. This important trust-building work is similar to the Compassionate Listening Project that was started by my mentor Gene Hoffman and my friend Leah Green. Asked to create an “image of peace,” Jana was inspired to paint a picture of her daughter with someone holding a sea shell to her ear. The hand holding the shell is multi-racial. We were all moved by this beautiful image for the work of peacemaking that our dear Sarah is engaged in. It’s also a good reminder that peace begins with listening—listening deeply for the still, small voice in ourselves, and for the Divine voice in others and in all creation. May God open our ears, so we can hear and experience the peace of Christ that was born in a lowly stable two thousand years ago, and is still with us today.

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