Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas reflection 2019: "Peace on Earth begins with us..."

Dear Friends and Family,

On the eve of Christmas eve, I am writing this at the medical center in Arcadia where I have a view of the cloud-shrouded San Gabriel mountains. Jill is sleeping quietly while receiving an infusion of an anti-cancer med called rituxan. The good news is that Jill is cancer-free thanks to such meds. She has to have this maintenance dose every three months for the next year and a half to make sure she stays cancer-free, but the prognosis is good. I am deeply grateful to God and modern medicine that her cancer is in remission. Despite her health issues, Jill has worked so passionately for housing justice that she won an award from POP!

(Pasadenans Organizing for Progress) for being “Progressive of the Year” in Pasadena, with accolades from Congresswoman Judy Chu, State Assemblymember Chris Holden and Mayor Terry Tornek. I’m grateful and proud to have such an amazing woman as my wife and life partner! See Progressive of the Year   

          While my activist wife is sleeping peacefully, I have time to reflect and meditate and pray—something I plan to do more often in the upcoming year. I am coming to realize that instead of being a hyper activist, I need to take to heart Gandhi’s teaching: “Prayer, rightly applied and understood, is the most potent instrument of action.” When we practice holy silence, and take time to listen to our hearts, we can be more open to Divine Guidance, which leads us to do no more and no less than what God requires of us. This is an antidote to workholism and burnout.   By drawing closer to the Divine Source, we can also experience the “peace that passeth understanding.”   The glorious shalom proclaimed by angels at the birth of Christ!

As part of my morning meditation, I re-read Dr. King’s last Christmas sermon, written in 1967, the year that I graduated from Princeton High School, a time when the Vietnam war was raging and violence was breaking out on the streets of nearby Newark and other cities. King took a huge risk during the final year of his life by opposing the Vietnam War, and championing economic justice. Many say this was the reason he was assassinated. This sermon lays out the spiritual basis for King’s anti-war activism, one that I embrace, especially his belief that “war is obsolete" and peace must be pursued by peaceful means because we are all interconnected.  See King's Last Christmas Sermon.  

I work for peace through my involvement with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP). These two organizations are a source of great joy in my life.

Members of ICUJP with members of the local Parliament of the World's Religion,
another group that is part of the Beloved Community
For over 15 years I have been involved with ICUJP, serving on the Board of Directors and attending Friday morning meetings at 7 am. This stalwart and motley band of activists has become my spiritual and activist family. I help to organize ICUJP’s weekly Friday Forums, which draw speakers on a wide range of social justice issues including Black Lives Matter and white privilege, housing justice, immigration, the Middle East and Latin American concerns, the death penalty, etc. We make lobby visits with our elected officials and organize events and vigils, including our annual “Close Guantanamo” vigil coming up in two weeks (on Friday, Jan 10, at 8:00 am at the LA Federal Building) . I’m pleased we work in tandem with FCNL to “end endless war.” For more details, see

ICUJP vigil 
Coordinating the FCNL Advocacy Team has been another joy. For the last eight years I have taken part in the annual Quaker lobby day in Washington, DC, where other 400 Quakers and others gather to advocate for peace and justice. There are over a 100 FCNL advocacy teams throughout the US, all focusing on a particular issue each year. This year we focused on “Ending Endless War” and repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress after 9/11 and giving the President a blank check to wage war anywhere in the world. See

California Quakers involved with FCNL
 at the office of Senator Harris
in Washington, DC
This has also been a year of disappointment. The AUMF wasn’t repealed despite our concerted efforts. (Like Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only one who had the courage to vote against the AUMF in 2001, we haven’t given up, and never will!) But the biggest disappointment has been to see the rise of Trumpism and how it is poisoning America’s democracy with its endless lies and moral corruption. The US now supports autocracies instead of democracies and is the chief climate denier and enemy of life on our planet.  I am also disappointed that Pacific Yearly Meeting—a Quaker organization that I have poured my life into since coming to California 30 years ago--has remained silent in the face of Trumpism and has not spoken out on social justice or peace for five years. As PYM has drifted into quietism, I have become a lone voice calling for our Yearly Meeting to show moral courage and speak out against injustice. Please hold this Quaker body in your prayers. See Pacific Yearly Meetingl

I'm very pleased that my local Quaker meeting has been very supportive of peace and justice, and is thriving,  with young people becoming involved and bringing fresh perspectives and energy. In May we hosted an event called “Ending Endless War” at the Orange Grove Quaker meeting house and we have become the center for housing justice work in our community thanks to monthly meetings of the Greater Pasadena Housing Group (GPAHG). In January there will be a GPAHG Candidates Forum in our meetinghouse which will bring together the leaders of our community to focus on how to deal with our affordable/homeless housing crisis.  See GPAHG Candidates Forum.  

My sister-in-law Jana and my mother-in-law Donna sing
carols with neighbors 
It's a joy to be part of this Beloved Community that includes Quakers along with people of diverse faiths who are wholeheartedly committed to justice and peace. I am also grateful for the love and support of my family: my dear sweet 89-year-old mother-in-law Donna, my sister-in-law Jana and her husband Dwight, my sister Elizabeth (who totally surprised me by coming to my 70th birthday party this year) and her family, my brother-in-law Jim and his family (especially my talented fiddler nephew Edward), my delightful Greek cousin Alexandra and her poetical
My sister Elizabeth and her husband Richie totally surprised
me by flying out from NJ to be at my 70th birthday party.
What a wonderful gift!
husband Peter, and many more family members here in the US and in Greece, my father’s homeland. I am grateful for “adopted” family members like Mark (who lives in our back house) and Melissa, my homeless “daughter-in-Christ” and her boyfriend Shaun. Please hold our homeless brothers and sisters in your prayers.

The message proclaimed by the angels on the birth of Jesus is put into perspective by Howard Thurman, an African American mystic/prophet/teacher. Thurman studied with the great Quaker teacher/theologian Rufus Jones and became a teacher of Dr. King at my alma mater Boston University. Thurman's poem sums up for me how we need to carry through the work of Christmas throughout the year. I appreciate that he reminds us that in addition to pursuing justice and peace, we need to “make music in the heart.” This is the sweet harmony that comes from loving God and loving one’s neighbors!

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

GPAHG Candidates Forum on Affordable and Homeless Housing January 21, 2020

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020,  from 6-8 pm, the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG) will host a Candidates Forum at Orange Grove Quaker Meeting, 520 E Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104.

This will be a very significant election, which will take place on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, for the Office of The Mayor and City Council Districts 1, 2, 4, and 6. 

Candidates in our Forum:

  • Victor Gordo, Jason Hardin, Terry Tornek, Major Williams (Mayor)
  • Felicia Williams, Kevin Litwin and Patricia Keane (District 2); 
  • Charlotte Bland and Gene Masuda (District 4); 
  • Ryan Bell, Steve Madison, Tamerlin Godley (District 6);
Candidates will be asked questions about how they will address the city's housing and homelessness crisis, how they stand on issues such as Accessory Dwelling Units, gentrification, use of the Civic Center for affordable/homeless housing,  up-zoning, etc. Here is a list of questions that candidates have been sent. Their responses will be published when we receive them.

Questions for Candidates for GPAHG’s Candidates Forum

Opening question: Please discuss your vision for addressing the affordable/homeless housing crisis.

  1. Please share your thoughts about the new state laws that give homeowners the option to build a junior ADU inside the residence as well as an external ADU on the lot with fewer restrictions. Do you feel that the City should sue to prevent the state from preempting local control over zoning policies such as the building of ADUs?
  2. Many churches in this city have expressed interest in building affordable/homeless housing on their excess land, This might require changes in zoning and parking requirement. How do you feel about this?
  3. There is currently a debate about whether the Civic Center  should be used only for commercial use or for affordable/homeless housing as well as for commercial use. What do you feel is the best use of the Civic Center?
  4. There is a debate about whether new affordable/homeless housing  should be built in every district, including Northwest Pasadena where low-income people are being displaced due to gentrification. What is your opinion on this issue?
  5. Rising rents are a major cause of homelessness and displacement. Some say that rent stabilization will alleviate this problem, while others disagree. What is your view?  

Closing Question: Sum up your hopes for what you can accomplish during your term in office to address housing crisis, or one of question that you care deeply about and didn’t get a chance to answer

Friday, December 13, 2019

Join us for our special Christmas prayer vigil on Monday, December 16, at the Julia Morgan YWCA

Join us for our special Christmas prayer vigil on Monday, December 16, at the Julia Morgan YWCA (across from the First Baptist Church) from 5-6:30 pm. This vigil will be led by Pastors Juanita and Carlton Edwards of the Pasadena Community Christian Fellowship. This church does amazing work to help feed those who are low-income or homeless by providing tons of fresh food gleaned from grocery stores and farmer’s markets every Thursday. They also operate two Christian discipleship homes for spiritual support during transitions in their lives. The Edwards have a deep commitment to Christ and to loving our homeless neighbors.

You are also invited to our Homeless Subcommittee Holiday Potluck Party from 7 – 9 pm at our home, 1638 N Garfield Ave. This is a time to celebrate our successes, get to know each other better, and envision how we can end homelessness in our city.

Finally, remember to sign up for the homeless count which will take place on Tuesday, January 21 at 8:30 pm.

On that same night, from 6-8 pm, the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG) will host a Candidates Forum at Orange Grove Quaker Meeting, 520 E Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104.

This will be a very significant election, which will take place on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, for the Office of The Mayor and City Council Districts 1, 2, 4, and 6. Candidates include: Charlotte Bland, Joe Baghdadlian and incumbent Gene Masuda (District 4); Felicia Williams running unopposed (District 2); incumbent Steve Madison, Tamerlin Godley, and Ryan Bell (District 6); and incumbent Tyron Hampton running unopposed in District 1.

Four candidates are running for Mayor (current Mayor Terry Tornek, Councilmember Victor Gordo, former marketing executive Major Williams and local business owner Jason Hardin).

Candidates will be asked questions about how they will address the city's housing and homelessness crisis, how they stand on issues such as Accessory Dwelling Units, gentrification, use of the Civic Center for affordable/homeless housing,  upzoning, etc. 

The election will take place on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, for the Office of The Mayor and City Council Districts 1, 2, 4, and 6

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Repeal the Iraq Authorization for the Use of Military Force that gives the President a blank check for waging war

Pacific YM Friends signed a petition calling on Senators to repeal the AUMF
Are you concerned that the President has the power to launch a war anywhere in the Middle East without having to seek Congressional authorization? That's the current state of affairs, thanks to the 2002 Iraq Authorization of the Use of Military Force which has been used by Presidents to justify numerous military actions. Many  of us feel it's time to sunset this law. If you agree, please contact your Senators at

I have just returned from Washington, DC. where along with 400 others, I advocated for the repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF. House and Senate negotiators are deciding on the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020.  This provides an important opportunity to repeal the outdated 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (2002 Iraq AUMF), which allowed the U.S. to wage war against the Saddam Hussein regime.

Unlike the 2001 AUMF, passed after the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 Iraq AUMF is not necessary for any current operations. However, keeping it on the books renders the 2002 Iraq AUMF susceptible to abuse from the executive branch to justify new wars that Congress has not authorized.

Repealing the 2002 Iraq AUMF has broad bipartisan support. In September, 62 organizations sent a letter to the Armed Services Committees calling for the law's repeal, with signatories from a broad range of ideologies, including faith, civil liberties, and veterans groups. And in an August report titled "Building an NDAA that Strengthens America's Military," the Heritage Foundation stated that "Repealing the 2002 Iraq AUMF is good policy as it is no longer necessary ... Congress needs to get back in the business of exercising its constitutional duty of deciding on whether to authorize wars."

Please tell Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe (OK) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (RI) to retain section 1270W of the House-passed NDAA in their final bill.

The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war. Repealing the 2002 Iraq AUMF is the responsible course of action and would reassert Congress's constitutional powers over matters of war.

Our California Senators are basically supportive of repeal, as is my Congressional Representative Judy Chu, whom I visited last Friday. It's still helpful for them to hear from their constituents that we support them in their efforts to sunset this law, especially when we have a President in office who will do anything to stay in office, including going to war.  But even if we had a President who was wise and fit for office, the Constitution makes it clear that only Congress should have the power to declare war. It's time for Congress to reassert its Constitutional role and reign in the power of what has become an imperial presidency.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Housing Justice and the Legacy of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King

[A talk given at Holman United Methodist Church on October 26, 2019.) 

I am honored to be here to speak about affordable/homeless housing and the legacy of Dr. King and Gandhi. I am co-founder of a nonprofit called Making Housing and Community Happen, which advocates for housing justice. MHCH’s other co-founder is my wife Jill Shook, who has been involved in housing justice work for over 20 years and has published a book Making Housing and Community Happen: Faith Based Affordable Housing Models, which is used in colleges across the US. We both seek to practice the nonviolent, faith-based approach to community organizing and social change that Gandhi and King developed and championed.
In addition to Civil Rights, Dr. King was deeply concerned about housing, seeing it as a basic human right. In the summer of 1966, he took the stage at Chicago’s Soldier Field before a crowd of 35,000 supporters. Building off major victories to quell racial segregation in the south, Dr. King had traveled north to start a new phase in the fight for equality: improving the deplorable living conditions of the urban poor.
“We are here today because we are tired,” Dr. King said. “We are tired of paying more for less. We are tired of living in rat-infested slums...”
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” he added. “Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children.”
Those words may not be as ingrained in the American psyche as “I Have a Dream,” but they had a catalyzing and tangible effect on improving housing conditions in Chicago and cities across the country.
In the final year of his life, Dr. King helped launch the Poor People’s Campaign with affordable housing as one of its major goals. This campaign called for the construction of 500,000 low-cost housing units per year until slums were eliminated. Rev. William Barber recently revived the Poor People’s Campaign and has identified a lack of affordable housing as a major driver of poverty.
My wife and I helped to launch the Poor People’s campaign in Pasadena, working with the IMA, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the oldest association of African American pastors in Pasadena. Over the years we have built a strong coalition of churches, homeless service providers, and community leaders committed to housing justice.
The relationship of Gandhi to housing justice is a bit more complex, but it is nonetheless important. Gandhi influenced the housing justice movement because of his concern for the equitable distribution of land through the concept of trusteeship.
The problem of land distribution has been especially acute in the Deep South. A recent article in Atlantic Monthly pointed out that African-American farmers were dispossessed of 98% of their farms since WWI, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s. Lacking land and economic opportunity, Blacks were at the mercy of white landlords.  The Community Land Trust movement started during the Civil Rights era to empower Blacks economically by providing them with land and homes. As my wife writes in her book,
Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are a model of shared equity, where the land is owned by a trust while homeowners own the land. This democratically owned nonprofit owns and leases land in a way that preserves affordable home ownership.
CLTs can be linked to Gandhi through a great Indian spiritual leader named Vinoba Bhava. After Gandhi’s death spiritual leadership for the Gandhian movement fell to him.   Gandhi’s “constructive program” for post-colonial India had envisioned a decentralized society, built on the basis of autonomous, self-reliant villages.  Gandhi had also articulated a concept of “trusteeship,” asserting that land and other assets should be held in trust for the poor.  Vinoba Bhava made Gandhi’s vision his own and inherited Gandhi’s concern for the plight of the rural poor. Jill tells the story of how this Gandhian movement started:
To settle outburst of violence that took place in a village after Gandhi’s death Vinoba Bhava convened the villagers and discovered the problem. One villager stood up and said simply, “We need land.” Pointing to the man who had just spoke, Vinoba said, “My brother here is without land. Who can give me some land for him?” To his amazement, one man stood up and said he had some land he could give. Then another stood up and another until there was enough land for…two or three landless families. But land was not enough. Families didn’t have the credit or the means to buy tools, fertilizer or seeds, and they ended up back on the streets of Calcutta. To remedy this, the land was given to the village as a whole, which acted as the land’s trustee” (p. 167).
This idea of trusteeship, or shared ownership of land, was also part of the kibbutz movement in Israel. Slater King, Dr. King’s cousin, and Charles and Shirley Sharrod, founders of the Student Nonviolent Organizing Committee in Georgia, visited Israel to learn more about kibbutzim and collective farming, but decided that Blacks needed to own their own homes so they came up with the idea of the CLT. They called their CLT New Communities. New Communities met with incredible resistance from whites, who did everything they could to destroy it, but it has prevailed and is thriving. Thanks be to God and to the indominable spirit of people like Shirley Sharrod, whom we had the honor of meeting a few weeks ago.
Jill and I took part in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of New Communities in Albany, GA. Hundreds of people were present at this gala event, including such dignitaries as Andrew Young who told a story about how his wife challenged him to practice nonviolence when under attack from the Ku Klux Klan. The celebration took place on a plantation that was once owned by the largest slaveholder in Georgia—he owned 1000 slaves. Now this plantation with its beautiful antebellum mansion is owned by African Americans who are dedicated to farming the land and advocating for community empowerment. The spirit of Dr. King and his cousin Slater live on in this small, but growing movement.  
The first urban CLT, the Community Land Trust of Cincinnati, was founded in 1981, by an ecumenical association of churches and ministries, It was created to prevent the displacement of low-income, African American residents from their neighborhoods. People of faith like Jill and me love this model since is supports the biblical idea that “the earth is the Lord’s—we can be stewards, not owners of the land.
Since then, CLTs have spread throughout the US, with over 500 CLTS, some in every state, and with over 5,000 homeowners. CLTs have also sprung up in other countries, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Kenya and New Zealand. The California Community Land Trust Network is a regional group of Community Land Trusts based in California.  These CLTs collectively steward permanently affordable homes and community facilities housing thousands of Californians and represent well over $100,000,000 of community assets.
Jill and I agree that CLTs “are an essential part of solving California’s affordability crisis for housing and community facilities.” In fact, one of the goals of our nonprofit is to help create a CLT in the San Gabriel Valley.
We see ourselves as part of a growing movement of people committed to housing justice. During our recent travels, we took part in a conference in Atlanta where many people involved with CLTs were present. It was inspiring to see many young African Americans and other people of color involved in trying to reclaim vacant properties in blighted cities and turn them into affordable housing, urban farms, and CLTs.
The housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing America today. The statistics are telling and alarming. California has 130,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given day. Over 55% of California renters are cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income on rent. Sociologist Matthew Desmond estimates that 2.3 million evictions were filed in the U.S. in 2016 — a rate of four every minute. Many of those evicted are single mothers, most often people of color. At every level, the housing crisis hits minorities harder. Since 1987, white homeownership rates have increased by 3.6 percent, while black homeownership rates have fallen by 2.7 percent. Black Americans are now nearly 30 percent less likely than whites to own a home. All of this adds up to one inescapable conclusion: For some Americans, housing is a way out of poverty. For others, it is the trap keeping them there. Our nonprofit is committed to addressing this crisis in the spirit of Gandhi and Dr. King. Our goal is to bring about not only housing justice but also the beloved community, where there is decent and affordable housing for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic circumstances. As Dr. King would say, all God’s children have a right to a home.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Cleansing of the Temple for a Quaker Bible Study

Jesus Cleanses the Temple [John 2:13-22 English Standard Version (ESV)]
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,[a] and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

In the Gospel of John, the “Cleansing of the Temple” in Jerusalem is the second “sign” of his special status as God’s son (the first being Jesus’ transformation of water into wine). The cleansing of the Temple begins the public ministry of Jesus in a very dramatic way—by demonstrating Jesus’ “zeal” and his disgust with the unjust and un-Godly practices of Temple worship. In the synoptic Gospels, this incident occurs near the end of Jesus’ ministry and within a week he is arrested and put to death. Why do you think that John places this incident at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? What is John saying about Jesus’ mission?
By attacking the money changers with whips, Jesus is using force. Does his action contradict the idea that Jesus is a pacifist? Or is Jesus’ use of force symbolic since no one is seriously hurt and the Temple authorities don’t intervene? Is Jesus’ action similar to that of the Berrigan brothers when they used hammers to pound on missiles, thereby damaging them.
Why do you feel that Jesus behaved this way? What was he trying to prove or say by his action?
Have you ever committed an act of civil disobedience? Describe why and what happened.
Is Jesus’ behavior a model for how we should respond today to injustice? If not, why not?
Some Commentary
Given the fact that the actions of Jesus prompted no intervention on the part of either the Temple guards, nor the Roman legionaries, Pope Francis sees the Cleansing of the Temple not as a violent act but more of a prophetic demonstration [i.e. symbolic speech]. In addition to writing and speaking messages from God, Israelite or Jewish nevi'im ("spokespersons", "prophets") often acted out prophetic parables in their life.
A common interpretation is that Jesus was reacting to the practice of the money changers in routinely cheating the people, but Marvin L. Krier Mich observes that a good deal of money was stored at the temple, where it could be loaned by the wealthy to the poor who were in danger of losing their land to debt. The Temple establishment therefore co-operated with the aristocracy in the exploitation of the poor. One of the first acts of the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE was the burning of the debt records in the archives, thereby cancelling the debts and liberating the poor.
Clearly there was some sort of injustice going on in the temple that Jesus was responding to and, compared most of the other stories told about him, he was uncharacteristically aggressive. The disciples later related Jesus' action to "zeal", which had a number of overtones, then and now, of violence.
On the other hand, Jesus did not ever lead an armed revolt and seems to have done his best to avoid being caught up in such a thing. In John 6, the people are ready to crown him as king and he withdraws from them. While he did cause a disturbance, he really didn't cause any permanent harm. In the end, he was put to death for actions such as this and died without protest.
So two opposing views of this account are:
1.       Jesus demonstrated civil disobedience by disrupting commerce in the temple.
2.       Jesus demonstrated using appropriate force to correct an injustice.
Is this a false dichotomy? How should we interpret Jesus' actions?

Destroy this Temple and I Will Raise it Up in Three Days?

According to this passage, Jesus foresaw his death and resurrection and asserted that his body was a temple more lasting than the one built by Herod to show off his power. (Those reading this would know that the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, thereby ending Jewish temple worship and forcing many Jews to leave their homeland.  Many Christians experienced the risen Christ and saw his words as prophetic.)
Pasadena theologian and activist Bert Newton has written a book called The Subversive Wisdom of John’s Gospel. Do you feel it was subversive for Jesus to claim that his body was somehow more important than the Temple?
Paul and early Christians imitated Jesus and referred to their bodies as a “temples.” This belief profoundly influenced Quakers. How do you feel about the belief that each person’s body is a temple of the Spirit?  Do you treat your body as a temple? If so, how?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Bayard Rustin and Housing Justice: Our August 26 Vigil

Our August 26 weekly vigil was small, but mighty. A dozen people showed up in front of the Julia Morgan Y, including several who were experiencing homelessness. 

Those taking part in our vigil included Jill Shook (my wife and director of MHCH), Bert Newton (Mennonite pastor who was recently hired by MHCH), Jeff Utter (a UCC pastor), Peter Hartgens (a Quaker activist), Jochen Strack (a nurse practitioner who practices street medicine with people experiencing homelessness), Charles Jacob (a Unitarian), and Kathe Poole (a member of All Saints), and Natasha (a young African American woman who does environmental work).

After our vigil, we went to City Council where Jeff and Jochen spoke powerfully about the need for homeless housing. Jeff spoke about the divine mandate to care for the most vulnerable, and Jochen spoke out of his experience as a nurse practitioner caring for those who are living on the street. 

In addition to advocating for homeless housing, I spoke about the Quaker peace and justice activist Bayard Rustin. He was an extremely important civil rights leader--mentor of Dr. King and organizer of the March on Washington--who has not received the recognition he deserves because he was gay. 

When a UCLA librarian named Lauren Buisson came to Orange Grove Meeting to inform us
about a campaign to honor Rustin with a commemorative stamp, our Meeting strongly supported this campaign. So I joined with Lauren and a young student named Henry from Friends Western School to urge the Pasadena City Council to pass a resolution in support of a Bayard Rustin stamp. Council member John Kennedy seemed interested and told me to seek the support of the local NAACP chapter, which I intend to do.

This is what I said to the City Council during my 3-minute public comment:

I want to thank the City Council for last week’s decision to raise the inclusionary set aside to 20%. I also want to thank Margaret McAustin for asking the Planning Department to determine whether it’s feasible to raise the set aside to 25% and incentivize family units. I also appreciate her interest in CLTs as a way to preserve affordable housing. Finally, I want to encourage the Council to take seriously her proposal to eliminate the nearly $20,000 residential impact fee for ADUs and charge only $950 as you do for affordable housing. These are positive steps towards addressing our city’s housing crisis. As you know, the need for homeless and affordable housing is urgent and I am part of a city-wide coalition of groups advocating for more homeless housing, including at the Julia Morgan Y.
       Today I am here on behalf of Orange Grove Quaker Meeting to urge the Council to pass a resolution in support of a Commemorative Stamp honoring Bayard Rustin, a Quaker Civil Rights leader. The California Legislature recently passed a joint resolution in support of the national Bayard Rustin Stamp campaign. Resolution ACR-27 “honors the legacy of Bayard Rustin, who stood at the confluence of the greatest struggles for civil, legal, and human rights by African Americans, as well as the LGBTQ community, and whose focus on civil and economic rights and belief in peace and the dignity of all people remains as relevant today as ever.”
       I feel it would be very appropriate for our City to pass a similar resolution since Rustin came to our City in 1953 to speak at the Pasadena Athletic Club on behalf of peace and civil rights. Sad to say, Rustin was arrested in Pasadena for engaging in a homosexual act and served two months in prison but this didn’t deter him from his commitment to civil rights and justice.
Rustin went on to become the mentor of Dr. King and helped to organize the March on Washington. During the final year of Dr. King’s life, Rustin and King launched the Poor People’s campaign. Among other things, this campaign advocated for fair, non-discriminatory and affordable housing.  Their efforts led to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which ended racial covenants in Pasadena.
We owe Bayard Rustin a great debt of gratitude for his tireless work on behalf of justice and civil rights. I hope you will pass a resolution in favor of  a Commemorative Stamp honoring his legacy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

How to respond to a robbery as a Christian/Quaker?

Our home was robbed last Friday while Jill and I were attending a meeting of our peace and justice group. We left our home at 6:30 am and fifteen minutes later the burglars rang our doorbell. Our guest Mark heard it but thought that Jill would answer it and went back to sleep. The burglars leaped over our gate and entered by jimmying the back door. We learned of the burglary several hours later while we were driving back home. We called Mark to tell him we'd be late for an appointment with a friend who was meeting us at our home, and to let him in. Mark saw the back door open and told us that our home had been ransacked. 

Our biggest fear that the burglars had stolen Jill's lap top, which would be like stealing her brain. I prayed that it would be safe, and it was! Before leaving, she had piled papers on top of her computer and the burglars didn't think to look under them. Instead they stole every electronic device that they could find--a total of 6 old computers, a Bose speaker, a Kindle, and also a silver communion chalice that belonged to my wife Kathleen of blessed memory.

That was the biggest lost for me, since the chalice is a keepsake and irreplaceable. 

When we told people about our loss, there was an outpouring of sympathy from friends and neighbors and family that touched us deeply. Our next-door neighbor even brought us some watermelon to comfort us. Others offered help. We feel blessed and grateful to have such loving friends!

The emotional shock was drawn out by the fact that it took almost all weekend to sort through the chaos left behind by the burglars--closets, wardrobes, and desks drawers opened, clothing and jewelry and other possessions scattered over the floor. 

As I sorted through the stuff, I also reflected on what my Christian and Quaker faith has taught me. People are more important than stuff. It is much more grievous for a thief to lose his or her integrity by stealing than it is for a homeowner to lose some possessions due to theft. 

Since the most precious possession I lost was my wife's silver chalice, I asked myself: how would Kathleen want me to respond?  What would Jesus do?

The silver chalice reminded me of the story in Les Miserables when Jean Valjean escaped from prison (where he was serving time for stealing bread) and was taken in by kind and hospitable priest. Early in the morning, Jean Valjean left the priest's home and took with him some silver candlesticks. 

Later that day, he was apprehended by the police who took him back to the priest's home. They asked if Jean Valjean had stolen the candlesticks.

"Oh no," replied the priest. "I gave them to him. He needed them more than I did."

The priest then told Valjean: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man. Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good."

This act of forgiveness so touched Jean Valjean that his life was forever transformed.
That's what I hope and pray for those who stole Kathleen's chalice. 

This is not the first time that I have had something precious stolen. Twenty years ago, when I was coordinating a youth program for Quaker youth, the van I had purchased for this job was stolen while I was buying flowers at Home Depot in Pico Rivera. This happened on a Sunday while I was on my way from church to a Bible study. I was "filled with the Spirit," and somehow the van didn't seem very important. The security guard who I was talking to was surprised by my lack of concern for the van. "I am more concerned about those who stole the van," I told him. "They need prayer."

The security guard, a young Latino man, was so touched by my response he shared with me his story, how he had been beaten by gang members in this very lot, and almost died. He was determined to seek revenge, but after several months realized the futility of vengeance and decided instead to become a police officer. He was married, taken classes in college and making good progress in his life. I congratulated him for making a wise decision.

The Quaker youth were also surprised when I told them to hold in the Light those who stole the van. They were young people like themselves who had lost their way. 

The van was eventually found, trashed but still drivable, and kids who stole it were caught. I was asked what restitution I wanted and I said, all I wanted was to talk to them and let them know how precious they are and how I hoped they would see that and turn their lives around. I was never given that opportunity, but I hope that somehow they got the message.

The early church leaders recognized that people were more important than things, even things that belonged to the church.

One of Thomas Merton's favorite stories of the early church concerned some monks whose abbot went on a trip and left them in charge of the monastery. While the abbot was gone, burglars came and stole precious religious items. The monks were so outraged they went out and captured the burglars and brought them to justice. When the abbot returned, they proudly told him what they had done.

"You did this and still call yourselves followers of Christ?" replied the abbot. "Jesus came to bring release to the captives, not put them in jail."

The consciences of the monks were so smitten that they stole out  of the monastery in the middle of night, broke into the jail, and released all the thieves!

I take these teachings to heart as I think about those who broke into our home. Yes, it was painful for us--a violation that will take time to heal. But what I yearn for most is restorative justice--a chance to connect with the offenders and find a way to restore the broken relationships caused by theft. 

This is how my Quaker/Christian faith teaches me to respond. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Pacific Yearly Meeting is on the endangered species list. Can it be saved?

As a Quaker peace and justice advocate I went to this year's Pacific Yearly Meeting   (our annual  Quaker gathering) with mixed feelings and very low expectations since PYM has been silent on peace and social justice concerns for the past four years and has been unwilling to make any public statement that challenges the Trump regime and its manifold and manifest threats to our democracy and our planet. PYM is a good example of what Dr. King meant when he said: "Our lives begin to die the day we become silent about things that matter."

Reading the public statements of  this year's Pacific Yearly Meeting, like the epistle, you'd have no idea that the world is imperiled by the rise of authoritarianism, racism and militarism--the dangerous isms that Friends seem to be afraid even to name. Even though 2019 has been the hottest year on record, there's no mention of climate disruption, which is sad because PYM was the birthplace of the Quaker environmental movement thirty some years ago. Now our Unity with Nature Committee is on life support, unable to function. Thankfully, a few Friends are trying to resuscitate it.
David Johnson

David Johnson, our keynote speaker, is a quietist Friend from Australia who spoke about the need to follow the Inward Christ, which I also ardently seek to do. For Friend David, however, following the Inward Christ has meant withdrawing from the messy world of politics and social justice and focusing on prayer and the inward life. Ever since succumbing to this theology a few years ago, PYM has become quietist in both senses of this word:
1) In  the Christian faith, devotional contemplation and abandonment of the will as a form of religious mysticism.
2) Calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them. "Political quietism."
This kind of quietism is contrary to the spirit of early Friends, which is summed up in the words of William Penn: "True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it." The best antidote to quietism I know is prophetic witness, listening deeply for the "still, small voice" and then speaking out and acting boldly to help bring God's beloved community down to earth.

I appreciate the message of David Johnson--we need to take time to listen deeply to the Inward Christ, the Light Within--but this is what we have been hearing for the past four years from Friends who are chaplains (in one way instance in the payroll of the military) and/or uninvolved in any kind of social justice activism. We haven't heard a message from an activist/prophetic Friend since Jonathan Vogel-Bourne spoke in 2015, just before the election of Trump. Isn't it time to reconnect with our prophetic DNA, the powerful Spirit that animated early Friends?

One sign of vitality in our quietist YM has been an interest in confronting the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our Quaker world, as the PYM epistle notes:
With nearly daily workshops on immigration, inequality, and questions of right relationship, Yearly Meeting demonstrated a desire to focus more intently on diversity in our meetings and in becoming a more nurturing space for Friends of Color, who were joined this week by young Friends of color in meeting. Friends recognize the need for active outreach to persons of color within and out of Meeting.
Stanley Chagala
I'm glad that Friends are expressing a desire to reach out to  persons of color and I was impressed by the material on white privilege that was circulated and discussed.  I hope this talk leads to action. Reaching out to and accompanying people of color could help save us from our  risk- and conflict-aversive whiteness. In the work I do as a housing justice advocate in my local community, I work with people of color on a daily basis, and I encourage other Friends to do likewise. I'm pleased that a number of Orange Grove Friends are now visiting detainees at Adelanto and doing something to address our immigration crisis. This has brought us closer to our mostly Latino neighborhood. When we organized a "Know Your Rights" workshop, we canvassed our neighborhood and got to know our Latino neighbors a little better. That was an important step forward for OGMM Friends. 

 I hope that other Friends take to heart the need to reach out and become more involved in social justice work with people of color who are our neighbors. Being involved in the interfaith peace movement and doing local justice work has also connected me with people of diverse ethnicities and made a huge difference in my life.

I know that my talk of PYM being an "endangered species" sounds over the top, but in the PYM epistle Ministry and Oversight realizes that our YM is dying numerically, if not spiritually:
Ministry and Oversight asked us to consider one of the hardest questions of all: are we dying? Our numbers are half what they were some years ago when we met at Mount Madonna, and in our Monthly Meeting State of the Meeting reports, many Meetings do not say anything about children's programs at all. The speaker from Ministry and Oversight gave us a powerful image of great trees, rotting from the inside in their late years, but still putting out new growth each spring and still nurturing the world around them. We mourned thirty Friends at our Meeting for Memorials, but were reminded that the  Epistles from the 73rd Annual Session of Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends 2019 2 also gained twenty-six new members this year. The hard and yet hopeful truth is that Spirit is moving among us and transforming us. 
Comparing PYM to a dying tree, rotten from the inside, is a sad, but telling metaphor. I question this metaphor, however, because it implies that the slow death of our YM is a natural process, rather than the results of choices we have made. For example, is it possible that the number of attendees has dwindled in part because it takes 15 hours to drive from San Diego, 12 hours to drive from LA, and 3 hours to drive from the San Francisco area to our remote rural site, whereas it took half that amount off time to get to Mt Madonna? Are there deeper reasons for the decline of our YM membership? Is our messaging relevant to the rising generation of Millennials? Are we involving them and people of color in leadership? And are we ourselves truly transformed by Spirit? Are we willing to take risks to be faithful, like early Friends? Finally, are we timidly hiding our Light under a bushel, or are we out in the public arena, proclaiming the Truth that Spirit has revealed to us?

I know that many individual Friends and meetings are doing good work, but I'm not sure what our YM is doing to support this work, other than allow us to have workshops at YM.

One of the signs that we are an aging and dying YM is how much we relish our Meeting for Memorials. Others find these meetings inspiring but I always go away feeling slightly depressed. The anecdotes told about deceased Friends are not particularly uplifting or spiritual. These stories are very different from what I heard at Australian YM  where Friends usually begin a message about a deceased Friend by saying, "I am thankful for the witness of God in the life of so-and-so." In our Yearly Meeting, the witness of God part seems all too often to be forgotten. Instead, Friends tell little anecdotes, often focusing on some amusing detail  or quirk of someone's life, like their love of hot sauce. I am glad I won't be around when my name is posted on the memorial board. I wouldn't want to hear someone sum up my life by telling a story about how much I love mocha coffee. I wish that actual memorial minutes were available in some kind of binder so we could learn something about the lives of Friends who have passed on, rather than rely on fleeting anecdotes.

FYI if you want to honor me when I pass on, forego Memorial Meeting altogether and attend a peace rally instead or do something that will make this world a better place. That's what I believe Jesus would call us to do and that's what I'd encourage Friends to do who care about  me. Don't mourn, organize. When  Jesus was initiating his life-transforming movement, one of his disciples wanted to go to his father's funeral first and Jesus replied, "Let the dead bury their own dead" (Matt 8:22). It sounds like a cold-hearted response, but sometimes that's what we need to hear and do. I think that PYM should heed that advice and not make Memorial Meeting such a big deal. Let's honor the living, let's follow the living Spirit,  and let the dead bury the dead.

That's essentially what happened at PYM when we decided to affiliate with Friends General Conference. Instead of being bogged down by our complicated past, we are looking forward to our future and connecting with a vital Quaker organization that embraces Quakers from across the United States. I hope that PYM will someday host an FGC gathering, as has North Pacific and Intermountain YMs.

When I said earlier than I came to YM with low expectations, I should add that I came with two deeply felt concerns and was not disappointed.

My first concern was to speak out regarding our silenced YM. I shared 100 copies of my statement. I also met with the clerk of Peace and Social Order (PSO) who said that she would make sure this was placed on the PSO agenda this year. I urged her to consider allowing our YM to support the FNCL advocacy campaign next year. Because we cannot bring minutes of concern to the YM anymore, I circulated a petition calling for the repeal of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (which is FCNL's current campaign) and gathered around 40 signatures from Friends.I sent this petition to the offices of Senators Harris and Feinstein. I also had a picture taken of Friends with a banner saying "Repeal the AUMF," which I posted on my Facebook page so people would know where some Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends stand on this issue.

My second concern was to share the latest thinking and best practices on how to end homelessness. I took part in an interest group sponsored by PSO and shared these policy ideas. What I learned is that many Friends are helping to feed or provide temporary shelter to those who are homeless, but what Jill and I are seeking to do with our new nonprofit is to advocate for permanent supportive housing. Housing is what ends homelessness. As advocates, we also work with and not simply for those experiencing homeless. As a homeless woman told me this summer, "We like it when people make sandwiches for us, but we'd rather make our own sandwiches in our own apartment."
Steve Matchett and Gay Howard

I didn't come to YM only as an advocate with a mission, I came as a friend. What I enjoyed most was connecting with old Friends and making new ones at YM.  I have been attending for 30 years, so coming to PYM is like a family reunion. I delight in daily Steve Matchett's Bible study, worship sharing, and our nightly sing-alongs led by Jim Anderson et al. 

I know that God is not finished with PYM and the Spirit is seeking to transform us just as it is seeking to transform everyone and everything in our beautiful but broken world. I am still praying and hoping that the living Spirit  that inspired Jesus and George Fox and Martin Luther King will resurrect our Yearly Meeting and help us to be the change agents that this world so desperately needs.

Maia Wolff and her adorable kids

Maia's mom Pat 

Tim Vreeland and Judith Searle from Santa Monica