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

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Tours on Saturday, August 31, and Sept 14, 2019
Start at 9 am at Rosebud Coffee, 
2302 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA (Free parking in rear of building)
Tour ends at 1 pm.

Who is that homeless person? Why are they living on the street? And what can we do to
Four of the six people pictured here were
formerly homeless, living on the street.
Can you tell which ones were homeless?
All of them are now housed and living productive lives,
advocating for supportive housing.
This picture was taken at an event sponsored
by the United Way’s Everyonein Campaign.
 Left to right: Dorothy Edwards, Hector Curiel,
Jill Shook, Teresa Eilers,
Cynthia Kirby and Shawn Morrissey
There is a simple answer to that last question: housing ends homelessness. When a person experiencing homelessness has a secure, decent home, they are no longer homeless. Many become productive members of our community, as this picture shows
Homelessness presents challenges for us all, not just the people without the housing. The good news is that Supportive Housing, which combines housing with access to social services, has proven effective in helping people regain their health and ability to live independently.
The perceptions of homeless housing are often far different than the reality. Homeless housing designed today is indistinguishable from market rate housing. The concentration of staff and services create a clean and well-managed building.

 Marv’s Place houses 19 formerly homeless families
 and is located in a residential part of Pasadena.
 It has won awards and is seen as an asset
to the community. This is one of the places
we will visit to learn more about supportive housing. 

Join us for a tour of local Supportive Housing and learn how the faith community can help our brothers and sisters who are living on the streets to become housed. To reserve your free ticket, please use these links (tickets are limited so please register asap).

To find out more about the tour, please contact Anthony Manousos at

Sponsored by United Way’s Everyonein, the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHP) and Faith Partnership to End Homelessness.