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sermon lays out the spiritual basis for King’s anti-war activism, one that I embrace, especially his belief that “war is obsolete" and peace must be pursued by peaceful means because we are all interconnected.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.

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