Housing Justice and the Triumphal Entry: What are we afraid of?

13 Apr

“Night cannot drive out the night, only light, only light.  Hate cannot drive out the hate, only love, only love.”

This powerful song by Delonte Gholston, which  he sang with deep passion at the Palm Sunday Peace Parade last Sunday, kept ringing in my heart and mind for days after the parade. I was overjoyed that this year the poetry and syncopation of the African American tradition seasoned our Mennonite-founded-parade.

I felt so honored to be asked to speak this year right at the beginning of the parade as we gathered at the Lutheran Reformation Church before the above “floats” led us through the streets, carried by husband Anthony Manousos and a youth group from Long Beach. (Anthony and I met six years ago at this annual parade!) Of course, with this year’s theme, “Ending Homelessness and Ensuring Affordable Housing for All,” I was overjoyed to speak on my passion and calling.  Folks showed much appreciation for what I shared last Sunday, so I wanted to also share it with you.

Jill Shook’s speech, Palm Sunday Peace Parade, April 9th, 2017

The Triumphal Entry: What are we afraid of?

Today we are seeking to retrace the footsteps of Jesus, who started his ministry in Galilee, the poor part of Palestine and ended his earthly ministry in a city: Jerusalem. So we walk from NW Pasadena to the city center. Where we are now, is a very special neighborhood for me. I had the joy of helping to found an after-school program called STARS sponsored by Lake Ave Church and I recruited hundreds of children from this neighborhood.

After five years of pouring our lives into these youth, many were still dropping out of school. When I asked them why, some needed to work to help their parents pay the rent, others baby sat so their parents could work.  That’s when I felt called address the high cost of housing. At first I thought we were crazy, how could we address this seemingly in surmountable issue? But in the midst of this housing crisis our little housing advocacy group has helped produce and preserve hundreds of affordable units.

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus rides on a borrowed donkey, while the people are laying out the red carpet just ahead of his arrival–laying branches and clothing in the donkey’s path to honor the coming king. The whole multitude rejoiced and praised God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, blessing Jesus as their King—the Prince of Peace.

But we know that there is no peace without Justice. And when I began to see our successes in increasing affordable housing units, I too shouted with joy at how God was using our little group.

Jesus died for our sins, but also died because he was a threat to society. In the Gospels he confronted the authorities 27 times, challenging them to be part of a new kingdom built on love and justice.  Seeing this side of Jesus’s ministry, following in the tradition of Moses who confronted Pharaoh to save his people, Esther who used her beauty, prayer and fasting to speak to the king to save her people, and all the prophets who spoke to kings on behalf of widows, orphans and foreigners, I realized that advocacy was clearly part of God’s work.

Jesus’s declaration of kingship was a clear threat to the existing king, raising their fears. Why were they afraid of Jesus?

This passage about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is sandwiched between three stories about money: First, a story about Zacchaeus, a tax collector who repented of stealing taxes and paid back five times what he stole, second, a story of ten servants, some who invested their money and talents well and others who didn’t bother leveraging what they had been given, and the third story, right after Jesus’s triumphal entry, he turned over the money changers in the temple.

So what were they afraid of? This passage makes it very clear.

Rather than being afraid of Jesus, when Jesus challenged Zacchaeus about his dishonest gains, with joy he gave half of his possessions to the poor, and paid back four times the amount he cheated.  Like Zacchaeus, Millard Fuller, a wealthy man, sold his airplanes, horse ranches and all he had to begin Habitat for Humanity, which up to 2013 had built over 800,000 homes around the world.

Perhaps some of you have helped to build a Habitat home and know the joy of this kind of service.

We may not be able to build 800,000 homes, but we could take out a loan to build one small home in our back yard to contribute to the 1.3 million short fall of housing units needed in CA. This high demand and this extreme shortage is causing our homes mortgages and rents to soar.

Anthony and I had the joy of creating a tiny room in our back yard and we have been greatly blessed to have a friend who was once homeless stay there. He is great a fixing the things we tend to break and has helps us to construct many of the green features of our home.

We all so need each other. With a high end community, you need to employ an army of lower income folks to serve that population: dishwashers, car washers, baggers, gardeners, house cleaners, and on and on.

But where do they live? Recognizing the environmental nightmare of traffic congestion, California requires that cities plan for sufficient housing for all income levels, seeking to enable folks to live in close proximity to their work. Any healthy city needs a mix of income levels to function well. This required plan, called the Housing Element, requires that we plan, but it doesn’t require that the plan be implemented. Certainly we can work with our city to move this plan into action. But fear often stops us short.

So again I ask: What are we afraid of?  It think it has to do with what we worship, our time and our property values. It takes time to know and understand the laws and even more time go to the city to make the necessary changes. But for those who go, they receive great joy and blessing in knowing the justice they are making happen.

Dorothy Edwards

Dorothy Edwards, who was a speaker at the parade had been homeless for seven years, addicted to drugs, sleep in her tent in her little “homestead” carved out an embankment by 210 Freeway. Housing Works nurtured a trusting relationship with her and got her an apartment. She has been housed for five year, drug free for four. Today she his on the Housing Work’s staff, helping others like herself to get housed. She is also on the national board of the Corporation for Supportive Housing. 

The great temptation is also to worship our property values, fearing having any lower income neighbor in site. But if we love God with all our hearts, minds and souls and love our neighbors as ourselves. And if we want a nice home for ourselves, then this means that we should want a nice home for everyone, especially those most in need, those who are at the center of every prophet’s message and the center of every parable of Jesus.


Marv’s place, a home for 20 formally homeless families, was recently build on Union and Mar Vista. This looks like a Mediterranean Villa. It has won an award as the best permanent supportive housing in all of Southern CA.

When the dilapidated Rosslyn Hotel in downtown LA was purchased by an affordable housing developer to make it all permanently supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals, they were blown away when they took off the dry wall and discovered marble walls, and when they removed the false ceiling and found an ornate Spanish sky light covered during WWII.

They found a small door that brought them below the hotel leading to a Speak Easy…. Certainly not want homeless folks need!

The beauty of these housing developments, like Marv’s Place and the Rosslyn Hotel help the most vulnerable in our society begin to claim that they have infinite worth.  It’s just like God to give the best of the last and least.

Again I ask: What are we afraid of?  Our dollars say, “In God we trust” but we spend more than all the nations in the world combined on our military and national security. Do we trust God or the military for our safety?  Costa Rica has no army, so they can invest their taxes on education and other domestic concerns like housing. When their country was formed, their plantations were small, thus preventing the need for slaves. And because landholdings were smaller, this prevented a few landowners from controlling their country, in turn creating a more just distribution of land and a more democratic country.

By contrast, our nation was built on the back of slaves and military might. In fact, today in the US we are considering increasing our military spending by 54 billion while cutting HUD —Housing and Urban Development– by 6 billion. This is not right.  Already over half our US budget is for the military.

The Palm Sunday Peace Parade started after 9/11 to declare a different response to war.  Jesus said that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Rather than invest in guns that kill, we need to remove the occasion for war, recognizing that is obsolete and unnecessary. My favorite author Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers, shows how many international conflicts have been won without a gunshot. The best way to destroy our enemies is to make them our friends. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, that means to provide hospitality, food and in case of the Syrian refugees, a place to live.

Like Jesus, are we willing to confront the authorities about how our city and nation allocate our hard earned tax dollars?  Pasadena’s housing department in one of the best in the US—winning national awards with Austin, Texas for some of the best housing policy. But with the cuts from both HUD and Redevelopment, our Housing Department has lost 85% of its funding, and this is before the proposed 6 billion cuts to HUD.

We have the power to create new funding sources.  Twenty pastors in Montgomery County, Maryland, confronted their county. With their many sit down meetings at the county seat, they negotiated a change in how property taxes were allocated, dedicating 2.5% of all property taxes for an affordable housing trust fund, which has produced over 1,000s of units.

Just before Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, in Mark’s account of the story, Jesus asks the blind beggar Bartimaeus, “What do you want?” Very good question, “what do we want?” If we want, we too can find a dedicated source of funding for our local affordable housing trust fund. Our city spends 77 million on our police, and only 1.3 million for our housing department. Certainly with the churches here today we can find way to fund affordable housing.

In Jesus day, there was so much gold in the temple when the Romans sacked and destroyed it in 70 c.e. that the price of gold dropped fifty percent in nearby Syria as it began to circulate. When Anthony and I were in Rome, walking around the upper edges of the great coliseum, we were shocked to read that it was built with money stolen from the temple in Jerusalem and was built on the backs of Hebrew slaves.

No wonder Jesus over turned over the money changers in the temple after entering into Jerusalem. He came on a donkey to bring peace, but no one expected this kind of action to be part of peacemaking.

What do churches have in their treasuries?  Just in the last year, Lake Ave Church have given over $ 75,000 to keep people in their homes and prevent homelessness.  A Lutheran Church in Chicago was losing members, and so they put their church building up for collateral five times to buy five apartment buildings, making them all affordable. Their last purchase was a hospital they that adapted into affordable housing for seniors and for those living with AIDs.

Again, what do our churches have? We have members, and vision and a big God who delights to do more than we and imagine.  We have parking lots that could be made into affordable housing, or used for a safe parking program like Santa Barbara has, where 20 churches and nonprofits offer 115 parking spaces for homeless folks living in their cars. Safe Parking Santa Barbara. Each person living in their car has case managers, moving them on a path to permanent housing.

Churches have empty buildings that could house our homeless friends, like Family Promise that houses homeless families inside houses of worship four times a year, within a network of 14 congregations. Family Promise San Gabriel Valley. In Pasadena the congregations that host homeless families are: Lincoln Ave Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist, St. Andrews Catholic Church and Holliston United Methodist. The Quaker Meetinghouse in Claremont houses 11 homeless people throughout the year: CHAP Claremont. When people with Family Promise and those who stay with the Quakers of Claremont are permanently housed, the space is given so that other homeless people can enter these effective programs. These are two beautiful programs that utilize church buildings as a way to end the homelessness.

What ends homelessness are homes. If you are in a shelter you are still homeless, if you are in transitional housing, you are still homeless, but when permanent housing is secured, you are no longer homeless. Ending homelessness

Pasadena has ended family homelessness and lowered its homeless count by 56 percent since 2011 by permanently housing 220 of our most chronic homeless neighbors.  In 2017 we counted 544 homeless people. Surely with over 200 congregations we can find a way to house those 544 still in need of homes. Many American Cities and states are ending homelessness for all veterans. Cities and States ending homelessness

We too can do this.

Just before climbing onto the donkey, Jesus was just finishing his parable about challenging the ten servants to multiply their resources, and Jesus concluded with this bottom line point of his story:

“Those of us who use well what we are given, even more will be given.”

Wow!!!  Do we believe that? If we really believe this, we could solve the homeless and housing crisis. This is not a philosophy of fear, but of abundance, knowing that God supplies our needs of we do the right thing.

After Jesus overturned the money changers, he wept over Jerusalem. He longed for the city to understand the way to peace.

God’s is in the business of alleviating poverty through the redemption of all people, all systems that govern people, redeeming our cities and the soil on which we all depend for our food and housing.  If we really believed that God is the redeemer and the only true owner of land and if we were to conduct business by God’s rules, everything would change—including who we would be willing to embrace as our neighbors and how we plan our cities. For many us our identity and security is tied so closely with our home and property values, that we can be tempted to forget that we will not be judged on the value of our property, but on how much we value the most vulnerable.  We are free to embrace all people to be our neighbors because ultimately Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is our protector and provider.

The account of the Triumphal entry that we celebrate today had throngs of people shouting out in praise for the amazing acts that Jesus was preforming. Let’s us shout to the heavens today, celebrating the joy of being part of this new kingdom of love, justice and peace!!

See a word document of my speech here: The Triumphal Entry Jill’s speech

Thank you for reading my blog!! And thank you for caring! May you have a beautiful Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday! And remember: “Night cannot drive out the night, only light, only light.  Hate cannot drive out the hate, only love, only love.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: