Compassion

An Obituary For America 

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IMG_2686An Obituary For America
November 26, 2018

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of America. This past weekend America, at the young old age of 242 years, passed away while launching tear gas at women, children and men seeking asylum on its southern border. For the past two years we have watched America slowly giving up its fight to sustain those long held values which founded a great nation, welcomed us from around the world and forged us into its hopeful dream. Yesterday, while most of us worked on finishing off our Thanksgiving leftovers, America slipped away from us.

America didn’t like to talk about its health problems, but for a few decades now and especially in recent years it had grown frail and thoroughly riddled by resurgent ailments like white supremacy, racism, isolationism and internal gun violence. Treatment was repeatedly refused, usually for economic reasons, and the dark spiral to tear gassing the innocent began. With many months to prepare for the arrival of the asylum seekers with aid, increased federal staff to process their applications, and a clear signal of a recognition of their basic human dignity, America chose instead to send in armed troops and escalate things to a violent confrontation. 

America is survived immediately by a meaner, nastier sibling who on the surface reminds us a little bit of the old America, but is too driven by fear and selfishness to understand the greatness it could achieve. This surviving America no longer allows our lady to stand with torch held high calling the masses to us to help us create and share the cherished American Dream, but she is silenced and mourns quietly, her historic call for the moment stolen and silenced.

But America is also survived by some extended family who haven’t given up hope, who mourn with those gassed at our border and remember when America was a beacon, a dream of what could be. There are some standing in the wake of America’s passing who would not have the deepest promise and founding values of America lost and forgotten. Gifts and honorariums in memory of our dear deceased America are requested in the form of letters, emails and phone calls to your congressional representatives. Ask them to stop the violence on the southern border. Ask them to demand that we recognize the human dignity of those coming to us, and give them a fair and honest chance to seek asylum and refuge with us. Ask them to stand against the fear and the racism that has crippled the American dream. Remind them of who we are. And for America’s sake, vote a better future into existence every chance you get. Thank you.

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White Supremacy Is A Criminal Lie

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It’s too easy today for white people to ignore the growing strength of white supremacy in our contemporary culture and political scene in the United States of America. Yes, white supremacy has been in the news because it is resurgent here in the US, right now. Being a white male with no inclinations of supremacy I could easily ignore the whole thing and choose not to participate, but that’s not enough.

As a white male who in my inherent privilege is in no way personally threatened by the criminality of white supremacy I bear an inescapable responsibility to speak loudly and stridently against it. Every white person must accept this responsibility and speak loudly in defense of the truth of the dignity, worth and welcome of our non-white friends, family and neighbors.

Some links about the current swell of white supremacy from…
The New York Times
The Southern Poverty Law Center
CNN

White supremacy is evil. White Supremacy is a lie. It is not a mental illness, because it is chosen. It is a crime against humanity. White supremacy is a systematic devaluing of human beings and it must be denounced and disowned.

I do not advocate violence against white supremacists, but I do advocate for us all to speak clearly with grace, compassion and equity for all peoples’ value. Christians must decry the use of our religious symbols, our scriptures, our Christ and our God in white supremacy. Americans must decry the idea that we are lessened by our diversity.

There is no room in Christianity for racial and ethnic discrimination, as there is no room for any other discriminations perpetrated in the name of Christ. There is no room for partiality and bias among the human family. There is no sacrosanct white culture or American culture. I do not interchange Christianity and American Nationalism here as equal or the same, but I use both because White Supremacy dresses itself in the trappings of each, falsely.

Let us never tire of saying it loudly and repeatedly: White supremacy is a criminal lie. Let no lack of courage, conviction or compassion stop our voices.

AMDG, Todd

 

A Reminder of Our Connection

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Mother Teresa Belong to Each Other QuoteI was driving into work today and listening to an NPR piece on climate change and climate responses (I think it was Climate Cast), mostly hearing from three Republicans and their views on climate issues and what we should do and how. I surprisingly agreed with many things being said, but I struck by the constant refrain of “This is not a Federal issue, but we should tackle it at the State and local levels.” Not a single question was answered without this being part of the answer over and over.

I had a growing unease while listening, not necessarily because of the treatment of climate science or climate change, but because of this anti-Federal government political ideology that kept surfacing to deconstruct our connectedness to one another. When we share rivers, share the plains and valleys, and share the very air we breathe, we cannot afford to move on important issues which directly affect those shared resources as a disconnected mob of individual States and communities. We must move as a nation, as a people, as good neighbors of all. If we fail in this then climate change for the time being will continue to primarily be a problem for the poor, those who cannot afford to insulate themselves from the worst of climate change effects.

Some Climate Change Effects on the World’s Poorest:
National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/151201-datapoints-climate-change-poverty-agriculture/
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/31/climate-change-poor-suffer-most-un-report
Time: http://time.com/4209510/climate-change-poor-countries/

A loss of connectedness leads directly to suffering. We see this when mining destroys local habitats and ravages the earth for a quick profit and leaves behind suffering communities. We see this when pollution rides downstream to most affect those not doing the polluting. We see this when the developed world flexes its financial muscles to rebuild again and again after the mega storms, while poorer countries are never the same, never to fully recover and rebuild from our climate’s struggle to deal with change.

Listen, no one party or political affiliation has a monopoly on connectedness or lack thereof. I’m not writing to demonize or belittle any particular political party, but to express what a perfect reminder it was of our basic human connection, and even our shared national connection here in the States. Isolating ourselves in little State or local bunkers will not move us forward in constructive ways. That idea of local change is part of the solution, but not thew whole of it. We need to reconnect with our neighbors, on our streets and across the country and world.

I hope we can listen more and learn deeply from one another. I hope that sounding the bell of a pet political ideology will not drown out our shared interests or cover over the cries of those least able to cope with our climate effecting decisions. We are connected.

Peace, Todd

For Such A Time As This

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When our Presiding Bishop calls us to fast, I fast. I love the intent and meaning behind this call, and I pray that we might all be transformed in our spiritual practices, the world made a better and more humane place, and that mercy will reign. Click the image below for the video, or just peruse the transcript.

Amen, Todd

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Transcript…

There is a wonderful book that was published some years ago titled “Eat, Pray, Love.” I want to invite you to fast, pray, and love by advocating for those who have no one to advocate for them. 

On May 21, I am going to join with Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and many of our ecumenical friends, in fasting for the day, and beginning a fast on the 21st of every month, continuing until the end of the year 2018, when the 115th Congressional session comes to an end. 

Here is the reason for that fast: That time of the month, around the 21st of every month, is a very difficult time for people who are on public assistance and have received their assistance earlier in the month. So we will fast and pray, to pray that our government and our leaders will find a way to do what is just and kind and compassionate in the best of the American spirit.

But we will not only fast and pray. We are asking you to join with us in advocating in a variety of ways for the poor, for those who need public assistance for children who are the primary beneficiaries of most of the forms of assistance that our government provides. We are asking you to join with other Christians and other people of goodwill to help our government reflect the best of the American spirit by feeding the hungry, caring for our children, and making sure that everyone has the opportunities for life and liberty not only in our country, but in our world. 

There is a story in the Bible, in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the story of the people of God who found themselves in some tough times, and there was a woman named Esther who rose up and accepted the challenge at some risk to herself. A challenge to save her people when they were in jeopardy. At a moment of decision when she was trying to decide whether or not she should enter into the work to save her people, someone named Mordecai sent her a word, and said, “Perhaps Esther, you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” 

Maybe we are Esther. Perhaps we in the Episcopal Church, perhaps we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, perhaps we who are Christians and people of faith and goodwill have come to the kingdom for such a time as this, to help our country make sure that no child goes to bed hungry. 

“Eat, Pray, Love” is a wonderful book, but I want to invite you beginning on May 21 to fast, to pray, and to love by advocating for our children.

God love you, God bless you, and you keep the faith. 

Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry, The Episcopal Church

Blind Piety

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equals human first runPresident Trump’s America is looking less and less American, and totally un-Christian. With the flurry of controversial executive orders our new President has shown the effects of something with which many Christians in the West seem to suffer: blind piety. All in the name of morals and American values, with a strong dash of dishonesty and fear-mongering, our new President shreds the image of America around the world and moves us farther from the Christian values of justice, mercy and love for our neighbors. President Trump road a wave of this blind self-centered piety and unreasoning fear all the way to the White House. Now some of the most vulnerable people on the planet are beginning to pay the price.

What is blind piety? Piety is defined as a quality of being religious or reverent. Blind piety is a religiosity that ignores its negative and hurtful impact on the people around it. Jesus actually condemned it in his own day, and an apt name would also be shallow piety or even mean piety. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day who acted piously in vowing their income to the support of the Temple, but in doing so actually neglected their own aging parents who were in need. (Matthew 15) Now, I always wondered at that passage thinking, “How will something like that ever find a dynamic equivalent, today?” Well, ask and receive. It’s been played out on our national stage just this week. With an executive order that piously calls on abortion as a reason to cut our nation’s international help to some of the most needful and most defenseless women and families around the world our President has endangered lives, and many religious people are applauding and smiling. Blind piety. Mean religion. Just as in the day of Jesus, religion used to deny people our assistance is an affront to God.

sighing jesusAt another time (Luke 14) Jesus chastises the hypocrisy of the religious thinkers who would refuse to help a fellow human being because of the religious obligations of not working on the Sabbath, but of course they would rescue a child or an animal in sudden distress. The hypocrisy is staggering, and it’s playing out before our eyes in this day and age. Our leaders are turning away from the most needful and endangered children on the planet, and mantling themselves in faith and patriotism while doing it! The President continues to narrate his actions with the familiar and completely dishonest alternative facts about a lack of vetting and the danger represented by refugees. He targets Muslim nations and vilifies and criminalizes the most vulnerable people on the planet. He speaks of walling us off from others, as though we are not all connected human beings with a shared and mutual life on this planet. These actions are not Christian, American or moral.

Why did Jesus condemn those religious leaders of his day? It was for what they had neglected: people. People are at the core of religious law, as he named that core: justice and mercy and faith. (Matthew 23) Jesus will later sum up the Law in two expressions of love: love for God and love for neighbor. (Matthew 25) The problem is not that religion is against people, but these people were misunderstanding their religion. We are guilty in the same way today when we turn from justice, mercy and faith to hide behind fear, exclusion and dishonesty. Some have chosen a blind piety that neglects people.

imageThe sad truth is that these Christians in the West are turning from one of our oldest and deepest religious values: the heart of a stranger. Far back in our oldest Jewish religious roots as Christians is this amazing idea of identifying with the endangered. God gave Israel strict rules for protecting the alien and stranger among them, for blessing them and for serving them. The people of Israel were reminded of their own time as strangers in a strange land, and therefore they should hold to the heart of a stranger. (Exodus 22 & 23, Deuteronomy 24) That is an amazing statement and command of empathy and service. Until the incarnation of Christ into human flesh I cannot think of a more identificational statement in scripture.

These current events call for our silence to be broken and our voices raised. This political landscape suddenly shifts to assault our deepest religious values and we cannot withhold our condemnation of these executive actions. Let us be courageous and true. Let us be vocal and honest. Let us speak against these executive actions and their false religiouslity, blind piety and alternative facts. Let us be as courageous as Jesus to speak for justice, mercy and faith. That courage got him ridiculed, cast out and killed, but most of us face far less danger in our privileged status here in our own country. Privilege is never a license to ignore injustice, forget mercy or live faithlessly in our own time.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Todd
(to the greater glory of God)

We Don’t Need More Violence

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50actsoflove squareA four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.

Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…

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My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.21.31 PMWe must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.

AMDG, Todd

Playing With Glyphs

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imageI’m sitting at Starbucks before heading to work and I get a the urge to play with making glyphs. Now, I’m no linguist and I’ve not spent time with any ancient glyphs, so I’m no authority here. I simply had a canvas that I had prepared in Procreate on my iPad and was thinking of looking up a cool Japanese symbol to add to it. But, since I don’t know any Japanese symbols, I’m at the mercy of websites to supply me the image and the meaning.

I don’t know about you, but that always scares me. Like what happens if the website says this is the symbol for purity, but it’s actually the symbol for dunce, as in “Look at this dunce who saw something on the Internet and copied it!” I decided instead to work through a short exercise of what it might be like to create my own glyphs, my own symbols to convey an idea.

It wasn’t terribly easy, and I’m aware that we’ve all seen symbols and used them all our lives. I can’t do this in a vacuum of experience or culture, but can I move somewhat outside of my own experience to make something a little new? It won’t be totally new, but maybe a little novel?

I chose to convey the idea of compassion, compassion being our ability to see the suffering of someone and feeling moved to alleviate the suffering. My glyph is read left to right, top to bottom. I decided to convey four distinct ideas with the glyphs to represent compassion. First, there is awareness, the eye, that is looking upon a person. Second, that person is suffering, as seen by the downward movement of the arrow. Third, there is identifying with that person and making a communal bond, when the curving walls bring us together, like cupping hands. The final and fourth idea is a reversal of the downward trend of life to an alleviation of the suffering, an upward arrow.

The value of this little exercise of mine was not the work of deciding how to draw a person or make an stylized eyeball, but it was the meditation on compassion as a movement, an action and a process. Can I live this way? Can I see people and move to identify with them and work together to bring healing? Do I want to? It seems to me that we have a daily choice to go beside people in their worst of times, or to retreat and hope that less is asked of us when next we meet someone. This decision was poignantly played out in the story Jesus told about the man we now call The Good Samaritan.

In that story we see two people choose to ignore the suffering of another person, and one person choose to face the suffering and help alleviate it. Jesus taught this story to illustrate love for one’s neighbor, for all of ine’s neighbors. The story transcended ethnic divides, religious divides and national divides. The story unites us as a single humanity that cares for one another. That’s a concept worthy of some imagination. That’s a story worth doodling and imagining as a template for our own walk down the road.

AMDG, Todd

An Unfinished Sketch

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IMG_1965I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.

I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.

One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:

I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.

This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.

My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.

AMDG, Todd

Old Time Religion

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Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy

religion jesus taughtLet’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.

I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.

Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.

Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.

me at my baseJesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.

Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)

Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.

Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.

AMDG, Todd

The Hashtag Matters

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black lives matter banner at crib   Black lives matter. I find it hard to understand why we have to elaborate so much on what this statement actually means. It means that our black neighbors matter. Our black friends matter. Our black family members matter. Following the suggestion of a congregant and leader here at CiB I made a #BlackLivesMatter banner for the lawn out front, to express our solidarity with all our black neighbors and to express our solidarity with a local church that had its own #BlackLivesMatter banner defaced multiple times.

When I got an email asking what I thought of this idea, making a banner for our church lawn, I thought immediately of another local church banner that was defaced. Back in the last couple of years a sister church up on Old Georgetown Rd, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, had a banner asking for us to stand against gun violence defaced by the removal of gun. Really people, words matter.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was born of a very real and present fear among our black neighbors that their lives don’t matter or don’t matter as much as other lives. That fear is born of many actual and verifiable things like:

2nd welcome banner at crib   And if that weren’t enough, too many of their white neighbors just shrug and blame the victim for these inequalities and offer crass advice about too often playing the race card. And of course, we can always find an exception to a rule. There are black Americans who have not faced as much racism or negative attention from neighbors and law enforcement. But even as we are glad that some may not face such trouble, we are not granted a license to ignore the experience of so many who do. Finding a black neighbor without this fear does not erase the fear in the lives of others, just as one police officer behaving badly does not mean all police officers are bad. The hashtag is not just spin. The hashtag is asking if we care about our neighbor’s fear and pain. The hashtag invites us to come together around a truth that cannot be denied: black lives do matter. The hashtag doesn’t divide; it asks us to come together to put meaningful action behind our beliefs of equality and justice.

It seems we do have to say it: #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that white lives don’t, or brown lives don’t, or blue lives don’t (murder of police officers is tragically spiking this year), or that any other lives don’t matter. It simply means that black lives do matter, for real. It doesn’t mean they matter more, but does for sure address the fear that some believe that they matter less. The hashtag was born for a reason, with cause. It didn’t come from nowhere. It came from fear, doubt and experience.

It would be amazing if we didn’t need the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag! It would be an answer to prayers! It would be a great if our neighbors no longer lived in the fear and doubt that they would be aggressively policed and killed without cause. It would be wonderful if they that justice was also for them and theirs. It would be fabulous if their fears and concerns were heard and acted upon. The hashtag dreams of that world! Let it do its work. Let it remind us that listening to one another and taking one another seriously is important. Let it remind us that there are people behind hashtags, people that matter.

People of faith of any color should not be afraid of #BlackLivesMatter, but should embrace it’s truth: black lives do indeed matter. To become part of the solution we have to listen to the voices expressing the fear and doubt, and the pain and anger. Denying the voices of our neighbors who are hurting simply denies us and them the opportunity to begin the healing.

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   Escalate peace. The hashtag is not a call to violence or to more fighting. The hashtag is a call to step back and view one another with dignity and respect, black and white and blue and every shade around. We have to stop escalating the violence and fear and begin to build bridges and relationships between communities that will foster cooperation and growth. We can do this. We must do this. And the people of the book who claim the One who said “my peace I leave you” must work to establish this vision in the soil of very continent, nation and community of our beautiful shared planet.

AMDG, Todd