(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Steinbach

This blog was originally published
June 24, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Steinbach Pride

Steinbach Pride
Image: Steinbach Pride

There are so many pitfalls and temptations as one endeavours to live into solidarity from a place of privilege. In my case, I benefit greatly from many things, including a lot of education, gender and sexual orientation identities.

What that means is it is easy to think I have answers, easy to speak too loudly and tempting to assume I know what’s right. That sense of privilege, therefore, only becomes more complicated when the work of solidarity leads one see more clearly others who equally share my privilege. In particular, in the choices of those who hold authority within the democracy in which we live out our days in this Canadian context.

In the midst all of these tensions – which are really only a gloss – sometimes one must speak. As Jesus turned tables as a political critique, while not being part of the ‘official’ structure of power, I believe that Winnipeg Presbytery’s denominational context, as an Affirming Ministry, requires us to acknowledge that the work of solidarity is never done and always comes with choice.  Privilege is awkward and has great value. It also is very muddied when one wears it into places or moments in which the suffering of those who are marginalised is highlighted.

As I mused last week – Rainbow Weeps – the reality of life for our LGBTTQ friends, Sisters and Brothers remains troubled. In our United Church of Canada context, we might like to imagine that our evolving theology of diversity reveals that the world of the Kingdom-to-Come is all around us. It certainly is always in progress, and the violence in Orlando has only reinforced that assumptions of work-done can lead to complacency. Recently that sense of accomplishment has been challenged locally.

For those who do know, the third largest city in Manitoba will be holding its first Pride event. That’s right, Steinbach will be holding an event that was meant as first steps, perhaps was even imagined to be ‘low key.’. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the violence in Orlando reminds us of the ongoing struggle to embrace dignity and safety is never done. This is especially true for those who challenge the conventions of sexual gender, identity and orientation. In such times and places, privilege can be harnessed to advocate and even protect.

Solidarity

Solidarity
Image: geralt

Now I openly acknowledge that I do not agree with theologies or philosophies that are grounded in exclusion and phobia. I can also accept that people will and do have different perspectives than my own or my faith community. It becomes difficult, however, when those who have privilege (just as much as I do) and hold elected positions, hide behind ‘freedom,’ in order not to attend such events. Pride events – though some may think they are simply a party – remain grounded in a protest movement. This resistance is grounded in human rights, which have been, are, and likely will continue to be violated.

I can live in the paradox that an elected official may have personal beliefs that are different than my own. Specifically, that Creator intend us to embrace a world as blessed because of variations and differences, not because our species is at the top of the chain, but because we recognise all life is threaded and intimately woven together.

I cannot, however, reconcile when someone who holds public office does not realise that their choices not to be attend such events highlights that they are not, in fact, representing ALL of their constituents. This choice, therefore, ends up reinforcing cultural phobias and, in this case, that directed at the GLBTTQ community.

I could go on … I am most tempted to do so, but I know that is simply ego. As Jesus’ response to hurting was compassion and care, as discussed last week, his response to those in power was witness and solidarity. Walking with those who are oppressed – from my place of solidarity and privilege – feels truer to the Good News then either engaging into the vitriol of right and wrong debate or our Canadian tendency to sometime acquiesce when disagreements becomes apparent.

On July 9th, therefore, I will simply walk with those who are members of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. I will accompany those brave and courageous people in Steinbach on their initial steps toward celebrating diversity’s blessing in Creation. Anything more would be just words …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Words

This blog was originally published
May 13, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Words in Progress

Words in Progress

Words … aren’t just words. No matter what the intention – or lack thereof – words have, do and will hold power. They shape our stories, define this and explain that. They’re never neutral for they are intrinsically shaped, specifically moulded and actively nurtured to have meaning. Thread, pull and draw them together and you begin to create reality. When meaning and knowledge, understanding and learning dance amidst the edges and boundaries, breadth and confines of the defined, those who have and those who do not often find themselves looking across walls and barriers, blades and barrels.

You may be apolitical, may not like democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, this ‘ology or that ‘osophy, but the act of speaking is political. The ritual of writing and the practice of reading are laden with depth that too often goes unnoticed.

We live in a world never so inundated by grammar and letters, characters and letters, words and syntax. Whether you’re twirling from one digital device to another, flipping through this magazine or that paper, words are everywhere. Literacy has never been more important so as to make sense of the cacophony of voices bidding, cajoling and tempting you with the illusion of time’s deficit.

In this privilege of required sense making, as words cascading everywhere, we’re losing our span to attend to trending videos, reality TV, political discourse now become sport sound byte and meaning confined to 140 characters and even less when retweeted. In the discord of competing meaning, it is often easy to not drill down, dig deep or critique and analyse voices that are intending to convince of you this when what they mean is that.

  • So why this bramble and brumble, rumble and stumble through words, meaning and making in a world filled with frequencies?
  • Why point out the obvious inundation of channels that you can surf, yet still feel content deprived?
The Mystery is Afoot

The Mystery is Afoot
Image: Zhang Wenjie

It’s simple, well at least from my perspective. I’m trying to ground myself in a narrative, story, vision offered by a rabbi now long dead, who continues to challenge us to awakening. A guy who didn’t downplay, patronise or paternalise when speaking.

Where your words go, your mouth follows. And when your mouth stops flapping, action unfolds. When the words we use and the actions we take do not jive, shimmy, grind or trot, not only is our intention in question, but the very message we care to transmit comes under scrutiny.

They’ll always be with us – he taught – the marginalised, the oppressed and the weary. How we respond and reply, let go and lift up is the mirror into which we gaze. Others may seek glory dressed in bills and stocks, coins and bling, but what we do when we stop using words is the gauge to which solidarity is lived and liberation is experienced.

For I’m never going be free if what I say binds you to the deck. I may find myself standing atop your chained self, thinking this ship isn’t going to sink, even though the water’s ankle lapping as the engine groans, sputters & drowns. This isn’t a game, but it’s one hell of an adventure:

  • When that chain breaks and water we tread leads to a shore unmet …
  • When our hands entwine and I realise I’m not me and you aren’t you …
  • When our feet stand in warm sand as we face one another …
  • We may just realise liberation’s land beckoning us to realise that you is I and me is we…

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Vignette|Pen & Mirror

This blog was originally published
April 08, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Stories, Vignettes & the Archive

Stories … they’re funny things. This A Deacon’s Musing feature will share vignettes of voices that are (often) an amalgamation of experiences, contexts and people. They will frequently be monologues, which will be speaking both directly to our United Church of Canada and generally to faith communities. As with all stories, this may not have actually happened, but all stories are true. And as story-tellers know, once you hear them, they are happening to you …

Please explore the Vignette Archive for more stories.

calamus pluma

calamus pluma
Image: Kelsey Scalaro

They had both come from very different places. Their journey to Reverend Meadow’s flock had been filled with a few pauses here and there, from one house church to another or finding themselves in a new relationship after two churches got married: so many stories that led to their friendship …

When they finally met, even though they were totally different, it was like they had found a treasure for which they had always been looking, even longing. In fact, whenever Styla and Specul had a chance to hangout, they often talked about the different things they had witnessed since they were last together. Whenever fortune so shone, it was like they had never been apart. Often, the conversation began with a conjunction, as though there had never been a pause since the last time Styla found she had been left near Specul.

“Didn’t they just look beautiful?” Specul boomed in his ornate voice. Though the church was quiet now and Steeple had stopped her ringing, Specul’s prim and proper presentation remained immaculate. It was not that he was prideful, but he was always grateful that he could reflect back each person’s beauty as they gazed into him.

“Oh, were they?” Styla inquired in her clear whisper.

The mirror and pen often found themselves together after a wedding or funeral, baptism or welcome of new members. Both were well cared for heirlooms of their church. Heirlooms that reached all the way back to the time when all of those different people decided to unite. Sometimes Styla would get excited remembering the signing of the union document in that cavernous arena. It was often a story on which they would reflect when something new happened.

“Yes, indeed. Ruth and Naomi were both handsome and beautiful. The way the various shades of ivory complemented what the other was wearing. And the punch of colour of Ruth’s lavender accessories and the ivy that was in Naomi’s hair, joyfully-tear-making in their splendour!” declared Specul.

Styla rolled this image around: since she was unable to often appreciate … or admittedly understand … what he saw, she reflected on the similarity in what she felt.

“It sounds a lot like the moment one of them passed me to the other, as they could sign the marriage certificate. The moment their hands touched, I felt all flush with care and compassion. I could even sense, in the quivered pause, their evident attraction. I felt proud to be part of this day, Specul!” Styla added.

mirror mirror on the wall

mirror mirror on the wall
Image: opethpainter

After they shared their notes and impressions, from the marvel of how an organ and electric guitar could actually make beautiful music, to the giggles from the wee people as the pigeons flew as the steeple sang, Specul paused for enough time that Styla wondered if he had been covered.

“In all the excitement, I forgot about the worry for Mrs. Habib,” Specul finally said.

 “Oh no: why?” she inquired, obviously worried.

“Well,” he continued in a low bass, “you remember that after she and her family arrived from Mosul Pastor Meadow had to help them get acquainted to the different things Christians did here in worship?”

Styla responded affirmatively.

“Well I didn’t realise,” he continued, “that though she and her husband are Christians, they have many Muslim family members and some of them have been hurt recently.”

“Oh no!” Styla declared with shock.

“I’m afraid so. Pastor Meadow is trying to help her figure out if she should go and help. While they were talking, it is clear that the election is making people angry and some think hurting those who are different is okay now,” Specul concluded.

This time it was Styla’s time to pause. In fact, she was quiet so long, that Specul thought she might have been collected by Tatiana without him seeing her.

“Well that makes sense,” Styla declared, interrupting Specul’s worry.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

At first Styla spoke so fast in her whisper that he had to ask her to slow down. Finally, with just enough pausing between words, she shared that she understood what everyone was signing before the wedding: a petition!

Inaugural Service

Inaugural Service
10 June 1925, Mutual Street Arena
Image: The United Church of Canada

The stone church had a history of activism, of putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the ‘least,’ they would say. Styla was not sure – then – why all the different hands were gathered, in fact she ran dry more than once as they signed the document. Calloused and soft gentle ones and shades of earth and rose coloured hands held her. She could sense their smells: garlic, rosemary, and curry to name only a few. But each one held her firmly – she thought that grip with which she was embraced spoke to their solidarity for one another.

Styla and Specul paused … and as they were separated, they did not know what was next for Mrs. Habib, but they knew she was not alone. They also knew that even the stone church was not always immune to the causes that Reverend’s Flocks confronted – graffiti had scarred the church and windows broken in the past – but the people stood together and their voice always spoke as confidently as steeple’s announcement each time a new day dawned …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Faith & Dying

This blog was originally published
March 11, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

Lent: We walk into the gathering danger & doubt surrounding Jesus as he made choices that led to the Cross.
This is a time of preparation & reflection.
Where have you been this year & where might you be going?
What are the things that have kept your journey on pause?
What are the choices you have made that you would like to revisit?
A Lenten Collection

Faith & Permanence

Faith & Permanence
Image: Meena Kadri

“For what are you willing to die?”

I think that’s one of the central questions that dances in and amongst a discernment of the Christian faith. Where is the line in the sand, where is the place when you say ‘too much’ and stand, knowing – let’s be clear that this means literally – in the way of danger?

This central tension often helps people discern what it means to follow as a disciple of Christ. I also think (too often) it is sensationalised to a point that makes sacrifice look mandatory. I think that is an interesting debate and I offer that I do not think it is mandated. I feel, however, it is the inevitable outcome of embracing a love so radical that injustice and inequity become evidently apparent. It is in that clarity that it becomes a ‘no brainer’ to help others, because love – not that romanticised-Hallmark-five-dollar-card-kind – makes us radical, it makes us mavericks!

At one time, these are the one-on-one conversation I would have when I was in pastoral ministry. What is an individual or the community’s call? Where in the neighbourhood are the marginalised suffering and how does walking into solidarity affect everyone? Another interesting question in this context was: what are you willing to sacrifice? Of what do you need to let go, in order to be that radical love?

Not easy questions, certainly often without trite or simple answers, but the excitement that they create engenders discussions of Jesus among us, the Kingdom now and fully living in freedom, for which I believe we all long. And – getting to that place – is grounded both in trust and vulnerability: another difficult dance, though well worth the commitment. But – of course – I am biased …

twilight near!

twilight near!
Image: Nick Kenrick

My context – in the last few years – has shifted from the pastoral to one that is more structural or administrative in nature. In turn, as I began this year’s Lenten blogs, I was again wondering how would these musings translate into this new experience.? As I was sitting at a recent monthly gathering of church in Winnipeg, it became clear that the questions are just as appropriate individually, as they are collectively.

Let’s not sugar-coat the discussion and – as we are in Lent – wrestling seems appropriate. Whether as an individual or collective, which endeavours to follow Jesus, faith and dying are companions with whom we must walk. There is no doubt there is beauty in this ministry we have inherited. It often it comes in the awakening to the dream and an awareness of another person’s intrinsic beauty as a fellow Beloved of God. But this beautiful dream confronts – and likely always will – a dominant story of brokenness, inequity and oppression. As such, choosing to help others inevitably places a person of faith in direct tension with this ubiquitous story. If Jesus left us with anything, it is that faith and dying are intimate partners and in shadowed times, resurrection seems like a pipe dream of milk and honey that will remain a fairy-tale.

In the midst of this Lenten journey, therefore, how we – as The United Church of Canada – respond to such questions, may illuminate how we might describe our mission in the world as we await Light’s dawning:

• For what are you willing to die?
• What is our Call?
• Where in our neighbourhoods are the marginalised suffering and how does walking into solidarity affect everyone?
• What are we willing to sacrifice?
• Of what do we need to let go, in order to be radical love?

Blog links:

 Image: twilight near
 Image: Faith & Permanence
 Wikipedia: Lent

 Wikipedia: The United Church of Canada
 YouTube: Dream (Priscilla Ahn)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Solidarity

This blog was originally published May 2, 2014
by KAIROS Canada

Solidarity Mural

Solidarity Mural
Photo: Terrence Faircloth 2006

Living and striving to change the world is no easy thing. Living and striving for the Kingdom can be humbling, frustrating, tear making and – let’s face it – exhausting! So, why bother?

Whether you’re reading this from a context of secularity, humanism, faith or agnosticism (perhaps somewhere in-between), social justice requires us to know who we are, why we do what we do. If we don’t, it’s likely that – at some point – your own stuff is going to get in the way. And when that happens, the best of intentions cannot stop the inevitable hurt that will result.

I am rather excited to be writing this blog for KAIROS and – when I was asked – I was uncertain what I might offer from my own vantage as a Diaconal Minister in the United Church of Canada. My particular stream of ministry is commissioned to several aspects of the life of a faith community, one being Service. The work that KAIROS does continues to excite me. As I was reflecting on this time of year, it occurred to me that this Easter Season, in which Christians now find themselves, was an appropriate place from which to muse.

In a previous blog, I explored the connexion between suffering, choice and solidarity as an Easter people. Since then, this opportunity feels like a fitting place in which to further explore the idea of solidarity.

Solidarity has a long and rich history. I think (as a church) the idea of solidarity can be understood as a shift from mission that was connected with conversion and making all people the same to a lens that sees the inherent wisdom and dignity in the Other. This shift, therefore, has allowed us to recognise our own failings and the danger that we now understand as colonialism. And – in looking into this mirror – when we are at our best, we might lament, but we should not be paralysed, whether by apathy and/or guilt.

Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle
Photo: Andrew Magill 2006

I think that the Easter moment and this season is so very helpful, therefore, in musing and wrestling with why we do what we do and how we might understand solidarity. In the blog about suffering, I found these three statements helpful in this regard:

  • Jesus CHOSE the path that led to enduring and suffering an execution that is unimaginable to me;
  • Jesus CHOSE to walk with those who do not, did not, and will not have privilege; and,
  • Jesus CHOSE suffering.

Privilege  is one of the key mixing ingredients for the recipe of colonialism and therefore is central to recognise in order to shift to walking with, not directing or leading, others. This reality of the disparity of have and have not is as old as the Christian Sacred Scriptures. There’s a reason that the camel and the needle do not thread well: we (with privilege) create a story or narrative that reinforces our sense of entitlement. But (always that conjunction shows up) Jesus’ ministry was and is founded in the recognition that by letting go of that sense of entitlement, joy and awakening can and do occur. Of course, that means seeing suffering in the world …

There is joy in the Holy. There is light incomprehensible that bathes each of us. And – when we see it, experience it – we cannot but respond. As an Easter people, however, that will and does lead us into difficult places. When we are grounded, that sense of being exhausted, which I mentioned at the beginning of this musing, becomes light to carry. But it is there in the paradox that leads us all to liberation: joy and suffering are connected by the choices to which we awaken and the steps we take in turn.

As a poet often articulates much more succinctly than prose, perhaps I will leave you with this question and let Mary Karr, say the rest: what choices lie before you in which you might be helped to awaken by nurturing another to stand with dignity?

Camel Crossing

Camel Crossing
Photo: Ifni95 2008

Peace, Solidarity

Peace, Solidarity
Photo: Glen Halog 2011

 

 

Descending Theology: The Resurrection
By Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and squid ink—
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Source: Poetry (January 2006)

Solidarity (Lyrics)

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(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Suffering

St. Ignatius Loyola (Plate 4)

St. Ignatius Loyola
Plate 4

I have to admit that I have been avoiding writing this blog for a long time. I’m not sure if this is a one-time exploration for this topic. Let’s face it, when we hear the word suffering connected with faith – specifically Christianity – people cringe: I know I do! Whether you’re a person of faith or not, when the word is uttered, we end up anticipating judgement or the use of a theological lens that is less than life-affirming is often the response.

And yet I keep returning to the topic almost every time I prepare to muse. This time, it seems that I have taken the plunge. So – please – be gentle with me if I stumble and do comment, email and/or tweet to continue the discussion. I am pretty certain what I have to offer is not authoritative, but I do think it might be an opportunity for conversation, which arises from our collective experience!

Here’s the stage for this blog: Easter!

We’re in the time and season of Easter. The central message of Christianity is the gift of awakening, of new life, of becoming that which the Universe knows we are: beautiful, holy and a blessing. This Easter message – for me – challenges us to commitment/discipleship, to discern where our energy goes and how/if we model the radicality of Jesus’ ministry. And – let’s face it – that ministry’s high point doesn’t fit triumphalism very well!

But, but, but … here’s the paradox: Jesus’ ministry, the Easter experience is brilliant, inspiring and has and will continue to embolden people to do crazy – some might even be so bold to say ‘stupid’ – things. Sacrifice and solidarity are not what most people would frame as a sellable message. And how this connects with suffering …

I think I will test three statements for the sake of the brevity of a blog. I may even revisit them in more detail as individual explorations. But I suspect this beginning may help me get some of my thoughts down to nurture our conversation …

The Joy of Life

The Joy of Life

  1. Suffering: Is not our natural state. We are not ‘meant’ or designed to endure trials. However you understand the Holy, suffering is not a test, a gift or an inevitably designed plan. Someone’s suffering is not another person’s teacher;
  2. Suffering: Is part of the complicated reality of life; it is connected with the realities and unpredictable nature of life. There will be suffering. All of us will endure the inevitable pain that arises as our bodies travel in a linear line. Whether that’s connected with aging; experiences of loss and hurt; and/or the challenges of finding dignity in contexts of have and have not; and,
  3. Suffering: Has been and will be misused by those who have privilege. And – dear reader – that’s me and most of you who have access to the internet. Those who have had an opportunity to benefit from education, who can read, have access to health care and are nurtured by stable cultures and families. We create the lens through which we see another’s ‘suffering.’ In turn, we can rationalise another’s ‘suffering’ and – in turn – distance ourselves from the Other

Back to Easter …

  • Jesus CHOSE the path that led to enduring and suffering an execution that is unimaginable to me;
  • Jesus CHOSE to walk with those who do not, did not, and will not have privilege; and,
  • Jesus CHOSE suffering.

I am not implying or trying to celebrate suffering as a choice. I feel – I intuit – that these three inklings about Jesus are key for me as I wrestle with the nature of suffering.

Choice implies a path: Jesus’ own awakening, which I see unfolding up to the Easter moment, meant he walked with solidarity with those who suffered (See #3). It was inevitable that by embracing solidarity, he would experience suffering himself (Let’s face it, we just need to read about the Disciples concerns’ and challenges’ in the Gospels: they knew he and they were turning a nest that most just let lie). And – if the story ended on Good Friday – it’d be a hard sell in a consumer culture that equates bang for the buck!

But it didn’t … and so here I am feeling touched by the joy of Easter – it’s rather palpable truth be told. And I also feel a deep awareness of this thing called suffering. I’m not sure if I’ve arrived any closer to clarity, but I do feel like a conversation I may have been avoiding, might finally unfold …

If I Rise (Lyrics)

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(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Kindness

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

Lent: We walk into the gathering danger & doubt surrounding Jesus as he made choices that led to the Cross.
This is a time of preparation & reflection.
Where have you been this year & where might you be going?
What are the things that have kept your journey on pause?
What are the choices you have made that you would like to revisit?
A Lenten Collection

This year is very different for me than the last six! It’s been awhile since I was not directly connected to worship involvement, in particular during this Lenten season of preparation and journey. In this new space, I will be travelling throughout Winnipeg, where I get to worship at different churches and congregations. As I was worshipping this last Sunday (at a church called St. Andrew’s River Heights) the Talk or Presentation (Church-ese = Sermon or Reflection), the minister discussed Jesus’ time in the desert. What hooked me during the discussion was the exploration of Jesus’ temptations (Matthew 4.1-11):

  1. Stones into Bread (Lust): The temptation for fame or fortune. To live beyond his own means at the expense of others;
  2. Pinnacle of the Temple (Doubt): To rely on himself, as opposed to trusting in God. In particular, rather than act faithfully – even when in doubt or with questions – Jesus was tempted to test God as a magician who grants wishes; and,
  3. At the Mountain (Power): To believe that that by one’s own actions or efforts, he alone could ‘save the world.’

All of the temptation seem connected with a tension between obedience and disobedience. The danger of ego was glaring to me. As the Talk continued, I admit I heard something that sort of floored me: these temptations were neither static, nor one off: they are constantly in play. And – more specifically – what if we hear them as the temptations with which the institutional church must constantly wrestle? What if we looked into the mirror – those who park our faith journeys in a religious organisation – and actually looked, what would we see?

What I heard was this: we must confront institutional temptation and ask whether our mission in the world has become a two-dimensional faith of kindness! When we are more concerned with being nice, are we living into the radicality that is implicit in Jesus’ confrontation of the human world’s temptations?

I have been musing about this since then … I am not sure that I have arrived at anything definitive, but I do have a few observations, which likely lead to even more questions and images to confront in our mirrors …

  • Kindness & niceties: I do not think the implication is dismissive of such concepts when they lead to deeper relationships with one another and our faith. I think the temptation is when kindness becomes a reason to not dig, to not name inappropriate behaviour or injustice. When we have stumbled and are unwilling to ask what do we idolatrise, have we fallen into temptation? What (un)conscious choices have/does institutional church make that ends up causing harm or exclusion?
  • The temptations of Jesus in a desert over the course of 40 days remain a helpful lens for reflection and preparation during the Lenten season. What do they say to us as church? What is our relationship now and previously to authority? Are we able to hear that a saccharine embracing of kindness is unfaithful? Disobedient? If we are able to hear that difficult message, what are we to do? How do we reorient ourselves as we also acknowledge our injustice? How do we – ultimately – celebrate God’s abundance, in order to liberate those with whom our own healing is bound: the Other? The Stranger? The Captives? The Widows and Children who long for liberation that stepping into solidarity might begin …

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