Commerical with Transgender Woman

I rarely do two posts in one day but this deserves a wider audience.  Thankyou to colleague and friend Sean Dennison for posting this at his blog.

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 10:52 am  Comments (2)  

Critical Incident Stress Management

The recent tornadoes that swept through Magee, MS were a gruesome reminder of our vulnerability to the ravages of weather related tragedies. There has been talk in our congregation and across the Mid-south district about what we can do to be prepared should tragedy strike our communities.

I went to Knoxville, TN to receive certification in Critical Incident Stress Management enabling me to respond to the psychological aftermath of such tragedies. It was an important training in many ways. While no one wants to experience the destruction of a home or church to tornado, flood, hurricane, or fire; these things do happen and do take their toll. And last August we became painfully aware of the human element of destruction when a gunman opened fire at the TVUUC in Knoxville. This certification will assist in preventing the long term effects of post traumatic stress and aid in the healing process of those witnesses of such events.  

The training received is a bit more comprehensive than the American Red Cross’ Psychological First AID only because the ARC program is geared more towards natural disasters rather than specific human made events.  This certification program offered through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. can be used after any stressful event, including but not exclusively, suicide, violence, natural disaster, medical emergency.   While there were other clergy at the training I attended, the participants came from all walks of life; professional therapists to sextons.   It seems wise to have as many people as can be trained to be able to assist in such an event.

But are there things we could do to help minimize the impact of tragedy on our lives?

I believe there is a pre-response. The congregation I serve in Mississippi participated in surveying our neighbors for pre-disaster assessment for the Red Cross. This was an important task that we did. This information will aid firefighters and rescue workers in knowing where to begin sending medical aid immediately.   For instance, some medical conditions require refrigeration of medications.   Knowing who in the community needs sort of aid in advance will get them the help they need sooner.

But I now realize that we did not do the same pre-assessment for our members. Should disaster strike our community, how would we get in touch with our members to ensure their safety? I began to wonder how many of us are certified in CPR and First Aid. Would we know exactly what to do if someone had a medical incident at church? Do we have relevant medical histories on our members in case of a medical incident? Do we have next of kin contact information on file? Not only in a computer database but also in hard-copy in case of power outage.  Who would call 911? What is the location of the first aid kit and is it up-to-date in its supplies? Who knows what to do in case of choking? Do we have emergency supplies? What would we do in case of fire or tornado while we were at church?

It is not just having a plan written down but knowing the plan well enough to execute it. Being prepared is not jinxing our future for these events to occur, but rather enables us to be able to respond in a timely manner and reduce the impact of the tragedy. Some of the steps to take in developing a preparedness strategy is located at the Mid-South District website— It helps us to create resiliency so we can pass through the storms of our lives with some ability of hope for our future. No one wants to anticipate disasters but they do happen. It would be wise to know how to respond in advance. Blessings, Fred

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 10:16 am  Comments Off on Critical Incident Stress Management  
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Pope’s view on sexuality is 19th century at best

Pope Benedict XVI is in a bit of a bind regarding HIV/AIDS.  He is trying to make the current pandemic fit a world view that no longer exists in the 21st century.  It makes the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church seem totally out of touch with what the people are experiencing.

” ‘You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane heading to Yaounde. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.’  The pope said a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease, as he answered questions submitted in advance by reporters traveling on the plane. His response was presumably also prepared in advance. The Catholic Church rejects the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. Senior Vatican officials have advocated fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as key weapons in the fight against AIDS.”

The difficulty of orthopraxis (right actions)  is that it is created during a specific time and place, it addresses specific needs of that time and it does not always transcend societal trends and circumstances.  The Catholic church’s view on sexuality is that it has one purpose and one purpose only and that is procreation of the species.  There is no other purpose of the behaviors that we call sexual. 

This is the reason why the Catholic Church is against latex barriers/ condom usage because they would inhibit the primary reason to have sexual intercourse.   According to a text written by Jonathan Ned Katz, entitled The Invention of Heterosexuality the term Heterosexual was used in 1892 “associating them with nonprocreative perversion.”  This seems to be the mindset view of the Roman Catholic Church.  This explains why the church is against condom use, defining marriage beyond that of one man and one woman, masturbation and homosexuality. 

There was a time when these praxi could possibly be justified.  The Jewish people in the days of the Hebrew scriptures were a minority population.  Having children was important, not only to carry on their culture but also to increase their chances of survival.  The ordinance  against spilling one’s seed on the ground instead of placing it in the belly of a whore, is therefore an important ordinance.  More important than the adultery of sleeping with a known whore.  Homosexual behaviors also reduced the possibility of increasing one’s tribe. Masturbation did the same.  And polygamy defined marriage for the same reason, it increased the possibility of passing on strong genes to as many children as possible.

The prohibitions of homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures had another reason that had little to do with the act of homosexuality itself as it did with abandoning the God of Abraham and participating in the religious cults of the native people whose land the Jews were to possess.   Participating in these religious cults was more of a threat to the identity of the Jewish people. 

The Pope advocates for a moral and responsible attitude towards sex as a means to reduce the spread of HIV.   I agree with the statement however, I do not agree with the mindset that produced such a statement.  In today’s world where the purpose of sexual activity is primarily for pleasure and procreation only as desired calls for a very moral and responsible attitude.  It calls for a healthy respect for the human body.  It calls for a mutuality of love between partners where the partners respect and honor their partners body and boundaries.  And it calls for pre-planning in pregnancy when the world is fast approaching 8 billion people in a world that has difficulty finding the resources to sustain 7 billion. 

Having children in today’s world can potentially be the most irresponsible thing a couple can do when the resources to support that child’s life simply isn’t available for the couple.  I do not believe that if god created sex to be as pleasurable as it is, that she would forbid two people from expressing symbolically the love of god in their sexuality because they chose to use a condom.  That symbol of the love of god made manifest in the sacred union is at the heart of every wedding vow in the Christian tradition. 

The Pope is in a bind because the nature of this pandemic requires absolutely requires from a moral and ethical point of view to reconsider the orthopraxi of the 19th century and earlier and find every possible means to reduce the spread of HIV.  Yes, abstinence before marriage is one possible means.  But it does not remove the threat from the partners of the child who contracted HIV from his or her mother and now is an adult thanks to life saving drugs.  For this person, abstinence before marriage only postpones the potential of spreading the virus. 

Latex barriers are going to be essential after marriage to reduce the possibility of infecting his or her partner.  Wouldn’t it be better for the child to learn a healthy respect for his or her sexual body while growing up so they can be responsible in their expression of sexuality as young adults.  The Pope’s condemnation of condoms also condemns this person for wanting to live a healthy and productive life with a sexual partner.    This is simply an immoral and irresponsible view point given the nature of this pandemic.

Ritual and Freedom

I was doing some research for a sermon I am writing and came across the following quote,

It is significant that the new capacity for freedom related to movement is actualized as a form of art. Human beings dance–ballet and folk and jazz and ballroom and T’ai Chi–as an expression of aesthetic possibilities.  Each art form is developed as a ritual to express one’s exhilaration and freedom. ‘To us,’ writes Alan Oken in the Age of Aquarius, ‘rock music represents freedom… the freedom to feel, to be one with a higher collective force, to move together in one cosmic rhythm.’  One ‘dances for joy,’  or to express sexuality or religious feelings, as in the whirling of Muslim Dervishes, or to ‘drum’ up emotion for battle, like the war dances of the Native Americans.  Movement and theexpansion of freedom are symbolic expressions of the individual’s career from birth to death.’   From Rollo May’s Freedom and Destiny

I wondered as I read this passage, if this then is the importance of ritual in worship?  The ability to connect with one’s sense of freedom.  There seems to be a resurgence in the need for ritual in Unitarian Universalist circles and perhaps this is the reason–a desire to tap into this sense of freedom.

Rituals serve many purposes.  There is a body kinesthetic– a comfortable body memory–of walking silently, hands folded prayerfully in front of the chest to receive the eucharist from the priest or to walk up to the altar and kneel with hands open to receive the eucharist.  The body is symbolically reflecting a humble submissive receptive form before the holy.  

Now Unitarians Universalists generally do not perform this specific ritual but some congregations in our movement do celebrate communion.  One such communion ritual is that of breaking bread and passing the cup at Thanksgiving time.  The bread might be corn bread and the cup might be apple cider both representing the harvest of a good year and harkening back to the first Thanksgivings celebrated in this country.  This ritual of breaking bread also connects to May’s statement about freedom.  We freely choose to be in communion / in covenant with one another and the ritual honors and reaffirms that covenant symbolically. 

There is also what we have come to call the Flower Communion.  This ritual developed by Norbert Capek, is celebrated annually in many of our congregations.  The ritual is a simple act of bringing a flower and then exchanging it with another flower.  The flowers represent the diversity of our community and how each of us together form a wondeful bouquet of gifts, talents, and personalities.  It too honors the covenant that we have freely entered into with one another.

The most powerful ritual I have witnessed was performed by Rev. Barbara Pescan, currently serving our Evanston, IL congregation.  At the time she was the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in the Danbury region.  She was also co-founder with me of the Interfaith AIDS Ministry of Greater Danbury.   We held a monthly interfaith prayer service and invited clergy from various traditions to come and offer a homily.  She graciously came and presented a story about a person she knew with HIV/AIDS in the final days of his life.  She told aspects of his life and of his hospitality even as he lay dying.  On the nightstand near his bed was an Angelfood cake that was made for him.  He offered a piece to Barbara and she graciously ate.  It was a profound moment for her.  And then she brought out an Angelfood cake for us to share  with each other.  As the cake was passed from person to person. With tears in our eyes we each broke a piece off and ate.  We felt not only a connection to her friend with HIV/AIDS but also a sense of grace in the presence of death.  That in our dying we can choose to be free to love those in our presence.   

Rituals in whatever form they take can be a powerful expression of the many aspects of the human condition.  They can help us to connect those aspects of ourselves that we are unable to express fully with words but can express those connections through movement or rhythmic sounds.  There is a sense of freedom in the rituals that transcends the imprisonment of this moment. 

Perhaps in our current world of compartmentalized living that erects barriers between home and business, between partners, between parents and children, between neighbors the craving for rituals in our denomination is a cry to break free of those barriers and to reconnect once again to each other and to our most inner selves.  Blessings,

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 7:28 am  Comments Off on Ritual and Freedom  
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Inherent right to love who you love

A recent comment on one of my posts has led me to reflect more the matter.  I love when that happens.

The argument the commentator made, if I am understanding correctly, is that human rights are not inherent but rather bestowed by the ruling government and in our case by the democratic process of a referendum.   There is certainly many governments, including the USA, that are listed as being in Human Rights violation for not recognizing legally those inherent rights or for trampling on the human rights of others.

That’s a pretty strong statement that reinforces my argument that if California’s Supreme Court upholds this constitutional ban, and it is a ban regardless of semantics used, that other groups of people could be told that their existence is also not “valid or recognized in California.”

What impact does it have to be told that you are not valid or recognized? What impact does it have on people to have something (domestic partnership) that sort of is like a thing that a certain class of people have but is not that thing (marriage)?

Have you ever been told that you are not valid or recognized by a government? Have you ever experienced that level of discrimination against your being? If you have then you might understand why it would be important to have one’s existence validated and recognized by the state and country in which they live.

We are talking about the inherent right to love who you love. It is inherent/unalienable–it is not bestowed. Love cannot be made illegal because it will exist regardless of what laws are passed. However, laws can be passed to recognize its existence and to honor its diversity. Laws do have a power that validates people. Laws can equalize the “legal rights” people in a state experience. And Human Rights, those rights that are inherent by simply being human, in a free society such as ours should be legalized as a matter of honoring our American ideals as found in the Declaration of Independence–the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If insisting on fulfilling our founding ideals is “intolerant” of me then sobeit. If it is “unethical” for me to state that love is inherent in humanity and should be honored in all its diversity legally, then I will continue to stand on the side of love and be “unethical.”

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm  Comments Off on Inherent right to love who you love  
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are rights unalienable or democratically bestowed?

Prop 8 the constitutional ban of same gender marriage in California is being reviewed by California’s State Supreme Court.  The question that is being debated is who determines what is a right?  —The majority of the people or some other authority like inherent human rights.    The ban was voted in by 52% of the voting population making null and void 18,000 marriages that were committed when the Supreme Court ruled that the legislative ban against same gender marriage was unconstitutional. 

It’s an interesting question and one that could have dire consequences across the country.  Could there be a constitutional amendment in a state that wants to ban say immigrants from working and residing in their state? I am talking about immigrants that have visas.   There is such a groundswell of anti-immigrant fever in Mississippi and Alabama that such a change in the constitution could be voted in by a simple majority of the voting population.  It sounds preposterous.  But that is the argument being made in California, the majority decides what is a right. 

Bigotry should never be considered constitutional.  Nor should racism.  Yet that is the argument in California because 52% of the people voted with their bigotry.   They voted against the the religious rights of those faiths, including Unitarian Universalists,  who believe that all marriages are to be honored and blessed regardless of gender. 

A majority vote does not make it ethically right.  It just means that bigotry is alive and well.  If California’s State Supreme Court rules in favor of this constitutional ammendment then it will be the first time that equality rights were rescinded in America.   I know that there are states that have passed constitutional ammendments against same gender marriage but those states never recognized the human right to love whomever in the first place.  So, the states weren’t rescinding they were simply adding more barriers to codify their bigotry.   What other rights will be rescinded by majority vote?

Perhaps its time to pull the bandaid

When I was a kid, I never ever wanted to remove a band aid.  It hurt.  It would tear the hair follicles from their roots and hurt.  My father after watching me for half an hour gently working the ends of the adhesive would call me over an in one fell swoop pull the band-aid off.  I would cry.  He would tell me I would get over it and soon forget about the 2 second pain I felt.  He was right of course but I am grateful for the modern day adhesives they use on bandaids which are so much easier to remove. 

As most of Americans, I am concerned about the current economic crisis.  I am watching and observing as Wall Street continues to fall after Jack and Jill down the hill.   I am witnessing the government trying to transfuse life blood back into failing banking and insurance companies and the bleeding does not stop with these band aids. 

I laughed sardonically when the person screamed about the error of giving financial help to home owners who are in danger of foreclosing with the argument that they made their mistakes so why should I enable them with my taxpayer dollar.   Yet, that is exactly what we are doing with the failed banks, failed insurance companies, and auto industries.   They made major mistakes.  They wanted and got de-regulation that removed the safe guards on their industry which in turn resulted in this collapse.   And they cried that they needed taxpayer money to cover their financial foolery.

Comedian Jon Stewart has suggested that home-owners should receive the bail out money with the caveat that it be used to pay off their bad defaulted mortgages, which in turn would go to the banks that are failing, which in turn would mean that AIG and other insurance companies would no longer be responsible to pay out payments that they do not have to pay, which in turn might encourage banks to begin lending again.   What does he know, he is just a comic.  Many a profound statement has come from the jester.  His suggestion does make simple sense and perhaps that is why it is so argued against because common sense is something we cannot have in America. 

NPR recently aired a commentary that stated that never in the history of economic theory has a theory been so severely tested and found to be false.  They were talking about Reaganomics, the infamous trickle down theory.   Reagan proposed and all of America jumped for joy, that if tax incentives were given to the wealthiest of Americans and to industries along with deregulations then the money saved would then create new jobs, and income would trickle down to the poorest of Americans.  When this was proposed 1% of Americans had 9% of the wealth.  Today, 1% of Americans have 22% of the wealth.  The theory failed to trickle down and the result is the current economic crisis. 

I hear the argument for a Free Market on many issues–mostly from conservatives but the piece of the Free Market that is not being allowed to happen are the consequences when major mistakes are made.   Perhaps we need to allow this theory of Free Market to also be fully tested and allow the companies that have allowed their greed and gluttony to rule their wallets to feel the full weight of the consequences.  Let the de-regulated industries fall. 

Let’s take the pain it will produce and with the spirit of American ingenuity rebuild a better system.  Let’s learn from these mistakes and stop trying to prop up these zombie banks with our Life’s blood that is gushing out faster than we can tranfuse it.  It isn’t working and the suffering it is engendering is worse than if it was over and done with so the true healing can begin. 

If we allow these mismanaged industries to fail, yes, it will cause pain but we at least will know what we have to work with that is working.  We at least would be able to focus our energy on creating industries that could create jobs for a new America.   We could be putting our energy towards the needs of the people impacted by the failures caused by the CEO’s and boards of these industries; universal health care, new vocational education programs, extended unemployment benefits, food resources, infrastracture rebuilding.  Perhaps create an America that lives up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all.  We might even turn away from our hyper-individualistic greed and build a nation that sees the common good as supreme.  

The lesson that I see in all of this is that we learned that extreme Communism does not work hence the fall of the Soviet Union and its puppet states in Europe.   Extreme Capitalism also does not work hence the current collapse we are attempting to forestall here in America and in Europe.   Now perhaps there is another form economic system that has not yet been developed, but if these are the only polarities then what is in the middle?  Socialism?  We already know it too has problems.   There has to be a better way and perhaps pulling the band-aid is the start towards that way.  Blessings,

Published in: on March 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Called vs Hired

I recently responded to a post entry at Transient and Permanent’s blog  entitled “How would you feel about a layperson as UUA President?” which led him to write a new blog, “Do Unitarian Universalist Ministers Have a Calling?”

I wrote in response to the first post after stating that I did not see it as incongruous for a lay person to be president the following:  ” …perhaps the greatest advantage that a minister has is the knowledge of how different running a religious organization is from running a corporation. And it would most likely be from the corporate model that a lay leader would arise to run for president of the UUA. It is this clash that many of our corporately trained boardmembers have with their ministers currently, namely the reference point or grounding of their leadership orientation. To risk stereotyping, these individuals tend to see ministers as hired personnel and not as individuals who are following a calling. Few people outside of the ministry, understand what a calling is and how it shapes our individual ministries. It is this understanding that, in my mind, would be essential for a lay person to become president of the UUA.”

There is a difference between being called to the ministry and being hired to the ministry.   In recent years this confusion has been surfacing not only in our denomination but in religious bodies of all stripes. 

Years ago, a Rabbi friend of mine was having a difficult time within his congregation. He blurted out, they don’t want a Rabbi they want a corporate Chief Executive Officer who will simply do the board’s bidding.   The board, all good intentioned people, had confused the difference between called and hired.  

To them the Rabbi was hired to fulfill a set of expectations and duties that they were in control of designing and developing.  He was not to challenge them on these expectations, nor to place expectations on the congregation unless the expectations were set by the board.  He was not to challenge their spiritual and moral development but to work within the parameters he was given.  He was given concrete goals with hard and fast deadlines to meet.   If these were not fulfilled he was to be replaced with someone who would.   

This is the corporate model that many of our lay people are familiar with because they are in the corporate world, many with positions of leadership.  And within the corporate world where a product is produced to market, it is a model that is important.  There could be debates on whether the corporate model is functioning as it should in today’s world but that is another topic. 

The Rabbi, however had an understanding of being called.  For him, there was a higher standard he needed to follow in order to serve this congregation as their Rabbi.  It included not only doing various day to day executive tasks but also being a prophetic voice for justice within the congregation and in the community.  That meant for him being willing / able to challenge the leadership of the congregation when they veered away from their religious principles in favor of expediencey or maintaining prejudices or biases.  It meant developing a relationship with the congregation that was intimate and personal.  It meant voicing visionary leadership of who this congregation could be; not only for themselves but for the community at large.   And it meant recognizing that this congregation was made up of people who are fallible and will fail but with whom to covenant with to begin again. 

I purposely used my memory of my Rabbi friend’s experience  to illustrate this because I wanted to take it out of the Christian construct which my friend at T & P suggests comes from within our movement.  I could easily have used a Buddhist example of calling, tho my friend and Buddhist Abbot might not use that language, but as I watched his formation from lay Buddhist status to Buddhist Monk to being a Buddhist Priest and now Abbot of a sangha in CT, calling is all I can use to compare his passion for his charge.  It is supreme in his life. 

I am currently “hired” at the congregations I serve in MS and AL.   I have a one year contract which could be renewed or allowed to end at the end of my year.  As such I am at the whim of the board.  Fortunately for me these two congregations have a sense of what calling is for a minister.  So while I am “hired” and not “called” to be their minister, they respect that I am called to the ministry.  It allows me the freedom to be their minister in the same manner that my friend wanted to be rabbi for his congregation.  Being called sets a level of standard and accountability that is higher than the entity that simply hires.

Who or what that accountability is may vary between our ministers.  Matt Tittle, at his blog, answers it is God.  For others it might be the integrity of the prophetic tradition.  But the accountability of the called minister is indeed higher than the entity of where she or he works.  Blessings,

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 12:20 pm  Comments (6)  
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It Is Written

I finally was able to see the Oscar winning and movie of the year, Slumdog Millionaire.  It truly is deserving of its Oscars.  Amazing Movie! 

The movie did get me to ponder this notion of destiny in our lives.  The premise of the movie is that this uneducated poverty stricken young man gets a chance to be on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”  and succeeds in answering the questions.  He knows the answers not because of any book learning he has had or formal education but rather because of the oft times traumatic twists and turns in his life that happened to him that are coincidently the topic of the questions.   Or are they coincidental? 

Is there some purpose in our lives that we are meant to play out?    Has our destiny  been written in advance of our living it?   If so, where then does free will come into play if our lives have already been mapped out by some unknown hand?  These questions are ancient ones.

Could Mohandas Gandhi,  Martin Luther King, Jr., or Dorothy Day have lived out their life any differently than they did?  For that matter could the doorman, the taxi cab driver, the janitor, the housewife have lived out their lives any differently? 

There is another movie this reminds me of by the title of Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.    She plays a career woman who gets fired from her job and on her way home the story line splits into two directions by the happenstance of  the sliding doors of a subway train.  In the first scenario she missed the sliding doors and her life continues pretty much as is.  In the second scenario, she catches the sliding doors and arrives home to discover her partner in bed with another woman.  Both scenarios are plausible.  This movie suggests that it really doesn’t matter which scenario plays out in the middle of life because the ending is what ultimately matters and the ending is the same.  

In some ways Sliding Doors hints at Calvin’s predestinationthat the outcomes are already written; destined for salvation or for reprobation.  

We seem to cheer more for the taxi cab driver who somehow beats the odds of making it big.  Some mysterious lining up of the stars perhaps, that places him or her in the path of the movie director or model agency who is looking for that certain look.  Or perhaps it is a hard working legal clerk named Erin Brockovich who happens to put a case together against Pacific Gas and Electric Company.  These are the people we cheer because in part, they resemble our own everyday ordinary lives and in the process of their ordinary days they accomplish extraordinary events. 

This is not to belittle the achievements of a Gandhi or a King, or even of a  Day but in the course of time or perhaps the telling of their stories does place some distance between our lives and theirs.  While we honor their accomplishments, their personage becomes elevated to something higher perhaps even destined to have played out as it did and we cannot see ourselves doing what they did.   

I look back on my life and sometimes I get a sense that it makes perfect sense that I am where I am today.  The opportunities that are presented to me seem to be perfect in building on what came before.  Perhaps I would also be saying this if I had pursued some of my other options more fully… for a time I majored in theater.  Where would that path have taken me?  Would it, like in Sliding Doors lead me to exactly where I am today?  I also pursued writing, specifically fiction and  poetry.  Would this path have led me here?  I have an unfinished manuscript where the main character in the story goes off to seminary.  I had to stopped writing as I had no clue what seminary was like.  At the time, my actually attending seminary was not in the works.  Ten years later attending seminary happened.  So was it my destiny?  Was I tapping into what was already written about my life?

These are questions that I will probably continue to ponder for the rest of my days.  In the meantime, I intend to be open to the possibilities and see what options open before me.    Blessings,

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 8:08 pm  Comments Off on It Is Written  
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