A prayer for the people

Dear God, you have heard my prayers oft’ repeated asking you to help break our hearts by that which has first broken yours. Today our hearts are broken. But not as badly as yours.

Our hearts are often broken by the suffering of your children around the world who are poor and oppressed. But not as often as yours.

Our nation of the United States of America has been made great by those very occasions when we have welcomed ashore those who are tired, poor, and yearning to break free. Yet today, we are facing one of the greatest ironies to be found within our own history as a nation.

We have most recently celebrated your coming to the world in the body of your Son Jesus, for his own declared purpose of proclaiming good news to the poor and freedom for the captives. This was in fulfillment of your law and prophets so terribly misunderstood by the ancient nation of Israel and among his own people. He came to help break the hearts of your people by that which had first broken yours. The great irony was that his own nation was soon divided between those whose hearts were newly broken by their new understanding of your law and prophets as fulfilled by your Son Jesus, and those whose hearts remained hardened by their continued misunderstanding.

This same great irony now plagues our own divided nation, dear God.

We, too, as in the days of Jesus, are divided between those whose hearts are broken and those who remain hardened by their continued misunderstanding of your law and prophets.

If we ever caught onto the plot in the first place concerning the Christ of Christmas who clarified your divine understanding of your law and prophets to mean, “So in everything do unto others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12), we have in significant numbers lost it despite that Christmas season now barely behind us. And those who have lost this plot have sown division within our land and your world at large by their support of a President who would proclaim bad news to the poor and oppression for the free.

This has broken your heart anew, Lord, and so I pray anew that you will help break an even larger majority of hearts within our nation. Break our hearts so badly that we might work in unity to overcome those whose support of this President would continue dividing us. Break our hearts so badly that we might grasp anew the very plot by which your story becomes our story. Break our hearts until Americans of all races, religions, creeds and classes will finally do unto others what we would have others do unto us………….. if we were your world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Break our hearts until we, too, can understand the very purpose for your coming to earth as the Christ of Christmas. Amen.

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To Tell the Truth….about Christmas

I’m so old that I can remember back to a weekly game show on television called, “To Tell the Truth.” It was one of those shows where a panel of celebrities would be allowed to ask questions of 3 different people, each of whom was pretending to be the same person. I say “pretending” but, in truth, one was the “real” person and really was telling the truth about who he was.

Two out of three contestants on this game show were impostors.

That’s right. Impostors. Claiming to be someone, maybe having some of the right answers, but being outright phonies trying to stump the panel.

Just like Christians and Christ.

More than we realize, we who call ourselves Christians are really contestants on a stage with a panel of global citizens seeking answers. Who is telling the truth? Who is real? Who is phony?

In the old TV game show, it was rather obvious that the 3 contestants weren’t all giving the same answers or in agreement with each other on things. Somebody had to be lying, but who?

I thought back to this game just yesterday when I read of the voter demographics involved in Alabama’s special Senatorial election. I was struck by the contrast between white voters and black. While 70% of whites voted for Moore, 95% of blacks voted for Jones.

And here, in my mind at least, is what is most significant about that.

First off, whites make up the majority of Alabama voters. But the majority of Alabama’s white voters identify as evangelical, born-again Christians. While the similar if not even larger majority of Alabama’s black voters identify as………….ready for this?………….evangelical, born-again Christians.

Anybody besides me making a connection here with the game show yet? They’re both claiming to represent the real Jesus Christ. But they tell two different stories, don’t they? One or the other isn’t telling the truth. One or the other has no business claiming the name of Christian. They can’t both be Christian when it comes, at least, to choosing between these two radically different candidates for high office.

Not being from Alabama myself, I felt like a game show panelist when it came to Tuesday’s election there. And so here’s my pick. I believe the real Christian of Alabama is represented by the African-American voters who also self-identify as evangelical, born-again believers and followers of the Christ. The others? The white “Christians” who voted for Moore?

Impostors.

That’s my call as a panelist or observer. And yours may be different. But why it matters so much, especially in this season of Advent, is that we’re about to find out who the real God is.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

The real God stands up, as it were, and leaves the impostor “Gods” sitting down. The real God looks exactly like, talks exactly like, comes and goes exactly like, and is…………Jesus Christ. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not David. Not Peter, Paul, James, John.

Nope.

They may have good answers to panelist questions. But they can’t all be right. They may pretend to speak for God and seem altogether sincere. May fool lots of panelists. But there’s only one Christ. Only one who speaks for God in the first person. And Christmas is the day we find out who the real God is that has come into the world.

To tell the truth, all of us are really pretenders when it comes to speaking for God. Only the real Christ can do that. We can’t speak for God, but we can speak for the Christ whenever we claim the name of Christ alongside the large majority of Alabama voters. Are we going to tell the truth, or are we going to just pretend?

The world is a panel. And the panel is asking, waiting, watching, wondering……and guessing. The real God will soon stand up. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Then it’s up to us. Will the real Christian please stand up?

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So why do I love Jesus?

My last posting was a bit of a John 6:66 moment for me.

I sense those who did try reading it may well have given up and walked away scratching their heads. I do have that effect on people sometimes. It’s no small consolation that Jesus also had perhaps as many John 6:60-66 days as he did John 4:39-42 days. Sometimes we lose ’em even faster than we can win ’em!

One place I may lose folks is my own particular referencing of this body-mind-soul imagery that likens us to our creator.  To many this may seem to be discounting the body’s position in this trinity. As if to say that our human emotions and senses in relation to the outside world aren’t  really all that important. Or to say that our human fears are to be minimized; perhaps denied, rejected, cast out. If so, let me correct that impression.

To minimize our fears and other bodily emotions that impact our human mind is to minimize Jesus. Nothing could be farther from my intent, for to minimize Jesus is to negate the very Gospel I’m trying my best to proclaim.

Jesus, to me, represents the human side of God and God’s ability to relate to our world or social environment. Jesus is all about the body, the senses, the emotions, that we share here as humans. And the reason I love Jesus is that he teaches me everything I need to know about my own feelings, my own desires and fears, likes and dislikes. He is my coach, my teacher, my role model. He is my example of how to be a child of God. And, for this reason, he is my Savior.

That is why I love Jesus.

In no way should our bodies or our emotions or our fears, for instance, be discounted. They represent our children and, as Jesus might say to us, “of such are the Kingdom of Heaven.” To deny our feelings is to forbid the children from coming. To ignore our fears is to silence our own children as if they have nothing important to say, or have nothing truthful to tell us. To refuse attention or care of our own bodies is to refuse Jesus himself.

As God’s body, or God’s inner-child as I view it, Jesus was not always in agreement with God’s mind (which I call Father). Nor with God’s soul (that I call Holy Spirit). When Jesus says in Matthew 26:41 that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, the context is his own impending crucifixion. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples on the night before he was to be tortured to death. He was sweating profusely. He was beyond fearful.

God’s own mind knows what it’s like to be conflicted.   To hear his own soul saying “yes” while his body is busy saying “no”………..or make that “hell no!!!”

There is nothing wrong with Jesus being afraid. It would be wrong for him not to have fear. It would be a gross denial of his own humanity and the ultimate rejection of his own body. To face the cross meant facing his fear. To face death, for Jesus and everyone else, means facing fear. Especially when that death comes about as slow physical torture lasting for hours!!

Here’s what I love so much about Jesus. When he finds himself on the wrong side of his own soul, he pleads with his mind as if to say, “please don’t make me drink this cup!  Please!!”   And then Jesus does what I should also do when my body feels scared to death. He trusts his mind, in consultation with his soul, to make the final decision after all.  Even though he first makes it clear exactly how he, in all reality, feels!

For Jesus, it wasn’t a matter of telling his Father what to do, as if he knew better. It wasn’t a matter of telling his Father that the Holy Spirit was wrong about this whole “love your enemies” thing when it came crucifixion time.  Rather, it was more a matter of Jesus saying, in effect, “I won’t like it, and in fact I’ll definitely hate it. But I’ll do it anyway, because I’m the child. You’re the Father, and the Holy Spirit, in whose love and grace I place my own child-like faith.”

That’s the Jesus I love so much!

That’s the side of God, indeed the child of God, I can identify with. The one who can best reconcile and at-one me with God.

Jesus.

The child of God who faces his fears and voices them openly. And who goes to the cross of Calvary not because he feels like it. But because he chooses to have faith in his own mind and soul to make the final decision together.  A decision to drink the cup. A decision to love enemies. A decision to resurrect. A decision to save. And a decision to set the example for all of us to follow as children.

For to such belongs the Kingdom ..………. on earth as it is in Heaven.

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Why are we so divided today?

Here is one thing we seem to all agree on these days. We all disagree.

A lot!

Our disagreements divide us to the point where it feels at times like we’re at war against each other. In our world, our continents, our nations, our states and provinces, on down the line into local communities, and even our families and marriages. And I don’t sense many voices speaking out with actual words of hope for reconciliation and unity.

I’ll try using my own voice here for such. I’ll try hoping for hope to happen. I’ll try. All I can do.

I believe we are divided so publicly because we are divided so privately.  So privately that we’re not even aware of it.   We all are prone to division within our own minds as we work at making decisions based on conflicted information from within our own bodies and souls. 

Let me try and explain.

I’m no literalist where the two biblical creation stories of Genesis are concerned, but I do at least believe there really is a sense in which God has created humanity in God’s own image. Those who’ve known me as their pastor probably know that per my own faith that means we, like God, have a body, mind, and soul. Three in one, if you will.

There is little hope for any helplessly divided society until we find help in resolving the mental divide within ourselves.  Our minds hear one thing from our bodies. And sometimes, but certainly not always, something different from our souls. Our minds are left to decide then upon such occasions between two conflicted sources of information. Supposing our mind cries fake while our soul cries fact, or vice versa.   Then our minds may experience a kind of helpless division struggling to test and then adapt to reality. This internal struggle becomes externalized and projected outward to our society. But this war of unresolved division first breaks in before it breaks out.

At times our minds seem broken between right and left brain thinking. Abstract vs. concrete, spacial vs. temporal, and such. Plenty has been researched or at least speculated and written about that. A few decades ago, learning to think with both sides of our brain was in vogue.  Building these neural pathways left and right may have been a great idea, but I don’t in my own right brain see it solving the mental problem I’m referencing here.

The divisive war within which seems to threatens our society the most today is the unresolved conflict between fear and love. Again, this war seems to start inside ourselves and then project outward from our own minds through the choices we made that lead to broader consequences for others as well as self.

It’s as though the mind hears about fear from the world through our bodily sensations and emotions located toward the bottom of our brain even as it hears about love from heaven through our soul or spiritual receptor located (I’m only speculating) toward the top of our brain. (Full disclaimer: I’m no neuro-scientist, but if I’m using my own right brain in partnership with left, I can at least hypothesize as well as the next person.)

Without an open neuro-pathway between bottom and top of our brains, I’m still speculating, I see the likelihood that we can become stuck or incapacitated in our decision-making, helplessly divided between the forces of fear and the forces of love, or what I’m also calling the division between earth (which some people experience as hell when under extreme stress) and heaven. Caught in the middle. Our minds between body and soul.   Or when in extreme conflict upon occasion, between hell and heaven.

I wonder if we’re not privately, and therefore publicly, conflicted between the world that drives us to fear and heaven that draws us to love. On the one hand, fear informs our decision by desiring control over others, proving “us” right and “them” wrong, and so we react in this way. Some neuro-experts would probably call this the stress-reaction of fight or flight. Control is the objective in reaction against an out-of-control world driving us to fear.    Stress cries out for us to take control or else!!!

That’s the world’s side of this equation as expressed through our bodies into the minds that then must direct our bodily or behavioral response.   Our mind’s decision , on that hand, may be some fight or flight in order to achieve control over the feared “other” in our lives.

But on the other hand.

Heaven’s voice is never silent.

God has many different ways of getting our attention as expressed through our souls into our minds that then may redirect our bodily or behavioral response to actually solve our problems. However, God’s solution is never about fearful control. Rather, it’s about loving influence. Notice I say “may redirect our bodily or behavioral response” to solve problems. Love influences, offers options, better options. Love doesn’t control. Hence, we are free in our minds (what some label “free will”) to act out our fear or our love.   

Here’s a point to consider within the mix. The world’s voice is not always driving us to fear. Nor always in conflict with God’s heavenly voice, whether that comes to us through the Christ of history or the Holy Spirit now within our souls. When there seems in our bodies to be little to fear in the world, we’re not so divided or conflicted within ourselves. So there’s much less of an internal war to project onto our society. But these days our fear and stress level is up pretty high. Our bodily nervous system and emotional alarm is amped way up there. Hence, there is a circular system at work where the outer war of divisions in the world create this inner war within our minds, which then projects outward to create a still greater war of division outside ourselves.

But what if?

What if instead of feeling helpless as individuals to create any peace in the world of warring divisions between people, we could find hope first within ourselves?  What if there were actually a way for our minds to open an up and down neuro-pathway and to facilitate a dialogue between love and fear, soul and body, heaven and earth within ourselves?  Such that we could bring about a meaningful conversation to resolve the conflicts within ourselves, those that occur between our own body and soul?

Would you be willing to try it out?   

To first heal the division between ourselves as a means toward then healing the divisions in society, I would suggest the following exercise. Write a letter, or send a message in whatever form you’re most comfortable communicating, from your body to your soul.  May be an email, or even a Facebook post to only yourself.   Something larger than a text or even private message.     Imagine giving voice to your body in this post or letter, directing it to your soul.  Vent every fear and frustration your body can possibly identify that is now coming out of your world.

With me so far?

If you’ve gotten that down, then your mind can take the next step of allowing your soul to write a reply, in whatever form your body is again most accustomed to.       Only this reply is to voice only the words for love that might influence the world around you rather than controlling it.   Write to your body as if you were speaking for the God of your understanding.   Use whatever love language your soul might have available to share with your body, but this must be only about love in response to your body’s fear.

That will probably not be enough.

Your body will probably need to post another comment or set of comments as if to control even the soul and voice its fear of love, its every doubt. And, in response, your soul will probably want to post another set of comments as if to influence the body and voice its own faith in love, its faith that loving influence really will outlast fearful control and win out in the end.

Mentally, we are tasked with managing this internal divide that conflicts us. Our bodies will always seek to control our minds even as our souls seek to influence them in return. Some of us will resolve this inner tension by siding only with our bodies and against our souls. Others will listen obediently to our souls as if to deny our bodies any right to even feel afraid.  When we do the latter, we become so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good to anyone. By shutting off our own human emotions, we lose the capacity for empathy with others here on earth. So how we manage this private divide within ourselves will impact our choices in ways that then cause often unintended consequences for others. We end up loving our neighbor only as well as we are able to love ourselves.

So maybe consider this question today, in private if not publicly. Am I divided in ways that cause my decisions to be more difficult than necessary and more mistaken than desired? Am I willing to get a conversation going between my own conflicted voices of information, my own sources of love and fear, and work toward some better consensus before making my own private decisions wherever I sense inner tension or conflict?

Perhaps when we resolve our own private division in mind between our conflicted body and soul, bringing them into common agreement somehow, then we’ll be ready to move toward healing the divisions within our general society and world around us today.

 

 

 

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When talk is just talk

We live in a violent world.

Might as well state the obvious up front.

Yet, one of the great mysteries of humanity is that when violence erupts and someone, anyone, goes on the warpath and begins to kill other people, those who know or at least thought they knew the killer will then express surprise. “I didn’t see this one coming.” Or, “he seemed like a nice enough guy.” Or, “he never really bothered anyone, and mostly just kept to himself.”

Or, “he said different things, and he would talk about crazy stuff, but I thought it was just talk.”

It was just talk, so I didn’t really take it all that seriously or really do anything about it.

Just talk.

I’ve heard over my 40+ years of professional service a number of post-violence laments along these lines. Words overheard but then dismissed. A neighbor who killed his wife, but “I would hear him saying all kinds of things to her and calling her all kinds of names, but I never imagined he would actual do something like that.” Or, “I heard our daughter say several times she wanted to just die, but I never thought she would actually kill herself.”

Just talk. Only it was more than just talk. A lot more.

Which brings up this question in my own mind in recent days, and perhaps in yours as well, of whether the Donald Trump vs. Kim Jong Un verbal threats and name calling is just talk. Or more than just talk? A lot more?

I’ve had to ask myself, are these just two guys who are pampered bullies accustomed to getting their own way, no matter what, who are standing up to each other as one is advised to do with other bullies? Or are these two guys who are predictably out to again get their own way, no matter what?

It’s the “no matter what” part of that question that has me worried these days.

I’ve seen it too often before. Husbands who, having bullied their wives with talk, went on to one day commit actual murder. Or we’ve all seen it if paying attention to school shootings where the kid being bullied became the even bigger bully in the fight by taking a gun to school and then………..

And no one saw this coming. A behavioral pattern as old as human history, and no one saw it coming? Figured it was just talk?

Okay, deep breath time.

I’m not suggesting here that all talk leads to violence. But I am suggesting all violence begins with talk. Shootings. Bombings. All acts of violence begin with violent thoughts and then words. And then?

Well, two things can then happen.

We humans can either listen and take words seriously and seek deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings underneath those words. We can seriously engage and intervene. Which is what happens much of the time in family, community, and even world history.

Or we can try to just ignore the words, assume they’re just talk, and…………after all the violence is then committed, all the death and destruction witnessed and reported………..tell whoever is then listening to us that we sure didn’t see this one coming.

And if we say this, THAT is when talk is just talk.

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The problem with problem-solving

It’s been a bit more than 40 years since receiving my MSW from the Ohio State U. I was there so long ago that no one ever bothered to say or even write the “the” in their name. But there are a few things I received in my two years of study there that managed to stick somewhere in mind. I’ll share one of those things today.

Social Work is more than a mish-mash of Psychology and Sociology aimed at helping folks with their psycho-social problems in life. Granted, it is something of a step-child profession started by a few brilliant women back in the day when America’s industrial revolution was stirring great social problems oblivious to the solutions of, well, non-males. It combines the art and science of what at least some now regard as female genius. It is a profession that has long understood that human social problems are not really intractable. They just seem that way because we spend all our time, treasure, and talent solving the wrong problem instead of the right one.

I suppose you’ll expect examples from me at this point. Flood problems that are actually unsolved infrastructure problems comes instantly to mind post Harvey and Houston. War and military problems that are actually unsolved diplomatic problems is a close second. Poverty problems that are actually unsolved education problems. Disease problems that are actually unsolved wellness problems. Need I go on?

Well, I will go on and name you one more unsolved problem. It’s not an intractable problem, but it just seems that way.

Unsolved social problems are usually caused by our failure to identify the actual problem, instead falling for a pseudo-problem that cannot then be solved. Hence, our failure to solve the problems of war, flooding, poverty and disease. And one such unsolved problem is now often misidentified as “hate.”

We have a hate problem in our world. And it’s seemingly intractable (unsolvable).

Or do we? And is it?

Social Workers are, if you’ll pardon what some call psychobabble, inclined to reframe the problem as instead a “fear problem.” Far as we are concerned, that makes the problem more solvable. It matches our human resources with actual needs instead of wasting them on matters of superficial desire. That turns out to be important for the same reason firefighters aim their water hoses at the fire rather than wasting it trying to eliminate the smoke.

Hate is to fear like smoke is to fire. Hate can kill, and so can smoke. Yet, as commonly as we can recognize that a burning house does not have a smoke problem but rather a fire problem, we uncommonly seek to solve our interpersonal hate or anger problems rather than their underlying fear problems that produce all of that hate and anger. We then wonder why the problem never seems to get solved. And we wonder why we are short of resources after wasting them on trying to solve the wrong problem.

So what might happen if instead of throwing money and effort into fighting the wrong social problems, we as Americans would use our creative genius to solve the right ones?

What if, for example, we took a deeper look at our fear problem the way professional firefighters are trained to investigate our fire problems. What if we looked for our fear triggers? Our fire starters, our sparks? What if we looked at our underlying hurts and unmet expectations that produce our traumas that trigger our fears? What if we engaged each other in actual face to face, eye to eye conversation? What if we did the hard work of empathy and understanding?

Is it possible that placing our time, treasure and talents in solving our fear problems in this way might actually work? Might actual solve something for a change?

As I continue the work of my forthcoming book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I’ve reached this point in my own life’s journey. I believe we all as humans, and perhaps other animals like dogs and dolphins, live by faith. And we all have this mind capacity to choose: we can place our faith in fear, which is rooted in our desire to receive, or else we can place our faith in love, which is rooted in our need to give.

Better read that one again: we can place our faith in fear, which is rooted in our desire to receive, or else we can place our faith in love, which is rooted in our need to give.

We then go through our lives internally conflicted about this choice. Our desires conflict with our needs. We fear that our desires will go unmet, that we will not receive enough. Yet, our love of giving meets the need of our souls that gratifies us so abundantly that our fear is, at some deeper level, cast out. Or solved.

I believe love is the solution to the universal problem of fear. That’s where my own mind now chooses to place my faith after 71 years of arguing back and forth internally between my body’s fear and my soul’s love.

And that’s why I believe in Jesus.

Jesus was the master of love. When it came to casting out fear, or rolling away fear’s heaviest stone, his power to give love met a need I call “resurrection.” It’s a universal need we all have. And while it may not be perfectly met this side of heaven, it is God’s purpose in our world to resurrect / restore / re-story us here and now. On earth as it is in heaven. If we will but place our greater faith in love rather than in fear. If we will but trust in love to solve our fear problems, we will actually solve our problems for a change. We will quench the fires of our own hell by fighting not the smoke or the hate or the anger in our world, but the underlying fear of not receiving our deepest desires. Our. Real. Solvable. Problem.

If you, too, can read and actually believe this, thank a Social Worker. Thank Jesus.

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A Prayer for President Donald Trump

During those years I served in pastoral ministry, I often reminded myself: never speak to our people about God before I speak to God about our people.

It’s time that I remind myself to do the same today.

I’m tempted even now to post my own version of a Dear President Trump letter pointing out all the errors of his ways. Those who know me realize I’ve been calling human attention to that boatload of errors I’ve been counting up since at least 2011. My cup overfloweth!!! And my letter to him today would amount to yet another rant hopefully calling to his attention the reasons I fear he is destroying the very America he purports to make great.

Which brings up a problem I must instead work on within myself. I fear Donald Trump to such an extent that I cast out the very love Jesus would have me instead use in responding to him as my enemy. And it’s time that I repent today not by writing a “come to Jesus” Dear Donald letter, but instead writing a “go from Jesus” Dear God letter that prays for the enemy I sometimes think God alone knows how to love.

Dear God, please forgive me for not loving my enemy, Donald Trump, as I should. Forgive me for fearing him instead. And help me today to love him as my enemy by doing the only thing I can in this moment: by praying for him as my enemy.

I pray today in the faith my own mind holds firm: believing the human mind is itself the very computer you have installed within our human body’s master organ, our brain. You will know already of my belief that the world’s virus has entered every human brain affecting our networked computers’ operating system. You will know this is what I call sin. And you will know that I believe Donald and I both have some form of this same deadly, destructive virus.

I pray for your help with Donald’s computer virus, which I belief has corrupted his data and caused him to make choices that carry harmful consequences for your entire world. I fear for those consequences in my own life, but even more for the lives of the majority of world citizens who live within the margins. Those human citizens who need better food, better educations, better healthcare, better incomes, better justice, better freedom of speech and religion and press, or just better human rights in general.

Lord, please work on Donald’s computer today. Please empower it to manage data and make decisions in line with truth and not the viral lies of corruption. Empower him, inform his choices, that people in America and around the world might be freed from the margins that otherwise enslave them. The margins of hunger, ignorance, disease, poverty, injustice, intolerance, and oppression.

God, you know of my faith in your love to do that which love always does: helps to empower. Help to empower Donald this day to be the President Donald Trump who chooses truth not lies, love not fear, and good not evil. Love and help him as only you can. Just as Jesus asked you even from the cross to forgive his own enemies for their presumed ignorance (or computer virus), so I ask you to forgive Donald Trump. Keep his own mind’s and body’s operating system from crashing in ways that crash all others networked with him. Do what only you can do and we cannot do. Love him by helping to empower him for good today.

Amen.

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