June 2, 2020

The King Philosophy -TRIPLE EVILS

When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils.

The words below are from The King Center Web site.

The Triple Evils of POVERTY, RACISM and MILITARISM are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils. To work against the Triple Evils, you must develop a nonviolent frame of mind as described in the “Six Principles of Nonviolence” and use the Kingian model for social action outlined in the “Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change.”

Some contemporary examples of the Triple Evils are listed next to each item:

Poverty – unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, slums…

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.”

Racism – prejudice, apartheid, ethnic conflict, anti-Semitism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against disabled groups, stereotypes…

“Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group.”

Militarism – war, imperialism, domestic violence, rape, terrorism, human trafficking, media violence, drugs, child abuse, violent crime…

“A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Source: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Boston: Beacon Press, 1967. 

To learn how to put King’s philosophy into action, check out the web links below.


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May 13, 2020

Belonging with Purpose- Physically Distant AND Continuing the Faith

With this global pandemic we keep facing the question- How do we “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and in the prayers?”

(this is the second of a six-part reflection on what it means to be the church during this time)

Without the Church gathering for activity in the sanctuary or on our campus, we might question whether anything that we know of value is actually continuing.  Often our activity is linked to location so significantly that removing location can result in us not practicing the action.

Countless research reminds us of these connections.  It’s why we have designated places for eating or studying/working or sleeping.  It’s why we determine times when we are not on our devices; why some conversations work better in the car than in the living room.  This correlation is factual, even when we aren’t conscious of it.

With this global pandemic we keep facing the question- How do we “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and in the prayers?” 

You might recognize this as the first of the promises we make at our baptism.

This little line is actually taken from scripture- Acts 2:42.  It describes what the ~3000 people did, who, after hearing Peter’s sermon about Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection, were baptized.

Followers of Jesus throughout the past ~2000 years have engaged the teaching of Jesus through time, attention, and reflection; shared in the rituals that reminds us of Jesus’ gift to us; and lifted up our voices in prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (both petition and intercession). 

Hopefully, you’ve crafted some new spaces in your own home for engaging this dimension of our Baptismal Covenant.  Maybe it includes a…

  • Certain time of day
  • Certain chair or location
  • Certain preparatory rituals (lighting a candle)
  • Certain tools (e.g. Bible, Book of Common Prayer, journal, devotional book, spiritual writings)

These efforts are of value now.  They’ll also be valuable in the future.  Even though we’re physically distant, the Living God is not!  The Holy Spirit is as our breath, sustaining us in our lives.  Let us come aside and receive the on-going goodness of the Lord- the goodness which a pandemic can’t even stop.

February 21, 2020

Belonging with Purpose- Community Dinners for a cause

Let’s invite the town in, share in fellowship, and support organizations that are attending to the brokenness in the world

Our Community Dinners have offered a community-wide opportunity for fellowship.  It’s one of the favorite things about us among those that aren’t members of St. Stephen’s.  We want to offer the opportunity of fellowship again during this Lent. 

Every Sunday in March, at 11:30am, we will offer a community dinner that will benefit a particular organization—an organization that we’ve worked with in some way over our years.  These meals are “donation only” and the donations will go to the featured organization of the day.  Bring your family and/or your friends for this time of fellowship.  Everybody’s welcome!

We do need volunteers each weekend.  There are Saturday and Sunday sign-up opportunities available.  You can sign up to be a volunteer by going to the link below.  You can feel free to invite your non-member friend(s) to partner with you as a volunteer.  Let’s invite the town in, share in fellowship, and support organizations that are attending to the brokenness in the world.  This is a way that we can live into Our Vision: A World Made Whole by God’s Transforming Love in Action. 

We’re using SignUp.com (the leading online SignUp and reminder tool) to organize our upcoming SignUps. Here’s how it works in 3 easy steps:

1) Click this link to see our SignUps on SignUp.com: https://signup.com/go/fDyTCKH
2) Review the SignUps listed and choose the one(s) you like.
3) Sign up! It’s Easy – you will NOT need to register an account or keep a password on SignUp.com.

Note: SignUp.com does not share your email address with anyone. If you prefer not to use your email address, please contact me and I can sign you up manually.

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February 5, 2020

Belonging with Purpose- Formed in the Crucible of Faith

Learning to have trust and confidence in God and one another is what faith is all about.

Learning to have trust and confidence in God and one another is what faith is all about.  Such trust and confidence in God and one another develops in the hard work of living.  We grow in faith by encountering the challenges of life, realizing that we don’t have what we need to come to a fruitful and life-giving reality, and then trusting God to lead us into receiving transformation.  Christian community is meant to help us grow in faith. 

The Good News is that God meets us where we are and invites us to grow in trust and confidence (aka “faith”) in Him/Her through the challenges that we face on earth.  God redeems our suffering, making something that glorifies God’s self from the vulnerabilities of being human.  We are transformed in the process.  We become new because of God’s work in our lives.

This is what the Apostle Paul writes about in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1:

21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

We “proclaim Christ crucified” because in the cross we see God’s triumph over suffering and evil. 

The Rev. Dr. James Cone speaks about the significance of the cross for the black Christian community, especially over the last 350 years.  During the 60s, the supremacy of male euro-centric thought and ideals was being challenged in theology.  This was the decade in which theologians were looking at the Christian message from their unique perspectives: black, Latino, and female.  James Cone is considered the “father” of Black Liberation Theology, uniting his experience of being a black man in the US to his belief in the Christian story of Jesus’ saving acts for all people.   

“I found my voice in the social, political, religious and cultural context of the civil rights and black power movements in the 1960s.  The Newark and Detroit riots in July 1967 and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 were the events that shook me out of my theological complacency, forcing me to realize the bankruptcy of any theology in America that did not engage the religious meaning of the African American struggle for justice.” [1]

For 50 years, Dr. Cone wrote and taught in a way that challenged all of those who listened to consider how we are formed in the crucible of faith.

[1] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2011), xvi.

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January 15, 2020

Belonging with Purpose: The significance of the continued observance of Martin Luther King Jr’s work

On more than one occasion, people have asked me (or perhaps asked themselves out loud in my presence), “Why do we need to talk about racism in the mostly white community of Ridgefield?”

On more than one occasion, people have asked me (or perhaps asked themselves out loud in my presence), “Why do we need to talk about racism in the mostly white community of Ridgefield?” 

My answer, “It is specifically because we are a mostly white community that we need to talk about racism.” 

It can be a difficult topic to discuss, raising a host of various feelings within each one of us.  The same circumstance was true during Dr. King’s time.  In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King writes of his disappointment in the white church leadership; their silence and, more often, their resistance to hearing the “deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race.”

Two-thirds through the letter he writes-

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

As a mostly white community and church, we must take the initiative.   It’s on us to take the initiative to open ourselves to listening and seeing better, to being non-defensive, to taking the time to be in relationship, to being willing to change our understanding in an effort to make space for another’s understanding to reside alongside our own.  The world is different since Dr. King’s time.  Yet, his words remain timeless because he so eloquently addresses the human concern for a better future.  I believe that’s what we all want and what God wants for us—His children.

by Rev. Whitney Altopp

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November 4, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Living our Faith, “with God’s help.”

One way in which we seek to carry out our promises is in our daily corporate life, otherwise known as politics.

Yesterday we celebrated All Saint’s Day, a particular feast day of the church.  Since the 4th century, Christians have remembered the faithful departed, known and unknown.  One way in which we commemorate this day is with baptisms.  Gathered in Sunday worship, we welcome new Christians  into the household of God. 

Baptism in the Episcopal Church includes the Question and Answer format of The Baptismal Covenant.  The Baptismal Covenant outlines some ways that we can live into the promises of baptism.  God’s promise to us is salvation now and forever.  We seek to live into that promise in the way that we live our lives.

-Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

-Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

-Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

-Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

-Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Our answer to each one is “I will, with God’s help.”

One way in which we seek to carry out our promises is in our daily corporate life, otherwise known as politics.  There is no pristine or clear direction for applying our faith to politics.  Every good solution has places of error.  Even in our attempt to do good, we can be harmful.  And completely avoiding suffering is impossible.  Thus, humble and prayerful service is the place from which we engage our political life.

Although not all Episcopalians are progressives, it’s the progressive voices of the Episcopal Church that have most effectively united their faith to political engagement.  If you’d like to be aware of some of these resources, please email Rev. Whitney at waltopp@ststephens-ridgefield.org

“Love your neighbor” is the phrase that we return to again and again.  This phrase comes from the story of the lawyer who, “wanting to justify himself,” asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan who attended to the one who “fell into the hands of robbers.” 

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus asked the lawyer.  “The one who showed him mercy,” the lawyer replied.  Jesus said to him, “God and do likewise.”  Luke 10:25-37

Our response is that which we say in our Baptismal Covenant- “I will, with God’s help.”

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August 21, 2019

Belonging with Purpose: Commitment to Nonviolence

John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence.

In worship, we’ve been taking up the topic of nonviolence and how it is lived in our time. The reflection below from Richard Rohr reminds us of how fundamental nonviolence is to our Christian identity. To hear Mother Whitney’s call to the church on the topic of nonviolence, go to Sermons on our website and listen to August 18, 2019.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation


Remembering Who We Already Are Monday, August 19, 2019

My longtime friend, Catholic priest and peace activist John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. John and the Franciscan organization Pace e Bene lead an annual Campaign Nonviolence (September 14-22, 2019), working toward a culture “free from war, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.” [1] In John’s words: What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as “causing no harm, no injury, no violence to any living creature.” But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. . . . Another way to understand nonviolence is to set it within the context of our identity. Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved [children] of the God of peace. . . . This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God [Matthew 5:9]. . . . Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes [the] sun rise on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” [Matthew 5:44-45]. In the context of his visionary nonviolence—radical peacemaking and love for enemies—Jesus speaks of being who we already are. He talks about our true identities as if they propel us to be people of loving nonviolence. . . . Living nonviolence requires daily meditation, contemplation, study, concentration, and mindfulness. Just as mindlessness leads to violence, steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to nonviolence and peace. . . . The social, economic, and political implications of this practice are astounding: if we are [children] of a loving Creator, then every human being is our [sibling], and we can never hurt anyone on earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction. . . . Gandhi said Jesus practiced perfect nonviolence. If that’s true, then how . . . did he embody creative nonviolence so well? The answer can be found at the beginning of his story, at his baptism. . . . Jesus hears a voice say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Unlike most of us, Jesus accepts this announcement of God’s love for him. He claims his true identity as the beloved son of the God of peace. From then on, he knows who he is. He’s faithful to this identity until the moment he dies. From the desert to the cross, he is faithful to who he is. He becomes who he is, and lives up to who he is, and so he acts publicly like God’s beloved. Gateway to Presence: If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation. [1] Learn more about Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions at paceebene.org. John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), 15-16, 17, 19, 20. Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

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August 7, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Bishops United Against Gun Violence

Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color.

As Episcopalians, we are united to one another through the office of the Bishop. The Greek work (anglicized- episcopus) literally means “overseer.” It is this system of governance which supports and organizes Christians in the Episcopal Church, whether laity, priest, or deacon, to carry out their duty. For this reason, I share with you the letter sent out to all of those on the ECCT distribution list. To sign up to receive these e-newsletters go to https://www.episcopalct.org/enewsletters/

BISHOPS UNITED REPUDIATES CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM, SYSTEMIC RACISM White supremacy and gun violence coming to define our era, say Episcopal Church bishops AUGUST 6, 2019—Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color. When gun violence makes headlines, politicians supported by the National Rifle Association are quick to call white shooters “mentally ill,” while characterizing black and brown shooters as “criminals” and insisting that guns are not the problem. They choose to remain loyal to the gun lobby and its campaign contributions while denying the incontrovertible evidence that more guns mean more deaths. Common sense measures like universal background checks, assault weapons bans, handgun purchaser licensing, and restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers point the way toward sane gun policy that is well within any sensible interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are necessary and long overdue, but they are not sufficient. This latest sickening cluster of mass shootings has thrust into the headlines the deadly mix of white supremacy and gun violence that is coming to define our era of American history. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and our government holds asylum-seekers on our southern border in inhumane conditions. The president of the United States uses racist tropes and inflammatory language to incite crowds against people of color, refugees and immigrants; and hate crime reports have increased for three consecutive years. The hatred and fury that drives mass shootings can also be turned inward, where it fuels the invisible and growing death toll of gun suicides. As Christians, we must work actively to dismantle the systemic racism that is part of our country’s founding narrative and that continues to fuel mass shootings and urban gun violence today. We must insist that both our fellow Christians and our elected leaders repudiate white supremacy and white nationalism and embrace humane immigration policies that follow God’s command and the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst. And we must refuse to participate in scapegoating people with mental illness, a ploy too often used to distract from the urgent yet simple need to enact common sense gun safety measures. Seven years ago yesterday, six people were murdered by a white supremacist at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. That massacre, one of two events that galvanized the creation of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, (the other was the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut) brought us together across our differences to demonstrate that we believe in a God of life in the face of death. Today we are weary of witnessing the slaughter gripping our country. But we are no less determined to continue speaking, even when it seems our words make no difference; to continue praying in order to gather our strength to act; and to follow Jesus in speaking truth, especially when it seems that truth is out of season. Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a network of nearly 100 Episcopal Church bishops working to curtail the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Learn more at bishopsagainstgunviolence.org and follow Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence on Facebook.

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November 5, 2018

And what about the End Times?

By following Jesus we can learn how to act in a way that makes fullness of life possible for all…

And what about the End Times?

I might be speaking to the church-y crowd with this title.  Everyone who goes to church seems to have an opinion on what the end of life as we know it will look like, regardless of their position’s biblical basis.  A clergy friend of mine brought this to my attention when he told of his experience of asking a group of people at his church…

Who has read The Revelation of John?  (only a few hands went up)

Who knows what The Revelation of John is about?  (almost all of the hands went up)

Now how can that be?  How can anyone know something that they haven’t actually studied?

The same is true for people not engaged with church.  They might think that they know what the Bible says on any number of topics, but without engaging the Holy Scriptures in the context of faith passed on from generation to generation (aka- tradition), such conclusion is built on a false premise.

With this in mind, I take up the common belief that Jesus’ return will be violent and destructive.  The poetic imagery of The Revelation of John defies any literal interpretation.  I particularly like Brian McLaren’s words in his book Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide.

“In light of the literary conventions of both literature of the oppressed in general and Jewish apocalyptic in particular, and assuming that Jesus’ coming as told in the Gospels was not a fake-me-out coming, but actually was the climactic revelation of God as the New Testament seems to affirm (Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4), Jesus’ ‘striking down the nations’ with a sword ‘coming out of his mouth’ has a very different meaning.  Jesus’ word—the unarmed truth of the gospel of the kingdom—is the force that overcomes the ‘kingdom of this world,’ the dominant system, the suicide machine.  It conquers not with physical weapons but with a message of justice (Revelation 19:11), and the blood on Jesus’ robe is not the blood of his enemies, but his own blood (12:11, cf. 5:6). 

                Read in this way, we don’t have a violent ‘Second Coming’ Jesus who finishes what the gentle ‘First Coming’ Jesus failed to do, but we have a poetic description of the way the gentle First Coming Jesus powerfully overcomes through his nonviolent ‘weakness’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25), a prince of peace whose word of reconciliation is truly mightier than Caesar’s sword.” (p145)

By following Jesus, we can learn how to be reconcilers in our own day.  By following Jesus we can learn how to act in a way that makes fullness of life possible for all.  Isn’t this what we’re called to do?  Anything else will be our certain destruction.

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June 18, 2018

Planting Seeds that will bring about God’s Kingdom

How little things can grow into world-changing things through God’s transforming love

In my sermon on June 17, I spoke of how little things can grow into world-changing things through God’s transforming love.  I’m indebted to Jack Jezreel, the founder of JustFaith Ministries, for succinctly articulating the “seeds” that we can plant to help bring about God’s Kingdom. [i]  To hear my use of his words, go to June 17 http://stephen.echolink.org/sermons/ 

Relationships with Those at Risk

“Regardless of what else we do, we must stay connected in some kind of face-to-face way with the persons and the places at risk. . . .”

Justice Education

“The single most repeated phrase in the Gospels is [what] Jesus uses to describe the vision and focus of his ministry: the Reign of God. . . . This is the reign of service, reconciliation, justice, generosity, compassion and peacemaking. Jesus calls disciples to this vision.”

Simpler Lifestyles

“The history of affluence is the history of exploitation is the history of war. . . . Authentic love will not allow us to continue to ask the rest of the world to put itself at the mercy of our conveniences.”

Take time to Pray

“. . . Prayer is a way of connecting with our source. It is about being centered, grounded, mindful of the holy, the presence of the sacred and the precious. . . . Prayer can help us to connect with the poor with open eyes and hearts. It is prayer that can allow us to educate with patience, love and understanding. It is prayer that can enable us to move to a simpler lifestyle. And it is prayer that will allow us to do this with conviction and joy.

And whether or not we pray is as obvious as whether or not we have put our clothes on. For example, the compulsive, frantic, angry, cynical, unintegrated rambling from project to project—even from peace project to peace project—may speak of good intentions, but also of an uneasy and untended inner life. It is possible . . . to do much harm because we have not taken the time to pray. . . .”

Commitment to Nonviolence

“. . . Violence is awful. Violence is ugly. Violence is the saddest of human acts. . . It is so very difficult to lead people into a willing critique of their politics, their country, their allegiances, without some awareness of how violence is so often the handmaid of greed and power. . . .We are nonviolent, not because we simply eschew violence; rather, we are nonviolent because we are people who love like Jesus.”


“. . Community is the most neglected and probably the most difficult ingredient for us to hold to in the U.S. context. And for the most obvious of reasons—we have come to worship at the altar of independence, individualism and autonomy. As much as there is a deep hunger for connection, common purpose, and kindred hearts, there is a merciless, deep-rooted entrenchment in the forces of competition, personal freedom and self-rule.”

[i] These portions of Jezreel’s work are taken from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation post, Founder of the Center of Action and Contemplation, dated June 13 and 14, 2018.

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