God Is With Us 3.26.2020

I wrote this post four years ago while struggling through an unplanned unemployment (remember that when reading it!).
 
I share in hope you find meaning (and joy!) in it today.

 

Finding Joy In Music

By Jane Weiers

 

My post earlier mentioned that I am a natural “sinker.” Yesterday, in the stress, anxiety, and turmoil of unplanned unemployment, I was headed for the bottom. Again. A feeling of sinking throughout much of the day. Finding out the cost of health insurance once mine runs out January 31 certainly did nothing to buoy my mood, nor did having to ask my mother for financial assistance starting in February. So, being the stubborn person I was genetically disposed to be (have you ever met my parents?!?), today I got out of bed fighting mad. At life. At the world. At having lost my job in a financial crisis that I had nothing to do with (funny how innocent people end up being collateral damage so often in life). So, I pushed myself into the shower (basic self care is a common struggle with those in clinical depression), put on some makeup, dressed up in a skirt and even put on a necklace, and forced myself to what has become my job application site: STARBUCKS. Ordered a drink. Plugged in my computer and my earbuds, and went to listen to a piece of music by a conductor that has become a favorite of mine: Joseph Curiale. I discovered he has composed a piece titled “JOY.” JUST WHAT I NEED TODAY! Music makes such a difference in the world, and I share this piece for others to listen to. I dare you to feel like you are sinking while listening to this.
 

https://youtu.be/cvxfJ43EdNU


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God Is With Us 3.25.2020

I wrote this devotion four years ago when I was struggling through unplanned unemployment. I post it today hoping some reading it may see themselves in it and know they are not alone, and also hoping that some reading it may learn a bit about the physical human condition called “clinical depression.” There is much research going on about clinical depression and its root physical causes. Doctors and nutritionists are now focusing on the health of the gut/digestive system – the gut-brain connection – and how our modern diets, chemicals, and processed foods are affecting/increasing many diseases including clinical depression and anxiety.

 

I hope you find meaning in this writing.

 

A Sinker

By Jane Weiers

 

I am a sinker. Yes, you read that correctly, I am a sinker. I learned this while taking a swimming class my freshman year in college. As I recall the experience, while in the pool on the first day of class we were told to exhale our breath, put our heads down and see what happened. It was a test to see if we were “floaters” or “sinkers.” I headed for the bottom. A sinker. What did that mean for me as a swimmer? The instructor told us that in addition to pulling ourselves forward in a stroke, sinkers also have to work to keep ourselves afloat. Simply put, swimming is harder for a “sinker” than for a “floater.” Dang. I really like swimming.

 

This came to me in a restless night last night. I started pondering if this physical anomaly could possibly translate to other areas of my physical being. When life brings me lemons, when I exhale my breath and put my head down, what happens? My natural tendency is to sink. Into self-doubt. Into negative self-talk. Into emotional darkness. Into depression. Into CLINICAL depression. When I experienced my deepest clinical depression 25 years ago, the onset of that depression was a powerful physical sensation of falling. Yes, you read that correctly—a PHYSICAL sense of falling. My body felt out of control—on the inside. My body felt like I was falling—on the inside. And it was scary. Really scary. So scary that I eventually called a mental health hotline. I can vividly recall standing in the mudroom of our house talking to a crisis counselor. It was a Saturday. I was nine months pregnant with my first child. I was so scared. What I was feeling was SO overwhelming. The physical sensation was so strong that I wanted nothing more than to not feel that powerful inner turmoil anymore. I wanted out.

 

I am so thankful that I had already been diagnosed with clinical depression earlier in my life, so I had an educated sense of what I was experiencing—body chemicals becoming so out of balance that I needed medical/chemical/professional intervention. My body was experiencing a physical disease/imbalance, and that body, with that chemical inefficiency, needed physical help. Having already experienced both the darkness of being out of chemical balance and returning to the lightness of balance, I knew that it was not a personal “weakness,” but rather a physical anomaly of my physical body. I knew that with time and with chemical intervention, I would get out of that dark hole. Don’t get me wrong, when you are in that depth of depression every minute you are in it you can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. But, education is so important. And, once you are educated, it absolutely helps the rest of your life (isn’t that true about ALL education?!). Education is what this post is all about.

 

So, I guess I must accept the fact that I am a natural sinker. In more ways than one. Swimming takes more energy for me than others, and inner balance takes more energy and/or chemical help for me than for others. This in no way translates to me being a “Debbie Downer,” because on the “outside,” I am the person you want in a crisis, I am the consensus-builder, the one to find the positive in any situation, the one trying to keep everyone else positive (not that I am always smiling :/). If you ever wonder why I am SO FOND of positive quotes, it is very much self-help driven. In becoming professionally educated about my propensity for negative self-talk, I have learned I absolutely have control over my thoughts, if not my body chemicals. So when I find myself returning to my negative self-talk pattern, I work to break the pattern by changing my thoughts to the positive. And start re-reading books like, “Healing Is A Choice,” “Happiness Is A Choice,” and I highly recommend the book “Paths Are Made By Walking,” about how to reprogram the neuropathways in our brain (our thinking habits).
 
I find joy writing about finding joy, and write about joy as a means to an end.
 
Take that, you sinker…

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God Is With Us 3.21.2020

Good evening! Jane Weiers here. I am the Communications Specialist & Office Manager at Lake Harriet UMC. Having a hard time in this sudden and undefined time of self quarantine? Me too. Not so much the slowing down of activity, but slowing down my mind? NOT EASY for me. I wrote this devotion years ago and I post it tonight hoping you might find its mantra helpful, too.
 
 
 
 
 

Be Still and Know

Be still and know that I am God.

—Psalm 46.10

 

I have trouble being still. Not so much my body, but my mind. My mind seems to be in overdrive all the time, engines going full-throttle, multi-tasking the details of my life: making a to-do list for work and making a to-do list for home and planning my kids day and planning my day and what are we going to have for dinner tonight and do we have enough groceries and, oh yea, I need to get gas today, and, I should really have the oil changed in my car soon, and, I’d better do laundry tonight and … Some days I can relate to Dr. Seuss’s Grinch when he complains about all the noise, noisenoisenoise! — except my noise is in my head. No one can hear it but me.

 

Recently, as I was feeling overwhelmed by all the details, noise and clutter in my mind, I began to hear a quiet voice, and the voice said, “Be still.” Was God talking to me? Was my subconscious talking to me? Was my self-preservation instinct talking to me? I believe the answer is yes, to all three. I believe that when you hear that quiet voice in your head, feel a “gut instinct” or listen to your heart—that is the Spirit working in you. I think God’s presence in our life is quiet, calm and still. I think some people look for God’s presence in their life through thunder-clap moments, and miss the quiet power of God’s ever-present love.

 

I listened to that quiet voice that day and began to use those words as a “mantra” of sorts. Now, when I start to feel overwhelmed by life, when my mind is in overdrive and those engines are on full, I close my eyes and run these words through my mind, quietly and slowly:

 

Be still.           Be still.           Be still.

 

Those words bring quiet to my mind and peace to my soul.

 

Simplify your life. Focus your thoughts. Find peace in the stillness.

 

Almighty God, you are with us always. Help me to slow down and recognize your voice in my life, quietly reminding me of your loving, guiding, calming presence. In wondrous thanks, through your Son, Jesus Christ, the light of my life. Amen.


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Running With Mark 55

Day Fifty-Five – February 21, 2020  

 

Read:

Mark 9:9-13 New Revised Standard Version

 

This story immediately follows the Transfiguration, where Jesus had been transfigured and appeared with Moses and Elijah.  This encounter took place on a mountaintop, which in the Bible is the sacred place where encounters with God often occur. 

 

Jesus, Peter, James and John are coming down the mountain.  Jesus tells them not to say anything about what they witnessed on the mountain until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.  That one sentence is packed with so much!  How are Peter, James and John feeling after what they have witnessed?  Do Jesus’ clothes still appear to be dazzling white or has that faded? Then Jesus talks again about the death of the Son of Man. Do you suppose the disciples are finally starting to believe him when he says he will suffer and die? 

 

Now he is talking about being risen from the dead.  The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees did not.  Those that believed in the resurrection of the dead believed that it would happen to all at the end of time.  It would be confusing to the disciples to have someone risen from the dead while the rest of them were still alive.  The disciples talk amongst themselves about what it all could mean.

 

Jesus coming down the mountain, now begins his journey to Jerusalem. He still has a lot to say and do, which perhaps is why he doesn’t want the disciples to be talking about what they have seen.  It could also be that their understanding is still limited.

 

The disciples ask why Elijah must come first.  They know that Scripture teaches that Elijah will prepare the way for the Messiah.  Jesus says Elijah has already come, and they did to him whatever they pleased.  Jesus applies this prophecy to John the Baptist, the wild and wooly prophet who had declared a baptism of repentance.  John had baptized Jesus in the river Jordan, where God had appeared, in the form of a dove, declaring Jesus God’s own beloved son.  John was killed by an order of Herod.  John’s role is finished.  He has fulfilled his role in the coming of the Messiah. 

 

What remains is for Jesus to complete his Messianic mission.  This final journey will encompass the chapters 11-16 of Mark.

 

Chapters 1-8 have asked, “Who is Jesus?”

Chapters 8b-10 have asked, “What does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah?”

Chapters 11-16 will show how Jesus becomes king.

Are you prepared to walk this final road with Jesus?  It won’t be easy, but I encourage you to do it.  Spend time on the daily readings from Mark.  Meditate on them as we walk with Jesus to the cross, the tomb and Easter.

 

Music:

Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus – sung by Audrey Assad

How Glorious the Splendor – Tommy Walker

 

Prayer Focus:

What spiritual practices will you use this Lenten season?

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 45

 
 

 

Day Forty-Five – February 11, 2020  

 

Read:

I have spent many years working in children’s ministry.  Music is a great way to teach children the Bible and the faith.  The only problem is that those songs get stuck in my head.  During VBS week, I will wake up in the middle of the night with  that year’s theme song running through my head.

 

Music has always been a powerful way for me to memorize Scripture.  I learned the Books of the Bible by singing a song, so if you ever see me at the front of a sanctuary, turning pages in the big Bible, chances are good I am singing the Books of the Bible song to help me find the right page.

 

A simple song that I use with preschoolers contains big Biblical truths.  You can see the silly pastor singing it here – 2 Fish, 5 Loaves

 

What did it take to feed 5000?  Well, probably many, many more than 5000, since 5000 was the number of males who were fed.  With the women and children included the number would have been much, much higher.

 

It was late and the people were getting hungry. The disciples came to Jesus telling him to send the people back to their homes, but Jesus tells them to give them something to eat.  Right away the disciples started listing all the reasons they couldn’t feed them.  It would cost so much money Jesus!  Jesus says, “How much bread do you have?”.  In John’s version of the story John 6:1-15 the disciple Philip says, “Six months wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them.” 

 

Andrew chimes in, “There is a boy who here who has five barley loaves and two fish.”  This detail about the kind of bread is very revealing.  Barley bread was the bread of the poorest of the poor.  2 Kings 4:42-44 tells the story of a man who brought twenty loaves of barley, as an offering of the first fruit, to the prophet Elisha.  Those twenty loaves fed over 100 people and there was food left over.  Would the disciples think of this story when the boy gave Andrew his two fish and five loaves of bread?

 

Jesus tells the people to sit down, and they do in groups of fifties and hundreds.  He looks up to heaven, blessed and broke the bread (are you seeing another Bible story here?).  The food was passed around and all ate to their fill. There were twelve baskets of food left over. 

 

  • If you were the little boy, would you have shared your lunch? Why?
  • What is the significance of the boy being poor (as evident in the barley bread)?
  • Do you think it is harder for a rich person to give or for a poor person? Why?

 

Some people are called to work systemically to eliminate poverty, homelessness and hunger.  Others are called to provide direct relief by serving meals, working at shelters, etc.  Which are you called to do?  Why?

 

Challenge: Consider fasting for one meal, or one day this week.  Give the money you would have used on food to an agency that provides hunger relief.

In Minneapolis, please consider giving to the Joyce Uptown Foodshelf.

If you are outstate, check for local agencies that are providing hunger relief.

National and international groups to check out include:

Feeding America.org

Bread for the World

 

Music:

God of Justice by Tim Hughes

 

Prayer Focus:

On the day you choose to fast, when you begin to feel hunger pains, or your stomach growls, turn to God in prayer. 

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 44

 

Day Forty-Four – February 10, 2020  

Read:

Psalm 122

 My spirit soared when a Voice

                        spoke to me:

            “Come, come to the Heart

                        of Love!”

How long I had stood within the

                        house of fear

            yearning to enter the gates

                        of Love!

 

The New Jerusalem, the Holy City,

            is bound firmly together;

All who seek the Heart of Love,

            those who have faced their fears,

Enter the gates in peace and with

                        great joy,

            singing songs of thanksgiving.

There, in harmony with the cosmos,

            the community gathers united

                        in love.

 

Pray for the peace of the world!

            May all nations prosper as one!

May peace reign among all peoples,

            and integrity dwell within

                        every heart!

Then will friends and neighbors, and

                        former enemies as well,

            cry out, “Peace be within you!”

For the good of the universe and

            in gratitude to the Beloved,

Let us serve the Holy One,

                        of all nations

                        with glad hearts.

 

From Psalms for Praying © 2007 Nan C. Merrill

Continuum International Publishing Group

www.PsalmsForPraying.com

 

Jerusalem was the site of the first temple and referred to as the “holy city”.   In Matthew 23:37 Jesus lamented over Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
 
 

The image of Jesus as mother hen is a tender one.  How Jesus longs to gather all of God’s children under her wing, but we are unwilling.  Yet Jesus will over and over again in the gospels, set his sights on Jerusalem, knowing what was in store for him there.

 

What does it mean to you that Christ would choose to go to Jerusalem?

 

How does the image of Jesus as a mother hen speak to you?

 

Music:

The Holy City sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Made to Worship by Chris Tomlin

 

Prayer Focus:

Pray to God as a mother hen covering you with wings of love and grace.

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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Running With Mark 43

 

Day Forty-Three – February 9, 2020  

 

Read:

Mark 6:1-29 Common English Bible

  • The Herod in this passage is not the same Herod who was ruling at the time Jesus was born, that was Herod the Great. This is one of his sons who is known as Herod Antipas.  This Herod’s territory is only one-fourth the size of his father’s. 
  • John had gotten under Herod’s skin by telling him he should not be married to his brother Philip’s wife Herodias’
  • Did you catch that Herod feared John the Baptist. Why do you suppose that is?  Herod also listened to the words of John.
  • Herod has a birthday party at which his daughter Herodias danced. She was such a hit that Herod said he’d do for her whatever she wanted, and what she wanted was to have John the Baptist killed.  A guard kills John and brings his head on a platter into the birthday party.  What an unbelievably violent act has been committed on such an innocent man.
  • John’s disciples take his body away to be buried

 

What do we do with such a gruesome story?  As I read the story this time, I have been thinking about how John was a person who told others the truth about themselves, even when they did not want to see it.  He was known as the prophet in the wilderness calling people to a baptism of repentance.

Do you have someone you really trust in your life who will tell you the truth?   Who holds a mirror up for you to see yourself?

 

Be honest with yourself, how often has your doctor suggested that you need to lose a little weight or exercise a little more?  Even when you know the doctor is telling you the truth, have you acted on it?

 

Sometimes a boss may need to give some feedback to an employee about their performance.  It can be hard, but necessary, to hear the ways in which we are being coached to improve our job performance. 

 

It can be hard to hear some things, and we may be tempted to lash out at the truth teller, like Herodias did with John. 

 

Think about a time when someone told you a difficult truth that you truly needed to hear.  Was it a parent? A coach? A boss? A friend?  What did you do with the truth they told you?  Did you act on it?

 

Sometimes when we have gotten off track, we need someone to remind us who we are, holy and beloved children of God.  Who can you count on to remind you of this?

 

Buddha said, “Three things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”. 

 

The hymn, “Open My Eyes that I May See” has powerful lyrics about bringing ourselves fully to God, with all of our failings and foibles.  As you read the words and listen to the hymn, meditate on the line that says, “place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unlock and set me free”. Click on the link to listen to the hymn Open My Eyes that I May See

Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unlock and set me free.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

 

Music:

Remind Me Who I Am by Jason Grey

 

 

Prayer Focus:

Ask God to prepare your heart to receive the truth.

Offer thanks for the people in your life who will tell you the truth because they love you.

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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Running With Mark 24

Day Twenty-Four – January 21, 2020  

Read: Mark 3:31-35 New Revised Standard Version

Today’s reading is very short, and very confusing! 

Jesus’ mother, sisters and brothers, are outside asking for him.  It’s pretty clear that they do not understand who Jesus is and what he is about.  How can we blame them?  Mary had given birth to him.  His siblings had grown up with him. 
 
Mark 3:20 tells us that his family had gone to Capernaum to get him. The NRSV says they have come to “restrain him”.  The NIV says they came to “take charge of him”.  Why, because they think he is “out of his mind”.

 

We can understand their confusion.  Here was this guy they had grown up with.  He is telling people he has the authority to forgive sins.  He is debating with the religious leaders.  He is hanging out with fishermen, tax collectors and sinners.  It’s been reported to his family that he is casting out unclean spirits and healing people.  It’s hard for them to fathom.

 
Imagine their surprise when they confront Jesus and he says to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Family was everything in that culture.  Multiple generations of family often lived under the same roof.  Caring for one’s parents was a strong culturally held value.  Refusal to care for one’s family would have been a cultural taboo.

 

Jesus says that “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

God is starting a new family; a family made up of not of biological family, but of spiritual family, and this family will extend out into the world receiving any who would follow Jesus. 

St. Paul, in Galatians 3:28 paints a picture of this new family when he says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

 

Interesting theological tidbit for today – the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin, in other words, she did not have a normal marital relationship with Joseph, and therefore would not have had other children.  The “sisters and brothers” mentioned they believe are cousins of Jesus, or that they were half-siblings because they were Joseph’s children.  To learn more about the Catholic understanding of the family of Jesus click on this link Did Mary Have Other Children?

 

Questions to ponder:

  • What would it have been like to be Jesus’ sister or brother? Do you think they were ever embarrassed by him or jealous of him? 
  • Mary sometimes lost her patience with him, as when he stayed in the temple in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old, instead of traveling home with his extended family.
  • Did Jesus hit a growth spurt like most teenagers? Was he always hungry?  Did he get acne?
  • At what age do you think Jesus understood who he was? A toddler? A boy? A teen? a man?

 

Visual Liturgy:

Family

 

 

Music:

We Are Family by Sister Sledge  (going old school here!)

No Longer Slaves by Brian Johnson Joel Case Jonathan David Helser

 

 

Prayer Focus:

Family relationships

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 23

Day Twenty-Three – January 20, 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
 

 

Psalm 126 is a joy-filled song of praise for the good things God has done. The image of “mouths filled with laughter” is so vivid.

 

We’ve all experienced times in our lives when we’ve laughed so hard our bellies ached and our eyes leaked tears of joy. After those moments of such deep laughter, our bodies feel a physical release and a deep contentedness.

For today, think of some things that God has done in your life that have brought you that deep joy.

 

My family brings me joy. I remember being on a family vacation in Alaska one summer with my husband and all of our boys. There was a point at which I looked around at these five men that I loved, and I was overwhelmed with feelings of deep gratitude and joy.

Diverse babies sitting on the floor

Babies and children bring me joy. I love the photos from family court on the day of an adoption, or meeting a newborn baby and celebrating with the parents. I am that person in the grocery store that waves at toddlers and coos over babies in car seats.

It brings me joy to laugh at silly dog videos on Youtube.

It brings me joy to watch hugs and reunions at the airport.

What brings you joy?

 

Can you imagine the joy both in heaven and earth if the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was finally fulfilled?

 

Click on the link below to watch Dr. King’s speech. Watch, as he with passion and purpose, points us toward a vision of God’s kingdom here on earth.

Visual Liturgy:  I Have a Dream Speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Music:

Free at Last

We Shall Overcome – Morehouse College Choir

Prayer Focus:
Racial reconciliation

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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Running With Mark 22

Day Twenty-Two – January 19, 2020

Read: Mark 4:1-34 Common English Bible

Visual Liturgy:

A tiny mustard seed is held between the index finger and the thumb. A perfect illustration of Jesus’ teaching in the Bible.

 

 “With many such parables he continued to give them the word, as much as they were able to hear. 34 He spoke to them only in parables, then explained everything to his disciples when he was alone with them.” Mark 4:33-34

 

Why would Jesus speak to them only in parables?  Why then later explain it only to the disciples?  I often wish that there would have been times recorded in scripture when Jesus “gave the answer” and said what the parable meant.  Parables are stories that invite us into the story and to draw our own conclusions about the meanings. 

 

In Crazy Book – A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Biblical Terms, the authors say that a Parable is a story with not only a point, but a skewer.

 

In the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Steve Martin’s character launches (and we mean launches) into some good advice: “When you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: Have a point!  It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

 

Because admit it.  We have all been there, listening to a story and wondering, “Why is he telling this?  There is no point!”

 

A parable is a story designed not to be entertaining or amusing, or to pass on family history. It is a story with a point.  In fact, the biblical parables are often pointed.  You might say that they have lance-like point – a sort of “gotcha” moment in which we realize that the point of the story has, in fact, punctured us.  While there are parables in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, most of the biblical parables occur in the Gospel because Jesus often taught using parables.

 

sticks for canape and kebab isolated on white background

A key to reading Jesus’ parables is to realize that we are the ones who are being skewered by Jesus’ parables.  He pokes a hole in our illusions about ourselves in order to let the hot air out and the Holy Spirit’s healing breath in.”[1]

 

 

Parable of the Soils – what does the soil mean to you?

Parable of the Lamps – what does the lamp mean?

Parables of God’s Kingdom – what does the mustard seed mean?  Why would Jesus choose it?

Who is the best storyteller you have ever known?

How can you use stories to share your faith?

 

Music:

Jesus Be Near to Me – Tommy Walker    

 

Build Your Kingdom Here – Rend Collective

 

Prayer Focus:

A parable is like a skewer, poking holes in our illusions about ourselves.

Where are the holes in your life that God would invite you to consider?

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

[1] Jacobson, Rolf A., Karl N. Jacobson, and Hans H. Wiersma. Crazy Book: a Not-so-Stuffy Dictionary of Biblical Terms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019. pg.212

 

 

 

 


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