Tag Archives: Love

“The Fate of the Tearling”: love costs

At the end of this novel, I actually said out loud to my empty apartment, “WHAT?!” Erika Johansen did it again. The final novel in this series of three had me playing along the entire time.

fate

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Fate-Tearling-Novel-Queen-Book-ebook/dp/B015CXRP9S

Without spoiling the wild ride, I’ll just say that this book reminded me of what the writers/producers of Star Trek did in the 2009 film: they created a story line where time shifted and therefore they could create a whole new series of adventures and planets. Genius!! Johansen does something similar, which is why at the end I couldn’t help but utter an impassioned and appreciative “What?!” Nicely done. (I know I’ve said it before about her other books, but this woman writes beautifully!)

 

After three long epics, I appreciate that Johansen took a risk. On Goodreads, it seems fans are divided on Johansen’s story decision. Yet again, I am interested in her craft and how she creates twists and causes the reader to join her in several moments where suspension of disbelief is necessary, yet not betrayed. What a fabulous series!

beauty

Source: https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/agg-rise-3-from-the-end-with-love.507116/page-363

Ok, enjoy gushing about the author’s brilliance. Johansen has some thoughtful commentary on society and how greed and selfishness leads to hatred which leads to harm. “Hatred is wasy, and lazy to boot. It’s love that demands effort, love that exacts a price from each of us. Love costs; this is its value” (Pg 81). Throughout the novel, characters are forced to make hard decisions about life and death. In the end, it is those who love that end up struggling; in the end, it is those who want to do the right thing because of their love for others that end up hurt. Yet, time after time, those who love, even though it is the harder choice, have a richer life. They have relationships, friends, and peace. As with most societies, even today, religion and religious beliefs,  beliefs that were started out of love, end of being sources of jealousy and posturing. Trying to be perfect and trying to look good destroys lives, as we see throughout this novel and in real life. Yet the foundations of religions are love, compassion, peace, and forgiveness. I think that as humans, we forget that these values are hard and require work. It is easier to sit through a sermon that tells you three ways to be a better leader, or three ways to love your neighbours more. Yet when it comes to making life-changing decisions and doing the right thing, it’s easy to draw back out of fear and stay in the bubble of safety, waiting out the upheaval or change. But that is not the way of love.

heart

Source: http://www.facingcancer.ca/blogs/bothsides/love-is-brave

I think one of the reasons that I loved this series so much is that characters make mistakes, giant mistakes that destroy things. Characters also show the strength of compassion and forgiveness. It’s not easy and Johansen shows that the struggle is real: sometimes life isn’t black and white, most of the time it’s grey. So how do we find the courage to love others, even when it means sacrifice and cost? I’m not sure. That’s why this series has left me so happy: it was a pleasure to read, it has unexpected twists and turns, and it challenged me in my own views about life and society.

challenge.1

Source: http://memes.com/img/184529

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“The Secret Life of Bees”: I am enough

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was recommended to me by my Dad’s co-worker, a Catholic chaplain at a federal prison. At a Christmas party, we were chatting about authors who wrote on spirituality (like Thomas Moore, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Henri Nouwen) and he suggested that I might like The Secret Life of Bees.

bees

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Bees-Monk-Kidd/dp/0142001740

I’ve never spent much time contemplating Mary, the mother of Jesus. Growing up, Mary was part of the Christmas story and didn’t show up the other 11 months of the year. Yet in Catholic traditions, she is part of everyday life. I think I like that: having a spiritual woman part of my everyday life. Reading The Secret Life of Bees truly made me grateful that I am a woman, and that doesn’t happen too often. The love, joy, forgiveness, and genuineness that Sue Monk Kidd creates within and between her characters had me mesmerized. Lily, a young teen with a dead mother and an abusive father, saves her housekeeper from jail and they run away together and into the lives of three extraordinary women: May, June, and August. These three sisters keep bees and sell honey, yet they have also created a community around the tradition of a black Mary. These women support each other and have true friendships that uplift and challenge each other to love more.

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Source: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/secretlifeofbees/

Monk Kidd’s novel tackles racism, abuse, sexism, and depression. She does not shy away from issues that most people like to ignore. In the novel, she creates situations that seem so outrageous, yet most likely happened. Situations of black women being beaten in prison by their white male accusers. White people standing in the way of black people registering to vote. Black teens being arrested for throwing a coke bottle at white men. Yet the three sisters–May, June, and August–are strong and they gather other women around them to encourage them and support them. Lily, who has run away from home, is treated with kindness and love, and with a patience that seems unworldly. As she works with the bees, she learns more about herself and about reality:

“The sting shot pain all the way to my elbow, causing me to marvel at how much punishment a minuscule creature can inflict. I’m prideful enough to say I didn’t complain. After you get stung, you can’t get unstung no matter how much you whine about it. I just dived back into the riptide of saving bees”  (pg 167)

I love Lily’s attitude. Stung, yet dove back into the work and didn’t get angry or upset at the bees. August keeps reminding her to send love to the bees and to remain calm and observe. Life lesson!

Lily isn’t always calm and patient, and has some fantastic moments of rage and pain about how life has treated her. We follow Lily’s progression from an angry, confused girl, into a young woman who is learning that the most subversive thing a woman can do is love herself. As Lily helps the sisters care for the bees, she learns a lot of about herself:

 

Her hands stayed where they were but released their pressure. “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love–but to persist in love.”

She paused. Bees drummed their sound into the air. August retrieved her hands from the pile on my chest, but I left mine there.

“This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.'”

I closed my eyes, and in the coolness of the morning, there among the bees, I felt for one clear instant what she was talking about. (Pg 289)

Lily learns something that most people struggle, not only to say, but to believe: I am enough. The three sisters have a statue of Mary that was inspirational to many black slaves in the area and they continue to draw strength from this statue. Yet in this conversation with August, Lily tries to find strength from outside of herself and August reminds her that Mary is there to draw out the best: Mary’s power doesn’t come from her statue, but instead comes from empowering others to see the beauty and love in themselves.

mary

Source: http://beesbeesbees.weebly.com/the-daughters-and-son-of-mary.html

I found this book refreshing: looking at spirituality, Christianity, from a female perspective. And a wonderful reminder in Lent that yes, I am enough!

enough

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/i-am-enough/

“Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you. … You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.” (Sue Monk Kidd)

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you.” (From the “Hail Mary” prayer)

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary. 2010 Stephen B. Whatley

Source: http://www.stephenbwhatley.com/1_the-immaculate-heart-of-mary-2010-30-x-24in-by-stephen-b-whatley-copy-jpg

“The Night Stages”: the pain of hope

The last time I read a Jane Urquhart novel I was in the midst of breaking up with my boyfriend.  I was reading Away in a coffee shop waiting for my boyfriend to show up so we could have the talk.  It was terrible.  And here I am again, reading a Jane Urquhart novel, realizing, and now planning, that I need to stop seeing the man I’ve been dating for the last couple of months.  Painful.  Yet, Urquhart’s characters inspire me.

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Source: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thenextchapter/david-suzuki-emily-urquhart-and-jane-urquhart-1.3240041/jane-urquhart-on-how-airport-art-inspired-her-latest-novel-1.3240431

In The Nigh Stages, Tam is stuck in the Gander, Newfoundland airport as she is trying to create a new life for herself away from her lover and is stuck waiting for fog to clear.  She is leaving Niall, a married Irish man who gives her just enough hope for a relationship and something real that she continues to be with him.  Niall is looking for his missing brother, Kieran, because he feels guilty for taking all of the things Kieran loves in order to win in life, a bike race and a wife.  All the while, Tam is in the airport remembering and reflecting, looking at the Gander airport’s mural by Kenneth Lochhead, who is also reflecting on how his mural came to be.  This is a novel about humans whose lives become complicated because of missed moments, harsh reality, and painfully persistent hope.

“In the next twenty-four hours Kenneth would come to a full understanding about waiting and its sister, hope, how even as you lie in an empty bed at two o’clock in the morning, even when the room you have rented is yours for only three more morning hours, hope will still cross the room to meet you, if only to keep you turning on the spit.  You argue her away from you only to discover that some semblance of her remains in the shadows where the light of the lamps doesn’t quite reach, or just behind a door where a knock might be heard at any moment…Yes, she was there in the mural, the one significant event that never happened.  The path that hope had walked and the corner that she turned” (Pg 325-26).

The pain that hope gives is worth it when what we are waiting for arrives, or turns up in a positive way we weren’t expecting. Yet the pain of hope can become unbearable when we realize that we are the only ones hoping and waiting, and that our hope is just wasted energy. That significant event that never happened.  As I was reading this story of waiting and expectation, this story of hoping for love in the wrong places, I couldn’t help but think of a song by Stars: “Romantic Comedy.”  In the song, one of the lyrics keeps sticking with me: “I cannot hold on and I cannot let go.”  That place of being stuck in hope: you want to hold on, yet you know it’s time to let go.  That’s where I find myself, which is why I think I can sympathize with Tam, the woman who is settling for half of a relationship because she has hope that it will turn into something more.  Painful hope. It’s hard to let go and take the risk of being alone and missing out on something that might be.  Even the littlest glimpse of hope keeps people holding on longer than they should, me included.  Which is why in the end, I understand Tam and her struggle.

hope

Source: http://www.picturequotes.com/stupid-quotes/7

I will say that Tam was not my favourite character in this book.  The character I liked the most was Kieran, the strange Irish cycler who leaves his home as a child and lives with the family’s house keeper in the country.  He has hopes and dreams and works toward them.  Yet when life takes away his hope (his brother takes his romantic interest and his glory in a cycling race), he continues on doing his own thing.  This reminds me of Ben Howard’s song “Keep Your Head Up.”  He writes: “Lookin’ out at this happiness/ I searched for between the sheets/ Oh feelin’ blind, I realize/ All I was searchin’ for, was me/ All I was searchin’ for was me…Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.”  Kieran was the only character in the novel who was able to move on.  He was the only character with the inner strength to take care of himself first. Yes, he was hurt (just as he was hurt in the cycling race), but he kept going: “It was these things that made him come to know it was morning, and that the day about to break was Wednesday” (Pg 396).

So for now I’m stuck a little, like Tam, waiting for some fog to clear so I can make some hard decisions.  Yet I don’t want to let my hope for something more turn into a fear of something less.  More hope, less fear!  Love for self, less for something that doesn’t exist yet.

love-self

Source: http://www.cindygcastillo.com/life-advice/2015/10/19/and-if-i-asked-you-to-name-all-the-things-that-you-love-how-long-would-it-take-for-you-to-name-yourself

“Anne of Green Gables”: kindred spirit

I’m not sure I have ever felt as many emotions reading a book as I did reading Anne of Green Gables.  I’m not sure if it’s because I see parts of myself in Anne, if I see my brother in Anne’s imagination, if I see some of my heartbreaking students in Anne, or if L.M. Montgomery is a writing genius.  I’m going to go with the fact that Anne wears her emotions bare and I am a Cancer and so I’m susceptible to getting carried away on Montgomery’s rollercoaster.

Anne

Source: https://www.amazon.com/ANNE-GREEN-GABLES-Bantam-Starfire/dp/0553242954

Honestly I was afraid to read this book because I love the Megan Follow’s series so much.  I don’t remember reading it as a kid, but I do remember watching it, and watching it often.  Anne: she doesn’t let life get her down.  She has an indefatigable spirit and it’s infectious.  She sees the good in people and works hard to find the thing in them that is beautiful and tries to draw that out of them in her conversations and interactions.  She is not afraid to imagine, dream, and wish for things both romantic and pathetic.  Throughout the novel, you can see the positive impact she has on those around her.  I use the word ‘impact’ because she does create head-on collisions in her refusal to be negative or to let others change her.  She sees each part of creation as magical and wonderful and gives names to trees and flowers.  Even after Matthew dies, she hopes that the souls of each of the roses Matthew loved are in Heaven with him to welcome him.

Matthew

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/debbydb/anne-of-green-gables/

Montgomery creates such a fantastic figure for girls and women: she works hard to see and love others, she finds value and meaning in true friendships, she is brave and courageous in developing and showing her talents, she is fierce in accomplishing her goals, she values education and self-improvement, and she does it all despite the nay-sayers.  Anne seeks her own way and in the process allows those around her to think and grow.  Also, she has some amazing female role models: Miss Stacey, Miss Barry, Mrs Allan, Marilla, and Mrs Lynde.  These women highlight different attributes that Anne seeks to cultivate.  Montgomery’s portrayal of women at a time when most thought like Mrs Lynde (women shouldn’t be educated, women shouldn’t be ministers, etc.) is telling of the kind of woman Montgomery was.  If in her own life she couldn’t be this strong and independent, she certainly wrote about female characters who defied parts of society to follow their own path.

montgomery-and-lefurgey

Source: https://somethingrhymed.com/category/nora-lefurgey-and-l-m-montgomery/

So after reading Anne of Green Gables, I can’t help but consider L.M. Montgomery a kindred spirit.  And I am so grateful that generations of young girls and women continue to find solidarity and inspiration from this Anne-girl, Anne with an E.

quote 1

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/surabhirai/l-m-montgomery-quotes/

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” (Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” (Proverbs 18:24)

quotes 2

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/207376757816166695/

 

“Becoming Human”: heart and head

I truly enjoy the CBC Massey Lecture series.  I’ve listened to, read, and seen live some of the talks that Canadians give on topics they are passionate about.  Becoming Human is Jean Vanier’s series about who we are and how we can, through compassion, love, and forgiveness, become fully human.

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Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Becoming-Human-Jean-Vanier/dp/0809145871

I found Vanier’s book to be challenging because it made me see myself and reflect on my own motivations, thoughts, and actions as I read.  Vanier wants his readers to see that compassion and love for others are possible, yet we need to become free first and need to forgive ourselves and others.  These are not light topics that are easy to shrug off.

This year I have been learning a lot about trying to reconnect the heart and the head in education.  The Enlightenment taught civilizations to keep the two separate and that has not yet changed.  I like that Vanier addresses this way of Western thought: “We tend to reduce being human to acquiring knowledge, power, and social status.  We have disregarded the heart, seeing it only as a symbol of weakness, the centre of love that can reorient us from our self-centredness, revealing to us and to others the basic beauty of humanity, empowering us to grow.” (Pg 78)

heart

Source: http://www.playbuzz.com/randallmurphy10/a-whats-the-connection-between-your-head-and-your-heart

Vanier writes that when we start to see people through our heart, we allow a place for everyone to belong.  Belonging can be a fearful, negative thing for some because of the way society is set up, they will never belong.  Vanier helped to start L’ARCHE, a community for people with intellectual disabilities.  Through his work with these communities, he has learned that freedom means loving and seeing the heart and soul, not just the potential for success. He also has a lot of wisdom around forgiveness: “Forgiveness, the act of loving my enemy, like forgiveness of self, is not a sudden event, a rapid change of heart.  Most of the time it is a long process that begins with the desire to be free, to accept ourselves as we are, and to grow in the love of those who are different and those who have hurt us or appear as rivals.  It is the process of getting out of the prison of our likes and dislikes, our hatreds and fears, and walking to freedom and compassion.” (Pg 161)

the-weak-can-never-forgive-forgiveness-is-the-attribute-of-the-strong

Source: http://www.thequotepedia.com/quotes/forgiveness/page/12/

Vanier is aware that his way of living–living in love, compassion, freedom, and forgiveness–is not easy and it is not a lifestyle that offers a lot of examples, yet it is a life that leads to becoming human.  For Vanier, once we become human, then we find we truly belong.

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Source: https://plus.google.com/photos/+Tomletgo/albums/6015896748732687393

“To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefor unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.” (Jean Vanier)

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, speak well of those who speak badly about you, and pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

images

Source: http://themetapicture.com/graffiti-revolution/

“The Book Thief”: more love

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, was the choice of my Jr High book club.  I bought this book seven years ago when I first started teaching and never got around to reading it, so I was grateful for my club of reading fans for picking it as our book to read.  And what a book!!

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Source: http://sydneyjewishmuseum.com.au/shop/talk/markus-zusak/

It was interesting to me that in our first conversation about the book one of the students who had seen the movie adaptation said that she thought God was the narrator, not death.  This opened up a lot of conversations about death and how we talk and think about death. We thought it was interesting how much compassion death had for those he was collecting.  Throughout the novel, death repeated expresses his displeasure and distaste with humanity for the scale of work they create for him.  He reflects on how war is no longer an equal to him, but now a weapon used to destroy others completely.

As we read, the students were truly disturbed by the scenes of the Jewish prisoners being marched into Dachau, yet the approach was new and made them think about Hitler’s Germany in a different way.  They saw from the inside out what it was like for those who tried to resist: jail, concentration camps, sent to the front lines, beaten, whipped, bullied, shunned.

As death describes his work, he shows reverence for humanity and the human spirit.  He shows respect for those who live a full life and die well.  He shows compassion for those who are left behind.  He shows honour in how he perceives the importance of every single soul, even on the nights when he touches thousands of them.

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/katieahall91/the-book-thief/

I am happy to say that resilience was a word we were left talking about. Liesel, even after losing her friends and family, is able to continue on.  That ability to cope and live on was inspiring to the students in the book club.  They were devastated by the story Zusak tells and had a hard time moving beyond the cruelty of humans toward other humans.

Yet the worst part was bringing in some Canadian facts: Canadians allowed the cultural genocide of entire Nations and no one seemed to stop that (yet, we all know there are those who spoke for the trees, so to speak).

There are numerous accounts of the Canadian Government conducting experiments on students in Aboriginal residential schools: Psychic experiments, food and nutrition experiments.  Students also died in residential schools without proper records being kept.  Generations of families were broken and separated.  Thousands of children were filled with fear, shame, and guilt.  Culture, language, teachings, and stories were lost and destroyed in order for the Government to get rid of the “Indian Problem” so that they could use the land instead of sharing the land.  We, as Canadians, have a lot to see in our shared history with the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people who we share this land with.

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Source: https://purposesearchers.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/residential-schools-in-canada/

For me The Book Thief was a new way of looking at humanity and the needless suffering we cause by being driven by our fears instead of acting always in love.  The majority of our conversations revolved around the relationships in the book and the connections people had with each out of genuine interest and love.  Walking away from this book I am left with the impression that we need to be reminded of our darkest moments so that we can see how fear and hatred thrive.  In order to live boldly in love, we need to see each other as beautiful humans and honour the beauty in all.

people are beautiful

Source: http://quotesgram.com/book-thief-quotes-and-page-numbers/

“What we all want should look a little more like love” (Shad).

“I am haunted by humans” (Death, The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12).

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Source: http://www.relatably.com/q/death-quotes-book-thief

“Searching for Sunday”: what is church?

This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.

sunday
Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday/

In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)

It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.

held
Source: http://rachelkingbatson.com/tag/rachel-held-evans/

One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)

No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)

Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.

communion
Source: https://twitter.com/StStephenYYC/media

“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

welcome
Source: http://www.ladera.org/beliefs/openAffirming.html