Posts Tagged With: white privilege

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 7

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. – Jesus, John 8:32

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. – James A. Garfield

Denial of white privilege (or any privilege) is putting your social comfort over your neighbor’s ability to live in truth. – Julia Seymour

In the section of Waking Up White called “Inner Work”, Debby Irving grapples with how she has internalized the realities, privileges, and teachings of whiteness for her whole life. Like most white people, she did not absorb these lessons as “the way white people do things”. Instead, they were imparted to her and learned as “the way things are done”. This  seemingly simple framework is actually one of the first and largest hurdles for white people (or dominant cultures) to recognize and comprehend. Whiteness isn’t the absence wuwcoverfinal-200x300of race- it is a racialized way of being in the world, one that has been privileged in appearance, cultural transmission, ways of speaking and acting, and whose racial story/history has been elevated as “the truth”.

On page 238, Irving creates a list of behaviors and beliefs that she had thought were cultural norms or at least American mores, only to come to understand that they were actually white [American] acceptable ways of being. While there is some classism evident in the list, the truth is that this list applies specifically and significantly to whites in the dominant culture. This list is not only descriptive, but it remains prescriptive as expectations for those who wish to “succeed” in American culture.

The list includes things like competitiveness, belief in one right way, defensiveness, and valuing formal education over life experience. The item that really flagged my attention was and is “right to comfort/entitlement”. Right to comfort. Right to comfort. Since reading it, I’ve rolled that phrase around in my head again and again.

It seems to me that we have seen an enormous drive toward that “right” in past few years. Black Lives Matter makes people uncomfortable. The apparent diminishment of American exceptionalism makes people uncomfortable. A black family in the White House makes people uncomfortable. Black men, women, and children moving freely in public or even being allowed to make bad choices without dying clearly makes people uncomfortable.

For most people who are on their way to being woke, there is a constant in the feeling of discomfort in realizing the extent of white privilege and how one has benefitted unknowingly and knowingly from that system. For other white folk, the denial of white privilege or the system of oppression requires vociferous support because it is easier than feeling uncomfortable. Across classes, there are white people who have been nursed at the cultural teat of white supremacy. To acknowledge and wean one’s self from that is to admit to having imbibed poison for years and, at some point, intentionally.

It becomes connected to feeling like one is or must reject one’s parents or grandparents or the “history” that formed one’s own story. Is it better to continue to build on a lie (or lies) for the sake of one’s own comfort? Does the story of our forebears as “heroes” matter more than the truth of sins committed against people of color and the way those sins still impact the lives of their children today? People at the top of the cultural mountain cannot call down to people at the bottom and say, “Put the past behind you”, all the while pushing boulders down.

This section of the book is a bit of a hamster wheel of Irving’s inner turmoil as she wrestles with the discomfort and pain of comprehending the height and depth and breadth of white cultural dominance and how it impacts and hurts people of color. With each lesson, she moves forward, but never quite as far as she hopes. The truth is that unlearning a lifetime of lessons taught through culture, family, and education takes the rest of one’s lifetime. And there is comfort in that truth, if we are willing to embrace it.

1. How would you describe your own reaction the first time you heard of white privilege or white cultural dominance? What was the example or situation that revealed that truth to you? If you still push back against the terms, please articulate how you’re wrestling with these things.

2. On page 241, Irving says, “I’m not an active snob, just a well-programmed passive one.” What kinds of snobbery exist in your life? Have you overcome any kinds of “boxes or ladders” in your thinking? Which ones still exist?

3. In chapter 38, the story of Rosie is Irving’s illustration for how she had been taught and expected all students to learn in the same way and to function in the classroom in the same manner. Do you have any experience like this in your life? Consider your church or community congregational context? What is the behavioral expectation for the majority of gatherings? Is it communal? Sage on the stage? Facilitated discussion? Freeform activity? What might be gained from considering different modes of activity on a regular basis?

4. Do you believe there is a cultural preference for comfort over truth? Please say more about your perspective.

5. In ch. 40, Irving realizes that many of her conversation starters are based around white values (work, social acceleration, dominant cultural markers). She had to learn new ways of communicating in order to break down her own ways of classifying (judging) people. What are some conversation starters that you use to bridge gaps and show interest to the person you are meeting?

 

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

 

 

 

 

 

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RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 6

I caught this Pokemon the other day with my son. The thing that I noticed was its attacimg_2241k/defense moves are transform and struggle. In the game, I could not really care less about these things (don’t tell my kid, please!), but the idea of these as primary motions made a connection in my brain with Debby Irving’s thoughts in the section “Leaving my Comfort Zone”. In order to actually become more aware and sensitive to her internalized racism and racist behaviors, she had to choose between struggle and transform. 

It is certainly a reality that retreating into white privilege reduces struggle considerably, but it definitely takes transform off the table. Additionally, retreating into privilege is always going to have an element of struggle. One can deny the existence of privilege or tell others to “g
et over themselves” (or history), but there is a constant looking over one’s shoulder. If a person expects to ride the bus of privilege forever, one has to be constantly vigilant against those who may want a seat on that bus and one in the front, no less. Maintaining privilege will be a struggle.

If a white person decides, like Irving, to do the work toward transforming- it will be work. Irving describes a conference she attended in which she was, as a white person, in the racial minority of the conference attendees. Yet in one of the sessions, she slipped into her comfortable role of “[white] person who knows how to help”. I put white in brackets in that last sentence because Irving had to learn, as do many of us, how she was viewed by the other people in the session. Her race could not be separated from how she had acted. She had to learn that just as she had done that for many years to other people, now it was being applied to her. (And rightly so.)

The trick for me has been learning to stay in the conversation long enough to get to the other side, where niceness gives way to authenticity, understanding, and trust, the ingredients necessary for social stability. (214)

White people have had the power and privilege for so long that it is extremely easy not to realize how quickly we offer advice when 1) we haven’t been asked, 2) our advice mistrusts or discredits the real, lived experience of people of color, and 3) what we offer often attempts to make that experience or expression more palatable to white eyes/eyes/tastes, rather than acknowledging the panoply of possibilities in experiences of culture, truth-telling, food, or anything else. We have to learn to listen, to absorb, and to sit with discomfort. This is not only because it is the experience of people of color all the time, but because the world does not actually revolve around us or our ability to understand. White privilege has made an idol of white comfort. 

Here is my confession: I try to follow as many people of color as I can on Twitter and I pay attention to the timelines of PoC on Facebook, as a friend or a follower. I realize this is a step removed from actual engagement, but my engagement is neither necessary or expected in these arenas (unless requested, on occasion). Instead, I am trying to learn about how things look to eyes that are not living with my privilege. (Oh, how I wish the “p-word” didn’t apply to me, but it does and I have to learn to live with that and to exploit it for good and not for evil.) Paying attention to these streams of conversation has helped me to understand more about daily micro-aggressions, the way the dominant culture teaches history (especially around holidays), and the ways PoC push back on line and in real life. I take cues from this on how I can grow as an ally. I have to watch and listen. And I have to sit with truths that are not mine, but hurt me none the less.

In this section, Irving reveals how she learned that feelings and expressing them is an actual thing.

It’s true; not all white families adopt the dominant WASP culture as thoroughly as mine did. However, for centuries, people have learned that in America’s classrooms, boardrooms, and public place, those who most often succeed are those who conform to the dominant culture prototype, which demands emotional restraint. (205)

Rather than face feelings like anger, embarrassment, or guilt head-on, my first reaction usually involved an urge to run, defend myself, blame someone, or have a stiff drink. (204)

Her cultural experience is not mine. There were many things expressed through yelling and tears and swearing in my family of origin. However, I was also taught that doing those things could “undermine one’s argument”. This is something that I often hear about #BlackLivesMatter protests or actions- that stopping traffic or blocking official buildings or destruction (NOT a sanctioned activity of #BLM) undermine the requests of the people involved. I don’t think so.

How many times have you found yourself yelling (or raising your voice) and the person to whom you are speaking is affronted by the loudness, though you know they did not respond the first 2 – 57 you spoke to them? Similarly, people of color have striven to draw attention to white privilege, to the imbalances of power, to the daily and life-long oppressions they face and have not been heard or have been ignored or have been given a list to “achieve” before changes will occur. The time for yelling has arrived. Dealing with the emotional blowback of years of oppression is not on the oppressed, it is on the oppressor. It is time to struggle (work to maintain the status quo) or transform (do the work of changing society, understanding that nothing will be the same).

 

  1. What did you learn about expressing feelings in your family of origin or from your social group growing up? How were grief, anger, frustration, or pride viewed and responded to? How do you think race, class, and personal histories affected those responses?
  2. Have you ever been in the racial minority in a conference, class, or community event? What was that experience like for you?
  3. “White privilege has made an idol of white comfort.” This can often be seen in congregational life? What does that look like in your community? If you have worked to counter this, please share that experience.
  4. What kinds of actions have you taken to be open to the experiences and stories of people who are different from you (in a variety of ways)?
  5. What is your experience with wanting to “fix” the stories of people of color or “help them understand” something that is happening? What have you learned by listening to stories about social norms or realities from people who are of different races, national origins, or classes?

 

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

 

Categories: RevGalBlogPals, RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White

wuwcoverfinal-200x300The next book for our anti-racism book discussion will be Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving (Elephant Room Press, 2014).

We’ll start our conversations next Wednesday, November 16, with the first section, “Childhood in White,” which comprises the first five chapters of the book. The discussions will be led by Martha Spong, Julia Seymour, and Teri Peterson.

This is the book also recommended by the two RevGals who are also Co-Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, so we hope many of our members will be interested in discussing the book.

We’re going to offer some opportunities for online video chat about the book. If you would like to participate, leave a comment.

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The Pastoral Is Political: A Call To Be UnPopular

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I often wonder how the disciples had the courage to follow Jesus. I’m sure it would have been difficult for them to give up the things in their lives that they relied on for comfort and security. And I think it would have been very difficult for them to go out and proclaim Jesus’ good news after seeing the kind of backlash Jesus got from many of the religious leaders, by some people in his hometown and home synagogue, and even at times by his own family.

I wonder how the disciples continued participating in Jesus’ ministry when it would have been much easier for them to turn away when Jesus called out to them and to just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to acknowledge the suffering and injustice around them.

I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times – particularly as I have become more aware of how much systemic racism still prevails throughout our country – when I just want to hold tight to my own privilege. There have been many times when I have just wanted to shut my eyes and pretend that the evil sins of racism and the unjust racialized systems of which I am a part don’t exist.

Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in. It allows me to avoid any kind of opposition that those who speak out often face. It allows me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the racialized systems in our country that still privilege those who look like me while deeming those who don’t as “less than.”

You see, as a white woman, I have the privilege of being able to live my life without having to fear what my siblings of color fear every day.  My whiteness is a privilege in so many ways (which you can read about in my last post: The Pastoral Is Political: I Am Racist). And one of the many white privileges I have inherited is that I can choose to live my comfortable life without ever having to think about those around this country who are being suffocated and killed by the very same systems that uplift and benefit me.

And yet, this is not a privilege I get to hold onto when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.

Because just as Jesus called the twelve disciples to loosen their grips on their privilege and just as he sent them out into the world to boldly proclaim his very unpopular good news, he calls and sends all of his disciples to do so, as well.

Now, this work of proclaiming the good news is not always easy. It means we must denounce dehumanizing tweets that compare real people with real suffering to a bowl of poisonous candy. It means we must reject claims that terrorism has a religion. It means we must truly believe in our hearts that (clean) water is life and therefore stand with our siblings who are being denied access to it or who are at risk of loosing it. It means we must proclaim that Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!… over and over and over again until our country actually acts like it.

And it means we must call out the evil sins of systemic racism, confess and repent of our own participation in and benefits from it, and do whatever we can to cast out the demons of these unjust systems so that one day our country does in fact provide liberty and justice for all.

No, following Jesus will not make us popular. And for many of us, this work of proclaiming Jesus’ good news – which seems so radical to so many – will likely lead to opposition, even from some of the people we are closest to.

However, while following Jesus is not always easy, Jesus will never leave us to do this holy work alone.

We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And no matter what, when others – even those who are closest to us – take offense at Jesus’ good news and hurl even the harshest of insults at us, we are not left without a family. We have a family right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us, and who will walk alongside us as we discern how Jesus is calling us to go out boldly into the world.

So, may we have the courage to be the body of Christ. May we support, encourage, and hold one another as we join in this difficult work of proclaiming Jesus’ good news for all.  Because the lives of our siblings, elders, youth, and children are far more important than our longing to be popular.

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Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com. Check out our growing list of Anti-Racism resources here.

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Categories: clergy women, Racism, RevGalBlogPals, The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Pastoral is Political: I Am Racist

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Dear white sisters, brothers, siblings:

I have a very difficult confession to make.

I am racist.

I wish so much that I wasn’t. I try so hard not to be. But I am.

I think this is such a difficult confession to make because we often think people who are racist are “bad” and are intentionally hateful. Yes, there are many people who say and do overtly racist things. But the truth is, most people who are racist are good and well-meaning people, who don’t want to be racist, try their hardest not to be, and don’t even realize they are.

You see, I don’t belong to extremist groups like the KKK, call people racist names, or say things that are overtly racist. I even shut down jokes and call out comments that I recognize are racist. And yet, I am still racist.

I grew up in a diverse town and went to diverse schools. I currently live and work in a diverse community, and I have friends, colleagues, parishioners, neighbors, mentors and even a family member who are persons of color. And yet, I am still racist.

I follow people of color on facebook and twitter, read books and articles about racism and white privilege, attend anti-racism workshops, preach and teach in my churches about racism and white privilege, and participate in marches and rallies that address systemic racism.

But despite all of this: I am still racist.

Why?

Because my entire life I have been socialized to be. I have been conditioned to see the world through my eyes (the eyes that belong to a white body, which is the kind of body our society has supported, deemed the “norm,” and uplifted as superior for 400+ years.)

My school textbooks have been written from a white perspective. My television shows, movies, and books have been dominated by characters who look like me. The media I follow often perpetuates harmful racialized stereotypes and biases – no matter how progressive it might be.

Despite that my family taught me that all people were created in God’s image and deserve to be treated equally, I am still racist.  When I first see a person of color, I still sometimes fail to see her as an individual and instead see her as a stereotype. When I hear people of color share their stories of being racially profiled or denied upward mobility in their workplaces, I still sometimes question if their experiences are valid. There are still times I say, think, or do things that I don’t even realize are racist and that perpetuate systemic racism. There are still times when I worry too much about ticking off my white friends or accidentally saying something that is offensive to my friends of color that I don’t speak up when I should. There are still times when I am in the virtual or physical spaces of my siblings of color and I end up wanting to center myself. And when people call me out on any of this, there are still times I feel defensive and focus more on my own discomfort than on the fact that black and brown lives matter more than my feelings.

You see, as a white person who was raised in a country that was founded on white supremacy (the belief that white people are inherently superior to people who are not) and that throughout its history has continued to reinforce this white supremacy through social and political forces (slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, glass ceilings, racial profiling, racialized policing – to name just a few), it is extremely difficult to shed myself fully from my own racist views, biases, thoughts, and ways I believe the world should function… No matter how hard I try.

I am stuck in this 400 year old deeply engrained racialized system that not even the activists of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s could completely free us from.

And I benefit from this system. My whiteness is a privilege in it.

For example, as a white person, people look at me as an individual, not a stereotype. I will never be denied a loan, housing, or job interview because of my skin color. A store clerk will never follow me closely to ensure I don’t steal anything, and I will never be taken advantage of by a car salesperson because of my whiteness. I have always had access to quality education and upward mobility. My white body is not seen as a threat. People will not call the cops if they see me taking a walk in their neighborhood past sundown or quickly move to the other side of the road when they see me walking on the sidewalk where they are walking. I will not be pulled over in my car for no reason or on my bike because I look “suspicious.” And if I do get pulled over, I will never have to worry that if I reach for my ID in my pocket, make a quick move, or even mouth back, I could get shot.

Among many things, racism denies the humanity in God’s beloved children and fails to see that God created all God’s children good, in God’s image, and beautifully and wonderfully just the way they are.

Racism is a painful and deadly sin.

And I am racist.

I live in a racialized society dominated by racist systems that were founded by white supremacy. And I benefit from and contribute to these systems.

Now, this may sound incredibly hopeless.

But it is not.

Because as Christians, we believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he freed the world from its bondage to sin. Does this mean we are no longer sinners? Of course not. Because we are human.

But this does mean that we no longer have to be bound to sin. When we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another, our sin loses its power over us. Confession leads us toward repentance, where – by the grace of God – our hearts, minds, and thoughts begin to be transformed and we start to turn away from our sins. And whenever we turn away from something, we also turn toward something in the opposite direction. In this case, when we turn away from our sins of racism and white privilege, we turn toward a life of being anti-racists. But we cannot just turn away from our sin, turn toward a new way of life, and then pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way. We must continuously and actively move toward this new way of life.

Since the sins of racism and white privilege are so deeply engrained in us and in the racialized systems we participate in and are conditioned by, we must actively check our privilege and racism, confess it, repent of it, and be moved to take action. We must do this over and over and over again.

While I am still racist, I choose to not let racism and white privilege dominate who I am.

I choose to be actively anti-racist.

I choose to learn about and become more aware of my white privilege and how I can work to dismantle it and the harmful racialized systems of which I am a part. I choose to listen to and learn from the voices and the cries of my siblings of color, to show up, and to grieve and stand with them in their pain and anger. I choose to speak with my white friends, neighbors, parishioners, and family members about white privilege and interpersonal and systemic racism. I choose not to allow my discomfort, embarrassment, guilt, defensiveness, or the mistakes I have made (and will make) to take over me and hold me back from doing this important work.

While this new way of life is really difficult, in the Christian tradition, we believe that we do not pursue this way of life alone. We do this with the help of God and with one another.

So, fellow white siblings, will you join me in this holy anti-racism work of calling out and dismantling our white privilege, white supremacy, and the racialized systems we are conditioned by and benefit from? Will you support me and encourage me? Will you help open my eyes to the ways in which I am still blind to my own white privilege and racism?

I need you. We need each other. So let us do this holy work together.

And as we begin this work through confession, repentance, and action, let us hold onto the beautiful gift we have: that God, who is rich in mercy, loves us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ.

In Jesus Christ we are indeed forgiven! So now together let us act!

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Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com. Check out our growing list of Anti-Racism resources here.

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From the RevGalBlogPals leadership: Black Lives Matter

We are deeply grieved by the shooting deaths of the past week. The killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile reveal the urgent need to dismantle white supremacy in the United States. The deaths of the Dallas police officers and of Micah Xavier Johnson point toward that same urgent task, exposing the moral and physical injuries that generations of thinking and practice have caused. As a ministry with members around the world, we stand against racial injustice everywhere.

We are committed to the truth that Black Lives Matter.

This is more than a slogan or a hashtag. It is the song of our hearts, our hands, our sermons, and our daily lives. The Son has made us free, but there are those who refuse to recognize that freedom.

The poet Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Regrettably, RevGalBlogPals’ efforts toward anti-racism and full and safe inclusion of our black colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family has not always been our best effort. For this we are most heartily sorry.

We know better. We will do better. And we will not rest until we are all free indeed.

Rev. Martha Spong, Executive Director – United Church of Christ
Rev. Julia Seymour, President – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Sarah Howe Miller, Ph.D., Vice-President – United Methodist Church
Rev. Liz Crumlish, Secretary – Church of Scotland
Rev. Amy Haynie, Treasurer – The Episcopal Church
Rev. Jemma Allen – Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Rev. T. Denise Anderson – Presbyterian Church (USA)
Ms. Mary Beth Butler – The Episcopal Church
Rev. Teri Peterson – Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev. Sharon Temple – United Church of Christ
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RevGal header WordPressRevGalBlogPals, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization devoted to supporting clergywomen and other women in ministry. RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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