Thoughts from El Paso

The fear, bigotry, and hatred within us is what we often have to fear the most.

Friends – One of our dear friends, Sami DiPasquale, and a former student from the Middle East Studies Program that my husband started many years ago, lives and works in El Paso. He loves the community deeply and recently wrote a beautiful and challenging post about the grief the community is experiencing. I am honored to post this on Communicating Across Boundaries.


I don’t know how to express my grief from these last couple of days. Our communities in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez are deeply hurting and in shock. My family and our team of coworkers are safe, but we also know that many in our community are just one or two steps removed from victims of the massacre that took place at a nearby Walmart. One of our coworkers was planning to be at that same Walmart Saturday morning but had changed her plans. Another coworker lives very nearby and the shooter was apprehended not far from her apartment. Many from our neighborhood shop regularly at that Walmart since it is close and easy to get to by public transportation. So this act of terrorism hits very close to home.

I want to give a little context to this shooting from my perspective. Someone from far away traveled to the border, to El Paso, in order to inflict great harm on our community. This harm did not come from the south, from one of the thousands of people seeking asylum at the border a mile from my house. This harm was not inflicted by immigrants. This harm was not even inflicted by anyone from El Paso who was unhappy with the situation on the border.

The terror, the murder, the invasion that our city experienced Saturday was brought to the border from inside of the United States, not from outside of the United States. The irony runs deep and bitter. We as a nation have long been told to fear the possibility of terrorism at the border. On Saturday terrorism hit the border in El Paso for the first time in recent memory. And it had a different face than we have been told to expect. According to the ongoing investigation, it had the face of nationalist white supremacy and targeted racial hatred towards immigrants and those of Hispanic descent. A list of the victims has not been released but we know seven of those killed were Mexican citizens who were shopping at Walmart on Saturday.

If you pray, please pray for El Paso and Juarez and for the families of the victims of the shootings. Please pray for healing for El Paso and Juarez, and for the other cities that have experienced similar atrocities. But also please examine your own heart and your own prejudices.

Whisperings of pride and superiority take hold and grow and turn into something very ugly

Sami Dipasquale

The words we use to talk about others matter, the fears we stir up matter, the walls we build against those who are different than us matter. Whisperings of pride and superiority take hold and grow and turn into something very ugly. And then they manifest themselves in the kind of terrorism we experienced on the border on Saturday. Do not let your homes, your workplaces, or especially your places of worship flirt with this temptation. The fear, bigotry, and hatred within us is what we often have to fear the most.

Last night I attended a vigil hosted by faith leaders from many religious traditions. Our mayor and members of congress were also present and shared. The overriding message was a spirit of love overcoming hate. I have great hope in the capacity of the people of El Paso (a city that is 83% Hispanic and made up of many immigrants) to love and be hospitable. El Paso is the friendliest place I have lived in the U.S. Maybe that is another reason that El Paso was targeted; because it has served as a model for the rest of the country as to what it looks like for a community to respond in compassion to strangers in need. A network of 30 groups in El Paso, mostly churches, has been providing temporary shelter for asylum seekers for the past few years, and now sister churches across the border in Juarez are sheltering those affected by the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Many of these churches have very limited resources and they are not giving out of their surplus but out of their faith and a belief that they must help those in need regardless of the circumstances. We have much to learn from these brothers and sisters.

Thank you to all of you have reached out to check in and send your love. I am very grateful for your friendship and support! Many of you have asked how you can help. The best way you can help is by combating the dangerous attitudes described above wherever you are, and by loving those you come in contact with regardless of their background.
If you would like to support families of the victims of the El Paso shooting, the El Paso Community Foundation has started a fund and is accepting donations. https://payments.epcf.org/victims

Over the past year I have been working with members of our team in El Paso to formalize a new initiative, Abara, focused on addressing some of the most pertinent issues in the borderlands. Currently we are supporting migrant shelters on both sides of the border, hosting border encounters for those who want to learn more, and connecting with others engaged in similar work. We hope to inspire connections, contribute to positive narratives about the border and invest in a generation of peacemakers. If interested you can learn more about what we are doing and ways to support this work through the Abara website. You can also sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and ways to get involved.
https://www.abarafrontiers.org

About Sami DiPasquale: Sami was born to American parents in the country of Jordan and spent the majority of his childhood and young adult years in the Middle East – living in Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt and then India – before completing college in the United States. He holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (International Development) from Wheaton College and an MBA from the University of Texas at El Paso. He has spent the last eighteen years immersed in refugee and immigrant communities in the U.S., working in refugee resettlement with World Relief in the greater Chicago area prior to joining Ciudad Nueva and then starting Abara. Sami’s desire to engage border issues through Abara has emerged out of 15 years of neighborhood-based work with youth and families at Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach. He lives and works with his family in the Rio Grande District, a beautiful community in the heart of El Paso, Texas where most of his neighbors have recently moved from Mexico and are striving to acclimate and pursue their dreams.

On Monasteries, Children, and Loving Our Enemies

Gunmen Kill at Least 28 Coptic Christians in Egypt

The headline spares nothing, except that there were children. I numbly read the article describing the pilgrimage. The group was headed to St. Samuel Monastery for a pilgrimage when pick up trucks reportedly drove up to the busses and began firing automatic weapons. I read as little as I have to to get the story. Then I stop and I feel myself getting sick. 


During our years living in Egypt, my husband used to love taking our oldest son, Joel, to monasteries. The first time he went, Joel was only three years old. He went off happily into the desert with his dad, secure and excited.  The pictures taken later that day show a tow-headed pre-schooler with a bearded monk. They are absolutely comfortable with each other and the camera captures this well. 

Our introduction to Orthodoxy came through the Coptic Orthodox Church. My husband went on countless trips into the Sinai desert, enjoying the hospitality and growing through the spirituality of monks who had devoted their lives to prayer in the desert. Christianity in Egypt is alive because of these havens and those that set themselves apart to pray for Egypt and the world. It was a monk who said to my husband “Cliff, you are Orthodox. You just don’t know it yet!”  This was years before we entered the Orthodox Church. My husband just thought this is what the monks say to Protestants who they liked. It turns out it was more prophetic than we could have imagined. 

These trips to monasteries are a respite from the chaos of the massive cities in Egypt. But they are so much more! Pilgrimages to monasteries are part of the spiritual life of the Orthodox Christian, so when I read about the group who were attacked it felt personal. It should feel personal. These are fellow Christians, members of what we call the “body of Christ”.  


The commands to “love our enemies” and “do good to them that hurt you” are not ambiguous. They are clear and forceful. Along with this, we have the words said by Jesus as he died on the cross:

Father – Forgive Them. 

In the most outrageous act of love the world has ever witnessed or will ever witness, we have these words. They are recorded and echo through history. They are heard in great cathedrals and small,village congregations. They are said aloud, and they are whispered in the soul. 

These words – they feel too hard. How can a grieving mother say them? How can an angry father believe them? 

And yet – still they echo. 

After the attack on Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday, a television station interviewed the wife of a security guard who was killed during the attack. It was this man who stopped the suicide bomber and made him go through the metal detector, an act that cost him his life. His widow’s words echo the words of Christ on the cross:

‘I forgive you and I ask God to forgive you. I pray that God may open your eyes to light your minds,’ 

Violence lasts but a moment, forgiveness echoes forever. 

Evil is Not the Final Word

Note: due to a WordPress error, the post looks like it was published on February 3rd. It was, in fact, published on the morning of March 28th.

On Easter Sunday evening, a suicide bomber targeted a busy park in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. Boasting a water area and a playground, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park is a popular place.The victims of the bomb blast were primarily women and children, likely out for an Easter celebration in the city before heading back home for the evening. A splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility and unapologetically stated that “The target were Christians.”

The cowardice of the act nauseates the stomach; the horror sickens the mind. Along with those that are dead are the wounded, sent to hospitals in resource-poor settings, where good medical care is difficult to get and people who might live, should the resources be available, end up dying.

Istanbul, Brussels, Baghdad, Pakistan – it goes on and on and on. We grow weary and have bomb fatigue, our humanity challenged to remain compassionate, our spirits challenged to pray even as we wonder what good it will do.

“Has not Pakistan suffered enough?” I shout the words inside, knowing that few would understand my reactions. An opinion piece in the New York Times echoes some of my thoughts:

For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations. In December 2014, Taliban militants gunned down more than 140 people at a school in Peshawar, a vast majority of them students. A former American ambassador, speaking of his government’s lack of desire to help the Pakistani government fight extremists, put it succinctly: “There is great Pakistan fatigue in Washington.” NYTimes OpEd by Rafia Zakaria “The Playgrounds of Pakistan.”

Yet, the Pakistani flag lights up my newsfeed and I am grateful for friends who do understand, who know and love this place that so many of us called home.

Where do we go during times like this, when evil stalks and lurks? Where do we go when the world feels crazy and safety is as illusive as winning the lottery? What do we do? Where do we go? How do we respond?

I have become tired of judging others for reactions that are just as valid as mine. We create a people’s court, judging the hearts of people by the status of their social media pages. As though judging the hearts of others will add comfort to the situation.

Still, the familiar green and white of the Pakistani flag brings me deep comfort, and knowing there are so many of us that love and pray for this country is a balm to my soul.

I have written about evil before, and my words grow stale in the face of more and more tragedies. But I am compelled to continue to write. I am compelled to continue to feel through writing.

“The extreme greatness in Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it” says Simone Weil. 

So I go to the words of Scripture, knowing that they have brought comfort through the ages to men and women who have faced evil, men and women who have gone through suffering and lived to write about it. 

They all have one thing in common, and it’s something that I think about as I write. They all knew that evil wouldn’t win. They all came to an understanding that there was something bigger going on, that suffering and pain were not the end game. They all knew that when you walk through the fire, there is a God who suffers with you, you are not called to suffer or face evil alone.

I am not given answers. I’m given something better than answers: I’m given a glimpse into God’s heart as seen through people who never gave up their faith. Evil does not get the final word. Suffering will somehow, in a way that I cannot possibly understand, be redeemed.

Somehow that is enough for me. It must be enough, for I have nothing else.

It is now the evening of Western Easter, and I know only one thing: that He who endured the cross and  continues to redeem the world has not left us to suffer alone. He is with the men, women, and children of Pakistan. And I defy anyone who would say differently.

“The Resurrection is not a peacetime truth for occasional, feel-good, religious nostalgia. The Resurrection is a wartime truth for everyday, tear-smeared, blood-stained allegiance to Jesus.” quote from Duke Kwon 

___________

A friend who also grew up in Pakistan reminded me of this Psalm today:

The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.

Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!

Psalm 113

 

Paris is White, Lebanon is Brown, Mizzou is Black

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[Poem is attributed to KARUNA EZARA PARIKH @karunaparikh http://www.dailyo.in/politics/pray-for-paris-isis-paris-attacks-prayer4paris-islamic-terror/story/1/7368.html%5D

I was off-line most of yesterday and so it wasn’t until late in the day that I saw the news about Paris.

Horrific news of multiple attacks throughout the city — a rock concert, a stadium, gun attacks at the center of the city in a heavily populated area. In all, 128 people dead and over 180 injured. France has closed its borders and ISIS has proudly taken responsibility.

The world has poured out its support and love for France, much like it did during the Boston Marathon attacks. My newsfeed fills up with people expressing sadness, outrage, and shock. Rightly so – it’s an evil, terrible attack and our minds try to make sense of the terror. I think the statement so many will not voice is this:  “If it happens in Paris, it can happen anywhere.” If it can happen anywhere, than no where is safe.

*****

On Thursday twin suicide bombers attacked the city of Beirut. 44 people are dead and over 200 people are wounded. ISIS claims responsibility and Beirut grieves once again. It has been over a year since they have experienced this kind of violence. One person writes about it on her newsfeed – a friend who lives in Lebanon and loves the city. Otherwise I am struck by how unimportant it is to the Western world.

*****

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber targets a funeral while two roadside bombs go off in Sadr City. At the funeral 18 people are killed while over 40 men lay wounded, unable to do anything but wait for help. I don’t see this news on anyone’s newsfeed. It’s unimportant to the world. Because it happens all the time.

*****

In Missouri, a university continues to reel in chaos and anger. It’s been months, years even and black students have not felt safe. They have called out for help for a long time and no one has listened. A swastika is scrawled in feces across a residence hall wall, but there is no newsfeed outrage. This is a symbol known across the world as a symbol of violence and hatred of people groups. But still no news. Over and over again black students say they don’t feel safe, but they are largely ignored by both their administration and the rest of the nation. “White silence is violence, no justice, no peace” the protesters cry out for someone to listen. Why is it ignored until a president resigns? Racism is too hard, so much easier to ignore than address, both systemically and individually.

*****

I have a conversation with my daughter. She went to a Christian college, and her friends from college are outraged by Paris. They send off messages of prayer and hope and light for the City of Lights. But not one of them seems to know about Lebanon, or Baghdad, or Mizzou. Her high school friends are not Christian, yet they have stood in solidarity with Mizzou and tried to bring awareness to those issues. They care about Lebanon and Baghdad as well as Paris.

And I wake up troubled. The world feels so broken, so beyond repair.

And I too weep for Paris, for the grief and loss that cannot be quantified. But I can’t help thinking about how little the other events matter to our world. I can’t help thinking that somehow we have been deceived into believing that the white, Western world is more worthy of empathy and concern, not only in our sight, but in the sight of God. I can’t help thinking that the reason for the difference in interest is because Paris is white, Lebanon is brown, and Mizzou is black. I know in theory it may be more complicated – but it doesn’t feel complicated right now, because I watch this over and over again. I know my words when written will be subject to critique, but I write them all the same, because it’s the only thing I know to do.

I pray yet again the only prayer I know to pray during these times of sadness and frustration – Lord Have Mercy. Lord have mercy on our broken, hurting world – and on all of us who are just as broken.  And I thank God that he does care, that he is not influenced by newsfeeds, that he weeps for the black, the brown, and the white, offering love and comfort to all.

Mourning for Pakistan

Making naan - in the midst of tragedy

“My sons were flowers, borrowed from God.” grieving father to Reuters correspondent @mehreenzahra.

“Next to a tiny body bag, there is dried blood on this hospital floor. Trampled by footsteps of crazed parents, resolute attendants

In the midst of work emails, a cup of coffee, and trying to plan my day the news of the attacks at a school in Pakistan came into my world. The news came the way it usually does – through a fellow third culture kid who also grew up in Pakistan and loves the country the way I do.  The way so many of us who took our first baby steps on Pakistani soil love the country and her people.

An attack in a place you love against a people you love feels personal. 

The attack happened at a public military school in the city of Peshawar located in the northwest part of the country. Growing up, Peshawar was a common stopover during vacations when we would go to the Swat Valley, or to Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. It is in the northwest part of the country, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Peshawar is considered the “oldest living city” and has a history that goes back to 536 BC. It is a city of trade and boasts ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Over 130 dead and counting. Most of them are children.

The school is run by the military, largely for the children of military families, but there are also civilian students. A large group of them were in a main auditorium, ironically having a lesson on first aid.

Killed by Taliban insurgents. To punish the military? To what end? For what?

The evil is a stench. 

The body count rises even as I scan the internet for more news. Reports of crazy militants, dead bodies of children, chaos and grief are inescapable. I feel nauseated looking at them. Yet I can’t help myself. It’s the only thing I know to do. I can’t get on a plane and go to Pakistan. I can’t use my nursing skills or sit and comfort the grieving. And so I peruse every social media site I can and watch the world step back in horror at a heinous act.

Outside my window I hear the sirens of ambulances and police cars going to the site of an emergency in Boston and I wonder about the sound of ambulances and police cars in Peshawar. It is now night-time and those involved are heading fast into the after effects of shock and terror, the domino effect of tragedy.

This is the season of Peace on Earth, the season of Holy and Silent Nights, the season of Joy to the World. How can it be when a world away the cries of moms and dads echo to the heavens?

I want to scream “Does this pain matter? Does it matter to you God?” 

I look back at the words I wrote after the marathon bombing that happened just a mile from where I now sit. I cling to them and reread them, make them applicable to this horror in Pakistan, even as I pray.

“The collective grief makes me want to scream, anything to release the sense of helpless fury in the midst of senseless, inane violence. The images of the news juxtaposed against the images of Christmas make me feel guilt as I sit in comfort looking at a tree with sparkling lights, candle light, gifts.

And then I remember the call to pray.

Five times a day a Call to Prayer rings out across the Muslim world. Five times a day for much of my life I have been reminded to lift my heart in prayer. And the five times stretches to many times in between until I realize I am slowly learning that I can’t make it through this life without prayer; that the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ is life-giving. That in the midst of senseless acts of violence, in the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he “willingly endured the cross”.

In the middle of my rambling words comes the voice of wisdom and grace through my sister-in-law, Carol.

“The call to prayer is ringing out now.

‘Come Lord Jesus’ is the cry of my heart! We live in a pained confused world! There is chaos that mars the landscape of God’s design. Yes we do experience His mercy and grace but the ache, the groan of pain is heard all around.”*

This is my call to pray. To pray for Pakistan, pray for her people and her land. Pray for healing. Pray for change. Pray for proper condemnation of the act. Lord have Mercy, hear my prayer. 

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in First Things

Picture Credit – Dan Mitchell photography; word art Marilyn R. Gardner

If Sarah Palin Were in Charge

I am grateful for Robynn’s voice on Communicating Across Boundaries, whether on Friday or another day. Today she reacts to something we both found deeply offensive. We know there are varying opinions on these things. Please feel free to use the comment section to voice your thoughts, keeping our guidelines of communication and respect for honest dialogue in mind.

*****************

My blood is boiling. I’m so furious I could spit. I just heard a segment of Sarah Palin’s speech at the recent National Rifle Association Convention. During her speech she said,

If I were in charge they would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists”.

As someone who takes my faith seriously I am deeply offended. Here are a couple of things I’d like to say to Ms Palin:

  1. Thank God—-You are not in charge! Jesus is Ruler Supreme. He is King and He alone is in charge!
  2. Water boarding is evil. It is torture of the worst possible variety. According to Wikipedia, waterboarding is a form of torture, more specifically a type of water torture, in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.[1] Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years. More so, torture itself tarnishes the image of God in both the one who tortures and the victim of that torture.
  3. In my faith tradition, baptism is a holy sacrament reserved for those who’ve publically declared allegiance with Jesus. He welcomes anyone to come. No one is excluded. And for those who chose to believe, to follow after him, they’re invited into the sacraments as well. Baptism is a means for people to enter into the death and resurrection experiences of Christ. They voluntarily go down in to the water, dead to themselves, their sin, their old nature. They come up out of the water, alive to Christ, to new life. It’s a beautiful statement—a public commitment– of declaring loyalty to Jesus.
  4. There are those around the world who think that baptism is forced on the naïve and culpable. There are those who believe that Christendom is still stuck in the crusades, that converts are numbered and forced to drink blood and be baptized. This is NOT true. Christians in the past who did these things were WRONG to do them. Such exploitation of the name of Jesus is evil and blasphemous. It is our job—our mandate—to demonstrate that this is no longer true. We do that by quietly loving people. By laying down our lives for them. By caring for widows and orphans, by loving the poor, by reaching out to the ostracized, the marginalized, the foreigner, the minority, the misunderstood. These are the people who Jesus came for.  He came to invite lovingly, gently, the weak and the wounded to come.
  5. Ms. Palin, these types of comments made in public places by public figures, such as yourself, do nothing to erase the evil stereotypes that exist out there about Christians. You are reinforcing things that are not true about Christianity—and by association—about Christ. Please take back this thing you’ve said. Repent. Acknowledge the harm you’ve done. Ask for forgiveness. Jesus will welcome you back.
  6. When you use the word, “terrorists”, Ms Palin, I’m assuming by the greater context that you mean Muslims. I take deep offense at this gross generalization.  Terrorists are those whose violent acts are intended to promote deep fear. Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes. They wear jeans and miniskirts. They wear the hijab and turbans. They speak English and Chinese. There are millions of Muslims who are subject, in the same ways that we are, to the terror incited by non-Muslim and Muslim terrorists. Muslims and non-Muslims feel the same emotions. They also feel afraid. When their family members die, they also grieve.
  7. The flippancy and arrogance you display when you talk about such grave subjects as waterboarding, terrorism and baptism are astounding to me. These are topics reserved for serious conversations. These subjects should be handled with sobriety and with sensitivity. These are not punchlines for your political prowess. People’s lives and souls are in question here. Please speak with respect.
  8. I do thank God that you, Ms Palin, are not in charge. I also pray for you. I pray for the Spirit to convict you. I pray you see the lack of love in your soul. I pray you begin to see the inconsistencies between what you say you believe and the ways you live out that belief.I pray you will begin to love your neighbor as yourself. Because Love Matters.

*As people of faith, Christians specifically, Robynn and I both believe that what we say, how we live out our faith publically matters. This is why, in a space generally reserved for non-political topics, we address this statement on Communicating Across Boundaries.

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When My Anxious Thoughts Multiply Within…..

I woke with a headache. It started at the base of my neck and before long wound its way up to my temples. I was acutely aware that it was a headache born of anxiety.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within….”

Policeman are out in full force here in the city. Army men parade the streets. All the surrounding towns have loaned their safety units to Boston. Random checks are occurring in the subway and people clutch their arms to their bodies a bit tighter.

It’s part of the terrorist process. For the bombs don’t just terrorize for the moment, although their worst physical impact is felt then. Bombs and attacks terrorize far longer than the actual event. It’s like dominoes. The terrorist domino effect – where one thing happens and pretty soon you have a world spinning to try to keep the dominoes from crashing down.

I work in state government and we have received email upon email giving us resources, recognizing that even those not directly involved feel the ripple effect of the sadness and terror that reigned on Monday. Articles on grief and post traumatic stress flood my inbox. And I am grateful for the attention that the Department of Public Health is finally giving to what people around are experiencing.

But for me it’s not enough. For there has to be a faith element that wraps around all these resources. A recognition that the God who sustains and heals will continue and work through and beyond man-made resources.

And I find the answer in an age-old Psalm, sung for generations, sung to those in captivity, those in exile, those in war, those fleeing their enemies.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul”.* This is the missing ingredient to all the other resources.

*Psalm 94:19 “A text of this kind shows us forcibly the power of Divine grace in the human heart: how much it can do to sustain and cheer the heart. The world may afflict a believer, and pain him; but if the grace which God has given him is in active exercise in his soul, the world cannot make him unhappy. It rather adds by its ill-treatment to his happiness; for it brings God and his soul nearer together — God the fountain of all happiness, the rest and satisfaction of his soul.”~Charles Bradley, 1845

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