Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above - but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Fuller, Future, Global, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Worship

Gratitude #2 – Fuller

I came to Fuller with twenty-something years of questions, seeking answers. Open to new ideas, perspectives, opportunities that would lead me to clarity, confidence and a killer resumé for the next step (you know, the one where I would return to the midwest and work for a megachurch. Yeah, that one.).

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Journey, 2003

I sought answers but instead found fellow ask-ers. From all walks of life, from all corners of the globe. All asking questions about meaning, life, God, and the church. Discovering new words and new ways of speaking about our common and diverse experiences, our frustrations and our hopes.

I sought answers, the resolution and dissolution of my questions, but instead found strength and encouragement to continue the questioning journey. With new words, languages, skills, and – most important – friends whose journeys have woven together with my own. Companions, collaborators, teachers, colleagues – constant reminders that even in the midst of loneliness you are not alone.

I sought answers, a tradition to call my own, a tried and true banner under which to find direction, vocation and a career. Instead I found a community of creativity and collaboration. Risks and hunches that the road ahead may wind in new directions and into new terrains. That following God’s wind may lead to uncharted waters, requiring a constantly calibrating compass. That whether the needle seems to simply spin or remains strangely still, God’s voice sometimes continues to speak.

I sought answers but instead found better questions – or, maybe, the same questions expressed with more clarity and humility (a combination that I’ve found most often leads to what the world calls wisdom). The end goal is not a simple and straightforward answer to life’s most pressing questions but a more helpful posture of dwelling with those questions from a place of health, experience, and wisdom. A place of conviction, yes, but also a place of mystery – “take off your shoes for the ground here (the same ground you’ve walked on before and will walk again) is holy.”

I sought answers and, in seeking those answers, found life.

For that – for being a shaping and forming place, a gathering place of sojourners and ask-ers on the way, I am grateful.

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California, Family, Future, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

Gratitude #1 – Los Angeles

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Angeles Skyline, 5:23AM

Los Angeles, you’ve won my heart.

Despite the frequency you get bagged on by those who live outside your borders (and even more so by those who reside within your borders!), you are a class act.

You’ve exposed me to new tastes and flavors. Bibimbap, boereks, pad kee mao, burrito mojado and boba. Some of the best and worst coffee I’ve ever tasted.

You’ve given me an appreciation for cultures, languages, and people groups from across the world. Where I previously heard unfamiliar noises and sounds, now I hear Armenian, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Tagalog. Beautiful languages spoken by our beautiful neighbors – distinct and unique in the everydayness of Angeleno life.

You’ve shown me the beauty of well-constructed buildings and the redemption possible with the crumbling walls of poorly-constructed buildings. From city centers and pop-up shops to subversively-scrawled poetic prophecies. You’ve shown me that graffiti can be art, that abandoned pallets cry out to be repurposed, and that place-making is a necessary and holy calling.

You are iconic, full of images and symbols. We’ve lived in the shadows of your fame, seeing both the beauty and the brokenness and learning to live and love in the midst of it all.

You are a city of lost boys and a city of dreamers, but you are also a city in which dreams become reality. You are the city where many of our dreams – for community, for family, for a neighborhood – took root and blossomed.

Los Angeles, you’ve been home and, for that, I’m grateful.

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I Stand In the Goodness of Dirt

I was looking over a draft of a personal narrative theology I began constructing a while back. I didn’t get very far, but the draft opens with this simple line:

I stand in the goodness of dirt.

We are a mysophobic people. We don’t like germs and we don’t like dirt. We fear those things because we’ve given them the power to make us unclean.

So we shower. We scrub our hands. We control our climates – heating and cooling with machines – to avoid sweats and shivers. We rinse, wash, spin and then rinse, wash, and spin.

We apply chemicals on the parts of our body most prone to smell. We “plug it in, plug it in for freshness with a new spin” so the air around us stops smelling like…us. We seal off doors and windows. We pay for new cars so that our car can smell like a new car instead of an old car (which smells like…us).

We only shop at clean and shiny stores where we can buy clean and shiny food. We want to eat meat but do not want to see eyes or blood or feet or beaks. We scrub, scrub, scrub our fruits and vegetables. No dirt for us, just clean and shiny food.

Somewhere deep down we’ve equated being dirty with being unclean in its fullest sense – defiled, unworthy, bad.

So we scrub, scrub, scrub.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten where and what we come from.

The ancient Hebrew stories of beginning (which have been compiled into a book we call Genesis) start with God calling the universe into being and, in that brand new universe, cultivating a garden. Planted in that garden and given life through God’s own breath was אָדָם – a creature formed from and named after the dust and dirt and soil of that first garden.

In the beginning, God created dirt-y and dust-y humans and it was very good.

I just finished reading Sara Miles’ latest memoir (which I really enjoyed…check it out): City of God: Faith in the Streets (Hachette, 2014). In it, she explores her neighborhood – San Francisco’s Mission – through the lens of Ash Wednesday’s call to remember dust and ashes, to remember the cycle of life and death, to remember our humanity.

How often we forget our humanity. How often we forget the gift it is to be human. How often we forget to stand in the goodness of dirt.

The story of Christianity is ‘good news.’ Too often that goodness has been construed through a lens of escape.

Escape from our bodies, escape from this earth, escape from the dirt and the dust.

The goodness of the Christian story lies not in escape but in embodiment.

This embodiment is an invitation into the freedom of realizing and embracing who we were created to be.

Crafted in the Imago Dei, being transformed into the Imago Christi so that we might experience the redemption and glory of a dust creature living in right relationship with the one who calls forth and forms life and beauty from the dirt and names it good.

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There Are Stars in Los Angeles

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we never saw any stars. We saw some celebrities, but I’m not talking about that kind of star.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and great cities have great lights. The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful; I love flying back here in the evening because as the plane descends, I descend with it into the endlessness of light.

We live in the shadow of the iconic Griffith Observatory. Sitting atop the Hollywood Hills, the concrete structure is brightly lit at night and, from it, you can see our giant of a city and her magnificent lights sprawling as far as the ocean to the west and as far as you can see to the east and south.

But lights cause luminous pollution - the fancy word used to described the effect of non-natural light on our ability to see natural light. Bright city lights do not diminish the natural light of a Red Giant or the flash of a meteor; bright city lights diminish our ability to correctly perceive that natural light. The lights of a city, in a sense, distract us from the lights of the universe.

Human eyes are amazing. As an environment darkens or brightens and our eyes’ rods and cones adjust, what our eyes see as “black” changes, recalibrating to the ‘new normal’ of our ambient surroundings.

It takes between twenty and thirty minutes for eyes to fully adjust to darkness. Each minute we wait, we can see exponentially more as we give our eyes more time to calibrate to the lights shining amidst the darkness. In darkness as opposed to sunlit conditions, the human eye is up to one million times more sensitive to light.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, the city lights were too bright, and we never saw any stars. 

We are approaching the eight-year anniversary of our move to Los Angeles. Last week, I was outside in the evening with Everett. He pointed up and, in sleepy-eyed wonder, exclaimed “Dada…stars!

Sure enough, I looked up and two bright stars twinkled overhead. He and I spent more time gazing into the luminously-polluted skies high above our home in northeast Los Angeles and, gradually, our eyes adjusted to the reality of the universe blanketing us in light-amidst-darkness.

There are stars in Los Angeles.

To see many of them it’s taken eight years of slow adjustment. But they have been there the whole time, and they will continue to shine once we are gone.

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Why We Need to Talk about Gender and Masculinity in the New Parish

Gender, and how the church responds to gender, has been and continues to be difficult and disheartening and too often damaging and divisive. While there are certainly signs of encouragement and breakthrough, there are still too many environments that fail to support the giftedness and recognize the common humanity of half its membership.

A week or so ago I was in Seattle for the Inhabit Conference. This is a gathering of people from various parts of the world who are committed to faith-based contextual practice and neighborhood engagement. The central and guiding theme is that of ‘parish’ – a defined place in which you live, work, play, serve, and care. Parish is a term that dates back centuries and refers to the practice of dividing a region so as to allow clergy to minister, care, and provide for a particular place. The conversations last week centered around the “new parish,” discovering how, in the aftermath of individualism and placelessness, place and proximity can again shape the way we faithfully live and lead in our neighborhood contexts.

One of the sessions I sat in was focused on “Women in the New Parish.” Conferences in general – and too-often Christian conferences especially – are male-dominated; the speakers who speak, the authors whose books are being sold, and the dudes who show up to network tend to be…dudes. Despite this trend, this particular conference makes an intentional effort for a more diverse community and lineup of speakers, and part of that intentionality was a conversation facilitated by women to talk about how women are leading in these “new parish” environments.

The room was small and crowded. I sat on the floor, legs tucked close to my body but not close enough to avoid the occasional awkward contact with those sitting nearest me. A few faces lined the doorframe while others listened in from the hallway. It was a fascinating and difficult conversation. Honest, emotional, deep, and occasionally heated.

One of the first to share said she had been leading in ministry for over thirty years and was curious if anything had changed for the new generation of women leaders. Her intonation and facial expression communicated that it had not been an easy three decades; the crowd’s response revealed a general perception that not much had changed.

Another comment early on questioned the need to have a conversation specifically about “Women in the New Parish.” A separate conversation indicates there could be some separation in leadership or giftings between men and woman. And, because, after all, “there isn’t a session called ‘Men in the New Parish.'” In other words, in an already male-dominated conversation, there doesn’t need to be an hour set aside for special conversation about men’s leadership in the church.

I recognize and appreciate the point of the comment. There’s a whole lot of testosterone present at most church leadership events. But rarely is masculinity discussed openly, honestly, and helpfully in these circles. Perhaps a conversation about masculinity in the new parish (and more generally about masculinity in the church) is actually desperately needed.

genderWhile none of the conversations I was present for (thank God!) focused on mixed martial arts or the need to toughen up men in a quickly feminizing world, and while on the whole the Inhabit Conference is one of the most humble, conversational, open, and egalitarian faith-based gatherings I’ve been a part of, almost all church leadership circles retain a subtle understanding or expectation about what it means to be successful, remarkable, noteworthy.

  • To write a blog is good. To write a book is great.
  • To have planted a church is a good thing. To have planted a network of churches is great.
  • To have cool hair is good. To have cool facial hair is great.
  • To be friends with presenters is good. To be a presenter is to be great.

While none of these (well, maybe except cool facial hair) is strictly gendered, there is a connection between common benchmarks for success and perceptions of masculinity. There is a “cool guy” factor in being a great speaker and catalytic leader with a history of “ministry wins” all while touting the twistiest handlebar mustache ever seen.

I don’t want to diminish or distract from the ongoing conversation about how women are leading in the church or New Parish environments. I hope those conversations continue, and I hope I am able to continue listening in, participating in, and learning from those conversations.

But, for me, a big takeaway from the conversation about women in the new parish was the realization that the ongoing conversation about gender must be bigger than a conversation about “women in ministry” (again noting the importance and necessity of that specific conversation within the larger dialogue). Gender hits deep to the core of identity, femininity and masculinity, insecurities, and personal wiring for relationships and leadership.

The culturally-embedded ties between gender qualities and markers of success is fraught with difficulty, and real and deep dialogue on this is desperately needed – not just for women and not just for men, but for everyone.

How much of what we see as desirable and imitable is rooted in cultural norms and expectations about what it means to be a man, woman, or leader?

How much do we cast aside or diminish the work of those who don’t fit into our engrained understandings of success?

How can we be truly supportive and celebratory of God’s image as it’s displayed in the fullness and variety of gender, vocation, context, etc. we have at work in the local church and neighborhood movements around the world?

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Christians, Let’s Stop Encouraging People to Kill Other People

What a silly, absurd, and heart-wrenching thing to have to say in a tweet or blog post.

The tweet is in response to a sad article on CNN’s Belief Blog today from a leader within conservative American Christianity in support of the death penalty. It’s an article that strives for balance but fails to make a “Christian” argument (in the etymological sense of the word – relating to or resembling Christ). There is very little “Jesus” in this article which encourages Christians to “rightly” and “justly” support the killing of other human beings.

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In my first college semester, I took a seminar focused on the history of punishment. Our readings, lectures, and discussions focused on the way societies and cultures have viewed and used punishment throughout history – to control, to manipulate, to seek vengeance, to restore, to harm and to protect. We studied schematics of prisons, read Foucault’s haunting Discipline and Punishment and engaged historical viewpoints on punishment, crime, and violence. We talked about how penitentiary is rooted linguistically with penance and how rarely the two are connected in our country’s understanding and practice of justice.

One of our readings was Albert Camus’s Reflections on the Guillotine. Especially in light of Tennessee’s recent botched execution, his words are particularly appropriate:

When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community? Rather, it is obviously no less repulsive than the crime, and this new murder, far from making amends for harm done to the social body, adds a new blot to the first one.

I’ve written before and still believe that

The death penalty says that:

  • the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
  • some people are beyond redemption
  • our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
  • ends can justify means
  • the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
  • vengeance is ours.

The more time I spend looking at the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I wonder how out-of-place he’d feel in our world, or at least in the world of American Christianity, where we are encouraged by denominational leaders to pray and strive for a society that can perfect the art of justly killing our enemies. 

You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 

If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

- jesus

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Poetry and Place: Listening to Your Neighborhood’s Voice (Part 2)

Last fall I spent a week in the Mission District of San Francisco and spent time exploring and listening to that neighborhood. Part of that week was spent learning to

hear the sounds of the streets

listen to the voices of the people

taste the city’s flavor

see the sights of everyday life

feel the sidewalks, the fabrics, textures, the pain and the beauty of a place

recreate the voice of the neighborhood with a bit of poetry.

The product of that experience was a poem – the colors scream – but also a desire to recreate the experience and invite others to listen to their neighborhood’s voice in all its beauty and brokenness.

This month, I’ve been meeting together with a group of friends who are exploring and experimenting with our neighborhoods and our role as a neighbor in that place. Our “homework” the first week was to map our neighborhood/place and spend time listening, exploring, and creating some kind of artistic response to what we heard/saw/tasted/smelled in that place.

Here’s a poem I wrote inspired by my place:

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walk up, time to see the day
the neighborhood awaits our presence
in its beauty and in its pain

vacant lots, echo chambers
locked up toys and runners
runners in pink, runners in green
big runners, small runners
costumed runners, laughing runners
all just passing through

‘the spirit of God is upon me’
her voice cuts through
the runner’s drone and the drum’s resound
her words call out, I am recognized
‘be careful,’ a Siren sounds

to protect my child or 
protect this stranger?
the cruelest of choice
a Siren sounds, ‘be careful’
our wheels roll on
my heart lingers

the lilies of the field
the lilies of the field
and the birds in the air
will they be okay?
will she be okay?
will we be okay?
a Siren sounds

East Hollywood, California // April 2014

 

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11 Local Practices to Address the Global Climate Crisis

My father-in-law is a scientist – a very good scientist at a large research university – whose research and work focuses on the intersection of plant/insect responses to changing climate conditions. He will occasionally send an email about his work or about a recent headline regarding global climate change, and this past week he sent a few alarming articles along with some of his own comments:

I’m very sorry to be such a downer; I wish as much as anyone that this would all go away. But the science is undeniable. And the choices before us now are to “mitigate, adapt, or suffer.” Human society will do all three, but the sooner and more effectively we do the former, the less we will experience the latter. And not so much us, but those with few resources around us (it’s a matter of social justice) and those who follow us (it’s a matter of intergenerational justice).

I’m a localist. I believe that how we perceive reality is primarily shaped by what lies within walking distance of us. I believe relationships develop when real people gather around a real table and share real food with each other. Isimpleearth believe change happens when real people in real places address a real problem with real shared action.

Yes, we live in a globalizing world and I don’t deny the necessity of global awareness.

Yes, we live in a digital age and I don’t deny the impact of technology on every aspect of our lives.

Yet…we’re bodied creatures that occupy real space in local places. So I’m with Wendell Berry when he writes:

Global thinking can only be statistical…Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your space vehicle, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground.

On foot you will find that the earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.

As a localist, it’s difficult to hear about massive global issues – especially a crisis like global climate change. Our own individual contributions (to both the problem and the solution) seem so small and insignificant. And whether we want to believe it or not, the problem is enormous.

NBC writes on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, specifically noting that:

  • the issue is not global warming, but climate change.

“Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.”

  • global climate change is getting worse.

“We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated.”

  • the hardest and first hit are those already most vulnerable.

“Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report…While the problems from global warming will hit everyone in some way, the magnitude of the harm won’t be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women.”

  • the window for constructive correction is quickly closing.

“We have a closing window of opportunity,” she said. “We do have choices. We need to act now.”

In light of a massive global crisis, what are we to do, especially if (like me) you think real solutions must originate locally?

Here are 11 local practices that, directly and indirectly, can serve as a starting place for addressing the global climate crisis:

  • Know your neighbors.
  • Know your neighborhood businesses.
  • Spend more time outside than you spend online.
  • Spend time connecting to people in your place rather than placeless pixels.
  • Minimize the distance your food travels to get on your plate. (You can eat kale, carrots, and onions but you cannot eat grass.)
  • Choose a lower rung on the food chain.
  • Maximize the life cycle of all products you use.
  • Wherever possible, begin your use of a product in the middle of its life cycle (i.e. buy used).
  • Dread driving; love biking or walking.
  • Control your climate through your wardrobe, not central air/heating.
  • Because real sustainability can only happen through community, invite others into all of the above.

Thoughts? Pushbacks? Other local practices you’d suggest?

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There Are Some Hills We Cannot Climb Alone

I don’t understand it and much of the time I don’t like it, but it’s true.

There are some hills that we cannot climb alone.

Although first glance may tell you otherwise, what follows is not really about cycling.

Near the end of my bike commute are two hills.

The first is on San Pascual, with a short but steep climb from the base of the Arroyo in Highland Park to the road that winds along into Pasadena. The second is another steep climb from the bottom of the Colorado Street Bridge to the top of Orange Grove.

Neither hill is that steep or that long, but near the end of a 14 mile commute, my legs feel like jelly and when I’m commuting solo I’ve never made it all the way up both hills in one day. I end up being that moron-on-the-side-of-the-road pushing his bike up a hill wishing I could tell all the cars passing by that I’ve been on my bike for over an hour, that I’ve only been riding this much for a few months, that I’m not a total lightweight.

It’s not that I don’t try. I start out determined to make it all the way up. This time will be different, I tell myself. I do that little winding-back-and-forth trick cyclists do. I stand up a bit to give myself a bit more leverage. I take advantage of any chance to get a little momentum. I even have some breath prayers I occasionally use to focus my energy and efforts.

But it’s not enough. There are some hills that we cannot climb alone.

The crazy thing is, though, some hills that we cannot climb alone we can climb together.

Most of the time I cyclo-commute with another guy, and when we ride together I always make it to the top of the hills. He’s confessed that he’s found the same rule to be true for him. When he rides alone, he’ll often end up hoofing it up to the top. When we ride together, we ride to the top.

It is a difficult, slow, and straining push to the top, but, together, we make it. Every time. 

I don’t ride differently. I don’t breathe or pray differently. I don’t have less weight on my pack. I do everything exactly the same except

…I have someone else climbing the hill with me. That’s it and that’s enough.

I don’t understand it and I don’t always like it, but there are some hills that must be climbed together.

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