Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Bipolar Love: The Tale of Archie & Amelie

archie and amelie book cover

“On December 5, 1900, the New York Herald headlines screamed:”

“CHANLER ESCAPES

Amelie Rives First Husband

IS OUT OF ASYLUM

Search Fails to Find Wealthy Demented Man

Who Left Bloomingdale Institution…

Former Wife, Princess Troubetzkoy, Also Insane.”

This is the dark and delicious tale of doomed passion: meticulously researched and wonderfully told in Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age by Donna M. Lucey.

Archie is John Armstrong Chanler, born in 1862, and heir to the estate of his great –grandfather John Jacob Astor of New York.

Amelie Rives, born in 1863, is the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee and descendant of a storied first family of Virginia.

Archie’s family fortune was built on the fur trade, clear-eyed capitalism, and Presbyterian rectitude. Orphaned at a tender age, Archie and his siblings were raised by committee. “A wild and willful bunch” they were tamed by “nannies, tutors, and distant guardians.”

The eldest and legally responsible for his younger siblings, Archie, at Eton honed a refined and reasonable self-control — while underneath simmered his literary and artistic appetites.

A nephew of Julia Ward Howe, a progressive scion of the salon, Archie was intellectually curious and cautiously broad-minded. A romantic and eccentric soul, he was also an inventive young man full of ideas and boundless generosity.

Amelie Rives of Castle Hill was a gifted young writer — gifted — with a dark sensuality. The provocative prose of her first novel, The Quick or the Dead?, garnered her both notoriety and the notice of the literary lions of her day – including the likes of Oscar Wilde and Willa Cather.

Amelie’s Virginia home had “an air of civilized taste and ancient leisure.” Her noble ancestors included revolutionary war heroes and ambassadors to France. But the “War between the States” left the family homestead in tatters. Her father, a civil engineer, like a nomad wandered from post to post to keep his family financially afloat.

And so women, strong women, ruled the roost at Castle Hill. Captured in an 1880 photograph “Amelie, a young beauty at seventeen, stands behind the powerful figures of her grandmother and her granite faced Aunt Ella – as if she were next in line in a dynasty.”

Seductively, Ameilie wielded both her pen and her person to woo the men in her life. Though a woman of the Gilded Age, she boldly bucked the constricting conventions of her time.

Amelie cast aside her corset and wore exotic flowing gowns. Described as “a sizzling vessel of molten lava”, she was also surprisingly religiously devout. Most passionate and erotic in her prose, she made her reviewers blush and made her suitors swoon.

Archie madly, deeply, hopelessly pursued her. After three persistent marriage proposals, Amelie accepted and they were engaged.

Hot and cold, like fire and ice, their eight-year love affair was doomed to failure. The first two years the couple skipped across Europe — settling down long enough only to become unsettled.

Amelie seemed to love Archie the most when he was absent. And when he was absent, Archie was a tortured soul never quite knowing how to rekindle Amelie’s ardor.

Eight years after their nuptials at Castle Hill, Amelie runs off with a dashing and penniless prince, a Russian royal named Troubetzkoy.

Divorced and disgraced, Archie, still hopelessly in love with Amelie, supports her until the day he dies.

The truth be told, they drove each other mad.

Separately they suffer bouts of insanity. Some real and some feigned.

Amelie is prone to melancholy and takes up some unusual cures in the sanitariums of the Gilded Age.

Archie, wrongly committed by his scheming siblings for seven years, escapes the asylum only to descend deeper into a manic kind of madness. He becomes a prolific automatic writer of the self-published kind. A most generous and penniless philanthropist, he ends his days scribbling his name on the walls.

Bipolar love.

Archie, posthumously, is believed to have come by his bipolar disorder quite honestly. It runs in the family. A gift that keeps giving.

Amelie’s madness is of a similar kind. Euphoric, grandiose, verbose, and highly creative, she cannot help but crash from time to time.

Their marriage was both heaven and hell: Brief episodes of bliss, bright bursts of passion. Disrupted by storms, overwhelmed by sadness.

It could not possibly last. And indeed, it did not.

The madness of such love, can it possibly be worth it?

My sensible side says “NO!”, of course. Who wants to end up on the shores of life an emotional wreck?

But my bipolar soul, the manic-depressive me, screams “YES!”

Let me have a mad, deep, intoxicating, engaging, infuriating, invigorating, reckless, mad, mad love affair…

at least one, or two, or three.

Good for a novel, a movie, a play, a memoir. Good for some crazy tall tales to tell my grandchildren some day.

And maybe good for a blog post — or two, or three.

Who knows? Stay tuned, U&U followers.

I’ll keep you up to date one week at a time – – at Sex & The Single Vicar!

JoaniSign

 

 


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U&U Keeping Up w/S&TSV

 

pink typewriter

U&U readers, most of you know that a little over a month ago I started a second blog :Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating.

But if not, let me catch you up!

Unlike the Pied Piper, unfortunately, I can’t just bring my followers along from one blog to the other. But for those who are intrigued, I would certainly like to!

So I thought I would post my recent S&TSV posts here. After reading a few, I hope to entice you to click “follow” to sign up for email updates. (Not here, but in S&TSV.)

So please join me and read and laugh along!

“Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating” – the launch post that explains the method behind this new madness of mine.

“Fireworks” – the romantic tale of the 4th of July and my search for fireworks of a different kind.

“Reach out and touch…” – the lowdown on “professional cuddling” and the importance of human touch.

“Anonymous Advise” – a review of a “trashy book” and an expose of a so called “expert” in the field.

“Practice Makes Imperfect” – a tale of digital attempts to connect with the opposite sex.

“Truth or Consequences” — the hidden traps of the dating game for my attractive demographic.

If you read this far, I know you are interested. If you read them all, I hope you are hooked.

I plan to file field reports from the battlefield every week or so.

So friends, let’s stay connected. This venture is so much more fun when shared with fellow comrades in arms.

See you next time on S&TSV!

JoaniSign

 


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Are you afraid of the dark?

from ghoulies and ghosties

“From ghoulies and ghosties, long leggitie beasties, and things that go bump in the night. Good Lord, deliver us! “ Anon.

Are you afraid of the dark?

From some of the rabid rhetoric we’ve heard lately, it sounds like darkness has fallen over the land.

Capturing the mood, Garrison Keillor, somewhat tongue in cheek, wrote this in this week’s Washington Post:

“A week ago, I felt good about America, but no more. Coyotes are running freely in the streets of our big cities, the stock market is teetering on the verge of collapse, the monetary system will soon go belly up. China and North Korea and Iran have knives at our throats, our schools are in chaos, politicians corrupt, the media stupefied by political correctness, and everywhere you look, you hear foreign accents. We are on the edge of the abyss.”

 “Praise the Lord, I’ve seen the dark.”

 Here comes the apocalypse.

If you weren’t afraid of the dark before, possibly now you should be – very, very afraid.

But really?

When we lay our children down to sleep, kiss them goodnight – all seems right with the world.

But then we turn out the light and darkness creeps in. Shadows fall and play tricks on the eyes. And a pile of laundry in the corner becomes a monster in disguise.

“Mommy, Daddy, come, quick, come quick! There’s a monster in my room.”

So, of course, we do what all parents do: rush in; turn on the light; open the closet door; check under the bed; and hug our child tight.

“See, Sweet Pea, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

But just in case, we leave the night light on.

There are indeed some very real things to be afraid of in this world. But it is a heresy to believe that darkness in the end can overcome the light.

And much of what the world may be afraid of – like FDR so famously said – is fear itself.

Two years ago, Scott Stossel, the editor of Atlantic Magazine wrote a book:“My Age of Anxiety:Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind”. In an NPR interview, Stossel says he wrote the book “to help him understand and find relief from – and redemption for – anxious suffering.”

 Anxiety is the most prevalent form of mental illness. Stossel’s book is a “graceful guide to this pervasive and much misunderstood affliction.”

 His quest to understand himself personally takes him on a psychological and philosophical journey to conquer his fears. And to quote Kierkegaard, the experience of his fear is very real indeed.

“No Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has anxiety, and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instance when he is weakest, nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared, as anxiety so well knows how, and no sharp-witted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused as anxiety does, which never lets him escape, neither by diversion or noise, neither at work or at play, neither by day or by night.”

 Stossel fears fainting, and flight, and cheese among a thousand other things. The fact they are irrational matters not.

“There’s a vast encyclopedia of fears and phobias and pretty much any object, experience, or situation you can think of, there is someone who has a [fear] of it.”

 “Sometimes people say that in stressful situations, I can seem unflappable, and I think that’s partly because I’m always kind of internally flapped. And so when there’s actually something real to be concerned about, it’s actually less anxiety provoking than these irrational things.”

 In other words; if you’re afraid of the dark, the only thing to do is to turn on the light. Is there really a monster hiding under the bed?

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

A scholar, Audrey West from “Feasting on the Word”, says – “that given the number of times Luke reminds his readers not to be afraid – indicates that they did indeed have some very real things to be afraid of.” The little flock of Jewish Christians encountered some very real hostility in the Roman world. They were poor, bedraggled, and marginalized.

And make no mistake, we have some very real things to be afraid: the violence, and hatred, and discord that roams abroad and roams at home.  But my friends, let’s be realistic and not let fear take root in our bones.  Darkness is not the rule.  Light is.

Light opens our eyes to the universe about us: its cosmic mysteries, its intimate joys, its particular peculiarities and delights. We worship a God “who attends to sparrows, ravens, and lilies, whose care extends to the very hairs on our heads, whose good pleasure is to share the blessings of the kingdom.”

We live lives filled with both blessing and curse. Yes, a whole lot of curse but mostly blessings, mostly blessings. Not just in the great bye-and-bye but in the beautiful here-and-now.

So friends, try to let go of all those baseless fears. Try to let go of all of those earthly trappings we cling to – believing they can protect us from the things that go bump in the night: Hoarding our possessions and building walls – all under the selfish pretense to keep ourselves and ourselves alone safe. Blessings aren’t to be hoarded, they are to be shared.

We are called to walk not in darkness but to walk in the light. We are called to sow love and not fear. Have your lamps lit. Be ready to go.

So friends, are you still afraid of the dark?

 

JoaniSign


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Brand New Blog! Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating!

pink typewriter

Joani’s got a brand new blog.

Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating

Hmmmm…… What’s that about?

Well, my  loyal readers, Unorthodox & Unhinged has been around now for more than two years. Eighty-eight “Tales of a Manic Christian” – true stories  on life with my bipolar brain.

U&U’s most popular post is “Sex and the Single Vicar”. Not a surprise. If you put “sex” in the title you are sure to get a rise!

And this theme – of love lost and found — has popped up more and more on U&U. It has because I recognize in myself a deep and genuine desire for intimacy. Yes, at at age sixty-one, I am game to find someone who might just like to try and keep up with me: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and of course, skin to skin.

So how to begin? Well by writing about it of course!

I want to write about it authentically, honestly, and humorously.

I will chronicle my fits and starts: social experiments; wardrobe malfunctions; and dating site episodes. S&TSV will include book reviews; interviews with fellow seekers, family, and friends; literary pieces; and investigative journalism — well as much as I can muster!

Sex & The Single Vicar – a passionate endeavor — one post at a time.

Want to know how this goes? I certainly do. How about you? Click on “follow” in S&TSV and come along.

JoaniSign

 

 

 


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“My name is Legion”, The Bipolar Dictionary Redux


The fifth chapter of the Gospeller, St. Mark tells the story of a haunted soul. And a haunting story it is. Jesus finds a man depraved and living among the dead. So haunted is he — he is shackled with fetters and chains. Night and day among the tombs he cries. With stones he beats his breast – in hopes of banishing his demons. Jesus calls out an unclean spirit. And then asks him “What is your name?” The Gerasene Demoniac answers, “I am Legion, for we are many.”

Now history has a legion of haunting stories to tell. Stories about the relative locked up in the attic. Stories about the aunt in the asylum and the sister at the sanitarium. Stories about the brother taken to Bellevue and the cousin committed to St Elizabeth’s. Stories of poor souls confined to St. Mary’s of Bethlehem – from where “Bedlam” gets its very name. Haunted souls like Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Haunted spirits painted in shades of gray and darkest night.

And history also has a legion of names it labels these haunted souls. Some are quite descriptive and some quite derogatory. This is my own DSM-V — my somewhat humorous and yet honest — Bipolar Dictionary – laid out in alphabetical order.

“All in your head” Yes, it is all in our heads. It’s called your brain. This phrase is often used to mean “It’s all in your imagination.” Well, nothing is farther from the truth. “It’s all in your head” is a scientific fact.

“Bats in the Belfry” paints a particularly scary picture where your skull is an empty bell tower and your brain is naught but flapping bat wings. Haunted and frightened and all in the dark no less. This is a phrase best left buried in the Dark Ages. See also the derivative “batty”.

Bonkers” Rhymes with “Yonkers”. This word implies that you were “bonked” on the head as a baby and so not quite right. This notion is completely bonkers.

Certifiable” Supposedly a clinical term where a clinician has categorically categorized a person as insane. And we all know that sanity is a relative term and insanity is virtually indefinable.

Cracked” Like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall and had a great fall, the person is cracked and cannot be put together again. While cracked a person’s brain may be, clinically speaking, it can indeed be put back together again.

Crazy” This universal term is universally applied by universally everyone to all things in the universe that can go wrong with our brains. This catch-all term is better used by the people who are crazy than the people who would call them crazy.

Cuckoo” As in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, both a book and a movie full of truth and full of fairy tales.

Demented” Rhymes with “fermented”. People may wrongly assume that a confused person they call demented has been drinking drinks fermented. Not necessarily so. A broken brain can shatter one’s thoughts as surely as a shot of bourbon.

Insane” Categorically indefinable but often used to describe a person devoid of reason and incapable of discerning right from wrong. Neither of which is true of the Bipolar Brain. The Bipolar brain is brilliant and it’s moral compass true. Well just as brilliant and as true as anyone else’s.

Loco” Not short for locomotive, but the Spanish equivalent of “crazy”. The employment of this term is often accompanied by a hand motion — circling the ear with one’s index finger. A bit loco, don’t you think?

Loony” This term is likely derived from “luna”, Latin for moon. And we all know the dangers of exposure to a full moon — lunacy. It will turn you into something like a werewolf — politely referred to as a “lunatic”. For more information see “Looney Tunes” and specifically “Daffy Duck.”

Maniac” Now we’re getting somewhere. Maniac is of course the noun for someone in the throws of mania. But what could be used as a term of understanding instead implies that the maniac’s behavior is absurd and beyond all understanding. So don’t go around calling anyone a maniac.

Melancholy Baby” Once again we are on the right track. “Melancholia” is an ancient diagnosis of the soul. It literally means that our bodily humors are out of balance. Truer words were never said. But just don’t call me “Baby”.

Mental” This one word phrase is shorthand for someone who is believed to be mentally ill or for someone who should be in a mental institution. Most of the persons who use this term know nothing about mental illness or mental health institutions of any kind.

Not playing with a full deck” A poker metaphor that implies that a person missing the Ace of Spades is forever at a disadvantage. Sometimes Bipolar life is like a game of “52 Pickup” where all the cards are dropped and not all the cards get picked back up. Or at least they get picked up in a very different order. Reshuffling the deck is often a good thing.

Neurotic” This is where we insert a photo of Woody Allen. Obsessively self absorbed he over analyzes his every waking moment and crazily (yes crazily) interprets his every dream. See also “narcissism”, a disorder of the personality. Not a disorder of the mind.

Off your rocker” Now this one has a nice bipolar ring to it. Rocking back and forth and to and fro between the ups and the downs. The person who uses this term however doesn’t realize that they too ride the same rocking horse.

Out of Your Mind” This phrase I am especially partial to — as long as I can apply it to myself. As in “Mary of Magdala, Seven Times Out of her Mind” (see May archives). Yes, five times I have lost my mind and five times I have gotten it back. I am batting a 1000. See also “out of your skull”.

Possessed” As in the Gerasene Demoniac, an ancient and biblical understanding of mental illness that implies possession by evil spirits. Well — my bipolar brain is possessed by my spirit and by my spirit alone. And my spirit is possessed of a superior intellect, great compassion and an awesome sense of humor.

Screw loose” This mechanical metaphor implies that the brain is made of widgets and gears held together by screws. When a screw is loose the gears go flying out of control — hence the derivative “screwy”. The brain is the most complicated machine, the most complicated anything in the known universe. Downloading only a few synapses requires digital resources to the gazillionth, gazillionth, gazillionth power. Only a simpleton with a screw loose would use this simplistic metaphor.

Touched in the head” This is not the same thing as “Touched by an Angel”. Touched in the head implies inferior brain-power and irrational thinking. “Touched” by who or what is not at all clear. Whoever thought of this is most certainly themselves touched in the head.

And my favorite … .drumroll…..

Unhinged” a door swings freely but unpredictably off its hinges. A hinge is one of those elementary machines like a pulley or a plane. Unhinged, the bipolar brain, like the door, is free and unpredictable. Elementary mixed up with exemplary. Here is where you insert a picture of Joani.

The names are legion and the names are many.

So friends, what names would you like to add to the Bipolar Dictionary?


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After Orlando – Out/Spoken Voices Headed South

outspoken banner

Just two weeks after Story District’s Out/Spoken: Queer, Questioning, Bold & Proud,  horrific events erupted in Orlando. By no coincidence, we all know, timed to coincide with LGBTQ Pride.

June 4th the 9:30 Club was packed with joy and celebration. Happy gay people (and straight people) were everywhere! Coproduced with Capital Pride, Out/Spoken is Story District’s 6th Annual Pride show in DC. Eight great storytellers shared their “true stories told through an LGBT lens”. Revealing, poignant, hilarious, powerful, and moving, I was honored to be a part of it for the very first time.

Out/Spoken is far from done. This fall it’s going on tour. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, Out/Spoken is headed south. In October the show travels to Atlanta, in November to Birmingham. Yes, by design, directly on to the battleground for LGBTQ equality.

After Orlando, the tour could not be more important. Amy Saidman, SD’s Creative Executive Director, has pledged to redouble Story District’s commitment to bring LGBTQ voices to the stage.

While U&U was on hiatus, I was honored to guest blog for Out/Spoken. I interviewed and “spotlighted” the co-director, the animator, and four of the storytellers.

Let me introduce you to all six.

Mike Boyd, Story District’s Co-Director of Out/Spoken,

Jeffrey Brady, Story District’s Artist and Animator for Out/Spoken,

Jud Lewis, Poet, Teacher & Storyteller,

Ricky Harrison, Partner in Life, Law & Love,

Andrea Jones, Educator, “Perfect Liar”, and Storyteller and

Kelly Madrone, Author, Storyteller, Message Therapist & Mom

Amazing people all of them, they will share their stories where LGBTQ voices are seldom heard. There will be local storytellers too – both in Atlanta and Birmingham.

So spread the good news and God bless Out/Spoken.

JoaniSign

 


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Jesus loved women.

alabaster-jun-jamosmos

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

This is not a half-baked truth from a Dan Brown novel. This is the Gospel Truth according to Luke.

And nowhere is this more true than in the story of the woman with the alabaster jar — the most sensuous story in all of the New Testament.

Jesus arrives for a dinner party. It’s a friendly invitation from a Pharisee –  but also fraught with tension and excitement. Rumor of Simon’s special guest travels fast.

There is a woman from the city – whose sin we do not know. She slips quietly forward. As if invisible, she kneels behind Jesus and inches  forward to touch him — risky indeed for a woman of any kind. She starts to cry — to weep – again we do not know why. And with her tears, bending down she washes Jesus’ road dirty feet. She kisses them tenderly  anointing them with oil – the oil from the alabaster jar. And then she dries them – not with a towel or the hem or her skirt. No, she lets down her hair – “in a deeply intimate gesture” – and with her tresses dries his feet.

We do not know her name. We do not know her sin – only that her reputation precedes her. Put down by society – she is looking up at the world from the lowliest of places. And what this simple woman with the alabaster jar does for Jesus, no first century woman dare would do. As a woman, as a sinner, she was doubly unclean.

Unseen, Simon notices her only when she disturbs his dinner party. “Jesus, how could you let this woman touch you?”

Out of love, Simon. Out of love.

You invite me to your home and you give me no water to wash my feet. This woman, she bathed them with her tears. She  dried them with her hair.

At your door,  you greeted me with no kiss.  But since I sat at your table, this woman has not stopped kissing my feet.

When I arrived, you neglected  to anoint me.  While this woman, this uninvited woman, emptied her alabaster jar upon my feet.

Her sins may be many, but all are forgiven. For she has shown great love.

Intimate, gentle, courageous, sensuous, risky love – holy love.

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

Along with the twelve, women were prominent among Jesus’s disciples. He was their rabbi, their healer, their exorcist, their Lord.

And these women provided for him, not just food for his table but for his travels and his ministry – out of their own resources – out of their own pockets. Mary of Magdala was attached to no man and Joanna was a woman of means.

And these are the women who stayed and stood at the foot of his cross. These are the women who anointed his broken body and wrapped it in cloth. And among them – remember — is the first evangelist, the woman who wept at his tomb in the Gospel of John.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” But then he calls her by name “Mary”. She stops in her tracks. “Rabbi, Teacher!” and reaches out to embrace him. Heaven bound she cannot touch him. And so she runs, runs to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord.”

Mary of Magdala, the first evangelist.

Mary of Magdala, the first to preach the good news.

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

So what the hell happened  the last two thousand years?  How do we go from Jesus to a patriarchal and hierarchical church – where women were seldom seen and barely ever heard?

Well the church neglected the gospels.  The Church with a capital “C” set aside the teachings of Jesus for the trappings of society. . Imperial Rome triumphed and prevailed in a culture  where women were subjugated, silenced, diminished, denigrated, and marginalized.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, the only women permitted behind the altar were the Sodality ladies who ran the vacuum. And the official teaching of our sister church, the Church of Rome, still teaches that women cannot fully represent Christ at the altar.

Dead wrong. So wrong. How do I know? Because the bible tells me so.

Yes, women. Jesus loves us.

It’s 2016. We have come a long way, sisters.

In this Episcopal corner of the Anglican Communion — in the Episcopal Church –  there is no ministry closed to women. Vestry, deacons, priests, bishops – and presiding bishop – God bless, The Rt Rev Katherine Jefferts Schori who just completed her seven-year term as PB  – the first woman to hold the office.

But all is not perfect, of course. We have not long been on the side of the angels. Human and made of clay, all is not yet as God fully intends.

In our 21st century world – women are still treated as objects and trivialized. Women are marketed as commodities. There are corners of the globe where women have no voice, where girls get little education, where laws protect the men who beat them, where doors are closed to them simply because of their sex. There are still are many, many places where women have few, if any rights.

And right here in our own back yard, we are backsliding in our conversation, in our attitudes, in our public discourse. Somehow, its okay to laugh and excuse the coarsest kind of language about women. Its just a joke. They don’t mean it. It’s the 21st century and women are still being measured by their measurements.

All the more reason, to preach this gospel, to celebrate this gospel, in this misogynist milleu. For the sake of our mothers, for the sake of our sisters, for the sake of our daughters.

Jesus loves women, respects women, blesses them and welcomes them as his disciples without exception, without conditions, without reservations.

And so this week in our prayers, let us give thanks for all the women in our lives. — for their gifts, for their strength, and for their love. And in our prayers, let us pray also a more difficult prayer. Let us pray that God turn the hearts of those who hold women back, misuse and abuse them. That they may repent and come to know and experience the gospel truth.

Jesus loves women.

And as Jesus loves, with God’s help, so shall we.

JoaniSign

 

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