Friday, May 26, 2017

Christian Testament Text for Sunday 28 April 2017

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11        Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Reflection   “…do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you…” Could any words be more à propos for the incendiary social political milieu in which we find ourselves today? Regardless of our political persuasion our minds, bodies and spirits are continually subjected to the public airing of vitriol, malevolence and contempt, “like roaring lions our perceived adversaries prowl around looking to devour us.” 

I believe the true enemy of human consciousness, the dispassionate “devil that prowls around looking for someone to devour,” in not interested in which party, politic or program we support. It’s unwonted intention is to turn up the heat, provoke malice and mistrust, and reduce humanity to its base and brute lowest common denominator. When we stone one another with rocks, words or state-of-the-art weapons we, like “roaring lions” are essentially crucifying the Christ that lives and breathes and finds its Being in our “sisters and brothers in all the world.” 

Like the people living in exile in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor for whom the First Letter of Peter was written, we feel maligned and reviled. We believe our particular position on health care, taxes, foreign policy, role of government, and countless other propositions is right and the position of other people is wrong. Not only are “those other people” wrong, they are the source of our suffering.  So we dig in our heels, defend our position and seek persecution of the other - and in so doing the prowling devil devours our humanity. We pick up sharp sticks and stones, and “like roaring lions” strike with hostility and hatefulness. 

All this because we have failed to “discipline ourselves,” we have failed to “keep alert” and resist the enemy of human consciousness. We, the people of God have not been “steadfast in (our) faith;”  we have forgotten “that (our) brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”  We have put ourselves in the place of God rather than humbling ourselves “under the mighty hand of God.” We have forgotten that the essence of our humanity depends on our recognition that the Spirit of God is resting on us, resting on all of us without exception. 

What if we refused to be bedeviled. What if we humbly admitted that the “fiery ordeal” in which we find ourselves is beyond our comprehension but it will not devour our humanity; that no matter what befalls us we will not be reduced to our base and brute creatureliness? What if we decided to be “steadfast in our faith,” to put down our rocks and words and state-of-the-art weapons and express the Spirit of God’s love for all people? What if we refused to crucify our humanity?


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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 21 May 2017

                                      

John 14.15-21        Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Reflection        At twelve years old I attended the funeral of the person I loved the most in the world. When I looked into the coffin and touched his cold hand there was one thing I absolutely knew, “Grampa is not here” in this strange waxy body and shiny mahogany box… “but somehow he is still here.” That’s what I told my mother. She shook her head and said, “Your grandfather is dead.” 

I believe my little girl self somehow knew the Spirit of Truth whom my mother could not receive. Later that day when the adults were drinking manhattans and telling stories of Grampa’s life I took cover in my room and found comfort in knowing my Grampa was with me even if “the world could no longer see him.”

Many years passed before I found my way to John’s gospel text, “”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… ” With those words I understood that my Grandfather had to leave me, but he did not leave me orphaned because he opened for me the way of being in relationship with something more which in theological terms we call the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. By his death my grandfather gave to me the gift of life in and of and with the Spirit, the second Advocate.

Here is the thing. Jesus does not promise the disciples and us that when we die we will ascend to a cherub strewn utopia of mythic proportions. Rather, Jesus offers us the opportunity to participate in the eternal life of Spirit with us right here, right now, on earth. Our purpose is not to stumble through life scrupulously sidestepping as many sins as possible in order to accrue enough points to trade our way into happily ever-after life. Our purpose is to receive and make visible the Presence of the Spirit of Truth with us, right now.

Jesus is our first Advocate. He goes to the father as paraklaytos, an advocate  to plead our case to God and he says, “… I will ask the father, and (God) will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…” The  second Advocate is the Spirit of Truth given to aid, assist and counsel us “to lead us to a deeper knowledge of gospel truth and give us the divine strength needed to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the kingdom (of God right here, right now on earth).” (Strong’s G3875) The Spirit of Truth or the second Advocate is that which imbues us with the knowledge of God and the capacity to act in accord with that knowledge. But it does not stop there. 

As people of God we are the third wave of Advocates who by grace are imbued with the Spirit of Truth and the capacity to pass it on. May the Force, the Spirit of Truth, be with you!


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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gospel text 5th Sunday of Easter 14 May 2017

John 14:1-14        Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Reflection       Out of the context of the rest of what Jesus is explaining to Thomas, the words “I am the way and the truth and the life,” have been construed to conscript Jews, Muslims, atheists and nones  to the outer realms of darkness.  They are also used to leave behind Christians who do not subscribe to Biblical inerrancy and claim belief in Jesus as the only way to salvation.  The implications for those of us who reject the idea of certainty and uphold the value of all faith traditions are grim.

The confusion begins when Jesus tries to answer Thomas’ question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Thomas is asking Jesus how he, Thomas, can find the way into divine  relationship, relationship with God the Father. Thomas is not asking on behalf of all Jews or Gentiles or all people on earth. Thomas, who already knows Jesus, is personally asking Jesus, “How can I be in relationship with the Father, transcendent divinity,  after you, immanent divinity, have gone away?” 

Once we put Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question in context we can no longer construe Jesus’s words, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” as an exclusionary statement delineating the one true faith or church or way. Jesus is not making a universal truth statement. He is not  speaking in general to Gentiles or others who do not know him. He is speaking to a follower and friend. Think of it this way. Do we use the same manner of speech with close friends, parters or our children as we do with acquaintances, colleagues or strangers?

When I say to my daughter Leela, you are the best daughter in the world, I am speaking truth to her. It is deeply personal and hopefully meaningful to Leela. What if others were to argue that what I said specifically to Leela is a universal truth, Leela is the best daughter in the world? Someone might balk, “No, my daughter is the best in the world,” and down a slippery slope we slide.

A personal truth claim is not necessarily a universal truth claim. 

Jesus is telling Thomas and those of us who choose to follow him, if we recognize truth as revealed through his teaching and his actions, in other words, if we recognize the Word God spoken and embodied through Jesus’ life and ministry, then we have already known and seen transcendent Father God with us. The transcendent and immanent are known in relationship to one another. Truth is revealed in relationship, in community and in context. This is a both-and way of being.

For an interesting read on Transcendence and Immanence from a Buddhist perspective go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-loy/transcendence-or-immanence-balancing-heaven-and-earth_b_3166015.html


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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Gospel text for 4th Sunday of Easter 7 May 2017

John 10:1-10        Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Reflection     Do you remember this Easter morning story? Early in the morning on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene remained alone at Jesus’ empty tomb crying? At first she didn’t recognize him,  but when he  called her by name in the depths of her heart Mary recognized Jesus’ voice? (John 20.1, 14-16) I believe this story points beyond the physical hearing of voices on the outside to the deep interior place where we “hear and know” what is right and good and true. 

Or the much loved story of two disciples leaving Jerusalem recounting the torture and death of their friend Jesus, when the risen Christ appeared to them as they remembered the words of holy scripture and how  Jesus took bread and blessed, broke and gave it to them?  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road.”( Luke 24.13-25)

In  John’s text we listen to Jesus’ parable,  “… the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

Is it too bold to assume that every one of us has had the experience of something stirring inside us, our hearts burning or perhaps a still, small voice, “Don’t do that?” Or a nagging inner sense, “I really need to call Harold.” Or maybe you caught yourself saying, “Something told me….” or “I knew better,” or that just felt right or wrong, or I knew he was telling the truth or I knew she was lying.

Jesus invites the disciples and us to pay attention to the voice we recognize within ourselves, the voice of the Good Shepherd who knows us deeply and intimately, the still small voice within that leads us out of temptation and “guides us along right pathways.” Jesus encourages us to rely on the voice of the Good Shepherd within to comfort us in our dark times and guide us when faced with evil. 

Unlike rulers, leaders and teachers who steal and kill, manipulate and destroy for their own gain, the interior voice of the Good Shepherd may be trusted to guide and direct us toward life in abundance. 

If you are wondering what you can do to better hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, consider trying a practice of  silence and deep listening, centering prayer, Christian meditation or walking silently alone on the desert. Even ten minutes every day will tune your inner 'hearing.' Join us for Centering Prayer Wednesdays as 2pm. 


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Saturday, April 22, 2017


John 20.19-31        When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflection       Today I find myself in the locked and stuffy upstairs room with the disciples. Hiding, afraid, reviewing the countless times I have turned away from Jesus, how I leap to judge others and fail to love and care for my neighbor because I am more concerned with procuring my own safety, security, esteem, power and control. My faith is fickle. I am weak, a coward and a hypocrite.

How about you…. Are you in the upper room too? When have you turned away from Jesus? Hidden your eyes? Closed your ears? Crossed your fingers?....said yes… but? 

Yet, even as we hide, stew and wait for the axe to fall, something extraordinary happens. In the depths of our darkest moment Jesus comes and whispers to our heart, “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with us? How can we be peaceful? The world outside hates us, persecutes us?   It is exploding in violence and every dis-ease. Fear is mongered at every corner. And inside we feel awful, despicable. No matter how many times we say we want to follow Jesus, we turn away and follow our own self interest.

Still, Jesus is relentless and says to us again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes the Holy Spirit into us. We are not condemned, rebuked or turned away. In spite of our guilt and fear, in spite of being immersed in a world erupting in violence, vitriol and hatefulness, Jesus breathes on us and we are made one with Jesus and the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are made to participate in the  Divine life of the Trinity, which is why Jesus says, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We unapologetically  participate in the divine life of the Trinity to continue Jesus’ mission bringing peace to all the earth, being peace in all situations. Jesus says to us again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” full of peace in the power of the Holy Spirit. Go now into the world, live without fear and be the peace you seek.   


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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Gospel Text for the Great Vigil of Easter 15 April 2017

Matthew 28:1-10        After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Reflection       Sometimes things do not turn out the way we imagine. Early in the morning as the first day of the week was dawning, the two Marys go to the tomb.  But nothing is as they imagined. Instead of it being a still, dark, quiet morning there is a “great earthquake and an angel of the Lord appears like lightening with clothing white as snow.”

Instead of finding Jesus’ tomb sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers, they find the stone rolled back from the tomb and the Guards struck dumb. Instead of finding Jesus’ decaying body they find an angel who speaks  to them. Where there had been nothing but loss, betrayal, decay and grief, now there is something, a message.

The angel of the Lord says “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified”.  Then the angel directs the women to look into empty space, see the place where he was laid, “he is not here….” In the very experience of God’s absence there is a message of hope, “he is risen…he is not here.”

Hope, the gift of Easter, is found in absence. Hope is in the mystery. Hope is the surprising light found in the midst of darkness. The other day I was talking with a seventy six year old woman who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was eighteen years old. Her hands and feet, shoulders and knees were torturously disfigured, which only made what she said to me even more astonishing. “It turns out I am grateful for my rheumatoid arthritis ( a terribly painful and debilitating disease). Without it I probably would never have left my dysfunctional family of origin in their tiny impoverished midwest town, met so many fabulous doctors and healers, and learned how to pray and put my faith in God rather than my body and choose to live my life to the fullest.” Tears took the place of the words I could not get out. Tears of awe and gladness exchanged places with tears of of sorrow. Sometimes things do not turn out the way we imagine, and so we proclaim, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!”



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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Gospel text for Passion Sunday, 9 April 2017

Matthew 27:11-54        Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Reflection        “… let him be crucified…crucify him” It is hard to hear those words. Even more difficult to say or shout them. The other day I was talking with someone who finds the words, “Crucify him,” down right offensive - he does not like that we say them in our passion narratives. They leave a bad taste is his mind and in his mouth. They are not the winsome version of Christianity he prefers. But here is the thing, every time we judge ourselves as too short, too fat, not good enough, too old, not right, not smart, not worthy…  only human… we are essentially shouting, crucify him, crucify him.

How is this so? Because the Christ, the Word made flesh, lives and breathes and finds its being in and of and as each and every one of us. Divinity, the Christ, is not distant, remote or other. This is the message of the Incarnation, this is the gift of Christmas. God is present and active in and of and as each of us.

That said, when we judge ourselves, mistreat, disregard or abuse ourselves we are essentially crucifying Jesus, the Christ that dwells with us. Likewise, when we dispise, debase, devalue or deny another person, we may just as well be throwing stones and shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify her!” 

It may be difficult to wrap our minds around this. It certainly was for the religious officials whom we hear in John’s gospel castigating Jesus, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God." Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods’?” (Here Jesus, a good and faithful Jew, is quoting the Hebrew scriptures, Psalm 82.6 “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you.”)   Jesus continues trying to explain to the irate religious officials that this is not blasphemy. This is the true identity of God’s people who from the beginning are made in the image and likeness of God, children of the Most High. “If those to whom the word of God came were called 'gods'-and the scripture cannot be annulled- can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, 'I am God's Son'? (John 10.33-36) Remember, this is what actually gets Jesus crucified… claiming his identity with God.

We are gods, children of the Most High, all of us. It is difficult for us to wrap our minds around this message because we see where it got Jesus - crucified! Nonetheless, as Jesus’ sisters and brothers,  we are children of God, we are inherently good, unquestionably valuable and find our identity in God. 

The way we treat ourselves and one another is the way we treat Jesus. When we value and care for ourselves and one anther we are turning toward Jesus and revering the Christ that abides with us and all people. On the other hand, when we devalue, degrade or otherwise fail to care for ourselves and one another we are crucifying Jesus, the Christ, our own True Self.

It is no wonder we balk at the words, “Let him be crucified.” They strike at the core of our own being because they condemn the Divinity the lives and breathes and finds its being in each of us, “children of the Most High, all of (us).” It is no wonder we deny our Divine True Self. We are afraid of what other people will say and do to us. 


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