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My Last Kingswood Sermon: Ananias.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

We often talk about Saul’s Damascus road conversion, when he had a radical life transforming encounter with Jesus that turned his life around.

Yet we often over-look the great unsung hero of this story.

Ananias, just an ordinary Christian, this is a one and only mention of him in the Bible.

Yet God appears to him in a dream or vision and tells him to go to Saul and pray for his healing.

Ananias is confused and probably pretty terrified. This was a guy who was persecuting Christians, this is a man who was an accessory to the murder or martyring of Stephen.

If you are a Christian, Saul is on the top of the list of the “people you’d most want to avoid” list -and yet here is God asking Ananias to go and pray for him.

Imagine if you were woken in the night and told to catch the tube to Finsbury Park, go to the Mosque there and pray for healing on Abu Hanza? Imagine the fear? Imagine the “is this really you God?” questions you’d be asking. You are calling me to pray for someone I know hates Christians and wants us all dead or behind bars.

Yet Ananias goes and prays for Saul.

No, Gideon-esk give me 20million signs and then I’ll drag my feet and do it in a couple of months time. No wrestling, no prevaricating, just simple obedience and bravery.

Recently John Townley spoke at Hanham Mount about “Just Do It” looking at the story of the Wedding feast at Canna where Mary Jesus’ Mother said “Do whatever he tells you”.

Ananias shows us a beautiful example of radical faith, that simply says “yes” when God calls.

Ananias was someone who heard and heeded the voice of God.

Ananias leaves his safety and comfort to do something he doesn’t want to do, to go to a place he doesn’t want to go, and to meet a person he doesn’t want to meet, but yet he does it because of love and obedience foe his Saviour.

A few weeks ago I preached on Mark 5, where Jesus goes to the Gentile territory, to heal a demon possessed man ritually unclean (not just because he is a gentile) but also been self harming -covered in blood-, naked and living amongst the tombs, and spoke about going where we don’t want to go, meeting the people we don’t want to meet, and doing things we might not want to do.

Yet the difference here is one person looks respectable, and one looks wretched, yet both are far from God’s plan of salvation in Christ Jesus, and both had their lives transformed.

Sometimes those in need of God’s touch and healing from the outside look the most together and sorted yet God sees beneath the worlds respectable veneer, and religiosity doesn’t fool him either.

Is there things that God is/has called you to do, and you’ve not done them, maybe ‘put the answerphone’ on and avoided them?

More than this, look at his language, he calls Saul his brother, he doesn’t just obey Christ, but shows love to a truly repulsive individual, an individual the Church would probably have been happy if God had struck dead.

I wonder do we sometimes do the right thing, but do it with the wrong attitude?

He shows love for Saul and prays healing upon him, and scales fall from his eyes.

Before the road to Damascus, Saul would not have thought he was spiritually blind -rather he was the one with perfect “20/20 Vision”- but through his encounter he not only encounters the risen Christ, but clearly encounters himself too, and is transformed.

Ananias obedience is the catalyst for Saul to begin a new ministry of proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, I wonder if he hadn’t been faithful in his part of God’s plan we probably would not be here today know about Jesus.

So, let us be people who are like Ananias, faithful and obedient to Christ, who hear his voice, heed his call, and are obedient.

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Praying on Hanham Mount.

Over August we began to pray on Hanham Mount.

Mainly it was just a few of us.

Mostly it rained.

We had too some wonderful people who led us in some form of worship.

We had some people who spoke incredibly prophetically into Kingswood and surrounding area.

Last week, stood around and drenched, someone asked what was happening next, and then asked ‘would it stop now I am going?’

It made me think, I don’t actually do very much, just let people know I’ll be there and praying and invite anyone who wants to join me to pray for Kingswood/Hanham and the city of Bristol are welcome and wanted.

It has been wonderful to see people come together and pray from all sorts of different Churches, from different areas too, but with one thing in common a deep desire to see the glory of God fall in our city.

This unity I believe is something that brings joy to the heart of God. Scripture reminds us that “where there is unity God commands a blessing”. God longs for his broken and divided body on earth to come together in humble reconciliation and love. Brothers and Sisters in Christ getting to know one another and to see the bride and body of Christ and bigger and more beautiful that our petty divisions have caused us to become.

Hanham Mount for me is a wonderful and a special place. It is where George Whitefield and John Wesley (and John Cennick and Victor Purdey) preached to the Kingswood Miners and saw them respond, and turn to Christ. Kingswood was known for “white tears” where people cried tears of repentance, and because they were miners with soot covered faces, the tears cut through the grime making a white tear streak.

Hanham Mount is a Methodist world heritage site, where they preached not to the respectable and religious types, but to the written off, to the irreligious, to the marginalised and disenfranchised, the overlooked and under-loved.

On one of my earliest visits there, the former Pastor of the Congregational Church -William Gaydon- quoted “O Lord, we have heard of your fame, we stand in awe of your deeds, renew them in our day, and in your wrath remember mercy”.

At my job interview for this parish someone said “no one expects miracles in Kingswood!” -yet if you can’t expect miracles where the biggest revival in England started where can you expect them? In fact Wesley told people to get out of the trees “in case they were slain by the spirit of God” and fell out the trees.

So, Hanham Mount is a place we can come with expectancy that the same Gospel and the same Holy Spirit transformed and changed this nation can happen again!

Although I am going, it can carry on, in fact my deepest desire is that it does carry on. In fact when Whitefield stood down Wesley stepped up, and it was through Wesley this nation was changed.

Who is going to take over?

Perhaps someone reading this might feel the nudge of the spirit upon them, the call of God to respond “here am I send me”?

Yet I have a fear that we’ll end up as a small huddle of Christians hidden away somewhere, although great that you are praying it looses it’s radical edge and just becomes a nice social prayer evening.

My prayer is even if the time is moved earlier, or there is some wet weather provision, my prayer is to keep this gathering open where anyone can join you…

My dream is that as people are just being real with God, seeking his face, breaking their hearts, sharing his word, praising his name those who aren’t Christians will be drawn to the place (or drawn back to the place!) and hear and heed the Gospel of Christ.

From the beginning of these little prayer meetings we have always included a message. Something of saying to God “we are asking for Wesley’s mantle, not just of open air preaching, but of engaging with those outside the Church in a place and a way they could relate to and respond to. My prayer is that the preaching will echo beyond the ears of the few saints who gather and that it resonates within the hearts of those hungry and searching for Christ.

We have worshipped too, as so often as Christians we come in intercession, we ask and ask and ask and never seek God’s face, never tell him that we love and adore him. Worship realigns our hearts and worship is a powerful weapon against the enemy. David had the worshippers and worship leaders march the people in to battle, let out in praise, to remind us that the battle (not against flesh and blood) belongs to the Lord.

I have often been frustrated at how complicated we have made Church, and how many hours clergy have spent with rota’s, and yet at these simple worship times of intersession, we have seen something of Church as I believe it should be, real, committed, heart-felt, spontaneous and in step with the spirit.

So, although next week will be my last week, my prayer for you and fort Kingswood is you don’t need a scruffy vicar to make the meeting legitimate, all you need is Spirit-filled believers hungry for God “where 2 or 3 are gathered”…

Come and see where God leads.
Come and hear his voice.

Remember too, that prayer is the most powerful thing we can do as Christians to herald in the Kingdom of God.

It is all about prayer.

Scripture reminds us that we have not because we ask not.

The key to a spiritual revolution in this city is revealed in 2 Chronicles: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, and seek my face, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land”.

So do join us tomorrow, and although this is an end of my role here, my prayer it is the beginning of a greater and more wonderful movement of God gathering momentum.

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The LATE SERVICE in Hanham.

Shortly after planting All Souls’ Southey, I began to look towards Hanham and thought “Soon we will be planting another Church here in Hanham”.

Yet there was a challenge, how to extricate myself from the Church I had just planted, I’ve found in churches it is easy to start things but much harder to pass them on to someone else (like getting chewing gum stuck on your finger it never becomes fully unstuck).

People and the team were settled, the thought of doing it all again there was little energy for. Indeed there was a fear that if we invested too heavily in Hanham we might damage what we already had.

Perhaps if I could have my time again maybe I should have been more ruthlessly stepping out in faith?

We did try holding more worship services intentionally in Hanham and talk the vision of transformation, of mission, of Church planting, health and Kingdom advance.

We began to use the name ‘The LATE SERVICE’ as the Service was at 7:30 (originally 7:00) on a Sunday evening.

We didn’t get much flack from Churchy people as they seemed relaxed about the word “Service” but the word “Church” is much more emotive amongst existing congregations.

I remember the level of nastiness I got when we planted a Church from people who professed to be Christians.

Surely if you love Jesus then seeing people reached should bring you joy not anger and resentment?

Yet with hindsight I wondered if I used the language of planting and of Church whether we would have got Church?

Yet we soon discovered that Christians in Hanham were more wedded to the idea of people coming to THEIR Church BUILDING than people coming to meet their Saviour.

We did services in two struggling Churches in Hanham and the numbers were pretty good, but when we moved from their Church hall/Church a neutral venue in Hanham out numbers of Christians/Church goers from Hanham nose dived.

We kept pressing on.

We tried running Alpha in Hanham, as we have lots of pleasant relationships with people that were warm to us when we saw them, yet probably coming to Alpha was too much too soon for the people we had got to know (the second time we have tried this and failed, I think too often we over-estimate the steps people are prepared to make to explore faith).

Only one person from Hanham came, and they already attended some of the local Churches.

All our other guests drove from where we had the Church plant across the parish to go to Alpha.

So, after Alpha instead of having this group of hungry new (or returned) Christians hungry to see Hanham transformed for the Kingdom of God. I just had the few friends who had helped me out on the course all feeling that bit more tired.

From there we re-started the late services back in Hanham and we tried to gather a team, always a good start.

I remember having a season where there were just 4 of us worshipping and praying, and three of us were ordained and crawling into our 4th service of the day.

A guy from one of my Churches joked, that I had managed to plant a Church without any members. Although a little tongue in cheek, that comment hurt me more than I let on at the time.

Gradually however we began to get some guests that were hungry Christians wanting a top-up, wanting to pray, wanting to go deeper.

We had some wonderful times, but yet this wasn’t the dream, we were paying out to be in a neutral venue and filling it with people who’d be more than happy to be in a more traditional Church building, and we had hired a funky and very unchurchy youth centre (at £25 a time with no income coming in, praise God we always managed to pay our rent for just over a year!)

As this very Christian group met up, I felt I wanted to pray over August up on Hanham Mount, where the Kingswood story started with George Whitefield and George Wesley preaching to the miners of Kingswood and seeing a massive and wonderful revival breaking out.

So we met up on Sunday evenings.

We had typical August weather -it rained and it rained and it rained! And yet despite the rain people kept coming and praying. Convinced (by naïve optistism)that if we had had such a wet August we might have a really nice September, we kept going for September. And still in rained and it poured. And yet Saints kept on coming out to pray with their umbrellas.

On Sunday, the last Sunday in September, wet and bedraggled, someone said… “Is it happening next week?” and “What’s happening when you go?”

I cleared my throat and said “Well…”
(To be continued…)

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A Good Vicar???

A Good Vicar?

“S/He was a good Vicar!” you’ll hear people say,

Or they’ll tell you “S/He was a terrible Vicar!”

Sometimes I have heard people say both things about the same person.

I’m sure as I soon become a memory in Kingswood and Hanham I’ll probably have
people say both things about me.

And that’s okay.

It depends on our definition of “good” and depends on who is saying it and they context they see you in.

Sometimes too, I think we are too ‘black and white’ in our opinions, writing people off as either brilliant or useless.

They are some who would say that you are a good Vicar because “S/he never changed a thing!” and for some that’s seen as a good thing (although everything changes, and if things don’t move forward they regress!).

I have been told I am a good Vicar “because you drink a beer and aren’t too pushy with the religious stuff!” -Not sure that’s an entirely good thing!

Often they’ll say you’re a good Vicar because you attend a million Churchy socials and try to keep happy the never satisfied members of your congregation (of course, you’ll only ever become a “good” Vicar once the new one is in post and you become an extremely unkind stick to beat your successor with).

Jesus was called the “Good Shepherd” when he left the 99 and went and sought out the one that was lost which is not a popular model within congregations!

In fact I wonder how many people would actually go to a Church that if Jesus lead if he was incarnate now, today, in our culture?

My suspicion is that many Church goers would run a mile from a Church led by Christ, our religiousness has warped and watered down what it really means to follow Jesus in all of our lives.

Too often we become stuck within our Churchy bubble, forgetting that Jesus said “those who are well do not need a Doctor, but only those who are sick!”

Often it is an unpopular choice to priorities the people Christ prioritised, the marginalised, disenfranchised, ostracised, broken, hurting, marginalised.

People who don’t know Jesus yet their voices are never heard at our meetings and their absence isn’t felt, and yet the Christian Church has always existed for its non-members.

I often think that the most important things I do in the week are probably the things that are almost invisible from most -if not all- the congregation.

It does make me think that how often peoples’ expectations of us can have such a massive influence over us, over what we do, how we spend our time/energy/resources.

Often we have in our own mind of what it means to be “good” sometimes this is realistic, sometimes not, often we ourselves can be our fiercest critic, or we can be so self-deluded that we think everything we do is wonderful!

For me personally, I find I am my harshest critic and added to a critical context can be quite a destructive combination.

Yet, whose opinion we ought to value isn’t primarily those around us -our friends, foes and those who want something from us, nor it is our own self-opinion (often warped) but rather what is the opinion of Christ Jesus.

The “Good” or “Bad” opinions of us will cease to mater when we meet with God and he says to us either “well done good and faithful servant” -or scarily- “I never knew you!”.

What does the audience of one think, the one who sees and knows everything -even the secrets of our hearts?-.

Jesus doesn’t look at Good or Bad Vicars on how full their dairy is, or even how noble and laudable the things in it are, but rather the key question is “are we being obedient to his voice and call?”

Ultimately the highest call is to be obedient to the call of Christ, who leads us on, and seek in the midst of whatever distracts us from his call to continue to be faithful.

This call to faithfulness comes from following in his footsteps, going where he leads, often to the forsaken places and to the overlooked people, out from the safe/comfortable Church and into the most uncomfortable and dangerous places.

The call to be faithful amongst real lives that are messy is actually a call to serve Christ himself, who in the broken and poor reveals himself “in his most distressing disguises” (as Mother Teresa would say, Cf Matt.25).

A Good Vicar is actually just like any other Christian -although with a different role- is defined by our obedience to Christ.

Living not just for the acceptance and affirmation of human-beings -the fear of man-.

In fact the surest way to please no one, is to try and please everyone, and more over the greatest failure in life is to try to please everyone all the time.

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Passing on the Teapot…

John Coles, the former leader of New Wine, used to say “Success isn’t success without a successor”.

This last few weeks/months have been a funny time of saying/trusting people to “look after my babies”.

In many ways obviously the ‘babies’ are God’s babies, the dreams he has left us to custodian for a short time that need to be passed on to someone else, some also called by God to be a custodian of the outworking of God’s vision -someone who almost certain will add different things and priorities from us.

Yet, we can’t hold these things without developing a deep love and concern for them and the people connect with them. We care, and it is right that we care deeply, and so to pass on something that is hollowed and precious to us is difficult. Will they care for this as we have? The fear is that they may not treasure it as we have, not invest time, energy and love like you have into it…

Can we trust them with it?

Can we trust God with it?

In trusting people to take stuff on we become very aware of the fallen-ness that sometimes damages the fragile and vulnerability of it all; yet alongside this also we become acutely aware too of God’s faithfulness and the security of his hands and his heart.

Sometimes too fear can creep in and we try to keep hold of that which we ought to lay down.

CMS was born around tea of the eclectic society meeting at 4:00 for tea (how very English!). They gathered, discussed, dreamed, prayed and wonderful things were birthed that transformed not only global mission but also social transformation closer to home -the Shaftesbury society in its work outlawing child labour, Dr Barnado’s in caring for orphaned children, Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery and many others. They asked the question “What can we do to see the unreached heathen come to hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus?”.

They gathered, they dreamed, they kept meeting and they put their dreams into practice, as they gathered for tea from their now infamous teapot!

Yesterday in ASDA after writing my “Teapot” blog I felt compelled to buy a teapot or two as a prophetic gift, asking who is going to be the teapot holders in Kingswood and Hanham once I have gone. Who will hold the teapot of re-thinking mission and discipleship in our area (or wider area)?

Who will gather people? Who share their God inspired dreams with other people and let them fly? Who will pray and serve to see these new dreams become realities birthed in and amongst communities?

Wondering too, perhaps the custodian of a teapot, might be a gatherer?

There are many people who might be visionaries but they do gather people well, maybe God is calling you to be a teapot holder that in gathering people in the meeting and encounter(s) form calaysts that blesses and over-flows.

Perhaps too your an ideas person, and God is calling you into a community, the fuel for Christ’s inspired spark within you?

Maybe the teapot is you gathering the momentum around the vision and dream Christ has put within you?

Yet, for too long perhaps we have neglected the power of the teapot, of dreaming together, of gathering, of sharing ideas.

We have not allowed ourselves too ask those uncomfortable questions too, that challenge and yet inspire and can spring board to new and wonderful places.

So, I’d love to give you a teapot.

I’d love to see people gathering together and seeking the dream that God has placed inside of them to be birthed in their context transforming our communities, cities, nation and world.

So will you take the teapot, gather and dream, share and pray, and see the Kingdom come more fully on earth as heaven.

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The Bindi spot.

I was at my induction at CMS yesterday and heard someone tell this amazing story.
This group of pioneers were there, a danger of feeling a bit smug and self-assured as they talked animatedly about “mission on the edge”, “Pioneering Evangelism” and “Fresh Expressions of Church”, it was at a Bishops garden party(!) Just then a little old lady came and chatted to one of the group saying “I know what you mean?” The guy smiled not wanting to be patronising.
The little old lady told this story.

She was a missionary in Nepal. In Nepal there was a large wealthy ex pat community. They lived in English style houses, with gates and walls around them, with flushing toilets. The Nepalese people lived just in simple mud huts.

This lady realised she would never reach this community from inside the colonial clique of middle class westerners hidden away in a gated compound.

If she wanted to reach the local people she would have to go to them, and meet them where they were at.

She began to dress like them too, and tried to do all she could to meet them on a level place.

This was tolerated but not really approved of in the white middle-class encampment.

One day she took the bold step of adding the ‘bindi spot’ to her forehead.
She was taken aside by the other missionaries in the encampment and scolded.

She realised that to engage with the new culture she had to turn her back on her old culture, which she did (and that must have been painful).

Yet in stepping into their lives and their culture she began to be accepted and welcomed into the new culture, and because of her bravery and faith, many people came to know Jesus.

It made me think too often we set out to sea, but never leave the harbour, or at least the sight of land, the challenge with mission is to push out deeper, to have the faith to see the familiar shore disappear onto the distance.

CMS brought new ideas to the established ideas of mission, mission which had become a career, a project, a short term thing.

The early days of CMS missionaries, they packed up their belongings in coffins, a symbol that they were going for good and their expectation was they were going to live and die in the new community God was sending them too. Their tickets were one way.

The call of Christ is an “all in call” a place of total surrender to him, a turning our back on our old life, dying to our old ways of being and being alive to live our lives Christ’s way from here on in.

I want to have that wonderful old ladies crazy missional heart that gave up everything for the one who also gave up everything for her.

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Let us Teapot together!

I’ve recently signed up to do an MA with the fab guys at CMS.

It was through them that I heard this amazing story of the teapot!

A group of Godly guys had formed a group together called the Ecclectic society used to meet up each week at 4:00 for tea, gathering around a tea-pot they would discuss things together.

On one afternoon at 4:00 (the perfect English time for tea) in 1799 a number of them debated this question: ““What methods can we use most effectively to promote the knowledge of the Gospel among the heathen.”

The question is an interesting one, this had some personal responsibility attached to it, it wasn’t just bad mouthing the Churches that are trying to do things, rock slinging spectators from the side-lines. Yet their questions demanded a response from themselves.

The question is interesting too, although couched in the language of the time it is the most important questions we as Christians can and should ask, echoing the call and cry of Paul who says in Romans “how will they call on one in whom they have not heard?”

Interestingly I have been engaged in so many Church or leaders meetings and too much of the time we have been ‘bitching and bragging’ about what has been going well/badly, or perhaps swapping anecdotes about weddings, funerals and baptisms and yet too rarely actually tackling the question: How will the people of the area we serve hear about Jesus in a way they can understand?

I have tactlessly tried to shoe-horn such discussions and this often ends up in a pity party about the state of our Churches. Yet why isn’t this the question stamped across item 1 of every agenda of every meeting we as Church have?

Sometimes too, I have been in great meetings that talk about changing the world, the problem is their good intentions and fired up ideas are always ‘jam tomorrow’, the ideas and discussion is great but somehow the enthusiasm and fire never translate into transformation on the ground.

Yet I would urge us all to dream again, to ask questions afresh, to seek and press into God, to wrestle to understand our culture and to hear and heed the call of God.

Why don’t we gather around the tea-pots and dream again.

The Eclectic society bore out the Clapham Sect that outlawed child labour, birthed the Shaftsbury society and Banardo’s, and birthed CMS, Church Mission Society. A society that has been at the forefront of proclaiming Jesus Christ here in the UK and to the ends of the earth, making Christ known in word and action and seeing the gospel change lives.

It was all birthed over some blue sky thinking around a tea-pot.

Perhaps we should all gather around teapots with one another and dream again and see the Lord use us to change and transform his nation and his world.

I’ll close with a quote from Robin Williams from the film Dead Poets Society:
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”

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