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TRANSFORMED: Families    Guest Speaker Mark Scandrette    (1st Service)

{Guest Mark (Lisa) Scandrette from San Francisco.} Lisa and I work with an organization we co-founded twenty years ago called ReImagine.  It’s inspired by Jesus’s message of the kingdom.  Basically, we’re very passionate about helping people integrate the teachings of Christ into everyday life.  Our work started in San Francisco, but over the last few years it’s taken a global turn.  I spend time each year in the U.K., Australia, Bangladesh, and East Africa; I’ll be headed to Scandinavia tomorrow.  When I got here this weekend, I realized there’s a lot in common with South Fellowship’s language and some of my passions; I wrote a book called Practicing the Way of Jesus. Maybe this is what’s brewing right now, this longing among God’s people to say we want to not just believe in Jesus, but also walk in his way.  Some of what I’m going to be sharing this morning comes from a couple of books I wrote that are available here today.  

Yesterday we got to spend time with moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, and kids talking about family thriving and exploring that topic.  We had an amazing time sharing hearts and doing activities and looking at God’s vision on how we can be transformed in our family life.  What I’m going to be sharing this morning is a little taste of the depth we explored yesterday.  

Let me just say before we go on, when we think about transformed families, I want you to have in mind the various kinds of family relationships that you’ve experienced.  Think about the family of origin, the family you were born into or the people you grew up with.  You might think about the family you helped create or have been a part of.  You also may want to think about the broader picture of what family and community looks like, including your faith family relationships as well. 

I find, when you bring up the topic of family at a dinner party or in a conversation, it often stirs up a couple of almost contradictory emotions.  For some of us, when we think about our family and community and church, there’s these warm feelings of closeness, this reminiscence about cherished times in the past, and hopefully, even if that wasn’t your family experience, you can look back and find a few instances where you felt that goodness of being close with other human beings.  The other thing that often comes up is some more difficult emotions about family relationships being a bit more conflicted and complicated; also, church relationships that feel the same way, where wow! I’m connected to these people but they don’t always make me feel good, I don’t always feel close, so we feel the pain and disappointment in what we hoped for in family.  Maybe all of us, to some extent, have experienced trauma in our closest relationships, that in order to really thrive in our walk with God and our flourishing and connections with others, we need to work through and process.  

I also want to put a context out there and say that our culture tends to create idols around family.  For thousand of years, human beings have said, “Family first,” and put the people that they’re related to, by blood and marriage, over the needs of others.  MY tribe, MY family, MY people, and if you’re not one of us, you’re over there.  We can take your land, we can misuse you, it’s only us first.  One interesting cultural example of this is “Breaking Bad.”  One of the characters in this series is called Walter White, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, who finds out he has cancer.  He wants to take care of his family, but he gets a taste of some excitement and power and he ends up becoming a methamphetamine kingpin.  He keeps this from his wife and his children, but at a certain point, his wife becomes aware of something sinister going on and confronts him about it.  He, in their argument about this, says, “Whatever I did, I did for the family.”  It was sort of a mic-drop moment.  Like, if you say you’re doing it for your family, you can kill people, do illegal activities, ignore them, be emotionally absent, because you’re a provider.  I hope you’re hearing, along with me, that the gospel invites us into something more whole and good than these less-than versions of tribalism that can sometimes happen in our culture about family.  

The Bible has some interesting things to say about family.  Quick survey of what we see as examples of family life in Scripture.  Let’s start with the first family mentioned.  Adam and Eve whose first two children were Cain and Able.  One of their sons killed the other son.  So if no siblings in your family have killed each other, you are part of a healthier family than the first family on planet earth.  I hope that’s encouraging to you.  We go on to Abraham’s family.  As he’s traveling, his wife is very beautiful and he’s afraid the rulers of the places they visit might steal his wife from him, so he tells them all, “This is my sister.”  I’m pretty sure Abraham spent a lot of time sleeping on the couch after doing those things.  His sons learned the same habits.  We get to King David’s family; one of his sons rapes his sister.  Another one of his sons kills the brother who raped the sister.  Even Jesus had struggles in his family of origin.  What I get from this is that Scripture is realistic about the pain that we can experience in our closest relationships.  

I hope to convince you this morning that Scripture is also hopeful about the possibilities.  With the coming of the Messiah and Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom, it invites the possibility that there’s a whole new way of being a human being.  Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, so we can expect that as we journey further into the way of Jesus we can see healing and wholeness come to our family and community relationships.  There’s even a prophecy about this in the book of Malachi, where it says when Elijah returns and Messiah comes, he will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. (Malachi 4:6) 

I want to focus on one portion of Scripture this morning that probably is what we know most about Jesus and his relationship with his family.  Jesus is doing his ministry with his disciples.  He’s healing and he’s teaching.  His mother and brothers show up and think Jesus has lost his mind; He’s not even stopping to eat because his life is so full. It says — When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)  So if you’ve ever been misunderstood by people in your family, you’re in good company with Jesus.  It’s not only that, but Jesus’s faith community also thought he’d gone crazy and even said he was demon possessed.  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)  So when Jesus’ mother and brothers show up, someone comes to Jesus and whispers to him, “Your mother and brothers are here.”  Jesus stops and looks around and says—“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)  

So Jesus, in a sense, is redefining what family is.  It’s not just the people we are related to by blood or by marriage or ancestry.  He’s inviting us into the new family of the kingdom of God, and that’s why I love it.  Sometimes, in faith culture, when we greet someone we say, “Hey, brother, how’s it going today?”  “Hey, sister, good morning!”  That’s a reminder to us that we have become part of a new family together.  

At the same time Jesus was redefining family, he didn’t say, “Well, forget about it.  I don’t have to care about those people I’m related to by blood anymore.”  The picture we get of this comes from John 19:25-27, where Jesus is up on the cross and about to give his life out of love for all of us.  He looks down and as the oldest son it’s his responsibility, in this culture, to care for his aging mother.  Apparently that family had some trauma because after the time Jesus is twelve, Joseph isn’t mentioned again, so maybe he wasn’t part of the picture anymore.  Jesus looks down and thinks, “I’m not going to be able to care for my aging mother.”   So he looks to his friend John and essentially says, “John, take care of my mom.”  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  

One thing I like to say about all this is whatever your family and community experience has been, up to this point, it’s not the end of the story.  We have a lifetime to work out our relationships with those we’re related to and those we love, and seek God’s healing and wholeness in those relationships.  Over and over and again I like collecting stories of people who started out with pretty painful family experiences.  One of the people we wrote about in our book, Belonging & Becoming, is a friend of ours that we met when she was 11 years old.  She was part of a family that was low income and had a lot of struggle from generational abuse and poverty.  When she was thirteen, her father physically assaulted her.  As a result, she and her siblings were removed from the home.  That was her story about family.  In her mid-thirties, as she was raising two children of her own who were on the Autism Spectrum, her father got into recovery, reconnected in his relationship with God.  She said, “My father has become my primary spiritual and emotional support.  He’s becoming the father that I never had.”  I love that no matter what our experience has been we can hope for and work towards seeing newness come in our family and community relationships.

There’s a wonderful text from the Psalms about family (Ps. 68:6) that says — God sets the lonely in families.  I had a friend who said one time, “I really celebrate my framily.”  I said, “Wait, what are you talking about?”  She said, “I’m talking about friends who are like family.”  Maybe that’s another way of talking about the new community of the family of God that we’re all a part of.  Often when I travel and listen to people talking about their questions of relationship, I hear some interesting things.  From a community like this, I hear a single person, or a widowed person, or a divorced person say, “I feel on the outside of what’s happening in the community.”  It seems like everybody else has relationships and somebody to go have lunch with.  I think we can do a better job, in our faith communities, in recognizing the variety of life experiences that people have.  Each person in this community should have a place to go on holidays, for meals, and for community, to learn to create that new kind of family together.    I’ve had people who are older than me who have been like mothers and fathers to me and I’m very grateful for that.  They were able to care for me in ways my family of origin wasn’t able to care for me.  So if you’re an older person in this congregation, you might look around and see if there is someone who might benefit from a positive parental experience if they did not have one.  The irony is if you talk to family people—married people or people with children—in a faith community, they will say, “I also feel lonely.  I remember a time before children when I could get together with others for coffee or small groups.  I have no bandwidth for that anymore.”  Maybe we can have empathy to say that every person in this room has a longing for connection, so how can we reach out to each other?  Part of that is putting yourself out, instead of saying, “Why aren’t people being more friendly with me?”  That’s not a good posture to start from.  Proverbs tells us if you want a friend, be a friend.  Be open-hearted with other people in this community, express your need.  

Anybody ever gotten a picture like this?  {Child’s drawing of herself and dad with “I love yous” on it.} I get them from nieces and nephews and little boys who are my neighbors.  Kids are trying to figure out who they are connected to in life.  I want to give you a definition of what I think a thriving community and family might be—A thriving, transformed family or community is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and supported to develop who they are for the good of the world.  What I want to note is the kind of inward-outward trajectory of this.  Each of us as human beings need spaces where we feel safe, cared for, and loved, and we can be that for one another.  But it doesn’t end there.  We long for that and as we experience it, it empowers us to not be selfish about it, to not be inward looking, but to say instead how can I seek the thriving of all families and people on earth, so it’s not just about me and mine.  This is the invitation of the gospel, that we’re being invited into the healing and restoring work that Jesus called the kingdom of God, to see the renewal of all things.  That’s an exciting thing for us to be a part of together.

I think Jesus has the way for us to experience that kind of transformed relationship that we long for.  I love how the Apostle Paul says it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message — Parents, don’t frustrate your kids, but take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.  Jesus has a way of life for us that I think the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give us a picture of those life-giving ways that will transform us.  It’s a little known fact that somebody by the name of Mahatma Gandhi, who led a very important liberation movement in South Africa and his home country of India.  He didn’t identify as a Christian, but every morning he read the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.  A missionary to India (E. Stanley Jones), who was friends with Mahatma Gandhi, made this comment and said, “A little man in a loin cloth in India picks out from the Sermon on the Mount one of its central principles, applies it as a method for gaining human freedom, and the world, challenged and charmed, bends over to catch the significance of that sight.  It is a portent of what would happen if we would take the whole of the Sermon on the Mount and apply it to the whole of life.  It would renew our Christianity; it would renew our world.”  In other words, if a person who doesn’t even identify as a Christian would pay attention to what Jesus said, imagine what would happen if those of us who have said, “We want to follow your way,” would take Him as seriously, and what that would do to transform our families, our communities, and our world.

This morning, I want to point you towards three things from the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that might help us practice to follow the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  The first one is “blessed are the merciful.”  {Mark Scandrette takes a moment to explain that there will be some standing and interaction during this part and asks that the congregation takes a bit of a risk.  The interaction/engagement helps to remember the message and carry its teaching with us.}  Mercy is not our default position in our relationships.  We have this instinct when we look at other people to look with eyes of judging.  I want you to put your hand up like this {shows fingers measuring something}.  Is that a good person or a bad person?  Am I a good boy or a bad boy?  Who’s doing what’s right and who’s agreeing with what I think?   Our minds are fixed and some would say it’s how we develop a moral compass—making assessments and judgments about people.  I want you to take a minute and scan the room in this posture of judging.  Measuring other people.  It might be necessary to do this, but it becomes toxic, so I want you to slap down your hand.  Sermon on the Mount says, “Stop judging.  With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So the heart transformation the gospel invites us into is instead of looking with eyes of judgment, we switch to eyes of compassion.  

I’m going to ask you to stand up and make the shape of a heart with your hands.  I want to remind you that when the Creator of the universe looks at you, He’s not measuring or judging you.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Your Creator sees the truest thing about you.  The truest thing about you is not that you failed, not that you’re a sinner, but that you are beloved.  We often need help to remember this.  I want you to find someone, make the shape of a heart, and look them in the eyes and remember who you’re looking at.  I am looking at someone who is made in God’s image.  Formed fearfully and preciously in their mother’s womb.  The one who the Creator of the universe calls beloved.  Maybe think in your mind, “Child of God, may you be well.”  Pay attention to what it feels like in your heart, to look at that person with eyes of compassion.  Pay attention to what it feels like in your heart knowing that this person is looking at you thinking you’re beloved, acknowledging that.  Let that sink in.  You’re a beloved child of God.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Okay, you can put your hands down, and if you need to hug it out.  

We got a taste of the heart of Jesus there and if we’re going to see transformation happen in our closest relationships, we need to look at one another with that heart.  Most of us have been hurt by people in our lives and it can be very difficult when we think of them or when we’re with them, to see them in that same way that we were trying to experience there.  It came as a surprise to me that the people who have hurt me most have identified as Christians, for one thing, and they’ve often been the people who I’ve been closest to, who I’ve trusted and thought would treat me better.  My first reaction when I feel that ‘why didn’t you love me?’ ‘why did you say that to me?’ ‘why did you treat me like that?’ the rage and resentment come up.  One of our great tasks in our growth and development is to develop compassion towards your parents, siblings, ex-spouse, children, people in your faith community who’ve misunderstood or hurt you, and move from that eye of judgment to a heart of compassion towards them.  

You may have heard this before—I find it really speaks the truth about things—resentment is like drinking poison and hoping somebody else gets sick and dies.  It exhausts our bodies.  It wears us out.  It steals our joy.  One of the ways of Jesus that will help us experience more satisfaction in our relationships is if we can work through that process of letting go.

Earlier this year, I was in aboriginal Australia, way up in a very arid, dry area.  I got to be with an aboriginal church family and we spent a Sunday reflecting on the way of compassion from the gospel.  At the end of the gathering, people in that community who were related by blood and had been in church together for many years, felt conviction, felt invited, and said, “I’ve got to make things right,” and they got up and walked across the room, with tears streaming down their cheeks and said, “I’ve been wrong all these years” or “I’ve been holding resentment towards you.  Will you forgive me?”  They reconciled with each other and saw some healing happen.  Maybe today there is someone you are the process of letting go of or maybe you’ve wronged somebody and it would be powerful for you to go to them and say, “I want to apologize for the ways I wasn’t helpful to you or I was hurtful in your life.”  It takes a lot of courage but you can be part of their healing by doing that.  I’ve done it with my children and my wife, because I could look back and say, “I didn’t love you in the way you deserve to be loved and I want to name that and I don’t want that to be between us anymore.”  Is this making sense?  So practicing letting go.  

Where are you in the process of understanding and forgiving parents, siblings, exes, and others for their mistakes and limitations?  I’m convinced that our parents did the best they could to love us, but they had limits and they had wounds that affected their ability to be present to us, so it’s powerful to let go.  Two things that have helped me with this—one is the kind of speech I practice.  I realize that at times I practice resentment by how I talk.  If I make a commitment to practice positive speech, it makes it easier to let go of resentment.  Second thing is I pray for the person I feel resentment towards.  If I’m struggling with that….if their name comes up in conversation, if I see a picture of them and I start to feel that tightening, then I tell myself to pray for them the next seven days.  I can’t pray for their good and be resentful at the same time.  

A second thing from the Beatitudes that helps us with being transformed in our relationships is where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness or justice.”  The reason I put up this slide is I think often when we look at the injustice in our world and the struggles in our own lives the default tendency is to go, “The world can’t be any different than it is.  It’s really broken and corrupt and I’m broken and corrupt and I can’t be any different than I am.”  We throw our hands up in the air and we conveniently pick Scriptures that justify this.  The world’s going to get worse.  I’m just a miserable sinner.   This is not an accurate telling of what Scripture says about you and I.  Psalm 8:5 says you were made a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honor.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said YOU are the light of the world.  We are powerful beings who shape the world by our choices.  We’re not helpless and we’re not hopeless and we’re not trying to do this alone.  The power of the resurrection is available to us and part of our journey is learning to live and access that power and cooperate with what God’s trying to do in us.

Years ago, there was a stranger that used to come to my apartment in San Francisco, walk right in the door without even knocking and start being mean to my family.  Pick up that backpack!  Why are these dishes here? What are you doing?  You’re suppose to be doing your homework right now!    My family, all of us, would be like, “Who is this stranger? Why do they think they can come into our house and wreck the vibe like this?”  It happened enough that my kids nicknamed the stranger “Crabby Dad.”  I’m Crabby Dad, I’m the stranger.  I would get like this…..just furious, raging.  Even in the moment I didn’t want to be like that.  I would shout, “Serenity now!”  God, I don’t want to be like this.  Help me to be a loving spouse and parent.  My prayer was never immediately or magically answered.  I was disappointed.  Around that time, I was spending a lot of time with somebody named Dallas Willard, who has written a lot on how does transformation happen.  What he suggested was that we sometimes get caught in an ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking about our transformation.  That it’s all God and we’re just sitting back going, “God, make me a loving parent and partner.  I can’t do it because I’m helpless and hopeless,” and just wait for it to come.  Scripture says in Philippians—Continue to work out your salvation because it’s God who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good purpose.  (Phil. 2:12-13)  

I was in a group where we were working on our struggles and the question was “Where do you feel stuck? What are you responsible for that’s causing pain in your relationships?”  For me, it’s Crabby Dad.  The group asked, “What could you do to surrender your mind and your body back to God,” according to Romans 12:1-2, which is the theme verse for this series, so that you can experience the wholeness and transformation that God desires for you?  I had to look back through my life to discover when Crabby Dad shows up.  I realized it’s not an accident.  Dallas Willard would say, “You’ve trained your whole life to become the kind of person you are.”  You’ve planned and practiced for the life that you have.  You’ve rehearsed thoughts—maybe false thoughts, maybe distorted thoughts—and you’ve developed habits in your body and your brain and the basal ganglia remembered those things.  I looked back and asked, “What are the choices I’m making in the two weeks before Crabby Dad shows up?”  On reflection I realized that it’s when Mark Scandrette works too many hours a day, too many days a week, doesn’t take a Sabbath.  He gets into this pattern out of that fatigue where at the end of the day he’s exhausted so he needs some salty snacks, he needs some sugar, he needs to veg out for a while so he stays up late binge watching something. He doesn’t get up on time to spend time with God or exercise.  He fuels on coffee and sugar all day.  Pretty soon, if Mark Scandrette does that long enough, he is going to go into rage and impatience.  Why is he working all the time?  What’s driving him?  A false belief and thinking that says, “You’re only significant because of what you can earn or achieve.”  I realized that if I didn’t want to be Crabby Dad anymore, if I wanted to cooperate with God’s work in me, that I would need to develop some new habits of thought and some new habits of body.  So I made a commitment to get up every day and go for a walk and remind myself, “I’m God’s child.  He loves me.  God is pleased with me so I don’t have to run around to prove myself to the world.”  Then I made a commitment to lower caffeine, lower sugar, and a commitment to exercise, and to take a Sabbath day.  Gradually, but dramatically, Crabby Dad stopped showing up in our house.  In fact, my kids were like, “We haven’t seen that guy in a long time.  We don’t miss him, but it’s cool that he’s not here anymore.”  I involved my family in that and this can be a powerful practice for the people you live with or love, where you are honest about your struggles.  You say you don’t want to keep doing that, but want to surrender yourself to the process of transformation of your mind and body and take on practices that will be life giving.  I’m not going to say Crabby Dad never ever shows up anymore, but he very rarely makes an appearance.  It marked a real shift in our family life, where our kids look back and say, “We remember a raging dad and we saw that our dad owned his struggle and took steps to experience transformation.

Last Beatitude — Blessed are the poor in spirit.  What does it mean to be poor?  Poverty is when you don’t have enough or you FEEL like you don’t have enough, something’s lacking.  I think we started this experience of feeling like we didn’t have enough right when we came out of our mother’s body into the world.  You come out and it’s cold!  You’re having to suck oxygen for the first time.  You feel distant from what’s comforting, so most babies clench their fists and they scream, “Aaahhhhh!” out of this sense of not enough, something’s missing.  We maybe needed to feel that so that we’d suck air in, and search for food, and long for the comfort of mother. But if we stay in this posture of clenched fists, it drives us away from community and wholeness.  I want you to clench your fists as tight as you can and hold it for a little while.  I call this the posture of scarcity.  Something is lacking and we grab desperately for what we hope will fill us up or satisfy us.  It’s the cause of great inequity in our world.  It’s the mentality of more, bigger, better that is driving our culture.  It exhausts us and it takes us away from the community we so desperately long for.  

I’m going to now invite you to relax your hands.  The shift into the kingdom of God is if we can learn to go from that posture of scarcity to a posture of trust; to receive what we need from our Creator with thanks; to ask, seek, and knock for what we lack; and to share with one another.  I’m convinced that if we don’t make conscious choices about how we relate to time and money, the forces of a consumeristic and materialistic culture will make most of our decisions for us.  

Yesterday in the workshop, I asked the question, “What are the challenges for family and community relationships in the Denver area?”  First thing that comes up is man, it’s expensive and there’s a drive towards more and bigger and better that’s pulling families apart, that’s making it hard to connect. People are too busy to be in a relationship.  We need to wrestle with finding a kingdom rhythm about our relationship with time and money and stuff.  How you spend your time is how you spend your life.  How you spend your life is shaped by economic choices.  The question for us as kingdom seekers seeking the way of Jesus is what’s a right-sized life?  Instead of thinking in our hearts more-bigger-better, instead we think, “I’m content, I’m satisfied, and I have time and resources to share with others.”  There  is a right-sized life that can take us out of the hurry and busyness and striving that’s epidemic in the culture we’re part of.  This Beatitude is inviting us into a posture—put your hands out, palms up—of contentment and trust in the abundance that the Creator provides.  It invites us to live and pray this prayer:  Lead us in the way of trust. This Beatitude is inviting us into a posture—put your hands out, palms up—of contentment and trust in the abundance that the Creator provides.  It invites us to live and pray this prayer:  Lead us in the way of trust.

In conclusion, family is the place where we get our first picture of what love is and who God is.  But that first picture of what love is was a bit distorted, and that first picture of who God is was distorted.  No matter how much love a parent or a community can give that love is never enough.  This is my precious daughter Hailey.  She came out of her mother’s body; I held her in my arms.  I didn’t even know that such a depth of love existed. It wasn’t more than a year or two before I could see her heart closing even when my heart was open.  It actually made me think back to my family and I thought, “Maybe the same thing happened to me.”  My parents sincerely wanted to love me, but because of my own brokenness I wasn’t always able to even receive the love that they had to give to me.  Our family and community experiences put us on the journey and search for a true parent and true home.  No matter how much we try to love each other in this community, in our families, we still have this hole, because no other human being can fill that hole of love and belonging that we so desperately need.  The trajectory is for us to finally move towards true parent and true home.  The only being who can satisfy that longing that we have for belonging is the Creator of the universe.  That’s what we’re designed for.  This is why in John 15 Jesus said, “Live in me.  Make your home in me.”  And why Moses, thinking about his parents and grandparents and ancestors and his own people said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in every generation.”

I’m going to invite you to stand with me.  If we go back to that thought that we come into the world with clenched hands, desperate for love and safety and security, and then remember the gospel invites us to move from that to opening our hands to receive the love that God has for us.  Open your hands, close your eyes and I want to remind you that this is a safe universe to live in.  Nothing can separate you from the eternal love of the Creator of the universe.  Not loss.  Not mental health issues.  Not even death can separate you from that love.  Your Creator is here with you now and will be with you through whatever comes.  Your true eternal parent.  Lord, teach us to live as your children in the fullness of your love as our true parent and our true home.  Amen.