The Monthly Update

March 2004 Update

                                                                                                            March 2004

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Those of us in Concerned Methodists have often been accused of being radical, stubborn, uncompromising, etc. When it comes to standing for the Orthodox Christian faith, we would raise each of our hands and plead, “Guilty!” We will accept these accusations gladly. We have unashamedly stated that United Methodist laity, good Christian men and women, should not hesitate to refuse to support with the money they give to God’s work the heretical activities of some of our church employees when those same people squander the money or even worse, when they espouse heretical beliefs.

One example is the one we have mentioned before: Bishop Joe Sprague. The words from a letter by Dr. James Heidinger are especially compelling:

Dr. Thomas C. Oden, one of the most widely-respected theologians in the United Methodist Church today, has…published an incredibly important new book, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, Harper-Collins, 2003.

It is particularly relevant in light of the Sprague matter. In one section, Oden writes about the need for the faithful to say a gentle “No” on behalf of a greater “Yes.” Saying “No” is a responsibility of pastors and lay persons, even when the one they must challenge is a bishop! The sad thing, though, is that our bishops are charged in the Discipline with being the guardians of the faith.

Oden reminds us that the word “heresy” comes from a root word meaning “arbitrary self-willing.” The self-chooser …stands against authenticated, settled, truth [orthodoxy], opting for independent, arbitrary self-willing of that which is contrary to the settled historical faith confirmed by Christians across the centuries. The self-chooser presumes to be “improving upon the apostolic testimony,” Oden says, and “chooses a path thought to be better than that of the apostles.” (p. 133)

Saying “yes” also means saying “no. Oden writes, “Not until Athanasius…challenged Arius [a heretic] did the church’s faith become clearly defined. Only when Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg door did a reformation of medieval abuses begin. Not until the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany boldly rejected the specific idolatries of German Christians did their witness become credible in the Bremen Declaration. The yes to the truth of God does not happen without a tough no to false opposition.” (p. 129. Emphasis mine)

Thank you for standing with us. We ask that you would continue to pray for us as we exert our full effort toward the 2004 General Conference.

                                                                                    In His service,

                                                                                    Allen O. Morris,

                                                                                    Executive Director


March 2004 Update


Bits and Pieces from across the United Methodist Church


The only thing worse than a hard heart is a soft head.

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Of interest.

+ Miller Delivers Floor Speech on ‘Deficit of Decency’ in America

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) today delivered the following statement on the floor of the United States Senate addressing several social issues facing the country:

“The Old Testament prophet Amos was a sheep herder who lived back in the Judean hills, away from the larger cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Compared to the intellectual urbanites like Isaiah and Jeremiah, he was just an unsophisticated country hick.

“But Amos had a unique grasp of political and social issues and his poetic literary skill was among the best of all the prophets. That familiar quote of Martin Luther King, Jr. about ‘Justice will rush down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’ are Amos’s words.

“Amos was the first to propose the concept of a universal God and not just some tribal deity. He also wrote that God demanded moral purity, not rituals and sacrifices. This blunt speaking moral conscience of his time warns in Chapter 8, verse 11 of The Book of Amos, as if he were speaking to us today:

That ‘the days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. ‘And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east. They shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.’

‘A famine in the land’. Has anyone more accurately described the situation we face in America today? ‘A famine of hearing the words of the Lord.’

“But some will say, Amos was just an Old Testament prophet – a minor one at that – who lived 700 years before Christ.” That is true, so how about one of the most influential historians of modern times?

“Arnold Toynbee who wrote the acclaimed 12 volume A Study of History, once declared, ‘Of the 22 civilizations that have appeared in history, 19 of them collapsed when they reached the moral state America is in today.’

“Toynbee died in 1975, before seeing the worst that was yet to come. Yes, Arnold Toynbee saw the famine. The ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord.’ Whether it is removing a display of the Ten Commandments from a Courthouse or the Nativity Scene from a city square. Whether it is eliminating prayer in schools or eliminating ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. Whether it is making a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage between a man and woman or, yes, telecasting around the world made-in-the-USA filth masquerading as entertainment.

“The Culture of Far Left America was displayed in a startling way during the Super Bowl’s now infamous half-time show. A show brought to us courtesy of Value-Les Moonves and the pagan temple of Viacom-Babylon.

“I asked the question yesterday, how many of you have ever run over a skunk with your car? I have many times and I can tell you, the stink stays around for a long time. You can take the car through a car wash and it’s still there. So the scent of this event will long linger in the nostrils of America.

“I’m not talking just about an exposed mammary gland with a pull-tab attached to it. Really no one should have been too surprised at that. Wouldn’t one expect a bumping, humping, trashy routine entitled ‘I’m going to get you naked’ to end that way.

“Does any responsible adult ever listen to the words of this rap-crap? I’d quote you some of it, but the Sergeant of Arms would throw me out of here, as well he should. And then there was that prancing, dancing, strutting, rutting guy evidently suffering from jock itch because he kept yelling and grabbing his crotch. But then, maybe there’s a crotch grabbing culture I’ve unaware of.

“But as bad as all this was, the thing that yanked my chain the hardest was seeing that ignoramus with his pointed head stuck up through a hole he had cut in the flag of the United States of America, screaming about having ‘a bottle of scotch and watching lots of crotch.’ Think about that.

“This is the same flag that we pledge allegiance to. This is the flag that is draped over coffins of dead young uniformed warriors killed while protecting Kid Crock’s bony butt. He should be tarred and feathered, and ridden out of this country on a rail. Talk about a good reality show, there’s one for you.

“The desire and will of this Congress to meaningfully do anything about any of these so-called social issues is non existent and embarrassingly disgraceful. The American people are waiting and growing impatient with us. They want something done.

“I am pleased to be a co-sponsor of S.J. Res. 26 along with Senator Allard and others, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to marriage. And S.1558, the Liberties Restoration Act, which declares religious liberty rights in several ways, including the Pledge of Allegiance and the display of the Ten Commandments. And today I join Senator Shelby and others with the Constitution Restoration Act of 2004 that limits the jurisdiction of federal courts in certain ways.

“In doing so, I stand shoulder to shoulder not only with my Senate co-sponsors and Chief Justice Roy Moore of Alabama but, more importantly, with our Founding Fathers in the conception of religious liberty and the terribly wrong direction our modern judiciary has taken us in.

"Everyone today seems to think that the U.S. Constitution expressly provides for separation of church and state. Ask any ten people if that’s not so. And I’ll bet you most of them will say ‘Well, sure.’ And some will point out, ‘it’s in the First Amendment.’

“Wrong! Read it! It says, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Where is the word ‘separate’? Where are the words ‘church’ or ‘state.’

“They are not there. Never have been. Never intended to be. Read the Congressional Records during that four-month period in 1789 when the amendment was being framed in Congress. Clearly their intent was to prohibit a single denomination in exclusion of all others, whether it was Anglican or Catholic or some other.

“I highly recommend a great book entitled Original Intent by David Barton. It really gets into how the actual members of Congress, who drafted the First Amendment, expected basic Biblical principles and values to be present throughout public life and society, not separate from it.

“It was Alexander Hamilton who pointed out that ‘judges should be bound down by strict rules and precedents, which serve to define and point out their duty.’ Bound down! That is exactly what is needed to be done. There was not a single precedent cited when school prayer was struck down in 1962.

“These judges who legislate instead of adjudicate, do it without being responsible to one single solitary voter for their actions. Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a brilliant young physician from Pennsylvania named Benjamin Rush.

“When Rush was elected to that First Continental Congress, his close friend Benjamin Franklin told him ‘We need you. . . we have a great task before us, assigned to us by Providence.’ Today, 228 years later there is still a great task before us assigned to us by Providence. Our Founding Fathers did not shirk their duty and we can do no less.

“By the way, Benjamin Rush was once asked a question that has long interested this Senator from Georgia in particular. Dr. Rush was asked, are you a democrat or an aristocrat? And the good doctor answered, ‘I am neither’. ‘I am a Christocrat. I believe He, alone, who created and redeemed man is qualified to govern him.’ That reply of Benjamin Rush is just as true today in the year of our Lord 2004 as it was in the year of our Lord 1776.

“So, if I am asked why – with all the pressing problems this nation faces today – why am I pushing these social issues and taking the Senate’s valuable time? I will answer: Because, it is of the highest importance. Yes, there’s a deficit to be concerned about in this country, a deficit of decency.

“So, as the sand empties through my hourglass at warp speed – and with my time running out in this Senate and on this earth, I feel compelled to speak out. For I truly believe that at times like this, silence is not golden. It is yellow.”

[Note: This February 12, 2004 press release from Senator Zell Miller’s office is very instructive to us in the urgency of our need to address these moral and spiritual problems brought on by a runaway judiciary. Anarchy is resulting.]

+ United Methodist panelists discuss “nature of church”

PITTSBURGH (UMNS) - Noting that Methodism founder John Wesley often warned about the dangers of schism, a United Methodist theologian said he considers this year to be "particularly dangerous" to the unity of the church. “I don’t think it would take that much to tear our church apart,” said the Rev. William Abraham, the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. He cited the crisis in the Episcopal Church, sparked by the ordination of a gay bishop, as an example of the threat to unity. Pointing out that one of the functions of General Conference is to bring people together to dialogue, Abraham said United Methodists must recommit to being connectional. That will involve listening to others, setting aside stereotypes, and speaking in truth and love, he added.

     Abraham was one of four panelists discussing issues that divide and unite United Methodists during a session on "The Nature of the Church" at the Pre-General Conference News Briefing Jan. 29-31 in Pittsburgh. The event, sponsored by United Methodist Communications, was in preparation for the 2004 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, which meets April 27-May 7.

     Who is included and who is excluded in the church also can lead to divisions, according to Courtney Goto, a doctoral candidate at Emory University Graduate School of Religion in Atlanta and a director of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. Goto, who called herself a “longtime beneficiary” of the church's policy of inclusion, said those efforts “have helped heal the chasm that has existed between people of color and the white majority church.” But she also believes that a “shadow culture of exclusion” can be found within the denomination. Getting people to acknowledge “white privilege” is difficult, and it’s easy to use inclusive policies “as an excuse not to examine how power and privilege (are) used in the church,” she said.

      For the Rev. Don Messer, exclusion is what leads to schism. “The issue of excluding gays and lesbians ... cannot be ignored,” he said. “I believe that the essence of the church is inclusion.”

    The Rev. Joy Moore, assistant professor of preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., said disagreement is not necessarily unhealthy, “for it means that discussion is taking place.” But Moore, also a director with the Commission on Christian Unity, thinks theology is being manipulated. “The story we tell becomes the substance that defines us, but we don't tell the story of our church.”

     Bishop Judith Craig, the panel moderator, concluded the session by encouraging those at the briefing to pay attention to the Holy Spirit and be gentle with one another at General Conference. “The nature of the church is just that: the strength of gentle care for each other.”

[Note: Don Messer, the past president of Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and Bishop Craig are very supportive of homosexuality/lesbianism. Craig was one of the “Denver 15” during the 1996 General Conference that publicly opposed church policy on homosexuality.]

 - By Linda Bloom; United Methodist News Service (UMNS); New York {04034}; February 4, 2004.


Stewardship. United Methodist giving dips slightly, trails U.S. recovery

Giving during 2003 by United Methodists was down but only slightly, as contributions lagged behind an improving U.S. economy. The denomination's seven apportioned mission and administrative funds, which had a combined income of $112.4 million, experienced a decrease of less than 0.6 percent compared to 2002, when their total dipped 1.4 percent. Those funds represent the bulk of the general church's budget.

     Six special Sunday offerings, totaling $6.2 million, ended down only 0.2 percent from the year before. Earlier during 2003, the dollar decline had been almost 6 percent for the special Sunday offerings and apportioned funds combined. "The economy appears to be turning around," observed Sandra Kelley Lackore, treasurer of the denomination and top staff executive of the church's General Council on Finance and Administration in Evanston, Ill. "As demonstrated in the past, there appears to be a lag in church giving patterns reflecting economic improvement."

     The finance agency received a total of $148.7 million in churchwide funds last year. That figure represents the apportioned giving, special Sunday collections and other amounts, including appeals for disaster relief. Because the appeals for disaster relief vary from year to year, the finance agency doesn't use the total giving figure for comparison purposes. Church giving to the apportioned funds and special Sunday offerings had increased 2.1 percent in 2001, despite the downward skid already present in the U.S. economy.

     Lackore finds that the expectation of recovery is especially important as the denomination approaches General Conference, April 27- May 7. "After extensive consultation across the church, the council in their budget deliberations made a faith decision to propose a 7 percent increase in connectional ministry funding at a time when the economic recovery had just begun," she said. "This step, along with immediate and long-range actions by our agencies and bishops to cut institutional administrative costs, will free more funding for ministry."

     She noted that in approaching the current year, the bishops had asked that the 8 percent salary increase contained in the church's formula be cut in half. Bishops, spouses and retirees have taken on a portion of the cost of health insurance premiums in 2004. The allowance for the bishops' offices has been held down, and church agencies are looking at collaboration of ministries and consolidation of staff functions and offices.

"The income report for 2003 demonstrates continued support for connectional ministries in the face of local church financial challenges," Lackore said.

     In 2003, World Service, the largest of the churchwide funds, received $60.4 million, a decline of 2 percent. This fund supports the church's worldwide mission and ministry. It and six other funds are apportioned by formula to the annual (regional) conferences to support the denomination's work and administration. The six funds include designated support for Africa University, $2.2 million in 2003; black colleges related to the denomination, $9.5 million; and ministerial education, almost $18 million. These amounts had declined 2, 1 and 0.6 percent, respectively, from 2002.

     Giving to the apportioned administrative funds grew during 2003. Year-end totals were up 2.4 percent, at $14.8 million, for the Episcopal Fund, used by the Council of Bishops; 8.3 percent, at nearly $5.6 million, for the General Administration Fund; and 2.7 percent, to almost $1.9 million, for the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.

     Half of the churchwide special Sunday offerings returned more money in 2003 than in 2002. Peace with Justice Sunday, traditionally the smallest of the six offerings, received $267,589, an increase of 10.1 percent. Human Relations Day increased 4 percent to $631,726. The One Great Hour of Sharing, which supports the work of the denomination's relief and development agency, received almost $3.4 million, up 2.2 percent from the preceding year.

     Giving to Native American Ministries Sunday ($328,106) and to United Methodist Student Day ($538,613) declined 9.7 percent each. World Communion Sunday netted almost $1.1 million, a drop of $38,818 or 3.5 percent.

     The total churchwide giving also included slightly more than $29 million in general Advance Special gifts. This area includes the Council of Bishops' appeals, mission program Advance Specials and specials administered by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Administrative costs associated with these programs are borne by other parts of the church structure, so 100 percent of the contributions go to the designated project or program.

     In addition, the World Service Special Gifts and the Youth Service Fund together received almost $1 million. Like the Advance Specials, these funds are not compared year to year by the agency because contributions can vary widely.

- By Joretta Purdue; UMNS; Nashville {04066}; Feb. 19, 2004.

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The best form of spiritual exercise is to touch the floor regularly with your knees.

 – The Daily Walk, December 4, 1992.


Global Outlook


Ability is the power to do something special –
like speaking several languages –
 or keeping your mouth shut in one.
 – LoveLights newsletter, Jan.-Feb. 2002.
Published by Mrs. Betty Linthicum

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The Episcopal Church.  ECUSA's Financial Shortfall Suggests Widespread Member Disapproval

Donations to the Episcopal Church USA are down this year as local dioceses have withheld or redirected contributions to protest the church's first openly homosexual bishop. The denomination's executive council has been told that revenues are down more than $3 million since New Hampshire's Bishop Vicki Gene Robinson was confirmed six months ago.

Bruce Mason with the American Anglican Council says last year his group accurately predicted that many dioceses would cut back on their pledges to the national church if Robinson was approved. He believes the financial impact will be much greater than the Episcopal Church is reporting right now. "We expected there to be a shortfall," Mason says, "so to hear the Episcopal Church announce that it has a three-million-dollar shortfall -- we question whether or not that's all it is, and would argue that it's early in the year. And by the end, we'll just have to wait and see if their projection was correct."

The American Anglican Council spokesman observes that several dioceses have not yet had their annual conventions or decided what they will do financially. But he believes conservative individuals and congregations are "speaking with their pocketbooks," and sending the message that "we disagree with the direction the church has taken; therefore we're not putting our money into the structure that we consider to be a bad investment." Mason says ECUSA members that are withholding their funds are indicating their belief that the national church has become a bad risk. He says they feel if they give the church their money, "it will be spent unwisely to support a structure that they believe is no longer upholding the historic teachings of the Christian Church and of the Bible." [Note: This is a lesson for our church.]

- By Jim Brown; AgapePress ; February 20, 2004.

Haiti. United Methodist volunteer teams postpone trips to Haiti

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams visits to Haiti in the immediate future are being cancelled or postponed because of growing unrest and violence in that country.  Haiti is one of the most popular destinations for volunteer mission teams from the United States. In a typical year, 80 teams made up of some 700 people go there through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

     The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive at the Board of Global Ministries, said the mission agency is “deeply concerned” about the violence and political instability in Haiti. Violent opposition to the administration of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exploded in mid-February after having smoldered for a long time. Leaders of the Methodist Church of Haiti reported Feb 16 deteriorating political conditions.

     In collaboration with the Haitian church, the agency operates a guesthouse in Haiti for mission volunteers, coordinated by Charles Maddox, a board missionary. Day expressed appreciation to Maddox and President Raphael Dessieu of the Methodist Church of Haiti for their attention to the welfare of the volunteer teams and their efforts to keep the board informed of the general situation on the island.

- By Elliott Wright; UMNS; New York {04063}; February 17, 2004. 


Liberia. Liberia reconstruction proceeds slowly

 With renewed pledges of assistance from donor countries, the reconstruction of war-ravaged Liberia is slowly getting under way. For United Methodists inside and outside that West African nation, reconstruction means restoring basic services at Ganta Hospital, a premier church institution nearly destroyed in the last round of fighting; repairing churches and school buildings; resettling church members and other displaced Liberians and assisting in the reintegration of combatants, particularly child soldiers, into society.

      After the August exile of Liberian president Charles Taylor, who began the country's civil war in 1989, the country is trying to initiate a long-term peace. The Liberian United Methodist Annual Conference is still taking stock of which church property has been damaged over that period, according to Edwin Clarke Jr., conference communications director. "Right now, there is a need for reconstruction of several churches around the country and the resettlement of members who are displaced internally as well as externally," he reported to United Methodist News Service in February. "Most of our schools up country were either looted or burned. These also will have to be reconstructed."

Among the schools damaged are the Arthur F. Kulah School in the town of Virginia, the Henri W. Dennis School in Toopoe Village, and the C.W. Duncan School in Clara Town. The schools suffered looting, and bullets and rocket grenades damaged walls and roofs. United Methodist-related university buildings in Monrovia, located in a battleground between government troops and opposition forces, also need extensive repair. People taking refuge in the buildings used chairs and other furniture for firewood.

      Some of the worst destruction occurred at Ganta Hospital, about 128 miles from the capital city of Monrovia. But Herbert and Mary Zigbuo, missionaries assigned by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, are working to reopen part of the facility by March 15. With the first battalion of U.N. peacekeepers deployed to Ganta on Feb. 2, security has improved in northeastern Liberia.  

     The United Methodist Committee on Relief NGO is assisting the U.N.'s World Food Program with emergency food distribution in Liberia, particularly at camps for displaced people. A container shipment from the agency's Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., has provided health kits, layettes and used clothing. Cox said the agency has a proposal for an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to distribute seed and farm tools in Liberia that is "all but signed" and will work on water and sanitation issues at refugee camps if funding becomes available.

      At a Feb. 5-6 "International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia," hosted by the United Nations in New York, representatives from 96 countries and 45 organizations pledged $520 million to assist with reconstruction and humanitarian needs in Liberia. According to the U.N. news service, the representatives agreed "on an inclusive, community-based approach to reintegration and reconstruction which fully incorporates the needs of all segments of the population affected by the conflict, with special focus on women and children."

     Cox called the plans for disarmament and reintegration "critical for the next step." As a Human Rights Watch report, released Feb. 2, pointed out, donor governments need to fully fund a planned program to demobilize and reintegrate former child soldiers into Liberian society. The report, "How to Fight, How to Kill: Child Soldiers in Liberia," found that both the government and two opposition forces there forcibly recruited boys and girls as young as 9 as soldiers - a violation of the Geneva Convention and a war crime under the International Criminal Court's statute, which Liberia ratified in October. Girl soldiers also suffered from rape and sexual assault.

- Linda Bloom; UMNS; New York {04064}; February 18, 2004.


Russia. Bakery building offers bread of life for Russian congregation

A former bakery in Russia has been transformed into a United Methodist congregation, thanks to the vision of a church in Tennessee. The building housing Perovo (Russia) United Methodist Church is now offering the "bread of life," says the Rev. Galina Gonchukova. The 110-member congregation had been meeting in basements, halls or any space it could rent for the last 10 years.

     Brentwood has had a financial relationship with the Perovo church since the Russian congregation was founded and pays half of the salary for a pastor. In 2000, a Brentwood team visited Perovo, just outside Moscow, and returned to America on fire. The team members were determined to give the Russian church a permanent home.

     Perovo's congregation consists mainly of elderly women living on limited income and with no means of raising money on their own.

 When the first team returned from Russia and told Brentwood's serving team (outreach committee) of the need to send $250,000 to Russia, a few people were more than a little skeptical. "My most important and significant impression came from the opportunity that we all had, which was to be guests in the homes of the church members," says Sandra Miller, part of the team that went to Russia in 2000. Seeing the distance the Russians traveled "just to get to the church was amazing," she said.

     Bishop Ruediger Minor, who oversees the church's Eurasia Area out of Moscow, and the Rev. Lydia Mikailova, then pastor of Perovo, visited Brentwood one Wednesday night in 2001. After they spoke to the church, a love offering of $75,000 was raised. With that offering, the church had raised $150,000 and needed $100,000 more.

     The church decided to focus its 2003 Easter offering on raising funds for a building for the Perovo congregation. Church members were asked by letter to consider giving $80 per household. In part, the letter read: "Our church could take comfort in knowing that many, many others would hear the true message of hope in Christ and His wonderful saving grace. It is not often that our dollars can have such an immediate impact in saving a future generation by bringing them to Christ." The goal was achieved and the money sent to Russia.

     Sabine and Don Barnett traveled to Russia in November to represent Brentwood at Perovo's 10th anniversary celebration. The couple, members of Brentwood, have lived, worked and studied in the former Soviet Union. To see the United Methodist Church flourish there is amazing, Sabine says. "The Russian Orthodox Church is so powerful in Russia, they have so many beautiful buildings, they are a visible sign of the church," she says. "Protestant churches have had a hard time. The Methodist church has a good reputation, but our sister church had no place of their own to met." Despite the need for many repairs, the congregation joyously celebrated its anniversary in the new building, she says.

     "Just the ability to celebrate this anniversary in a place that we can call our own, by God's grace and your help, is a tremendous testimony to the reality of God's work in this world and in our lives," the Rev. Gonchukova said in a letter to the congregation of Brentwood United Methodist Church.

- By Kathy L. Gilbert; UMNS; Nashville; {04055}; February 12, 2004.

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If you are wearing self-righteousness, you are over-dressed.

 – As quoted in LoveLights newsletter, November 2001.