Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

Mystery: Being Able to Question

The mystery: of baseball, of markets, of the opposite sex, of God. 

Why did you bunt, with a man on second and no one out?  All of the questions of the press conference, there were actually two managers giving honest answers.  We now live in an age where candidates, coaches, managers answered less questions.  They arranged and spun events, setting the tone.  So it was refreshing to see Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel in action.      

The loss of access to question was followed by people who quit questioning.  It was the environment we lived in, dominated by former journalists turned public relation specialists.  The environment, the moral one, had changed.  It was a result of moral relativism, decried by agnostics like George Orwell or Christian Evelyn Waugh.   Maybe no one would notice.  But the old-timers did.  They saw limited access in press rooms and locker rooms.  Young journalists took all of this loss of access as the norm. 

The loss of access was part of the the daily llfe of a new generation.  Voice messages, e-mail, might increase communication in one way, but it was one dimensional.  I could manipulate people and time to my advantage.  But did it make people, candidates, less authentic?     

Did anyone else see the irony in lower interest rates, announced by the Fed yesterday?  Wasn’t that easy credit what created this mess in the first place?   Washington was going to be compelling banks to lend, in a new form of fascism?  The Associated Press actually ran this story:

October 28, 2008…..WASHINGTON (AP) — An impatient White House served notice Tuesday on banks and other financial companies receiving billions of dollars in federal help to quit hoarding the money and start making more loans.

“We’re trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Though there are limits on how much Washington can pressure banks, she noted that banks are regulated by the federal government.  “They will be watching very closely, and they’re working with the banks,” she said.  She said that Anthony Ryan, Treasury’s acting undersecretary for domestic finance, delivered a speech in New York on Tuesday that made this point. Ryan spoke to the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.” 

It also was reported, “As the crisis that began in the mortgage market spreads through the economy, policy makers are redoubling their efforts to contain the damage. Even as the Fed reduced rates on Wednesday, the Bush administration was weighing a plan to slow the foreclosure epidemic in the nation’s housing market. Details of the initiative were in flux, but the plan could involve the government guaranteeing the mortgages of as many as three million at-risk homeowners, a step that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, people briefed on the plan said.”

The “why me, Lord?” refrain.  A lot of people sang it in tough times.  Few sang it in good times.  In an affluent time, too many of use just ate, drank, and were married without realizing all of the ingredients put into the food, and from where those ingredients had come.

At some point in a budding relationship, there was hope to find out and put an end to the wonder of what was behind this body.   To see someone naked was move to the next step.  But the real mystery involved responding to a fidelity, to the wonder of nakedness.  It seemed nothing but attempting to feel a lover’s soul. 


With all of the questioning, there are promises made, tested, and kept. In the end, maybe at a funeral, maybe at the end of a season, you see how God has proven faithful.  And for those who survive a deadly illness, an addiction, there is a question of response.  As in any loving relationship, there is a necessity of laying down the proper way to respond to this fidelity.  


With mysteries, it was all about the daily questioning. 

Trick or Treat?

Trick or treat.  Who is that?  Identity!  Halloween was all about identity. 


I went to bed 6 hours ago reading a bit from Elie Wiesal’s book.  Wiesal discusses God in the the story of Noah, finding God in the developing story asking Himself, “Who am I?”  We were here to provide the answer.  People were.  If God was love, it was the lover who helped identify and provide the answer.  The story of Noah showed God’s struggle to establish His own identity, just as His people struggled in the same way with their identity.  And it was heartening to know that my struggle was God’s struggle. 


The story of Noah:  God still fully engaged in the world, in those days before he bowed out to a seat in the audience to watch His creation.  Fully conscious in this story of the goings-on in His world.  The divorced man or woman could fully identify with this story of a love gone bad.  God set out only to save His relationship with Noah and, what is unstated, Noah’s wife.   


There was a younger Jesuit, under 35, at the Jesuit Retreat House this year.  He spoke only at the morning prayer service at 7:30 am on the final morning.  He made a comment that stuck in my throat.  “God does not need us.”  He must have gotten the line out of a book or from some theology instructor.  And I thought he was so wrong.  The struggle in identity, in God’s, in mine, is in the search for a lover, and once selected to continue developing with that other human, that need.  To suggest that God did not really need me or my love was a developmental  blindness of either youth or his celibacy.


I went to bed 6 hours ago reading a bit from Elie Wiesal’s book.  Elie was always asking questions, like a little kid in Hebrew School.  It struck me that this questioning is part of the beauty of Judaism.  This was the original whodunit.  The answer in the whodunit was of course, God.  The joy was reading the mystery.  People kept buying the Agatha Christie novels, the Nancy Drew Mysteries, the Hardy Boys.  Year after year.  It was all in the questioning, the search for answers.  Men and women never could have enough of these mystery novels, in their own search, as a guide.  Just as from age to age, from east to west, men and women went in search of a lover. 

Ultimately, Halloween was all about the identity of someone else.  The someone else we aspired to be.  It originally seemed based on the notion of a saint, or the spirit of a saint.   Life’s lesson, the answer to the question (Trick or treat?), was one of identity, and  ultimately the mystery was about finding out who I was meant to be.   And God did need me, in all of this.  Otherwise the world was going to be a worse mess.

The Motion of the Ocean



I never thought it would come down to this.  I had to announce, no thongs in class, girls.  Not that anyone would be checking. Or should I say, I would not be checking. 


For the Jewish world, a new year has begun and people have returned to their everyday lives.  The Day of Atonement is over for now.  Seldom are the results ever published but most of us have resumed the activities that separate us from God.  In dramatic circumstances, they are called addictions and require treatment.  In less critical matters, everyday life continues.  Aristotle said the unexamined life was not worth living.  If he was a Jew or a Roman Catholic, he might suggest a closer examination, investigating for the causes of our sins.  


There was a temperature of the ocean created by the American public school system, without God, called moral relativism.  The consequences were some kind of inner global warming, affecting the body temperature of everyone.  How were the consequences gauged?   Was it how much an individual woman felt needed.  The soul-searching at middle age by a woman, and the resulting depression?  What was missing?  What was it about in this newly urban world that had changed in 100 years?  If a study was ever conducted, I would expect the findings to conclude it was all about love, about feeling needed in this very urban world.  It was about the changing roles in modern life. 


The temperature of the sea of morality had changed, with moral relativism.  What happened when kids did not believe in their ideals, and the self-worth to maintain those ideals?  My hypothesis was the resulting depression was one result of moral relativism, what the French called malaise.  What was missing?  Was it a result of a restlessness within?  Is this what?  Were people really looking for God, even without belief, but they did not know it? 


It was all about the mystery found between the lines of the Torah, and an interest in that mystery.  One sign of moral relativism was a lost interest in things, one of the indicators of clinical depression.     


By now scientists had discovered that the ocean had an effect on the air.  Both had an effect on beachware.  They were all connected.  So were we. 


In one sense, those thongs were all about love, about feeling needed in this very urban world.  It was all about global warming.  

To Know God: The Syllabus

His character explodes around us every day.



To know God.
It is not possible to like, to love anyone unless you first know them. The greatest gift passed down by a mother, a father, a teacher, is about this God. In the secular world, only the luckiest of us got to attend parochial schools…and hear the stories.


The New Millennium was so much fear based.  If I read the newspapers correctly, there had been no cease fire declared in the War on Terror.  So this was like it was to live in the North of Ireland for all those years. 


Fear.  If I overcame fear, there then was heroism.  Fear only froze me to inaction.  Knowledge made me act.  In the secular world, in the information age of digital television, of soccer moms and remote control, fear was everywhere.  And the hell with freedom.      


To know God.  If I would ever sign up to teach a class on God, what they called the rites of initiation in the church I belonged, I would have a fairly simple syllabus.  It would be an introduction to God.  And it would involve a combination of a literature with a theology class.


To know someone well certainly erases a lot of fear.  So class, read just the Book of Genesis.  Acquire 3 books.  We will begin with one chapter from Writers on Writing.  The first assignment involves the one chapter in this book called “reading” written by Richard Ford.  Yes, he is the Ford who later wrote Independence Day and won the Pulitzer Prize.   Writers on Writing was written in 1991 and was published by Bread Loaf Anthology.  Ford begins by stating that he really learned to read at the age of 25 as he prepared to teach English in college.  He had to teach and explain to his students, who demanded relevancy in everything, how to read carefully. After all, young people are in the relevancy business.  Ford’s problem was teaching about character, point of view, to a bunch of people who were as excited to be in his class as they might be visiting the dentist.  Such is the challenge of a theology professor.  


That syllabus, class, also includes God: A Biography.  The author is Jack Miles.  He too won a Pulitzer Prize, but for this book.  He approaches God, as presented in those 30 foot scrolls of the Torah, the Old Testament, as one developing character.  He shows the growth and change of the character, God, from the story in the Book of Genesis through the Book of Job.  Both of the cited authors present characters by having you answer for yourselves the questions:  How did he affect you?  Did he frighten you?  Did you love him?  What was he after?   Did he change much during the time that you knew him?  What most impressed you about him?


And finally, in the final weeks we will concentrate on the story of Noah, in the days before God becomes half conscious of the goings on in the world. You will need to acquire the book Sages and Dreamers by Elie Wiesal.  Yes.  Wiesal.  He, too, a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for the novel, Night, and a Nobel Prize winner.  Yes.  Noah, swimming in the polluted air of the earth that had occurred over 10 generations.  This is the account of the second creation.  Ford, Miles, and Wiesal will show that it is not so much the answers as the questions that help lead you to God in your personal life. 


Noah, living in wicked times.  Noah, who is all that others are not.  All others die, yet he lives.  The crimes of humanity, the corruption, which Noah was above, are never explained in the lines.  Who did what to whom?  Not one crime is cited, not one criminal.  It was like reading ancient history, the story of Noah, and kids have little interest in ancient history.  But the mystery was, the questions were between the lines.  How could God resent the lack of faith when it had yet to have been passed down?  It was thought that Noah was the just man of his generation.  Jewish commentary often cites the Just Man.  If Noah lived in other times, would he have attained this leadership role?  What did he do to deserve this role?  Little is ever said.  All that the Good Book says is that Noah submits to God’s will and nothing more.  God has chosen to talk to him.  Creation had become chaos. 


Creation. When Your work product was directed at this thing summed up in one word as Creation. Maybe, class, you should have had a bit of William Shakespeare, seen the play or the movie “Hamlet,” to appreciate the dilemma presented in the famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be.” About the conflict in the story about the inheritance of the family kingdom by a prince, between a public life and a personal life. The conflict over your part in the cast in the outside world, with your home life and those who knew you best. The conflict over the pursuit of the kingdom and the maintenance thereof, with fertility — of either your significant other’s, or your spouse’s. The fertility that you tried to control, just as your tried to plan your own future. It would be what you would leave behind, way beyond your control.


The first times. Doing things the first time. Like Noah having to pair up all the animals.


“What about the pigeons, Noah? Are we really gonna pair up the pigeons?”
“Yeah, we better pair up the pigeons. It is said already that God works in mysterious ways. Even through the pigeons.””


Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, wrote that an unanswered question is a fine traveling companion which sharpens the eye for a journey.  Too often an answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. The mystery was in the questions.  The mystery of the Torah was to be found in the questions between the lines, much like in the lives you set off to live.  The Torah, where the past is connected to the present and to the future life as a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by, has no such stopping places.  


Free will, children of soccer moms, and its application in the way of civil rights and the freedoms connected to human rights come from God and are explained in the stories of the Torah.  You might want to get to know the stories and the main character.  Before the questions on the final exam.

“Feeling secure in one’s ‘papers’ in a paperless world,” said Captain Obvious. “How did we ever miss this one before?”


Changing Color

That tree outside my bedroom window was turning a glorious red.  And it only became evident, was witnessed, in the morning.  Births. Joy.  Deaths. Fear.  Why? 


Sunrise. Sunset. Asian markets. Highs and lows.  Spring.  Autumn.  The gods of government trying to control everything, even things that cannot be controlled.  Global warming.  Market meltdowns. 


Eyes: Just walking views.  Where did you go?  What did you see?  Today!  Imagine life without vision of this world which changes each day. 


The age of 18—the O. Henry story.  Hunting.  Survival.  Intertwined with the 18-year old near the end of formation when attractions are there…, women.  Jobs.  Drawn to someone after you are formed.  The excitement.  The wonder.  To never lose the sense of excitement of a child over the world.  Whether it was nature or the the things associated with the animal kingdom. 


“You bear witness.”  You carry your witness from one generation to the next.  What did you see? 


Sunrise. Sunset. The beginning.  The end. 


“I am the Alpha and the Omega.”  God was there.  Always. 

Night Noise

Seeing God in all things.

Listening to a good priest who had found his God, his own place in the world, and once again how the world was all related to these sacred stories. 

Iceland.  Redeemed by Russia yesterday. 

The library.  The stories of the war in Asia.  Heroism.  Survival in the Phillipines.  Good verssus bad.  Suffering.  Redemption. 

The simple part of Grace.  Sunday night dinner.  Not just the food.  This day.  Every day.  The morning shower, when so many did not have one.  Soldiers.  The simple things that I had taken so much for granted that are there each day.  Love.  Food.  Me.  God. 

Garbage disposals.  This would be the week to finally call a plumber.  Movements of garbage disposal covers.  News at 11.  Fear at 11:30.

Elie Wiesel on the story of Noah.

Sleep.  Noise. Crash.  Fear in the night.   Garbage disposals?  Mice?  Rats?  The unknown.  Rolling over to sleep.  Tripping over golf clubs at 7 am.  It was only golf clubs at the end of another season.  Seeing God in all things, in the morning.

God Bless America

In the modern world, a blessing had become only symbolic. But it still involved the traditions of a family. In the past, in the world before television, the blessing WAS the legacy. It had involved a moral vision.

In the televised world with sponsors, with 120 channels to choose from, the world had come apart. Children of television saw the needs that generations of people who went before us never knew existed.

This week there would be the last televised debate, uninterrupted. America was looking for a leader who had been blessed by a spirit of the past that involved a moral vision. In my view, neither candidate showed much to date that they could carry on a tradition. While in the Senate, these two senators, both who employed a staff that was paid to help them see things, had missed a lot. They both were 2 leader who failed to guide the country with a moral vision. They might be forgiven for time restraints that involved gathering the funding to participate in this $1 billion presidential campaign.

At the last debate we heard one candidate speak of a crisis of confidence. Today there is a story about the crisis on Wall Street which has become the issue of Election 2008. There was a quote from Kevin Giddis, head of fixed-income trading at Morgan Keegan, who was trying to explain what had happened. He said. “I think we’re dealing with more confidence than substance.” With $560 trillion that was written by the 5 investment banking houses, Mr. Giddis, the confidence in people like you has been lost and is not coming back.

It was the derivative, market, stupid. Wall Street has with campaign 2008 stained everyone. It was no longer subprime mortgages, Mr. Giddis. What don’t you get Mr. Giddis?

The financial media has finally explained the goings-on in Washington and Wall Street since September 15th. Here are the Cliff Notes, Mr. Giddis, Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain. There were 5 investment banking houses not being regulated by the Securities Exchange Comminssion. The parties were Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs. The current Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, as well as the former Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, were CEOs at Goldman Sachs. During their reign at Goldman Sachs, the derivative market exploded. Paulson’s background includes rising through the ranks of Goldman Sachs since 1974, becoming a partner in 1982, co-head of investment banking in 1990, chief operating officer in 1994, and forcing out his co-chairman Jon Corzine in 1998, in what Floyd Norris of the New York Times termed a “coup,” taking over the post of CEO. (In 1970, Paulson entered the Nixon administration fresh from Harvard Business School Masters program, working first as staff assistant to the assistant secretary of defense and then as office assistant to John Erlichman in 1972-73.) Paulson is a Republican. Rubin is a Democrat advising Obama.

There now is a battle of ideology going on between the credit markets and the equity markets. In the current envirnment, no matter the moves put on by Henry Paulson, a son of Wall Street, banks were not buying in. That was why credit markets froze. Bankers have always been conservatives. They were not buying into the social engineering on capitalism. It was not, Mr. Giddis, an issue “more confidence than substance.” Bankers neither trust the balance sheet of another bank nor the government. Nor do I.

Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, apparently thinks the Fed lower interest rates, exactly what created this mess, was going to send the equity markets up. The truth was there really any not arrows left in the quiver to policy makers, as they had all been used, apparently for political purposes.

Those traditions of a family: Read again the story of Isaac as he tried to pass on his tradition, his moral vision, to one of his sons. The question was which son.

A blessing was about making ME holy. Isaaac knew that. The meaning was not a wish. It was not an expression of astonishment or surprise like with a sneeze, as my unabridged dictionary suggested.

This crisis was not just about a failure of leadership. It was the system that was televised. The televised world with its 120 channels, all dominated by political ads, used to provide a place where one soap company could argue with another which could remove the stains the best , which could wash your hair the best. Now there were 50 feet rows of shampoos and 50 foot rows of laundry detergent. And in the end there really was not much difference, only a brand name, and issues of soap bubbles. Only some brands charged more for it brand name and soap bubbles. The cost of those commercials had been passed along, and many soap companies paid stores for preferential placement.

The 2 presidential candidates never had a vision of the developing problem as they focused on taxing power. Both had been in Washington for all of this, watching. Maybe like most of us, they just watched on television. They might have been too busy to realize that there is not enough money to fund health care with the recent crash. There is not enough money for tax cuts. There is not enough money to be waging war.

It was a new age for soap, with old ideas, old arguements. But plenty of shelf space. Those soap bubbles had burst too. It was time to come clean. God bless America.

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A Spoon Full of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down

Who was it that said, “A British bank is run with precision”? 


Money is the medium of exchange.  ”Valuation is in people’s minds,” Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale, explained. ”Prices just record a measure of what people think the stock market is worth.  What the people who are willing to trade today are actually trading at.  So we’re just extrapolating that and thinking, well, maybe that’s what everyone thinks it’s worth.”  The notion is a “fallacy” that you lose a pile of money whenever a market tanks.  He says that a stock price, a home value, has never been the same thing as money.  It is simply the ”best guess” of what a stock, a home, is worth.  There is no real money from a savings account in a bank.  Modern humanity knows it is loaned out.  We have always lived a life of illusion. 


Clearly the message of the markets in 2008 is that there was too much credit around.  George Soros was on television last night.  He is a financial wizard who, it is said in one 24 hour period, made more than $1 billion in the currency exchange markets when the pound sterling was falling, I think, in the early 1990s.  He commented that prevailing moods, in any times, are unsustainable.  He was talking about optimism.  He was talking about pessimism.


This weekend there was a meeting of the G7.  What you do not hear clearly explained is the battle of ideology going on between the credit markets and the equity markets.  If the credit markets unfreeze, reflected in the LIBOR rates that banks loan money to  banks, then inflation will soon return.  Money loaned at low interest promoted that public policy.  In the current environment, no matter the moves put on by Henry Paulson, a son of Wall Street, banks were not buying in.  That was why credit markets froze.  Bankers have always been conservatives.  They were not buying into the social engineering on capitalism.  They neither trusted another bank’s balance sheet nor the government.  “In short, you’ve got a ghastly mess!”      


This month in Minnesota, Tom Petters, one of our own, has been in the news.  For more than 13 years he has been in the business of taking over liquidated companies –it would seem that he was ready to thrive in current times –and selling their products.  If the allegations which have been made, his was a business that was based all on illusion.  The timing of his indictment seems ironic. 


A study is out today, that life expectancies are so high—this is as good as it gets.  Life expectancies can not go much higher.  Why did I feel this way all week?


In the markets, if the G7 nations somehow nationalize banks to free up money, monetizing this bad debt, then inflation will return as never before seen.  Ultimately, the affect would be deflation if the LIBOR rate holds, or alternatively hyperinflation.  That was the ongoing battle. What will it be?     


Nationalizing banks was one solution to Wall Streets battle with the credit markets.  Governments could then start loaning money, competing with those bankers of a different ideology about capitalism and trustworthiness.  In the current campaign for president in the United States, those old-time bankers had no dog in the fight.  At this point I trusted them a lot more than the people pulling the puppet strings. 


The lesson of this month is that true value lies in the heart of those you know, when you cannot trust the leaders of government, the leaders of Wall Street, the ideology of both, which has been about as transparent as the lobbyists and the motives that support them.


Those credit makets seem to finally be saying it was all about real relationships. 


In the mean time I was feeling a lot like George Banks when he was singing “A Man Has Dreams,” in the closing scene of ‘Mary Poppins.’   

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Acts of Contrition

“I don’t want you remembering my sins,” I told my friend who was a priest. And it struck me, that God did not want to remember them either.

Words about a relationship: movement, waiting, change, patience. Old age.

I realized at the age of 23 and ever since, that I always was having difficulty with the things closest to me —from trying to address a business concern in Arthur, North Dakota when I lived in Fargo, to seeing them but not getting to the things so close. It would be so easier tomorrow. I would get around to it.

Patience: God waiting for a response. A girl I had thoughts of marrying once. Until I was moved inside. So here I was, born incomplete, imperfect, in need of something. Bored, restless.

I was headed into my cave this weekend to go on retreat. It was odd that when it came to civilization, that history did not view the cave man as advanced. Yet all men still were cavemen, in need of reflection about the important relationships in their lives. Cave men, old men, young men.

To find fullness, I had to realize my own need to be healed. A shaman was a healer who had God-like powers, when the doctor takes on the role of priest in the Amazon. And with healing as either a priest or a doctor, a miracle was happening. Or was it just hocus-pocus? To view it in others, using magic potions made from the bark of trees, or to see it in the relationships of my life, is to be moved, to change.

So there I was, distracted, having difficulty with the things closest to me. I was distracted from my God, always having difficulty with the things closest to me—The penitent who forgot what was important, seeing things, even these sins, a part of me I was not proud of, avoiding getting at the truth about me. Distracted from my God –a good definition of sin.

So this forgiveness: Was it just another hocus-pocus? In the words of the Creighton Jesuit, Andy Alexander:

“Jesus was here reshaping what the Chosen People thought about God, taking people into a deeper sense of who God is and therefore, who they are called to be. And in comes the transformation of the sense of what kind of relationship God wants to have with them. IN comes the sacrament of Reconciliation. “You have heard it said … but, I say to you …”

I saw it in the growth last year of trees that had been planted here in what seemed 2003. Those trees, their bark. The shaman was at work, even on me. What really had changed was that I had learned to pray here. And I was beginning to see God in all things, like I had never seen before. Even with the things closest to me.

Jesus continued after the Resurrection this reshaping what the people had heard and what they had learned. After the Resurrection, in the garden, hearing the same words of Jesus that he had asked of the apostles when he met them, only this time to Mary as he wiped away her tears: WHO IS IT THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?

When I started going on retreat, I used to approach sacrament of Reconciliation with reluctance. It was a vanity. It was called arrogance in men, visible with age. I had once said to a priest, a friend: “I don’t want you remembering my sins.” And it struck me that God did not want to remember them either. That was the part about me that has changed.

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O LORD of hosts, You who test the just, Who probe minds and hearts, I offer You today reparations for my sins, as I begin to truly amend my life.  There were living consequences to what I have done, to what I have failed to do.  I have learned of some and then seen those consequences  …in the real world. 


In seeking forgiveness for my selfishness, help me grow in love, Lord, for and with others, for and with the seen and the unseen, as You always intended.  Help me see You in all things in this journey today.   I will try harder, Lord, as this is just the start, and real atonement was an ongoing process.  And I ask, Lord, that You keep on probing minds and hearts this day, touching me, touching others, changing this broken world that we might, You through me, address the suffering in the world.


I will try, Lord, to increase my awareness of You throughout this day so that reconciliation was not just a momentary thing in my life.  In reparation for my sins, I today only begin to amend my life, for I am heartedly sorry. 


Because a simple apology was not gonna do it any more, O Lord, I offer You my prayer, my work, my joy and my suffering this day as I try to count the quantity of reparations that I owe You.  And I owe You everything.