A Canadian’s Open Letter to my American LGBT Family

 

During this Canada Day, Independence Day week, I just wanted to take a few minutes to welcome my brothers and sisters in the United States to Marriage Equality. It’s been a week of turbulent emotions, from joyous elation, to tears, anger, and, unfortunately, some hatred. We’ve done it, and some are angry.

As a Canadian, who has had the right to marry a person I love, regardless of gender, for a decade now, let me tell you what’s going to happen in the U.S. People will get married. That’s it. (Bet you were hoping for some long winded diatribe on “us vs. Them.)

The nay-sayers, the doomsday prophets, the haters were wrong. It’s not the end of humanity. The universe will not implode on itself, lightning will not strike down happy couples on their wedding day, plagues will not strike your country, the sun will still rise and set, etc. Couples will get married. That’s it.

The fireworks this week, will take on a whole new feeling. One of equality, unity, a single spirit, two countries joined together, to quote President Obama: “A MORE perfect union.” In my opinion, this unites us, not just as neighbours, but as a North American family. And we, in Canada, share in your joy.

Make no mistake, however. There are some that will continue to wish you harm. In their anger over “losing” this battle, they may feel emboldened to strike out more than before. Please be careful, and watchful.

To all the allies, who helped bring this about, Thank You. Two words are not enough to show appreciation for your care and help, but until the invitations start being mailed out, they’re all we have. Without your acceptance, and support, this may have been an even longer battle. You are truly a vital part of our family.

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do. There are still states in which you can lose your job simply because you’re LGBT. Discrimination is still rampant. States are coming up with creative ways to duck SCOTUS’s ruling, using “religious exemptions.” There are any number of ways that true equality is being kept from us. These are the things we still have to work for. And work we will. I’m realistic enough to know that we will never fully eradicate hatred and discrimination, but I still hang on to the hope that we can.

Enough about how much we have to do, this is a time of celebration. This year, Independence Day has a new meaning. The U.S. can celebrate Independence, as a nation where all men, and women, are created truly equal. Revel in this. It’s your right, and your due. Launch your rainbow coloured fireworks, fly your flag with joy, enjoy every minute.

And once again, Welcome to Equality! It’s a great place to live.

Oh, and send me a message for my address. I expect invitations!

Ken

Is There a “War on Christianity?”

Once again, we’re being bombarded with stories and complaints about the supposed “War on christianity.” All over, there are stories of people using “religion-based” bigotry. When called out on this bigotry, suddenly they complain that THEY are the ones being persecuted.

For example:

Memories Pizza. This is a family run business that very blatantly said that they wouldn’t cater same sex weddings due to their “beliefs.” (First question, What self respecting gay couple would want their wedding catered by a pizza joint?) When called out on their hatred, they “closed their doors, for fear of retribution from the hordes of angry gays.” Somehow, they were able to raise almost a million dollars through crowd-funding!

Tom DeLay: “I have a ‘right’ to not serve gay sinners because they ‘undermine’ my religious liberty.”

His complaint is that the “Gay Agenda” is out to squash “religious liberty.” Ummmmm…does he not take into account, or does he simply choose to ignore, the incredibly large number of LGBT people of faith?

An article in a publication called “Right-Wing News” by a guy named Warner Todd Huston, starts out with: “We are seeing it nearly every day, lately–Christians in our own country being attacked by radicals. And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is exactly right when he says that Christians now need legal protection for their religious expression.” In the article, he does a fairly good job defending Jindal’s “defense” of his states RFRA, but ends the piece with this gem: “The left’s goal is to outlaw Christianity and they intend to do it through misusing our own laws against us. Liberals want freedom for everyone… unless you are a Christian.”

True, I am currently considered an atheist, but I was raised in a christian family. In fact, I held on to my faith into my late forties. Most of my family still hangs on to their belief, and I have some dear friends who are staunch and TRUE christians. I’m not an idiot when it comes to knowing what christianity is “supposed” to be about. What i do know is this. Anyone who feels the need to use their faith as a weapon against any other person, is NOT a christian. You’ve taken what the person you pretend to worship, taught, and you’ve perverted it to your own warped translation. The “Christ” I was taught about, as a child, was a man of love, forgiveness, redemption. Not hate, discrimination, anger. He never said that you should force your will on anyone, in fact he said quite the opposite. “If anyone will not welcome you, or listen to your words, then leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet.” Matthew 10:14

But let’s get to the REAL story here, that of this so-called war on “christianity.” Let’s take a quick peek back through history.

The Crusades. How many were killed by good “christian” knights simply for being born in a muslim country, and for trying to keep what they considered “their” “holy land” from the “infidels?” True, they fought back, and killed off countless Crusaders, but, what did you expect?

The Inquisition(s): This is a great one! Millions, yes millions, tortured and killed while being forced to accept the supremacy of “the church.” Forced into conversion at the point of a sword. Yup. That’s real godly love for ya.

The first explorers of the New World: Columbus in the Caribbean, Cortez in Mexico, and Central America, the list goes on. All used the bible to justify the subjugation and murder of, in some cases, entire races.

We can go through slavery, the subjugation of women, Adolph Hitler’s “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.”

But let’s move ahead to what has been called “The Civil Rights Movement of Our Generation.”

This has been a fight that’s been coming since the dawn of religion. The Gay-Rights Movement. There, I’ve said it. For millenia, LGBT people have been belittled (at best) down-trodden, beaten, and at worst murdered, simply because they were born differently from religious norms. For most of that time, it has gone on without a fight. Over the last few decades, a few brave LGBT people have stood up and said “Enough.” These were followed by a growing number of people who found strength by their example. Add in our allies, and now we’re a force to be reckoned with. There are enough LGBT activists that we are noticed on the world’s political stage. Hell, when the President of the USA talks about you in his inauguration speech, you know you’ve grown up! In my opinion, this scared the hell out of the people who have been walking all over the LGBT community for ever. More and more, we’re hearing from different religious leaders that homosexuality is NOT a thing to be despised. We KNOW the the bible verses used by right-wing religious people are fundamentally flawed in their translation. But they continue to use them.

Now that the LGBT community is actually gong toe-to-toe with the religious right, they’ve become defensive. Their rallying cry is this: “They’re using their “Gay Agenda” to step on my “religious freedoms!” No we’re not. You still have your “religious freedoms” but fortunately the laws of North America are based NOT on the bible, but on the constitutions of both Canada and the United States, and both those constitutions guarantee “HUMAN Rights.” We ALL have the right to exist, freely, openly, and in celebration of whatever defines us. As an atheist, I too have the right to “religious freedom,” the only difference being, I have the right to freedom FROM religion.

So there you have it. The “War on christianity” isn’t even real. If there’s a war on anything, it’s a war on hatred, anger, and discrimination, whether religiously-based or not. Having said that, if your version of christianity include hatred, bigotry and discrimination, I, for one, am a very willing soldier in the war on YOU!

Thanks

Ken

An Ex-Christian Sounds Off on the So-Called Christians Who Drove Him Away

(As I write this, another article about the churches in a small town refusing to allow the funeral of a young man, simply because of his sexual orientation crossed my feed.  I had to stop and take a break, in order to avoid allowing anger to colour my writing.)

Before we begin, let me start by saying this is NOT an attack on Christianity.  If I was more versed on other religions, I would include them in this blog.

How, exactly does an ex-Christian human rights activist respond to “Christian love?”  By putting those two words in quotations, I’m talking about the vitriolic hatred and bigotry thrown out so may by Christian extremists like Mike Huckabee, the American Family Association, and their former mouthpiece, Brian, (who we definitely haven’t heard the last of.) and of course our buddy Pat Robertson, who hates everyone who’s not an old, ‘Murican, Christian man, like him.  I’m not going to waste anyone’s time, or brain cells quoting these “loving” individuals, we all know what they’ve had to say, and continue saying.

First, some personal background.  I grew up in a Christian family, I counted myself as a believer for the vast majority of my life.  Sadly, I watched the faith I grew up with, one that taught Love, change to a religion that preached that anyone different was to be treated with distrust, and even to be hated.  This was one of the major reason I turned my back on faith, and religion as a whole.  When Canada’s Supreme Court was hearing arguments about Marriage Equality, more than ten years ago, pastors, ministers, priests, etc., were shouting from their pulpits about how gay people were out to destroy Canada.  The “sanctity” of marriage was being threatened.  Read the headlines in states where Equality is being debated, they’re the same tired arguments that we had here.  Extremists have claimed ownership of an institution that vastly predates their religion.

Throughout my life, I was taught to treat others the way I would like to be treated.  This has stuck with me.  It’s my conviction that everyone deserves respect, has value, and has a reason to be here, on earth.  I give to, and support others, not because of a promise of reward, (eternity in heaven) or the threat of punishment if I don’t, (eternity in hell) but simply because it’s the right thing to do.  This is the only life I’m going to get, I want to make the best of it.

So, how do we answer them?  We do it by picking up the weapon they throw at us, and using it as a shield.  For every one of the six bible verses that speak (in certain interpretations) against homosexuality, and Equality, there are a number of verses that speak of Love.  Let’s look at a few.

John 13:34   “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

I’ve spoken about this verse in a previous blog.  In my opinion, this means unconditionally loving each other.  Jesus didn’t say “Love one another, except people whose lifestyle you don’t like.” He simply said “love each other,” wholly, completely, and without condition or exception.

Mark 12:30  “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Again…wholly, completely, and without condition or exception.  Yes, admittedly, there are things about ourselves we may not “love” completely, but as Christians, you are commanded to Love your neighbor.  You’re not allowed to pick and choose which neighbor you love, just told to love them ALL.

John 8:7 “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

Who, among the huge number of “Christians,” is without sin?  No body.  Not one.  ‘Nuff said.

Matthew 7:1-3 “1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Who are you to judge?  Who are you to decide what is and isn’t a “sin?”  How dare you?  How can you put yourself in the place of the god you purport to follow, and decide the fate of another person?  If you’re looking for something negative in people, look no further than the closest mirror.  You have no qualms about calling out other people’s differences, yet you can’t even see the faults in yourself.  This is a verse about karma.  That which you give out, will come back to you.  Try to remember that.

Matthew 25:40 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

This is the big one.  This is the one that these Christian tyrants seem to forget.  He’s not just talking about the good things you do for people.  This isn’t just about how you lift people, about what sort of, in any, charitable work you do.  This is also about the damage you do.  If you belittle, degrade, or harm another person, you’re doing the same thing to the one person you claim to follow.  So for every LGBT church member, or the members of their family, you bar from your churches, for every gay or transgender whose funeral you refuse to allow in your church, for every kid you force into “conversion therapy,” you’re doing the same thing to Jesus. Is that what you mean to do?

These verses are in my opinion, the real definition of what it is to be a follower of “Christ.”  The people that truly live by them are to me, what Christians should be.  On the other hand, people who use their translation of the bible as a weapon, deserve no respect.  It infuriates me to read that women should be kept in their place, their reproductive rights should be decided by a male dominated government, that LGBT people are “less than” and don’t deserve the same rights as straight people.  (Comments like these have been stated by a number of “men of God.”) What inspires me, is the (slowly) growing number of people of faith that are openly supporting Human Rights. (of all kinds)

Cory Booker said it best:  “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show me in how you treat people.  Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”

My addition to his quote:  “Show me you DESERVE to be called a Christian” and someday, I might want might want to be called one again, too.

Ken

The Forgotten Victim

The recent suicide of Leelah Alcorn, and the release of her suicide note brought into the limelight, the horror that trans teens of religious, transphobic families live with.  We read with anguish about the way her parents denied who and what she was.  How they took her to their church-based therapists to try to convert her.  How this “therapy” simply increased her self-loathing.  Unfortunately, we know the rest of the story.  Leelah walked nearly four miles to a busy freeway, and stepped in front of a semi.

Leelah’s parents subsequently issued a statement saying how much they loved their “son,  Joshua,”  saying that he was killed in a “terrible accident.”. They continued to deny their daughter, including her choice to end her life.  They asked for privacy, while they mourned.  Rumour has it her funeral has been moved to a “secret” location for fear of protests.

I’m choosing not to place blame in this blog.  After reading Leelah’s note, it’s quite evident what her reasoning was.  I will, however, encourage everyone to sign one of the petitions for the enforced end of so-called “conversion therapy.”

So I mourn for Leelah.  A child denied by her parents, not only in life, but in death.  A beautiful young girl, being buried dressed in a suit, and under a tombstone with a name she turned her back on.

I mourn for her parents.  As a father, I can’t imagine burying one of my own children.  I can’t comprehend what they must be feeling when they know that they are the main reason their child decided to take her own life.

My heart breaks for her siblings.  As a member of a large family, I have been lucky enough that my brothers and sisters are still around.  The thought of losing one of them to suicide is something that I would never want to entertain.  I hope they find some peace.

As someone who lost people dear to me to suicide, my heart goes out to Leelah’s friends.  I know well the thoughts of “what could I have done to help.”  Those who did support her did what they could, but the guilt will remain.

As someone who has come close to suicide, I mourn that Leelah wasn’t able to find the help she needed.  As a young, troubled teen, she likely figured it wasn’t available to someone in her situation.  It is.  Make no mistake, there is help out there for trans teens.  See the list at the end of this blog.

Through all of this, however, I have yet to read about the “other victim.” There is someone else involved here, that nobody seems to acknowledge.

I’m talking about the driver of the semi.  Little is known, or has been reported about him, other than his name, and that he’s a 39 year old from Kentucky.  So far, there are no charges pending against him.  He was minding his own business, just another day on the job.  Now he has to live with a kid stepping in front of his truck.

My son brought this to my attention with the phrase “It wasn’t fair of her to get someone else to kill her.” In a way, I agree with him.  Was it “fair” of Leelah to use a semi, driving along a highway as her weapon of choice for her suicide?

It’s a given, that in most cases, suicidal people aren’t thinking that their actions may cause harm to people they don’t even know.   In the feelings of despair and hopelessness of a suicidal period, the possible consequences to others rarely enter the mind.  Suicide is personal.  You ARE thinking about yourself.  Your mind is taken up by the fact that your burdens are so heavy, you simply can’t carry them any more.  To a suicidal person, ending your life is the only way to put those burdens down.

My hope is that the man who was driving the truck gets help.  He’s going to need it.  His life is forever altered, and he’s going to need all the strength and support that can be given to him.

For anyone who may be in a position similar to Leelah’s, and needs help, there are a number of resources available to you.

In Canada:

http://suicideprevention.ca/

In the U.S.:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Worldwide:

https://www.facebook.com/wipeouttransphobia?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ST0PH0M0PH0BIA?fref=ts

My Christmas Wish List 2014

Usually, at this time of year, I sit and reflect on the passing year. Highlights, celebrations, accomplishments, etc. This year, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach. I want to look forward, instead of back.

Usually, during the holidays, I like to sit and reflect on the past year. Highlights, celebrations, accomplishments, etc. This year, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach. I’m going to spend most of my time here looking forward, and only a moment on where we have been… If you want to be reminded of my year, please take a quick look at my Facebook timeline. It’s all been pretty much documented, there.

2014 was a banner year in so many ways. Personal change, growth, trying new things, (including blogging!) Watching with intense pride as archaic discrimination falls in state after state, and hoping that in some small way I was able to help. Watching as friends succeed, time after time. Finally getting to meet, in person, people who have come to mean so much to me. Helping the world celebrate Pride.

Not everything was good, though. We watched as the Republicans took control. We listened to evangelical pastors belittled us, and spreading their hatred. We saw governments implement laws codifying hatred. We saw pain, and even death, around the world. But through it all, we’ve endured, and even triumphed.

Here’s what I wish for:

I wish for Equality. For everyone. We’re all part of the same, Human race, yet we view people who are different from us with suspicion, fear, and hatred. It doesn’t matter what colour we are, what culture we come from, what gender we are, who we love, who, or what we worship, or how much money we have, we’re all the same. Is it so much to ask that we treat all of our fellow humans with the same respect?

I wish for Peace. Yes, I know that this is the standard wish for the holiday season, but, there you have it. My wish for peace is more than just a wish for the end of war. It’s a wish that everyone finds their own inner peace. That we can all lay our personal inner demons to rest, and find calm. Contentment. Peace.

I wish for everyone, Joy. Joy in living. Joy in going about our daily rituals. Joy in the people who surround us. Too often, we first see the negative in events and situations. Take a moment to look for a positive, and find Joy in it. There truly is a silver lining.

I wish for Love. The love of family and friends. But most importantly, I wish that everyone has the chance to find the love of self. The sad reality is that so many are in a place in their lives in which they are filled with self-loathing. My hope is that they can see in themselves that which others see. There is beauty in each of us, and once we find even the smallest part of that beauty, the ability to begin to love ourselves, and by extension, others, is destined to follow.

I wish that each of us find again, a sense of Wonder. There’s nothing more beautiful than the face of a child “discovering” something. The wide eyes, the look of amazement…Wonder. Sadly, most of us lose that as we get older. I would love nothing more than to see that look on the faces of adults as they see something wonderful, new, un-discovered. It does happen, just not nearly enough.

I wish for Wealth for all. Not monetary gain, nothing to do with “stuff.” I wish for everyone a wealth of friends, family, love. I would like nothing more than to see families reunited, after being estranged from each other, for whatever reason. It breaks my heart hearing about teens being disowned by parents for whatever reason. Siblings not talking for years after an argument. Friends becoming enemies. We are all we have in this world, we should fight to hold on to these relationships.

These are my wishes for the world in 2015. My hope is that each Human on the planet eventually is given these things. In my opinion, this is what this, one of the most important holidays of the year means. It doesn’t matter what your culture, or religion teaches, the giving of these gifts is the true purpose of this time of year.

My wishes for everyone include all of these things. You are all important, not only to me, but to humanity as a whole. May your New Year, and your whole life be filled with Equality, Peace, Joy, Love, Wonder and Wealth.

All my love:

Ken

 

maya angelou

A Challenge to my “Family and Friends of Faith”

 

Here is just a small sampling of some of the headlines I’ve picked out this week.  Trust me, this is a small sample.

Bryan Fischer:  ‘The Mark of the Beast Today is the Rainbow Flag’

‘Vatican Changes Actual Translation of Draft That ‘Welcomed’ Gays’

‘Top Vatican official tells parents to shun gay relatives’

‘Duck Dynasty’ Star: You Can’t Catch STDs from ‘Biblically Correct Sex’

Amongst these headlines, and the large amount of others just like it, can you guess how many I was able to find by religious people which did NOT promote hatred of another group?  That’s right,  none.  Not a one, Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Are you getting the point?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some headlines that include acceptance from some smaller church bodies, such as:
‘Hillsong Church Pastors Won’t Speak Out On Gays Because Jesus Didn’t Either’
And the blogs released over the last few weeks, one from a Christian pastor and one from a rabbi explaining what they would do if they found out one (or more) of their kids came out. (Spoiler: They’d accept, and continue loving their children, no matter what.)

For the longest time, I’ve been attempting to get people who tell me “Not all (insert religion of choice here) are like that.  There are many of us who don’t feel that way.”  Whether it’s about gay rights, marriage equality, a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices, any number of issues, it seems that the right-wing fundamentalist minority are the only ones we hear from.

When are we going to see a headline that reads:

“Vatican Opens Up to Gay Congregants.”

“Muslim Leadership Accept Women as Leaders.”

“Mormon Tabernacle Hosts Same-Sex Marriage Ceremony.”

Oh yeah…never.

I don’t expect the world’s religions to change overnight, but I would like just a bit of proof that not all people of faith are as hate filled as their extremists are.  If you’re going to tell me that you’re  ”not all like that,” do me a favour, put your money where your mouth is.  Get together with your friends who are of the same mind as your, and start to make some noise.  Hold very public rallies, telling the world that your particular faith group is truly one of love, that accepts ALL people, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual identity…  and get yourself in the headlines.

Start a Facebook page that shows you ARE affirming.

We live in a world in which you can be a complete stranger to the world one day, and the next have innumerable people knowing your opinion, knowing where you stand, and from those, you can grow your base of people who “are not like that.”  Telling me that since you’re not the pope, or some self-styled celebrity, or the head of an internationally known group is NOT a good enough excuse.  Just look at my friends list for proof.  I have the honour of being friends with incredible voices for rights, equality, and life.  Five to ten years ago, nobody had heard these people’s names, and now they are known internationally.  How?  By standing up, and raising their voices.

This is my challenge to you, my family and friends of faith who are “not like the others.”:

Take a stand.  Raise your voice, shout out to the world that not all people of faith are like the hate mongers that we keep hearing from.  Prove to me that you believe in a religion of love.  Give me at least a bit of hope that there is some love left in the world.

Please.

Ken

Requiem for My Friend Who Did Not Die…But Instead, Stepped Into a Church

 

I lost a friend recently.  No, this person didn’t die, but it feels the same to me.  I’ve known this person for a while, we got along, agreed on pretty much everything, and could talk for hours about things we were passionate about.  A few months ago, the conversations began to be a bit strained.  I found out he’d been having some “issues,” and on his parent’s advice decided to talk with the pastor of the rather evangelical church he’d grown up in, but had left, years ago.

Suddenly, he was trying to re-convert me.  The things we had agreed on were now bones of contention.  Freedom of religion, including my freedom FROM religion.  Human rights, equality, even morality was questioned.   Conversations dissolved into arguments.   Eventually, he told me that he could no longer allow me to try to “drag him into the swamp of sin that I had chosen to live in.”

This opened up a number of old wounds that I thought had healed.  They were, apparently only just scabbed over.  I’m usually quite resistant to comments like this, but coming from someone I thought was a close friend, someone who had been “on my side” in these issues, kinda blind-sided me.  And so the friendship ended.

I spent the last couple of weeks questioning whether or not I was doing “the right thing.”  Questioning if I should take a less forceful approach to the issues I believe in.  Wondering who the next person would be that would turn on me like this.  My questions were answered over the last week.  Some of the most amazing, strongest people I know helped to lift my spirits.  I honestly didn’t truly believe that people looked to me for inspiration, looked to me as someone they could lean on, someone who gave them strength.  But a number of people have proven me wrong.  (in a wonderful way)  I had a Facebook chat last night with my sister in Alberta.  She had just gotten home from spending the day at Medicine Hat Pride.  Apparently, one of her friends was talking about his “favourite Facebook page” (The Equality Mantra) and she surprised him by telling him that her brother is one of the administrators of the page.  By the sound of it he was “fangirling”  (Sharon’s description) for the rest of the day!    It’s silly things like this that make you feel that what you do is worthwhile.

The question this event raised for me is this:  Why do people think that they have the right to impose their views and beliefs on other people?  Sure, you can tell me that by my postings, and blogs, I’m doing the same thing.  The difference is that you can choose to ignore my blogs, and posts, or delete or block me.  But in a face to face conversation, but to take the most deeply held personal beliefs, the front and centre convictions, the most personal truths that someone has shared with you, and to and to crush them because the no longer match your own is a violation.

It will be difficult to place that kind of trust in others, now.  To put myself in a position in which I share my instincts, my spiritual intuitions, to open up about my deepest, most personal self.  This is the saddest outcome of the past few weeks.  Can I place myself in this position again?  Will I be safe to open my “soul” to a confidant?  Do I need to guard myself from having myself stomped on and thrown back at me because deep in my core I’m “different?”   Can I trust people not to betray my thoughts, my beliefs, my secrets?

So for now, I will mourn the loss of a friendship.  The pain will diminish, life goes on.  At the same time, I celebrate the friendships I have.  The ones that inspire me, raise me up, give me strength.  I celebrate my family, for helping to make me the man I am, for teaching me to stand up for what I believe in.  I celebrate my kids, and grandsons, for showing me that there is hope for the future.  I’m going to use these relationships to bandage up those old wounds, and to help the pain go away.

My deepest wish is that someday every person will come to the realization that each of us is unique, each of us has a reason to be here, and each of us has equal value to each other.  We only have this life.  Let’s give it our all, and make the best of it.