Current Events and Scattered Scribbles
Comments 21

E pluribus unum?

Part of our political perils has to do with the fact that Americans don’t really see themselves as part of a community. The United States of America really does not have much by way of a common identity or shared values, and it’s always been that way. We are a collection of very diverse states and cultures who have very different ways of seeing the world.

I certainly don’t feel a part of one American community, and I never have. I’ve been on the right and on the left, politically, and I’ve kicked around in some pretty diverse circles, and it has never occurred to me to think of all of us as part of one happy family, because we aren’t. I’m guessing it’s probably that way with most of us.

For me, my existence as an American has always been sort of a roller coaster ride – sometimes I’ve felt safe in my country, at other times threatened. Again, I’m guessing that’s more or less the same for you. Depending on what tribe or culture you belong to, your very existence has probably felt tenuous and fragile. There are things about our very identity and affiliation that give us a sense of fragility – our gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, social status, immigration status, or political affiliation, to name a few of the big ones.

The big question I have: Can things change?

Can you conceive of an America where most people feel safe? Where people feel secure and proud of being a part of one nation, a member of a community, something like an American neighborhood, a nation we all share?

Out of the many, one? Or are we doomed to forever fight each other?

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy; I pass the winters in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm working on a memoir-based nonfiction book on the American Dream. I blog, quite frequently, and I also have a novel in process, set in Alaska.

21 Comments

  1. Brother, thanks for the insight as always. There is a whole lot of divisiveness and hate going on.

    I’m not sure everyone feels that way though. Some of us firmly believe that first and most importantly we are citizens of God’s country where Jesus is King. That puts the edge on lots of political stuff. Hard to put that in a “political box” no matter who you vote for in America.

    I think some (not sure how many), do see themselves as Americans and not democrats, republicans or socialist.

    The constitution does suggest that most legislation should occur at the community level or maybe even not at all and left up to individuals.

    Can things change? They can. I am optimistic.

    Be blessed. God is with you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Michael.

      You said: “Some of us firmly believe that first and most importantly we are citizens of God’s country where Jesus is King. That puts the edge on lots of political stuff. Hard to put that in a “political box” no matter who you vote for in America.”

      I’d be curious to hear more of your thoughts on that. From a theological perspective, since you consider yourself a citizen of God’s country where Jesus is King, how does that translate into how you feel about yourself as a citizen of the United States? Is that sort of like the idea that “this world is not my home”?

      One of the big shifts in the post-Jesus/New Testament era was that rather than seeing themselves as part of a physical community of Israel, those in the newly spawned Jesus Movement saw themselves as….well, as what, exactly? Jesus taught about “the Kingdom” but his teachings were often intentionally destabilizing: in Jesus’ kingdom, the first will be last, those who mourn will be comforted, the lowly will be lifted up, etc. Basically Jesus was saying that if you didn’t check your ego and power at the door, you were still “of the world,” playing by worldly rules. Pretty fascinating stuff, truly. The early church, following these teachings, actually sold their possessions and lived together, sharing all things in common….Is that sort of how you see yourself, in terms of being “a citizen of God’s country”?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Brother, now those are great questions. Without writing to extensively on it, I’ll try to give an overview and then point to where I have written much more if you are interested.

    Being “citizens of God’s country where Jesus is King” is a reference to the “Kingdom of God”. I avoid religious jargon as much as I can since the elitists love it so much and it is confusing. 😊

    So the primary objective is to seek first the Kingdom of God (the country where Jesus is King). Jesus lays that out very clearly. Many of the principles can be found in the Jesus Manifesto (Matthew 5 – 7). So yes, that is things like “the first will be last, those who mourn will be comforted, the lowly will be lifted up”. Well said.

    Here is more I have written on the Jesus Manifesto.

    https://quotesthoughtsrandom.wordpress.com/tag/jesus-manifesto/

    Regarding America, it is “render unto the government what is the government’s” and to God the things that are God’s. That is very destabilizing. It is very radical. It does have me and others in conflict with the government some days. With conflicts of whether to obey God or man, God must win out when that is the issue. Persecution is a real issue. It is escalating in America and out of control in many countries.

    Yes, the disciples of Jesus did share in common. All the believers were together, holding everything pretty much in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal seemed to be a celebration. They were generally exuberant and joyful. The Jewish people in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. We need more of that! We need much more of that.

    We ought to own little and give much. This is where Agent X and I advocate in giving directly to the homeless and poor. That is a Jesus thing, not something the government does for us or compels us to do.

    So … I’ll stop.

    Here is more I have written on the country where Jesus is King.

    https://quotesthoughtsrandom.wordpress.com/tag/kingdom-of-god/

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Michael. To bring it back full circle, do you see any possibility for America truly uniting behind a good and just vision? Do you see your theological perspective as having the possibility to bring that about? Or do you see the function of the church as being sort of separate from American society?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brother, I apologize for getting us a little off track but I hope you felt it was a useful exchange. I did.

        So … back to E Pluibus Unim. As a popular online encyclopedia says, “The meaning of the phrase originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies emerged a new single nation.” So, it means we are America. It seems to be recognized as so as even some protestors in the last few days chanted “America was never great!” as they burned the American flag. They seem to recognize there is a country called America.
        Do we have a common “good and just vision”? I don’t think so but I don’t think our founders anticipated that. They set up our government to accommodate lots of conflict and create a system where it would take a lot of agreement / compromise between the House of Representatives, the Senate and the President to make policy and laws. Of course, then the Supreme Court would decide it any of that is constitutional. So, to answer the question, I don’t see us “uniting behind a good and just vision”. I am not convinced that is necessary.

        Turning to “ Do you see your theological perspective as having the possibility to bring that about? Or do you see the function of the church as being sort of separate from American society?”

        I don’t see disciples of Jesus bringing about a “good and just vision” for the country of America. We are to be salt. We are to be light. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus and The Truth. We are to take up the plight of the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, etc. It is up to God to produce the fruit of that effort. God has a plan. It eventually leads to the country where Jesus is King being universally established. That is not America or any other country. Here is the mission of King Jesus:

        “The Spirit of the Master is upon Me,
        Because He anointed Me to preach the good news to the poor.
        He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
        And recovery of sight to the blind,
        To set free those who are oppressed,
        To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

        Here is the mission Jesus gives us:

        “All authority, all power of absolute rule in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion, even to the end of the age.”

        So … we are to be the salt. We are to be the light. We are to make disciples of all the nations, including America, to help the people to learn of Jesus.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It was a useful exchange, and I didn’t view it as being off track at all. Your comments have just taken us a bit deeper into the question.

        I find it more than than a little significant that you chose the Lucan passage, when you describe the mission of Jesus. As you know, Jesus is simply quoting Isaiah (chap 61). Jesus is taking upon himself the mission statement of the prophets. But what’s really fascinating to me is that this prophetic mission statement was always political, i.e., by aligning with the poor and oppressed, the prophets pitted themselves against those who benefited from exploitation.

        Before I get too carried away, here’s a few more verses from Isaiah 61:

        “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn….

        “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations….

        For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing….

        “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations….”

        All of this seems to be loaded with political ramifications, and as you well know, the prophets were often political activists. It’s just that in their day they didn’t call it “politics” because for their culture everything was political, i.e., politics was not a separate category.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So all of the above seems to hold a lot of food for thought, and for me it definitely stimulates a good deal of reflection.

        The question of our time, I think, for the church, seems to be whether they can recognize that exploitation and oppression actually exists. This seems to be one of the primary differences between the political Right and the Left. The left sees a good deal of exploitation and coercion in the world, aimed at the poor, while the Right believes that anyone can succeed if they try hard enough, i.e., that the affluence of capitalism and the system of capitalism itself affords ample opportunity to succeed (hence any government programs or any collectivist/socialist programs (like universal health care) will simply penalize those who work hard).

        Those are a few of my reactions and that is why I am so motivated politically. Do you have a similar sense of inspiration? My sense is that these discussions motivate you less to political activism (especially of the leftist variety) and more toward private aid to the poor.

        Like

  3. lionscafe says

    America stands for interests that I believe are secondary to our shared humanity. Money, power, prestige come first in America, and consideration for fellow human beings second. I think this is a backward way of living a life. We are a nation in decline as evidenced by our leadership, and of course we are not safe.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Brother Jonathan, I am liking where this is leading us. Glad you include more from Isaiah 61. My guess is Jesus actually read more of it that day. I don’t think he is particularly short winded. 😊

    I agree that the prophets were (and are today) activists. Activists for God and His Kingdom. As you point out, what they said wasn’t particularly political since they lived in monarchies with rulers, judges, generals, etc. Some were corrupt. Some were not. You couldn’t vote them out of office though. Uprisings tended to be pretty deadly. Even David knew to wait things out till the King died. He lived to be King another day. 😊

    They were however railing against the existing government. So there is that similarity.

    So … does “ the church, … recognize that exploitation and oppression actually exists”? I think some churches do. Others clearly don’t care. That of course is sad since Jesus is clear what our obligations are to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sick, the jailed and the oppressed.

    Regarding issues like universal health care and college educations, I don’t know that it is an unreasonable question to ask how much it will cost and how will it be paid for. It isn’t political when one of my children wants a new Mercedes for me to figure out it will cost $80k and neither they nor I can afford that. Now if they want a $5k Nissan, we can talk. 😊 Turning everything into political, left and right, disputes is a challenge for reasoned legislating.

    Regarding the “sense that these discussions motivate me less to political activism (especially of the leftist variety) and more toward private aid to the poor.” My take is that King Jesus was not speaking to the church or Caesar when He said to give (directly) to the poor. The church as we know it didn’t exist. He was speaking to His followers. I take that seriously because I can give to the poor. As Agent X has the discovered, “the Church” isn’t really happy about that. Our government does a lot. More could be done. I can vote for politicians who want to do that or not. I can control what I do, in obedience to Jesus. That seems to be how I will be judged at the end of the day.

    Matthew 25 is a very haunting chapter. The language that Jesus uses is personal. “For I was hungry, and YOU gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and YOU gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and YOU invited Me in; naked, and YOU clothed Me; I was sick, and YOU visited Me; I was in prison, and YOU came to Me.”

    And then … “I say to YOU, to the extent that YOU did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, YOU did it to Me.”

    And the haunting part if I don’t … “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

    I take note that Jesus is challenging me, and perhaps, you and all of us. He didn’t say “the church” should do this. He didn’t say “the government” should do this. It seems way to easy to advocate for someone else to do what I am not willing to do myself. I think Jesus will judge me personally. Maybe I am off base but I think that is a fair interpretation.

    Like you I am inspired. I am inspired for what the Agent X’s of King Jesus are doing.

    Be blessed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great thoughts. Thanks. I appreciate your short exegesis of Matthew 25. Good food for thought.

      One of the things I keep coming back to, both with Agent X and yourself is the root causes of poverty. In the New Testament days (and before) the causes of poverty were clear: the strong took from the weak. Jesus and the other prophets didn’t need Karl Marx to deconstruct the nature of power. But the modern era is more complex, and for most people the causes of poverty are unclear. What we do know, with absolute certainty is that modern technology gives us the ability to provide food, clothing and shelter to all. We could do that tomorrow. And this represents a MASSIVE difference (I would argue) between our time and the times of the prophets.

      What remains the same, though, is that the problem is political. In the days of the prophets, the prophets would harass the king or the “rulers of this age.” In our day, politics is more complex. We have democratic or quasi-democratic forms of government.

      I may be over simplifying things, but I didn’t intend to get so long-winded. The point is that we have the resources to feed/clothe/shelter all persons and yet we don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Do I see hope for change in America? | Lion's Cafe

  6. Not long winded at all.

    Jesus has lots to say about being poor and poverty. Jesus seems to recognize that we won’t solve the poverty problem. It isn’t clear why that is true. Jesus doesn’t seem to stigmatize poor people like many of us do. In the message he delivered “on the plain” in Luke, He suggests that “Happy (aka blessed) are the poor.” In His other famous message “on the mount”, He says “Happy (aka blessed) are the poor in spirit … “

    Why would the poor be happy? Something to think about. Jesus has a lot to say about the priorities that are important in the country where He is King. According to Jesus, being spiritually wealthy is the most important thing.

    I am glad you are optimistic that we can solve poverty, if we just wanted to. I say go for it. It truly is noble.

    I’m being serious.

    I am personally not optimistic about the governments ability to solve the poverty problem. That’s just me though. Not to side track things but I remember president Johnson in 1964. He declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” It is estimated that since then we have spent approximately 25 trillion dollars. The poverty rates haven’t budged.

    I think I had better not write a novel. I write lots of articles about this. I am in favor of doing more and giving more.

    I am more concerned about spiritual poverty. I think Jesus is as well. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~Jesus

    https://quotesthoughtsrandom.wordpress.com/tag/wealth/

    Liked by 1 person

    • To my mind it isn’t about the government solving poverty. (To attempt to use government to “solve” poverty is more of a liberal (e.g. LBJ) approach.) The way I see it is that the abundance of modernity necessitates that we intentionally and consciously form society in a way that “the worker is worth his wage” i.e. that we think collectively and not simply assume that society is the colection of its individual parts. Since we have the technology to feed/clothe/shelter all human beings – but we don’t – doesn’t it make sense to question the way our culture handles resources?

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  7. God’s Word gives us insight into His heart for the poor and instruction in how we are to care for them. If we truly have faith in Jesus, we must also share His concern for the poor. Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34–35). And what better way to demonstrate the love and kindness and compassion of Jesus the Messiah than by reaching out to the “least of these” among us? Of course, these sample of scripture seem to suggest this is about personal action. Maybe I am missing the point though.

    Deuteronomy 15:7–8  — “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Master your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.”

    Proverbs 17:5  — He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker; He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished.

    Romans 12:13  — Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

    Galatians 6:10  — So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

    James 2:15–16  — If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

    1 John 3:17  — But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If one truly has compassion for the poor, though, will they not be inspired and driven to understand the causes of poverty and to do everything they can to change whatever conditions cause poverty? Isn’t that an important part of compassion?

      Like

  8. Let me try to be clearer. I’ll also try to be brief. I’m trying to keep it personal but where I say I or me, think of yourself and think of others as well.

    Jesus wants us to be compassionate for those in extreme poverty. I am to give what I have to them. What do I do if I don’t have anything left to give because I have given it all away and have nothing left?

    Peter was dead broke and didn’t have a penny to his name. He had traveled around, in poverty, with Jesus for 3 long years. He didn’t work. He was penniless. This was voluntary on his part. It was what Jesus wanted. After Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t find a job to make some money.

    One day, Peter and John were on their way into the Temple for prayer meeting. At the same time there was a man crippled from birth being carried up. Every day he was set down at the Temple gate, the one named Beautiful, to beg from those going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple, he asked for a handout. Peter, with John at his side, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Look here.” He looked up, expecting to get something from them.

    But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus the Messiah, the Nazarene — walk!”

    I can give the healing power of Jesus! I can do a lot then. Would this man rather have money or the ability to walk? I’m thinking walking was a big deal.

    Jesus wants me to be poor. He challenges me and there is not a stigma attached to it at all. Being poor is a good thing. Now that is radical but I’ve given all the reference scriptures which are massive.

    Why would Jesus want me to be poor? Why does He tell me that I will be happy if I’m actually poor and I will be happy if I’m spiritually poor? My answer is that Jesus wants me to be happy and so Jesus wants me to be poor. This is not counter intuitive. This is the radical Way of Jesus.

    Why does Jesus tell me that it doesn’t bother Him that the poor will always be with us? My answer is that Jesus wants me to be poor. If Jesus wants me to be poor, poverty isn’t going away. Jesus is encouraging poverty. Yikes! Really? Yes, really. It can’t be escaped.

    Why does Jesus challenge the rich man to become poor? Why does Jesus tell His disciples that it is very difficult for the rich to enter the country where Jesus is King? My answer is that Jesus wants me to be poor. It is not only okay with Him but it is His desire for me. I need to give it all for Jesus.

    Jesus challenges me all to radically change my mind (aka repent). Can I change my mind about poverty? Can I see it as desirable? Can I see it as a good thing? Can I see it as God’s goal for my life?

    Here are the reference scriptures.

    Luke 6:20 And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

    Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

    Mark 14:6-8 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.

    Mark 10 “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” And then “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

    Jesus challenges all of us to seek first the country where Jesus is King.

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  9. Jonathan (and all),

    I am sorry, I am late to the game – well, its not really a game, but to borrow the phrase, I think you get me.

    I read the post, started reading the comments and all, but I am too pressed for time to get into the state of the discussion all the way up to speed with it. Sorry. I just got back from a road trip and getting babies back into the routine is proving a lot to juggle at the moment.

    Okay… enough of all that.

    I think I am responding to the original post (not so much the subsequent discussion, but I didn’t finish reading it all, so maybe that too after all… dunno) …but anyway, I am puzzled by the part of about “feeling safe”. I don’t want to make too much of it, but it seemed to jump out of left field for me. Nevertheless, is there a sense of togetherness of national unity? My words, but they seem to catch the sense of you post and your question, I think.

    I’m gonna say I think there is a sense of unity, probably not iron -clad, but I think there is, and I think it ebbs and flows really. I recently watched Ken Burns Vietnam War series for a second time. Btw, I was born in 1968, and according to Burns’ program they singled it out as the single most divisive year in America since the Civil War. Hmmm… And I was born during it. Hmmm… Probably means I have a skewed sense of the world – or else its not like a lot of peoples from other eras. Assuming Burns is right.

    But how really do you measure it? I mean it seems rather obvious if you go look at the events of that time carefully, but so much of history is a one-off that there are too many apples and oranges to sort out for measuring purposes.

    The Vietnam War was already quite divisive even before 1968, but in early 1968, the North launched the Tet Offensive which became a lightening rod of a moment in time. The Democratic National Convention became a riot. We know now that our presidents were lying to us (both parties, btw). Hmmm…

    I say we must have ebbed that year.

    But before WWII, our nation was waaaaaaaaaaaay more agricultural than it is now. And Ag was a family affair, not the mix of large corporations we see now. It was my grandpa’s generation that marched off those farms and into that war. And those boys had lots of brothers. Three, four, and five brothers from any given family signing up to go fight. There was a lot of simple-mindedness, a lot of small town trust among people, not that big city anonymity we have so much of now. And this family vibe dominated the culture, esp on the heels of the Great Depression when people were forced to call in all their favors from their kin just to eat.

    But there is another layer to all this. And that is STORY TELLING. We tell ourselves stories through and by which we order our world. And these farm boys going off to fight were telling a similar story to each other and to the world around them. They were humble, simple farm people taking up massive weaponry. And they didn’t stop until we punctuated our hegemony and supremacy with two atomic blasts that shook the world to the core.

    After that, these humble farm boys came home. Still mostly humble, trusting, and simple by nature, but they had seen the world now too. And also Nazi atrocity really stole the innocence of these people. They were now wising up.

    Imagine for a moment all these simple, humble people coming back from THE WORLD where practically everyone stands at attention and salutes when you walk by. The atomic age is yours, and you believe in Jesus, and you believe the whole world needs Jesus. And I say, that for about nearly two decades, much of the world held us in nearly that esteem and we certainly held ourselves in that esteem. We were unified around all our old stories symbolized with flag and apple pie and Jesus too, and the atomic bomb backed it all up, but of course it was easy to say God blessed America.

    But the kids of these humble, simple people were not so simple and not so humble, and with two decades of almost solid hegemony, the shine it all had for the rest of the world was beginning to erode a bit too. The cold war was beginning to get complicated. Vietnam began pitting one deeply held value against another. Civil Rights Movement was exposing how a good deal of our communal story wasn’t quite as real as we had believed and we were not quite as good and pure as we had told ourselves etc etc…

    We are all telling different stories now. But we are desparately trying to control the narrative. Who has their hand on the steering wheel of this narrative now? Human rights? Education? Money interests? Government? Jesus? What evidence do you have for each or any?

    I think we are in the most divisive year now since 1968. And I was born then. My parents were children of the 50s when our hegemony, or the story we were telling of it, was at its peak, and I was born into the death throes of all of that. But the 1980s presented a pendulum swing back to the united direction briefly, and partially. We talked about Reagan Democrats, and he seemed to galvanize us into money and glam interests, which was working at least for those of us on the inside for about a decade, until the façade began to erode again (the middle class eroded heavily) and finally 9/11 called the bluff on it all.

    Seriously, I never heard of Joe Biden until 9/12 when I saw him telling America to go out and make a purchase of some big ticket items to show the terrorists that they had not won anything. A desperate ploy to maintain the old normal that was just giving way to the fray even before 9/11, but we were largely able to be in denial until then.

    If I am making sense here, then I think this demonstrates the ebb and flow of our unity.

    However, I really doubt our ability to repeat the level of hegemony we had when we dropped two atomic bombs on the world and were the sole nuclear power on the world stage and could sway people to listen to our story and maybe even join in it, or at least wish they could.

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