In the midst of a week of social unrest across the nation, how can we work towards peace? This episode looks at Paul’s words, “do not worry” and talks about how we can cultivate personal and social peace. Amy Julia examines the problems of reading the Bible individualistically and considers how we can also read it in the context of a broader community of faith and humanity. This episode is especially relevant for white Christians who are looking for ways to learn, listen, lament, and love.
Today’s Bible passage comes from Philippians 4:1-9. I used N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters and George Hunsinger’s Philippians commentary in preparation for this show. In the show, I reference the Destructive Power of Despair by Charles Blow, Episode 103 of this podcast, which is about love as the foundation, and a recent blog post I wrote offering 5 Small Steps toward Racial Healing. Also, I mention Niro Feliciano's podcast All Things Life episode titled From Hurting to Hopeful: Race, Privilege and Meaningful Action and this article about childhood anxiety from the May issue of The Atlantic.
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Hello. And welcome to season two of the love is stronger than fear podcast. I'm your host, Amy Julia Becker, and each week we're going to take a look at current events, AKA the Corona virus, and we're going to consider a small portion of Paul's letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote this letter under adverse circumstances, and he wrote about how to know joy, peace, hope, and love, not by denying the hardship of the moment, but by knowing God in the midst of that hardship, I hope that reading the Bible in our current moment of uncertainty and turmoil will help us to turn away from fear and toward love.
Thank you for joining me.
Hey everyone, before we get to today's episode, just one note, this will be the second to last episode of this season of the love is stronger than fear podcast. So we're going to be wrapping up the book of Philippians, which has been quite a journey through this beautiful letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians, but also to layer that on top of our experience here in the United States and around the world of a pandemic over the course of the past couple of months, and this week, we're going to get a chance to talk about the recent social unrest and protests and violence, and, uh, heartbreaking despair over the death of George Floyd and how this letter from Paul speaks to even those events.
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But before we get there, I did just want to ask that if you've been listening along over the course of this season, could you take a minute right now and rate this podcast, share it with a friend, review it on iTunes or Stitcher or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Those things will help other people to know about it. I hope this is a resource that's available to people who are teaching or preaching through Philippians to others who are experiencing a sense of hopelessness who want to think about love and hope and faith in a context that's real and connecting them to God and connecting them to other people.
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So please take just a minute. If you have been listening along and do something to share this podcast or to review it and let me know what you think so that we can do more. And I'm not even sure if I should honestly share this with you all or not, because it's still kind of this dream in my head, but I'm thinking about the events from this past week. And I'm seeing the responses that people have to them. And the ways in which the book that I wrote white picket fences has been helpful to people.
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And I'm wondering about creating a new season of this podcast more quickly than I had planned. That would actually talk about the themes of white picket fences in an interview format. So if you are someone who's been listening along and you'd be interested in that, I'd love to hear from you about that. Well, I'll be, I'm figuring that out really in the next couple of days. So shoot me an email, Amy Julia Becker email@example.com go to my website and hit contact me. Um, or again, just, you know, respond to this podcast in particular.
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All right, here we go. It's so funny. I have been looking forward to Philippians for four weeks. This is maybe my favorite passage in the Bible. It's certainly one that has been a companion to me through many years as a Christian and specifically in Philippians four, verses six and seven, which talk about not worrying, but instead bringing our requests to God and receiving God's peace. So I've always loved those verses.
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I have taken them to heart. They've been meaningful to me. And I've been planning on this episode of the podcast for over a month. Now, actually, I know this because I have next to me, the Atlantic magazine and the cover story of the May, 2020 Atlantic and hear that rustling of my magazine, the cover story was called the anxious child and the crisis of modern parenting, too great article. And I read it and I took notes and I thought about this episode and I thought, yes, that's perfect.
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That's how I'm going to talk about peace and anxiety and the ways in which we can present our requests to God. The other thing I had in mind is that penny and I have memorized these verses six and seven together and often pray them before bed because she experiences some personal anxiety about even just falling asleep. She can be worried that she's going to have bad dreams or negative thoughts during the night. And this verse has been a guide and a guard into prayer for both of us.
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So I wanted to take my favorite passage and put it essentially gift, wrap it with some satin bows and some crinkly paper and hand it to you and let you open it and feel delighted. And then this past week a man was murdered in Minneapolis. I'm sure you've heard the story. You may have watched the video of a man named George Floyd, who is a 46 year old African American Christian man who had, I think, I mean, we haven't all, all the facts haven't been verified yet, but you used a $20 bill that was counterfeit to purchase something in a convenience store.
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The police were called, which seems like a totally legitimate action on the part of the clerk in the convenience store. And then George Floyd was arrested. And while he was under arrest in police custody, he was killed with lots of witnesses and we've either seen the video and watched him struggle for life and heard the cries of the people around him and seeing him as he died. It's been a traumatic week for a lot of people in the United States, not just his unjust murder, but also the protests and the violence and the vandalism and the just heartbreak that has ensued in cities across our nation.
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After what has been a harrowing season, it seemed to only get worse. And what happened in me when I put these plans I had for today's podcast alongside the news, was it exposed to me yet again, that my understanding of the gospel of the Bible of who Jesus is and of who God is, is way too small, way too small.
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I have been trained in a pretty individualistic way of reading the Bible and of understanding Christianity. And the beautiful thing about that is that the word of God is for me as an individual and God cares for us as individuals and the Holy spirit will work in our lives as individuals. That is a blessing and a gift to have been raised up in the faith, understanding that the problem with a faith that understands the gospel and the Bible only in terms of me as an individual, is that I miss out on how big and wide and gracious and connected God is.
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The word of God is always for me as an individual, but it is never only for me as an individual. It's always written in the context of a community it's always personal, but it always has social implications as well. What's happened over the history of, especially the white church in America. And I'm not going to give a big church history lesson, but I'm going to mention a few things is that we have made the gospel smaller by making it an individual personal faith and relationship with Jesus alone, rather than an individual and personal faith and relationship with Jesus in the context of a faith that is wide and broad and deep and connected to all people.
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We truncate the power of the word of God. When we make it all about me and limited to me as an individual, we disconnect ourselves from other believers. I disconnect myself from other believers as if I'm cutting myself off from the rest of the body. My friend, neuro neuro Feliciano recorded a podcast this week and I'll include it in the show notes. And one of the things she was talking about was that if a part of your body, if you go into the doctor and the doctor says, you know, you've got a lump here.
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It seems as though a tumor might be growing. Even if you have had no side effects, no symptoms, you're not in pain, you're not aware you're still going to get that checked out. You're going to pay attention when the doctor tells you this part of your body is in pain and it's hurting, even if you don't feel it right now. And similarly, for those of us who call ourselves a part of the body of Christ, when our brothers and sisters are crying out in pain and hurt, if we, even, if we don't feel it, we are called to pay attention and an individualistic gospel disconnects me from other believers and from paying attention to my body as a part of the body of Christ.
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And guess what happens when we don't pay attention to the parts of our bodies that are hurting or in pain, or have disease in them? Well, then we die. Brothers and sisters who are people of color are crying out and saying, we have been wounded for years and for generations, and we need to all pay attention and we need to all be a part of the repair. The final thing that happens. And maybe there are more, but the final thing I'll mention that happens with an overly individualistic understanding of the gospel is that we divorce religion from society.
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And that's where this wall comes down that says, Oh yeah, we're not talking about politics. When we talk about Christianity, when actually what the word of God has to say about peace, about anxiety, about prayer, about goodness, about justice, all of those things are for me. And all of those things are for us as a nation, as a culture and as local communities. I want to give an example before we get to Philippians of how it works to read passages from the Bible and not simply apply them to our own lives.
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I was in another Bible study over the weekend, and we're looking at a Fusion's chapter five. And when we started the Bible study, a lot of people said, Oh, I'm just heavy hearted about what's been going on in our country this week. And as a result of that, we said, okay, let's read the Bible today with that in mind. Not again, just with our own individual lives in mind, but with our nation, with our social systems, with politics, with culture, with all of these things in mind, and as a result, a number of different passages that might have been interpreted only in terms of individual application took on different meaning.
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So for example, one of the lines in this passage from Ephesians is, do not be greedy. And it's really easy to read that and simply think about being greedy with my time with my money and the implications that might have on my bank account or my family, but of the members of the Bible study said, yeah, isn't greed, isn't money. And the desire to have more money at the root of the history of America's racial problems, divisions and injustices.
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And so we ended up having a conversation about greed that yes, included us, but went far beyond us as individuals and to our entire society as well. So that's what I want to try to do together today to read Philippians chapter four, verses one through nine, and to ask the question, how does this apply in my individual life and with my individual needs and how does it apply to our current social reality?
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So let me read Philippians four verses one through nine. Therefore my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for my joy and crown stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved, I urge you ODN and I urged sinned ticky. I'm not sure if I pronounced those correctly to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes. And I ask you also my loyal companion help these women for, they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life, rejoice in the Lord, always again, I will say rejoice, let your gentleness be known to everyone.
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The Lord is near, do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ. Jesus, finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure.
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Whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence. And if there's anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me and the God of peace will be with you. We could do like three podcast episodes just on this passage. And that is not the plan. I really do want to hone in on those verses about worry and peace.
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But before I do that, I'll just make note of the fact that it's clear that Paul considers these women, his fellow workers, which is pretty unusual and cool when we go back 2000 years. And I will also just note the love with which Paul writes that in the beginning, again, he's talking to his brothers and sisters whom he loves and longs for his joy and crown his beloved. So this is all coming out of a deep, personal love for the Philippians.
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And we need to just remember that that is the same love that God has for us, a deep and abiding love and that it is out of that love that we are instructed and guided in how to behave and who to be. So this passage moves from do not worry to the peace of God. And I suspect that many of us wonder how to walk that road from worry to peace, how to walk that road from fear to love, how to walk the road from injustice to hope worry is a companion of fear.
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And peace is a companion of love and justice. These things intertwine and overlap and are all connected to one another. But the foundation of any answer, the foundation of any change is the love of God. And that foundation is from insecure. The love of God is eternal. The love of God is the only thing that is the truth of the universe. The love of God is foundational to who we are and to what connects us to one another to the creation and to God himself.
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And just as a side note, episode one Oh three, which was a number of weeks ago, is about this foundation of love and how we can live and receive the love of God. Even when our foundation seems to be shaking. But the image I'm thinking of for this week is actually, okay. So we have this foundation of love and we start to build, but if we are afraid as we are building on this foundation, what happens is a distorted picture of love. So think about this actually as a parent, if you're a parent of a small child and you of course have a deep reservoir of love for that child, but if you were afraid, if you're afraid of what's going to happen in that child's life, and you start to build using that fear instead of that love, well, what happens, what happens is this helicopter parent phenomenon that actually prompted the Atlantic article that I mentioned earlier of anxiety that gets passed from parents to children and manifest itself in all sorts of unhealthy ways for the self and for the society.
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We see this when we build in fear in our nation, when we build cities and structures, that assume that various aspects of our communities are going to be opposed to one another. When we have neighborhoods that are considered places of fear, where we talk about schools that are good and bad, which often is code language for rich and poor, or for mostly white and mostly Brown or black people, we build with fear.
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We just stored our love. So instead of peace, even if we think we've got, if we've built something based on fear, we don't have peace. We have numbness. We have a numbness that perpetuates injustice. We don't have love. We've got bubble wrap. We've got what we've been calling helicopter parents. So what we need to do is knock down the fear so that we can build with a true understanding of the love that connects people to one another connects us to God and enables us to grow in such a way that we flourish.
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As I was preparing for this episode, I came across a quote from Martin Luther King and he was writing about fear and faith. And this is from the strength to love a sermon he gave that's recorded in the Testament of hope. And he says abnormal fears and phobias that are expressed in neurotic anxiety may be cured by psychiatry, but the fear of death, non being and nothingness expressed in existential anxiety may be cured only by a positive religious faith.
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In other words, like there's certainly a place when it comes to fear and anxiety for medication, for psychiatrists, even for breathing techniques, meditation, uh, all sorts of different healing practices, but these deeper and wider fears of death, of non being of nothingness of purposefulness purposelessness. Those may be cured only in Martin Luther King's words by positive religious faith. And he goes on to say a positive religious faith does not offer an illusion that we shall be exempt from pain and suffering, nor does it imbue us with the idea that life is a drama of unalloyed comfort.
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And untroubled ease. Rather it instills us with the inner equilibrium needed to face strains, burdens, and fears that inevitably come and it assures us that the universe is trustworthy and that God is concerned. So that building block that foundation of love is not an illusion that we shall be exempt from pain and suffering, but an inner equilibrium that we need to face strained, burdens and fears that will inevitably come and come they have in recent months.
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So here's what Paul says. If we want to knock down anxiety, worry, fear, what do we need to do? First of all, he says to pray, do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. The short version of that is pray and prayer. Of course, it's an individual action. It's something that we can do at any moment. And in fact are instructed to be continuously in prayer or in conversation with God, but it's also a corporate action.
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It is a way to connect with the thoughts and with the heart cries of other believers, to connect those with one another and with the spirit of God and to offer them up. I heard once that worry is a prayer, I pray to myself. And one way to get out of that worry is to pray to God and with other people, Especially when it comes to issues of race and justice, I've often felt as though it was offering a weak response to say, well, you can commit to praying about it, but prayer is not a weak response.
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Sometimes there is nothing to do. Sometimes we are powerless and helpless and we cannot actively engage in anything that will make a physical difference in the circumstances at hand, even in those times, we can pray,
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We can listen to God. We can listen to other people. We can lament. That's an aspect of prayer that I have not learned very much about as a white Christian, but I've been introduced to in recent years from my African American brothers and sisters, that we can cry out to God and name the injustice, name, the despair, name, the hopelessness, and demand that God be involved and get his people involved in repairing it.
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We can listen, we can lament. We can suffer alongside. I think that's one, uh, thing that prayer can be prayer can be suffering alongside in that moment. One of the aspects of lament that I've been thinking about this past week is the way in which, and the mint is a form of suffering, especially for people like me, whose privilege whose unearned social advantages means that I'm able to turn off the news and not know what's going on.
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When it comes to the pain in our nation right now, for people like me to stay engaged in lament in prayer is to suffer with those who suffer to care for those. And to mourn with those who mourn and to look for the celebration, the joy, the hope that might be possible listening lamenting in prayer is one part of what it means to suffer alongside others and to for them.
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And the promise is that as we present everything to God in prayer, we will receive the presence of God. The peace of God. It's easy to think of peace also in passive terms, just as it's easy to think of prayer as a passive response, but the peace of God in the Hebrew is known as the Shalom of God and Shalom is described as universal flourishing, wholeness and delight.
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It's a social word. It's not an individual word. It's not a, I have a contemplative Lake in my soul that shall not be disturbed. It is, I am participating in and actively engaged in universal flourishing wholeness and delight. The peace of God is active. It's an active peace. It's not a passive acquiescence to what has gone on.
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I was struck in looking at various news reports by an article that a New York times columnist named Charles blow. He's a black man. And he wrote today about violence. Violence of course, is in many ways the opposite of peace. And what Charles blow wrote is that sadly America responds most to violence. That's when people pay attention, that's when the ears perk up. That's when the news crews come. He goes on to say, during the civil rights movement, the protesters practice nonviolence, but they were regularly met with violence.
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And it was that violence, that spurred action. He goes on to give them numerous examples throughout our history of when this was true. If violence is what we pay attention to, then how can we change that narrative so that we're not paying attention to violence, but we're paying attention to active peace making. How can we be people who are actively making peace in our communities? What active steps can we take toward peace in our land, in our hearts, in our families, in our nation, I wrote a blog post earlier this week called five small first steps.
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These are pretty individualistic in nature because I do believe that's where a lot of social change begins is in us. As individuals. I write about prayer. I write about learning and reading and understanding the historical and social context of what's going on. I'd write about talking with our children. If I were to say that there are then after those five small first steps, some small next steps to take, those would be more influential and institutional in nature to start thinking about, could I donate money or lend financial support to African American, small business owners who have been devastated in this pandemic or in the violence that's happened in cities recently?
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Where can I make contributions, charitably to churches or nonprofits that are led by people of color and also are serving communities of color where there is need? What if I took my family on a pilgrimage? What if I went myself on a pilgrimage so that I didn't just read books, but I actually went and saw the people and the places where the events that have made up our civil rights history took place. If I don't have any friends that are outside of my homogenous social sphere, what would it take for that to change?
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What would it take for me to actually be connected to people who have a different social, economic, cultural, religious, ethnic, racial background? How could I go about connecting in meaningful mutual relationships of giving and receiving what political action could I take? What are the spheres of influence that I have? What are the institutions that I'm a part of? Those are steps towards peacemaking.
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I've written this ebook that I've mentioned here before called head heart hands. And I was thinking this week, that another way to talk about this process of engaging with the social divisions we face as a nation, yes. Use your head, use your heart, use your hands. And if you haven't read that ebook, you can get it for free on my website. You can get it as an ebook or as an audio book. And I'd love for you to have it another way to say that though, would be to learn right, to use our heads, to learn, and then to listen and lament, that is both the prayer aspect, but also the friendship coming into close community with people who have had the experiences of being suspected all the time by police officers of ill intent, the experience of being in a classroom and having teachers think that you are misbehaving the experience of not getting called back for a job.
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And wondering if it's just because of what your last name sounded like. All of these are experiences that people of color have far more regularly than white people like me. And to listen to those stories and to lament alongside them is a part of the learning. But it is a part that connects the head to the heart. And then finally you learn, you listen and lament and you love, you turned towards participation in the promise of God.
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We see that in this passage, when Paul writes about turning our minds to whatever is honorable, just pure pleasing commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, keeping those things, participating in the promise of God, connecting ourselves to the hope of God. I read this morning, one story of a sheriff in Flint, Michigan, who asked the protestors, how they could support them as the police force. And the protestors said, walk with us.
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And so the sheriff took off his helmet and he walked with the protestors through the streets of their town in order to demonstrate his support for their concerns. They walked together. And this happened in multiple different places across our nation, which gives me great hope. It is possible that we can come together still, even in the midst of so much division, that what we want is healing that we want love. We want peace.
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We want hope. And we want that to be something that is not simply an inward experience, but an outward expression of who we are as human beings connected to one another. The final words that Paul writes in this section keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me and the God of peace will be with you. There's an active peacemaking that enables us to experience the peace of God, both inwardly and outwardly.
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That is my prayer. That is my prayer for myself. That is my prayer for our nation and especially for any, and every one of us who believes that the love of God is what forms the foundation of creation, the foundation of humanity for all of us who believe that help us Lord to knock down the fear and to build with love, with peace and with hope in an active way that brings inward and outward peace across our land.
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Again, I will put lots of the resources and articles that I mentioned here in the show notes. And I invite you to join with me in continuing to learn in listening to our brothers and sisters who are crying out for justice and mercy and peace to lament alongside them, and to look for ways in which we can participate in the loving action of God that will bring Shalom, universal wholeness and delight and flourishing to our communities.
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Thanks again, for tuning in to the love is stronger than fear podcast. If you enjoyed this podcast, you can find more resources at my website, Amy, Julia, becker.com. And if you found today's episode helpful, please share it with friends and take a minute to rate and review it wherever you find your podcasts, see you next week.