Friday’s Fantastic Five! 8.30

FridayFantasticFiveIt Is the Price of Citizenship? An Elegy for Religious Liberty in America – Al Mohler
Mohler looks at several recent trends and court cases that show religious liberty on an increasingly steep decline. In order to participate in society, religious individuals will be asked to violate their conscience and check their beliefs at the door.

When the Popular Youth Pastor Gets Arrested Again – Scott Slayton
Scott tells the story of Matt Pitt who founded a Birmingham outreach called “The Basement”. Matt has now been arrested twice, raising questions about his wildly “successful” ministry to teens and what true faithfulness looks like.

Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still in School – Jessica Lahey
Jessica makes some important observations about the challenge of teaching boys in settings that may run afoul of their natural wiring. Her suggestions are helpful to any teacher, pastor, or parent seeking to truly educate boys.

The Cul-de-sac of Stupidity – Matt Chandler
Matt Chandler reminds us of what we as Christians should know but easily forget: having more of what already fails to satisfy us is not going to make us happy or bring us joy.

Drafted: Why Chris Norman Said No to the NFL
Sometimes we think the path God wants us to take in life is the one that leads to more fame, money, and opportunity. But as Chris Norman’s story reminds us, sometimes God’s path leads us in ways we would never expect.

The Absence of the Female Superhero: Troubling or Telling?

wonderwomanWith the recent surge of super-hero movies, some have asked: “Where are the female super-hero movies?” Many are demanding a Wonder Woman movie, but Hollywood, in the midst of clicking off Superman and Batman movies at a blinding clip, has yet to craft it. A slew of articles emerged this week, trying to navigate this super heroine desert.  The most common response is two-fold: not enough interest, not enough cash.

Jason Free was criticized for saying this in a USA Today piece: “Not trying to sound like a jerk, but typically women in leading action roles don’t sell the way strong male figures do.” The article continues:

“Is that because men wouldn’t go to the box office to see a movie about a female superhero? Perhaps. And, making things worse, men are the majority of comic book readers. A whopping 93 percent of people buying comics are male, according to The Nielsen Company’s market research done for DC Comics in 2012.”

“The results are “troubling,” comicsalliance.com said at the time, because they “raise serious questions about DC’s ability to expand their audience base, and the accessibility of their content to both female and younger readers.”

“Making things worse.” “Troubling.” These descriptions fit a discussion about the state of public education, not banter over comic book characters and movies. Why the outrage over a lack of female super heroes? Many fear this oversight casts women as inferior to men in strength and ability.  

Our culture demands the annihilation of gender distinction. Anything challenging that ideal is immediately interpreted as a step backwards into the dark ages of pregnant wives waddling about the home, starching their husband’s shirts with dinner simmering one room away. Husbands kiss them on their foreheads and retire to the living room after a long day, feet up and the evening paper, pleased with the wife’s home economy.

The reality: men and women are different creatures. Our culture cannot acknowledge this in a civil and intelligent way – much less the implications of those differences – without yelling “Misogynist! Sexist! Bigot!” There are reasons the majority of cultures have banned women from frontline combat. There are reasons women are not playing in the NFL. There are reasons less than 2% of firefighters are female. Both men and women have physical limitations that no hormone supplement or surgery can “fix,” despite the frantic rush to try.

Werner Neuer provides insightful evidence for that which humanity has always known, as expressed in the common, historic division of labor:

“The male skeleton is usually stronger than the woman’s. The bones are thicker and heavier. The greater strength of its bone structure obviously equips the man’s body better than the woman’s to overcome physical obstacles and carry loads. The man has greater steadiness, strength, and stress resistance due to his stronger bones.”

“The striated muscles in men are more strongly developed and constructed than women’s. They serve above all for dealing with external obstacles…The man’s superior equipment in this respect and his stronger bone structure indicate that by nature the male rather than the female is designed to overcome external, environmental obstacles, to reshape and master the environment.”

Female super hero movies are fewer because the female body is not designed for the tasks of Superman. This is not earth shattering news. If being a super hero was the ultimate test of personhood and worth, this would be troubling news for females indeed, but it is not. Gender distinctions have propagated and ensured the survival of humanity since creation.  The rebellion against these differences has created a path of delusion, convincing many that freedom from God’s design is not just possible, but necessary.

Those who take this path believe a lie similar to the one Eve believed in the Garden of Eden. The serpent convinced her God was withholding something good. Men and women experience and yield to the rules of their bodies every day. Some think these rules are unfair and prevent their happiness. They respond by either ignoring the rules or trying to change them. In doing so, they are not free, but imprisoned by the task of disproving the Creator and the bodies He created.

As an avid runner, I buy good running shoes. I do not run in my hiking boots. Is it unfair? Is it discriminatory? No, it’s smart. Hiking boots are built for rocks and rivers, not pavement and speed. They are not inferior shoes, but different shoes. Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.” Nothing is lost for either gender in recognizing our differences. If God determined humanity needed to exist as one generic gender, women and men would not exist. He instead created two equal but not identical people, both bearing His image, designed for different but equally great things. Our physiological differences are gifts, not curses.

With so many demanding more female super heroes on the silver screen, it is only a matter of time before we will see another on a poster, cape rolling in the wind under a curtain of long, dark hair; 120 pounds of metal, diamonds and muscle behind piercing green eyes, ready to slaughter and seduce men. Call me old fashioned, but the female heroes who inspire me do no killing or sexual conquering. They love fiercely, work diligently and sacrifice frequently. They don’t have posters.

-Emily

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Miley Cyrus and Our Corruption

mileyvmasMiley Cyrus stole the headlines from Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards for her shocking performance of “We Can’t Stop.” She emerged on stage with tongue out from a giant robotic teddy bear and danced in a graphic and sexually suggestive manner. At the end of her routine she stripped down to a flesh colored bikini and began an even racier duet with Robin Thicke that left many in the audience visibly uncomfortable.

It was the most talked about performance after the VMAs, even outpacing N’SYNC’s brief reunion with 4.5 million Twitter mentions.

But was it really “shocking”? This is the MTV Video Music Awards after all. At the inaugural show in 1984 Madonna writhed around in a wedding dress singing “Like a Virgin” and in 2003 at the same event had a three way kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Nothing in Cyrus’ routine from the twerking to the sexual-positions-as-dance-moves, to the shameless song lyrics departed from our new cultural norms.

Miley’s performance grabbed headlines and tweets not because she grabbed certain body parts but because of the narrative behind it. That narrative is one of corruption. Miley Cyrus was once Hannah Montana, a popular Disney character who lived as a normal teen by day and a pop star by night. Her image was wholesome, family-friendly. Millions of fans bought her merchandise and copied her example. In a USA Today article from 2008 she was asked if she planned on being a good role model for her fans and said:

Yeah. That was the plan from the beginning. That’s kind of the point of everything that I do. I always try to bring in just being a good role model and setting high standards for yourself.

On Sunday, this same Miley emerged on stage from a giant teddy bear, surrounded by dancing teddy bears, and wearing a teddy bear outfit. One of the most compelling images of innocence is a child clutching a teddy bear. This symbol of childhood innocence was injected with hyper-sexualized dancing and Miley’s popular song, “We Can’t Stop,” which describes the singer at a party where everyone is taking ecstasy, getting drunk, dancing like strippers and looking for a casual hookup. Next came Robin Thicke singing his song “Blurred Lines” about his desire for a good girl he can treat like a sexual animal while Miley provided backup vocals and complimentary body gyrations.

This theme of corruption – of Hannah Montana and of our daughters in general – may be why the crowd looked ill at ease with the performance. It may also be why much of the huge Twitter response was negative and why fellow artist Josh Gracin tweeted:

Thanks Miley Cyrus… Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she can no longer follow your career.

Rather than hide from the corruption it was embraced with imagery and songs to provoke a reaction – a different kind of shock than we have gotten from Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lil’ Kim.

In the corruption of Miley Cyrus we see the corruption of our children. The cute princess clutching her teddy bear as she is tucked into bed at night becomes a casual hookup at a college party, an indecent picture texted to the junior class, an object tailored to please others. The adorable little hero who wants to fight the bad guys becomes a frat boy who can’t recall every sexual conquest, a porn addict immersed in fantasy, a freshmen compromising his values to win acceptance. The sexual revolution reduced individual persons made in the image of God into bodies frantically chasing objects that will satisfy their appetites.  It’s what happened to Hannah Montana and it is what’s happening not just to our children but to us as a whole.

By the grace of God, many still see this corruption as a bad thing, as revealed in the reactions to the VMA performance. Yet, there may come a time when nearly all of our culture openly embraces the corruption caused by sin. In Romans 1:28-31, Paul describes the progress of humankind from the innocence of Eden to the full corruption of sin:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

The gospel tells us we are all corrupted because of sin. Psalm 53:3 says, “…together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Yet Jesus took our corruption upon himself so we could be innocent and pure again. In Jesus Christ, God “…has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4).

 

There may come a time when we no longer see the corruption caused by our sin. When the culture is so blind that God has no choice but to give it up to what ought not to be done. The fact that we can still see our corruption and mourn is a sign that God’s grace is at work. We are all, like Hannah Montana, corrupted, but we don’t have to stay that way. The only answer for all of us sons and daughters of this world is the good news that what was corrupted by our sin can be made pure and whole again by Jesus.

-Brian

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Friday’s Fantastic Five 8.23

FridayFantasticFiveSchool Has Become Too Hostile to Boys – Christina Hoff Summers
Summers discusses potential reasons our school systems may be failing boys. As zero tolerance policies become the norm and teachers increasingly redirect aggressive or competitive play, boys simply don’t fit in.

Why We Talk in Tongues – T.M. Luhrmann
This NYT op-ed explores why speaking in tongues is spreading in Africa and why it happens at all. For those who come from more formal church traditions, this article provides valuable insight into a practice we may not understand.

Who Will Stand
If we truly believe the unborn baby in the womb is a human being, then we are standing by as the worst holocaust in human history is being carried out.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Complex apologetic arguments for belief in God can sometimes be abstract and inaccessible, but this video breaks down a key argument really well.

Redefine Marriage, Debase Language? – Ryan Anderson
Anderson explores ways the redefinition of marriage is already affecting the institution. Not only is male/female optional, but so is the limit to two people, fidelity, permanence, and commitment. Does this spell the end of marriage?

Is Disney World Heaven?

Castle4This question spurs a brief and comical battle in my heart. If you’ve never been, it might seem ignorant and senseless to ask. As a lover of Jesus, student of the Bible and one who has cashed in her hopes for eternity, I say, no, Disney World is not heaven. But. That’s where I honeymooned. That’s where we vacation. That’s where I ran my first half marathon. That’s where my dreams come true. Let me assure you, in an age where pleasure is paramount and pain is abundant, the question is appropriate.

Walt Disney World is pure, concentrated magic. Peerless ambience, entertainment and customer service consecrate this 25,000 acre paradise as the third most visited tourist attraction in the world. Guests can choose from 20 resort properties, ranging from economy to luxury, each boasting exceptional thematic detail. Manicured lawns, artisan menus, ornate pools, regal architecture and costumed employees work in tandem to transport you to the time, place and activity of each resort’s theme.

The four theme parks are more impressive still. Each is a contained world of impossible glory: fountains dance to music, characters confined to a page or screen are walking and waving, castles shadow your steps and every attraction is whimsical yet sophisticated and more incredible than the last. There are plant sculptures, streams of parades, exotic animals, brilliant sounds, countless shows, vibrant colors and a polished staff of thousands ready to perfect your day. Every girl a princess, every boy a pirate and every parent amazed.

Days are governed by play. Smiles are effortless. Your room becomes home. As you pack your mouse ears to leave, a sobering cloud settles over your soul: Disney World is not home. Bills, homework, repairs, conflicts, deadlines and the mundane grind of daily life await you.

To sidestep this Disney depression, some have abandoned their careers and cities to relocate their families to Orlando for immediate, unfettered access to the most magical place on earth. Herb Leibacher, founder and chief executive of World of Walt (an independent Walt Disney World information website) recently called for such testimonies; they came in droves.

“Many of the people in the story talked about the ‘Disney bubble,’ which is a term that talks about how things are magically perfect while on Disney property. That contrasts with the real world, where things are dirty, disorganized, messy, and sometimes dangerous.

“In a sense, some people long so much for the ‘Disney bubble’ experience that they want to have it all the time.”

One woman viewed her husband’s job loss as the perfect opportunity to move:

“The kids fell in love with Disney (what kid doesn’t!) and Ron saw how happy people seemed to be who worked there. When we got home to GA, I began talking to him in earnest about making the move, and finally he agreed. I have wanted to work at Disney since I first saw Walt Disney World in February of 1972. Ron began working at Dixie Landings as a third shift custodian in 1996. I began my career in Adventureland Merchandise…”

Leibacher revealed how some manage permanent residence on Disney’s property:

These folks stay at the [Disney] campgrounds for months at a time. Some stay all year long. In effect, they become permanent residents of the campgrounds by renting a parking spot day after day. They are often known as the folks who create extravagant Christmas and Halloween displays around their RVs.”

Moving isn’t odd. People relocate to new cities and states for different reasons every day; employment, education, family and cost of living are popular ones. There is a different dynamic at work in the flight to Orlando (50,000 people per year). Time in the Disney bubble reminds people real life is not as it should be. To Leibacher’s description of the real world, I would add disappointing, wearisome and downright sad. Many believe Tinker Bell’s wand contains sufficient pixie dust to wave away every ache. They are wrong.

Planet Earth provides no air tight escape from sin and its effects. There is no debate: Disney delivers an unparalleled vacation from life’s mediocrity. However, we must never convince ourselves that running to Walt’s arms is the permanent fix for a broken existence. Our fix is found only in Jesus, who has made a way for all to live with Him in the real heaven.

These three things distinguish Disney from heaven. First, heaven is a real place; Jesus called it paradise (Luke 23:43)! Disney is real insomuch as it exists, but visitors are called “Guests,” because there are no true citizens; the employees are called “Cast Members,” because it’s all a show. They turn out the lights and go home to the same challenging realities we do.

Second, heaven is eternal. Paul wrote in second Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Like the Summer Bay Resort, nine miles west of Disney World, swallowed by a sinkhole two weeks ago (a day before Leibacher published his article), every magnificent Disney structure will be swallowed, if not by a sinkhole, by time.

Lastly, heaven has Jesus. Mickey is great, but he can’t save. Walt had a genius for making magic, but he is dead. Our Savior lives and only by Him and with Him can we receive salvation and paradise.

Leibacher’s article reveals humanity is hungry for heaven. Christians have the privilege and responsibility to reveal with our words and lives the existence of the true heaven. I am guilty of Disney infatuation; my earnest prayer is that my song for Immanuel dwarfs my song for Epcot. Nevertheless, I am forever assured of the truth in these lyrics– “On Christ the solid rock I stand/all other ground is sinking sand.”

-Emily

Manipulated by Mega Sharks

sharkweekWho doesn’t love Shark Week? That one week out of the year when the Discovery Channel devotes almost all of their programming to those fascinating predators of the deep that capture the imagination and inspire fear among land dwellers. But after 26 years of Shark Week, how do you keep viewers interested? We’ve seen the Great White Shark fly through the air to kill its prey. We’ve seen the Whale Shark calmly navigate the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve seen the aftermath of a Bull Shark attacking surfers. We’ve even seen Jaws shred a boat, Bruce the Shark treat fish as friends, and Sharknado bring those horrifying teeth to land. What is there left to see?

Enter the Discovery Channel’s Megalodon special to kick off Shark Week. The Megalodon was the largest shark ever to live. It could grow up to 50 feet long with teeth the size of an adult human hand and jaws that could crush a car. The show was called “Megalodon: The Shark that Lives” and took viewers to South Africa to investigate a rash of attacks and evidence that the massive shark could still be out there. The only problem is, according to National Geographic and marine scientists, the Megalodon is long extinct. The evidence and experts on the Discovery Channel special were faked.

There was a disclaimer in small white font that flashed on the screen briefly. One would likely need a DVR with a pause button to read it. Yet, Discovery’s online poll reported 29% of viewers believe Megalodon still swims and another 47% say it may be possible. You read that right. Three-fourths of viewers accepted to some degree the findings of a fake documentary. The show even brought in record ratings for the channel with 4.8 million viewers.

Critics have attacked the show because Discovery Channel claims its mission is:

“to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.”

According to a number of critics, they failed in their mission by airing a program that probably belonged more on the Sci-Fi Channel than on Discovery and by deceiving their viewers.

The Megalodon Shark Week special reminds us how easily we can be manipulated even by sources we trust. Most of the information we “know” comes to us mediated through a variety of sources. For example, most of what we know about the universe comes from a relatively small number of astronomers; we haven’t charted the stars personally. Most of what we know about politics comes to us through biased reporters and commentators; we haven’t spoken to the President personally. Today, more and more of our “knowledge” comes from segments on the Today Show, popular YouTube videos, Twitter trends, cable news debates, sensationalized History channel shows, agenda-driven bloggers, celebrity interviews, cleverly edited documentaries, and more. These sources form our knowledge, shape our opinions, and direct our lives.

Christians are often accused of blindly trusting the Bible as a source of knowledge. Yet is a Christian who trusts the Scriptures somehow more blind than the non-religious person who puts their trust unquestioningly in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their Twitter feed, or Wikipedia? The Bible has withstood 2,000 years of scrutiny and been tested in the lives of millions of followers of Christ and still remains.

The Shark Week special reminds us to be saturated in the only source of knowledge that will never fail or mislead us: the Word of God.  As the Psalmist says in 119:41-43:

41Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
    your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
    for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
    for my hope is in your rules.

The Psalmist has put his trust completely in God’s word. It is his source of knowledge; it assures him of God’s love, his salvation, his hope, and his answer for those who question him. Other sources of information can be false, mislead, or be mistaken but not God’s Word.

The Shark Week special also reminds us to not be lazy with the “knowledge” we receive. We shouldn’t unquestioningly accept everything we hear, even from reputable sources. Most of the distributers of information in the world are motivated by earning money, winning praise, advancing ideology, securing power, or boosting pride. This doesn’t mean what we receive is wrong, just that it may be tainted and we should look closely before we run off and change our lives based on a new “study”, revise our thinking based on new “data”, or update our values based on a new “expert.”

Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” To be wise, we must be saturated in the tested source of knowledge that is God’s Word. We must also test and evaluate the knowledge we receive from other sources. In this way, our lives will be well directed, our opinions well informed, and we’ll be able to enjoy a swim in the ocean without worrying about the 50 foot shark that might still be swimming around.

-Brian

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Fox News & Awkward Jesus Debates

fox-newsLast week, Fox News anchor Lauren Green interviewed Reza Aslan, a scholar with multiple degrees in religion who is currently an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. The subject of the interview was Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and the attitude of the interview was tense. Green couldn’t get past the fact that Reza was a Muslim writing a book about Jesus. She opens the interview with this question:

“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

Aslan responds with a list of his academic qualifications and Green says again,

“It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?”

Later, Green again brings up Aslan’s Muslim faith by equating his book about Jesus with a committed Democrat writing a book about Ronald Reagan; it appears that in Green’s mind he is simply too biased to write an objective book. Therefore, the book and its conclusions should be dismissed. Aslan defends himself by repeatedly citing his degrees, knowledge, and academic positions which give him credibility to write such a book.

Needless to say, this makes the interview painful for any casual observer to watch. The site buzzfeed.com posted the video of the interview which promptly went viral with the title, “Is This the Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?” It attracted over 5 million views and was shared and liked by nearly 800,000 Facebook users. Zealot shot to number one on Amazon’s U.S. bestseller list and The Westbourne Press who publishes the book is now rushing to print more. If Lauren Green set out to marginalize Aslan’s perspective on Jesus (which she may or may not have intended to do) she has actually energized it for a few days.

Aslan’s assessment of Jesus in the interview (and by extension the book) is that he was:

“a real political revolutionary who took on the religious and political powers of his time on behalf of the poor and the meek, the dispossessed, the marginalized; who sacrificed himself in his cause for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves and whose death ultimately launched the greatest religion in the world.”

Those familiar with the Historical Jesus project probably hear echoes of John Dominic Crossan in Aslan’s response. In the end, Jesus turns out to be another left-leaning political revolutionary, organizing the down-trodden masses against the powers oppressing them. Amazon.com’s users are divided over the book; the vast majority gave it either 5 stars or 1 star.

Jesus is a real, historical figure. In fact, he is probably THE real, historical figure of human history. Therefore, he is accessible not only to Christians, but to Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, and eccentric rap artists. People are going to interpret Jesus according to their own worldview and preferences. Then they are going to take great delight in telling us that Christians have Jesus all wrong. This includes the professor who tries to shock his evangelical undergrads by trotting out tired and dubious “facts” showing Jesus to be a nice social activist who never thought of himself as God. It includes an author like Deepak Chopra who promotes Jesus as an inspirational spiritual guide and mystical teacher of peace and love. It includes news media that gleefully report on a new lost gospel or ancient shard of pottery that will reverse everything. It includes the Muslim who calls Jesus simply a prophet, the agnostic who calls him an ethical teacher, and the television prosperity preacher who calls on him for a blessing.

All misguided interpretations have two fatal flaws. First, they fail to produce a Jesus who fits the facts. Aslan’s social revolutionary Jesus may have had a winning personality and great influence, on par with Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Abraham Lincoln. But there is no way he could have led devout Jews to worship him as God,  inspired Christians to embrace death claiming his resurrection, and won followers from the nations for 2,000 years. Second, they ignore or marginalize the most ancient and accurate source we have on Jesus: the New Testament. They make much of spotty secondary sources, Gnostic writings dated centuries later, arbitrary scholarly opinions, out of context passages, and modern cultural preferences in creating Jesus. So it should come as no surprise that he looks different than the Jesus the church has preached for millennia.

As Christians, we should stop being shocked and upset when others interpret Jesus differently. It is going to happen. Because our faith is based on a real person, it is subject to investigation – even flawed investigation. We don’t need to marginalize or flee from those with differing views, but rest confidently in the Jesus found in the Scriptures. There have been thousands of interpretations of Jesus since he walked the earth, but only one has endured and will continue to endure – the Jesus of the Bible.

If you want to know who Jesus is, read your Bible. Even the most stubborn of scholars is forced to admit that the New Testament is the most ancient and comprehensive source we have on him; some books being written within 25 years of Jesus’ death. Zealot will fade from memory but the New Testament will remain because it is far older, far more accurate, and far more compelling than anything else we have. Our conversations with others who disagree with us about Jesus don’t have to be as embarrassing or as tense as the Fox News interview. If someone comes to you with a different Jesus, graciously listen to them and point them to the only Jesus that endures the ages, fits the truth, and changes lives.

-Brian

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