Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, August 31, 2012

The David Barton Controversy


I am beginning to think that as Gail Riplinger was to textual criticism, David Barton is to American history. He is the conservative equivalent of Howard Zinn.

If you don’t want to read through my “opinion,” at least make sure to scroll to the bottom and hit the audio links. Believe me: they are worth your time.


If your family homeschools, or if you send your kids to a Christian school, or even if you are actively involved in Republican politics, listen to talk radio, and consider yourself a TEA party oriented person, the name David Barton has circled around your orbit at least a few times.

Barton heads up WallBuilders, a ministry that claims to “present America’s forgotten history” regarding our Christian faith, morals, and constitutional heritage. 

If you have watched any of Barton’s DVD presentations, he travels around Washington D.C. and other historical venues showing his viewers important landmarks and documents pertaining to Colonial America, the Revolutionary War, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.   When Barton is interviewed on Christian TV programs, or even conservative TV shows like Glenn Beck, he always has with him a collection of “original” documents to show the audience.  Things like Ben Franklin’s Bible, or John Adam’s personal letters to some Baptist minister, or some unknown speech George Washington gave at a Methodist church.

Barton’s basic assertion in his DVDs, his books, and those TV interviews is that America’s founding Fathers – you know, the guys with their faces on our currency – were practicing evangelical Christians.  When they wrote up the Declaration of Independence and eventually the Constitution, they intended on founding a Christian nation.  Radical secular leftists, Barton contends, have hijacked American history over the last 50 years, revising it to teach that all the founding fathers were really deists and anti-Christian atheists and the last thing on their agenda was founding any country supportive of biblical Christianity.  His mission with WallBuilders is to set the historical record straight.

If you have heard him speak, his presentations are impressive and compelling.  Again, when he is making his case, he will have old, yellow documents with him that are laminated, which means they are really important.  He also has stacks of old, brittle looking books that were supposedly printed in 1798 or there abouts.

Those documents and books are intended to bolster his case for his “evangelical founding fathers” view of American history because he says they are original source documents, meaning they haven’t been altered by secular leftists.  Of course, the audience, upon watching Barton lift up one of those documents to wave in front of the TV cameras, has to assume he is accurately relaying to them what that document really says.  Honestly.  What average person, let’s say living in Wisconsin or  Maryland, really has carefully examined one of John Adam’s original letters to Thomas Jefferson?  Barton says he has and so that person has to trust him that he is relaying accurate information about the contents of the letter. 

In recent months, however, Barton has come under fire for just that:  Other historians – [and by “other” historians, I mean Christian historians, and by “Christian” historians, I mean Bible-believing, Jesus loving historians, not those prissy liberal “the-Bible-is-full-of-errors” “Christians”] – have taken issue with Barton claiming he has the bad habit of cheery-picking historical citations and spinning them in such a way so as to present his evangelical narrative of American history.   In other words, he abuses the historical documents to embellish and exaggerate the truth. 

jeffersonA big example of this is found in the controversy surrounding his book published this past summer titled, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson.  In that book, Barton presents the case that what we are told about Jefferson is for the most part a leftist fabrication.  In reality, he was really a faithful evangelical Christian and it wasn’t until later in his life as he grew senile, that he began to write negative things about God and Christianity.

The claims Barton makes did not sit well with just any historians, but particularly a  number of those Christian historians I noted above.  They worked together to challenge Barton’s views of Jefferson by showing the gross, factual errors he has in his books and his outright re-reading of history.  In short, they demonstrate that  Barton was doing the exact same thing he accuses his secular liberal critics of doing: Selectively citing sources and reinterpreting them  so as to revise history.

The vetting these historians made to Barton’s book was so devastating that Thomas Nelson, the publisher, dropped it.  The management cited the overwhelming number of factual errors contained in the book as the reason for their canceling it.  I thought their reaction was ironic, seeing that they are so willing to toss out Barton’s book over “factual errors,” but still publish a bizarre book in which a child claims to have gone to heaven.  Barton didn’t make them enough money, I suppose; but I digress.

I personally have never read anything by Barton. I have seen one or two of his DVD presentations and I have watched him on a number of television interviews.  I have always been dubious of his assertions about the founding fathers.  When he waves the yellow, laminated letter on the TV screen, I’m a tad suspicious. Having read enough history in my lifetime, including a few original source documents, I thought his “evidence” never passed a sniff test.  There were question marks in my mind.

Liberals of course hate the man’s guts.  That is because they relish having a proctologist view of American history and reject America’s exceptionalism that makes it the most unique and special country in the world.  So when Barton gives his exaggerated claims about America’s founding fathers, they pounce on them as proof of how out of touch Christians are with reality and what hypocrites they truly are.  Certainly that is a moon-bat reaction, but while they may go overboard in the other direction to maintain their distorted anti-American narrative, I’d have to admit they have a point about Barton.

I have also been troubled with how Christians, and I mean respectable, ought-to-know-better Christians, go to Barton as a reliable source on American history.  Conservative pundits like Glenn Beck, I can understand, but Christians who have made a name for being pillars of spiritual discernment?  I’ve seen him interviewed by Todd Friel in the past, as well as Kirk Cameron for his Monumental documentary that was released early this spring, and many Christian reconstructionists have always recommended his materials. 

One of Barton’s historian critics has been Gregg Frazer who teaches history and political science at the Master’s College.  He published a book earlier this year called, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution that puts our founding fathers in a more balanced and accurate perspective.  He argues that they weren’t rank atheists and deists, but nor were they committed Christians.  They were, as Dr. Frazer calls them, “theistic rationalists.” 

At the behest of my pastor, John MacArthur, Dr. Frazer has been going around to the various fellowship groups on Sunday mornings at Grace Church giving a presentation on America’s founding fathers, as well as addressing many of David Barton’s claims about them and what he calls “the Christian America movement” that is growing among homeschoolers.  My hope is that Dr. Frazer will be given a break-out seminar at this next year’s Shepherd’s Conference in March 2013.  I imagine many, many pastors have encountered promoters of Barton’s materials in their churches.

He gave two presentations recently that are worth downloading and considering.

The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders [Part 1]

The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders [Part 2] 

The first presentation gives historical background to the men we call “founding fathers,” where as the second presentation addresses specifically what David Barton claims.  If you want to hear his rebuttal and refutation of David Barton, listen to the second one first.  But make sure to get the first one, as well.

Christians need to be advocates of truth, even when the truth is not what we may want it to be.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Concerns with the “Neo-apologists”

A phenomenon I have witnessed growing among red state, evangelical churches is the rise of what I call "the neo-apologists."  Most of these “apologists” are tied to the classical school of apologetic methodology. Their emergence  within Christian circles is due primarily to the development of the internet over the last decade or so, roughly 2000 to the present.  The world-wide web has allowed groups of Christian apologists to network with each other, as well as disseminate information, tactics, and techniques for practicing apologetics with non-Christians.
Additionally, a number of Christian colleges have developed specialized "schools" or "programs" dealing exclusively with apologetics.  These programs can be a few weeks during the summer or more involved 1 to 2 year degree programs aimed at providing students extensive training in the area of apologetic philosophy and instructions in the ways of cultural engagement. 
On top of all of that, certain apologetic "ministries" will pull together popular, well-known instructors in apologetics for weekend conferences throughout the country. The conferences will be centered around a theme addressing cultural challenges for Christians like same-sex marriage, abortion, and evolution.  The instructors provide talks designed to help pastors, youth pastors, and even lay people, to become their own apologists of sorts so they too can engage the culture with the Christian worldview. 
Now. A lot of folks will ask, "Isn't it a good thing Christians are being trained to think critically about their faith and equipped to defend Christianity in the marketplace of ideas?" Well, Yes.  I certainly agree that it is a good thing having apologetically equipped believers engaging the world. Heaven forbid I come across as totally dismissive of the ministry from these "apologists." A few of them offer solid instruction that I know has benefited me personally. 
Yet, in spite of those positive elements there are some areas of concern I want to address.  Keep in mind I'm aiming broadly with my points.  Certainly there has to be exceptions. I definitely recognize that.  I base my concerns upon a general observation of this apologetic movement as a whole.  And… Rather than taking these concerns as mean-spirited criticisms, I hope they come across as blind-spots we can all bring into focus.
1) I don't see these "neo-apologists" anchored in a local church.  I have to believe all of them are involved with a church in which they attend regularly and serve faithfully.  Looking over their websites and hearing their presentations, however, I don't really encounter any emphasis placed upon a commitment to a body of believers.  Perhaps they believe church attendance is a secondary, back-seat issue that can be discussed at a later time because church isn't immediately relevant to their apologetics.  If this true, then I have to disagree.
If I am a youth pastor and I'm told my students will have a great opportunity to learn from a trusted Christian "apologist," I'd kinda like to know where he attends church.  That tells me a little something about where the guy is coming from and what his doctrinal commitments may be.  Think about it: If that "apologist" convinces an unbeliever of the "reasonableness" of the Christian faith so that he believes upon Christ and becomes a Christian, where will that new convert be told to attend church?  I don't consider that decision to be a secondary, back-seat issue. 
2) They are not necessarily Scripture focused. A more serious concern I have with these neo-apologist is the devaluing of Holy Scripture as the ground and pillar of our faith.  Instead, their presentations are saturated in philosophical rhetoric and anthropocentric appeals to logic. 
Simply put, they are suppose to be Christian apologists. The primary document for Christians is the Bible.  Why isn't it sufficient in and off itself as the sole means to convince unbelievers of Christianity?  I just find it woefully inconsistent that a Christian apologist, whose chosen worldview is derived exclusively from the Bible, appeals to outside, non-biblical authorities in order to convince people to choose his Christian worldview which is defined exclusively from the Bible. It looks like to me such a position sets up one of those "circular arguments" classic apologists so tend to despise. 
3) They invest way too much authority in novice, untested youth.  When I visited a few apologetic web portals that launch me out to a myriad of apologetic themed blogs and websites, an overwhelming number of them are maintained and operated by young, 20-something college grads.  I'm sure folks will say, "That's awesome! All these young men and women taking on the challenges of our secular culture."  Maybe that sounds encouraging, but I'm of a contrary opinion.
I think it lays hands upon people way too soon, particularly untested, immature youth, and sets them up as an "expert" in various fields of study.  Just because a 22 year old guy or gal attended an apologetic worldview degree program for a year and passed with flying colors doesn't make the person an "expert" apologist. 
But when I look at those websites, I see grad students hiring out their "expertise" to youth groups, Bible study fellowships, and churches, on subject like the reliability of the NT, proofs of God's existence, and ID and evolution debates.  As a pastor, should I truly expect a 24 year old guy who did an intensive apologetic program over the summer at a Christian college to be an "expert" who will train my college students how to refute Bart Ehrman?
4) Lastly, there is an artificial "office of the apologist" that has been established.  The Bible tells us God has appointed elders and deacons to serve the local churches.  These are the pastors and teachers who shepherd and take care of the people.  God has not, however, appointed apologists to guard the flock. 
Now I imagine most of these "neo-apologists" would not consider themselves in the "office of an apologist." They see themselves as coming along side and helping churches grapple with the cultural challenges they face by teaching them how to defend their faith. Yet in spite of their best faith efforts to keep their role as apologist distinct from biblically ordained leadership, their position as a "trained specialist" sets them apart as a unique authority in the minds of people that is in the same category as a pastor.  That may not be their intention, but it is reality in many cases.  
They're not entirely to be blamed for this. Pastors and other leadership have helped to create this identity problem by shaking off their responsibility of teaching and training the people in sound doctrine.  Rather than engaging in the cultural challenges their churches face with a Scriptural framework, pastors pass off that duty to trained apologists who they can hire for a weekend seminar. 
That's not to say specialized apologists aren't useful for Christians to hear.  They most certainly can be.  But pastors should be teaching the people how to defend the faith and their congregations should be exhorted in how to think theologically about apologetics in their daily lives.  In other words, specialized apologists can be useful, but they should not be who everyone looks to as the ones with all the answers.  All Christians must learn how to engage the unbeliever with the Christian Faith. 

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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Reliant Robin

Even if you are not a car enthusiast, you're going to be thoroughly amused by the next 14 minutes or so.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Podcasts Worth Your Time

I thought I would recommend three podcasts that I've been enjoying for a while now.

-- First. My friend Dan Phillips went to pastor Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, Texas. His preaching and teaching is excellent and is available for podcast, here:

Copperfield Bible Church - Sermons

Dan has been going through the basic doctrinal statement of the church where he pastors, which is really a brief, lay-friendly introduction to Christianity.

-- Second. My former colleague, Don Green, recently went to a new church plant, Truth Community Fellowship in the Cincinnati area. They currently meet at the Creation Museum of Answers in Genesis on Sunday mornings. Don has been teaching through the book of 1 John and just started a brief series on the providence of God. His last two messages on the atonement of Christ from 1 John 2:1,2 is some of the best preaching on that subject I've heard regarding particular redemption.

Truth Community Fellowship - Sermons

-- Lastly, James White turned me on to listening to Michael Brown's The Line of Fire program.

Dr. Brown is probably one of the better apologists addressing the onslaught of the current homosexual jihad by militant, gay activists in our culture. He has a daily, two hour program that addresses a myriad of topics, including issues pertaining to Israel and the Restoration of Israel in the future kingdom. If my Reformed brethren want to engage some of the better arguments for Israel's restoration from one of the better apologists on the subject, they need to listen to Michael Brown. He also provides a healthy anecdote to the radical Evangelical anti-Zionism promoted by the likes of Gary Burge and similar supercessionist theologians.

One word of caution. Dr. Brown is charismatic, though his convictions on those matters don't play heavily in any of his on-air discussions. The only place his charismaticism may bubble to the surface is how he entertains callers who tell him of "visions" the Spirit of God has given the person. To his credit, however, Dr. Brown is quick to offer rebuke and correction to some of the more wilder claims of "special spiritual knowledge." Hopefully that little smudge won't turn people off to giving him a listen. He has some good stuff to consider.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

darkknightThe wife and I got around to seeing The Dark Knight Rises this past weekend.  I'm always a couple of weeks or more behind on the cultural uptake because we have to schedule a sitter way in advance and they're never available on opening weekends.  Anyhow, I wanted to offer just some brief thoughts.
Overall, the movie is outstanding. Better reviewers have outlined the basic premise of the film, so I won't plow old ground.  I can say, however, that Christopher Nolan did a fabulous job tying together his trilogy and bringing these movies to a satisfying conclusion.  The performances were all well done.  Anne Hathaway's Catwoman was exceptional and I was glad to see Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon having a prominent role.
The main villain this time is an anarchist terrorist named Bane played by Tom Hardy.  The character has a lot of great lines and Hardy delivers them well, though his modulated voice reminded me of Christopher Plummer's "General Chang" from Star Trek 6
The only smudge on the film I am aware of is a significant continuity error during the first major battle sequence.  It's daylight when the events begin, but in one quick transition, it's night.  It was weird.  I'm sure there are apologists who would say the battle started around 5 pm and by the time Batman gets in the mix, dusk had already fallen.  Maybe.
Michael Medved also complained in his review that the soundtrack was just way too loud to make the movie enjoyable.  Perhaps for the IMAX showing, but not for normal theaters, at least where I was. We saw it at the AMC Burbank and I didn't think it was too loud at all.  In fact, there were points where the sound of the dialog was so low my wife and I were turning to each other asking what the character said. 
A couple of "cultural" opinions.
It's truly is a crying shame this fine film had to be forever tarnished by the theater shooting that took place on opening night in Colorado by a wacko.  But contrary to the hysterical left and other "cultural" finger waggers, this movie was not senseless with the portrayal of violence.  I think I read some goofball anti-gun moralist opining how movies like this embolden the kind of human debris who thinks he can use 2nd amendment rights to shoot people in a movie theater.  The movie has violence, but the violence has a context. It certainly wasn't even close to being the wantonly gratuitous, stylized violence like the splatter-fests seen in the movies of grossly overrated Quentin Tarantino. The kind of "film-maker" anti-gun nuts tend to hold-up as an inspired "artist."  Anyone arguing the Batman movies are comparable and produce mass murderers is an idiot.
What about any Christian-themed motifs seen in the film? I honestly did not go to this film looking for them.  I realize there are "Reformed" cultural pundits who try to find "Jesus=Redemption" themes in some of the most "un-Christian" movies imaginable.  It's the excitable Christians I heard or read going on and on about how Neo waking up out the Matrix is a picture of Christian regeneration and new birth.  That is the kind of pabulum we occasionally hear from Doug Wilson and his minions.  I remember discussing with a Wilson disciple who had lived in Moscow, Idaho and attended his school about how in Titanic, Jack's "faithful" love for Rose is like Christ loving the Church.  Yeah. And their fooling around in the backseat of an old car demonstrates Christian purity how exactly?
I appreciated Carl Trueman's recent comments on this fad among young, hipster Calvinists to "redeem" movies.  He writes,
"I imagine the current trendy manifestations of reformed hipster theology will probably produce its fair share of people who found that conversion liberated them to watch exactly the same derivative and crass movies they did before, but now with an uncanny, Spirit-filled capacity to spot the redeemer figure in The Dark Knight Rises or The Expendables II."
Certainly Batman illustrated themes of overcoming, self sacrifice, doing what's right even if it may be your ruin, but those things are not necessarily exclusively Christian. They are more of a product of someone who recognizes core human values and is able to capture them well in a motion picture.
Which brings me to the "conservative" elements in the film.  I wouldn't necessarily go as far as Ben Shapiro's gushing review calling the Dark Knight Rises the "most conservative film of all time."  Maybe the most marketable film with conservative ideas woven throughout it, but the "most conservative of all time"?  I mean, where would that put D'Souza's 2016 documentary?
Conservative themes definitely run throughout the movie.  Whether or not that was intentional on Nolan's part I wouldn't know.  It could be one of those accidental things like what happened with the movie Forrest Gump.  There, the film makers and Tom Hanks became alarmed Republicans (94 being an election year) were warm to their movie because of the "conservative" values portrayed by Hanks' character.  If I recall, he went on the media circuit dismissing any such conservatism in the movie.
I will say Batman doesn't show OWS in a positive light.  In fact, I would argue that it shows the logical conclusion to their Marxist anarchy they promote, and that doesn't look good.  It makes me wonder about the real life OWS folks Nolan talked into being extras in a few key sequences in the movie.  Did they know they were going to be shown as brown shirted thugs beating on rich people and destroying property? (Oh wait, they are brown shirted thugs beating on rich people and destroying property. Never mind).
Law enforcement is also held up as heroic, even though the bulk of Gotham's police force is trapped underground by the terrorists through most of the film, the few who remain outside are shown as taking great risk to maintain the hope of law and order against the odds of Bane and his gang.
That said, I didn't go see The Dark Knight Rises because of the conservative themes or so-called Christian "redemptive" elements, though I will say the conservative ideas made the picture that much more enjoyable. I saw it because it was competent film making at its best that made me appreciate well-done story-telling we all know makes a movie great. 


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gleanings in 1 Samuel [12]

saulThe Anointing of Saul (1 Samuel 9:26-10:27)

First Samuel 8-12 are the transition chapters in Israel’s history. Israel moves from being governed directly by God through the instrument of judges to the direction by kings.

In chapter 8, the people confront Samuel and wanted him to appoint a king so that they could “be like all the other nations.”

Chapter 9 introduced us to Israel’s first king: Saul, the son of Kish.

Saul was from a well-to-do family. Kish was described in 9:1 as being a “mighty man of power” which speaks to his influence.

Saul, in spite of coming from an influential family, wasn’t spiritually astute. His father sent him and his servant out to look for some lost donkeys. After three days of searching, the servant suggested they go see a man of God, who was Samuel. The impression we get from Saul’s reaction to that suggestion is that he never heard of the guy. That is highly unusually seeing that Samuel was a nationally recognized prophet.

Saul’s encounter with him changes all of that.

I) The Private Confirmation (9:26-10:16)

God had told Samuel of His selection of Saul (9:15, 17), so when Saul encounters Samuel, he is invited to dine with him.

After they dine together and Samuel treats Saul with kindness and respect, he sends Saul’s servant a head of them and takes a flask of oil to anoint him (10:1). The act of pouring oil was an act reserved for anointing priests and sacred objects. So by Samuel’s act of pouring oil on Saul means that God was staking a divine claim upon him.

Samuel tells Saul that God has appointed him to be commander (king) over his inheritance (Israel). He is designated as a leader, not a king yet, which means he is a “king-to-be,” like a prince.

Now, in order to demonstrate that he wasn’t “crazy” and had chosen the wrong man, Samuel tells Saul he will see three confirmatory signs that will come to pass with specificity.

- He will be told by two men sitting at Rachel’s tomb at Zelzah that the donkeys had been found.

- He will then encounter three worshippers who will be carrying goats, bread, and wine. They will greet Saul and give him two loaves of bread.

- Then he will meet a group of prophets near where a Philistine garrison is located and the Spirit of God will come upon Saul and he will prophesy with them.

The last sign is unusual, but judges had experienced the Spirit of God rushing upon them. In this case, Saul would “prophesy” with the prophets. The idea is that a prophet is a mouthpiece for God. The king, in turn, was to obey His Word.

So. After Saul leaves Samuel, all the “signs” are confirmed beginning in 10:9. The writer chooses to center on the last one regarding Saul’s prophesying with the prophets.

He is described as receiving “another heart” from the Lord. The phrase can mean God “overturned” his heart. Saul became something different. It is not “salvation” because later we see how he did not obey God. However, it was a demonstration of the presence of God. The work of God was so surprising a proverb is created to describe the unexpected and the unexplained (10:12).

II) The Public Anointing (10:17-27)

All of these events in Saul’s life came rather rapidly and must have startled him because when he returned home he tells his uncle about meeting Samuel, but he did not tell him about being chosen as king over Israel (10:15, 16).

Later, Samuel calls the people together at Mizpah, a centrally located area where Israel had met for a major time of worship and public repentance in chapter 7.

Samuel begins by rebuking Israel’s rejection of God’s direction and governing (18, 19). He then tells God will present their king to them. In a public display of God’s hand, by casting lots that separates out Benjamin, then Saul’s tribe and family, and then Saul himself, Israel is presented their king.

When Saul is chosen he is not present, but is found “hiding among the equipment.” He was running from this calling God had placed on his life. In a way, his absence at his own coronation foreshadows a reign where he would vacate his spiritual responsibilities.

The people, however, bring him forward and hail him as their new king. A man who was “head and shoulders” above everyone else. A man who was physically impressive, but regrettably, spiritually weak.

God is gracious, though. He gives Saul a group of valiant men whose hearts the Lord touched and they unite themselves to him.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Speed of Light in SLO-MO

This is a pure geek video, hence the reason I'm sharing.

What is exciting about things like this is how our technology tends to expose the shibboleths of dogmatic scientism. And I will be curious to see how the claims of anti-creationists will be debunked by stuff like this.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Irony of Love

Recently a mosque was burned down in Joplin, Missouri. Arson is the suspected cause. Local Christians have come together to show support. The state media reports that the Christians will share in the iftar, the traditional Islamic meal to break the fast for the month of Ramadan.

Mark at Here I Blog offers a scenario for our consideration. Suppose your church was in the community where the mosque was burned and there was pressure put upon your congregation to join in the public support for these Muslims. The local opinion is such that if you delay joining in support, your church will be perceived as a group of haters who are prejudiced against "outsiders." He then offers a handful of options as a possible response and asks readers what they would do.

A thought or two.

Islam is cause celebre these days. Leftists in particular slobber all over themselves in order to prove their tolerant loyalty to Muslims. They turn a blind eye to the sharia based conduct codes popping up in communities around the country. They'll even work to stifle the first amendment rights of evangelistic Christians to distribute Christian literature at public Islamic festivals.

Yet the way the progressive leftists ingratiates themselves to Muslims is honestly laughable, especially in light of the wild inconsistency Islamic values have with leftist values. Someone, for instance, should ask the Muslims behind the ground zero mosque in NYC what they think of same-sex marriage. See if their answer generates the same vitriolic censorship and protest the Chic-Fil-A president received.

At any rate, it didn't surprise me to learn that the main churches involving themselves in the iftar feast were theologically liberal. Theological liberals just love pagan diversity. But there is a bit of irony here that is being overlooked. The feast was held at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, and both Peace Lutheran Church and South Joplin Christian Church are staffed by women ministers. I find that little factoid absolutely chuckle inducing. Two churches pastored by women lending support and encouragement to a world religion that is notorious for its misogyny. It's hard to find such comedy gold.

Curious. If the "church" in question that was burned by arson was a Mormon church - a real possibility considering our current presidential race - would these same churches be in a hurry to offer their support? Or would they even bother because, well, you know how Mormons have a history of keeping concubine sister wives.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Butler Family’s Favorite Children Books

Vintage Hip and Thigh

When I compiled all of my reviews in a single post I put up a couple of weeks ago, I came across this old one I did highlighting the children’s books I read to my kids. At the time we only had three. Now there are five. Both boys mentioned in the article are now 9 and 8 respectively.

I wanted to repost this article primarily because I was amused by the recounting of my pitiful experience with reading in second grade. This was originally published back in 2007, so I figured newer readers would appreciate it.


My oldest boy turned 4 last November and my middle boy just turned 3 this February. Early in their lives my wife and I have attempted to provide them both with a love for books. One of our more special times as a family is reading two or three books before bed time. Both of our boys know their letters and the oldest is beginning to recognize words.

As a parent, I am excited about this because I believe reading is a vitally important discipline that must be taught early to children. However, reading to my kids has caused me to exhume some long ago buried bones from my early elementary school education.

I was a slow reader. I also lacked the confidence to read out loud in class. I think I may have received a "U" for "unsatisfactory" on my report card up until 4th grade. It wasn't that I didn't comprehend reading, I just read slow because I liked to savor what I was reading and the thought of people listening to me read out loud was to me like kryptonite to Superman.

Moreover, if the reading was accompanied by pictures, I would linger even longer over my reading and completely zone out from what was happening immediately around me in the class room. This was especially true if those pictures were snakes, lizards, dinosaurs, and Bigfoot.

I remember once in second grade, our teacher had the class pass around a picture encyclopedia to show us an elephant. This particular book also contained “D” words so when it came to me, I accidentally flipped to the “D” section and found the “dinosaurs.” I sat transfixed at the pictures of the tyrannosaurus rex fighting a triceratops. After several minutes of me gazing at what I believed to be one of the most glorious spectacles I had ever seen, our teacher asks, "What happened to the book?" Shelia, who sat next to me, shot up her hand and proclaimed in a loud voice, "Freddy has it and he's looking at the dinosaurs, not the elephants!"

Shelia was one those prissy girls who lived for being a teacher's pet, and from my vantage point, a large responsibility of her self-appointed position was to inform our teachers (and our class) when I lagged behind in my academic skills, especially my reading.

For example, again in 2nd grade, our teacher would break the class up into reading tables and number the tables 1-8 with #1 and #2 being next to her and #8 toward the back of the room. They represented the students’ ability at reading out loud in front of the entire class room. The kids back at tables 7# and 8# needed the most help, and would read “special” books. Kids got the glorious opportunity to move up in number or the humiliating shame of moving down in number

The goal for us kids was to move up to the #1 and #2 tables because that was where all the really cool kids sat. So, if a kid was sitting at the #4 table and he or she read the assigned sentence well, the kid moved up to the #3 table and continued until he or she moved up to the honored #1 table.

The kids already sitting at the #1 and #2 tables had to essentially defend their spot and if any of them messed up, that kid was sent back to the tables at the lower end of the reading spectrum and started the process over.

readingThe popular kids always sat at the #1 table, where as all the class misfits sat at the #8 table. For some reason, on this particular day, our teacher started me out at the #1 table and I couldn't had been more excited and nervous all at the same time. It mainly had to do with the company I was keeping. There were a couple of the playground sports star boys along with a number of the school supermodels girls, and then me, and Shelia.

The class read through one story and some of the kids at the #2-#7 tables moved up or stayed where they were. Then we came to the second story called "Little Dog Lost" about a Scottish terrier who gets lost in a park. The teacher says, "Freddy, please read the name of the story." I sat up straight in my seat and with all the firm confidence of an 7 year old, said loud and clear,

"Little Dog Loost"

Silence filled the room. All that I could hear was Shelia’s heavy, audible sigh. I will never forget the soul crushing words that came from my teacher, "Oh, I'm sorry Freddy, that's wrong" and then the final blow still echoes in my ears to this day:

Go to the back table... back table... back table...

As I got up from my seat, Shelia leans over to another girl and whispers, "Freddy can't read." I hung my head and shuffled toward the back table, the "zip-zup, zip-zup" of my brown garanimals corduroy pants cruelly laughing at me as I went.

As I sat down, across from me sat Michael, who was drawing crude tattoos on his arm with a green, ball point pen. Next to him was Ronald carving up a pink eraser with a pocket knife. To my left was Davina, who was always giggling at the most inappropriate times, giggling at me, and Gilbert sat to my right. Gilbert was the only 8 year old I knew who smoked. He turned to me and says in a raspy, Larry King like voice, "How yah doin'."

Sorry about that. I was having a flashback.

At any rate, we have exposed our children to many fine books and for the sake of the cathartic story I told above, I thought I would share with you all our top ten most requested books.

So here are the Butler family's favorite books in no particular order.

Owl Moon - Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

The story of a dad taking his young daughter on her first owling hike on a full moon night in the woods of Connecticut. The water color illustrations are exceptional and really bring this sweet story alive.

Good Night Moon - Margret Wise Brown, illustrations by Clement Hurd

My boys absolutely adored this book when they were first able to sit on our laps and have us read it. They particularly loved finding the mouse in each frame. I am thankful they are too young now to be effected by the New York Times scandal concerning the illustrator, Clement Hurd, surrounding old photographs of him smoking and the anti-smoking, hand-wringing busy-bodies photoshopping out the cigarettes in his hand Soviet propaganda style.

Anthony Gets Ready for Church - Mary M. Landis

This is a Mennonite book written and drawn for Mennonite kids. The mother in the book, for example, has the standard Mennonite "nursing" outfit on. When we ordered books from the Staff and Rod ministries, the fine folks included a set of free tracts promoting pacifism with our purchase. I laughed. Regardless, my boys love the simple story of young Anthony cleaning himself up and getting himself dressed for a Church service.

The Waterhole - Graeme Base

Graeme Base's books are pretty awesome. Not only is he a superb illustrator, but his pictures contain hidden pictures within them. So, for example with The Waterhole, you learn to count to ten with the animals from around the world, but also camouflaged with in the picture, in a Bev Doolittle style, are ten other animals native to whatever area of the world is being considered.

The Big Hungry Bear - Don and Audrey Wood

Cleverly drawn and well illustrated book explaining why you cannot hide strawberries from bears.

The Doorbell Rang - Pat Hutchins

With each ring of the door bell, a new group of kids arrive for a visit, thus diminishing the number of cookies each child can have to eat. I just wouldn't answer the door.

That's Good, That's Bad - Margery Cuyler, illustrations by Davit Catrow

A series of serendipitous events that appear good on the one hand, yet bad on the other, brings a boy lost at the animal park back to his parents.

Smokey - Bill Peet

Peet was one of the original storyboarders and animators for Disney back when they did cell-cartoons. He eventually took his talent to writing and illustrating children's books. Old Smokey is a train engine who escapes his junk yard demise. The fact that it is about trains is enough to entertain my boys. I happen to like the political incorrect section about a group of whooping Indians who "misread" his smoke "signals" and give chase after him.

Chrysanthemum - Kevin Henkes

A little girl grows up loving her first name, Chrysanthemum, until her first day of school when all of her classmates inform her that she is named after a flower which lives in dirt and it contains 13 letters, half the letters of the alphabet.

Old Bear - Jane Hissey

The friends of old bear devise a scheme to release him from his attic confines.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

There Goes a Car

In case you missed the tweet last week, here's the video:

It looks all cute and fun, and everyone is saying what an awesome dad and all, until the kill-joy bureaucratic liberal nanny state goons comes in to confiscate the car and fines the father for reckless endangerment.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

True Persuasion: Contrasting Apologetic Methodologies

I wanted to comment on this statement I found at an apologetic site called The Poached Egg.

It's a quote from Ratio Christi president, Rick Schenker,

People will only become Christians when they are persuaded that Christianity is true. People only stay Christians if they believe Christianity is true. The job of the apologist is to prove that Christianity is true. Salvation is a supernatural work, but who ever heard of someone being a Christian that didn’t first believe it was true. Somehow they became convinced that eternal life is a free gift from God that can only be obtained by trusting in Jesus Christ. Rick Schenker (President of Ratio Christi)

I have to admit that I appreciated what he had to say.

The reason being is I believe his statement concisely articulates the key difference between the anthropocentric, humanistic apologetic methodology advocated by classical, evidentialist apologists, from a theocentric, doxological approach presented by biblical presuppositionalism. It further illustrates how our biblical exegesis, or in this case, a lack thereof, impacts the manner in which we engage the world with the Gospel.

Perhaps I am just naive, but I think as Christians we would want to derive our apologetic methodology from the exegesis of Scripture. Seeing that the Bible is God's Word, I’d think beginning with what God has clearly said about things is a grand idea. I mean, it is the primary document setting forth what truly is God's plan of salvation. As Christians, we should endeavor to know what God's Word teaches first about the particulars of the Christian faith and then build our methodology upon what's been revealed.

What I do happen to know is true about Christianity is that it is a monergistic faith. In other words, God is both the author and finisher of our faith. Salvation is entirely a work of God alone to redeemed and reconcile condemned, God-hating sinners from the just wrath they deserve by the death of Christ on the cross and His Resurrection from the dead. That is the good news. The Gospel.

Let me dissect this statement and evaluate these two apologetic strategy according to Scripture.

People will only become Christians when they are persuaded that Christianity is true.

This is not what the Bible teaches. People will only become Christians if, and only if, the Holy Spirit first does a regenerating work in the heart of the person so that he will believe the Gospel in faith.

The primary passage on faith, Ephesians 2:8,9, clearly teaches this,

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Adding to that is 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 and 2 Timothy 2:25, 26.

Classic apologists insist that men must first be persuaded that Christianity is worthy of an unbeliever's commitment and trust AND THEN, after they are convinced "Christianity is true," the apologist can steer them to considering the claims of the Gospel.

The Bible, however, says that it is only by the means of preaching and divinely granted faith that people are "persuaded" of the truth of Christianity, So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God(Romans 10:17).

People only stay Christians if they believe Christianity is true.

If an apologist believes his persuasive abilities with presenting facts and making airtight arguments is what brings people to see Christianity as being true in the first place, it would only be reasonable to conclude that their continued commitment is maintained in the same way. In other words, what persuaded the people to Christianity is what keeps them Christian.

But what happens if the people meet a counter-apologist with better persuasive abilities and his arguments are superior to the ones that initially persuaded them to the Christian faith? Seriously?

Rather than the certainty of one's conversion and continued commitment to Christ resting upon human "abilities" the Bible tells us it rests upon God alone. A person's faith is divinely initiated by the LORD, so too his ongoing sanctification. See for example Romans 8:29-39 and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-9.

The job of the apologist is to prove that Christianity is true.

The problem I have with this comment is that it present the idea of a separate "office" in the Christian church called "The Apologist." An individual who has a "job." There's the laity, or regular folks; the clergy, or the pastors; and then a third group, "the apologists."

I see this idea of a specialized "apologist" defending the faith promoted everywhere among what I consider the "popular" apologetic radio and internet programs. These "apologists" specialize in specific fields of study and develop presentations on such subjects like the reliability of the Gospels, the historicity of Jesus, the proof of the Resurrection, the proofs of God's existence, intelligent design vs. evolution, answering the "new" atheists, and interacting with cultural issues like same-sex marriage and abortion.

But the Bible states that apologetics should not be the job of a specialized group of people (especially young 20-something folks just graduated from a particular, so-called Christian school in La Mirada, CA), but it is the duty of all people who name Jesus Christ as Lord. And that duty is not just to "prove" Christianity is true, but to preach the Gospel and confront the false, demonic philosophies sinners have built for themselves and assault those spiritual fortresses with truth (1 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Is it helpful to be knowledgeable of certain arguments? Yes, it can be. However, having the most knowledgeable and persuasive proofs for faith is not what saves people. It's the power of God preached in the Gospel alone. A much more persuasive line of evidence is a person’s godly life lived out in front of the sinner coupled with the consistent preaching of Scripture. That is where apologists should specialize.

Salvation is a supernatural work, but who ever heard of someone being a Christian that didn’t first believe it was true. Somehow they became convinced that eternal life is a free gift from God that can only be obtained by trusting in Jesus Christ.

The Bible clearly tells us that sinners aren't too keen on believing this Gospel. In fact, they are outright hostile to it. Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth, states that the Gospel message is a stumbling block to Jews, and gentiles think it is utter foolish nonsense (1 Cor. 1:23). The only thing that will modify their "opinion" is if a supernatural change takes place. Hence, this notion that people can be "persuaded" by compelling evidence or with the use of logic-chopping arguments toward the truth of Christianity is not only misguided, it is both exegetically untenable and theologically unsound.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Gleanings in 1 Samuel [11]

samuelsaulSaul, The First King of Israel (9:1-17)

We’ve moved into the section of my study on 1 Samuel where we see the beginning of Israel’s monarchy.

In chapter 8, the elders demanded a human king to rule over them and in so rejecting Samuel and his corrupt sons, the elders (all Israel) were rejecting God as their king.

  • The wanted to have their government their way.
  • They wanted to trust a man to lead them into battle, not God.
  • They wanted to be absolved of being responsible to God.

Their request was granted by God and thus was set into motion the giving of a king who was like “all the other nations.”

Though he was from a well-to-do family, physically impressive, and eventually skillful in leading, he is revealed as being pastorally incompetent, spiritually ignorant, and willfully disobedient.

The genealogy of Saul begins in 9:1 similarly to that of Samuel. In fact, the author may had intentionally wanted the reader to notice the connection.

  • Both men came from the same area.
  • Both rose from obscurity to national prominence.
  • Both led against the Philistines.
  • However, Samuel was requested from God
  • Whereas, Saul was requested by men
  • Samuel’s life is marked by the presence of God
  • Whereas, Saul’s life was not.

Despite those similarities, Saul’s background was different. Whereas Samuel’s family was poor, Saul’s was wealthy. He is noted as being from a lineage described as “a mighty man of power.” This has the idea of wealth and prosperity. In other words, Saul was a rich boy who came from an influential family.

Additionally, as verse 2 states, he was physically bigger and was “good looking.”

However, even though he comes from a well to do family and being physically appealing, 9:3-10 describes a particular situation that arose which reveals Saul’s spiritual failing.

It begins with Saul’s father, Kish, asking his son to look for some run away donkey’s. There is something of an editorial comment upon Saul’s ability to “shepherd.” After three days of trying to find some big animals, he is unable to locate them.

Certainly the Lord is divinely leading the donkeys for Saul to hook up with Samuel, but there is something to say about his “shepherding” skills. If he is unable to locate large farm animals that ran away, how exactly is he going to “shepherd” a nation of people?

Compounding this conclusion about Saul’s spiritual abilities, when his servant tells him about a man of God, who is undoubtedly Samuel, Saul seems to be clueless about who he is. There is a profound ignorance regarding Samuel, especially seeing that he is supposed to be known to all Israel (3:20, 4:1). And there is the absolute failure of Saul to consider seeking divine help in the first place after three days of nothing.

The pair find Samuel and we are told the LORD had already revealed to Samuel that Saul would be coming the previous day (9:15, 16).

As Saul approached, the LORD tells Samuel that the one He told him about the previous day was coming. God describes Saul as “This one shall reign over my people.” (9:17) The core meaning for the word “reign” or “rule” has the idea of “to restrain” or “constrict.” Though it is only Samuel who knows this at the time, God may have been telling him that Saul was the means by which He is going to punish Israel for rejecting Him.


Monday, August 06, 2012

The Atomic Bomb and War Crimes

This is from 2009, but the information is relevant as to why we had to drop the atom bomb on Japan. There is excellent material here to refute the bad, historical revisionism of morons like Jon Stewart.

Wished I could have embeded it, but that option was not available. It's worth 16 minutes of your time to follow the link.

Jon Stewart, War Crimes and the True Story of the Atomic Bomb


Thursday, August 02, 2012

Bold Mistakes

Barnabas Piper smugly chides those evangelicals who participated in Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day as involving themselves in a "bold mistake." He writes,

Homosexuality is one of the most defining, contentious, and complex issues facing this generation of the church. We cannot sacrifice our biblical convictions but neither can we sacrifice the church’s ability to serve people of opposing viewpoints and lifestyles.

In other words, all that Christians are doing is turning sodomites and other assorted lefty Christ-haters away from Jesus. Seeing that they already hate Jesus, I guess he means Christians are hardening their hearts more. Strange words coming from a guy with a Calvinistic background.

Curious if he would have the same logic in the 1800s when the debate about the slave trade was raging. To put it in modern terms, does this apply to any sin, or just homosexuality? Would the church be sacrificing their ability to serve other people of opposing viewpoints, oh, let's say, NAMBLA and the polyamory clubs? What about pornographers? They certainly have an "opposing viewpoint" concerning marriage.

It's part of the Piper family mystique to be counter anything popular evangelicals may do. I mean, this is a guy whose dad wrote a book about not wasting your life and berated retirees for vacationing and collecting sea shells. If the Commie Red army came knocking at his door asking if he was hiding Christians, he'd say "yes," just to make what he thinks is some counter-relevant point about the misguidance of Evangelicals.

However, Church History is full of Christians who made "bold mistakes" by offending those of opposing viewpoints. Let's recount a few:

Charles Martel
John Wycliff
Jan Huss
William Tyndale
Martin Luther
Nicholas Ridley
Hugh Latimer
William Wilberforce
Charles Spurgeon
J. Gresham Machen
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Corrie Ten Boom

I'll trust that you know how to use Google and Wackapedia to get the background.
I'll update with any suggestions made in the comments.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Word to Our Benevolent Dictators

eyeThe chief complaint I hear from survivor bloggers is how they were abused by hyper-authoritarian pastors and church leadership.
Though each person may vary as to his or her experience, typically, the "authoritarianism" is reported as manifesting itself in rigid, domineering moralistic preferences that govern every aspect of a Christian's life.  The "moralism" can be as benign as a rule against wearing short pants in the church building, to the absurd notion that trick-or-treating on Halloween is satanic, to the more sobering idea that Christian families are in serious sin if their children aren't homeschooled.
These moral preferences aren't spelled out in any written document that is handed out to members. (Though I am sure there are survivor bloggers who could probably produce such a real-life document).  Rather, they are shared "convictions" experienced by members in the spiritual climate within the church by what is taught in the pulpit and advocated in the Sunday school rooms.
Take for example the pastor's idea of Christian modesty.  If he teaches that no women are ever allowed to wear pants because pants are a "man's garments," or a man's hair cannot cover his ears or touch his shirt collar because "long hair on a man is effeminate," and everyone in the church conforms to those preferences, any "non-conformity" will be met by strong glares and possible rebuke.
It's one thing for moralistic church leadership to forbid the people from listening to any rock music including CCM.  It's quite another when they tell you how much money you need to tithe every month or what Bible version you must use or you risk falling into sin.  Particularly odious, however, is when they tell you how many children you and your wife must have or what kinds of foods you should eat in order to be really, really godly.
Any person who may not share in these preferences will find it difficult to participate in the body life of that local church without feeling a burden of guilt and an unspoken hostility from other members for non-conformity.  That is not a spiritually healthy environment.  Pastors need to be especially alert to fomenting this sort of oppressive atmosphere in their churches.  In fact, I would say these pastors are held doubly-accountable before the Lord in such cases.
The Apostle Peter warns pastors in his first epistle not to "lord over" those that have been entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:3).  The idea here is that pastors have a unique role as spiritual leaders and they should be an example of humble service to the people they watch over.  Pastors are not to abuse their authority with manipulative intimidation.  Especially in areas that genuinely are preferences regarding the living out of moral issues on a daily basis.
As shepherds, these are men who have been stirred up by God's Spirit to desire that office and are divinely placed in their position to govern the spiritual lives of men's souls.  They are first teachers of God's Word, so they have a serious responsibility before God Almighty to handle faithfully the teaching of sound doctrine (James 3:1, Ephesians 4:11-16).  But moreover, their duties as shepherds means they have an equally great responsibility to serve God's people by loving them, discipling them, and training them in godliness.
Using his God given authority to forcibly insist Christians must adopt his non-biblical moral preferences has never been the role of a shepherd.
A genuine mark of the Holy Spirit's work in the body of Christ is that faithful teaching will produce faithful application of that doctrine in the lives of Christian people.  One struggle a pastor may experience is learning the discernment that distinguishes between the Holy Spirit's exclusive sanctifying work in the hearts of Christians and the authority they've been granted to disciple the members of their flock.  When a pastor blurs the distinction between what is the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying believers with his scripturally revealed duties as a shepherd to watch after the flock, a danger exists for him to abuse his authority.
sundayA pastor who equates his personal convictions and preferences with true spiritual godliness risks lording over his flock and stepping into areas where he has no authority. 
You as a pastor may believe watching TV is a worldly distraction that wastes time, and you may be right about that conviction.  But it is inappropriate for you to insist ALL church members must embrace and implement your anti-TV convictions as a means to obtain true spirituality.  All a pastor can do it mildly exhort people with long-suffering concerning his reasons for why it's not good for Christians to watch TV.  Once he begins laying a heavy guilt trip on people, he's moved into abusing his authority.
What steps can a pastor take in order to keep himself from falling into abusing his authority and head-off any accusations of "lording over others?"  I am sure there are probably more, but I’ll offer three simple thoughts.
FIRST, I would say communicate.  Explain clearly why it is leadership requires what they do from it's members.  Discuss openly with the flock any major Church impacting decisions made on behalf of the people.  As long as you are sharing information that isn't confidential, that would include any church discipline issues.
SECOND, welcome dissent.  Be prepared to defend your position, as well as answer hostile questions and challenges graciously, fully, and with long-suffering.  A pastor may have to deal with the same nit-picky, button-holing person over and over again, but dealing with hassling complainers is part of the pastor’s job.  His immediate response to dissenters must never be "my way or the highway!"
And THIRD, and most importantly, be humble. That would especially include receiving correction from the members that may result in changing a long held preference tradition or direct a course change in the way the pastor may have handle a situation. 
I think if a pastor makes a good faith effort to work out at least these three suggestions in his ministry, no one can truly accuse him of lording over people and abusing his authority.
Now. A ending word to church members who like to cry “spiritual abuse” and  “hyper-authoritarianism.”
Similarly, members of the flock must heed the exhortation following Peter's words to shepherds: Likewise you younger submit to your elders.  The "younger" here, I believe, has the idea of younger in experience, which means "young in the faith."  The contrast is between elders/shepherds and the younger, or the remainder of those in church.  In other words, the flock over which the shepherds watch.
In the same way shepherds should serve the flock, members of the flock need to serve the elders.  They serve by submitting to them and not holding them in suspicion about everything they do.  That entails trusting their authority even at times when you, the member, don't like them exercising their authority in particular areas. 
A person prone to kick against authorities he believes are "meddling" with his life and sticking their nose in "my business," needs to seriously re-evaluate what it is he wants out of church and why it is he's there.  If you think it's none of the pastor's business that you let your teenage son date an unbeliever or that he's concerned you and your family only attend church once or twice a month, it may be helpful to save him the grief and move on to a place where no one will interfere with your life. 

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