Thinking Out Loud

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

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March 19, 2019

Two Entirely Different Sets of Values and Virtues

Filed under: books, character, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck. Released just a few weeks ago, it’s already into its second printing and I had hoped to review it pre-publication, but it only showed up in the mail last week. Considering one of the things the book deals with is procrastination, I do promise a full review; but I’m only about 65% through the book at this stage so this isn’t it.

The book deals with self control. The subtitle is, Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science, but there’s also a tag line across the top of the cover that at least one vendor is using as the subtitle, A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators. Either way, you get the idea.

But I want to look at something Drew noted early on, on paged 65-66. He references a 2015 work by journalist David Brooks titled The Road to Character which has been described as a book about humility, morality and ethics. Here’s Drew’s synopsis:

In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks argues that we live in a post-character culture. We care more about success and achievements (what Brooks calls “resumé virtues”) than we do about cultivating traits like honesty or faithfulness (what Brooks calls “eulogy virtues,” the kind of qualities that get mentioned at your funeral).

Part of the reason for this shift, Brooks writes, is that we have strayed from a school of thought that saw people, not as inherently good, but as fundamentally flawed. Brooks dubs this the “crooked timber” tradition, a phrase he borrowed from the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” According to this older view of human nature, we are not inherently good creatures who simply need more freedom and affirmation. Rather, we are splendid but damaged. Like crooked timbers, we need to be straightened.

Brooks writes that the crooked timber tradition was “based on the awareness of sin and the confrontation with sin.” And here’s the surprising part. According to Brooks, it was this consciousness of sin that allowed people to cultivate virtue. That might seem like a strange argument. How could having a dim view of human nature enable people to become more virtuous? Because once they were conscious of their sinful nature, they could take steps to fight against it. “People in this ‘crooked timber’ school of humanity have an acute awareness of their own flaws and believe that character is built in the struggle against their own weaknesses,” Brooks writes. “Character is built in the course of your inner confrontation.” This inner confrontation is anything but easy, but the struggle is worth it.

I included a little extra in this excerpt, but it’s the contrast between resumé virtues and eulogy virtues which really got me thinking; in a way that it really was front of mind during much of the weekend. 

It’s so easy to get caught in the now and forget the eternal.

 

March 7, 2019

No Secrets in a Marriage?

Filed under: Christianity, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:00 am

Before I met her, my wife worked as a magician’s assistant. That’s not the set-up for a story, it’s really true.

Shortly after we were married, I asked her about the routine and she mentioned one particular illusion, and I asked her how they did it.

David & Kylie Knight are Christian magicians who would never sue me for using this photo image. Learn more about them here.

She wouldn’t tell me.

The ability to maintain a confidence is a great character trait to possess, but we were married, right? There’s no secrets in a marriage, right? Surely she could tell me, couldn’t she?

But she flatly refused. The more I kept grilling her, the more she stated that she had promised not to reveal the secret to anyone, and it was a promise she intended to keep.

And this was before the internet.

I was angry. I got up and went for a walk in the ravine. (Our apartment overlooked a beautiful river valley, but there was trouble in paradise that day!)

Fast forward 30 years…

…We were talking about magic acts somehow last night, and I asked her if the trick in question was one she would perform back in the day. It was.

So then I asked her how it’s done.

You guessed it; 30 years later we were having the same conversation and she still refused to tell me how the illusion is performed.

“You know that Penn and Teller probably have a video on this?” I reminded her.

But her loyalty to her promise, made back in the 1980s still held for her, and she wasn’t about to break that promise last night.

…I realize there are pastors who are told things in confidence that are told to them in the church office which cannot be shared. But I would think that a good percentage of these pastors use their spouse as a sounding board to either get an additional perspective or decompress from an intense counselling session. I would also equally recognize that it’s more in the DNA of some pastors to simply not burden their spouse with the information that would come with sharing.

I’ve been told things, and on occasion, before the words are out of the person’s mouth, I will say, “I will keep the confidence, but can I share it with my wife?” Most, some of whom know her, will say yes.

And as it turns out they don’t need to worry about information leaks from her, since apparently a secret with her is safe. For life. With everyone.

I still want to know how they do the trick, but more than that, I wish she would just tell me.

Magicians, eh?

I hear we’re having rabbit stew for dinner.

January 17, 2019

Our Summer Church-Visit Holidays: The Pattern

We wanted to hear Rob Bell in person. The first time we travelled to Grand Rapids he was away, but we went back again to have the complete experience. Not long after, Rob was gone from Mars Hill Bible Church over his view of hell, among other things.

I had some history visiting Willow Creek to hear Bill Hybels, but my wife had not. We went several times to South Barrington to hear him. Last year, in the wake of #MeToo, Hybels was no longer at Willow nor were the people he had chosen as successors.

I had been captivated listening to James MacDonald’s preaching on radio while driving to work every morning. The first time we drove there we didn’t know that Elgin was just a new Harvest Bible Chapel campus so James wasn’t there. The second time we drove to Rolling Meadows and he was at Elgin. So technically, I’ve never heard him in person. This week he took — or was placed on — an indefinite leave of absence over issues involving money and control.

The moral of the story is we need to stop visiting churches…

…Actually, the moral of the story is something my father taught me several decades ago: Don’t invest your confidence or admiration in an individual preacher; they will invariably let you down at some point. The megachurches are always the biggest blips on our radar and many of them got there due to the charisma of a key personality.

Many of these Bible teachers are great communicators with a style that local church pastors may try to emulate though not always successfully. Often however, the character strength by which they are able to get up and speak to thousands of people each weekend also masks a character weakness in terms of how they handle that power and responsibility…

…There are a couple of churches I would still like to visit to hear the lead pastors speak in person, instead of on a small window of my computer screen. In the wake of all that’s transpired, I’m thinking it might be best not to. 


Sidebar: Both Hybels and MacDonald ministered in the area of greater Chicagoland called the ‘Nortwest Suburbs.’ I wonder what the impact is there on both Christians and non-Christians alike in the wake of watching the fallout from leadership crises at two of the largest churches in the area. I can imagine doubters and skeptics saying, ‘See; I told you it was all a sham.’

While these two churches will continue to serve their congregations, no doubt some disillusioned people will take a step away from church, at least for a season. It may also be the case the smaller, local churches are left to pick up former members at Harvest and Willow who want to escape the megachurch environment.

The people — and pastors — in this part of Chicago really need our prayers.

December 2, 2017

Short Takes (6): Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

Forgiveness.

Over the years there have been some great resources on the subject of forgiveness. It’s a popular theme in Christian books:

  • Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall
  • Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman
  • The Gift of Forgiveness by Charles Stanley
  • Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • Choosing Forgiveness by John and Paul Sandford
  • The Revolutionary Guide to Forgiveness by Eric Wright
  • The Power of Forgiveness by Joyce Meyer
  • The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness by John McArthur
  • Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of The Past by Kay Arthur et al
  • How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt

If you are of a certain age you remember this song lyric:

Love means you never have to say you’re sorry

which is taken from the 1970s movie Love Story and a hit song of that era. You can read more about that here. The song went:

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Love means without a word you understand
Hold me and let the pressures disappear
Kiss me I only need to know you`re here

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Ahh… Isn’t that just sooooooooo romantic? (Bonus points if you can name the artist without help.)

But life isn’t like that. Sometimes you want to hear that apology. You want to hear the words. You want to sense that the other person has a sense of regret, of contrition.

And sometimes all of us have a way of dancing around actually having to say those words, “I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Christ followers are forgiven people. Freely we have received; now freely we need to give.

Here’s Matthew 6:12 —

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
(NLT)

Pardon our offenses as we also ourselves pardon such that offend us. (rough translation from the French Louis Segond version)

Forgiveness: Easy to discuss. Hard to do.

September 25, 2017

Defiance

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

There was something in the air on Sunday.

After viewing, I went on Twitter to what people were saying about the airing of Star Trek Discovery on CBS-TV. The mood was somewhat defiant. Well over half — in some stretches closer to 80% — of people commenting did not like the pilot and were adamant that they would not pay a subscription fee to CBS All Access to watch successive episodes. I think some were predisposed to not like the show because they knew it was moving to pay-per-view.

In a microcosm of that defiance, the second in command on the star-ship defies the Captain and several commented that defiance is usually not seen among the ranks of Star Fleet. There were also indications that the science officer was not going to necessarily be always obedient.

The show itself was delayed when an NFL game went into overtime, pushing back 60 Minutes (with new correspondent Oprah Winfrey); a game which was one of many on Sunday where players defied the President of the U.S. by either kneeling or locking arms or not showing up at all during the playing of the National Anthem. The “Take a Knee” action is also spreading on Twitter.

The Miriam-Webster Dictionary online reminds us that defiance can be an action or an attitude:

Definition of defiance

1 :the act or an instance of defying :challenge

  • jailed for defiance of a court order

2 :disposition to resist :willingness to contend or fight

  • dealing with a child’s defiance

Googling “What the Bible Says About Defiance” points often to defiance in children and there are also references to rebellion. The scripture context when referring to adults is usually in reference to rebellion against God. (See 1 Thess. 4:8)

I don’t want to go especially deep into this today except to note my personal conviction that defiance and rebellion can be contagious. While I applaud those who make peaceful protests surrounding key issues that really matter, I am hesitant to see the spread of protest culture. In some cases these demonstrations can be a great agent for social change, but in others they simply cultivate anger and can be breeding grounds for violence.

But defiance is definitely in the air these days.

 

 

September 23, 2017

Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

I came across this list earlier this week, though I had probably been aware of it before. I have to assume the use of the terms social is to distinguish this list from the Seven Deadly Sins reproduced here lower down the page. The list is sometimes seen as the ‘Seven Blunders of the World,’ to distinguish it from the Seven Wonders of the World.

According to Wikipedia, Gandhi “published in his weekly newspaper Young India on October 22, 1925. Later he gave this same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper on their final day together shortly before his assassination.”

Take some time to read the list slowly and consider the consequences of each:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

His grandson, who has traveled around as a speaker “added an eighth blunder, ‘rights without responsibilities'”.

You only has to check your news feed or newspaper to see that examples of each of these abound today, perhaps even more so than when Gandhi wrote them.


Appendix A: The Seven Deadly Sins (held in contrast to the Seven Virtues)

  1. pride
  2. greed
  3. lust
  4. envy
  5. gluttony
  6. wrath
  7. sloth

Biblical precedent for The Seven Deadly Sins is found in Proverbs 6: 16-19. KJV is below link is to The Voice Bible.

  1. A proud (vain) look
  2. A lying tongue.
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood
  4. A heart that deviseth wicked acts
  5. Feet that be swift in running to mischief
  6. A false witness that speaketh lies
  7. He that soweth discord among brethren

Appendix B – The Seven Christian Virtues (derived as the inverse of the sins)

  1. Chastity
  2. Temperance
  3. Charity / Generosity
  4. Diligence
  5. Patience
  6. Gratitude
  7. Humility

 

September 3, 2017

If It Seems Creepy, Cut Your Losses

Filed under: Christianity, ministry, personal — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:23 am

I was a blue-jeaned 17-year old who had come out to my youth group as a half-competent piano player. He was a well-dressed mid-20-something who the church frequently sent out to traditional, small churches as a soloist. He needed an accompanist.

He came by the house with a brown leather briefcase stuff with more sheet music than I knew had ever been printed. Church soloist stuff. Arrangements of classic hymns. Growing up in church I knew many of the songs, and the ones I couldn’t read note-for-note I could play well by ear. Not my usual repertoire, but at least a chance to serve.

He left the briefcase and encouraged me to “dig through it.”

I dug.

At the bottom were what I can only describe as a collection of erotic poems. Tame by today’s standards to be sure, but shocking and unexpected given the context. Pages of the stuff parked almost adjacent to Gaither’s “The King is Coming” and Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I was no prude. My high school friend Mark and I had the book, a pocket sized pornographic paperback we had found on a walk in the woods. I’ve never seen anything else that particular size and shape. We traded it back and forth a few times.

But I wasn’t putting myself out there as a “music ministry ambassador” for a large church. The hypocrisy of it was evident to me even at that age. And the fact that he wanted me to discover these photocopied, typed and hand-written pages was just… creepy.

I played the one church I agreed to play, and then told him I couldn’t do this moving forward. I’m not sure if I went into details. Years later, I find myself recalling the incident, but can’t think of the guy’s name or what happened to his singing career.

I had been aware enough to discern that something was wrong, but didn’t necessarily catch all the imagery in the poems. At that stage in life, I made the choice to stay blissfully ignorant.

April 10, 2016

The Opposite of Caring

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:51 pm

A woman was looking for a gift to give to the nursing staff who had cared for her mother-in-law in her final days. “I want to give them something,” she said, “because they really cared for her.”

We talked a bit how in certain institutions, you get to know when staff really care for the people in their …care… and when they don’t. You see people who don’t care all the time. At the bank. In retail environments. Getting your car serviced.

What’s the opposite of caring? Apathy. Indifference. Selfishness. Do other words come to mind?

Oddly enough though, none of these ranks among the Seven Deadly Sins. Granted, sloth may prevent someone doing a job, and pride may make someone indifferent to the needs of others.

On the positive side, we have the Fruit of the Spirit. There we find kindness and goodness. If your translation lists meekness among the nine fruit, it’s hard to be self-centered and be meek at the same time. Meekness is sometimes associated with humility — the thing Philippians 2 tells us should be our core attitude — which is the opposite of self-centered pride.

A tougher issue to face is: How do we respond when encountering someone who doesn’t care? Who doesn’t put any thought, energy, passion or conviction into their work? Who doesn’t give 110%, but gives about 10%?

Our response can be just as important as their terrible work habits. If we respond unlovingly in anger or rebuke we may be, overall, just as guilty as they.

On the other hand, if your work consists of simply doing the absolute minimum needed to get by, maybe it’s time to consider another vocation.

August 2, 2015

What if Orange Was a Swear Word?

Filed under: guest writer, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

A Guest Post by Lorne Anderson

Being subjected to a fair amount of hip-hop music at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has me thinking about language and its usage.

Hip-hop comes out of urban black culture, the inner-city ghettos of the United States. It is folk music in the true sense of the term (which has been expropriated to usually mean relatively mild singer-songwriters wielding an acoustic guitar). Part of its expression, a rebellion against the predominately Caucasian establishment, is the frequent use of profanity to shock and confront.

Img 080215I maintain that really doesn’t work. There is no longer any shock value in the words; society has changed. The words may still not be acceptable in church, or business, but their power to cause offense has been greatly reduced.

Yet every rapper and hip-hop artist makes liberal use of certain words, probably because it makes them appear controversial and contemporary, at least in the eyes of the average 13-year-old.

The words we find offensive vary from culture to culture. As a society changes (I would have said evolves, but that implies progression) the words deemed offensive can also change.

In my youth swearing had religious connotations. That is no longer the case in our post-Christian society. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is no longer risqué when no-one believes in God. Our “swearing” now deals with excrement and various sexual acts, especially ones still considered taboo. I suspect that fifty years from now the offensive words will be a completely different set than the ones we have today. But there will be something that can’t be said in polite company, we seem to require that vocal relief.

Canada is a bilingual country, so I have been exposed to French-language profanity also. Much of it still seems to be to be religiously based, despite French Canada (Quebec) being perhaps the most secular area of this post-Christian nation.

Maybe profanity hasn’t evolved as quickly there because the church was so dominant in that society for so long. It is so culturally based – unless you are a French Roman Catholic I don’t think exclaiming “chalice of my tabernacle” (a direct translation of one of the most popular curse phrases) really has much effect.

So what if “orange” was a swear word? The entire hip-hop industry would wither and die. Rap is all about the rhyme, and I have heard some very creative rhymes with English (and French) swear words. But there is no word that rhymes with orange.


Lorne Anderson is an Ottawa-based communications consultant working primarily in music and politics. He can usually be found online at randomthoughtsfromlorne.wordpress.com

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