Thinking Out Loud

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


March 27, 2017

Loss of Church Leadership Position is Like a Death

It’s now been seven years. Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family. My wife and I have been through this with respect to one particular church both individually and collectively, but because of our long history with the place, seven years ago she went back for another final run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend in response to a request to have her volunteer position reinstated. Nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog. The day after she allowed me to run this at Thinking Out Loud, I came back the next day with what I felt was an objective discussion of some of the other larger issues her meeting raised. That will appear here tomorrow.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself.

They said they wanted to have a meeting and “discuss this.” Which is never good.

But I said “OK,” and one evening the three of us sat down to “discuss this.”

I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve known enough people who’ve been alienated from churches to know that you just don’t try to go back. You just don’t. Because it hurts.

One time a few years ago, I got a call from a woman who’s the wife of a former pastor of another church in town. Their time there had ended very stressfully and he’d been fired. But she had founded the local chapter of a national prayer group and they were having their annual shindig. Guess where. She couldn’t bring herself to walk into that building alone after what they’d been through and just wanted somebody to go with her. I said sure. She met me in the parking lot and we went in together. Those kinds of forays are tremendously difficult for the wounded.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of preachers say that “You don’t have to forgive a church that hurt you. You have to forgive the particular individuals in the church who hurt you.”

They’re wrong. Completely wrong.

Anyway, my meeting at the churchIusedtogoto was cordial. The answer was no. Or rather, “Maybe someday.”

Maybe someday. These are obviously people who’ve never read Proverbs 13:12.

The condition they set on the “maybe” was this: That there are people at the churchIusedtogoto who don’t know who I am. People who would wonder, if they saw me at the piano, “Who is that?” And their policy is that “We don’t have guest worship leaders.”

That’s it. That’s the reason. Not that I’ve failed morally. Not that I’m a bad example. Not that I’m incompetent or dangerous. Not that I’m a communist, or a heretic, or I dress funny. Just that somebody might not know who I am.

And their solution to this “problem” was that I should attend the church regularly, spend time after the services talking to people, shaking hands, chatting, getting to know folks and to be known.

Then, once I’d built these “relationships”, then “maybe someday.”

As I said, I’m an introvert. I think about things. I use my brain to ask myself questions. People say things and I actually listen, and then give them thought.

I thought about this. And decided it was bumph.

After a few days, I wrote them back. In part:

I respect your answer, and won’t pursue the question anymore, in spite of the fact that I really don’t believe I was asking for much. Just one Sunday.

But your reason for saying no was so absurd. There are people there who don’t know me. You don’t have guest worship leaders.

All through school, children show up in the morning, occasionally to discover that they have a substitute teacher. People turn on the Tonight Show to find that the host is away and there is a guest host. The evening news anchor goes away for a few days and his seat is filled by a guest anchor. Just the other week, you had a guest speaker as churches do all the time.

And you’d ask me to believe that your congregation is so simple minded that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a guest worship leader. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t pathetic.

I don’t know what you think you’re protecting them from, but if you treat your congregation like simpletons, don’t expect them to challenge themselves.

Not my most diplomatic, but I figured, hell, the bridge is on fire. What have I got to lose?

(Yes, I know I said hell. See above.)

There might be a few things at play in their response.

First, this is a church that had a burst of progressiveness in the 80’s and then just stopped. Since then the leadership has become dominated by policy wonks who seem to be always looking for one more loose end to tie down.

Second, we ‘worship leaders’ have been done a grave disservice over the last couple of decades by being given an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We’re told that we’re ‘leading people into God’s presence’, that we’re ‘temple musicians’ and stuff like that. Rather than that we are just one part of the body of Christ, whose diverse giftings are all of equal value and sacredness.

Which is all another post for another blog.

But reading McHugh’s book has given me the language to better define the vehemence of part of my antipathy to their reasoning.

McHugh points out that, since we introverts usually struggle with social interaction, we find our ways into community by different paths than extroverts and normal people do.

He makes me smile when he describes the hellishness of “unstructured social events”, and writes of a man who leaves church a few minutes before the service ends to avoid “the agony of the fellowship hour”. I love that phrase. It warms the cockles of my contemplative heart.

Those of us who can’t function in the schmooze and chat world of North American evangelicalism connect with their churches through the roles they find to fill. Having a place to step into when you get there is a tremendously valuable thing. It’s a piece of ground from which to meet just one or two people at a time, to find like minded friends and to, yes, build real relationships, not ersatz hi-how-are-you-fine ones.

To insist that one of us has to run the gauntlet of coffee time in order to reach that place, is cruel and unusual punishment. Like telling you that you have to park your car a mile downhill from your house. If you want to go home at the end of the day, you have to sweat for it.

Screw that. Guess I’ll have to make do with one less finger.

Which might be just as well.


To this day, I still get comments from people as to how much they appreciated Ruth’s worship ministry in that church. I may be biased, but it was awesome. Vast song selection. Custom made video clips. Dramatic readings. Times of bold proclamation and times of deep introspection.

Some even go so far to ask if she might consider a reprise of that role. Without going into detail, I tell them to contact the church with that suggestion.

Since the article appeared, the wounds simply have not healed. At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight — and we’ll get to this tomorrow — what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.

There was another change of pastoral leadership after this was written and on hearing the full story the new pastor basically said, “He would never do anything like that.” In addition to what we’ve already had to deal with, I’ve now had to suffer the loss of credibility for attempting to defend my wife’s version of the events. 

Finally… saving the best (or worst) for last… Not more than three weeks later they had a guest worship leader. A recording artist who was also doing a worship workshop with them that weekend.  

It had to have already been booked at the time she was told they don’t bring in guests.

March 22, 2017

Wednesday Link List

The Original Wednesday List Lynx

Welcome to this week’s list and thanks to the usual suspects for your suggestions.

This week we caught up with David Hayward aka Naked Pastor… this really speaks for itself:

Finally, when it comes to Christian music tours, what’s in a name? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction:

March 15, 2017

Wednesday Link List

For those of you who celebrate round numbers, this is Wednesday Link List #350. Our upper image and lower image today are just two of five. Fred Clark at the Patheos blog Slacktivist imagines the five points of TULIP Calvinism as a pulp noir mystery series. Click here to see all five

Also, I can’t remember if I shared this last week, but wearing my other, non-writer hat, I was interviewed for this Christianity Today news story about the bookstore biz. (My second time and with the same reporter as did the first, which was about my writing…my writing the very weekly column you’re lookin’ at!)

March 14, 2017

Salvation is Instantaneous, Spiritual Formation Takes Time

img 032915I am frequently reminded that people new to the journey of following Christ often need time in various outward areas. Their inward growth may be great: A love for Jesus, a desire to tell others, and a cultivation of personal discipline in Bible study and devotions. But becoming a follower of Christ isn’t about outward conformity, and some things may need more time, such as:

  • Language – If you are directly involved in mentoring the person, then it’s appropriate for you to try to help them shape their speech along higher standards. But if you’re not the one doing discipleship with them, you have to let this go, most times. You’ll be surprised how more is caught than taught on this one.
  • Spending Priorities – A person may have begun a process of percentage giving to their local church, but still has spending patterns about which you may not approve. This may just be a matter of time and spiritual maturity. On this, I keep thinking about the little diagram in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, wherein the various aspects of life have come under Christ’s control. (See second of two images below.)
  • Dress – This is usually a discussion about women, though it doesn’t have to be limited to them. In a church setting, sometimes someone needs to be pulled aside on this one, but it has to be done very lovingly so as to not drive the person away. Admittedly, in many of our local churches, this one is awkward.
  • Addictions – The Twelve Step Program meetings, in various forms under various names, are proof that once addicted, battling this can be a lifelong fight. One program which confronts this from a Christian perspective is Celebrate Recovery. Some things however, like smoking, should be considered superficial.
  • Attitudes – Everything from racial prejudice to arrogance could get tossed into this basket. Remember, they’ve not arrived yet, and neither have you. Rather than have an agenda here, it’s far more beneficial to you to watch the Holy Spirit work in their lives.

Did I leave some out?

None of us started this walk fully formed, fully arrived; but solid 1:1 discipleship, the influence of a small group, sermons which deal with the lifestyle application of various scriptures, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make a difference in what people see.

With people who manifest outward traits that you or others find problematic, remember that God looks on the heart.

 

March 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Germany’s Bernhard Lang took to aerial photography to capture this image of the slums of Manila. Up close the image of the church would look pristine and serene, but pull back and the surrounding neighborhood paints a different picture. Click the image to read the tragic story of what happened on February 7th.

Miss it here? You can always catch it at Internet Monk’s Saturday Brunch on the weekend. (It’s okay…it works both ways! Hi, Mike and Daniel.)

“…At the most basic level, this is a classic example of a false equivalence, which itself is the basis for so many internet memes that try to equate two unrelated issues based on a shared trait. Despite being a logical fallacy, the seemingly straightforward checkmate power of the false equivalence has made it the crack cocaine of many a political debate – especially on the internet… Had even the slightest bit of effort been put into this pseudo-exegesis, its proponents would have noticed a rather inconvenient truth: according to the book of Revelation itself, the gates of heaven are never closed…” Click the image to read at source.

March 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

tweet-othersWelcome to WLL#348. It’s also Ash Wednesday. We have an unusual number of mid-month pieces here today even though the list was prepared the day before. So not fresh off the press, but we thought worth including. Don’t forget to try to get your suggestions to me by 6:00 PM EST on Monday; but later ones do get considered.

Our extro image is from the Twitter feed Unvirtuous Abbey:

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February 22, 2017

Wednesday Link List

soul-cleanser-medication

Did you miss us last week? Subscribers will have one free week added to the end of their subscription.

The item in our top and bottom image was found in a candy store and originates with LaughRat.com (viewer discretion advised).

soul-cleanser-medication-back

February 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

jesus-bible-no-b-c-full-size

Welcome to Link List #346. Please shake off the snow and leave your hats and boots at the door.

Re the image ↑↑ Granted, it’s a promotional piece for a new product from Zondervan Bibles, but it makes you think, doesn’t it.

Our closing item below is a bit different, I waited an extra week before including it. Found at Ben Witherington’s blog.

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There won’t be a link list next week; we’ll see you back on February 22nd.

February 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

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faith-with-benefitsYou’ll have to scroll down to find the link referencing the book cover here, but yes, the title means what you think it means. For our upper and lower images today we’re featuring the artwork of the UK’s Dave Walker from CartoonChurch.com which originally appeared in the Church Times and can be found in the book Heroes of the Coffee Rota, published by Canterbury Press.

  • Essay of the Week: “I didn’t intend to create an IT policy for my spiritual life, but inadvertently I ended up doing so over the past few months… I didn’t think I had an issue–but since making these changes I am more relaxed, have far more free time, am more present at home, and even in times (like now) which would previously have been cripplingly busy at work are manageable–making me far more productive.”
  • Norma McCorvey, was the “Jane Roe” in the classic court case Roe v. Wade. Here are seven things she wants you to know about that precedent-setting case.
  • Must Reading: Do the rich get better discipleship? After shopping for a church with a solid youth program for four teenage boys, this family realizes they simply can’t afford it.
  • Op-Ed: A challenge to the teaching of Francis Chan and the Family Integrated Church movement. Sample: “Chan has totally missed the mark of what it actually means to be a Christian family!
  • The fertility industry: It’s the year 2042 and the woman who is the product of a surrogate birth shares her story: “They bought my mother’s eggs—lots of them—so they could pick the best embryos. They rented another woman’s womb for 9 months. Well, 8 months: we were premature and underweight. My dad’s decided that each of them would get one genetic child—so I’m a half-sister with my own twin, which is strange.” An expert offers the other side of the story.
  • Megachurch Life: Our messaging that it’s okay to come if you are broken and your life is messy right now is contrasted by the image we project with a polished, professional service.
  • Pause for Thought: Humility and certainty can go hand-in-hand. “In other words, Christians are humble because their understanding of truth is not based on their own intelligence, their own research, their own acumen.”
  • The son or daughter has informed his or her conservative Christian parents that they are gay. Should the parents disown them?
  • I love what The Gospel Project is doing with their videos, but this one should also be made available at those sites where you buy clips for weekend church services. Every church needs to show this.  
  • January’s Essay of the Month: Philip Yancey on the election.
  • The Joy of Sects: A look at The Panacea Society. “Joanna Southcott…had died a century earlier – and had left behind a sealed wooden box full of prophetical writings, stating that it should only be opened during a time of national crisis by all 24 Church of England bishops.” This group of women were “convinced they held the fate of the planet in their hands.”
  • Leadership Lessons: It’s been a month now. How are you making out on your new year goals? “Sometimes we in the church are just not that serious or passionate… We trust that the Word will do its work and that we are stewards of the mysteries of God. But we don’t really want to rock the boat. We don’t want to take risks.”
  • Current Events in the Rear View Mirror:  Should Christian women march?
  • Church Tech Talk: Is the tech team or communications team simply service providers or are they a ministry unit?
  • Survey Says: Pollsters seem to reject the possibility that you can be African American and Evangelical at the same time.  “… historically the word points to and names a theological-spiritual ethos, not a particular socio-political-class movement…”
  • What are your idols? Find out what matters to you with this short 20 Questions to Expose Your Idolatry.
  • Timely: Christian recording artist Audrey Assad tells of her father fleeing Syria and coming to the U.S. as a refugee. (6 minute video; watch full-screen.) 
  • Kids still deciding on a college? 25 Things to do or questions to ask before making the final choice…
  • …Meanwhile, at the other end of the education spectrum, a Christian mom explains her choice to send the kids into the public school system.
  • When your church, denomination or parachurch organization disagrees with the government: This author suggests there are but three courses of action you can choose.
  • ‘You have just aborted Beethoven.’ That’s the punchline to a popular argument against abortion. However, “It assigns value based on (presumed) accomplishments. It is a utilitarian argument — assigning intrinsic value based on one’s “utility” (usefulness) — and it is utilitarian arguments that are best suited for pro-choice arguments, not for pro-life. In any event, those contemplating abortion are already employing utilitarianism in their thinking.”
  • First there was The Bible Museum. Now the American Bible Society is launching the Faith and Liberty Center in downtown Philadelphia.
  • Sadly, another high-profile Christian family processes divorce
  • …while the writers at one website consider that we are only hearing one side of the story.
  • Forthcoming Film: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone “represents what modern Christian life actually looks like, with a sense of irreverence and a knowing point of view.”
  • Parenting Place: 95% of our behavioral patterns are established by age 6. Authors Todd and Jackie Courtney have launched Inspirational Nursery Rhymes, with four titles releasing today. They’re available where you buy books; Christian bookstores can access them through Anchor Distributing. Info and an interactive game at the series website.
  • Who remembers when Keith Green sold his music albums on a “pay what you can” basis? Now, author and pastor Craig Groeschel is working with his publisher on a “pay what it’s worth” system for his new book, Divine Direction. (With a base price of $5.)
  • Martha Collison was the youngest ever contestant on the UK version of the show we know as The Great American Baking Show. She pays tribute to fellow Christian and bake off star 81-year-old Mary Berry.
  • Faith With Benefits: “…students on Catholic campuses report being unhappy with casual sexual encounters, most studies have found no difference between Catholic colleges and their secular counterparts…” Oxford University Press, $29.95 hardcover.
  • One way to get your books out there: HarperCollins is hosting GodLab, a 3-day faith-focused conference in Los Angeles in early June. (Cocktails will be served.)
  • Christian comedian Chonda Pierce faced some backlash after appearing at the Presidential Inauguration. She noted that, “somebody asked me what I’m wearing and I said, ‘Whatever is washable because someone might throw eggs at me!'”
  • Not enough links today? You can always try Religion Link
  • Provocative Headline of the Week: What to Do When You are Bored of God.
  • Video of the Week: You’ve got to see it to believe it as parents in Tbilisi, Georgia lined up at Trinity Cathedral to have their children baptized.
  • Finally, something a little different to end today; a poem by Brian Bilston found at this Twitter post.

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Reproduction of the Wednesday Link List in whole in or in part would constitute a great waste of scarce resources.

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