Tribute to Al Jones

So this past week my uncle died suddenly. Certainly it was out of the blue. Apparently he’d worked on Monday and Tuesday and then it happened on Wednesday. I got to see some folks this week that I haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years. Bummer how these things happen. I figured I’d come on here and write out what I spoke on today at the service.

Nahum 1:7- The Lord if good. A stronghold in the day of trouble.

Certainly we’re all sad today in our own ways. We lost a good friend, or a teacher, or a family member. Someone we’ve known for many years. But let’s remember all the good times we spent with him. Remember all the days spent over on the banks pitching horseshoes; we know he loved shoes since everyone so far has said something about it. Remember the days and nights spent sitting around the bar in his kitchen having drinks and swapping lies.

One story to share was a real happy day for him and the family. Happened just over nine years ago. I was working with him during my winter break from college. I needed to get off at lunch time this particular day; maybe a dozen people know why that’s the case. A couple hours after that, I was at my grandparents house there on the same street as Al. I looked out the window and see Al’s truck go driving by at about 75 miles per hour. About two minutes later, we see Sherry’s Jeep zip out of the garage. I’m pretty sure they were driving 100 miles per hour by the time they got to the end of the block, both of them with huge smiles. They drove a long way that afternoon and evening and I’m sure they were driving faster than the speed limit the whole way, I probably would have too. That was the 27th of December 2004 and they were bound for Charlotte, doing everything possible, legal and probably illegal, to get there in time to see Bentley when he was born. And they made it. I’m not sure either one of them has stopped smiling in the 9 years since. 

Let’s remember all the great things he did and all the great times. Remember the guy that would help you out all the time, the guy who would drive six hours to be with family.

I stopped by the store a few minutes ago, got a little something I figure we can all appreciate [pint bottle of Crown Royal]. Top shelf only.

So, Al, here’s one for you…’Go rest high on that mountain. Son, your work on Earth is done.’

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Why millennials are leaving the church

CNN Belief Blog

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

(CNN) At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.

I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.

I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.

I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.

Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.

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I am a Crappy Christian and I Bet You Are, Too

Yes, I’m a crappy Christian. I wanted to use a different word than “crappy” but I decided against it. But really, aren’t we pretty poor? Not even compared to Jesus, but just compared to what is possible for us individually. I watched a video by Mike Slaughter and he made a really good statement in it:

“Didn’t somebody…Shakespeare or somebody said ‘Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you’…we better hope it was Shakespeare and not the Lord Jesus or we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

Mike Slaughter is the Senior Pastor as Ginghamburg Church in Ohio and said that last year at the Light the Fire church renewal conference sponsored by his church and United Seminary, where I attend. He said a couple other real quality statements during his presentation that reflect his desire to grow the church, both in his own buildings (he has one primary church and two satellite churches where his main church is supporting growth efforts in previously dying churches). But this one above stood out to me the most. Do we treat others as we’d hope to be treated?

Take time to really consider that question.

If you were broken down on the side of the road, wouldn’t you hope someone would stop and help you? Do you stop and help them? 

If you were hungry, wouldn’t you hope someone would help you provide for yourself and your family? Do you help people who are hungry?

If your children were struggling to read…..Do you reach out and help folks who are struggling to read?

Dig deep down in your personal mind and life and ask if you really do to others as you would like/expect them to do to you? I have to wrestle with this every day. On top of my current state of mind where I often see the negatives in every situation has led to me keeping my mouth shut a good bit of the time. The truth is, for every negative I vocalize or write out, there are probably 10 more I could say but I don’t because I try not to be a complete jerk. So often times I simply keep my mouth shut and don’t say what I am thinking. I also don’t do as much as I could helping in the community. I don’t stop when I see someone broken down or really help folks who are greatly struggling. That needs to change. My negativity is not likely to change any time soon, but my actions can. Does anyone really think they do as much as they can on a given week or day? Doubtful.

What did I do today? I have the day off, don’t have to work at all. What have I done today? Nothing. Went and blew $36 to eat out when I have cabinets full of food rather than giving that money to a worthwhile cause. ($36, BTW, will pay for a family to stay 3 nights in a Ronald McDonald House) The only thing I have done today is sit down and write the little post. A post that might be read by a dozen folks, most of whom will probably think I’m a jackass. Think what you want, I don’t mind. But go look in the mirror and think about what I have written. Do we really do to others as we’d like done to us? (That’s Matthew 7:12 if you want to look it up) We might also consider wearing out some of those bible pages and flipping back to Matthew 25 where Christ tells us “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” We always like to quote the positive of that, but the negative works better. You want the kingdom? Better remember that every single person you meet on the street is a walking Jesus. Walk past that homeless man, just walked past Jesus. I’ve walked past Jesus many times. You have too. That’s why we’re crappy Christians. That’s why we need to change.

 

“I left Christianity because of the people”

all our lemmony things

“I left Christianity because of the people.”

The words hurt my heart yesterday as I chatted with a good friend of mine. We were discussing religion. God. People. Mainstream Christianity. Topics that went hand in hand with some e-mails I sifted through while I sat on my break. One email in particular stuck out to me and I shared it with him.

I won’t quote it word for word or tell you who wrote this email (Totally not my style). And I hate giving attention to negativity–but this one, in turn, made me seek for the positive. *That’s “worth-sharing” material in my book*

The long winded email elaborately stated that I’m not a Christian because I don’t read the Bible. He told me Mormons go to Hell. It stated that I’m confused and hurting over the loss of a parent because I’m not a Christian and God isn’t on my…

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God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.

I’ll respond more tomorrow of the next day, but while I agree with the sentiment that we can have more things in our lives than we can handle individually, I don’t think God is responsible for “giving” us these things simply so we’ll try to come closer to Him. But more to come on that.

all our lemmony things

There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.

All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.

“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.

more than to bear

And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.

BUT–it isn’t true.

I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.

And it all started to make more sense.

I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my…

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Is the King James Version garbage?

Some scholars and ministers would seem to think that is the case. A quick Google search with a phrase like “is the KJV a poor translation” will yield a huge number of results.  Some of the criticisms, like this one, are written by highly qualified biblical scholars. Others, like some found here, are written by average Joe’s.

I have found a couple of good videos by Dr. Bart Ehrman that discuss the King James Bible itself and on the manuscript differences in New Testament manuscripts.

So what do I think? I think the KJV is limited, certainly not inerrant, and could be better. But I think the same thing about any other Bible that is currently published. As Ehrman points out, we do not have the original “editions” of any Biblical text. Second, it’s impossible to literally translate from one language to another. Having limited experience in Spanish and German, sometimes word order changes. Consider something as simple as “the green pants” which translates into Spanish as “los pantalones verdes.” That can’t translate literally word-for-word because it would say “the pants green.” So all versions of the Bible suffer from this limitation. 

Are there significant differences in the translations? Not really. Even passages that biblical scholars say are not original (see the first Ehrman video for commentary on this) are still in the modern translations. They may have a small note saying they do not exist in the original manuscripts or might be in brackets, but they are still there. There are some differences among the versions with language (gender-neutral and so forth) but the end of the story is always the same: the same Jesus died on the same Cross for the same sins of Mankind.

Just for comparison, let’s look at the same passage in 5 different Bible translations. The passage, selected at random, is 2 Corinthians 11:16.

KJV: I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.

Revised Standard Version: I repeat, let no one think me foolish; but even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.

New Revised Standard Version: I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.

New International Version: I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.

The Message: Let me come back to where I started—and don’t hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you’d rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little.

Obviously The Message version is rather different from the first four. That’s a thought for another time and is based on the translation philosophy of The Message. But the basic point is that the KJV is not substantially different than the others, though it is a bit more difficult to read. So, no, the KJV is certainly not garbage, at least not more than the rest. A professor once told a story of a person at a conference who asked the speaker what is the best Bible translation. The speaker responded “if you can’t read the original Greek or Hebrew, you’re reading garbage.” This is a two pronged answer in that the vast majority of readers of the Bible cannot read Greek or Hebrew but on top of that, whether he intended this or not, it’s impossible to read the originals because they don’t exist anymore. So, while some newer versions of the Bible might be a little better than the KJV, they’re not substantially better.

Bottom line: The KJV is far from being real garbage and, even though Dr. Ehrman doesn’t think so, makes a perfectly good study Bible. Keep on reading it if you’re comfortable with the words line “thee,” “thou,” and “chode.”

God is perfect and so am I

Or at least I was…until I was perhaps 2 years old, maybe before that, really. You were perfect as well. Everyone on Earth. We learn to be imperfect, it’s part of living on an imperfect Earth. Let’s look at the imperfection in relation to the visitation of the Magi.

Matthew 2:1-12

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Today, January 6th, is the day of Epiphany in the Western Christian traditions (January 19th is Epiphany in the Eastern traditions and that will serve me well in another matter). Epiphany celebrates the Magi (wise men) seeking and finding Christ and witnessing his divinity. In a full reading of all the gospels, if we are to combine them all into a single cohesive story (which can be problematic), then this is actually the second witness to Christ’s divinity. The first witness we saw in Luke 2 where the shepherds came after a visitation by an angel. In Matthew we have the visitation of the wise men.

It is interesting to read about the wise men because of who they are. The word Magi in the original Greek is ma”goi, which can mean wise men, astrologers, magicians, or even sorcerers. So, after being visited by shepherds as the first witnesses, the second set of witnesses are certainly pagans/gentiles but on top of that would seem to be a group of turn of the millennium Miss Cleo’s. However, it would seem they got the birth and divinity of Christ correct. And just the same as we saw in Luke, these are not leaders, almost certainly not “kings” since we see in later verses how paranoid Herod was about a potential challenger to his throne, not priests or teachers, but they are non-YHWHist common folk.

These people claimed to have seen a star that they interpreted to mean the coming of a divine being; indeed it was such a coming. After consulting with the High Priests, Herod sent these Magi to Bethlehem to find the newborn King of the Jews. Herod of course told them to send word to him once they had found the King so that he could come worship Him (Christ). From what we see in early passages and also in later passages, Herod certainly did not want to come and worship Christ, but he wanted to come and likely kill the infant Christ. Of course, the Magi did find Christ and recognized his divinity, but decided to not report back to Herod after “being warned of God in a dream.” While not stated in the passage, it’s fairly safe to assume that the Magi were told by God that Herod intended to kill or otherwise harm the infant Jesus.

But what does all this mean to us?

Well, it’s that second set of witnesses to Christ’s divinity. That is substantial. It leaves little doubt based on the writings that Christ was divine. When we read in verse 4 the word “Christ” it is not talking specifically about Jesus Christ the person. It is a general term meaning Messiah or Anointed One and some of the newer Bible translations read as such. Not that this makes much difference, but Herod and the Priests did not know at that time they were looking for a specific person, just that generally the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem and the Magi had said that the savior had been born. Without the witness of divinity, then what is Jesus of Nazareth?

Without divinity, Jesus was simply another child born in Bethlehem. He then lived a life of modesty and did good things for a great many people before dying on a cross. I might say there have been many people who fit that general description. After all, crucifixion was a fairly common punishment in ancient times. But because of the divinity of Jesus as witness by the shepherds and then by the Magi, his life was much more. It was the life we have as an example to follow. His life then becomes the sacrifice that makes up for all of our sins and allows us be find our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Without that sacrifice, there is not much we can do.

We must take this witness of divinity to heart. As I have written before, we must internalize that divinity and example of Christ and put it to work. We must take this witness of the true and pure divinity of Christ and go out and make ourselves as divine as possible so that people can witness the divinity that is within us all. This way we can show people around us what Jesus Christ was sent here to teach all of us. Jesus Christ came to give the example that leads us back to God the Father in Heaven. We have to make the change in order to get there. We need to be the example for those folks we see on a daily basis who might be looking for a church or just generally looking for something better.

This past weekend in Sunday School a nice young man asked a question about whether we were created in God’s physical image or His “spiritual” image. We discussed this in class and we all felt like the final answer was both. Even though as people we all look a little bit different, some short, some tall, some slim, some a bit round, we all look basically the same. Physical image of God. But what about that “spiritual” image of God? How could be possibly be in the spiritual image of God (or Jesus Christ) when He is perfect? Because we’re born perfect. Little children do not know the difference between rich and poor, tall and short, different skin colors, different nationalities, or anything else. Of course little children know who their parents are, but they do not know the difference between people. We learn that. We learn to discriminate against others. We learn those differences and those imperfections. The message of Christ and the witness of his divinity are there to get us closer to that perfection. We must use this Feast of the Epiphany to be that fraction of divinity for all those around us to witness. That is the best thing we can do as Christians.

Elizabeth Smart and God’s Problem

I’ve completed two books in the past week. The first was Elizabeth Smart’s “My Story” where she recalls her kidnapping and torture at the hands of Brian David Mitchell. Reading this book led me to pick up another book that I had intended to read, but had been delaying. That book was Bart D. Ehrman’s “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer.”

The story of Elizabeth Smart should be fairly well known to most folks who will read this, especially in the LDS community. The short of it is that she was kidnapped from her home near Salt Lake City when she was 14 by B.D. Mitchell, held prisoner and raped almost every day for 9 months, and eventually rescued. If you want more than that, read her book, it’s very compelling (it’s actually the first book I have ever read cover-to-cover in a single sitting. I started at about 9:30 one night and kept reading until I finished it at about 2am). I will say, however, that this book raises a rather difficult theological issue, though she may not have intended for it to do so. She mentions in the book, over and over, that Mitchell talks about being some prophet of God who is here to lead God’s people after the coming Rapture and that’s he’s supposed to take 7 wives who must all be virgins and he has decided on his own that they must be young because young folks are easier to manipulate. (That is my summary of him, again, read the book if you want more) And though you might be thinking it, he is not insane, that was proven in court, he is simply an evil human being. She stated several times that Mitchell said that God had told him to do all these things. She makes a perfect point that God would tell someone to do the evil things that Mitchell did. This statement can, depending on one’s mindset, can lead a person to ask the reverse question of “why did God allow this to happen?”

Frankly, that is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Why does the God of Mercy who Christians believe in allow things like this to happen? This question led me to Ehrman’s book. An introductory note about this book is necessary. Ehrman, or his publisher one, is very good at selecting titles for books. Looking down his list we see “Lost Scriptures,” “Lost Christianities,” “Misquoting Jesus,” and “Forged.” “God’s Problem” is much the same. The book freely admits that the Bible does, of course, give answers to why we suffer, it just gives more than one and, to Ehrman, none of those answers are very satisfying. To be quite honest, none of them are very satisfying to me either, particularly in the Elizabeth Smart situation. What are the answers?

First, we have the traditional view that we suffer as a punishment for sin, so that we can see that we are sinning, and return to God/Christ. So basically, you’re getting punished because you deserve it. The sailors joke of “the floggings will continue until morale improves” seems to fit well here. This also seems to not fit well at all in the Smart situation given that it would certainly seem that she was living a very satisfactory life, though of course not perfect. To be sure, she was not living in enough sin to deserve 9 months of Hell on Earth.

Next, there is the Apocalyptic view of suffering. Now, in this view people basically suffer BECAUSE they are righteous. Based on my understanding of theology, I think this view is generally garbage at it’s core so I certainly do not think it applies to Smart’s situation. My problem with this one is that it simply makes no sense, especially in light of the previous response. This view of suffering basically shows that not only are we flogged when we are disobeying God’s commandments, He keeps flogging us even after we turn our lives back to Him. Umm…really? My major issue with this comes from the real implication here. Logic would tell us that God would not directly punish those who are keeping his commandments, it simply does not make sense. Why follow them at all? To be sure there are eternal benefits to following even through suffering, but most people will simply not endure “righteous suffering” for very long. So it really makes no sense for us to say the righteous are being punished specifically because they are being righteous.

We then move to two situations from Ehrman that can possibly fit Elizabeth Smart’s situation. The first one is obvious and obviously fits: we suffer because other people sin and act unrighteously. Yes, to be sure she suffered because Mitchell was a sinner and a generally wretched human being. The next one is redemptive suffering where we are caused to suffer for a greater good. I can possibly buy into this given that she has started a foundation to educate people about sexual assault and such, but I consider this to be a bit of a stretch.

OK, so I admit that the “other people sinning” reason fits this given situation. Now the uncomfortable question that must be asked is Why? Why was she allowed to suffer so much? Because given the normal definition of God in the Christian church, that’s what it was. If we consider it to be a given that God is all-powerful then why was she allowed to be tortured the way she was? Is that a difficult question to ask? To be sure it is. Especially if one looks for an answer beyond the quaint little “we just don’t know” response. We either must admit that it was allowed to happen and then that leads to a second question of for what benefit? Is there really some greater good can come from someone going through that? I don’t think so. The second answer is even more uncomfortable because it means that God did not allow the situation to happen and is not all knowing and all powerful. This one, if true, is incredibly difficult for Christian folk to understand or accept. This is not a view that I agree with, though I do actually think it’s closer to reality than the first one.

Before I really go into that, there is one incident in the Elizabeth Smart’s book I want to address. She reports that one time she and her captors were out of water. One night she says that she woke up and found a full cup of water in the tent where they slept. This after they had run out of water the previous day. Certainly this was not somehow found in the camp, her captors would most certainly have drank it before they gave it to her. The only real remedy for this is to say it was a miracle in the truest sense. This leads to my main question: can God directly intervene in this life, this Earth? I don’t have a definite answer for this question, but I have an answer that, to me, fits. No, God can’t. At least not without some serious consequences. First, I have to logically look at some situations. Allow me to ask some questions. Why was Elizabeth Smart allowed to be kidnapped and raped and tortured for 9 months? Why were 27 people allowed to be killed in Newtown? Why were 230,000 people allowed to be killed in a tsunami in 2004? Think for a minute and consider how many times God has directly reached his hand down to deliver someone from trouble? I might be forgetting something, but I can’t recall any. There have been theophanies, there have been angels coming to help individuals at specific times, and obviously Christ came to deliver us from sin, though not in this life but after death. What about God himself?

The closest story I can remember to God directly delivering people from injustice or punishment was in Exodus…and it took Him virtually exterminating the Egyptian people in order for that deliverance to happen. A second story of deliverance is in Daniel where we read about Christ (or an angel depending on your theology and which Biblical text you read) coming to the rescue of Shadrach and friends when they are thrown into the furnace. However, even in that situation, they were not outrightly delivered, they were shielded and comforted until the fire went out. That’s perhaps the truest story we can read. In “God’s Problem” Ehrman summarizes a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Ehrman writes:

For Kushner, God is not the one who causes our personal tragedies. Nor does he even “permit” them when he could otherwise prevent them. There are simply some things that God cannot do. He can’t intervene to keep us from suffering. But what he can do is equally important. He can give us the strength to deal with our suffering when we experience it. God is a loving Father who is there for his people, not to guarantee miraculously that they never have hardship, but to give them the peace and strength they need to face the hardship. (Ehrman, God’s Problem, 271)

Ehrman says he finds this to be a powerful view and so do I. I find myself wanting to read Kushner’s book to get the entire story. I do not agree 100% with Ehrman’s summary of Kushner, however. I actually think miracles can happen. I think Elizabeth Smart finding water in the tent that night was a miracle, one that I can only attribute to an angel or other divine being. But it was not within the ability of that angel to deliver her from the situation. Such is the world we live in. We are here and this is our world. The world of humans. An imperfect planet (see hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) inhabited by imperfect beings. God may know what is going to happen but he can’t deliver us from it because this is not His realm. He simply can’t intervene down here. It is not God’s fault that a man decides to get drunk, turn his car into a 2 ton missile of death, fall asleep at the wheel, and run it through a schoolyard while kids are on recess. It is not His fault because He is unable to intervene, for positive or negative. The only time we have in writing God physically trying to inhabit Earth (after the fall of Adam & Eve, that is) is during and immediately after the Exodus. Here we see that Earth needed to be purified in order for Him to come. Is that what we want in order for a few people to be delivered from a given situation? No, truly God is basically unable to deliver us from these situations. But we do have the Holy Ghost to give us comfort during these problems.

So, why do we suffer? We suffer because we are imperfect beings inhabiting an imperfect world. Because of imperfection, bad things happen. Why does God not deliver us from these sufferings? He can’t. This is the human world and without dire consequences, He can’t directly intervene. Is this different theologically from what many people believe? Sure is. Is it any kind of official view of the Church? Not that I have ever seen. In fact, I would say a great many church folks would disagree mightily with that I have written. However, what I have written does not change anything. I still believe that we are the spirit children of God, our Father in Heaven. I still believe that Jesus Christ is the savior. I still believe we can receive spiritual promptings from the Holy Ghost. Still sustain leadership and so forth. I simply don’t believe that God can reach his hand down and physically deliver us from suffering. In that sense, I also do not think he causes us to suffer in any way. I don’t think we suffer as punishment for our sins. I don’t think we suffer because we are being righteous. I don’t think we suffer because other people are sinners, at least not in a standard theological sense. And I don’t think we suffer in order to bring about some greater good. Most certainly I think the latter two are more reasonable (and not illogical when taken together) than the first two, but I still don’t think they are exactly right. No, as I said, we suffer simply because this entire world we live in is imperfect. And because this is our realm, there is nothing God can do to directly change it. I really find great comfort in that.