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An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

First they came for…

Throughout the media and liberal leaning blogs, Sarah Palin’s religion is once again being trumpeted as evidence that she is in some way unfit for public office...more than that, the implication is being spelled out that she and her faith and the people ascribing to that faith are in essence crazy, backwards, out of touch, intolerant, extremist and just plain old weird. Yes, they are saying, these are the Christians who Rosie O’Donnell says are just as dangerous as radical Muslims.

It began with people who largely know nothing about the charismatic expressions of the Christian religion (and many knew nothing about Christianity to begin with) claiming that a video of Palin talking about the troops in Iraq demonstrated that she believed that the effort there was God’s will. In essence, that it was a crusade and from the way the media and bloggers spoke about it you would think that she had cried out: “God wills it!” and then called in the recruiters to sign people up while arming them with M4’s and religious tracts to hand out. Of course none of this was true at all. Having listened to the entirety of the recording it was clear to me what her point was: trust and hope that God’s plan will in some way be fulfilled in what we are doing there. A far cry from the calling for a Holy War, it was not even as overt an act as Russian Orthodox Priests sprinkling Holy Water on tanks and planes headed for Georgia, which of course did happen and would require a fair amount of explanation were I running for VP: Is Orthodoxy a war mongering religion? No more than Sarah Palin’s.

Then came news that Palin’s church (whether her old one, from which much of the news is being generated, or not I do not recall or care) believes that homosexuals can be cured. Naturally this is terribly offensive to the world. To believe that a person with homosexual cravings could actually have those cravings removed from them is seen as an argument that those cravings are learned and not genetic. I have no doubt that many in the AG believe homosexuality is a learned behavior, but the greater question for us Orthodox, who are perhaps more comfortable with the idea that people can be born gay, is: SO WHAT? First, I believe in a God who can take a man who has no eyes and make him see, so I guess I don’t quite understand why we cannot believe that God could change someone from gay to straight. Does He, though? I don’t have any idea...but I have met people who claimed they were gay and are not so anymore and so am I to assume that they are liars? Self-deceived? Either way they were caught up in the very worse of the gay lifestyle and were able to walk away from it...what part of THAT story should offend us Orthodox? In our tradition we may not offer prayer services for their deliverance (maybe we should?), but we do do something that the media would see as just as bad: we expect them to remain absolutely celibate.

In the end, the issue is that the AG see homosexuality as abnormal and this is an offense to our culture today. Well, my fellow Orthodox, we too see homosexuality as abnormal and the fulfilling of those desires is considered a sin. Thus, were I to run for office, this would also be a millstone hung around my neck...but, ironically, only because I would generally support conservative social policies. Orthodox politicians who play the liberal game apparently get it both ways: they can belong to a very conservative church and yet not have the eyes of the media noting this...because they generally opt not to vote the conscience of their Church. Whatever their reasonings may be...I will not argue that.

And most recently, a video has surfaced in which an African preacher visiting Palin’s church prays for her protection against “witchcraft.” So I suppose right off she’s lost the all-important wiccan vote. But again this is seen as evidence for Palin and her religion being totally and completely wacky. A couple of thoughts: belief in the power and prevalence of witchcraft is a VERY big deal amongst Africans, whether Christian or otherwise and while this may conjure up images of green skinned ugly old ladies, it should really be seen as no different than the prayer at the bowing of heads at Vespers where the priest also asks for each one of us: “Guard them at every moment, during both the present evening and the approaching night, from every foe, from every hostile operation of the devil.” Certainly if someone wished to make much about that being prayed (and believed? GASP) over my head – were I running for office – three times a week even, then I imagine they certainly could.

I watched the 10 minute video in its entirety and I rather found it interesting. They proceed from the hope that they can transform our culture, that they can make a difference in this world to steer it more toward Christ: by bringing more believers into the media, into Hollywood, and yes even into politics. We may laugh at their optimism, but as we do so (in arrogance?) can we perhaps take a moment to wonder about our own pessimism? Regardless, I do not sense the need for ominous music to be background for this pastor’s sermon. The other side of the fence does – BIG TIME. I would suggest in truth we Orthodox are not really welcome on that side of the fence either.

I don’t have any doubts that the Assemblies of God is out of step with contemporary culture (that being said...Palin is still running a pretty close race - EXTREMELY close given the circumstances that by all accounts should have her rival up by double digits), but this certainly doesn’t mean that the people in that faith are incapable of interacting and dealing with the culture, at least not more or less than anyone else with any particular worldview. Fact is, our religion is SUPPOSED to be out of step with our culture. I mean, have you ever stopped to wonder why in your own personal life you have not seen our Lord’s words proved true: “People will hate you because of me.”

It grieves me...seriously...it hurts my heart to see the AG and the people therein dragged through the mud. The comments over at Huffington Post and Daily KOS and even the MSM websites are heart wrenching. I certainly have my disagreements with the AG, but I came to know Jesus through that faith expression and it will always be special to me. I know it far better than the people in the media and on blogs spewing venom. More than that, I know the people. And I will say simply that they are good people and do not deserve this. It’s fine for me to pick on charismatics, but when someone outside the family does...I’m going to stand up for them.

Why? Well if you have not discerned it already: the secularists and the Christian left (who apparently have a good deal of weight in the media) are presently hammering on the “insanity” of the AG, don’t you dare stop to think they won’t come after us next. Because the attacks they are laying on the AG could just as easily be laid on us...and perhaps even worse. Here’s few headlines I thought we might see if I were to run for office:

“Ferrenberg believes his church is the ONE TRUE CHURCH.”
“Candidate bows down before pictures (accompanied by images of full prostrations).”
“Reverence for cadavers?”
“Ferrenberg says he believes that icons can miraculously weep and dead bodies of saints ooze sweet smelling oils.”
Imagine if they found out I REALLY like the book “Mountain of Silence”? Do you remember all the wacky miracles accounted in there? Time Travel even!
“‘Gays should remain celibate’”
“Ferrenberg’s Church criticized by women’s groups: male only leaders!” (Curiously, the AG do not have this problem as they do ordain women.)
“God as President? Candidate believes he can be ‘deified’”


You know, when secularists and the media and the liberals attack conservative faiths that seem on the fringe of pop-culture (though we should note there are a great many people in the AG), we Orthodox have a tendency to distance ourselves from them. We may nod our heads in agreement when they express shock and horror at the practice of speaking in tongues. We will be quick to try and demonstrate that we are totally different - not at all crazy...very agreeable and normal people. Unlike THEM. But, my friends, don't kid yourselves. What we do every Sunday is an offense and a stumbling block to them - AS IT SHOULD BE. And so the next time I hear them bashing the AG, I am going to stand with the charimaniacs and tell them about all the crazy things my Church believes.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:39 AM [+]
+++
14 comments


14 Comments:

While I'm not a fan of Palin, this is a spot on brilliant blog post. And, very true about how the press treats religion.

By Blogger Mimi, at 11:35 AM  

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Another amusing thing to reflect on is that the Orthodox Baptism begins with an exorcism. All Orthodox must be excluded from public office because they have participated in an exorcism!

The press is utterly preposterous. They pretend to be arbiters of the correct and they really know nothing of religion, science or economics. In short, the most pretentious people of this age are journalists.

By Anonymous rick, at 12:54 PM  

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The Seattle Times had a brief feature on the cover, with the title "Palin Misspeaks" (it was cut for size only because of the WaMu debacle). Brendan and I look at the news each morning for the DPD...the Daily Palin Diss. Since her selection, the Times has been batting 1.000.

I know it'd be a no-win situation for her, but I still kinda wonder how well she can field dress a political reporter.

By Blogger Liz in Seattle, at 10:01 PM  

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They've already written their narrative of her....a stupid yokel who has no business being where she is. While I'm particularly offended by the attacks on her religious beliefs and practices...the insinuation that the people of Alaska would elect an idiot and consistently give her approval ratings that every American politician would drool for is rather insulting to EVERYONE in Alaska.

But hey, it's Alaska...the only people more fair game to coastal elites than Alaskans are midwesterners and southerners. (Hmmm....I guess that's everyone else)

She's fighting a terrible uphill battle here...I'm not sure we have ever seen such a rabid pursuit of dirt and rumors by the MSM. Anyway...I don't want my pro-Palin political stance to get too much in the way of my overall point...people tell me the RIGHT tries to fan the culture wars...but may I suggest that the liberal media in perpetually hammering away at Palin's religion are dumping gallons of 100% ethanol on the fire?

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:50 AM  

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I'm no Palin fan either and I'm not interested in that discussion. I'm an elitist and she's glaringly unqualified! I won't be converted.

I am, however, interested in a theological point implied in your statement. Do "we" indeed expect gay people to be celibate, or does the Church? There's a difference. I, not as a father confessor but as an Orthodox Christian, have no expectations for how my fellow Orthodox struggle with sin. It's pure pride and arrogance to assume I should. That's why social morality politics is fundamentally misguided. It assumes that we can not only define sinners and their particular sins, but we can legislate them away. That is something that I have consistently heard from Evangelical Protestants. They are the people who say they will govern with a "Christian" agenda. I don't like here anymore than I like it it Russia. No, thanks!

FrC+

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:30 PM  

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glaringly unqualified! I won't be converted.

Hehehe...well...if I may quote the constitution: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States."

These are the only qualifications. Anything else we may wish to add is about as subjective as whether or not Bigfoot exists. (He does by the way. Sarah Palin shot him and has his body in a freezer in Wasilla. I hear she's planning to market Sasquatch Jerky if this VP thing falls through) Thankfully our founding fathers did not feel it necessary to insist that our candidates be Ivy League lawyers with a couple years in the Senate.
:)

Do "we" indeed expect gay people to be celibate, or does the Church?

Of course I meant the Church...once you put it into that context. I've got enough of my own sins to deal with to worry about others' sins. But my point was: The press would not care to hear any clarification. They would not wait for a detailed explanation if they had need to make you look bad.

I agree with what you note here Father about legislating sin issues. I would add though, if I may, that such legislating is not a monopoly of the religious right, but also on the religious left side of our cultural divide (see the left leaning "Matthew 25" PAC that would have us vote for Obama because he is going to really translate SOME of the teachings of Christ into government programs). What precisely would be the difference between legislating the sins of homosexual behavior and legislating the sins of rich people's love of money by forcing them to share it with the poor? Isn't that "social morality politics" too? To really complex matter you can toss abortion into this mix...yikes!

I was once "SHOCKED" to come upon a conservative atheist ...yes a hardcore secular conservative who was offended to hear Obama talking about America not living up to Matthew 25 (rf. Saddleback) and claiming he was going to govern on that principle. It was a complete role reversal of the typical image we have of the religious right shoving their faith down the throat of the secular left in the form of government policy. Here we have the religious left nailing the secular right! What crazy times we live in! But I suspect the Dems are getting a good deal of traction out of it and to some degree are trespassing on what has been traditionally been Repub turf. Personally I think the politically religious left and right are BOTH wrong for the exact same reasons. So either way you vote, you are getting a bit of a "christian" agenda. As a point of curiosity, you hear FAR more scripture quoting from the left side of the political spectrum than the right these days...for the right it has become a stigma, but on the left it is their new found lucky charm!

So, I largely agree with you, I would not support a candidate who I thought intended to bring back and enforce (for instance) sodomy laws as a part of an agenda to "bring America back to Christ." I can't vote for that...but neither will I vote in expectation that I will see Matthew 25 fulfilled by so doing. So my vote will proceed from some other notion swayed by neither side's religious persuasion or reasoning.

You know me Father...I don't want the government taking care of people...I want US to take care of each other. In similar fashion to your first question: "WE the people" is different than "the Federal Government."

Someday I WILL convert you into a proper Jeffersonian Libertarian.
:)
And, as such, you may rest assured that you can still hold Gov. Palin to be glaringly unqualified. At least as much as I deem the other party's presidential candidate to be so. But again...Bigfoot exists and that's what is most important in this election year.
:)

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 10:11 PM  

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Well, I didn't want to go down this road, but...

I'm no strict constructionist. I like my constitution informed by history. For me, it's like the canons of the Church. When we quote them and apply them without an understanding of their intent within a very specific historical context, we can radically alter the actual meaning while giving the appearance of strict fidelity. Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that our founding fathers assumed that the positions of power in our government would only be open to a "man" of some affluence with which came high education and cultural sophistication. She doesn't have to have spent time in Seattle, for me, New York would do.;)

Laying out the bare minimum does not mean we shouldn't expect more. The modern international context requires more. She clearly lacks the ability to hold her own in an interview about current affairs. This "media is bullying up on her" is nonsense. They're asking tough questions because she has a small record. The kind of questions that should have been asked before going into Iraq. Maybe they've learned something. And when they do, she has no clear grasp of the issues. How many times do I have to hear, " John McCain is known as the Maverick." That's not an adequate answer. Sure, politics is filled with inadequate answers, but her answers are consistently devoid of any substance. It's painful to watch. If it's "nerves," then why is she not making more appearances to get over it and quell the concerns of many of us that she is, at best, not well read, or, at worst, not very bright.

I expect more. For me, Ivy League is a good thing.

FrC+

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:38 PM  

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Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that our founding fathers assumed that the positions of power in our government would only be open to a "man" of some affluence with which came high education and cultural sophistication.

I'm unconvinced and I won't be converted.
:)

I don't think history bears this out...and, if I may add, I'm not at all convinced that anything BUT history ultimately judges whether any given president did a good job - let alone was "qualified." Harry Truman had no college degree whatsoever. Shortly out of office he was demonized and seen rather poorly - ratings worse than Bush. However, historians and history has treated him quite affectionately in the last couple of decades.

Besides these, the following other presidents never attended college: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Grover Cleveland.

Lincoln is considered one of the best presidents we've ever had...though I'm not sure I'd agree.
:)

An Ivy League education is no guarantee of intelligence and I'm not entirely sure intelligence can really be gauged without TRULY getting to know someone. I've known my fair share of articulate persons who I was to ultimately conclude that despite their being FAR more articulate than I could be in front of a crowd, they were likely no more intelligent than I was...though I'm sorry to insult them so.

In this soundbyte generation I'm really not at all sure that the blogs, the commercials, the news articles, and the debates are really worthy means of measuring just WHO the person is we end up voting for. People are presently arguing about who "won" the most recent debate...but there IS no objective value in this. It's purely subjective.

I expect that our judgment of the person Sarah Palin is largely dependent on one's political leaning to begin with. In the end, the American people will judge whether she or Obama is or is not qualified enough to do their jobs...what I think on that matter is of little consequence. I do agree that their party is making a huge mistake in holding her back...whatever their reasons. But I expect after Thursday things will be rather set in stone.

My main point is that I do not believe we should judge her ability to be a secular leader because of her religious beliefs. As I noted...I know and am related to many people in the AG and many of them shame me in their devotion to our Lord and in their ability to lead "successful" secular lives without appearing to be illiterate nutjobs.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 6:02 PM  

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I would consider myself fairly conservative (as far as Agrarian Monarchists can be said to conform to such labels), and I'm afraid the Palin-Couric interview was a train wreck. This sort of anti-intellectual attitude that "shucks anyone with some common sense and can-do spirit can be president or VP" is nonsense. Palin's answers on foreign policy, especially the part about Russia, were embarassing, it was painful to watch.
As far as being Assemblies of God, I don't quite subscribe to the whole the enemy of my enemy is my friend approach. I certainly would not support someone belonging to a group that quite frankly does not consider Orthodox to even be true Christians and is sending missionaries to Orthodox countirs to "save" them, simply to gain a political advantage. Or in other words, the AG is in their way, just as hostile to Orthodoxy and the most liberal crypto-Unitarian Episcopalian out there, so why I should join arms with them to achieve some sort of political victory is beyond me.

By Blogger Radoje S., at 7:51 PM  

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Rade...

This sort of anti-intellectual attitude that "shucks anyone with some common sense and can-do spirit can be president or VP" is nonsense.

No less than the notion that an Ivy League education is required.

Nowadays Rade we are not electing intellectuals...we are electing well groomed and well spoken stand ups. None of us have ANY idea how intelligent these candidates really are and if any of us feel that we can with confidence refer to someone we've never met as stupid...well that's between you, them and God.

That said: I think you are missing my point. This was not intended to be a defense of Sarah Palin. I am voting for her, that's that. I'm personally weary of arguing with those who think I'm stupid to do so....and I've not even put forth much of an effort to do so here.
I have not the strength or desire to defend my decision...go read the LOG or a few other posts here...I'm sure I've laid out my political philosophy well enough (and even a few times here)...I cannot vote for Obama (given my political philosophy) and I am quite content with McCain as the only other viable option.

I'm not looking to join arms with the AG...heck I'd defend ANY faith being harassed by the media. The media is running wild on this woman's religious faith and I'm telling you they'd do it to you too and it's not fair. I'm not here trying to defend Palin on ANY front except that her religious beliefs are not a valid reason to think she's any more a kook or unqualified a candidate than the Roman Catholic Joe Biden. Though..."does he really believe he drinks the blood of God every sunday!?!?!?" That's not rational! Did you happen to notice how the press hit Bobby Jindal and his catholicism? Diggin up old papers on demon possession? Nice...Jindal's a conservative...Biden's a liberal.

Anyway on THAT point, I will stand beside her and the AG and whatever denomination she currently attends. They are no crazier than us...and in some cases less.

Any opinions about her performance in interviews or her policies in AK - while perhaps interesting and relevant to the campaign - are not at ALL relevant to what this blog post was about.

Run for office Rade...with your conservative views intact...and see what the press does in terms of your religious faith. They would not hesitate to drag your church through the same mud. Can't we agree that is absolutely unfair.

What I'm supporting here is our fundamental freedom of religion, I think.

Whether the AG thinks I'm saved or not is of little consequence to me. As to their missionary efforts...well it used to offend me, but I expect the old world church to be able to defend Herself...and if not, I certainly don't fault the heterodox for that. Those funny heterodox, they really cannot help themselves...but their missionaries OUGHT to be going home Orthodox. And if not...why not? Government protection is the LAST thing I want to see.

I support a free market in numerous ways.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 9:53 PM  

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This sort of anti-intellectual attitude that "shucks anyone with some common sense and can-do spirit can be president or VP"


What a minute...it's all becoming clear to me now....

Agrarian Monarchist

:)

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 9:57 PM  

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Just to be clear, it was not my intent to hijack the post and make it about Palin's qualifications. My first comment ending with "I won't be converted" was merely a humorous jab.

However, her religious beliefs, to my mind, are related. I have a great distrust of Evangelical Protestants in politics. I've encountered too many evangelicals whose highly subjective interpretations of Scripture, and the subsequent discerning of God's will, were delusions born of pride.

For example, there are quite a few books published by evangelicals about the centrality of Israel in the Second Coming and how our foreign policy should be strongly pro-Israel because of it. That's not just crazy, it's dangerous. I'd like to keep my foreign policy in the here and now. Let God reveal His will as He always has, through history.

FrC+

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:17 PM  

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Well, I can relate to your frustration James with political discussions, especially since I am familiar with your work environment where conservative thinking is, how shall we say: under appreciated? I generally avoid it because I find it about as productive as arguing about the best ice cream flavor. It's like unending and never changing trench warfare - what is the point? Has anyone ever convinced someone else that their political opinions are wrong? But throwing caution to the wind, one perhaps would be tempted to explain why they don't neccesarily see what is claimed to be so blatantly obvious by others,no? To avoid the moniker of entrenched stupidity?

Palin has offered some poor answers; ripe for the picking of political opponents, the media, and late night comedians. However, I think some of those commenting here underestimate the woman, but not without some reason. Consider though that we are passing judgement on a couple of interviews. Joe Biden offers a gaffe a day and even Obama (ever the supreme intellectual orator) has his share, but they are in fact comparatively ignored. Had Sarah Palin said she'd been to all 57 states it would have been frontpage news. If during Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric she had said "Leadership means convincing people that you know what you are talking about. When the stock market crashed, FDR got on television..." it would have been conclusive proof that she is neither an intellectual nor a leader. If Sarah Palin had said that one of their ads was "shameful" and that neither she nor McCain would have approved it, she would again be lambasted in the media for being unable to know the doings of her own campaign. And if Sarah Palin had said, while meeting an Indian-American supporter "Hey we have LOTS of people from India in my homestate, heck you can't walk into a 7-11 without finding one running the place" she would never have escaped the media label of racist. In fact, I'd suggest in the latter case this election would already be over.

Unless we wish to write off the entire population of Alaska as uneducated dweebs, we might consider that no one without some degree of political talent is going to win a gubernatorial race and maintain for two years an 80+% approval rating. And as a side, James, Palin DID go to college...though it was a mere state school (feel free to read that last line with your Thurston Howell voice). So, in fact, she is more highly educated than Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington - none of whom I guess were qualified for the presidency...to argue otherwise is to be considered an anti-intellectual, I suppose?

Palin must make for a better performance and Thursday is going to be her last chance. However, she is up against the well known gaffe-master Biden. Of course we all know he is her intellectual superior, so it won't be easy. This popular knowledge however plays to her advantage and if she cannot at least compete, it is over. But I've seen her gubernatorial debate in AK and I know she can hold her own.

As to the religion issue, I can only offer that I too will stand on the side of belief against unbelief. I agree: Palin's faith has been misprepresented and abused. Even Obama said as much...and really, WHO can argue with such intellectually sound thinking? Hard to imagine James and Obama agreeing. Where'd you go to school, James? Yale?
Or maybe you just got this idea from Obama?

Blessings...miss seeing you around campus.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:11 AM  

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Dear James,

What a delightful string of comments. One of the dilemmas with politics is that the highly moral may not make a good politician. Politics can be icky, evil business and the kinds of deals, I suspect, politicans have to make to get "good" legislations passed would make most of us regular "citizens" sick. I grew up in evangelical circles, heard Hal Lindsey speak at Cannon Beach in the 70s and watched as a number of girls in our youth groups got pregnant because they wanted to experience the joy of pregnancy before the Rapture occurred. I don't know about Palin, I don't know about Obama, I don't know about Biden and McCann in all of this. There's experience and there's "experience," and three of the four I mentioned above were supposed to be watching out for us, and they failed us all. So it will be interesting to watch Biden and Palin. As far as I'm concerned, any talk from him about "experience" just opens him up to a whole lot of hurt.

Best regards,
Mike

By Anonymous Mike, at 10:50 AM  

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