In the course of timeCain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
The Lord said to Cain,Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.
Cain said to his brother Abel,Let us go out to the field. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain,Where is your brother Abel?
He said,I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?
And the Lord said,What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.
Cain said to the Lord,My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.
Then the Lord said to him,Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. ( Genesis 4:3-15 )
By late 1996, my older son, Chad, was living with Shirley Newsom in her trailer on the west side of Indianapolis. Chad had convinced Shirley to steal drugs from her place of employment, a pharmaceutical warehouse. $1500 worth of drugs were placed on consignment with Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger. While returning with the drugs to Jasonville, Indiana, Frank Dennis was stopped by the Indiana State Police. Unknown to any of them involved in this illegal business, the DEA was already investigating their activities. The drugs were confiscated and Frank was neither arrested nor detained. Frank and Curtis were convinced that Chad had arranged for the loss of the drugs and therefore Chad owed them money. Chad was just as convinced that they owed him money.
On the night of January 21, at about 11:30 PM, the nieces and nephews of Shirley Newsom left the trailer to go home. A little after midnight, Frank Dennis, Curtis Holsinger and Curtis’ girl friend, Jessica Lopez, knocked on the door of the trailer and were admitted. Earlier in the day, Frank had been drinking beer and vodka and smoking marijuana. When Frank realized that Chad was not going to give them any money, he pulled a gun. Chad’s hands were bound and he was taken to a back bedroom. Shirley’s hands were bound and she was left in the living room. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger went to the back bedroom. According to court testimony, Chad suffered 29 knife wounds over the entire length of his body. This included 7 stab wounds to the heart, 4 from the front, 3 from the back . Chad did not die quickly, quietly, or easily. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger returned to the living room, Frank in blood-soaked clothes. Jessica Lopez, who had been sitting with Shirley Newsom, left the trailer with Curtis. As they left, they heard Shirley Newsom say, “Just do it.” Frank Dennis pressed the gun barrel against the pillow he held to Shirley's face and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered through her right eye and lodged in her brain. Having moved to stand behind her, Frank fired a second shot into the upper-back of her head. The bullet exited through her mouth and was found on the living room floor.
All this is from God,who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 )
I oppose capital punishment. As far back as I can remember, opposing the death penalty has been as basic to my understanding of Christian ethics as following the Golden Rule or living in answer to the wristband question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Would I be writing this article were it not for the murder of Chad? His death opens doors and I must walk through them. His murder validates my right to oppose the death penalty. Without his death, all I would ever hear is “If it happened to you, you would feel different.” It has happened to me and I do not feel different - the death penalty is wrong.
I oppose capital punishment. The practice of capital punishment puts us in conflict with the work of God in the world. The work of God in the world is reconciliation. Our work in the world, given to us by God, is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the single lesson that binds together the entire Bible. The Bible is the record of a consistent and persistent God. The Bible is the record of the work, the teaching, the successes and failures, the continuous struggle of God to reconcile each and every child of God to God. The Old Testament is the record of God teaching the children of God their need for grace. The New Testament is the record of God proving that the grace of God is freely and constantly and abundantly available and is available to all without exception and without qualification. The work of reconciliation begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become.
When people who are fighting injure a pregnant womanso that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. ( Exodus 21:22-25 )
Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return:fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. ( Leviticus 24:17-21 )
In the Old Testament are the Commandments and the Law. The law of “eye for eye” was a radical legal reform - punishment would be limited to being proportional to the severity of the crime and limited to the person who committed the crime. Prior justice had been that for a murder or violent assault, the entire family of the murderer or assailant could be slain ( Genesis 34 ). Within this radical reform of the law, we find the roots of individual responsibility and individual rights. Even among these most demanding of laws, forgiveness is offered. Forgiveness is available for sins committed through ignorance ( Leviticus 4; 5:14-19 ); for sins of failure to testify or of uncleanliness ( Leviticus 5:1-13 ); for sins of deception, fraud, robbery, conversion or false testimony ( Leviticus 6:1-7 ); and for sins of impurity ( Leviticus 19:19-22 ). These sins and others like them are sins of trespass. Often, as part of the offense, the offender incurs a debt to the person against whom they committed the offense. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say:forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors or we say: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us or we say: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us ( Matthew 6:9-13 )
Regardless of which words are used, the phrase has a much deeper, wider and richer meaning than any we attach to it today. Though the law of the Old Testament is one of the earliest recorded legal reforms, the reform of the law does not stop there. God continued and continues to call us forward to the heart of the law. The law is still here and will always be here while no longer serving as a code of judgment. THE LAW is now only the law. Because of the grace of God, the law is not the metric by which we define and measure and judge our relationship with God. Arising from the heart and essence of the law and transcending the law is the superior and controlling commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbor as lived and preached by Jesus. The law only defines, measures, judges and spotlights our imperfections, our separation from God, our mortality. The Love of God and Love of Neighbor Commandments, through the life and the Good News message of Jesus, calls us forward from the confines and shackles of the law and onward towards the perfect sinlessness and immortality of God. We are called to be the Kingdom of God - starting here and starting now - and unrestricted by empire or culture or time or place. From a finite journey of inescapable sin and judgment and death, we are called to an infinite journey of love and forgiveness and reconciliation and community - to be the Kingdom of God.
Then Peter came and said to him,Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?
Jesus said to him,Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a kingwho wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
But that same slave,as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, Pay what you owe.
Then his fellow slave fell downand pleaded with him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you. But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
When his fellow slaves saw what had happened,they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
Then his lord summoned himand said to him, You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you,if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. ( Matthew 18:21-35 )
Peter’s question might have been prompted by this passage from Leviticus:
You shall not render an unjust judgment;you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people,but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ( Leviticus 19:15-18 )
Here, in the Law of the Old Testament – preceded by laws about how to worship and how to treat people with honesty and followed by laws about purity and atonement for sin - is a holy admonition for justice, righteous judgement, truth and reason. A holy admonition against vengeance and against even holding a grudge. A holy admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Never is this tested more harshly than when a loved one is murdered and the prosecutor is demonizing the murderer and demanding the death penalty. The survivors and family are told repeatedly that only the death penalty can provide closure. The death penalty is not closure because closure is not an event. Closure is a process – a process of transformation. Closure is a long, difficult, even tortuous process and journey. As such, closure can neither be granted nor initiated with a single event. Closure is a process that is never finished and so, no single event can complete closure. Embracing death and violence is never part of the closure process. Closure grows with an increasing personal dissociation and increasing distance away from death and violence. Closure comes from moving away from hate and vengeance, moving away from rage and retribution. And, at some point, closure can continue only with forgiveness and, if possible, reconciliation. With that comes the realization that we – who have been grievously hurt – also pay a price when the murderer is put to death. The closure journey, with enough time, always reaches the steep slope of forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become. The top of the steep slope of forgiveness is best reached with the face-to-face declaration, “I forgive you.” Capital punishment prevents us from being able to reach that goal. Bud Welch lost his daughter at Oklahoma City and he opposes the death penalty. Because of the execution of Timothy McVeigh, Bud Welch will never be able to have his healing and growth reach fruition. Bud Welch will never be able to face Timothy McVeigh and say, “I forgive you.” That moment would not have been for Timothy McVeigh, it would have been for Bud Welch. Abolishing the death penalty is not for the guilty, it is for the innocent who want to heal and need to reclaim their life and future.
There is no justice in listening to those in so much pain that in an effort to escape their pain they are willing to yank the trapdoor lever, pull the gun trigger, throw the electric switch, or push the syringe. Justice does not come from pain and anger. Justice is not about condemnation. Justice is about restoration. Justice comes from placing more value on life than on death, placing more value on rehabilitation than on retribution. Justice comes from placing more value on the lives of our loved ones than on their deaths. Justice comes from defiantly turning the other cheek in a demand to be treated as an equal. Justice comes from investing in the restoration of the lives of those who have hurt us. There is justice in a successful rehabilitation. Strangely enough, a successful rehabilitation means that the criminal personality has died and in its place is resurrected a new person - healed, restored, made whole and transformed. There is justice in a failed rehabilitation. A failed rehabilitation means that we have better protected the rights of the innocent by protecting the rights of the guilty. A failed rehabilitation means that we have found a better way than the evil and destruction of the crime, that instead of retribution and death, we have chosen rehabilitation and life. A failed rehabilitation means that we have been faithful to the call and grace of God and lived the Good News as the Kingdom of God.
You have heard that it was said,An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said,You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ( Matthew 5:38-48 )
To some, that scripture from Matthew is a call for a passivity that will lead only to the suffering and death of a martyr.
We forget that martyr does not mean “sufferer.” It really means “witness.” Jesus did not suffer because he wanted to or because he could not help it. He suffered because he deliberately provoked the religious authorities to show their true selves. He succeeded. He forced them to reveal the truth about themselves, about their self-serving and limited conception of their holy task. In the process, he died. But in dying, he witnessed to the love and forgiveness of God even for those who killed him. For our sakes, he would not compromise that ultimate truth.
When suffering is the only possible means of witnessing effectively, we accept it as Christians. By the grace of God, it has proved very powerful over the ages. But for most of us most of the time, the best way to witness to the truth is not by suffering. The best way to witness is by standing up, holding up your head, telling what really happened, making a fuss, leaving an abusive situation, calling for justice.
Christian faith does have a commitment to martyrdom – martyrdom in its true meaning as “witnessing” to the love and truth of God. Martyrdom does not mean living like a doormat. There is nothing in the behavior or teaching of Jesus that encourages a life of complete passivity, a life that invites people to step on us. The life of forgiveness would be a strange and harmful kindness if it meant encouraging people in actions that are not good for themselves or for the people they harm.
Forgiveness is not about the past, it is about the future. Forgiveness is about the people doing the forgiving – who we are and who we are becoming. Forgiveness is about turning loose of the past so that we can live fully in the present while we build a new and surprising future with God and with one another. Forgiveness is about closing the door on the past and keeping open a door for future reconciliation and rebuilding. Forgiveness is more about being direct than being diplomatic. Forgiveness calls things by their true names. Forgiveness is not timid, it is fearless. Forgiveness is neither mealy-mouthed nor abusive, it is straightforward. Forgiveness does not seek to harm others by telling the truth. Neither does it refrain from telling the truth just because someone might be inconvenienced or their wrongs brought to light. Forgiveness is not a retreat from reality. To the contrary, it always looks outward. Forgiveness assumes a bold and engaged way of living. Forgiven and Forgiving, L. William Countryman, pp.70-71, 76-77 )( excerpted from
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This section reveals critical plot details and events of The Shack
If you have not read The Shack, then you might want to skip this section.
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GOD: (speaking to Mack about forgiving the man who kidnapped and murdered Mack's 6-year-old daughter and youngest child, Missy) This is not about shaming you. I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness. ... Today we are on a healing trail to bring closure to this part of your journey - not just for you, but for others as well. Today, we are throwing a big rock into the lake, and the resulting ripples will reach places you would not expect. ... Son, you need to speak it, to name it. MACK: Papa, how can I ever forgive that son of a bitch who killed my Missy? If he were here today, I don't know what I would do. I know it isn't right, but I want him to hurt like he hurt me... If I can't get justice, I still want revenge. GOD: Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him. MACK: Redeem him? I don't want you to redeem him! I want you to hurt him, to punish him, to put him in hell... GOD: (Papa waited patiently for the emotions to ease.) MACK: I'm stuck, Papa. I can't just forget what he did, can I? GOD: Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat. MACK: But I thought you forgot our sins. GOD: Mack, I am God. I forgot nothing. I know everything. ... There is no law demanding that I bring your sins to mind. They are gone when it comes to you and me, and they run no interference in our relationship. MACK: But this man... GOD: But he too is my son. I want to redeem him. MACK: So what then? I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies? GOD: Forgiveness does not establish relationship. I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. Forgiveness is an incredible power – a power you share with [me], a power [I give] to all [I indwell] so that reconciliation can grow. MACK: I don't think I can do this. GOD: Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don't you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you'll release him from a burden that he carries whether he knows it or not - acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well. MACK: I do not love him. GOD: Not today, you don’t. But I do, not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on the nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate. ... Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their minds and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release him from judgement, but without true change, no real relationship can be established. MACK: So forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he did never happened? GOD: How can you? But you can love him in the face of it. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should he finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Believe me, the last thing this man is, is free. And you have no duty to justice in this. I will handle that. MACK: Help me, Papa. Help me! What do I do? How do I forgive him? GOD: Tell him. Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare. MACK: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. GOD: Mackenzie, you are such a joy. MACK: So is it all right if I’m still angry? GOD: Absolutely! What he did was terrible. He caused incredible pain to many. It was wrong, and anger is the right response to something that is so wrong. But don’t let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving him and removing your hands from around his neck. The Shack, William Paul Young, pp. 225-229 )( excerpted from:
Jesus does more than answer with words from the strict law of the Old Testament. Jesus lifts those words of love and forgiveness from the midst of the law and very plainly reveals to all of us that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – these words are the very heart and essence of the law, these words are what the purpose of the law has always been.
God has a purpose for each one of us. The purpose of God for each one of us is reconciliation – reconciliation between each other and reconciliation between ourselves and God. God is engaged in a relentless search for the wayward children of God. God is the loving parent who never stops watching for the prodigal child ( Luke 15:11-32 ). God is the cleaning woman who never, never gives up searching for the one lost coin ( Luke 15:8-10 ). God is the good shepherd who never, never, never gives up searching for the one lost sheep ( Luke 15:3-7, Matthew 18:10-14 ). If God does not give up on us, then who are we to give up on each other?
In the play “All My Sons” by Tennessee Williams, a father, Joe Keller, is finally made to realize that he sold defective engines to the United States Air Force during World War II. The defective engines were responsible for several fatal plane crashes including the one that killed his own son. Late in the play, Joe Keller faces the hard reality of the conviction and condemnation of his own conscience and then tragically accepts through suicide that all the men who died in the place crashes for which he was directly responsible were indeed “all my sons.”
In the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” the victim is described only as “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” ( Luke 10:25-37 ). Because of the location of his trip, we assume that he is Judean. Nothing is said about his race or marital status or family, his political or occupational or educational achievements, his economic status, his sexual preference, whether he has a criminal record, whether he is HIV or STD positive, whether he is a substance abuser - we know nothing about his goodness or badness or blandness. We know nothing of his character or history. His rescuer is a Samaritan and we are as ignorant of the Samaritan as we are of the Judean who was robbed and beaten. It is important to remember that at the time of the telling of this parable, Judah and Samaria were as cordial as present day Israel and Palestine. All we know is what happened to the Judean and how the Samaritan responded and that the response of the Samaritan was right and good and holy. The response of the Samaritan illustrates the Good News in action. In this parable, the response of the Samaritan portrays how we are to be the Kingdom of God - here and now - regardless of personal safety or blind assumptions, regardless of cultural expectations or dissuasions, regardless of empire requirements or restrictions.
Contrast these two views of the family of humanity. Tennessee Williams presents a narrow Old Testament view. We are bonded together through guilt and sin under the spiritual parentage of a wrathful God. The parable of the Good Samaritan presents a view that says each one of us is a child of God, resurrected by the grace of God, transformed by the love of God, and as children of God, we are reconciled and united by and for hospitality, generosity, justice and service.
Our mortal journey moves from life to death. Our faith journey moves from death to life. Our witness moves from retribution to rehabilitation, from vengeance to forgiveness. We will be free of the evil of the crime, the paralysis of the grief, the blindness of vengeance when we decide it is more important to celebrate with our lives the light of the lives of our lost loved ones instead of memorializing their loss by dwelling in the darkness of their death. We will be healed when we can say to the face of the wrong-doers, “Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven.” We will be reconciled and will have traveled well the forgiveness road when we can say that Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez are children of God, the same as us, and we - the children of God - do not need abandonment or destruction or death. We, the children of God, need justice as a source of restoration. We, the children of God, need rehabilitation and forgiveness and reconciliation. We, the children of God, need grace and resurrection and transformation.
Justice is a righteous act. Justice is an act of righteousness, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconciliation. Justice can never be served or achieved with a wrongful act or with an act that makes justice impossible.
God does not call us to a life of war, violence, justice as condemnation and retribution, or hate - or to a nebulous life yet to be lived at some undefinable place at some unknowable time in an unpredictable future that is perpetually and uselessly beyond our grasp and existence.
God does call us to live - here and now - a life of peace, a life of non-violence without vengeance, a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, a life of justice as rehabilitation and restoration, a life of hospitality, generosity, service and love. God does call us to live - here and now - the Good News. God does call us to be - here and now - the Kingdom of God.
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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master's degree and licensure in Special Education.
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in sequence, the previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH...still the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and the lead article in a series calling for a radical Second Reformation in Christian theology and in the structure of the institutional church and in the family of faith - all to be considered as a way of living here and now. GOD IS......the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. More of an on-going participatory meditation than a finished definition. RECLAIMING GOD...a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT...now the #3 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and the controversial list of what is not the Good News. RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ...what is the Good News.
...with great love and appreciation, this article is dedicated to: Jason Sloan, my younger son, who continues to love me and has never given up on his imperfect earthly father, and Carol Sloan, my wife, whose steadfast love and loyalty is a blessing and a treasure beyond measure, worth, and words.
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It will be a few months before another article can be posted. It is time for me to return to the classroom as a member of the Ivy Tech CIS Adjunct Faculty. Speaking engagements can be arranged at: firstname.lastname@example.org.