Bell and the Bible

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Well, here we go. The day I have not looked forward to at all. The day that I would share my thoughts in response to Rob Bell's latest book, "What is the Bible?" Over six years ago, I read and reviewed his unnecessarily controversial book "Love Wins," otherwise known as "Lose Friends." (You could read all my posts about it in my blog archives from 2011 using the search below.) Bell has a unique anointing for writing awesome books that make people hate him (many of which never read his books). 

Look, I really like Rob Bell. And I love his writing. He has an exceptional gift for communicating and talks about things I care a lot about! Thank you, Rob. 

And let me come out and give my soundbite one sentence review: It has been a long, long time since I have read a book that made my love for the Bible come alive and feel refreshed the way this one did!! I've also read few authors with as much fascination and love for the Bible as Bell has. I guess God uses heretics! Oh, and I have been on quite the spiritual pilgrimage myself the last several years, so this stuff was just right up my alley. Questions and exploration don't scare me, they enliven me.

Ok, here's my review. Bell writes a book about the Bible and:

  1. Does not treat it like most people always have.
  2. Opens up new ideas about what it was and what it is.
  3. Employs different language to define, describe and defend it.
  4. Asks really wild and weird questions most people would never ask.
  5. Has perspectives that are super different than 9+ out of 10 Christians you know. 
  6. Sees things in stories and historical accounts that you probably never even heard of or saw before.
  7. Uncovers unhealthy and idolatrous ways of treating the Bible.
  8. Takes a few shots at traditional religious thought. 
  9. Opens up new brain pathways and conversations about the Bible that some would not want to have or didn't know they could. 
  10. Suggests some pretty out-there theological ideas that he seems to be working at still himself. 

Ok, so some of his main things in the book....themes that kept repeating themselves:

  • The Bible did not fall out of heaven, but is written by real people, at a real time and place in history, with real circumstances and real worldview, dealing with issues real to them....as they saw them at their time and place. God let people tell their stories. Then real people compiled this into an ancient library of poems, letters and stories. 
  • This library is not just a normal library, but is charged and teeming with the life of God, filled with revelation and beauty that invites and beckons humans into the life of the Spirit and into the story of God at work in our world. There is a reason this book stood the test of time and has transformed so many people! And still is. 
  • We have failed to let it be what it is and do what it does. Instead, we have forced the Bible to become something else....something we have needed it to be to bring us the security and certainty we so desperately long for as people (and use the same book to call it "good doctrine"). 
  • And then we have imposed the wrong questions, descriptors and adjectives onto the Bible. Like inerrant. Or inspired. Or infallible. Or literal. Bell suggests that these very modern ideas zap the life out of the scriptures and turn it into something it was never to be. These are wrong, new and unexciting questions and labels. 
  • There is always more going on! Bell finds many ways to make this same point...we have to look deeper and longer and further into a story and it's context and we will almost always find some deeper and beautiful narrative about God's loving compassion and Kingdom unfolding. Like this quote: "The point of the Abraham-Isaac story isn't that you should sacrifice your kid, but that you can leave behind any notion of a God that would demand that you sacrifice your kid!" (read the book to see how he got there...and what he did with Jonah!! I was crying.)
  • The Bible is not a book of rules, or science, or precise facts, or even perfect history. It's a book of life! And life is messy. A book that unpacks the foundational stories of our faith and invites us to keep going and discovering and finding God. A doorway, not a destination. A starting place, not a finish line (my words...better than Bell, in my opinion). 

Does Bell say some things in his book that I do not agree with at this point in my journey? Yup! He sure does. But, if I am honest, I have little desire or energy for needing to defend my ideas or attack Bell. The book was mostly brilliant. I never finish a good meal my wife makes me and then take time to explain all the little things about it that I did not like. Accomplishes nada. That said, I would be more than willing to discuss some of my disagreements with anyone who has ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK (not just reviews slamming the book and Bell). Contact me. I learned the hard way in the past arguing about books people never even read.

Finally, a word to those that hate this. A good pal of mine often tells me after reading some of the comments on my FB threads, "Noah, have the most diverse group of friends of anyone I have ever seen!" He has a point. I have great friends that would LOVE some of these Bell-type explorations. And then I have other friends, that I dearly love and honor, that would really struggle with this and want to pull me or anyone that reads this stuff off a cliff to save our lives. The tension is marvelous. May all of our hearts resist the pride that says "my way is the only or right or best way" and rather walk with our hearts postured toward and filled with trust for JESUS, the way, the truth and the life! 

 (Let me talk out the other side of my mouth and say that I am considering/willing to write a follow up post with the three things I liked most and the three I liked least. I'll see if there is interest rising.) 

Racism & One White Man

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This morning was very unique, an experience I won't soon forget. Most Sundays we are committed to preach or at our home congregation.  Since we arrived home early from our vacation, I decided to attend the massive, well known, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, an African American megachurch just minutes from where we are staying. I've tracked with and appreciated FBCG for years. 

As I went to bed last night, I found myself wondering what Pastor John Jenkins would do or say about the events in Charlottesville yesterday. Would he ignore, downplay, or exaggerate the events? After all, the local news stations were already calling asking his response. The topic of his message: Racism! Clear enough? My experience this morning was awkward, but beautiful. Let me share why...

Awkward because I just "happened" to be the only white male (that I could see) in a room of thousands of black worshippers. Whether anyone else felt this way or not, I couldn't help but feel like an oddball in a place I didn't belong. It didn't matter how sweet people were (and they were!). When only one race meets in a space and you join, it creates weird emotions. But I live in Africa! I got this, even though it's very different. But it was awkward. I felt embarrassed for how white people acted yesterday. I felt ashamed that we are still in this place in history. And I felt a weightiness that's hard to describe. 

Yet, somehow this experience was beautiful. It was beautiful because Pastor Jenkins called the church to act like Jesus! And they agreed. You knew they longed for the same. You could feel it and sense it all around you. He challenged the church toward a Christ-like response from Romans 12:

  1. Do not fight fire with fire or evil with evil. 
  2. Recognize and confirm God's perspectives.
  3. We have a responsibility to cultivate and maintain relationship with those who look different from us.  

There wasn't a single word about retaliation. Or payback. Just friendship and love. That's how we win!

And here's what else is beautiful and hopeful.  Most people in the United States of America are not racist at all! Very few are (See addition below). It's just that the ones who are get our attention. And the attention of the news agencies. 

So, this one white male sat with thousands of black brothers and sisters this morning as they dealt with racism and they committed to the way of love. We got this. We can do this. We are together. There is way more hope than the news and FB are portraying today. All is not lost. Let's keep going.  

 -----

(Addendum to original post: Let me openly share my regret for the line in this post that says Racism is rare in the US. I've received personal and helpful feedback that I may be living under a rock having spent the last 7 years overseas. Fair enough. I also want to say that perhaps I actually don't have the authority to make some of these claims as a white male. I'm an open processor learning out loud and sharing my experience. Please forgive me if my sentiments were in any way dismissive of the pain you may have felt as a result of racism. I have much to learn still.)

Make Lemonade--August 18

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!! That's exactly what we will be doing with our local friends on the evening of August 18. We will visit together informally and then have a time of Q & A about Graceson, our recent journey and our future. Please come! 

When?

Friday, August 18th from 6:30p-9p

Where?

Capital Christian Fellowship

10411 Greenbelt Road,

Lanham, MD 20706

The evening will be hosted by the Kaye family Missionary Support Team (MST) and they'll be available to assist with ways to participate in our work.

See you there,

The Kaye Family & Missions Support Team 

What About Tanzania?

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Many have asked us: "What is happening back in Tanzania while you're here in America?" So, we thought we would share a bit.

In brief, their names are Pat and Joni Kellar! We call them Mama Joni and Papa Pat (I've written about them here). They're holding down the fort, running the show and making it all happen! This selfless power couple moved to Arusha and joined our team in April. When Graceson had his stroke (and they packed us over FaceTime--that's another story) and we realized we would return to America for a time, they asked "where are we most needed?" We knew the answer was Tanzania. So, they saw us off from Nairobi, caught their breath and headed back to Arusha. 

We've got our house, a guesthouse, 4 team/staff members, 2 dogs, many friends, numerous projects, countless guests, phone calls, text messages, bills to pay, and on and on. They're there! They're handling it all! We talk several times a week and we are so excited for their visit to us here in the states next month.  

It's been such a gift to our hearts to be regularly connected to our life and ministry back home throughout this unexpected time.  

Things are moving on just fine without us in Arusha. Always have. Always will. But we sure miss it. And we lack the proper vocabulary to express our thanks to you, Mama and Papa. 

 (PS- It is our Plan A to return to Tanzania the end of December.)

Searching Safely

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I'm searching. You're searching. We are all searching to some degree or another. We want truth. We want God. We want meaning. And we all have an internal BS barometer that goes off when something doesn't jive with our spirits. Sure, there are plenty of Christians that are just fine with everything they believe and aren't interested in more. But...there are many people who are unsatisfied with what they've been fed about God, faith, the Bible, etc. And the dissatisfaction leads to asking, wondering and searching. There are many on that journey. I've met them there.

But here's what I'm noticing the more I listen and watch:

Many are leaving the church, not because they are LOSING faith, but because they're trying to FIND it.

The only way to find something is to search for it. But the searching must be safe, or it gets called off. It's true in avalanches and manhunts as well as spiritual journeys. People don't feel the freedom to search if they feel threatened. All of us need to feel safe to ask, wonder and consider. Few churches have figured out how to allow this. Many have not. As a result, people leave so they can search safely.

My heart feels in both directions. For the church to be places of safety and grace. And for people to find a real faith they can live for and die for. 

And I don't have answers. Only ideas. And questions. And hopes.

Home Everywhere and Anywhere

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I think we've moved 13 times in the 15 years we've been married. Stability of address isn't one of our realities. Since 2010, we've been living internationally. When we first moved overseas, we always spoke of "home" as the USA. After some years, South Africa started feeling like home. Now Tanzania is starting to feel like home. All the while, America always feels like a coming home. We have felt at home in hotel rooms. And at friends houses. After working so hard at making a home in Arusha this last year, we are now unexpectedly making one here in Maryland again! 

So, what is a home, really?

When Davis was very young we taught him the statement that "home is wherever Mommy and Daddy are."  

In the last several weeks, we have settled AGAIN and made a home. Some days I say "I never thought we'd be home right now" -- referring to America. Other times I say "I really miss home" -- referring to Tanzania.  

So, I've decided anew...home is where we are. Period. Noah, Tricia, Davis, Lily and Graceson. When we are here, we are home...small or large, near or far, planned or unexpected. We are learning to be at home! Oh, and in the process, some days are messy  

But I wonder if this is one of life's beautiful lessons? I wonder if we might all live with deeper peace of mind and heart if we would just learn to be at home wherever we are, whatever the circumstances. 

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. " -Philippians 4:12-13

Lemonade Time!

(This post is for those friends and partners in the Maryland/DC area and brought to you on behalf of our MST, Missions Support Team.)

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You are invited to make lemonade with the Kaye family! Many of you know that the Kaye family is currently in the USA while Graceson is being treated after his stroke. Although this was an unexpected turn of events and a jolt to their family and ministry, Noah and Tricia are choosing to see this as an opportunity to "make lemonade" in the face of adversity.

Please join us, the Kaye family Missionary Support Team (MST), on Wednesday, July 19 from 6-9 p.m. at Capital Christian Fellowship for a drop-in gathering where you can connect with Noah and Tricia. We will be making and serving fresh squeezed lemonade as well as other lemony refreshments!

You will be given opportunity to visit with the Kaye's, head a bit of their story and even give financially toward the Kaye family’s Africa budget or their U.S. expenses, if you wish to do so.

Wednesday, July 19

6-9 p.m.

Capital Christian Fellowship

10411 Greenbelt Road,

Lanham, MD 20706

(We will be hosting a 2nd drop-in gathering on Friday, August 18 for those who can’t make the first. More details to follow.)

See you there, 

June Kauffman, MST Chair

Helena Santos-Collins

Helen Hurst

Wilma Johnson

Glenn Kauffman

Pam Kaye

Ruth Yoder

Unfair

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Life is unfair. I have long believed that fair is not one of God's primary values or objectives. He certainly is many things, but fair is not one of them. I haven't worked it all out yet and don't always like it.

The journey we have been on lately has brought with it a polarity of emotions.  We have felt indescribable gratitude alongside painful grieving.  Joy alongside sadness.  Let me share one of the stranger emotions I've had. When our son had a stroke and it was obvious that he needed serious medical attention, Tricia and I, and seemingly the world around us immediately decided that he should transition to a different country (America) and receive "the best medical care he deserves"!  Sure, I wanted that for him too. Because we can. Because that's an option. So apparently, we would be stupid or irresponsible not to accept that option.

But hold on a minute.  What about Oliver, our friend's daughter who needs surgery? Or the kid in our village that can't walk or talk and no one even knows why?  Or every other child in Lily's class?  Or the hundreds and hundreds of precious children we have met and loved in Africa over the last seven years?  Or the ones in Asia? Or Latin America? I guess they should head to America as well since the medical care is so outstanding? Oh wait, they can't.  They are the wrong color or have the wrong passport or don't have enough money in their bank account.  Trust me, I felt this rip of emotion every time I went to share a Facebook update about Graceson. 

Please, please don't get me wrong. We are unfathomably grateful for the care we have received and I don't think I would change a thing at this point.  But there sure are other emotions going on inside. Sadness, shame, guilt… As I reflect on the millions around the world that don't have all the options we do. I'm grateful, but hurting in a new way.  And in time, I hope to figure out what to do with it.

May God give others with less options grace and peace and may he give us more humility and compassion. 

In an Instant

(I guess it was the experience this evening that pushed me deeper into reflection. There I sat. In America. In a rehab center. Singing with Graceson at a concert for the children of KKI, most of which in far worse shape than he. Never imagined this moment. Things change in an instant.) 

(I guess it was the experience this evening that pushed me deeper into reflection. There I sat. In America. In a rehab center. Singing with Graceson at a concert for the children of KKI, most of which in far worse shape than he. Never imagined this moment. Things change in an instant.) 

They (whoever that is) always say “nothing is promised” or “life is fragile” or “things can change in an instant”! Growing up, my Mother would regularly remind us of the words of James telling us that “life is a vapor that is here for a while and then vanishes.” She is right. “They” are right! For us that instant was May 22, 2017…almost one year to the day since arriving in Tanzania and only half way through our two year missions term, and BOOM….everything changed in an instant. Our baby had a stroke. Two primary thoughts emerge for me today as I think on this unexpected twist in our story. One on perspective and the other on time. I'd like to share them with you. 

1. Perspective. When life is just plain ole normal, certain things matter. Like what you eat for dinner or what movie you watch. And you have the energy for an argument or conflict over something silly. But when life changes in an instant, so does your perspective on almost everything. I will never forget that moment in the plane on my way to the states on 29 May. It was the first time I had alone time to sit and think since everything happened. I got my phone out, opened my task/to-do list app and deleted 24 things in less than one minute! Those 24 things simply no longer mattered. My son was sick, we were in crisis and if those things matter again someday, they will make their way back onto my list. As for now, I consider them behind me. Perspective changes when something throws your life upside down. 

2. Time. When we encounter trauma or crisis in our lives, it can feel overwhelming. It did for us. And in the midst of it, I had enough wherewithal to learn a lesson that I tucked away for later. There is a progression for coping. It goes something like this:

  • Minute by Minute. This is all we felt we could handle the first few hours/days. Some of those minutes felt like hours.
  • Hour by Hour. After a few days went by, it felt easier to just think in terms of taking it an hour at a time. That was all we could bite off at that point. And often those hours brought major changes and developments.
  • Day by Day. After we got back to the states and calmed down a bit, we felt the shift to being able to think in terms of day by day. We made plans and worked the plan. That was a new idea. It felt nice.
  • Week by Week. Just now, we are starting to think and plan in week chunks. That is about all we can internalize and plan for as of now.
  • Month by Month. That will come. Things will normalize and we will start to have the emotional bandwidth to make plans and have discussions that consider months.
  • Year by Year. And yet, in the midst of all of this, we know that life simply flies by and one year passes faster and faster the older we get. And those minutes, hours, days, weeks and months are what make up the year…and indeed, our lives!

So, crisis or no crisis, every instant matters. Life is made up of instant after instant, isn't it? 

What I’m learning,

Noah

Babies Too

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Today marks 2 weeks since our 18 month old son, Graceson had a stroke. After a week of crisis and care in Africa, we were able to return to the USA for further treatment. When something like this happens, you quickly learn a whole lot about a whole lot that you never wanted to know about, because you hoped you'd never need to. Of course, there is the medical knowledge I thought I'd never need and hope I never do again. But amid all of this, there are also many other lessons and life principles that emerge...ones that you just know you can use again someday...either for yourself or to pass on to others. I'll try to share a few of those as I can. Here's one:

Romans Chapter 8 in the scriptures is a hope-filled collection of ideas that speaks of how the whole earth is just groaning and waiting to be restored, repaired and renewed. A future glory. Yes, all of creation. Babies too. None of us are exempt. We are all impacted together and sharing together in the joys and pain of the waiting. We are all touched by sadness. By sickness. By pain. By death.  Babies too. But whether we step into it or not, we are to share together in each other's pain and joy. We are waiting together. Hoping together. Sharing together. I don't pretend to have this "future glory" thing figured out by any means, but I'm totally comfortable just being a man of hope...of faith, not detail and control. 

I can tell you this: 

We've never felt alone. Because we aren't. 

We've never blamed God. He is only good. 

At times like this, your theology informs your psychology, and it carries you. 

"But if we look forward to something we don't have yet, we must wait for it patiently and confidently." Rom. 8:25 

Choosing Low Leaders

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Yesterday I had the honor of giving an address to about 200 Pastors and leaders here in Tanzania in the moments leading up their selection of 5 new top leaders. I was asked to challenge the leaders to make decisions led of Spirit, and not other motivations. As I prepared, I felt strongly to focus on some of the radical ideas I saw in Jesus instead of the famous 1 Tim and Titus lists of what you ought to be to lead. I think it would be brilliant if more focus was given to the radically different ideas about leadership that Jesus modeled. It is so obvious to me that culture and “world” have won the day on defining leadership. Makes me sad. What a missed opportunity for the church to show the way.

 

Here is how I encouraged them to select new leaders. Maybe you will also appreciate the thoughts.

 

Choose JESUS type leaders who…

 

  1. Know they are NOT in charge (or the head) and knows that JESUS IS! Jesus is the Author, perfecter and cornerstone! Seems Jesus modeled this well in looking always to Father.
  2. Are weak and broken, not strong. Paul got it! Jesus clearly got it! Pick leaders that are honest about their brokenness, not hiders. (There are 2 types of people on earth. Broken and showing it OR Broken and hiding it).
  3. Include, not exclude. As soon as it is about who is IN and who is OUT, we miss the point of the gospel. Not to mention, the unqualified people Jesus chose as his core. None were ordained, or even “saved” for that matter.
  4. Has a sending, not a following. A giver of people, not a collector. Who cares how many people are looking UP TO or AT the leader, I care about who is sent OUT from the leader to transform earth.
  5. Exercises power UNDER, not power OVER. Power over leads people 5 feet down to the floor. Power under can send them to space for the Kingdom!
  6. Are known as slaves of others, not leaders of others. We have over-emphasized leadership without a Biblical leg to stand on. We already have a King!

It's My Fault

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Our family spent five special years in South Africa before we moved to Tanzania. There we learned a fair amount about culture. I remember learning the hard lessons that Africans weren't lying to me, the were protecting our relationship that meant so much to them. I learned that Afrikaaners weren't all racist, they were facing significant fear of losing everything they've known. These and other learnings take time and insight. All in all, SA was easy as far as cross-cultural assignments go. Tanzania is a different ball game. 

I thought I would share the most helpful cultural lesson/tool I've discovered in our 8 months here. Of course, we get frustrated about things. Culture can grind us. A trip into town can bring out our ugliness easier than we'd want to admit. But here's the story that is helping me walk in grace and love Tanzania more each day....

It's my fault. It's my problem to deal with. It's my issue to overcome. We moved HERE. We are outsiders and we are responsible for doing the adjusting and changing, NOT Tanzanians.  

  • When I order beef and get goat, it's my fault. Better brush up on my vocab.  
  • When we are supposed to meet at 1, and they arrive at 1:50, it's my problem. Remember how it works here for some folks.  
  • When someone says they'll call me later and never do, relax. Learn to read the signs better...maybe they weren't as interested as you thought...or ran out of airtime. 
  • When you've tried 3 different ways of asking for something at the store and they still take you to the wrong item...my fault. Better figure out what they call it here.  
  • When you let one car turn in front of you, and a stream of 25 follows against your will, smile and wave. This isn't the USA. My problem. 
  • And the list goes on.  

But, when I remind myself whose problem this is, it allows me to keep a pure and loving heart toward my host culture instead of blaming them when we miss each other, and it keeps me postured as a learner, in humility, which is perhaps the number one requirement for success in a foreign context.  

So, if you plan to spend time in another culture, put this to work. It'll take you far. If you'd rather get angry at "these people" for how they live, I'll say what they want to..."GO BACK HOME if we are so frustrating to you."

Leave Jesus out of this

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Jesus initiated and announced a most fascinating kingdom… A society with characteristics completely different from what the people in his day had ever experienced. That kingdom has been expanding ever since, and to this day it is still completely upside down, refreshing, attractive and unlike any other kingdom or society. The Jesus way teaches us wild things like:

  • Include the kids, even act like them.  
  • Love people as you would yourself.  
  • Love your enemies.  
  • Pray for those against you.  
  • Give people what they ask for or more. 
  • Include the excluded.  
  • Accept the rejected.  
  • Deny your rights and privileges. 
  • Sacrifice for the other.
  • Lay your life down.  

...to name a few. So revolutionary. It's why Jesus continues to be sought after by billions. And it's clear that these principles and values apply to people (individuals) who want to join the Jesus way. 

But I have a growing question in my heart over the last months, a question that is even more pressing since my new President, Donald Trump gave his inaugural address Friday. 

Do the Jesus principles, teachings and values apply to communities or groups that identify as "Christian"? Or are they just for individuals? Is there another set of rules for "Christian" groups?  

And what happens when a group/community or nation, teaches and embodies the opposite of what Jesus announced? Then, what are they? Still Christian? 

Let me be clear, I don't mind if they call themselves something else. I don't even mind if they ARE something else. It's been years since I stopped believing in such things as "Christian Nations"! In fact, I have way more respect if you're just honest about who you are and what you are. I just mind when groups or nations that don't act Christian call themselves Christian. Call yourself what you are. Not what you're not. 

So, to be clear, the following ideas are not Jesus ideas: 

  • Us first!  
  • Our safety is our priority.
  • Remove anyone who is a threat.  
  • Illegals, get out.  
  • Keep our guns.  
  • Empower the military.  
  • Reject or control gay people.  
  • Beware of Muslims.  
  • Kill off ISIS 
  • We need more money.  
  • Relationship only as it benefits us.  
  • Don't purchase or hire from others.  
  • Us first!  

You, or any group, including America, is welcome to believe in these things. Just don't call them Christian. It's killing me. And I'd rather there be zero prayers at an event celebrating these things. Having six prayers or quoting the Bible multiple times does absolutely nothing to make a group become "Christian" or their values become "Christlike".  If Jesus isn't invited into the party, don't tease everyone by putting him on the front of the invitations. Just leave Jesus out of this. Stop attaching him to things he doesn't stand for. 

There. I said it. Have been dying to get this off my chest, and then I remembered I had a blog!  Cheers!