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Posts Tagged ‘Evil’

Something that atheists cannot explain adequately is the presence of evil.  Their paradigm lacks an explanation for why good people suffer.  The materialistic determinism that guides most atheists’ belief system is an inadequate philosophical system when it comes to instructing us about the unexplainable, the mysterious or metaphysical. Our supposed evolutionary progress has not produced a more enlightened species; just the same bent toward evil only now loaded down with better technology.

Materialistic determinism in its most basic form says that reality is only what can be explained by our senses and measured according to mathematical and scientific theories.  On top of this, since we are bound by physical laws, our existence is predetermined and there is no use attempting to explain it, reason it or make meaning of it; especially with any sort of spiritual language.  There is no real hope for any kind of salvation per se.  Existence is a meaningless mix of biological material thrown in to a heartless universe established and maintained by a matrix of physical laws.

Unfortunately, the popular theology of many contemporary Christians is also inadequate in explain the presence of evil in the world.  It is often oversimplified or too personalized to be of any meaning to those who are really suffering.  Either everything evil is blamed on Satan and personal demons or it is denied all together and ignored.  Neither approach is healthy, helpful nor biblical.

Burnt Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2008

Burnt Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2008 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The biblical story of human disobedience and rebellion in Genesis gives us the best framework for understanding the presence of evil and its effect upon humanity, creation and all the relationships between the two.  The Bible acknowledges the presence of evil as a product of humanity’s own fallen nature; that is fallen from what God originally intended.  It also acknowledges the genesis of evil in a particular being who has spread his deception, lies and rebellion throughout all of humanity.

However, unlike most world religions, the biblical view of good versus evil does not put God and Satan on equal terms.  God and Satan are not the universal ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ of existence.  In other words, no absolute dualism between God and Satan exists within Scripture.  This is made particularly clear in the story of the Messiah.  When God’s son comes to earth he confronts evil and its effects, each time winning the battle.  The ultimate battle is won when he defeats death and the grave itself by returning to life to rule and reign over his creation once again.  He is now crowned as the victor!

But wait.  Then why does sin and evil still exist in the world?  A helpful illustration of this may be found in one offered by Ken Blue, a contributor The Perspectives Reader:  Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  I came across his article while taking the Perspectives course a short while ago.  I found it a helpful illustration.

There is a great example in our recent human history that illustrates for us how a war already won could continue to be fought.  During World War II, the allied invasion called “D-Day” saw hundreds of thousands of allied troops landing at Normandy beach.  Their purpose and the goal of that effort was to establish and secure a beachhead on the European mainland.  When this was successfully accomplished, military experts understood that ultimate victory was established for the allies.  Nevertheless, many more bloody battles, some of them very costly, would be fought before the celebration of final victory could be realized: “V-E Day” (Victory in Europe Day).

For the purposes of Ken Blue’s illustration, “D-Day” in God’s war with evil and against the Evil One occurred with the death and resurrection of Christ.  This assured his final victory.  However, there are still battles being waged until “V-E Day” when the celebration of ultimate victory will begin with the return of the conquering Messiah.

Until that time, it is up to his true followers to be engaged in undoing the work of evil and the Evil One.  Many of these battles will be costly.  In some places, blood will be shed.  However, it is the mission of the Church to take the war to the enemy’s soil, establish beachheads and continue the fight until there is ultimate victory – liberation for all the captives.  Our enemy knows that the war is lost.  However, the Evil One with all his devices and deceptions will fight to take as much of God’s creation with him as possible.

So, while there are two Kingdom’s at war, one is already declared the ultimate victor.  The other already knows its time will come to an end.  The mission of every follower of the Conquering King is to be engaged in the battle through pray and sacrifice until the day of celebration.  More than anyone, they should understand why evil is present in the world.  More than anyone, they should be engaged in the mission of doing something about it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Healthy Holistic Spirituality

Since Jesus’ departure from earth his disciples have attempted to follow his path of teaching and practice.  Unfortunately, he left behind ideas and concepts about a Kingdom.  He did not leave behind a lot of details about how this spiritual life should work – organizing the church, spiritual disciplines, and a myriad of other details that constantly change with times and cultures.  We are left to work that out as we commune with him through his Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the saints.

Surprisingly, for the most part, the church has performed fairly well.  It has its black moments in history.  It has suffered backsliding and experienced renewal and revival. It has been mixed with earthly governments and rule to its own demise and suffered through the revolutions of breaking free from them.  It has fallen prey to wolves in sheep’s clothing and expelled or rejected their rule and authority.

Nevertheless, the message and work of the Kingdom continues on and changes lives.  The message is that God has sent Jesus, his son, to restore the broken Creator-creation relationship with people everywhere and the work is that he is present in and among his people through his Holy Spirit to undo the works of evil and the Evil One.  As such, the church has been a major force throughout history in serving the poor, the hungry, the widows, the sick and the orphans.  Today, there is much work being done through its services to provide clean water, free health clinics to villages, free education for children, and working to eliminate preventable diseases.

Still, most of this type of work goes unnoticed by the world’s skeptics, cynics, agnostics and atheists.  This is not to suggest that the effort is to have some kind of global balance sheet of “good things” versus “bad things” done by Christians.  Nothing will satisfy those who look with anger and prejudice against others for whatever reasons.  The point simply is this:  The Kingdom of God has always been about a message accompanied by a work.

When Jesus ministered on earth, his sermons most often followed his work among the sick, demon possessed, oppressed, poor and outcasts of society.  He was not satisfied with staying in the local synagogue preaching and teaching.  Neither was he content with staying where he was most popular and most successful according to statistics.  He was always about his Heavenly Father‘s business.  There was work to be done.

The Acts of the Apostles recounts many early sermons.  Almost all of them followed some work by miracle or powerful demonstration of the Holy Spirit.  James expects this pattern to be continued and chides his readers through his letters for having faith without works.  As such, their faith was dead and worthless.  Faith not only has a message but it has a work that it must do.

Starfish and Sea Anemone, June 2003

Starfish and Sea Anemone, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I am wondering if believers in any given congregation in our area can identify these two things in their local church.   What is the message of the church?  Can they summarize it precisely and succinctly so that their neighbor or co-worker could understand it?  Just as importantly, what is the work of the church?  What work does their local fellowship of believers do to undo the work of evil and the Evil One around them?  What activities are their congregation engaged in to affect the lives of the least, last and lost of the community they live in?

The church’s credibility is not just in the integrity of its message – something we in the Evangelical churches like to focus upon.  The real credibility of the church is in the work it does that aligns with its message:  God has come to restore humankind and creation to himself by inviting everyone into relationship with him and work with him to undo the work of evil and the Evil One.  While we work on getting the message out, it might be time to also roll up our sleeves and get to work in the world around us.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There are two powerful mental and spiritual weapons used to ensure the continued decay of our world and culture.  They are resignation and despair.  One teaches us to believe that it is no use attempting to change things the way they are, let alone hope for any change.  The other teaches us that the world is beyond hope and we will do good just to get ourselves out alive and unscathed.  These trap us into a world of hopeless worry and chilled inactivity.

Jesus introduced a different way to view the world.  It is a world that is under siege by evil spiritual forces and human wickedness.  It is a world which he invaded with his Kingdom to “undo the works of evil.”  When Jesus came to earth, he did not arrive to just check on conditions and then report back to heaven what he witnessed.  He came to change the human and world condition.  Everything about his life was a divine rebellion against the status quo.

The divine rebellion Jesus started was meant to bring everything on earth under the dominion of his Kingdom.  In fact, he promised not to come back “until the gospel of this Kingdom is preached to all the peoples of the earth.”  In other words, he fully expects his followers to continue this divine rebellion until every tribe, language, and people group has had an opportunity to join the rebellion.

While on earth, wherever Jesus went he proclaimed “freedom for the captives” and set people free from demonic oppression, sickness, and disease.  He rebelled against the wicked corruption of the religious leaders of the day.  The Son of Man refused to accept things as he saw them on earth.  His mission was to bring the Kingdom of God to earth to rescue it and redeem it from the stranglehold of its satanic ruler.  The all powerful weapon wielded against Satan’s rule was his death and resurrection.  He broke the back of Satan’s power in death.  He liberated death’s captives by his resurrection.  Through his complete submission to the Heavenly Father, he gained “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  One day, everyone and everything will declare that he is absolute Lord and God.

Until then, he has left the work of this divine rebellion against the status quo to his followers.  We continue his work of undoing the works of evil and setting spiritual captives free through his authority and the power of his Spirit at work in us.  We bring people into the Kingdom of God by baptizing them into this new world order and allegiance to its King.  We teach them the Way and how to observe what Jesus taught.  Then, we train them to join this divine rebellion and to not accept resignation or despair.

Most of the world’s philosophies would get us to accept things “as they are.” They push their followers toward quiet acceptance of the status quo.  Stoics claim that any unwillingness to accept the existing world is useless and vain.  They would get us to believe that “the way things are” is an expression of God’s will.  So, trying to change the world or pray that God would make changes is bad.  Buddhists tell us that the way to true spiritual enlightenment is to embrace the way things are in the world.  Even secularists hold a view that sees an inevitability to life and the world as it is.  It is better, they teach us, to accept life the way it is and deal with the reality of it than to attempt to hope for change; especially change through any spiritual means or belief in a god.

However, Jesus taught and modeled a different way.  Probably the most significant for his followers is prayer.  Whenever believers pray, it is by its nature a rebellion against the status quo – the state of the world as it is.  In particularly, petitionary prayer expresses a faith in God’s willingness and ability to bring change to our world.  David Wells, in an article in Christianity Today (Vol. 17, No. 6), states,

It is the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is completely abnormal.  It is the rejection of every agenda, every scheme, every opinion that clashes with the norms that God originally established.  Our petitionary prayers are an expression of the unbridgeable chasm that separates Good from Evil, a declaration that Evil is not a variation on Good but its very opposite.”

Jesus told his followers that “At all times we should pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  So, if we succumb to resignation or despair, we surrender a biblical view of God that says God is present and has the ultimate authority and power to change things.  In essence, we say that it is useless to pray as Jesus taught us, “your kingdom come, your will be done.”  Why even exert ourselves to pray if God is not present nor able to change the status quo?  Thus, we end up striking a truce with all that is wrong in the world instead of being angry enough to call upon God and his justice, mercy, grace, and redeeming love.

When we pray, we are openly declaring that God and this world are at cross-purposes.  To not pray is to act as though they are not.  Unfortunately, most of us have gotten too used to talking about the world’s problems than praying about them.  It is easier for me to point my finger and shake my head at the world’s wickedness and evil than to engage it in petitionary or intercessory prayer.  I allow the resignation of “the way things are” and the growing despair over what appears to be hopeless situations to rob me of my most potent and powerful influence in the worlds as it is:  Prayer.

When I pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done,” it is more than a blanket prayer to cover all situations.  It is specifically asking the Lord of lords and King of kings to bring his authority and dominion to bear in a particular circumstance in my life or my world.  When I pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” I am asking for that same supreme and absolute authority and dominion that God Almighty has in heaven to be displayed in a particular place and time here on earth.  It is to cry out as the psalmist did, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

Rose in Full Bloom, Bush House Gardens, Summer 2009

Rose in Full Bloom, Bush House Gardens, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus’ life was filled with prayer.  He refused to live in the world or do the Father’s business on any other terms than the Father’s.  If he, the Son of God, required so much time in prayer to discern, discover, and disclose the will and mission of God in his life every day, how much more is required of us who follow him?  Or, do we think we are more capable than he?  Of course not.  More likely, like his disciples in a storm tossed boat in the middle of a dark night, we have surrendered to resignation and despair.  However, Jesus’ life and discipline in prayer was a divine rebellion against the world in its perverse and fallen abnormality.

If you are like me, the objection to this is on a very practical level, “But I have prayed and nothing seems to change!”  This is perhaps why “prayer” and “do not give up” or “persistence” is always coupled in the Bible.  Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow before an unjust judge.  He was determined not to hear her case.  However, because of her persistence, she won her day in court and received the justice due her.

God is not an unjust judge.  In fact, Jesus’ comparison is to point out how much better God is than a corrupt and unjust earthly judge.  The main truths, however, do not concern the character of the judge but of the widow.  First, she refused to accept her unjust situation.  In her world during the time of Jesus, her unjust and unresolved situation would have been the status quo for widows who do not have an elder male to plead their case.  Jesus is making the point that his followers, also, should not accept or resign themselves to evil and wickedness in this world.  The other example we find in the character of the widow is that, despite her discouragements and setbacks, she refused to resign or despair.  She persisted in her cause; so should we.

The problem does not necessarily lie in our practice of prayer.  We are persistent.  Most of us would get an “A” on our heavenly report card for persistence and effort.  Where we are most challenged is in our understanding the nature of prayer.  Too often, we consider it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in the great “Cosmos Monopoly” game.  Instead, prayer is my service and my part in the Kingdom of God’s warfare against the devil and his works upon the earth.

Prayer goes way beyond my private concerns, though it includes them, to include Kingdom wide concerns around the whole world.  It is more than just a religious experience or spiritual discipline then.  It is to stand in the courtroom of the world and plead “the case” against what is wrong and for what is right.  It is about my participation in the divine rebellion against the status quo until “all things are placed under his feet.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Healing Haiti

Another catastrophic disaster hits a part of our world.  It is something that we never get used to witnessing via newspapers, news magazines, television news cycles, or internet pictures and videos.  The suffering is overwhelming.  The feeling of uselessness from our living room chairs suffocating.  Some of us pray.  Some of us give to our charities of choice hoping that our dollar will go where it is needed most.  All of us wonder, why?

There is a human propensity to try and make sense of our world; especially when struck with natural disasters.  In some ways, we deal better with blatant human evil that reeks suffering and destruction.  The “why” is answered for us.  We see the results of twisted evil human nature every day.  We recognize evil in one another.  When it spills over into our lives, we at least have some semblance of a reason for our suffering; there are mean, evil, wicked people in the world that cause pain and suffering.  However, what reason do we have when it is impersonal “Mother Nature”?

Natural disasters catch us in a web of meaninglessness like Victor Hugo’s fly in the spider web of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  There is no one to blame.  It is just how nature works.  It is “the circle of life” at work in our world.  Death and birth continue on in an unfeeling, meaningless cycle.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Whether tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, disease or cancer, nature takes its course in all our lives.  Even if we live our lives without succumbing to disease or accident, we will end our days in a “natural” death.  We are the products of natural courses at work in the world.  We are also subject to the work of natural courses in our world.

In our modern, scientific age we like to arrogantly think that we can control or predict nature.  And, while our ability at prediction has gotten better, we are constantly and painfully reminded that nature is full of surprises for us.  We are far from reaching the limits of human knowledge.  We are constantly discovering what we do not know.  After all, that is part of the mystery of human science and discovery:  We do not know what we do not know!

Nevertheless, there are still those who like to attempt to negate the mystery of creation by offering a “cause and effect” answer for every event.  The recent example of Pat Robertson’s explanation for the disaster in Haiti is a great (or perhaps, better, tragic) example of this pernicious human trait.  He claims the mythical legend of Haitians making a pact with the devil to be free from French rule is the cause of Haiti’s troubled history as well as present disaster.  Not surprisingly, his comments have created an uproar.  Unfortunately, he has had a history of “foot in the mouth” disease.  His reason for the tragedy of the Twin Towers on 9/11 and New Orleans destruction from Hurricane Katrina’s?  American abortions.

All such attempts at explain or come up with a “cause” for disasters in the world will always be controversial.  It may very well be an effort in futility as well.  When biblical Job suffered the loss of everything through one disaster after another, his well-meaning friends attempted to come up with a reason or cause.  It was the very same one that Pat Robertson uses.  It is the result of sin.  While personal sin has its consequences, it is not always the case.  In fact, God brags about Job’s righteousness.  In the end, Job’s friends get a rebuke from the Creator for their lame attempt to explain what God was trying to do in the world and in Job’s life.

While Job’s friends wanted to find some personal sin for the cause of Job’s sufferings, Job wanted to blame God.  He assumed that he deserved God’s total and complete protection from every trouble.  He attempts an in-your-face chest bump with God.  God puts Job in his place simply by pointing out that the Creator does not need the advice of his creation on how the universe should run.  The courses of nature were established by God without Job and his “wisdom”.  In the face of God’s creation and grandeur, Job does the wise thing.  He shuts up.  Oh, that our modern day commentators and wisemen of God’s ways would do the same thing!

In Jesus’ day, there were two tragedies that captured the attention and heart of the country.  First, apparently, an evil ruler brutalized and massacred some people in Galilee (Luke 13:1 – 5).  Second, a tower in Siloam fell down and killed some people in a tragic accident.  One was a tragedy by human evil.  The other was a tragedy of meaningless accident.  Jesus exposed the futile human attempt to explain these events by blaming human sinful conditions by asking, “Do you think they [the ones who suffered and died in these events] were sinners more than anyone else?”  Jesus’ answer is in the emphatic.  “Absolutely not!”

Jesus offers us no explanation for these disasters.  He seems to be content to let the mystery of the “why” to rest upon his listeners and us.  Instead, he does offer a universal explanation for humans everywhere and in every age.  “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”  Huh?  At first his answer – or explanation – comes across very cryptic.

Jesus does offer us a parable.  He tells of an owner of a fig tree who finds it not bearing fruit.  He wishes to cut it down but at the intervention of his arborist decides to give it another chance.  This story, like a laser beam, is aimed at Israel.  However, it speaks to us all too.  God delights in showing mercy.  He is not put off by “giving more time” to those who are due judgment.  Jesus’ point to his listeners is that we are all due judgment!  Therefore, we all had better discern our spiritual condition and turn to God.  Jesus uses the tragic stories of his day to point out that the sudden demise of these people should remind us all of our frail condition and existence.  It should remind us all to look to our own spiritual conditions instead of looking to point fingers and blame such events on someone’s sin.

Red and White Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009

Fire and Ice Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Haiti’s suffering should be a reminder for us all.  We all have our own “pact with the devil”.  If Haiti’s suffering is the result of such a pact then we are all under the same judgment and deserve the same, no less.  Likewise, we are all at the mercy of the natural forces at work in God’s creation – floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, disease and cancer.  These strike the righteous and the unrighteous.  There were many believers in Jesus who died in the earthquake and many who continue to suffer today.  Are we more righteous than they because we were not there and did not experience it?  I think not.

Instead of wondering why, it is perhaps more constructive to take a personal spiritual inventory and ask ourselves, “If something like that were to befall upon me today, am I spiritually ready to go into eternity and meet God?”  This would help us far more than sitting in the seat of self-righteousness and pronouncing judgment upon the sin in the lives of others.  It only makes us as useless as Job’s comforters and deserving of similar rebukes from God and the suffering Jobs.

Instead of looking for a cause for such suffering, it is perhaps more constructive to approach these situations with the same attitude that Jesus did on similar occasions.  When faced with overwhelming human suffering around him, Jesus did not attempt to explain the reason for human suffering.  He, instead, looked for ways in which God could be glorified in such circumstances.  This was the case of a man blind from birth (John 9:1 – 5).  The disciples, so like us today, wanted to know the cause or reason for this person’s suffering.  “Rabbi.  Who sinned?  This man or his parents so that he was born blind?”  Jesus’ astonishing answer is that it was not because of sin.  Instead, “This happened so that the work of God could be displayed in his life…we must do the work of him who sent me.”  Could it be the same with Haiti?

Perhaps the best response to Haiti is not looking for reasons or causes.  Perhaps the best response is, instead, to ask, “How can we do the work of God in this situation?”  On this side of eternity, we might not know all the answers and reasons.  However, we do know that God has a work he wants to do.  Perhaps the best response to such tragedies is to seek to do God’s work of healing and restoration.  In the end, God is not going to quiz us with, “Did you come up with a plausible explanation of why this happened to them?”  Instead, he’s going to want to know, “How did you do my work in the midst of such sufferingDid you bring healing to Haiti?”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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One of my favorite quotes is: “God prefers spiritual fruit to religious nuts”. This is particularly poignant during our time where so much is being done in the name of God and religion that is ugly, let alone unrighteous.  One has to wonder if God is not deeply embarrassed by some of his ‘family members’ actions and attitudes.

Religious radicals (read nuts) ‘in the name of God’ have bombed abortion clinics, shot abortion doctors, practiced genocide, committed hate crimes, and robbed the innocent.  On September 11, 2001 religious radicals (again, read nuts) used planes filled with innocent people to kill and destroy.  It was their feeble attempt to humiliate and shower their hate upon America and the nations of the world.  Irrespective of religious identity, no such activities can be loosely attached to God’s character and name.

We would be foolish to think that all of this is really done in the name of religion or God.  In truth, not all of this is a purely religious problem but has its true source in economic, social, political and ethnic problems.  Nevertheless, the guise of religion is used to mask such activity and get wider mass appeal and approval.  In this way, many individuals are duped by deceptive fanaticism and led into a religious fascism.  The truly religious masses are held hostage by such evil behavior when they remain silent and don’t speak out against this activity.

Granted, not everything done in the name of a religion is done in the name of God. Just like you and me, God is jealous over his name and character and will not share it with just anyone, even if that someone assumes his name and to operate for his cause.  Would you like people performing evil activites with your name attached to them?  I don’t think so.

A big crime today is identity theft. People caught by such thieves testify that the worst part of the crime is undoing the damage done to their name.  Their credit rating with companies and their reputation with businesses and banks can take months, even years, to regain.  Unfortunately, it does the victims no good to cry out, “But I would never do that!”  The damage has already been done.

Pink Flamingos at Ixpu Ha', Mexico

Pink Flamingos at Ixpu Ha', Mexico ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

God is caught in the same identity theft by people with evil intents and wicked hearts. The damage done to God’s character and name is already done.  The result is that the dispersion cast upon God’s character and name causes many to reject him outright.  It does not matter that he would never do or approve such things.  His name has been used and marred.  And those who don’t know any better, well, don’t know any better.

You can come into my home, even become a part of my family, but you cannot assume the ‘Almberg’ name on your own.  It is something that only the Almberg family can give away.  You could only be given our name through such close affinity and affection to us that you would be adopted into our family and given our name.  It would be our gift to you.

Likewise, many people in God’s world assume his name. However, no one has the right to assume his name on his or her own.  Only he can give it to individuals by adoption into his family.  And he willing bestows it through adoption upon those who love and follow the lifestyle of his son, Jesus.  It is a lifestyle that follows the savior to the cross – where identities, rights, assumptions, judgments, and goals are freely given up for those that God bestows.  It is what has been called the ‘cruciform’ lifestyle.  It is a life formed after the cross of Christ.  Such affinity and affection is awarded adoption into his family.  His name is lovingly given.  No one can highjack it, steal it, or assume it.

Any other attempt to get into God’s family or to take God’s name is identity theft. So, the next time you run across a religious nut think, “Identity theft”.  You probably won’t convince that individual(s) about his or her error.  But you can help others identify the identify theft through your own conversation and action.  It will take the true family members to regain the honor and dignity of God’s name and character in this world.  And to all those who falsely assume his name, God would say, “Change your name!  Or change your conduct.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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