50 Shades of Pastels

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For a long time I wouldn’t read Christian novels. Just nonfiction and classical fiction. Much of that was by Christians. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsksy, the Bronte sisters, and Flannery O’Connor.

That last writer taught me that Catholics can understand grace too. My Protestant school told me they couldn’t, but were too focused on performing good deeds to get to Heaven.

Legalism is not confined to Catholics. Nor even religious people. There was a lot of it in the Evangelical subculture where I grew up.

This subculture encouraged me to confine my reading to “good Christian” romance novels. Tolkien was okay. But we girls should confine our minds to sweet, nice. little books that didn’t tax them too much.

Let me make it clear, no one told me, “Rachel if you read high fantasy or science fiction you’ll burn in Hell.” I was twelve at the time and eager to please. It was not my father, nor any men, but a bunch of older church ladies who got me hooked on the stuff. They did it because I let them do it.

I felt abnormal and weird. Not feminine enough somehow. I read Christian romances, worried about my hair/skin/clothes and dieted all the time in the hopeless endeavor of becoming attractive (less than 100 pounds in those anorexic eighties) and girly.

Here are the kind of books I read. Mostly between ages 12 and 20.

The covers were all pink, powder blue, lavender, lemon, and white. With a slender, doe-eyed girl of 18 or 19 in a pretty dress and picture hat. Her figure was closer to Kate Moss’s than Raquel Welsh’s. Curves are unsightly and unholy.

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Prairie romances by Janette Oke and western/”contemporary” romances by Grace Livingston Hill primarily. What the oeuvres lacked in quality they tried to compensate for in quantity.

They had mostly the same plot. A girl no older than 18 or 19 sets out to find her place in the big, bad world.

She meets a bad man or two with nefarious–but understated–erotic evil on his mind. Sometimes he would allude to wanting her. Sans clergy. Bwoohahaha.

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What is a pure-minded ingenue to do? Clutch her pearls and swoon away. Then Mr. Badman would depart. Stopping only to kick a puppy on the way out.

Sometimes Mr. Badman would want to marry her under the proviso that she do something horrible. Like send her siblings away to an orphanage, desert her aging parents, or wear lipstick and rouge. Sometimes she would agree to marry him, but then catch him smoking a cigar while drinking and swearing as he played cards.

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Then she’d meet Mr. Goodman. As handsome and noble as a cardboard cut-out. Usually he’d save her from Badman. On rare occasions the ingenue had to rely on her own devices–like arranging a wedding on the sly so her snobby mother couldn’t interfere with her marriage to the hero.

These books were typically 200 pages long. The heroin was nice but unsaved on page 1. Sometimes a little worldly. (She never did anything too dissolute though. Like wear lipstick.)

By page 100 she’d fall under conviction of her sinfulness. Usually from hearing Mr. Goodman say something spiritually profound. Such as, “I don’t drink.”

By page 150 someone would lead her through the Sinner’s Prayer. By page 175 Mr. Goodman would propose out of the blue, with no sign beforehand that he returned her love.

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Pages 190-200 were dedicated to descriptions of the Wedding.

The guests would go away under conviction due to the absence of drinking and dancing at the reception.

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These books taught me valuable life lessons. Such as:

  1. If you pray, don’t drink/smoke/chew, and eat your veggies God will send Mr. Right into your life by the time you turn 21.
  2. Purity will automatically turn you into a slender blonde goddess all men will chase after.
  3. Following Jesus is a means to the end of finding Mr. Perfect and establishing a middle class home in suburbia.
  4. The only thing God wants for all women is marriage and motherhood. If you’re a virgin all your life (like Corrie ten Boom, Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael) you’re a failure as a Christian and God can’t use you. The Cross is not enough. You need to put a ring on it and pop out lots of babies.

Nowhere do you find these morals in the Bible. In fact the Bible itself contains spicy, problematic stories those little, old ladies who taught Sunday school never actually read. Just skimmed over in the KJV to avoid mental images of stories like Dinah’s angry brothers tricking the men of Shechem or how the resourceful but morally ambiguous Tamar obtained her widow’s pension.

Bad art often reflects narrow mindedness which kills creativity. And if you’re going to slap the Christian label on a book as a marketing strategy shouldn’t you try to ensure a higher quality since it will reflect on Christ after all?

50 Shades of Pastels

Grappling with Grace

Throughout my childhood I struggled to believe in God’s love. I could believe in His existence, His power, His wisdom, His holiness. But I could not believe He loved me, sinner that I was.

I knew my parents loved me. But they weren’t as holy as God so their standards were lax. Or so I reasoned.

I was a willful child. Prone to disobedience and ugly fits of rage.

It didn’t help that a Sunday school teacher frequently rhapsodized on the wrath of God and the horrors of Hell but made no mention of grace. Or explained why Jesus chose to be executed so horribly.

We were only preschoolers, but if we were old enough to tell about Hell we were surely old enough to explain about God’s plan of Salvation. I struggled throughout my childhood with the concept of grace.

Modify my outward behaviors as I would, my inner person would go astray and do her own thing.

One question I frequently asked myself.

If God is all knowing and all powerful and all holy why doesn’t He blast me into oblivion when He sees what I think and say and do?

The answer is God is merciful and patient. As I have grown in my Christian walk I no longer struggle quite so much with sin either. Even my addiction to food is better now.

I couldn’t sleep at night and frequently wept in terror at the prospect of the Second Coming or Judgment Day. This sounds “crazy” to many, but the Puritans wouldn’t have seen it this way. Our culture views it as a sickness because a lack of guilt and no fear of God is normal for our times.

In my teens I quit focusing on my own sins. Not because I had come to appreciate God’s grace but because I chose to focus on others’ sins. I compared my outer works with their outer works, and by my own standards though not the biblical ones exactly came out even or ahead. Of course I gave myself a break for intentions and having a bad day–while not doing the same for my neighbor.

I became very image conscious and obsessed with how others viewed me. When my dad got fired from a church, the woman who convinced her husband to fire him and evict us was a mentor. An older friend of sorts.

Her betrayal cut me to the core.  It’s hard not to personalize it.

I went into a shell, blaming myself for all that went wrong. In the place we moved to I avoided talking. I would only say the wrong thing anyhow.

Things looked better in college. But my inner demons followed me.

Then something horribly scandalous and shameful happened to me in college. The degradation made me want to die.

I spent the next decades in hiding. My life was full of existential angst. I doubted my own soul and humanity.

I realized that you can be a self righteous hypocrite with all sorts of odious traits and not go to church. So staying out of church was no solution to avoiding hypocrites and sinners.

Eventually I came home. My physical health is broken. I’m alone at 46 and living on nothing but my SSRI money.

Yet I have peace despite it all. Despite my sins I know He loves me. In the midst of my suffering His suffering became meaningful. This caused me to realize how great His love must have been for me despite everything I have done or suffered.

Life is short. Soon all suffering and sorrow will end. Only peace and joy will remain in His Kingdom of Love.

Grappling with Grace

Unsafe Christianity

My dad and I attended church again last Sunday. It brought joy to us both.

Dad is seventy and the associate minister. I’m in my mid-forties but have autoimmune diseases.

We’re both high risk groups. But we’ve stayed away long enough.

We have taken precautions. Sterilize every surface we can. Keep the chairs widely spaced so only families/roommates are near. Everyone wears a mask except the preacher facing from at least six feet away up front. Lots of hand sanitizer. No handshakes in the foreseeable future.

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It’s doubtful people were more terrified of the Black Death which wiped out nearly half of Europe. Yet, please observe the conditions at our church are far more sanitary than the average Walmart, Meijers, or Target.

But suddenly, the tiniest risk makes people sob and swoon and hunker down in fear. (Although the fear grows less when they shop at Walmart somehow.)

How safe was it to go to church in ancient Rome? Do you think it was safe to refuse to worship Caesar Nero as a god and declare the Lordship of Christ instead?

To this day, around the world, people have continued to assemble in underground churches though they know it’s a dangerous thing that could cost them their lives. They take precautions to keep it secret and go.

Did the ten Booms or Bonhoeffer play it safe during the Holocaust? Did the Allied forces win the day at Normandy by being careful and avoiding danger?

These were much bigger risks–with far greater odds of dying than of dying from the virus if you catch it.

We’re a nation of thanophobes. Yes, the fear of death can be irrational if it’s excessive and counterproductive. Howard Hughes died, regardless of the great care he took of his health. All cowards and hypochondriacs die–just like war heroes, fire fighters and Christian martyrs.

According to the Bible we’re supposed to take risks. Remember the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30?

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” Matthew 25:26-27 NIV

Nowhere in the Bible will you find the words, “Well done, good and cautious servant. You played it safe and never took the slightest risk.”

 

Unsafe Christianity

Finished! On to Future Projects

Anemia (1)

Finally completed my first draft of Anemia. Chronic muscle cramps, eye surgery and the sin of sloth delayed me.

I need to go over it at least a couple times. Maybe hire a copy editor off Fiverr.

My next project is a book of fables I may illustrate with line drawings in chapbook form. I could offer it for free without the illustrations and those who really like it could order the finished project.

Another thing I’m doing during this crisis is sending out homemade post cards to every church member. Especially those afraid to attend now. Something physical to hold may cheer their hearts even if they have internet.

Every afternoon I phone someone lonelier than me.

But what really troubles me is how selfish this crisis has made us. Not only do I have low rent housing and $800 a month from the government, but I’m getting extra now. It doesn’t sound like much, but I only have myself and my cat to feed.

Meanwhile, small business owners and many others struggle to make it. With all those on unemployment many are falling between the cracks.

We Christians should do what the Philippians and other early churches did. Many of us still have money. Others have lost everything.

I’m trying to figure out a way we can give to those in need using online resources. Tithing is not enough now.

This project is really on my heart now.

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Let’s pray for those harmed by the riots. The weird thing is this is no worse than the Spanish Flu yet it’s turning us all into monsters.

My pet peeves are healthy, rich people under fifty who ignore the high deaths in nursing homes. Only lately has anyone expressed concern at their grandparents’ deaths and asked why nothing has been done to protect them. (Beyond banning visitors.)

These same people post about various hobbies on social media but rail against how selfish that unemployed hairdresser is who can’t feed her kids. No one offers her a dime. Just lectures how she owes it to everybody to let her kids go hungry till the government check arrives.

If a woman collapses in a store, nobody offers her any assistance. Too risky. The obvious thing to do would be taking her aside, making sure she was okay and calling 911. You can quarantine afterward like Jesus did after touching the lepers he healed.

(It’s a very minor risk too. We’re a nation of cowards who can’t be inconvenienced by others’ suffering. Lock down is a great excuse to only live for your own comforts and pleasures. Probably why so many enjoy it.)

Far worse than the lost income is how it’s destroying whatever remnants of compassion or justice remain in our culture. How this must grieve the heart of God!

 

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Do you think THIS was comfortable or convenient for our Lord?

Finished! On to Future Projects

Praise God!

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In the midst of this pandemic when housing is hard as ever to come by the Lord helped me find an apartment just a few miles from my parents.

Abby came too.

1589476370989_0_IMG_20200505_060117325There’s a Hebrew word. Chesed. Referring to the tender mercies of the Lord.

Thank You God for helping me find a new home.

Peace and quiet out here. Now I can concentrate on reading works like Interior Castle. Later Pensees by Blaise Pascal.

Spending a lot of time in prayer and reading of Scripture.

And some art and writing projects.

Praise God!

Keeping your spirits up as you hunker down.

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  1. Avoid too much social media. In fact avoid too much time online that isn’t related to your job if you can work from home.
  2. Avoid news media. Whether television, radio, YouTube, or one of those old fashioned print newspapers. All pretty depressing. One or two headlines every weekday should keep you abreast of world events. (If something Big finally happens you can read about that.)
  3. Do exercise and care for your body. Eat properly, take supplements if needed, drink plenty of water and practice good sleep hygiene.
  4. If you live alone you can anchor yourself in the here and now by doing manual chores just like the Desert Fathers and Mothers did. And regular housework will make your quarters more bearable to remain in.
  5. Read more books. If your attention span is shorter it may be from too much time online. Go off for a day or more till you can read again.
  6. Plan for when this will end. It won’t go on forever. It can’t go on forever exactly the way it is. Change is inevitable. Prepare for it. Dare to hope and dream.
  7. Work on a creative project. It doesn’t have to be MacBeth–which Shakespeare wrote in the country during a plague in London. It might be inventing a recipe for your family or designing greeting cards to send to loved ones.
  8. Laugh. Joke to those around you. If you live alone tell yourself jokes to laugh at and read joke books and comics. No one will hear you laugh like a loon. It’s okay.
  9. Get along with those “trapped with you.” For those with families.
  10. For those without earthly families. Reach out to others. Not by social media, but email, phone calls, video chats. It helps a lot to hear a human voice.
  11. Pray. Take your cares to the Lord. Spend this alone time with God. (For you marrieds with kids some of this can be done with spouse and some entirely with the family. But get in a little time for yourself with the Lord too.)

Just remember, God is the one in control. He’s the One we trust in. Not the American dollar, the AMA, nor Uncle Sam. They may collapse and fail or betray us, but He never will. Obey the earthly authorities but trust God. He cannot lie.

Keeping your spirits up as you hunker down.

My Upcoming Novella

The WIP is not done yet. This is the current state of the e-cover and blurb. Both could stand some tweaking. Anemia will only be about 80 pages long. Novella as opposed to novel. I don’t like modern horror but not sure what else it can be classified as. Little violence and no real sex, but very dark themes and grotesque imagery.

I thought about dark fantasy but it’s not sexy enough. Paranormal? Urban fantasy might be appropriate, but it takes place in a rural community.

Greencrest, IN. Population 1,500 not counting all the surrounding farmers and nearby Amish colony. (The Amish don’t play a role in this book.) It’s set in Key County in the foothills of southern Indiana near Tennessee.

Thin Places: a series of self contained novellas and novelettes. On Amazon Kindle these fit under “two hour reads” and “one hour reads” respectively.

Anemia (1)

Laura Cahill had no idea that dating a monster could be so horrific. When she sees the unusually attractive boy in her class ogling her, Laura falls madly in love with him. Her older sister Lizz does not trust Jamie. Neither does Brother Rob, the minister of their community church. But Laura brushes off her sister’s misgivings as jealousy. It becomes clear to Laura, before anyone else that James Harrison is no ordinary boy. But even she does not fully know what he is. An ancient being with a long grudge against humanity who comes rising to the physical world every seven years looking for fresh prey.  A pretty but foolish and corruptible girl. Lizz watches as her kid sister loses weight and develops serious anemia. As Laura’s personality becomes increasingly merged with his, Lizz despairs of her sister. Even Brother Rob has no advice to give. In the ultimate act of folly Lizz takes on this supernatural abomination, pitting her weakness against his strength and cunning.

 

My Upcoming Novella

Are We Living in a Black Hole

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I waste too much time on YouTube some nights. Especially when the pain gets bad. My concentration has been poor lately too.

I saw a video of unusually frightening scientific theories. One that stuck out in my mind was the Black Hole Universe.

Whether it’s right or not, the idea is that the world we see around us is trapped in a black hole. A fascinating idea and I believe it’s got a following because it addresses some feeling in our collective consciousness now.

I can’t provide a link but you can google “National Geographic 2014 + are we living in a black hole?”

Here’s a summary.

Our world is actually the product of an even older universe. What we see around us began once a star burnt out its original fuel and imploded. Eventually all around us will reach singularity and be crushed so small it can be crushed no further. Till then our universe becomes more twisted and tiny slowly but steadily…and nothing can stop it.

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Our world is shrinking and twisted. Surrounded by a black void.

Isn’t this what we all instinctively have known from early childhood? Infancy even?

Not only can we see the natural world crumbling around us, but we feel our bodies and minds and hearts crumbling away too.

Here’s what fills me with hope.

By acknowledging that something is wrong with our world we are affirming that such a thing as rightness exists.

When we accuse a man of lying, we only can do this because we know such a thing as truth exists.

Death only troubles us because it was not part of the original plan. It troubles us more than animals. I know because I have had to force feed sick cats who would have given up without coercion. A man my dad knew who had overseen state executions by lethal injection said the people struggled, though they were given drugs beforehand so they were already unconscious.

Veterinarians do not see this when they euthanize hopeless pets. I stroked my pet Squeeky when he was put down. If he had any notion of death it didn’t frighten him. The pain was minimal and I was there with him till the end.

As I see the death and decay and rumors of war I look up and see Hope. My heart fills with peace in the midst of all.

His peace is not what the world gives. Because of Christ my hope looks beyond the grave and sees everlasting life and love.

The world He meant it to be. Full of men and women as He created us.

 

 

 

 

Are We Living in a Black Hole

Slaying Death

“I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.” ~James Garfield 

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I have really been letting worry take over my life. Some of us are more prone to optimism than others. Realism rather than pessimism or optimism is best. (By optimism I mean predicting positive outcomes. Not focusing on what already is positive which I strongly recommend.)

After studying Philippians 4 and committing verses 4 through 9 to memory I joked to my mother that I would have to swear off the evening news. And basically any news articles in my feed for the foreseeable future.

It’s been driving me insane. As well as those around me.

I feel frustrated when communicating with the blissfully ignorant who think the Virus is the only threat at hand. People who have no idea what words like stagflation, I-shaped downturn, Minsky Moment happen to mean. Who blithely imagine the government can keep doing what they have recently done as a stop gap measure over and over indefinitely with no repercussions.

I’m not arguing that the virus is contagious and kills people. I’m in a high risk group myself. I’d say I have a one out of twenty chance of dying–though getting to a hospital not swamped with other sick folk would increase my survival odds.

My Dad (70) and Mom (69) are even higher risks according to my brother who works for a company trying to produce a vaccine. He says their odds of dying are 1 out of 6. Russian roulette odds.

My only question is will starvation and exposure to the elements kill more people than the Coronavirus? Plague or famine…take your pick.

But guess what? Even if this virus doesn’t kill you and even if you don’t starve on the streets from the Greater Depression predicted your odds of death are 100%.

Something will kill you. Just a matter of time. Evade death as you will for as long as possible. It’s a losing battle. You are doomed.

People never invited me to parties in my youth, by the way.

No, I wasn’t a goth. Goths are cool.

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In the end there is no earthly comfort. Our only hope comes from outside ourselves. From above.

And, as harsh as this world is, I really wouldn’t want this to go on forever. Some days I experience pain that makes my body a torment to me. Even if people could ever quit using each other for personal gain…wealth, sex, status…the natural world is brutal.

Then I remember the fact that I find this world so obnoxious and it bothers me so much means there must be something else. According to the religion I embrace death is not according to the original order. It seems unnatural because it is.

The reason we Christians celebrated Easter together in spirit yesterday is because we know we were meant for higher things. We weren’t meant to lie decaying in the ground. If we place our faith in the Firstborn who rose from the dead in His transcendent flesh, we shall also rise like our dear Master did.

Focus on Him and our fears will evaporate. Even if the Virus were a hundred times and deadly and famine already in our midst we would face earthly death boldly.

Asrael, I laugh in your face. Jesus conquered you and your twin brother Sin two thousand years ago. You both can put on a cool show, but Christ has shown us how impotent you really are.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. If we believe in Him, even though we die yet shall we live.

Eventually Death too will die.

 

 

Slaying Death

Your Money or Your Mouth

First let me clarify that I go to a fundamentalist church and consider myself a conservative. Not all conservative evangelicals….

But I have attended a few that repeatedly condemned the poor as lazy from the pulpit. When asked about the truly needy…those who can’t work due to disability or poor job prospects despite diligent searches…they blithely say, “The church can feed those people.”

I have known a number of churches who rose to  the occasion. There is a lot of generosity in Christ’s Body.

There have also been churches I attended that treated the poor poorly. One Bible study I attended had us read through the epistle of James.  A man I had hitherto respected read the first part of James 2 and launched into a diatribe with how that didn’t apply to churches nowadays since all the poor want to be that way. And churches have the right to prefer respectable, well educated people.

My disabled friend and I–both forced to live on welfare–looked at each other and felt embarrassed. Nobody else seemed to think anything was wrong with the man’s rant. I consider myself well educated, by the way.

I also have had a well meaning preacher’s wife keep urging me to work in day care, as a substitute, behind a cash register. I have an invisible disability and cannot stand up or bend or even supervise a class of children anymore since my problem has worsened.

I told her I have an autoimmune disorder so the work I can do is restricted. It seemed to go in one ear and out the other. But she didn’t read a lot and may not have understood me.

A BA in English literature with a minor in psychology. Foreign language requirements too. I also have read widely over the years since graduating. My MA in Autodidactic Studies. But I’m keenly aware of my lack of green stuff to plunk in the offering plate– though I do tithe. Even when it hurts.

I began to imagine this scenario at one of these churches where they complain about the lazy poor and how the government benefits should be cut off. As a Libertarian I actually am in favor of localizing charities. The poor will always be with us till our Lord comes again. Someone must help them (us.)

It would be nicer still if charities could be at least partially privatized through churches/synagogues/other groups/and individual donations. Grass roots. My question is: Could today’s church handle it?

Can you imagine the response of a church if a handful of people living on welfare went up front one Sunday? Say a couple members attending the Community Mental Center, the divorcee with fibromyalgia, a childless widow forced into early retirement after spending her life savings caring for her dying husband, a young man with Down Syndrome.

And the widow said, “I heard what Pastor Brown said last Sunday about how all government benefits should be ended. How the Church would care for the truly needy. So all of us here took him at his word. I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know we made a group decision to call our Social Security office and tell them we no longer would require our monthly benefits since the church we attended has generously offered to take care of our needs. Thank you for your generosity Pastor Brown.”

How do you think the Church would respond in such a situation?

Ideally the Church wouldn’t let it’s members take government hand-outs. Nor would it let the members supported eat the bread of idleness. They would put these members to work serving the other saints. This probably wouldn’t earn what the church paid them, but it would be a lot better than mooching off the government.

See https://kingjamesbibleonline.org/1-Timothy-Chapter-5/

Sadly most churches aren’t prepared for such a thing. Which is sad.

Giving the benefactor a face allows the poor the chance to express–and feel–gratitude. Allowing the poor to do some useful work in exchange for the financial support would make them feel better.

Almost every disabled person I know hates being forced to live on SSDI/SSI. They would dearly love to work. But any efforts to better themselves results in punishment from the Bureaucracy who cuts them off at the knees for earning a nickle.

But many churches wouldn’t rise to the occasion. Especially the churches most vocal in complaining about the Lazy Poor.

Unless churches set up safety nets as an alternative to welfare for members (maybe eventually find gainful employment) the poor must rely on Uncle Sam for handouts.

 

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I am even less impressed by liberal professors of Christianity and the empty words they churn out. 

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says, ‘Go in peace. I voted Democrat,’ but does nothing about their physical needs what good is it?”

All talk. No action. Dead faith.

 

Your Money or Your Mouth