Archive for the ‘Idolatry’ Tag

Good Society, Part III   2 comments

Above:  Jeroboam II

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Thou who art God and Father of all:

give us, we pray, an awareness of our common humanity

so that whether we are weak or strong, rich or poor,

we may share what we have with those who have not,

following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 124

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Amos 7:10-15

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Matthew 5:27-37

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Amos, like St. Paul the Apostle, did not attempt to curry favor with people, especially powerful ones.  Amos ran afoul of King Jeroboam II, who had the authority to expel the prophet from the Kingdom of Israel and back to the Kingdom of Judah (Amos’s home) yet not to change the course of prophecy.

Amos and St. Paul the Apostle committed themselves completely to serving God.  The main message of Matthew 5:20-48–to commit fully, not to be too clever by half, to play games with God, and to try to get away with the least one can do–has never ceased to be relevant.  Perfection (verse 48)–actually suitability for one’s purpose, which is to follow God–has always been a realistic goal via grace.  Moral perfectionism has always been unrealistic, given human nature, but striving to be the best one can be in God has never ceased to be proper.

Amos 7 offers a sobering lesson for all who imagine vainly that good times will continue unabated.  Consider, O reader, that during the reign (788-747 B.C.E.) of Jeroboam II, the Kingdom of Israel was economically prosperous and militarily powerful.  Consider also, O reader, that the kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.  Nationalism is a poor substitute for devotion to God.  Kingdoms, empires, and countries rise and fall, but God is forever.  Potentates leave office one way or another; most of them are of little historical significance.  Many who are historically significant are negatively so.  God, however, is the ultimate force for righteousness.

The condemnation of the Kingdom of Israel went beyond idolatry; it included institutionalized economic exploitation (Amos 2:6).  The condemnation of the Kingdom of Israel has never ceased to be germane, for its sins were not unique to it.

The Law of Moses contains a strong element of social justice–of looking out for each other, of being responsible to and for each other.  Do we, in our societies, really look out for each other?  Do we acknowledge that we are responsible to and for each other?  If we do not, we are sowing the seeds of our collective destruction.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARUTHAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MAYPHERKAT, AND MISSIONARY TO PERSIA

THE FEAST OF AMILIE JULIANE, COUNTESS OF SCHWARZBRG-RUDOLSTADT, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF PARMA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHN OWEN SMITH, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

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Dependence on God, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:   Alpine Clouds

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Lord Jesus, who set thy face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem:

deliver us from timid minds that shrink from the harder paths of duty;

and prepare us to welcome thy command to take up our cross and follow thee,

who art the Author and Finisher of our faith.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 121

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Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Hebrews 9:11-14

John 12:20-33

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One of the ubiquitous idols in my Western culture is the illusion of self-sufficiency.  Many individuals think of themselves as self-made people and consider being a self-made man or woman a virtue, especially in politics.  Yet, as Deuteronomy reminds us, we depend on God.  No person is actually self-made, and there is no room for pride in the presence of God.

The readings from John and Hebrews reflect the temporal proximity of the Fifth Sunday in Lent to Palm Sunday–one week–and therefore to the rest of Holy Week.  In John 12 the anointing of Jesus by St. Mary of Bethany foreshadows the anointing of his corpse at the end of the week.  Likewise, the reading from Hebrews 9 would fit well on Good Friday.

We (individually and collectively) rely entirely on God–from material needs to atonement.  May we refrain from laboring under any illusion to the contrary, and respond faithfully and gratefully to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Posted November 13, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Deuteronomy 8, Hebrews 9, John 12

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Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who givest us our quiet seasons of thought and prayer:

help us now and at all times to find in thee our true peace.

Save us in the hour of trial, deliver us from evil thoughts and desires,

and from the tyranny of outward things.

May we learn of Christ to be strong and brave in the struggle with temptation,

and to over come even as he overcame.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120-121

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Genesis 22:1-8

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 4:1-11

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One’s sole basis of identity should be God, according to Henri J. M. Nouwen, writing in The Way of the Heart (1981).  That standard proves daunting for me, for my ego rests on several factors, including my intellect.

In Matthew 4 we read of the temptations of Jesus.  Analyses of the temptations, with slight variations, follow the same pattern.  Nouwen’s argument is that the temptations were, in order, were “the three great compulsions of the world”:  to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The case according to M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, follows:

  1. To fulfill messianic expectations and gain political power by feeding the masses,
  2. To demonstrate dramatically that he is the Son of God, and
  3. To serve Satan, to rule as the Roman Emperor did, and to accept and fit in with the status quo.

The case according to Douglas R. A. Hare (1993) is that the temptations were, in order, to distrust God, to dishonor God, and to commit idolatry.

I would be remiss if I chose not to quote the play, Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), set in the U.S. South.  In that paraphrase, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into grits.  Jesus replies,

Man doesn’t live by grits alone, but on every word that drips from the lips of God.

–35

I experience no temptation to justify the actions of Abraham in Genesis 22.  My analysis differs from what one may have read and heard elsewhere:  God tested Abraham, and Abraham failed, for he should have argued from the beginning.

Abraham cared more about strangers, on whose behalf he haggled with God in Genesis 18, than he about his sons.  He exiled Ishmael in Genesis 21 and was prepared to kill Isaac in Genesis 22.  Arguing faithfully with God has long been part of Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.  Abraham, at the root of Judaism, had argued with God.  Why was he submissive at this crucial moment?  And how much did he damage his domestic relationships?

I have probably read every traditional rationalization of Genesis 22:1-19.  Not one has satisfied me.

One could write about more than one theme present in 2 Corinthians 6, but verse 3 stands out in my mind.  Erecting spiritual obstacles is a frequent human activity.  One might even mistake doing so for being properly devout.  Who is an outsider?  Who is an insider?  Our answers to those may be predictable, but God’s answers may shock us.  Also, we must trust in God if we are to grow spiritually, but do we really understand divine intentions at crucial moments?

One may wish for a clear–even spectacular–sign or signs.  Yet would we understand those, or would we find the signs distracting and miss the message?  Yes, we would, correct?

I ask God for no spectacular signs.  No, I need simply to pay attention to my surroundings.  As I type these words, the seasons are finally turning–from an abbreviated autumn to an early winter.  The splendor of autumn leaves, cold temperatures, and other wonders of nature satisfy many of my spiritual needs.

Trusting in God remains difficult for me much of the time, but doing so is at least less difficult than it used to be.  Grace accounts for that change.  I trust more progress will ensue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Being Good Soil, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Sower

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy church,

being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit,

may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and

the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Amos 8:11-12

1 Peter 2:1-6

Luke 8:4-15

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Hell is real–a reality, not a place with geography and coordinates–I affirm.  I also argue that God sends nobody there.  No, people send themselves there.

The reading from Amos 8 is one of the more difficult passages of the Bible.  Divine punishment is in full strength, punishing collective disregard for God with divine silence.  The divine judgment consists of giving people in times of trouble what they desire in times of affluence and spiritual indifference.  In other words, be careful what you wish for; you may receive it.

The word of God (what God says) is readily available.  It is proverbial seed in the story usually called the Parable of the Sower yet properly the Parable of the Four Soils.  The sower sows seeds in the usual manner for that time and place.  The emphasis in the parable is on the types of soil and on the fate of the weeds cast upon them.  The story encourages us to be good soil, to be receptive to the words of God.

Being good soil entails focusing on God, not on distractions, or idols.  The definition of “idol” is functional; if an object, activity, or idea functions as an idol in one’s life, it is an idol for once.

Perhaps the major idol these days is apathy.  In much of the world the fastest-growing religious affiliation is “none.”  Atheism and its militant variation, antitheism (to use Reza Aslan’s word) are chic.  Ironically, many atheists and antitheists know more about certain religions and holy books than many adherents of those religions, with their corresponding sacred texts.  These atheists and antitheists also understand less simultaneously.

God remains in charge, though.  Whether that ultimately comforts or terrifies one depends on one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS/THE COMMEMORATION OF ALL FAITHFUL DEPARTED

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The Presence of God, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Caesar’s Coin, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Song of Songs 2:8-13 or Isaiah 59:1-4, 7-14, 20-21

Psalm 34:11-22

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Matthew 22:15-33

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The Song of Songs is a text between a man and a woman, lovers, perhaps married.  They are in mortal danger because of their love.  I reject overly metaphorical interpretation of the book, such as it is between YHWH and Israel or Christ and the Church.  Nevertheless, the affirmation that God is present in the details of our lives does sacramentalize them.

Speaking of our lives, we Christians have the calling to fulfill our roles in the Church, the body of Christ.  We are all important in that respect.  If we do not do our part, we diminish the Church.

The readings from which Isaiah 59 and Psalm 34 complement each other.  God does not separate Himself from us.  No, we separate ourselves from God.  We do this collectively and individually.  We do this via rife injustice.  We do this via idolatry.  We do this via violence.  These sins have consequences in this life and the next one, we read, but God remains faithful and merciful.  Divine judgment comes bound up with divine mercy, however.

Speaking of idolatry, what was one of our Lord and Savior’s supposedly devout adversary doing with that idolatrous, blasphemous Roman coin?  The Pharisaic trick question was, in the mind of the man who asked it, supposed to entrap Jesus, who might sound like a traitor by advising against paying the Roman head tax or might offend Zealots, Jewish nationalists.  The empire had instituted the head tax in the province of Judea in 6 C.E.  The tax had prompted insurrection.  The tax’s existence contributed to the First Jewish War, after the time of Jesus and before the composition of the Gospel of Matthew.  The tax was payable only in Roman coinage.  At the time of the scene the coinage bore the image of Caesar Tiberius (I) and the inscription (in Latin) translated

Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.

Jesus found the middle way and turned the tables, so to speak, on those seeking to ensnare him in his words.

Another trick question followed.  Some Sadducees, who rejected belief in the afterlife, asked a question, rooted in levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  At the time of the writing of that law, the concept of the afterlife was not part of Judaism.  Those Sadducees had missed the point and weaponized scripture.  Jesus challenged their religious authority.

Tip:  Do not attempt to entrap Jesus in his words.

If we will trust God to help us lead holy lives mindful of the divine presence in all details, especially those we might think of as mundane or not sacred yet not bad, we will find sacred meaning in tasks as simple as housework.  We will also be too busy finding such meaning that we will not act like those people condemned in Isaiah 59 or those who attempted to ensnare Jesus verbally.  No, we will be too busy being aware of living in the presence of God to do any of that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 16, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 19:  THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE, BISHOP AND MARTYR, 258; AND SAINTS CORNELIUS, LUCIUS I, AND STEPHEN I, BISHOPS OF ROME

THE FEAST OF GEORGE HENRY TRABERT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES FRANCIS CARNEY, U.S.-HONDURAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, REVOLUTIONARY, AND MARTYR, 1983

THE FEAST OF MARTIN BEHM, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/devotion-for-proper-24-year-a-humes/

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A Light to the Nations VIII   1 comment

Above:  Sunlight Through Trees with Building Ruins

Photographer = Theodor Horydczak

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-H824-T-1927-005

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 42:1-26 or Isaiah 49:1-13

Psalm 26

1 Corinthians 10:1-17

Matthew 16:13-28

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God raises the stakes.  One would think (in Isaiah 49) that, for the people of Israel, identified as the servant of God, restoring the survivors of Israel after the Babylonian Exile would be a sufficiently daunting challenge.  But no!  The mission of the people of Israel in Isaiah 49 is to be a light to the nations.  In Matthew 16 we read of the Confession of St. Peter (yes, the rock upon which Christ built the Church) and Jesus’s immediate rebuke of St. Peter, who failed to understand the meanings of messiahship and discipleship.  Each of us has a calling to take up his or her cross and follow Jesus.  One who does not do that is not a follower of Jesus.  In Genesis 42 we read of most of Joseph’s brothers.  Their challenge, we read, is really to face themselves.  That is our greatest challenge, is it not?  Can each of us deal effectively with the person in the mirror?

The main words in 1 Corinthians 10:1-17 are “idols” and “idolatry.”  Idols, for us, are whatever we treat as such.  Everyone has a set of them.  The test of idolatry is whether an object, practice, idea, et cetera distracts one from God, who calls us to lay idols aside.  How can we follow Christ and be lights of God when pursuing idols instead?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER IF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/devotion-for-proper-20-year-a-humes/

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The Law of Mercy   1 comment

Above:  Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 38:1-26 or Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 18:31-36, 43-50

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 12:1-21

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Temple prostitution, in the background in Genesis 38, might be background for 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 also.  If it is, the reading becomes deeper than it is otherwise.  If to engage in sexual relations with a pagan prostitute is to unite with the deity the prostitute serves, idolatry becomes an issue.  Christians are supposed to function as part of the body of Christ, therefore visiting a pagan temple prostitute is worse than visiting a prostitute in general.

Speaking of Genesis 38, it is another of those different stories we find frequently in the Hebrew Bible.  It remains a proverbial hot potato.  When must a father-in-law sire his grandsons?  When the laws governing levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) dictate.  The text does not condemn Tamar for her deceit either, for the narrative makes plain that it was the option left open to her.

In June 1996 my father became the pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church in northern Appling County, Georgia, U.S.A.  One of the adult Sunday School classes was reading the Book of Genesis a chapter at a time.  One week the teacher announced that the class would not discuss Chapter 38 (although they had apparently discussed Chapter 37 the previous week), but would talk about Chapter 39 instead.  I wonder if the teacher also skipped the rape of Dinah and the subsequent bloodbath in Chapter 34.  Probably, yes.

When passages of scripture make us that uncomfortable, we should study them.  We should study all of the Bible, of course, but double down on the parts that cause us to squirm.

God is strong, mighty, loving, and trustworthy, we read.  Sometimes mercy on some takes the form of judgment on others.  After all, judgment on oppressors does help the oppressed, does it not?

Much occurs theologically in Matthew 12:1-21, but the major point is that mercy overrides Sabbath laws.  We read that some labor was mandatory on the Sabbath, especially for priests.  So yes, we read Jesus announce, the hungry may pluck grain and the man with the withered hand may receive healing, not just rudimentary first aid.

In the Gospel of Matthew one of the points drilled into the text was that Jesus did not seek to destroy the Law of Moses.  No, he presented his interpretation as correct and in opposition to the interpretations of his critics.  Jesus stood within the context of Judaism, not against it.  For example, the Mishnah, published in 200 C.E. (about 170 years after the crucifixion of Jesus), listed 39 types of labor prohibited on the Sabbath.  Plucking food was not one of them.  Christ’s opponents in Chapter 12:1-21 were, to use an anachronistic expression, more Catholic than the Pope.

The Sabbath, in the Law of Moses, was about liberation.  Slaves in Egypt received no days off, so a day off was a mark of freedom.  Besides, science and experience have taught us the necessity of down time.  Much of my Christian tradition has reacted against leisure (especially “worldly amusements,” a bane of Pietism and Puritanism) and insisted that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.  Nevertheless, science and experience have affirmed the necessity of a certain amount of idleness.

Judaism, at its best, is not legalistic; neither is Christianity.  Yet legalistic Jews and Christians exist.  A healthy attitude is to seek to respond to God faithfully, without becoming lost in the thicket of laws, without failing to see the forest for the trees, without mistaking culturally specific examples for timeless principles, without shooting cannon balls at gnats, and without forgetting mercy.

And while one is doing that, one should read the scriptural passages that make one squirm in one’s seat.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-16-year-a-humes/

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