Theology Thursdays – Why I Study Theology

For those tracking how I have labelled previous posts, you have seen Monday Musings, Tunes for Tuesday, Wednesday Writings, and Friendly Fridays. Poor Thursday was left out in the cold. So I figured I’d write about the one thing that I like so much, I have decided to do a Ph.D. in this area. What is it, you ask? Yup. The queen of sciences herself… Theology!

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For those of you who may not know, I’m currently pursuing my Ph.D. studies in Christian Theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Canada. My focus is on church history. I’m still up in the air in terms of the time period I want to go with but I’m debating between Roman North Africa between 300 – 700 AD or what’s happening right now with ISIS. I really need to decide soon.

A lot of people tend to ask why I’m studying theology. What is it about theology that is so exciting that I’m willing to forego sleep and some semblance of a social life to pursue a doctorate in this area? For me, theology is this living, vibrant thing that whether we want to or not, we are constantly engaging with in some form or another. As a group of people, theology has moulded and shaped cultures, people groups and nations. In a more personal way, theology has also helped define and instruct individuals’ life styles. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is subject to further discussion… however, we can’t escape from the fact that theology is a prime motivator in the lives of many people in the world.

The word “theology” comes from the word “theos” meaning God and “logos” meaning the study of… so theology is the study of God. In one sense, we are all theologians. In some way, shape or form, we all have ideas about who God is. To be an atheist is to posit a particular way of understanding God even if it is to say that God does not exist. While this may not be in line with orthodox Christian theology, it is still a way by which an individual engages in the theological enterprise. (Side note: Christians were once called atheists. Roman culture believed in the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses. Christians, on the other hand, believed in the One True God. As a result, Christians were labelled atheists because they didn’t believe in the Roman deities.)

I am firmly convinced that our particular theology has a direct impact on the way we live our lives. It is because of this very reason why theology excites my curiousity. I’m interested in how people interpret the Sacred Scriptures. I want to know why people think the way they think about certain theological doctrines. What is it about knowing God’s goodness that motivates people to do things like going to far-flung countries in their desire to heed God’s calling on their life? What is it about experiencing God’s love that has the ability to transform people’s life? What is it about the loss of a loved one that has the potential to incur feelings of anger and hatred towards God? All of these life events, as disparate as they may seem, are all areas in which theology is lived out.

Having studied Psychology in my undergraduate studies, I am aware of how we are affected by our psyche. Our bodies are wonderful things that are able to create neural networks that inform our thoughts and actions. Psychology offers a glimpse into the inner machinations of the human being. In the same way, theology gives us another angle by which we can examine the human experience. It allows us to look at the spiritual component that animates us and controls our words and deeds. This seemingly unsubstantial and intangible concept has, time and time again, manifested itself in tangible ways. When someone offers food and shelter to a person in need and does it in the name of God, this is theology at work; when people are killed because they have done acts that besmirched the honour of a particular religious tradition’s revered prophet, this too, is theology at work.

There is no escaping theology’s grasp. Its effects are everywhere. Instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, I’d rather accept its existence and figure out how it works. Perhaps, if we can figure out how to properly understand theology, it can still be a tool to make this world a better place.

Monday Musings – Living with regret

regretIt would be nice if we can go through life without regretting some of the things we have done. But, that is often not the case. A lot of the times, there are relationships we have had that should never have happened in the first place. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. There are relationships that we should have started. When I look back at my life, the common denominator in all the situations and experiences that I have gone through is this: fear.

Fear has this horrible way of setting paths askew. I can remember so many goals I have had that has been derailed by my own fears. In my mind’s eye, there was a straight line. I was focussed on the prize. I was ready to do whatever it takes to achieve it. I counted the cost. I knew it was going to be tough but I had tenacious determination that I could do it. With great gusto, I went charging ahead, daring to defy the world to come at me. Hurtling forward, it was almost dizzying with all the excitement that launching into the great unknown can sometimes give. Everything tends to go your way in those early days. And then, out of nowhere, it hits you. What if the prize isn’t really worth it? What if this is the wrong path? What if this whole thing is a joke in the first place? Can I actually achieve what I have set out to try and achieve? In those moments, the straight path doesn’t look so straight anymore. It is full of detours and sign posts to turn back from whence you came. So, you head back to where you started. Then you suddenly realize something: your starting point just became your finish line. It is at this point that you start regretting turning back. If only I stayed the course… if only I kept on going… if only I didn’t listen to all the negative voices… if only… if only…

I’ve lived with regret for most of my life. Why didn’t I do this? I really should’ve done that! These are some of the questions and statements that pop up in my head from time to time. The one positive thing that can happen when you live with regret is that you are also able to realize a few things about yourself that you may have never known unless you have felt regret in your life. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to be distracted by fear. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to want to turn back and run at the thought of potentially failing. My hope is that I can turn my regrets into reminders. A reminder that I am never alone. A reminder that the darkness can never truly extinguish the light. A reminder that I constantly underestimate myself. A reminder that I am stronger than I imagined and wiser than I thought I could be. A reminder that I am made perfect by the One who made me.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you ever lived with regret? How did it affect you?

Monday Musings – Living with hope

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“This world’s a tortured place to be / So many things to torment me / And as I stumble down this road / It takes a toll” – dc Talk, Supernatural

There are times in one’s life when the waves of insecurity comes crashing down so vehemently that one is left struggling to gasp for the air of hope. Each wave threatens to pound you down even further and further into the abyss of despair. It is hard to breathe, almost impossible, it seems. The will to struggle for survival is almost extinguished. The glassy eyes of apathy are but a symptom of this condition. The maelstrom of negative emotions swirling within leaves behind a destructive trail of broken dreams, failed attempts and copious amounts of tears.

Sometimes, it becomes easier to live in the land of depression. No one can hurt you there. After all, you’re already hurt. It is so much easier to curl up in an emotional fetal position than to stand up and daily live out the hurts and the pains of past, present and future. It takes courage and boldness and strength to face the challenges of today when reminded about the failures of the past and fear of the future. But to live in a state of constant anguish and anxiety is not a way to live. It saps you of energy. Vitality leaves your bones and is replaced with the burden of weariness that seeps into every fiber of your being. To prevent this from happening, it is important, nay crucial, to have hope.

Hope allows us to get through the day. It gently reminds us that the hurts of today does not have to be the hurts of tomorrow. Hope tells us that “this, too, shall pass.” Hope is the faint whisper of “things will get better” when we feel that our world is falling apart. Hope is what enables us to face yet another day that we fear to face.

It’s really easy to get trapped in the endless loop within our heads of how things are going wrong. One wrong thing after one wrong thing keeps on happening that sometimes I start wondering why the world/God/fate is against me. Hope is what enables us to get out of the horrible feedback loop we sometimes find ourselves in. Hope is our way out.

When it is impossible to change our circumstances, the one thing we can change is our perspective. You can let problems rule you or you can raise your fists in the air in defiance and shout “is that it?” Hope doesn’t mean that you fail to recognize your problems. That’s called denial. Hope is acknowledging that you have problems without letting your problems reign over you. Hope is what gives us the strength to wake up and fight every day. Never give up. Don’t quit. Choose to fight back. Choose hope.

Monday Musings – Living with doubts

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In the words of Five for Fighting’s eponymous song, “it’s not easy to be me.” I always wonder how to answer the question “how are you?” when posed in social settings. Do you really want to know or are you asking me because social etiquette dictates that normal conversations usually begin with that particular question? There are times when I am tempted to just unload what I really think but I often hold back. No one deserves to get dumped on like that with no previous warning. My friends are usually the ones who truly ask me how I’m doing. They don’t readily accept an “I’m fine, how are you” response. After the initial question, the follow-up question of “really, how are you?” is posed. That’s when the reality of my situation begins.

I’m currently doing my Ph.D. in Christian Theology. I just finished my first year of course work. It was as challenging as I thought it would be. And more. But, it was also strangely rewarding. I’m really thankful that I get to do what I get to do. I’m surrounded by people who have devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures more intensely and more actively than most people. How awesome is that? When you’re surrounded by greatness, it is really easy to wonder if you belong. I often wonder if they picked my name by mistake. Maybe, I got in the Ph.D. program by a clerical error. The feeling of “I don’t belong here” can be really debilitating. They have a name for this condition. It’s called  Impostor Syndrome. I have it and many in the Ph.D. program have it too. Apparently, becoming faculty doesn’t quite erase the feeling. That’s always good to know. =)

I also wonder how I can remain in the program. Financially speaking, I’m at my wits’ end trying to figure out how to fund this endeavour. Money may not buy you happiness but it sure can help you buy the things that make you happy. Right now, I really don’t know where the funding will come from. And that’s scary. I’m looking for a job that will allow this to happen and I’m not sure if I can find a job that would enable me to make it possible. This is when the small doubts coalesce to an avalanche that threatens to overwhelm me and bury me in its wake.

Yet, during this most doubtful of times, God has sent people along the way to affirm me. He reminds me that I am on the right path. He reminds me that I am where I need to be. I think my first response when confronted with doubt is to run away and cut my losses. Yet, I know that if I quit, I would never be able to live with myself. Like a moth to a flame, I would find myself back in this very same scenario time and time again.

As a friend once said, “I am exactly where I need to be.” I find strange comfort in that. Success is often measured on how many obstacles you had to overcome to get to your goal. Doubts present us with obstacles, real or imagined, that try to tell us that we can’t make it or that it can’t be done. I have no doubt that I will not be able to make it through without the One who gives me strength. In Him, I have no doubt. He will help me make it through.

Meditations on 2013: A year in review

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Around this time last year, I was busy preparing for my Ph.D. application. I had just finished my Greek exegesis course and was busily doing research and writing for my writing sample. I had spoken with my thesis supervisor and decided that it would be better to write a brand-new writing sample based on my proposed dissertation topic so I can have a good base of research before heading into the program. This year, all the planning and the preparations to achieve this goal reached its fruition. I am delighted to say that I have finished my first semester of Ph.D. studies! Woohoo!

There are so many times in life when our dreams and our goals can feel like they are so close, yet so far. We can almost grasp it, but it is also a breath away from making it ours. 2013 reminded me of the power of perseverance. It is important to keep going, to keep striving after that illusive dream. Because sometimes, that dream can turn into a reality. But after going through everything, that reality starts feeling like it’s a dream =)

I think it would be disingenuous to say that perseverance is the only factor in achieving one’s goal. More and more, I am convinced and convicted that all my dreams would never happen without the love and the support of the people around me. After all, no man is an island. We are surrounded by people who help us become the people we are, whether they be friends or foes. I am so thankful to have family and friends who cheer me on and are praying for my success. Without them, I would never be able to where I am today. It sounds so cliché but once you factor in all the financial, emotional, spiritual, psychological and intellectual support one needs to achieve anything, it becomes less of a cliché and more as an undeniable fact. We need our communities to survive and thrive. Without them, life is empty.

Yet, as much as I truly value my family and friends for all of the help they have given me, it but pales in comparison with the love and grace that my God gives me on a daily basis. If anything, I see my family and friends as a visible expression of God’s love towards me. It always shames me to no end at how unfaithful I am to Him, and how it is always flabbergasting to know that even when I am faithless, He is always ever faithful to me. Awhile ago, I was talking to a friend about success and how our understanding of success is primarily based on the goal we have set before us. For me, I have said that if I am still in love with God, and actually confounded more this year than the year before about how much love and grace He has given unto me, then that would be a success. If I still yearn to walk in His ways, and grow even stronger in my desire to follow after Him this year than the year before, then that would be a success.

2013 was a success. Let’s hope that 2014 brings even more of it.

Fear of failure Part 2: The inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Image from: evokeandimagine.com

Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so, too, can this recovering perfectionist!

It was tough. I knew it was going to be tough, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. But knowing it’s tough and living through the tough are two different things. I knew within the first week that PhD was going to kick my butt. A lot. And boy, did it ever do that!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine a week ago. I told her that I had just received my mark for a paper I handed in and that I didn’t fail. “Of course, you didn’t fail. You’re smart!,” she said. She continued on and said that “it is always the smart people who think they’re going to fail while those who usually fail thought they did a great job.” To which I quickly replied, “and that’s why we don’t fail. Because we always think we’re going to so we make sure that we don’t.”

I thought of that response that came so naturally to me. And it made me think that living in constant fear is probably not a good idea. Having a perpetual Sword of Damocles over one’s head is not conducive to joy or peace. As difficult as it is, I am trying to live a life that is not filled with perpetual fear of failing, of not living up to expectations that I have received from others or even myself. How easy it is for me to want to be like everyone else, but me!

I was reading this post by my friend, Sherree Worrell. These were the words that struck me:

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be…”

I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve said this. Sometimes I believed it, sometimes not so much. But, I’m a firm believer that the Universe doesn’t put us in places we’re not supposed to be…at least not for long. It’s what we learn in those places that make the difference in how we go forward with life.

I think the reason why I’m so afraid of failure, of not being good enough and all that negativity, is because deep down inside, I feel like I don’t belong. I don’t belong in this place, in this culture, in this space, in this time. I constantly feel that I have to prove my worth because somehow I am innately worthless. I try so hard not to fail because, when push comes to shove, I think that I am a failure. There is a big difference between doing something that can be labelled as a failure vs. be-ing failure. One is something that you do; the other is something that you are.

I’m thankful that I have friends who just give it to me straight. After complaining to another friend about how I feel, she said “Stop saying that! If you’re a failure, then what about the rest of us?” I had to laugh when she said that considering that’s exactly how I feel when skinny people complain that they’re fat. Part of my life journey is being able to accept myself, flaws and all, and be able to show love and grace to myself. It is something that others have given to me so freely, for which I am thankful. It is something that God has given to me so lavishly, for which I am humbled. I belong here. And I don’t have to fight so hard to prove that I belong. Otherwise, that kinda ruins the whole concept of belonging =)

Thanks world, for constantly affirming me that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Thanks God, for constantly validating me of that very fact.

Fear of not being good enough: the inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so can this recovering perfectionist!

In a couple of days, I will be starting my Ph.D. journey at McMaster Divinity College in the Theology program. Maybe it’s just me, but I already feel like I’m behind on my readings and school work… and school hasn’t even started yet! It’s really difficult for me not to look around the people who are going and not feel like I’m good enough. Some of them are presenting at conferences or on a panel for some colloquium thing… and I’m at home wondering what I’m going to cook for lunch. Sigh.

There is actually a thing called Impostor Syndrome.  It’s a condition found among many graduate students and academics. Basically, it’s this feeling that they’re a fraud and live in fear that they’re going to be found out. No matter how many awards, medals, plaques, trophies and words of affirmation they may receive, they never internalize their accomplishments. They attribute it to external factors like luck or that they just worked harder. For me, another factor that I have attributed my success to is lack of qualified candidates during the time that I won. It is pretty horrible the more I think about it because in my refusal to acknowledge my accomplishment, I have to denigrate other people’s abilities.

Throughout high school, I was a member of the Honours List. I graduated from my undergrad as a cum laude student (with honours). I even graduated from my Masters program on the Honours List and the recipient of the academic excellence award. And I still think I’m dumb! Usually, people tell you that you don’t need to listen to what others tell you. Instead, just believe in yourself. However, I find myself being the exact opposite. I have to listen to what others have told me (aka you’re smart!) rather than listening to what I tell myself (aka you’re really dumb!) Other people are way more gracious and capable of seeing things that I cannot see in myself. I think the only time that I feel smart is when I feel threatened and someone says (or makes me feel) like I’m dumb… it is only then that I act as if I know and believe that I’m smart.

When you have spent the majority of your life being constantly compared to others by your parents, it’s really hard to switch it off. It may have started off with them, but you end up internalizing that type of toxic mentality. There comes up a point though when you have to be responsible for your own actions and thoughts. I get riled up when people blame their parents, friends, or some other external agents for their own issues. Part of growing up is taking responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others. You are the one in charge of living your life and you can’t pass the buck to someone else when things don’t go well for you.

At the end of the day, I am thankful that I am no longer my own. My worth and self-esteem is found in the One Who has given Himself up for me. As I think of the love of Jesus, I am comforted that His love for me is unconditional. He’s not going to love me more or less because of my academic achievements or professional success in life. He loves me just the way I am. To Him, I’m good enough.

Thank God!

Friendly Friday: On Marriage, Identity, and the One Who Called You By Name

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Welcome to Friendly Friday! If this is your first time here at my website, thanks for checking it out! Basically, this is my way of highlighting my friends who I think are pretty awesome and are doing great things in the world!

Today’s post is actually an experiment of sorts. This is the first time that I’m cross posting! What that means is that my friend, Ricki W., is a guest blogger at my site at the same time that I’m a guest blogger at her site. We even write about the same thing! =)

I’ve known Ricki for a couple of years now and one of the things that I really appreciate is her desire to be an encouragement to me and to others. It’s a great quality to have in a friend. She is also smart and very down-to-earth. And she’s real… very real. I think that it is that very thing that really shows up in her writing. It is real. It is authentic. And it is vulnerable. As a writer, our life experiences are the fodder for the things we write and she is not an exception to that truth.

Marriage is something that is often on the minds of many people, especially the single variety. In both secular and Christian circles, there seems to be this unspoken, but very tangible, message that singleness is a bad thing. Especially in Christian circles, there is this weird message that if you’re single, something must be wrong with you. It’s almost as if you’re a second-class Christian if you’re not married. While I think that marriage is a great thing to have and to experience, we need to be careful not to idolize it. Jesus, after all, was single. Paul, a key figure in Christianity, was also single. So think on that!

And now, for your reading pleasure….

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My brother is getting married on Saturday and I am SO excited for him. I have never looked forward to an event so much as seeing my brother wed his lovely bride. His enthusiasm has somehow rubbed off on me… at least enough to write this.

Marriage is a wonderful thing. It is God-ordained… it was written into the very fabric of this earth. God himself said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So He set about to create a helper for him. I love marriage. I love love. I am pro anything that God created good. Yet, sometimes I ask myself– what is going on in my life? All my friends are getting married… everyone seems to be pairing off. What’s wrong with me? Am I not beautiful enough? Am I not kind enough? Am I not good enough?

I think we all struggle with these questions. Whether or not you admit it, you likely struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps as a child you were made fun of. Or maybe you’re overweight. Maybe you weren’t good at things in school. Or maybe like me, you have accomplished a lot and just haven’t seem to “land” the right one. Maybe, like me, you have relatives that ask you why you aren’t looking harder or tell you that you just need to “get out there more.” Maybe you’ve stuffed down that perfectly horrible retort to their answer one too many times– and like a volatile feral cat, you’re feeling like you could rip their heads off.

Here’s the thing.

Marriage will not fulfill you the way you hope. It will not fill that God-sized hole you have in your chest. Yes, it may stave off loneliness. It may bring you great joy. Marriage is a wonderful thing. But let me say this. It will not fix your problems. Your problem is an identity issue, not a mate issue. You must find your identity in Christ before “finding yourself” elsewhere.

So note this:

You are beautiful. You are wonderful. You are specially made. Tonight, I was taking a walk as the sun was setting and I just said to God, “Wow. You must be really proud of your work here.” And you know what He said? “I’m really proud of you.” I almost burst into tears because there I was standing in the midst of his glorious creation, and the thing he remarked upon was me.

“You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knit you together in your mother’s womb. He knows you by name and he LOVES you. Can you believe it? Do you believe it?

Yes, people will always talk. That’s what we seem to do as humans. But whose voice should you be listening to?

 

Ricki is a self-described hillbilly with a literary flair. Passionate about Jesus, books, botany, hiking, and teaching, she desires to inspire the world with love, laughter, and timely doses of her own ramblings.

Twitter: @rickiblueeyes7

Blog: rickiblue.wordpress.com

I would love to hear your thoughts on marriage and singleness. Feel free to post a comment! Just remember to be nice. =)

Tunes for Tuesday – June 25, 2013

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Hi everyone,

Welcome to today’s Tunes for Tuesday. My friend Rose (@GraceDefined) introduced me to this video awhile ago and let’s just stay that it is one of those videos that stay stuck in your head for a very long time. I usually don’t like a lot of “Christian” videos and music in general because they tend to, ummm, how do I say this nicely… alienate my soul! Imagine my surprise when I saw a video that was phenomenal! It’s called “Bombs Away” by Jonathan Thulin ft. Rachael Lampa). Click on the video below to watch!

Are there any other Christian music videos that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section! =)

Pensées on Prostitution

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Photo: Getty Images

In a recent article, an esteemed friend (Julia Beazley) wrote about the current problem we have when dealing with the issue of legalizing prostitution. In her article,  she reminds us not to ignore the real issue on prostitution. A lot of the argument about legalizing prostitution revolves around the intended “safety” that legalizing prostitution would bring to those who practice this particular “profession”. By legalizing it, we can then enforce laws that could potentially create a safer environment for women who have “chosen” to be in this field of work. Beazley reminds us that

The violence is rooted in the underlying view among the people, mostly men, that purchase them that women in prostitution are somehow fundamentally different from their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters. This misperception justifies treatment of women as objects to be bought and sold. The very existence of prostitution requires a subclass of people who are available to be bought, sold and rented; people understood to be somehow just a little less equal than everyone else.

I know a lot of fathers who will move heaven and earth for their daughters. The moment their daughter’s little fingers wrap around theirs, even the most manliest man can be reduced to tears. They dream of a bright and lovely future for their daughter. Maybe she will become a doctor or a lawyer (especially if her parents happen to be Asians hahaha), a writer, a ballerina, a teacher, or even become the prime minister (or the president if you’re not in Canada)! I haven’t met a lot of normal fathers who ever dreamt a future of prostitution for their little girl. Probably because that would be incredibly sick and disturbing if they actually did! I would like to think that as a society, we can agree that wanting your daughter to be a prostitute when she grows up is wrong.

While I recognize that lots of things happen when a child grows up, I hope that our general views on protecting others from harm would not be something we throw out because of a change in someone’s age. The prostitute in the street is not a random piece of flesh to be bought and enjoyed like you would buy a chocolate bar from a vending machine. She is a woman created in the image of her Creator. She is someone’s child. She is someone’s sister. She is someone’s friend. She is a human being. She is not a piece of commodity to be owned and bought at someone’s convenience and pleasure.

We live in a broken, messed up world. I am not naïve enough to think that just because I think someone is wrong means that everyone will think what I think is wrong is wrong too. But, in a world of relativity and lack of absolutes in this post-modern world we inhabit in, there are general ideas that most people irregardless of their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political stance do agree on. In general, we are all about love, peace, joy, and general happy things. We generally want peace instead of war. We are all about protecting the weak and oppressed against the power of the strong tyrant. And maybe this is just the idealist in me, but I really hope and pray that as a society, we would rise up to protect the weak and the disenfranchised who find themselves in the prostitution trade and remind them that they are not disposable sex objects but human beings who need to be treated with love and care. But then again, maybe that’s not me just being idealistic… maybe that’s just me recognizing and respecting someone else’s humanity. Maybe that’s just me being truly human.

 

 

Comments are always welcome. It’s ok to disagree with me and/or others, but we can disagree in a nice way that doesn’t result to denigrating or being demeaning to others in the process =)