Birthday, Baptism, Pandemic

My son was supposed to be baptized a few months ago. His grandparents had tickets to come to Chicago. He was ready to invite his best friend from school and some other friends who, while not Mormon, have come to all of my kids’ baptisms to love and support them.

And then a global pandemic hit. My parents had to cancel their flight. The church shut down its meetings and its buildings. We worked to recover.

These days my son goes back and forth on when he wants to be baptized. He’d really like to wait until his grandparents can share the day with him but, because of age and health conditions, his grandparents can’t really travel here until there’s a vaccine and they’re able to get the vaccine. While we’re hoping for early 2021, who knows if it will happen before another birthday rolls around.

Which leads me to a question: what is the church going to do about these pandemic-delayed baptisms? [Read more…]

Toward a Humble Church

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A decade ago, I sat despondent in Relief Society during a lesson on humility. Law school exams were fast approaching and I felt overwhelmed. An arbitrary system was about to base 100% of my grades on half-day tests. Regardless of my objective mastery of the material, the system was designed to force competition against my smart and talented peers. I would be graded on a strict curve. Those grades would then be aggregated to assign my relative class rank. Without a sufficiently high class rank employers would flick my resume into the recycle bin. My future career was at stake. The legal job market was deep in a recession. I feared failure, and that my student loans would never be repaid.

I sighed and decided to interpret the lesson as a chastisement. I needed to repent and learn humility. I needed to learn “a modest or low view of my own importance.” [Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Review: 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction

Joseph Spencer, 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2020)

If you’re anything like me, you can relate the story of 1st Nephi in your sleep. Lehi, a goodly parent, has a dream that warns him to leave Jerusalem with his family. They go into the wilderness, at times grudgingly, at times not. His four sons return to Jerusalem twice, first to retrieve a record and next to retrieve a family. There are conflicts and blessings in the wilderness, they arrive at the sea, they build a boat, and they end up in a promised land. Lehi, in effect, leads an exodus of two families from the once-promised land into a new promised land.

And not infrequently, that’s the level at which we engage with the Book of Mormon. We take Nephi’s authorial voice as authoritative and objectively true. We find lessons in is obedience and his brothers’, well, grudging obedience. And we plow through the text again, annually or every four years, or when we remember.

In his brief theological introduction to 1st Nephi, Joseph Spencer doesn’t argue against reading the plot of 1st Nephi, and gleaning didactic lessons from it. It’s what we do, and there’s doubtless value in it.

But he argues—convincingly—that if our engagement with the text stays solely plot-focused, we’re missing important depths of the Book of Mormon. We’re giving up theological lessons that we could enjoy. [Read more…]

The Temporal Urgency of Faith

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Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Introductory Note:  Several years ago during General Conference I started journaling the messages my soul most longed to hear.  I posted one of those last Conference.  I’m doing so again now.  This requires a suspension of disbelief:  it contains a mix of true and aspirational content, and is written as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

Faith without works is dead.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast our spiritual burdens upon the Lord, rely on the grace of his Atonement, and put our faith in him during adversity.  But the Gospel also preaches that our spiritual health is intertwined with the physical welfare of our neighbors.  Pure religion looks not just to eternity but to now.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them:  ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (James 2:14-17)

[Read more…]

The Eighth Day

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Jennifer Champoux is a lecturer in art history at Northeastern University and vice president of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities.

The old and familiar patterns are disrupted. Some among us are facing serious health risks from coronavirus. Others are busy tending to the sick. Many are facing emotional or economic stress as we hunker down in our homes. Businesses are closed, schools shut down, and church meetings cancelled. The situation is grave. And yet, although our current condition seems like an ever-growing accumulation of limitations and endings, it might also be an opportunity to respond to life in new ways. Rather than a sad ending, this unprecedented time can be a hopeful beginning, a Sabbath-like time outside of time, and an unexpected break from the bustle of “regular” life offering a chance to refocus our priorities.

We tend to talk about the Sabbath as a time of rest at the end of something. Yet in the scriptures, the Sabbath is both an end and a beginning. In Genesis, God rested on the seventh and final day as an end to his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). But in Acts, the followers of Christ recognized the Sabbath as the first day of the week in remembrance of the day Christ was resurrected and as a symbol of new life (Acts 20:7). [Read more…]

Top 10 General Conference Background Suggestions

While Covid 19 is a threat to public health and is a disproportionate economic threat to some industries, one company that seems poised to win is Zoom. Zoom provides an easy-to-use virtual meeting platform that includes novelty backgrounds for the speaker to use, resulting in many educators finding themselves spoiled for choice, deciding what attention-grabbing background to use in their new virtual teaching environment. One of the most popular options is a Hogwarts background.

The next obvious question is, with a “virtual” approach to General Conference, should Church leaders consider backgrounds that will keep us riveted to their counsel? Here’s a list of my own top 10 choices for consideration: [Read more…]

I am hyper-social. I am social distancing.

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Last May I had an extended business trip that took me to the West Coast for twelve days (Los Angeles, then San Francisco, then Anchorage, then Seattle). While on business, I did what I always do: I looked up my friends in each city, individually texted them, and then scheduled every hour of free time as meals and visits to catch up.  I shaved two or so hours off of my sleep schedule each day so I could pack in catching up with more friends.

I love people.  One of my most persistent complaints is that there is not enough time in life to be best friends with everyone I think is amazing.

For my own curiosity on my flight back to D.C., I counted the number of friends I had “meaningfully” interacted with in that twelve day period. I defined “meaningful” as “engaged in conversation for at least one hour while hanging out in a group of four or fewer.”  The answer was forty-seven. [Read more…]

Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post explaining that our current rule that only priesthood holders can pass the sacrament has no basis in scripture. D&C 20:58 explicitly says that teachers and deacons lack the authority to “administer the sacrament”; ergo, if we allow teachers and deacons to prepare and pass the sacrament, those things must not be part of the administration of the sacrament.

And if they’re not, then the Handbook’s requirement that only “[d]eacons, teachers, priests, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders may pass the sacrament” is based, not on scripture, but on tradition. Now, tradition is certainly not always a bad thing, but the Book of Mormon warns us that tradition can potentially impede our ability to know and understand God. I think that’s doubly true when the tradition actively harms a person or group of people by, for example, not allowing them to participate and serve fully in our religious community. [Read more…]

In Praise of Boring Sunday School Lessons

 

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Shawn Tucker is an Associate Professor at Elon University and occasional voice of bloggernacle satire

Imagine a ship made with millions of popsicle sticks intricately bound together with dental floss. The many rows of wooden sticks make it waterproof and seaworthy. It is not a flashy boat, but it can move forward in the water toward a destination. That boat is how I imagine the church—each popsicle stick is a member, and the members are all tied together with bonds of testimony, commitment, and love.

I describe the church in this manner to do something perhaps unexpected—to praise boring Sunday School lessons. [Read more…]

I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

Practicing What We Preach: Ministering Charity Globally

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Today’s Guest Post comes from Dr. Warner Woodworth. He is a Global Social Entrepreneur and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Management at the Marriott School of Business, Brigham Young University where he designed and taught the first U.S. courses in Microcredit and Social Entrepreneurship.

Did you enjoy General Conference in October? Reflecting back today, I feel more strongly than ever that Conference was a blessing to me, and I hope my friends within and beyond the LDS Church had similar experiences.

In the weeks before and since Conference I’ve labored among the poor, refugees and the disenfranchised in the Middle East, Croatia, upstate New York, Romania, Native American reservations, and just returned two days ago from Indonesia. Abundant conference themes that stood out to me included an emphasis on faith, hope and charity. I especially was inspired by President Russell M. Nelson’s Sunday talk in the morning session as he emphasized our mission as Latter-day Saints to serve the poor and reduce human suffering. [Read more…]

The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

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Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter. [Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

The Foot Shelf

About ten years ago, we were renovating our master bathroom, making the shower larger with a stone surround, and adding a big sunken garden tub (that literally has been used TWICE since we put it in, grrrr). As we discussed the options with the builder, he quoted a set amount to add a “bench” to the shower.

My husband, looking to save money perhaps, quickly said, “We don’t really need that. When do I ever sit in the shower?”

I interrupted to explain. “That’s not for sitting. I need a place to rest my foot when I shave my legs. It’s a foot shelf!” [Read more…]

“You have been scheduled . . .”

Emily Jensen is a former BCC permablogger and friend of the blog.

“You have been scheduled to meet with XXXXX XXX for a meeting Tuesday June 18th at 7 p.m. for your ministering interview.”

“Your family has been scheduled to clean the church on Saturday, June 22nd at 8 a.m. Please meet with the XXXX family up at the church.”

Ok, hopefully this is only happening in my ward, but in case it’s not, let’s talk about the new, and dare I say, rude habit of scheduling people to do things in the church without first asking if they are even available. [Read more…]

Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission). [Read more…]

What I Know

Natalie Brown is a former BCC permablogger and friend of the blog. She is returning to graduate school this fall to write a dissertation on nineteenth-century writers’ experiences with home loss and displacement. 

What I Know: The Power of Narrower Testimonies

As I sat down to pen my father’s eulogy, I drew a blank. How could I say anything that could adequately capture him, bring me solace and serve the needs of a community that was mourning? Words didn’t come, and so I prayed that the Spirit would tell me what to say. My answer came later that night as I listened to family tell stories of my father. Each of us saw a part of him: the spouse, the parent, the colleague, the friend. No single person saw the whole. This is what I realized: No one can tell the story of someone else’s life. It’s an impossible task, because we carry only our own sets of experiences. Each of our stories together, however, add up to something more. If there is a silver lining to a funeral, it’s the opportunity to see those stories come together to reveal a person even larger than we know. [Read more…]

“A Minister and a Witness” Acts 22–28 #BCCSundaySchool2019

Saint Paul (source)

When we left Paul in Acts 21 he was in a tight spot. He had disregarded the warnings and pleas of the disciples through the Spirit (Acts 21:4), a prophet named Agabus (Acts 21:11), his travelling companions and the locals (Acts 21:12) to travel to Jerusalem to testify to the good news of God’s grace, declaring that “The will of the Lord be done.” But Paul’s efforts to show that he is no rebel but lives in conformity with the law by ritually cleansing himself at the temple go awry when he is spotted and a mob—incited by claims that Paul is teaching against the Law of Moses and defiling this holy place—drag him out of the temple, going so far as to try to kill him. The Roman authorities catch wind of the disturbance and rush to the scene. Unable to determine the facts due to the competing claims made by the crowd, the commanding officer takes Paul into custody to figure out who this man is and what is going on. In the concluding chapters of Acts covered by this lesson, Paul testifies in his defense to various audiences that range from actively hostile to indifferent to his message.

[Read more…]

Lesson 28 #BCCSundaySchool2019: “What Wilt Thou Have Me Do”

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These chapters are crucial to understanding the development of the early Christian church and there is just no way to discuss everything in them. Moreover, the lesson manual is very brief, so consider this a supplement to the material in the manual. These chapters include the conversion story of Paul (Acts 9) and since that story is so well known, I’m not going to emphasize it. Instead, I will focus mostly on how these chapters deal with cultural differences in the Jerusalem church and what that reveals about how the early church was getting on in the period shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and departure. Even so, we will barely scratch the surface, yet I hope there will be something useful for the lesson this coming Sunday. One important thing to keep in mind is that Acts, like the Gospel of Luke (they likely had the same author) was written with a great deal of hindsight. I mean, much had taken place between the time of Jesus and the composing of Acts, most importantly perhaps, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD. Thus, the author is including events with a purpose: to explain through early origin stories (likely the subject of preaching during the apostolic and post-apostolic years) how the church of circa 90 AD got where it was and help explain the Christian position relative to the Empire since Luke more than the other writers of the Gospels is writing to people in a broader Roman world.
[Read more…]

Clearance vs. Cancellation

From the Women’s Bible Commentary:

Deuteronomy prohibits the husband, who sought to secure for himself a cheap divorce from his spurned bride, from ever divorcing her. To our ears, this provision sounds appalling, binding a young girl for the rest of her life to a man who “hates” her. In patriarchal ancient Judah, where women’s social status and economic survival depended on membership in a male-headed household, the provision was probably intended to guarantee her security.

The Deuteronomic law relies on some assumptions that don’t match our modern interpretation of marriage:

  • Women in marriage are entitled to protection because they are unable to protect themselves.
  • Men in marriage are obligated to protect the women they marry because those women are otherwise unable to protect themselves.

In the iron age society of Deuteronomy, marriage entitles women but obligates men. Restricting men from abandoning their obligation is the objective of restrictions on divorce, not an intention to protect women from harm within the marriage relationship (which isn’t addressed), but to require men to protect women from a patriarchal society in which they have no standing or power and are financially and physically vulnerable. [Read more…]

Book Review—Jana Riess, The Next Mormons

41VNW2NVATLRichelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a talk producer at community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

When I first heard Jana Riess was undertaking research about Millennial Mormons, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait for this book to be released. Given the heightened sense of generational divide in America right now, thanks in no small part to deepening political polarization and an ongoing series of culture wars run amok, research like this is vital for the health of our communities. 

The Next Mormons doesn’t disappoint. Riess writes in a clear, engaging style that is approachable to non-specialists and folks who don’t know much about Mormonism. In spite of its seemingly niche topic, I hope this book receives a wider audience since Riess’s findings are important and have broader implications for religion in 21st-century America. [Read more…]

On Honor, Success, and Early Return Missionaries

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Jaxon Washburn is a friend of BCC who recently returned from a mission in Armenia.

My name used to be Elder Washburn.

I returned home on May 17th, after returning from my service as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Armenia. My mission was eight months long.  Less than a month ago, I had no intentions of coming home. God, I suppose, intended otherwise, and I am doing my best to sort out the pieces.

I loved my mission. To be on a mission is to ground oneself in paradox in many respects. Such was my experience, at least. My mission constituted of a series of contrasts: there were moments where I felt closer to God than I ever had before, and moments where I never felt more spiritually detached. I lived as selflessly as I could, and because of that, I have never been more critically self-aware of all my own flaws and shortcomings. This, the biggest challenge of my life, brought with it the most significant amount of growth, refinement, and development. My mission meant the world to me; it has since my teenage years, when I decided I wanted to serve. To part with it was heartbreaking at best, and I am still working to reconcile my return with the future course of my life. [Read more…]

#BCCSundaySchool2019: “The Son of Man Shall Come”

Readings

Joseph Smith-Matthew 1; Matthew 25; Mark 12-13; Luke 21.

A Preliminary Note

I’ve tried to provide some context and some analysis of a couple aspects of the reading for this week. I haven’t even feinted toward most of it, but I think it would be virtually inexcusable to teach this lesson without addressing the widow’s donation of her two coins. I’ll confess that the parable of the ten virgins still confounds me. And it would be absolutely crazy to teach this lesson without referring to Cake.

It’s a Trap!

In Mark 12, two (or three) (but probably two) groups of people try to trap Jesus. How does he avoid these traps? [Read more…]

Love: A Proclamation to the World

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Today’s Proclamation is courtesy of best-selling author Mette Ivie Harrison.

I proclaim to my family of Latter-day Saints today that love is the organizing principle of the universe and that it is the most important value of all previous generations, all future generations, and of this generation. The pure love of Christ is the foundation of all that we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is what teaches us to find the divine in ourselves. It is what allows us to see ourselves and others more clearly. It is the only thing that enables us to become better people: kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more expansive in our views, wiser, more learned, and more capable of serving others truly—without judgment or superiority. [Read more…]

Linguistic Curiosity and Mormon Culture

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A few years ago, I found myself enmeshed in a long afternoon conversation with a linguistics professor.  His area of expertise includes analyzing changes to English wrought by internet communications.  As he opined on the etymological drift of a verb’s transitive and intransitive forms during the last twenty years, I was fascinated by his approach to grammar and language.

“It must drive you crazy to be so precise with your usage,” I remarked, “and yet be surrounded by people who use words incorrectly all the time. Do you ever feel like Henry Higgins?”

Instead of agreeing, he challenged me.  “There is no such thing as incorrect word usage,” he responded. “Rather, when I hear others use a word in a non-standard way, I ask myself: what is the cultural context and experience in which they were raised that led them to that usage?  I’ve found asking that question leads to a wealth of productive research.” [Read more…]

When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it. [Read more…]

Sunday Dress

In our most recent General Conference, there has been a push for members to dress up for church. It’s long been a hobby horse of E. Oaks, and that hasn’t changed. Generally speaking, current Mormon dress standards at church are a little more dressed up than most other sects, but maybe less than Easter at a historically black church–we don’t like hats and fans.

Several years ago, we had a French boy staying with us on an exchange program. I asked if he wanted to come along with us to church or if he preferred to stay home. He said he would like to come along, for curiosity sake. I had mentioned that people in our church tended to dress up for church. He was Catholic, an occasional church-goer, but not from a super devout family. When he came down in nice jeans, sneakers, and a tee shirt with a slogan on it, I was worried he’d feel awkward when he saw all the other kids in dress pants and button down shirts. He borrowed a button down shirt from my son and off we went. He was further surprised to see our son administering the sacrament, a rite he was used to seeing a priest in vestments conduct. [Read more…]

The Presiding Authority of President Eubank

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Photo from Church News profile of President Eubank.

President Sharon Eubank gave a masterful sermon this morning on being Christlike. She effortlessly spoke with power and authority, quoting scripture (while adding gender parity), admonishing us to lift and light together, and reminding us that Jesus Christ reached out to all.

President Eubank is a force for good, both as a member of the General Relief Society Presidency and as the Director of LDS Charities (the first woman to hold that position). When she proclaims: “You are making progress. Keep going. He sees all your hidden sacrifices and counts them to your good and the good of those you love. Your work is not in vain. You are not alone. His very name, Emmanuel, means God With Us. He is surely with you,” she knows of what she speaks.

A few weeks ago, President Eubank also spoke as the featured guest at a stake women’s conference. Her message was a similarly powerful one on the themes of love and service.

And yet who presided at this stake meeting?  As listed in the program, it was the stake president. [Read more…]

Let Love be Love

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Nicole is a mother, feminist, and activist living in the Salt Lake Valley with her partner Kerstin and blended family of seven. She credits the women in her life for shaping her values and her hope for a world filled with compassion, authenticity, and uncompromising love.

It’s so hard to find any words to express my feelings about the news about the changed policy.

I type and delete and type and delete.

I couldn’t find the right words because I couldn’t find words that were true enough to myself, but that I thought would be safe from hurting or offending my family who are still members.  I love my family very much and they have been so great with Kerstin and me.  Since they’ve been so careful not to hurt us, I really, really don’t want to hurt them.

I think I’d just like to describe my dream world. [Read more…]