1984 Theology

I am admittedly a child of the 80’s. I grew up in Cold-War paranoia and still find it difficult to understand how it has been 30 years since the Chicago Bears shuffled to a Super Bowl win under Coach Ditka.SBS

I love reading books from the 80’s once in a while. There is something fascinating to me about how much the world has changed even in my lifetime! I used to love listening to my grandparents talk about all of the things they had seen since they were little. I soaked up stories about installing indoor plumbing, the purchase of a first TV, and life from the great depression to WWII.

Growing up in Chicago impacted me religiously. We still had the influence of the Jesus People evident, it was in the bookstore at Trinity Evangelical School of Divinity that found the Late Great Planet Earth is a used-book section, and we lived just down the road from Willow Creek – the home of the Seeker-Sensitive Church movement. It is little wonder I turned out to be a counter-cultural, semi-apocalyptic evangelist/apologist.

 I sorta miss being able to think that the book of Revelation was a road-map to the end – instead of understanding it to be an imaginative political critique of the first two centuries CE.

 

I have a soft spot for the mid-80s and 1984 specifically. Part of it stems from the instant connection to George Orwell’s terrifying predictive dystopia from the famous book (written in 1949). It is fun to pair that picture with the realization that the movie Back To The Future came out in 1985.

Two of my favorite books were written in the mid-80s. To the first I find myself saying “ … and this was before the internet and cell phones!” – to the second I mumble “sadly, not much has changed … and it may be too late.”

The first book is The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schon. I love this book! The only glaring gaps from its 1983 release is when he talks about both education and work/workplace management. It feels really dated at those moments and one begins to wonder what the author would say now with the internet and cell phones dominating so much of our day.

The second book is Theology For A Nuclear Age by Gordon Kaufman that I was using to prep for our Summer School High Gravity class. Here is the passage that stood out to me (formatted for blog):

 New ways of thinking are desperately needed in our time. We can see this at many different points in the complex of cultural crises that confront us. We now realize, for example, as earlier generations apparently did not, that the earth has quite limited resources and if we do not move quickly toward conservation of energy, water, minerals, arable land and so forth, human life as we know it can no longer be sustained.

  • We are poisoning ourselves in many ways:
  • The atmosphere – especially surrounding our cities
  • Fish can no longer live in many of our rivers and lakes
  • The food we eat apparently contains cancer causing agents
  • ‘Acid rain’ falls on our forests and kills the trees

It is clear that we dare no longer think in terms simple of meeting out immediate short-range needs, whether as individuals or as societies; if we do not tak account of the long range consequences of our activities, the ecological crisis in which we now live will deepen beyond repair.

 

He goes on to address the futility of:

  • nation-states and capitalism
  • western imperialism and colonialism
  • slavery
  • unrestricted exploitation of natural resources
  • racism and sexism
  • persecution of heretics and infidels
  • even attempts at genocide

 

One of the reasons that I am excited to focus on Sheila Greeve Davaney’s Theology At The End Of Modernity through the course is because she has assembled a diverse group of thinkers writing in response to the questions that Kaufman raised. The opening chapter is by Sally McFaugue and provides an immediate lightning strike!

We have an interview coming out Monday with Bonnie Miller-McLemore and she echoes what I have heard from so many authors and thinkers – something changed in the 80’s. Elizabeth Johnson has said the same as did Grace Ji-Sun Kim recently.

 

The past 30 years have seen some pretty major shifts – in the culture, in the church and in the academy.

While I still have a fondness for my memories of the 80’s, I am excited to spend this Summer constructing a theology for the 21st century together.

What decade or era do you have a soft spot for? 

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God Is No Longer In Control: The End of History

God is not in control and that is why, for many, the world feels so out of control. Some have adjusted to say that God was never in control – our ancestors just believed that was the case. Others think that God used to be in control but that something has fundamentally shifted in God’s relating to the world.Bomb

The past century brought about profound challenges to the way that we conceptualize God’s work in history. The horrific developments of warfare seen in the First World War began the shift. WWII brought not just incremental but exponential leaps in the technological capacity for human and environmental devastation.

This escalation has changed the way that humanity conceives of God and God’s work.

In Theology for a Nuclear Age, Gordon Kaufman says it this way:

In the religious eschatology of the West the end of history is pictured quiet differently than we today must face it. For it is undergirded by faith in an active creator and governor of history, one who from the beginning was working out purposes which were certain to realized as history moved to its consummation. The end of history, therefore – whether viewed as ultimate catastrophe or ultimate salvation – was to be God’s climactic act … the moment when God’s final triumph over all evil powers was accomplished.

For the entirety of Christian history, God was thought to be ultimately be in control. When the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki we entered into a nuclear age and the very way that we conceive of and conceptualize God had to adjust.

The end of history which we in the late twentieth century must contemplate – an end brought about by nuclear holocaust – must be conceived primarily not as God’s doing but as ours.

We now have the capability of stopping future generations from even coming into existence. We could end human existence on this planet. The “possibility that we will obliterate all future human life is so novel and strange that it is difficult for us to grasp what we are up against”.

 

Henry Nelson Wieman wrote:

 “The bomb that fell on Hiroshima cut history in two like a knife. Before and after are two different worlds. That cut is more abrupt, decisive, and revolutionary than the cut made by the star over Bethlehem… it is more swiftly transformative of human existence than anything else that has ever happened. The economic and political oder fitted to the age before that parachute fell becomes suicidal in the age coming after. The same breach extends into education and religion.”

This is one of the reasons that we have created a High Gravity Summer School session – to deal with those who are responding to theology for a nuclear age.

 

My assertion is that every major theological development in the past 70 years – especially in Protestant circles – is in some way a reaction to the fracturing that has resulted since we split the atom.

The postLiberals, the Radical Orthodoxy, the Religious Right of Evangelicalism, Death of God and Radical theologies, Process and Liberation camps – even the small trend of Protestants converting to Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy … all are responses to or are adjustments resulting from this cataclysmic shift in the 20th century.

We might put them in 4 basic camps:

  • “God is not controlling things so we better take over” (Religious Right)
  • “The nature of God’s power is not what we had been told it was” (Process)
  • “Whatever we had thought God was and did is clearly not the case” (Radical)
  • “Clearly something is different and not working … we are going to pull back inside this insulated protected compartment so we get to keep doing what the church has always done” (Radical Orthodox and postLiberal)

The world changed in 1945. This August 6th will be 70 years since the bomb was dropped. Between Auschwitz and Hiroshima the world’s eyes were open to a new level of devastation and, through technology, an elevated capacity for human and environmental catastrophe.

 

I sometimes get accused of disparaging the past. I certainly don’t mean to as often as I do. So I am going to take a new approach. I wrote yesterday that attempts to revisit-reclaim-return-restore notions and concepts from a romanticized past are not just futile (we can’t go back) but dangerous because they do not deal with the inherent problems of the cultures and times in which they were embedded.

It is not that I am opposed to Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. It’s just that their projects were specific and particular to their time and place – even if they or their followers are under the impression that it was universal and timeless.

 

We live in a different world than they did and our god-talk needs to adjust-adapt-evolve accordingly.

I am excited about the conversation that we are going to have this June and July.

_______________

 

This is the final post in a 4 part series.

1 – The Problem With The Future Is Its Past

2- Christianity Isn’t Conservative

3 – The Problem With ‘Re-‘ Words

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The Danger of ‘Re-‘ Words

We have some work to do and I am not sure ‘Re-‘ words are sufficient to get us there.R-Revelation

Omar Reyes is the fourth call on this week’s TNT episode. His question relates to a High Gravity class that has been taking on the new interest in Paul by philosophers.

One reason that Paul is attracting so much attention recently has to do with his view of universal implications from the particularity of the Christ event.

An example of this would be the famous unfolding-progressing inclusion of more and more people by dissolving established categories of separation-exclusion: male/female, slave/free, Jew/gentile.

This trajectory continues in the ongoing work of God’s spirit for reconciliation and restoration in more contemporary categories: gay/straight, black/white, rich/poor, citizen/foreigner, etc.

Now reconciliation and restoration are two good (and biblical) words that start with ‘Re-’. Two more powerful words that would complete that constellation would be :

  • Repentance
  • Reparations

In fact, I would suggest that these last two words need to come before the previous two:

  • Reconciliation
  • Restoration

 

Unfortunately, these four ‘Re-’ words are not the ones that I see/hear the most in many Christian circles. ‘Revelation’ and ‘Religion’ may be the big ones but they are not the only ones. Many seem to be fond of words like:

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Renovate
  • Re-imagine
  • Revive
  • Retreat

 

I am not sure the above group of ‘Re-’ words is sufficient for the challenge that we are up against. As I argued last week in The Problem With The Future Is Its Past and Christianity Isn’t Conservative, the nature of Christianity is incarnational – so the past is not the determining factor for our present or future expression.

The problem with the past is that it is too easy to romanticize some notion or concept in isolation without addressing the larger structures of injustice and exclusion that it was embedded in.

That is why we can’t just reach back and reclaim-recycle-repurpose old words and concepts.

Here is an example: there is a popular desire in certain circles – from Radical Orthodoxy to my field of Practical Theology – to reclaim some Aristotelian notions like polis, habitus and phronesis (enacted wisdom).

This desire comes from a good place! There is a recognition (admittedly an ‘Re’ word) that the modernity project has dried out and withered the Christian soul and left it without vibrant connection-in-community and stripped of nearly all its practices/praxis.

I agree with that diagnosis.

The solution, however, is not simply to reclaim/recycle/repurpose ancient, antiquated or Aristotelian concepts from the pre-modern world. I have written about this a while ago in After MacIntyre and have since found the work of Susan Hekman very illuminating.

 MacIntyre’s approach exemplifies a disturbing characteristic of much of the communitarian literature: the romanticization of premodern societies that ignores the oppression and hierarchy that was endemic to those societies. Even Sandel (1984, 17), despite his modernist leanings, sometimes falls prey to the tendency to glorify traditional communities. The narrative selfhood that MacIntyre lauds can only be obtained at a high price: the ascription of traditional roles. 

She explains: 

When it comes to the highly charged issue of the sexism and racism of the traditions he praises so highly, MacIntyre seems to abandon his interrelationship thesis. With regard to the Aristotelian tradition, he tries to deny the claim that sexism and racism are an integral part of this system of virtues.

… throughout his writings MacIntyre unambiguously asserts it is this traditional community we must foster if we are to return to any semblance of a moral life:

“What matters at this stage are the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us (1984,263).”

 

This is a significant difference! To those like MacIntyre and Hauerwas, we are descending further into an age of darkness. Their answer is to reclaim-return to some former understanding or manifestation.

Hekman is right though – we cannot even attempt to do so without acknowledging and addressing the inherent racism, sexism, and disparity built into every level of the structures from which those romantic notions come.

 

This concern in the root of my unease with the popularity of ‘Re-’ words among groups including evangelicals, missio-alliance, radical orthodox, and post-liberals.

3 things in closing:

1) This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Tomorrow I will address the fiction of the End of History. Part 1 and part 2 can be found here.

2) Please sign up for Living Options in Christian Theology if you are interested in ideas like this. It is a High Gravity study group this June and July. Here is an introduction.

3) The words that we use indicate what impulse is behind them. This is why the critics can’t just say ‘semantics’ and dismiss the charge. I would love to hear the words that you would put forward to further this conversation.

My tri-part configurations of suggestions would be:

  •  Examine – Imagine – Adapt
  •  Explore – Address – Evolve
  •  Investigate – Interrogate – Innovate

 

I would love to hear your suggestions! 

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TNT Call In April 2015

Bo and Tripp are responding to SpeakPipe calls in this episode.TNT

Sign up for the Summer School High Gravity class on Living Options in Christian Theology
We are thrilled to have the Wesley Theological Seminary’s DMin program sponsoring the podcast. Head on over to this Washington DC institution of theological learning to hear more about getting your learn on.

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“The Shack’s” Wm. Paul Young: Where’s God When…

wgwpromoIt’s official; the Piatt household has been declared a biohazard zone. With three of the four of the Piatt clan beaten down by a spring sickness, cohost Slim Moon wisely opted to keep his distance. But dammit, we have an interview just too good to wait, so Amy and Christian muscled through, tissue and drugs in hand (All over the counter, mind you).

Apologies for the atypical structure and abbreviated nature of this one, but if you can’t handle the Piatts hacking and wheezing their way through the first bit, jump ahead to the good stuff.

What good stuff might that be, you ask? Good question.

We’re pleased and honored to welcome Wm. Paul Young, author of the international mega-bestseller THE SHACK back to the CultureCast, along with first-timer Reba Riley, author of “Post Traumatic Church Syndrome, hitting shelves this August, thanks to Simon & Schuster.  Reba, Paul and Christian have a three-way chat session about the upcoming Pacific Northwest tour they’re all doing together called “Where’s God When…

When? When What??? Well you’ll just have to listen, now won’t you? That or click the link above, if’n yer in the cheatin’ kinda mood.

And rest assured that as soon as the local Hazmat team deems the Piatts are allowed back out in public, Slim will rejoin them for your tried-and-true Homebrewed CultureCast shenanigans.

Oh, and if you’ll be in the Portland, OR area on April 28, be sure to CLICK HERE and get one of a handful of remaining tickets to the first-ever LIVE CultureCast. Guests are many, and they include Steve Chalke, Doug Pagitt, Dieter Zander, singer/songwriter Heatherlyn and Portland’s own Justin Ringle and friend from the band, Horse Feathers. Tickets get you in to mingle with these hooligans, while also gracing your empty hands with a Homebrewed CultureCast pint glass and two big-kid beverages of your choosing.

Why so much love for so little? Well, we blush when we admit it, but we kinda like you.

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Summer School on HBC

Bo and Tripp are excited to announce a new High Gravity class for this Summer! highgravity_RadTheo

We are interested in a vibrant approach to a contemporary theological framework that doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your already existing faith.

  • Is Process too big of a leap?
  • Does Radical Theology provide too little substance?
  • Is Practical Theology just too darn practical?

Looking for a robust, thoroughly-Christian theological framework for the 21st century?

Then we have a conversation for you!

As I have taken some time off these past several months, I have noticed a couple of trends:

  1. Process is just too big of a conversion for some. They like the ideas and enjoy that Tripp is so jazzed about it … but it is a major commitment to learn that vocabulary and overhaul nearly every aspect of what they have been taught was Christianity.
  2. Radical Theology is interesting and challenging … but at the end of the day just doesn’t provide very much to go on. It is deconstructive in helpful ways but doesn’t leave you with much for constructing a faith worth even having.
  3. Practical Theology asks some helpful questions and people get why I am into it … but it is a second order discourse and people want to ask some ‘first order’ questions about some primary issues.

This June and July we want to engage is a conversation about science, technology, other religions and the limits of language – while constructing a fully up-to-date version of Christian belief!

Don’t worry about Heidegger, Hegel or Kant – plenty has already been said about them – this is an intelligent conversation about the here-and-now of Christian thought.

 

The plan:

Living Options in Christian Theology

June 12 – Intro: Theology for a Nuclear Age

June 18 – Week 1: Theology, Science & Nature

June 25 – Week 2: Theology and Public Discourse

July 4 – Half-Time Break

July 9 – Week 3: Theology, Historicity and Solidarity

July 16 – Week 4: Theology and Corporate/Corporeal Identity

July 23 – Week 5: Theology and the Prospects for God-Talk

Our main text will be Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman – Sheila Greeve Davaney (Editor)

Each of the 5 sections of the book has 3 essays. Each week we will focus on 2 of those essays with Tripp taking one to explore and Bo concentrating on another. We will also supply supplemental material each week on the course website.

Sign up – order your book – and get ready for the goodness!

PDFs of course material will begin going out May. 

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Walter Brueggemann on the Prophetic Imagination [Barrel Aged]

Header5Walter Brueggemann is a living legend in Biblical Studies. In this Barrel Aged podcast we pull out an interview with Dr. Brueggemann from the middle of the 2008 Presidential campaign. During the podcast we discuss his most influential text and required reading in every decent seminary The Prophetic Imagination

If you enjoy this don’t forget to check out his return visit to the podcast where he gives an audiological Guide to the Bible and subscribe to the Barrel Aged stream on iTunes.

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Flipped LIVE w/ Doug Pagitt & Heatherlyn

Doug Pagitt has FLIPPED his view of God and thinks that you should too!FlippedDoug

In this episode, Doug and Heatherlyn join Tripp and Bo at the Loft LA for conversation and presentation about turning our notion of God on its head.

Check out Heatherlyn’s FaceBook page and Website for more of her music. Around the 40′ mark Chris Spearman chats with her about artistry and church music.

You can catch their traveling book tour in these upcoming cities:

  • Phoenix
  • Albuquerque
  • Colorado Springs
  • Denver
  • Boulder
  • Omaha
  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • Philadelphia
  • Carolina Beach
  • Grand Rapids

We are thrilled to have the Wesley Theological Seminary’s DMin program sponsoring the podcast. Head on over to this Washington DC institution of theological learning to hear more about getting your learn on.

bWN5CthuMake sure you check out our sponsor Deidox Films. They create short films take show how different disciples in different walks of life embody their faith. If you like using films in your teaching, preaching or learning then get wise and click on over.

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The Function Of Good Friday

Ahead of the Great Debacle this Saturday, I find myself in an interesting place.

On the surface, it is fairly obvious that I would agree more with Jones on what he believes about the events of Good Friday. Much of what Jones says about the crucifixion and its implication (atonement) are solidly where I am.

However, Rollins concerns in the realm of identity/belief/spirituality are closer to the heart of my major interest in the performative nature of religion.

My overwhelming fascination is the way in which beliefs are practiced and more specifically how they function in our religious communities.

I was on another podcast last week trying to explain my preference for adding ‘al’ to the end of important elements of the Christian faith – rather than get bogged down in arguing for their historic validity or scientific veracity.

My assertion is that Christianity is Incarnational, Resurrectional and Pentecostal. 

I want to look at how ideas like the resurrection function in Christian communities – how those beliefs and convictions are enacted. I want to know the performative function of believing in the resurrection, not argue for its verification or about its provability.

 

Do I believe what Jones does about the events of Good Friday and Easter? Almost certainly.

My real interest, though, is more in line with Rollins’ project about the ways that holding these beliefs impact us and frame the way in which we engage the large structures of society.

What difference does believing in something like the resurrection impact they way we live?

How does our view of the atonement frame our participation in issues of violence?

Does our Christology have any function in how we perceive our own humanity?

In what way do we as Christian communities perform on Monday what we proclaim on Easter Sunday?

 

I have been reading some intense books, such as Eliane Graham’s Transforming Practice. I will be taking a break from studying this Saturday morning to attend the Great Debacle – I just hope that Rollins and Jones take a breath at some point and I get to ask a question about this aspect of belief.

What questions would you like to ask? I’ll see if I can get them in. 

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Christianity Isn’t Conservative: incarnation

The incarnation is my favorite part of Christianity. When we say ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us’ we say something unique and particular about who we believe God to be.

The divine became human – that which was beyond came near – the unknowable made itself known to us – the transcendent fused the imminent horizon – the eternal entered time … however one frames it, we make bold claims when we talk about what happened in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

From there it gets steep! Folks start talking about the cosmic Christ and the 2nd person of the Trinity and the eternal nature of the Godhead. Those are all great but they are also lofty and can be abstract. Incarnation is the opposite: it is down to earth and fleshly.

Incarnation may seem like an odd thing to talk about during Easter week, but one can never escape the fact that the reason we think something significant happened on the cross and in the empty tomb is because of what we think happened in the person and work of Jesus.cross-150x150

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are four of the acts in the great drama that Christians are called up into.

 

The life of Jesus – including works and teachings – is one that called the entire system of political and religious power into question. His parables undermined and interrogated the assumed order of things as well as the inherited understanding of how the world worked.

This inversion of assumed structures and subversion of “the powers that be” characterized not only his life and death … but the very notion of an incarnation.

 

Christianity is undeniably incarnational. The Romans tacked lots of people up on crosses – anyone they perceived as being subversive to the order and stability of the empire. Jesus was crucified for sedition, as were many others every week of every year. The reason that we think something significant happened on that cross is because we believe that God was present and revealed in some unique way in the person and work of Jesus.

John Cobb has said that Jesus embodied God’s presence in a unique way in history – a way that constituted Jesus’ very being and allowed him to say things like “I and the Father are one”.

 

If, therefore, this is what sets Jesus apart and makes that cross different from all of the other crosses – then we who follow the way of Jesus can not be satisfied to simply receive what was done on our behalf and then continue to participate in the system as it is and continue to reinforce the structures as we have inherited them.

 

We must ask the questions:

“Who is getting conned?” and “What is being served?”

There is a built–in romanticism to Christianity when it comes to the notion of the ‘early church’. There is a perpetual longing to return to some romantic ideal that we see re-presented in the Acts of the Apostles.

Returning to the past is trap for two reasons:

1) As books like  The Churches the Apostles Left Behind have shown, the early church was as plural and diverse as one could possibly imagine. There is no such thing as THE early church. That is a romantic construction that serves as a kind of Eden image we are to be haunted by and perpetually longing to return to.

2) Even if it did exist, it would be impossible for us to return to it. We simply cannot get back to that romantic ideal or edenic notion. Time travel is impossible and too much has happened for a return to be possible.

Which is fine! Because Christianity is incarnational and our calling is to embody the spirit of God in our time and in our place as those early believers did in their time and place.

The church’s calling is not simply to repeat what those in the early centuries did – but to speak to and live in our culture the reality that they attempted to do in theirs!

You can hear more about this on the FreeStyle Christianity interview 

Incarnation is why the impulse to preserve or conserve some former notion of culture is not Christian. Christians are not called to conserve some antique expression or ancient manifestation. Christians are to in-carnate (embody) the life of God by following the way of Jesus in their ‘here and now’.

 

In fact, I would take it one step further.

To follow the way of Jesus is to call into question and interrogate the very assumptions about the way things are and to subvert the inherited systems and structures that keep people from living the abundant life or the ‘life of the ages’ (eternal life).

One way that we would do this is to ask those two earlier questions:

Who is getting conned?
What is being served?

 

Given the chance, I would respond that those who have been sold a romanticized notion of the past – a past that we can never return to even if it was as good as remembered – are being conned.

It is somewhere between fantasy and fiction to long for a return to a time that is embedded in structures of patriarchy, sexism and injustice. Jesus would construct stories (parables) that captivated people and caused them to question the assumed order of things and to undermine their  inherited notions of the way that world works.

 

The bigger question might be “what is being served?”

Christians are not supposed to get hung up on issues of flesh and blood but instead to combat the principalities and powers that reside in high places. It is a tragedy that so much of contemporary Christianity is consumed with culture wars obsessed with issues of flesh and blood … all the while neglecting the larger structures of power and control.

We think that we have really done something when we buy a Jesus-themed T-shirt at Walmart – or put a NoTW sticker on our SUV. We have purchased (within capitalism) and display (within consumerism) our branding that sets us apart (identity) and all the while ignore that we are participating in a larger system that doesn’t care if the $10 dollar shirt we bought has Jesus, Che, Bob Marley, Mother Theresa or Satan on it. The important thing is that we bought the shirt and reinforced the system as it is without asking who made that shirt or how in the world it only costs $10.

 

We say lofty things about Jesus. Jesus’ teachings were done in a way that undermined the established order and called into question the way things were.

The calling of the Christian is not to con/serve some former notion of a romanticized past – but to incarnate the life of God by the spirit of Christ in her time and in her place.

_____________

Yesterday I talked about the problem of the past and tomorrow will be part 3 of this series.

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