Sunday, June 21, 2009


Language is that special blessing that sets us apart from other creatures on this planet. I’m not just talking about reading here … We are information junkies, it’s true. But language is capable of much more than mere information. It is the stuff of our dreams, our stories, and of course our age-old songs. Poetry is much more ancient than science, and its wisdom reaches different places than science.
So what does language have to do with spiritual life? Well, everything. What we call things directly influences how we experience them. People have all kinds of their own reasons for rejecting church – for feeling “spiritual, but not religious” – but I know that for many, the traditional language in church is a turn-off. And one of the biggest turn-offs, spiritually or intellectually, is God the Guy in the Sky. God as “He.” We might feel limited by language at times … but let’s remember that we may also be liberated by language.

News flash: God is not a Guy in the Sky. God is not “our father.”
What we mean is, God can be like our father.

We have to be careful that we don’t ever think that we know what God is… and yes, we have permission to be playful and creative when we try to think about what God is like. The Bible has given us an enduring metaphor for our Creator: God the Father. It has also given us many other images, but they never got nearly the same press through the centuries. People everywhere in every time have used all kinds of words for God, expressing the richness of our imaginings and intuitions and pictures of the divine.

“Our Father who art in heaven” is not a bad image for God. We may appropriately pray to the supreme fatherliness of God. Fatherliness is a virtue, it is a blessing and a gift. It’s a great adjective. But God is not “he.” God is not the Guy in the Sky, Father of the world. God is like a father of the world.
Maybe we know that, intellectually. We can say, God is like an ocean. God is subtle, like breath... God is like a father. Those are similes, as you’ll remember from Grade 5 Language Arts. If we turned them into metaphors, they would sound something like the hymn that says … “Breathe on me, Breath of God.”
The metaphor is Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne (the Psalms). The metaphor is Our Father who art in heaven (the prayer of Jesus). That’s a poetic image, that is not a description.

For all our lives -- in church, in the Bible, hey, in movies and TV, everybody says God is a he! (If he looks like George Burns or Morgan Freeman, maybe that ain’t so bad!) So even if we know that isn’t literal, it’s just difficult to not talk about “Him” when we’re talking about God. Even when we know a personal pronoun belongs to an individual, a person.
Hmm. Dilemma. Some may say, what difference does it make, if we all understand that we don’t mean it literally? Well, maybe none … as long as talking about God’s good creation, and Her steadfast love, and Her righteous judgement at the end-times sounds just as good to you. Our Mother who art in heaven. Is She your help and your strength, is She a lamp unto your feet? Great, then we’re already there.
But of course, even changing the personal pronoun creates the same problem. A mere man (or woman) does not belong where the Ultimate and Absolute, the Ground of Being and the Mystery of Life dwells in our hearts.

Now we need our metaphors, don’t get me wrong. …“Show, don’t tell” is the writer’s number one rule. Metaphors and similes can help show us something intellectual, or abstract, or unfamiliar. The good ones, as any English teacher will tell you, deliver a little shock of unlikely connection. One of my favourites comes from a master, Leonard Cohen: “a garland of fresh-cut tears.”

So, God as father can be a great metaphor, as we contemplate fatherliness perfected. But some human experiences of “father” may be less than perfect, something other than loving and steadfast. Martin Luther, for example, was a monk who dedicated his whole life to prayer and biblical scholarship. Yet, he felt so unworthy for much of his life because a “righteous” father (like his own) was in his experience punishing, stern, judgmental and fault-finding. He struggled for years to understand grace! He finally solved his dilemma (and many of ours) when he broke through to a different definition of righteousness.

It’s true, the Bible spends an awful lot of time calling God “He.” Jesus himself gave us the prayer, “Our Father…” The Psalms are overflowing with him’s and he’s. Should that make it a fact, is that proof that God is like, this guy with body parts … in the sky? On a throne? No.
It does demonstrate the power of that particular metaphor, it suggests a Creator of fatherly and powerful attributes. What’s more concrete and universal than a family image? But it only works if we enjoy it as a metaphor. The problem is when we stop being amazed and enlightened by this clever or original comparison with something else … and start hearing not a comparison but an equation. “God the Father” after many centuries starts to sound like God is actually a father. What does that do to “God?” Fatherliness stops being understood as an aspect of God, and starts sounding like the shape and extent of God.

There are still many people like Luther who might have good reason to cringe at the idea of a “fatherly” God. They need to know also that God shows us the perfection of many other attributes – mothering, companionship, nature, communion.
The Bible (not to mention ancient and modern sources in other traditions) does provide other ways to imagine God. Our Father who art in heaven is only one impression of God. Here’s another.

Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
‘I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.’
I sought him, but found him not.
The sentinels found me,
as they went about in the city.
‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’
Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
until it is ready!

[The Song of Solomon
3.1-5 NRSV]

There are some things our culture has traditionally focused on as “biblical,” and other things completely ignored in the stereotypical understandings of faith. “The Song of Songs” from the Old Testament might be one of the latter.
The Bible has many voices, and when we neglect their diversity, we dim the illumination we might find there. We risk forgetting that these are all only impressions of godly experience – not statistics about God.

God as lover? God as a soul-mate, a companion, even a spouse, on the human journey of growth and discovery? Does this not ring true at some times, in some circumstances? Consider the glory of being alive, of feeling all your senses tingling, or of being overwhelmed with something you cannot contain – an epiphany, or a wave of tears: those can be God moments.
God is like all these things, because God IS all these things – but not limited to one of them. For Christians … faith does have a human face, in our brother, Jesus the Christ. But God was also known to our Hebrew ancestors in a pillar of fire. God was known to the biblical poet in a lover’s skin. God may be known to you in your child’s eyes.

“Our Father who art in heaven” is not a required password for knowing grace, or for being loved as God has loved us. The Holy Spirit is unpredictable, creative, subtle and sometimes overwhelming. It tells you, You are not alone, and you are made of beauty and wonder… and it will tell you in the language that your own heart knows.
I wish you grace and peace today, in unexpected shapes.

And please, thank God for whatever true fatherliness has blessed you in your life. Happy Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Bless Us With Discomfort"

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Adam Lambert is …

on the cover of Rolling Stone! “And it should come as no surprise to anyone” that he’s gay, says he in his own words.

How will his audience, or the general pop audience, respond? We can only wait and see. His career will be something of a social experiment, as we are clearly in an age that is increasingly accepting of alternative self-identifications. Certainly social acceptance is demographically patchy at best: LA, Vancouver, the big cities, yeah, maybe it's kind of all right being yourself. Arkansas, or Alberta, maybe not so much. If you're 20-something, maybe it's no big deal; if you're in your 50s or 60s, maybe it's a little more difficult to wrap your head around. At least that’s what statistics are telling us about the current state of things.

The appearance of someone like Adam Lambert on the scene is still cause for cautious optimism, as I suggested in my last post. Our community is finally capable of raising such an assured young man (kudos to his parents, of course); and the likes of American Idol is prepared to support him -- if only for the dollar signs in their eyes. But we know too well we have not fully exited a time or place when all the dollars in the world would not breach the wall that went up when "homosexual" was whispered about you. Come to think of it, that wall used to spring up pretty fast when someone uttered so benign a word as "divorced" -- you baby boomers might remember that, when you were kids? And never mind the whispers, you weren’t even on the guest list if you were brown-skinned.

There was likewise a time (not yet past) when it was considered "not natural" to marry outside one's own race (operating on the flimsy assumption that each member of each race could remain “pure.”) It was once considered in certain quarters not "natural" for a woman to have desires, or to have them fulfilled. It was once considered not "natural" for women or people of African descent to be educated. And it was once considered "natural" in some circles to keep certain classes of human beings as slaves. All of these things have been changing, over the generations. Painfully slowly, for everyone crushed or crippled in the machinery of collective fear and oppressive policies. But visibly changing, nonetheless.

Society – the great collective of souls with hearts and minds indelibly marked by each other – is a fluid, living organism. It changes, adapts to new stimuli. It changes, because growth is life, and stasis is death. Norms change. “Normal” changes. Painfully, often with great sacrifice and also with great celebration.

Mostly, though, it changes one person, one small moment at a time.

Last January I had the privilege of being invited to preach at a local church on the Sunday following President Obama’s Inauguration week. (Oh yes, I am in Canada, but the world shared in that party.) I had been particularly captivated by the furious debate surrounding Obama’s inclusion of three very different clergymen, who were to lead prayers accompanying the public celebrations. Public prayer on such a scale doesn’t occur very often, and when it does it’s nearly always in response to some horrific tragedy such as 9/11. For once, we as a world community were held together in joy and thanksgiving, in not just one moment of public prayer, but three. That is a powerful force – to unite so many in an invocation, in a wish, in a sacred vision for peace and affirmation. I wanted to reflect on that in church that Sunday.

Oh, I noticed these particular clergy were (1) all male and (2) all Protestant (or at least, non-Catholic Christians), which was a gross oversight if one actually wants to make a statement about inclusiveness. But that sorry misstep was countered by other stark differences in their social locations.
Pastor Rick Warren (evangelical author of The Purpose-Driven Life) offered the prayer for the Inaugural moment itself; Rev. Joseph Lowery, lion of the civil rights movement alongside Dr. King, powerfully closed the Inaugural ceremony by invoking memories of a darker time in the American family, contrasted with the breaking light of a new day.

But the week had begun with an opening prayer for the Inauguration Concert at the Lincoln Memorial, for which Obama invited Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson. Rt. Rev. Robinson is a politicized, if not controversial public figure because he is openly gay. His prayer was conducted in advance of the concert’s live telecast – discuss that unfortunate coincidence amongst yourselves – but it was all over the internet.

I also wanted to share Rev. Robinson’s lovely blessing litany in church, since many probably missed it. And because I was addressing an active Affirming Congregation, it seemed especially pertinent.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people…

At that point there was a bit of a commotion in the pews, and a man stood and shouted out in protest. He wasn’t completely coherent, at least from where I was standing, but his voice grew strong enough to say something to the effect that he would never be coming back, because the presence of gays in the church somehow spelled the end of the church … To which one of a gentle gay couple in the front pew replied rhetorically, “But we’re still here.”
The sanctuary door slammed behind the man, and a breathless silence hovered in the church. I resumed reading Rev. Robinson’s prayer where I had left off:

Bless us with discomfort –
Yes, that was the very next line, the place erupted in laughter, God smiled (I think) at the teachable moment, and I continued the service.

…at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

During the communal prayers, later in the service, someone made a point of offering up the angry heart of the nameless man to God’s mercy and understanding. I think the rest of the congregation felt as compassionate and realistic about the conflicts we daily face, in small ways and in big ones.

“Bless us with discomfort.” This is a powerful prayer. Prepare us to be changed. Unbuckle our certainties and prepare us to grow. Discomfort is actually a critical part of creativity. My very spiritual friend, a creative writing teacher, calls it “divine discontent.” Adam Lambert pulled the tooth, popped the balloon, yanked the grist of speculation away from the media. Now he just wants to be a musician, create something worthwhile, and hopefully sell records.

Meanwhile the consumers and the pundits will have to squirm and twitch and decide if their horizons have grown broad enough for the likes of Adam Lambert … and for all those artists and executives and mechanics and clerks and students and regular folks behind him, who just want to be themselves, living and working among us.

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

James Weldon Johnson (1871 –1938)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Kris Allen has my vote … for the classiest man of faith on prime-time television.

Oh yeah, he won that Fox TV talent thing last month? Yeah, that one. But the real drama, the storyline that put some reality in “reality” TV for once, was and is his new friendship with the runner-up, Adam Lambert. The understated Mr. Allen probably wasn’t looking to change the world when he auditioned for American Idol – he apparently wasn’t even looking to win, God bless him – but I think he and Adam together will deserve some credit for having altered the cultural landscape. I’m well aware that the lion’s share of press has gone to Adam Lambert, not to mention the stratospheric numbers he’s generated on Google. Yet, if Kris hadn’t played the part he did, Adam’s story would have been quite different. And not nearly so powerful.

Adam Lambert is completely magnetic, and not only because of his astounding voice. He has charisma, he has star power; and he has what many "stars" do not: manners. Grace. Thoughtfulness. And did anyone else mention he's as beautiful as a screen goddess (hair and makeup by The Cure)? Oh, you probably noticed that.
I had never watched an American Idol episode in my life. But one of my Fave Fab Females started sending me cryptic notes and pictures: "You have to see this guy. Click here, and here, and here...And oh, wait ‘til you hear him sing 'Brigadoon!' " 'Scuse me, Brigadoon? Sure, and there's internet footage of Adam in an elegant suit, singing The Prayer at the Yitzhak Rabin Tribute concert; there's him upstaging Val Kilmer in The Ten Commandments; there's some extraordinary clips of him vamping some hard-rock burlesque surrounded by dancers of various sexes and persuasions... the boy is clearly a club creature, openly glam, proudly theatrical, but also well-trained and a serious professional.

So he struts into American Idol's carefully contrived world, and apparently blows it apart, one sector at a time.

Week after week, he kept showing up and wowing his audience, and probably drawing in more and more people like me, who otherwise would never watch. I don't know what American Idol usually looks like, but it was pretty thrilling by ANY standards to see the likes of Glambert in full-throated sex-machine howl on Whole Lotta Love -- and props to the band who also rode it hard -- in American prime time.
Yet, at the end of every Idol performance, he steps out of his hellcat prowl (or purr) and instantaneously becomes the boy next door. He's articulate and self-aware, shrewd about his career but spontaneous enough to gush about the cool outfits he gets to wear for work. The world is his oyster now, and he will be one to watch for the next few years (especially once he's off the Idol leash, after this year's tour).

Adam is a compelling personality because he appears so completely at ease in his own skin -- and in this world. He knows what he's good at; he knows what he has to work at, he's educated about his medium. His confidence -- however hard-won it might have been -- is ... well, kind of infectious. He treats everyone with respect and puts people at ease. In a word, he is likeable. Flamboyant, theatrical, goth, guyliner and all, he is genuinely likeable.
But he is more than just "nice." So much more. He doesn't speak in spiritualized terms, but he does speak with disciplined positivity and, I dare say, a certain sense of mission about acceptance and inclusion of difference. Given a new and vast platform, he's using it to encourage parents to applaud and support their children who are a little "different," who want to be creative. Send them to dance class, give them vocal training. "Artists are a little bit special, they need the support," he says.

Now, the (pink) elephant in the room is nudging me to mention the difference that all of America is talking about, and it ain't about practicing scales. But Adam has been more honest than any of the speculators or gossips, because all of us know of some poor boy who was taunted and tormented and called "gay," NOT because he yet had any carnal inclinations at all, but simply because he was different. Adam's is the most relevant message we could hope for, because he refuses to let anyone be reduced to labels and be filed coldly in some moralistic category.
And he may just be the most effective messenger we could want, a goth boy of the demi-monde who is perfectly comfortable with Middle America (read: American Idol); but one who respects that audience enough to offer them "something maybe they didn't know they wanted." Creativity is his message, more than cultural disruption. He isn’t Marilyn Manson – he wants not to bludgeon his audience, but to woo them.

But none of that fully explains why he's on my blog.
It’s true that audacious creativity and originality and self-awareness like Adam's does alone merit spiritual reflection. The creative process is a deeply spiritual process, even in those who would never call it that. So I'm not presuming anything about Adam's beliefs.
I do think he’s an old soul. Yet, prudently he has no pretensions to Deep Thoughts or Political Statements (in public), he says he just wants to sing, and be judged on his art. Of course he’s more sophisticated than that, and he knows full well that asking to be judged for his art alone IS his political statement.

Countless commentators wanted the Idol competition to be about more than just singing. With Danny Gokey rounding out the Top Three, many wanted to make it a tally of endorsements for, oh, shall we call it “lifestyles?” You know, Danny (and likewise Kris, the dark horse bringing up the rear), the card-carrying Christian versus Adam the flamboyant one who hasn’t said he’s gay.
Let us pause to decode that snapshot of American pop culture. In social shorthand, those characterizations imply juxtapositions, i.e. a Christian can’t be flamboyant, and the one who “looks gay” can’t (or wouldn’t) be Christian; or, the one is restrained, temperate, and “good,” the other is … not. (Alternatively, the one is open, creative, and "good" -- while the other is not!)
Whatever. Moving on now, to real three-dimensional people, and the reason Adam Lambert and Kris Allen are important to our spiritual health.

Now, it is American Idol after all, folks: it is a popularity contest. And in the end, maybe the guyliner was a little more than America could stomach in its new American idol. But the punchline in this story is that it wasn’t squeaky-clean Danny whose votes ousted Adam. The showdown finale was between Kris and Adam – tagged respectively, Christian and flamboyant, yes, but demolishing the rules of American hit television by refusing to stay in their boxes.

I know next to nothing about Kris Allen’s non-musical life, except that he’s married, he calls himself Christian and he’s done missionary work across the world. I heard about the exchanges among the other contestants that made reference to what is supposedly “godly” and right in relationships, but Kris’s name wasn’t part of that. I don’t know what kind of Christianity he practises, or how he envisions his God. I do know this: he declares himself Christian to the television audience – i.e. to the world; and he freely, publicly, verbally, and especially non-verbally, loves Adam Lambert like a brother.

The blogosphere of Idol fans --"prolific" hardly suffices -- have dedicated millions of keystrokes to the warm relationship between Adam and Kris.
I needn't reiterate what everyone from to the New York Times and Ryan Seacrest have had to say about the contrasts between the two men. There’s the obvious: LA glamboy, Arkansas country boy; but also their personalities could not be more distinct. Kris was self-effacing even in his moment of triumph, while Adam was eating the Idol soundstage for lunch with Feelin' Good and Whole Lotta Love. Meanwhile they were assigned as roommates in the mansion midway through the season, and they obviously clicked.
They’ve both spoken freely about becoming friends, and joked publicly about their differences. Online fans have dubbed their relationship a "bromance," which is charming and maybe not inaccurate; nonetheless it is flip and much shallower than the bond that is apparent between them.
In an interview the day after the finale, Adam departed from the usual breezy soundbytes required of him to emphasize what he felt was most important about the competition -- that the friendship and respect between himself and Kris might be an example for others in transcending difference, for the reward of becoming enriched by it. Both of them become animated when they talk about how much their new friendship has meant to them. Still, their words never exceed generalities.

But pictures do.

One blogger dedicated a whole .jpg- and .gif-stuffed page to the story of the “bromance,” which brings together all the images (collated from a hundred other sources online) that speak more eloquently than any interview. Kris really isn’t much of a talker anyway, and Adam is nothing if not deliberate and professional in his public comments. But body language is like soul-talk, direct and poetic. Certainly between Adam and Kris, it has been.

Watching them together, both before and after the results, we saw no wariness or distance between them (compared with, say, Danny’s cold, take-no-prisoners duet with Kris). And heck, didja see those hugs?? Sure, there’s a lot of hugging on Idol, and I take most of it as genuine: the 5 months of competition are grueling, especially for the finalists, and I’m sure many of them feel a bit like comrades-in-arms. Certainly Kris and Adam must have felt like that.

But their physical way with each other is more than social or circumstantial.

And let me make this abundantly, loudly, perfectly clear: I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT ROMANTIC ATTRACTION. Kris obviously loves his adoring wife, and Adam is quite capable of feeling platonic love for other men, hey, just like regular folks. So let my words not be misconstrued in any way, shape or form. End of Disclaimer.

A brilliant (and hilariously insane) male blogger from the equally brilliant website Television Without Pity summed up the sub-cultural tremors we are feeling this way: And if that's the choice that America's handing us -- the choice between these two men who are soft, but manage to be anything but weak, and are the only two out of the whole Top Twelve you could say that about -- that's the best news I've heard in a long, long time.

Say amen, brother. It’s joyously evident that Kris has no qualms whatsoever about his trust in Adam, or about the message he’s sending to viewers. When they hugged, they hugged for real – there was none of the typical back-slapping not-too-close! hugs between men in public. To pick just one, there’s a telling moment in front of the press corps immediately after Kris’ win. Adam is patiently doing his post-episode 10-minute Q&A beside the Fox logo, when Kris comes around the corner into camera range and nearly tackles Adam with a broadside bear-hug. It’s spontaneous, genuine, and affectionate, for the world to see.

They’ve had each other’s backs. They’ve learned from each other, and they’ve advocated for each other. With and for each other they are respectful and generous. Open. Trusting. And loving.
Adam Lambert could not be happier for his friend, Kris Allen, American Idol 2009. And Kris Allen admires and celebrates the extraordinary gifts of his larger-than-life friend, Adam Lambert.

Kris Allen is my kind of Christian.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Now, where were we before I was interrupted?

Hmm, I was having significant qualms about my relationship with my workplace and the work I was doing there, and then U2 came along and lit a fire underneath me about originality and authenticity, and speaking one’s own word truly and faithfully into the world. And then I quit my job and went on vacation.
Now the dust has settled, and I’ve returned to the job in retail from which I’d taken an indefinite leave (thank God for collective agreements). It is not a creative or powerful job, but it’s a good one that pays the mortgage and most importantly, pays my way through grad school.

The questioning I’d been doing about “authenticity” did not begin when I heard U2’s No Line on the Horizon… but it’s not unreasonable to say the album provided the beginning of some answers. The work I was doing for a year and a half (having taken a leave from school) was important work for social justice – but almost from the start of it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this job wasn’t mine to do. It felt like I was doing someone else’s work. So I constantly debated myself:
social justice! Just what you’ve wanted!
Countered by: But not this! My strongest skills – writing, speaking, teaching – aren’t even in play here!
-- But this work matters, affecting people where they live, in their day-to-day lives!
– but you want to open their eyes to their spirits, to examine what love really is, in their day-to-day lives …

And then there’s Bono, shouting to the world: Magnificent! I was born to sing for You – I didn’t have a choice… Daring to be original, daring to make his work in the world BIG. My biggest fear was that returning to my old job would make me, or my calling, smaller somehow. But now after a month back at it, nothing could be further from the truth. The retail job leaves me as soon as I leave it after 8 hours; my mind has room again for theology and creativity. This school year I will take 4 courses, which nearly completes the requirements for my degree. And I feel like myself again: I don’t feel like I’ve given myself away.
God’s call sometimes takes surprising forms, eh? I heard the call to do the work of God’s love in the world, and I thought I would know what it would look like. Intellectually I concluded that I’d landed in the right place to develop an appropriate form of “ministry” (not to be mistaken for traditional evangelism!) in the secular world. But my heart, my guts – my frustration – kept informing me otherwise. An unexpected but very rich lesson. God kept calling, even after I thought I had “found what I’m looking for.” And it took me awhile, but I listened – not knowing for sure that everything would be hunky-dory on the other side of it – but it couldn’t be ignored. And now, I couldn’t be happier.
I have no regrets, mind you: certainly the experience and skills I gained on the job are invaluable. My mistake was in thinking that I’d reached my destination. Apparently I’m still on my way there…
… in some very good company. (see below!)