If you've ever spent any time as part of a religious community or congregation, then you can appreciate the wisdom of Paul's advice in Romans 14.

All of us have issues, hang-ups, hobby horses and bug bears, and for some people these can be particularly intense. Growing up among the fundies, I learned that there were many things our family enjoyed that some of our friends at church or Christian school regarded as sinful. Rock music, movies, gin rummy (even Uno and Old Maid were considered sinful by some of these folks). My parents considered my RPG hobby an imaginative form of play that kept us out of trouble, but to many of the people at our church, such games weren't merely sinful, they were demonic. One friend was allowed to play with us, but only if we used the Middle Earth (MERP) system — Tolkien, as a buddy of C.S. Lewis, was granted a special dispensation.

My parents were aware that many of our fellow believers viewed these non-sins as sinful, so our family took a pragmatic approach. We just didn't talk to those people about music or movies or games of which they didn't approve.

That was in line with the practical pastoral advice Paul gives in Romans 14.

The first-century Roman church had a different set of hang-ups than the 20th-century American one, obviously. Their dispute didn't have to do with dancing, cards, movies or rock & roll. It had to do with dietary codes and, in particular, with the eating of meat from Roman markets, which may have been ceremonially offered or dedicated to the Roman gods before it was sold.

"Heavens to Betsy!" cried the ancient Roman ancestors of my Uno-shunning fellow evangelicals. "If you eat that meat you're participating in idolatry!"

This was a silly and unnecessary rule and not really the sort of thing the church was supposed to be about, so most of the Roman Christians kept their eye on the ball and just ignored the conniptions of their more fastidious brethren. That, of course, only made those folks even more upset and offended, and it grew into enough of a big deal among the Roman Christians that Paul had to address it in his letter.

Look, he told them, you know this is stupid and I know this is stupid. It doesn't matter what you eat. But some of the folks with you there are, frankly, weak — that's Paul's word, "weak" — and even though this shouldn't be a big deal for them, it is. So be nice and don't rub their noses in it. I don't care what you eat and neither does God, but we both care how you're all getting along — that matters. So for the sake of getting along, accommodate the weaker ones and don't eat that stuff.

The implicit hope and expectation there, of course, is that these "weak" Christians will gradually grow stronger and the community would eventually be able to get beyond stupid and meaningless disputes about stupid and meaningless rules.

But what if these weaker brethren don't ever get any stronger? Paul doesn't address that question in his letter. He doesn't get into the second-generation problem of what happens when those weak, more fastidious Christians begin to treat the deference they are being shown as a source of power, and then begin to prefer that manipulative power to developing actual strength.

Does Paul's specific advice here really mean that we ought to accept the permanent, dynastic rule of the least mature among us? Or are there limits to this accommodation?

What I'm getting at, in other words, is the dilemma that occurs when we give someone the benefit of the doubt and they abuse the favor, turning that benefit into a weapon against us.

The Internet Monk addressed this question a few years back in a post titled "The Tyranny of the Offended." The issue addressed in that post was the monk's tolerance for what one of his critics described as "profanity and obscenity" and his corruption of youth.

Specifically, the critic was upset by the use of the term "ass-kickery."

My response to that sort of thing is usually to recite scripture: "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the cedar of Lebanon that is stuck up thine own ass?"

But the monk is a better Christian than that, so he patiently and carefully works through his obligation to this particular belligerent weaker brethren, considering both Romans 14 and a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians. It isn't easy to maintain such patience when confronted with a member of the Cult of the Offended, and the strain shows in a few lovely zingers throughout. It's four years old, but read the whole thing anyway. Here are some excerpts:

I believe the overly scrupulous have distorted the Christian life and misrepresented the Bible. In fact, I believe a kind of “prissiness” and prudishness seriously misrepresent the Gospel.

I do not believe human offendedness accurately represents the Biblical view of sin, nor a safe path to sanctification and holiness. …

Is Paul recommending that the Christian community become a nanny state run by those who are empowered by real and perceived wrongs? Will the most offended become the most influential? …

The Corinthian Church, that received chapter 8 of that first epistle, was a hive of whining, division, complaining and immature insistence on their own way. Paul did not apply the force of the principle at hand to empowering the least mature elements of the church. He risked offending them all for the sake of the Gospel, and even threatened to come to them with a stick, if necessary.

… my own experience with Jesus in the Gospels leaves me with the assurance that my savior is not a divine nanny, and the path to holiness is to read all of the Bible through Christ and to live out the Bible in Christ. While I appreciate the sincerity of my critic, we will differ on this matter.

Here's where I differ with the Monk, because I do not appreciate the sincerity of his critic. I do not believe his critic is sincere.

I believe, rather, that he is among those who have chosen to be perpetually offended because such a pose can be exploited as a kind of power. I believe that he is among those who have identified exactly the dynamic the Monk describes, in which "the most offended become the most influential." And I believe he is among those who have chosen to to pursue exactly that source and form of influence.

I believe, further, that such people have come to wield so much influence in my evangelical community that they are now its dominant voice. And outside of the church, I believe the same dynamic is at work in American politics — partly, but not exclusively, due to the influence of evangelicals as a core constituency in our political system.

I'm not asking you to share or accept all of those beliefs here. Don't let's get bogged down in the particulars of any given instance or example. All I ask of you here is to accept that such a thing is conceivable, that it is possible.

A vast number of my fellow evangelicals and my fellow Americans have come to define themselves primarily by what they are against, by that which offends them. I'm sure that many of them are, indeed, sincerely offended and sincerely opposed to the many things at which they take offense. But I am equally certain that many are less sincere and that some are wholly insincere, and I fear that the least sincere among them have taken charge.

I don't ask you to share that certainty, but only to concede that such a thing is possible — that it is within the rea
lm of possibility that some people might be insincere, mig
ht lie, might hide behind a pose of offendedness, exploiting our reluctance to level such accusations and abusing our admirable inclination to accommodate those most easily offended.

Over time, of course, I will try to convince you that such a thing is not merely possible, but actual. I will try to make the case that the Monk's nightmare scenario of "a nanny state run by those empowered by perceived wrongs" is not merely a hypothetical concern, but the agenda actively pursued by people for whom "The Tyranny of the Offended" is not a nightmare, but a game plan.

"New post: http://www.patheos.com/blog... Your strength is devastating in the face of all these odds"

LBCF, No. 190: ‘Something happens’
"I’m not saying they’re the same, I’m saying the restaurant shouldn’t have the right to ..."

LBCF, No. 190: ‘Something happens’

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  • Froborr

    That’s alcoholism. Not a quick decline into the murky depths, but a slow, slow swim around the top of a pool you never leave. You sink without even noticing it until suddenly you’re drowning. And when someone hauls you up and delivers a few good smacks to you and you vow to never let it happen again, never to even get in the pool again, you still live near it, and sometimes you’re tempted to take a dip along with the people who seem to be able to get out of the pool anytime they want. The problem is, you like the water too much, and don’t know when it’s time to leave.

    As a former SMART member (unlike Whatever Anonymous, it’s actually possible to graduate from SMART), I feel obligated to point out that the disease model of addiction is not the only model out there and there is zero clinical evidence that the 12-step program (or any other “talking cure”) is actually an effective means of reducing substance abuse. In particular, many people, including alcoholics, actually are able to successfully transition from addiction to moderation without needing to become totally abstinent. Almost no one using a a 12-step program does so, but that’s likely a self-fulfilling prophecy at work.
    My own experience with addiction is that it’s a learned behavior. I self-medicated for depression and anxiety, and for a time I felt better. But then I became dependent on the behavior, and it started to take over my life, just like the lady with the two glasses of wine in the evening.* At SMART, I learned techniques for dealing with cravings, and in time I stopped having them, even at times of great stress. For a time, I did have to stop using my drug of choice almost entirely, but eventually I reached the point where I was actually capable of moderation. For several years now I have occasionally indulged when the situation called for it, without any recurrence of the cravings or binges I used to go on.
    Addiction, in short, is not necessarily lifelong. You’re not helpless against it. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do, and you DO have a choice. It’s not an easy choice, and you shouldn’t feel bad about needing help to make it, but it’s still ultimately your choice.
    Please don’t take this as an ad for SMART or anything. I just thought it seemed like an opportunity to correct a common myth, namely that 12-step programs are the only option for someone dealing with an addiction, or that their disease model represents some kind of scientific consensus.
    *For the record, no, my drug of choice was not alcohol, and no, I won’t tell you what it was. I will tell you that it is common, not illegal, not particularly dangerous, and something with which most people have no problem. My past difficulties with addiction have no bearing on my choice not to drink — that’s purely a matter of not liking the taste of alcohol or how even small quantities of it make me feel.

  • lonespark

    (“Everything in moderation” seems like a good idea from a certain perspective: “I’m pretty fucking awesome” on Monday should not get in the way, on Tuesday, of realizing that I could stand to improve my writing style, work out a little more, and not leave my key at the office again DAMMIT.)
    Whoever said “Everything in moderation, including moderation,” was on to something.

  • lonespark

    Interesting, Froborr. I never heard of SMART, but I certainly have seen Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and related approaches work. AA always seemed kind of like something like that to me, as an outsider. Some folks don’t have to go to meetings after a while, but they learn to recognize when something comes up that they can’t deal with. And it’s the same with the illnesses addicts are often self-medicating; drugs or therapy may work great for a while, but that doesn’t mean you’re cured.

  • Froborr

    My personal ethos is very much neo-Stoic, so “all things in moderation, including moderation” is a biggie.
    Sometimes I think some Christians, especially the non-crazy, good-hearted ones, need to be reminded that “love thy neighbor as thyself” implies that self-love is a prerequisite for all other forms of love.
    Then again, I’ve always preferred the original Old Testament version that Jesus misquoted: “Love thy neighbor as a man like thyself.” You don’t have to love everyone as much as you love yourself — who out there is that saintly? But you do have to recognize the common humanity you share with everyone.

  • Lori

    do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself” sound profound and do have a grain of truth, but if you analyze them too closely it’s easy to come to the conclusion that striving towards them would make the world a much darker and uglier place.

    Thinking about this made me realize that when this verse was discussed in church while I was growing up I simply assumed that there was a good reason why the word “selfish” was included. I take that to mean that ambition is not a problem, in and of itself. Sort of like money is not the root of all evil, the love of it is.
    I don’t think it’s selfish to want to use your skills and talents to best advantage or to want to be successful. I think of selfish ambition as being more about the nasty sort of competitiveness. Like someone once said about Hollywood, “It’s not enough to succeed, your friends also have to fail.”

  • Froborr

    The big difference between 12-step and something like SMART (there are other programs that use similar approaches as well, but I’m less familiar with them) is that 12-step devotes a lot of time and energy to telling you that you are powerless and in the throes of a terrible disease over which you have no control. A charitable interpretation of this is that it’s an attempt to break the cycle of guilt that is the bane of so many people trying to quit an addiction (you feel guilty, so you use the drug, so you feel guiltier, so you use the drug, repeat ad infinitum). A less charitable interpretation is that it creates a dependence on the group. It’s possible that both are true.
    Also, in the cognitive-therapy approach, there’s no disease and therefore no cure. There’s a maladaptive behavior, and there’s learning. It’s all about empowering the individual to exercise their rational capacity to choose to do otherwise. It’s always a choice, and it’s always possible to choose to start self-medicating again, but once you’ve learned — I mean really learned, until they’re automatic — better ways of dealing with your problems, why would you?

  • Froborr

    @Lori: Again, though, if you have a selfishly ambitious streak, and you harness it toward doing good things, why is it bad? There’s nothing innately wrong with selfishness, it’s just a feeling like any other. It’s what you do with it that matters.

  • lonespark

    A charitable interpretation of this is that it’s an attempt to break the cycle of guilt that is the bane of so many people trying to quit an addiction (you feel guilty, so you use the drug, so you feel guiltier, so you use the drug, repeat ad infinitum).
    That’s how it comes across to me. We beat ourselves up a lot by thinking we’re in control of our lives and ourselves. Like, “I’m not a person with a mental illness that interferes with being a good employee; I’m just lazy and bad at this job I used to be good at.” Really admitting that you don’t have the power to fix yourself (at least in the way you’ve been trying to) is really hard to make stick. A church school teacher said the point of prayer was to take the worry and pain you can’t control and let go of it. Some people need to do that in a formal, ritualized way.

  • Lori

    @Froborr: I guess I understand what you’re saying. But I’m not sure it’s true, at least all the time, that motive doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing something good. That frequently results in people feeling used, which is not nice.
    Also, for me the word selfish just has bad connotations, so if I’m talking about something that doesn’t have a negative result I’d find some other word. I realize that’s not universal.

  • tls

    Addiction, in short, is not necessarily lifelong. You’re not helpless against it. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do, and you DO have a choice. It’s not an easy choice, and you shouldn’t feel bad about needing help to make it, but it’s still ultimately your choice.
    I don’t personally see any real conflict between this and what I said. I phrased it as I did for a reason, since as it happens, I do actually think that some people are capable of learning how to use alcohol in the ways we consider normal even if they’ve formerly been unable to.
    Let me go back to the metaphor I chose: “The problem is, you like the water too much, and don’t know when it’s time to leave.”
    To expand on the metaphor: You (generic you, not anyone in particular) like the pool. A lot of your friends swim and don’t have any troubles with it. When you first started, you didn’t, either. But you kept finding yourself swimming long enough to have cramps, or started going to the pool more and more often, ignoring the rest of your life. Now, you’d like to be able to use it the way other people seem to. Maybe you can learn to do so, by going with people who do know when to get out, or by setting an alarm so you know when it’s been too long, or some other thing that will help you figure it out. But maybe you get in the pool, and you genuinely can’t tell when it’s time to get out. The ability to see the signs of it is absent in you. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can learn that ability if you haven’t yet. The result is absolutely the same: you end up on the bottom of the pool because you didn’t know when to leave.
    AA tells people to stop going to the pool so they don’t get tempted to get in for fear they simply can’t learn how not to overstay. Other groups, or private therapies, or simple determination lets people go to the pool but not get in, or even enjoy a quick dip. That’s all fine. Whatever works for people, I’m not going to argue with.
    I will say, though, one thing I absolutely disagree with is that alcoholism (or addiction in general) isn’t a disease. Just because something is curable doesn’t make it not a disease. Maybe a better word would be ‘disorder’, since that places it firmly in the psychological realm. But very few people set out thinking “Gee, I think I’ll take this drug until my life is totally wrecked”. They don’t have (or, if you like, lose) the ability to tell the difference between “enough” and “too much”, or they’re not able to see the effects of what they’re using upon their life, or they just can’t see any other way they could live their life, or maybe some of all of that. If that’s not disorderly thinking, I’m not sure what is. That does not mean they can’t relearn how to think logically about it and make good decisions. It just means they’re starting from a place where they’re not.
    Honestly, though, none of that matters, because the point was not about any of that. The point was, addiction isn’t just about the crash and burn.

  • Hmmm. I think Typepad didn’t like my response to lonespark because of the requested links…

  • Jenny Islander

    I was taught that humility is one of the toughest virtues because it’s not about thinking of other people as better than you are; it’s about not thinking of yourself in comparison to other people at all. But we do it all the time. Self-forgetfulness is like not thinking of the word “elephant.”

  • El Durazno de la Muerte

    Self-forgetfulness is like not thinking of the word “elephant.”
    Reading that just made me lose The Game.

  • MikeJ

    and the path to holiness is to read all of the Bible through Christ
    Should we read through the holes in His hands or the holes in His feet?

  • Froborr

    Reading that just made me lose The Game.
    Actually, The Game was won last year by a guy in Manchester. It’s over forever, everyone else has lost permanently, and there is no longer any need to announce such or ever mention that idiotic meme every again.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    Lots of material, and I’m behind on my reading.
    “The productive drunk is the bane of prohibitionists”.
    Part of the logic of prohibition was the idea that if you could get Irish/German/Slavs to stop drinking, they’d stop being Catholics too.
    9/11: We got off light. I was expecting a incident that killed 3-4 times the casualties.
    “We never expected them to use planes as weapons” – Chester Nimitz, 1946, and Condeleeza Rice, 2002. Admiral Nimitz had a excuse.

  • No, but you could always link them…
    Second try, with fewer links!
    Well, it would be inappropriate to link to some of the sites where one can find obvious examples. So, I’ll stick with a mildly inappropriate site, Daily Costume. That site hosts some sterling examples of the cosplay / masquearade art, and despite the maintainer’s bias toward the ladies (guys have good costumes too, yanno!) one can find amazing craftsmanship and stage presence in many of the pictures.
    In the hopes of keeping Typepad happy, I’ll post a single link to a picture of Evangelion mecha pilot cosplayers. As I said, the outfits provide neck to toes coverage, yet if those aren’t provocative and attention getting – well, then the ladies wearing them are probably disappointed.
    Just this weekend, I wore this vest and jeans combo to an event, and stopped to pump gas. Well, I drew catcalls from a passing car of ladies, which I chose to be amused by; again, utterly street-legal, and fairly comfortable in the 95-degree heat, but certainly not something I’d wear to work. I doubt any local prudes would have approved, but really: harmless. If that outfit corroded society in any way, I sincerely apologize, but I kinda think society’s more robust than that.
    (Related to little else in this post, I had to laugh when I realized the theme of this decidedly non-canon group of Sailor Moon characters. *grin*)

  • cjmr

    So would that be considered Sailor Moon/Disney, then?

  • *stares at that photo*
    *stares some more*
    MikhailBorg… just… wow.

  • Donald Johnson

    “Internetmonk is susceptible to the same thing, by the way’
    I was wondering whether I should point this out, but yes. I’ve tried reading him off and on and from what I’ve seen he’s exactly as you say. On the one hand, he hates the culture wars started by the right and what it has done to evangelical Christianity in America, but he’s really not that open to commenters to his left disagreeing with him on his own blog. He’s supersensitive about any criticism, and you can be as polite and respectful as possible, but if you start making points he doesn’t feel he can answer, he may start censoring. I’m not surprised you were banned. I visited his group blog (Boarsheadtavern) back around 2005-2006 (I forget when) when he was still talking about Bush Derangement Syndrome and there were comment sections–I remember one being shut down when I showed up and forcefully disagreed with some stupid conservative talking point. (It might have been when someone said the Democrats were the traditionally racist party going back to the 19th Century and I pointed out that yes, but when the Democrats started becoming associated with the civil rights movement that’s when the white South began their shift towards the Republicans.” I didn’t use bad language–I had the temerity to show up one of the locals. On the other hand, he did have one or two political liberals posting, so he was open to that extent. He’s a complicated person.

  • lonespark

    MB, my son adores that photo. He kept yelling that he wanted to see more of the “Spiderman people.” Are there more photos? Then I told him what mecha pilots do and he was really in awe.
    (Also, there was photo of nubile blonde women with crossed staves, and he said, “That lady has long hair, just like you.” Oh, yes, just like me. I am exactly that hot. Ha!)

  • Ceannaideach

    I’ve always thought of the term as Kick – Assery, probably a pond thing.

  • @cjmr: Exactly! Though one friend of mine noted how lucky that group was to get Donna Noble (the recent Doctor Who companion) to play Sailor Ariel.
    @cereselle: So, which of the three linked photos are you staring at, there, exactly? *grin*
    @lonespark: I seem to recall several other photos of that costume on the site, but the maintainer provides no tags or search function – you’d have to just click through the archives, I’m afraid. (Based on some of his (her) titles for the pics, he may not even be especially familiar with many of the costume sources. Guess the maintainer just knows what he or she likes.)

  • Jeff

    [[Well, it would be inappropriate to link to some of the sites where one can find obvious examples.]]
    Inappropriate to whom? If you describe to link, and mark it as NFSW, what’s the problem?
    Covered head to Yowza!!! (Typepad fail: http://dailycostume.com/archive/hotwheelsbabes/)

  • Jeff

    lonespark, the woman in green is EXACTLY how I picture you!
    Typepad fail: http://dailycostume.com/archive/rodandstaff/

  • lonespark

    Hee, Jeff. I had hair like that when I was six. And my bellybutton looked like that once for two weeks in 2001. Otherwise, not so much with the similarities. Maybe I need to join Second Life to get an avatar that looks like I imagine my ideal self.

  • Just for you, Jeff: a long-sleeved, high-necked blouse and floor length skirt from the ‘Marquis’ online shop. The lady is completely covered, but I’m quite sure the pictures are NSFW most places. The website certainly is.
    If I have ever purchased clothing sold at this site for my lady or myself, I am not at this time admitting to it. :)

  • Jason

    Maybe I need to join Second Life to get an avatar that looks like I imagine my ideal self.
    DO IT!!!! :D

  • lonespark

    Well, Jason, the issue is I don’t get a lot of time on a machine with the capability. I’d be forfeiting sleep.

  • bluefrog

    Part of the issue with the Internet Monk is that he works at a very conservative Christian boarding school/community in rural Kentucky, where everything he writes is carefully monitered by people who would be pleased to catch him saying/agreeing to something for which he could be fired. And his wife is a recent convert to the Roman Catholic Church. He’s a complicated person in a complicated situation. It’s interesting to watch his thinking evolve.

  • Jeff

    [[Just for you, Jeff: a long-sleeved, high-necked blouse and floor length skirt from the ‘Marquis’ online shop. The lady is completely covered, but I’m quite sure the pictures are NSFW most places. The website certainly is.]]
    I will certainly look when I get home!

  • Jeff

    [[Just for you, Jeff: a long-sleeved, high-necked blouse and floor length skirt from the ‘Marquis’ online shop. The lady is completely covered, but I’m quite sure the pictures are NSFW most places.]]
    That does absolutely nothing for me. On the other hand, http://janezlifeandtimes.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/lauren-bacall1.jpg, http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/04/90704-004-174F8BB9.jpg and http://owlibrary.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/lauren_bacall1.jpg are totally SFW and far more sexy TO ME than the plastic/ rubber / leather costumes. To each hir or her own and chacaun au son gout (or whatever).

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    A vast number of my fellow evangelicals and my fellow Americans have come to define themselves primarily by what they are against, by that which offends them.
    Somewhere in the blogosphere (most likely somewhere in Internet Monk’s archives) there’s this comment:
    “You know a preacher’s in trouble when he stops preaching about what he’s for and starts preaching only about what he’s against.”
    (And usually denouncing his own secret sins. Secular analogy: Remember how gung-ho Rush Limbaugh was for the War on Drugs while he was struggling with a secret Oxycontin addiction?)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Reading this thread is always like looking at a completely different culture and a completely different religion to the one I was raised in. Are American Evangelicals even sure they’re still Chalcedon compliant these days? — The Patrician
    Pat, A lot of American Evangelicals haven’t even HEARD of Chalcedon. A lot of them are pretty isolated behind the four walls of their church, Christian-imitation culture or no.
    Internet Monk lives in an Appalachian Southern Baptist environment, and disrespect for learning is endemic among them — “My Preacher has NO Book-Larnin’, and He Is LOUD!” Christian Monist writes about the Platonic Dualist separation between Spiritual and Physical, and the resulting idea that God miraculously gives you Spiritual Knowledge through the Holy Spirit so you DON’T need to learn anything “from the World”. Including their own church history.
    When does it go from a headscarf to a chador, and from a chador to a burqa? At what point does the “temptee” have ANY responsibility for resisting THEIR urges?
    The Hijab-to-Chadoor-to-Burqa progression is very simple, once the inital Hijab headscarf is established as a sign of Godly dress and behavior. In four words: CAN. YOU. TOP. THIS?
    If doing X shows you’re holy, doing X and Y shows you’re holier. Then doing X, Y, and Z shows you’re even holier than holy, and the game of one-upmanship begins. And escalates.
    And as for Slack’s original point in this posting, “Beware of the Professional Weaker Brethren”, I have seen that meme in action. And had to tiptoe on eggs around them too often. My writing partner (a burned-out country preacher) has to deal with them all the time, in a church situation where some of them have power over his pastorate. It’s the Christian version of the secular political activist behavior “Tyranny of the Most Easily Offended”.

  • Jesus turned the water into “raisin paste” (and I commend “The Supper of the Lamb” to any who like food, metaphor and humanistic theology, with a huge dose of personal rapture; shared with all.
    And the chapter on Pastry is worth the price of admission, if the chapter on wine is too over the top.
    To say nothing of the attitudes to diet, and food and the loathing of “tin fiddles”.
    Ok, I will stop gushing now.