Here We Go Again

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Another well-known Christian influencer, raised in church and the son of a pastor, has come forward to say that he no longer believes in God. John Steingard, lead vocalist of the band Hawk Nelson shared via Instagram how his doubts and questions have brought him to this place. Here we go again.

If you’ve been around this blog or listened to my podcast, then you will know that I have no judgement for people who walk away from Christianity. Doubt, and questions, and lost faith are legitimate experiences and can be incredibly valuable.

No, I have no problem with people who walk away, but I have a huge problem with a religion that claims the name of Christ and yet never introduces them to the Real Jesus in the first place.

My heart is breaking, my eyes are full of tears, and I’m so angry I’m struggling to get words out. This. Is. Not. Okay.

I’d encourage you to read John’s lengthy explanation. The thoughts he expresses are real and very familiar.

  • He talks about a Christian culture that was shared without explanation or understanding.
  • John describes behavior based expectations that felt manipulative.
  • He uses Christianese phrases like “accepting Jesus into your heart” and “praying for signs and wonders.”
  • There was a definite initial suppression of any doubts.
  • And finally John shares his questions that just don’t seem to have acceptable answers.

John is describing his experience with a broken religion, an experience that many of us have shared. Religion is not enough. A set of beliefs, or a checklist of behaviors, or even a happy, little bubble-world of likemindedness is NOT enough.

There is only one thing.

“”Christy, why are you still a Christian?” My friend, who also happened to be an atheist, looked at me intently from across the room.

It was a valid question, and one I had been pondering myself lately. Over ten years had passed since that midnight lecture on the couch, ten years and countless life changes. I was a youth pastor’s wife and mother of two. I wore jeans every day, had a Bachelor’s degree from a secular college, and every song on my iTunes playlist included drums. People in my current life knew that I had been homeschooled, but even my husband was oblivious to the extent of crazy I’d experienced in our cultic-subgroup of Christianity. That was changing…

…the door to my past was beginning to crack open. I learned that a man we previously respected and followed was being accused of sexual harassment, with multiple girls, over decades. I discovered a website dedicated to exposing truth about the cultic organization my family was a part of through my teens and early twenties. I found online support groups filled with former students like me. These discoveries confirmed things I had always suspected. The flood gates opened. My poor husband listened patiently to many rants, frustrations, and memories. I sorted through truths and lies. I connected and reconnected with people who shared an understanding of my crazy past. It was exciting, healing, and heartbreaking.

I was overwhelmed by the number of people who grew up like me but left Christianity completely. I understood in theory…if what we had experienced was the real God, then no wonder they wanted nothing to do with Him. But it made sad. And it made me question.

Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away too? I knew why.

I’d met Jesus. And while I rejected the legalism, and the ridiculous standards, and the performance driven faith, I couldn’t reject Him. Because I loved Him, and I knew that He loved me. It was worth the fight…it was worth deconstructing and reconstructing my faith to find the real God.”

Impostor Jesus – Christy Lynne Wood

Guys, meeting Jesus changes everything. And the hard work of deconstructing and reconstructing what it means to be a Christian is worth it.

The Real God is more than the religion that we have created. He is more than correct behavior, or emotional experiences, or Christianese phrases.

But He is also more than our own understanding, or feelings, or doubts.

He has legitimate answers to our questions if we are willing to look. And He is a Living Presence who will change our view of reality if we let Him. He is REAL real, but He might also be different than we think He is.

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Hey there! If this is your first time here on my website, I just want to say welcome! I also want to link a few of my other blog posts on this topic so that you don’t have to search through years worth of articles to find them. 🙂

The Value of Losing Our Faith

Why I am Still a Christian

Irony & Apostasy – Finding a Solid Faith

I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

 

Healing and Surrender

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“I’ll heal you if you’ll let Me.”

I heard the Spirit’s whisper clearly in my heart. Fear and worry had wrapped themselves around my body threatening to strangle me. Again.

Some of my earliest memories include freaking out because someone was sick in my family, or in my Sunday School class, or at the grocery store. I worried about many things as a kid but sickness was one of my biggest.

As an adult, I’ve been able to work through many of my fears. And while I no longer fear my own illness, I hate my kids or husband being sick. Because I feel helpless. Because I’m out of control. Because I can easily imagine worst case scenarios. Because I love comfort and happy, easy moments of life. Because I hate not being in control.

As I sat there contemplating these things, I realized what a powerful grip fear and a desire for control have on me. A grip that I felt powerless to resist.

Maybe you can identify with this. Maybe it’s also fear and control for you. Or maybe it’s something different.

“I’ll heal you if you’ll let Me.”

If you’ll let me. The irony isn’t lost on me. In order to get rid of this fear and desire for control, I needed to surrender my control. I needed to let go.

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about right and wrong, why we should choose to reject sin, and what it means to believe that Jesus is Lord. I know that it has to be more than behavior designed to earn something because that’s just religion again. But at the same time, the Bible clearly shows God’s desire for our righteousness and holiness. How do they both work together?

I love that the people who are helping me work through this are people that much of the church doesn’t know what to do with. There is a group of Christians within the LGBTQ community who call themselves Side B. These people identify as LGBTQ but also believe that God’s design for sex and marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s a really uncomfortable place to land because you get criticized from all other sides.

Laurie Krieg, author, speaker, and podcast host, is attracted to women but is married to her husband Matt. I recently heard a podcast episode with Laurie, Matt, and David Bennett author of A War of Loves. David, a former atheist gay activist, is attracted to men but is choosing to live a single celibate life. They talked about surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus, not just in their sexuality, but in all of life.

I’ve heard people use the phrase make Jesus the Lord of your life in a way that makes me cringe. It usually comes with a list of behaviors that prove you are indeed making Jesus Lord. Often this phrase is also linked to salvation which I can’t accept because I believe salvation is a free gift of grace that we can do nothing to attain on our own.

But as I listened to David and Laurie talk, surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus felt different. Surrender for Laurie and David is costly, uncomfortable, and strange to the modern world. They aren’t doing it to earn anything. And somehow what they have found through that surrender is more than worth it. I find myself convicted and challenged. Jesus is Lord whether we acknowledge that fact in our lives or not.

Surrender sounds like death. It’s giving up control. Letting Jesus be in charge. Laying aside my own pride and way of doing things. It’s scary.

“I’ll heal you if you’ll let Me.”

Surrender may sound like death, but holding onto control feels like death. I hate what worry and fear do to my heart and mind.

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I sat there with my fists clenched at first. There was an utter lack of condemnation or shame in His Presence, just gentle love. Slowly I opened my hands. I wanted healing more than I wanted control. Palms up, I surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.

It’s not going to be an instant healing. It’s going to be a journey of surrender. I know that the Spirit will continue to show me areas where I’m holding on but I’m already seeing glimpses of freedom.

I think this is real life with Jesus. It’s a process, a daily adventure, continual surrender. God longs for us to live in righteousness and holiness because He loves us and because He knows that this is where we will flourish and find life that is truly life.

It’s about so much more than behaviors and right vs wrong. It’s about our hearts. It’s about healing. And it’s about the Lord Jesus restoring His precious creation.

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Click here for David and Laurie’s podcast episode.

And CLICK HERE to join the search for the Real God and receive monthly newsletters with exclusive content.

The Gift of Brokenness

5798BD51-44AE-4CAA-834F-FFD2E9FCE4F6.pngWe stopped by the Creation Museum in Kentucky to take in the awesome light display and live nativity on our way down south to visit my brother’s family after Christmas. My father is a lifetime member which means that he has guest passes readily available. Which is why we have been there multiple times over the last few years while passing through on on our way south. It’s always a unique experience for me. The Creation Museum brings together an eclectic collection of Christians that kind of makes me cringe. I love the people watching but always come away slightly triggered. 

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It’s a fresh reminder that a powerful Christian bubble exists. One that you can enter, live in blissfully, and die without leaving. It’s a seemingly peaceful echo chamber of like-minded people. A place where you all agree and never have to question your beliefs, preferences, or interpretations of the world.

There are many, many people still blissfully living in their Christian bubble. Because when religion is working, you never stop to question it. 

This was the beginning of my ponderings.

Towards the end of our visit in the South, my sister-in-law (who is also a blogger and hopeful author) and I spent a delightful afternoon disusing the bubble over cafe miels at a local coffee shop. She explained that if you are a Southerner then you are generally a Christian, at least culturally. But too often it’s a pray this prayer and get just enough of Jesus to inoculate you from the real thing. Ouch.

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I’ve been exploring my old journals from the middle years in preparation for Season Two of Looking for the Real God. These were the years where I no longer accepted the teachings of my cultic group, but before I married my wonderfully opposite husband. They are a bit painful to read. I was in my early twenties and thought I had the whole world figured out.

As I’ve read, listening to my mind stretch and grow, seeing fresh how God broke me of my idyllic worldview, and watching Him humble my ever prideful heart, I’ve felt embarrassment and gratitude. I identify with the Christian bubble and cultural Christianity because I lived it.

But through pure mercy, God smashed my bubble and got me out. Brokenness ended up being the most precious gift He could have given. Because when the bubble broke, I was able to see that it and the god I was following were both fakes. It’s been a process as I’ve been reminded of in my old journals. The gift of brokenness has been something God has given me multiple time. But each time my bubble world shatters, I discover more of who the Real God is in comparison to my little, religious, god-in-a-box.

And this is why I’m going to say this crazy thing.

If you have been broken by religion and left confused and doubting, consider it a special gift. 

It may seem like a curse, but in reality it is a precious blessing given to you by a Real God who wants to reveal Himself to you. Because…

We will never doubt our false beliefs when they seem right.

We will never look for a Real God when our fake god is enough.

We will not question our religious Christianity when it is working for us.

But when it all comes falling down, smashes into one thousand pieces at our feet, and leaves us broken and confused, then we will seek for something more.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it forever. As humans we are naturally religious. It’s part of our sinful natures. We want a checklist to follow so that we can appease god and get the good results.

But the Real Jesus is not religious. He doesn’t need appeasing because He already appeased Himself. His greatest desire is for us to know Him. We were created with the capacity to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. And that’s a little wild and scary.

There is no formula or checklist. There is no guaranteed outcome. But there is a very real Living Being who has done everything necessary to restore our relationship with Himself. God gave us the Bible as a revelation of Who He is and how He has continually pursued humanity since the beginning of time. Jesus provides His Spirit as a helper and comforter until we see Him face to face. We can know God.

When I look at the state of evangelical Christianity, or the church, or the inoculation of cultural Christianity, I feel overwhelmed with discouragement. But just last week I was talking to Jesus about this, and He reminded me that this is what He does. This is how the broken world works.

People have always run away, and misrepresented God, and chosen religion over Him. And the Real and Living God has always pursued humanity with love, patience, and grace. This is the story of our world.

And in that truth I find hope.

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How Two Gay Christians Changed My Life

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It all started late last spring when a good friend of mine gave me a book. She told me that it had transformed her entire view of homosexuality. It was a little, unassuming looking book by a man named Wesley Hill. I had never heard of that author before, but I was excited to read it.

Homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole is such a hot topic among Evangelical Christianity. People hold pretty fiery opinions which have often left me feeling like I was splashing around in the middle of two opposing camps. I couldn’t agree with the more conservative views, but didn’t fit into a liberal way of thinking either.

I knew that the Bible is pretty clear that a homosexual lifestyle is part of the brokenness caused by sin, but I also knew that the LGBTQ+ Community belongs to the world that God loves and sent His Son to save in John 3:16. I wanted to love and accept people the way Jesus did, but I also wanted to stay true to Scripture. Wesley Hill was about to show me that both were possible.

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I read Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality with my heart in my throat. I didn’t know that it was possible to feel so close to an author. As Wes poured out his heart and struggles and was honest about his loneliness and fear, I felt my own heart break.

It wasn’t the kind of book that I could read in one sitting because I needed to process and think. I took Wes camping with me over the summer. I read him sitting around the campfire with a Kleenex in my lap so I could catch my tears. I read him in the laundry mat while waiting for clothes to dry in the middle of a thunderstorm and posted these thoughts on my Facebook page.

A friend gave me this book earlier this summer and it is opening and expanding my mind in amazing ways. Written by a Christian man who struggles with same-sex attraction but who is choosing to live a celibate life…it’s just powerful, and gut wrenching, and eye opening.

I don’t know if I have ever felt such love, and admiration, and respect for an author before.

You need to read it. Need to!!

We CANNOT live in a bubble.

And the best way to intentionally pop it is to expose ourselves to people and thoughts and perspectives that don’t exactly meet up with our own.

Washed and Waiting allowed me to stretch my mind. It’s easy to have staunch opinions about issues when we have no personal experience. But those lofty opinions are formed at a distance. It’s a completely different thing to have opinions that are formed by interaction with a person living the experience themselves. Even if that interaction is just reading a book.

I had never loved an author the way I found myself loving Wesley Hill. I even became a groupie and followed him on Instagram. 🙂

That is until I found David Bennett.

I have a good friend who works in Christian Marketing. We originally connected over a shared love of Jesus and disgust with religion. That connection morphed into breakfasts at our favorite coffee and bagel shop. I was telling her about Wesley Hill’s book and how incredibly life changing it had been for me. She got all excited and started talking about a book she was working with by a former gay activist who discovered Jesus. My friend was so enthusiastic that she gave me a copy of the book the next time I saw her.

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I’ll be honest, I devoured David’s book called A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus. I could not put it down. He challenged me, stretched me, made me reconsider how big God is, and spoke truth to my heart. I read with tears, and laughter, longing and hope. Then I followed David on Facebook and Instagram. 😀 I really wanted to be his best friend, but since he’s living in England going to Oxford for his PhD, I decided I’d have to settle for being an active follower. Here’s a sneak peek of the main idea of A War of Loves.

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Don’t you just want to go grab it and read it for yourselves?! Seriously, go order it on Amazon. I’ll even give you the link.

Guys, he met Jesus!!! And that changed everything. David has a message for the LGBTQ+ Community, but he also has an incredibly vital message for the church as a whole.

I love that God is calling and using gay Christians to share His message of truth. If that isn’t just like Jesus, I don’t know what is. 🙂 He has always pursued and used people the religious elite called outcasts. (The only thing is, that makes us Evangelicals the Pharisees…convicted much?)

So, what have I learned from my new favorite people? And how have they changed my life? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • We, the Evangelical Church, have royally screwed up and it’s time to acknowledge our failure and repent. I don’t know if it was out of fear or a religious focus on behaviors, but we have alienated an entire group of people from the gospel. Many people in the LGBTQ+ Community have felt nothing but hatred from Christians. That’s a serious problem! Especially since Jesus said people would know His disciples by their love…
  • Popular thought in our culture says that if you don’t agree with me, you must hate me. That’s not true. We don’t have to agree to love. And disagreement doesn’t have to mean that we hate. We can disagree in healthy ways while still loving each other. We can believe that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall and that the Bible is clear that a homosexual lifestyle is sin, and we can still unconditionally love and accept people who identify as LGBTQ+ without focusing on their behaviors.
  • We don’t have to actively announce our personal beliefs. If you look at Jesus’ example, He was always seeking out the religious outcasts. He loved and accepted them without expectation FIRST. Then He called them to repentance.
  • It’s not our job to lecture people about their behaviors. It’s our job to introduce them to Jesus. If we teach people how to know Jesus, the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to do His job of conviction. God cares SO MUCH more about our hearts than our outward actions anyways!
  • The Evangelical Church needs to get educated! There are so many lies and false concepts circulating about homosexuality, gender identity, and such. It’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We need to get out of our Christian bubble and down from our ivory tower of spirituality and meet people in the LGBTQ+ Community. Let’s read authors like Wesley Hill and David Bennett. Let’s engage in training from places like The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender. (They have awesome, Biblical teaching with a beautiful balance of truth and love.) Let’s talk to actual people who are different from us.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about two things. I am passionate about everyone knowing the Real Jesus. And I am equally passionate about rejecting behavior-driven Christianese religion. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ Community, it’s time that we left behind our traditions, and fears, and stereotypes. It’s time we embraced the Whole World with the truth of God’s love. 

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More great organizations to further discussion and learning:

Revoice – Fostering Peace, Honoring Dignity, Preserving Faith

Hole In My Heart Ministries

The Vine and the Branches…But No Religion

 

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I had a friend ask me a question yesterday that sent me on a wild journey of thought. What I found surprised me, and I’m super excited to share it with you! Here is her question.

“How do we attach and re-attach ourselves to the Vine without it being works?”

She was referring to John 15 and the familiar passage about abiding in the Vine. Jesus is speaking.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:1-5.

I have heard this passage preached in a very works-based way. I have also heard it preached less “worksy” but with a checklist at the end…Ten Things to do to Abide in the Vine, etc. Abide isn’t a word we use anymore in everyday English. What does the word even mean, let alone an abstract concept like abiding in Christ?

As I read the passage again this morning, four little words jumped out at me. And it changed everything. 

Abide in me, and I in you” John 15:4

The grape vine grows down into the ground, sucking up water and nutrients, providing life for the branches. The branches are not doing anything. They aren’t trying desperately to hold onto the vine, trying to remain in it, trying to stay attached. They are just automatically part of it. The vine’s life and strength are in the branches. And because of that life, the branches are able to bear fruit.

We are so quick, as humans, to look for what we have to do. Religion, the business of appeasing gods, comes naturally to us. But that desire to appease is part of our old nature, not our new one. We have to remember that!

tori-1976609_1920I really believe that religion, more than anything, is the true enemy of God, especially within Christianity. It’s subtle, it distracts; it makes us believe we have effort to offer. It takes away from the beauty and wonder of the free gift. And it turns a life-giving friendship into dutiful servanthood.

Can I stretch your mind a little?

What if true Christianity isn’t about a checklist, or behaviors, or a list of rules to follow? What if it is about a restored life? What if, because we have been restored and reconnected, our lives are transformed? Not because of effort or determination or discipline, but because a new life-force flows within us? The life of the Vine.

Do you believe that? Did you feel your heart give a leap of hope? That’s the Spirit. Our life-force. 🙂

Here is the simple and beautiful gospel.

We have all been broken by sin and that sin separates us from God. Our very core has been corrupted, and the ones God created to be His friends are now His enemies. But He would not let us go…His love is far too great! So Jesus came and died, paying the price for sin once and for all. He rose again demonstrating His power over death and sin. If we will admit that we need forgiveness and trust in Jesus alone to save us, we will be restored.

It gets better! Not only has God forgiven all of our sins through the death of Jesus, He gives us His very Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit is all about restoration and transformation. If we will let Him, He will not only show us our broken places, He will empower us to heal. He will transform us into the image of God we were meant to be.

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True abiding has nothing to do with action or works, and everything to do with resting in our position. We don’t DO anything. We accept salvation. We accept the Spirit. We accept the life, and the transformation, and the power He offers. We accept His friendship, and we live as friends. We believe the truth about God and ourselves. As we rest in the Vine and in the Power that flows through Him, we will automatically bear fruit. Because that’s what happens with healthy branches who are connected to the vine.

And where does following God in obedience fit with all of this?

“Obedience is the natural offspring of trust-motivated love. All true obedience arises out of the heart and is attended by a deep inner sense of personal delight. You could call it obedience, or you could call it friendship.” – Pastor Ty Gibson

I love that! ❤ ❤ And I would love to hear your thoughts too.

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Jenga Builders Anonymous

“Hi. I’m Christy, and I build with Jenga blocks.”

“Hi, Christy!”

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If you didn’t get a chance to read my blog post last week, this won’t make any sense. 🙂 Don’t worry! I’ve linked it here God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks so you can catch up.

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Last week I wrote:

“There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.”

jenga-1941500_1920My little sister, and best cheerleader, came over for coffee last week. We started talking about the Jenga block analogy and I quickly realized there needed to be a part two! Here’s why: I think there’s a good chance that a lot of you out there are like me…recovering Jenga block builders.

Maybe we have tried playing Hide-n-Seek with Jesus, maybe we even like it. But, we struggle with those Jenga blocks…they are so tempting…they distract us…we see them out of the corner of our eye…just one… I. just. want. to. stack. one!

It’s not worth it, guys! It’s not worth it. Honestly, playing Jenga, living obsessed with outward behavior, is pretty miserable.

Think about it. When we are focused on outward behaviors instead of pursuing a living relationship with Jesus this is what we look like:

  • We are quick to compare ourselves with others and feel good or bad based on the results.
  • We judge other people’s Jenga towers…they aren’t building them right…or at least not like we would.
  • Sometimes, we even feel happy when someone else’s blocks fall. Their failure justifies our issues and distracts from our own wobbling tower.
  • There is a good possibility that we are annoyed by people playing Hide-n-Seek.
  • By the way, “rebelling” by playing dominoes with our Jenga blocks instead of stacking them is still playing with Jenga blocks. We are still missing the fun, and laughter, and closeness of Hide-n-Seek. We are still living focused on outward behavior. (Read An Illusion of Freedom for more on this topic.)

It’s not about our behavior! It’s not success or failure. It’s not about “doing the right or wrong thing”. If this is our focus then we are missing the point! Jesus died so that we could know God. When we know and abide in Jesus, good fruit will follow. But, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, not of our own effort.

This is what I’ve noticed in my own life with Jesus…a frustrating, vicious cycle.

Something happens that pulls me towards Jesus (often something painful) and I start to seek after Him. It’s so beautiful and I love our relationship! But, over the course of time, that seeking becomes second nature…my prayers become more routine…before I know it I’m just going through the motions…I stop seeing and feeling my need…I become numb… Soon I’m building Jenga blocks again, just doing the good things that a good Christian should do. Yuck! Then something else wakes me up and the cycle starts all over again.

I don’t even like playing Jenga! But it comes natural. It feels like I am fighting the way I was wired… Sound familiar? A former Jenga block builder, the apostle Paul, is familiar with this battle.

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do NOT do what I want, but I DO the very thing I hate…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:15,18″

I’m so grateful that it doesn’t end there! We haven’t been left on our own to figure this out. A couple of verses later we see this hope.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God though Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25

The answer is Jesus…The answer is always Jesus! 🙂

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I think we need a support group, Jenga Builders Anonymous! A place that we can come, admit our tendency to perform, and find help to continue seeking after Jesus. We need people who will be honest and say, “Hey! You’ve got a Jenga block in your hand. Put it down. Com’on, we are playing Hide-n-Seek.”