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Holy Nones, Pray for Us

Sep8

by: on September 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

Just one week after the diabolical torchlight parade in Charlottesville – replete with frothing at the mouth Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us” – angels of light, of all races and nationalities, swooped in on the streets of Boston to declare, by their very essence, that love is still alive in America.  Based on the news footage, though there were not many overt displays of religiosity amongst the Bostonians marching in the name of love, the spirituality of the event was nonetheless palpable.

In recent years, media outlets have reported on the phenomenon of the so-called “nones” – people who mark no religious affiliation at all on religion surveys – and the efforts of Christians to evangelize them.  Rather than fretting over how to convert the nones, perhaps modern-day evangelizers, Catholic and Protestant, would do well to simply watch and listen how nones – like no doubt many of the Boston marchers – are confronting evil in our world. Chanting “Black lives matter, gay lives matter, trans lives matter,” it seems many a none are doing just fine in combatting the diabolical forces in our society.

You might not know that if you just listened to Christians convinced that nones are, ipso facto, moral lesser thans.

In a July article from Catholic News Service titled “Bishop Barron: How to evangelize the nones,” auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Robert Barron, lamented, “Our society today is like a big lazy lake, all of us floating individually, tolerating each other, not getting in each other’s way, but without energy, without purpose.” As the Boston marchers collectively resembled more a rolling river of justice than a lazy lake lacking energy and purpose, one might reasonably wonder how the good bishop could come to such sweeping generalizations about our society.  Could it be that Barron’s sociological misdiagnosis has its root in the same blind spot that enables theological anti-Semitism, precisely by giving it such a prime place in the Catholic lectionary?

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A Spot at the Kotel Won’t Save Us: A Crisis in American Judaism

Sep6

by: Ben Lorber on September 6th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

 

“Remember the days of the world; understand the years of each generation” (Devarim, 32:7)

“…that [we] may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers” (Malachi, 3:24)

 

Last month, the eyes of the liberal American Jewish world were fixed on the Kotel. In a rare display of unity and resolve, leaders of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements banded together to demand a mixed-gender space at the Western Wall, in a clear pushback against the institutional power of ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel. So deep were we stung by this bitter betrayal, that for the first time in living memory, prominent liberal American Jews even threatened to boycott Netanyahu’s government over its refusal to recognize the liberal diaspora.

And yet, even as we are united in condemnation of ultra-Orthodox fundamentalism, the liberal American Jewish world remains more divided than ever. Day after day, the establishment sounds the alarms- rates of intermarriage are skyrocketing, and more and more American Jews are publicly opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Many cease to identify with Zionism at all, as the rift between Israel and diaspora Jewry widens daily[1]. For the establishment, the idea that masses of Jews are embracing intermarriage and abandoning Israel rings the death-knell of Jewish peoplehood in America. Such gestures, according to common-sense logic, threaten to dissolve the very ties that make a Jew a Jew.

Liberal American Jewry is utterly transfixed by these crises. In the same week that the Kotel crisis made headlines, a leading Conservative rabbi shocked the Jewish world by announcing his intention to officiate at intermarriages[2], while a new report warned of a massive drop-off in support for Israel among American Jewish college students[3]. Prominent liberal columnist J.J. Goldberg evokes this creeping malaise in his recent piece, “The Rise and Fall of American Jewish Hope”, where he laments the “strange metamorphosis of the Jewish spirit over the past century, from hopeful optimism in the face of great suffering to bitterness and suspicion amid plenty…[if], for a half-century after 1917, the dominant mood among Jews in America and Israel alike was one of optimism…in the half-century since 1967, the mood has been increasingly gloomy and cynical.”[4]

My contention is that these crises signify not the end of liberal Jewish identity in America, but its new beginning. Put simply, we are in transition towards a future where our communal identity will not be defined by support for Israel, nor will it rest primarily upon markers of blood. This is progress- in fact, far from combatting assimilation, our decades-long fixation on Israel and endogamy has sapped American Jewish identity of the vitality and dynamism it needs to survive.

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again, Part One

Aug20

by: on August 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Holding steady when the ground is moving is normally part of my stock-in-trade.People often ask me for something to help put their own fears into perspective. Usually I am willing and able to oblige. Mostly I try my best to see the bigger picture, and mostly that effort pays off.

But not now. I was staying more or less centered until a few days ago when something caught me off-guard. In the middle of a conference call, I got a text message carrying information that turned out not to be true, that the Barcelona terrorist who mowed down 13 lives like grass had been heading for a kosher restaurant on Las Ramblas, hard by the assassin’s abandoned car. It was an intense activation, hard to control despite my wish to hold to decorum, despite the fact that everyone on the call had been talking about their fears for their own communities’ and others, their responses to the nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville and the havoc they wreaked. When I rang off, a bit of research led me to conclude that the location of the car was likely a coincidence, that even though ISIS hates Jews, the attack did not target us directly.

Ashamed, I apologized to my colleagues for spreading false information, then gave myself a talking-to. Oh, crap! I’m triggered again, and not only that, but right now I am super-susceptible to recurrence.

I borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.

Do you want to know why I was so easily and massively triggered by a stray rumor?Let me suggest four readings. First: Eric Ward’s important essay “Skin In The Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.” This piece was written by a non-Jewish African American who has studied and worked against white supremacist movements for many years. He exposes in detail how “antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism,” how it is the cornerstone of their racist ideology, and how this is often neither understood nor believed despite ample evidence.

I read Ward’s piece when it was first posted to Political Research Associates’ site at the end of June, six weeks before white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, VA, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” inspiring one of their number to use his automobile as a weapon, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring others,.

When you’re done with “Skin in The Game,” read “Jewish Fear, Love, & Solidarity in the Wake of Charlottesville” by Jonah S. Boyarin, published on the Jewschool site a few days after the events in Charlottesville. Among many other closely observed depictions of fear, love, and solidarity, Boyarin writes:

Jewish fear is the recurring silence from non-Jews about the explicitly, particularly antisemitic language and behavior of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. It is seeing, with rare exceptions, only Jewish friends of mine posting on social media when Jewish cemeteries are vandalized or when the Boston Holocaust memorial was destroyed this week for the second time this summer.

Jewish fear is if we bring up our struggle to non-Jewish comrades, we will be gaslighted and shamed into silence, because structural antisemitism functions by portraying us as conspiratorially, greedily powerful despite our repeated vulnerability to structural, white Christian male violence.

Third, read Michael Chabon’s and Ayelet Waldman’s “Open Letter to our Fellow Jews,” enacting our tradition and imperative to rebuke injustice within our community:

Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.

Finally, if you have the bandwidth for one more, read Danica Bornstein’s account of struggling to reconcile two identities, the provisional social category of whiteness and her lived experience as a Jew:

What I’m trying to say here is that the privilege that accrues during the good times is very much real, and I am not denying or hiding that. It is also true that the privilege is provisional, and can be revoked, and becomes the very thing that is used against us when the shoe finally drops.

It overwhelms me trying to explain this history and how both of these things live inside my body: the very real privilege but also the very real and repeated experiences of expulsion, scapegoating, genocide, and terror. I talk about the part that is easier, but then I end up feeling very alone.

None of these writers is identical to each other in approach, style, content, or the way they position themselves in the story, but they are all telling parts of a meta-story that has shaped my experience.

In the context of this big story of Jews in the USA, when I tell myself, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” I am reminding myself that despite the intense feelings I’m experiencing, I’m not truly in it alone. I’m reminding myself that I’m not alone despite the fact that so many of my colleagues on the U.S. left are quite happy to hang a label reading “white” around my neck and never hear another word about why that might not sum up the experience of disbelonging for a first-generation American whose earliest memories were explanations in halting English of why I had so few living ancestors and so little knowledge of those who had survived, and of being chased home by Catholic kids when they got to the part in catechism about Jews killing Jesus, and whose recent memories are crowded with experiences of being an acceptable target, a handy “buffer group” for multiple racial categories.

I’m reminding myself that even if I am once again attacked from both right and left for having the audacity to take the space to tell this story and the willingness to risk this self-exposure, I am not alone.

And why must I remind myself so insistently of this truth? The trajectory of all traumatic activation is the same. The person who is triggered is propelled toward extreme isolation, often into an intolerable loneliness that obscures or precludes the actual antidote to white nationalism: connection, reciprocity, collaboration, respect, generosity across lines of difference.

From what I see, my story rhymes with much of the current state of things. The white nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Boston, and many other places overwhelmingly share certain characteristics: pale skin, male gender, Christian heritage. None of these is intrinsically the generator of evil, but the giant chickens of power and domination their possessors have birthed have been marching home to roost for a long time, lusting to punish the rest of us for daring to live our freedom. In the face of this long march, so many people I know are displaying the signs of extreme reactivity grounded in trauma: believing the inner voice that says no one else can know my suffering, no one is truly on my side, I can’t trust anyone who fits different categories of race, religion, gender, orientation, even generation. So many are locked in just this combat with would-be allies: whose perspective matters? Who has earned the right to have a say? Who understands the urgency and seriousness of the threats? Who has the capacity or right to glimpse what it is to live inside my skin?

What do you do when elicited trauma pushes you into a dark corner? For me, many things can help in the moment. Music, a walk, or a distraction—anything that disrupts reactivity long enough to allow the fear chemicals to dissipate.

But you know what helps me the most? When compassion opens a door between my heart and another person’s; when neither of us needs to slot the other’s story into a hierarchy of oppressions, judging if it deserves equal dignity or goes on the dismissible pile. When we hear each others’ stories without turning away, when we open our arms to each other. When we join together to rebuke injustice and call in the beloved community.

I’ve been thinking about trauma a great deal over the past year because it is one of the subjects of my current book-in-progress. Even if it weren’t, I’d still be thinking about trauma today because laying fresh damage on the site of old wounds seems to be our national pastime. Every day, I have to remind myself to stay aware enough to say, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” because without that awareness, the past prevails.

When I am triggered, my capacity for rational thought is greatly diminished. This is bad news not only because of the immediate suffering it catalyzes, but because the thing that helps me most to release trauma-induced reactivity is staying aware that I am activated. Keeping part of my thinking mind free to be an observer allows me to begin distinguishing past from present. I begin to remember that the loud voice in my head—the one telling me I’m all alone in an uncaring world and they want to kill me—is not the voice of reality, the objective truth, but the over-amped voice of old pain.

My grip on my composure remains tenuous. In Shabbat services yesterday morning, we talked about the Torah portion for this week, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17). A short way into the text, we read this exhortation about how to treat the conquered who worshipped false gods: “Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site.”

Aha, I thought, the Confederate statues! You get to a fresh start by wiping out the symbols of an abhorrent belief system. My mind reeled into the slam dance that’s been playing over and over on my inner soundtrack. But wait, that’s what ISIS leaders thought they were doing when they demolished the Bamyan Buddhas! (See this compendium of pictures and links for images of that and many more examples of monuments toppled). On the one hand crashes headlong into on the other hand. Both tumble into the mosh pit of my brain. I try to blink back the tears and steady my breathing, knowing that unless I can resolve this state of hyper-susceptibility, I will be cycling through that dance every day, perhaps every hour.

Coming next in the “Oh Crap! I’m Triggered” series: Free Speech Slamdance.

Odetta and Dr. John, “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”

Tisha B’av does not have a happy ending

Jul31

by: Aryeh Cohen on July 31st, 2017 | 3 Comments »

Tisha B’av is not yom kippur. We are assured neither atonement nor redemption on Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av is not the day that we beat our chests and promise to do better.

Tisha B’av is the day that we force ourselves to look into the heart of darkness, the darkness that we have created, the ways in which we are complicit in the evils of the world and we must be overwhelmed and distraught and paralyzed. There is no ray of hope on Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av is the day of reckoning.

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The Crown Jewels of the Jewish People

Jul25

by: Ilana Kurshan on July 25th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

There is a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania, who was known for being homely. Rabbi Yehoshua was once approached by the daughter of the Roman Emperor, who took one look at the sage and asked, “How can such beautiful wisdom be contained in so ugly a vessel?” Rabbi Yehoshua promptly came back at her with a question of his own. “Does your father store his wine in vessels of clay?” “Of course,” responded the Emperor’s daughter. “Doesn’t everyone?”

“But he’s the Emperor!” Rabbi Yehoshua exclaimed. “Shouldn’t he store his wine in the finest of gold vessels?” Acknowledging that he had a point, the Emperor’s daughter transferred all her father’s wine to gold vessels, where it promptly spoiled.

This story seems to challenge the oft-quoted dictum from the Ethics of the Fathers, “Don’t look at the vessel, but at what is inside it.” No, Rabbi Yehoshua seems to be saying. The vessel matters. The Torah we study is shaped by who we are, just like wine – and all liquids – take the shape of their container. Moreover, there is a chemical reaction that takes place between the vessel and the contents, such that we are transformed by the Torah we study, and the Torah we study is transformed by our encounter with it. No single person – and no single sector of the Jewish people – has a monopoly on Torah. All of us have the potential to transform Torah through our engagement with the texts of our tradition.

Perhaps this is why the recent Kotel controversy has been so infuriating. The Kotel, like the Torah, is the heritage of the Jewish people. It is the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray – the object of millenia of Jewish longing, and the place toward which Jews the world over direct their prayers. Fifty years ago, when the Israeli army conquered the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel launched a political battle for control of the site. They won that battle, and the Kotel essentially became an Orthodox synagogue, with men and women divided by a partition, and only Orthodox prayer services allowed at the Wall. The Kotel – which had once been the site to which Jews from all the world were enjoined to make pilgrimages three times a year – became the province of one sector of the Jewish people.

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Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | Comments Off

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions

of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note: This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July.

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement. But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on. Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum. He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right. This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party. The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States. This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute – a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and natureof the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues. Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves. In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.

 

Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. Sharon’s blog can be found at sharondelgado.org.

For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology? Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson.

 

 

Asleep in a Prison: Reflections on Pacific School of Religion’s “Borders and Identity” Lectures

Mar24

by: Paige Foreman on March 24th, 2017 | Comments Off

“Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?”

~Rumi

The day after attending Pacific School of Religion’s “Borders and Identity” 2017 Earl and Boswell lectures on March 17th in Berkeley, I swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco. The island and its infamous prison looked desolate and lonely surrounded by an iron sea and a gray sky. I shivered in my bathing suit on the deck of the boat that was approaching the island and stared wide-eyed at the 58-degree water I would have to dive into soon. Doubt crept into me like the cold – I was not sure I would make it across.

Alcatraz Island surrounded by the sea and clouds.

When it comes to immigration, America has confined itself in a prison. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas gave the keynote lecture the evening of March 17th. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the stories of immigrants in order to elevate the conversation around immigration.


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A Response to “Overcoming Trump-ism” and More

Mar16

by: Gilbert Caldwell on March 16th, 2017 | Comments Off

Gilbert Caldwell of Asbury Park, New Jersey – a longtime Methodist pastor and activist in many progressive causes – offers a thoughtful and personal response to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s recent article on Tikkun.org, found at this link:

Overcoming Trump-ism

and to Rebecca Solnit’s article “Grounds for Hope” in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun Quarterly.

My re-reading of “Grounds For Hope” by Rebecca Solnit in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun has caused me to respond from a personal standpoint, as a clergyman in the United Methodist Church, and with reference to what Rabbi Lerner has written in his article “Overcoming Trump-ism.”

Solnit begins her article: “Your opponents would love to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win.” But, she writes; “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away … hope is about the future, grounds for hope lie in the records and recollections of the past.”


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Is Ryan a Religious Hypocrite? A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan from Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

Mar14

by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on March 14th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

Dear Speaker and Congressman Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul.

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing. But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul. It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy.

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are. Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever. Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.” Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “Sowhatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this isthe Law and the Prophets.”


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A ‘Moment’ for our Movement: The Work of Creating a More Perfect Union in 2017

Mar10

by: Karin Swann-Rubenstein on March 10th, 2017 | Comments Off

Following the now-famed Women’s March on the day after President Trump’s inauguration, speculation mounted about whether we were seeing a real “movement” or simply a “moment” of reaction from an outraged electorate. Since that day, there’s been no dearth of citizens speaking up, in town halls, airports and on city streets. People who never imagined themselves “protesters” have seized the reins of citizenship suggesting that surely somethingisgalvanizing America. But the question is an important one,doesthis yet qualify as a movement?

Since my days as a student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, the question of what makes a movement has always intrigued me. I noted the vast difference between the Iran-Contra protesters, characterized by fierceness and all-black garb and the masses, and 20 years prior, of tie-dyed youths who turned out for the summer of love. The Civil Rights movement was something different altogether, and ultimately the force that most powerfully redefined the politics and consciousness of our deeply divided country in the 1960s.

What strikes me most about what we see emerging today is that the vast majority of protests in recent weeks have taken place inreactionto President Trump’s initiatives, mobilized largely by a strong “anti-Trump” sentiment. Looking back at movements that have proven successful, however, I question whether this axis for organizing is enough?


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