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Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Finding Narnia: the Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother

by Caroline McAlister 48 pages / 2019 C.S. Lewis wrote, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” Lewis, known by his family as Jack, and his brother Warnie were best of friends even though they were very different. Trains and ships fascinated Warnie, while imaginary worlds with heroes and knights enthralled Jack. McAlister traces their lives from the schoolroom to adulthood describing their experiences leading to the creation of Narnia, a magical kingdom which has enchanted generations. Paired with beautiful illustrations, we gain insight into their collaborative work. Although one drawing shows Jack in church, McAlister does not dwell on Lewis’s conversion nor connect his Christian faith to the fantasy world he created. However, fairly extensive author’s notes at the end of the book include a paragraph about his conversion.  Lanan also has detailed notes about her illustrations. It is worth reading them and turning back to the drawings to appreciate her care to detail and historical accuracy. This book is recommended for ages 4-8 but, Mr. Lewis, I’m happy to say that our grandchildren and I equally enjoyed this book. I recommend it to any Narnia fan. It would be a great addition to a church, school or home library.

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Apologetics 101



grief


Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Henry says good-bye

When you are sad by Jocelyn Flenders edited by Edward T. Welch 32 pages / 2019 This book is part of an excellent series put out by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) called "Good News for Little Hearts." Each title addresses an area of counseling that might be of use to "little hearts" and in this one the issue is grieving the loss of a loved one. Of course, they don't tackle it head-on – that would be abrupt, and too distressing for the very children the book is intended to help. So instead of a person, we have Henry, a little hedgehog, and instead of the loss of a relative, he is trying to deal with the death of his pet ladybug Lila. Sad and angry, and he doesn't want to be around his other friends, whose pets are all still alive. But what his parents model is how to take our grief to God. Henry's dad shares relevant Bible passages, pointing his son to the God who has promised to one day dry every tear. It is a wonderful book, and brilliantly illustrated. It would probably be most useful if read before there was a need, but even after the death of a pet, or of a loved relative, the book's Scripture citations, and instructions for parents found in the back, will be incredibly helpful. Overall I would recommend it to parents of children 5-10. ...

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Saturday Selections - Sept 30, 2017

This edition has been brought to you by the number 6: six items, six actions, and six surprises.... God painted ants on fruit fly wings Some things are just too cool not to share: God has crafted detailed pictures of ants on the tiny wings of a particular fly. Why? Because it is brilliant! Lots of astonishing pictures here. 6 actions to take when grieving the death of a loved one Thought this is a very short post, it has helpful suggestions summarized from the twice-widowed missionary-wife Elisabeth Elliot. 6 surprises every premarital counselor should cover Even the apostle Paul speaks of marriage as a mystery. To minimize some of the surprises, this is a good article for engage or newly married couples to read together. And it's a good reminder for all couples. More on why euthanasia safeguards can't work From the article: "Safeguards are ineffective to prevent slippery slopes. As British moral philosopher Dame Mary Warnock has put it in another context, 'you cannot successfully block a slippery slope except by a fixed and invariable obstacle.' In governing dying and death that obstacle is the rule that we must not intentionally kill another human being." The only flaw in this article is that the Christian ethic, serving as the foundation to Margaret Somerville's argument, is never acknowledged. So we need to take her point as to the weakness of "safeguards" but then be explicit as to the eternal standards we are appealing to. Or, in other words, don't just tear down the lie, as Somerville does here, but also present the full Truth, as founded on God's Word and his Law. How to avoid poverty Everyone wants to reduce poverty, and in the West, the way to do so is clear. But the in the West, our culture doesn't want to hear it if it involves doing what God wants. Now this article doesn't present it quite that way, but the prescription – finish high school, then get a job, then get married, then have kids – lines up nicely with God's will for marriage, and his commandment Don't commit adultery. Around the world, capitalism has helped raise millions out of poverty, but why? Perhaps because at its ideal (ie., not the crony capitalism type) it also lines up with God's commands not to steal or covet. On social justice I've only had a chance to dip my toe in this free resource, but this video series looks fascinating, and solidly Christian. It addresses questions like: "What is social justice today?" and, "What sort of social justice should Christians pursue?" (This does require you share your email address with them.)...

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts)

We have all struggled with what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Whether it be at the funeral, waiting to give our condolences, or an encounter with the bereaved at the store or at church, it can be challenging to offer words of comfort that don’t sound cliché or inadequate to our ears. What can we say that will help this person in their grief and sorrow? Sometimes we are at a loss of how we can best help a friend in their season of grief. Too often, we don’t think much past the first few months after a death. But grief is a long and difficult journey, and our brothers and sisters in Christ need us to be there for them in this painful time. With What Grieving People Wish You Knew, Nancy Guthrie has written a practical guide for those who want to help their friends and family members who are grieving. From someone who knows Nancy Guthrie / 188 pages / 2016 Guthrie writes on the perspective of someone who has suffered profound loss, as two of her three children died in infancy. She has experienced firsthand the comfort that thoughtful words and caring deeds can bring, but also the well-meant comments that can unintentionally hurt. To write this book she questioned many grieving people via an online survey, asking them to provide concrete examples of what others had said or done that helped them in the midst of grief, and throughout the book she shares many of these testimonies. Guthrie gives straightforward advice on what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do. As you read the chapter “Typical Things People Say” (that miss the mark), you will probably cringe in the realization that you yourself have said some of these things, unaware how insensitive these words may sound to a person raw with grief. “I know just how you feel” is one example. This statement, though well-meaning by trying to establish camaraderie through a similar experience, in essence minimizes the other’s loss by suggesting that their grief isn’t unusual, or unique. “You’ll be fine” is another comment that sounds encouraging enough at face value, but, Guthrie notes, “what the grieving person hears you saying is that the person who died didn’t really matter enough for his or her absence to matter.” Ouch. Or have you ever said “Just call me if you need something”? A grieving person is not going to call. They likely don’t even have the headspace to know what they need. A more helpful thing to do is figure out what can be done for them and then do it. Tell them that you’re going to mow their lawn, pick up their groceries, or help them with their taxes. This is putting into action your love and concern for them in their grief. Even the simple question of “How are you?” can be a tough question for the bereaved to answer. It makes them feel put on the spot to give what is hopefully an acceptable report of how they are really doing. “The grieving person knows what the questioner most likely wants to hear – that everything is getting better, the world is getting brighter, the darkness is lifting, and the tears are subsiding. But oftentimes that just isn’t the way it is, and it can be awkward to be honest about the confusion, listlessness, and loneliness of grief.” Ways to comfort What can we say instead? Guthrie’s survey revealed that there are two particular things that grieving people really want to hear from others, and they are closely connected. First, they love to hear stories, anecdotes, or things that their loved one said or did that were meaningful, and the more specific the better. Second, they want to hear the name of the person who died. “Oh, to hear that person’s name. It is like salve to an aching soul, music to a heart that has lost its song.” So, talk with them about their loved one who has passed on! Tell them about the special thing he did for you, the way she was always so encouraging, or the joke he told that you still laugh about. Don’t be uncomfortable about speaking the deceased’s name, for hearing it spoken will bring comfort to those who mourn. Just show up! Perhaps the most insightful chapter is the one entitled “Assumptions we make that keep us away.” Often people unconsciously distance themselves from the grieving for one reason or another – possibly we’re unsure of what to do or say, or feel we don’t know them well enough, or maybe we assume that the grieving just want to be left alone. But, as Guthrie writes, “If I had to boil down the message of this entire book to just two words, these two would probably cover it: show up.” She encourages us to put aside any awkwardness we might feel and simply show up, and here again she offers many tangible ways of doing so. Also really helpful is a section about heaven, briefly summarizing what the Bible teaches about it as well as tackling some common misconceptions. Guthrie brings forward the comfort and hope that believers possess, knowing they will be with Christ when they die. She also cautions not to assume the deceased is in heaven; in such cases where it seems unlikely she encourages readers to simply offer what they know to be true about God, rather than give false hope by going beyond what the Bible says. While Guthrie’s regard for and knowledge of Scripture is evident throughout the book, the notion of covenant seems to be missing in this section on heaven, specifically in regard to the eternal destiny of children who die. But this is a minor imperfection in a beautiful chapter that focuses on the richest comfort we can offer those who are grieving – the resurrection that is yet to come! Conclusion This is not an easy read. There is so much raw emotion written on its pages, in the countless examples of real people’s experiences of hurt, hope and healing. I found sometimes I had to put this book down for a while because reading about so many individuals’ sadness and pain became truly overwhelming. If you are anything like me you will probably shed more than a few tears, but you will also learn a lot, for this book will equip you with skills, words, and ideas “for being a balm of comfort to the grieving people in your world.” I encourage you to read this book if you know someone who is grieving and you want to truly help them, to walk alongside them in their grief. And even if you don’t know someone who is grieving right now, some day you will. Reading this book will help you to help them in their time of need. I highly recommend it. A version of this article first appeared in the July 15, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and it is reprinted here with permission. Below is a 20 minute video in which author Nancy Guthrie shares some of what she believes are the key points in her book "What Grieving People Wish You Knew." ...


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F.R.E.E.D. – an acronym to help us defend and use our religious freedom

If you're pro-life, you know the value of a good acronym. For years S.L.E.D. has helped us remember there are just four differences between the unborn and us, and none of them would justify killing the unborn. Size – They are smaller but so what? Smaller adults aren't seen as less human. Level of development – The unborn are less developed than adults, true, but so are prepubescent children. Why would that make either of them less human? Environment – The unborn are in a different environment but since when does where we are determine who we are? Degree of dependency - They are highly dependent, but so are people who need dialysis and that doesn’t make them any less human. For years John Stonestreet has wished there was a similarly useful acronym to help Christians remember what to say when it comes to defending our religious freedom. In his May 16 Breakpoint column, he shared how his colleague Shane Morris has done just that with the acronym F.R.E.E. with each letter representing one point in a compelling argument for religious freedom. Forcing – Many in the world still recognize that “forcing people to go against their beliefs for no good reason is a bad thing.” Reason – “Is there a good reason to force a religious person to go against his or her belief in the case you’re discussing? And are there less burdensome alternatives to squashing this freedom, like using a bakery down the street or an adoption agency across town?” Examples – Offer examples that make your point. “Should a Muslim t-shirt designer be forced to create shirts mocking the prophet Muhammad? Should an Orthodox Jewish club at a university be forced to admit Christians as officers?” Equality – Complete the argument by asking, why shouldn’t Christians get the same freedoms we’d give to the Muslim t-shirt maker or the Orthodox Jewish club? It’s a helpful tool, made even better with one addition. Underpinning these four points is the idea that we should do to others as we would want done to us. That’s from the Bible (Matt. 7:12) and that worth noting because, as much as defending our freedom of religion is important, it’s even more important to actually use it. So let’s give God the glory with a fifth point that we can call “D, as in Divine.” That’ll be a reminder for us to show how the core of our argument rests on a solid biblical principle. And in explaining that this is not our insight, but God’s, we can point our listeners to Him. Let's never forget to use our liberty to tell people how they too can be freed....


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No, looting is not defensible

The first week after Vicky Osterweil’s book In Defense of Looting was published, its initial media coverage was positive, via an interview with US public broadcaster NPR. There the author made it clear that the title was not hyperbole, but accurately summed up the book’s message. Osterweil told NPR’s Natalie Escobar that looting was valuable because: Looting strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police. It gets to the very root of the way those three things are interconnected. And also it provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure and helps them imagine a world that could be. ….in terms of potential crimes that people can commit against the state, it's basically nonviolent. You're mass shoplifting. Most stores are insured; it's just hurting insurance companies on some level. It's just money. It's just property. It's not actually hurting any people. Vicky is clearly confused about what happens to a business’s insurance rates after an insurance payout is made – that money has to come from somewhere. (Vicky’s confusion also extends to gender, as until recently he went by “Willie.”) That he was defending both theft and wanton property destruction is why, even as the NPR interview was generally positive coverage, most of the media storm that followed was not. Still, many Americans share Osterweil's confusion. In a poll taken shortly after George Floyd's death, after rioters had burned down the Minneapolis Third Police Precinct (where the four officers involved in his death worked), 17 percent of respondents said actions taken by protesters, including the burning, were "fully justified." How representative the poll was is hard to guess, but we need only look at the number of people holding "No Justice; No Peace" signs to know many do believe that two wrongs can make a right. So what's the best rebuttal to this sort of thinking? Might it simply be to put a spin on Matt. 7:12 and ask them if they'd be willing to have done to them what they are encouraging be done to others? Christian apologist Tim Barnett noted how Osterweil denounces property rights as “innately, structurally white supremacist” – property is racist! – but his book begins with the standard publisher warning against any unauthorized “scanning, uploading, and distribution” because it’s “a theft of the author’s intellectual property.” Why is Osterweil working with a publisher that makes such racist assertions? Then, even as he celebrates theft and denounces property rights, he’s also offering his own property on Amazon for $28 a pop.  This isn’t simply ironic. It highlights how unChristian worldviews are unworkable, with proponents unwilling or unable to apply to themselves the standards they've proposed for everyone else. ...

Culture Clashes, Theology

May I judge?

I hear repeatedly that we’re not supposed to judge another.  Young people express themselves this way, and that’s not surprising – after all, not judging others fits hand in glove with the postmodern dogma of tolerance that’s so rampant today. Different strokes for different folks, so let the other be; who am I to say that what you’re doing or thinking is wrong…. I’ve heard Christians appeal to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to provide Biblical justification for the position, for Jesus told His disciples: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Case closed: do not pass judgment on another. Inconsistent But the Internet is full of comments passing distinctly unfavorable judgments. These leave me puzzled.  We’re quick to repeat the mantra "do not judge" but judgments abound. Something is not consistent here. This sort of thing happens more often. In our relatively small community we hear numerous details of what happens in the life of the person in the next pew, or in the congregation up the road.  And very quickly we have a judgment ready on what we hear. It affects what we say to one another, and affects too how we think about or treat the person(s) about whom we heard a story. Do not judge rashly A quick judgment is simply unbiblical. Solomon put it like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). The Lord in the 9th commandment gave the instruction not to “bear false witness against your neighbor,” and the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes the instruction of this command with this confession: “I must not … condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard” (Lord’s Day 43). That counts for what we say on Facebook too. We do well to repent before God and man of our easy judgmentalism and seek to learn that God-pleasing habit of doing to others as we’d have them do to us (Luke 6:31). As we hate being on the receiving end of perceived gossip or slander, so we need studiously to avoid being on the giving end of gossip or slander. Test the spirits This does not mean, however, that I’m to be neutral concerning all I hear. The postmodern mantra that I’m to be OK with whatever anybody else thinks or does is simply not biblical. Consider, for example, John’s instruction to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). So much gets said, and people believe so many things.  But I’m to test whether what they say and believe is “from God.” John emphatically wants us to have an opinion on that – and then reject what is not from God. Testing, of course, involves so much more than hearing one thing and swallowing it dumbly as the final word on the subject. Testing involves listening carefully, understanding the details and circumstances, and then evaluating in the light of the revelation of the Lord of lords. You’re meant to have a considered opinion. That’s why, in 1 Cor. 5, the apostle Paul was emphatic to the Corinthians that they needed to pass explicit condemnation on the brother in their congregation who lived in sin, sleeping with his father's wife. They were not to be neutral on this man’s behavior but were to take a stand and excommunicate him. That’s because in this instance the details were abundantly clear (it wasn’t hearsay but indisputable facts evident to all parties), and so the saints of Corinth were obligated before God to form a judgment and carry it out. That obligation was so self-evident that Paul put the matter in the form of a rhetorical question: “is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Judging: that’s your duty…. Jesus wrong? Is Jesus wrong, then, when He in the Sermon on the Mount tells His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged?” (Matthew 7:1). Actually, Jesus does not tell us not to have a judgment on what we hear or see.  Instead, Jesus’ point is that we’re not to judge rashly. That’s clear from Jesus’ next line, “For” – yes, note that connecting word! “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged...” (vs. 2a). If you are quick to condemn another, do not be surprised when others will be quick to condemn you; “...and with the measure you use it will be measure to you” (vs 2b). So if you hear one side of a story and condemn before you’ve heard the other side, be prepared to have folk condemn you on hearsay before they’ve heard your side of the story! Similarly, if you, from a self-righteous height, condemn others' behavior while you are yourself entangled in sin, do not be surprised that you’ll find no sympathy when others find out about your sin. Jesus puts it like this: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (vs 3). That, Jesus adds, is hypocrisy (vs 5). As long as you try to hide skeletons in your own closet, you are in no position to draw attention to skeletons you think you see in someone else’s closet. Clincher But Christians are not to hide skeletons in their closets! True Christians are repentant of their sins, and confess those sins to God and to those they’ve hurt by their sins. Then you’ve pulled the log out of your own eye – and at the same time have great understanding and empathy for another’s weaknesses and failures. Then you’ll test the spirits, and you’ll have an opinion on what you hear, and carefully avoid condemning the other in a spirit of lofty self-righteousness – and certainly avoid trumpeting your condemnation to John Public. The person who knows his own weaknesses and failures will instead sit down beside the sinning brother to show him his wrong and lead him on the way back to the Lord. It’s Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Judge? May I judge another? It depends on what you mean by the word "judge."  I am not to condemn rashly and unheard. But I am to have an opinion on my brother and help him in the way the Lord wants him to help me. This article was first published back in 2014. Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church....

Assorted

"Othercott" – like a boycott but better

Some years ago a particularly blasphemous movie, The Da Vinci Code, hit theaters and a number of prominent Christians called for a boycott. Even the Vatican favored a boycott – Archbishop Angelo Amato noted that the film’s portrayal of Christ as both a secret husband and father was little more than anti-Christian propaganda. But do boycotts work? Archbishop Amato pointed to a 1988 boycott of the infamous The Last Temptation of Christ that seemed to have had an impact – the film bombed, barely recouping its costs. But a more recent boycott was ineffective. Disney’s 2017 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast featured a brief inclusion of homosexual romance, prompting some Christian leaders to call for a boycott. But the film performed spectacularly at the box office, taking in $1.25 billion worldwide. Boycotts can also backfire when they bring more attention to a film or product than it would otherwise have received. An ill-conceived 2015 boycott of Starbucks (for plain red Christmas-time cups that were not Christmasy enough for some hyper-sensitive Christians) got millions talking. But even “boycotters” continued buying coffee at the store, though they then added Christmas messages to their own cups and posted pictures to Twitter. If boycotts aren’t effective, what’s the alternative? Is the only option just to quietly ignore what's objectionable? No indeed, said Christianity Today's Barbara Nicolosi. In a column about the Da Vinci Code boycott, Nicolosi proposed another possibility. Instead of meekly paying no attention to the film, or loudly boycotting it, she suggested Christians “othercott” it. “On The Da Vinci Code’s opening weekend… you should go to the movies. Just go to another movie. That's your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes: The power of cold hard cash laid down on a box office window on opening weekend…. The major studio movie scheduled for release against is the DreamWorks animated feature Over the Hedge. The trailers look fun, and you can take your kids. And your friends. And their friends. In fact, let's all go see it. Let's rock the box office in a way no one expects - without protests, without boycotts, without arguments, without rancor. This soon became an organized campaign, with its own webpage and articles about it in USA Today and The New York Times. And on the opening weekend of both films, while The Da Vinci Code did still finish on top, Over the Hedge took second place. Other othercotts This was supposedly the first ever “othercott” organized and it did have its problems – The Da Vinci Code still made $750 million worldwide, and even the movie alternative Nicolosi selected, Over the Hedge, was far from perfect, taking God’s name in vain. That said, there is something here worth considering. Bible-believing Christians can so often seem negative – we are always coming out against things: from gay marriage to Sunday shopping, Christians are seen as no-fun, finger-wagging, sorts. But that’s not who we are, and that’s not who our God is. Yes, He has prohibitions, but He isn’t a killjoy. He is showing his love in those prohibitions – many act like guardrails to keep us from harm. That’s why it would be great if, instead of simply opposing evil, we could “othercott” it. It would better reflect our Heavenly Father if we were known for pointing people to positive alternatives. Sure, we’re against gay marriage, but we’re for kids having a mom and a dad. And we may be against Sunday shopping, but we’re for families having one day out of the week when they can all be together. One of the first articles I wrote was about how the Christian grad parties that my high school friends and I were attending often denigrated into drunken bush parties. Some of these evenings started out with a strict alcohol ban, but this was the equivalent of a liquor “boycott,” not a liquor “othercott.” The kids knew they weren’t allowed to drink, but they didn’t have anything else planned and so, as the night dragged on and people got bored, eventually the scotch, whiskey, vodka and beer appeared. The "boycott" failed. Meanwhile at my cousin’s Christian high school, drunken bush parties had been “othercotted” in favor of white water rapid trips. And as a result alcohol was rarely a problem. There is an old saying that “you can’t beat something with nothing.” The Apostle Paul says something similar in Ephesians 4. There he calls on us to “put off your old self” with its sinful desires. But he doesn’t want us to stop there. If we stop there we might find ourselves in the same situation as the man spoken of in Matthew 12 who was freed from the power of a devil for a time, but didn't pursue God, and soon after found himself under demonic power again, seven times worse than before! It is not enough to put off our sinful selves; we need to replace the bad with good and “put on our new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul also tells us: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Any old curmudgeon can say he hates this or that. We should go further and focus on what good, or fun, or positive things we can do instead. Conclusion Of course, that is easier said than done. This othercott approach takes work and thought. For example, earlier this month Reformed Perspective published an “othercott” list of fun movies and videos that don’t take God’s name in vain. I was trying to encourage not just a boycott of bad films, but an othercott of them with 150 proposed alternatives. It was a fun list to create but it represents years worth of research. And to use this list parents will have to find them on Amazon, or check them out of the library; few are going to be found on Netflix, so it will take some effort to track them down. Othercotting can be very time consuming. Still, it is worth the effort. How many of us can remember the way we used to view Sundays as kids? It was the day we couldn’t do things – we couldn’t go to the mall, or buy a slurpee at the corner store, and some of us weren’t allowed to go biking or play basketball. Those were activities that were “boycotted” that day. It was a no-fun, finger-wagging sort of day. But now what if instead of boycotting these things we othercotted some of them instead? What if instead of being a day in which we couldn’t do things, Sunday became the day in which we could go to church, we could play a game or go biking with our dad, we could put our homework aside and pull out our crayons, we could watch a movie together, or we could make that puzzle with mom. God gave us this day of rest as a gift – we should never let it become a dreaded day. We all know we have to oppose evil, but sometimes we forget that we should also actively support good. So while this term “othercott” may not be catching on, it is an idea well worth remembering. A version of this article first appeared in the June 2006 issue....


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