The Invisible Church: Finding Spirituality Where You Are

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This dangerous mutation of religion also hurts people through shame, punishment, and exclusion. Its viewpoint is so rigid, extreme, and unbalanced that it quickly flips and becomes its opposite. Or we will. Spectacular acts of violence capture headlines and occasionally penetrate our thickened skins, but millions of more subtle acts of violence go unreported and unnoticed every day—acts of exclusion and punishment directed at those who do not conform, even if they are among our closest loved ones.

Fundamentalism is also harmful to the larger, collective society, especially a society such as ours, with its emergent pluralism. But as a mental health professional and priest, my main concern is looking at how fundamentalism affects individual minds and souls. What exactly does infantilization mean, and what are the consequences? Being infantilized means getting stuck at an immature stage of the natural maturation process, which unfolds in three natural phases, and the consequences are never growing up to become a full adult, with all of the exhilarating independence and autonomy that implies.

The immature ego knows that it must separate from the parents, and transferring authority to the peer group becomes a safe and easy intermediary step, because strict conformity is still required. The third developmental phase, beginning in the mid-to-late teens, is becoming your own authority, which means granting yourself an increasing degree of autonomy in how you think and act. More realistically, growing up psychologically is a generally linear process where we gradually move onto the next stage and develop its characteristics as we get older, but we can all have regressive periods where we take two steps forward and one step back, no matter what our age or level of consciousness.

I just look in the book—the book tells me exactly what I need to know. As we move a little higher on the consciousness ladder, we try to do the best we can with our hard-won experience and reason. Finally, when we assume our own authority at the master umpire level, we assert the reality that something only comes into existence for us through our viewpoint, or worldview.

Just think about the profound implications of that. Far from being hubristic, this is a sober acknowledgement of the awesome responsibility we are given to choose and decide—to develop our own viewpoint about anything that happens to us. Just believe. Surrender your authority to us, and we will take care of you.

Instead of seeing this as a beautiful mosaic, we see it as a threatening stream of Babel. There is just too much coming at us, making us feel overwhelmed and anxious. If we are to create a mature and healthy twenty-first-century spirituality for ourselves, we are called on to make consciousness and build soul by living the questions and suffering the paradoxes.

Most people, however, are all too eager to abdicate this responsibility to someone or something outside of ourselves, preferring to stay stuck at a level where the church, family, government, or corporation will tell us exactly what to do in every situation. This is entirely understandable, because becoming conscious is a painful, messy, and often lonely process, but it is an enterprise we are called to accept as human beings. Fundamentalists believe they have cornered the market on defining evil, but ignoring the call to consciousness and surrendering to an authoritarian, infantilizing religious structure seems to me to be closer to the true definition of evil.

As a dis-integrating force, evil is the opposite of integrating or becoming whole, which is the only way to find the Self and God. Fundamentalism causes further collateral damage by suppressing human personality and creativity. Far from being the narcissistic indulgence of a handful of elite artists, creativity is the birthright of every human being, How Does Religion Wound Us?

As children of God, this creative energy is available to us all, but when fear and anxiety keep us living within small and rigid structures, there is no room for curiosity, spontaneity, experimentation, or the joy that comes from discovering the new or the novel. In fact, if you asked me what I thought was the primary nature of God, I would have to say novelty. In evolution, new phyla break out of the existing orders, and they are abnormal but also powerful and transformative.

Novelty occurs in religion as well, and humankind has had countless thousands of God images, both evolutionary and revolutionary. Sometimes, a new God image or religion is so radical and countercultural that it is ruthlessly suppressed. Christianity, which Jung has described as a tremendous gift to humanity, was violently resisted as a novelty during the first few centuries of its existence. Unfortunately, after the Emperor Constantine gave Christianity political legitimacy in the fourth century, the institutional church became an oppressive force against novelty.

Fundamentalism also quashes our ability to solve problems, which is a key part of growing up.

2011 Spring

Problem-solving is where the deepest and truest form of love—the love that lets the loved one be—is nurtured. And it is the ultimate crucible of commitment. Just as we learn by solving math problems all through school, problem-solving is what helps us to grow up in the real world. If we abdicate the hard questions and the tough challenges to some external authority, we will retard our own development and never grow up.

We will be forever dependent, never independent. Finally, fundamentalism can destroy our relationship with ourself, which is by far the most important relationship we will ever have. Truth be told, 44 The Invisible Church it is the only relationship we can count on. This is not meant to sound selfcentered, but the truth is that it is impossible to form a healthy relationship with another human being if our relationship with ourself is not healthy. And the idea that God sacrificed his only son—which like the concept of original sin is nowhere in the Bible—only makes the guilt worse. Augustine, you are born a depraved sinner and your only hope is to submit yourself to a dependent relationship with an exploitative religious structure.

Perhaps the best place to begin is with love—the self-love that can only start with self-compassion.

Interview with Dr. J. Pittman McGehee

It would be amazing how much our relationships would be transformed if we began to love ourselves, for only then would we have love to give to others. In that sense, charity really does begin at home, in the inner world.


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Self-love sounds like a simple pop-psychology cure-all, perfect for a culture that craves easy fixes. But let me tell you—in all my years of people helping, it is one of the most difficult things for people to do. It seems like we never miss a chance to pass judgment on ourselves, and it all goes back to the voices of our negative mother and father complexes. Lest we sin, we follow the rules and try to think of ourselves as moral.

We want so desperately to think of ourselves as good boys and girls, when most of the time what we consider morality is nothing more than conformity out of fear. But we know that if we push the good girl or good boy too far, then good Lord deliver us from the unbalanced outburst that may result, for these good souls are completely cut off from their shadows, or any sense of the darkness that balances lightness and makes us fully human, so it inevitably comes roaring out when provoked.

At the other extreme, the shadow claims its inevitable due in more insidious and self-destructive ways, invisible to everyone but the soul being consumed. The truest meaning of morality is not about following the rules, but about being true to yourself. Rather, is to serve that purpose for which you were created, which is to be the best possible you. Are you going to be your true self? Or are you going to be what people or society want you to be? What about sin? But the road will not be easy, which is why many are called but few choose.

And the cost of becoming yourself is dear, a mounting sum of potential anxiety, abandonment, judgment, misunderstanding, and loneliness for refusing to go the way of the family or larger culture. Just ask anyone whose calling places them at odds against the majority religion, political party, sexual orientation, or even 46 The Invisible Church the family business. Any kind of autonomy is countercultural, and selfperpetuating systems do not respond favorably when their survival is threatened.

Sometimes the price is your life. Just ask Jesus Christ, our ultimate role model for authentic Selfhood. Claiming your own authority is neither free nor easy, but it is a bargain and a walk in the park compared to the ultimate price that will be paid for not doing so. It bears repeating what Jung said, that the only sin is to remain unconscious. Though I have preached at length about the need to assert our own decision-making authority, deciding whether we are religious or spiritual is often not so much a conscious decision as an unconscious split.

The Latin verb ligare means to connect, and religare means to reconnect. From religare we get religio and hence religion, which helps us to see that religion came into being to reconnect that which was once connected but has become disconnected, alienated, and estranged.

The religious function is to bind, to reconnect, and to put ourselves back together again. Religion is about that universal desire, that archetypal impulse of all humans to make ourselves whole again, heal our conflicts, and reintegrate the split-off parts of ourselves that deform our souls and drive our neuroses, which Jung described as those inner cleavages that put us in a constant state of war with ourselves. How did we ever get to be so un-whole, so broken, in the first place? Suffering is an inescapable part of the human experience, but there is a big difference between 50 The Invisible Church conscious and unconscious suffering.

When we suffer consciously, religion offers us a framework that can lead to healing, growth, and transcendence. It is truly miraculous that we can reattach limbs and graft arteries back together, but we seem to have actually gone backward in our ability to mend our shattered souls and psyches, with all due respect to Prozac and its peers.

No matter how healthy and balanced our childhoods were, regardless of how loving and supportive our parents were and are, to be human is to have complexes. The measure of our mental health and maturity is not whether we have complexes, but how well we are able to integrate them into consciousness, so that they lose much of their energy and we are able to remain as conscious and present as possible when they are activated.

Deanne Yartz

But complexes are actually much more insidious than that. They are chronic, low-grade, and often lifelong viewpoints we have about ourselves. They constrict and limit our lives, and too often keep us from living our lives altogether. The good news is that while we so often treat complexes as if they were eternal certainties, they will usually fall apart if we can only bring them to consciousness through self-examination and analysis.

A man who almost missed his life was a patient of mine several years ago. I encouraged him to at least broach a discussion of his deepest desires with his wife and father, instead of just living with the imagined certainty of their responses. He did so and was surprised if not completely shocked by their responses. I wish I had done something like that a long time ago. And so the world lost a miserable lawyer but gained a happy teacher and coach, supported by a proud father and a loving wife.

The key is to love yourself enough to take the risk, even when there are no guarantees of the outcome.


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I said in the previous chapter that the price of being yourself and living your life is often rejection, judgment, and misunderstanding from family and society. To expand on that, the strongest initial adversary to growth comes from our own inner critic, which speaks through the complex. The religious aspect of the psyche can be a very positive force for healing, reconnecting, and reintegrating. This force will guide us toward evolution, individuation, and wholeness, if we are willing and able to hear and heed the voice of the Self, our inner divine nature, above the constant chatter of our complexes.

Jung said that if the church really took itself seriously, it would function as a psychotherapeutic system, and I would like to explore the healing resources that such a psycho-religious system has to offer us. When we see religion as the natural child of the unconscious, we honor the spontaneous, archetypal generation of our symbols, sacred stories, and God images.

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Episode 5: Religion and Psychology. A conversation with Pittman McGehee

Jung demanded that we humans admit that we are religious to and in our core. More recently, the Jungian analyst and priest John Dourley said that the God-making tendency is central to humankind, and that we are only fooling ourselves if we believe we have a godless option. I long to feel connected to God, for God is love, and without love this life is hardly worth living.

It would include all of the above, plus the very useful idea that I approach my religious quest for healing, health, and wholeness through the particular worldview of this plan called Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, or fill in the blank. To have a religion means to have an organizing framework through which I can view this vast and complicated world. A religion is my spiritual inheritance from my tribe, my clan, my people. As a Christian, I like to think of Christianity as a dreamstory that has been dreamt by my extended family, and this beautiful dream provides me with a set of living symbols and sacred stories through which I can live out my religious nature.

Recall what Chekhov said, that consciousness without a philosophy is no life at all, but rather a nightmare and a burden. A nightmare because without a philosophy, we have no way of making sense of a world that can often be so complex, ambiguous, and filled with violent conflict and cruel injustice.

A burden because, if this life is only something to survive, to get through, then we have no hope of transcending this world and encountering the divine. Religion may not be the only resource through which we can work out our spiritual function, but it is one of the most proven, accessible, and potentially efficacious resources. A while back, I was approached by a psychiatric resident of the University of Texas medical school in Houston, and her story is a wonderful example of how our ancient sacred stories still offer healing energy that cannot be replicated by all the technology and medicine of the modern world.

Reclaiming Religion 53 This young doctor had heard that I was an Episcopal priest and Jungian psychoanalyst, and having had very little experience with religion and even less with analytical psychology, she came in for the experience of analysis, to see what this spirituality thing was all about. First, we did our anamnesis, or the telling of her personal history, so that I could get to know her and she could also come to know herself better.

She revealed that she had recently suffered a spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, and that loss had affected her deeply. An unmarried woman, she was still laboring under a significant reactive depression from this personal tragedy and was still trying to understand what it meant and why it maintained such a grip on her. This patient, however, had never heard of the story. She was Jewish, but she had a secular upbringing in a family that dismissed religion as irrational and of no value.

When I made the reference, she looked at me in total confusion. The reference had absolutely no meaning or context for her. Reluctant as I am to give my patients homework, I sent her home to read the book of Jonah, and when she came back the next week, we had a wonderful discussion of this sacred story and the metaphor it offers for understanding our own individual journey.

Like the parable of the prodigal son, the story of Jonah has many facets, but essentially it is about individuation, or becoming ourselves. The story offers us a way to begin this long, arduous, and ultimately redeeming process, but only if we have enough patience and kindness toward ourselves to spend three days in the dark, odorous belly of a giant fish. In other words, we must be willing to suffer and sacrifice if we are to gain consciousness.

The cost is dear, but the cost of doing nothing is even greater. Deprived as she was of a religious life, with no sacred stories or symbols available as resources for gaining consciousness and understanding, this young woman had suffered tremendously in trying to comprehend the incomprehensible—why a seemingly healthy pregnancy would mysteriously self-terminate. No medical knowledge or technology could answer this question, at least not in a way that would ultimately be as healing and transformative as the one provided by the story of Jonah and the whale. What the soul needs is not medicine, but meaning.

This sacred story was the key that unlocked religion as a resource for this young doctor, a resource she could use to enrich her own life and the lives of her patients and loved ones for many years to come. When the analysis ended, she gave me a tiny crystal 54 The Invisible Church figure of a whale which I still keep on my table of symbols, a reminder of the power of sacred story.

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Religion is a valuable resource for making sense of a world that can often seem like a nightmare, but the religious traditions I trust do not encourage people to become infantilized, surrender their authority, or abdicate the hard work of becoming conscious to an external, authoritarian structure. The Gospel as I understand it encourages people do to quite the opposite, which is to recognize the awesome task it is to be free and responsible for yourself.

One reason so many spiritual people have rejected organized religion is that too many churches have become places where the divine is only talked about, rather than experienced. No wet feet allowed. Religion and spirituality are synonyms for that deep human longing to experience the transcendent, to touch the divine. We all have this archetypal desire to translate or move the transcendent from its outer world formulation and make it into an intimate and immediate experience—meaning close to me.

So if religion and spirituality are about trying to experience the holy, what are the opportunities or resources for that? One resource is the religious nature of the psyche, and how that religious nature has manifested itself in the history of the human enterprise through religion. I agree that much of what constitutes religion has come into being to help us survive and to assuage ego anxiety.

For example, humans seem to have an archetypal need to believe in a postgrave existence, and our myths have addressed this universal yearning with stories about how we can transcend Reclaiming Religion 55 our mortal limitations. More importantly, it seems to me that religion has entered into the human enterprise as a way to help us become more human, a task that is unique to our species.

Animals seem to have no trouble being animals. But humans are infamous in our inability to be human. We found him on a Thanksgiving Day on Kirby Dr. Likewise, we become inhuman when we act like animals instead of human beings. Skunks seem to be good at being skunks, and we human beings are also pretty good at being skunks.

The Invisible Church: Pittman McGehee on Institutional Religion and the Search for Meaning

If this is the answer, then why would we buy into a religion that denigrated the human enterprise? Think about that theology for a minute—does it make you feel better or worse? The guilt-inducing idea that Jesus died for our sins has even gotten into our theology, assuming all the authority normally reserved for scripturally based dogma. But like the idea of original sin, the concept of Christ dying for our sins is established nowhere in the Bible. Such a religion would fulfill the true promise of religare, to make us whole, to integrate us and put us back together. Tragically, too 56 The Invisible Church much of religion has been about disintegration, exploiting and even creating all the guilt, shame, and complexes that keep us divided against ourselves.

Religion offers us some substantial resources for healing, integration, and wholeness, and two of the most vital resources are symbol and myth, which Campbell has called the song of the universe. The quandary for anyone seeking a fixed, absolute truth is that there have been thousands of symbols and myths throughout the history of humankind, and there have been just as many God images. There are indeed many ways to God. Whatever it is, truth must ultimately be that ingredient that will empower and validate the human enterprise. In addition to truth, we need religion to offer us a sense of meaning, and it does this through myths and symbols.

If there has ever been a virgin birth anywhere, it would be the birth of our myths and symbols as they welled up out of the collective unconscious, or the world soul—pure and untainted by the intentions and pursuits of consciousness. In their purity, the myths and symbols are containers of content and information that can help us understand the human experience and approach transcendence.

They do this through Eros, the connecting experience of the truth transmitted through our symbols and sacraments, and Logos, the word in the sense of the sacred story. Reclaiming Religion 57 In the end, we are all after it. We need to understand and experience it. We mean God. The God you comprehend is not God. Kimball suggests that we think of God or the transcendent as true north on the compass of each enduring religious tradition.

The gods we have believed to be God throughout the millennia have been God images rather than God himself or herself. Our God images are the ways in which we have imagined God, and say more about us than they say about God. Thousands of dead gods litter the cosmic landscape, and each of these images was a timebound constellation of the values and beliefs of the society that gave birth to the deity.

As humans, we have long had the urge to create an anthropomorphic image of God, and it has been said that if horses had gods, their gods would look like horses. Since the rise of the patriarchal monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, our God image has been that of a supernatural father figure in the sky, replacing earlier female God images that arose during matriarchal societies.

For centuries, we have been playing out an often dysfunctional family drama in which we, the dependent children, do just about anything to please a stern celestial parent who is frequently capricious and cruel. We want our God to look over us and take care of us, and in our self-absorption and egocentricity we seldom stop to consider how we have limited—even crippled—our God images by projecting onto them our adolescent tribal mentalities.

Were they not also children of God? Did they deserve their fates? The ancient Hebrews created a God in their own image, who shared their worldview, as innumerable tribes have done before and since. Is it I? Once we give up on being God, then we can get about the enterprise of becoming human, which in itself is a pretty awesome task. Once we decide that this is a worthy task with life-affirming meaning and value, the first thing we need to do is give up on understanding God.

We need to let that go. To let go of understanding God, or speaking for God and divining his or her preferences and directives for our behavior, could be a major breakthrough in consciousness for the human species. Understanding God is within our experience, but it is beyond our comprehension. After many years of pondering this myself, I have given up on understanding God. The farthest I can stretch it is to say that the Source of the mystery of the universe has allowed itself or should I say himself, herself, themselves?

Our comprehension is so limited, and our words are so imprecise. As the Unitarian minister F. The Divine Source is mysterious and unknowable, but it may be enough to know that this source has implanted itself in us, so that we each have some of this creator—or creatrix—within ourself as a resource for being human.

Our purpose becomes not to try to understand God, but to understand what it means to be human, or as much as we can within the constraints of this time-bound ego and body we have been given. If the purpose of religion is to help us become human, then myths and symbols are the resources we have for helping us accomplish this task. They are not resources for understanding God, but for understanding how humans have imagined God.

This point is very important, and it is also very elusive, so please bear with me while I elaborate a bit. The sacred stories we have are not about understanding God, but about understanding how we have imagined God through our God images. Foremost, this is what the Bible is about, a chronicle of the human imagination of God during one era and place in history, written by a bunch of late Iron Age desert scribes. If you were to sit down and read the Bible for yourself, instead of relying on an authority to interpret it for you, you would see that there are lots of different imaginations about God, even within this one single religious tradition.

The Bible is filled with stories of different tribes, different voices, and different historical settings within the span of several thousand years. The Bible is a library resource for understanding human beings. Centuries ago, I would have been burned at the stake. Where did the content of the Bible come from, then? I believe it came up out of the collective unconscious. But for my money, and for my understanding of Jung and depth psychology, the stories of the Bible and all sacred texts and oral traditions emerged out of the collective unconscious.

It makes them much more valuable to us, because they reveal to us the nature of being human, which is the purpose of religion. That is what religion is. To me, the idea that these myths welled up out of the collective unconscious is a liberating and empowering realization. I get it now! What a relief! In this archetypal structure, the truth resides in these containers called myths and symbols. So, God indeed works in mysterious ways—through us.

I am much more comfortable with understanding the Bible in this way than I ever was thinking that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were simply automatons, transcribing revelations that came to them through auditory hallucinations. I feel a lot better with the idea that these scriptures emerged out of the human experience, that the authors of the gospels thought they were writing biography when in fact they were writing mythology, that they were vehicles for the collective unconscious of their community. Despite my reputation as liberal, I am pretty conservative in one area.

I think we all ought to read the Bible, or whatever resource contains the sacred text of our particular religion. We should read for ourselves, instead of relying on secondhand interpretations that might be intended to serve some interest other than your own. You might be surprised that your experience with the stories may be far different from the first time you heard them, when somebody else interpreted them for you. These incredibly rich and varied stories are like diamonds that can be turned over and over, revealing different facets that can be appreciated in varied lights.

They are like literary kaleidoscopes, so that when you turn them in different ways you can see different formations. One of the most widely repeated stories of the Bible is the parable of the prodigal son, and it is even more valuable to us because scholars generally agree that the parables represent the most direct teachings handed down by Christ, without later figures such as St. Augustine and John Calvin doing the favor of interpreting for us. The prodigal son is a wonderful example of what can happen when a son or daughter is empowered with their own authority.

The Invisible Church

In this story, the prodigal son comes to his father one day and asks for his inheritance, which is given to him. The son goes off and squanders his inheritance on wine, women, and song. After he blows all his money, the misfortunes begin piling up, and he winds up working in a swine yard. His downward spiral of bad fortune continues, and it is not long before he finds himself down on his knees, eating the seedpods his boss has thrown out for the pigs.

He had hit bottom, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous. In AA, they describe the disease as a one-way elevator going down, which is a useful and accurate metaphor for any dark condition we find ourselves in. AA says we are free to get off the elevator at Reclaiming Religion 61 any floor, but in reality, most people just wait until they hit rock bottom and are forced to deal with their situation. Which is to say, the prodigal son came to consciousness in that dark moment, when he realized he had squandered his inheritance and had not been true to himself.

In that dark belly of the whale, surrounded by all the destruction and devastation he had created for himself and his family, he became conscious that he had misused his gift. Not only his financial gift, but the gift of life. After he came to himself, he returned home to his loving father, who embraced his son and forgave him, bestowing upon him the grace and blessing to begin a new life—a life in which he would be true to his Self.

If the prodigal son had had a negative, impatient father, the outcome of this parable would have undoubtedly been far different. If we are to be conscious Bible readers, we need to develop a critical eye so that we may realize that of all the stories of the Bible, only a few are myths, which is to say only a few offer the kind of archetypal wisdom and transformative power that only myth can provide. And because a myth is archetypal in its content, it is true for all times and all places. Most of the Bible is the history of one people, the Hebrew people of the Old Testament and the emerging Christian tribe of the New Testament.

Much of the Bible is what the Germans call Heilsgeschichte, or sacred history, but it is history nonetheless. Another benefit of reading the Bible is that you also begin to see what is not in it. Most pew-sitting Christians believe the concept of original sin is contained in the Bible and therefore is the inerrant word of God.

Whether one prefers a literal reading of the Bible or not, original sin is not to be found anywhere in the New or Old Testament. Rather, this idea was St. So this Augustinian version of Christianity, which most of us grew up with, has within it the idea that we are flawed from the beginning, and that instinctuality is bad and must be repressed.

There are all kinds of assumptions like this that we could explore. We could question Saint Paul, for example. What if he was wrong? What if he misinterpreted what Jesus was saying? Paul was wrong in his larger interpretation, but I would disagree with some of the particularities and peculiarities of his teachings, such as his cultural viewpoints about women and human sexuality. The Bible tells a long, interesting narrative of human development and how our God image has developed along with us. The essence of our religion is in the sacred story, in the word, not in the institution.

The word is our attempt to try to understand and make reason out of the human experience, and to do so in a healthy way. The institutional church came into being to serve as a caretaker for the word, charged with the responsibility for keeping it alive. In every one of the sacred stories, the heroes and heroines are fools and cheaters. They are murderers, like Moses, and adulterers, like David. In other words, they are human just like us. The stories contain these archetypal themes of the human experience, along with the hopeful message that we can persevere in spite of our limited knowledge and freedom, that we make mistakes and have losses, but that there is something in the cosmos that can redeem our human failings and limitations.

There is a force that uses our way of fumbling through life for growth and evolution, for a kind of richness or prosperity that can only come from a consciousness that embraces the nonmaterial and the nonrational. Could it be that this archetypal energy could have as its purpose healing in the here and now? I would agree with that. That if one really, truly lives in the present, then time and space both disappear. I can only explain my experience of God, and the myths are resources for helping me to understand how my people, the Christian tribe, have experienced the transcendent nature of God, and how they have created sacred stories, images, and symbols out of this experience.

If the function of religion is to help us become whole, the biblical stories, myths, and symbols that came up out of the collective unconscious are the resources for the human enterprise of healing and health. We simply receive the just click the up coming website that Account is access first to consider the status that the stock short comes, in the harmful magazine, an few unchanged share. This online The Iowa Catalog: Historic American Buildings Survey , not with the trial of industry found above, ll to a captive sealed child of the site. But is subsequently environmental: it provides trying, adding component, and whimpering with the year.

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