Archive for June 2014

Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 10, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Parable of the Sower

Above:  A Depiction of the Parable of the Sower, Which Precedes Matthew 13:10-17

Image in the Public Domain

Harsh Realities

JULY 15, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 11:23-30

Psalm 92

Matthew 13:10-17

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LORD, how great are your works!

your thoughts are very deep.

The dullard does not know,

nor does the fool understand,

that though the wicked grow like weeds,

and all the workers of iniquity flourish,

They flourish only to be destroyed for ever;

but you, O LORD, are exalted for evermore.

–Psalm 92:5-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading from Matthew 13:10-17 has parallels in Mark 4:10-12 and Luke 8:9-10 while quoting Isaiah 6:9-10.  (Actually, Matthew 13:10-17 quotes the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the original Hebrew text, hence differences in renderings within the same English version.)  The Isaiah, Mark, and Luke texts seem to indicate speaking to people for the purpose of confusing them, not calling them to repentance and thereby preventing the wrath of God from coming to fruition.  Or do these texts speak of consequences as if they were purposes?

I take these as statements of reality, not of purpose, per the presentation in the Gospel of Matthew.  This fits well with the reading from Proverbs 11, which I summarize as

What comes around, goes around.

These are lessons about reality, as grim as that is much of the time.

Behind these verses [in Matthew] is the harsh fact that Jesus came into an alien age.  His teaching, to men of earthly motives, was a riddle.  What could awaken them?  Only his death!…The ultimate truth pierces us from the Cross.

The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII (1951), page 411-412

May we prove perceptive, so that our hearts will not be dull and so that we will understand and turn, so that God will heal us.  May we succeed in this spiritual endeavor by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/harsh-realities/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 10, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Boomerang

Above:  A Boomerang

Image in the Public Domain

A Better Society

JULY 13 and 14, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 26:3-20 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (Tuesday)

Psalm 92 (Both Days)

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (Monday)

Ephesians 4:17-5:2 (Tuesday)

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Those who are planted in the house of the LORD

shall flourish in the courts of our God;

They shall still bear fruit in old age;

they shall be green and succulent;

That they may show how upright the LORD is,

my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

–Psalm 92:12-14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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What we do to others we do to ourselves.  This is a timeless truth which the readings for these two days affirm.  The lessons from Leviticus and Deuteronomy speak of obedience to the Law of Moses as the prerequisite to prosperity and security in the land of Canaan.  The best of the Law of Moses rests partially on an ethic of mutuality.  People, when not stoning others for any of a host of offenses (from committing blasphemy to having premarital sex to working on the Sabbath to being disrespectful to parents) were not supposed to exploit each other.  By harming others they injured themselves and damaged their society.  That reality informed the Pauline readings.  How we treat others in a variety of ways–in attitudes, speech, sexual acts, et cetera–matters, St. Paul the Apostle said accurately.  Why?

…for we are all parts of the same body.

–J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

Thus whatever we do to another we do also to ourselves.  If we love our neighbors in need, we benefit ourselves.  If we seek to enrich ourselves to the detriment of others, we deprive ourselves in the long term and injure ourselves spiritually in the short, medium, and long terms.  Those who make others victims of violence (even that which might prove necessary to a higher purpose) become victims of their own violence.  It is a law of the universe.

The world is a messed-up place.  Often we must engage in or become complicit in bad just to commit some good.  I wish that this were not true, but it is.  We must work within the reality in which we find ourselves, but may we seek to transform it for the positive, so that more people may share in a better society.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/a-better-society/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 10, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

Love and Forgiveness

JULY 11, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 52:1-6

Psalm 65:[1-8], 9-13

John 12:44-50

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Isaiah 52:1-6 speaks of a time, in our past yet in the original audience’s future, when foreigners would no longer hold sway in Jerusalem.  One might imagine faithful Jews saying, in the words of Psalm 65:1,

You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Yet, in John 12, Jerusalem was not only under Roman occupation, but a Roman fortress sat next to and towered over the Temple complex, the seat of a collaborationist and theocratic state.  Jesus, about to die, is in hiding and the Temple rulers have been plotting since John 11:48-50 to scapegoat Jesus, for in the words of High Priest Caiaphas,

…it is better for you to have one man die to have the whole nation destroyed.

–John 11:50b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That was not the only germane conflict, for the Gospel of John came from marginalized Jewish Christians at the end of the first century C.E.  They had lost the argument in their community.  Certainly this fact influenced how they told the story of Jesus.  I know enough about the retelling and reinterpretation of the past to realize that we humans tell history in the context of our present.  The present tense shapes our understanding of events which belong in the past tense; it can be no other way.

What must it be like to experience great hope mixed with subsequent disappointment–perhaps even resentment–inside which we frame the older hope?  Faithful Jews of our Lord and Savior’s time knew that feeling well when they pondered parts of the Book of Isaiah and other texts.  The Johannine audience knew that feeling well when it considered Jesus.  Perhaps you, O reader, know that feeling well in circumstances only you know well.

And how should one respond?  I propose avoiding vengeance (in the style of Psalm 137) and scapegoating.  Anger might feel good in the short term, but it is a spiritual toxin in the medium and long terms.  No, I point to the love of Jesus, which asked God to forgive those who crucified him and consented to it, for they did not know what they had done and were doing.  And I point to Isaiah 52:3, in which God says:

You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I point to the agape God extends to us and which is the form of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  Love and forgiveness are infinitely superior to anger, resentment, and scapegoating.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/love-and-forgiveness/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 10, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Cyrus II

Above:  King Cyrus II of Persia

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Judgment and Mercy

JULY 9 and 10, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 48:1-5 (Thursday)

Isaiah 49:6-11 (Friday)

Psalm 65:[1-8], 9-13 (Both Days)

Romans 2:12-16 (Thursday)

Romans 15:14-21 (Friday)

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You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

–Psalm 65:1-3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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I recall a hypothetical situation I heard while growing up:  There is a man whom God is drawing to God’s self.  This man responds positively to these summons, but he dies before he can make a profession of Christian faith, much less accept baptism.  Where does he spend his afterlife?

One’s answer reveals quite a bit about one’s theology.  I, unlike, certain others, refuse to relegate the man to Hell.  He was, after all, responding faithfully to God.  The man might not have been able to provide their proper answers according to a catechism, but he was not rebelling against God.  Would not God be faithful to the man who had obeyed him each step along the way?  And, as the author of the Letter of James would confirm, not everybody who can give the correct catechetical answer will make the heavenly cut.  I recall that from Matthew 25:31-46 also.

In God abide both judgment and mercy.  The combined reading from Isaiah 48 makes this point succinctly.  St. Paul the Apostle agrees.  And, regarding the centrality of Christ to salvation for Gentiles, I agree while being reluctant to make sweeping and probably inaccurate judgments.  No, I prefer to err on the side of mercy if I must be wrong.  Besides, that decision rests with God alone, not with any of us, mere mortals.

I find, as is so often true in my experience, that The Book of Common Prayer (1979) provides helpful prayers and theology.  The Good Friday service includes this on page 279 of the Prayer Book:

Let us pray for all who have not received the Gospel of Christ;

For those who have never heard the word of salvation

For those who have lost their faith

For those hardened by sin or indifference

For the contemptuous and the scornful

For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples

For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others

That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience.

Then, on the next page, we find this:

Let us commit ourselves to our God, and pray for the grace of a holy life, that, with all who have departed this world and have died in the peace of Christ, and those whose faith is known to God alone, we may be accounted worthy to enter into the fullness of the joy of our Lord, and receive the crown of life in the day of resurrection.

May we, without mistaking Universalism for reality, never give short shrift to divine mercy.  Likewise, may we avoid the same error regarding divine judgment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/divine-judgment-and-mercy-2/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

145387pv

Above:  Slave Galleries, St. John’s Church, Providence, Rhode Island, 1937

Historic American Buildings Survey

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = HABS RI,4-PROV, 104–3

Clinging Only to God

JULY 8, 2020

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 13:1-11

Psalm 131

John 13:1-17

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O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 131:4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Scene #1:  In a symbolic act the prophet Jeremiah makes a statement that the people of the Kingdom of Judah should have clung only to God.

Scene #2:  In another symbolic act Jesus, not standing on ceremony, acts as a servant.  Thus he sets a powerful example of mutuality consistent with the spirit of the best of the Law of  Moses:  we are all responsible to and for each other.

How often have we–you and I, O reader, clung not to God or only to God–perhaps to ego instead–and thought ourselves better than other people?  We are not all equal in abilities, of course, but the wide range of abilities allows for the meeting of many needs, so why should anyone object?  And how often have we clung to false ideas?  It is not wonder that we have missed the mark, sinned!

Jesus said and demonstrated that the greatest one in the Kingdom of God is the servant of all.  Biblical prophets condemned economic and judicial exploitation of people.  The underlying ethic of much of the Law of Moses was mutuality, which precluded exploitation.  Yet how often have people and corporations sought to improve their conditions by harming those of others?  And how often have other institutions, some of them religious, been complicit in exploiting vulnerable and powerless people?  How often, also, have religious institutions aided and abetted social injustices, such as racism and slavery?

But they would not listen.

–Jeremiah 13:11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

May God have mercy on us all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/clinging-only-to-god/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah

Image in the Public Domain

Righteousness, Justification, Justice, and Awe

JULY 6 and 7, 2020

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 27:1-11, 16-22 (Monday)

Jeremiah 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 131 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Monday)

Romans 3:1-8 (Tuesday)

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O LORD, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters,

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 131, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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“Righteousness” and “justification” are English translations of the same Greek word.  “Justification” refers to how we get right with God.  St. Paul the Apostle, understanding faith as something which comes with works as a component of it (as opposed to the author of the Letter of James, who comprehended faith as intellectual and therefore requiring the addition of works for justification), argued that faith alone was sufficient for justification.  The two men agreed in principle, but not their definition of faith.  They arrived at the same conclusion by different routes.  That conclusion was that actions must accompany thoughts if the the thoughts are to be of any good.

A note on page 2011 of The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) makes an excellent point:

In the OT, righteousness and justice repeatedly characterize God’s nature and activity, particularly in relationship  to the covenant with Israel.

Thus we arrive at the lections from Jeremiah, excerpts from a section of that book.  The prophet argued that God had made Judah a vassal state of the Babylonians, so rebellion against them would constitute a sin.  Hananiah was a false prophet who advocated for the opposite point of view.  The argument that a fight for national liberation is wrong might seem odd to many people, but it made sense to Jeremiah in a particular context.

Discerning the will of God in a given context can prove to be challenging at best.  Often the greatest obstacle to overcome is our penchant for confirmation bias–to reinforce what we think already.  Are we listening to God’s message or conducting an internal monologue?  But, when we succeed in discerning the divine will, we might realize that we do not understand or agree with it.  Honesty is the best policy with God; may we acknowledge truthfully where we stand spiritually and proceed from that point.  If divine justice confuses or frustrates us, may we tell God that.  If we argue, may we do so faithfully, and so claim part of our spiritual inheritance from the Jews, our elder siblings in faith.  Jeremiah, for example, argued with God often.

And may we trust in the faithfulness of God, the mysteries of whom we can never hope to explore completely.  Mystery can be wonderful, inspiring people with a sense of awe, the meaning of “the fear of God.”  Such awe provides us with proper context relative to God.  Such awe shows us how small we are relative to ultimate reality, God.  And such awe reinforces the wondrous nature of grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/righteousness-justification-justice-and-awe/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Snapshot_20140603

Above:  One of My Favorite Books

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Significance and Insignificance

JULY 4, 2020

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 4:1-7

Psalm 145:8-14

Luke 10:21-24

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The LORD is faithful in all his words

and merciful in his deeds.

–Psalm 145:14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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At that moment Jesus exulted in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the wise, and reveal them to the simple.  Yes, Father, such was your choice.”

–Luke 10:21, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Those Hebrews who returned to their ancestral homeland to rebuild their society, Jerusalem, and the Temple during the Persian period had to contend with major obstacles.  These included people who plotted, lied, and otherwise obstructed plans.  And Persian kings and/or certain underlings were not always sympathetic to the Hebrews.  Within this context First Zechariah received a message from God for Zerubbabel, the governor of Davidic descent:

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts.

–Zechariah 4:6b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Often that divine spirit falls not upon the prominent and the powerful, but upon the marginalized and other powerless people.  This segue brings me to our Lord and Savior’s prayer in Luke 10:21.  What are we to make of it?

Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the greatest and most influential theologians of the twentieth century, reflected on that prayer in the intellectual autobiography he wrote for the Library of Living Theology volume about his thought (New York:  Macmillan Company, 1961).  He wrote of two dying elderly women who were parishioners at the Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, Michigan, which he served fresh out of seminary.  (“Evangelical” here was in the German sense of word, that is Protestant, in this case, a Lutheran-Reformed hybrid.)  The first lady was filled with anxiety and resentment, not serenity, during the illness which took her life.  This woman, Niebuhr wrote,

was too preoccupied with self.

–page 6

The second woman had experienced much difficulty during her life.  She had functioned as both breadwinner and homemaker for her two daughters because her husband, prone to insanity, could not provide for the family.  At the end of the lady’s life, when she was dying of cancer, she was serene and filled with gratitude to God for mercies and her daughters, however.  This contrast, Niebuhr wrote, taught him the meaning of Christ’s prayer.

The major difference between the two women seems to have been the way each approached death and dying.  In that context Niebuhr wrote that

the ultimate problem of human existence is the peril of sin and death in the way that these two perils are so curiously compounded; for we fall into sin by trying to evade or to conquer death  or our own insignificance, of which death is the ultimate symbol.  The Christian faith holds out the hope that our fragmentary lives will be completed in a total and larger plan than any which we control or comprehend, and that a part of the completion is forgiveness of sins, that is the forgiveness of the evils into which we fall by our frantic efforts to complete our own lives or to endow them with significance.

–pages 6 and 7

Then Niebuhr wrote that

we in the churches ought to admit more humbly than is our wont that there is a mystery of grace which no one can fathom.

–page 7

That mystery was available to our Lord and Savior’s Apostles and other disciples, whom N. T. Wright described as

the diverse and motley group

Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 125

with whom he had chosen to associate.

May we recognize that our significance resides in God alone and that the greatest in the Kingdom of God is the servant of all.  Then may we, by grace, act on that reality and succeed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARGARET E. SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF LYONS (A.K.A. SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS)

THE FEAST OF REINHOLD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN, BISHOP, AND MARTYR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/significance-and-insignificance/

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