Finding the High Road

Ave Maria!

I am off to England today and will not be back until March 2.  Our Marian apostolate A Day With Mary will be the subject of a workshop for friars, sisters and MIM members in London.

Before I go, I wanted to provide some more links to essays and blog posts concerning the ethical question of lying and deception “in the service” of the good, that has been occasioned by the work of Lila Rose and Action Films and which has recently been questioned by Dawn Eden and William Doino.  Be sure to check out there comments section there as well.

The philosopher Christopher Tollefsen has posted an essay, “Truth, Love and Live Action,” over at the Public Discourse website, which finds the organization’s tactics morally troubling, if not worse. Jody Bottum has replied firmly to Tollefsen—whom he otherwise finds much agreement with– with his own column, “The Unloving Lies of Lila Rose?” defending Lila, and Pia di Solenni offers more support for Rose with her post, “Lying for a Good Cause?”

Meanwhile, over at Mercatornet, Carolyn Moynihan, another pro-lifer, has written a sharp piece, “Stung! The Ethics of Entrapment,” in which she warns that, as much as we may like, or be inclined to support these operations, they could-and already have—been used against moral and religious traditionalists, and thus may come back to haunt us.

I have already linked to the New Theological Movement Website, where there are not one but two long posts critiquing Live Action, entitled, “It is a Sin to Lie, Even to Planned Parenthood,” and a follow-up, answering critics, “Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it Mental Reservation?”

More recently, back at Public Discourse, Professor Christopher Kaczor has written, as a critique of Tollefsen, “In Defense of Live Action.” Pro-life activist Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller has firmly defended the group’s actions, whereas Dr. Germain Grisez and Dr. William May have just as strongly criticized them.

Finally, an interesting discussion has developed between Steve Kellmeyer and Dawn Eden under Steve’s post, “A Rose By Any Other Name.”

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A Radical’s Rule

If one defines radicalism as proceeding from the root (“going to the origin, essential“), then one might argue that Our Lord was a radical—of course, a different sort than described by Saul Alinsky in his Rules for Radicals. For Alinsky, “irreverence” is an essential quality of radicalism: “nothing is sacred”; the organizer “detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality.”  Certainly, this kind of radicalism is not constant with the moral integrity, the “rootedness, of Our Lord.  As the Word, Logos, Jesus is radical Truth.  Only the Truth will set us free.

It is radical to say that the truth is worth dying for, for example, the truth that all human life begins at conception and must be protected from that moment onward.  Many pro-lifers have risked life and limb to protect the unborn.  But it is also radical to say that the following truth is worth dying for:  the end does not justify the means, even when the means has the opportunity of undoing the work of Planned Parenthood.

Please check out Dawn Eden’s and William Doino’s Building a Culture of Lie, which offers a fair-minded critique of the work of Lila Rose and Live Action Films on the basis of the teaching of the Church.  See also these two critiques as well.  Dawn and William also have taken exception to the work of James O’Keefe who took on ACORN in much the same manor.  I commented on this myself.

Thank God for the courage of Dawn and William.  These are important issues to resolve if we wish to be radical in the sense of Jesus Christ, and not in the sense of Saul Alinsky.  It is one of the reasons why chivalry (courtesy and honesty) is so important.

Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades stated in their letter of support for Christopher West that “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a treasure for the Church, indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time.”  They also rightly point out that the “scholarly language” of the pope’s texts “needs to be ‘translated’ into more accessible categories if the average person is to benefit from it.”  To that end, finally they affirm their belief “that Christopher West . . . has been given a particular charism to carry out this mission.”

Discerning the Spirits

It is the place of the pope and bishops to discern the presence of true charisms in the Church.  The Spirit blows where He wills and moves with renewing graces those who are caught up in His wind.  Nowadays, we generally think of more extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit as the object of the word “charism,” such as tongues or prophecy of future events.  But anyone who has been moved by the Spirit to begin a movement within the Church can be said to have received a charism, if that fact has been so determined by the pope and the bishops.

John Paul II has written that the power of these kind of gifts “is not subject to any antecedent rule, to any particular discipline or to a plan of interventions established once and for all.”  The Church is both institutional and charismatic, and what happens through the Spirit sometimes happens outside the box.  By that I do not mean that the Holy Spirit contradicts revelation or the authority of the Church.  That would be absurd.  Only that some things happen outside the present structures in ways that are not anticipated and then need to be assimilated under the authority of the Church.

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Where I Am at Right Now with Theology of the Body


Well,  I have to admit that I have just about run out of steam with the Theology of the Body debate, which, God help us, is not preventing me from posting once again.  I suppose I should say something about the end of Christopher’s West’s sabbatical.  He has returned.

I don’t know that we are getting anywhere, unfortunately.  Christopher West, for example, says he is always learning from his critics, but he still maintains that we have misrepresented him in a number of “serious” ways.  And I am still waiting to find out what he considers we were right about.  Just to remind everyone: the objections were not all about style and presentation.  Well, at least he admits he lacked balance.  I am not sure what that means, but look forward to finding out what his new approach will be.

Unfortunately, this debate runs the risk of turning into a propaganda war.  Much of the criticism of one of my most recent pieces was that I was not nice.  But I already knew that.  Mea culpa.  Pray for me.  But also, please tell me why I am wrong about the doctrines contained (or not contained) in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Well, anyway.  I have said just about all I have to say for now.  I am not making any promises though.  Christopher West says he will be addressing the criticisms he has received in a number of articles.  He thanked his critics in that context, but then went on to speak of how his ideas have been misrepresented.  Again, I look forward to finding out both the reasons he has to thank his critics and the reason why he thinks they are wrong.  I do not plan to comment on each of his articles.  What interests me in view of avoiding a propaganda war is patterns verified by facts.

I will just leave you all with several thoughts.  One thing that neither side has talked about in all this is the element of the diabolical, and especially the way in which the evil one uses sexuality as a snare.  I only know of one article aside from the ones in which I have linked to it which comments on this phenomenon. I would be interested in what Christopher West has to say about this.

Another point to consider is it is absolutely incontrovertible that Christopher West’s version of Theology of the Body, along with that of Father Loya’s, minimizes the role of modesty.  In this view, modesty is relative and primarily interior, necessitated by a lack of domination over concupiscence, but not fitting in itself.  Where it does not fall away in the interests of a Christian regard for the body acquired by a growth in virtue it turns into prudery.  Think about diabolical influence in this context.  (In this vein, take a look at Father Loya’s defense of the paschal candle-as-phallus assertion and compare with my essay and the thesis of Dawn Eden.  You decide.)

You should all take a look at Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve’s critique of Dawn Eden’s thesis.  From Sister’s essay, one gets the impression that the critics of Christopher West have completely misunderstood his work, and would not be able to properly assess it unless they had followed all his circumlocutions over the last fifteen years and more.  Sister Lorraine asks:

Does any fair-minded observer really think it’s possible to accomplish this project in a master’s thesis of under 100 pages?

Huh?  No one could possible critique West in a master’s thesis of less than 100 pages?  I guess that means no one could possibly understand him at all unless they were capable of writing more than a 100 pages on what they had learned from him.  People have brought up the same issues with West since the beginning. See West’s Open Letter answering an early critic who had approached him privately.  Dawn Eden has not catalogued all the changes West has made over the years because she is interested in the positions West currently holds with which she disagrees.  Or is Sister Lorraine claiming that at this point West and Eden have nothing really to disagree about?

This is like arguing that no one can really say anything intelligent on the matter unless they have read everything West has ever done and then attended all his public appearances and have done a textual analysis of all the content from a strictly technical point of view before one decides to agree or disagree with him.  Until then, we should just all be obedient sheep and rely on episcopal approbations.  West’s work has been effectively canonized.  I have been a part of this debate for some time.  I know how West’s disciples interpret him.  Dawn Eden is not putting an adversarial spin on West’s work.  She is criticizing West on the basis of the way he is being understood by those who support him.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from disciples of West something to the effect that “we shouldn’t cover women up because that is to treat the female body as evil.”  That is just one example.

Sr. Lorraine’s critique covers the whole of Dawn Eden’s thesis.  I will let you compare and contrast.  I would just suggest that before you accept anyone’s interpretation of John Paul’s text, that you read it for yourself.  Whenever someone quotes one sentence, or paraphrases, or includes multiple incomplete sentences as quotes in a single paragraph, or inserts the telltale ellipsis (. . .), read the whole paragraph in the pope’s writings carefully, or better, read the whole general audience.  I submit that what you will find is that the Westians are often hyper-sexualizing the text, making it do work for which it was never intended.

Here is an example from Sr. Lorraine’s critique.  The first paragraph a quote from Christopher West, quoting the Holy Father.  The second is Sr. Lorraine quoting directly the Holy Father:

“As John Paul shows us, the question of sexuality and marriage is not a peripheral issue. In fact, he says the call to “nuptial love” inscribed in our bodies is “the fundamental element of human existence in the world” (General Audience 1/16/80). In light of Ephesians 5, he even says that the ultimate truth about the “great mystery” of marriage “is in a certain sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality” (General Audience 9/8/82).” . . . . [Yes, please check out the text to see what I am leaving out with the ellipsis.]

But there’s one more thing. What does Pope John Paul say about this issue? Referring to the spousal analogy in Ephesians 5, he says: “Given its importance, this mystery is great indeed: as God’s salvific plan for humanity, that mystery is in some sense the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality. It is what God as Creator and Father wishes above all to transmit to mankind in his Word” (TOB 93:2)

I will now provide you with the actual texts of the Holy Father:

For the present we are remaining on the threshold of this historical perspective. On the basis of Genesis 2:23-25, we clearly realize the connection that exists between the revelation and the discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body, and man’s original happiness. This nuptial meaning is also beatifying. As such, it manifests in a word the whole reality of that donation which the first pages of Genesis speak to us of. Reading them, we are convinced of the fact that the awareness of the meaning of the body that is derived from them—in particular of its nuptial meaning—is the fundamental element of human existence in the world.

This nuptial meaning of the human body can be understood only in the context of the person. The body has a nuptial meaning because the human person, as the Council says, is a creature that God willed for his own sake. At the same time, he can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself (General Audience 1/16/80).

******

In the overall context of the Letter to the Ephesians and likewise in the wider context of the words of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal God’s salvific plan “from the beginning,” one must admit that here the term mystérion signifies the mystery, first of all hidden in God’s mind, and later revealed in the history of man. Indeed, it is a question of a “great” mystery, given its importance. That mystery, as God’s salvific plan in regard to humanity, is in a certain sense the central theme of all revelation, its central reality. God, as Creator and Father, wishes above all to transmit this to mankind in his Word (General Audience 9/8/82).

It seems to me that the sense of these texts is that the nuptial meaning of the body points to the fact that God created us for Himself and that we find our true identity in self-giving.  This self-giving of Christ is the central theme of all revelation and is expressed in the language body.  It is the “nuptial meaning” of the body, not the body itself or sexuality that constitutes the “great mystery.”  In other words, God gives us the body in order to point to Christ, He does not give us the body in order to point to itself.  There is a real difference.  And the difference is expressed, for example, in one’s willingness or unwillingness to simulate a sex act in the Easter Liturgy.  For those who see the nuptial meaning of the body as central, such a thing is pornography.  For those who see bodily sexuality itself as central, such is liturgical prayer.

I am not sure whether West still holds the following position, but I do remember that in the first edition of the “Naked without Shame” tape series, he claimed that it was important to understand the “revelation” of the nakedness of Christ on the cross.  I am not here going to take up the question as to whether the loin cloth is historical.  I remember West claiming that it was not.  What is important to me is that he stated that while most people would not be able “to handle” the nakedness of Jesus, they miss out because of it.  To me this is theological madness.

Yes, West may have “evolved,” but the tenor of his work has not.

And this leads me to Mark Shea’s latest piece on theology of the body.  Shea sees what everyone else with open eyes sees, namely, that the TOB team USA is presenting TOB as a theory of everything.  He sums up his points in the following way:

If you do smell something amiss, don’t panic or declare it to be the fruit of somebody’s monstrous will to subvert and destroy the Faith. Assume “blunder” before “diabolical plot.” Conversely, if you find something fruitful, good, and beautiful in the TOB, don’t run off and declare it a revolution in Catholic thought that will provide an All-Explaining Paradigm of Everything in Time, Space, and Eternity. It’s a human school of thought, not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

In a word, relax. It’s just somebody’s opinion, not the End of the World or the Consummation of All Things.

Earlier in the essay he makes the point that the corpus of TOB is not magisterial because it is only a series of general audiences, and not an encyclical.  I am not sure I would refer to it as “not magisterial,” but I certainly agree that it is essential to place this single corpus of general audiences in the context of the whole teaching of the Church, and give to it a relative importance and not an absolute authority.  The problem with so much of this TOB enthusiasm is that  it is being presented as a theory of everything and the absolute trump card for every possible objection.

I would just say that I find it odd that Mark Shea hovers over the controversy and declares it to be relatively unimportant, when in fact West, Father Loya and others are presenting TOB as the theory-of-everthing-trump-card.  That is not a small matter because it is the sexualization of Christianity and more akin to the pagan religions that Christianity replaced than to the historical reality of Christian faith.

I imagine this game of theological ping-pong will continue until Rome intervenes.  I had hoped that would not be necessary.  What I see in this unwillingness to place the Theology of the Body in the larger context of Church teaching looks more like the pagan worship of sex than it does the Christianization of marriage and sexuality.  It is time to abandon the sex-obssession and to stop trying to baptize it.

More TOB Discussion

Genevieve Kineke and Heidi Saxton have published in interesting conversation about Heidi’s article on Alice von Hildebrand’s critique of Christopher West.

I think Heidi goes too far in attributing the controversy to differences in background and the difference between the work of a philosopher and that of and evangelist.

For example:

The fact that AVH took such exception to CW describing TOB as “revolutionary” is a good example of the tension between ideas and finding points of connection. She interpreted “revolution” to mean a destruction of past Church teaching—which I do not believe CW believes.

Actually, from a philosophical point of view, I think that AVH has shown West to mean exactly what he says he means.  “Revolution,” “theological time bomb” may be the terms of an evangelist, but they have implications in matters of truth.  Either the philosophy and the popular message work together or they do not, and then one of them must be false.  In any case, whether Heidi wants to believe that West sees TOB as a destruction of earlier Church teaching or not, both AVH, Dawn Eden and others have shown West to be innovating in ways that have no basis in the tradition. Hence when she says the following:

There is room for both schools of thought—so long as each is willing to be led by the Spirit, with humility and openness to change. . .

I have to say that she is ignoring the evidence, humility and openness to change notwithstanding.

I will agree that manner and content will differ to some extent between philosophers and evangelists, but the difference between AVH and West cannot be reduced to that or to differences in background.  Put bluntly, West is inventing and AVH is not.

Interestingly, Christina King has attached an irrelevant comment to the discussion in opposition to Dawn Eden, for some reason, trying to distance the Theology of the Body Institute from Christopher West.  That is a tough one to sell.  I would like to know, how many of the speakers or board members of the Institute have spoken or published a critique of West’s work.  On the other hand, how many speakers and organizers at the recent conference have publically defended his teaching?

Father Loya: Peer Reviewed

The following is a guest post from Christina Strafaci, who works in the Diocese of Phoenix and emailed me with a proposed comment to my last post in response to Father Thomas Loya’s comment there.  Christina thought her comment might be too long, so she wanted to run it by me first.  I believe it is worthy to be a separate post, especially since it comes from someone who has a graduate degree from the JPII Institute and who teaches Theology of the Body.

Since this post falls into the category of a “response” to the “TOB…Train” article, let me begin by offering my sincerest thanks to you, Fr. Geiger, for your straight-forward insights into this “discussion” that, while not new, has reached fever-pitch over the course of the last twelve months. While I have much more to say on this subject, I will try to restrict my comments to addressing to Fr. Loya’s response to Fr. Geiger’s article – at least in the beginning.

I have a Masters of Theological Studies from the JPII Institute, I have read and studied the series of Wednesday audiences popularly known as the “theology of the body”, I’ve spent five years teaching the audiences to high school seniors each spring, and since last year, I have read every substantial post related to this “discussion” about Christopher West, both critique and defense. (I must add here that I am also grateful for the thesis completed by Ms. Dawn Eden.) I offer this information as evidence that I am not new to the discussion, that I have listened carefully, and that I realize much more is at stake than what has been addressed in the blogosphere.

What I glean from Fr. Loya’s response is that he is proud of Tabor Life’s website, both the medium and the message, particularly its ability to capture visitors’ attention, choir-members and wayward-onlookers alike. Therefore, I’ll cut to the chase: May we not claim that the site’s offering of “one-minute meditations” and “freaky” “flash images” is itself guilty of the same reductionism for which Fr. Geiger is now accused? Fr. Loya defends the intro images to be “a very tiny part” of Tabor Life, and yet this “part” is what first attracts – dare I say, baits – the visitors’ vision. Yet, once again, we’re hearing the defense of having been taken out of context. The site hopes to draw in visitors using sensational headlines, images, etc., not unlike the flat-screens flashing ads in shopping malls. What happens when visitors discover that the real “theology of the body” (versus an interpretation of it) is hundreds of pages of complex reading, requiring prayer, meditation, the Holy Bible and a dictionary? Does this site employ the same “partial representation, selective emphasis and soundbite style” – here, a “technique” applied to the content of the Wednesday catecheses? Examining the images and headlines of the Tabor Life website communicates to visitors that the “theology of the body” is a theology of sex, and it – rather than Christ – is the answer to every question in life. Indeed, (too) many popularizers of the “theology of the body” have selectively chosen what is most popular in the Wednesday audiences – most popular to a secular culture – in order to appeal to listeners, unfortunately to the detriment of the whole. I will not restate here what those more eloquent have already observed on this issue. I would like now to broaden the scope of my comments beyond addressing Fr. Loya’s response and his website.

As Ann Hanincik astutely recalled from Ms. Eden’s thesis, the Wednesday catecheses “cannot be taken apart from the whole Tradition” nor treated as a magic bullet to overcome the very real and deeply-felt effects of concupiscence. But let me go one step further to examine this “taking apart” and its effect on JPII’s catechesis. Recently, I was discussing the audiences with a popularizer (also an Institute grad) who referred to the audiences as “TOB” – pronounced “tobe” to be sure. Now, I am not unfamiliar with the trend of referring to the audiences as “T-O-B”, but this new(er) development captures the essence of my concern: What are the (bitter) fruits of reducing JPII’s five-year-long catechesis in such a way? In all the ways that we see being done today? Is it not the very nature of pornography – as we see every day in this “pornified world” according to Fr. Loya – to fragment the whole, reduce it into little pieces, dissociating the fragments to be objects of use, separate from the unified and meaningful integrity of the whole? Some of my classmates engaged in the work of marriage preparation will protest such a plea for a more holistic approach with the claim that there is not enough time or willingness in their listeners, that “reduction” is absolutely necessary in light of the precious few opportunities they have with engaged couples. This doesn’t change the evidence that in the distillation process applied to the audiences during the past decade, important elements have been lost.

For example, Dr. David Schindler has noted two elements (among others) missing from what has become popular catechesis: the question of filiality and the Marian-feminine dimension. First, the spousal meaning of the body cannot be taken apart from the original, filial meaning of the body:

sexual love as understood in the work of John Pope II must be inserted within a love between spouses that itself takes its most radical meaning from filial relation to God. Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation.

It sounds very much like we quickly move past “solitude” in order to get to “unity” as if the former is to the detriment of the latter in the eyes of our students. Second, studying the audiences cannot be taken apart from contemplating the virginal-fruitful embodiedness of Mary, and indeed, must be more thoroughly considered in light of her and what is “revealed” by the feminine:

The third of my criticisms meant to indicate the sense in which the Church’s Marian mystery, and also the feminine dimension, are central for the theology of the body. After Christ, Mary reveals to us most profoundly the “original” meaning of body that needs to remain present within sexual-marital love. In her fiat, we discover the contemplative meaning of the body (Mary “pondered these things in her heart”). In this light, contrary to what is assumed in the dominant culture, women have a naturally more profound sense (than do men) of the implicit, and of interiority or of what develops slowly-organically and from within. Women have a naturally more profound sense of mystery and thus of what is entailed in the unveiling of the body–for example, an organic in contrast to mechanical sense of time, and consequently a different idea of the meaning and significance of nakedness itself.

Is it sufficient to ask for Mary’s protection and intercession, to post an icon of her on one’s website, or even to palliatively mention her fiat and purity in a discussion about the sexual union and then in the same breath, claim that one fully appreciates this Marian-feminine dimension? (It is only on Fr. Geiger’s site and in Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s writings that I have read an adequate probing of the question of veiledness since the question was raised last year.) Our culture disregards, dismisses as weak, and holds in contempt interiority, silence, and contemplation. How has this affected even our own approach to the audiences?

As I stated earlier, I have taught the “theology of the body” and will continue to teach it. Like West, Loya, and catechists across the nation, we are trying to teach calculus to a classroom full of students that never learned how to do basic math. Translation: We expect students to understand the spousal meaning of the body and sacrificial self-gift before they understand their own unique identity as God’s creation, made for union with Him. Praise God for all the good fruit that has already and will continue to come from our efforts, but if consequences of a certain reductionism are coming to light today, why are we – all of us, myself included – reluctant to address and correct our missteps?

In all honesty, I am tired of the hackneyed claim that those who have raised serious concerns, pointed out errors of interpretation, and/or offered constructive criticism are somehow being uncharitable – lacking “charity” in the tenor of their voice, choice of words, whatever. Really? Are we all so thin-skinned? Are we all that full of pride? How many times does the caveat need to be set forth that no one in these discussions attributes to West, Loya, et. al. anything but the desire to bring persons closer to Christ? When will the faithful see demonstrations of humility rather than defensiveness? When are the real discussions going to happen? As much as I dislike this ubiquitous expression, it is time for us to move forward. The content of this response notwithstanding, I have very little interest in devoting my spare time to critiquing Tabor Life, Christopher West, or the current trends of popular catechesis on the Wednesday audiences. I think we’ve all got more work to do, I’m confident that we can do better, and I’d rather be working together with all of these dedicated teachers rather than in spite of them: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). Praise God for the gifts of inquiry, intellect, and discernment that He has bestowed upon us. Ad Jesum per Mariam.

Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train

Recently, the Theology of the Body Institute conducted its first national congress, during which the triumphal march of the new chastity catechesis pressed forward–in spite of the fact that the movement’s avatar, Christopher West, was absent, presumably to reflect upon his method of presenting the Theology of the Body.  Perhaps I was naïve, but I thought West’s sabbatical meant that his critics had made some headway.  Such progress, unfortunately, did not seem to be reflected at the congress.  Dr. Janet Smith, for example, stated the following:

The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker.

Am I quoting out of context?  I would like to know in what context the comparison of God to a pathological sexual deviant would be appropriate.  Please note that the above statement was published as a tweet by the congress organizers themselves.  So this is what they themselves decided to feed the public. Continue reading

Good Reason Why Not to Have Someone Live-Tweet a Conference.

From the first Theology of the Body Congress:

[Dr. Janet Smith:] The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker. #TOBCongress 6:55 PM Jul 28th via TweetDeck

. . . And a reason why I do not tweet at all.  Just saying.

It is statements like “God is a [pathological] stalker,” that pretty much sums up why I have a problem with the TOB Team USA, runaway train.

Along those lines, there is the following:

Sr. Helena [Burns]: TOB is a locomotive: Lead, Follow or Get out of the way! #TOBCongress 1:12 PM Jul 30th via TweetDeck

Thank you for the confirmation, sister.  I am getting out of the way.

Hat tip to Dawn Eden.