Category Archives: Holidays

Memorial Day 2017


Memoiral Day Weekend! The start of summer movie season and a little bit more.

Time stands still for no one. Memorial Day comes around toward the end of May every year and we celebrate with backyard barbecues and the beginning of Summer Blockbuster Movie season. We have some really good movies out right now and some that are kind of …interesting. But Memorial Day started as Decoration Day in the years following the U. S. Civil War. Memorial Day began as a time when the widows of soldiers who did in that Civil War went to clean and decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in burial sites near their towns and communities. Memorial Day began as a day to remember those soldiers (sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen) who died fighting for every American’s freedom and way of life, and the freedom of many, many more.

When we were kids, of course there were the barbecues and maybe a ceremony or parade. The high school marching band and the Veterans of Foreign Wars would march down Main Street and play patriotic music. For my generation we had Star Wars and Superman movies to see (or see again).

Now that I have classmates who have died in the recent wars, and I have friends and fellow graduates who lost husbands, wives, fiancés, children, siblings….My perspective has changed. Now that I have have been part of an Afghan Army Advising Team that had active threat streams targeting us and our counterparts, my perspective has changed.  Some people will spend a good chunk of time this weekend bringing their children, nephews and nieces to the military cemetery, or war monuments, to honor departed fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, loved-ones and friends. Others will barbecue and go to the movies or concerts.

There’s a meme that’s gone around Facebook the last few years with the widow at the military grave bawling her eyes out next to a toddler and an infant. That touches my heart. I have a dear friend who loved flying helicopters more than almost anything in the world. But she may not ever fly a helicopter again because she loves her fiancee who died fighting in Iraq more than she loves flying. Fortunately, it’s her son that she actually loves more than anything else in this world. I have classmates and fellow graduates from West Point who died in these recent wars. I know a graduate from the class after mine who lost her son to combat this year. My heart moves for these stories and others.

Some people will never quite get past the loss of their loved-ones in combat. And maybe they never should. I don’t know. I’m not them. I haven’t walked thru their experiences or lost anyone I loved more than my own life, yet. So all I can say to them is, “Grieve as you need to and live as you can.”

Some people don’t quite understand the sacrifice of courageous military men and women who died fighting for their freedom. Some people just enjoy a sunny weekend, grilling food in their backyards, drinking beverage of choice, and going to rock shows or movies.

Some of us military folk have looked down on those who just barbecue and go to movies and concerts for Memorial Day. We think we’re superior because we understand the sacrifice that made it possible for the others to celebrate. I’m not sure that either celebrating without knowing why, or the smug sense of superiority is really very good. I think our relatives and friends who died for our freedom and way of life, would want us to do all of these and more, but do it to honor their memory and without feeling smug.

Thanks for reading. If you liked or hated what you read, please tell your friends.  If you liked it and want to read more, feel free to peruse my blog, and also click follow.  Lastly, please remember that DoD, Texas Military Department, the U. S. Army and the Texas National Guard all have actual spokespersons and Public Affairs Offices and I am none of these.  These opinions are my own.


Jewish Fall Holy Days — Bet (So, What are We Celebrating, vol 2, part 10)

The next of the Jewish Fall Holy Days, after Yom Kippur is Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths. Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kuppur. The name Sukkot comes from a Hebrew word that refers to temporary dwelling, more like a tent than a hotel. That is to say, the dwelling itself is temporary, not just the stay in it. Sukkot is followed directly by Simchat Torah, the day of rejoicing in God’s Word. I believe that this is also sometimes referred to as the Last Great Day. Some of my Jewish friends who grew up in Judaism, like Adam Young or Elisabeth Robbins, can correct me on this.

Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage feasts, Pesach and Shavout are the others [and I have writ other pieces about those Jewish Holy Days and their Christian counterparts]. At the pilgrimage feasts, all the men of Israel were commanded to present themselves and their offering to the Almighty, at The Temple in Jerusalem. In the days of Solomon’s Temple and during the Second Temple period, Jewish communities in farflung locations outside the Holy Land – like Ethiopia, India and Spain – would send representatives or delegations. Those who lived in the Holy Land would often bring their whole families along to the pilgrimage feasts.

Traditionally, Jews will erect a Sukkah (singular of Sukkot) a day or two after Yom Kippur. Then Sukkot begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and lasts eight days. Some Jews will live in the Sukkah for that time, actually sleeping, preparing and eating meals, etc., in the Sukkah. Others will pray in the Sukkah and bring meals outside to eat in it. Another tradition involved in Sukkot is waving or shaking the Lulov. A Lulov consists of the branch or fruit of four kinds of trees, usually piece of citrus fruit, along with palm fronds, a small branch of myrtle and a small branch of willow. The traditions for Simchat Torah usually involve reading the last verses of the last chapter of Deuteronomy, the first verses of Genesis Chapter One and sometimes carrying the Torah scroll and dancing with it while singing worship songs or prayers. And there are many other traditions also associated with these Holy Days.

Following the Exodus, Moses, Aaron and Miriam led the tribes of Israel through forty years of walking and dwelling in tents (dwelling in sukkot) in the deserts between Egypt and the Holy Land. During that time of travelling in the deserts, they worshiped the Almighty in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was dedicated and services began there at the time of Sukkot. Many generations later, The first Temple, built by Solomon, was also dedicated and worship transitioned from the Tabernacle to The Temple at the time of Sukkot.

Some Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots Christians believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was actually born during the time of Sukkot. There’s a proof for this, similar to proving parallel lines in Euclidian geometry, that involves the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel and determining when John the Baptist was born and knowing how far along Miriam (Mary), Yeshua’s mother was when she went to stay with her cousin Elisheva (Elizabeth) and her husband Zachariah, parents of John the Baptist. (And that’s not complicated or confusing either, is it?). The easier hint is the first chapter of the Gospel of St John the Apostle, where he writes that the Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us in the form of Yeshua (see John 1:14, NASB). Even as a young kid, when I became an evangelical, I considered the use of the word tabernacled to be a hint or a sign post pointing to some unseen truth hidden in the Gospels. Now as a Messianic Jew, I believe the use of the word Tabernacled in John 1:14 is a hint that Yeshua was born at the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Not everyone believes this. Others think He was born in the Spring at Pesach, that he was born, died and resurrected during the same week of the year, just thirty-three years apart. To me personally, that would just be too much irony. And I sometimes muse that the Universe runs on irony.

To me, Sukkot is a time to celebrate God and man dwelling together.

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These opinions are my own and are not necessarily endorsed by any Rabbi, Chaplain, Pastor, Priest, Minister, Imam, Cleric, Rebbe, Bishop or Mullah.  Nor are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard or the DoD.

If you enjoyed this piece, please share it with your friends.  If you have a favorite tradition for Sukkot or fall in general, why not share it with us in the comments?

Jewish Fall Holy Days – Alef (So, what are We Celebrating, vol 2, parts 8 and 9)

Jews the world over have just celebrated Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur.  Sukkot is coming up in just a few days.  Rosh HaShannah, means the head of the year, or New Years. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths.  I’m going to focus on Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in this piece.

Those of you who have read me for a  while will know that when I write about religion or about religious holy days, I usually write about Judaism and Christianity together.  For Holy Days, I tend to write about them in groups that are connected thematically or happen to fall next to each other on the calendar that year.  Judaism observes a calendar based primarily on lunar cycles, while the civil calendar is based on the solar year.  Thus Jewish Holy Days move around a few days or weeks, earlier or later, within the Gregorian calendar, each successive year.  For example, the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas usually overlap or fall close together in late December. Though sometimes Hanukkah falls several weeks earlier.

There aren’t any Christian religious holy days that fall on or near Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, so there isn’t really anything to pair them up with besides each other.  This isn’t going be exhaustive or encyclopaedic.  I’m just going to hit the high points and then leave myself some room to write more about them next year.  So, if I failed to mention your favorite tradition or left out something you feel is important, write about that in the comments.

Okay, here goes. Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur (part 8)

According to scripture, the fall cycle of Jewish Holy Days starts on the first of day of the seventh month, the first of Tishri. For many Jews preparation starts the prior month in Elul, which is traditionally a time for reconciliation and making amends. Spending the month of Elul making amends isn’t commanded in the Scriptures, but it’s practical. If it’s been a bad year, it may take the whole month. If it hasn’t, then we’re spending the time reconnecting with friends and relations.

The first of Tishri is celebrated as Rosh HaShanna or New Years’ in rabbinical Judaism. It’s a time for commemorating the creation of the world by the Divine and celebrating the Divine as King over mankind. Another component of the first of Tishri in many congregations is the Feast of Trumpets or Yom Teruah. It’s a day for blowing shofarim or ram’s horn trumpets and rejoicing.  In some Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups, Yom Teruah is regarded as heralding the return of the King, Messiah Yeshua.

Ten days later comes Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. In ancient times, when the Jews had The Temple in Jerusalem (or before that, the Tabernacle in the wilderness) Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.  All the Jews would fast, and no one would work, on Yom Kippur.  Before entering the Most Holy Place the High Priest would offer a series of sacrifices covering himself, all the other priests, etc.  He would also wash several times. Then they would take two goats, and onto one goat, called the Azazel goat, the High Priest would symbolically transfer the sins of all the people.  The other goat, he would sacrifice and take its blood into the Most Holy Place with him.  The Azazel goat would be set outside the camp, or taken to a cliff and thrown down on the rocks.

In modern times, prayer services are substituted for all sacrifices.

The prayer services on Yom Kippur are largely about confession and repentance and dedication to serving God.  But its group confession and group repentance and group dedication.

Kol Nidre (part 9)

Now, what I really want to talk about in this piece is the tradition of Kol Nidre.  It’s a prayer service held at sundown on the evening that Yom Kippur starts.  It features the assembly of the congregation, the closing of the doors, and the Cantor singing the Kol Nidre.  Kol Nidre is prayer asking for God to forgive us for and release us from vows made falsely, usually under pain of torture or death — such as conversion to another religion. Or from vows we have intended to fulfill, but didn’t. It is by no means permission to lie, cheat, or steal in business or civil matters.

It is widely regarded that Kol Nidre was written by rabbis in Europe during the Middle Ages, when Jews were frequently under various persecutions by Catholics or Muslims.  Under threat of torture or death, many Jews would change their names, begin going to the other religion’s worship and prayers in public, but practice their Judaism in private.  They would become crypto-Jews and hope that soon the King, Sultan, Prince, Bishop, or Caliph who decreed the persecution would be overthrown or die, or that they could move somewhere far away and practice their Judaism openly again.  Jews asked themselves questions like, “How can we serve God, if we’re dead?  How can my great grandchildren serve God, if they are never born because my bloodline is extinguished in this persecution?”  The answer was Kol Nidre.  We convert in public, but in private, before Yom Kippur, we will ask God to absolve us of the conversion.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is precisely how a guy who calls himself StThomas comes to be writing about Judaism in the first place.  My real last name is a Spanish forced conversion name.  So, somewhere up the family tree, one of my  grandfather’s great grandfathers faced that decision about changing his name and going to Mass.  Some would call that cowardly.  I say it takes more courage to live in hope of freedom.  And none of us have faced the Spanish Inquisition or ISIS.  I’m sure you’d like to think that when Jihadi John has picked you out to star in an ISIS / Daesh video and he threatens you [redacted to be in good taste]…. well, I hope you get the point.

So, Kol Nidre has become more dear to me in recent years.

But here’s the lesson for our daily and relentless pursuit of virtue. We need to make things right with our friends and relations. We also need to make things right with God.  Judaism tends to focus on the making amends to friends and relations with 39 days devoted to that and one evening to Kol Nidre.  Christianity, with its Confirmation, rededication, and numerous alter calls, tends focus more on getting right with God.  As men and women of faith and virtue we cannot neglect either.  We must make amends to our friends and relations; we must ask forgiveness from the Divine and we must live more righteously tomorrow than we did yesterday.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own and are not endorsed by any Rabbi, Rebbe, Priest, Minister, Pastor, Bishop, Imam or Shiekh; neither are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, or the Department of Defense.

If you have a favorite Rosh HaShanna or Yom Kippur tradition that you want tell the Internet about, please share in the comments.  If you enjoyed this piece, why not take another moment and follow some of the links below to others?  Why not click the follow button, and bring your friends back with you?

Choosing who we are and what we value (part 1)

Constitution Day falls in September, in the USA.  It makes the date when the U. S. Constitution went into effect after the ratification process in the thirteen original States.   Constitution Day also reminds of the promise made to many of the States which had hesitated to ratify the Constitution because it didn’t sufficiently guarantee the rights, privileges and immunities they had recently fought a war to secure.  The first Congress of the U.S. made good on that promise and delivered in the form of the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights secures in the law of the land many rights specified and alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, among the life and liberty, private ownership of property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  The Constitution does not mention the Divine, but the first amendment secures freedom of religion; that is to say, freedom to conduct our lives and daily affairs according to our understand of the Divine and what the Divine calls us to do and to avoid; or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that Americans recognized the role of the Divine in the affairs of men. The Declaration of Independence refers to unalienable rights granted by a Creator, appeals to the Supreme Judge of the world, to Divine Providence, and Nature’s God. The Continental Congress opened its regular sessions with prayer during the War for Independence. Presidents have ended speeches with “God bless America,” for as long as newsmen have had recording devices to capture their words. Our money still says “In God we trust” on it.

There was no debate over whether it was the Congregationalists’ God, the Puritans’ God, the Catholics’ God, the Deists’ God or the Jews’ God. All agreed that man was under the Divine and had a responsibility to understand and operate within Natural Law.

We have a couple more religions in our country today than we did at the time of the founding. And while the secularists, humanists and atheists claim to control the national agenda, over 80% of Americans believe in the Divine as some form of Deity, with most of those being Christians and Jews. Americans and their institutions used to acknowledge that even though many of us understood the Divine differently than others (all those different sects and denominations) we all agreed that the Divine was over us and we had to operate within Natural Law.

As I tipped in the title of this post, this is going to be a series, because I can’t get to everything I want to say in one post of readable length. Eight hundred words being the standard length for a “column,” from the old days of ink and paper and printed newspapers.  In this series, I’m going to highlight some major cultural decisions we’re facing today, in the U. S. and the world, and make a moral, ethical case for doing the Judeo-Christian right thing. Hopefully, this series will be interspersed with some pieces on the Jewish fall Holy Days and reviews of fall TV premiers.  But I may leave off writing about the television, because another series of mine, “So, what are we Celebrating,” is still missing any more than a passing reference to the Jewish fall Holy Days. I feel remiss in that omission. Soon, it will be time that I rectified that.


Memorial Day, to Honor those who died fighting for the United States

On April 25, 1866, in an act of generosity and reconciliation noted by newsmen and poets of the time, a women’s memorial association in Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers.  Local records of the period indicate that at least two ministers joined the event, giving exhortation and leading prayer.

This Memorial Day, can we all follow the example of these ladies?  Just because they were from the South doesn’t invalidate the virtue of their idea and rightness of their example.  They got it right.  They laid aside the animosity and anger and politics of the day to honor the fallen Soldiers of both Confederate and Union Armies.  They didn’t spit on the graves of the Union Soldiers and lay wreaths to their Confederate dead.  They gave similar honor to the graves of both Union and Confederate dead.

Let the politics go for a day or few hours.  Set aside the racial politics, gender politics, class strife and religious differences long enough to honor the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who died fighting for your right to believe those different opinions and practice those different religions.  Perhaps in doing so, we’ll see that we aren’t so different or so divided after all.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own, unless otherwise cited, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers, the National Guard, the U. S. Army, or the DoD.


Shavuot and Pentecost, to be a Child of Heaven (or So, What are We Celebrating, Vol 2, Pt 5)

I wrote about Shavuot and Pentecost last year.  I don’t want to rehash completely for those of you who have been following me for a while.  But for the newcomers, I’ll give a brief recap. Shavuot is the Feast of Weeks in Judaism, about fifty days after Passover.  In the Christian calendar, Pentecost is observed about 50 days after Easter.  Realizing that the first Easter coincided with Passover, these Holy Days are intertwined. Most Rabbis regard Shavuot as the real birthday of the Jewish people; the anniversary of the day when G-d gave the Ten Commandments and took His People and they took Him to be their G-d.  Some regard it as a betrothal.  I prefer to think of it as adoption.  Many Christian Pastors, Ministers and Priests will teach that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the day the Holy Spirit came upon and en-dwelled believers, giving them Power to be Christ’s witnesses.

This year, it all strikes me in a much more personal way.  Maybe it’s that just a couple weeks ago the Torah portion included Leviticus 24 and 25.  But that regularly happens.  It has just struck me differently this year.  In those chapters of the Torah, G-d says several times, ‘You are Mine, and I brought you out of Egypt to serve Me.  You shall not be slaves of each other or slaves of any other nation.  And the land is mine, too.  So, every 50 years you shall return the land to its ancestral holdings.’  I used to read that and see it tied in with teachings on charity and how the rich man who buys a Hebrew slave, he only has him for seven years.  And in that time the rich man is supposed to train his brother to run a business (or a farm) and a household, so that he can go free and be a productive citizen.  But this year, what struck me was the phrases ‘You are Mine…to be My servants.’ It calls to mind the phrase from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, “you were bought with a price,” and from St. Peter in 1 Peter, “the Master who bought them.”

So, I remember hearing Pastors and Ministers preach, “Easter isn’t really over until we get to Pentecost.”  And I remember hearing Rabbis teach, “Passover isn’t really complete until we get to Shavuot.”  And in the middle between the two sets of Holy Days is this idea that we have been bought by G-d, with Miracles of Passover and paid with the blood of Messiah (Christ).  To the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the Matriarchs (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah), G-d said he was making a covenant with them and their descendants, but the emphasis always seemed to be on the Patriarch. At Shavuot, it is unmistakable that God is taking us, not just the Patriarchs, to be His People.  Extending the personalization of Passover — we are supposed to relive the events leading up to and including the Exodus, and to regard it as our deliverance from our own Egypt, Shavuot and Pentecost mark not just the generic anniversary of when G-d chose His people. It also marks each of our personal covenant back with G-d, our personal adoption into the family of G-d, when He became our G-d and our Father in Heaven, when we became His child(ren).

It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s answer, when asked what the religion of America was (and this story is probably apocryphal….).  Perhaps the asker hoped to get Franklin to say, “Congregationalist,” or “Calvinist,” validating on sect and excluding others.  Franklin didn’t respond with such specificity.  Instead he said, “Americans believe that there is one God who made all things; that he governs the World by his Providence; that he ought to be worshipped by Adoration, Prayer and Thanksgiving; But that the most acceptable Service of God is doing good to Man; that the Soul is immortal; and that God will certainly reward Virtue and punish Vice either here or hereafter.”  Franklin did not specify any sect.  Instead he gave a generalized description of principles that summarized the American way of life and includes all sects of Christianity and Judaism, and so many other religions as well.

Love G-d.  Love your neighbor.  The rest is commentary.

Thank you for taking a moment out of your Pentecost, Shavuot, or just out of your day, to share my thoughts on these Holy Days and on being a Child of Heaven.  I appreciate each of you who read me.  Why not take a moment and share a story from your own experience in the comments?

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Opinions expressed in my writings are my own, unless otherwise quoted, and not necessarily those of my employers.


Benjamin Franklin and William Duane, The Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 1, p. 38.  Philadelphia: McCarty & Davis, 1840.

Passover and Easter, Miracles and Transformations (or, So what are we Celebrating, vol 2, pt 4)

Easter traditions around the world are many and varied.  Some celebrate with the bunny and the decorated eggs.  Some children roll the colored eggs or hunt them after their parents or older siblings have hidden them.  In Australia, in the southern hemisphere where seasons are opposite to those in northern hemisphere and autumn begins at Eastertime, Australians celebrate Easter with a produce show since it’s harvest time.  In Germany, the folks make bonfires of the Christmas trees from the prior Christmas.  In the U.S. some families watch films including Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ featuring Charleton Heston or ‘The Robe’ featuring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons or TV specials like, ‘It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!’

Passover traditions are a bit less varied but include eating unleavend bread for eight days and the ceremonial Passover Seder to relive the miracles by which the God of Abraham brought His people out of slavery in Egypt.  Normally, during the Seder, the children will go outdoors to look for the Prophet Elijah.  And later, the youngest children will search for the afe komen, a portion of matzah one of the adults wrapped in a napkin and hid somewhere in the dining room or banquet hall. 

Last year at Pentecost and Shavuot, I wrote of similarities in the Divine miracles recorded in Exodus for Shavuot and the Book of Acts for Pentecost.  In Exodus, during the miracles, the Spirit of God fell on a several dozen elders.  In Acts, the Spirit of God fell on thousands followers of Christ.  wrote about how God does similar miracles on different scales.  I want to consider the miracles of Passover and Easter together for a moment. 

At Passover, Jews remember the ten plagues with which God smote Pharaoh and the Egyptians to turn the heart of the King and release God’s people from slavery to forced labor.  The plagues were these:  blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn.  Parting the Red Sea for His people to pass through on dry land and then drowning Pharaoh’s army in it was an additional miracle.   

At Eastertime, Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, (Yeshua haMoshiach) on Good Friday and then celebrate the miracle His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

At Passover, the plagues and the miracles were obvious and witnessed by all the Egyptians and all of God’s people.  At Easter, the Resurrection miracle wasn’t actually witnessed by anyone, except perhaps the Angels who greeted the women who went to wrap Yeshua’s body properly for burial with cloth and spices.  The two women at dawn saw the empty tomb and a few hours later, Apostles Peter and John, saw the same:  empty tomb, the great stone rolled away and Yeshua’s shroud folded off to one side.  Yeshua later appeared to his male and female disciples over a period of forty days leading up to Pentecost.  But that was after the resurrection.  

 At Easter we celebrate hidden miracles, while at Passover we remember obvious miracles that turned the heart of a king.  But whose hearts are changed at Easter?  It should be the hearts of all followers of Yeshua. And the changes of heart shouldn’t be limited to Easter.  Day after week, after month, after year, followers of Yeshua should see each other and themselves becoming more like Yeshua.  Some Christians call themselves sinners saved by grace, with a subliminal emphasis on sinner. I submit that the emphasis should be on saved. We should be more kind, more patient and more charitable.  But we should also inspire more kindness, patience and charity in the rest of the world.   Sometimes kindness and charity mean calling out hypocrites.  Sometimes it means feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless.  Sometimes it means allowing people to have the opportunity to pursue their God-given talents as far as their dreams will take them. Lastly, let me emphasize that none of this is expected of a believer in his or her own strenght alone. This transformation of heart and mind comes by Divine Providence at work in us.  

Thanks again for reading! Do you have a favorite story about a past Easter or Passover celebration?  Tell us about it in the comments below. 

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 The facts are the facts. The opinions are my own, unless otherwise cited, and not necessarily those of my employers, nor is anything I wrote here necessarily endorsed by any religious denomination.