“A New And Darker Age”


A New and Darker Age

I haven’t been posting much lately. Let’s just say that a combination of writer’s block and personal issues have put some obstacles in my way. But things are slowly but surely improving and this should help resolve the personal issues. In the meantime, let’s see what we can do about chipping away at that writer’s block that has been hampering my creativity.

A note to begin this piece – I began thinking about this piece over a week ago. I noticed the other day that the three readings for March 30th, the 4th Sunday in Lent (Year A) would have fit rather nicely into the framework of this piece.

Yesterday was April 4th and it is a day that, while not necessarily a national holiday, should be a day in which we stop and contemplate the direction that we are taking. As I hope you, the faithful reader, know, I am a 1968 graduate of Nicholas Blackwell High School in Bartlett, Tennessee. The school is now more formally known as it always has been, Bartlett High School, and it is a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. That combination of time and place should give you some indication of my thoughts concerning April 4, 1968. If not, please revisit “Where Were You On April 4, 1968?” and On This Day”.

As I wrote then, I think we have turned away from the direction we as a country were taking back then and everything that we were working for then has disappeared. And that is what lead me to write this piece.

If you are like me, the “Dark Ages” were 1) a period of time studied in our high school history class and 2) a period of time where nothing much happened. Wikipedia indicates, in effect, that this was a period of time when human creativity and innovation slowed down. Fortunately it did not come to a complete stop.

The problem with this view of the “Dark Ages” is that it is primarily a Western viewpoint, one that only applies to Europe. Cultures in the Middle and Far East were alive and very productive. This difference in our thinking and actual reality is what I choose to call a disconnect in our thinking.

If every culture on the planet had stopped thinking and being creative back then, it is highly unlikely we would have seen much in the way of advancement. The Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment surely would not have taken place if every thinker on the planet had stopped thinking.

Now, from some of the readings I have done over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that one reason that Western civilization was able to leave the “Dark Ages” was because the churches, monasteries, and convents of the time became the repositories of books and knowledge. Thus, the resources were in place to begin anew.

But as I look around today I am wondering if we are not entering a “Newer and Darker Age”. It has been developing for some time know as our educational processes have moved away from creativity and innovation and our social and political interactions are becoming more and more divided and polarized.

Our vision is no longer beyond the horizon but more and more about what is behind us. My generation was the generation that should have gone from the moon to Mars and beyond. Yet, we have not been to the moon since 1972 and though we did have a presence in space for some thirty years, it is almost non-existent. With the exception of the Mars rovers and some deep space exploration we have virtually no presence in space and, despite some grandiose rhetoric, no plans to return.

How can you see beyond the stars if you not in the stars to begin with?

We, as a society, are unwilling to fund programs for space exploration or the educational processes needed to prepare people to think about exploration. In fact, we as a society seem quite unwilling to fund any program that benefits society but we willing over fund programs integral to the military-industrial complex, programs that are dedicated to the destruction of society in some manner.

Here again, I see a disconnect in our thinking. Many people today call for smaller governments and less spending yet are unwilling to touch those larger program. And while person after person speaks of seeking individual liberties, they are unwilling to help others find the liberty of which they so fondly speak.

How can you say you are for freedom when you don’t want others to others to share in your freedom?

Forty years ago we began to realize that we, the inhabitants of this planet, were merely tenants with limited lease. We began to realize that we were destroying the only home we had. Yet, in that same period of time, we have failed to care for this planet, acting as if we were the owners and nothing was wrong. We see the evidence but because it calls for us to do things we would rather not do, we claim the evidence is false and that everything is fine.

If nothing else, the penalty for failing to teach how to think and be creative means that we cannot find solutions to the problems that we face because we are incapable of thinking outside of the box we have placed ourselves in.

Perhaps what bothers me more than anything else is that it is the people of the church today who are pushing us further and further into this new dark age, not pulling us out of it. The people of the church protected knowledge so that we could know the truth; now it seems that it is the people of the church who want to destroy knowledge for fear that the truth will be known.

I have chosen to be a Christian because I have come to understand how Christ came to give us freedom and hope. Yet, I know so many others who call themselves Christian but are unwilling to help others find that same freedom and hope.

It was the people of the church who spoke out against injustice and repression but know it seems so many people of the church are leading the movement towards injustice and repression.

Understand that my thoughts are in terms of Christianity; but other religions are just as guilty of same reversal of thoughts over the years.

There are too many people who seek to hold onto a view of the past as the way to the future, who seek to limit the opportunities for others and claim all the rewards for themselves. I worry that if these few individuals are able to accomplish this, by limiting creativity and innovation, by shackling people with economic and social chains, then we will truly enter into a newer and darker age. And because the darkness will be worldwide, it will be very difficult for civilization to continue.

It has been postulated that there was a period of time in this planet’s past when it was completely covered with ice. But there was still some life in the oceans and deep within in the core of the planet was a source of heat. Over time, the magma in the core was able to come to the top and crack through the ice, ultimately melting the ice and beginning a new period of geological and biological activity on this planet.

It is my hope that there are enough people who see the coming days as a warning and are able to work towards enlightenment, not darkness, justice rather than injustice, freedom rather oppression, and hope not despair. It is my hope that when you get done reading this piece, you will take a few moments to think, really think, about where you are and what you can do to change the world around you. Perhaps it will take nothing more than saying hello to someone to make the change that allows the light to become brighter.

TRUST


DrTony:

Tom, thanks for posting this prayer. I found this to be highly appropriate for what is going on in my life right now.

Originally posted on Hopeful:

I shared this prayer by Thomas Merton last year. But isn’t this great?

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe 601655_169972666467393_1690513489_nthat the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death…

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“Which Side Are You On?”


There is a discussion going on over on John Meunier’s blog about the future of the United Methodist Church (see “Fields in Anathoth”). John’s thoughts come from the on-going debate about homosexuality and the recent decision by my bishop, Martin McLee, not to purse the trial of Thomas Oglethorpe for officiating at the same-sex marriage of his son.

One of the comments posted spoke of what would happen at the 2016 General Conference and my reply was that we, as a denomination, probably would not make it that far; that others would seek to take actions that would preserve the Discipline but would tear apart the denomination.

I was challenged to state where I stood in regards to what will transpire in the next few months. To borrow a phrase from an old union song (and one that I have used in at least two sermons in the past), I was asked, in effect, “which side was I on?”

Now, for me to reply to this, you have to know some things. I am a Southern boy, born in the South, raised by a Southern momma, and educated, for the better part of my life, in Southern schools. I went to school in the South when schools were still segregated. The one thing that I don’t remember too much is what the pastors of the churches we attended said on the subject of integration and civil rights. I have my thoughts that the pastor of the Methodist church we attended in Montgomery, Alabama, probably didn’t say much or was opposed to the idea, what with the Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, a member of the same church.

The likelihood was that I heard that segregation was Biblical; that the scriptures were very clear that the races had to be separated.

And when I was a junior in high school in Memphis, Tennessee, and schools began to be integrated, I saw the rise of private Christian academies, schools designed to meet the thoughts of the parents that their children would never attend a integrated school.

So when I hear today that certain individuals are to be denied the same rights and privileges I have solely on the basis of their sexuality, I hear (as so many others have heard) the same arguments made fifty years ago that state that race was a determining factor in getting into heaven.

And those who read this for the first time have to know that I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education with an emphasis in chemical education. To be a scientist requires some understanding of the world around us; not mere blind acceptance of words in the Bible, especially when such acceptance is not always by choice but as the result of someone’s demands.

I am not a theologian nor am I Bible scholar so I don’t spend a lot of time dealing with scriptures that make the point for or against. Maybe that would make it easier to take a stand, make a decision, or decide where I stand.

But I don’t approach it that way. Rather, I use the skills and abilities that I know come from God and that I know He wants me to use. I think the problem through, using what I understand the Scriptures to mean (though not necessarily say). I look at the problem, knowing the laws expressed in the Old Testament were written for reasons that we have often forgotten or never understood and knowing the Jesus Christ came to embody the law, not merely enforce it.

What I have come to understand is that homosexuality is not necessarily, as some say, a choice but rather a result of genetics. If we are all made in the image of God and then deny the truth of genetics, we have a problem. For at the very least, we are saying that God made a mistake. And how is possible for God to make a mistake? (And if you think about this, if this is a mistake, what does that say about the parents who bore this child of God that we want to expel from our church? Maybe the sins of the parents are truly imposed on the children.)

My wife will tell you that she had some long and interesting discussions with a gay colleague and he would say that he always knew who he was. He would tell you if he could but he committed suicide because society didn’t want him to be an open part of it.

It’s not my place or my obligation to judge others. It is my job and my obligation to show the Love of Christ for all, no matter who they are.

I have said it before and I shall say it again – I cannot leave the United Methodist Church. It was in the United Methodist Church that I was given the opportunity to find Christ; it was because of a number of ministers in the United Methodist Church that I was given the opportunity to understand who Christ was and what He meant for me. My path was not limited because I stood side by side with friends for civil rights and in opposition to the war in Viet Nam, even though that would have been the politically sound thing to do.

It would have been very easy for me to leave the church back then. I saw working for civil rights and being against the war in Viet Nam as an extension of all that Christ had said and taught. I thought that all I had to do was the same things and I was in heaven.

It was a United Methodist minister who taught me that my actions meant nothing unless they were done with the same love that Christ showed. Still, the churches where I grew up and the church where I was a member when I was in college easily supported the war in Viet Nam and thought that civil rights were a political thing and not part of the church. Members of those churches would have treated me as a pariah, not as someone seeking Christ.

I cannot begin to imagine Christ telling someone that they cannot come into Heaven because of who they are. Yes, Christ would ask if they have repented of their sins but, then, Christ would ask us the same question.

Which side am I on? I cannot be on the side of those who would say to some that they are not welcome in this place. But I can be on the side of those who have Christ in their actions, who stand with Christ as He stands at the door beckoning all come in.

 

Lessons Forgotten


I am sure that you have seen those posts, especially on Facebook, that talk about the “good old days”, on how we played outside and how we respected our elders and said “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am.”

They will, in other posts, often bemoan how our nation has gone downhill because we don’t start each school day with a prayer and things would be so much better if prayer were allowed back in schools.

I sometimes get the impression that when such posts are made, there is an implication that 1) we are doing something wrong today and 2) the fault lies within our schools and educational system.

Now, this isn’t really about manners and respect, though perhaps it will become something about those issues. And don’t get me wrong; manners and respect are very important skills and things that need to be taught.

Same thing about prayer; how did the parents who want prayer in the classroom start their day? Did they start with prayer or did they hurry out the door on their way to work?

One thing I know, from having been a classroom teacher at both the high school and college level, is that manners and respect are taught at home and no one, no one should ever expect their children’s teachers to do what they, the parents should be doing in the first place. When a child or young adult comes into a class with an attitude that shows little respect, it is something that they learned at home and not in the classroom.

And besides, those who post such items often forget what the classroom was like some fifty years ago. I don’t remember much about my years in elementary school but I do remember how we started each day in the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, with prayer. That was 1962 and the last year that I can recall prayer in school.

But Bellingrath was a very homogenized school; let’s face it, it was segregated. And it was very easy to say a prayer because religion was very much a corporate thing and it really did not matter what denomination you were. And I would hazard a guess that if you were not a white Protestant you did not go to Bellingrath, so denominational differences were limited.

And while respect and manners were taught at home (probably by our mothers since they stayed home while daddy went off to work) we were also beginning to discover that our parents didn’t always practice what they preached. Remember that particular time (the early 60s) was the time when society was becoming very much aware of the differences between individual and while there was a belief in equality, we were finding out (in the words of George Orwell) that some people were more equal than others.

Not only were we being challenged by what we saw in society, we were also being challenged in the classroom to think creatively and innovatively, to question things, and (pardon the cliché) push the envelope.

It was the beginning of the space race and we were looking not just around the corner but to the moon and, I would suspect, that many of that generation were even thinking of travel to the stars.

Now, when you teach individuals to think creatively, to be innovative, to question things, things happen. You begin to be creative in your music and your thinking. You begin to question the assumptions behind war and sending the young off to die for the dreams of old men.

You cannot things to stay the same when one begins to question the fundamental assumption that builds walls between people because of their race, gender, economic status, or sexuality.

You cannot expect things to stay the same when you talk about equality but put then send people off to war because somehow “we are better than they are”.

And for those in power, the things that happen were not always good. You cannot expect society to change when the elders of society keep telling the youth that they must wait their turn while everything around them tells the youth that the opportunities are there for the taking.

I think that if I were to post about what was lost or forgotten, it would be about what we have forgotten. We have forgotten how to be creative, how to be innovative, how to treat each other with respect. In one sense, we have forgotten to think because if we were thinking, maybe we would be in the state we are in right now.

Look around and ask yourselves who is longing for those long ago “good old days.” It is the people in power who achieved and hold onto their power through greed and manipulation. They are the ones who don’t want people to think but simply follow and do what they say.

Look around and tell me if creativity and innovation are alive and well or if we haven’t gone back to the corporate model of education that is designed to produce workers only trained to do what they are told and not to think for themselves.

Look around and tell me if religion today is no less the corporate religion that it was fifty years ago where the pronouncement of so many religious leaders is to maintain the status quo.

Who is it that wants a return to those “good old days”? Is not those whose hold on power would slip if people were able to think on their own?

The lessons we learned fifty years ago are timeless ones. We learned that every person, no matter the color of their skin, their economic status, sexuality, or beliefs, was entitled to the same rights and priviledges as everyone else. (It may not have been taught that way but the way we taught encouraged to think that way.)

And we were also taught that every person must be involved in ensuring that every person has the opportunity to gain those rides. When you learned the lesson, you taught the lesson.

If something is missing in today’s society, it is that we have forgotten the lessons we were taught.

Phone Calls


I just posted this on my Facebook page.

Something I just read prompted me to post the following:

If you have not registered your phones with the “Do Not Call” list, do so. It will save you a lot of grief.

Even you are on the “Do Not Call” list, you are still susceptible to calls from political groups and charities (even if the charity is questionable).

If you are on the “Do Not Call” list and you are getting calls about lowering your interest rates, that is not a violation. There is a loop hole in the “Do Not Call” regulations that allows such phone calls if you had a credit card at one time.

My solution is to utilize a version of something we did with the phone in the old Bartlett High School Band Room (’66 – ’68), “East Side Mortuary. Is this a pickup or delivery?”

I don’t know how the people how the people who call because they have discovered there is a virus in my operating system get my number (blocking the number doesn’t help because they are spoofing the number that shows on the Caller ID) so I offer the suggest that I don’t have any windows in my office but I do sit by the door.

I know that this isn’t going to stop the phone calls but at least I have a little fun.

Looking in from the outside — a pastor visits another church


DrTony:

I am doing like several others on the Methoblog have done and reblogging this piece by Jay Voorhees. It is worth reading and, more importantly, the basis for examining how your church reacts to visitors. I would also point out that I mentioned some of the problems with web pages in my own piece last August, “Can You Find Your Church?” – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/can-you-find-your-church/

Originally posted on Only Wonder Understands:

As most of my Facebook friends know by now, I’m currently in Los Angeles having helped my eldest drive from Nashville to establish a new home. Needing to recover from the drive and needing some time off, I chose to stay over a few extra days to enjoy the sunshine, connect with some old friends, and generally relax. That is how I found myself this morning going through the task that many do each week — trying to find a church to attend, and walking into a new place of worship unannounced.

I do have pastor friends here in the area, and I gave serious thought to visiting their churches. But it as I thought about it, I decided it would be interesting to not lean on my previous relationships but to go somewhere cold — just like most of the visitors to our churches. For most of us in…

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“Our New Operating System”


I am at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday. Services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Here are my thoughts for the 7th Sunday of Epiphany (Year A), 23 February 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18;3: 10 – 23; and Matthew 5: 38 – 48.

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The title for today’s message is an interesting one, don’t you think? It reflects some of the thoughts I had while I was reading the Scripture readings for today and seeing if I could install, or rather, have a new operating system installed on my netbook. It turned out that the installation was not as simple as I envisioned and it required skills that I had not used in quite some time.

Now, I have always been interested in computers and computing technology but, as the machines have developed and evolved, my own interests moved from computer programming towards how one can best use computers, computer technology, and information technology in one’s own daily life. I am quite happy to let others build the machines and then write and refine the programs that allow me to do and make it a little easier to accomplish.

My choice of sayings for the thoughts of the day reflect that evolution and change in computers. If I had had the space to include them, I would have added the statement made in 1943 by the chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson,

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

I would have followed that statement with one made in Popular Mechanics in 1949 where, forecasting the relentless march of science, it was proclaimed that

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

I could then add the comment made by an unnamed engineer in the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM in 1968 about the microchip,

“But what … is it good for?”

Of course, it was the microchip and its subsequent development that has lead to the existence of computers in so much of our lives.

I wonder how Ken Olson, president and founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation feels about the statement he made in 1997 that

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

And finally there is that definitive statement by Bill Gates in 1981 that

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

Today, of course, we operate with computer memories in the gigabytes and have devices in our home and work that operate on chips with greater computer power than the limit proposed by Mr. Gates some thirty years ago. What I find personally interesting is that many of the memory sticks that are so common today have many times more memory capability than did the Apollo spacecrafts that went to and landed on the moon in the late 60s and early 70s.

It would be unfair to say that each of these “prophecies” was a failure. Each of these statements was a reflection of the time and the knowledge available at that time. It was a statement that this is were we are at and where we are going to be. I am sure that similar statements have been made by many in today’s society, statements that place a limit on what we can and cannot do.

The noted philosopher, Charles Handy, pointed out that we live at a time where it seems that the more we know, the more confused we get. And as we increase our technological capacity, we also seem to become more powerless.

We call for an end to wars yet we see more wars as the solution. And while we have developed some of the most sophisticated armaments in the history of the world, we can only watch impotently while parts of the world kill each other and we are entrapped in wars of our own making (italics added as my own thought).

We grow more food than we need but we somehow cannot feed the starving. We offer feeding programs but the food often given out is loaded with sugar and carbohydrates which leads to an increase in diabetes.

We can unravel the mysteries of the galaxies yet we cannot understand other humans. We know that learning takes time but we demand immediate results from education. We call for quality education but we seem to think that funding education is wasteful.

We call for an end to poverty but our solution is to allow the rich to keep their money such that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, not decreased, over the past few years.

We demand the truth and we will listen to any prophet who can tell us what the future holds. But prophets do not foretell the future. What they do is tell the truth as they see it; they warn of dangers ahead if the present course is not changed. They point out what they think is wrong, unjust or prejudiced. They offer a way to clarify and concentrate the mind.

But they cannot tell the people what to do, despite the fact that is what many people want them to do. It was Jesus who told us that we should seek the truth and the truth will set us free but we are afraid of that truth. (from “The Age of Paradox”, Charles Handy; first referenced in “To Build A New Community”)

We say we are solving the problems but in doing so only create more problems. We create rules and laws to solve the problems but which only create barriers and walls that entrap and enslave us.

This is not to say that we cannot go beyond the limits of today’s society; it is more proper to say that innovation and creativity exist in an environment that encourages one to look beyond the boundaries, to peek around the corner and over the horizon. But you cannot do so if you are limited by rules and regulations or when others seek to impose their definitions and beliefs on you.

It has long been noted that the first thing that John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA, did at the beginning of each basketball season was to teach his players how to put on their socks and basketball shoes. And he reminded them that their hair could only be so long.

To the players, such rules were an imposition on them, rules designed for the coach to control them. But as they learned, such rules were not to limit them but to allow them to play.

By insisting that their socks and shoes be put on in a particular manner, Coach Wooden was insuring that they would not get blisters on their feet and thus be prevented from playing. The rule about the length of a player’s hair was not a fashion statement but rather an acknowledgement that long hair would prove to be an impediment when playing.

Player after player will tell you that they did not understand Coach Wooden’s rules when they were playing but after their playing days were over, they found that rules provided the basis for the success in their lives, whether it was in basketball or elsewhere.

And for me, there was a degree of comfort in knowing that Coach Wooden found his own success in Christ.

Charles Handy, the noted philosopher, noted Jesus changed the thinking of the time by teaching that the meek should inherit the earth, the poor would be blessed and the first would be last in the ultimate scheme of things. (Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason, pg 23) In doing so, Jesus challenged the system and caused people to think in an entirely different manner. You cannot be a true Christian unless you are willing to change your thinking and see things in a new way. You cannot do this in a solely rational manner; you must have a vision based on faith. By the same token, you cannot see new things in a new way based on faith alone; you must be able to act in a rational manner. (adapted from “A New Order Of Things”)

We can easily see the Book of Leviticus as a set of laws, rules, and regulations that tell us how to live. In fact, there are many today who seek to have that accomplished today.

But if we look carefully at the rules that are the reading for today, we find that they are more than that. From the very first statement, “Be holy as I am holy” to the ending verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” these verses show how the holiness of the Holy One is to be lived out in our daily live and how we treat and do not treat our neighbors. These verses are the biblical ground for what John Wesley would later call “social holiness.”

Wesley would also put it this way, social holiness is the way we watch over one another in love. It was a way to help early Methodists fulfill the three General Rules:

  1. Do no harm
  2. Do good
  3. Stay in love with God

The organization of the early Methodist church, the Methodist bands, class meetings and societies, was done to help the early Methodists fulfill these rules. But it was not meant to be a simple checklist of personal actions (I have done this, this and this today); rather it was meant to be a way of actively working and witnessing against evil and for good in the general society. It was, if you will, the basis for an operating system, a way to live one’s life to the fullest.

Jesus takes the call from Leviticus to love one’s neighbor further. He reminds us that in God’s Kingdom we are called to love not just our neighbors but those who harm us, oppress us, and seek to destroy us. Offer those who harm you the other cheek; give those who steal our outer garments all your clothes; offer to walk an extra mile when you are compelled to walk one. Give liberally to those who beg and want to borrow from you. Counter those who would steal with a generosity they weren’t expecting and give those lacking in love and who seek to harm you the perfection in love they sorely lack.

In those verses of Matthew, Jesus offers a way to turn the evil intentions of one’s opponents back on themselves for all to see. And in doing so, in going against what would seem to be the norm and usual response, Jesus was calling us to experience and exercise the perfection in love that was possible with the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This is our new operating system, one that takes us beyond the norms and visions of society, one that takes us into the new world of God’s Kingdom.

Just as I found that my own skills and abilities were insufficient to make the changes I wanted for the operating system of my computer, so too are my skills and abilities insufficient for making significant changes in this world that would allow God’s Kingdom to be realized. But it is not up to me, nor can it ever be up to me, to achieve that sort of outcome.

Paul writes to the Corinthians,

Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool—that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid.

Our responses to the actions, words, thoughts, and deeds of this world cannot be the same. That is what Jesus was saying; those are the rules for living first stated in Leviticus. If God loved us, then we must show that same sort of love. The love for one’s neighbor first expressed in Leviticus is also shown by loving our enemies as well.

There are too many examples, both throughout the pages of history and in our own lives, that tell us our own vision of the future is limited. And yet there is Jesus telling us that we can reach beyond the horizon, we can see around the corner and the vision of God’s Kingdom is there if we were but to see.

Our choice today is very simple. We can continue using the same operating system we have now and get the same results that we have always gotten. Or we can open our hearts, minds, and souls to Christ and accept the new operating system that is offered. And in doing so, we know that the world will change. The choice is ours, what will it be?