“Prostrating himself and touching his forehead to the ground, Mathieu Pawlak put his demons to rest. Once a practicing Catholic tormented by a spiritual void and the searching questions of youth, Pawlak embraced Islam and, he says, found peace…. “I found the way that Muslims pray to be truly profound.  It links the body and the heart,” said Pawlak (New York Times, 1/16/06, “Officials concerned about Muslim converts,” emphasis added).

  1. Scripture references:
  2. John 3:3:         “born again” – the Greek means “born anew” and “born from above”
  3. John 3:5:         water and Spirit (= the Word, that is, Christ)
  4. John 6:44:        “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”
  5. John 15:16:      “You did not choose me, but I chose you…”

NB! Therefore when all these texts are examined, it is evident that John 3:3 “born anew” means “born from above.”

Acts 16:15:  “[Lydia] was baptized with her household…”  Household = men, women, children, and slaves.  Up until 140 AD there is no reference to infant baptism or adult baptism of those from Christian families.

Infant baptism = the perfect example of justification by faith alone

Adult baptism is deferred infant baptism.

  1. What is really real?  Experience?  Feelings?  Experiences fade away.  Feelings come and go.  Some never have spiritual experiences.  Furthermore “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).  “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8).
  1. What is sin?  Spiritual pride, rebellion.  (“All our righteous deeds are filthy rags,” Is 64:6)
  2. Pride – If I do or feel the “right thing,” I am caught in spiritual pride.  I’ve done it right.  I’ve contributed my share.
  3. Despair – How to know when I’ve believed earnestly enough?  Has my decision for Christ been heartfelt?  Has it stuck?
  1. The appeal of visible success.  5-7 hundred million Pentacostals.  They seek evidence of changed lives = quest for visible transformation.  They appeal to experience.  They advocate small groups, and small groups work.  Speaking in tongues is found in Hinduism, too.  Spiritual experiences are not confined to Christianity (matters of psychology/sociology).  They are separate from “the truth of the gospel.”
  1. Discipleship: “They’ll know you are Christians by your love” (!?)  We have to make it happen.  And we can make it happen.  Claim that evidence of faith can be provided.

Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel:  We are totally righteous and totally sinful.  Faith, by definition, is hidden, hidden under the cross.  What’s real?  The promises of God – outside of us, in spite of us.

“One thing is sure: We cannot pin our hope on anything that we are, think, say, or do.”

(Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles III/III/36, BC 309)


 – Thanks to flickr and to buzzwordindia2010, for the photo.  And thanks to CrossAlone Lutheran District for the  content of this post.    


How to…Repent


(I believe that I cannot by my own reason or understanding repent =

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or understanding believe.)


How does repentance work? Most think: first I become aware of my sins, and then I am sorry for them. Then I name them and make amends. More or less. You have to do the best you can and God will do the rest. That’s what repentance and forgiveness is about. In the Roman Catholic system, defined at Trent: Under the supervision of the priest, first you are contrite, then you confess, and then you make satisfaction.

But are we truly aware of our sins? Do we see ourselves as we really are? Are we sorry enough? And what if we forget some sins? And can we ever really make things right again? Here Luther is a first-rate example. He tried to confess all his sins and then repent and make it right. He realized, when he was brutally honest with himself, he ended up either in spiritual pride or in spiritual despair. There was no way to catch up and get ahead.

Presupposed in all of this is that we can and want to know our sins and do something about it. God’s grace provides everything we need, but first we have to repent. That is to say, there is in us something that can turn toward God, a divine spark or a “bent” toward God in our very nature. (“The heart is restless ’til it rests in thee.” Augustine)

When you come down to it, however, sin is rebellion. We never want to repent and never want to make it right. To be sure, people do change their lives. In the left hand kingdom we do repent and make changes. But in the right hand kingdom, before God and the true burden of holiness, we end up either misled by the evil one into spiritual pride or, like Luther, unable to be dishonest with ourselves, we sink into spiritual despair. We may, of course, be aware of and even ashamed of being caught in our sins. But to change in our heart of hearts is not possible.

You will remember from confirmation Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.” But the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies.” We may paraphrase this by stating: “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot repent…” and that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings me to repentance.

We who live in a world of modern psychology can help ourselves by distinguishing between psychological guilt and theological guilt. [1] We may feel terribly guilty but that does not mean that we are necessarily guilty before God. Or we may feel innocent and still be guilty before God.

The same is true for faith. Faith can be analyzed psychologically, as by Fowler in six stages (from childlike faith to mature faith), but that has nothing to do with theological faith, which is based on what God does. A good example is infant baptism.[2]

Again, we may repent in all sorts of ways psychologically. But that is not what Christian repentance is about. Repentance is a gift of God. It does not depend on us, on how sincerely we repent, or what changes we make in our lives, or whether we make it all right.[3]

In the New Testament there is no pattern or sequence for repentance and salvation, such as call, repentance, conversion, adoption, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. In Romans 8:29-30, Paul writes:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined . . . And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Faith and repentance are not mentioned and everything is in the past tense.[4] This is because it is all God’s doing, and it is all really one act of God.

For example, note the curious sequence of sanctification before justification in 1 Cor 6:11: “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.”

Thus in the theme verse for the Gospel of Mark (1:15): “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel,” it is important to realize that God delivers the kingdom just as he brings us to repentance and gives us faith.

We stand in awe at what God has done, is doing, and will do.

[1]Alcoholics Anonymous is an example of a therapeutic use of repentance and belief in a higher power. AA is a very effective program, but it is not Christian repentance.


[2] “Thus faith is a gift, purely and simply. All are in the same situation when it comes to faith, just as all are in the same situation with respect to sin. That means that adult baptism is simply delayed infant baptism,” Joseph A. Burgess, “Faith: New Testament Perspectives,” American Baptist Quarterly 1(1982) 147-48; read it here.

[3]“Repentance” is not unique to Christianity but exists in other religions. How then is Christian repentance different? Is it because Christians repent in Jesus’ name? To be sure, we pray in Jesus’ name, but the name does not “work” like a magical formula. Rather, God elects us through the cross. As Luther says, the righteousness of faith is a purely passive righteousness. God does it. Thus Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Creed.

[4] The Greek verb here is the aorist tense, which does not exist in English. It is not a simple past or a past participle. Rather it means “now and forever,” as in Ephesians 1:4: “… [H]e chose us in him before the foundation of the world….”



From CrossAlone Lutheran District


Thanks to flickr and forwardstl, for the photo.









‘Rome will not budge’

32 by Concerts Captured

Here’s some good info. from our friends at CrossAlone Lutheran District.

It will help round out our understanding of some  of the differences between Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church.


click here > Rome-won’t-budge





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Thanks to flickr and Concerts Captured, for the photo.





Not “the centered life” – but “hidden in Christ”


You’ve heard it said:

1. Faith gives power for works.

2. Faith reveals what God wants you to do.

To the contrary:

“Firstly, it is usual to regard the relation between faith and works – and for that we can now also say, between what God does and what man does – in the first instance as a relationship between power and performance. Faith is supposed to give the power for works. This way of speaking requires to be very critically examined. The basic relation of faith and works isnot the communication of power for works, but the communication of freedom for them – that is, freedom to do the works in their limitedness as works and therefore also in the limitedness of the powers that are at our disposal for them. Just as faith too does not, though it is easy to misunderstand it so, primarily receive the revelation of what is to be done; but faith gives the freedom to perceive the right, because faith assigns works to their due place” 1


 1. “… faith … is not the communication of power for works, but the communication of freedom for them….”


Faith is not a psychological push to do good works. In other words, faith is freedom from having to do good works, now that Christ has done it all, so that I don’t have to deal with sin, death, and the devil. I am free to be myself, living for others.


2. “… faith …does not …receive the revelation of what is to be done….because faith assigns works to their due place.”


 Where is Christ working in the world and in my life? We are told that if we live “a centered life,” we will be able to see how the work we “do everyday contributes to God’s work in the world.”2

And yet real life doesn’t seem to work out this way. The life I live is ambiguous and broken. Where is God in our lives and in the larger world? We cannot dial up a list of what God is doing.

How do Lutherans sort this out? Faith is hidden. Apart from Word and sacraments, Christ is hidden. Contrary to the popular Bible Camp song – you cannot tell Christians by their love – and every attempt to do so leads to pride, hypocrisy, or despair.

To think that we can identify where God is working in our lives and in the larger world is a temptation. Luther frequently cited 2 Cor 11:14: “Even the devil disguises himself as an angel of light.” And Paul, when pressed by his opponents, declared:

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor 4:3-4).

Like being humble, we all know that if you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. All of which is to say that we live by faith, not by sight, by forgiveness, not “by seeing how God is sending me to do God’s work” (See footnote 2, #49). We trust him to know how to build his kingdom. Let God be God.3


1Gerhard Ebeling, “The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms,” Word & Faith (London: SCM, 1963), p. 404. 2See “Centered Life: An Initiative of Luther Seminary” and the following survey statements:

#44: I can easily see how the work I do everyday contributes to God’s work in the world.

•#47: I see how the tasks of my every day work connect with God’s work.

 •#49: Each day, I am able to see how God is sending me out to do God’s work.

3 What about bearing fruit? That will have to be dealt with in another post, in which we would take up 1 Cor 4:3-4 more extensively.


Thanks to CrossAlone-Lutheran-District .




A Clear Lutheran Voice from Germany

2010_07_23_CRW_2382 by The Lutheran World Federation

Dr. Johannes Friedrich, the new Presiding Bishop of the largest Lutheran church in the world, the United Evangelical Lutheran church of Germany (VELKD), recently addressed what it means to be Lutheran today.1 Four points:

  • “The core of scripture, in Christian thinking, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That means that all witnesses of the Old and New Testaments point to God’s salvation of humanity in Jesus Christ. They possess no importance outside of promoting Christ…. At the same time [this understanding] rejects all extreme and narrow forms of biblical interpretation such as fundamentalism, enthusiasm, or shortsighted individual teachings.”

Comment: Therefore in its use of scripture the church is neither lost in historical relativism nor subject to the tyranny of particular agendas.

  • “The central proclamation of the church is that [Christ] reveals himself in the congregation gathered in his name, in the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. So understood, we Lutherans stand in apostolic succession….This understanding of church subordinates all structural models and all forms of service to the working of Jesus Christ; it supersedes them, makes them changeable and renewable.”

Comment: Therefore no particular structure may be required, neither the papacy, nor the historic episcopate, nor congregationalism.

  • “The importance of the Lutheran emphasis on our being sent into the world: recognizing the two ways in which God rules, the so-called Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms….political power was not to put limitations on freedom of faith and conscience, and the church was not to view politics as its appendage, but rather groom Christians to be good citizens, engaged for the common good with Christian responsibilities.”

Comment: The church may not fall into the trap of claiming to be the “public church,” a term that conveys the idea that politics are an appendage to the church’s mission.

  • “… [P]roductive ecumenism ….follows from a common understanding of the Gospel.”

Comment: As Friedrich points out, this is what has happened in Europe and the Third World where churches have grown together using the Leuenberg Agreement.

As we and others work to build a centrist Lutheran future in the USA, Presiding Bishop Friedrich’s clear voice gives hope that we are not alone.2

1Emphasis added. The full text of Dr. Friedrich’s address, which was given after he was elected Presiding Bishop of the VELKD at its October 15-19, 2005, Assembly, is available on our website under “Lutheran Identity” which is under “Resources.” The VELKD has 10,650,000 members.


2 See “Our Charter” which sets forth the same basic Lutheranism as expressed by Presiding Bishop Friedrich.

Read Bishop Friedrich’s speech


Thanks to CrossAlone Lutheran District.

Thanks to flickr and The Lutheran World Federation, for the photo.









The Book of Concord’s Key To Itself

What do Lutherans believe? Some Lutherans say that they simply hold to the Bible and Confessions. Yet in the 1970’s Lutherans in this country split over how to use the Bible as the “only rule and norm.” Thus to say one simply holds to the Bible and Confessions is to fail to engage the dilemma of hermeneutics over which Lutherans are split.

A similar failure to engage hermeneutics marks those who commonly say: “The Bible is perfectly clear …” – as if using the word “clear” were a persuasive argument rather than what it really is – an authoritarian club. To be sure, the Bible contains assertions that are logically clear – women must wear veils in church (1 Cor 11:5), divorce is not permitted except for adultery (Matt 5:32), Jesus is subordinate to the Father (John 14:28) – yet such clear assertions are nevertheless not normative for faith and life today.

 What is the plumb line by which we sort out the varied assertions found in the Bible? The Book of Concord uses a variety of phrases to describe the doctrine of justification as the plumb line for judging all other doctrines. Justification determines scripture rather scripture determining justification.

 (1) Formula of Concord, Epitome, Preface 1, 2, 7; T 464-65, K/W 486-87           We believe teach and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and new Testaments alone…. Other writings of ancient or contemporary teachers, whatever their names may be, shall not be regarded as equal to Holy Scripture, but all of them together shall be subjected to it …. Holy Scripture alone remains the only judge, rule, and guiding principle, according to which, as the only touchstone, all teachings should and must be recognized and judged….

(2) Smalcald Articles 2:1-5; T 292, K/W 301                                                                      Here is the first and chief article: That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4[:25]) Now because this must be believed and may not be obtained or grasped otherwise with any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:28, 26]…. Nothing in this article can be conceded or given up, even if heaven and earth or whatever is transitory passed away. As St. Peter says in Acts 4[:12]: “There is no other name… given among mortals by which we must be saved.” “And by his bruises we are healed” (Isa. 53[:5]). On this article stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world….

 (3) Augsburg Confession 20:8-9; T 42, K/W 53, 55                                                     Therefore, because the teaching concerning faith, which ought to be the principal one in the church, has languished so long in obscurity –everyone must grant that there has been a profound silence concerning the righteousness of faith in preaching while only the teaching of works has been promoted in the church …. To begin with, they remind the churches that our works cannot reconcile God or merit grace and forgiveness of sins, but we obtain this only by faith when we believe that we are received into grace on account of Christ….

(4) CA 28:50-52; T 89, K/W 98                                                                                     Inasmuch as it is contrary to the gospel to establish such regulations as necessary to appease God and earn grace, it is not at all proper for the bishops to compel observation of such services of God. For in Christendom the teaching of Christian freedom must be preserved, namely, that bondage to the law is not necessary for justification, as Paul writes in Galatians 5[:1]: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” For the chief article of the gospel must be maintained, that we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ without our merit and do not earn it through service of God instituted by human beings.

(5) CA 28:65-66; T 92, K/W 101                                                                                                The apostles directed that one should abstain from blood and from what is strangled. But who observes this now? Yet those who do not observe it commit no sin. For the apostles themselves did not want to burden consciences with such bondage, but prohibited eating for a time to avoid offense. For in this ordinance one must pay attention to the chief part of Christian doctrine which is not abolished by this decree.

(6) Apology 4:2-3; T 107, K/W 120-21                                                                                   But since this controversy deals with the most important topic of Christian teaching which, rightly understood, illumines and magnifies the honor of Christ and brings the abundant consolation that devout consciences need, we ask His Imperial Majesty kindly to hear us out on this important matter. Since the opponents understand neither the forgiveness of sins, nor faith, nor grace, nor righteousness, they miserably contaminate this article, obscure the glory and benefits of Christ, and tear away from devout consciences the consolation offered them in Christ.

(7) FC SD 3:6; T 540, K/W 563                                                                                               This article on justification by faith (as the Apology says) is the “most important of all Christian teachings,” “without which no poor conscience can have lasting comfort or recognize properly the riches of Christ’s grace.” As Dr. Luther wrote, “If this one teaching stands in its purity, then Christendom will also remain pure and good, undivided and unseparated…. but where it does not remain pure, it is impossible to ward off any error or sectarian spirit.”

(8) FC SD 10:5; T 611, K/W 636                                                                                                 We should not regard as free and indifferent, but rather as things forbidden by God that are to be avoided, the kind of things presented under the name and appearance of external, indifferent things that are nevertheless fundamentally opposed to God’s Word (even if they are painted another color). Moreover, we must not include among the truly free adiaphora or indifferent matters ceremonies that give the appearance or (in order to avoid persecution) are designed to give the impression that our religion does not differ greatly from the papist religion or that their religion were not completely contrary to ours. Nor are such ceremonies matters of indifference when they are intended to create the illusion (or are demanded or accepted with that intention), as if such action brought the two contradictory religions into agreement and made them one body or as if a return to the papacy and a deviation from the pure teaching of the gospel and from the true religion had taken place or could gradually result from the actions.

(9) FC SD 10:31; T 616, K/W 640                                                                                             For this reason the churches are not to condemn one another because of differences in ceremonies when in Christian freedom one has fewer or more than the other, as long as these churches are otherwise united in teaching and in all the articles of the faith as well as in the proper use of the holy sacraments. As it is said, “Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consanantiam fidei” (dissimilarity in fasting shall not destroy the unity of faith).

(10) FC SD 11:91-93; T 632, K/W 655                                                                     Accordingly, whoever conveys this teaching concerning the gracious election of God in such a way that troubled Christians gain no comfort from it but are thrown into despair by is, or in such a way that the impenitent are strengthened in their impudence, then it is undoubtedly certain and true that this teaching is not being presented according to God’s Word and will but rather according to reason and at the instigation of the wicked devil. For, as the Apostle testifies, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” [Rom. 15:4]. However, any interpretation of Scripture that weakens or removes our hope and encouragement is certainly contrary to the will and intent of the Holy Spirit. We stand by this simple, correct, helpful explanation, which is firmly grounded in God’s revealed will. We flee and avoid all abstruse, specious questions and discussions, and we reject and condemn anything that contradicts and opposes this true, simple, helpful explanation.


[1] “only rule and norm” (Tappert, 464); “only rule and guiding principle” (Kolb/Wengert, 486). See quotation #1. Throughout the quotations, underlining has been added.

 [2] Other terms commonly used this way: simple, plain, self-evident, obvious.

[3] Two kinds of clarity are often confused when the clarity of scripture is discussed: The clarity in the meaning of the words on the page is one thing. But clarity in the theological sense means clarity about Christ and salvation. As Luther writes, “If the opponents use scripture against Christ, then we use Christ against scripture” (LW 34:112, Theses Concerning Faith and Law #49 [1535]).

[4] The varied ways of referring to the doctrine of justification in the citations below include the following: “chief article” #2, #4, “the principle one” #3, “the chief part” #5, “the most important topic” #6, “this article” #7, “the ‘most important’ of all Christian teachings” #7, “this one teaching” #7, “the pure teaching of the gospel” #8, “in teaching and in all the articles,” #9, “this teaching” #10. In context all these ways of referring to justification show how justification by faith alone is not only the chief article but also the article by which all other articles, including the article on scripture in the Preface to the Epitome of the Formula of Concord„ are to be understood.

 [5] The Aristotelian distinction between scripture as the formal principle and justification as the material principle does not accurately describe how the Book of Concord understands justification to be the chief article by which we interpret scripture.

 [6] “Accordingly, whoever conveys this teaching concerning the gracious election of God in such a way that troubled Christians gain no comfort from it but are thrown into despair by it, or in such a way that the impenitent are strengthened in their impudence, then it is undoubtedly certain and true that this teaching is not being presented according to God’s Word….” See #10 below.

[7] Philip J. Secker, “The Gospel and All Its Articles,” Lutheran Forum (Fall, 2005) 42-51, points out that the famous words here underlined “are the doctrinal articles contained in the Ecumenical Creeds and the Augsburg Confession,” not “all the doctrines of the Scripture,” and that rest of the Book of Concord is an explication of these articles (49).


Thanks to CrossAlone-Lutheran-District.











The Total Luther

Career of the Reformer III, Works of Luther #33

Luther said many things in many different situations. He even said “unLutheran” things, such as good works are evidence of true faith. If you can find quotes in Luther’s Works that support works-righteousness, does that mean Luther had no coherent stance?


To the contrary, when looking at the total Luther, it’s evident that his theology (the cross alone; the bondage of the will, the freedom of the Christian, and the like) has a dynamic that is consistent from the young Luther to the older Luther in spite of what he may have said in a particular sermon on a particular occasion.


Thanks to CrossAlone Lutheran District.


The Cross: The Twofold Scandal [1]

Wondrous Cross by NickD58

 Paul in 1 Cor 1: 23-25: “Jews seek miracles and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified….”  The cross is a scandal, a two-fold scandal:

1) The scandal of particularity.[2] That is to say, how can the finite world contain the infinite God?  The God, who is infinite and above all, who makes everything out of nothing, has become an individual, a male who lived between 4 B.C. and 30 A.D. in a place called Palestine and died on a cross. This is the scandal of particularity. We can only look at this in awe and wonder.  It’s like in the book of Job, chapters 38-42, where God says to Job, “Where were you when I created the foundations of the earth?” God is the One who has done all this. Who are you, lowly man, to claim that you understand and that you had a part in what this is all about?

2) The scandal of holiness becoming sin and taking on death.[3] That the one who is holy would take on sin is far different and far more astounding than that the infinite would become part of the finite.  We have that verse that Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin that in Him we might become the holiness of God.” He took our sin, we take his holiness.

The cross is more than the central symbol of Christianity; it is the starting point, the fulcrum, for all that is said about sin and salvation. The cross itself defines what sin is and what salvation is.

On the cross the last judgment has taken place. This is to say: The Lord God himself saw that we had a problem called sin, death, and the devil. He handled it his way on the cross. And it is finished (John 19:30).


I do realize that this is not really all that good of news for some of you who feel as though this cross thing is cutting into your religious project.

But to many others it is really great news that ALL that needed to be accomplished was accomplished on that bloody cross. And is still BEING accomplished for us in His Word and Sacraments, which is how God has decided to actually DO that cross to us, and the resurrection that followed.

As Louie, down at the docks would say, “You gotta problem wit dat?”


 [1] A 2005 CrossAlone District summary statement of  “the scandal of the cross.”

[2] Often loosely associated with the slogan finitum capax infiniti.

[3] Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy (1917) takes up an entirely different conceptuality.


From  CrossAlone-Lutheran-District.

Thank you.



Preach the Gospel, not the text -1


gerhard_forde by theologyethics

What’s a preacher to do?   Preach the text?    Or the gospel?

Even Gerhard Forde said preaching is “doing the text” to believers.

But doesn’t that work better with some texts more than others?

For example, when the lectionary has those “take up your cross” texts which presuppose that we can and must do something to make salvation work: “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:38).

What do you do with a text like that?

What did Forde do?

In this sermon, On Death to Self, Forde preaches the gospel even though he is preaching about “dying to self,” and “taking up your cross.”



From the CrossAlone Lutheran District web site.




Thank you, CrossAlone.

Thanks to flickr and theologyethics, for the photo.