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costly love

August 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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July 14, 2013. Ruthfred Lutheran Church in Bethel Park, PA.  Luke 10:25-37

The Good Samaritan.  Like an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, we know the moral of this story, right?  Be a GOOD neighbor! We see ourselves in the role of the Samaritan, thinking to ourselves, “I bet I would have stopped. If I saw that man on the side of the road, I would have been the one to help him.” Really? What if it cost you two month’s salary? What if you got robbed and beaten yourself during your rescue mission? What if you traded in your reputation for the safety of that stranger on the side of the road? What if you missed your dream job interview because of this dirty, bleeding nobody? This story digs deeper than our Mr. Rogers moralizing. This story makes us uncomfortable. It challenges the way we think about love.

>> I encourage you to read the short account first in Luke10:25-37. You can read it online here.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

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“Costly Love” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You cannot control other people.  Repeat after me… “I cannot control other people.” Good.  At the going rate for professional therapy, you all owe me $175.

This may or may not seem elementary, but I’ll tell you why I’m writing about it today… We don’t really believe this.

I want to help you with something that I wrestle with myself.  When we are confronted with a conflict of some kind, the kind of conflict that requires a face-to-face let’s-talk-this-out meeting, our job is to do everything possible to steer the ship toward peace with everyone.  It’s not about proving your case, or demanding justice, or sticking it to the other guy because you are just so right this time… It’s supposed to be about relational repair.  Peace.

That’s what the Bible says, right?  Romans 12:18 says straight up:  “Live at peace with everyone.”

At least, some of us think that’s what the Biblical standard is.  Peace with everyone.  At all times.  No matter what.  Turn the other cheek.  Seventy times seven.  Logs and specks.  You, know… be a doormat for the Lord. This is the path of least resistance.  For us to be at peace with everyone, we can’t take a firm position or stand up for ourselves or confront someone if they’ve wronged us, then, right?  Because for us to be at peace with everyone, we need everyone to be at peace with us… right?

Repeat after me, “I cannot control other people.” Perfect.  That’ll be $350.

Of course Romans 12:18 has more to say than “Live at peace with everyone.”  And while I’m certainly not discounting Jesus’ commands to radical forgiveness, cheek-turning, and humility, let’s be clear on what we are and what we are NOT called to do in cases of relational tension.

Roman’s 12:18 in it’s ENTIRETY reads like this:  “IF it is possible, and AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, live at peace with everyone.

In other words, it might not always be possible.  Paul understands.  God understands.  Why is this the case?  “You cannot control other people.” Plain and simple.  God doesn’t hold you accountable for the other person’s behavior OR for their REACTION to your attempts at relational reconcilliation.  That’s why this verse is more of a comfort to me than a command.  The phrase that liberates me from religious striving for the impossible standard is this: “…as far as it depends on you…”

Some of you need to take that good news to heart.  Some of you are locked right now in a relational conflict that you cannot control.  Some of you are experiencing deep pain, or are feeling that your inner sense of justice has been violated again and again, because there is someone in your life who refuses to treat you with respect.  Some of you are shouldering  a heavy weight of guilt because you feel like you can’t fix it. And you’re not at peace.  And you’re supposed to be at peace with people.

Once again, and I won’t even bill you for it… “I cannot control other people.”

Jesus wants you to lay that guilt down.  And I don’t mean to put words in His mouth… that’s dangerous ground.  But I can be confident in this case, because we are not called to shoulder the responsibility for other people’s sinful behavior.  If you are weighed down by a broken relationship, I have good news.

First Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  You are not called to take responsibility for other people’s relational baggage.  Lay it down.

Second, Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you…”  You re not called to take responsibility for other people’s relational baggage.  Lay it down.

Our part is hard enough.  In fact, our part is impossible.  Seventy times seven is an idiom meaning “forever, without end.” How often should we go on forgiving people according to Matthew 18:22?  Forever. And if you’re in a broken relationship with another person who is continuing to wound you or treat you with disrespect or disregard, neverending forgiveness might sound impossible all on it’s own, to say nothing of restoring that relationship to peace.  But that is where Jesus strength is made perfect in you – when you are weak.  And that is where, abiding in Christ, we are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory.  Neverending forgiveness may seem impossible.  But it’s not intended to be something that you give and give and give to the OTHER person…  It is something that you RELEASE from yourself again and again.

Release the need to control the situation.  Release the need to see justice come down on the offending other party.  Release the feeling that your reputation – or more significant, your identity –  is dictated by this other person.  Forgiveness is a command of God because He wants to protect your heart. From bitterness and self-centeredness and self-pity and from sin.

So, with God’s help, let go of the need to hold the other guy accountable.  Your mom may never change.  That coworker or classmate may continue to treat you badly.  Your spouse may not be the person you dreamed they would become if only you loved them enough.  Forgive them – and let God be their judge.  Over and over.  Forever.  As far as it depends on you.

But that is as far as you can go.  As far as it depends on you.  Because you cannot control other people.

This does NOT mean you forget.  This does NOT mean you continue to put yourself in a position to be wounded.  This does NOT mean you don’t stand up for yourself when necessary.  This does NOT mean you have to be a doormat for the Lord.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

If peace is not possible, it is NOT your fault.  If you have forgiven and extended kindness and it is rejected or met with contempt, it is NOT your fault.  As far as it depends on you.

Lay it down.

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“i know you’re right, but you still can’t pray that he gets trampled by a herd of rabid wildebeast” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I’ve been hurting and praying for the family of Tyler Clementi.  His death is deeply tragic.  And I believe that bullying is a big deal.  We ought to treat each other in civil society with respect, and we need to raise our children to treat other people with respect.  Even those we disagree with.  Especially those we disagree with.

This post will take a little time to develop, so I want to be clear about my purposes for writing it up front.

FIRST:  If you’re a student somewhere being bullied because you are gay, and you are considering checking out – just to escape the pain of it – please don’t.  You are loved.  I know that to my very core.  God didn’t screw up when he made you.  He wants to fill your life with purpose.  There are hundreds of voices on YouTube and everywhere right now sending you the message that “IT GETS BETTER.”  And if you can make it through this tough season of life, where you’re surrounded by jerks, you’ll soon come out the other side and enter a new phase of life – free from that kind of intense bullying that cuts you down.  So my first message to you is this:  HANG IN THERE, because you’re deeply valuable.  And I’m a Christian guy who believes that being gay is not God’s plan for you – I’ve written about this stuff before.  But listen, you are more than your sexual nature, and you matter to us and to God, no matter what your sexual orientation.  I hope you’re willing to keep reading this, and keep thinking.

SECOND:  Gene Robinson is an enemy of God.  He is one of the voices proclaiming the “it gets better message,” and I have posted his video below.  While I believe he means well, and many gay young people have been encouraged by his message, he is misrepresenting God, and God’s Church.  I do not hate Gene Robinson, and I do not oppose his message because he is gay.  Rather, I oppose his message because he is wrong.  More on that below…

You’ve maybe never read this blog before, so I want to help you put what I’m about to write into context.  Everybody has a foundational set of beliefs building the framework of their life story, even those of us who never think it through or put it into words.  Here are a few of mine:

With regards to Faith and Life:

(1)  I believe that God is sovereign, and His Word (the Bible) is perfect and authoritative on all issues pertaining to faith and life.

(2)  I believe that every single person on earth (myself included) has been born with a sinful nature, and is therefore condemned to an eternity apart from God.  We can’t fix it through anything we do. Period.

(3)  Jesus Christ died on a cross to save us from that sin.  He is the only road to forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.  Yes, that message is exclusive.  Jesus alone is our only hope.  That’s basic Christian doctrine.

(4)  God is a God of love and justice.  His standards are not flexible, because He is holy, and that means He is pure and “other than us.”  Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard.  But He also loves us with a fierce, protective, all-consuming, life-changing love that is not bound by the limits of even the deepest love of man.  Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard. 

With regards to homosexuality:

(1)  I believe that God’s Word makes it clear that homosexual activity is sin.  I know many believe they can explain away the several passages in scripture that make this clear.  But those arguments do not stand up to sound standards of Biblical interpretation.  Therefore, I reject the argument that “God didn’t really say that.”  He did say that.  People have the free will to choose to live set against His Word.  But it is simply not true that the Bible is in any way unclear on this matter.

(2)  I’m not sure what my Christian brothers and sisters would say to me in this one, but here goes…  I believe that the evidence of nature, personal witness, and common sense makes it clear that some people are born with a homosexual proclivity.  I am making a clear distinction here between homosexual nature and homosexual behavior.  The clear testimony of many homosexuals, including some of my friends, is that their very earliest memories of a sexual nature involved same-sex attraction.

So, now what…?

The two statements above create tension.  On the one hand, God is saying that acting on one’s homosexual feelings is sin, and a violation of His relationship with us – enough of a violation (actually, EVERY sin is enough) to separate us from God forever.  No heaven.  No hope.  Just regret, guilt, pain, fear and darkness.  On the other hand, some people seem to grow up with an attraction to people of their own gender.  How can this be?  How can God allow this?  It isn’t fair.  It is too much to ask…

I have a lot of empathy for those with a homosexual predisposition.  Some fight it.  Others embrace it.  Still others live in the middle ground somewhere.  At some point, to come to a degree of mental peace about this issue, a person with a homosexual nature has to examine what they believe about the morality of homosexual behavior.  If you’re gay, and have looked at the Bible and agree that it seems clear that homosexuality (expressed through lifestyle) is wrong, you must be either full of conflict, or you have chosen to reject the Bible as a valid authority in today’s culture.  If, on the other hand, you simply discount the Bible, being a homosexual today is much easier.

But easy does not equal right.  It’s often the hard road that is the best one.  And doing the right thing comes at a cost.  That’s true in every area of life, and it really matters.  It’s easier to cheat on tests and papers in school.  It’s easier to follow the crowd into all kinds of bad moral choices than it is to humbly go the right direction.  It’s easier for any man, gay or straight, to chase his sinful sexual nature into multiple relationships, but committing to one for life through marriage is so much better – and it is the only moral choice, with the authority of the Bible making that clear.

Unfortunately, the evangelical Christian community has often handled our relationships with gay people clumsily – or with venom.  A mean-spirited approach to people with a homosexual predisposition destroys our ability to share the life-giving message of Jesus.  We have not, in general, loved gay people very well as a community, because (to some degree) we don’t know how.  But we do know that the Bible says “don’t do it,” so we point our fingers and feel justified in doing so.  It is possible, Church, to be clear on moral lines, and still love people well.  In his way, Gene Robinson is trying to tell gay young people that we (evangelical Christians) have failed to show love, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t loving.  In as far as that goes, I agree with Gene.

HOWEVER, Gene Robinson is not just a random dude on the street.  Gene Robinson is a Bishop – a “representative” of God and God’s people.  He is influential, and many outside the church see him as a representative of those of us who identify ourselves as a part of Jesus’ family.  For this reason, when he speaks on behalf of God, and boldly proclaims lies as the truth, he becomes an enemy of the truth.  He is working against God.  And he is working against you, too.

Here is Bishop Gene Robinson’s “It Gets Better” message:

Gene Robinson, I’m sure, wants to help and encourage you if you are gay and are facing hostility, bullying, or just differing points of view.  I respect people’s freedom to live as they please in this country, and I am grateful for free speech.  But that door swings both ways.  Gene is free to proclaim things about God and about His people that are not true, and I am free to publicly oppose that message as not just a little bit off base, but actually demonic heresy.  Gene Robinson is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He may be a nice man, but I will take a stand today against his message.

When he says that your Baptist parents’ message  that God does not accept a homosexual lifestyle is “flat out not true,” he is wrong.  God won’t stop loving you, but his moral standards do not endorse homosexuality.  That is a hard truth, but being hard doesn’t make it wrong.

Mr Robinson goes on to say that God wants you to “be the way you are,” and that God made you that way… that He doesn’t want you to change.  The hard truth is, sin in the world has corrupted men – every one – so that we want things that we should not desire, and we long for things that go against God’s will for us.  In fact, all of us have sinned and have a broken relationship with God.  That’s why Jesus came and died for us.  So that if we trust Him, he cleanses us from our sin and buys us back from the kindgom of darkness.

Gene Robinson is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ by TITLE, but he is serving the wrong team.  If he were truly serving Jesus, he would tell the truth – that Jesus Christ died to save everyone because we all desperately NEED him to save us from our depravity.  Every sinner.  Gay and straight.  And Gene would tell you that God’s laws aren’t rewritten when they are hard to understand or seem too hard for us to live by.  God’s justice (His law) and His love (Jesus’ rescue) never change, even when the culture does.

So, if you are gay, and wondering what to do with it all, I want to tell you the truth in love.  Most Christians don’t hate you.  They (and I) may do a lousy job of loving you, but don’t write off Jesus for the failures of his kids.  We are all broken people.  We may not understand your struggles and desires, because straight people just haven’t been there.  But God does set a clear standard.  Homosexual behavior is sin.  And many, many, many people born with a homosexual inclination or nature have learned to fight that fight for love of God and the truth.  The message of the gay community right now is “It Gets Better,” and they are right.  This culture is making more and more efforts to affirm the gay lifestyle as a normal, healthy choice.  If you choose not to wrestle with the moral implications of a gay lifestyle, it will only get easier for you the older you get.  But there is grave danger in that choice.  Your life on earth is only a blink.  And then you face eternity. 

You need Jesus, because it is too hard for you without Him.  So do I, because in my way, resisting sin and earning heaven by living the perfect lifestyle is too hard for me, too.  Only in Jesus do we have any hope.  If you want to talk with me more about this, use my contact info and shoot me an email or call me up.  God does love you like crazy, and there is great hope in that truth.  But that isn’t to say we can do anything we want, and God will simply endorse it as a “no big deal” decision.  Love and justice.  Moral boundaries BECAUSE He wants the best for us.

Gene Robinson gets it ALMOST right when he says, “God wants you to live in the light of His love, and that light will take away all of this darkness…”

Unfortunately Gene is implying that we Christians, speaking the truth about God’s clear Biblical guidelines, we are the darkness.  He would seek to put a dividing wall between God’s love and “religious people.”  Gene is wrong.  SIN is the darkness.  He is on the wrong team.  One day Gene will answer to God for his life.  So will I.  So will you.  And on that day, the light WILL take away all darkness – all sin, of every kind will be eradicated.  Between that day and this one, we all need Jesus.  Thankfully,God DOES love us beyond our wildest imagining.  He loves us enough to show us the hard truth in His Word, and to send Jesus to do the impossible on our behalf.

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“it will get better, but that’s not the point :: a response to gene robinson, with my gay friends and the church listening in” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I am conflicted.  And I’m conflicted about being conflicted.

On June 2, 2010, fallen pastor and former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, announced his plan to launch and pastor a new church in the Colorado Springs area this upcoming Sunday, June 6.  Here is the video of his public announcement…

Thanks to Mike Foster and the profoundly inspiring People of the Second Chance blog for bringing this to my attention.  UPDATE:  For a clear and simple timeline on the history of Ted Haggard’s ministry from author Jason Boyett, click here.

This news spawned some significant cognitive dissonance in me.  On one hand, I actually feel some anger at Ted Haggard.  We’ve never met.  But his public fall from grace – and his profoundly hypocritical public stand against homosexuality while (at least) dabbling with it (if not much more) behind closed doors – hurt the reputation of the faith I love.  Pastor Ted was a public representative of Jesus – both to those inside and outside of the Church.  How many souls turned away from Jesus in disgust, seeing such reckless hypocrisy?  Every human being is weak and sinful, yes.  But another evangelical leader?  Really?  Satan must have revelled in the fallout.

That’s on the one hand.

On the other hand, I believe to my core heart of hearts that when God forgives, the sin is gone.  He is in the business of REDEMPTION.  And I love to see Christian leaders brought beyond discipline to RESTORATION.  I love it.  It is the power of the Gospel on display.  It is the story of Christ’s victory lived out in the local congregation.  Restoration of the fallen is unique in the Church – and it brings me deep joy.

I can’t give names, times, or details, but I can say this…  I have personally witnessed this process, in all of its beauty and power, with two close friends and ministry leaders I know well.  They owned their sin.  Confessed it.  Repented to church leaders and to their congregations.  They were removed from ministry for a season.  They sought out forgiveness.  They remained in humble submission to authority.  And in the right time, after an appropriate season away, they were restored to ministry positions where their gifts were used to honor God and build up the church.

Every time I hear that kind of story, I want to cheer.  Redemption on display!  Isn’t it AWESOME?

So what is it about Ted Haggard’s return to ministry that has me conflicted?  Am I still holding him in judgement?  That’s not my job.  Do I feel that he hasn’t had an appropriate time away from ministry?  Who am I to say?  I have decided to forgive Ted Haggard for the insult he represented to my Jesus and His Bride.  And yet I know that just because God can forgive completely and forget sin forever, and even other believers can forgive in our limited way, consequences of our choices remain.  Often for years.  Often for the rest of our life on earth.  Is that what I expect for Ted Haggard?

I’m starting to believe that Mike from POTSC is right.  I’m starting to believe that the most God-honoring stand to take in a redemption story like this is on the side of the sinner being restored.  I’m still conflicted.  But I suspect that my struggle with this has more to do with my own sin of judgement than it does with Ted Haggard’s readiness to minister.

What do you think?

  

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“do i really believe in redemption? :: ted haggard’s return to church leadership” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

March 14, 2010.  Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  This is part two of a two-part series exploring the character and nature of God.  The Bible tells us both to FEAR God and “do not be afraid.”  The Bible describes God as a Righteous Judge, holy, dangerous, and unapproachable…  And He invites us to call Him “Daddy.”  A loving, caring God who knows us intimately.

How can this be?

Part one focuses primarily on the JUSTICE of God, and what it means to fear the Lord.

Part two focuses primarily on the LOVE of God, which is made complete to satisfy His Justice.  This message will examine how it is possible to both FEAR and ADORE God at the same time.

Video also includes parts of our response song at the end of the message:  “How He Loves” arr. by David Crowder.

If you prefer to simply listen to the audio of the message only, click below to stream.

 

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“the God of love and justice :: part two” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

March 7, 2010. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  This is part one of a two-part series exploring the character and nature of God.  The Bible tells us both to FEAR God and “do not be afraid.”  The Bible describes God as a Righteous Judge, holy, dangerous, and unapproachable…  And He invites us to call Him “Daddy.”  A loving, caring God who knows us intimately.

How can this be?

Part one focuses primarily on the JUSTICE of God, and what it means to fear the Lord.

Video also includes response song at the end of the message: “The Wonderful Cross” arr. by Chris Tomlin.

If you prefer to simply listen to the audio of the message only, click below to stream:

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“the God of love and justice :: part 1” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Continuing my awkward (but important) stand in defense of violence today.  Can’t help myself.  After all, I titled my last post “part one,” so I really have no choice but to continue with a “part two…”  Even if I’m reluctant to be this guy.  Christian guy.  Carrying the banner for violence.  What?!

Well, that’s just it.  In “part one(…which I encourage you to peruse if you haven’t read it yet.  It’s short, entertaining, and controversial.  Like Tom Cruise, without the creepy.  Promise.) I basically state my belief that idealism must take a back seat to realism when our family, our nation, or our neighbors are threatened by evil people.  As a Bible-believing Christ follower, I’m called to be a “mirror-bearer,” accurately reflecting the truth as it really is, not just painting a picture of the way I wish it was.

Further, I asserted that the pacifist idea that no good can come from violence is, basically… malarkey.

So I’ve gotten some press-back.  This came from my good malarkey-filled Facebook friend (who I might add, was courageous, gracious, and good-natured enough to respond in the comments section):

What does the Bible say about war & violence, particularly the NT?  Josh, are you saying that we are NOT called to live nonviolently?  I would have to firmly argue that Christ calls us to live at peace with our brothers & sisters…

Hence, the “part two” today.  There’s an elephant in the room.  And it sounds a lot like Jesus.  It sounds like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It sounds like “Love your enemies, do good to them…” and “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  It sounds like Jesus is a pacifist.

Hold on just a minute.  Because this is really important to clarify right now:  I get “weebed out” speaking for Jesus.  Gives me the willies.  Basically I’m only comfortable with Him speaking for me.  So please consider the following opinions MY opinions, not whack-you-with-my-Bible fundamentalist “voice of God” stuff.  Cool?  Just humble me.

I believe that Jesus’ words about loving our enemies (the above taken from Matthew 5 and Luke 6) are commands, not options.  But Jesus is talking to His disciples – his people – and a crowd that had gathered and sought Him out to hear what He had to teach them.  This was not a political speech, presented to a governing body.  It was not aimed at Rome, or at any government, council, or militia.  This was His word to me.  When someone mistreats me, plots against me, even does me direct harm, Jesus’ word to me is “Love them.”  This is what “turning the other cheek” is all about.  It is my cheek – I have the right to offer my other one as an example of God’s patience and grace alive in me.

Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…”   You.  Hate you, curse you, mistreat you.  It’s your cheek.

But Jesus did not say, “If someone does another person harm – curses, mistreats, endangers, maims, disfigures, enslaves, humiliates, murders – another person, offer up their other cheek, too… and yours as well.”  I guess I’m more comfortable stating for the record what Jesus did NOT say here, because technically, I’m correct. *holding breath anyway*

Jesus was speaking to individuals about their/our own heart’s condition.  He revolutionized the whole world with a command to LOVE OTHERS before avenging/defending our SELVES.  But there is another side of God’s nature.  He is a God of love -AND- justice.  And when we present God’s love devoid of the reality that He is also just, we are forsaking our mirrors (reality) for the happy little trees (idealism).  (Click here to see what I’m talking about.)

I still refute the pacifist baloney that no good can ever come of violence.  I will stand up for the JUST use of violence – the measured, principled, restrained use of violence to protect and defend OTHERS from harm.  I stand behind the police, who stand between my family and the thief in the night.  I stand behind the soldiers who have bravely fought for freedom in Iraq, Korea, France, Germany.  I believe in the righteous obligation of a husband to fiercely protect his wife and children.  And I do believe in the right to defend one’s-self from gratuitous violence.

I said before, and I’ll say it again from the rooftops, I don’t want to be an advocate for violence.  I want to be an advocate for reality.   And I HATE violence.  I hate that we live in a fallen world, where sin is alive and well in humanity, and evil is allowed to wander.  I hate it.  But I’ve read the Book, and Jesus wins.  In the mean time, I must sadly tolerate violence as, sometimes, the most effective means of propagating JUSTICE and DEFENDING those who need protection.

I do not intend to speak for God.  He does not need me to stand between His truth and your heart.  Just consider the possibility that the most LOVING and the most JUST response to counter evil may be a strong, abrupt, physical defense of the vulnerable.  I can offer my own cheek.  But I do not believe we are supposed to offer theirs.

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne.  He observes the sons of men; His eyes examine them.  The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates.  On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.  For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will seek His face.   [Psalm 11:4-7]

If I am wrong, I am open to hear it.  Lord, forgive me if I misrepresent You.  What do you think?

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“in defense of violence, part two :: it’s my cheek he’s talking about” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.