According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book Review - John Caputo, "Hoping Against Hope"


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Amazon Book Description

John D. Caputo has a long career as one of the preeminent postmodern philosophers in America. The author of such books as Radical Hermeneutics, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, and The Weakness of God, Caputo now reflects on his spiritual journey from a Catholic altar boy in 1950s Philadelphia to a philosopher after the death of God. Part spiritual autobiography, part homily on what he calls the "nihilism of grace," Hoping Against Hope calls believers and nonbelievers alike to participate in the "praxis of the kingdom of God," which Caputo says we must pursue "without why."

Caputo's conversation partners in this volume include Lyotard, Derrida, and Hegel, but also earlier versions of himself: Jackie, a young altar boy, and Brother Paul, a novice in a religious order. Caputo traces his own journey from faith through skepticism to hope, after the "death of God." In the end, Caputo doesn't want to do away with religion; he wants to redeem religion and to reinvent religion for a postmodern time.

Amazon Book Reviews

Most helpful positive review
By Phil on October 21, 2015

In a market saturated by religious books that try to avoid the difficult and complex questions of life and faith, John D. Caputo's book is a breath of fresh air. He writes from the heart, and dares to ask questions about God and faith that so many of us have yet aren't sure we are allowed to ask. He's honest about the fact that we frequently live our lives somewhere between belief and doubt. This book takes religion in a new direction altogether. Caputo doesn't seem to think it possible or wise to give superficial answers to complex questions, and he goes against the grain by not trying to settle the debate once and for all regarding the existence of God. What he does, however, is write with a passionate sense of hoping, sighing, dreaming and longing that in so many ways marks the human condition, whether we believe in God or not. In that sense, believers, skeptics, inquirers, agnostics and even atheists will find great resonance in this book. I can't recommend it enough.

Most helpful critical review
By Amazon Customer on November 1, 2015

Hoping Against Hope is a book that I really enjoyed reading despite disagreeing with the author's conclusions. Caputo is a wonderful writer and has a deep understanding of the history of philosophy which he uses to masterfully craft short vignettes as he interacts with himself and the great western philosophers. It is this interaction with his younger self and philosophers which I particularly enjoyed. In fact, at times I found myself not wanting to allow myself to think about where he was going but couldn't help but read on due to the pure delight I experienced in his interaction with philosophy. It was not unlike watching a horror movie in which you have become deeply involved with the plot and yet experience a sense of dread as you realize exactly where it is leading.

The basic premise of Hoping Against Hope is that it doesn't matter so much if God exists... we ought to live as if he does. Not because we are duty bound to honor him as God, but simply because the themes of the kingdom (mercy, forgiveness, etc) are worthy pursuits of which no one can bring a charge against. Consider the following,

"if the unconditional does not exist, and if the name of God is the name of something unconditional, then God does not exist -- just in virtue of the unconditional purity of the gift, of forgiveness, of everything unconditional . . ." - JC

This is what Caputo refers to as the "nihilism of grace" and is a central theme in Hoping Against Hope. To live this way . . . to live a life of compassion, mercy and forgiveness is only rightfully lived (according to Caputo) without why. To live without why is to live a virtuous life divorced from the virtue's relation to God. An act of compassion is only truly compassionate if it is done simply for the sake of compassion and not under the auspice of God's favor or displeasure.

I understand what Caputo is getting at and in part agree with him. Mercy is only merciful when it is enacted for the sake of another and not when motivated by fear of God or an alternative motive of gaining favor with God. This is certainly true. But I think Caputo is too quick to dismiss that we often times do the right thing not to find favor with God, but simply because we desire to please him as a child desires to please his mother or father. In other words, our good works are acts of worship (not merit) that we do out of gratitude toward God. Furthermore, Caputo seems to dismiss (or at least neglects to address) the idea that the only possible way that sinful man can possess true virtue is by the grace of God. Our compassion, our forgiveness, and our mercy all have their origin in God. They are foreign and not naturally born properties within the heart of man.

Overall I really enjoyed Hoping against Hope. I found Caputo easy to read and sincere. However, as a theology, it fails to answer the deeper questions of why we do what we do. Simply doing them without why sounds good enough, but upon reflection, is inadequate to tame the sinful heart of man.

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A joyful affirmation contra New Atheists and Long Robes alike
By David W. on October 31, 2015

Does God exist? Is there a heaven beyond the skies? Does religion offer an escape hatch from the temporality and finitude of human existence? To these Big Questions, John Caputo offers answers that are emphatically, if not dogmatically, in the negative. Nevertheless, Caputo's philosophically textured and deeply personal memoir, Hoping Against Hope, in which he presents a radically unorthodox interpretation of the Christian (Roman Catholic) tradition that formed him, is no amicus brief on behalf of the warrior atheists in their case against God and religion. Caputo has always been and remains convinced that the question of God is, in the words of Paul Tillich, a matter of ultimate concern. Moreover, he does not simply equate religion with superstition, but rather sees it as a "form of life", a way of being-in-the world, without which, despite its dubious history, the world would be a less hopeful place.

On the surface, Caputo's idea of God, which will not be entirely new to those familiar with his ongoing work in hermeneutical-deconstructive philosophy and so-called “radical theology”, appears to be purely and simply atheistic. He rejects out of hand any notion of God as a Supreme Being, Eternal Father, Unmoved First Mover, Ultimate Ground, or the like. Does God exist? Caputo says no, and as far as that goes, Caputo agrees with the New Atheists. Yet where Atheism (with a big A) new and old ends, Caputo’s postmodern religious project is just getting started. “God does not exist,” Caputo asserts, then, with a greater insistence, in the same breath, affirms, “God insists.” The complex and difficult notion of God’s spectral yet compelling “insistence”, as opposed to metaphysical existence, is the subject of Caputo’s longer and more densely philosophical study, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps, and is not developed in Hoping Against Hope. Instead, Caputo focuses our attention on a subtle and evocative concept drawn from the work of the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida: the unconditional.

The unconditional signifies for Caputo an affirmation of life and the world without strings attached, a gift given, received, and enjoyed outside the economies of exchange. In theological terms, the unconditional is God emptying himself into the world and disappearing without remainder, and without expectation of thanks, much less worship. Caputo acknowledges that the theology of the unconditional will cause pious brows to furrow, a furrowing in which he clearly takes an impish delight. Yet those “long robes”, as Caputo calls the guardians of orthodoxy, are not his primary audience. Caputo writes for those of us who are willing to put our piety at risk, who still care deeply about God and “his” future, and yet might find it difficult to fully embrace the notion of a God as mortal as the world into which “he” has vanished.

C. S. Lewis would be aghast, but I’m tempted to call John D. Caputo a “joyful Christian”. To be sure, Caputo’s is a joy more Nietzschean than “properly” Christian, yet one cannot read Hoping Against Hope without becoming infected by Jack Caputo’s joy of life, a joy that is surely not unlike the joy of the one whom Caputo calls, with deep affection, Yeshua the Earthman.

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Hoping Against Hope Review
By Amazon Customer on October 31, 2015

SUMMARY

In Hoping Against Hope, John D. Caputo shares his spiritual journey which began early on in his youth and simultaneously puts forth what he calls a “religion without religion,” or the “religion of the rose.”

He begins by explaining that based upon the scientific evidence of the continuous expansion of the sun, the world will literally end. He calls this “inhuman”, because all people will literally be no more, along with their stories and their thought. He admits that as a young boy and later, as “Brother Paul,” -- another name he’s given himself from a previous stage in his life in which he was committed to Catholicism – he would have readily pointed to religion to find comfort in this coming doom. However, he points out that much of what is going on in religion, or what he likes to call “in the name of God,” is full of ugliness and hatred that don’t seem to offer a sense of hope in the face of a looming “nihilism.”

All of this is what leads to his venture into arguing for a religionless religion, which includes his main ideas of the religion of the rose, the nihilism of grace, living without why, and the pure gift. Each of these ideas feed into the other and are tightly woven together. The religion of the rose is that it blooms simply because it blooms. Of course there are many biological factors that cause its blooming, but ultimately, the rose is not blooming for any reason. It is simply being a rose. Therefore, Caputo sees the rose an example for us, as it “lives without why,” selflessly and essentially, purposelessly. This is the perfect example of his “nihilism of grace,” which he says to think of “as depending on the power of nothingness, something that is because it is, nothing more, without why” (p. 44). The rose and the way it simply exists gives way to Caputo’s idea that ultimately, God does not exist, rather He “insists.” As he explains in great detail, if God first exists and demands our allegiance to Him, all of His gifts are no longer pure, and neither are ours, because He gave to us in order to indebt us to Himself, and we give gifts and do good works in order to secure our own heavenly rewards (which brings up another concept in the book, the economy of salvation). If a gift is known at all, then it is no longer pure, no longer grace. Therefore, God does not exist, rather He insists, and we, humans, give God existence with our good works. In fact, Caputo even says that our good works are the kingdom of God; that our “pure gifts” to the world which we do without why are the existence of God in the world themselves.

Fundamentally, this book is Caputo’s offer of a hope that is not in Jesus Christ or in any other god or super being coming to save us from the eventual destruction of this world, but that hopes that this indeed is not the case; that the Day of Judgment is not what we believe it to be, because hoping in Christ’s return to save us into eternity with Him would mean that those who do not hope in Him would be doomed for eternity. The only thing to do, then, is to live without why, bringing God to life with our pure gifts of grace, and embracing the world as it is, chaotic and perishable.

REVIEW

John D. Caputo is an extraordinary writer. His eloquence and witty humor make Hoping Against Hope a challenging yet fun and engaging read. He makes excellent points, for example, about the danger of the “economy of salvation”; that many do good works only to inherit eternal life, ultimately for selfish gain, or even out of pure obligation without love. He is clearly an intelligent man with extensive knowledge in many areas. However, Caputo lacks a few beliefs that are fundamental to Christianity, which steer most of his concepts in the wrong direction.

First, he doesn’t believe that there is one objective Truth, and therefore does not believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:16). On page 98, he writes, “I do not think that there is an underlying, universal, cross-cultural religious truth that can finally be unearthed with enough empirical digging into the different traditions. The only universal I embrace is the universality of difference.” On page 99 he goes further to say, “I imagine a meeting of Jesus and the Buddha, in which each bows before the other, each confessing what he has to learn from the other…” This is clearly in stark opposition to God’s commandments to have no other gods beside Him (Exodus 20:3) and to love Him above all else (Matthew 22:37-38).

This leads me to another core problem with Caputo’s theology: he doesn’t believe that God is who He’s revealed Himself to be throughout the Scriptures, nor who God reveals us humans to be in the Scriptures either. This is a seam that can be traced all through the book. On page 62, he speaks of the work of Mother Teresa and writes, “Her work stood, with or without God; her work stood, without why. Her work was the work of God, which is what the rabbis mean when they speak of loving the Torah more than God.” With such a statement and concept, Caputo has either forgotten or disagrees with Scripture – and therefore with God – that we are sinful and incapable of doing any truly good thing without the help of God Himself. We have no good nor any value in and of ourselves. On page 82, he explains his agreement with Meister Eckhart and writes, “Eckhart went so far as to say that God needs human beings in order to be God. This is the mystical predecessor of what I am calling the ‘insistence of God,’ where God needs us to be provided with existence…the world is the place where God gets to be God.” This statement sums up clearly enough that he believes that God needs us. Again, this is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. God doesn’t need us at all, not only because we’re fallen, imperfect people, but also because He is perfect, and not to mention – Creator. He created us; we’re His creations. Yet He needs us?

This takes me to my final main finding in the cracks in Caputo’s concepts, and it’s a bit of a two and one: I believe it’s safe to say that Caputo neither believes in the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God, nor the final and ultimate authority concerning Truth, which makes me wonder: is he a Christian at all?

Don’t get me wrong; Caputo is, as I said, a wonderful writer, incredibly intelligent, and he makes many good points. The issue I found is that his good points veer off into a direction that I, as a devout believer and follower of Jesus Christ, would say work in opposition to what we find in Scripture. All in all, I would say that this book is an excellent read in terms of eloquence, entertainment, and even for the challenging of one’s mind and faith. However, I strongly question to what extent, if to any extent at all, he writes from a Christian perspective.

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A confusing, unorthodox approach to God
By Joe W. on October 31, 2015

I don't think I can rightly claim to be a philosopher in any sense of the word. As such, I tend to find works of philosophy more difficult to digest, and this work is no exception. If a work is to be graded on its ability to be read and understood, I would have to give this book a "D" at best. The flipping back and forth between personalities and having two entities with the same name (one the child version of the author, the other a French philosopher) added to the confusion as I read through this book.

While I may be able to agree to some extent with the author that much done in the name of Christ is not truly done according to the will of Christ, his talk of reclaiming or reinventing religion paints a picture that does not match what I know of who Christ is. I suppose that should not be surprising because it appears that the author has reached a point to where he denies the existence of the God of the Bible (in doing a little bit of research, the author supports what is called "weak theology," one of the outpourings being the denial of God as a being who can and will intervene in the events of the universe).

The author most definitely does not fit the picture of orthodoxy, denying special creation as recorded in Genesis and seeing homosexuality as acceptable. Whether intentional or not, he also gave me the impression of declaring all religions as equally valid (again, the lack of clarity in writing did me no favors in understanding his point). His disparaging of the orthodox understanding of Christ was disturbing; instead, he references a few isolated instances in Scripture that, taken by themselves, give a distorted view of who Jesus is, camping on His love while ignoring His justice.

All in all, I cannot rightly recommend this book.

Note: I received this book through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest appraisal

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PostHope Hope
By James R. V. Matichuk on October 31, 2015

Can Hope survive with the collapse of epistemology certainty? Is God necessarily existent for spiritual experience? Can the nihilism of our age open us up to the possibility of grace? Phenomenologist and deconstructionist John D. Caputo wrestles with these questions and more in his intellectual memoir, Hoping Against Hope (Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim). The book is a spiritual autobiography of sorts, but it only reveals the broad contours of Caputo's life, focusing on the development (or deconstruction?) of his thoughts on God, faith and certainty.

Caputo was raised in a devout Catholic family. He spent four years as a De LaSalle monk, before his illustrious career as a philosopher and theologians (thirty-six years as professor of Philosophy at Villanova University and professor of philosophy of religion at Syracuse University for seven years). In Hoping Against Hope he gives voice and personality to these various stages of his intellectual development. As a child Caputo was an altar boy in pre-Vatican II Catholicism who had memorized the Baltimore Catechism. Caputo refers to this younger self as "Jackie." "Brother Paul," is the monk Caputo who grew callouses on his knees in an attempt to learn prayer and had a love for the mystics. The professor, "John D.," is the the philosopher who's tongue was loosed by Jacques Derrida (the other Jackie) and the French Postmodernists.

Caputo writes:

"My life as a philosopher has taken place in the distance between theology and philosophy. Like everyone else, however far forward I thought I moved, I was always circling around my origins. I soon found that the audacity of the philosophers who "dare to think" according to the Enlightenment motto, fails them when it comes to theology. There they panic, in fear of contamination. They treat the name of God like a terrible computer virus that will corrupt all their files, or like a real one, like the Ebola virus, where the odds of recovering are against you. So, mostly at the beginning of my professional life, when "John D." stepped forth and responded to the title "professor," while telling Jackie to stay at home, I was worried that they would say, "This is not philosophy, this is just his religion." But my religion is between me and Brother Paul and Jackie and several others. How can they know anything about that? (104-105)."

With the Continental Philosophers, Heidigger, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotoard, Levinas, and others, Caputo thoroughly rejects the narrative of the Christian tradition and the official line of the Roman Catholic church. He dismantles dogma, expresses his antagonism toward the afterlife and a God that is either ' the Prime Punisher and the Royal Rewarder (64). He also regards the arguement between atheism and theism to be wrong-headed. With a Zen-Koan-like-air he proclaims, "God does not exist. God insists" (114). He gives fresh and unique interpretations of scripture and imagines the textual variants he wishes to one day uncover. Caputo's thoughts run far a field from classic Christian orthodoxy.

But his project isn't wholly negative. Caputo upholds active service to the poor and marginalized and the non-religious religion of love. He says his idea of nihilism is stolen from the mystics and he employs insights from Miester Eckhardt and Marguerite Porete (both mystics ran a foul from official church teaching). What Caputo proposes is a religion of the Rose--"The rose is without why; it blossoms because it blossoms; It cares not for itself, asks not if it's seen" (27). He brings this verse from Angelus Silesius into conversation with Lyotard's religion of the smile and posits a nihilism where all of life is received as a gift (with or without a giver), where all of life is received without condition (181).

As an intellectual memoir/spiritual autobiography I give this three stars and thought it was an interesting read. I especially loved the 'short nocturnal dialogue' where Caputo imagines a dialogue with himself at his different stages of faith and intellectual development. I appreciate how Caputo's postmodernity leads him to pluralism and relativism without the need to posit an underlying universal faith in God. However, I am unconvinced by Caputo's theological vision and see his radical (or weakness) theology as incompatible with the Christian gospel of grace. I was aware of Caputo before reading this book, so wasn't particularly surprised by what he says here. I have read him before and have seen him lecture. I find him fascinating. I also find it ironic that I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews. If Caputo mentions the cross at all (and I don't remember that he does in this book), it is clearly not his focus. Anyway, I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

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The God of love should keep an infinite distance from the economy of salvation
By Matthew Hisrich on October 26, 2015

I cannot overstate the profound impact Jack Caputo's writing has had upon my faith and my life. His earlier "Insistence of God" helped provide me with the language to articulate in a big picture sense of a God of insistence rather than existence, and a theology centered on the possibility of the event. With Hoping Against Hope he has done this for me once again, this time particularly regarding heaven and its implications for life here on Earth. His description of the beauty and value of life not based on the economy of heaven is beautiful and moving. I highly recommend this book for fans of Caputo and others interested in wrestling with orthodox Christian understanding.

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Touching and Personal- A great read. One of Caputo's best!
By Joseph Candito on October 21, 2015

For those readers who are familiar with Jack’s work in The Weakness of God and The Insistence of God, this is a deceptively simple book. Maybe because the Professor had to share the stage with young Jackie and Brother Paul. I found this a touching and personal read. There is a circumfession here. Even if it is subtle. I am not a philosopher and have no training as such. This book gives life to many things Jack has written in other places. If you are looking for a confirmation of eternal security, you are not going to find it in these pages. Living without why (The Theology of the Rose) can be risky business. In Professor’s own words, “The name of God is the name of a way to be, a way of living in the world, where things are a lot risker than we all thought. Life’s a beautiful risk”. To which a young Jackie adds, “And a frightening one.”

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I enjoyed the musings, the interaction with thinkers, and the illustrations.
By James B. Pate on October 21, 2015

John D. Caputo is a philosopher, a theologian, and an author. Hope Against Hope contains some of his musings about religion. Caputo dialogues with different aspects of himself: Jackie, who was Caputo as a child; Brother Paul, who was involved in a religious order; and Caputo as an academic. Caputo also interacts with a variety of thinkers: Meister Eckhart, Marguerite Porete, Martin Heidegger, Paul Tillich, Jacques Derrida, and others.

Caputo expresses a number of views that would probably be controversial among evangelicals. For example, Caputo expresses doubt about (maybe even disbelief in) eternal torment in hell, and perhaps even the afterlife, for that matter. This is surprising to me, since I received a review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews, which strikes me as conservative Christian.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It has a musing quality to it, and I appreciated that Caputo wove different thinkers into the discussion, while sharing his own faith journey. Caputo also has a sense of humor, and I laughed out loud at some of his wry reflections.

I did not find some of his main points to be particularly new. For example, Caputo essentially says that God has no hands but our hands, and no feet but our feet. It was not entirely clear if Caputo even believes that God exists, for, on the one hand, Caputo seems to suggest that God makes Godself aloof to give us choice and the opportunity to act, yet, on the other hand, Caputo addresses the question of why we should even pray when we are unsure if someone is really listening. Still, for Caputo, we, through our actions, make God present.

While I was not particularly floored by Caputo’s main point, I did enjoy some of his illustrations: the priest who had doubts about God yet remained a priest because he was helping people; how Martha may have been serving because she was spiritually secure and did not need to sit at Jesus’ feet listening (the text is Luke 10:38-42); how hope is not allowing past negative experiences to get one down (Caputo said this in discussing whether artificial intelligence could ever have hope); that Derrida, an atheist, was a man of prayer; and how the Bible is a book of suggestions that paints a picture of what life under God’s rule could be like.

Caputo discusses other issues, such as inter-religious dialogue and the question of whether we have the religion that we have on account of where we were born. Caputo believes that different cultures may have received their own revelations, and that we should celebrate differences. Caputo’s approach is rather post-modern.

Some parts of the book resonated with me, and some parts did not so much, but I found that being in a critiquing (or heresy-hunting) mode was not the best way for me to read and appreciate this book. A poet on a movie that I recently watched told a friend that she should not worry whether she understands the poetry or not, but should simply let it wash over her. That was how I approached Caputo’s musings.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews, in exchange for an honest review.


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