The Life and Influence of Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer has been one of the most influential Christian thinkers in my life. I first encountered his work in seminary when I was assigned the task of writing a biographical critical evaluation of his person and work (if it sounds a little ridiculous, it’s because it was).

I was hooked to Schaeffer’s clear logic and engagement with culture. He predicted post-modernism before we were even post modern. His method of exegeting the climate of the age and filtering it through the Bible has been an inspiration for Endangered Minds.

Now I am slowly and slavishly making my way through The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer.

SHIFTY OLD MAN

It is a hard thing to ascribe a singular label to Francis Schaeffer.  He may be referred to as a philosopher, at times a theologian, a sectarian, an intellectual, an activist, a pastor, a man of God.  Michael Hamilton states, “perhaps no intellectual save C.S. Lewis affected the thinking of evangelicals more profoundly; perhaps no leader of the period save Billy Graham left a deeper stamp on the movement as a whole.”[1]  He was a mystery to the evangelical world, and remains somewhat of an enigma today.  He retained “strange bedfellows,” keeping company with:

“Jack Sparks; musicians Larry Norman and Mark Heard; political figures Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jack Kemp, Chuck Colson, Randall Terry, C. Everett Koop, Cal Thomas, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye; and scholars Harold O. J. Brown, Os Guiness, Thomas Morris, Clark Pinnock, and Ronald Wells.”[2]

His impact can be felt today in the multiple L’Abris that scatter across the globe. His books are still widely read by many scholars today.  And he made the term, “Christian intellectual” not sound like an oxymoron or a punchline.

SCHAEFFER’S INFLUENCE

For a man who spent half of his entire life in residence in Europe, Francis Schaeffer had a profound impact upon Christianity in America.

He was a man who received much attention without much effort.  His appearance was—to borrow from the Prophet Isaiah—of “no beauty that we should desire him.”[3]  Instead of an expensive suit, clean-cut hair and face, Francis wore “knickers, knees socks, and walking shoes.”[4]  Added to the alpine persona and the weathered, wrinkled face was a white goatee, which “he wore later in life adding to his artistic, cultured appearance, far from the stereotype of the evangelical pastor.”[5]  He was short, around five feet and eight inches tall, and owned a screechy voice (kind of like a whiney bird), which at first notice sounded more humorous than authoritative.[6]

It is a difficult task to quantify the impact that Schaeffer had upon Christianity in America for Francis was many things to many people; critics might have even called Schaeffer a mercurial man—constantly shifting focus like a sugared-stoned five year old.  Yet it is this very quality of change and adaptation that perhaps facilitated the enormous influence Schaeffer had on American evangelical thinking.

His approach to the Christian life bridged the gap between two groups in American Christianity that usually clash with each other, the scholars and the activists.

Barry Hankins prefers to think of Francis as a sort of Christian hybrid who was, “part evangelical and part fundamentalist.”[7]  The range of Schaeffer’s impact changed and grew as Francis moved through different phases of his life, first beginning with the schisms in the Presbyterian denomination, following thereafter with the creation of L’Abri, then his growth in popularity in American evangelical culture, ending with a renewed passion for fundamentalism coupled with political activism.

Some viewed such changes as a flaw but others saw it as keeping up with the climate of the day.

SCHAEFFER’S CRITICS

As popular as Schaeffer was, he did receive a lot of criticism throughout the years.

Throughout his lectures and his descriptions of culture, Francis was accused of using too broad of strokes to interpret Western history and culture.  Hankins states that modern Christian scholars believe “his interpretation of the course of western intellectual history, what he called ‘the flow,’ was problematic in its details.”[8]  Earl Lee believes that Francis has “obvious failings as an art critic” and also as a historian.[9]  Lee also labeled the film series, How Should We Then Live?, a work that is “filled with his [Francis’s] patriarchal, high-handed pronouncements on art and philosophy.”[10]

Perhaps one of the strongest arguments made against Schaeffer by fellow Christians was that “he consistently over-emphasized the power of human reason to lead to correct conclusions about ultimate matters.”[11]  This belief seems to be in contradiction with Scripture that portrays mankind as completely lost and incapable of finding its way to the solution.[12]  1 Corinthians 2:14 states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”[13]  Yet in spite of his shortfalls as a historian and art critic, and also his overestimation of the human intellect, Francis Schaeffer still remains one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the latter half of the twentieth century.

SCHAEFFER’S HEART

For all that Francis Schaeffer has been know for, his counter culture mindset, his faith in inerrancy, his staunch fundamentalism, it seems that his lasting legacy has not been by his mind but with his heart.

Fischer states, “Schaeffer’s work is ultimately not a call to arms, but a call to care.[14]

It was his evangelical shiftings that enabled him to reach such an influence.  He identified with the troubled youth, the elite intellectual, the middle-American worker, and the radical fundamentalist.

Francis taught Christianity how to think and feel.

Hamilton believes “clearly he was evangelicalism’s most important public intellectual in the 20 years before his death.”[15]  His secret was not to try and gather glory for his own self but to “put your feet in Jordan, and let God take care of you.”[16]  It was this reliance upon God that carried him throughout his life and to true greatness.

May we all learn from his example.


[1] Michael S. Hamilton. “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer. (Cover story).” Christianity Today 41, no. 3 (March 3, 1997): 22. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 8, 2011).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Isaiah 53:2b, ESV.

[4] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” 22.

[5] Duriez, Francis Schaeffer, 9.

[6] Fischer, “LEARNING TO CRY FOR THE CULTURE,” 40.

[7] Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America (Library of Religious Biography Series) (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), xii.

[8] Ibid, xiv.

[9] Lee. “Francis Schaeffer: Prophet of the Religious Right,” 28.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer, 235.

[12] Romans 3:10-18.

[13] ESV.

[14] Fischer. “LEARNING TO CRY FOR THE CULTURE,” 40.

[15] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” 30.

[16] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer, 239.

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Good Resources: Bible Study

Last Sunday I finished teaching the final session on Hermeneutics (basically how to study the Bible) for the Ekklesia School of Ministry. One of the issues I spent time highlighting was the necessity of using good resources in their Bible Study. A carpenter can be skilled but the quality of his craft is limited if he uses inferior tools. The same is with Bible students.

Here are some of the best Bible Study resources that I have found (or in some cases found me) over years:

No study is complete without really good commentaries. We have been blessed with the ability to hear from and sit under some of the greatest theologians and Bible teachers of all time. Take advantage of it because odds are you are not as smart or gifted as D.A. Carson.

  • The Bible Knowledge Commentary (New Testament): From the great minds of Dallas Theological Seminary. Single volume on the New Testament. One of the first places I go to if I need a quick explanation of a passage.
  • The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament): The Old Testament companion to the previous commentary.
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary—Revised: 13-Volume : For those wanting to get their feet wet in thicker commentaries this is a great place to start. It does the hard exegesis for you and doesn’t get too dry and technical. It presents the information in a way that a non-seminarian can easily understand and benefit from.
  • The MacArthur New Testament Commentary 29 Volume Set: Save this one for the Christmas List because it is expensive but it is extremely worth it. It was written by John MacArthur as he preached through the entire Bible. Not much more needs to be said.
  • John (NIV Application Commentary): The NIV Application Commentary series takes Bible Study full circle. For each passage it gives a historical/cultural background, an explanation of the text, and then gives an application for how the passage applies today. It’s like having a full sermon for each passage! I couldn’t find the complete set so I only posted the commentary on John (which is excellent by the way).

For more information on how to use these resources to aid your Bible Study, you can download my Hermeneutics Class slides.

Workaholism

The Connected Kingdom podcast discussed a widespread epidemic that is spreading through American society: workaholism, the addiction to work. They rightfully label workaholism a sin, as any addiction would be. Unfortunately, in society and even in the ministry, it is easy to hold workaholism up as a virtue. Here is an excerpt from the podcast’s transcript:

Diagnosis

So how do you know if you are a workaholic? Workaholics Anonymous – yes, there is such an organization – provides 20 questions. They include:

  • Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
  • Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
  • Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?
  • Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
  • Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?

Does that sound like someone you know?

Causes

Idolatry is at the root of a lot of workaholism. Many make “work” their functional god, and it can be a very satisfying one too. It doesn’t just take; it gives back too. It often rewards with money, position, power, prestige, and praise

Other workaholics are motivated by greed. The work may be unsatisfying but the money sure promises to make up for it.

For some it’s all about escaping less pleasant, less “glamorous” responsibilities. Far easier to be a frequent flier than change diapers; to speak at conferences than speak to your teenage son; to chair board meetings than comfort your lonely wife.

For some, work is a matter of identity; it’s what defines them. In the 18th century most obituaries focused on the character of the deceased and rarely mentioned occupation. 150 years later, most obituaries assess a person in connection with their occupation and achievements. Probably explains many early graves as well.

Many workaholics are unable to trust God with their jobs and finances, and end up relying on excessive hours rather than on their heavenly Father.

Effects

Like all -isms, this addiction is a destroyer. It destroys marriages, relationships with children, friendships, and usefulness in the church. It destroys happiness, it destroys bodies, and it destroys souls.

And yet this destroyer is so deceptive, so plausible: “I’m doing it for my family…I’m trying to get my kid through college…I’m serving God…”

And pastors, I know, there are unending stories in Christian literature about how many hours famous ministers and missionaries worked. What many of the biographies don’t tell you is that many of them died young or suffered long seasons of disease and burnout.

The problem is not work—a lot of American society also suffers from laziness and need a kick in the pants to get out of bed—the problem is holding up our work as our functional savior and God.

The world is not going to stop spinning if we take the time to sleep.

God is in control. Let’s leave it in His hands.

To read the rest of podcast’s transcript, click here.

Boba Fett Meets The NFL

Football has once again stepped into the limelight of scandal, but this time it is the paid professional adults who must give account not the amateur twenty-somethings.

The NFL released a statement on March 21st that the New Orleans Saints had instituted a program with their players that “included ‘bounty’ payments for ‘knock-outs’ [knocking a player unconscious] and ‘cart-offs,’ [injuring a player to the extent that they need to be driven off the field with a John Deere tractor] plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game. At times, the bounties even targeted specific players by name.” Basically, to motivate their players to play harder and to help them win games, the Saints were paying for them to intentionally injure opposing teammates. Think, bounty hunters with helmets and body armor—almost sounds like science fiction, right?

Upon examining the evidence, NFL commissioner issued swift and severe discipline on the Saints including:

A $500,000 fine; a forfeiture of second round draft picks for 2012 and 2013; a suspension of the head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season without pay; a suspension of the General Manager for eight games without pay; an indefinite suspension of a former defensive coordinator; a six-game suspension of the assistant Head Coach without pay; and also the punished individuals will be required to participate in certain programs to help discourage bounty programs in all levels of football.

What has happened here is a graphic distortion of the spirit of sportsmanship, competition, and also human decency.

It is bad enough when a player tries to intentionally injure an opposing teammate. I have seen my brother, now a wide receiver for Oregon State, be the target of multiple shots from ill-willed players—one helmet-to-helmet hit left him unconscious after a punt return. But for the coaching staff to monetarily encourage the carnage, it is downright sadistic and corrupt.

I absolutely love sports and specifically football. It is a great game. When I hear about sports scandals, my initial reaction is to get so angry because all I see are grown men running in tights, who are paid millions of dollars, ruining something I really enjoy. But the more I think about the Saints and other scandals (the Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina, Penn State, Ohio State, and USC) I can’t help but think that we the sports fanatic have helped create the problem.

ALL I DO IS WIN

Our society has taken the American dream of the pursuit of happiness to its inevitable conclusion—if losing bring me sadness then the only path to happiness is through winning.

It is my right to win. I need to win. I will win at all costs.

When the accomplishment of a determined goal is the ultimate pursuit of a life, it becomes idolatry, it becomes worship.

We are willing to sacrifice things for what we worship. Nothing becomes more important than what we worship. This is why Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Everything goes out the window for what you treasure. This is why someone would be willing to end a colleague’s career through intentional sabotage and assault just to earn a trophy and an iced up ring.

This is not just among players though. Attend any sporting event, professional, college, even grade school (sometimes sports parents are the most vicious), and you will see that fans have been calling for the heads of their enemies long before there was a price on them.

How are Christians to react to such a worldview?

WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN

Christian sports fans, if we are really honest with ourselves, there are many times when we suffer from cognitive dissonance—holding two opposing viewpoints as true at the very same time.

1. We love Jesus and want to please Him.

2. We want our team to win. We want our team to win real badly.

It is not impossible to love Jesus and at the same time want your team to win. The problem is when our desire for our team to win trumps our desire to please Jesus.

Rarely does this occur in outright rebellion: “Forget you Jesus! Have fun with the weak and the lowly cause I’m watching the Packers!”

Instead, our hypocrisy happens in subtle ways: We hurl insults at opposing players to get inside their heads and demean them. We argue and complain when penalties are rightfully made against our team. We demonize referees…period. We call for the head of our rival’s star player. We think fans of our rival must be missing a few crucial brain cells to be willing to cheer against our team.

We are not consciously defying Jesus; we just forget about Him altogether.

Forget Him and it is easy to begin thinking that something else matters. Forget Him while you are alone with your girlfriend and it is easy to begin thinking only her body matters. Forget Him while you are at your workplace and it is easy to begin thinking only the corporate ladder matters. Forget Him in the arena and it is easy to begin thinking only your team matters—after all, everyone else is cheering for them.

And when only your team matters, nothing else really does.

To Whet Your Appetite: 03/19/12

  • I know that dating is a touchy subject for many young Christians. A lot of hurt, a lot of passivity, and a lot of sin. But that does not mean there is no biblical way to date. Here are some great dating tips for girls from the Resurgence that hopefully will be helpful.
  • Once again, Jon Acuff from Stuff Christians Like, hits another aspect of Christian life on the head. Ever since I have graduated, I have had no spring break…though I definitely have wished for one! Acuff gives some tips on how to survive a spring break-less life.
  • Regardless of all the hoopla surrounding the Elephant Room, some good conversations have come out from it. Here is a video from the Elephant Room discussing moral disqualification in the ministry and how to reconcile.
  • It is pretty popular today to say, “It’s just me and Jesus,” and throw the church out completely. Even Justin Beiber says he doesn’t need the church. Take that for what it is worth. Joel Miller disagrees and proves why Christians need the church.
  • The mantra of the day is tolerance but if you claim to hold the truth or dare to condemn another’s beliefs, you are vigorously labeled a bigot. D.A. Carson and Al Mohler discuss how intolerant today’s tolerance is.

Does The Use of Medicine Show a Lack of Faith?

Another question came my way recently asking about particular denominations that believe receiving medical attention proves a lack of faith in God’s healing power. Along with that belief is the one that says sickness is a form of judgement from God. Think Job’s really amazing friends who encouraged him through his trials by telling him he brought them all on himself.

I’ve been hearing about this belief ever since I was growing up in Portland. There is a church in Oregon City that has been in The Oregonian multiple times because several members—mostly children—had died from illnesses that were easily treatable if medical attention were an option. Some of these incidents went to court and recently one was convicted of manslaughter. There is also a church of similar belief in the outskirts of the Eugene area.

They say that medicine is just a practice and is no guarantee to heal. True. But they also say that taking your health into your own hands is sinful; only God should have that right. Additionally, they believe healing and victory are offered to us through Christ’s atonement on the cross; like salvation, it can only be accessed through faith.

But what does the Bible actually say?

Here are some snippets of Scripture showing God’s attitude towards medicine and the like:

DOCTORS

For one, Luke (author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) was a doctor! Nowhere do we read of Luke declaring his life of medicine as detrimental and renouncing it for a true life of dedicated faith (much like the tax collectors). Instead, the Holy Spirit actually uses Luke’s skills in medicine and anatomy to bring to life the descriptions of Jesus’ miracles.

Jesus spoke of doctors in a positive way when he compared himself to one in Mark 2:17.

SICKNESS

Being sick or plagued with disease does not mean you are lacking in faith or are enslaved to sin. Paul talked about a “bodily illness” he had (Galatians 4:13-15) and he also suffered a “thorn in the flesh” which God allowed him to retain (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God doesn’t take away Paul’s ailment but uses it as an object lesson of God’s sustaining grace in the midst of human weakness.

God certainly allowed Job to go through a time of physical suffering even though Job was a great man of faith (Job 1-2).

It is noteworthy that on one occasion Jesus indicated that even some sickness occurs for the glory of God (John 11:4).

MEDICINE

In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul instructs Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes. Paul did not suggest that Timothy was sick because of his lack of faith. Paul just proposed a practical way to treat his illness.

Interestingly, James prescribes a combination of faith and medicine for the sick in James 5:14-16, by anointing the sick with oil and praying for them. The oil here is not special, made holy through prayer. If that were the case, could I cook my bacon in said holy oil and avoid clogged arteries? Instead, John MacArthur states that the oil here was used for medicinal purposes, especially for skin diseases. This offers a picture of trusting God to make the medicine effective.

HEALING

Neither Paul or any of the others acted as if they thought their healing was guaranteed in the atonement.

Paul couldn’t heal Timothy’s stomach problem (1 Timothy 5:23) nor could he heal Trophimus at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) or Epaphroditus (Philippians 3:25-27). They accepted their situations and trusted in God’s grace to carry them through.

CONCLUSION

The idea that it is wrong to use doctors and medicine for health and healing is unbiblical and can be harmful. Using such means for health does not mean you lack faith in God and his power to heal. God heals your asthma attack by giving you the means to obtain an inhaler. God takes away your flu through antibiotics. We just have to take hold of the means God has placed right in front of us.

This is not a faith issue, it is whether or not we are willing to accept His gifts.

Can God answer prayers through miraculous healings? Absolutely. He has done it on more than one occasion.

But sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers.

To Whet Your Appetite: 03/12/12

  • “We exalt our athletic heroes when they’re winning and giving thanks to God. Linsanity and Tebowmania fill us with pride as we pray for God to protect the integrity of their witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But sports humble even the most accomplished athletes, let alone the suddenly successful…So what does Christian witness look like amid inevitable failure?” An awesome interview with Cleveland Browns quarterback, Colt McCoy, about his faith, successes, and failures.
  • A fascinating info-graphic from Christianity Today showing that fewer and fewer people are asking the question, “Will I go to heaven or hell when I die?”
  • Tim Challies attempts to tackle a different question about heaven: What happens to children who die?
  • Albert Mohler reports on and condemns a disturbing new way that some are viewing newborn infants—subhuman and eligible for “after-birth abortion.” The notion is so outrageous that even Slate is calling it crazy but it is a disheartening sign of the times.
  • Jesse Bryan, Creative Director of Mars Hill, and Don Clark of Invisible Creature gave this talk on “Why Jesus Creates Art” at the recent Resurgence College Conference at the end of 2011. I was present for this conference and Jesse and Don’s talk was without a doubt my favorite part of the weekend. If you are an artist, watch this, and you will learn to worship Jesus through your art. If you are a dry rationalist with no notion of art whatsoever, watch this, and you will learn to appreciate beauty because it informs us of Jesus.

Before We Stop Kony, We Must Stop Ourselves

The internet is powerful. As of right now, a video posted by the organization, Invisible Children, has reached 39 million views in just three days. The viral video seeks to reveal the horrible crimes of Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army that abducts children and uses them as soldiers in Africa.

As the video went live, so did social media, with thousands expressing outrage towards Kony’s crimes. In all the years I have been using social media, I am not sure if I have ever seen as many links posted, pictures shown, posts “liked,” and tweets retweeted all pertaining to the same cause as Kony 2012.

What is extremely intriguing is that questions are now arising about the whole movement. The inquiries are not necessarily about whether or not Joseph Kony is a monster (he is) but about Invisible Children itself and its methods of activism. Invisible Children has offered their responses to all criticisms.

Whether Invisible Children is legit or not is not as much of a concern to me as something else—our extreme desire for armchair activism. Our actions may be good but is our heart?

Don’t get me wrong. Do I think Joseph Kony is an evil monster who needs to be stopped? Absolutely. What he has been doing to children and Central Africa for years is atrocious.

But I’m not looking at him or Invisible Children; I’m looking at us. America. Followers of Christ.

Why do such causes, like Kony 2012, explode on the internet? It’s a complex question and I am not certain of the whole answer yet. But here are a couple things I do know:

HUMANS ARE SINFUL
Not just Kony. Not just Stalin or Hitler.

You are.

I definitely am.

We have been ever since Adam and Eve ate that darn fruit. We have been trying to cover up our sinfulness and shame with fig leaves ever since.

“I’m green. I wear TOMS. I only buy fair trade everything. No blood diamonds for me, please. I recycle. I attended an online event and invited all my Facebook friends. I am a good person.”

Could it be that our generation’s obsession with activism is just another attempt to make ourselves think we are better than we really are?

If you want to see your true self, look at how you act at home—not on the internet.

We care about Ugandan children but what about our neighbors? We care about alleviating third world problems but freak out about minor inconveniences to our life and schedule. We stand for compassion overseas but have none for the people who have burned us. We give money to organizations but only to counterbalance our own consumption.

Are we actually as honest, loving, compassionate, patient, generous, informed, encouraging, and selfless as we think we are?

If you focus on someone else’s problems long enough, you may begin to forget your own but don’t deceive yourself—it doesn’t mean they have gone away. Using social activism to escape your own demons is a useless venture.

Retweets and status updates can’t save you; we have Jesus to do that for us.

HUMANS ARE SELF-GLORIFYING
Now, I can’t look into anyone’s heart; only God can do that. But I know what the Bible says about the human heart and I know my heart.

We have a disposition to glorify ourselves.

Not only that, but we have disposition to glorify ourselves through good deeds—seeking the recognition and applause of others (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18).

My fear is that much of the activism happening on social media is not just for awareness of the cause but awareness of the person. Of me.

Am I saying if you change your profile picture to a Kony poster, you are posturing for the masses? Of course not. You have to answer that question, not me.

But I know how hard it is to resist the allure of praise. Even in writing this, I have had to stop and ask myself, is this about page views or God?

How many times have we posted something, done something, or said something and wondered about who saw us? If we would get a pat on the back? If they would see us as a good Christian boy or girl?

Here’s another question. How many of us have championed a cause because we were afraid to not champion it for fear of being seen as insensitive to injustice? Is not posting anything about Kony actually communicating that I don’t care about child soldiers?

Paul wrote that living for the approval of other humans and not God is antithetical to what it means to be a Christian (Galatians 1:10)

DO WE DO NOTHING THEN?
By no means am I advocating that to avoid sinning through good deeds we must stop good deeds all together. Seeking to help the poor and destitute is something Jesus commanded us to do.

Keep going. Fight on.

But how are we doing it?

Are we seeking to cover our sin? Or are we seeking to glorify ourselves?

Both roles, instead, are reserved for Jesus Christ, the One who died on a cross to cover our sin with His blood. Therefore, Jesus and only Jesus deserves glory.

Good deeds ought to flow out of our response to the Gospel. Most Christians know Ephesians 2:8 where it says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” but they forget about verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

Any amount of goodwill we offer others should be from an overflow of Christ’s goodwill for us. Because He died, we should die to ourselves, our tendency to cover our sin, and our obsession with praise.

So, before you head out to stop Kony, stop yourself first.